February 29, 2024

Since We Fell

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
Fiction - Suspense/Thriller
Finished on February 26, 2024
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs, a former journalist who, after an on-air mental breakdown, now lives as a virtual shut-in. In all other respects, however, she enjoys an ideal life with an ideal husband. Until a chance encounter on a rainy afternoon causes that ideal life to fray. As does Rachel’s marriage. As does Rachel herself. Sucked into a conspiracy thick with deception, violence, and possibly madness, Rachel must find the strength within herself to conquer unimaginable fears and mind-altering truths. 

By turns heart-breaking, suspenseful, romantic, and sophisticated, Since We Fell is a novel of profound psychological insight and tension. It is Dennis Lehane at his very best.

Phew! I almost missed out on a great thriller. I've had Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane on my shelves since April 2017! I was working at Barnes & Noble in Lincoln, Nebraska when I brought the ARC home, only to pack it up with the rest of my books, move it to Oregon, unpack it and place it on a shelf where it remained untouched until this month. I don't know why I ignored it for seven years, but had I read the buyer's sell sheet when I first got the ARC, I would have immediately begun reading the book. (I was about to share part of that sell sheet to entice you to read Lehane's page-turner, but this is one to go into cold.)

A word of warning, though. After reading over 50 pages, I considered calling it quits, not really caring about the main character and her quest to find her father. I'm not sure what pushed me to read further, but I did, and truthfully it still took another 100 pages before I was completely sucked into this riveting story, but by that point, I knew I was in for something great. I set the book aside and turned out my reading light, but woke up a few hours later, realizing that I had been trying to solve a part of the mystery in my sleep. I even had an ah-ha moment from my nocturnal sleuthing when I knew that I had figured out the motivation behind one of the characters' actions. In spite of the late hour, I turned my light back on, flipped back through the book to confirm my assumptions, then read for another hour! I know I'm being obtuse, but this is the kind of book that could be completely ruined by the revelation of spoilers. Don't read any reviews if you aren't certain that they're spoiler-free. The twists and turns in the final chapters kept me engrossed and marveling at Lehane's imagination. And, yes, I would love to see this book made into a movie. The intensity of at least a half dozen scenes would be so satisfying to watch on a big screen. Dreamworks optioned the rights, but don't get too excited. That was back in 2015.

I typically knock off half a point if I struggle with the beginning of a book, but the remainder of this one was so entertaining that I'm going with a full 5-star rating. Highly recommend!

February 27, 2024

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Children's Fiction - Classic
1993 Houghton Mifflin
First reading: February 6, 2002
Second reading: February 22, 2024
Original rating: 5/5 (Excellent)
New rating: 4/5 (Very good)

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.

My Latest Thoughts (2024):

After writing my "looking back" post, I decided to follow through with my desire to re-read this book. I'd forgotten a lot of specific details pertaining to Jonas' "seemingly ideal world," but certain aspects of the tale disturbed me, both then and now. I read The Giver when I was 40 and again at 62, so my reactions are based on my life experiences as an adult. It would be interesting to hear what young readers think of Lowry's story.

I haven't read the follow-up stories, but am interested in giving Gathering Blue a read.

February 23, 2024

Looking Back - Pope Joan

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.

Finished on February 7, 2002
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For a thousand years men have denied her existence--Pope Joan, the woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. Now this compelling novel animates the legend with a portrait of an unforgettable woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.

When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his identity and enters a Benedictine monastery where, as Brother John Anglicus, she distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer. Eventually drawn to Rome, she soon becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics that threatens her life even as it elevates her to the highest throne in the Western world.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I read this for The Book Spot group read [an online Yahoo group]. Informative and entertaining. A provocative work of historical fiction. Based on the legend of a female pope back in the 800s. Doesn't sound too exciting, does it? But the characters are well-drawn and the plot is a non-stop adventure. It's extremely readable (not a dry, boring paragraph to be found!), thought-provoking, and educational. There's a bit of romance that keeps things moving along, too. There is a significant amount of "near misses" for Joan and the reader must have a willingness to suspend disbelief in order to not be put off by Joan's incredible luck. I caught myself shaking my head several times, whispering, "Phew! That was close!" A real page-turner. Will read more by this author. Highly recommend.

My Current Thoughts:

I re-read Pope Joan a several years ago and was a little concerned it wouldn't be as good as the first time I read it. I was pleasantly surprised that it was just as entertaining. This is a wonderful book. Definitely a keeper!
Joan unwrapped the strips of linen, then gasped as she saw what they had concealed. It was a book, bound in the Eastern fashion with leather-covered wooden boards.

"It is my own," said Aesculapius. "I made it myself, some years ago. It is an edition of Homer—the original Greek in the front half of the book, and a Latin translation in the back. It will help you keep your knowledge of the language fresh until the time you can begin your studies again."

Joan was speechless. A book of her own! Such a privilege was enjoyed only by monks and scholars of the highest rank. She opened it, looking at line after line of Aesculapius's neat uncial letters, filling the pages with words of inexpressible beauty. Aesculapius watched her, his eyes filled with tender sadness.

"Do not forget, Joan. Do not ever forget."

February 22, 2024

Nine Lives


Nine Lives by Peter Swanson
Fiction - Suspense/Thriller
Finished on February 21, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Eight Perfect Murders comes the heart-pounding story of nine strangers who receive a cryptic list with their names on it--and then begin to die under highly unusual circumstances.

Nine strangers receive a list with their names on it in the mail. Nothing else, just a list of names on a single sheet of paper. None of the nine people know or have ever met the others on the list. They dismiss it as junk mail, a fluke - until very, very bad things begin happening to people on the list. First, a well-liked old man is drowned on a beach in the small town of Kennewick, Maine. Then, a father is shot in the back while running through his quiet neighborhood in suburban Massachusetts. A frightening pattern is emerging, but what do these nine people have in common? Their professions range from oncology nurse to aspiring actor. 

FBI agent Jessica Winslow, who is on the list herself, is determined to find out. Could there be some dark secret that binds them all together? Or is this the work of a murderous madman? As the mysterious sender stalks these nine strangers, they find themselves constantly looking over their shoulders, wondering who will be crossed off next....

I loved this book! I started it one night and quickly read the first 100 pages, completely hooked, eager to see how the mystery would unfold. I know some readers have complained about the multiple points-of-view, but I never felt that the multi-character narrative became tedious. And, for once, I didn't have any trouble keeping track of the individual characters' personal stories. I kept telling my husband that it would make a great TV series. I've read two of Peter Swanson's earlier works (Her Every Fear and The Kind Worth Killing), and while I enjoyed those two, Nine Lives is my favorite. I was going to give it a 4.5 rating, but the final chapter, which was completely unnecessary and ridiculous, forced me to knock my rating down half a point. Looks like there are six more books by Swanson that I have yet to read. All I need to do is decide which one to choose next. Highly recommend.

February 16, 2024

Looking Back - The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

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 Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Fiction - Classic
Finished on February 27, 2002
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Carson McCullers’ prodigious first novel was published to instant acclaim when she was just twenty-three. Set in a small town in the middle of the deep South, it is the story of John Singer, a lonely deaf-mute, and a disparate group of people who are drawn towards his kind, sympathetic nature. The owner of the cafĂ© where Singer eats every day, a young girl desperate to grow up, an angry drunkard, a frustrated black doctor: each pours their heart out to Singer, their silent confidant, and he in turn changes their disenchanted lives in ways they could never imagine.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I read this with an online book group (Books on the Fence). I thought the writing was good, but not breathtaking or lyrical. I'm glad I read it, but I didn't love it. It's pretty depressing. Toward the end, all I could think is that I was glad I was almost finished and could start something more fun!

My Current Thoughts:

I don't remember much about this book other than that it was terribly bleak. It's probably one of those classics that's best read in a literature class. Underwhelming.

February 15, 2024

The Weight of Silence


The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
Fiction - Mystery/Thriller
Finished on February 12, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Masterfully written and beautifully told, Heather Gudenkauf's debut is a stunning novel of family devotion, honesty and regret that will linger long after the last page is turned.

It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn's shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by a tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli's mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter's voice.

Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

Unputdownable! I literally couldn't read this one fast enough. The suspense didn't build slowly over the course of the novel, but began with the prologue. I had to force myself to ignore the temptation to flip to the ending to see whodunnit. I'm glad I decided to overlook the newer books on my top shelf and delve into some of those that have been languishing in my bookshelf for many years. (This debut is 15 years old!) Alternating between the voices of six characters, the short chapters made it easy to keep reading late into the night. Just one more chapter. OK, one more... Gudenkauf kept me guessing, throwing out a red herring or two, but I was very satisfied with her conclusion, and look forward to reading more from her backlist. This particular novel would make a great Netflix series! Recommend.

February 13, 2024

The Comforts of Home


The Comforts of Home by Susan Hill
Simon Serrailler #9
Fiction - Mystery
2018 The Overlook Press
Finished on February 9, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Following his near-fatal injury dealt by his last case, Chief Superintendent Serrailler is recuperating on a remote Scottish island when the local police pull him into a murder inquiry: a newcomer has died in perplexing circumstances. Chief Constable Kieron Bright, Serrailler's new brother-in-law, calls him in to perform a cold case review. But when events take an unfavorable turn for the superintendent and an arsonist goes on a deadly rampage, Serrailler's personal and professional lives intertwine in more complex and devastating ways than ever before. The Comforts of Home, the ninth book in Susan Hill's acclaimed crime series, will terrify and astonish readers until the final, thrilling page. 

Another winner! The mysteries in each of Hill's books, and the Serrailler family relationships, continue to entertain this reader. There are only three remaining in this series, so I need to start thinking about what I want to try next.

Note: There are so many spoilers in this installment. Definitely not a stand-alone!

February 11, 2024

Favorite Audiobooks 2023


I feel as if I didn't listen to as many audiobooks in 2023 as I usually do. But, looking at previous years' stats, I wasn't too far behind, given that I listened to two very long novels. Lonesome Dove is almost 37 hours in length, and Cutting for Stone is close to 24.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Narrated by Lee Horsley) 4/5

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (Narrated by Lesley Sharp) 4/5

The Push by Ashley Audrain (Narrated by Marin Ireland) 4.5/5

The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg (Narrated by Erin Mallon) 4/5

Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan (Narrated by Julia Whelan) 4/5

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (Narrated by John Green) 4.5/5 

For more of my audiobook favorites, click here.

February 7, 2024

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow


Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Finished on February 3, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In this exhilarating novel, two friends--often in love, but never lovers--come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn't heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won't protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin's Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Wow! I was hesitant to read this novel, worried that it was going to be a case of an over-hyped book, but it lives up to all the accolades and recognition. I loved it! I'm not a gamer, but I didn't feel compelled to skim over those details, but rather enjoyed learning a little bit about the gaming world. (I felt the same way about Ready Player One, which turned out to be an absolute favorite the year I read it.) While not a gamer, I'm of an age where names such as The Oregon Trail, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, SimsWarcraft, Doom, and Final Fantasy are familiar. I loved the nostalgia these games bring to the narrative.

I've read two other books by Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Young Jane Young), each of which are very good, but Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow surpasses both in depth and creativity. And, just as I was beginning to think that the novel was losing momentum, getting bogged down in relationship dramas, Zevin threw in a startling event that pulled me back to the edge of my seat. Great dialogue, sophisticated and imaginative plotting, and loveable characters. A very satisfying (and engrossing) read that you'll want to discuss with others. I can't wait for my husband to give it a read! Highly recommend.

February 5, 2024

Favorite Movies & TV Series Viewed in 2023

We stream a lot more TV series than movies throughout the year, but this past year we had winners in both categories. The Bear is probably my favorite of the lot, and I'm thrilled that there will be a third season. I've written about each of these shows and movies in my monthly summaries. You can find those here (as well as in the link in the sidebar).

Click here for favorites from previous years.

February 2, 2024

A Month in Summary - January 2024

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
January 2024

With regard to our social calendar, January was a little more quiet than last December, but it was not without excitement. We had three power outages, the most severe lasting 52 hours! With outside temps dropping into the low 20s, the house became very cold (49 degrees), but we have a fireplace that isn't simply decorative, but burns actual wood, so we were able to keep the living room somewhat liveable. Our two power stations provided us with back-up energy for the refrigerator and various devices (we were even able to stream a show before our cable went out), but we now know what improvements need to be made, should we experience a similar storm. It's not a question of if, but when. 

Meanwhile, I read several books, and while I enjoyed a few quite well, there's only one that might land on my best of 2024 list. 

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

The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill (4.5/5)

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson (4/5)

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (3/5)

The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer (3.5/5)

Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens (4/5)

Riding the White Horse Home by Teresa Jordan (3/5)

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane (4.5/5)

Movies & TV Series (only including those we finished):

Slow Horses (Season 3) - Intense! I held my breath during the last two episodes! So happy to know there's at least one more season coming.

The Crown - I loved this final season and thought the last episode was a lovely tribute to the Queen (who passed away during the filming of the final season). I also thought Princess Di's death was handled well, and I enjoyed the glimpses into William and Kate's courtship. 

Shetland (Season 8) - It wasn't until the last few episodes that I finally came to care about this storyline. I wonder if there's going to be another season with the same cast...

Reacher (Season 2) - So good, but so unbelievable!

Nyad - I didn't care for Diana Nyad's attitude (superiority complex, selfish, but driven), but Annette Bening gives an outstanding performance. Jodie Foster is also excellent. I have to admit that I got choked up while watching the final scenes. 

Vera (Season 7 & 8) - Some of the episodes are pretty convoluted, but I still love this program!

Maestro - I enjoyed the second half of this movie much better than the first half. Bradley Cooper delivers a fine performance, but Carey Mulligan is the star of the film!


First puzzle since last March! Only 500 pieces, so it didn't take us too long.

Survival Test:

As mentioned above, we relied heavily on our emergency supplies during our power outage. Our area got hit with an ice storm, which caused downed trees and power lines. We were lucky to lose power for only 52 hours. Some folks were without power for a full week!

We used this power station to watch an episode of Reacher before we needed to hook it up to our refrigerator. We have since purchased a second Vtoman for our furnace. 

Our tea kettle is in the RV, so I boiled water on our gas stove (thankful for that!) in order to make our morning coffee.

The sun came out, but it was still cold outside. Our poor peace lily didn't care for the indoor temps, but bounced back a few days later.

Pretty cozy in front of the fire, but cold everywhere else in the house!

With all that went wrong that day, I was grateful for this perfect avocado. Quesadillas and guacamole for dinner!

This smaller power station (Rocksolar) is handy for charging our various devices and portable charger power banks.

We have a safety committee in our neighborhood, and it was great to get updates about the power situation via our BaoFeng radio.

How was your month? Are you prepared for a natural disaster?