Monday, May 30, 2016

Weekly Update: Memorial Day

Hudson River sunset

We are in the midst of a long holiday weekend, and it's been big one for our family. Twin A graduated from college last December, but the official ceremony was on Saturday and we were all back on campus for the festivities.  Afterwards, we gathered for dinner overlooking the Hudson River... a beautiful day despite temperatures well into the 90s. Sunday we had brunch and wandered around Rhinebeck, NY, then dodged thunderstorms all the way home. Today we're putting in the docks and hosting a barbecue. Summer is here!

Unfortunately, there hasn't been much reading. This update represents the past two weeks.

Finished last week//

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
This was a follow-up to the fictionalized biography Circling the Sun. In retrospect, I wish I'd read it first. A post on both books is in my draft folder.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
I read this last weekend and loved it. Now I'm on a mission to read all of Graham Swift's novels.

Current reading//

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This began as a read/listen combination, but I'm just listening now. At the 50% mark, it's good but I'm not seeing what all the fuss is about just yet. We'll see how the second half goes.

The Children by Ann Leary
I'm still 'meeting' the main characters, but this one seems promising. Leary's novel The Good House was a favorite a few years ago, so my expectations are high.

On the blog//

Review: When Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi
Pages From the Past: My 2005 Reading Journal
Tuesday Intro: Tuesday Nights in 1980  by Molly Prentiss
Review: The Nest  by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

What are you reading this holiday weekend?

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Brief: The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Ecco, 2016
373 pages
source: ebook borrowed from the library

My thoughts:

The Nest is a classic "rich people behaving badly" story. Four adult siblings live their lives expecting an inheritance (referred to as "the nest") when the youngest turns forty. As that date approaches, distribution of the nest is in jeopardy. I tend to gravitate toward this kind of story, but what makes The Nest even more intriguing is that it's written by a debut novelist... in her mid 50s. Additionally, it instigated a bidding war and ultimately netted Sweeney a seven-figure advance.

I was already on a long waiting list at my home library, but happened to click on the Florida library's website one Friday afternoon. The timing couldn't have been better because they'd added The Nest to their digital offerings just moments earlier. I checked it out immediately.

It was easy to get involved in the book. The writing, charters, and storyline pulled me in right away and kept me turning the pages. But now, a few weeks later, I find I don't have much to say about it.

Bottom line:
The Nest  was an enjoyable beach/vacation read and I whole-heartedly recommend it for a weekend diversion.

My rating:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday Intro: Tuesday Nights in 1980

Buenos Aires, Argentina 
September 1980 
The meetings happen on Tuesdays, in the basement of Cafe Crocodile. They're at six o'clock sharp. To get there in time, Franca Engales Morales has to close up the bakery early. She has just under an hour to finish up the last cake, mop the floor, pull the grate. She's hurrying, tossing the cake's thick yellow batter with her big wooden spoon, blowing her bangs from her eyes. She swipes a finger in, licks it, decides to add poppy seeds, dumps in a generous sprinkle. Pulls her favorite Bundt pan - the red one with scalloped edges - works a slab of butter up the sides with her fingers. Then she pours in a layer of the yellow mix, which settles like mud. A layer of brown sugar and cinnamon, and then another layer of batter. Thirty-five minutes for the cake to bake, then she'll tuck a sheet of foil around its plate. She'll step out into what's left of the winter and there will be a pang in her chest as she clicks closed the oversize lock on the grate. She'll lose customers from closing early, she knows. And she can't afford to, she knows. But what are a few customers against the rest of it? Against what will be lost of she doesn't go to the meetings at all?
Tuesday Nights in 1980
by Molly Prentiss

I don't know about you, but I want to know what those meetings are all about. After reading Ti's review, I downloaded this book from the library and am about to get started. New York City, art scene, 1980s? I'm sold. But in case you'd like more...

Here is the goodreads summary:
A transcendent debut novel that follows a critic, an artist, and a desirous, determined young woman as they find their way—and ultimately collide—amid the ever-evolving New York City art scene of the 1980s. 
Welcome to SoHo at the onset of the eighties: a gritty, not-yet-gentrified playground for artists and writers looking to make it in the big city. Among them: James Bennett, a synesthetic art critic for The New York Times whose unlikely condition enables him to describe art in profound, magical ways, and Raul Engales, an exiled Argentinian painter running from his past and the Dirty War that has enveloped his country. As the two men ascend in the downtown arts scene, dual tragedies strike, and each is faced with a loss that acutely affects his relationship to life and to art. It is not until they are inadvertently brought together by Lucy Olliason—a small town beauty and Raul’s muse—and a young orphan boy sent mysteriously from Buenos Aires, that James and Raul are able to rediscover some semblance of what they’ve lost. 
As inventive as Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad and as sweeping as Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, Tuesday Nights in 1980 boldly renders a complex moment when the meaning and nature of art is being all but upended, and New York City as a whole is reinventing itself. In risk-taking prose that is as powerful as it is playful, Molly Prentiss deftly explores the need for beauty, community, creation, and love in an ever-changing urban landscape. 
A Visit From The Goon Squad and The Interestings were both among my favorites a few years ago, and Ti has never steered me wrong. I think that bodes well for this novel.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pages From the Past: My 2005 Reading Journal

In lieu of a typical Weekend Update post, I've decided to return to my Pages From the Past series, which took an unplanned hiatus over the winter when my old reading journal did not make the trip to Florida with us. So let's pick up where we left 2005. Life before blogging. I was a member of several Yahoo book discussion groups and even owned a classics group back then.

The books below are not necessarily my highest rated books of the year, but titles which have stood the test of time. More than a decade later I still think about, talk about, and recommend them.

Memorable Books Read in 2005


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My first, and still favorite, Wilkie Collins novel.

Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
 An iconic book read with the classics group... not nearly as shocking as I'd expected.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Probably my favorite novel ever!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Just lovely. Why didn't I read this when I was younger?

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Steamy historical fiction... very entertaining!


I read everything Ann Patchett writes. Followed this up with Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts
An excellent book about the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
This is the title that got me hooked on food books.

I read this with an online nonfiction group. Very interesting.

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
Also for the nonfiction group, I couldn't put it down.


My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
2005 was the year my love of multi-narrator productions took off. Some books, especially those with chapters told from alternating viewpoints, lend themselves perfectly to this type of production.

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright, which I listened to and loved in 2003, was my first experience with dual narrators. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, with over half a dozen narrators, took it to a whole new level. When I discover books on my wish list with multi-narrator productions today, I always at least consider going the audio route.

Do you remember what you were reading in 2005?
Find my previous Pages From the Past posts here.

Next month I'll look back to 2006.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
narrated by Sunil Malhotra, Cassandra Campbell
Random House Audio, 2016
5 hours and 35 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
At the age of 36, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed", as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

My thoughts:

Right up front... this book really is  as good as everyone says.

I was already on the library hold list (and had been for some time) when Jill posted her review of the audio version of When Breath Becomes Air. It convinced me to use an audible credit and start listening right away. As luck would have it, my ebook hold came in the next day. At that point, I became totally consumed  by the read/listen combination and finished the book at 2AM.

Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer just months before finishing a grueling neurosurgical residency. During the time he had left, he chose to write a book tackling the question of what makes life meaningful. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to finish the book, but his wife Lucy wrote an epilogue and saw the book through to publication.

This book is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and devastatingly sad. Keep a big box of tissues handy and be sure to choose your reading time/place wisely.

Narrators Sunil Mahotra and Cassandra Campbell are both among my favorites and deliver excellent performances here. But I loved the print version, too. There are so many quotes to savor.

Favorite quotes:

“Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying. Instead, I knew I was going to die—but I’d known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell. The way forward would seem obvious, if only I knew how many months or years I had left. Tell me three months, I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book. Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases. The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”

"It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics changed as soon as I became one."

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

"Literature not only illuminated another's experience, it provided, I believe, the richest material for moral reflection."

"What makes human life meaningful? I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the most elegant rules of the brain. Meaning, while a slippery concept, seemed inextricable from human relationships and moral values."

“There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past. That message is simple:  When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Bottom line: Read or listen, just don't miss this book!

My rating:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tuesday Intro: West With the Night

Message from Nungwe 
How is it possible to bring order out of memory? I should like to begin at the beginning, patiently, like a weaver at his loom. I should like to say, 'This is the place to start; there can be no other.' 
But there are a hundred places to start for there are a hundred names - Mwanza, Serengetti, Nungwe, Molo, Nakuru. There are easily a hundred names, and I can begin best by choosing one of them - not because it is first nor of any importance in a wildly adventurous sense, but because here it happens to be, turned uppermost in my log book. After all, I am no weaver. Weavers create. This is a remembrance - revisitation; and names are keys that open corridors no longer fresh in the mind, but nonetheless familiar in the heart.
West With the Night 
by Beryl Markham

I finished reading Circling the Sun  by Paula McLain over the weekend and my book club will discuss it in a few days. Fictionalized biographies/autobiographies are popular now, but they are beginning to bother me. Which parts of Beryl Markham's story are true? How can I know which parts are a product of the author's imagination?

Last Friday I picked up a copy of Markham's memoir at the library, and am trying my hardest to finish it before our meeting Friday morning. It's interesting so far, but I haven't read enough to make any comparisons with the novel.

Here is the goodreads summary:
Beryl Markham’s life was a true epic, complete with shattered societal expectations, torrid love affairs, and desperate crash landings. A rebel from a young age, the British-born Markham was raised in Kenya’s unforgiving farmlands. She learned to be a bush pilot at a time when most Africans had never seen a plane. In 1936, she accepted the ultimate challenge: to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her successes and her failures—and her deep, lifelong love of the “soul of Africa”—are all chronicled here with wrenching honesty and agile wit. Hailed by National Geographic as one of the greatest adventure books of all time, West with the Night is the sweeping account of a fearless and dedicated woman.
After  the meeting, I'll post about both books and the group's reaction.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Mid-May Sunday Salon

The middle of May. Already? I suppose a week on the road, followed by a week of regrouping at home after a winter away has altered my sense of time. I understand how it happened, but it's still shocking. Also shocking is the fact that I just finished my first book of the month... a book started in April, no less.

The transition back to lake life was unexpectedly bumpy. I missed the sun, the beach, and bright colors. I was cold all the time and a little down, too. By Friday, I finally seemed to have readjusted. Warming temperatures, budding tress, blooming flowers, and a glass of wine by the lake helped!

Finished this week//

Circling the Sun by Paula MaLain
Much more enjoyable than expected. I ended up borrowing a print copy from the library to make it a read/listen combination, but the audio is especially wonderful. My book club will discuss it on Friday.

Current reading//

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
I knew nothing of Markham's life before beginning Circling the Sun. Now I must read her autobiography to find out what has been fictionalized. Hoping I can finish before our meeting Friday.

On the blog//
Review: Clouds in My Coffee by Julie Mulhern

In the kitchen//
It's good to be back in my home kitchen! It's HUGE compared to the one in Florida. I missed my gas burners, double ovens, and expansive counter space more than you can imagine. Someday we'll need to address this issue...

And Wegmans. I haven't seen produce (especially peppers) this gorgeous all winter - not even at the farmers market! I was not dissatisfied with Publix or our island stores, but they just aren't Wegmans. Nothing comes close.

Blog advice needed//
I've spent a lot of time thinking about the blog this week and I want a new template. But not one offered by blogger. I've found some simple, elegant templates on Etsy. Some shops offer installation, which I would definitely need. Do you have experience or recommendations with purchased templates?

I'm also considering eliminating the header photo in my new design. My profile picture would still be in the upper right corner and there will be lake or beach photos on my weekend posts... and possibly Wordless Wednesdays, too. Thoughts?

The week ahead//
Lots of outdoor work! Last week I got the house in order, this week I'll tackle the patio, lawn, and garden. Let's hope the weather cooperates. Also on the agenda is a trip to the vet for Zelda's annual physical and book club on Friday. I've missed my book club meetings! If we're in Florida again next winter, I'll join the library group for a few months.

How was your week? What did you read?

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clouds in My Coffee by Julie Mulhern

Clouds in My Coffee
The Country Club Murders #3
by Julie Mulhern
Henery Press, May 2016
256 pages
source: publisher, via NetGalley

Summary (from goodreads):
When Ellison Russell is nearly killed at a benefactors’ party, she brushes the incident aside as an unhappy accident. But when her house is fire-bombed, she’s shot at, and the person sitting next to her at a gala is poisoned, she must face facts. Someone wants her dead. But why? And can Ellison find the killer before he strikes again?

Add in an estranged sister, a visiting aunt with a shocking secret, and a handsome detective staying in her guesthouse, and Ellison might need more than cream in her coffee…

My thoughts:

It's here! Clouds in My Coffee, the third book in The Country Club Murders series, is finally out and it's every bit as good as the first two. Set among St. Louis's country club set in the 1970s, my favorite characters have returned for another round of charity galas, dinners at the club, and, of course, a few gentle murders. We are introduced to Ellison's estranged sister, Marjorie, her eccentric Aunt Sis, and long-hidden family secrets are unearthed. Romantic tension between Ellison and her would-be suitors detective Anarchy Jones and thrice-divorced lawyer Hunter Tafft heats to a  slow simmer.

As a relative newcomer to cozy mysteries, Mulhern's books have become my gold standard for the genre. They are perfect escapist reading - fun, breezy, and entertaining, yet never too silly or fluffy. And the characters grow more three-dimensional with each installment. I can't wait for Book 4!

My thoughts on:
The Deep EndBook 1
Guaranteed to Bleed,  Book 2

My rating:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Sunday Salon: We're Home!

It's Mother's Day and we're home! The car is unloaded, dirty laundry is piled high, there are groceries to be bought, and mail to be sorted. The place seems huge compared to our little house in FL... and it's dark. I miss the pale yellow walls and bright sunshine. Central NY is cloudy, windy, and rainy this morning, though they're promising it will clear later. And since it's only 39 degrees, I'm even wearing socks. Maybe we should have come back in June.

The road trip was great. We explored the Florida panhandle beaches, then drove up the east side of Mobile Bay to Mobile... the first time in Alabama for both of us. We stopped in Savannah, GA and Fredericksburg, VA, visited with friends in Philadelphia, and spent a night in Princeton to be with our nephew for his outpatient surgery. Now I'm exhausted.

I read next to nothing the entire week and didn't listen to even one minute of an audiobook, but I was thrilled to find book mail from Oxford World's Classics waiting for me at home. I loved every page of The Barsetshire Chronicles last year and feel a strong urge to read more Trollope soon!

On audio, I'm fully invested in Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. Katharine McEwan's narration is wonderful and I may have to add West With the Night by Beryl Markham to my reading list. I'll also be starting a new print book today... just need to decide which one.

Our Mother's Day dinner will be at my sister's.  Most of my siblings and my parents will be there - I can't wait to see everyone! It really has been a long winter.

What are you reading this week?

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


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