Friday, August 17, 2018

Book Brief: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand


By Elin Hilderbrand
Little, Brown and Company, 2018
466 pages

Motivation for reading: It's summer... and there's a new Elin Hilderbrand novel!

Source: hardcover book, borrowed from library

Publisher's summary:
It's Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer-the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom's wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate.

But it's going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom's famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield-and no couple is perfect.

Opening paragraph:
A phone call before six on a Saturday morning is never a good thing, although it's not unheard of on a holiday weekend. Chief Ed Kapenash of the Nantucket Police Department has seen the Fourth of July go sideways. The most common accident is a person blowing off a finger while lighting fireworks. Sometimes things are more serious. One year, they lost a swimmer to the riptide; another year, a man drank ten shots of Patrón Añejo and then did a backflip off the Allserve building and hit the water in such a way that his neck snapped. There are generally enough drunk-and-disorderlies to fill a sightseeing bus, as well as a dozen fistfights, a handful of which are so serious the police have to get involved.
My thoughts:

After reading Educated: A Memoir (my review), I was craving something lighter, less violent, and fun. This library hold came in at exactly the right moment!

I've read a few of Hilderbrand's novels and The Perfect Couple seems like a bit of a departure. Sure it's beachy and set on Nantucket, but it's also a murder mystery. On the morning of a big society wedding, the maid of honor turns up dead. Floating in the water behind the groom's family estate, her body is discovered by the bride. This was a quick read, filled with family secrets and deceptions. It kept me guessing until the end - very entertaining!

My rating:


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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

An Adirondack Adventure



Another weekend, another adventure... this time in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. On Thursday the three of us from central NY and our Manhattan daughters gathered in Lake Placid.

Our oldest, a triathlete, travels to Lake Placid every summer for a training weekend. Due to race schedules and work commitments, she was not able to join her usual group this year. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for a family getaway, so we booked a condo and drove north for an "alternative" training weekend. While she did her swim, bike, and run, others of us walked, read, and shopped. Later we all gathered for the prime event - dinner!!





The girls drove back to NYC Sunday morning, while three of us continued on to Plattsburg for lunch, then Ausable Chasm  (the colorful specs in the lower right are people)...





before landing in Saratoga Springs for the night. Monday we visited some favorite spots in Saratoga,  toured the battlefield at Saratoga National Historic Park, and had a picnic overlooking the Hudson River.

We plan to stay put for the rest of the month, but who knows what adventures September will bring?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Book Brief - Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover


by Tara Westover
Random House, 2018
352 pages

Random House Audio, 2018
12 hours and 10 minutes
narrated by Julia Whelan

Motivation for reading: A combination of factors... primarily my curiosity about attending college without prior formal education and what childhood in a survivalist Mormon family might be like. Educated  was also an early selection of the PBS Now Read This book club.

Source:
ebook, borrowed from the library
audiobook, downloaded from the library via Overdrive

Publisher's summary:
Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. She spent her summers bottling peaches and her winters rotating emergency supplies, hoping that when the World of Men failed, her family would continue on, unaffected.

She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals. According to the state and federal government, she didn’t exist.

As she grew older, her father became more radical, and her brother, more violent. At sixteen Tara decided to educate herself. Her struggle for knowledge would take her far from her Idaho mountains, over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d travelled too far. If there was still a way home.

Educated  is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with the severing of the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has, from her singular experience, crafted a universal coming-of-age story, one that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers – the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

Opening paragraph:
Chapter 1 
Choose the Good 
My strongest memory is not a memory. It's something I imagined, then came to remember as if it had happened. The memory was formed was I was five, just before I turned six, from a story my father told in such detail that I and my brothers and sister had each conjured our own cinematic version, with gunfire and shouts. Mine had crickets. That's the sound that I hear as my family huddles in the kitchen, lights off, hiding from the Feds who've surrounded the house. A woman reaches for a glass of water and her silhouette is lighted by the moon. A shot echoes like the lash of a whip and she falls. In my memory it's always Mother who falls, and she has a baby in her arms.
My thoughts:

This is quite a memoir!  Westover has a fascinating story to tell and she does it well - BUT it was also a harrowing reading and listening experience.

Ms. Westover's upbringing was shocking, to say the least. Her parents infuriated me with their abuse, medical neglect, and complete abdication of educational responsibility. Her brother was also extremely abusive. At times this book was painful to read and listen to.

Westover is able to look back on her experiences with impressive thoughtfulness and insight but, to me, her main focus is on family dynamics and abuse. The educational angle, to my disappointment, was secondary... and the title somewhat misleading.

While I recognize that this book is very well written, I will not be recommending it to anyone.






Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation: From Atonement to Mrs. Osmond

Have you seen the Six Degrees of Separation meme? It's hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best and has been around for a while. I frequently read the posts, but have never played along... until now.

Kate explains how #6degrees works:
On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. 
Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal or esoteric ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.
Simply put, "Start at the same place as other wonderful readers, add six books, and see where you end up!"

I like to think of this as a bookish free association exercise!



We begin with Atonement by Ian McEwan. I read this with an online book group many years ago (anyone remember Yahoo's Book Group List?) This is the book that introduced me to Ian McEwan, an author people seem to either love or hate. I've gone on to read quite a few of his novels and, although Atonement was not one of my favorites, I identify with the "love him" group.




This reminds me of another "gateway" book...  Wish You Were here by Stewart O'Nan. One year after the death of her husband, Emily Maxwell gathers her family on Lake Chautauqua in western New York for what will be a last vacation at their summer cottage. I remember reading this book over a rainy Labor Day weekend and enjoying it immensely. I went on to read several other novels by O'Nan including...



Emily, Alone which further chronicles the life of Emily Maxwell. It was a favorite the year I read it (2011) and I recall thinking how unusual and refreshing it was to read a book with an older female protagonist.




Since that time, it seems there have been more and more books featuring women "of a certain age." A few months ago I read  Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes. Three American women in the midst of upheavals in the personal lives bond and decide to rent a house in Italy for a year. The year, of course, is transforming. The book is positively sumptuous... the Italian countryside, the food, the art. It was the next best thing to being there!




Another book that transported me to Italy was The Enchanted April by Elizabeth van Arnim. This time a group of English women rent a castle in Portofino for a month. I remember it being dreary and cold here, but the book was like my own Italian vacation. Originally published in 1922, it is one of my favorite classic novels.




I do enjoy classics and am currently working on my second list for The Classics Club. The last one I read was The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. A favorite nearly twenty years ago, James seemed a little more long-winded this time around. (Perhaps I'm growing impatient with age?) The audio version, narrated by Juliet Stevenson, helped pull me through.




I reread James because I wanted the story fresh in my mind before tackling Mrs. Ormond by John Banville.  In this novel, a sequel of sorts to The Portrait of a Lady, Banville takes on a Jamesian tone as he imagines Isabel Archer's life after her marriage to Gilbert Osmond. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but honestly don't know why anyone unfamiliar with James' novel would want to read it!


So there you have it... my first #6degrees from Atonement by Ian McEwan to Mrs. Osmond by John Banville. Have you read any of these books?

Click over to Kate's post for links to more #6degrees.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Book Brief: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee


by Min Jin Lee
Grand Central Publishing, 2017
paperback, 500 pages

narrated by Allison Hiroto
Hachette Audio, 2017
18 hours and 16 minutes

Motivation for reading: I love a good family saga and knew I'd read this eventually. My daughter gave me the final push to do it NOW.

Source: purchased paperback/audible credit for audio

Publisher's summary:
Pachinko  follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

Opening line:
History has failed us, but no matter.
My thoughts:
Steeped in time and place, characters so real and deep, rich in history... there is much to love in this multi-generational family saga and I relished every single page.

Pachinko was a read/listen combination for me. It almost felt like I was living in this novel. I read in every free moment and listened while I walked, cleaned, cooked, gardened, drove...

Allison Hiroto was a new-to-me narrator and I thought her performance was excellent.

Pachinko will certainly be a favorite for 2018. It may even end up on my list of all-time favorites, too. Don't miss this gem!

My rating:



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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Our Summer Adventure - Part 2


We took the scenic route up the coast on Wednesday... stopping for lunch at a favorite brew pub in Brunswick, ME, reminiscing as we strolled around Camden, then marveling at the scenery as we ventured farther north into unfamiliar territory. After arriving in Bar Harbor, we took a quick look around the town before selecting a "lobster pound" overlooking the harbor for dinner.




The next morning was drizzly and overcast, but that didn't stop our planned visit to Acadia National Park or drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain... where were were greeted by dense fog and very strong winds. It was a struggle to stand upright and we couldn't see a thing!




The next day was bright and sunny, so we decided to try again. Same spot on the summit, much better view!




Both Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor are located on Mount Desert Island. We also explored the rest of the island... there are several smaller, less commercial towns, as well as a lighthouse at Bass Harbor.




Bar Harbor (all of Mount Desert Island, really) is my new favorite Maine destination. We're already talking about retuning next year... possibly in the fall.

(Our Summer Adventure - Part 1 is here.)
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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Our Summer Adventure - Part 1


Road trips are the best. My husband and I both love them, and Twin B is usually happy to come along for the ride. Our recent summer adventure began with a few nights in Manhattan.

Family Brunch 

We celebrated my birthday, saw a broadway show (Come From Away), visited museums, walked in Central Park, ate in amazing restaurants, shopped at my favorite book stores, etc... Despite a little rain, it was a perfect weekend.

On Monday morning, the girls went off to work and we began the next leg of our adventure.

While planning a trip that would take us from the heart of Manhattan to the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, I decided to search for a literary stopover that my husband and daughter might also enjoy. The possibilities in New England are endless, but I finally settled on The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, MA.





The tour itself was about 40 minutes long, then we spent more time exploring the grounds, spectacular gardens, Hawthorne's birthplace, and, naturally, the gift shop.


We finished in time to enjoy lunch overlooking the harbor - a lobster roll, of course! Then we explored nearby Gloucester, the Eastern Point Lighthouse, and hiked along a very narrow path and up the rocks (good thing my sneakers were still in the car!) to the Dog Bar breakwater. At the end of the half-mile breakwater, the view back to the harbor and lighthouse made the climb worthwhile!




The following morning we continued up the coast to Bar Harbor, Maine.

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