The Bleak and Empty Sea: The Tristram and Isolde Story by Jay Ruud

Title: The Bleak and Empty Sea: The Tristram and Isolde Story, Author: Jay Ruud

The Bleak and Empty Sea. Finished 2-19-18, 3.5/5 stars, mystery, 216 pages, pub. 2017

Book 3 in the Merlin Mysteries

When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. They take ship to Brittany to investigate, and find themselves stymied by the uncooperative attitudes of Tristram’s close friend Kaherdin, lord of the city; his sister and Tristram’s wife Isolde of the White Hands; and Brangwen, La Belle Isolde’s faithful lady-in-waiting.

The case is complicated by the facts that King Mark of Cornwall is Gildas’s own liege lord, and that Duke Hoel, Lord of Brittany, is King Arthur’s close ally and father of the lady Rosemounde, who urges Gildas to clear the name of her half-sister, Isolde of the White hands, whom gossip has implicated in Tristram’s untimely death. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.  from Goodreads

I am not a King Arthur or his Knights of the Round Table expert but I’m a sucker for a good love story so I thought I’d check out this mystery of Tristram and Isolde.  I admit that the first quarter or so of the book was a bit confusing for me since I wasn’t familiar with so many of the names and their relationships to each other, but I don’t think someone who had knowledge of the legends of the period would have any problem.  But as I was prepared to skim as necessary, the story evened out and I was able to get into the mystery.

The story was solid. I loved the Merlin and squire Gildas combo as they were sent to find out the truth of these lovers’ deaths.  The mystery was good and I learned a lot about the period since this series of books are written by a retired Medieval Literature professor.  This was a short book packed with so many entertaining stories of the period that it made the mystery much more layered that it might have been.  I ended up liking this story quite a bit.

Recommended for fans of King Arthur legends or historical mysteries.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.




Ashley Bell by Dean Koontz

Title: Ashley Bell: A Novel, Author: Dean KoontzAshley Bell.  Finished 2-4-19, rating 3.5, scifi/fantasy, pub. 2015

Unabridged audio read by Suzy Jackson.  17 hours 15 minutes.

At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn.

Unprecedented in scope, infinite in heart, Ashley Bell is a magnificent achievement that will capture lovers of dark psychological suspense, literary thrillers, and modern classics of mystery and adventure. Beautifully written, at once lyrical and as fast as a bullet, here is the most irresistible novel of the decade.    from Goodreads

I have at least one Koontz book on my Top 100, but I’m not a regular reader of his books.  It’s been a while.  But I was headed back home for a funeral by myself and didn’t have anything to listen to (hard to believe I know) so Jason gave me the first several cds of this one telling me he was listening to it and I would really like it.  Well, the first two cds were about Bibi finding out that she had incurable brain cancer and by the time I arrived – to go directly to calling hours – I was pretty sad.  I hadn’t read the description so I didn’t have any idea that she would be cured (but that is somewhat misleading).  I may have sent Jason a text telling him that the story choice was not appropriate for a funeral.

Okay, now for the story.  I really liked the first half of the book, even the sad parts.  Bibi was a gifted writer and she had a Navy Seal fiancé and loving parents.  When the diagnosis comes she reacts with disbelief and then fight.  I hesitate to say anymore.  At the halfway-ish mark it lost Jason (although he finished it) but I was okay with the twists and turns.  It was interesting.  My main issue is that I think it could have been shorter.  By the last of the cds (14!) I was grumbling that it needed to finish up 🙂  It was both exciting and slow, so it was a mixed bag for me.

If you like Koontz you’ll probably like this one, but this one is just average Koontz, for me.


Yes Please! by Amy Poehler & Something New by Lucy Knisley

Two memoir catch ups!  How did I get so behind?!

Yes Please! Finished 9-27-17, rating 4/5, memoir, pub. 2014

Unabridged audio read by Amy Poehler.  7 hours 30 minutes.

Do you want to get to know the woman we first came to love on Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade? Do you want to spend some time with the lady who made you howl with laughter on Saturday Night Live, and in movies like Baby Mama, Blades of Glory, and They Came Together? Do you find yourself daydreaming about hanging out with the actor behind the brilliant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation? Did you wish you were in the audience at the last two Golden Globes ceremonies, so you could bask in the hilarity of Amy’s one-liners?

If your answer to these questions is “Yes Please!” then you are in luck. In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend,” “Plain Girl Versus the Demon” and “The Robots Will Kill Us All” Yes Please will make you think as much as it will make you laugh. Honest, personal, real, and righteous, Yes Please is full of words to live by.   from Goodreads

Amy read it along with a few friends helping along the way: Kathleen Turner, Seth Meyers, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, her parents, and probably one or two more that I forgot about.
I liked it, but for me, I felt like she was trying too hard.  Maybe that’s just part of her charm, because I know she’s funny.  I laughed and learned that she’d been at this comedy thing longer than I thought.  I was impressed to learn about the Upright Citizens’ Brigade that she helped form, less impressed with her sex tips. She is accomplished and successful and full of energy.  I LOVE Parks and Recreation and might have loved a book written by the great Leslie Knope even better.

Something New: Tales from a Makeshift BrideSomething New. Finished 9-29-17, rating 3.5/5, graphic memoir, 292 pages, pub. 2016

A funny and whip-smart new book about the institution of marriage in America told through the lens of her recent engagement and wedding…. The graphic novel tackles the all-too-common wedding issues that go along with being a modern woman: feminism, expectations, getting knocked over the head with gender stereotypes, family drama, and overall wedding chaos and confusion.    from Goodreads

This is my third book by the talented graphic artist and author and this fell between the first two for me.  I liked it and loved her drawings, but I was also bored.  Wedding planning is a wonderful and tedious business and it is probably most interesting to the people who know you or are going through the same process.  I do think this would be a perfect gift for the newly engaged.


Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Title: Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship, Author: Gail CaldwellLet’s Take the Long Way Home. Finished 9-11-17, rating 3.75/5, memoir, pub. 2010

Unabridged audio read by Joyce Bean. 5 hours.

They met over their dogs. Both writers, Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story, became best friends, talking about everything from their shared history of a struggle with alcohol, to their relationships with men and colleagues, to their love of books. They walked the woods of New England and rowed on the Charles River, and the miles they logged on land and water became a measure of the interior ground they covered. From disparate backgrounds but with striking emotional similarities, these two private, fiercely self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen.

The friendship helped them define the ordinary moments of life as the ones worth cherishing. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.    From Goodreads

The first line, “It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.”  Just beautiful.  Caldwell is a Pulitzer Prize winner and this story of her friendship with author Caroline Knapp is so moving.  These two women shared such a bond and to have it broken at such an early age, Knapp was in her early 40’s, was heartbreaking.  The most moving to me was how Caldwell shared her own struggles with alcohol, something that she and Knapp shared.  It was a beautiful tribute to an enviable friendship.

Monday mini-reviews

There were a few books that I can easily group together from last month’s book a day challenge, so I’m trying to get those out of the way first.  These three books were all written by women writers and for the most part I had similar feelings about them.

Title: The Writing Life, Author: Annie DillardThe Writing Life. Finished 9-25-17, rating 3.5/5, memoir, 111 pages, pub. 1989

Annie Dillard has written eleven books, including the memoir of her parents, An American Childhood; the Northwest pioneer epic The Living; and the nonfiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. A gregarious recluse, she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.    from Goodreads

I admit that I picked this up at a book sale because it was short and  I’m so glad that I made the impulsive choice.  I’d never read Annie Dillard before, but found her writing beautiful.  She doesn’t make the writing life sound like very much fun, but I loved the honesty and the insight into how a mind can go a little nutty while writing.  If you are a writer or even just want an inside look into the writing  life I think this slim book is worth reading.

Title: A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, Author: Joan AndersonA Year By the Sea. Finished 9-14-17, rating 3.5/5, memoir, 190 pages, pub. 1999

During the years Joan Anderson was a loving wife and supportive mother, she had slowly and unconsciously replaced her own dreams with the needs of her family. With her sons grown, however, she realized that the family no longer centered on the home she provided, and her relationship with her husband had become stagnant. Like many women in her situation, Joan realized that she had neglected to nurture herself and, worse, to envision fulfilling goals for her future. As her husband received a wonderful job opportunity out-of-state, it seemed that the best part of her own life was finished. Shocking both of them, she refused to follow him to his new job and decided to retreat to a family cottage on Cape Cod.   from Goodreads

I really connected with this woman who was feeling out of sorts in her life.  Her sons were on their own and her husband came home and said that he had taken a job that would force them to move.  I got her.  I was rooting for her when she embraced new challenges on her own.  I’ve never lived on my own, always having a roommate, so I was living vicariously.  It started strong, but she did lose me a little halfway through.  I liked then ending so, all in all, I’m glad I read it.

Title: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Author: Dani ShapiroHourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage.  Finished 9-29-17, rating 3/5, memoir, 145 pages, pub. 2017

Hourglass is an inquiry into how marriage is transformed by time–abraded, strengthened, shaped in miraculous and sometimes terrifying ways by accident and experience. With courage and relentless honesty, Dani Shapiro opens the door to her house, her marriage, and her heart, and invites us to witness her own marital reckoning–a reckoning in which she confronts both the life she dreamed of and the life she made, and struggles to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become.   from Goodreads

This slight memoir flitting around her marriage from before to beginning to present with little vignettes about things that happened over the years of their 18 year marriage.  The writing was beautiful and some of it was thought provoking, although I had expected it to go a bit deeper.  I enjoyed the writing so I’ve to added some of Shapiro’s fiction to my reading list.





An Unexpected Life: A Mother and Son’s Story of Love, Determination, Autism, and Art by Debra and Seth Chwast

An Unexpected Life: A Mother and Son's Story of Love, Determination, Autism, and ArtAn Unexpected Life. Finished 9-8-17, 3.5/5, memoir, pub. 2011

Diagnosed with severe autism as a toddler, Seth Chwast seemed trapped in his own insular universe. His family endured anguish, sought countless therapies, and almost gave up hope. Then, at age 20, Seth took a painting class, and everything changed. Miraculously, he revealed an innate ability to create amazing artworks that reflect his own unique perspective and gave him a voice he had never had.
Written by Seth’s mother, Debra, An Unexpected Life tells the story of their long difficult path, and her determination to help her son. Although Seth cannot safely cross the street alone, he is an icon for anyone who has been in a hopeless situation and then triumphs. More than simply a memoir, this visually breathtaking volume is infused with hope, inspiration, and art.  from Goodreads

Jason and I were able to hear locals Debra and Seth speak at an autism conference years ago and it was inspiring to see what this tireless mother has done to make her son shine.  Seth was diagnosed with autism at a young age and Debra says in the book that she cried for three years.  “For most of Seth’s childhood I was frantic confused, weepy and in over my head”  She read and tried every therapy she could find, but when Seth turned 18, she was told that he was most suitable for dry mopping (whatever that is).  She hired art therapists, art teachers and just plain artists after it became apparent that Seth had a gift.  You can check out his paintings here.  Since then they have travelled extensively, had films made about him and even been on the Today Show twice.  His works have hung in some very prestigious places and yet he needs 24 hour supervision.  Even when he paints she must pay someone to be there otherwise Seth wouldn’t even pick up a brush.

The book is gorgeous and there are at least 120 paintings included, each one including Seth’s own description of it.  Seth and his mother have benefitted from an abundance of money, so this is not the autism story many can afford, but that in no way diminishes Seth’s talent.  He’s a true artist.  It’s how he communicates with the world.  You can visit his website here.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

Title: War of the Worlds (Barnes & Noble Classics Series), Author: H. G. WellsThe War of the Worlds. Finished 9-6-17, 3.5/5 stars. classics, 192 pages, pub. 1897

With H.G. Wells’ other novels, The War of the Worlds was one of the first and greatest works of science fiction ever to be written. Even long before man had learned to fly, H.G. Wells wrote this story of the Martian attack on England. These unearthly creatures arrive in huge cylinders, from which they escape as soon as the metal is cool. The first falls near Woking and is regarded as a curiosity rather than a danger until the Martians climb out of it and kill many of the gaping crowd with a Heat-Ray. These unearthly creatures have heads four feet in diameter and colossal round bodies, and by manipulating two terrifying machines – the Handling Machine and the Fighting Machine – they are as versatile as humans and at the same time insuperable. They cause boundless destruction. The inhabitants of the Earth are powerless against them, and it looks as if the end of the World has come. But there is one factor which the Martians, in spite of their superior intelligence, have not reckoned on. It is this which brings about a miraculous conclusion to this famous work of the imagination.   from Goodreads.

First published in 1897 in a series of magazine articles, this sci-fi classic has not been out of print since and has spawned a number of movies.  I loved Wells’ The Time Machine and was looking forward to this one about an alien invasion of England.  His writing always takes me a few chapters to get into a rhythm, but then I don’t even notice that the pre-1900 language.  Aliens from Mars head down to earth and somehow they are able to start killing at will and the people in the area don’t even seem that concerned.  The protagonist somehow managed to come out unscathed and with his life seemingly intact.

I was expecting to like it, but found myself a little bogged down in the geography and details. But I did love the old school, 1980 edition I had on my shelves!

This was my 14th selection for the Classics Club and I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.  I am woefully behind!

Dryland: One Woman’s Swim to Sobriety by Nancy Stearns Bercaw

Title: Dryland: One Woman's Swim to Sobriety, Author: Nancy Stearns BercawDryland. Finished 9-12-17, memoir, 242 pages, pub. 2017

Unabridged audio read by Donna Postel.  7 hours 16 minutes

For swimming champion Nancy Stearns Bercaw, the pool was a natural habitat. But on land, she could never shake the feeling of being a fish out of water. Starting at age two, Nancy devoted her life to swimming, even qualifying for the 1988 Olympic Trials in the fifty-meter freestyle event. But nearly two decades later, when she hung up her cap and goggles, she was confronted with a different kind of challenge: learning who she was out of the lanes.

In this honest, intimate memoir, Nancy reflects on her years wandering the globe, where tragic events and a lost sense of self escalate her dependence on booze. Thirty-three years after her first sip of alcohol, the swimmer comes to a stunning realization while living with her husband and son in Abu Dhabi—she’s drowning in the desert. Nancy looks to the Bedouin people for the strength to conquer one final opponent: alcohol addiction.   from Goodreads

I listened to this one most of the day yesterday and finished up the last 45 pages last night before bed.  I think the audio was well done and for anyone tempted to try it, I’d be happy to send you my copy of the cds.

Nancy is a competitive person who found great success in swimming, but found herself flailing a bit when that was over.  She joined the Peace Corps and ended up in Kenya, then taught English in Korea before heading back to the States with a boyfriend.  After weekend with a US Senator she breaks up with that boyfriend and then the Senator breaks up with her.  And then she meets a man, has a child and moves to Abu Dhabi.  All while consuming copious amounts of booze.

From the title I thought this would be about a woman recovering from alcoholism, but it was more alcohol travelogue than recovery story.  Seeing how other cultures view alcohol compared to the US was eye opening.  The exotic places made her story compelling and she knows how to turn a phrase for sure, but I didn’t really connect with Nancy.  This might be because I just read another memoir about a woman battling alcohol and I found that one more engaging and real (Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell).

Caldwell has lived an exciting and nomadic life and it was good to see her come out the other side happier and sober.  I think this would be encouraging to those who don’t see an end to their drinking days.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the book and audio.  If you are interested in either one let me know and I’ll send it on to you free of charge!


Heroes For My Son by Brad Meltzer

Heroes for My SonHeroes For My Son. Finished 6-19-17, rating 3.5/5, inspiring people, 108 pages, pub. 2010

When Brad Meltzer’s first son was born eight years ago, the bestselling writer and new father started compiling a list of heroes whose virtues and talents he wanted to share with his son: Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Jim Henson, Amelia Earhart, Muhammad Ali . . . and so many more, each one an ordinary person who was able to achieve the extraordinary. The list grew to include the fifty-two amazing people now gathered in Heroes for My Son, a book that parents and their children—sons and daughters alike—can now enjoy together as they choose heroes of their own.

From the Wright Brothers, who brought extra building materials to every test flight, planning ahead for failure, to Miep Gies, who risked her life to protect Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis during World War II, Heroes for My Son brings well-known figures together with less famous ones, telling the inspiring, behind-the-scenes stories of the moment that made them great. They are a miraculous group with one thing in common: each is an example of the spectacular potential that can be found in all of us.

-from Goodreads

As a mom to a young child I appreciated the sentiment behind this book. When bestselling author Brad Meltzer and his wife had their first son he felt the need to impart his wisdom to his son through the written word. On the night of his birth he started a list of instructions on how to be a good man.  1. Love God and 2. Be nice to the fat kid in class.  Both great pieces of advice but the book didn’t turn out the way he wanted so he wrote this one instead.

In a square hardcover Meltzer devotes two pages to each to the inspirational people that he feels have something important to teach his children.  One page is a picture with caption and the other page he writes briefly about why they are included in the book with a quote. The Wright Brothers are here not because they invented an airplane but because every day when they went out to fly they brought extra materials because they knew they would fail.  They knew they would fail but every day they tried anyway.  That’s the lesson.  Thomas Jefferson was included not because he was President but because he wrote the Declaration of Independence but didn’t tell the public.  Humility is in short supply these days, especially in our elected officials so this was a nice story.

I liked the mix of famous and not-so-famous people, both men and women, and the new things I learned.  This would be a nice book to read with your child or grandchild. This isn’t for boys only and had plenty of women on the list.  I made a list of some of the people I’d like to know more about, so this would be a great shared reading experience but will also add to your wish list 🙂


The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Title: The Farm, Author: Tom Rob SmithThe Farm. Finished 5-26-17, rating 3.5/5, suspense, pub. 2014

Unabridged audio read by James Langton and Suzanne Toren. 8.5 hours.

If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.

Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.

Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow. 

Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

from Goodreads

Daniel lives in London with his boyfriend, a boyfriend his parents know nothing about.  After his parents moved to Sweden the closeness between the three of them widened and Daniel thought his secret was the reason.  A phone call from his mother helped him see the truth.  He was not the only one harboring a secret.  His mother had quite a story and Daniel wasn’t sure what to do and who to believe.  When he decided to do a little investigating himself he found out more than he really wanted to know.

I liked the suspense of his mother’s story and questionable sanity but was wishing that it might not have lasted as long.  I was growing weary of not knowing.  But I thought the payoff made it worth it.  This is my first Smith book but I look forward to reading more from him.  The narrators were excellent and I can recommend the audio.