Sunday, August 16, 2020

A Mid-August Catch Up: 5 Book Briefs

Hello from the Connecticut coast! After driving up from Florida and negative COVID testing, we spent a couple of weeks with my parents and siblings in central NY. But then, in a year  that's already been completely crazy, our move to CT was delayed when the house we're renting lost power following Hurricane Isaias. We are finally here and settled, Twin A has joined us as she continues to work from home, and Daughter #1 and her boyfriend are visiting for the weekend. Spending all this time with family is one positive result of these crazy times.

I have found the Covid response in the northeast to be very different from what we left in Florida or encountered in North Carolina during our 36-hour stop. With very rare exception, everyone in central NY and CT is wearing a mask and social distancing...  in stores, waiting for outdoor seating or service at restaurants, pumping gas, and even walking along downtown city/village streets. Most people do not wear masks, but maintain social distance, outdoors while walking, running, or biking on neighborhood streets. It's such a relief.

Our plan is to remain in CT until later in September, then visit family in NY again before returning to FL at the beginning of October.

Now let's move on to the books. Here's what I've read lately:

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

I loved this book! The novel begins in 1950s Ohio when Ellie and Brick are teenagers in love, then goes on to chronicle their lives together and the lives of their children. It tells a story of working-class America, issues faced by their communities, and changing roles for women.  I couldn't turn the 400 pages fast enough, yet didn't want it to end either.

Schultz, the wife of Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and has published collections of her syndicated columns. This is her first novel.  I borrowed the ebook from the library, then realized the audio version was narrated by Cassandra Campbell (a favorite), so I borrowed that, too. Read or listen, just don't miss this one. It'll be on my list of favorites at the end of the year!

by Mary Trump, narrated by the author

As sick as I am of everything Trump, I could not resist using an audible credit to download this book the day it was released. Why? Because I craved a deeper understanding of the man sitting in the Oval Office... how in the world did he get to be the way he is? Mary Trump, as a family member (daughter of Donald's eldest brother) and a clinical psychologist, is uniquely qualified to tell the story. 

The story is both fascinating and deeply disturbing. Mary Trump is a good writer and a good narrator, but my one complaint is that the book is probably longer than it needed to be. It could have been an excellent extended article or essay, but 'tis the season for Trump books... and this one might just be the best!

Beach Read by Emily Henry

This was a cute, fun novel. A romance writer, who learns of her father's infidelity after his death, has become disillusioned with love. She inherits his beach house and discovers a handsome literary author currently suffering from writers block is her next door neighbor. They create a writerly competition of sorts to help them both out of their respective ruts and, naturally, a relationship blooms. 

I appreciated the bookish angle, but this was a bit "romance-y" for my taste. Still, it was an enjoyable summer read overall.

by Erica Bauermeister, narrated by Tavia Gilbert

I first heard about this book on From the Front Porch Podcast, one of my regular listens, hosted by Annie Jones, owner of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia. It's a recently released memoir-in-essays by Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients  and other novels, written as she and her husband fall in love with, purchase, and renovate an old house in Port Townsend, Washington.

As most of you know, we also purchased and began renovating a house last fall, so this book sounded irresistible to me. Of course our project was nowhere near as extensive (or expensive!) as Bauermeister's, but I still adored these essays. The publisher's description says it perfectly: 
A personal, accessible, and literary exploration of the psychology of architecture, this book is designed for homeowners, remodelers, and those who are simply curious about how our built environments shape who we become.

by Linda Holmes 

This was another light read, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Beach Read. Evvie Drake is a thirty-something widow who was in the process of leaving her husband as her phone rings to inform her that he's been in a serious automobile accident. He dies while she is en route to the hospital. She is left with conflicted feelings about widowhood. Enter a young, handsome, NY Yankees pitcher (a friend of a friend) who has mysteriously lost his ability to pitch and wants to flee the city temporarily. Naturally Evvie has an available apartment in her Maine home. The rest goes exactly as you might expect.

Bottom line... entertaining, enjoyable, and predictable but ultimately forgettable. Maybe it's time for me to get back to more serious fiction.

What's happening with you these days? Have you read any great books?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Pete Hamill Post, Redux

I was saddened to learn of Pete Hamill's death this morning and would like to share a post originally published here on January 8, 2010. 
The Pete Hamill Post
(AP photo/Bebeto Matthews)

When Pete Hamill's name appeared on the speaker list for the Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series, it wasn't immediately familiar. After a quick search, I remembered hearing about Snow in August,  but didn't know much about his career in journalism. A few months later, two of his books were on my 2009 list of favorites, his lecture was fantastic, and I am officially a fan!

After years of thinking, my book club finally took the plunge and eight of us purchased season tickets for the Gifford series. The group had been struggling with selections, and the lectures provided built-in reading material while infusing much-needed enthusiasm. Since previous authors focused on their most recent books, we chose North River for our December meeting.

After just a few pages, I loved it! Set in New York City during the Depression, it features mobsters and political corruption, but mostly revolves around Dr. James Delaney, a GP wounded in WWI and deserted by his both his wife and daughter, who one day finds his two year old grandson, dropped at his doorstep. Delaney, still struggling with war wounds and abandonment, hires Rose, a Sicilian illegal immigrant, as housekeeper and surrogate mother to Carlito, and a make-shift family is formed.

"Hamill has crafted a beautiful novel, rich in New York City detail and ambiance, that showcases the power of human goodness and how love, in its many forms, can prevail in an unfair world." (from Publisher's Weekly)

North River  has it all - beautiful writing, wonderful characters, and a setting rich in detail. Check out the few sentences I highlighted in this Teaser Tuesdays post.

After finishing North River, I wanted to read another of Hamill's books immediately. My choice was an audio version of the nonfiction Downtown: My Manhattan, read by the author.

Hamill is an excellent narrator, and Downtown: My Manhattan  ended up being my favorite nonfiction book of the year. It's a fascinating look at the history of Manhattan with bits of Hamill's life woven in. It covers everything from baseball to vaudeville, and architecture to politics. Hamill's love of the city is obvious throughout. While listening to him describe Trinity Church and its surroundings, I was wishing he would record narrated walking tours of Manhattan!

Finally, it was the evening of the lecture. As luck would have it, the weather was simply miserable and half the group didn't make it, but those that did were enthralled for 90 minutes. Hamill talked more about his life and experiences than the books he's written. He talked of his love for libraries ("temples of wisdom") and books, and the power of words. At 75, he's rereading many of his favorite books, and finds them even richer with the perspective gained from a "life lived".

As Hamill talked about print journalism, I was amazed to learn that 70% of the cost of a newspaper is in the delivery - the paper and ink, trucks and gas. He believes in the future of journalism, but sees a new model of delivery evolving.

We loved hearing about Hamill's childhood. We were taken with his humor, as well as his humility, and decided he'd be an asset to any dinner party! Since it's doubtful I'll ever find myself on the same guest list, reading more of his books will have to do.

The lecture series takes a short hiatus during the winter months (what writer would come to Syracuse in February?) and resumes in March with Richard Russo.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Midyear Musings and A List of Favorites

Halfway through 2020. Is it just me or does this feel like the year that will never end?

I haven't had the best reading year either but, thankfully, the second half is off to a strong start. I began 2020 with a long classic, followed with a string of unremarkable reads, and then it hit.  Two of our daughters fled Manhattan in early March to join us here in Florida... they stayed for three months. Around that time I fell into a reading slump that lasted just over two months. June turned out to be the first good reading month of the year.

General observations:
- Compared to last year, I've read 25% fewer books
- Only two were classics... I'm slipping
- 30% of my reading has been nonfiction
- Male/female authors: 22% / 78%
- Just one book in translation
- I love read/listen combinations... nearly half of my books are experienced this way.
- I've spent much more time in my comfort zone, reading reliable authors (Anthony Trollope, Emma Straub, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Elin Hilderbrand ) and books that aren't too heavy.

What's likely to change in the next six months?
Probably not much. I'm reading more for comfort these days (what a world!) and will likely continue to do so.

I'm being kind to myself this year...  read whatever I want, whenever I want.

2020 Midyear Favorites


The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
My favorite book so far this year!

All Adults Here by Emma Straub
I'll read anything Straub writes.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
A short story collection, recommended in print and audio

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
Trollope never disappoints...

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
A fun summer read!


by Kevin Wilson, narrated by Marin Ireland


Notes from a Public Typewriter by Michael Gustafson

What is your favorite book so far this year? Have you read any of these?

NOTE:  We're two weeks into July and this list is already outdated! I've had two more 5-star reads that will surely be on my year-end list of favorites.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Just Another Week: July 12, 2020

Another week down... and that's about all there is to say. Aside from a 7 AM trip to the grocery store (wearing a mask), I have stayed home. The number of cases and hospitalizations in Florida continues to set records. Things aren't looking good, and it's discouraging.

Finished this week//

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

If this book isn't already on you TBR list, add it now! Set in the 1950s - 1990s, the novel is about identical twin girls in a rural, southern black community who, at sixteen, run away to New Orleans. Their lives diverge when one twin chooses to live as a white woman and they lose touch. Emotional bonds, however, remain and their stories continue into the next generation. With themes of class, race, family, and identity, I could not put this book down. I'm sure it will be on my list of favorites in December.

Current reading//

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz 

I can't remember where the recommendation came from (a podcast, perhaps?) but I started reading this novel yesterday and can't wait to pick it up again later today. Set in an industrial Ohio town, it begins with a daughter going off to college in 1975, then quickly jumps back to the 1950s when her parents were in high school. This morning I got notice that my hold of the audio version, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, is available. Looks like its going to be a read/listen combination!

The week ahead//

We have a moving date, at last. We'll get our things out of storage on Friday. I'll spend a couple days unpacking, organizing, and cleaning but most of the work must wait. We plan to head north early next week.

I'll post my list of midyear favorites this week, then likely disappear for a little while. Look for me again in mid-August. Take care and stay safe, friends!

How was your week? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Holiday Weekend Update: July 5, 2020

What a week! The number of COVID-19 cases is breaking records here in Florida, positivity rates and hospital admissions are rising, and we're staying home - grocery store/pharmacy only. Early last week, our city/island became the first in southwest Florida to implement a mask mandate. Then, in light of the east coast beach closures, city-owned beach parking lots were closed for the long holiday weekend. Local restaurants are beginning to reevaluate, too. A few closed for a couple of days for deep cleaning... I'm assuming that means staff must have tested positive, but there is no legal requirement to disclose that information. Another just closed down for two weeks, and a third has returned to take-out only. All Fourth of July festivities have been cancelled. Thing seem to change daily...

As all this unfolds, I continue walking, reading, and cooking. I've also gotten into the habit of swimming most evenings... which really means swimming a few laps, then relaxing on a pool float ;-)

Recent reading//

Passing by Nella Larsen

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

Current reading//

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I'm only a third of the way in, but this is excellent!

On the blog//
Mixing it Up: Late June Mini-Reviews

In the kitchen//

It's a good thing I enjoy cooking... I'm spending a little time every day looking for new recipes to try. What I really miss is being able to run out to the store and pick up a few ingredients whenever the mood strikes. Now I need to plan meals out one to two weeks and make detailed shopping lists. It's nowhere near as much fun, but it works for now. Here are a few things I tried last week...

This Southern Buttermilk Pie from Southern Living magazine was absolutely delicious... but very rich and sweet! I've never had buttermilk pie before and decided to try this when I needed  to finish buttermilk purchased for another recipe.

With a block of tofu left in the back of my refrigerator, I made a Sheet Pan Fried Rice with Tofu from the Food Network. My daughter and I enjoyed it, but my husband wasn't a big fan. He grilled himself a hamburger that night...

Finally, these Lemon Chicken Piccata Meatballs from Simply Delicious  were a hit with all of us. I had ground turkey in the freezer, so used that instead of chicken. It was a nice change of pace from tomato-based pasta dishes.

Renovation Update//

We are finally in the home stretch! We're meeting with the contractor this week to go over the punch list. Then we'll be deciding whether to get our things out of storage before heading north or save it for early October when we return.

The week ahead//
More of the same... again. Walking, reading, cooking, swimming.

How was your week? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mixing it Up: Late June Mini-Reviews

Deciding what to read during a pandemic is not easy. Heavy issue novels just weren't working for me, but neither was anything too fluffy. I seem to have found a nice groove by mixing things up... an audio memoir, a short story collection, a classic, and a beach read.

Let's get right to my late June mini-reviews...

by T Kira Madden, narrated by the author

This beautifully written coming-of-age memoir, told through a series of short vignettes, is brutally honest, raw, gritty, and sad... yet somehow achingly tender, too. It's a memoir of trauma, loneliness, confusion, families, and forgiveness.

Madden grew up in a loving household in Boca Raton, FL, yet her parents continually battled alcohol and drug addiction. She was often left alone to deal with the constant barrage of pressures inflicted upon preteens/teens in our society.

Hearing the author narrate her own story was especially impactful. I'm glad I decided to listen!

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

I don't read many short story collections, but it may be time to start! This was one of the many books I grabbed off the library shelf just prior to the pandemic shutdown. It took several months to finally read it - wish I'd picked it up in April.

The stories, mostly about relationships, all managed to draw me in immediately. They show average people as they really are... which isn't always flattering. The writing is excellent - sharp and without an unnecessary word. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. Now it's time to try one of Sittenfeld's novels. Do you have a favorite to recommend?

Passing by Nella Larsen

This classic novella of the Harlem Renaissance was originally published in 1929.  It's a story of two childhood friends who reunite after many years. Irene is shocked to discover her friend, Clare, has been "passing" as white. Clare misses her old community and is eager to reestablish a connection, but must do so behind her husband's back. Irene, afraid of the consequences of such actions, is reluctant to rekindle their friendship. The conclusion of the book is startling, to say the least.

Larsen's writing seemed ponderous at times, but still completely readable. The reader is allowed into Irene's head enough to make it reminiscent of The Awakening, at least for me. Larsen's autobiographical first novel, Quicksand, is now on my reading list.

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the beach read and, now that summer is here, what better way to round out the month? Her latest novel is a Same Time, Next Year story spanning 27 years, 1993 to 2020. There isn't much more to say other than I loved it.... set aside a sunny weekend and give it a try.

Bring on July!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

This Week's Read: Passing by Nella Larsen

It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of  morning mail. After her other ordinary and clearly directed letters the long envelope of thin Italian paper with its almost illegible scrawl seemed out of place and alien. And there was, too, something mysterious and slightly furtive about it. A thin sly thing which bore no return address to betray the sender. Not that she hadn't immediately known who its sender was. Some two years ago she had one very like it in outward appearance. Furtive, but in some peculiar, determined way a little flaunting. Purple ink. Foreign paper of extraordinary size.

by Nella Larsen

Here's another book that's been on my wish list for years. My reason for picking it up now? The podcast Novel Pairings  - a podcast dedicated to "making the classics readable, relevant, and fun" - will discuss it on their next episode. An interesting feature of each podcast episode is the pairing of a classic with contemporary novels with similar themes. I have a feeling they'll be pairing Passing  with Britt Bennett's new novel The Vanishing Half... which I plan to read shortly.

This classic from the Harlem Renaissance is described as "an electrifying story of two women who cross the color line in 1920s New York." I'm halfway through this short novel and wondering why I've waited so long.

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro  is hosted by Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews.


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