Monday, April 16, 2018

So Many Books: Mini-Review Catch Up

Hello, friends. Hard to believe it's mid-April already... Easter has come and gone. Here on the island "season" is over, but back in central New York winter just won't let go. A high school prom was even postponed last weekend due to the ice storm. Isn't that crazy? Needless to say, we won't be leaving Florida just yet.

I've had plenty of reading time over the past couple of weeks, primarily due to a back injury which limited my activity. I'm much better now and slowly resuming my regular routine.

Recent Reading//

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
My favorite book so far this year... and I even wrote a review! Find it here

What a moving memoir! I learned about this book last year during Nonfiction November and it's easily my favorite audio of the year so far. There are plenty of accounts about life after WWII, but this is a new angle for me.  I don't think I've ever read about East Germany after the country was divided.

The author, Nina Willner, was the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead intelligence operations in East Berlin during the the Cold War. This book tells the story of her mother, Hanna, who escaped at age twenty from East to West Germany, leaving behind her parents, grandparents, and eight siblings.

The story is positively riveting. From Hanna's amazing escape to the daily lives of the family left behind and their eventual reunion decades later, I could not stop listening. Reading about control imposed by a communist regime always gives me pause, but the propaganda and suppression of news seemed especially chilling in light of the relationship between our current administration and the press.

Cassandra Campbell's narration is, as always, pitch-perfect. Read or listen, do not miss this book!
My rating:

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

 In a style reminiscent of Henry James, though more readable, John Banville imagines Isabel Archer's life after The Portrait of a Lady. In essence, Mrs. Osmond is a sequel to Henry James masterpiece.

This novel was actually more enjoyable than expected. I enjoyed seeing Isabel mature, Pansy grow into adulthood, and Osmond and Madame Merle become more their true selves. I also loved how Banville left the ending somewhat ambiguous in true Jamesian style.

I approached this novel as a read/listen combination. Amy Finegan is a new-to-me narrator and her performance definitely enhanced my reading experience.

Bottom line: A nice romp for fans of The Portrait of a Lady, but I can't imagine why anyone not familiar with James's novel would want to read it.
My rating:

by Kate Andersen Brower, narrated by Karen White

First Women is an interesting, slightly gossipy account of America's modern first ladies. It's a quick, informative read told in a style similar to Brower's previous book, The Residence. I had two minor complaints. First, the book jumped around a was structured based on topic (the political wife, motherhood, bad blood, etc.) rather than chronology. There also seemed to be a lot of repetition but, to be fair, it may have been anecdotes and facts I remembered from her earlier book. When this book was written, Brower fully expected Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 presidential election. An afterward about Melania Trump has since been added. This was a read/listen combination for me.
My rating:

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

When Anna Quindlen writes a new book, I read it. I've read most of her nonfiction and all but one of her novels. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a Random House event several years ago... if we lived on the same street, she could easily be my BFF.  So I really hate to admit  that her latest novel is not a favorite. It's quiet, character-driven, and very New York City - all factors which generally appeal to me. Unfortunately, Alternate Side  turned out to be just a good read when I was expecting a great one.
My rating:

Possibly Up Next//

I discovered Lily Tuck through her new novel, Sisters, earlier this year. After musing that I'd like to read some of her backlist, a friend mailed me one she enjoyed. Thanks, Judy!

I borrowed the audio version from the library lat week and plan to start listening today. Maybe I'll get a print copy, too.

That's a lot of books, so I'll end here.
How was your week? What are you reading?


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book Brief: The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

by Rebecca Kauffman
Counterpoint Press
March 2018
224 pages

Motivation for reading:
Tara and Susie recommended it... and it's been compared to The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, a favorite from a few years ago.

Source: Ebook downloaded from my library via hoopla. (an amazing service - so glad my library offers it!)

Publisher's summary:

Following her wonderfully received first novel, Another Place You’ve Never Been, called “mesmerizing,” “powerful,” and “gorgeous,” by critics all over the country, Rebecca Kauffman returns with Mikey Callahan, a thirty-year-old who is suffering from the clouded vision of macular degeneration. He struggles to establish human connections—even his emotional life is a blur.

As the novel begins, he is reconnecting with “The Gunners,” his group of childhood friends, after one of their members has committed suicide. Sally had distanced herself from all of them before ending her life, and she died harboring secrets about the group and its individuals. Mikey especially needs to confront dark secrets about his own past and his father. How much of this darkness accounts for the emotional stupor Mikey is suffering from as he reaches his maturity? And can The Gunners, prompted by Sally’s death, find their way to a new day? The core of this adventure, made by Mikey, Alice, Lynn, Jimmy, and Sam, becomes a search for the core of truth, friendship, and forgiveness.

A quietly startling, beautiful book, The Gunners engages us with vividly unforgettable characters, and advances Rebecca Kauffman’s place as one of the most important young writers of her generation.

Opening line:

Mikey Callahan discovered something about himself when he was six years old.

My thoughts:

I recently gathered a small pile of books to sample before choosing my next read. The Gunners was on top and by the end of the first page, I knew I wouldn't even open the others.

In The Gunners, I found a complex, satisfying, well-written novel about lifelong bonds evolving from childhood friendships. The suburban Buffalo setting felt comfortably familiar and, especially remarkable for such a short novel, I felt I knew and understood each character.

Reminiscent of both The Interestings and The Big ChillThe Gunners  is my favorite novel so far  this year. I've added Kauffman's debut novel, Another Place You've Never Been, to my reading list.

My rating:

Monday, March 26, 2018

March 26, 2018: It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday and I finished two great books last week! It feels like I'm back in the reading groove at last. Both of my current books excellent, too.

Finished last week//

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

In a word, Sunburn is fabulous. I've struggled with psychological thrillers lately, but Laura Lippman has written another winner. In this novel, crimes, secrets, and deception become more complicated in the face of unexpected love. But is it really love? As Lippman crafts the story of Polly and Adam, she adds layer upon layer of complexity... increasing suspense and doubt. Who, if anyone, is worthy of the reader's trust?

I've read a few of Lippman's stand-alones and loved them all... maybe it's time to give her series a try. Are you a Tess Monaghan fan? Baltimore Blues  has been on my kindle for a long time.

by Jennifer Wright, narrated by Gabra Zackman

Medicine with a bit of snark... this is SO my kind of book. I chose to go the audio route when all  my top audiobook sources recommended it, and that turned out to be excellent advice. From the antonine plague to AIDS, Get Well Soon  covers each 'plague' from historical, medical, and scientific perspectives.  The slightly irreverent edge (think Mary Roach) added to my enjoyment. Gabra Zackman's narration was pitch perfect. Give this a try if you're a fan of Mary Roach or have an interest in medicine/infectious disease.

Current reading//

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
When both Tara and Susie love a new novel, I take notice. If said book is then compared to The Interestings  by Meg Wolitzer, I'm on it immediately. I was thrilled to find this book available for instant download via hoopla from my library. (Does your library provide this service?) Eleven chapters in and I'm loving it!

Listening to//

This book, added to my wish list during Nonfiction November and read by one of my favorite narrators, tells the story of a family separated by the Berlin Wall in the aftermath of WWII. I'm two hours into the ten hour production and find it hard to press the 'pause' button. My walks will be extra long this week!

The week ahead//

Twin A is flying in on Thursday for the long Easter weekend. In the meantime, I need to get busy planning and then shopping for Easter dinner.  We're already looking forward to split pea soup made with the hambone. A celebration for the twins 25th birthday is also in the works.

How was your week? What are you reading?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Monday, March 19, 2018

March 19, 2018: It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday... and I'm reading again! I finished two books this week and started two more.

Today is also the last day of winter. Relatively cool temperatures moderated by midweek, and we had perfect beach weather for the weekend. The island is at full capacity now and will be through Easter when "high season" ends. It will gradually get quieter until schools let out, then summer season begins. We'll stay until Memorial Day.

Finished this week//

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

I loved reading this novel a second time but, once again, was frustrated by Isabel's decision at the end. This time, I focused on her motives... mulling over several which I won't go into here. James, notorious for ambiguity, is always open to interpretation. This is where John Banville comes in ...

Banville picks up Isabel's story in his new novel Mrs. Osmond. I'm hoping he takes us through her decision, making us privy to the thought process, and then imagining how her life plays out. My library hold should arrive soon.

I'm embarrassingly late finishing our February read-along and have learned that in the future, it might be best not to schedule reading events during winter guest season ;-)

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak 

This was a perfect post-Henry James recovery book! I enjoyed everything about this family quarantined at Christmastime novel - the characters, the setting, their secrets, the short chapters told from alternating viewpoints, and the resolution. Reading it on the beach certainly added to the experience.

Current reading//

Sunburn by Laura Lippman
I read the first 25 pages of Lippman's new psychological thriller yesterday afternoon and can already tell it will be a page turner. Can't wait to pick it up again later today!

Listening to//

by Jennifer Wright, narrated by Gabra Zackman
This book was recommended by several of my most trusted audio sources. Books about medicine tend to appeal to me anyway, but I'm especially enjoying this author's voice and style... very Mary Roach-like.

The National Parks series was sidelined in favor of March Madness (Go 'Cuse!) We'll try to watch a couple more episodes before the games continue on Thursday.

In the kitchen//
Ever since my mother mentioned gingerbread last week, I've been craving it. Yesterday I made Laurie Colwin’s Gingerbread. The recipe is from the New York Times (as is the photo), but I'm sure it appears in her books as well. My father-in-law asked for seconds... it was delicious!

The week ahead//
With no company on the horizon, this feels almost like a vacation week! We're back to our normal routine... I might even finish another another book.

How was your week? What are you reading?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sanibel Saturday: March 10, 2018

It's March?? February certainly got away from me, and so far March is just as crazy. It was not a great month for reading, but we entertained lots of visitors, spent time with old friends, and enjoyed all the outdoor activities our island has to offer. After our daughters left early last month, my sister and brother-in-law came to visit. Next to arrive were my college roommate and her husband. While she was here, we drove up to the Tampa area to visit more old college pals. My brother and his girlfriend flew into Tampa yesterday to catch a couple of baseball spring training games, and they'll drive down here tomorrow. Twin B will be back at the end of the month for Easter and an early birthday celebration. Busy is an understatement, but I'm loving every minute!

Southwest Florida basked in record warmth throughout the month of February, while the northeast has been pounded by one storm after another. The first nor'easter (Riley?) dropped 29" of snow at our home in central NY, though Quinn barely grazed the area. I miss my family and friends - and Wegmans, of course - but am happy to be out of the snow belt!

Current reading//

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Remember my February read-along with Bellezza, Audrey, and a few others? I'm still plodding along,  now around the 75% mark. This was supposed to be a read/listen combination for me but, with all our recent company, I  hardly remember my last solitary beach walk. I'm mostly reading on my kindle now, and find myself stumbling over James' long sentences at times. Too many distractions? Possibly.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

This book has been on my wish list since before its release. The publisher's summary reminded me of This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, which I loved and still consider to be one of the funniest books ever.  I spied Hornak's novel on the library shelf the other day and the first 50 pages are entertaining. So much for reading from my shelves this winter...


We started this six-part PBS series by Ken Burns last week as we contemplate another great western adventure... possibly in September or early October. Author Wallace Stegner referred to the nationals parks as "America's best idea" - what a great subtitle.

In the kitchen//

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie I mentioned in my last post was a big hit. Served with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce, it is very rich, so cut small pieces! It also freezes well.

These are really glorified chicken tenders from the kids menu of your favorite restaurant, but so tasty! Serve with a little marinara sauce on the side for dipping. They're easy to prepare and cleanup is minimal.

I'll be serving up these Blackened Shrimp Tacos from Budget Bytes again. The same seasoning blend could be used two make fish tacos, too. I might us a little less next time - we're not big on spicy.  I've already made the coleslaw three times!

Looking forward to//

- spending time with my brother
- kayaking and biking at the wildlife refuge
- finishing a book ;-)

That's about all the news here. What's happening in your corner of the world? Have you read any good books lately?


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sanibel Sunday: February 11, 2018

Good morning, friends. I didn't post last weekend when our daughters were visiting, so this is a two week catch up. The weather has been just about perfect here. Southwest Florida is basking in record warmth... I'll take it over windchill any day!

We celebrated one daughter's birthday on Monday, went shopping and lunching with my SIL, made four (!) trips to the airport, and, for the first time this winter, relaxed  and read  on the beach!

Recent reading//

Nonfiction always has a greater impact on me when personal stories are included, and Timothy Egan did an excellent job piecing together multiple accounts of life on the plains during the Dust Bowl. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot. Especially surprising was the fact that east coast cities experienced some of the more severe "dusters" too. This book made me want to reread The Grapes of Wrath, and the mention of Red Cloud, Nebraska reminded me that it's been a while since I last read Willa Cather.

The Worst Hard Time was a read/listen combination for me. The audio version, narrated by Patrick Lawlor, was well-done, but I always checked the print version for photos and maps after my walks.

Finally, without getting political, this man-made natural disaster should serve is an important reminder that our government must consider the environmental impact of its policies.
My rating:

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

Wow... what a complex and emotional novel! It started slowly, but I loved how the story gradually unfolded. Chapters alternate between the present (featuring an aging man and his two daughters) and letters written to him by his wife who disappeared years ago, and is presumed drowned. The "truth" of their marriage is revealed piecemeal through the letters. Unique structure.
My rating:

Sisters by Lily Tuck

"First and second wives are like sisters."
-Christopher Nicholson (Winter)

Wife #2, our unnamed narrator, refers to Wife #1 as She. The short chapters (some just a sentence or two) read like vignettes, but reveal so much! I liked the spare writing... you can read this little book in one sitting. Thanks for the recommendation, Diane.
My rating:

Current reading//

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
"I don't wish to be a mere sheep in the flock; I wish to choose my fate and know something of human affairs beyond what other people think it compatible with propriety to tell me."
The read-along continues, but I didn't make much progress last week. At the 30% mark, I've settled into James' style and am enjoying the reread... but surprised at how much I've forgotten! We plan to discuss the book at the end of the month.

Instead of starting another novel in print, I'll focus on this one all week... at least until our next guests arrive over the weekend.

Beyond the books//

As they say on the island, "season" is here. The restaurants are always busy, there are lots of people on the beach, it requires more effort to navigate the bike paths, and don't even try to drive off island between 3 and 6! We've gotten used to it over the years, and plan accordingly.

My sister and brother-in-law arrive this weekend... lots of activities planned for their visit.

Have you discovered the new Instagram account dogs_infood? I'm slightly obsessed...

My FIL is coming for dinner today. We're having grilled salmon and I'm making this Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie for dessert.

How was your week? What are you reading?


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sanibel Sunday: January 28, 2018

Hello, friends. Zelda and I were on the beach early this morning to watch the sun rise. We may have some rain later, but I'd say the day is off to a  beautiful start!

Finished last week//

Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope

Two thirds - we're making progress! Audrey and I have been slowly reading Trollope's Palliser series, and this is book 4 of 6. It was much more exciting than Phineas Finn (book 2), thanks in part to a murder trial, but not quite as enjoyable as Can You Forgive Her? or  The Eustace Diamonds. At this point, my preference is for the ecclesiastical Barsetshire novels. Perhaps, given the current state of affairs in the US, I'm not appreciating politics in fiction as much as I might during normal times. We'll see where the next two novels take us.

I approached Phineas Redus as a read/listen combination, as usual - listening for an hour or so on my morning walk, then reading the ebook in the evening. Simon Vance has become the voice of classic British Literature for me.  The Prime Minister  is next... maybe sometime this spring/summer?

My rating:

Set aside//

It was not an easy decision to bail on my First Book of the Year. I chose to begin 2018 with the book I most regret not  reading in 2017. The writing was wonderful and the story was instantly engaging... until it wasn't. I hadn't fully invested in Cyril, so as the narrative shifted away from Catherine, his mother, I found my interest waning. After 200 + pages, I looked to twitter for advice and my blogging friends came through. Ultimately, I would have finished a book of 'normal' length, but wasn't able to justify reading another 400 pages of this chunkster. Most readers loved The Heart's Invisible Furies  and many named it their favorite book of 2017, so I wouldn't cross it off your list based on my experience.

Current reading//

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

I tend to enjoy a good "man against the elements" story and this one is fascinating, in terms of both survivors' experiences and the history. The book was brought to my attention during Nonfiction November a couple of years ago. I picked up the ebook as a daily deal shortly afterward, then grabbed the audiobook (narrated by Patrick Lawlor) a couple months ago during an audible 2-for-1 sale. Hope to finish this week.

Up next//

I loved this book when I read it many years ago and was excited to hear about John Banville's new sequel - of course I would read it! As I began to think about James' novel, my recollection of plot details were fuzzy at best... should I reread it in order to really appreciate Mrs. Osmond?  My decision was made, then Bellezza posted this photo on Instagram. As other readers began commenting on her photo, a readalong was born.

As is my habit for long classics, this will be a read/listen combination. I've selected Juliet Stevenson's narration - there are so many! The audiobook is nearly 27 hours and I think the book must be over 600 pages. We plan to read at our own pace and discuss at the end of February. Would you like to join us?

Beyond the books//
It was nice all week, so I got in a beach walk or bike ride every day. Yesterday we hiked at the local wildlife refuge.

My FIL and SIL are joining us for dinner today. I'll be serving Roast Chicken Proven├žal, a family favorite from the NY Times.

The Post is still selling out daily at the small island cinema, so we haven't seen it yet. We could buy tickets a day in advance, but never seem to think about it that far ahead.

We're looking forward to Thursday when our daughters arrive for a long weekend.

How was your week? What are you reading?



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