April 29, 2024

Fairy Tale


Fairy Tale by Stephen King
2022 Simon & Schuster Audio
Narrated by Seth Numrich
Finished on April 27, 2024
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Legendary storyteller Stephen King goes deep into the well of his imagination in this spellbinding novel about a seventeen-year-old boy who inherits the keys to a parallel world where good and evil are at war, and the stakes could not be higher—for their world or ours.

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was ten, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets Howard Bowditch, a recluse with a big dog in a big house at the top of a big hill. In the backyard is a locked shed from which strange sounds emerge, as if some creature is trying to escape. When Mr. Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie the house, a massive amount of gold, a cassette tape telling a story that is impossible to believe, and a responsibility far too massive for a boy to shoulder.

Because within the shed is a portal to another world—one whose denizens are in peril and whose monstrous leaders may destroy their own world, and ours. In this parallel universe, where two moons race across the sky, and the grand towers of a sprawling palace pierce the clouds, there are exiled princesses and princes who suffer horrific punishments; there are dungeons; there are games in which men and women must fight each other to the death for the amusement of the “Fair One.” And there is a magic sundial that can turn back time.

A story as old as myth, and as startling and iconic as the rest of King’s work, Fairy Tale is about an ordinary guy forced into the hero’s role by circumstance, and it is both spectacularly suspenseful and satisfying.

Meh. I have usually enjoyed, if not loved most of the books I've read by Stephen King. Unfortunately, Fairy Tale was a disappointment. It had promise, and I loved the first part, which focuses on Charlie's introduction to Mr. Bowditch and Radar (Bowditch's dog). This section (roughly the first third of the book) felt like a classic King novel (young boy, old man, and a dog), and the audio production pulled me in from the opening lines. However, once Charlie entered the "other" world, I lost interest, and it took me almost two months to finish the book. I don't know if I would've maintained my enthusiasm had I listened at longer stretches, but March was super rainy, so my daily walks were pretty much nonexistent. We were also traveling for a big portion of April, so again, not much listening time. Honestly, it didn't call out to me, and I really didn't care how it was going to end. With that said, I did push through and eventually finished, but it's not a book that I can recommend... unless you love fantasy. I can see how this story would appeal to those who like that genre, but I prefer King's supernatural tales. 

April 15, 2024

First Quarter Favorites of 2024


Edit: Oops. I accidentally included Demon Copperhead in this post when it should actually go on next quarter's list.

Welcome to a new feature on my blog. I noticed a few people sharing their quarterly favorites (on Instagram) and decided to do the same. It might be helpful at the end of the year when it's time for me to compile my "Best of 2024" list.

Demon Copperhead 5/5

The Plot 4.5/5

Since We Fell 5/5

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow 4.5/5

Small Mercies 4.5/5

The Comforts of Home 4.5/5

The Weight of Silence 4.5/5

The Soul of Discretion 4.5/5

April 13, 2024

Demon Copperhead


Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Finished on April 12, 2024
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this is the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father's good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.

Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to the contemporary American South, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens' anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can't imagine leaving behind.

I received an ARC of Demon Copperhead in 2022. The size of Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, as well as the subject matter, made me hesitant to pick it up. I loaned the book to my mom, who told me she hated it. I loaned it to my husband, who gave up after reading a dozen or so chapters. So, it continued to languish on my nightstand, in spite of my affection for Kingsolver's books. I have read all of her novels (with the exception of The Lacuna), and many are on my list for re-reading (Flight Behavior, The Poisonwood Bible, Pigs in Heaven), so why was I so reticent to start this particular book? I'm sure I would have eventually picked it up, but when my book club selected it for our June discussion, that was nudge I needed. Realizing that it would take me a couple of weeks to read, I decided to start before our RV trip to California, knowing I would have several days of uninterrupted reading once we were on the road. Little did I know that this book would consume my waking thoughts and dreams for the next two weeks. 

I love that Kingsolver tells this tale exclusively from Demon's point of view. I quickly came to care about this resilient young boy, heartbroken over the terrible cards that were dealt to him, his mother, and many of the folks in his life. The situations that claim Demon's innocence, as well as the fragmented sentences which make up the early dialogue in the novel, held me in thrall. With each new turn of events, I couldn't help but wonder if life would ever improve for Demon. Even when it looked like he had finally found a good family situation, I worried about the other shoe falling, forcing him back out on his own, struggling to survive the cruelties of society.

I know this must be a difficult (if not impossible) read for anyone touched by the opioid crisis, and I have to admit that there were times when I didn't think I could continue reading. But Kingsolver's prose, while at times perhaps heavy-handed, never felt didactic or gratuitous. She has written an engrossing and important story, which is not merely entertainment, but rather sheds light on a serious societal problem. For this reason, the Pulitzer Prize is well-deserved. I'm eager to hear how others in my book club felt about the book and anticipate a thought-provoking discussion.

I hadn't considered reading David Copperfield before picking up Demon Copperhead, but now I'm curious to give the former a read in order to find the connections between the two stories. I'm also interested in watching Dopesick, which I understand to be an excellent series.

Passages of note:
I made my peace with the place, but never went a day without feeling around for things that weren't there, the way your tongue pushes into the holes where you've lost teeth. I don't just mean cows, or trees, it runs deeper. Weather, for instance. Air, the way it smells from having living things breathing into it, grass and trees and I don't know what, creatures of the soil. Sounds I missed most of all. There was noise, but nothing behind it. I couldn't get used to the blankness where there should have been bird gossip morning and evening, crickets at night, the buzz saw of cicadas in August. A rooster always sounding off somewhere, even dead in the middle of Jonesville. It's like the movie background music. Notice it or don't but if the volume goes out, the movie has no heart. I'd oftentimes have to stop and ask myself what season it was. I never realized what was holding me to my place on the planet of earth: that soundtrack. That, and leaf colors and what's blooming in the roadside ditches this week, wild sweet peas or purple ironweed or goldenrod. And stars. A sky as dark as sleep, not this hazy pinkish business, I'm saying blind man's black. For a lot of us, that's medicine. Required for the daily reboot. (Demon's thoughts on living in a city.)
"Certain pitiful souls around here see whiteness as their last asset that hasn’t been totaled or repossessed."
“It’s not something to fix,” he said. “It means strong. Outside of all expectation.” I looked at him. He looked at me. His hands were on his desk with the fingers touching, a tiny cage with air inside. Black hands. The knuckles almost blue-black. Silver wedding ring. He said, “You know, sometimes you hear about these miracles, where a car gets completely mangled in a wreck. But then the driver walks out of it alive? I’m saying you are that driver.”
An affecting and memorable coming-of-age tale which I doubt will ever leave me. Highly recommend!

Novelists like Kingsolver have a particular knack for making us empathize with lives that may bear little resemblance to our own. ~ Salon

Spoiler Alert: 

I was pleased with the hopeful ending...

April 2, 2024

A Month in Summary - March 2024

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
March 2024

I don't know about all of you, but I am so happy it's finally spring! I love the longer days and while we'll still see some rain for the next few months, it won't be as often as during the winter. I hope! 

It was a busy month, but I managed to get back into a good routine of going to yoga three times a week, as well as playing pickleball at least once a week. Now that the weather has improved, I hope to return to my daily walks.

My reading has been going very well. I reread two novels, continued with a favorite mystery series, started a new series, read a memoir that's been lurking on a shelf for a couple of decades (!!), read a recent release, and was spellbound by a great suspense novel. No complaints about any of these!

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

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (4/5) - reread

The Benefit of Hindsight by Susan Hill (4/5)

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (4/5) - reread

Day by Michael Cunningham (3/5)

The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg (4/5)

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (4/5)

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (4.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Leave the World Behind - I read this book (on audio) in 2022 and enjoyed it, but I'd forgotten some of the details until I started watching the movie on Netflix. I really like it! Ethan Hawke was great, as were the rest of the cast. The ending was just as ambiguous as the the one in the novel, but a small departure from the book. 

You Are What You Eat: A Twin Experiment - I enjoyed this documentary series, but came away from it the same as I did after watching What the Health. Basically, cherry-picked stats to support a pro-vegan lifestyle, which should be taken with a grain of salt.

We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song - An enjoyable documentary featuring some of the great voices from the 80s. 

American Symphony - I went into this knowing nothing about either Jon Batiste or his wife, Suleika Jaouad. Apparently, I've been living under a rock. Worthwhile documentary about the creative genius of Batiste and his wife's battle with cancer.

MI-5 (Season Six) - Love this series! It gets a little convoluted with each new episode, but I enjoyed it and am eager to watch the next season.

Deadwind (Season One) - Entertaining police drama set in Finland. There are twelve episodes in the first season, so we'll take a break between seasons and get back to the show later this summer. 



We are getting ready to head out in the RV for a trip down the coast to the Bay Area. I'm hopeful that we'll leave the rainy weather behind us in Oregon. I'm ready to break out my shorts and flip flops!

Other News:

We bought a new car! Rod has always wanted to own another sports car (we've owned a Karmann Ghia, Porsche 356C, MG Midget, MGA, Miata, and a Mini Cooper) so we decided to get a 2023 Mazda Miata (which is now called an MX-5). It is SO much fun! My brother was in town for the weekend and the weather couldn't have been nicer. Mark and Rod had a good time cruising around with the top down. Two cool dudes!

April 1, 2024

The Plot


Finished on March 30, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot is a psychologically suspenseful novel about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written—let alone published—anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that—a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

I missed all the fuss over The Plot when it first hit the shelves in 2021, so I didn't know anything about it when I found it on the shelf at our neighborhood library. What caught my attention was this tiny blurb on the cover: "Insanely readable." - Stephen King. I have read and loved many books with King's endorsement, so I took the book home and added it to my stacks. A day later, I saw a few Instagram posts about a new book by Korelitz called The Sequel. Everyone seemed very excited about this follow-up, so as soon as I finished The Stonecutter, I immediately picked up The Plot.

Wow! I could not put the book down! This is the quintessential page-turner, but I forced myself to slow down and enjoy the read rather than rushing ahead to see how it would end. And what an ending! Of course, now I can't wait to read The Sequel, which is due out on October 1st. I went into The Plot without any knowledge of, well, the plot, and I intend to stay away from any blurbs about The Sequel. I love to be utterly surprised by a book, particularly a mystery/thriller.

In addition to the suspenseful aspect of this novel, I enjoyed the details about writing, publishing, and marketing a book. As you know, my husband is a writer (you can learn more about his books on his website), and I have spent many years working in bookstores, so it was fun to read more about the process from an author's point of view.

Meanwhile, I happen to have another book by Korelitz in my stacks. Who knew! I read so many rave reviews about various novels and eventually buy those books to add to my TBR piles. The Latecomer is one that I bought with some Christmas money, so now I'm very eager to give it a read. In addition to The Latecomer, Korelitz has six others to sample. I love discovering a new-to-me author who has a decent backlist. Whoohoo!

Have you read The Plot? I can't wait for my husband and mom to read it so I have someone with whom to discuss the big denouement. Maybe I'll recommend it to my book group for next year's reading list. 

Oh! And have you watched the HBO series, The Undoing (starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant)? It's based on Korelitz's novel You Should Have Known. Great show!

More from Stephen King:
The Plot is one of the best novels I've ever read about writers and writing. It's so insanely readable and the suspense quotient is through the roof. It's remarkable. 

I agree!