Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Sunday Salon: A Covid-19 Update

Hello, friends. What a month! March has obviously not gone as planned for any of us...

Our lives on the island have changed dramatically. As most of you know, two of our daughters live and work in Manhattan. As retired health care professionals, we grew concerned about the situation in the city early on and urged them to come to Florida. Eventually they agreed and have been here since the 12th... both working remotely. It's a tight fit with five adults in our small condo, but I am so thankful they're here.

We stayed home for two weeks following their arrival and still continue to do so. Groceries are delivered and it seems like I am cooking constantly... good therapy, actually. There must be material for a Weekend Cooking post or two with all the planning and new recipes. We'll see if the spirit move me.

Life on the island has become eerily quiet. Restaurants and bars have been closed for what feels like ages, though some continue to have take-out available. Public beach access and parking closed earlier last week. A few days later all public parking lots were barricaded... I assume to prevent people from coming over and riding their bikes on the paths. Yesterday the city suspended all rental accommodations for 28 days. The birds seem to like this arrangement... they have the beach mostly to themselves and are coming out in even greater numbers. 

Unfortunately, reading has become a distant memory. I'm still listening to audiobooks on my now twice daily beach walks, but that's about it. I've discovered Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queens historical fiction series and love how they take me away to another time and place. This is not one of my usual reading genres, but I've long been fascinated by Tudor England. Weir is primarily known for her nonfiction and I think she has a knack for fiction as well. Katherine of Aragón: The True Queen was wonderfully entertaining and now I'm over halfway through Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession.

Blog reading has also fallen by the wayside, but I continue to think about my blogging friends and hope you are all safe and well.  As I settle into this new normal, my reading and blogging will pick up again...maybe as soon as this week. 

How are you all holding up? Are you still reading?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hello, March!

March... really?  February was a blur around here. I've come to the realization that this is simply a fact of life in southwest Florida - and I mean that in the best possible way. "Season" is here and activities abound. We had houseguests for nearly two weeks, spent time with several sets of old friends, enjoyed multiple gatherings with new friends, and attended fundraisers for local organizations. I've learned more about native birds, plants, and shells, participated in a couple of book club discussions, and walked the beach nearly every day. We're still in the midst of renovations on our new house... it's coming along slowly, but I'm happy with things so far.

You won't be surprised to see that February wasn't a great reading month... I finished only three books! This morning I decided to take a look back at my February reading over the past four or five years... since we have been "wintering" in Florida. There wasn't much to see. It seems I've averaged only three books in February since 2015 and have yet to read anything that ended up on my favorites list! It's been an average month after all...

Recent reading//

Ties by Domenico Starnone 

A few years ago, I listened to The Days of Abandonment  by Elena Ferrante (my thoughts).  While reading Ties, also a story of an unhappy marriage, the feeling of deja vu was overwhelming. This book is written by Ferrante's husband and beautifully translated by Jhumpa Lahiri. Did husband and wife write the same novel?

The writing, narrative voice, and structure are all striking in Ties. Book One is told by the wife, in letters to her estranged husband. This section is most reminiscent of The Days of Abandonment. Book Two is the husband's story and Book Three is from the point of view of their two adult children.

I appreciated this novel very much, especially Starnone's prose...yet it's hard to say it was an enjoyable read.

Red At the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

The audio production of this much-anticipated novel, narrated by Jacqueline Woodson, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small, Bahni Turpin, is fabulous! However, my initial reaction to the novel itself was one of slight disappointment... especially after loving  Woodson's earlier book, Brown Girl Dreaming. My initial rating was 3.5 stars but, over the past few weeks, I've found my thoughts returning to the story. It's grown on me, so I'm raising my rating to 4 stars.

by Anne de Courcy

This book was already on my wish list but after reading Jane's review, I decided to move it up. Amazon obliged with a perfectly-timed kindle deal and my library came through with an audio edition via hoopla. As you know, I prefer a read/listen combination for nonfiction.

The Husband Hunters offers a fascinating look at high society in New York City and Newport during The Gilded Age, and the barriers it erected to exclude the nouveau riche. It also outlines financial woes plaguing members of the British aristocracy, and explains why many viewed marriage to a new American heiress as the perfect solution for all. But was it really?

This is exactly the background material I wanted prior to reading The Buccaneers  by Edith Wharton, which I plan to do later this year.

Current reading//

by Alison Weir, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but am fascinated by the Tudors. Noted historian Alison Weir is in the process of writing a series of novels about the wives of Henry VIII and I've finally decided to jump on board. This is a long book (625 pages and 22+hours on audio) so I've made it a read/listen combination. I'm at 35% now... it's very good!

Up next//

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon 

This is the March selection of our library book club, so it's time to get started. I'm not familiar with this book, but the description sounds a little strange. It was published in 2018... have you read it?

Looking ahead//

More visitors, more renovation, a spring training game (Yankees vs Twins) or two, and time with books, the beach, and my bicycle. March should look a lot like February.

How was your month? 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, February 2, 2020

The Sunday Salon: Groundhog's Day

Happy Groundhog's Day! This morning Punxsutawney Phil made his prediction for an early spring... and my family and friends in central New York sure hope he's right. Here in southwest Florida winter has become my favorite season, so I'd be perfectly happy if it hangs on a little longer!

We've had another busy week. A highlight came on my Friday morning beach walk when I spotted this banded Royal Tern. Since last week's lecture I've been paying even closer attention to snowy plovers and red knots in hopes of spotting a band, but didn't expect to see one lone banded tern in a flock of hundreds. The Shorebird Biologist at SCCF figured out that it was banded through Virginia Tech's program. She forwarded them my email/photo so, hopefully, we'll learn more about this particular bird soon.

Update 2/3/20: I heard back from Virginia Tech... this particular bird was banded as a chick in a colony near Chincoteague, VA on July 17, 2019 by Virginia Tech researchers.

Finished this week//

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope 

It took nearly an entire month, but I finally finished my first book for the Back to the Classics Challenge and my thirteenth Trollope novel! I will devote an entire post to my thoughts and favorite quotes later this week. In the meantime, here is my one-sentence goodreads review:
Truly something for everyone in this sprawling 19th century novel... no wonder it is considered Trollope's masterpiece!

Current reading//

Ties by Domenico Starnone

After an 800-plus page read, I was craving something very short and completely different. This novel, translated from Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, is short (only 150 pages), beautifully written, and on the dark side. I breezed through the first half yesterday afternoon and hope to read the rest of it today or tomorrow.

Listening to//

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

I loved Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming  and had this book on my wish list, but hadn't considered listening to it until I read Lisa's review. The multi-narrator cast (Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small, Bahni Turpin) is excellent and their character's stories pulled me in immediately. Another plus is that the production short - under hour hours long. After Trollope, I'm definitely in the mood for shorter books! I'll finish within the next couple of days.

The week ahead//
Our oldest daughter is coming to visit this week! She'll fly down Tuesday after work and stay until next Sunday. We have all sorts of activities planned... including her birthday celebration. I can't wait!

That covers my week... how was yours? What are you 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, January 26, 2020

The Sunday Salon: January 26, 2020

Hello from Florida! It's been a wonderful, albeit chilly, week. Highlights included a book discussion at the library, a lecture on shorebird banding, and drinks with college friends I hadn't seen in decades. Friday evening we hauled our chairs and a cooler across the street to the beach for a sunset picnic. It was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect week.

Current reading//

by Anthony Trollope

I'm still plugging away at this 800+ page tome... and enjoying every sentence. It's almost eerie how much of what Trollope has to say about society still rings true today. I reached the 88% mark on my walk this morning and hope to finish within the next few days.

Book club//

by Richard Russo

Over twenty readers gathered at the local library to discuss Richard Russo's latest novel. The group was lead by a long-time member rather than a library employee this month. The leader  began with a brief biography of the author, followed with a short introduction of the main characters, then posed a series of well-timed, thoughtful questions as the lively, wide-ranging discussion progressed. Impressive! The book ended up on my list of 2019 favorites and it was a hit with nearly all of the other participants, too.

Next month we will discuss The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, another 2019 favorite. I listened to the audio version narrated by Tom Hanks, but will try to get a print copy and reread before the meeting.

Up next//
I'm not quite sure what I'll pick up next, but can guarantee both my upcoming print and audio books will be short!!


One of the reasons I didn't get much reading done this week was that I spent a ridiculous amount of time in front of the television!  In additions to the long, late hours of the Impeachment proceedings, I started (and caught up) with two Masterpiece shows -  Sanditon and Howards End. Tonight I'll watch them in real time. Both books were favorites years ago... the latter is on my Classics Club list  for a reread. This may be the year!

That's it for my week. How was yours? 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, January 12, 2020

The Sunday Salon 1/12/20: Sunny Days

It's a beautiful, sunny morning in southwest Florida. The island is in that quiet post-holiday, pre-winter break lull... and I'm loving every moment!

Finished this week//

by Helen Ellis, narrated by the author

While I laughed out loud at "Peggy Sue Got Marijuana," this essay collection mostly missed the mark for me. Like her short story collection, American Housewife (my review) I found it to be very uneven. Some of the humor simply didn't work for me. The author's narration, however, was pitch perfect and kept me listening. This might have been a DNF in print.
 2.5 / 5 stars

Current reading//

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

I've finally settled into Timothy West's narration, but ended up reading more than listening last week. Either way, I love spending time in Trollope's world. What I don't appreciate is goodreads telling me I've only finished one book this year! [note to self: avoid starting 2021 with an 800+ page book] Closing in on the 40% mark, this could take another week or two.

On the blog//
Back to the Classics 2020

In the kitchen//

I had a couple of new recipe successes last week. First I took this White Chicken Chili Dip from Heartbeet Kitchen to a neighborhood gathering kicking off the winter season. It disappeared quickly!

Midweek I tried Butternut Farro Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette from allrecipes. My plan was to make this Pear and Farro Salad with Roasted Delicata Squash, but I couldn't find a delicata squash anywhere... not even Whole Foods! So I bought a butternut squash instead and searched for recipes using it along with the farro I'd already purchased. We liked this quite a bit and it will make another appearance on our table soon. The recipe suggests chilling the salad before serving, but I preferred it warm.

Home renovation//
I mentioned last week that our project came to a complete halt over the holidays, but there were signs of life again last week. The cabinets have been ordered and this week we will select plumbing fixtures.

The week ahead//
In addition to shopping for those plumbing fixtures and a hair appointment, it's shaping up to be a wonderfully routine week. I'll take it!!

How was your week? What are you reading?

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

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

One challenge. That's all I can commit to this year... and it's Back to the Classics 2020, sponsored by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I've been a member of The Classics Club since it's inception, completed my first list of 50 classics in 5 years, signed up for round two, and my classics reading inexplicably stopped. The 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge was a bust, but I'm going to give it another try.

Here are this year's categories, along with  a few possible selections:

1. 19th Century Classic
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

2. 20th Century Classic (originally published between 1900 and 1970).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Them by Joyce Carol Oates
The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins

3. Classic by a Woman Author
filling in this category won't be a problem ;-)

4. Classic in Translation
The Magic Mountain or Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas

5. Classic by a Person of Color
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

6. A Genre Classic
several authors in mind, but no specific titles:
Wilkie Collins
Daphne DuMaurier
Georgette Heyer

7. Classic with a Person's Name in the Title
Miss Marjoribanks by Mrs. Oliphant
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (reread)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (reread)

8. Classic with a Place in the Title
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (reread)

9. Classic with Nature in the Title  
(so many possibilities here!)
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (a reread)

10. Classic About a Family
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

11. Abandoned Classic
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

12. Classic Adaptation
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

We'll see how this goes the second time around. Will you be reading classics this year? Did you join any challenges?

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Sunday Salon: Recent Reading and Goals for 2020

The holidays are over and it's time to get back into a reading and blogging routine. To get started, let's take a look at the books I finished in late December...

by Ruth Reichl, narrated by Bernadette Dunne

Reichl's narration added so much to my enjoyment of Save Me the Plums, I was disappointed to discover she did not read this one. (She narrates the abridged version... I didn't want to go there.) Though I've been on a roll with author-read memoirs and was expecting on one more, Bernadette Dunne did a fine job.

Garlic and Sapphires  is about Reichl's time as restaurant critic for The New York Times  and the disguises she employed in order to dine anonymously in NYC's top restaurants. These disguises were so elaborate, she became unrecognizable to her own husband and son. Interestingly, Reichl also strived to take on a new persona as she donned the costumes. Her descriptions of the many meals and restaurants practically had me drooling as I listened! Recipes are also included.

Chances Are... by Richard Russo

Nobody can tell a story like Richard Russo! I've read nearly all of his novels  and he never disappoints. This one is set on Martha's Vineyard and tells of three 66-year-old men, friends since college, gathering for a reunion of sorts. It included an element of suspense, which I don't generally associate with his novels. I enjoyed this book very much and will be discussing it with the library book club later this month. It was the final addition to my 2019 favorites list.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, John Franklyn-Robbins, and others

I closed out 2019 with an audio reread of an old favorite. A full cast narration lasting about 2 hours... it was delightful!

Current reading//

by Helen Ellis, narrated by the author

Susan had this essay collection listed an an audio favorite of 2019... and it was available via Overdrive from my library. I'll likely finish it on my walk this morning.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

This is going to be a read/listen combination, but at this point I'm mostly reading. Simon Vance has always been my "voice of Trollope" but, unfortunately, he has not read this one. The audio version I selected (all 32+ hours) is narrated by Timothy West and it's taking a while to adjust. I'm on Chapter 14 now (15%) and still getting to know the characters. A couple of "old friends" have made brief appearances. Unfortunately I can't remember where we met them before and my Oxford Reader's Companion to Trollope is in storage!


I've spent some time over the past couple of weeks thinking about my 2020 reading. Like 2019, my priority will be quality over quantity. In addition, I'd like to...

  • keep reading a high percentage of nonfiction (30-40%)
  • read back list of new author discoveries
  • read more classics (think about joining Back to the Classics 2020)
  • keep track of book sources (library, personal copy, etc.)
  • read the books I already own, especially the ebooks
  • try to write a few sentences about each book read

Are you joining any challenges this year? Have you set reading goals?

The week ahead//

We don't have anything major planned this week. Our renovation project at the new house has been at a complete standstill for the past 2 weeks due to the holidays. We should be able to order the kitchen cabinets/counter and start looking at backsplashes.

I'm planning to attend a native landscape walking tour. It's time to start learning more about which plants will thrive in this subtropical climate. We're also having lunch with a new friend later in the week.

How is 2020 going for you so far? What are you reading this week?

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

Friday, January 3, 2020

Closing the Book on 2019: Favorites and Stats

With my First Book of 2020 well underway, it's time to recap 2019. I've waited a little longer than usual because the last book of 2019, a strong contender for my favorites list, was not finished until New Year's Eve.

I only read 45 books this year, but had a record number of 5-star ratings. I'm not sure whether to attribute that to making better choices or becoming an easier marker... but I'll go with the former.

Nonfiction accounted for 42% of my reading this year. I read quite a few memoirs, plus three biographies of Supreme Court Justices. Unfortunately, my classics total was way down - I only read two.

I listened to a lot of audiobooks in 2019! Audiobooks account for 40% of my reading, read/listen combinations come in at 27%, while print alone is 33% of the total. It seems that whenever I start a book, I almost always try to find an audio copy.

Another statistic of note this year is that 81% of the books I read were written by women! I usually read slightly more female authors anyway, but never this many more. Do you suppose that has anything to do with all the 5-star ratings?

On to the favorites...

They are divided into fiction and nonfiction, and listed in no particular order. All of my nonfiction favorites were audiobooks this year. The fiction, except for May Sarton, were read/listen combinations. I listened to If Beale Street Could Talk.


The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

by James Baldwin,narrated by Bahni Turpin

As We Are Now by May Sarton

Chances Are... by Richard Russo


by Ruth Reichl, narrated by the author

by Lori Gottlieb, narrated by Brittany Pressley

 by Dani Shapiro, narrated by the author

by Dani Shapiro, narrated by the author

A few more notables:

The funniest book I read this year was An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten. The dark humor won't suit everyone, but it was a 5-star read for me.

The saddest book I read this year is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. I had a couple complaints, but still rated it 4.5 stars... and it has stuck with me.

Kudos to audiobooks:

There were several outstanding audiobook productions I'd like to mention. They significantly added to my overall enjoyment and reading experience, and I highly recommend listening to these titles.

So that's my year in reading. I can't wait to see what 2020 brings!
What was your favorite book of 2019?


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