Monday, February 28, 2022

Book Review - Ocean State; Stewart O'Nan


Ocean State; Stewart O'Nan
Dreamscape Media 3/15/2022 and Grove Press
Narrated by Sara Young 

"When I was in the eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl.  She was in love, my mother said, like it was an excuse.  She didn't know what she was doing.  I had never been in love then, not really, so I didn't know what my mother meant, but I do now. "

From the first lines of this short novel we know that a girl has been murdered and that the younger sister did not understand why this happened.

Ocean State takes place in 2009 in the blue collar town of Ashaway, Rhode Island (actual RI town).  What follows these jolting first sentences are the events that led up to this event and the fallout that resulted.  

The story is told from the POV of (4) female characters though a series of flashbacks and internal thoughts. Carol is a divorced single mother who works as a nurses aide while trying to raise her (2) teenage daughters. She is a woman who doesn't always make the best decisions. She drinks a bit too much and seems to jump from one man to another. Her daughters: Angel 16, is in high school - she is popular and hot-tempered.  Marie 13, adores her older sister but, she is lonely and has no real friends. She is bookish and feeds her emotions with food.  Birdy is a petite, brunette and is the high school girl who was murdered.

Myles is the good looking, popular, jock that Angel has been dating for three years.  Myles comes from a wealthier Rhode Island family and will soon be off to college. Angel by contrast works at CVS part time and has no college plans.  Deep down Angel knows that their relationship is not a forever one.  Myles has been seeing Birdy on the side and Angel eventually becomes aware of it. The sad thing is that both Angel and Birdy are in many ways quite alike, both crazy about a boy who isn't really worth fighting over.

Ocean State is a well-written and deep character study that gets to the heart of teenage jealousy and love triangles.  It's a story that focuses more on what led up to this tragedy and the aftermath of those left to sort it all out.  I found it hard to care about most of the character except for 13 year old Marie who I felt quite sorry for.  This novel is quite different from any of the author's previous books but, it was extremely well written.

I began listening to the audio book, narrated by Sara Young, who sounded like a teen which was appropriate for most of the characters. However,  I quickly became annoyed with the narration after she repeatedly mispronounced "Chariho", the school district and regional school the teens attended.  I felt like the audiobook narrator should have taken the time to research the correct pronunciation of places, since the author felt it important enough to use all actual Rhode Island places in this book.  I ended up switching to the eGalley making this short novel a combo read/listen. This book isn't really a mystery but, it is a very good story. I love the way this author has a real talent when it comes to describing the details of small town life and regular everyday people and their situations.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Sunday, February 27, 2022

February Reading Wrap Up and Reading Plans for March


Another month is just about over and although and I'm happy to say goodbye to it.  Books were something I  found to be a pleasant diversion from life.    I read (12) books in February and enjoyed most of them an awful lot. 

February Reads

  1. The Heights; Louise Candlish - 4/5 stars (February)
  2. These Silent Woods; Kimi Cunningham Grant - 4.5/5 stars
  3. Wintering: The Power of Rest & Retreat in Difficult Times; K May - 5/5 stars
  4. The End of Getting Lost; Robin Kirman - 3.5/5 stars
  5. To Paradise; Hanya Yanagihara - 3.5/5 stars
  6. The Elephant of Belfast; S. Kirk Walsh - 4/5 stars
  7. Love, Robert Sabuda - 5/5 stars
  8. The Golden Couple; Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen - 4/5 stars
  9. The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka - 4.5/5
  10. The Authenticity Project; Clare Pooley - 4/5  stars (book group read)
  11. A Town Called Solace; Mary Lawson - 5/5 stars
  12. Ocean State; Stewart O'Nan - 4/5 stars (no review yet)
I had (2) DNF books in February - both were on audio:
  1. Vladimir; Julia May Jonas (quit at the 51% mark--pathetic, negative unnamed narrator) - (Feb)
  2. Will; Will Smith (memoir) (Feb) (was not enjoying the audio AT ALL)
                                                                        February Favorites
                                                                             2022 - YTD - 26
March Reading Plans
  1. Greenwich Park; Katherine Faulkner (January List) - 3.5/5 stars
  2. The Paris Apartment; Lucy Foley - 3.5/5 stars
  3. Very Cold People; Sarah Manguso - 4/5 stars
  4. Talking to the Dead; Helen Dunmore (my shelves) - 4/5 stars
  5. The Overnight Guest; Heather Gudenkauf
  6. French Braid; Ann Tyler - 4.5/5 stars
  7. Black Cake; Charmaine Wilkerson
  8. Xsabeth; David Keenan
  9. Funny Farm: My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals; Laurie Zaleski - 5/5 stars
  10. Nine Lives; Peter Swanson - 4/5 stars
  11. The Forests; Sandrine Collette
  12. In His Own Image; Jerome Ferrari
  13. In Love: A Memoir of Loss & Love; Amy Bloom - 4/5 stars
  14. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue; V. E. Schwab (book group pick) 4/5 stars
Hope everyone had a good month!

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Book Review - A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson


A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson

Alfred A Knopf Canada - 2021 

Set in 1972 in the small town of Solace in northern Ontario, Canada, A Town Called Solace, was one of those rare books that hit all the right notes with me.

Clara is a young girl (almost 8) who has a lot on her mind. She sits vigil by the front window ever since her 16 year old sister Rose, a somewhat rebellious teen, went missing 12 days earlier after  arguing with her mother.  As she sees her parents sick with worry Clara is lucky to have a bit of a distraction caring for her hospitalized elderly neighbor, Elizabeth Orchard's cat Moses.  One day while looking out of her window Clara notices a young man carrying heavy boxes into Mrs. Orchard's house. We learn that the man is Liam Kane, no relation to Mrs. Orchard, but, he has inherited her house.  

Why has a woman Liam barely remembers gifted him her house? What is the connection here and, can a young man like Liam separated from his wife find a future in small town Solace? What happened to Rose?


The story is a character driven novel that is told in (3) distinct voices by Clara, Liam and Elizabeth. The writing is beautiful and easy to follow even if you are feeling a bit distracted. It made me feel like I was there in the town of Solace. The characters felt genuine, they were everyday people that I really grew to care about. I was quickly engaged in the story which had a bit of mystery to it as well.  We learn about the connection between Elizabeth and Liam as she speaks about the past to her late husband from her hospital bed. There were a few somewhat sadder moments but they were very brief and, overall, I found the ending was ultimately hopeful.   A story about love, death, family and community. I loved the small town feel and, for me, this was mostly a real comfort type read and exactly what I needed.  Highly recommended.

Mary Lawson has become one of my favorite authors. This is her fourth book and, IMO, all were a pleasure to read. (I almost missed this one, so grateful I caught JoAnn's review on Gulfside Musing.)

Rating - 5/5 stars

Friday, February 25, 2022

Book Review - The Authenticity Project; Clare Pooley

Penguin Books - 2020

The Authenticity Project is one of those books I would have passed over had it not been our book group pick for March.  I didn't love it but, I did like it enough to stick with it and found the premise unique.

Julian Jessup is and elderly widower living in a London. He is lonely and beginning to feel like he is invisible in this big city - people hurrying about, never getting a chance to really know their neighbors.  He comes up with an idea.....he leaves a green notebook in a cafe in which he has written the following:

What results is several very different strangers, all who wish to change or improve their lives are brought together when they happen upon the notebook.  For starters there are Julian 79, an artist who tends to stand out in a crowd, followed by Monica 37, the cafe owner and a former lawyer who wants more from her life as well as Timothy "Hazard" Ford,  39, an investment type who likes the good life and has a problem with drugs; he wants to change his life, Alice, 26, a mommy Instagram Influencer whose real life isn't like the one she portrays online.

This novel was released during 2020's pandemic when many people were feeling isolated and lonely.  I can now understand why it has been so popular.  Haven't most of us at one time or another longed to be a part of a small group of people who understood us and liked us for who we were? This is a book that shows us the best in people. Yes, the characters.are quirky but, the story just works. As each new person reads the entries left behind, not only are they able relate but, they are also more empowered to share their own stories.  I wasn't sure I'd like this one, especially when "Hazard" was introduced toward the beginning but, in the end I even warmed up to him.

Although I didn't get a chance to attend the book group meeting, I did hear back that everyone seemed to enjoy this one.  Have you read this one?

Rating - 4/5 stars

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Book Review - The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka


The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka
Knopf - 2022

The Swimmers is a very short novel at fewer than 200 pages and, it is a most unique kind of story. 

The story begins with a group of swimmers, all regulars who frequent a community type underground pool (picture a fitness club or YMCA).  These swimmers are obsessed with their routines and find swimming as a way of forgetting their troubles.  For an hour or so each day swimming helps them to cope with everyday life. There is a set of unspoken rules among the regulars and as they admit,  swimming is their addiction of choice.   It's when the pool closes for 10 days each August that the swimmers must face their real lives and deal with neglected families and issues at home. Oddly, each of the swimmers ,with the exception of Alice remains unnamed.  We do learn that Alice is a retired lab technician and she is also forgetful.   

One day a crack appears in the pool, yet no water is escaping.  The inspectors are at a loss and agree that the cause may never be found.  Each of the swimmers thinks there is some significance to the crack and even that it is bad luck to swim over it.  Then one day, the bad news arrives,  the pool management announces the pool will be closing for good.  Alice, however, is allowed to swim an extra lap and forget her troubles for a bit longer.

Next there is a rather abrupt change in story line in which the focus switches to Alice and the story takes a more serious turn.  This section is narrated by her daughter as her mother slips deeper into dementia and eventually must prepare for a move to a memory type care facility.  We learn much about Alice's past, as well as most every detail about what goes on in a memory care facility. 

This was not just a story about obsessed swimmers, it was a touching mother-daughter story as well. It seemed very personal, perhaps at least in part, based on the author's own experience with her mother.  The writing is both unique and beautiful with realistic and touching moments. There seemed to be a clear message about not postponing all the things that you have been meaning to do or people you've wanted to spend time with -  tomorrow, next month or next year are not guaranteed. This is the second book I've read by this author, she has a different style which I very much enjoy.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Thanks go to Knopf Publishing and Edelweiss for allowing me access to the eGalley in exchange for my unbiased review.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - A Town Called Solace; Mary Lawson

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

Knopf Canada - 2021



There were four boxes. Big ones.  They must have lots of things in them because they were heavy, you could tell by the way the man walked when he carried them in, stooped over, knees bent.  He brought them right into Mrs. Orchard's house, next door to Clara's, that first evening and put them on the floor in the living room and just left them there.  That meant the boxes didn't have necessary things in them, things he needed straight away like pyjamas, or he'd have unpacked them.

I started this book yesterday and I'm really enjoying it.  In case, you are curious about CLARA - she is an eight year old girl.  This is an author I have read and enjoyed in the past so I couldn't wait to read it. I was also happy to read that JoAnn at Gulfside Musing loved it.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Book Review - The Golden Couple; Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekknan

The Golden Couple; Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekknan
Macmillan Audio  (NetGalley) - 2022  - (11 hr 3 min)

Marissa and Matthew Bishop are the "golden couple" that many view with envy: looks, brains, success and an adorable 8 year old son as well. Privately, all is not "golden" and something is amiss within their marriage but, Marissa is desperate to fix things.  She seeks out a couple's therapist named Avery Chambers who is known to use some unethical tactics.  Well, that is how she lost her license but, some clients continue to rave about her amazing results. She employees a unique Ten Step program which turns out to be somewhat unorthodox to saw the least and her methods at times were even jaw dropping at times.

Can this marriage be saved? What brought the"Golden Couple" to seek therapy? Who can you trust in this story?

This audio book hooked me immediately: narrated by Marin Ireland and Karissa Vacker who did an excellent job.  The story is told from the POV of Avery, the therapist and Marissa, the "golden wife" and even though I wasn't sure I could trust either one them at times, I was drawn to each of them for different reasons - Marissa seemed to want to mend her marriage and Avery, well, she adopted an abused pit bull:)  These women do have their secrets as does "golden husband" Matthew. There were several secondary characters as well that added suspicion to the story.

I found the story engaging even if it did fizzle out a bit after a while. There were several twists and a somewhat unexpected climax as well.  I enjoyed the team of authors in the past and was happy I had a chance to try this one.

Rating - 4/5 stars

(audio book download provided by Macmillan Audio and Net Galley free of charge in exchange for my unbiased review.)

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Children's Book Review - Love; Robert Sabuda

 Love; Robert Sabuda
Candlewick Press - 2021

I've long been a fan of Robert Sabuda's Pop-Up books and have gifted many different ones in the past as well.  His 2021 release - LOVE was a real gem.

Each page begins with...I Love you and includes a 3-D pop up image

I Love you...

   and I always will

I Love You...

   and will keep you safe

I Love you

   and will encourage you to do great things

I Love you...

   exactly as you are

I Love you...

   and will share everything with you

And most of all, I love you...


This book is targeted for ages 5-8 but, come on, it also is a keeper for book lovers my age. This is one of those lovely books that would make a great gift not only for Valentine's Day but, as a gift to new moms, for Mother's Day or for the special someone in your life anytime.

(This book was sent to me by Candlewick Press in exchange for my unbiased review.)

(5 of the 6  images from this book)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Book Review - The Elephant of Belfast; S. Kirk Walsh


Blackstone Audio - 2021 - Library Loan
Narrator - Charlotte McCurry - very good
(10 hours - 51 min.)

Hettie Quin is a 26 year old zookeeper at the Bellevue zoo in Belfast, Northern Ireland - the years are (1940-1941).  Hettie is a young woman who has always felt more comfortable with animals than people.  Her home life is not a happy.  Hettie's sister died in childbirth and her father, a man who drinks too much and seeks out other women has moved out. Her mother lives in a perpetual state of melancholy now.  It also doesn't help that the year is 1940 and everyone in Belfast feels the escalating tension between British loyalists and the Irish Republican army.

When Violet, a 3 year old Indian elephant arrives at the zoo from Ceylon, Hettie and Violet develop a special bond and a growing dependance on one another especially as Germany begins a blitz on Belfast. In the process Hettie's mom also goes missing.

Based on the true story of Denise Austin and a baby elephant named Sheila, The Elephant of Belfast reminded me (in a less intense kind of way) of The Zookeeper's Wife, a book and movie which I really enjoyed.   As a life long animal lover, I never really considered the impact of war on animals until reading these kinds of stories.  Although this book wasn't perfect, I enjoyed it a lot and thought it was a mostly heartwarming story that reminds us how love and having a purpose can give us hope in difficult times.  I was happy I had a chance to try this audio.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon.

The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka
Knopf - 2/2022


The pool is located deep underground, in a cavernous chamber many feet beneath the streets of our town.  Some of us come here because we are injured, and need to heal. We suffer from bad backs, fallen arches, shattered dreams, broken hearts, anxiety, melancholia, anhedonia, the usual aboveground afflictions.  Others of us are employed at the college nearby and prefer to take our lunch breaks down below, in the waters, far away from the harsh glares of our colleagues and screens.  Some of us come here to escape, if only for an hour, our disappointing marriages on land.  Many of us live in the neighborhood and simply love to swim.  One of us--Alice, a retired lab technician now in the early stages of dementia--comes here because she always has. And even though she may not remember the combination to her locker or where she put her towel, the moment she slips into the water she knows what to do. Her stroke is long and fluid,  her kick is strong, her mind is clear. "Up there," she says, "I'm just another little old lady. But down here at the pool, I'm myself."

What do you think - read more or pass?

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Book Reviews - To Paradise; Hanya Yanagihara and The End of Getting Lost; Robin Kirman

How was your week? I've had better for sure. I had a couple routine annual appointments and (1) turned into anything but routine - a call back, an ultrasound and now a biopsy tomorrow....positive vibes sent this way are appreciated.  So happy I read Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times last week - it has helped.  It's snowing here today - very lightly with less than an inch right now - yesterday it was near 60 degrees and sunny; I'm happy warmer weather is around the corner.  Super Bowl tonight and the hub always loves that. I am not a huge football fan unless our teen is in it LOL but, it's alway fun to watch the commercials. Good luck to your team if they are competing this year.

On the reading front, except for Wintering, my reading week wasn't very satisfying.  I was so looking forward to Hanya Yanagihara's new book, To Paradise, after a (5) year wait since I read, A Little Life.  I loved that book and still think about it even though it left me feeling gutted at times and took me forever to find another quality read.  Her new book is 700 pp and after investing about 8 days, I was left scratching my head after I finished - the writing was really good but the story just wasn't for me.   I had another so so read as well, The End of Getting Lost, Robin Kirman and then a DNF called Valdimir by Julia May Jonas.  Here's a few thoughts on (2) of these.  I also have a review in the works (maybe tomorrow) for The Elephant of Belfast which  I liked.  Hoping this week is a better week.

To Paradise; Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday and Penguin Random House Audio - 2022

To Paradise, is an unusual story which spans a period of 200 years!  At 700+ pages, it is divided into (3) books: Book 1 (1893), Book 2 in (2) parts (1993) and Book 3 in (5) parts 2093-2094. I enjoyed Book 1 and 2 but, Book 3 not so much.

In Book 1, it is (1893) New York and New York is a free state where same sex couples are free to marry.  David Bingham is a 28 year old man who lives with his wealthy grandfather Nathaniel and the servants in the Washington Square area of the city where he has led a life of privilege in this prominent banking family. His other siblings have already established their own lives so David spends most of his time with his grandfather and, part time teaching an art class at an orphanage.  It is here that David meets Edward Bishop. Edward is a music teacher at the orphanage/school and, David falls fast in love with Edward.  Edward is not a man of social status and David's grandfather has other plans for him. He plans an arranged marriage for David to Charles Griffith, a once married much older man with a respectable background whose same sexed husband died of cancer.  Then we get a vibe of a possible yet undisclosed illness?

In Book 2 (1993) David is working as a paralegal in Hawaii and, he is involved with a senior partner named Charles.....yes same names as book 1 -- hmm. The two move into a mansion and we learn that David's origins seem to stem from Hawaiian royalty. We also learn that David's father (Wika) is ill and it is the height of the AIDS epidemic. There is also another Edward in this part - why did the author choose to use the same names?  Perhaps making us think that history does repeat itself. This part takes a darker turn where we see the injustice of America's past. 

Book 3 (2093) is divided into (5) parts - Autumn 2093, Autumn (50 years earlier), Winter 2094, Winter 40 years earlier and Spring 2094. The story here moves into a full blown dystopian totalitarian world. Back in New York where districts are divided into zones and illness and plague is rampant. Charlie appears here as well but, this time she is a female and she works in a laboratory. It's all somewhat complicated and at times just a bit too much for me.  It was not the satisfying wrap up or the kind of story I was hoping and I was disappointed I didn't enjoy it more.

This author is no doubt talented and a deep thinker and while the story itself is expansive in scope, IMO, Too Paradise, is more likely the kind of book that may appeal to fewer readers than all who enjoyed, A Little Life so much. 

This was a combo read/listen for me. The eGalley was provided by Doubleday and NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The audio download was provided by PRH Audio and was excellent with a full cast:  Feodor ChinEdoardo BalleriniBd WongCatherine HoKurt Kanazawa .

Rating - 3.5/5

Simon & Schuster Audio - 2022

Gina is a young woman who was a professional dancer. She had suffered a head injury after a fall outside a hotel in Berlin and her memory of what happened then as well as months before is an issue.  She and Duncan, a composer, seem very much in love. He wants to take her away to Vienna to begin enjoying life once again but, something about his secretiveness and the way he has been acting seems off.  They are soon all over Europe - Vienna, Prague, Rome  almost as if Duncan is trying to run from something of someone. The truth is both Gina and Duncan have secrets.  

The story takes place in 1996, a time before cellphones and social media so the set up for this story works well.  I liked that the story is told from the POV of both characters who I didn't develop a connection to. The writing style seemed different with looks back and then present but, with not a lot of insight into what was going on until around the halfway point.  This book was compared to Patricia Highsmith but, I just never saw a similarity. For me it did not feel like a psychological thriller but, more like a romantic suspense.  This was a rather quick read/listen at under 300 pp and 8+ hours on audio. The audio version was read by dual narrators - Alex Allwine and Michael David Axtell  both very good but,  it wasn't the kind of psych thriller I had hoped for .

Rating - 3.5/5

Print edition and Audio download provided by the publisher: Simon & Schuster in exchange for my unbiased review.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Book Review - Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times; Katherine May


Riverhead Books & Penguin Audio - 2020
(combo - read/listen - audio 6 hours 54 min. read by Rebecca Lee - very good)

Wintering is a memoir / inspirational kind of book that came out the end of 2020 and has been on my TBR list since then.  I finally decided to listen to the audio and there was so much that spoke to me that I had to download the eBook from the library and, I even ordered this print UK edition  (look at that pretty cover art) because there is so much I wanted to highlight.  This is one of those rather short books that just might become an annual winter read for me.

Katherine May's memoir begins in September when her husband fell ill and required an emergency appendectomy for a burst appendix; it almost ended his life.  Following his gradual recovery, the author also started to feel unwell, just a feeling that something wasn't right. To ease her depression and anxiety she took time off from her position as a writing director and what happened soon after was a kind of transformation or celebration.  It happened around the time on the winter solstice and a new way of thinking about and embracing winter evolved.  Just as nature needs time to slow down and regenerate, so do us humans. 

The author speaks of the new joy of cooking and creating, reading by candlelight on a cold winter evening wrapped in a favorite blanket or comforter.  Is it so terrible to stay home, prepare tasty comfort foods, work on projects that were long ago set aside or, how about just sitting still and reflecting or our lives past and present?

This was a most interesting  and reflective sort of book - the topics sometimes felt random or even scattered yet I found it to be very satisfying. I think many people could benefit by reading this book; it gives the reader much to think about and, may be even more important to individuals prone toward cold weather winter bouts of depression.  It's time to change how many of us think about winter and the darker and more difficult paths we must walk from time to time.

The audio was provided by Penguin Audio at no charge in exchange for my unbiased review. The eBook was downloaded from my library and I've purchased the print edition which should arrive soon.)

Quotes - (just a few - there were so many more that I liked)

--“Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.” 

--“Winter is a season that invites me to rest well, and feel restored, when I am allowed to retreat to be quietly separate.” 

---“In our winter, a transformation happened. We read and worked and problem-solved and found new solutions. We changed our focus away from pushing through with normal life and towards making a new one. When everything is broken, everything is also up for grabs. That’s the gift of winter: it’s irresistible. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not. We can come out of it wearing a different coat.” 

--“That is wintering. It is the active acceptance of sadness. It is the practice of allowing ourselves to feel it as a need. It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience and to commit to healing them the best we can.” 

--“Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season when the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.” 

Rating - 5/5 stars

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Book Review - These Silent Woods; Kimi Cunningham Grant


These Silent Woods; Kimi Cunningham Grant
Macmillan Audio - 2021 - (library download)
Read by Bronson Pinchot and Stephanie Willis - both very good
(8 hours - 22 min.)

Cooper and Finch (not their real names) are a father-daughter duo that have lived in isolation in a cabin in the woods in the Appalachian mountains for nearly 8 years.  Cooper is a vet and the cabin belongs to one of his vet buddy Jake who brings them large quantities of supplies in preparation for winter.  One thing little Finch knows is that no one must know they are staying in the cabin and they must be very careful not to be discovered by anyone. The truth is Cooper has a lot to be concerned about and he risks losing his daughter if they are discovered.  Why is he hiding from civilization and keeping his young daughter from a more normal childhood? Where is the child's mother?

This is one of those stories that is best to begin with as little information as possible as I did - too many spoilers out there.  Cooper is a devoted dad who is trying to protect the daughter he loves. He teaches her survival skills, they have a hiding place under the floor boards with a trap door and he teaches his daughter to love books (the cabin has no electricity but it is well stocked with books of all sorts.) Finch loves her dad and is wise beyond her years, which I found unusual since she has really not been socialized since infancy. As a child she is not as cautious as her dad and this spells trouble down the road.  Just as we begin to understand why Cooper and Finch are living a survivalist lifestyle, another mystery involving a missing teen threatens to ruin the life they have together.

I read a few glowing reviews for this book so I wanted to try it for myself. I enjoyed the audio ( Bronson Pinchot is terrific), the story had a slow, mysterious build and I liked the vivid descriptions of their life and surroundings.  At times the story felt down right creepy especially when their neighbor Scotland showed up unannounced - he made my maternal instincts switch into high gear. This is a story that left me tense at times, tugged at my heart strings and finally left me satisfied even though the ending felt rather unlikely. Worth reading.

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Elephant of Belfast; S. Kirk Walsh

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book we are reading or plan to read soon. I've been wanting to try this book since it was released last year.

Blackstone Audio - 2021
(library loan)


ON THAT MORNING OCTOBER 3, 1940, HETTIE QUIN KNEW she was lucky to be there, at the docks of Belfast, assisting with the elephant's arrival.  One of the other zookeepers had come down with a fever, and Ferris Poole had enlisted her help at the last minute. As she stood next to Ferris, at the edge of the crowd, Hettie steadied herself after having sprinted down the docks from the nearby tram stop; her mother had made her tardy by requesting multiple chores around the house before Hettie managed to slip out the door.  As she pushed sweaty strands of hair from her eyes,  she took in the stunning sight overhead--a young elephant being maneuvered through the air.  A crane and a system of cranes and pulleys elevated the animal from the deck of the moored steamship. The elephant's trunk coiled up and then unfurled like an opening fist. There was a hollow trumpet call. The crowd--women, men, children, sailors, dockworkers--let out a collective gasp, their gazes followed the orchestrated movements of the hoisting operation.  Hettie had never seen so many people at the docks:  It was as if British royalty or a famous screen actress were among the steamer's passengers arriving that morning.  The atmosphere felt festive, bright with expectation.

What do you think - read more or pass? This one is based on a true story!

Friday, February 4, 2022

January Reading Wrap Up and February Reading Plans

Can you believe January is a thing of the past? How did the first month of 2022 go for you?   We survived the cold weather, the bomb cyclone and hunkering indoors for much of the month.  I did go back to yoga mid-month -- I needed to chat with other women and my body appreciated it as well. Our class size has dropped from about 25 to about 14-17 and it's a huge room so I'm not overly concerned.  Although the Covid cases are declining in our area, I tried making an appointment for a haircut but, just found out my stylist has Covid:( --so not sure when that haircut will happen. Hey is anyone playing WORDLE? I'm hoping now that the NY Times has purchased it - they don't screw it up.  I love this daily feature which is not a time waster since you can only play one time a day. I'm on a roll and although I haven't guessed the word on the first try yet (been playing 2 weeks), I have guessed it several times on the second try. Try it - it's fun.

Now on to my favorite subject - books:

January Reading - 14 books

Some of you might recall, I started January by coming up with a list of (12) books I hoped to read during the month - ( I read 8/12) plus (6 other books that called my name). This plan worked quite well for me and most every book was one I was happy I tried.  I love having a plan  - do you?

January Reads
  1.  Honor; Thrity Umrigar - 4/5 stars
  2. Abide with Me; Elizabeth Strout - 4.5/5 stars - a favorite
  3. Amy and Isabelle; Elizabeth Strout - 4/5 stars
  4. Winter Solstice; Rosamunde Pilcher - 5/5 stars - a favorite
  5. The Maid; Nita Prose - 4.5/5 stars - a favorite
  6. After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond; Bruce Greyson, M.D. - 4/5 stars (NF)
  7. Joan is Okay; Weike Wang - 4/5 stars
  8. Mala's Cat; Mala Kacenberg - 5/5 stars (NF) - a favorite
  9. Mouth to Mouth; Antoine Wilson - 4/5 stars
  10. Ladder of the Years; Anne Tyler - 4.5/5 stars - a favorite
  11. The School for Good Mothers; Jessamine Chan - 3.5/5 stars
  12. In Five Years; Rebecca Serle - 3/5 stars
  13. The Lincoln Highway; Amor Towles - 4.5/5 stars - a favorite
  14. One Step Too Far; Lisa Gardner - 4.5/5 stars - a favorite
My wishful thinking read list for February  ** (will be updating throughout the month)
  1. To Paradise; Hanya Yanagihara (combo eBook & audio) - 3.5/5 stars (from January list)
  2. The Wintering: The Power of Rest & Retreat in Difficult Times; Katherine May  (January list) - 5/5 stars
  3. The Elephant of Belfast; S. Kirk Walsh (January list) - 4/5 stars
  4. Greenwich Park; Katherine Faulkner (January List)
  5. The Heights; Louise Candlish (ARC) - 4/5 stars
  6. The Swimmers; Julie Otsuka - 5/5 stars
  7. The Paris Apartment; Lucy Foley - in progress
  8. The Authenticity Project; Clare Pooley (Feb. book group read) - 4/5 stars
  9. A Town Called Solace; Mary Larson - 5/5 stars
  10. Very Cold People; Sarah Manguso 
  11. Talking to the Dead; Helen Dunmore (my shelves)
  12. Xstabeth; David Keenan
  13. The Overnight Guest; Heather Gudenkauf
  14. These Silent Woods - K. Cunningham-Grant -  4.5/5 stars
  15. Vladimir; Julia May Jonas - DNF
  16. The End of Getting Lost; Robin Kirman - 3.5/5
** I'd also like to read a few new children's books that arrived as well.

Hope everyone has a great February. Did you have any outstanding reads last month?