Friday, December 30, 2022

Mini-Reviews: People Person and Demon Copperhead

Honestly, both of these books deserve more than just a mini-review but here we are at the end of the year and I want to get the books I read in 2022 reviewed in 2022. Except for the two that I hope to finish before midnight on the 31st! 

People Person
by Candice Carty-Williams
Read by Danielle Vitalis
10 hours, 4 minutes
Published September 2022 by Gallery/Scout Press

Publisher's Summary: 
If you could choose your wouldn’t choose the Penningtons.

Dimple Pennington knows of her half siblings, but she doesn’t really know them. Five people who don’t have anything in common except for faint memories of being driven through Brixton in their dad’s gold jeep, and some pretty complex abandonment issues. Dimple has bigger things to think about.

She’s thirty, and her life isn’t really going anywhere. An aspiring lifestyle influencer with a terrible and wayward boyfriend, Dimple’s life has shrunk to the size of a phone screen. And despite a small but loyal following, she’s never felt more alone in her life. That is, until a dramatic event brings her half siblings Nikisha, Danny, Lizzie, and Prynce crashing back into her life. And when they’re all forced to reconnect with Cyril Pennington, the absent father they never really knew, things get even more complicated.

My Thoughts:
  • I'd previously read Carty-Williams' Queenie and was impressed with her unique voice and was eager to see what she'd do next. 
  • Carty-Williams ups her game, as far a unique goes, with this book. 
  • Those half siblings of Dimple's have three different mothers. Prior to the night Dimple kills her boyfriend, she's only ever met each of them once, when their father picked them all up so they could meet each other. But when she needed help, and had nowhere else to turn, Dimple knew she had to turn to family. These young people have all kinds of issues individually and as a family. 
  • Carty-Williams writes about people I don't normally find in books, broadening my world. If you've been around very long, you know I'm always looking for books that can do that. 
  • Danielle Vitalis does a terrific job and I highly recommend this book in audio.
Demon Copperhead
by Barbara Kingsolver
560 pages
Published October 2022 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, Demon Copperhead 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. Relayed in his own unsparing voice, Demon 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.

My Thoughts: 
  • Barbara Kingsolver rewriting Charles Dickens? Yes, please.
  • It's been a long, long time since I read David Copperfield or watched any of the adaptations. Still, I had some recollection of the characters and plot and went in knowing that things were just going to keep getting worse and worse for young Demon. 
  • I appreciated that, while Kingsolver sets the book in an entirely different time and place, she keeps much of what makes Dickens' book so memorable, including many of the characters (although, thank God, she doesn't have nearly so many characters!). 
  • As bad as life was for David Copperfield, life is even worse for Demon, with fewer bright spots. It makes a very long book feel even longer. 
  • Like Dickens, Kingsolver writes about big issues in ways that educate and enlighten. And, here, feel a little bit guilty about the way I've always thought of poor mountain people.
  • Like Dickens, Kingsolver's books are often quite long and they frequently feel to me as though they could well be shorter without losing a thing. Here I got to the point where I start skimming and thinking "I get, he's an addict; the life of an addict is terrible." This coming from someone who believes that we don't paint that life nearly dark enough as general rule. 
  • Except for that last bit, this would have been a five-star read for me (assuming I gave stars out for books). Kingsolver brilliantly writes in voice that sound very believably like that of a bright young man of poor education, who has grown up in the impoverished mountains of southern Virginia. Her descriptions are vivid - I could easily visualize the squalor, the people, and, most vividly, the land that Demon so loved. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Mercury Pictures Presents
by Anthony Marra
Read by Carlotta Brentan
14 hours
Published August 2022 by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father’s arrest.

Fifteen years later, on the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won’t speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese American actor, can’t escape the studio’s narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria’s only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy.

Over the coming months, as the bright lights go dark across Los Angeles, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father’s past threatens Maria’s carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father’s fate—and her own.

My Thoughts: 
Because I did what I so often did, I jumped into this one solely based on the title and author, without regard to the summary. So it wasn't what I expected or even what I thought I was getting in the beginning of the book. 

We begin thinking that this book is the story of the battle between two brothers (the creative force, Artie, and the money man, Ned) who own a studio that puts out B-movies and is in danger of going under. That storyline, as it turns out, is merely the scaffolding that the rest of the book will be built upon. The book, as it turns out, is the story (and backstory) of a group of immigrants whose lives intertwine with the studio. Maria, who came to the U.S. with her mother after her attorney father was sent to confino by Mussolini's government; Eddie Liu, who can't get a leading role until he can because he's allowed to play the bad guy in propaganda movies; Anna Weber, who lost everything when she refused to become the architect of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; and Vincent Cortese, photographer, who spends all of his life in the U.S. being someone other than who he had been in Italy. 

It's an epic work, that, through Marra's way of storytelling, spans both just a few years and decades, blending humor and darkness. The New York Times reviewer did seem to have an issue with this combination. But isn't that the way of life, that even in the darkest of times, there are things that are humorous? Through its cast, Marra is able to tell a number of stories of war, immigration, propaganda, and racism. There's a lot here to digest and I think it would make a great book for book clubs, in that regard. I did, maybe partly because I was listening (although Carlotta Brentan is very good), sometimes find myself lost as to where the story was and how things tied together. I didn't entirely ever find my way back from that. But even taken as individual stories, there was enough here to keep my interest; and, in the end, I really enjoyed this book and the way Marra ended it. 

Life: It Goes On - December 26

Happy day after Christmas! I hope this finds you all recovering happily from a weekend of family and festivities and none the worse for the weather, although I'm certain that impacted the holidays for many of you. We are both feeling very lazy today and happy to have the day to recover, even if the holiday was much less hectic than we've become accustomed to in the past decades. This was our first year of not celebrating Christmas at my mom's and dad's house and neither of my siblings or their families came (nor, of course, did my Alaskans) so we were a small group. But we still had most of the usual goodies and meals, my dad was with us all weekend, there were plenty of presents to open, we were lucky enough to have friends join us for dinner yesterday, and we got a two-hour FaceTime call with Mini-me and Ms. S. So while it wasn't what we've come to think of as normal, it was a good weekend. 

Last Week I: 
I bake the cookies and make the 
frosting - they create the 
Listened To: All of the Christmas music. 

Watched: Mostly Christmas shows, including White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol (Muppet version and Patrick Stewart version), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the OG), ElfIt's A Wonderful Life, and Love Actually. I was disappointed not to have been able to find The Family Stone available and I also missed Rudolph. Of course, there was plenty of football thrown in there, as well. 

Read: I am finally going to finish Demon Copperhead today, after getting in very little reading this past week. 

Made: Bavarian mints, puppy chow, sugar cookies, chocolate peanut butter toffee, hash brown casserole, my great-grandma's beans and ham hocks, creamed peas, homemade ice cream, homemade chocolate sauce, taco soup, potato soup, cheese ball, egg casserole. I've been busy the past week! 

 Watching my family open and enjoy their gifts. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Christmas will come down this week. I'd do it today but there are other things that need to be done before I start that. I'm going to go through everything we have and get rid of the things we didn't use and things I'm just tired of putting out. After I got the house all decorated this year, I immediately began wishing I had not done so much. 

Thinking About: What my first book of 2023 and my word of the year will be for 2023. 

Feeling: Ready to get back on the healthier eating track. We've eaten so much delicious food the past couple of weeks but my stomach is saying that enough it enough. 

Looking forward to: A four-day weekend next weekend. 

Question of the week: Were you holidays impacted by the weather? 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Mini-Reviews: Lost and Found In Paris, The Last White Man, Confidence

Well, the year is quickly coming to a close and I'm so far behind on reviews that I'm going to have to resort to a few mini-reviews to get caught up. This week, three I've finished in the past couple of months, two hits, one near miss. 

Lost and Found In Paris
by Lian Dolan
Published April 2022 by William Morrow Company
320 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
Joan Blakely had an unconventional childhood: the daughter of a globe-trotting supermodel and a world-famous artist. Her artist father died on 9/11, and Joan--an art historian by training--has spent more than a decade maintaining his legacy. Life in the art world is beginning to wear on her--and then one fateful afternoon her husband drops a bombshell: he's fathered twins with another woman.

Furious but secretly pleased to have a reason to blow up her life, Joan impulsively decides to get out of town, booking a last-minute trip to Paris as an art courier: the person museums hire to fly valuable works of art to potential clients, discreetly stowed in their carry-on luggage. Sipping her champagne in business-class, she chats up her seatmate, Nate, a good-looking tech nerd who invites her to dinner in Paris. He doesn't know she's carrying drawings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But after a romantic dinner and an even more romantic night together, Joan wakes up next to her new lover to discover the drawings gone. Even more shocking is what's been left in their place: a sketch from her father's journals, which she thought had been lost when he died on 9/11, and a poem that reads like a treasure hunt.

With Nate as a sidekick, Joan will follow the clues all over Paris--from its grand cathedrals to the romantic bistros to the twisty side streets of Monmarte--hoping to recover the lost art, and her own sense of adventure. What she finds is even better than she'd expected.

My Thoughts: 
Lian Dolan has never disappointed me yet and this one delivered exactly what I've come to expect from her, with the added twist of it being set outside of California. Dolan's books always give the reader what they want in the end of the book, a happy ending for our heroine without the completely neat and tidy finish that makes some books too saccharine. This book had more unexpected twists that usual, several things that I did not see coming which was nice. Dolan clearly knows her way around Paris and the art scene. Does it look like a romance novel? It does and it is, to an extent. But it's so much more than that, which Dolan's books always are. 

The Last White Man
by Mohsin Hamid
Published August 2022 by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Read by Mohsin Hamid
3 Hours

Publisher's Summary: 
One morning, Anders wakes to find that his skin has turned dark, his reflection a stranger to him. At first he tells only Oona, an old friend, newly a lover. Soon, reports of similar occurrences surface across the land. Some see in the transformations the long-dreaded overturning of an established order, to be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders's father and Oona's mother, a sense of profound loss wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance to see one another, face to face, anew.

My Thoughts:
I always read Mohsin Hamid's books because they always make me think, always make me think of the world in new ways. This one was no exception except that it didn't take me where I expected it to take me. I was looking for a bigger picture, rather than the relatively narrow scope of this book. My fault. I checked out the book without reading the summary and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the summary (which, as you know, is the opposite of what I usually say). This was the first time I've listened to Hamid read his own book (and I've listened to him read three (four?) of his own books now) that I felt like a different narrator might have done a better job, given it more of the emotion that I felt was lacking. 

by Denise Mina
Published July 2022 by Mulholland Books
7 hours, 29 minutes
Read by Rona Morison and Jonathan Keeble

Publisher's Summary: 
Anna McDonald has made a terrible mistake. She has forced her blended family to vacation together. The weather is bad, her daughters are bored, and her ex-husband still insufferable. Oh, and Fin Cohen brought his latest girlfriend, too. So when news of a shocking kidnapping breaks, Anna and Fin do the responsible thing. They take off to solve the case.

Lisa Lee, a young YouTube star, has vanished after answering the door to what she thought was a pizza delivery. Police suspect her dad or the delivery guy, but in Lisa’s last known video she ventured into an abandoned chateau in France, where she uncovered a priceless artifact. Anna knows they must find this young woman before it’s too late. To do so, they need to track down that treasure, a casket that could hold answers to the greatest questions ever asked.

But Anna and Fin might have misunderstood the stakes of the game. Soon, they find themselves mixed up with some very dark characters, on another thrilling chase across Europe—and another race to save their own lives.

My Thoughts:
This is the second in the Anna and Fin series and, while I suppose you could read this as a standalone, I don't recommend it. We open with Anna and Fin on a trip with their makeshift family and how they came to be there together goes a long way with understanding why they bolt when the opportunity arises. 

Mina's plots are complex, surprisingly thought provoking (here we're made to think a lot about religion), and she shows readers just enough to make you think you'll see what's coming. You won't. I mean, we all know I won't see what's coming but I really don't think you will, either. 

Because of the front end set up of this one (and the fact that it is now listed as Anna and Fin #2), I'm already looking forward to the next installment in this series. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Life: It Goes On - December 18

Happy Sunday! This is your official notice that there is only one week left until Christmas Day. Yikes! Still so much left to do and those couple of days I took off before while likely be spent on getting things ready instead of relaxing and reading, as I had hoped. And here you were probably thinking that the lack of book reviews meant that I was busy doing all of the holiday things! 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: My dad and three of his new friends put on a Christmas concert for their other friends and family. The best part? The huge smile on my dad's face the entire time!

 Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!) at the Blue Barn Theater. So, so funny! The past couple of years we haven't done any Christmas events and it was so nice to get back to that and to laugh out loud. 

Read: Yeah, there's not much of that going on this past week. The library is wanting Demon Copperfield back but I still have 200 pages left. Maybe by next week.

Made: The Big Guy has taken over a lot of the cooking lately; he tends to get home earlier than I do this time of the year. But I did make a new chocolate cake recipe that's a definite "make again" and I'm already thinking of ways the recipe might be tweaked to add in some complementary flavors. 

Enjoyed: Book club with our annual book exchange Tuesday. Seeing my dad sing again, for the first time in decades. Dinner with old friends Friday night - so much good food (including that cake!), laughter, and fun playing a new-to-us card game. Going to the theater and dinner with friends last night. It was a good week! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Wrapping, getting cards done and sent, getting food ready, and then enjoying time with our family. 

Thinking About: Every year about this time I try to think of what I could have done to make life less hectic this time of year. The decorating takes forever and I agonize over it; but, when it's done, I love it. The cards take time but I love keeping in touch with friends and family that way. I could cut back on gifts; but, like my mom and her mom, I love giving people gifts and watching them get opened. So, yeah, there's probably nothing that I'm giving up. 

Feeling: Remarkably chill. All of that fun and laughter this week has helped raise my spirits. 

Looking forward to: The food, the gift giving, and time with family. 

Question of the week: How do you celebrate the holidays?

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Life: It Goes On - December 11

Happy Sunday evening! I didn't even realize, until I got on to write this, that I hadn't written a review all last week...again. And there are reviews to be writing. Ugh! I wish I could say it's because I've been busily getting the house decorated...or Christmas cards sent...or holiday treats made. But I don't have any of those done. Although I am well on my way to finished with the decorating, at least. 

There are a few more vintage 
ornaments to be hung but this 
tree (thanks, Kim!) inspired my
living room decorating. 
Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Mercury Pictures Present by Anthony Marra, which was not at all what I was expecting. And, it what is now becoming typical, I won't get it finished before it has to go back. So it's got a hold on it again and I will wait. Meanwhile, this week I have no book to listen to so will listen to podcasts and Christmas music. 

Watched: A whole lot of episodes of The Crown. Struggling with getting used to the season 5 cast. 

Read:  Honestly, not much reading has been done this week, either. What HAVE I been doing this week????

Made: We've been making life easy for ourselves in the kitchen this week - BG picked up a rotisserie chicken, some croissants, and spring mix at Costco the beginning of the week and we've been eating some combination of those foods all week. 

Enjoyed: Despite not really looking forward to it all that much, I really enjoyed my work party Friday night. We did happy hour and dinner then went axe throwing. I was terrible at it and I still had fun and would do it again. Also a visit from my brother, who came up to spend time with my dad. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: See above - this week is all about getting the decorating and the shopping finished, cards and packages mailed, and presents wrapped. 

Thinking About: Again, see above. 

Feeling: Strangely calm, considering all I need to get finished in the next couple of weeks. I'm just really trying to focus on what truly needs to be done and not what I want to get done. So I'll finish the shopping for my Alaskan kids and get those packages in the mail by the end of the week. The rest of the things will just get done when they get done. Or they won't. 

Looking forward to: My book club's holiday party and book exchange. Oh darn, that reminds me that I need to get the prizes picked up!

Question of the week: How are your holiday preparations coming? Do you still send cards? 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Life: It Goes On - December 5

Happy Sunday-Monday (well, let's be honest, it's actually almost Tuesday)! Spent several days last week under the weather and this is most definitely not the time of year to fall behind on the to-do list. Have most of the bins up to decorate and, finally, figured out where to put the two new trees I have this year and how I want to decorate the top of the piano. I'm sure you're thinking to yourself that I spend entirely too much time thinking about how I'm going to decorate and should just do the same thing every year. And I would, if I had the same things every year. No. No I wouldn't. I like pondering what I'm going to do. I just don't want to put the lights and the bed garland on the trees. I would pay you to come to my house and do that for me!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Mohsin Hamid's The Last White Man. Interesting premise, but not at all the way I thought it was going to play out. 

Watched: Lots of college football, basketball, and volleyball. 

Read: I'm finally back to Demon Copperhead, which is due back to the library soon. But which they are not getting back until they threaten to take my first born. And maybe not even then. 

Made: Not much cooking has been going on around here this week, with leftovers still on the menu. The Big Guy did make a really good turkey and rice soup that we ate for a couple of evenings. 

Enjoyed: Is it wrong to say I enjoyed TBG being under the weather, too? When he's down, he's content to stay at home and you know how much I love to do that. 

Lots of cat snuggles this 
week helped me feel 
This Week I’m:

Planning: I need to get Christmas decorating done before the weekend, I have to get Christmas cards put together and ordered, and I need to do some cleaning around here before company arrives this weekend. 

Thinking About: I found a button stash at my parents' house and, because there is so much extra time this time of the year, I'm thinking about doing a couple of craft projects using those buttons. We'll see what time allows. 

Feeling: Yesterday we went to Lincoln to work on my parents' home. It was a tough day, emotionally, and I was drained by the time I went to bed. As I lay there thinking about how hard it is to slowly say goodbye to the house, it occurred to me that I am so lucky that there are so many wonderful, wonderful memories in that house that make the saying goodbye so difficult. I am blessed to have 54 years worth of memories. 

Looking forward to: Seeing family this weekend.

Question of the week: Do you still send Christmas cards? 

Friday, December 2, 2022

Lucy By The Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy By The Sea
by Elizabeth Strout
304 Pages
Published September 2022 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary: 
As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it’s just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea. 

Rich with empathy and emotion, Lucy by the Sea vividly captures the fear and struggles that come with isolation, as well as the hope, peace, and possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we’re apart—the pain of a beloved daughter’s suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.

My Thoughts: 
“One proof of Elizabeth Strout’s greatness is the sleight of hand with which she injects sneaky subterranean power into seemingly transparent prose. Strout works in the realm of everyday speech, conjuring repetitions, gaps and awkwardness with plain language and forthright diction, yet at the same time unleashing a tidal urgency that seems to come out of nowhere even as it operates in plain sight.”—The New York Times Book Review

If you've been around any time at all here, you already know that I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Strout's work. I was introduced to her with Olive Kitteridge, thirteen years ago; and I've since read five more of her books between that one and this one. You wouldn't' have to have read those same six books before reading this one; but it does make reading it that much more fun, as Strout routinely references characters from previous books in her current books. Here the Burgess brothers(The Burgess Boys), Olive Kitteridge (also from Olive Again) and several other characters from those books reappear, as well as the characters from the three Lucy Barton books that proceeded this one. It's one of the things I so enjoy about Strout's books. It's like catching up with old friends when you come upon them in other books, old friends it is clear that Strout isn't ready to say goodbye to just yet. Rightly so - they are marvelous, nuanced, relatable characters. 

But what I most love about Strout's books is her completely unique writing style, a style that, as the quote above says, incorporates everyday speech, repetitions, gaps, awkwardness. There is nothing flowery about Strout's writing and yet it manages to paint every bit as vivid a picture of her characters and settings as books twice as long. 

Just when I thought that I was beginning to agree with Kirkus Reviews on the regular, I, once again, find myself completely disagreeing with them about this one. They called this book a "disappointment" and said Strout's voice was "positively worn out." To be fair, at this point we know these characters - that initial spark that readers feel when they find new characters they grow fond of is gone. Which feels a little bit like the point to me. 

William and Lucy have known each other for decades, they've been married and divorced and they're girls are grown adults. The spark of new love is gone. But there is a comfort, when they find themselves isolated together, with being with someone you know so well. Especially when there are, in fact, some new things to learn about that person. I learned new things about these characters in Lucy By The Sea, while being comforted by meeting these old friends again. There was nothing disappointing about this book for me. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Godmersham Park by Gill Hornby

Godmersham Park
by Gill Hornby
416 Pages
Published November 2022 by Pegasus Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Austenprose PR

Publisher's Summary: 
On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne's arrival is all novelty and excitement.

The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the "upstairs" and "downstairs" members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.

When Mr. Edward Austen's family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together, and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.

Meanwhile Jane's brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne's days at Godmersham Park are numbered.

My Thoughts: 
As those of you who have been around a while know, I'm not a huge fan of books that play off of the classics, especially my beloved Jane Austen. But because this one picks up a tangential thread from Jane's life, rather than her books, I decided to give it a chance. 

Godmersham Park
Godmersham Park
is based on the real experiences of Anne Sharpe during her time at Godmersham Park, home of Edward Austen, Jane's brother. During her time there, her young charge, Fanny, kept a diary detailing the small details of life in the home; there were, as well, letters between Fanny and Jane, Hornby had a wealth of information to build her story from. Little is known of Anne's life before her arrival at Godmersham Park, leaving it entirely to Hornby's imagination as to how a woman of Anne's education and polish ended up working as a governess. 

I was drawn into this book immediately because of Hornby's writing style, which so closely resembles writers of the period in which the story is set. Hornby brings to the book some of the wit I so enjoy in Austen's books, as well as the details of life at that time that plop me right down into the story (the clothing, food, setting, and politics of life in a monied home). As much as I enjoyed reading Anne's story, I was equally taken with the chance to "get to know" Jane better - her struggles with life as a single woman without money, her first forays into writing, her relationships with her family. 

My one quibble with the book (don't you just hate that I always use that word to describe the things I have issues with in a book - I wish I could come up with another word that described my feelings as well) is that it sometimes went on a bit too long for me when Anne returned to visit her former nurse. But those visits resulted in a payoff that made perfect sense for how Anne came to find herself unsupported by her father, after having turned down marriage proposals. 

Gill Hornby
I don't think I'm giving anything away when I tell you that Anne's tenure at Godmersham Park was short lived; certainly readers will see that coming - Mrs. Edward Austen was bound to find fault in some way. But good golly did I want Anne to find a place to call home, to be able to stay with her dear Fanny and educate the other Austen children, to continue to be able to spend time with Jane. 

Thank you so much to Laurel, of Austenprose PR, for inviting me to join the tour for this book. And my apologies to her for entirely missing my tour date. As I've thoroughly enjoyed every book I've read and reviewed for Austenprose PR, I do hope she'll forgive me! 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 28

Happy Monday! Yeah, I know these are meant to be posted on Sundays but Sunday just got away from me. I'd like to say it's because I was so busy taking down Thanksgiving and putting up Christmas or spending the whole day with family or, even, enjoying the first of many holiday events. But the truth of the matter is that from mid-afternoon on, I spent most of the day vegging out, unable to make myself move. While I was feeling guilty about that, The Big Guy assured me that I deserved to have a day of rest. Which made me feel marginally less guilty. And I did appreciate the support. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To:
 I started the week listening to A Snake Falls To Earth but didn't get it finished before it was grasped out of my hands (ok, returned automatically off of my phone) by the library. And now I won't get it back for something like 16 weeks. To avoid having that happen again, I've started Mohsin Hamid's latest, The Last White Man, which runs at just 3 hours. Surely I can get that finished soon, right? I certainly hope so because next up I have Anthony Marra's latest, Mercury Pictures Presents, which I most assuredly want to be able to finish before I have to return it. 

Watched: My beloved Husker football team win their final game of the season and my beloved Husker volleyball team unexpectedly get dominated, at home, in two matches. 

Read: I started Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Demon Copperhead. At over 800 pages, I see very little chance that this one will get finished before the library threatens to fine me for not returning it. Still, I refuse to rush it; because at just 25 pages in, I'm, once again, blown away by Kingsolver's writing. 

Made: Breakfast pastry (yum), a new cranberry recipe (thanks, Kim - another yum), pumpkin pies (forgot to double the sugar so only a yum because of whipped cream), gravy (I'm told it was a yum), and stuffing (most decidedly not a yum). BG did the turkey, using a method we saw on Pioneer Woman. It cooks beautifully and in a fraction of the time so we'll definitely be doing that again. 

Celtic symbol for 
 So much time with family, including Thanksgiving dinner Thursday with my dad, Mini-him, and BG at my dad's place (those folks put on a terrific spread); three days with my sister and brother-in-law; Thanksgiving dinner a day late at our place; and a short visit with Miss H, who had to work Thursday and then had to head back home Saturday morning. At least she was here long enough to go with me and hold my hand when I got my tattoo on Friday. Yep, I didn't chicken out! Did it hurt? Yes, it did. Did it hurt as much as tearing my meniscus? Not even close. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: The calendar is very clear this week so I'll be getting the house decorated for Christmas. 

Thinking About: Christmas shopping. It's taken up a lot of my free time since Friday. The scramble is on to get the shopping done for my Alaskans so I can get their package mailed soon. Do you all remember the year I waited until the last minute to mail their package to Milwaukee and ended up spending $95 to get it there on time? Can you even imagine what it would cost to ship a package last minute to Anchorage??

Feeling: Tired. 

Looking forward to: Hopefully getting time to see friends this week. 

Question of the week: How did you spend the holiday? 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Book of Maps by Ernest Thompson * Guest Review

The Book of Maps
by Ernest Thompson 
480 pages 
Published October 2022 by Global Collective Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
In the summer of 2002, Brendan Tibbet, a filmmaker whose luck has run low, takes his ten-year-old son Brenlyn on a raucous road trip across America. Following a 1930s travel guide Brendan purchased at a yard sale, the two-week trek from LA to New Hampshire covers 16 states, hitting the iconic stops along the way, Yosemite, the Great Salt Lake, Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, replete with wild exploits both hilarious and perilous, but it’s the interior journey that is enlightening, deeply poignant and life-changing. 

Brendan assures the boy that each state will be an adventure, and on the second day proves it, seeing the kid washed away in fast-moving rapids, then foolishly putting them both in danger by refusing to back down to the massive black bear invading their campsite. That’s Brendan, impetuous and foolhardy, inciting trouble wherever he goes, a man with demons and bubbling angst. But neither of those missteps, or the many and scarier ones to follow, can begin to compare to the threatening storm cloud hanging over the expedition: the father’s struggle to find the perfect, worst time to reveal to his son the news that will break his heart and affect everything to follow. 

Ernest Thompson’s debut novel is a skillful, magical piece of 20th-century fin de siècle writing depicting a United States that, even in the aftermath of 9-11, seems almost innocent contrasted to the horrors and divisions, racism and rage challenging us now. The Book of Maps, with its powerful father-son relationship and one man’s relentless albeit unintentional quest to evolve into the better angel we all aspire to be, will capture the imagination of readers and leave them wanting to relive this mad, irresistibly moving, ridiculously funny, reflective and inspiring cross-country odyssey again and again.

Guest Review:
My husband loves travel novels so I knew this was one of him when it was offered to me for review. Here are his thoughts: 

The Book of Maps, appears to be, from its cover, a normal travel story between a father and his son; but it ends up going many different directions along the way.  Not quite as nuts as Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; but plenty of excitement, fun and danger, especially if you are a parent.  

Other travel stories I've enjoyed include Blue Highways and a number of Paul Theroux books that were high on my list.  The Flashman Chronicles would, I think,  would be considered a strong contender for some of my favorite travel tales and of course a good many of Mark Twain's stories.  

The first thing you notice is that Ernest Thompson has tremendous control of the English language.  It takes a bit of getting used to at first, as his prose is pretty thick with his ability to use All of the English Language.  But from the guy that wrote On Golden Pond, Thompson has great credentials, a strong grip on the human condition and the ability to create, build and expand relationships. 

I presume the story comes, at least somewhat, from personal experience as Brenden and his son Brenlyn take us on a journey across the US from Southern California up to his home in New Hampshire.  Lurking in the background is his crumbling marriage to Lynsay, that Brenden is slowly figuring out was destined to fail from the beginning.  But the couple still have love, however incompatible.  However, like is often the case in a break-up, they have a boy in the middle of it all. Brenden is going to take Brenlyn on a last big trip with using the Book of Maps as a bible.  Brenden knows he is going to miss his son a great deal, not being around all of the time and being located across the country.  

Brenden has had some strong success in his past but that's gone a bit dormant; on this trip he is beginning to hash some of this out.  When Brenden gets back, and after weeks with his son where he knows this is the end of a normal family life,k we really don't know where Brenden is going to be in his life.  Will he become a lazy drunk that circles the drain and dies lonely or will he get is mojo back and find some of the success he had early in life?  

Of course, the other obvious element of the story is the question of what will become of the relationship between Brenden and Brenlyn.  Early in the trip there is quite a bit of strife between the two; but they begin to find some common ground.  Will they stay close after this long strange trip together or does Brenlyn find out things about his father that pull them further apart? Brenden has to spring the concept of divorce on him at some point along or at the end of the trip.  When they separate will they have developed a bond that will last a lifetime and carry them forward or just visit once in the summer and over the holidays?  

The Book of Maps is a very well written story, a nice read the flows well, has deep character building of characters who you care about and plenty of good and bad surprises along the way.  Like on On Golden Pond, the story and characters feel real and the reader is convinced that the encounters along the way could be and may well have happened and they most people can relate to these slices of life.  I really enjoyed the ride along.  

Thanks, Big Guy!

About The Author:

Ernest Thompson has written numerous films, plays and songs, and has worked extensively as an actor and director. In addition to his Oscar for On Golden Pond, Ernest’s work has won two Golden Globes, a Writers Guild Award, a Broadway Drama Guild Award and been nominated for a Tony, an Emmy and a British Academy Award. His plays have been seen in theaters around the world, his most enduring, On Golden Pond, translated into 30 languages and presented in more than 40 countries. He currently is developing Cries of Valor in Defiance, depicting life in the pandemic and, with his writer wife Kerrin Thompson, has established Rescind Recidivism, a prison writing program designed to give inmates a chance to feel creative as well as human, capable and worthy.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 20

Happy (late) Sunday! It's been a busy weekend as we continue to work on getting my dad's house cleaned out, try to get the final touches on my dad's place before my sister and brother-in-law arrive on Thursday, and get our house in order to host dinner on Friday and have family staying over. I'm sure it's been much the same at many of your houses this weekend. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I've been listening to A Snake Falls To Earth by Darcie Little Badger, which my dad is also reading in print. In fact, it's the Big Library Read in November. 

Watched: The other night I caught a little of the latest adaptation of All Quiet On The Western Front on Netflix with my dad. I need to start watching again from the beginning; but, also, it's probably time for me to pick up this classic. 

Read: My hold on Denise Mina's Confidence came due to I'm trying to race through that...because I also picked up three more books at the library the other day. I have GOT to start actually reading more!

Made: I'm not sure we had the oven on all week. We are working to use things up in our freezers - they are both just packed and so much of it is boxed foods. Today was sesame chicken for three. But this week, oh, this week I will cook!

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday and an evening with The Big Guy's brother and his wife (she gave me some recipes I'm very eager to try and made a delicious soup!). I'm sure I've mentioned before how happy we are to have them living nearby again but it bears repeating. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: For dinner for seven on Friday (we will be a very small group this year) and guests in both guest rooms (the first time that's happened in more than three years - yea!). 

Thinking About: Making a run to Trader Joe's tomorrow...not unlike thousands of other people, I'm sure. My sister-in-law showed me a couple of wines I really think I need for Friday. Either that or it's just an excuse to go buy a lot of things I don't really need. 

Feeling: Like this week is going to fly by. 

Looking forward to: Getting my hair done on Tuesday and getting my first tattoo on Friday. 

Question of the week: Do you have any tattoos? I never thought I would get one but I decided I wanted a reminder I could always see of the strength I've relied on these past twelve years. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Mini-Review: Midnight Library by Matt Haig

 Yeah, I could have written full reviews for the books I've reviewed this week and gotten another week of reviews; but, if I put this off longer, I'll forget the books, let alone what I want to say about them. So here's another mini-review of a book I've read, and really enjoyed, recently. 

Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
304 pages
Published September 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my public library

Publisher's Summary: 
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? 

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

My Thoughts: 
Recommended by a friend at work (thanks, Ann!), this is a book that really makes you think about the what ifs of your life, and there are so very many more what ifs than you ever considered. If you had a chance to see every single possible version of the life you might have led, which would you choose? Nora discovers that getting what you thought you wanted out of life isn't necessarily what you would have chosen had you known how it would have ended. 

I wasn't a fan of the ending of this one. I wish it had ended about six pages earlier, left the reader wondering. But there were some really great things in this book. 
"Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she'd had the sense that she wasn't enough. Her parents, who both had their own insecurities had encouraged that idea. 

She imagined, now, what it would be like to accept herself complete. Every mistake she had ever made. Every mark on her body. Every dream she hadn't reached or pain she had felt. Every lost or longing she had surpassed. 

She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale. 

She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best. 

And in doing so, she imagined what was like to be free." 

Monday, November 14, 2022


It's time to admit that I'm not going to get full reviews written for a lot of the books I've been reading lately and just go with some mini-reviews. 

by Colleen Hoover
336 pages
Published October 2021 by Grand Central Publishing

Publisher's Summary: 
Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish. 

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity's notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn't expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity's recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died. 

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen's feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife's words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

My Thoughts: 
I've read that this is way out of Hoover's normal oeuvre but I don't know quite what to make of that. Does she normally not write mystery/thrillers? Or does she normally not write books that are almost soft porn in sections? I know, I know - I've repeatedly said I'm not a prude when it comes to my reading and then the sex in a book turns out to be a problem for me. Just felt like there was way more of it and far more detail than was necessary to move the story forward. 

As for the story itself, I'm super surprised to find this one has a 4.4 rating on Goodreads. There were just so many things that seemed contrived in the plotting of this book. Still, I was bought into finding out exactly what was going on and the ending took me by surprise so it wasn't a total loss. 

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gason Leroux
Librivox Recording
Originally published 1909

The Phantom of the Opera is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. 

The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.

My Thoughts: 
I understand this book was written over one hundred years ago, when writing styles were different and I get that I was listening to a translation (but also following along with another translation in print). But also remember that this is not the first book I've read that was written long ago so I'm familiar with the differences in the time periods. This is by far the most stilted language in a book I think I've ever read - it was often painful to listen to and no easier to read in print, making it hard to enjoy the actual story. 

My book club read this one and only one person liked it. I can see why there have been adaptations of it; there is a lot in the story to parse out to create an interesting story from. But there is so much that muddies the story that I can hardly see how it came to be considered a classic in the first place. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 13

Happy Sunday! It snowed (ever so little yesterday but it snowed) and it's really cold out. It may be sunny out; but, otherwise, it's feeling a lot more like winter than fall right now. Which means that even though I set my dining room table for Thanksgiving, I'm seriously thinking of breaking my rule and starting to pull out the Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Probably I should use that time to catch up on laundry and cleaning instead, right?

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished People Person and started on Fredrik Backman's Bear Town. Both have terrific readers. 

Watched: Um, only sports, I think. 

Read: I realized that I had completely forgotten not one, but two, book tours in the past couple of weeks. I'm probably kicked off of both group's email lists now, deservedly so. Maybe then I could come close to keeping up with my reading. 

I have been reading, though. Just not getting the reviews written. I promise to do better this week. My plan is to catch up with mini-reviews (except the two that I owe to publishers) and then, maybe, I can get back on track. 

Made: Literally nothing. I don't even remember what we ate one single night. 

Enjoyed: I took my dad out to eat Friday night, just the two of us. He flirted outrageously with the server and she brought his tea in a mug that said "Chick Magnet." 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Oh, let's be serious - my plans have fallen through most weeks lately. No point in making them. 

Thinking About: My parents' house. The less and less of them that is in the house, the harder it seems to be getting for me to be there. Maybe it's becoming more of a reality to me that it will not be ours soon. 

Feeling: My vote never counts because of where I live; but I do it anyway because, once in a while, it has made a difference. I'm so grateful to those who got out and voted this week whose vote really did make a difference. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday. 

Quote of the week: “Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” – Ritu Ghatourey

Monday, November 7, 2022

Life: It Goes On - November 7

Happy (late) Monday! After a relatively leisurely weekend, somehow yesterday came and went without me getting a Sunday post up. And since that's about all I'm getting posted these days, I figured I'd better get one up today. Fingers crossed, I'll be getting some (at least mini-) reviews posted this week. Although I haven't been posting, I have been reading. And what with the new piece of furniture I put in my house two weeks ago, I may not be hitting these keys as much as I used to (more on that later). 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm about finished with Candice Carty-Williams' latest, People Person. Very glad to be listening to this one - the reading is superb.

Watched: The usual football, volleyball, baseball, The Voice. Plus, a couple of episodes of The Crown and  Annika on PBS. 

Read: I raced through Verity by Colleen Hoover, although I can't say that I loved it. I'm not even sure I liked it. 

Made: Pizza, fried potatoes, fried apples, homemade mac 'n' cheese. I'm easing back into cooking. Yea, me!

Enjoyed: Seeing this smile on my dad's face as, more and more, we turn his new digs into his home. 

This Week I’m:

Planning: Work continues on getting my dad settled and in getting things cleaned up in his house. 

Thinking About: How happy I'll be to not have to listen to these campaign ads any more. So much hyperbole and so many lies, and we get the ads from both Nebraska and Iowa since Omaha sits on the state line. 

Excited about getting back to playing the piano. I've only stumbled a bit with it so far; this week I'll get the music brought up from the basement so I can get to it seriously. 

Looking forward to: Highs in the seventies for a couple of days this week. Dinners will be held on the patio in November...without jackets! We won't talk about the highs in the thirties later this week. 

Quote of the week: "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be." - Abraham Lincoln

Monday, October 31, 2022

Life: It Goes On - October 31

Happy Monday and Happy Halloween! I feel like I'm finally coming up for air after my dad's big move. There are still things to get sorted at his house and still things to find homes for in his apartment but it's all feeling very doable now. Most importantly of all, he already feels very much at home. 

While we were having them move his stuff, we had the movers bring my mom's piano to my house. I was shocked to find out a year or so ago that I can no longer read music so I won't just be sitting down to Chopin and Mozart right away. But my dad has given me a couple of new music books and I'm bound and determined to master them. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Phantom of the Opera and started Candice Carty-Williams' People Person

Watched: Football, volleyball - the usual. 

Read: I finished The Midnight Library and now I'm bouncing between Confidence by Denise Mina and Colleen Hoover's Verity, both of which are due back to the library soon. Then I'll get back to Jodi Picoult's Mad Honey.  

Made: Brownies for moving day and not much between then and this weekend when I made an egg casserole for brunch when my aunt and uncle were here. 

My life for the past week!
 Watching my dad settle in to his new home so happily. He's joining a group for breakfast most mornings, has gone to some physical therapy, met the pastor, thrown on a costume and gone to the Halloween party, and made good use of the bistro. Which has fantastic food. Seriously. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On getting my dad's office settled and getting some things on the walls (only one room has anything up so far). 

Thinking About: A quick trip to Kansas City. Miss my girls!

Feeling: Worn out but content. 

Looking forward to: A quiet week - absolutely nothing on the calendar. Well, except for the irrigation system work at my dad's one day. And I've got some appointments I need to get set up. And we need to get back to Lincoln one day. Maybe not so quiet, after all!

Question of the week: We've had more trick-or-treaters this year, in no small part to the warm-ish weather we've had today. How about you? Did you get a lot of kids at your house?