December 28, 2023

Saving Emma


Saving Emma by Allen Eskens
Boady Sanden #2
2023 Mulholland Books
Finished on December 18, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A lawyer's race to reveal a wrongful conviction collides with the dark shadow of a murder in his own home in this propulsive and perfectly-plotted new thriller from award-winning writer Allen Eskens.

When Boady Sanden first receives the case of Elijah Matthews, he's certain there's not much he can do. Elijah, who believes himself to be a prophet, has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital for the past four years, convicted of brutally murdering the pastor of a megachurch. But as a law professor working for the Innocence Project, Boady agrees to look into Elijah's file. When he does, he is alarmed to find threads that lead back to the death of his colleague and friend, Ben Pruitt, a man shot to death four years earlier in Boady's own home.

Ben's daughter, Emma, has lived with Boady and Boady's wife Dee ever since that awful night. Now fourteen years old, Emma has been growing distant, and soon makes a fateful choice that takes her far from the safety of her godparents. Desperate to bring her home, and to free an innocent man, Boady must do all he can to investigate Elijah's case while fighting to save the family he has deeply come to love.

Written with energy, propulsion, and his characteristic pathos and insight, Eskens delivers another pitch-perfect legal thriller that reveals a twisted murder and explores faith, love, family, and redemption along the way.

I can't remember the last time I read a book (and one with more than 300 pages) in a single day. I could not put this one down! Eskens' thrillers are the proverbial page-turners, and I'm hooked. It's tempting to read the remaining books on his backlist, but I'm going to try to spread them out, maybe reading one a month. This is another one of Eskens' that I've read out of order, but I don't mind. Not one bit. 

December 27, 2023

Merry Christmas!


Well, I meant to post this on the 25th... Ooops. 

Merry Christmas from Depoe Bay! 2023 was a fun-filled year of RV road trips and visitors. We spent a week in Nehalem, almost six weeks in Alberta & British Columbia (Waterton, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, etc.), and close to a month on Vancouver Island (a research trip for Rod’s latest book). Highlights include sightings of mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, a lynx, humpback whales, and orcas. In addition to our travels, we hosted over 40 friends and relatives (not all at once!) who came to visit and help celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday (which was in May). It was great to see everyone!
We hope you are enjoying this holiday season and that 2024 brings you peace, love, and joy.

December 23, 2023

Forsaken Country


Forsaken Country by Allen Eskens
Detective Max Rupert #6
2022 Mulholland Books
Finished on December 17, 2023
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Max Rupert has left his position as a Minneapolis homicide detective to live in solitude. Mourning the tragic death of his wife, he’s also racked by guilt—he alone knows what happened to her killer. But then the former local sheriff, Lyle Voight, arrives with a desperate plea: Lyle’s daughter Sandy and his six-year-old grandson Pip have disappeared. Lyle’s certain Sandy’s ex-husband Reed is behind it, but the new sheriff is refusing to investigate.

When Max reluctantly looks into their disappearance, he too becomes convinced something has gone very wrong. But the closer Max and Lyle get to finding proof, the more slippery Reed becomes, until he makes a break for the beautiful but formidable Boundary Waters wilderness with vulnerable Pip in tow.

Racing after the most dangerous kind of criminal—a desperate father—and with the ghosts of their own pasts never far behind, Max and Lyle go on the hunt within a treacherous landscape, determined to bring an evil man to justice, and to bring a terrified child home alive.

I was returning a book at the library last week and came across a new release by Allen Eskens. Up until now, I'd only read his first book, The Life We Bury, which I enjoyed quite a lot on audio. Over the years, I kept seeing his new releases, but never got around to reading any others. So, last week I snagged Eskens' latest book (Saving Emma) and headed over to the stacks to see if there were any more of his that I could borrow. I jumped onto Fantastic Fiction to ensure that I wasn't going to accidentally read one from his series, preferring to try a stand-alone. I got that wrong! (Or, should I say, Fantastic Fiction got it wrong. Sigh.Forsaken Country is the sixth in the Max Rupert series. Oh, well. I know I read a major spoiler, but the book was so good, it was worth it. Honestly, I zipped through this thrilling crime novel in record speed, compulsively reading when I should have been sleeping.

Allen Eskens' stories and style remind me of Dennis Lehane's early books, but also of Peter Heller's, particularly with regard to his settings and characters. You can be sure I won't wait another half dozen years before I read more by Eskens. As a matter of fact, as soon as I finished Forsaken Country, I immediately started Saving Emma

Highly recommend!

December 19, 2023

French Braid


French Braid by Anne Tyler
2022 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished on December 14, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author--a funny, joyful, brilliantly perceptive journey deep into one Baltimore family's foibles, from a boyfriend with a red Chevy in the 1950s up to a longed-for reunion with a grandchild in our pandemic present.

The Garretts take their first and last family vacation in the summer of 1959. They hardly ever leave home, but in some ways they have never been farther apart. Mercy has trouble resisting the siren call of her aspirations to be a painter, which means less time keeping house for her husband, Robin. Their teenage daughters, steady Alice and boy-crazy Lily, could not have less in common. Their youngest, David, is already intent on escaping his family's orbit, for reasons none of them understand. Yet, as these lives advance across decades, the Garretts' influences on one another ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation.

Full of heartbreak and hilarity, French Braid is classic Anne Tyler: a stirring, uncannily insightful novel of tremendous warmth and humor that illuminates the kindnesses and cruelties of our daily lives, the impossibility of breaking free from those who love us, and how close--yet how unknowable--every family is to itself.

Anne Tyler's latest novel (I believe it's her twenty-fourth) took me by surprise. If asked, I would admit with a bit of embarrassment that I am not a fan of Tyler's books. She is so popular and everyone I know seems to love her novels, but I've tried several, and have only finished a handful. 

As I began reading French Braid, I recognized Tyler's familiar style of a domestic story peopled with quirky family members. The novel opens in 2010 with a young couple, Serena and James, who are catching a train from Philadelphia to Baltimore. They had been visiting James' parents, and while waiting for the train, Serena spots her cousin, Nicholas. After a brief conversation with Nicholas, the couple boards the train and spends the duration of their trip bickering about their visit.

Jump back to 1959 in the following chapter and we meet Serena's family, specifically her grandparents, who are taking their three children on their first (and last) family vacation. This sudden shift in the timeline took me by surprise, and we don't meet back up with Serena until much later in the book.

The Garretts are an odd bunch, even disregarding Tyler's unusual names such as Mercy and Candle (the latter is actually Kendall, but she couldn't pronounce her name when she was little and Candle stuck). There are also two grandchildren named after their grandfather, Robin. One is referred to as "Robby the Boy," since his cousin was born first and she is Robby the Girl. Oh, and there's even a dog named John! 

It wasn't until I reached the second half of the novel that I began to care about this strange family, and more specifically, the last chapter (set during the lockdown period of the pandemic), which won me over, tugging at my heartstrings, and tempting me to start reading the book again from the beginning. Spanning sixty years, French Braid is a tender and beautifully rendered story about family, warts and all. Highly recommend.

Click on the links below to read my reviews for other Anne Tyler books:

December 15, 2023

Wrong Place Wrong Time


Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
2022 HarperAudio
Narrated by Lesley Sharp
Finished on December 11, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Can you stop a murder after it’s already happened?

It is midnight on the morning of Halloween, and Jen anxiously waits up for her 18-year-old son, Todd, to return home. But worries about his broken curfew transform into something much more dangerous when Todd finally emerges from the darkness. As Jen watches through the window, she sees her funny, seemingly happy teenage son stab a total stranger.

She doesn’t know who the victim is, or why Todd has committed such a devastating act of violence. All she knows is that her life, and Todd’s, have been shattered.

After her son is taken into custody, Jen falls asleep in despair. But when she wakes up… it is yesterday. The murder has not happened yet—and there may be a chance to stop it. Each morning, when Jen wakes, she is further back in the past, first weeks, then years, before the murder. And Jen realizes that somewhere in the past lies the trigger for Todd’s terrible crime…and it is her mission to find it, and prevent it from taking place.

Whoa! I don't remember who mentioned this book, but thank you! I spent two enjoyable weeks listening to this compelling story, not wanting it to end, but eager to find out what the heck was going on in Jen's world! Technically, it's a time travel tale, however Jen doesn't bounce back and forth between past and present, but rather continues traveling further back in time until she learns why the present day events occur. I guessed one of the twists early on, but there were plenty more to keep me entertained. The pacing is uneven at times, but Lesley Sharp's outstanding performance helped hold my interest, and I'll be on the lookout for more narrations by her. I also look forward to reading more by Gillian McAllister. Any suggestions as to what I should try next? Highly recommend.

December 13, 2023

A Question of Identity


A Question of Identity by Susan Hill
Simon Serrallier #7
2012 Overlook Press
Finished on December 10, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A particularly unpleasant murder, that of a very old woman in a housing project, rocks the town of Lafferton. The murderer has left a distinctive "sign" on the body and at the scene of crime. A couple of weeks later, a similar murder occurs, and a month or so later, so does another.

Initial investigations discover that the mysterious "sign" left on the body was the calling card of a suspect who was charged with several murders in the northwest of the country, tried but acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. All indications suggest that this person has simply vanished. Or is he right under their noses? Simon Serrailler is obliged to delve deeper and scratch out answers, in this addictive mystery of surpassing darkness by the bestselling Susan Hill.

Another solid mystery in Susan Hill's Simon Serrallier series. I never did guess the killer, in spite of a few clues early on. This particular book felt a bit more intense than some of her others. Maybe the elderly victims, who appear so vulnerable and trusting, made me think of some of my friends and relatives who are living alone. I have the next two books in this series ready to go, but I think I'll hold off until after the holidays. I need to read something a little bit lighter!

December 9, 2023

Hello Beautiful


Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
2023 The Dial Press
Finished on December 5, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

William Waters grew up in a house silenced by tragedy, where his parents could hardly bear to look at him, much less love him. So it's a relief when his skill on the basketball court earns him a scholarship to college, far away from his childhood home. He soon meets Julia Padavano, a spirited and ambitious young woman who surprises William with her appreciation of his quiet steadiness. With Julia comes her family; she is inseparable from her three younger sisters: Sylvie, the dreamer, is happiest with her nose in a book and imagines a future different from the expected path of wife and mother; Cecelia, the family's artist; and Emeline, who patiently takes care of all of them. Happily, the Padavanos fold Julia's new boyfriend into their loving, chaotic household.

But then darkness from William's past surfaces, jeopardizing not only Julia's carefully orchestrated plans for their future, but the sisters' unshakeable loyalty to one another. The result is a catastrophic family rift that changes their lives for generations. Will the loyalty that once rooted them be strong enough to draw them back together when it matters most?

Vibrating with tenderness, Hello Beautiful is a gorgeous, profoundly moving portrait of what's possible when we choose to love someone not in spite of who they are, but because of it.

Told in alternating chapters, spanning nearly 50 years, Hello Beautiful is a character study, which guides us through the lives of William and the Padavano family. I enjoyed this novel, coming to care about the four sisters (and their daughters), but I never warmed to William. There isn't a lot of action, and there were moments when I felt impatient with the slow pace, but this is a quiet story, one to be savored and not rushed through. I looked forward to returning to the book every night, but it's not one that I loved or wish to read again.

December 4, 2023

A Month in Summary - November 2023

Elk Falls Provincial Park
Campbell River, British Columbia
September 2023

Just as the bear in the photograph above is preparing for winter, I found myself slowing down in November, curling up with my books more often than I usually do during the summer. We celebrated our 35th anniversary, enjoyed a visit with more relatives mid-month (I think that brings the total number of visitors in 2023 to a whopping 43!), and hosted a few of our neighbors for Thanksgiving. The RV is tucked in at the storage facility for the next few months, and the rainy (and windy!) season has arrived, so I see more time for reading and trying out new recipes in the coming months.

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

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson (4/5)

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan (4.5/5)

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard (5/5)

The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill (3.5/5)

The Push by Ashley Audrain (4.5/5)

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls (4/5)

Closer by Sea by Perry Chafe (3.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

My Texas Rangers' T-Shirt from 1998

Texas Rangers are the 2023 World Series Champions! When we lived in Fort Worth (1998-2000), we fell in love with the Rangers (and their ballpark). It was also the season of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, so we watched A LOT of baseball. I loved going to games and have always been a fan of the team (which has been around since the year of my birth). Well done, boys!

Unforgotten (Season Five) - Lots of characters and threads to keep track of, but we enjoyed it, in spite of the convoluted finale.

Vera (Season Three) - We really enjoy this series, especially since each mystery is wrapped up in a single episode. I love seeing how the friendship between Vera and Joe continues to develop.

Anika (Season Two) - Lots more (dry) humor in this season than in the first, but overall, I didn't love it. 

Bosch Legacy (Season Two) - Another follow-up season that disappointed us. Actually, the Legacy spin-off of Bosch isn't nearly as good as the original. 

We celebrated 35 years of marriage on the 6th. I am so fortunate to have such a great husband and travel companion! Twu wuv. 💖

Thanksgiving Feast:

Most of our family came for visits this past summer and early fall, so with no relatives coming for Thanksgiving, we invited a few of our neighbors to Thanksgiving dinner. Only because I couldn't find a smaller turkey (from the company I prefer), I wound up with a 24 lb beast! I've never roasted a turkey that large and was afraid it would take all day to cook. Surprisingly, it was finished in under four hours. (It was actually slightly overdone, but that's better than an undercooked turkey, and, with enough gravy and cranberry sauce, nobody cared.) I do a lot of prep the day before and serve the majority of hot dishes in crockpots. I was even able to carve the turkey well before our guests arrived, holding it at a safe temperature in a large crock pot. And yes, we have a lot of leftovers which are in the freezer for future meals. Turkey soup, turkey tetrazzini, turkey enchiladas, turkey sandwiches, and turkey tacos, to name a few. What's your favorite turkey leftover meal?

Christmas Gift Idea:

I received my first item from MAYSON the label and I'm in love! The color is stunning and the cashmere fabric is so luxurious. If you need a gift idea, you can't go wrong with this scarf. It comes in six colors (cappuccino, navy, heather grey, skylar, black, and white sand) and after much deliberation, I ordered the skylar. It was tempting to get one in every color. ;) 

On second thought, treat yourself to an early Christmas present. You deserve it!

December 2, 2023

Closer by Sea


Closer by Sea by Perry Chafe
2023 Simon & Schuster
Finished on November 29, 2023
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the writer and producer of the hit TV shows Republic of Doyle and Son of a Critch, a poignant coming-of-age debut novel about the mysterious disappearance of a young girl and the fragility of childhood bonds, set against the backdrop of a small island community adapting to an ever-changing landscape.

In 1991, on a small, isolated island off the coast of Newfoundland, twelve-year-old Pierce Jacobs struggles to come to terms with the death of his father. It’s been three years since his dad, a fisherman, disappeared in the cold, unforgiving Atlantic, his body never recovered. Pierce is determined to save enough money to fix his father’s old boat and take it out to sea. But life on the island is quiet and hard. The local fishing industry is on the brink of collapse, threatening to take an ages-old way of life with it. The community is hit even harder when a young teen named Anna Tessier goes missing.

With the help of his three friends, Pierce sets out to find Anna, with whom he shared an unusual but special bond. They soon cross paths with Solomon Vickers, a mysterious, hermetic fisherman who may have something to do with the missing girl. Their search brings them into contact with unrelenting bullies, magnificent sea creatures, fierce storms, and glacial giants. But most of all, it brings them closer to the brutal reality of both the natural and the modern world.

Part coming-of-age story, part literary mystery, and part suspense thriller, Closer by Sea is a page-turning, poignant, and powerful novel about family, friendship, and community set at a pivotal time in modern Newfoundland history. It is an homage to a people and a place, and above all it captures that delicate and tender moment when the wonder of childhood innocence gives way to the harsh awakening of adult experience.

I was not familiar with either Perry Chafe or either of the TV shows he has written and produced, but when I heard about Closer by Sea, particularly the Newfoundland setting, I was intrigued. The friendship between three twelve-year-old boys and a new girl in town, a fishing village, and a missing teenager recall both Stephen King's novella, The Body, and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. I was quickly drawn into Chafe's story, curious to learn more about the mysterious Solomon and what he might be hiding about Anna's disappearance. This coming-of-age tale reads like a screenplay, and I could easily envision the friends stumbling about the island, searching for clues (and evidence of a possible murder) in a creepy, dark, ramshackle of a building. Throw in a budding crush, a gang of bullies, teenage angst, and a mysterious stranger, and you've got what suddenly feels like a juvenile or YA novel. The narrative begins to lose momentum halfway in, but with less than a total of 300 pages, it wasn't a struggle to keep reading. Good, but not great literature.

December 1, 2023

The Silver Star


The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
2013 Scribner
Finished on November 26, 2023
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

It is 1970 in a small town in California. “Bean” Holladay is twelve and her sister, Liz, is fifteen when their artistic mother, Charlotte, takes off to find herself, leaving her girls enough money to last a month or two. When Bean returns from school one day and sees a police car outside the house, she and Liz decide to take the bus to Virginia, where their widowed Uncle Tinsley lives in the decaying mansion that’s been in Charlotte’s family for generations.

An impetuous optimist, Bean soon discovers who her father was, and hears stories about why their mother left Virginia in the first place. Money is tight, and the sisters start babysitting and doing office work for Jerry Maddox, foreman of the mill in town, who bullies his workers, his tenants, his children, and his wife. Liz is whip-smart--an inventor of word games, reader of Edgar Allan Poe, nonconformist, but when school starts in the fall, it’s Bean who easily adjusts, and Liz who becomes increasingly withdrawn. And then something happens to Liz in the car with Maddox.

Jeannette Walls has written a deeply moving novel about triumph over adversity and about people who find a way to love each other and the world, despite its flaws and injustices.

It's been a long time since I read Jeannette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle. 18 years, to be precise. I thought the book was very good in spite of its depressing subject matter, but when Walls published her first novel (a "true-life novel" based on her grandmother's life), Half Broke Horses, and I read the publisher's blurb, I simply wasn't interested. And yet, when The Silver Star landed on my TBR stack, I thought I'd give it a try. I'm glad that I did! I devoured this coming-of-age novel in two nights. Bean is one of those spunky, resourceful, wise-beyond-her-years protagonists that I love, and I was eager to see how she and her older sister would fare in their new community. The novel feels a bit like a YA story, but it held my interest from cover to cover, and now I'm eager to read Walls' most recent novel, Hang the Moon. I may even give Half Broke Horses a chance, too.