Friday, September 8, 2023

A Look Back at August and Plans for September

The long holiday weekend is behind us and we are now well into September, but I'd still like to take a look back at August and outline some September reading possibilities. 

In August, we tried to make the most of the long summer days. The kids all visited, we traveled to upstate NY to see my parents and attend a family reunion, and spent several evenings on the beach for sunset. I managed to read four books last month, and was happy with their variety and quality. I read a classic play, a memoir, a new release from a favorite author, and reread a Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection on audio.

Books Read in August

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
classic play, ⭐⭐⭐💫

by Irmgard A. Hunt
memoir, ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
literary fiction, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
short stories, reread,⭐⭐⭐⭐

September Reading Possibilities

memoir in essays, audio reread (COMPLETE)

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese 
literary fiction, read/listen combo in progress

True Biz by Sara Nović 
MMD September selection, ebook in progress

The Road to Dalton by Shannon Bowring

The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Also planned in September is a longer visit with my parents, a quick trip to Buffalo to see friends, and two long weekends in NYC... one for an Ann Patchett event and another to go wedding dress shopping with our daughter who is getting married next  summer. We're also finalizing plans for our daughter's wedding next month. So exciting!

How was your August? Any big plans for September? What was your favorite book last month?


Sunday, September 3, 2023

A Labor Day Weekend Update


Hello book friends, happy Labor Day weekend! I'm savoring these last days of summer and, at the same time, looking ahead to a very full fall... especially with our daughter's wedding next month. On the reading front, I've been leaning into rereading old favorites. This has been a surprising, yet comforting, development.

Recent reading//

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
narrated by Matilda Novak
(an audio reread)

by Anna Quindlen, narrated by the author

Another audio reread, this time a 2012 memoir in essays from a favorite author... and still 5 stars!

Current Reading//

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
narrated by the author

After a long wait, there is finally a new novel from Abraham Verghese. Cutting for Stone was a favorite back in 2010 and now I'm happy to be immersed in his latest. It's a read/listen combination and I'm nearly halfway through this 775-page chunkster. 

True Biz by Sara Nović

This is the September selection for the MMD book club and I'm at the 20% mark now. It's good so far, but I'm reaching for The Covenant of Water  whenever I have time to read. I may just finish that one then give this book my full attention.

On the blog//

In the kitchen//
I kept things pretty simple this week with our favorite sheet pan Chicken Fajitas, Baked Tofu (on a night my husband had a meeting!) turkey chili taco soup, and a strawberry/blueberry variation of this incredibly easy Puff Pastry Blueberry Galette.

The week ahead//
Short weeks following long holiday weekends always feel a little off to me, even in retirement, but I'm working on an August reading wrap-up post, and waiting on a final estimate for bathroom remodels. Then it'll be time to finalize tile and fixture selection.

How was your week? What are you reading this holiday weekend?

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Rereading Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

by Jhumpa Lahiri, narrated by Matilda Novak
Highbridge Audio, 2007
6 hours and 15 minutes

I tend not to be a big rereader, but this is my second (of three) rereads just this summer. A podcast episode prompted this one. I was listening to From the Front Porch's last installment of their Backlist Book Club, now rebranded Bookmarked with Annie & Hunter. Interpreter of Maladies was the title they discussed... and I was surprised to find a few of the stories had stayed with me all these years. That made me curious about the others.

Interpreter of Maladies, originally published in 1999, won the Pulitzer Prize 2000. I listened to it in 2009. At the time, I was a new to short stories, but a frequent participant in the old "Short Story Monday" weekly blogging linkup where I primarily posted about classic short stories. This was likely one of the first contemporary collections I'd ever read. 

The stories that stayed with me were "A Temporary Matter,"  "Interpreter of Maladies," and "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine." 

I've gone on to read Lahiri's other story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, and a couple of her novels. Rereading an early work, even a Pulitzer Prize winning early work, emphasized just how much Lahiri has grown as a writer over the years. Looking over her backlist, I never read The Lowland  novel. Maybe I'll pick it up while waiting for her new collection, Roman Stories, coming in October. 

Have you read Jhumpa Lahiri?

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Thoughts on TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett


Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Harper, 2023
320 pages

audiobook narrated by Meryl Streep
11 hours and 22 minutes

My one-sentence review:
This may just be the perfect novel... I loved every sentence!

A bit more:

Tom Lake, my most anticipated release of 2023, was every bit as good as I'd hoped. It's billed as Patchett's pandemic novel, though the pandemic isn't central to the story. Instead it serves as a mechanism to bring adult children home to their family's Michigan cherry orchard for an extended period of time. Telling stories becomes their preferred form of entertainment... in particular, one about a long ago summer theater run when their mother, a budding actress, and a soon-to-be-hugely-famous movie star are involved in a brief, but significant relationship.

Everything else - characters, writing, setting, atmosphere - really is perfection. This book made me feel all of it, and I did not want it to end.

Tom Lake  was a read/listen combination for me. The audio version is truly something special... Meryl Streep's narration is exquisite. In my twenty-plus years of listening to audiobooks, this is one of the very best. 

One final note:
 I strongly recommend reading the classic play Our Town  by Thornton Wilder prior to Tom Lake, especially if you've not read it before. It figures prominently into the story, so being familiar with the characters and plot will add to your overall understanding and appreciation. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov has also been suggested as a prerequisite but, for me, it didn't add to my reading experience.

My rating:
Tom Lake will surely be one of my favorite books of 2023.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

It's Tom Lake Weekend!

Hello, friends, and happy Sunday. We are finishing up a wonderfully quiet week at home - no travel, no visitors, mostly good weather, and plenty of sunshine. We enjoyed a lovely dinner by the shore with friends, explored a nearby coastal town, and ate lobster rolls for lunch.

And now, it's Tom Lake weekend! I have been eagerly anticipating Ann Patchett's new novel and set aside some time this weekend to just read. Patchett is one of my favorite authors and I'm pretty sure I've read all of her books. My daughter and I have tickets to see her next month at Symphony Space in NYC. I can't wait!

Recent Reading//

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

This is another classic play, first published in 1903, that may be tangentially related to Tom Lake. An old Russian family, hopelessly in debt, is "urged to cut down their beautiful cherry orchard and sell the land for holiday cottages - they struggle to act decisively." After Our Town last month, I enjoyed reading another play... though this one reminded me how much I struggle with Russian names. It seems like everyone has at least three! I'm not sure how it might enhance my reading of Tom Lake, yet.

Edited:  I just got to the part where the parallel is obvious!

by Irmgard A. Hunt

I saw this book mentioned on Susan's blog last month and thought it would be a good follow-up to The Postcard  by Anne Berest... and it was! This was a read/listen combination for me (the ebook and audio are both available on hoopla) and it was fascinating. A memoir from the German perspective is well worth reading and, at times, quite unsettling. Written in 2005, before our current political woes, I noted several chilling parallels to today.  Head over to Susan's blog for a more complete review.

Current reading//

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

I am halfway through this novel and loving every sentence! I purchased a print copy and later learned that Meryl Streep narrates the audio version. Yes, I ended up using an audible credit, too. I've been listening to audiobooks for over twenty years and this is one of the best performances ever!

On the blog//

The week ahead//
Both NYC daughters, their fiancés, and Winnie the Whippet all arrive in a few days for an extra-long weekend. The "kids" will all be working remotely for a day or two, but we'll still have plenty of time to enjoy summer near the shore. Fingers crossed the weather cooperates!

What's new with you this 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.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Book Brief: Banyan Moon by Thao Thai


by Thao Thai
Mariner Books, June 2023
336 pages

Narrated by Cindy Kay, Catherine Ho, Elyse Dinh
Harper Audio, June 2023
12 hours and 24 minutes

Spanning decades and continents, from 1960s Vietnam to the wild swamplands of the Florida coast, Banyan Moon is a stunning and deeply moving story of mothers and daughters, the things we inherit, and the lives we choose to make out of that inheritance.

My thoughts:

This was my third Modern Mrs. Darcy book club selection and, though it wasn't what I expected, was another winner! The debut novel is a family story focusing on three generations of women and their fraught mother-daughter relationships. Those relationships are messy, complicated, and yet life-sustaining. Generational trauma plays a role as Minh, the grandmother/matriarch, lived her early life in Vietnam before immigrating to the US with her young children. 

Banyan Moon  opens as Minh's granddaughter, Ann Tran, attends a party with her longterm boyfriend at the home of his wealthy white parents. Soon the story  shifts to Florida and the Banyan House, where Ann spent her childhood with her mother, Huong, and grandmother. Chapters alternate between Ann, Huong, and Mihn's perspectives.

Thao Thai's writing is beautiful and the book pulled me in right away... it kept me turning the pages, too.  I was expecting historical fiction and thought I'd learn more about life in Vietnam. While there is enough historical detail for the reader to understand the older generations, I would definitely classify the novel as a family drama rather than historical fiction.  

Shortly after I began reading, my audiobook hold arrived and it became a read/listen combination. The audio version was excellent! I love multi-narrator productions and this one certainly enhanced my overall reading experience.

MMD hosts a virtual author talk for each selection. It's always interesting to hear the author speak, but yesterday's chat with Thao Thai was especially memorable. It added to my understanding and appreciation of Banyan Moon. I'm already looking forward to her next novel.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐💫


Sunday, August 6, 2023

A July Reading Wrap-Up and a Look Into August

Hello, friends. August is here and though there is plenty of summer left, I'm already starting to think about fall. July turned out to be an unusual month. It was unbelievably hot, humid, and rainy for the first several weeks, but ended with perfect summer weather. We spent time with both NYC daughters, visited my parents... and had covid. Thankfully, our cases were mild cases and we are now recovered. We quarantined to avoid spreading it to others, and felt well enough to read during all but the first day or two of that period. As a result, July turned out be a very good reading month for me.


The Postcard by Anne Berest 
fiction/historical fiction

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry 
historical fiction, western, classic

Our Town by Thornton Wilder 
 play, classic

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano 
 literary fiction

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai 
literary fiction

In other reading news, I got a new kindle for my birthday. I've been happy with my paperwhite for years, but have also wished for page-turning buttons... and now my kindle oasis has them. It also has a slightly larger screen and a lighting control for warmth in addition to brightness. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and LOVE it! 


(current reading) nonfiction/memoir, interesting follow-up to The Postcard

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
(current reading) another classic play to read prior to Tom Lake

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
a new novel from a favorite author

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
a possibility for Women in Translation Month

A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio
a shorter possibility for Women in Translation Month

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
new novel from a favorite author

True Biz by Sara Nović
 September main selection for MMD book club

 Have you read any of these books? There is no way I will get to them all, but it's nice to have options. What was your favorite July read?

Thursday, July 27, 2023

A Midweek Update: Things Did Not Go As Planned

Hello, friends! Since we'll have a full house this weekend, I thought I'd post an early update this week. Let's just say things did not go as planned...

You might remember that my husband had a high school reunion earlier this month and, while he was there, I visited my parents in central NY. Following the reunion, he drove to my parents' where we all spent Sunday night before continuing home to CT the next morning. By Tuesday he was feeling sick... You may have already guessed the rest of the story but, after three years and five shots, he had Covid... and two days later, so did I. Thankfully, my parents did not get it.

We had planned to go to Lake Placid, NY last Thursday for IronMan Weekend to see our oldest daughter's first full ironman competition, and to celebrate my birthday. Obviously the trip didn't happen. Instead I spent the weekend in CT napping, reading, and listening to audiobooks on my zero gravity lounger in the sunroom. Despite feeling lousy, it seemed like a personal reading retreat!

Meanwhile, our daughter completed her first Ironman! It required a lot of dedication and training... we're so proud of her.

I'm feeling better now, but the still coughing . 

Recent reading//

by Anne Berest, Tina Kover (translator)

This "true novel" is a July selection at The Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. (MMD) It was a long book, 464 pages, and on the heavy side for summer reading, but I ended up loving it! I'm looking forward to our  live chat with the translator later today.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I read this 964 page western over the past two months with a small group of readers from MMD and now consider it the most surprising reading experience I've ever had! At the outset, there was literally NOTHING about Lonesome Dove  that appealed to me - just the praise from trusted readers who consider it an all-time favorite. Now that I've finished, I'm certain these characters will be with me forever! I'm so glad I persevered beyond those first 100-150 pages. Now I plan to watch the miniseries.

by Thornton Wilder

I read this classic play in high school, but picked it up for a reread based on Ann Patchett's recommendation. It's deeper and more philosophical than I remembered... probably more than my high school brain could grasp at the time. The play is about everyday life in a small town where nothing much happens, yet  it's quite moving. Ann says her about-to-be-released novel, Tom Lakewas inspired by Wilder's play. I'll be using my birthday gift certificate to buy Patchett's book on August 1... and now I'm ready for it!

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

So sad, but so beautiful... I thoroughly enjoyed this family story.

Current reading//

Banyan Moon by That Thai

This is one of the August selections over at MMD. I'm halfway through and it's fine so far - a typical family drama involving a family whose matriarch immigrated from Vietnam. I was hoping 20th century history and Vietnam itself would play a larger role... we'll see what develops in the second half.

On the blog//

The week ahead//
Our daughter, the Ironman, and her fiancé arrive this evening for a long weekend. We have plenty of activities lined up... should be a great fun!

How is the summer treating you? What have you been reading lately?

Monday, July 24, 2023

Overdue Reviews: No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister and The Great Displacement by Jake Bittle

No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister
narrated by a full cast
Macmillan Audio, 2023
8 hours and 54 minutes

 "No two persons ever read the same book”  is a familiar quote, and now Erica Bauermeister has written a novel which shows how one book impacts many lives in very different ways. The novel is comprised of connected stories and begins, naturally, with an author... one writing a novel called Theo. It continues with a story about a young, overworked and underpaid publishing assistant who pulls Theo  from the slush pile. We're later introduced to an actor turned audiobook narrator, a homeless teenager, an artist, a bookseller, and more. Each story highlights the subject's relationship with Theo and, by the end, I kind of wished I could read Theo  for myself!

I loved nearly all of the stories and was delighted any time a familiar character reappeared in a later chapter. This is truly a book for book lovers! Listening added to my overall enjoyment - each story has a different narrator and they were all great. My only complaint, which is true for many short story collections, is that I was frequently left wanting more when a story ended.

I chose this book after seeing Tina's glowing review, and it later became a Modern Mrs. Darcy July selection. The live author chat enhanced my appreciation of this book, and made me want to reread it in print.

by Jake Bittle
Simon & Schuster, 2023
368 pages

It's impossible to deny climate change these days and The Great Displacement  explains how climate migration is already underway. I found this to be an absolutely riveting read, especially in light of our experience with Hurricane Ian in Sanibel, FL last September.

Bittle structures the book to cover both weather/climate disasters and long-term growing problems. Each gets a separate chapter where the author digs into possible causes, government response, construction/ insurance/housing ramifications, and stories of individual families and homeowners in each danger zone. 

The Great Displacement  begins with Hurricane Irma in Big Pine Key, FL in 2017, then moves back to 1999 and the first attempt at government buyouts. This occurred in Kinston, NC  following flooding along the Neuse River after Hurricane Floyd. Bittle explore the situation following California wildfires, coastal erosion in the Louisiana bayous, flood control in Houston, water scarcity in Arizona, and rising sea levels in Norfolk, VA. This is a comprehensive look at the many manifestations of climate change and various attempts to deal with them. I learned even more about the national flood insurance program, the insurance industry in general, FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, changing flood zones, and the effects on the housing market. 

This is the most comprehensive look at the many climate change scenarios facing the United States that I have seen. I could not put this book down and even added the audio version so I could continue to listen when I could no longer sit and read. This will be one of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2023.


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