Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sanibel Sunday: January 30, 2022

Hello from chilly southwest Florida! No blizzards or nor'easters, but we are experiencing the coldest temperatures we've seen around here in several years. I've even swapped my flip flops for cozy Smartwool socks and warm slippers!

It's been relatively quiet all week. The highlight was having my husband's cousin and his wife over for dinner one night. It's been close to three years since we last last saw them, so it was good to catch up. Other than that, I finished a couple of books, tried some new recipes, walked most mornings, and got a new puzzle to start. 

Finished last week//

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

I loved this book! It was just what I needed last week. Look for my review in a few days.

by John Green, narrated by the author

I haven't read John Green's fiction, but really enjoyed this essay collection! Review coming this week.

Current reading//

The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami

Translated from the Japanese, this novel "tells the story of an enigmatic man through the voices of ten remarkable women who have loved him."  I'm  about a third of the way through and finding it strange, but compelling.

by Gilbert King, narrated by Peter Francis James

This is the book I  selected for Black History Month and my library holds (print and audio) arrived right on time. I started listening to the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner on my walk yesterday morning and can tell it's going to be an intense read!

On the blog//

In the kitchen//

I had a burst of enthusiasm for cooking - new recipes, especially - early in the week, then ran out of steam by Thursday... when we had a couple of nights of leftovers. One of the recipes was Honey-Glazed Mushrooms With Udon from the NYTimes, pictured above, which was a nice change of pace from our usual sides. It could have been a vegetarian meal on its own, too. 

I like tofu and would eat it every week if my husband didn't mind it so much. This savory-glazed baked tofu from was pretty tasty. I made it up to him the following night by serving a favorite stand-by, Ina Garten's Weeknight Bolognese.

We all enjoyed these  Blueberry Baked Oatmeal Bars. I first made them in an 8x8 pan but thought they were too thick, so used a 9x13 pan next... much better.

The week ahead//

Daughter #1 and her boyfriend are flying in on Thursday for a long weekend to celebrate her birthday! We've planned to go kayaking, take a drive down to the Naples Botanical Garden, and eat at a couple of favorite restaurants. I can't wait!

How was your week? Are you shoveling snow today? 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, January 29, 2022

Book Brief: A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

Viking, 2019
352 pages

Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
13 hours and 54 minutes

Motivation for reading:  Continuing my WWII reading from 2020

Source: owned paperback, audio borrowed from the library

Publisher's summary (from goodreads):
In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her."

This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman--rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg--who talked her way into the spy organization deemed Churchill's "ministry of ungentlemanly warfare," and, before the United States had even entered the war, became the first woman to deploy to occupied France.

Virginia Hall was one of the greatest spies in American history, yet her story remains untold. Just as she did in Clementine, Sonia Purnell uncovers the captivating story of a powerful, influential, yet shockingly overlooked heroine of the Second World War. At a time when sending female secret agents into enemy territory was still strictly forbidden, Virginia Hall came to be known as the "Madonna of the Resistance," coordinating a network of spies to blow up bridges, report on German troop movements, arrange equipment drops for Resistance agents, and recruit and train guerilla fighters. Even as her face covered WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped with her life in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown, and her associates all imprisoned or executed. But, adamant that she had "more lives to save," she dove back in as soon as she could, organizing forces to sabotage enemy lines and back up Allied forces landing on Normandy beaches. Told with Purnell's signature insight and novelistic flare, A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman's fierce persistence helped win the war.

My thoughts:

They say timing is everything, and trying to read this book during my FIL's recent illness and death was anything but good timing. At any rate, A Woman of No Importance  is a fascinating and, at times, almost unbelievable story. Virginia Hall was a woman of remarkable intelligence and skill, yet few Americans are aware of her many accomplishments during WWII. 

Purnell details Hall's efforts in coordinating the French resistance against the Germans. The story is well-written, thoroughly researched, and exciting, but unfortunately I had trouble concentrating... both in print and while listening to Juliet Stevenson's skillful narration. 

Still, I enjoyed learning about Hall's service during the war and beyond, and am glad to own a copy of the book. I can see myself returning to it at a later time.

My rating:

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

My Top Ten Author Discoveries of 2021

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic gave me a chance to think about all the new-to-me authors I read in 2021... and there were quite a few. They seemed to be a mix of debut authors and authors I've been meaning to read for years.

Here are my top ten author discoveries of 2021, in no particular order,  along with the title of the book I read.

1. Joyce Maynard 

2. Isabel Wilkerson 

3. Stanley Tucci 

4. Ed Tarkington 

5. Patricia Engel 

6. Kate Quinn 

7. Asha Lemmie 

8. Elizabeth Acevedo 

9. Sayaka Murata 
10. Joshua Henkin 

Have you read any of these authors? What authors did you discover in 2021?

Find more Top Ten Tuesday posts here.


Sunday, January 23, 2022

A Late January Weekend Update

 Hello, friends. We've got some catching up to do. First I want to thank you for the kind messages following the recent death of my father-in-law. Each one was appreciated. The last several weeks have been hard. For now, the many chores and stacks of paperwork are providing a much needed distraction. I also started a couple of books this week (an ebook and an audiobook) and, thankfully, seem to be able to focus again. I suppose that's progress...

Recent reading//

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
(reviewed here)

(look for a review later this week)

Current reading//

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

I am loving this book! Longlisted for the 2021 Booker  Prize, it is the first novel in over a decade from this talented Canadian author.

by John Green, narrated by the author

I'm huge fan of essays and memoirs narrated by the author and this one was mentioned repeatedly in Nonfiction November posts. Even though I haven't read John Green's novels, I'm completely taken with this essay collection. Just reached the 50% mark on my walk this morning.

On the blog//

In the kitchen//

In an effort to get back to healthful eating, I made a dinner salad one night last week - Asian Chicken Lettuce Wrap Chopped Salad from Skinnytaste. There were no water chestnuts available at any of the stores in this area, so my husband suggested using celery instead. It worked perfectly! If you're in the mood for a warm salad for dinner, this could be it.

Another night we had Dijon-Crusted Fish from Taste of Home. I used a local favorite, hog fish (also known as hog snapper) and it was delicious. I think any milder white fish would work. My sister made it the following night with tilapia and her family loved it, too.

Later today and the week ahead//

This afternoon I'll be catching up on reading your blog posts, doing laundry, planning menus for the week and making a grocery list. With a little luck I'll get in an hour or two of reading, too!

We don't have a lot going on this week. It's going to be unusually cool for the next couple of days, so we'll tackle a few outdoor projects. My husband's cousin and his wife are in town this week... we're planning to have them over for dinner one night.

That's it for me. How was your week? What have you been reading lately?

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 21, 2022

Book Brief: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles


The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Viking, 2021
576 pages

narrated by: Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland, Dion Graham
16 hours and 39 minutes

Motivation for reading: Amor Towles is a favorite. I will purchase and read anything he writes. 

Source: Hardcover borrowed from my daughter, audible audiobook

Publisher's summary (from goodreads):
In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

Opening lines:
June 12, 1954 - The drive from Saline to Morgan was three hours, and for much of it, Emmett hadn't said a word. For the first sixty miles or so, Warden Williams had made an effort at friendly conversation.He told a few stories about his childhood back East and asked a few questions about Emmett's on the farm. But this was the last they'd be together, and Emmett didn't see much sense in going into all of that now. So when they crossed the border from Kansas into Nebraska and the warden turned on the radio, Emmett stared out the window at the prairie, keeping his thoughts to himself.
My thoughts:

What an adventure! Amor Towles' new novel, The Lincoln Highway, is a rollicking good story. In addition to the great writing I've come to expect from this author, it features plenty of flawed, but likable characters I enjoyed spending time with. They gave voice to countless quotes and ideas that caused me to pause, reread, and think about for a few more seconds.

The characters of Billy and Woolly were particularly endearing, I wanted to hear more from Sally, but didn't see the point of including Pastor John at all. More editing might have been helpful, but the trend seems to be toward a more hand-off approach to established/successful authors.

This novel is faster-paced than A Gentleman in Moscow, though I still find the Count to be Towles' most memorable character.  It's also not nearly as tight as Rules of Civility, which remains my favorite of his three novels.

The audio production, with a cast of superstar narrators, is just wonderful! If you enjoy audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to this novel.

My rating:

Monday, January 17, 2022

Sad days...

Hello, friends. We ended up having a long, difficult week. Those of you who follow me on instagram know that my 94 year old FIL passed away peacefully last Thursday. My husband and his sister were at his side. We appreciate your continued thoughts and prayers... I'll be back to blogging about books later in the week.

(comments are turned off for this post)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Sunday Salon: January 9, 2022

Hello, friends, and welcome to my first Sunday Salon post of 2022. The holidays are now officially behind us as our daughter and her boyfriend flew back to NYC yesterday. We also took down the Christmas tree and put away the last of the decorations. Today is all about laundry and cleaning (with an audiobook in my ears, of course), but I'm hoping to eek out an hour late this afternoon to sit on the beach and read...

Current reading//

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

It's January 9th and I'm still  reading my first book of the year! It's nearly 600 pages and life has been hectic around here, but this is taking too long.  It's a read/listen combination and I have about a hundred pages left... so if I get that time on the beach this afternoon, I'll finish today. 

I loved Towles' first novel, Rules of Civility, and still find myself thinking about the Count in A Gentleman From Moscow. This book is very different. More later...

On the blog//

In the kitchen//

I was searching for a quick, easy dinner to feed a crowd last week when this recipe for Crispy Onion Chicken from Taste of Home  appeared in my inbox. It was SO good and there wasn't a crumb left over, but  I had a really hard time adding an entire stick of butter! I ended up using quite a bit more chicken than the recipe called for (pounded to an even thickness) so that made it a little better anyway. Later in the week both my sister and sister-in-law tried the recipe and their families loved it, too.

Now with all of the holiday treats finally gone, it's time to get back to healthful eating again... 

The week ahead//

We are concerned with my FIL's health again and most of our energy will be there this week. Prayers and healing thoughts appreciated...

How was your week? Have you finished your first book of the year? What are you reading now?

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 6, 2022

The 2021 Wrap-Up and My List of Favorites


Another "Pandemic Year" has come to an end. For my family, 2021 was easier than 2020. We had a quiet winter in Florida (no visitors), got vaccinated in the spring, and spent most of the summer in Connecticut before returning to Florida at the end of September. Now we're boosted, but still cautious. Over the holidays we enjoyed the company of our fully-vaccinated/boosted daughters and their boyfriends... and hope we can continue safe gatherings into 2022.

On the reading front, 2021 was a very satisfying year.

By the numbers:

  • 61 books read, exceeding my goal of one book per week
  • 66% fiction, 34% nonfiction
  • 79% female authors
  • 10% classics
  • 5 books in translation
  • 3 short story collections
  • 2 plays
  • 1 book of poetry

What worked in 2021?

Read/listen combinations: Rather than reading a print book at home and a separate audiobook on my walks, I used a read/listen combination for 75% of the books read. I seemed to finish books more quickly, too.

Using the library: In order to get both print/ebook and audiobooks at the same time, I used my libraries 60% of the time.

A monthly reading plan: This was a change from my quarterly reading plans. I allowed flexibility for library holds/impulse reads and found it to be a huge success.

A return to classics: The New York Times  T Book Club read a series of American classics in 2020/2021. I'm hoping they bring it back this year. I also read several classics discussed on the Novel Pairings podcast. I think they'll be back from maternity leave soon.

An element of surprise: I enjoyed a 6-month Shelf Subscription (Annie's picks) from The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA. 

Plans for 2022


  • Set a low goal on Goodreads (no stress!)
  • Focus on bookish events rather than challenges 
  • Read/listen to more books I own, older books, and books by favorite authors


  • Continue writing Sunday Salon/Weekly Update posts
  • Be more consistent with monthly wrap-up posts
  • Bring back book briefs (short reviews)

Favorite Books Read in 2021


Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard

MORE FICTION FAVORITES (listed in order read)

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

(listed in order read)

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

How was your 2021 reading? Did we share any favorites? 
Here's to 2022... and another year of good books and bookish friends!

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

This Week's Read: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

June 12, 1954 - The drive from Saline to Morgan was three hours, and for much of it, Emmett hadn't said a word. For the first sixty miles or so, Warden Williams had made an effort at friendly conversation.He told a few stories about his childhood back East and asked a few questions about Emmett's on the farm. But this was the last they'd be together, and Emmett didn't see much sense in going into all of that now. So when they crossed the border from Kansas into Nebraska and the warden turned on the radio, Emmett stared out the window at the prairie, keeping his thoughts to himself.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Narrated by  Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland, Dion Graham 

And so begins my first book of the year... 

This is my third novel by Amor Towles. After loving Rules of Civility  and A Gentleman in Moscow, my expectations are high. I have the audiobook and my daughter left her print copy here after Christmas, so this will be another read/listen combination. I'm just over 100 pages in and enjoying it  so far. 

Have you read Amor Towles?

Tuesday Intros is hosted by Yvonne at Socrates Book Reviews.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Book Briefs: Voices From the Pandemic and Five Tuesdays in Winter

Hello, 2022! We are lingering in holiday mode with one NYC daughter and her boyfriend still with us. They are working remotely for another week and plan to fly back next weekend. We've had a wonderful couple of weeks... so many happy memories! 

I plan to compile my year-end stats and favorites list later in the week. For now, I'll tell you about the last two books I read in December.

by Eli Saslow, full cast narration 

When Catherine reviewed this book last fall, I added it to my reading list right away. Last month it appeared on Susie's list of 2021 audio favorites... I knew I had to listen.

Saslow,  a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, spent 2020 interviewing a broad spectrum of Americans about their COVID experience. The result is a brutally honest, well-balanced oral history of pandemic experience. As we all know far too well, public health issues presented by the virus have become politicized. Saslow offers no commentary, but presents a balanced selection of accounts from Americans with a wide range of perspectives. 

It's all here... A nurse-turned-patient at a hospital in upstate NY, an overwhelmed coroner in Louisiana who knows dozens of victims personally, a sixty-something retail clerk in NC expected to enforce the mask mandate, a young physician whose primary role is intubating COVID patients, a grocer who extends credit to his neighbors/customers as they lose their jobs, an Arizona man who organizes groups to enter stores and harass shoppers wearing masks, the man who has lost his family restaurant because of the shutdown...

This was a fascinating, often intense reading/listening experience. I ended up borrowing a print copy from the library just to see the photo at the beginning of each account, but the multi-narrator audio production is not to be missed!

narrated by: Bronson Pinchot, Mark Bramhall, Stacey Glemboski, Cassandra Campbell, Christa Lewis

Writers & Lovers  was a 5-star read/listen for me earlier this year and I was eagerly anticipating King's new short story collection, published in November 2021.  Much to my surprise, Five Tuesdays in Winter    was included in the Audible Plus catalog and available for free download.  I also borrowed a print copy from the library.

A short story collection made for perfect reading during the holiday week. I listened on my walks and sometimes read a story in the evening. As always, King's writing and characters shine. My favorites included Creature, Five Tuesdays in Winter, and When in the Dordogne


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