January 31, 2024

Small Mercies


Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane
Fiction - Mystery/Crime
Finished on January 27, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The acclaimed New York Times bestselling writer returns with a masterpiece to rival Mystic River —an all-consuming tale of revenge, family love, festering hate, and insidious power, set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in Boston’s history.

In the summer of 1974 a heatwave blankets Boston and Mary Pat Fennessy is trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mary Pat has lived her entire life in the housing projects of “Southie,” the Irish American enclave that stubbornly adheres to old tradition and stands proudly apart.

One night Mary Pat’s teenage daughter Jules stays out late and doesn’t come home. That same evening, a young Black man is found dead, struck by a subway train under mysterious circumstances. The two events seem unconnected. But Mary Pat, propelled by a desperate search for her missing daughter, begins turning over stones best left untouched—asking questions that bother Marty Butler, chieftain of the Irish mob, and the men who work for him, men who don’t take kindly to any threat to their business.

Set against the hot, tumultuous months when the city’s desegregation of its public schools exploded in violence, Small Mercies is a superb thriller, a brutal depiction of criminality and power, and an unflinching portrait of the dark heart of American racism. It is a mesmerizing and wrenching work that only Dennis Lehane could write.

Years ago, I was a huge fan of Dennis Lehane, reading the entire Kenzie-Gennaro series, which I loved, although the final installment (Moonlight Mile) was a disappointment. I don't think I read Mystic River, but I loved the movie. And Shutter Island (book and movie) is outstanding. But it's been a long time since I've picked up any of Lehane's works. I went into Small Mercies cold, not even reading the publisher's blurb on the book jacket. This stand-alone would make a great movie, and I found myself picturing a few of the cast members from The Sopranos. The book is gritty, and Mary Pat is a kick-ass Southie whom I wouldn't want to cross! The racist attitudes and ugly language are especially hard to read, and sadly, so much of Lehane's commentary is still a part of this country's ills. And yet, while difficult to read, I couldn't stop. The pacing is tight, and I could feel my blood pressure creeping up as Mary Pat dealt with her demons, both visible and invisible. The issue of busing is more of a backdrop than a central theme, but Lehane gives us a lot to think about with regard to racism, and the novel would be an excellent choice for a book group discussion. Highly recommend.

January 29, 2024

Riding the White Horse Home


Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album by Teresa Jordan
Nonfiction - Memoir
Finished on January 26, 2024
First read on March 4, 1997
New Rating for 2024: 3/5 (Good)
Original Rating for 1997: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"A haunting and elegant memoir, evoking the ghosts of... family and those spirits inherent in the landscape.... Riding the White Horse Home becomes the story of us all. ~ Terry Tempest Williams

In 1887 Teresa Jordan's great-grandfather bought a ranch in the Iron Mountain country of southeast Wyoming. Four generations later her father sold it, under the economic pressures that have made ranching a dying way of life. This superbly evocative book is at once Teresa Jordan's family chronicle and a eulogy for the West her people helped shape.

Riding the White Horse Home is about generations of women who coped with physical hardship and killing loneliness in a landscape at once beautiful and inhospitable. It is a book of practical information--how to keep a cold from shying; how to tell when a cow is about to calf--conveyed with such precision that reading it is like a fast gallop across the prairie. Teresa Jordan has made a gift of her heritage--and has taught us something about our own.    

My Original Notes (1997):

Marvelous! I love this book. Makes me want to write my own memoirs. I identified with so much of the author's views and feelings. Very sad in places - brought tears to my eyes, yet also humorous. Great look at life on a cattle ranch in contemporary time. Insightful. Touching. Spellbinding.

My Thoughts in 2017 (for my Looking Back post):

Yes, I still own a copy of this wonderful memoir and plan to read it again. I read it for my Great Plains Lit class, many years ago, but still remember how much I enjoyed it. Flipping through my copy, I see a lot of underlined passages and notes jotted down on the pages... far too many to share here, but this particular passage caught my eye and I think it speaks to the author's love of the land she grew up on:
When my family tells the story of the ranch, we say we left because we had to--we could not afford to pay the estate taxes after my grandfather's death. This is true, but it is only part of the story. My family left the land because for four generations we had yearned to leave. We had lived in a culture that taught us that a professional life is more respectable than one tied to the land. This attitude shaped the decisions my family made, and it continues to shape the larger political and economic decisions, made by educators and policymakers far removed from the land, that affect the few who still hold on.

My sadness over the loss of the homeplace is my dark side, my grief, but it is also the source of my deepest knowledge. Perhaps it is only through this experience of loss that I can value a sense of place, that I can question how thoughtlessly--even how contemptuously--we are taught to cast it aside.
I'm willing to bet that none of you have heard of Teresa Jordan or this book. If you enjoy memoirs or novels such as A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean), Dancing at the Rascal Farm (Ivan Doig) or All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy), this is sure to be one you will love. I'm so happy to see that it's still available for purchase 

Update in 2024: 

After blogging about this book in 2017, I finally made time to re-read it this past month. I wish I could say that I loved it as much as I did in 1997, but I didn't. I enjoyed revisiting Jordan's memoir, and I didn't skim the familiar passages, but it didn't strike me as a great book this time around.
Snow doesn't melt, people say, it just wears out. Someone who asked if the wind ever quits is likely to be told that it does, long enough to change directions. I once ran across a list of nearly four hundred winds from around the world and wondered why Wyoming, so dominated by wind, has so few names for its variations. The only one that came to mind was chinook. "I can think of a few more," our neighbor, Wayne Bonham, suggested. "There's the wind, the damned wind, and the goddamned wind." 

January 26, 2024

Looking Back - The Diary of Anne Frank: The Definitive Edition

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.

The Diary of Anne Frank (The Definitive Edition) by Anne Frank
Finished on January 28, 2002
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The diary as Anne Frank wrote it: “The single most compelling personal account of the Holocaust ... remains astonishing and excruciating" (The New York Times Book Review).

In a modern translation, this definitive edition contains entries about Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and confrontations with her mother that were cut from previous editions. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is among the most enduring documents of the twentieth century. Since its publication in 1947, it has been a beloved and deeply admired monument to the indestructible nature of the human spirit, read by millions of people and translated into more than fifty-five languages. Doubleday, which published the first English translation of the diary in 1952, now offers a new translation that captures Anne’s youthful spirit and restores the original material omitted by Anne’s father, Otto—approximately thirty percent of the diary. The elder Frank excised details about Anne’s emerging sexuality, and about the often-stormy relations between Anne and her mother.

Anne Frank and her family, fleeing the horrors of Nazi occupation forces, hid in the back of an Amsterdam office building for two years. This is Anne’s record of that time. She was thirteen when the family went into the “Secret Annex,” and in these pages, she grows to be a young woman and proves to be an insightful observer of human nature as well. A timeless story discovered by each new generation, The Diary of a Young Girl stands without peer. For young readers and adults, it continues to bring to life this young woman, who for a time survived the worst horrors the modern world had seen—and who remained triumphantly and heartbreakingly human throughout her ordeal.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I know I've read The Diary of Anne Frank in the past, but it wasn't the definitive edition; this one isn't quite as wholesome as the former! Anne is much more open and honest about feelings toward her parents and the other residents of the Secret Annex, including her romance with Peter. More sexuality is discussed, as well. Would love to have diaries written by Margot and Peter, which would be a great way to compare views of their time in hiding. Anne is wise beyond her years. Her writing seems so mature and insightful for such a young girl! 

Current Thoughts:

A timeless and important read. I wish I had been able to visit the museum in Amsterdam when we were there in 2015, but we didn't have enough time. 

January 24, 2024

Nothing More Dangerous


Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens
Boady Sanden #1
Finished on January 21, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In a small town where loyalty to family and to “your people” carries the weight of a sacred oath, defying those unspoken rules can be a deadly proposition.

After fifteen years of growing up in the Ozark hills with his widowed mother, high-school freshman Boady Sanden is beyond ready to move on. He dreams of glass towers and cityscapes, driven by his desire to be anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri. The new kid at St. Ignatius High School, if he isn’t being pushed around, he is being completely ignored. Even his beloved woods, his playground as a child and his sanctuary as he grew older, seem to be closing in on him, suffocating him.

Then Thomas Elgin moves in across the road, and Boady’s life begins to twist and turn. Coming to know the Elgins--a black family settling into a community where notions of “us” and “them” carry the weight of history--forces Boady to rethink his understanding of the world he’s taken for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold: the mother who wraps herself in the loss of her husband, the neighbor who carries the wounds of a mysterious past that he holds close, the quiet boss who is fighting his own hidden battle.

But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local plastics factory. Word has it that Ms. Poe left town, along with a hundred thousand dollars of company money. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.

As the mystery of her fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town, and he is forced to choose sides.

After reading two of Allen Eskens' books back-to-back last month, I was eager to try another and picked up a copy of Nothing More Dangerous at the library. Shelved in the mystery section, I was surprised that this prequel to the Boady Sanden series reads more like a coming-of-age tale rather than a whodunnit. At least, initially. The introductory chapters failed to pull me in as quickly as either Saving Emma or Forsaken Country, and it wasn't until well over a hundred pages when the story propelled Boady into a full-fledged mystery, that I became hooked. The foreshadowing had me on the edge of my seat, with bullying, race, and prejudice at front and center. Eskens' characters are well-drawn and I was rooting for Boady and Thomas as I read the final chapters. Exciting stuff! Recommend.

January 22, 2024

In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite


In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite: 150 Recipes & Stories About the Food You Love by Melissa Clark
Nonfiction - Cooking
Finished on January 14, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

“Melissa Clark’s recipes are as lively and diverse as ever, drawing on influences from Marrakech to Madrid to the Mississippi Delta. She has her finger on the pulse of how and what America likes to eat.”
—Tom Colicchio, author of Craft of Cooking

“A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s weekly feature in the New York Times Dining Section, is about dishes that are easy to cook and that speak to everyone, either stirring a memory or creating one. Now, Clark takes the same freewheeling yet well-informed approach that has won her countless fans and applies it to one hundred and fifty delicious, simply sophisticated recipes.

Clark prefaces each recipe with the story of its creation—the missteps as well as the strokes of genius—to inspire improvisation in her readers. So when discussing her recipe for Crisp Chicken Schnitzel, she offers plenty of tried-and-true tips learned from an Austrian chef; and in My Mother’s Lemon Pot Roast, she gives the same high-quality advice, but culled from her own family’s kitchen.

Memorable chapters reflect the way so many of us like to eat: Things with Cheese (think Baked Camembert with Walnut Crumble and Ginger Marmalade), The Farmers’ Market and Me (Roasted Spiced Cauliflower and Almonds), It Tastes Like Chicken (Garlic and Thyme–Roasted Chicken with Crispy Drippings Croutons), and many more delectable but not overly complicated dishes.

In addition, Clark writes with Laurie Colwin–esque warmth and humor about the relationship that we have with our favorite foods, about the satisfaction of cooking a meal where everyone wants seconds, and about the pleasures of eating. From stories of trips to France with her parents, growing up (where she and her sister were required to sit on unwieldy tuna Nicoise sandwiches to make them more manageable), to bribing a fellow customer for the last piece of dessert at the farmers’ market, Melissa’s stories will delight any reader who starts thinking about what’s for dinner as soon as breakfast is cleared away. This is a cookbook to read, to savor, and most important, to cook delicious, rewarding meals from.

I don't have a huge collection of cookbooks, but the ones that I have appeal to me most because of their glossy pages, full of beautiful photographs for each recipe. Some of my favorites include those written by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman), Trisha Yearwood, Deb Perelman (Smitten Kitchen), and Gina Homolka (Skinnytaste). When I received a copy of Melissa Clark's cookbook, I wasn't sure it would be for me since other than a few black-and-white photos (marking the beginning of a new chapter), it lacks any colorful photographs. I would have to use my imagination, rather than rely on a photograph, to envision the end result of each recipe. So, instead of flipping through to see if I could find something to make for dinner, I decided to start at the beginning and spend a year reading each recipe and accompanying anecdote. What a treat! Not only do I have roughly three dozen recipes marked to sample, but I was thoroughly entertained by Clark's stories. In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite not only has twelve chapters of recipes, but her essays (which run anywhere between one to three pages in length) read like those of Laurie Colwin, Molly Wizenberg, and Ann Hood's foodie memoirs. Now to try out some of those recipes!

January 20, 2024

Books Over 400 Pages Read in 2023


Do you avoid big books? I do, but once I get immersed in one, I don't want it to end! Forget your Goodreads goal and sink into a chunky story. Here are mine from 2023. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (so good on audio!)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard

⭐⭐⭐⭐💫 Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (excellent on audio)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

⭐⭐⭐💫 The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (not as good as A Gentleman in Moscow)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

⭐⭐⭐💫 Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (re-read for book club; better the first time around)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (another re-read for book club)

January 18, 2024

The Collected Regrets of Clover


The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer
Finished on January 14, 2024
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

What’s the point of giving someone a beautiful death if you can’t give yourself a beautiful life?

From the day she watched her kindergarten teacher drop dead during a dramatic telling of Peter Rabbit, Clover Brooks has felt a stronger connection with the dying than she has with the living. After the beloved grandfather who raised her dies alone while she is traveling, Clover becomes a death doula in New York City, dedicating her life to ushering people peacefully through their end-of-life process.

Clover spends so much time with the dying that she has no life of her own, until the final wishes of a feisty old woman send Clover on a road trip to uncover a forgotten love story—and perhaps, her own happy ending. As she finds herself struggling to navigate the uncharted roads of romance and friendship, Clover is forced to examine what she really wants, and whether she’ll have the courage to go after it.

Probing, clever, and hopeful, The Collected Regrets of Clover is perfect for readers of The Midnight Library and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine as it turns the normally taboo subject of death into a reason to celebrate life.

I enjoyed The Collected Regrets of Clover, but it turned out to be lighter than I had anticipated. The concept of a death doula is intriguing, and the manner in which Clover comforts those who are alone in their final hours is not only touching, but thought-provoking.

And yet, the predictability of Clover's personal life, in addition to the pacing of the novel, left me longing for more. In the hands of a seasoned author, this could have been an outstanding story. Given that it's Brammer's debut work, and that I liked it well enough to finish, I'm willing to give her next publication a chance. 
The truth is, grief never really goes away. Someone told me once that it’s like a bag that you always carry— it starts out as a large suitcase, and as the years go by, it might reduce to the size of a purse, but you carry it forever.
Minor Quibbles:

Clover's grandfather taught her to play mahjong when she was a little girl, and they played on a regular basis. Just the two of them. I've been playing mahjong since I was six or seven and while it's a game for four players, it is possible to play with three. But playing with only two is a bit of a stretch.

Several characters repeatedly use the word suck, as in "Losing someone you loved really sucked..." or "I'm sorry. That sucks." I don't usually mind the word, but it became a distraction. Clover is 36 and her friends are of the same generation, so maybe it's acceptable to them. I felt it minimized the speaker's intent to show comfort or a sincere expression of sympathy.

January 16, 2024

Bookstores of 2023


In addition to exploring new areas while traveling in our RV, we love to support independent bookstores, and seek out as many as possible while on our road trips. This past year, we discovered a few that were new to us, as well as returning to some old favorites. Have you been to any of these?

Cafe Books - Canmore, Alberta
Polar Peek Books - Fernie, British Columbia
Munro's Books - Victoria, British Columbia
Tanner's Books - Sidney, British Columbia
Windowseat Books - Nanaimo, British Columbia
Cloud & Leaf Bookstore - Manzanita, Oregon

January 14, 2024

The House on Mango Street


The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Fiction - Classics
Finished on January 10, 2024
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Here is Sandra Cisneros' greatly admired and best-selling novel of a young girl growing up in the Latino section of Chicago. Acclaimed by critics, beloved by children and their parents and grandparents, taught everywhere from inner-city grade schools to universities across the country, and translated all over the world, "The House on Mango Street" has entered the canon of coming-of-age classics even as it depicts a new American landscape.

Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous, "The House on Mango Street" tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn't want to belong - not to her run-down neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Esperanza's story is that of a young girl coming into her power, and inventing for herself what she will become. "The San Francisco Chronicle" has called "The House on Mango Street" "marvelous... spare yet luminous. The subtle power of Cisneros' storytelling is evident. She communicates all the rapture and rage of growing up in a modern world." It is an extraordinary achievement that will live on for years to come.

Part poetry, part novella, Sandra Cisneros' classic coming-of-age story is easily read in one sitting. I chose to read a few vignettes every night, allowing the beautiful prose to sink in, appreciating the visual imagery presented by Cisneros. I wish I had read this while in school, as I think there is much more below the surface. Maybe it's one to discuss with a book group. Lyrical. Nuanced. Spare. Eloquent. Recommend.
Earl works nights. His blinds are always closed during the day. Sometimes he comes out and tells us to keep quiet. The little wooden door that has wedged shut the dark for so long opens with a sigh and lets out a breath of mold and dampness, like books that have been left out in the rain. This is the only time we see Earl except for when he comes and goes to work. He has two little black dogs that go everywhere with him. They don't walk like ordinary dogs, but leap and somersault like an apostrophe and comma. 

January 12, 2024

Looking Back - The Giver

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.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Children's Fiction
1993 Houghton Mifflin
Finished on February 6, 2002
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened."

Thus opens this haunting novel in which a boy inhabits a seemingly idea world; a world without conflict, poverty, unemployment, divorce, injustice, or inequality. It is a time in which family values are paramount, teenage rebellion is unheard of, and even good manners are a way of life.

December is a time of the annual Ceremony at which each twelve year old receives a life assignment determined by the Elders. Jonas watches his friend Fiona named Caretaker of the Old and his cheerful pal Asher labeled the Assistant Director of Recreation. But Jonas has been chosen for something special. When his selection leads him to an unnamed man--the man called only the Giver--he begins to sense the dark secrets that underlie the fragile perfection of his world. 

Told with deceptive simplicity, this is the provocative story of a boy who experiences something incredible and undertakes something impossible. In the telling it questions every value we have taken for granted and reexamines our most deeply held beliefs.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I loved this thought-provoking story of a not-so-perfect world. Image a world without snow, sunshine or wind. This climate-controlled society seems like a good idea?? "In order to gain control of many things, certain things had to be let go of." "Sameness" eliminates the use of color, "real" parents, books, etc. This is a meticulously ordered community that, from first appearances, seems like a great idea. But when Jonas learns the true meaning of "release," it no longer seems like an ideal life. Ambiguous ending was ok with me.

My Current Thoughts:

I've had this book on my "keeper" shelf for more than two decades with great intentions of reading it a second time. Maybe it's time.

January 10, 2024

Meet Me at the Museum


Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Fiction - Epistolary
Published in 2018
Finished on January 8, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In Denmark, Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife and his hopes for the future. On an isolated English farm, Tina Hopgood is trapped in a life she doesn't remember choosing. Both believe their love stories are over. Brought together by a shared fascination with the Tollund Man, subject of Seamus Heaney's famous poem, they begin writing letters to each other. And from their vastly different worlds, they find they have more in common than they could have imagined. As they open up to one another about their lives, an unexpected friendship blooms. But then Tina's letters stop coming, and Anders is thrown into despair. How far are they willing to go to write a new story for themselves?

Several of my friends have read and recommended Anne Youngson's debut novel, Meet Me at the Museum since it first hit the shelves in 2018. I recently read and enjoyed her second novel, The Narrowboat Summer, so I was eager to read this debut with my book group. As with The Narrowboat Summer, I needed to read 50 pages or so before I fell into the story; once there, I didn't want to stop reading. As the book drew to a close, I was not surprised by the turn of events, but they left me feeling unsettled. 

Comparisons have been made between Meet Me at the Museum and Helene Hanff's classic epistolary (and true story) 84, Charing Cross Road. The latter is much shorter, easily read in an evening, and the friendship between Hanff and Frank Doel (the chief buyer for Marks & Co. in London) remains platonic whereas the relationship between Youngson's characters leans more toward an emotional affair.  Tina Hopgood reminds me of the main character in the sappy romantic novel and movie, The Bridges of Madison County, which also examines the life of a unhappy and unfulfilled farmer's wife. And yet, not all women who live and work on farms are dissatisfied. In Riding the White Horse Home, Teresa Jordan's mother lived a fulfilling life as a wife and a mother, but also a "full-fledged business partner in the family corporation." In her memoir, Jordan explains that she believes her "mother found satisfaction in these roles of wife, mother, and business partner, but she had chosen as well, to be something bigger and more complex than any of them: she had chosen to be fully herself. Early on, she had decided not to make sacrifices she couldn't make willingly; from that authentic core, she was able to marry and mother free of martyrdom or guilt." On the other hand, Youngson's main character comes to resent her role on the family farm. Overall, I enjoyed this epistolary work, and look forward to hearing what members in my book group have to say about it. Recommend.

These are some of my favorite epistolaries:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
Love & Saffron by Kim Fay
The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg
Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod
Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

January 8, 2024

Re-Reads of 2023


Do you re-read books? I try to fit one in each month, and it helps if my book group picks one that I've already read. Sometimes they're not as good as the first time, but sometimes they're even better. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
⭐⭐⭐💫 Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
⭐⭐⭐⭐ The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
⭐⭐⭐⭐ The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Evenings at Five by Gail Godwin
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson
⭐⭐⭐ Good Harbor by Anita Diamant

January 5, 2024

The Soul of Discretion


The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill
Simon Serrallier #8
2014 The Overlook Press
Finished on January 2, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The cathedral town of Lafferton seems idyllic, but in many ways it is just like any other place. As part of the same rapidly changing world, it shares the same hopes and fears, and the same kinds of crime, as any number of towns up and down the land.

When one day DC Simon Serrailler is called in by Lafferton’s new Chief Constable, Kieron Bright, he is met by four plainclothes officers. He is asked to take the lead role in a complex, potentially dangerous undercover operation and must leave town immediately, without telling anyone – not even his girlfriend Rachel, who has only just moved in with him.

Meanwhile, Simon’s sister Cat is facing difficult choices at work that will test her dedication to the NHS. But an urgent call about her and Simon’s father, Richard, soon presents her with a far greater challenge much closer to home.

To complete his special op, Simon must inhabit the mind of the worst kind of criminal. As the op unfolds, Lafferton is dragged into the sort of case every town dreads. And Simon faces the fight of his life.

Fantastic crime drama. There's not much of a mystery here, and the family dramas are front and center, but Susan Hill has written another gripping story. The disturbing subject matter is handled delicately, and I was thankful that I didn't need to skim over abhorrent or obscene details. I also appreciated the smaller cast of supporting characters as this particular installment to the series focuses mostly on Simon's undercover case and the personal problems that have cropped up in Cat, Richard, and Judith's lives. There is such depth to Hill's character development; I feel as if I really know these people! And the superb pacing kept me on the edge of my seat until the final paragraph. It was all I could do to turn out the light and not begin the next book in the series. Bravo!

Highly recommend, but be forewarned that this installment deals with child pornography. Again, no graphic details are revealed, but it is a disturbing story.

January 3, 2024

2023 Year End Survey and Top Picks List


I can't remember the last time I had such a great year of reading! And to think that every book in the above collage was a 5-star read is truly amazing. Was I more generous than usual with those gold stars? I like to rate my books quickly after reading because I my first reaction. As time passes, I question those early impressions, but as I look at those beautiful covers, I know those books all left a lasting imprint on me. The sign of an excellent book is that I want to own a copy in order to read it again, and while I already have most of these on my keeper shelf, I'm going to buy two that I borrowed from the library.

I surpassed my Goodreads goal of 60 books, reading 5 more than last year. June, July, and October were my slowest months, and not so coincidentally, the months we were traveling in our RV. November and December were very good with regard to numbers and quality, which surprises me since I'm usually too busy with holiday events, and reading typically falls by the wayside. Not so in 2023.

I gave up on more books than ever before, particularly audiobooks, but I reread more books from my keeper shelves, enjoying some, but finding others less impressive than the first time around.

Here are the fun stats:

Total Books Read: 65

Print Books: 52
Audiobooks: 13
ebooks: 0

Female Authors: 50
Male Authors: 15
New-To-Me Authors: 26

Fiction: 61
Nonfiction: 4

General Fiction: 33
Classics: 4
Poetry: 0
Historical Fiction: 4
Horror: 0
Travel/Food: 0
Science Fiction/Fantasy: 2
Time Travel: 1
Dystopia: 1
Mystery/Thrillers: 19
Westerns: 1
Childrens: 0
Memoir: 1
Essays: 2

Rereads: 8
Debuts: 7
Over 400  pages: 10

ARCs: 1
Borrowed: 20
Gift: 1
From My Stacks: 43

Total Pages Read: 17,565
Total Hours Listened: 171 hours, 54 minutes


5 stars: 13
4.5 stars: 9
4 stars: 23
3.5 stars: 8
3 stars: 10
2 stars: 2

Top Picks of 2023 (5 stars):

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman

Foster by Claire Keegan

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Recursion by Blake Crouch

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Love & Saffron by Kim Fay

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny

Honorable Mentions (4.5/5 stars):

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Maame by Jessica George

The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill

Little Monsters by Adrienne Brodeur

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult 

Forsaken Country by Allen Eskens

The Push by Ashley Audrain

Find my previous Year End Surveys and Top Pick lists here.

January 1, 2024

A Month in Summary - December 2023

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
December 2023

Happy New Year, friends! I hope you all had a safe and happy holiday season. Ours was busy, but not too stressful. We helped throw a retirement party for one of our community staff members, held our holiday book club meeting in our home, hosted a Christmas party for our friends & neighbors, celebrated my 62nd birthday, and enjoyed a couple of other holiday gatherings. Christmas Day was low-key, which suited us after a very busy month.

I had another great month of reading, partially due to a few nights of insomnia. I should probably try reading a dull book (Moby Dick?) when I can't sleep rather than exciting thrillers such as those by Allen Eskens. Two of his books kept me awake until the sun came up!

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

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (4/5)

A Question of Identity by Susan Hill (4/5)

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (4/5)

French Braid by Ann Tyler (4/5)

Forsaken Country by Allen Eskens (4.5/5)

Saving Emma by Allen Eskens (4/5)

Movies & TV Series:

The ABC Murders - John Malkovich stars as an older but wiser Hercule Poirot. I enjoyed his performance, but was underwhelmed by the program.

Shetland (Season 8) - While I enjoy Tosh's ongoing role in this tv series, the absence of DI Jimmy Perez is too great. We'll finish the season, but I don't know if we'll watch more if there's more to come.

Dear Edward - I enjoyed this novel, but the tv series doesn't compare. I gave up after one episode.

New Amsterdam - Finished! I enjoyed the earlier seasons much more than the recent releases, but I had to see how it ended. I'm happy to be finished.

Vera (Season 5 & 6) - I was surprised and disappointed that Joe Ashworth was no longer Vera's sidekick, but it didn't take long to warm up to DS Aiden Healy. I love this program and am happy there are so many more episodes remaining. We especially like that each mystery is solved in a single episode. Brenda Blethyn is outstanding!

Slow Horses (Season 3) - We've only watched a couple of episodes, but so far, so good. Gary Oldman is excellent.

The Crown (Season 6) - I'm surprised that I'm enjoying this final season as well as I am. The acting seems much better than previous seasons, although Imelda Staunton has been consistently good. 

I'll leave you with a few photos from this past month. May the New Year bring you nothing but peace and joy.