November 30, 2023

The Push


The Push by Ashley Audrain
Fiction/Psychological Thriller
2021 Penguin Audio
Narrated by Marin Ireland
Finished on November 25, 2023
Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family--and a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for--and everything she feared.

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had. But in the thick of motherhood's exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter--she doesn't behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe's head? Her husband, Fox, says she's imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born--and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she'd always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed. 

Oh. My. Gosh. I could not stop listening to this suspenseful book, anxious to find out what was going to happen next. Marin Ireland does a superb job with the audio narration, and I was enthralled with the story. The further along I listened, the more I wondered if this was going to be another Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. Hearing only her side of the story, could I believe in the reliability of Blythe's account of events? 

Without revealing too much, The Push is a disturbing (and at times sinister) psychological drama, but it's also a smartly told narrative about motherhood (particularly that of a new mom), unconditional parental love, as well as the genetics of mental health, all posing the question of nature vs nurture. This is one to talk about and would make for a terrific book group discussion. Avoiding the usual tropes of this genre, Ashley Audrain knocks it out of the park with her debut novel. I can't wait to read her new book, The Whispers.

November 29, 2023

The Betrayal of Trust


The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill
Simon Serraillier #6
2011 The Overlook Press
Finished on November 23, 2023
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Heavy rain falls on Lafferton, flooding the cathedral town and causing a landslip out on the moors. As the rain water slowly drains away, a shallow grave - and a skeleton - are revealed. 

It doesn't take long to identify the remains as those of missing teenager, Harriet Lowther, who was last seen sixteen years ago, waiting for a bus. But a cold case isn't a priority for a police force already struggling with staff shortages and cuts: if Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler is to solve the case, he will have to do it alone.

Meanwhile, his sister, Dr Cat Deerbon, is fighting for funding to prevent the closure of the local hospice that offers respite to so many of her patients.

The Betrayal of Trust is another entertaining installment in Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series, but it's not a favorite. In addition to the mystery, there are several subplots dealing with Parkinson's Disease, ALS, dementia, and assisted suicide. These, and Simon's new romantic interest (which I found rather hard to believe), overshadow the main story. And, to add to my frustration, when I came to the final sentence, I was sure there was more to come on the following page. I was wrong, not to mention shocked and annoyed! The conclusion was very abrupt, leaving several loose ends. My only hope is that my questions are answered in the next installment (A Question of Identity). 

November 28, 2023

Bella: An Appalachian Love Story & Jagged Dawn: Logan's Beginning


Bella-An Appalachian Love Story and Jagged Dawn-Logan's Beginnings by Valerie Davisson
Fiction - Novellas
2020 Vaughn House Publishing 
Finished on November 17, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For the first time ever under one cover, enjoy these two companion stories-prequels to the Logan McKenna Mystery series.

BELLA: An Appalachian Love Story

Over fifty years ago, high in the hills of Appalachia, Bella's story begins. Norah, Logan McKenna's great-grandmother, falls in love with Giovanni, a young immigrant from Italy searching for his place in the world. Each must face trials they never expected, but from their love, Giovanni creates his masterpiece--Bella, a hand-crafted violin with unparalleled sound that accompanies each generation that follows.

JAGGED DAWN: Logan's Beginning

Unexpected events launch faithful wife and mother, Logan McKenna, battered and wounded, into an unknown future and a life she would never have predicted. A lesser woman wouldn't survive, but with inner strength grounded in the love of family and friends, Logan not only faces her problems head on, but also rediscovers the joy of living--including playing Bella, her beloved violin, and cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in her gleaming, sapphire-blue '58 Corvette.

Easily read in a single sitting, I allowed myself to linger over these stories, which transport fans of Davisson's Logan McKenna mystery series back to both Red Sleeve, West Virginia and Irvine, California. The first novella alternates between past and present, with details about Logan's great-grandmother's youth, as well as the budding relationship between Norah and Giovanni, the talented craftsman from Italy. I found the second (contemporary) novella more engaging, most likely due to my familiarity with the location (I grew up in Southern California), as well as the dramatic turn of events and likeable main character. Both of these novellas present an engaging back story that makes the reader want to know more about Logan McKenna and what happens to her in the series to come. Valerie Davisson has written nine novels in this mystery series, and I look forward to reading the first installment, Shattered

November 24, 2023

Count the Ways


Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard
2021 William Morrow
Finished on November 17, 2023
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

In her most ambitious novel to date, New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard returns to the themes that are the hallmarks of her most acclaimed work in a mesmerizing story of a family—from the hopeful early days of young marriage to parenthood, divorce, and the costly aftermath that ripples through all their lives.

Eleanor and Cam meet at a crafts fair in Vermont in the early 1970s. She’s an artist and writer, he makes wooden bowls. Within four years they are parents to three children, two daughters and a red-headed son who fills his pockets with rocks, plays the violin and talks to God. To Eleanor, their New Hampshire farm provides everything she always wanted—summer nights watching Cam’s softball games, snow days by the fire and the annual tradition of making paper boats and cork people to launch in the brook every spring. If Eleanor and Cam don’t make love as often as they used to, they have something that matters more. Their family.

Then comes a terrible accident, caused by Cam’s negligence. Unable to forgive him, Eleanor is consumed by bitterness, losing herself in her life as a mother, while Cam finds solace with a new young partner.

Over the decades that follow, the five members of this fractured family make surprising discoveries and decisions that occasionally bring them together, and often tear them apart. Tracing the course of their lives—through the gender transition of one child and another’s choice to completely break with her mother—Joyce Maynard captures a family forced to confront essential, painful truths of its past, and find redemption in its darkest hours.

A story of holding on and learning to let go, Count the Ways is an achingly beautiful, poignant, and deeply compassionate novel of home, parenthood, love, and forgiveness.

Oh, this was a hard one to read. As one who has experienced divorce (both as a child and as an adult with a young child), this novel hit far too close to home. It would be so easy to compare my life story with that of Eleanor's, but this platform is not intended for oversharing personal grievances or dredging up the past. Suffice it to say, Eleanor and I have much in common and my heart ached for her. Count the Ways is the proverbial train-wreck of a novel, and while heartbreaking to this reader, I couldn't pull my eyes away. I so wanted her to find happiness and bury the all-consuming bitterness (toward her ex-husband) that poisoned her relationships with her daughters. 

Joyce Maynard's attention to domestic detail is strong (some may say too strong or excessive) in all of her books, and I especially enjoyed and appreciated the historical and pop references in this latest work. A playlist from the book would include Joni Mitchell, CSN, the Stones, and Beatles, to name just a few. Maynard draws her audience into the home and heart of a woman who wants only to love and be loved by her family. As I read, I had to remind myself that Eleanor is a character in a story and not a real person who needs to be comforted and told that it does get better. 

I've been reading the works of Joyce Maynard since the late 1980s when I first discovered her weekly syndicated column, Domestic Pleasures. Since then, I have read six of her novels, and up until now, my all-time favorite was The Usual RulesCount the Ways has taken that honor. Highly recommend.

November 22, 2023

Wordless Wednesday

From our recent trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia...

October 6, 2023
Sooke, British Columbia

November 19, 2023

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
2012 Random House Audio
Narrated by Kathe Mazur
Finished on November 16, 2023
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

After reading several glowing reviews, I picked up a copy of Susan Cain's latest book (Bittersweet) while traveling this past summer. (I'm always happy to support indie bookstores when we're on the road.) I've had Cain's previous bestseller (Quiet) on my TBR list for over a decade and decided to start with that book before reading Bittersweet.  

Quiet is well-researched and full of interesting anecdotes and examples. I found myself nodding in agreement, recognizing not only myself, but friends and family members who are classic introverts. I'm sure some would be surprised to learn that I consider myself an introvert. After all, I can lead a book group discussion, hand-sell my favorite books to complete strangers, and throw dinner parties. But I prefer small, casual gatherings over big events. I'm perfectly content spending time alone on my walks, shopping by myself rather than with a group of girlfriends, or relaxing on the weekend, curled up with a good book. Thankfully, my husband feels the same.
Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.
It was nice reading a book that validated my feelings about my personality, and yet, I felt like the author was stating the obvious. There aren't a lot of "Ah-ha!" moments revealed in Cain's writing, and halfway in, my mind started to wander, but I was content to continue listening to Kathe Mazur's outstanding narration. 

I found the following quiz on the author's website. I answered yes to 17 of the statements. How about you?
1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
2. I often prefer to express myself in writing.
3. I enjoy solitude.
4. I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than my peers.
5. I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in-depth about topics that matter to me.
6. People tell me that I'm a good listener.
7. I'm not a big risk-taker.
8. I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.
9. I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.
10. People describe me as "soft-spoken" or "mellow".
11. I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it's finished.
12. I dislike conflict.
13. I do my best work on my own.
14. I tend to think before I speak.
15. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
16. I often let calls go through to voice-mail.
17. If I had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
18. I don't enjoy multi-tasking.
19. I can concentrate easily.
20. In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.

November 15, 2023

Wordless Wednesday

From our recent trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia...

September 27, 2023
Elk Falls Provincial Park, British Columbia

November 12, 2023

Mad Honey

2022 Ballantine Books
Finished on November 10, 2023
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

A soul-stirring novel about what we choose to keep from our past, and what we choose to leave behind.

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising a beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in, and taking over her father's beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can she trust him completely . . .

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in him, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.

Once again, Jodi Picoult has written a compelling and thought-provoking novel (really more of a mystery than general fiction) that grabbed me from the first page and never let go. I went into Mad Honey completely cold, not even tempted to read the publisher's blurb, confident that a book by Picoult is almost guaranteed to be a winner. I was a little hesitant to read a co-written work, but then I remembered that the Monkeewrench series was written by a mother-daughter writing duo (P.J. Tracy), and I loved those books. Picoult and Boylan have created a seamless story, never once did I feel jolted out of the narrative, their two voices blending into one. Unaware of the central theme of the story, I gasped out loud when the main secret was revealed. I knocked off half a point due to some of the teenage angst in Lily's chapters, pushing the story toward the YA genre, of which I'm not a huge fan. I also guessed the final outcome early on, but that didn't spoil my reading experience, and I'm eager to discuss the book with others. I plan to nominate it to my book group for our 2024 calendar. Fans of Defending Jacob will enjoy this dramatic story. Highly recommend!

November 10, 2023

Damnation Spring


2021 Scribner
Finished on November 3, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A stunning novel about love, work, and marriage that asks how far one family and one community will go to protect their future.

Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It’s 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened.

Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper. It’s a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall—a job that both his father and grandfather died doing. Colleen and Rich want a better life for their son—and they take steps to assure their future. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient Redwoods. Colleen, desperate to have a second baby, challenges the logging company’s use of herbicides that she believes are responsible for the many miscarriages in the community—including her own. Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict that threatens the very thing they are trying to protect: their family.

Told in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, Damnation Spring is an intimate, compassionate portrait of a family whose bonds are tested and a community clinging to a vanishing way of life. An extraordinary story of the transcendent, enduring power of love—between husband and wife, mother and child, and longtime neighbors. An essential novel for our times.

I read Damnation Spring in mid-2022 and thought it was outstanding. I enjoyed the story and writing so much that I decided to recommend it to my book group, and we are discussing it later this month. I wish I could say that I loved it as much the second time around, but it didn't pull me in until about halfway in. Maybe it was simply too soon for a full reread. I dropped my original 5-star rating down to 4 stars.

I won't repost my original thoughts about the book, since that review is pretty long, but you can find it here.

November 8, 2023

Wordless Wednesday

 From our recent trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia...

September 30, 2023
Black Creek, British Columbia

November 1, 2023

A Month in Summary - October 2023

Sooke River Campground
Sooke, British Columbia, Canada
October 2023

Another brief summary, as we've been busy getting settled after our adventure on Vancouver Island, as well as hosting more friends and family here in Little Whale Cove. Our trip on "Van Isle" was everything we had hoped for, and I have no doubt that we'll return in the not too distant future.

I read even less in October than in September, and have given up on several audiobooks, still waiting for something that will hold my attention. I may need to take a break from listening to books until after the holidays. 

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

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark (5/5)

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill (4/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Not only has my reading taken a dive, but we haven't watched anything in the way of movies or TV series since we got home. We've been watching a lot of MLB, first cheering for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and after they lost their chance to be in the World Series, we switched our allegiance to the Texas Rangers. 


Deb, Dean, Rod and Me

Our great friends from Nebraska have been on the road in their RV for a couple of months and we were so happy they were able to spend a couple of days hanging out with us. We had a wonderful time catching up and hope it won't be another six years before we get together again!

Mom's sister and brother

Libby, Alison, Mom, Georgie, and Rick

Shortly after Deb & Dean's visit, my mom's brother, sister-in-law, sister and niece arrived for a few days. We had such a nice time catching up and reminiscing, and after a bit of damp weather, the sun did eventually come out. 

With the holidays rapidly approaching, things may get a little quiet around here. I am hoping to share a few "Wordless Wednesday" posts with photos from our trip, but we'll see how that goes.