Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Tuesday Intro: Beginning a "Slow but Steady" Read

Chapter One

Encountering the Mind of a Mollusk

On a rare, warm day in mid-March, when the snow was melting into mud in New Hampshire, I travelled to Boston, where everyone was strolling along the harbor or sitting on benches licking ice cream cones. But I quit the blessed sunlight for the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium. I had a date with a giant Pacific octopus.


I tend to read one book at a time, but this week I'm going to try something different. Since finishing Remarkably Bright Creatures  a few days ago, I really want to learn more about octopuses. (I even had to look up the correct plural!) This book should help me do just that. The engaging writing style makes it even more interesting... and possibly even entertaining.

The author is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author.  I enjoy her voice already and think this will be a book I can pick up and read a chapter every few days, while still concentrating on my main read. If you listen to the Currently Reading podcast, they refer to this as a "slow but steady" read. We'll see how it goes.

What do you think of that opening? Would you continue reading?

First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro is hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews

Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Sunday Salon: August 21, 2022


Hello, friends, and happy Sunday. After a long weekend away, I'm back with another weekly update. It's still unusually warm and dry here in Connecticut, but it feels like summer may be loosening its grip. We've had a few gloriously cool mornings, the angle of the sunlight is changing, and the sun is setting earlier. I love fall and hope it's not too far away...

Last weekend we were in northern NY and Vermont for my father-in-law's memorial service. He died in January, but this was the first time the entire family could come together.  It also marked the tenth anniversary of my mother-in-law's death. As expected, our time together was bittersweet and filled with emotion... plus it was the first time all the grandchildren were together in the same place! That gave everyone the opportunity to meet the younger generation's significant others. Overall, a very memorable weekend.

During that time I didn't read for six straight days (which might be a record) but still managed to finish a couple of books since the last update...

Recent Reading//

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
audio edition narrated by  Karen Murray, Adenrele Ojo

After seeing this book praised on a several blogs, I added it to my list of summer reading possibilities. Then my mother read it, loved  it, and told me I needed to read it right away... and who am I to argue with Mom?

This beautifully-written debut novel follows three generations of a Southern Black family from the WWII era into the 21st century. Wandering back and forth in time, it covers all the tough issues, including race, you'd expect with a family drama. I loved how it showcases the strength of the Black women, who were primarily responsible for holding their families together. 

This was a read/listen combination for me. The audio is particularly well done... highly recommended. I'm already looking forward to Stringfellow's next novel. 

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
audio edition narrated by Marin Ireland, Michael Urie

A novel tracing a widow's unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus.

 I loved this book! I expected to like it, but did not expect it to become one of my favorite novels of the year. The story focuses on three main characters... a 70-year-old widow, a 30-year-old man trying to find his way in the word, and a giant Pacific octopus. The way these three come together is heart-warming and life-affirming. I won't say too much more about the story but, as soon as I turned the final page, I ordered a copy for my mother.

This started as a read/listen combination, but the audio was SO good that I switched to listening exclusively. Marin Ireland is a favorite narrator and I absolutely loved  the voice of the octopus! I'm going to follow up with the nonfiction The Soul of an Octopus soon.

Current Reading//

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark

This library hold came in a couple of days ago. It's a long book (592 pages) and my plan was to preview it, but I'm 14% in and still reading. It's the story of two 80-year-women, lifelong friends, and a beloved summer enclave in Maine. 

I'll start another book on audio tomorrow, too... perhaps The Soul of an Octopus.

On the blog//

In the kitchen//

I've been trying to cook a little more the past couple of weeks. I've made Turkey Chili Taco Soup from skinnytaste,  a Blackberry Peach Galette from Half-Baked Harvest, Basil Pesto Chicken Caprese from Vinkalinka, and I finally tried the Parmesan-Crusted Chicken Cutlets recipe that Tina shared several weeks ago. That touch of Dijon mustard adds a really nice flavor boost!

The week ahead//

I have a feeling this week is going to fly. We have a couple of appointments for our daughter, more catching up to do at home after traveling, and a visit from Daughter #1 and her boyfriend coming up on Thursday. 

Plus, the chair we ordered back in early April will finally be delivered on Friday. I can't wait! After that, we're just waiting on the coffee table. Definite progress... slowly, but surely.

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.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Two Reviews: The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff and The Pedant in the Kitchen by Julian Barnes

Hachette Books, 2008
364 pages

narrated by Nicole Roberts
13 hours and 6 minutes

Motivation for reading: Taming the TBR! This book has been on my shelf since 2008.

Publisher's summary:

In the wake of a disastrous affair with her older, married archeology professor at Stanford, brilliant Wilhelmina Cooper arrives back at the doorstep of her hippie mother-turned-born-again-Christian's house in Templeton, New York - a storybook town her ancestors founded that sits on the shores of Lake Glimmerglass. Upon her arrival, a prehistoric monster surfaces in the lake, bringing a feeding frenzy to the quiet town. And Willie learns she has a mystery father her mother has kept secret for Willie's entire life.

The beautiful, broody Willie is told that the key to her biological father's identity lies somewhere in her twisted family tree. She finds more than she bargained for as a chorus of voices from the town's past, some sinister, all fascinating, rise up around her to tell their side of the story. In the end, dark secrets come to light, past and present day are blurred, and old mysteries are finally put to rest.

My thoughts:

This was just an okay read for me. It's well-written and clever, but hard to follow at times... especially while listening.

The town of Templeton is actually Cooperstown, NY, thinly disguised, where Groff grew up. It's also close enough to our former NY home for me to recognize local landmarks and lore. The Temple family in the novel is supposed to represent that of author James Fenimore Cooper. 

Groff's text features many old photographs, drawings, and family trees... things I tend to love in a novel. Unfortunately, as a read/listen combination, I missed being able to refer back to the convoluted Temple family tree. The story itself was interesting enough, but the local references really kept me engaged.

My rating: Three stars, with an extra half for the familiar setting and pleasant audio narration.

by Julian Barnes, narrated by Simon Vance
Recorded Books, 2021
2 hours and 29 minutes

The Pedant in the Kitchen is a perfect comfort for anyone who has ever been defeated by a cookbook. The Pedant's ambition is simple. He wants to cook tasty, nutritious food; he wants not to poison his friends; and he wants to expand, slowly and with pleasure, his culinary repertoire.

Who knew author Julian Barnes likes to cook? Ever since Audrey mentioned this book years ago, I've kept an eye out for a copy. Libraries, book stores, and used book sales repeatedly turned up nothing. This short collection of essays has been around since 2003 but an audio version (narrated by Simon Vance, no less)  was just produced last year.  I was shocked to discover it available for download via hoopla!

Barnes discusses everything from cookbooks (how many is too many?) and the size of an "average" onion to approved culinary shortcuts and his tendency to hoard kitchen gadgets.  I recognized my own culinary tendencies and hang ups in nearly every essay and often found myself nodding in agreement or laughing out loud. I highly recommend this short collection and am certain it's every bit as good in print.

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?


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