Thursday, November 30, 2023

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Like most of the reading public, I really enjoyed Tom Lake, Ann Patchett's latest novel, easily giving it a 5-star rating on GoodReads.

The problem with not reading this when it first came out is...what else is there to say? I loved learning the mom Lara's backstory--how she came to be a one-role actress, her relationship with Peter Duke, the aspiring actor who became a megastar in Hollywood, and how his presence continued in the life of her family after their relationship seemingly ended. While the story jumped from the present to the past, the story within a story framework kept me grounded. I liked how the daughters propelled the narrative with their questions. This made the entire story very realistic.

I haven't read much Covid-set fiction, but I think Patchett worked this into the narrative in a meaningful way--using it to explain the tightness and isolation of the family during the time in which she told her story. Thematically, it reinforced the nuclear family premise--all you need is each other and the land. Very Laura Ingalls Wilder, that is.

I really enjoyed how Patchett integrated Thornton Wilder's Our Town into the novel. I have never seen the play or a movie version of it, nor have I read it. Nevertheless, it is such a part of our 20th century American culture that I knew a bit about it. Lara's identification with the character she plays, Emily, provided a deeper insight into Lara as a character herself. I found it interesting that I learned the plot points of the play as the novel progressed--interesting how Lara's story and Our Town progressed in parallel.

What else did I love? Definitely Peter's brother Sebastian; the swimming in Tom Lake; the life of an actor in summer stock; the work on the cherry orchard (and the references to Chekov's The Cherry Orchard); the three daughters and how alike and different they were from each other; Lara's husband Joe and their relationship; Lara's relationship to her grandmother. I loved learning about Michigan, a state I confess to never having a hanker to visit. Shame on me. Sounds lovely.

I really loved that while Lara was okay in telling her daughters the story of her relationship with Peter, there were some things that she kept to herself. We, the readers, got to know the whole story, but there were some things Lara choose to keep private. I respect privacy and being able to tell one's own story.

I found it poignant and very sad to read about the arc of Peter Duke's life while learning about the death of Matthew Perry. I think this book will always remind me of Perry's passing, and I do expect to reread it at some point.

I did listen to the novel, as read by Meryl Streep, and am so glad I did. Throughout, I kept on thinking that Streep was having a ball, reliving her own days as an up-and-coming actor who probably spent time herself in summer stock, etc. 

Final thought--it's interesting how authors are really using classic works as creative springboards. I know this has been going on forever, but it seems to be on the upswing these days. Not only does Tom Lake riff on Our Town and The Cherry Orchard, but John Irving's The Last Chairlift does similar stuff with Moby Dick, and then, of course, there is Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperfield.

A thoroughly enjoyable, satisfying novel by one of my favorite authors.

Isn't the Tom Lake pie on the left gorgeous?

Bonus: I follow @Parnassusbooks (Ann Pachett's bookstore) on Instagram and so was pretty jazzed to see a pie decorated like the cover of Tom Lake, made by @pieladybooks, who I now follow as well. What a terrific idea for decorating pies! Here is the link to the Tom Lake pie post when the pielady delivered it to Ann earlier in November.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Cloud Cuckoo Land

I absolutely loved All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, so when Cloud Cuckoo Land by the same author was published in September 2021, I was so excited to read it. Then I started reading reviews and the sci-fi, futuristic thread turned me off the book. Years pass. I am looking for something to listen to and my library has an audio of Cloud Cuckoo Land available with no wait. I take the plunge. I fall in love with this book. Why didn't I trust that Doerr would not let me down?

Cloud Cuckoo Land is an ambitious book. There are five distinct story threads, some of which converge, spanning centuries, not including the ancient novel attributed to Antonius Diogenes (a 2nd century Greek author) but actually written by Doerr that connects all five stories and characters.

It is creative, historical, fanciful, mythic, and poignant. My favorite characters were those from the 15th century who witnessed the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire--Anna is a reluctant seamstress who learns to read Greek and unearths the Diogenes manuscript whose story of a shepherd who ultimately makes it to the utopia of Cloud Cuckoo Land. It is this story that provides an arc for each of the other characters--Omeir, a peasant boy in the Ottoman Army; Zeno a Korean War vet who learns Greek and translates the story into English; Seymour, an autistic boy who loves owls and just wants to protect them; and Konstance, a young girl on a spaceship in which she is immigrating to another Earth lightyears away.

I know it sounds crazy, but it was crazy good. It was lovely and thought-provoking. I particularly loved how Doerr connected these various characters together, showing the connection between people, their commonality. Despite their profound differences in time and space and culture, he showed how we are all connected to each other and our world. It was a beautiful message for our troubled times. It lightened my heart, and that is a very good thing.

Tuesday, November 07, 2023

November Bits and Bobs

I've been out of commission for a while, working on the JASNA 2023 AGM in Denver, which was November 3-5, but with tours going out on November 2 and 6 as well. Since I was the regional tour coordinator this year, I've been a bit busy.

The AGM itself was terrific, with my favorite plenary speaker being Janet Todd, who talked about Pemberley and place, Gilpin and fishing, and Austen's ability to be succinct where Fielding and Richardson could not. After the lecture, I promptly went to the Emporium and bought Todd's novel, Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden, which I hope to read early in 2024.

Other talks of note were Inger Brody's lecture "West of Austen," in which she talked about Owen Wister's incorporation of Austen into his novel, The Virginian, and Rebecca Dickson's discussion of cognitive dissonance and other aspects of the psychology of belief that are a major part of Pride and Prejudice. I also really enjoyed Melanie Hayden's discussion of the various ways Elizabeth Bennet has been adapted in the many retellings of P&P.

Despite all the AGM work, I am happy to report that I did not neglect my reading. 

What Have I Been Reading?

A Gentleman in Moscow
, by Amor Towles - I finally got around to reading this and kept asking the question, what took me so long? It was absolutely terrific. Clearly a 5-star book, not only for the gorgeous writing but for the craft involved in telling such a sweeping story in such a confined space. The ending is so incredibly satisfying that I was moved to tears of joy. 

The Whalebone Theatre, by Joanna Quinn - this is one of those rare books that I bought based on its cover. I was in a bookstore in Blue Hill, ME on vacation in September and was intrigued by the title and cover. I loved it--another 5-star book that has fantastic characters and a riveting story. I loved Cristabel, her half-sister Flossie, and her cousin Digby. I loved watching them grow up, and I loved the people they became. Set in Devon, full of theatrics during the time between the wars, and then focused on WWII and the resistance in France. So good!

That Old Cape Magic, by Richard Russo - another super interesting, poignant novel with great writing, complex characters, and marvelous setting, this time Cape Cod, hence the title. A novel about marriage and how one's parents can affect and influence you even when you think you've left them far behind. Lots to think about in this story.

The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd - a novel about a real woman who almost single-handedly introduced the cultivation of indigo to the American colonies. On the one hand, this was a difficult topic because the economy of the South became so dependent on slavery and so it was hard to cheer for a woman whose work magnified that dependence and the subsequent suffering and inhumanity of slavery. And, like with Gone With the Wind, slavery was softened so that its brutality was not really portrayed. That said, I did like reading about how Eliza Lukas experimented with the indigo seeds she obtained as she, with the help of some of the slaves, figured out how to turn it into a cash crop. 

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Round Up and Harvest Time

There are a number of books that I've read but not blogged about recently, so it's time to do another roundup.

 Around the World in 80 Plants, by Jonathan Drori - my sister Frances gave me this gorgeous book for Christmas 2021. I read it slowly, absorbing the details of the 80 plants that the author featured, and enjoying the enchanting illustrations. Beginning in Northern Europe and ending in North America, the plants featured range from the ordinary to the exotic, from the lowly to the stupendous. Most are important to the region they are native, and many are guideposts to the culture of the region. A truly remarkable book and one that I will dip into from time to time since I have done the full armchair travel once. Lucille Clerc is the illustrator--visit her website for a visual treat.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville - Knowing that another trip to New England was in store for September and that we would be visiting New Bedford, MA and Mystic, CT before heading up to Maine, I decided to reread Moby Dick. I read it roughly 40 years ago and remembered sort of liking it. I'll be doing a travelogue soon on this trip but suffice it to say that Moby Dick begins in New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world in the 1880s and the richest city in North America at one time. It took me all summer and into September but I did reread the entire crazy thing. Parts were riveting. Parts were revolting. Parts made me question Melville's sanity (I not the only one to do so, btw). Parts were boring. I found a lot of the technical details associated with whaling and living on a ship for a multi-year voyage to be fascinating from a historical perspective. The parts that dragged for me was when Melville waxed philosophical and let his mind and pen range without purpose. I did pick up an abridged, illustrated copy of the book at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park store. This is a book that requires illustrations because of all the arcane information--thank goodness I had my iphone handy to look up stuff. I can't image rereading the whole thing again, but I will definitely refer to the abridged version "whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth." 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The other reason I decided to reread Moby Dick is because it figures so prominently in John Irving's The Last Chairlift, which I read earlier this year.

Straight Man, by Richard Russo - I've only read Empire Falls by Russo (the novel that won him a Pulitzer Prize), but since he is one of my husband's favorite authors, I took this along to Maine to read after finishing Moby Dick. It was great--a perfect contrast to the Melville tome, laugh out loud funny, but also poignant and chock full of interesting, quirky characters. It takes place in a struggling college in rural Pennsylvania and recounts the internecine warfare that typifies academia, in this case, the English department. Hank, the main character, is currently one of my favorite literary characters. He can barely communicate without being a smart aleck, but he loves his wife and dog and children, probably in that order!

Pride, by Ibi Zoboi - This is a riff on Pride and Prejudice, set in Brooklyn. I read it for my JASNA region's bookclub. I haven't read any Austen-inspired novels in quite a while, and this was very well done. Featuring an upwardly mobile African American family that moves into a traditionally working-class African American neighborhood as the basic premise in which the Lizzy, Darcy, Jane, Bingley, and the rest of the cast can play out the story.

Hope you are all enjoying the changing season. I've been harvesting my garden, making tomato sauce and salsa, blanching and freezing carrots, living on turkey green chili, picking raspberries every morning for my yogurt, and storing onions and shallots for the winter. Tomorrow we harvest our apples--a bumper crop this year, which means I'll be busy making applesauce and apple pie filling over the next few days.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Travelogue: Glenwood Springs

Our family likes to visit one of Colorado’s many wonderful mountain towns in August, and this year we settled on Glenwood Springs, mainly so that we could hike up to Hanging Lake, an iconic Colorado destination that none of us had actually been to.

Hanging Lake is a lovely little lake, a pond really, fed by mountain springs that cascade into a rock cavity nestled in Glenwood Canyon, 20 minutes east of Glenwood Springs, just off I-70.  The hike to the pond is short (1.3 miles), steep (a gain of 1200 feet in elevation), rocky, narrow, and gorgeous, following Dead Horse Creek, which occasionally shows off with a waterfall here and there. I walk daily, weather permitting or not, and feel like my legs are relatively strong. After only 10 minutes, my face was so red my daughter thought I might be having a stroke, so I slowed down to a crawl and at that pace did make it to the top, stopping first at Spouting Rock, a wonderful waterfall that drops in front of a cave so that you can walk behind it and enjoy it from all angles. We rested for about 20 minutes, scarfing down granola bars and water, before heading back down the trail.

If you decide to visit Hanging Lake, be forewarned that reservations are required. The ticket taker at the gate said he turns away roughly 100 cars a day that arrive without planning ahead. Also be aware that the forest service that protects Hanging Lake has spent a lot of time and resources cleaning it up—apparently it used to be pretty trashed even a few years ago—and fines for even touching the water, much less swimming in it, are steep enough to dissuade even the most hardened idiots. Hanging Lake was named a National Natural Landmark in 2011.

One of Glenwood Springs’s claims to fame are its many hot springs that soothe aching muscles after hiking, cycling, skiing, or just living. We had fully intended to partake of one of the many pools after our hike and then the requisite lunch (we had an 8 am reservation so that we could hike in the cool of the mountain summer morning) but discovered that even the big public pool in town was charging $50/person. I’m not cheap as a rule, but $50 for a soak in a hot pool for 30 minutes (which is all I can really take) was just not worth it. I would rather spend that $50 on books!

Both Doc Holliday and Theodore Roosevelt famously loved Glenwood. Doc lived and gambled and drank there for a few years before he eventually died of tuberculosis and is buried somewhere in the town—apparently the headstone in one of the graveyards does not in fact mark his grave. Roosevelt visited so often that the Hotel Colorado (where we stayed!) was dubbed the Western White House.

If you go, here are some travel tips:

  • Visit Bullock Western Wear on Grand Avenue and try on the $900 turquoise lambskin jacket. You will look fabulous and will get your fix of western clothing until your next trip.
  • Avoid the underpass where I-70 crosses Grand Avenue on Friday evenings when there are tables set out and the music is blaring from the bars—the acoustics are such that you will lose your hearing. Every other time of day or week, this is actually a really nice place to congregate, meet friends, find some shade in the summer, but watch out on Friday night!
  • Bring walking shoes—the trails along the Colorado River, especially through Two Rivers Park, are relaxing and enjoyable. You can watch rafters coming down both the Colorado from the east and the Roaring Fork from the south. Also, make sure you find the monument to the 12 firefighters who lost their lives battling the Storm King fire in 1994.

  • If you are heading down to Denver after your trip to Glenwood, plan on heavy traffic from the Eisenhower tunnel all the way to highway 6. We decided to use the toll lane and pay the $9 or I think we would still be sitting in traffic.
  • Don’t stay at the Hotel Colorado over the weekend if you don’t want to be inconvenienced by the many weddings that are held there year-round. I completely get why couples want to get married there—the setting is really beautiful, and the courtyard is charming, but we wanted to enjoy a drink in the courtyard before heading out to dinner, but it was closed for a wedding. Call me a curmudgeon, but it was a bit annoying. The bride was beautiful, but the bridesmaids were in gray, which I thought was a bit of a weird color for a summer afternoon wedding. See, there was a silver lining. My daughter and I got to critique wedding party attire!
  • Don't stay at the Hotel Colorado if you are afraid of ghosts. We didn't see or hear any, but it is on the list of most haunted hotels in Colorado.

Glenwood is a charming western Colorado town, near to the Colorado wine, peach, and corn country. The Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers offer fun for fisherfolk, rafters, canoeists, photographers, and walkers. There are lots of restaurants featuring ranch food like smoky BBQ, beans, steaks, and Tex-Mex. Family friendly and with a certifiably good history pedigree, it is downstream from Aspen and is a much more enjoyable town to visit, according to this Colorado native.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell


Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel, The Marriage Portrait, is even better than Hamnet and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, both of which I thought were terrific. Unlike other novels that purport to be the backstory of a famous work of art (e.g., The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Lady and the Unicorn), this is the backstory of a portrait that probably existed but that hasn’t survived, which makes it even more intriguing.

This is the story of Lucrezia di Medici, a middle child and third daughter of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Florence, and teenage bride of Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. She died early in the marriage, perhaps from disease, perhaps murdered by her husband who was desperate for an heir and unwilling to wait long for Lucrezia to conceive.

I absolutely loved the character that O’Farrell bestowed on this unsung female who for centuries has been little more than a footnote of Florentine history. She was an artist, fascinated and attuned to the natural world, particularly animals. She was strong, energetic, and intelligent—had the Florentine world not been enslaved by a patriarchal society, she would have been an ideal successor to her father, much more so than any of her brothers. She was definitely a spiritual sister of the caged tiger she charmed into letting her pet her, and their stories tracked each other until near the end when Lucrezia's veered in a different direction.

************SPOILERS BELOW*****************

I absolutely adored the ending and was fervently hoping that the story would resolve as it did, with Lucrezia escaping from the fate history allotted her and finding a place and role for herself as an anonymous artist of exquisite tiny paintings of animals, presumably finding love and passion, purpose and fulfillment outside the trappings and dangers of court and politics and power.

Usually, I am a stickler for historical accuracy, but in the case of Lucrezia, about whom so little is known, I have no problem with this author creating an alternate reality for her.

I also think that O'Farrell did a great job in her portrait of Alfonso. Our view of him was entirely governed by Lucrezia's, evolving as she matured from the little girl she was when she first met him to the innocent bride whose only role is to bear children to the scared teenager who has learned what he is capable of doing when thwarted. 


Definitely a 5-star novel that I look forward to rereading someday.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Mysteries -- Quebec, Dublin, and London

The Paston Treasure, circa 1670 - featured in A World of Curiosities

I do love a good mystery and a good mystery series and a good mystery-series author. In the midst of a couple of super long books, I managed to fit in a few that meet all three criteria to add extra zest to my summer reading.

A World of Curiosities, by Louise Penny is book 18 in Penny's fabulous Armand Gamache series, set in Quebec. I absolutely loved this mystery and think it among the best of the series. It hits all the right notes for me--mostly taking place in the wonderful village of Three Pines and featuring Armand, his family, his neighbors, his dogs, it tells the backstory of Armand and his second-in-command and son-in-law Jean Guy. It features art (i.e., The Paston Treasure), the struggle between good and evil, DNA, puzzles, witches, and traditions.  The mystery was absolutely first-rate and kept me guessing as to how it would all work out until the end. Clocking in at exactly 400 pages, it counts as my 3rd book in the Big Book Summer Challenge 2023.

A Man With One of Those Faces, Caimh McDonnell - this is a new series for me, book 1 of the author's Dublin Trilogy. McDonnell was apparently a stand-up comedian before becoming an author, and the book is very funny as well as a great mystery chock full of interesting, quirky characters. I loved the setting and the main character and the overall premise (i.e., the fact that Paul Mulchrone has one of those faces and keeps on being mistaken for someone else...with dire consequences).

The White Lady, by Jacqueline Winspear - as a devoted fan of the author's Maisie Dobbs series, I was eager to read this new book in what I expect will be a new series. It was quite good, but the main character, Elinor White, is an awful lot like Maisie. Both survived WWI, with Elinor being slightly younger than Maisie was during that war, but with significant emotional scarring. Both are mentored by strong individuals who recognize their innate abilities, and both work in clandestine roles during WWII. Both school themselves to be steady, strong, capable, and moral. Both love suppers of soup and bread and cheese. I'm not sure if Winspear felt that Maisie's story was winding up, and Elinor was a way she could move into the post-war world. I guess I'm okay with that since I enjoy reading Winspear's novels.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Dog Days of August Roundup - True Grit, et al

I used to think the perfect year would jump from spring to fall, but lately I am truly starting to appreciate summer. Maybe it's because this one has been relatively cool and much rainier than usual. Anyway, summer is winding down, and it's time for a reading roundup before pumpkin spice hits the shelves and frost hits the tomatoes.

True Grit, by Charles Portis - an absolutely fabulous 5-star read. I loved Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn, and LeBoeuf, and I loved the setting (the Old West circa 1870). I especially loved the writing--Mattie is the first-person narrator, and her voice is crisp and authentic with a dry wit. I listened to the audio version, as read by Donna Tartt, who also provided the afterword for the novel. Tartt raves eloquently about her entire family's multi-generational love for this novel, and she also wrote an excellent piece for the New York Times after Portis's death in 2020. I am sorry I didn't read this book as a teenager because I definitely feel I would have had a lifelong love for it, as does Tartt. Even if you're not sure you would like a Western, it's a short book and well worth a try. I actually think it should be on school reading lists. 

I've never seen the John Wayne movie and didn't really want to. However, I did just watch the 2010 movie with Jeff Bridges as Rooster, Matt Damon as LeBoeuf, and Hattie Steinfeld as Mattie. I thought it was fabulous. Very true to the book, snakes and all! I've just put a couple of other books by Portis on my GoodReads TBR list.

The Survivors, by Jane Harper - this Australian author is definitely becoming a favorite of mine. I like everything she writes. This standalone mystery is set in Tasmania, in a stiflingly small seaside village where most people are carrying a load of secrets under a weight of guilt. The perfect setting for a good then-and-now set of mysteries. I loved reading about the deadly caves--spooky and intriguing. Good, interesting characters, and, as always, well-written.

Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel - I never read sci-fi (except the occasional time travel yarn) and I loathe post-apocalyptic distopian stories, but my daughter said Station Eleven was really good and had lots of Shakespeare in it. She reads books that I recommend, so I thought I should do the same. It was really good--and it did have some Shakespeare in it. The post-apocalyptic cast of characters is a troupe of actors who put on Shakespeare's plays and travel with classical musicians who put on concerts in the upper Midwest after a virus destroys civilization and the survivors are attempting to survive. The novel was published in 2014, and anyone who read it before Covid hit was probably even more scared than the rest of us when Covid was in its earliest, scariest phase. I really enjoyed the jumping around in time (we get to know the characters before their world changed), and I especially enjoyed reading about how people viewed the lost world. I really had to swallow a lot to accept the idea that no one who survived could figure out how to turn the lights back on, but the author did a believable job in creating a fictional world I wanted to read about. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I am glad I gave it a shot.

There's a mini-series that my daughter says is very good, and so I will be watching that sometime this Fall if I ever finish watching Castle.

The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier - this was a reread of one of my favorite novels by one of my favorite contemporary authors. Set in 1850, it is the story of a young woman who immigrates to the US and makes her way in the new world, becoming a link in the underground railroad and quilting her way into a place for herself. Rereading this book has inspired me to find a place in my office to set up my sewing machine so that I can finish the quilt I started a few years ago so that I can start on my own underground railroad sampler quilt. Here a link to my original review, complete with references to Austen's Mansfield Park and Gaskell's North and South and the Thornton family, particularly the ladies. I'm happy to say that I saw the parallels on the second reading as well.

Happy Dog Days of Summer!

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Great Expectations is one of those books that I read so long ago that rereading it is like reading it for the first time. I remembered the basic outline of the story and most of the main characters, but all the minor characters and the threads of their stories were fresh and interesting and enhanced the overall experience.

As the first-person narrator of the story, it is difficult not to see in Pip elements of Dickens's own story, personality, and personal issues. Like Pip, Dickens's childhood was marked by economic stress, and he was ashamed of the fact that he went to work at a young age in what he felt was a demeaning job. I see in Pip an attempt by Dickens to work through his own experience of feeling ashamed of his roots but also proud of the fact that he was able to be successful through sheer hard work and innate talent. Pip comes across as arrogant and insensitive despite recognizing that he is being unkind and disrespectful of his dear uncle, Joe, and I think it was essential for Dickens to require Pip to lose his fortune and have to work his way back into solvency and respectability.

What's interesting about Pip's great expectations is that he always feels that he is not worthy of them. When he thinks that his benefactor is Miss Havisham, he can come up with no better reason for her generosity than earmarking him for Estella, which he never seems to quite believe. When he discovers that Magwitch is his actual good fairy, he loathes the idea, knowing that he didn't help Magwitch out of love for his fellow man but because he was too scared to do anything but help him. The great good fortune that lands in Pip's lap is never welcome, and the only thing he is really grateful for is that it enables him to help his good friend, Herbert Pocket, get a leg up on his career.

In fact, Pip's generosity towards Herbert reminded me of Dickens's own philanthropic endeavors. He was always trying to find some deserving soul on which he could help along in life. Partly out of guilt, I think, at his own incredibly good fortune (that blossomed due to his incredibly hard work). I know I am guilty of psychoanalyzing without a license, that's where my mind goes when I read anything by Dickens.

Another angle is that in Pip, Herbert Pocket, and Wemmick (the law clerk with whom he becomes friends), Dickens has created different versions of himself or is showing different facets of himself. Both Herbert and Wemmick have really loving and satisfying relationships with their girlfriends and both end up happily married at the end of the story. When he was writing Great Expectations, Dickens had separated from his wife and was even trying to have her institutionalized. I find it interesting that Dickens didn't give Pip a loving wife at the end, but let two alter egos live out their days in that way.

Speaking of Wemmick, I absolutely love this character, expecially his relationship with his "aged parent" and the castle with moat and all the trimmings that he fashions out of their modest home. Again, Wemmick is like Dickens in having a split personality--a driven, even ruthless, person at work but a loving and fun-loving person at home. 

In the end, I really cannot think about this novel without thinking that Dickens was examining his life and soul in the writing of it, and that he found himself wanting.

This is the second big book I have completed for the Big Book Summer Challenge 2023.


Sunday, July 16, 2023

Midsummer Roundup

It's time for a roundup of what I've been reading but haven't yet posted about.

Fool Errant, by Patricia Wentworth - I liked Dead or Alive so much that I immediately downloaded another to read during my May travels. Sadly, Fool Errant was not nearly as good, primarily because I simply couldn't stand the heroine, Loveday Leigh, who was breathless, dim, completely self-absorbed, and aggravatingly coy.  Just a 3-star read, but I'm not giving up on Wenthworth and will try again.

The Resistance Man (Bruno, Chief of Police, #6), by Martin Walker - another solid 4-star treat with arm chair traveling to the Dordogne in France where Bruno keeps the peace. This plot was particularly appealing to me as it dove headfirst into the Resistance during WWII and the modern-day search for the spoils from a train robbery near the end of the war. Seriously good reading!

If We're Being Honest, by Cat Shook - another recommendation from Joann at Gulfside Musing. An interesting foray into a family grappling with a myriad of issues, secrets, etc. Nothing earth-shattering but fun to read and well put together.

Homo Sapiens Rediscovered: The Scientific Revolution Rewriting Our Origins, by Paul Pettit - absolutely outstanding nonfiction. I started it in March and finished it June--not bad considering it covers roughly 80 thousand years of human evolution. The same brother who gave me Sapiens a few years ago also gave me this book, and I loved it. 

I Have Some Questions for You, by Rebecca Makkai - I heard an interview with the author on an NPR show a few months ago and knew I wanted to read this. It ended up being terrific, but initially I had some serious issues with the 1st person narrator, Bodie Kane. She reminded me so much of the awful main character, Ann, in The Cloisters, by Katy Hays, which I tried to read but abandoned because I simply could not spend any more time with this stupid woman. I think the stereotype of the smart, poor girl from a small town who is plagued by insecurity around more affluent, beautiful people is so tired and fundamentally flawed. Anyway, initially Bodie was annoying me, but then I got caught up in the story as she matured and didn't mind her so much. I thought the plot was good and the writing decent.

Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1), by John le Carré - I figured it was high time I gave this author a try and so decided to begin with the first in his George Smiley series. It was good, and I think George and I will get along just fine.