Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Sunday Salon: August 7, 2022


 Hello from hot and sunny Connecticut. Are you sizzling today, too? It seems like no matter how early I get out to walk, it's never early enough!  I've stuck with a more shaded route on neighborhood sidewalks for the past week, but they seem to be getting shorter and shorter.

Heat aside, it's still been a good week. I had a quick solo overnight trip to NY to see my parents, with the added bonus of having dinner with my sister, brother, and cousin! The rest of the week was pretty low key, so no complaints here.


Finished last week//

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

I've had a signed first edition of Groff's debut novel on my shelf since 2008. (Has it really been 14 years?!)  I added in the audio version and listened on the drive to upstate NY.  Look for a mini-review later this week.




by Julian Barnes, narrated by Simon Vance

I've wanted to read this short essay collection for years and never managed to find a copy. An audio version was finally produced last year and I was surprised to find it available on hoopla. I loved this collection and recognized myself in many of Barnes stories. Look a brief review later in the week.


Currently reading//


Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

This wasn't on my August TBR list, but my mother gave it her highest recommendation and my library hold came in. I read nearly a third of the book yesterday... very good so far.


On the blog//


In the kitchen//

I seem to have lost my culinary mojo this summer. Maybe it's just the heat, but even the Julian Barnes book didn't help. We're mostly sticking to simple grilled fish or chicken, roasted vegetables, and local sweet corn... tasty, but not especially inspired. Maybe this week?


The week ahead//

The early part of the week should be quiet, but then we're traveling to rural northern NY for my father-in-law's memorial service. It will be for immediate family only, and I'm looking forward to spending time with my SIL and my BIL and his family. We'll be staying at a beautiful old inn in Vermont - another plus! Hopefully it will be cooler by then...


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.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

A Dust Bowl Deep Dive: Fiction, Nonfiction, and a Ken Burns Documentary

(from Smithsonian Magazine)

For as long as I can remember, I've had a weird interest in weather, storms, and natural disasters. There's no doubt that reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl kicked my curiosity about that particular event up a notch. (My thoughts about the book are here.)


I'd been planning to read more about the Dust Bowl ever since and, as it turned out, 
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah became the next step. It was the July selection of the Wednesday morning library book group but, unfortunately, I missed the discussion. (At least the carpet installers showed up as promised!)

The Four Winds is a widely popular novel and Kristin Hannah sure knows how to keep her readers turning the pages. Despite the relentless hardship and misery, I could not put the book down. [My thoughts are posted here.] As I read, Hannah's story began to remind me of John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, a book I loved back in high school and have been wanting to reread for years. The time was right...

I decided on a read/listen combination of The Grapes of Wrath and selected the audio edition narrated by Dylan Baker. I was surprised not only by how much I remembered from my teens, but also by the considerable historical overlap and multiple plot similarities. The contrast between writing styles, however, was striking.


Steinbeck's novel is so well-written, though it's slower reading than The Four Winds. His detailed descriptions add a pronounced visual element to this work and his characters are so genuine, they're almost real. I especially loved how Steinbeck interspersed short chapters, which provided a glimpse of the bigger picture, with longer chapters specifically about the Joad's experience. What a master! The Grapes of Wrath  won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the National Book Award in 1939. 

There is no doubt Hannah's novel is more accessible to the modern reader. It seemed The Four Winds focused on the difficulties of the time, while Steinbeck, additionally, seemed interested in taking a broad look at the overall hardship and what lead to it. Both novels emphasized humanity within the misery and I was impressed by the strength shown by women in both stories. Ma Joad and Elsa Martinelli were truly the glue, the strength, that held their families together.



The following week, I spent four hours watching a Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl. It provided the historical perspective I needed to better understand its place among other events in early 20th century history. 

The documentary was released in 2012, a time when many children of the Dust Bowl were still around to be interviewed. Seeing them as senior citizens and listening to their memories and stories of those difficult years brought tears to my eyes more than once. This documentary was an ideal follow-up to The Four Winds and The Grapes of Wrath... I highly recommend it.

The DVD was available at the library, but we do not have a DVD player here. I was happy to find it also available for download via hoopla. It counted as two "borrows" toward my monthly allowance.

I've moved on from the Dust Bowl for now, but have a couple more novels left on my list. When the mood strikes again, I'd like to read:

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Newberry Medal 1998)
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

Are there other titles I should add to my list?


Sunday, July 31, 2022

July Wrap-Up and a Look Ahead to August


Hello, friends. How's your summer going? As July ends we still have half the season ahead but, back in Florida, kids are getting ready to return to school on August 8th. That seems so early!

Looking back over July, the highlight was a surprise birthday visit from our oldest daughter and her boyfriend. They'd been traveling for several weekends and were looking forward to finally spending one at home. But when we arrived at the restaurant on my birthday, they were sitting at the table waiting for us! It's practically impossible to surprise me... can't believe they pulled it off!

Other high points included a 4th of July visit from Twin B and her boyfriend, our trip to central NY to see my parents, and a couple of evenings spent with new neighbors. 

I also had a really good reading month. After finishing The Grapes of Wrath, my reading plans went completely off the rails and I picked up whatever caught my eye. As for blogging and writing reviews, that just didn't happen. Here's my attempt to recap July and catch up with mini- reviews. 


Books Read in July//


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I'd been meaning to reread this classic for a decade, but finishing The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah made me pick it up immediately! The similarities between the two are striking. Hannah's novel is more of a page-turner but Steinbeck's is, of course, far superior. I have a post about this "Dust Bowl Deep Dive" in my draft folder and will work on finishing it this week.




The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

After all the hardship of the Dust Bowl, I needed something light and fun. This British romance was just the thing! 
"Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. 
But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…"
I enjoyed the premise, characters, and snappy dialog... and will certainly turn to O'Leary again when I need a break from the heavy stuff!





Zorrie by Laird Hunt

This is a quiet, beautifully-written portrait of one woman's life in rural Indiana in the 20th century. It begins with her sad childhood, continues as she sets off to find work in the city painting clock faces with radium, then later returning home as a young woman to discover community, friendship, and love. There is joy, heartbreak, and, eventually, growing older - all in just 176 pages. Quite an accomplishment! I rated it 4 stars immediately upon finishing, but increased it as I continue to marvel at Hunt's skill.



by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer, narrated by a full cast

This is a delightful epistolary novel, told mostly through emails, about two very different twelve-year-old girls being raised by single, gay dads. When the dads fall in love, the girls are sent, against their will, to the same sleepaway camp with hopes they will find common ground and become friends - and possibly, one day, even sisters. The story is reminiscent of The Parent Trap and I just loved it!

This book was brought to my attention through the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide, but I probably wouldn't have picked it up without Meg Wolitzer's name on the cover. I initially thought it was YA, but decided it's actually middle grade... something I haven't read since my kids were that age. The full cast audio was a lot of fun. It loses half a point over my annoyance at hearing "re: re: re: re:...." repeated so many times as the email threads grew increasingly longer. If you enjoyed The Parent Trap, give this one a try!






Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

I've been wanting to read Maggie Shipstead for years, and decided to start at the beginning with her 2012 debut novel. It takes place over the course of one weekend at the Van Meter's summer home on a fictional island meant to be Martha's Vineyard - the wedding weekend of their oldest daughter, Daphne. It offers a healthy dose of wealthy WASPs behaving badly, but I was mostly impressed with the writing and characterizations. These probably aren't people I'd want for friends, but I sure enjoyed reading about them. I'd like to read Shipstead's other novels, Astonish Me  and Great Circle.





August Reading Possibilities//

Other plans for August//

We have more travel ahead in August... another trip to see my parents, a long weekend in VT with family midmonth for my father-in-law's memorial, and hopefully more visits from family members. We're replacing a few windows here and I'm hoping that happens in August, too. But I won't be surprised if the contractor doesn't get to us until September...


So that's it for my July. How was yours? What was your favorite book of the month?

Birthday treats!



 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Six in Six : 2022 Edition



We're halfway through 2022 and it's time again for Six in Six, hosted by Jo of  The Book Jotter. This event (or exercise, as I like to think of it) has been around since 2012. I use it to reflect on the path my reading is taking each year. Jo provides a list of suggested categories, but you're welcome to come up with six of your own. The idea is to fit six books, authors, events, etc. from your first half reading into each of six categories. 

Six New-to-Me Authors:
  1. Mary Lawson (A Town Called Solace, Crow Lake)
  2. John Green (The Anthropocene Reviewed)
  3. John Boyne (The Absolutist)
  4. Damon Galgut (The Promise)
  5. Maggie O'Farrell (The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox)
  6. Bonnie Garmus (Lessons in Chemistry)

Six Repeat Authors: 
  1. Amor Towles (The Lincoln Highway)
  2. Anna Quindlen (Write for Your Life
  3. Erik Larson (In the Garden of Beasts)
  4. E. Lockhart (Family of Liars)
  5. Emily Henry (Book Lovers)
  6. Kristin Hannah (The Four Winds)


Six Fiction Favorites: 

  1. A Town Called Solace  by Mary Lawson  (links to my thoughts )
  2. The Absolutist  by John Boyne
  3. Love & Saffron  by Kim Fay
  4. Book Lovers  by Emily Henry
  5. The Promise  by Damon Galgut
  6. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox  by Maggie O'Farrell



Six books from the nonfiction shelf:
  1. The Anthropocene Reviewed  by John Green (links to my thoughts)
  2. Devil in the Grove  by Gilbert King
  3. In the Garden of Beasts  by Erik Larson
  4. Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore  by Patric Richardson
  5. South to America  by Imani Perry
  6. The Yellow House  by Sara M. Broom
(my three favorite nonfiction titles)


Six kindle daily deals I've purchased this year, but have not yet read:
  1. The Daughters Of Yalta  by Catherine Grace Katz, 
  2. The Thursday Murder Club  by Richard Osman
  3. Road Ends  by Mary Lawson
  4. The Blue Castle  by L.M. Montgomery
  5. Fates and Furies  by Lauren Groff
  6. Winter Solstice  by Rosamunde Pilcher

Six bookstores I've visited in 2022:

Visit Jo's post to read more Six in Six and leave a link to yours!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Sunday Salon: July 10, 2022



Hello, friends! It's a beautiful summer day in southern Connecticut - lots of sunshine, low humidity, and a nice breeze. A perfect day for being outdoors! I'm planning to go for a walk after finishing this post and spend the rest of the afternoon at a nearby park.

It's been a full week with our daughter and her boyfriend here until Tuesday evening, then carpet installation on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday we did some exploring up the Connecticut River, but I forgot to take photos... so above is another picture of the garden at Harkness Memorial State Park from a week ago.


Read last week// 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I mentioned in my review of The Four Winds  by Kristin Hannah that it primarily made me want to reread Steinbeck's novel, and I didn't waste any time. After 40+ years, it's surprising how much of Steinbeck's story stuck with me over the decades. It is truly an American classic! I'm planning to watch PBS's Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl, this week and will post about my entire foray into the Dust Bowl as soon as possible.


Current reading//


The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
audio edition narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher and Kwaku Fortune

After finishing The Grapes of Wrath last night, it was time to lighten up! Listening to the What Should I Read Next? podcast, this book was mentioned by the guest as being light and especially good on audio. The audio version was available for immediate download from my library via hoopla and I already have the ebook on my kindle. The first chapter sounds like this will be just what I need. So much for my July reading plans...


In the kitchen//

I tried a couple of new recipes last week and also returned to an old favorite. I made Fish Florentine from skinnytaste using halibut which we all enjoyed. Last night I made Slow Cooker Thai Peanut Chicken from Well-Plated by Erin. It was good (wish I'd sprinkled chopped peanuts prior to serving), but I'm not sure I'd make it again. For lunches I made Napa Chicken Salad with Sesame Dressing from Pinch of Yum. I use a bag of broccoli slaw instead of the cabbage...this recipe has become a favorite!

The big hit was a super easy Puff Pastry Galette from Simply Delicious! I made one with blueberries and one with strawberries. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to make it even more special.




The week ahead//

I'm looking forward to a neighborhood get-together early this week. We'll gather on one of the cul de sacs... everyone brings their own chairs, beverage of choice, and a snack to share. It will be a great opportunity to meet more of the neighbors. Then mid-week we'll drive up to NY to spend some time with my parents. Should be a great week!

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 3, 2022

June Reading Recap and Plans for July


June has come to an end and, just like that, the first half of 2022 is behind us! During the month of June, we settled into our summer home in Connecticut, enjoyed visits from our NYC daughters, traveled to central NY to see my parents, and invented as many excuses as we could to eat lobster rolls at various lobster pounds and shacks along the coast. And surprisingly, I still managed to read a book each week.


Books Read in June//

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
feminist historical fiction - 4/5 stars



 literary fiction - 5/5 stars


Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
classic - 3.5/5 stars


The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
historical fiction - 4/5 stars

It wasn't planned, but in June I read exclusively fiction and exclusively female authors. My favorite book of the month was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.


July Reading Possibilities//


Other Plans for July//

We're starting off the month with a low-key 4th of July. One of our NYC daughters and her boyfriend are here for a long weekend. Some home projects are on the agenda this month, beginning with replacing carpet  and changing out a couple of light fixtures. We're looking forward to meeting some neighbors next week at a summer gathering and we'll spend time with my parents mid-month. My birthday is coming up later in the month... no special plans for that yet. And, of course, I'll walk as often as I can (while listening to an audiobook) and read some good books, too!

How did June go for you? What was your favorite book last month?



photos taken at Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford, CT

Saturday, July 2, 2022

June Mini-Reviews: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, and The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

 


Houghton Mifflin 2007
245 pages

narrated by Anne Flosnik
7 hours and 18 minutes


Maggie O'Farrell was on my 2022 list of Must-Try Authors and this was the perfect place to start - a book that has it all! A propelling plot, fully-developed characters, and beautiful writing made this reading experience a real pleasure. Family secrets, a Victorian insane asylum, and a setting in Scotland further added to the appeal.

I started out reading this book on my kindle, but added in the audio when I discovered that it's currently free in the audible plus catalog. I listened on my walks and read in every spare minute at home. The perfect ending packs a punch! Now I'm ready for more Maggie O'Farrell. Do you have a favorite to recommend?







Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
W. W. Norton Company, 2016
(originally published in 1966)
176 pages


Wide Sargasso Sea  has been on my wish list and my Classics Club list for years. The novel is, of course, an imagining of Bertha Rochester's life before she became the "madwoman in the attic" in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It offers the reader an opportunity to look at Brontë’s story from a different perspective. Since I reread Jane Eyre last summer, it made sense to pick up Rhys's novel while  the details are still fairly fresh in my mind.

The writing in Wide Sargasso Sea  is as lush and atmospheric as its Caribbean setting and is what I most appreciated about the novel. The story shifts viewpoints between Antoinette (as we learn Bertha prefers to be called) and a young Englishman we assume to be Rochester. Both are sympathetically portrayed, especially Antionette, but I found the storyline to be slow and a bit confusing at times. 

Pick this up if you love beautiful writing and are curious to learn how the "madwoman" may have come to inhabit Mr. Rochester's attic.






The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's Press, 2021
464 pages

audio edition narrated by Julia Whelan
Mcmillan Audio, 2021
15 hours and 2 minutes


This novel of the Dust Bowl novel is the July selection for a library book group  I plan to join next week.  It's about Elsa Martinelli, a farmer's wife in Texas who, after being abandoned by her husband, takes her two children and leaves to find work/a better life in California. 

This story is laden with misery... misery on the farm in Texas as the land gradually dies, misery on the journey west and in the filthy, disease-ridden migrant camps of California, and finally, the misery of surviving at the mercy of big cotton growers. Since this is a  Kirstin Hannah novel, the pages turn quickly... but the misery is unrelenting

I'm sure, for the most part, this is an accurate representation the time, but to me it bordered on being emotionally manipulative. So while I compulsively tore through The Four Winds, it mostly made me want to reread John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. I need to be reminded how a master handles the same subject. I'm also planning to watch The Dust Bowl, Ken Burns PBS documentary.


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