May 31, 2024

20 Books of Summer - 2024


It's that time again! I love this reading challenge and especially love having plenty of books in my TBR bookcase from which to choose. Most of these books were passed along to me by my mom, who is a voracious reader and enjoys the same type of novels as me. (Aren't I lucky?!) Glancing back at last year's list, I am reminded that I chose several books that had been on my shelves for close to a decade, if not longer. I gave up on several of those, which helped make space in my bookcase, only to be refilled a year later! Somehow, I doubt that will be an issue this time around; I've been eager to read so many of these books! I do see that Billy Summers (Stephen King) was on my 2023 list, but I never got around to reading it. I should could start with that one, but it's sooooo long. Decisions, decisions. 

Have you read any of these, and if so, which would you recommend I start with?

I haven't included any of the books from my audio collection, nor have I added any that I might get from the library, (I have a few holds that are bound to arrive in the next few weeks), but this is a good starting point. I'm not sure why, but having a prescribed list (syllabus?) of reading material makes me happy.

For past posts (and results) about this challenge, click here. 

For more information about Cathy's reading challenge here.

May 28, 2024

The Women


The Women by Kristin Hannah
Narrated by Julia Whelan
Finished on May 26, 2024
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

An intimate portrait of coming of age in a dangerous time and an epic tale of a nation divided.

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over-whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, The Women is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era.

In recent years, I have read and enjoyed The Nightingale and The Four Winds, two of Kristin Hannah's exceptional historical novels. Unfortunately, her recent book, The Women, fell short of my expectations. I was able to stay engaged with the audio production mainly due to Julia Whelan's superb narration, but had I read the print edition, I would have quit long before the halfway mark. My biggest complaint is that the novel invests too much time on the challenges of Frankie's romantic life rather than on the war. Hannah does not shy away from the conditions of warfare, or that of the aftereffects of PTSD, but not only did significant romantic events play too large of a role in the narrative, they were easily predictable and cliched, eliciting numerous eye rolls from this reader. Repetitious situations and dialogue added to my frustration, but I willed myself to continue listening. I will say that Hannah did her research, and I had no trouble envisioning locations and landmarks in and around Coronado Island and San Diego county, areas with which I'm well acquainted. I also enjoyed the musical references of the era. But overall, despite the glowing reviews, I was not impressed. I should note that many readers with whom I share similar reading tastes thought this book was outstanding. It is readable, but it's not one that I can recommend. Maybe in the hands of Barabara Kingsolver or Mary Doria Russell this could have been a 5-star read. I do want to get a copy of Karl Marlantes' novel, Matterhorn, which I understand to be an accurate account of the Vietnam War.

May 24, 2024

Looking Back - Crow Lake

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.

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
Finished on March 5, 2002
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Crow Lake is that rare find, a first novel so quietly assured, so emotionally pitch perfect, you know from the opening page that this is the real thing—a literary experience in which to lose yourself, by an author of immense talent. Here is a gorgeous, slow-burning story set in the rural “badlands” of northern Ontario, where heartbreak and hardship are mirrored in the landscape. For the farming Pye family, life is a Greek tragedy where the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, and terrible events occur—offstage.

Centerstage are the Morrisons, whose tragedy looks more immediate if less brutal, but is, in reality, insidious and divisive. Orphaned young, Kate Morrison was her older brother Matt’s protegee, her fascination for pond life fed by his passionate interest in the natural world. Now a zoologist, she can identify organisms under a microscope but seems blind to the state of her own emotional life. And she thinks she’s outgrown her siblings—Luke, Matt, and Bo—who were once her entire world.

In this universal drama of family love and misunderstandings, of resentments harbored and driven underground, Lawson ratchets up the tension with heartbreaking humor and consummate control, continually overturning one’s expectations right to the very end. Tragic, funny, unforgettable, this deceptively simple masterpiece about the perils of hero worship leapt to the top of the bestseller lists only days after being released in Canada and earned glowing reviews in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail, to name a few.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

Emotional. Drew me in from the very beginning. What a marvelous book. Great sense of place. Bo is a great character! Stubborn, willful two-year-old who provides humor to a grim story.

My Current Thoughts:

Since reading Crow Lake, I've gone on to read The Other Side of the Bridge and A Town Called Solace, both of which I enjoyed greatly. Reading my review of The Other Side of the Bridge, I notice that I mentioned that I read Crow Lake twice, something I'd forgotten I'd done, but I still want to read it again. I have not gotten around to reading Road Ends, so I'll make that a priorty before I go back to reread the others. Lawson is a gifted writer and I look forward to more of her stories. 

May 20, 2024

Devorgilla Days


Devorgilla Days by Kathleen Hart
Nonfiction - Memoir
Finished on May 18, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

This is a story about uncovering the things that really matter, and discovering what makes us feel alive. It is a story about finding that inner strength and resilience, and never giving up hope.

Eight years ago, Kathleen Hart was diagnosed with breast cancer. Further complications led to a protracted recovery and months spent in hospital, where Kathleen had to learn how to walk again. While recuperating, she came across a small whitewashed cottage for sale in Wigtown, Scotland. Driving hundreds of miles on nothing more than a few photographs and an inkling, she bought it that very same day, and named it Devorgilla after the formidable 13th century Scottish princess.

Devorgilla Days is the story of how Kathleen left behind her old life to begin again in Scotland's book capital. From renovating her cottage to exploring the seemingly quiet, but actually bustling town, she encounters a whole community of book lovers, beekeepers, artists and writers - and Lobster Fishermen. Kathleen starts wild swimming, a ritual that brings peace and clarity to her mind as her body heals. And, with the support of her virtual worldwide community who know her as PoshPedlar on Instagram, she rebuilds her life again.

Heartwarming and deeply moving, Devorgilla Days is an inspiring tale of one woman's remarkable journey, a celebration of community, and a call-to-arms for anyone who has ever dreamt of starting over.

I thought I read about Devorgilla Days on a friend's blog, but I can't locate their review, nor can I find any mention of it by my friends on Goodreads. Hmmm, it must have been shared by someone on Instagram, which is where I've gotten a lot of recommendations lately. I'm sure the beautiful cover art caught my eye, as well as the subtitle ("finding hope and healing in Scotland's book town"). 

Kathleen Hart's memoir is somewhat reminiscent of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. Both memoirs are personal introspections, as well as observations of their surroundings, yet rather than a solo retreat on Sanibel Island, Hart buys a small cottage in Scotland, where she lives alone, recovering from numerous illnesses and setbacks: Pneumonia, breast cancer and a mastectomy, multiple reconstructive surgeries, pleurisy, a slipped disc, three attempts at a discectomy, and, (as if that's not enough!), a tumor in her chest, which required open-heart surgery. She really has had everything thrown at her! And yet, despite her terrible luck, she recovers, finds joy and friendship in her new community, and takes daily swims (weather permitting) in the frigid Wigtown Bay. Remarkable! 

Hart's writing is engaging and uplifting, and I enjoyed a glimpse into her not-so-solitary life in Scotland. Once settled, she learns to be "her own best friend," but it isn't long before she's joining a variety of groups, finding new activities to occupy her time: Beekeeping, a knitting group called Knit and Natter, Scottish country dancing, watercolor painting, Gaelic lessons, and of course, swimming.
The wind blusters across the cool water, ruffling its surface, and splashes of briny spray sting my face as I sweep, kick, thrust out into the bay. Miles to the south, the craggy silhouette of the Lake District is vivid against a peachy sky. It's very clear today; even the terrain is visible: valleys, cliffs, scree, all glowing golden in the last of the light. It's a wonderful sight, romantic and alluring, and it could be anywhere in the world. I conjure up the peaks of a rugged Antipodean island, or perhaps a mountain range in Mongolia. It looks close enough to swim to. I propel myself forward, towards the horizon--horizons give me hope; they are a glimpse of the future. Across to the west, on the opposite side of the bay, the heather high up on the Galloway Hills glows and shimmers like an amethyst, glinting in the final rays of the sun. The cairn is silhouetted gold, like the halo of a Russian icon.

A severe cold spell is forecast, with fierce storms on the way, so I make the most of the session, swimming slow steady laps across from the breakwater to the harbour wall. The sun is very low now, cradled by a dip in the field, and casts silvery spangles over the tar-black water. A crow waddles across the beach, picking his way through large mounds of seaweed, searching for his supper. The hills and mountains have softened now, bathed in a soothing amber hue. Two swans sweep by, rhythmically beating time, wings not quite clipping the surface of the water. I can hear the swoosh, swoosh as they head into the harbour. I float a while, suspended, letting my mind go quiet, treading water, cupping my hands and pushing ripples out to sea, wondering where they will land, these mini whorls of water. Perhaps they'll reach Dublin, maybe New York.

My skin is tingling with the cold, my fingers white and aching, and I can see lights glowing in the cottages across the estuary. The sun has set. It's time to get out. 
Devorgilla Days is less about a community of bookstores (twelve!) and more about a community of kind-hearted neighbors. It's less about Hart's physical ailments and more about her keen sense of awareness of her surroundings and the natural environment she inhabits. I loved this book and am now one of her many thousand Instagram followers (@poshpedlar). Her curated photographs and cheerful quotations are beautiful and inspiring, as one would imagine. I wish her good health and happiness!

May 10, 2024

Looking Back - Crazy Love

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.

Crazy Love by David Martin
Finished on March 1, 2002
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

David Martin has proved to be an unusually versatile writer, both of acclaimed thrillers like Lie to Me and of love stories like The Crying Heart Tattoo. Now, in Crazy Love, Martin has created remarkable characters and his richest story a chronicle of passion and heartbreak.

Joseph Long, known locally as Bear, is a farmer ridiculed by neighbors for his strangeness. Lonely nearly to the point of madness and so desperate for human touch, he leans against the hands of the barber giving him a haircut.

Katherine Renault is a successful career woman, wondering why, if she has the perfect job and the perfect fiancé, does she feel so hollow inside -- even before the illness, the disfiguring surgery.

They should have nothing in common -- though he has a magical touch with animals, he considers them property, while she can't tolerate their mistreatment. She's a sophisticated city dweller who can't abide violence, and he's never traveled beyond the local town and has blood on his hands. But love is crazy, and soon they are rescuing the injured of the world just as they rescue each other. Enduring violence and loss, they live in a domestic bliss wide and deep enough to dilute most of life's dramas, until fate tests them again.

Funny, erotic, emotionally powerful, yet surprisingly unsentimental about our relationships with each other and with animals in our care, Crazy Love will heal broken hearts.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I loved this book up until the final pages! I would have given it a perfect 5-star rating, otherwise. Tugs at your heartstrings (ok, I cried a few times - something I rarely do while reading). Compassionate. Memorable characters. 

My Current Thoughts:

I no longer own my copy of this book, and honestly, I have no memory of the story.

May 7, 2024

The Road to Dalton


The Road to Dalton by Shannon Bowring
Dalton, Maine #1
Finished on May 5, 2024
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From debut author Shannon Bowring comes a novel of small town America that Pulitzer-winner Richard Russo calls, "measured, wise, and beautiful."

It's 1990. In Dalton, Maine, life goes on. Rose goes to work at the diner every day, her bruises hidden from both the customers and her two young boys. At a table she waits, Dr. Richard Haskell looks back on the one choice that's charted his entire life, before his thoughts wander back to his wife, Trudy, and her best friend.

Trudy and Bev have been friends for longer than they can count, and something more than lovers to each other for some time now—a fact both accepted and ignored by their husbands. Across town, new mother Bridget lives with her high school sweetheart Nate, and is struggling with postpartum after a traumatic birth. And nearer still is teenager Greg, trying to define the complicated feelings he has about himself and his two close friends.

The Road to Dalton offers valuable understandings of what it means to be alive in the world—of pain and joy, conflict and love, and the endurance that comes from living.

The Road to Dalton appeared (with high ratings) on several blogs last year, so I bought a copy to give to my mom last Christmas. (One of the many benefits of sharing a home with my book-loving, 91-year-old mother is that she passes her books on to me once she's finished reading them.) After reading three hefty novels last month, I decided it was time for something not only shorter in length, but lighter in tone. Had I read the publisher's blurb before starting Bowring's novel, I would have known that despite its cheerful cover, The Road to Dalton isn't exactly a light, breezy story. And yet, it worked for me. 

Reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout's renowned novel), and also set in Maine, Bowring's debut is a story of the intertwined lives of a small community in which everyone knows everyone's business. While no single resident takes center stage (as in Olive Kitteridge), there are those whose lives intersect more with the community than others. Each character struggles with heavy life challenges, which could make for a bleak story, but as I turned the last page, I felt hopeful for those characters I'd come to know and care about in this character-driven novel. I'm looking forward to Bowring's follow-up (Where the Forest Meets the River), which is due out this September. 

The Road to Dalton is a satisfying, poignant read. Recommend!

May 3, 2024

A Month in Summary - April 2024

Highway 101
South of Port Orford, Oregon
April 2024

We spent three weeks traveling in April, so there's not much to share (other than photos); no visitors, no new puzzles, no new cars... But my reading was really good, if not excellent. The King book was a disappointment, but I LOVED Still Life and Demon Copperhead! All three books were well over 400 pages, which seems to be my thing this year.

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

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (5/5)

Fairy Tale by Stephen King (2.5/5)

Still Life by Sarah Winman (4.5/5)

Movies & TV Series:

Vera (Season 11) - Another entertaining season. 


As I mentioned above, we were on the road for three weeks, traveling down Highway 101 to Santa Rosa, then over to the Sacramento area, then north to Dunsmuir, and back up into Oregon. It was a great trip, and as always, we took our time, staying at ten different campgrounds and homes. We got to camp with some friends from our neighborhood, visit one of my aunts, and catch up with some good friends (one of whom I've known since elementary school!). The weather was wonderful, with the exception of some rainy days in Oregon. Typical!

Spotted this HUGE trillium on a hike in Oregon!
William Tugman State Park
Lakeside, Oregon

Peaceful spot to read my book.
Alfred Loeb State Park
Brookings, Oregon

Always a treat to see these guys when we're in their 'hood.
Elk Country RV Resort
Trinidad, California

I never get tired of this scene.
Elk Country RV Resort
Trinidad, California

Another peaceful view.
Auntie Sue's 
Santa Rosa, California

The view from our campsite!
Railroad RV Park
Dunsmuir, California

This creek lulled us to sleep for three nights.
Railroad RV Park
Dunsmuir, California

Walked 5+ miles (roundtrip) to reach this spot from our campsite.
Valley of the Rogue State Park
Gold Hill, Oregon

Camping Buddies - Molly & Dave
William Tugman State Park, Oregon

Auntie Sue
Handline Restaurant
Sebastopol, California

Brunch with Sarah and Bert
Fox and Goose Public House
Sacramento, California

Best buddies - Bert & Rod
Carmichael, California

Best buddies for 56 years (!!) - Pam & Les
Red Bluff, California

May 1, 2024

Still Life


Still Life by Sarah Winman
Fiction - Historical
Finished on April 29, 2024
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A captivating, bighearted, richly tapestried story of people brought together by love, war, art, flood, and the ghost of E. M. Forster, by the celebrated author of Tin Man.

Tuscany, 1944: As Allied troops advance and bombs sink villages, a young English soldier, Ulysses Temper, finds himself in the wine cellar of a deserted villa. There, he has a chance encounter with Evelyn Skinner, a middle-aged art historian intent on salvaging paintings from the ruins. In each other, Ulysses and Evelyn find a kindred spirit amidst the rubble of war-torn Italy, and paint a course of events that will shape Ulysses’s life for the next four decades.

Returning home to London, Ulysses reimmerses himself in his crew at The Stoat and Parot—a motley mix of pub crawlers and eccentrics—all the while carrying with him his Italian evocations. So, when an unexpected inheritance brings him back to where it all began, Ulysses knows better than to tempt he must return to the Tuscan hills.

With beautiful prose, extraordinary tenderness, and bursts of humor and light, Still Life is a sweeping portrait of unforgettable individuals who come together to make a family, and a deeply drawn celebration of beauty and love in all its forms.

Marvelous! I'm so glad I didn't give up on this outstanding novel. The first fifty pages didn't grab me, but after that, I was hooked. The touching relationships between a small group of friends prove that family is more than that in which we are born. I loved each and every one, including Claude, the parrot!

It took me a little over two weeks to read, but if we weren't traveling, I could have read it in a few short days, it was that engrossing. And yet, I found myself putting it down every dozen or so pages, willing myself to make it last. 456 pages and I wanted more!

On Art:
We like beauty, don't we? Something good on the eye cheers us. Does something to us on a cellular level, makes us feel alive and enriched. Beautiful art opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, Ulysses. It repositions our sight and judgment. Captures forever that which is fleeting. A meager stain in the corridors of history, that’s all we are. A little mark of scuff. One hundred and fifty years ago Napoleon breathed the same air as we do now. The battalion of time marches on. Art versus humanity is not the question, Ulysses. One doesn’t exist without the other. Art is the antidote. Is that enough to make it important? Well, yes, I think it is.
On Love:
What are we without love? 
Waiting, said Evelyn.
Do I look as tipsy as I feel?
No point asking me, dear, said Dotty, I’ve been talking to two of you for the last hour.
I was captivated by Sarah Winman's beautiful prose, details of Italy (specifically Florence), and snappy dialogue, greedily adding her earlier works to my list of future purchases. I remember hearing good things about Tin Man, but never got around to buying it. If it's half as good as Still Life, I know I'll love it! This is one I hugged to my chest as I finished the final page, and I'll happily read a second time. Sure to appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction, Renaissance art, Italy, and love...

Highly recommend!

Note: I rarely write my own synopsis of the books I review, instead relying on the publisher's blurb for those who wish to learn more about the plot and characters. The one above is spoiler-free, so I encourage you to give it a read. 

A parade of small stories, intimate connections and complex characters... Sentence after sentence, character by character, Still Life becomes poetry. ~ The New York Times Book Review