April 28, 2023

Looking Back - Back When We Were Grownups

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 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished in November 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person." So Anne Tyler opens this irresistible new novel.

The woman is Rebecca Davitch, a fifty-three-year-old grandmother. Is she an impostor in her own life? she asks herself. Is it indeed her own life? Or is it someone else’s?

On the surface, Beck, as she is known to the Davitch clan, is outgoing, joyous, a natural celebrator. Giving parties is, after all, her vocation—something she slipped into even before finishing college, when Joe Davitch spotted her at an engagement party in his family’s crumbling nineteenth-century Baltimore row house, where giving parties was the family business. What caught his fancy was that she seemed to be having such a wonderful time. Soon this large-spirited older man, a divorcĂ© with three little girls, swept her into his orbit, and before she knew it she was embracing his extended family plus a child of their own, and hosting endless parties in the ornate, high-ceilinged rooms of The Open Arms.

Now, some thirty years later, after presiding over a disastrous family picnic, Rebecca is caught un-awares by the question of who she really is. How she answers it—how she tries to recover her girlhood self, that dignified grownup she had once been—is the story told in this beguiling, funny, and deeply moving novel.

As always with Anne Tyler’s novels, once we enter her world it is hard to leave. But in Back When We Were Grownups she so sharpens our perceptions and awakens so many untapped feelings that we come away not only refreshed and delighted, but also infinitely wiser.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Typical Tyler! Strange names. NoNO, Poppy, Jeep, Patch, Biddy, and MinFoo. Explores questions of love & loss, of identity and of family. Self-absorbed family!

My Current Thoughts:

Anne Tyler has a huge following, but she's hit-or-miss with me. I have a copy of her new book, French Braid, on my TBR shelf and I hope it falls in the hit category rather than the miss!

April 26, 2023

Go as a River


2023 Spiegel & Grau
Finished on April 25, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the spirit of Where the Crawdads Sing, and set amid the beauty and wilderness of the Colorado mountains, an unforgettable and deeply moving story of a young woman who follows her heart.

Seventeen-year-old Victoria Nash runs the household on her family's peach farm in the small ranch town of Iola, Colorado--the sole surviving female in a family of troubled men. Wilson Moon is a young drifter with a mysterious past, displaced from his tribal land but determined to live as he chooses.

Victoria's chance encounter with Wil on a street corner profoundly alters both of their young lives, igniting as much passion as danger. When tragedy strikes, Victoria leaves the only life she has ever known, fleeing into the nearby mountains. Taking shelter in a small hut, she struggles to survive in the wilderness, with no clear notion of what her future will be. As the seasons change, she also charts the changes in herself, finding in the natural world the strength and meaning that set her on a quest to regain all that she has lost, even as the Gunnison River rises to submerge her homeland--its ranches, farms, and the beloved peach orchard that has been in her family for generations.

Inspired by true events surrounding the destruction of the town of Iola in the 1960s, Go as a River is a story of deeply held love in the midst of hardship and loss, but also of finding courage, resilience, friendship, and finally, home--where least expected. This stunning debut explores what it means to lead your life as if it were a river--gathering and flowing, finding a way forward even when the river is dammed.

I first read about Shelley Read's debut novel early this year, and when I saw it on the new release shelf at the library, I decided to give it a try, knowing nothing about the premise of the story, only that several readers had given it a 5-star rating. I've been reading a lot of short novels this month and while this one (just over 300 pages) could have been read in a day or two, it took me a full week. I enjoy novels filled with lyrical detail, but too much detail becomes a distraction, or in this case, drags the narrative to a snail's pace. Unlike the beautiful descriptions of Beach Music (Pat Conroy), or the spare prose of Plainsong (Kent Haruf), Shelley Read's novel reminds me of Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier) in which Frazier devotes an entire page to a raindrop falling on a leaf (slight exaggeration, I admit). The first and last chapters of Go as a River, while filled with enough tension to keep me reading, are bookends to a plodding middle section in which Victoria leads a solitary existence with little interaction with others. I am not one to skim, but I was sorely tempted, eager to move on to the conclusion of the story. 

I have read numerous reviews stating this is "a stunning debut," "a beautifully descriptive novel," "a powerfully evocative story," and yet, once again, I'm in the minority.

April 23, 2023



Science Fiction
2019 Crown
Finished on April 18, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Memory makes reality.

That's what NYC cop Barry Sutton is learning, as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That's what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It's why she's dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face to face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds, but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

At once a relentless page-turner and an intricate science-fiction puzzle box about time, identity, and memory, Recursion is a thriller as only Blake Crouch could imagine it—and his most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.

Holy smokes! No sophomore slump for Blake Crouch. This is one terrific thriller! I read his previous novel, Dark Matter, in 2016 and thought it was very good, but Recursion is even better. This page-turner checks all the boxes: 
  • I didn't want it to end.
  • I couldn't put it down. 
  • It invaded my dreams. 
  • I wish I was still a bookseller, so I could handsell it to everyone who walks in the store. 
  • I want someone to write the screenplay.* 
  • I want to read it again. 
Recursion is the perfect mash-up of all the movies and shows that I love: The Matrix, Minority Report, Fringe, and Back to the Future. It's one of the most mind-bending time travel stories I've read, and like Dark Matter, I didn't even try to understand the quantum physics, or try to keep track of Barry and Helena's timelines. I just went along for the ride, and what an entertaining ride it was!

A few favorite passages:
He has wondered lately if that’s all living really is—one long goodbye to those we love.


There are so few things in our existence we can count on to give us the sense of permanence, of the ground beneath our feet. People fail us. Our bodies fail us. We fail ourselves. He's experienced all of that. But what do you cling to, moment to moment, if memories can simply change. What, then, is real? And if the answer is nothing, where does that leave us? 

Kudos, Blake Crouch. You hit this one out of the park.

Is it too soon to dive into Upgrade, Crouch's most recent release?

*Yay! From Crouch's website:
His novel, Recursion, is currently being developed as a Netflix series by Shonda Rhimes and Matt Reeves.
In other news (also from Crouch's website):
Apple TV+ announced it has landed “Dark Matter,” a new nine-episode series based on the blockbuster book by Blake Crouch. Starring Joel Edgerton (“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “Boy Erased,” “Loving”), who also serves as executive producer, the series will be written and showrun by Crouch, and will be produced for Apple TV+ by Sony Pictures Television.

Hailed as one of the best sci-fi novels of the decade, “Dark Matter” is a story about the road not taken. The series will follow Jason Dessen (played by Edgerton), a physicist, professor, and family man who — one night while walking home on the streets of Chicago — is abducted into an alternate version of his life. Wonder quickly turns to nightmare when he tries to return to his reality amid the multiverse of lives he could have lived. In this labyrinth of mind-bending realities, he embarks on a harrowing journey to get back to his true family and save them from the most terrifying, unbeatable foe imaginable: himself.

“Dark Matter” will be executive produced by Matt Tolmach (“Jumanji” franchise, “Venom,” “Future Man”) and David Manpearl for Matt Tolmach Productions. Crouch will write the pilot script and serve as showrunner and executive producer on the series, and Louis Leterrier (“Now You See Me,” “Lupin,” “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”) is set to direct the first four episodes.

“Dark Matter” will premiere alongside an expanding slate of acclaimed and sweeping sci-fi series, including the third season of the Emmy Award-winning “For All Mankind,” also produced by Sony Pictures Television and created by Ronald D. Moore and Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominees Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert; and the highly anticipated second season of “Foundation,” the epic saga from storyteller David S. Goyer, based on the award-winning novels by Isaac Asimov.

April 21, 2023

Looking Back - Bread Alone

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 William Morrow
Finished on October 29, 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

“Hendricks calls to mind Barbara Kingsolver in her affinity for wise women and the power of close female relationships.” —Booklist

Publisher's Blurb:

Thirty-one-year-old Wynter Morrison is lost when her husband leaves her for another woman. Desperate for a change, she moves to Seattle, where she spends aimless hours at a local bakery sipping coffee and inhaling the sweet aromas of freshly-made bread. These visits bring back memories of the time she aprenticed at a French boulangerie, when her passion for bread-making nearly led her to leave college and become a baker.

Once again, the desire to bake bread consumes her thoughts. When offered a position at the bake shop, Wyn quickly accepts, hoping that the baking will help her move on. But soon Wyn discovers that the making of bread—the kneading of the dough—possesses an unexpected and wondrous healing power—one that will ultimately renew her heart and her soul.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Gentle fiction. Predictable at times, but still good. I enjoyed the story and the romantic tension.

My Current Thoughts:

Looking through my reading journal notes, I see that I read this book in two days. I still have a copy on my shelf, and read it a second time in 2007. My review of that re-read (linked here) is much more extensive, and has me thinking about reading the book a third time! And since that review, I have learned how to make homemade bread.

April 19, 2023

The Immortalists


2018 G. P. Putnam's Sons
Finished April 13, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children--four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness--sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel struggles to maintain security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Both a dazzling family love story and a sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

I have never visited a psychic or been told my fortune. I have no interest to know what lies ahead, and more specifically, I have no desire to know the exact date of my death. In Chloe Benjamin's captivating novel, in the summer of 1969, four siblings seek out a traveling psychic who does exactly that; she tells each one exactly when they will die, and for the remainder of their lives (whether long or short), their dates are never forgotten.

Earlier this year I read another novel (The Measure by Nikki Erlick) that explores the concept of learning one's fate. I enjoyed that story, but Chloe Benjamin's literary work is a better read with fully developed characters and a compelling narrative. While somewhat predictable (particularly if you believe the Gold siblings' fates are bound by the psychic's predictions), the unraveling of details made for a page-turning read. The novel spans over forty years, and Benjamin incorporates historical details from each era.
Perhaps nothing would have happened were it not the pit of summer, with a month and a half of humid boredom behind them and a month and a half ahead. There is no air-conditioning in the apartment, and this year--the summer of 1969-- it seems something is happening to everyone but them. People are getting wasted at Woodstock and singing "Pinball Wizard" and watching Midnight Cowboy, which none of the Gold children are allowed to see. They're rioting outside Stonewall, ramming the doors with uprooted parking meters, smashing windows and jukeboxes. They're being murdered in the most gruesome way imaginable, with chemical explosives and guns that can fire five hundred and fifty bullets in succession, their faces transmitted with horrifying immediacy to the television in the Golds' kitchen. "They're walking on the mother-fucking moon," said Daniel, who has begun to use this sort of language, but only at a safe remove from their mother. James Earl Ray is sentenced, and so is Sirhan Sirhan, and all the while the Golds play jacks or darts or rescue Zoya from an open pipe behind the oven, which she seems convinced is her rightful home.

But something else created the atmosphere required for this pilgrimage: they are siblings, this summer, in a way they will never be again. Next year, Varya will go to the Catskills with her friend Aviva. Daniel will be immersed in the private rituals of the neighborhood boys, leaving Klara and Simon to their own devices. In 1969, though, they are still a unit, yoked as if it isn't possible to be anything but.
The Immortalists can easily be read in a day or two, and is the sort of book that is ideal for a long flight or a cold, dreary afternoon. If you happened to miss it, as I did, when it first came out, it's worth your while to get a copy and give it a read. For those who avoid magical realism or fantasy, you need not worry. Those elements are absent in this tale. It may not wind up on my "Best of 2023" list, but it's one I won't soon forget.

An imaginative and satisfying family saga... The author has written a cleverly structured novel steeped in Jewish lore and the history of four decades of American life. The four Gold siblings are wonderful creations, and in Benjamin’s expert hands their story becomes a moving meditation on fate, faith, and the family ties that alternately hurt and heal. Publisher's Weekly

April 16, 2023

Now Is Not the Time to Panic


2022 HarperAudio
Narrated by Ginnifer Goodwin & Kevin Wilson
Finished on April 12, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to See Here comes an exuberant, bighearted novel about two teenage misfits who spectacularly collide one fateful summer, and the art they make that changes their lives forever.

Sixteen-year-old Frankie Budge—aspiring writer, indifferent student, offbeat loner—is determined to make it through yet another sad summer in Coalfield, Tennessee, when she meets Zeke, a talented artist who has just moved into his grandmother’s unhappy house and who is as lonely and awkward as Frankie is. Romantic and creative sparks begin to fly, and when the two jointly make an unsigned poster, shot through with an enigmatic phrase, it becomes unforgettable to anyone who sees it. The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.

The posters begin appearing everywhere, and people wonder who is behind them. Satanists, kidnappers—the rumors won’t stop, and soon the mystery has dangerous repercussions that spread far beyond the town. The art that brought Frankie and Zeke together now threatens to tear them apart.

Twenty years later, Frances Eleanor Budge—famous author, mom to a wonderful daughter, wife to a loving husband—gets a call that threatens to upend everything: a journalist named Mazzy Brower is writing a story about the Coalfield Panic of 1996. Might Frances know something about that? And will what she knows destroy the life she’s so carefully built?

A bold coming-of-age story, written with Kevin Wilson’s trademark wit and blazing prose, Now Is Not The Time to Panic is a nuanced exploration of young love, identity, and the power of art. It’s also about the secrets that haunt us—and, ultimately, what the truth will set free.

I loved Nothing to See Here, so I was excited when I received a complimentary edition of Kevin Wilson's latest novel last winter from Libro.fm. Sadly, this coming-of-age story was not as impressive as Wilson's previous book. I was mildly entertained, but I didn't burst out laughing and my heartstrings remained untugged. I enjoyed the early chapters of the story as we are introduced to Frankie & Zeke, watching how their friendship develops, which reminded me of the wonderful title characters in Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Frankie's age bothered me, though. Her behavior is more like that of a pre-teen rather than a sixteen-year-old, but for plot-related reasons, she (or Zeke) needed to be old enough to have a driver's license. Midway through the book, the narrative began to drag, and by the end I was bored and annoyed with the excessive use of "Sweetie" by Frankie's mom. Finally, adult Frankie's obsession with the past is more than a normal feeling of nostalgia and I found it hard to understand why she clung so tightly to that terrible summer of her youth. Several of my friends loved this book, but once again, I'm an outlier. 

Thank you Libro.fm for the complimentary copy.

April 14, 2023

Looking Back - Cold

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 Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
Finished on October 26, 2001
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the frozen reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, fierce winter storms can hit without notice. In the white translucence of one such blizzard, Norman Haas simply walks away from his prison work detail without detection.

After agonizing days of blistering cold, Norman finds himself at the farmhouse of a lonely middle-aged woman who gives him temporary shelter while keeping him at a comfortable distance with her late husband’s shotgun. When she tries to turn him in, he escapes again. Thus begins a riveting story of Norman’s journey back to his past, back to the woman he loved—and still loves—who betrayed him, back to the brother who helped put him away, and back to a dangerous web of family allegiances, deceptions, and intrigue.

On Norman’s trail is Del Maki, the hardworking sheriff of Yellow Dog Township, a fork in the road on the way to Canada. Cold takes us deep into an intricate, fascinating tale, where love, greed, and the promise of a last chance compel six people toward a chilling and inevitable reckoning.

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Captured my interest from the first page. Part mystery/thriller, part contemporary fiction. Reminiscent of House of Sand and Fog (Andre Dubus III). Quick, enjoyable read. 

My Current Thoughts:

I have no memory of this book, and I wonder what prompted me to pick it up. I haven't read anything else by Smolens.

April 12, 2023

Other Birds


2022 St. Martin's Press
Finished on April 8, 2023
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the acclaimed author of Garden Spells comes an enchanting tale of lost souls, lonely strangers, secrets that shape us, and how the right flock can guide you home. 

Down a narrow alley in the small coastal town of Mallow Island, South Carolina, lies a stunning cobblestone building comprised of five apartments. It's called the Dellawisp and it is named after the tiny turquoise birds who, alongside the human tenants, inhabit an air of magical secrecy.

When Zoey Hennessey comes to claim her deceased mother's apartment at the Dellawisp, she meets her quirky, enigmatic neighbors, including a girl on the run, a grieving chef whose comfort food does not comfort him, two estranged middle-aged sisters, and three ghosts. Each with their own story. Each with their own longings. Each whose ending isn't yet written.

When one of her new neighbors dies under odd circumstances the night Zoey arrives, she is thrust into the mystery of the Dellawisp, which involves missing pages from a legendary writer whose work might be hidden there. She soon discovers that many unfinished stories permeate the place, and the people around her are in as much need of healing from wrongs of the past as she is. To find their way they have to learn how to trust one another, confront their deepest fears, and let go of what haunts them.

Delightful and atmospheric, Other Birds is filled with magical realism and moments of pure love that won't let you go. Sarah Addison Allen shows us that between real and imaginary, there are stories that take flight in the most extraordinary ways.

I'm not an ardent fan of magical realism, so despite the rave reviews I'd read, I hesitated to borrow this book when I saw it at the library. I read and enjoyed Garden Spells in 2008, but didn't care for Lost Lake, which I read almost a decade later. I was pleasantly surprised by this story and the motley cast of characters, but I easily solved a few of the "mysteries." 

Other Birds is a story about family; those into which we are born and those we create. It's a story of grief and letting go of the past, and it's a story about broken souls and mending hearts. I was entertained and enjoyed the interactions between characters (and especially savored the references to Mac's cooking), but I doubt the novel will stay with me in the coming months. A good beach read.

April 9, 2023



2022 W. W. Norton & Company
Finished on April 5, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A man named Gil walks from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed love. After he arrives, new neighbors move into the glass-walled house next door, and his life begins to mesh with theirs. In this warmly textured, drily funny, and philosophical account of Gil’s unexpected devotion to the family, Lydia Millet explores the uncanny territory where the self ends and community begins―what one person can do in a world beset by emergencies. Dinosaurs is both sharp-edged and tender, an emotionally moving, intellectually resonant novel that asks, In the shadow of existential threat, where does hope live?

I didn't know what to expect from this book, but I've heard good things about the author's previous novel (The Children's Bible) and decided to give Dinosaurs a try when I found a copy at the library. What a treat! Reminiscent of A Man Called Ove (minus the curmudgeonly attitude), I fell in love with Gil and his new friends, young and old alike. There's a sense that something terrible might happen, but I was satisfied with the ending, despite its ambiguity. Dinosaurs is a beautifully written, hopeful story. I received a complimentary copy from Libro.fm and while I've already read the print edition, I look forward to listening to the audiobook later this year. You won't want to miss this compelling, thoughtful, and at times humorous, tale. I'm eager to read more by Millet!

April 7, 2023

Looking Back - Falling Angels

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 Penguin Group
Finished October 24, 2001
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in London at the turn of the last century, Falling Angels is a masterful, moving, and beautifully written novel from the author The Orlando Sentinel called "as attentive to the details of daily living as Jane Austen and Edith Wharton ever were."A fashionable London cemetery, January 1901: Two graves stand side by side, one decorated with an oversize classical urn, the other with a sentimental marble angel. Two families, visiting their respective graves on the day after Queen Victoria's death, teeter on the brink of a new era. The Colemans and the Waterhouses are divided by social class as well as taste. They would certainly not have become acquainted had not their two girls, meeting behind the tombstones, become best friends. And, even more unsuitably, become involved with the gravedigger's muddy son.

As the girls grow up, as the new king changes social customs, as a new, forward-thinking era takes wing, the lives and fortunes of the two families become more and more closely intertwined -- neighbors in life as well as death.

Against a gas-lit backdrop of social and political history, Tracy Chevalier explores the prejudices and flaws of a changing time. A novel that is at once elegant, daring, original, and compelling, Falling Angels is a splendid follow-up to the book The New York Times called "marvelously evocative" and The Wall Street Journal deemed "triumphant."

My Original Thoughts (2001):

Wonderful, wonderful book! I didn't want it to end. Very unpredictable. I was shocked by two events. Loved the narrative style (each chapter narrated by a different character), similar to that of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Well-done! Memorable characters. 

My Current Thoughts:

I've kept a copy of this novel for decades, hoping to read it a second time. I've only read one other novel by Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring), which I also greatly enjoyed. It's interesting that in my original notes, I remark on the alternating points-of-view. That style is so common now, but I must not have read very many books using it until the early 2000s. 

April 4, 2023

We All Want Impossible Things


2022 Harper
Finished on April 1, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

Publisher's Blurb:

Edi and Ash have been best friends for over forty-two years. They've shared the mundane and the momentous together: trick-or-treating and binge-drinking; Gilligan's Island reruns and R.E.M. concerts; hickeys and heartbreak; surprise Scottish wakes; marriages, infertility, and children. As Ash says, "Edi's memory is like the backup hard drive for mine."

But now the unthinkable has happened. Edi is dying of ovarian cancer and spending her last days at a hospice near Ash, who stumbles into heartbreak surrounded by her daughters, ex(ish)-husband, dear friends, a poorly chosen lover (or two), and a rotating cast of beautifully, fleeting human hospice characters.

As the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack blasts all day long from the room next door, Edi and Ash reminisce, hold on, and try to let go. Meanwhile, Ash struggles with being an imperfect friend, wife, and parent--with life, in other words, distilled to its painful, joyful, and comedic essence.

For anyone who's ever lost a friend or had one, get ready to laugh through your tears. 

I adored this book! I first noticed it on Instagram (thank you, Bookstagrammers!) and added it to my list, but wasn't planning to get it right away because hyped books tend to fail me. And yet, when I saw it on the library's new release shelf, I couldn't resist. I'm very happy to report that it's worthy of all the praise.

Death, particularly death from cancer, isn't exactly a cheerful topic, but Catherine Newman's humor provides levity to an obviously heartbreaking story. 
"Hey," I say. "I'm an optimist."
"Ash," she says. "You drive with your hazards on for no reason. You are not an optimist."
I initially thought this would be a story about two friends--one who is dying and one who will soon be grieving--but it's so much more than that. It's about friends and family and the kindness of strangers. It's also about the loving care of hospice workers. I recently read Ann Patchett's essay about the loss of her friend, Sooki, and now reading this novel, I am once again touched by the tenderness and beauty of watching over a loved one during their final moments. The circle of life...

Even more than Ash and Edi's friendship, I enjoyed the interactions and gentle love between Ash and her daughters, Belle and Jules. Belle's lines are the highlight of the novel and I have my fingers crossed that Newman writes another novel filled with characters like Belle.

While I've given the book a five-star rating, I do have a couple of quibbles. The usage of "anyways" (which grates on my nerves) is repeatedly spoken by one character and thus, not an editorial mistake, but a deliberate use of slang. I eventually got used to it, but it was a distraction. The second frustration was the confusion about the relationship between characters; there were too many names beginning with the same letter (Jules, Jude, Jonathan). Which was the spouse? Which daughter? A sibling? A simple change of names would have made for a smoother read.

We All Want Impossible Things is a short novel, clocking in at 209 pages, which makes it very tempting to re-read right away. Catherine Newman has written a middle-grade novel and a couple of children's life-skill books. She has also written two memoirs about parenthood, which I am long past needing, but I enjoy her writing so well, I'm tempted to read them just for the laughs. In her author blurb on the back cover of We All Want Impossible Things, she states,
This is her first adult novel. Not, like, adult adult in the porn way. Just, you know, for grown-ups.

I'm not the only reader who appreciates her sense of humor:

"A novel set in a hospice has no right to be as hilarious, charming, and hopeful as We All Want Impossible Things. With Nora Ephron-style lightness, Catherine Newman has constructed a truly singular tale of love and friendship. I loved it." (Joanna Rakoff, bestselling author of My Salinger Year)

"Catherine Newman sees the heartbreak and comedy of life with wisdom and unflinching compassion. The way she finds the extraordinary in the everyday is nothing short of poetry. She's a writer's writer--and a human's human." (Katherine Center, author of Things You Save in a Fire) 

This is a lovely, heartwarming book. I didn't want it to end, but I couldn't put it down. While I wait for more adult fiction from Catherine Newman, I plan to immerse myself in her numerous online articles (here and here).

Note to audiobook readers: I listened to a sample of the audiobook and didn't care for the reader. This is one to read in the print format.

April 1, 2023

A Month in Summary - March 2023

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
March 2023

Once again, it's been a busy month! I've been working on travel plans, my mom's 90th birthday celebration, a little bit of yardwork when the weather allows, pickleball twice a week, working out with my husband, drafting travel posts about our trip to Glacier last fall, as well as a variety of appointments & social events. I managed to read six books, two of which were outstanding. We also watched a lot of TV series, and I'm toying with the idea of having a separate post for those. Are these posts too long or do you like having everything in one monthly summary?

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

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (3.5/5)

A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella (3/5)

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro (5/5)

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill (4/5)

The Lost Man by Jane Harper (4.5/5)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (3.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

The Guilty - Only three episodes, which is perfect. Good acting and not too predictable. Would like to see more with this detective.

London Kills (Season Two) -
The acting in this series leaves a lot to be desired, but we finished the season in order to find out what happened to the detective's wife. No need to watch the third season.

New Amsterdam (Season Three) - The first episode of this season is very emotional. The pandemic is the main focus of the opening scenes (which was pretty tough to watch), and the theme continues throughout the season.

The Crown (Season Five) - Finally watched the last episode in this season. I much preferred the earlier seasons, but still plan to watch the sixth once it's released.

Strike: Troubled Blood - A very satisfying conclusion to this mystery! I was tempted to watch the first episode a second time in order to see the clues that I missed.

Defending Jacob - This eight-part series stars Chris Evans (Captain America), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey, and Jaeden Martell (Mr. Harrington's Phone). I read William Landy's novel in 2012 and thought it was terrific. This Apple program is pretty faithful to the novel, but there are a few differences. I liked the show, but the book is better. 

Alibi - A three-part mini series starring Michael Kitchen (Foyle's War), Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey), and Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rowanda). This is an older show, filmed in 2003. I loved Foyle's War, but it took some time to get used to Kitchen in this role. Okonedo is very good! The show was good, but not great.

The Tower - Another short series comprised of three episodes. We enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the release of the next season.


On the travel front, I'm busy getting reservations for our summer road trip up to Canada and it's been quite challenging to get sites in some of the national parks near Jasper and Banff. When I got in one of the queues (at 7 a.m.), there were 6,606 people ahead of me, with a wait time of 27 minutes. The friends we're traveling with had 15,000+ people ahead of them! No, we didn't get into our desired campground, but fortunately we had three back-up plans and got into our first choice before those filled up. We went through this process a few more times and were very pleased to not only get in the campgrounds we selected, but got the sites we had hoped for.  

I hope you all have a wonderful April. March Madness and Major League Baseball are keeping us entertained this weekend!