Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand

Title: Summerland, Author: Elin Hilderbrand  Summerland. Finished 2-26-19, 4/5 stars, fiction, pub. 2012

Unabridged audio read by Erin Bennett. 13 hours.

A warm June evening, a local tradition: the students of Nantucket High have gathered for a bonfire on the beach. What begins as a graduation night celebration ends in tragedy after a horrible car crash leaves the driver, Penny Alistair, dead, and her twin brother in a coma. The other passengers, Penny’s boyfriend, Jake, and her friend Demeter, are physically unhurt–but the emotional damage is overwhelming. Questions linger about what happened before Penny took the wheel.

As summer unfolds, startling truths are revealed about the survivors and their parents, the secrets kept, promises broken, and hearts betrayed.  from Goodreads

When I posted my first Goodreads Cleanup post on Christmas this was the first book listed, the one that’s been on my Goodreads wish list the longest.  I am proud to say that I listened to it and liked it, thus meaning many more Goodreads Cleanup posts 🙂

It begins with the death of a talented junior and it follows the stories of the three in the car with her when it happened and their parents, all friends.  To say this is a bit sad is an understatement.  The cover and title make it seem a bit more happy than it really is.  It felt a bit like a soap opera, but not in a bad way.  I love that the narrator was someone from the small community of Nantucket.  She was giving us an insider’s look at what went down and it worked.

I liked it, but since I didn’t really feel an affinity for any of the characters I can’t say I loved it.  I did feel sympathy, lots of it actually, but no real connection.  Still a good story, but a bit of a downer for me.  I’m glad I read it.  Any story that takes me to Nantucket is worth reading.

 

 

 

The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife by Julia Justiss

Title: The Earl's Inconvenient Wife, Author: Julia JustissThe Earl’s Inconvenient Wife. Finished 2-11-19, 4/5 stars, historical romance, 288 pages, pub. 2019

Temperance Lattimar is too scandalous for a Season, until finally she’s sponsored by Lady Sayleford. The whole charade feels wrong when she doesn’t want a husband, but Temper feels awful when MP and aristocrat Gifford Newell is appointed to “protect” her at society events. With her past, she knows she’s not an ideal wife…but then a marriage of convenience to Giff becomes the only option!   from Goodreads

There was plenty of tension and strong-willed heroine exploits in this romance, but there was more too.  I learned a lot about Parliament.  It was refreshing to see an aristocrat actually working for the social good.  Giff did like the ladies a bit too much, but his devotion to his work was a plus.  Temper wanted only to be left alone to work.  After her dad denies her money, she tries a plan  that will leave her without a suitor after the season so that her dad must release her money and she can be left alone to travel around the world collecting artifacts.  As with any good Harlequin the two found themselves wanting one thing, but then discovering that something else made them happy.

This is part of a series and I thought it was well done. It was exactly what I needed, a bit of fun fluff.

The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson

Title: The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man: A Novel, Author: Jonas Jonasson

The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man.  Finished 2-5-19, rating 4/5 stars, fiction, 448 pages, pub. 2019

The hysterical, clever, and unforgettable sequel to Jonas Jonasson’s international bestseller The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.

It all begins with a hot air balloon trip and three bottles of champagne. Allan and Julius are ready for some spectacular views, but they’re not expecting to land in the sea and be rescued by a North Korean ship, and they could never have imagined that the captain of the ship would be harboring a suitcase full of contraband uranium, on a nuclear weapons mission for Kim Jong-un. Yikes!

Soon Allan and Julius are at the center of a complex diplomatic crisis involving world figures from the Swedish foreign minister to Angela Merkel and President Trump. Needless to say, things are about to get very, very complicated.     from Goodreads

I didn’t read the first Allan and Julius story, but when Trish suggested I might like this I couldn’t resist.  An international caper with a crotchety old guy?  She knows me so well.

Allan and Julius are one of the most fun pairs I’ve had the chance to read lately.  Allan, who has led a very exciting life and gotten by with his gift of conversational nothingness, and Julius, the asparagus loving charmer always looking for a con, managed to find themselves in the most absurd situations.  I loved the chapters with those two, often laughing out loud at their antics.  They also managed to surround themselves with a somewhat cuckoo cast of characters who were easy to love.

The gift of this book is the humor, the light touch and easy way Jonasson manages to poke fun.  No political figure was too esteemed.  Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump, and Angela Merkel were hilarious in their interactions with Allan.  Allan and Trump golfing together was one of my favorite scenes.  Good stuff.

After a while I did find myself skimming through some of the chapters of secondary to world leaders characters and didn’t feel like I missed much.  At over 400 pages, I really just wanted the action focused on the main characters.

This was a fun book full of absurd situations.  I’d love to read a book about Allan when he turns 102 🙂

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a proof for this book tour.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Title: Fear: Trump in the White House, Author: Bob WoodwardFear: Trump in the White House.  Finished audio 1-16-19, rating 4/5, truth, pub. 2018\

Unabridged audio read by Robert Petkoff

With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies. Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence.  from Goodreads

I’m going to try and be as even-handed as I can be because Woodward went out his way to do so.  If you love Trump and call everything that is negative fake news this is not the book for you.  If you are on the fence about the man, liking some things and trying to ignore the rest, this is the book you need to read.  It is not a hit piece.  It is a methodical retelling of many moments at the White House in Trump’s first year or so.  If you detest Trump, this book will reinforce why, but it will also humanize him a bit.

I’m not spoiling anything for anyone by saying that this book could have just as easily been called Liar.  Every person in his administration that shows up in the book readily agrees.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that the man obviously has a problem with the truth.  Some people questioned whether he even knew he was lying or if it was just that much in his nature.  He also has a real issues with facts and hard data that go against what his gut tells him.  Seriously, he is making nuclear decisions based on nothing but opinions based on something he saw on TV.

I came away with adjusted views of the Ivanka and John Kelly (not in a positive way) and more respect for Cohn, Priebus and even Rob Porter.  Woodward is a well-respected journalist who does a very good job with this one.  My low opinion of Trump has not changed, but it was good to see that some sane people around him were trying to keep the country running (I should point out that all of these people are now gone).

 

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Bellewether, Author: Susanna KearsleyBellewether.  Finished 1-13-19, rating 4/5, historical fiction, 422 pages, pub. 2018

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes on their parole of honour, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply involved in the treasonous trade and already divided by war.

Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her fracturing family following her mother’s death, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran has little desire to be there. But by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.     from Goodreads

This was my first book of the year and it took me a while to become invested in the three characters whose stories make up Bellewether.  Charley who moved to the area so that she could live with her niece after the untimely death of her brother, took a job as museum director of the under construction Wilde House.  There she encountered maybe my favorite character of the book, the ghost.  There was also a cute contractor and some animosity toward the grandmother she’d never met who lived nearby.

As for the 1700’s storyline, we move between Lydia and Jean-Philippe’s perspective as the former tries to come to grips with unwanted houseguests and brothers with problems of their own.  Jean-Philippe only spoke French, so for much of the book he didn’t communicate freely.

I liked getting a deeper understanding of the war and what was happening in the region.  Some of these characters were based on real people or compilations which made the story richer, but maybe not quite as fanciful as I’d hoped.  There was romance, sure, but most of Kearsley’s books feel magical and this one didn’t quite get there for me.  It’s still good and I really enjoyed the multitude of characters and history.  My favorite ghost saved the day and the end was excellent and worth reading 400+ pages.

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Season of Storms, Author: Susanna KearsleySeason of Storms. Finished 10-7-18, 4/5 stars, romance, pub. 2001

First published in 2001, this lush novel of romantic suspense from Kearsley (The Splendour Falls) intertwines contemporary and historical narratives in northern Italy. In 1921, actress Celia Sands disappears for good just before opening night of the play written for her by her famous lover, Galeazzo D’Ascanio. Some 50 years later, the writer’s wealthy grandson, Alessandro D’Ascanio, decides to produce the play in the same setting: the theater his grandfather built on the family estate, Il Piacere. He invites a struggling young British actress also named Celia Sands, in homage to the earlier performer, to play the lead. Celia arrives at Il Piacere to find that two of its servants have gone missing, her predecessor’s ghost walks, and many of those around the estate—including D’Ascanio, to whom she’s strongly attracted—conceal dark secrets. The rich historical mystery and brooding atmosphere more than compensate for the improbable, overly elaborate premise. Agent: Shawna McCarthy, Shawna McCarthy Agency.

Any book that takes me to Italy starts as a winner and when Kearsley does it, well, don’t talk to me until I’ve turned the last page.  This one felt different than all of her others, there was a gothic atmosphere that I always like.  As much as I liked the setting and the dark nature of it, I do agree with the agent who wrote the summary above, it may have been overly done.  Still Italy and Kearsley will always save a bad day and I’m glad I read it.

I know these ‘reviews’ are very short and not really helpful to you but I’m trying to get them all done before the end of the year when I start to do summaries and favorites lists. This is the last one I’ve finished this year although I’m guessing I’ll finish one, maybe two, more.  How many do you think you’ll finish in the next week?

 

 

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Title: In the Midst of Winter, Author: Isabel AllendeIn the Midst of Winter. Finished audio 12-12-18, rating 3.75/5, fiction, pub. 2017

Unabridged audio read by Dennis Boutsikaris, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Alma Cuervo.

In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.    from Goodreads

I love Allende’s writing.  It’s always so rich and beautiful and this was no exception.  There were a few things said at the beginning that really connected me to Lucia and that was a good thing, because for me, the story was a little disappointing.  The car accident that got them all together in a pot brownie haze and the decisions made after were crazy.  But, the story that each of them told about Guatamala, Chile, and Brazil were eye opening, especially Evelyn’s considering the focus on the immigrant caravans these days.  Timely and well written, but the common narrative forcing them all together, while compelling in spots, missed the mark for me.

 

 

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley

Title: Named of the Dragon, Author: Susanna Kearsley  Named of the Dragon. Finished 9-12-18, 4/5 stars, fiction, 295 pages, pub. 1998

Tormented by horrific nightmares since the death of her baby five years before, literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw agrees to accompany an author to Wales, where she encounters an eccentric young widow desperately afraid for her own infant’s safety and a reclusive playwright who could be her only salvation.    from Goodreads

Susanna Kearsley is a perfect escape for me.  I fall into a different world, both geographically and historically, get a little romance (never too much), and close the book with a smile on my face a little smarter than when I started. This book took me to a small village in Wales, where literary agent, Lyn, is accompanying one of her clients to her boyfriend’s home for Christmas.  He happens to be a successful author and Lyn hopes she can land him as a client.  He also has a cute brother, but the real thrill is when she discovers one time flavor of the month writer, Gareth, hiding himself from the literary crowd.

I have to pace myself in reading Kearsley. I’ve read two this year and that leaves four of hers unread.  Maybe in 2019 I’ll read two again or maybe life will get crazier than it already is and I’ll need to gobble them all up in a week’s time.  Either way, it’s nice knowing that they’re there waiting for me 🙂

 

 

6 mini-reviews from my 30 day challenge

Title: The Truth Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks, Author: Bruce BartlettThe Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett. Finished 9-2-18, 4/5 stars, current affairs/reference, pub. 2017.

It’s only 136 pages and reads fast.  I assumed by the title that this was about Trump and his loose grasp of the truth so I was surprised when I realized it was written by a Republican who had worked for both Reagan and the first Bush.  This is a nonpartisan book and it was good.  He touches on many things…why the traditional media no longer serves our needs, differences between primary and secondary sources, trusting academic sources, using your local libraries, numbers must be put into context, polling, using Wikipedia, fake news, and more.

“President Trump has used the term (fake news) as an accusation against news organizations reporting accurate news that he doesn’t like.” (emphasis mine)  The book isn’t about Trump, but he is mentioned when talking about his obsession with what he calls fake news.  Bartlett gives a list of credible sources and gives you tips on how to not fall for the lies.

“In the end, the best defenses against fake news are critical thinking; taking in news from a variety of sources, including those that don’t confirm your own biases; being skeptical about information that sounds too good (or bad) to be true; and other self-defenses.” page 126

I think everyone should read this book.  It’s short enough and provides great historical context and sources.  If in doubt, go to your library.  They can show you what resources they have to help you.


Title: ScandiKitchen: The Essence of Hygge, Author: Bronte AurellScandikitchen:The Essence of Hygge by Bronte Aurell. Finished 9-3-18, 4/5 stars, culture, pub. 2017

I chose this as I was browsing library books for short books (this one clocks in at 160) and saw that it was about something that I was completely clueless about.  It’s a Scandinavian term that suddenly hit the mainstream in the past few years. It’s all about being present in the moment, a perfect companion to my love of mindfulness.  It included great quotes from the likes of Gandhi, Epicurus, and Julia Child.  It is beautifully done with quality paper and gorgeous photographs.  The recipes she included look so yummy I’m to try a few (gluten & dairy free adapted, of course).  The small square size makes it a perfect book to give as a gift – maybe even to yourself!  I have at least one person in mind who will be getting it for Christmas 🙂 It’s about something real and important and inspiring.


Title: Wishful Drinking, Author: Carrie FisherWishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Finished 9-5-18, 5/5 stars, memoir, 163 pages, pub. 2008

What a hoot!  I loved her snark and stories and our shared love of Cary Grant.  This is a memoir, complete with pictures of her life growing up with famous parents (she calls them the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston of their day).  Considering that she also married someone famous, expect lots of people you know.  I won’t say name dropping, because this just felt like her life and it all seemed relevant.  I know she also wrote novels and I may have to add them to my reading list because I enjoy her writing and sense of humor so much.


Title: The Joy of Cookies: Cookie Monster's Guide to Life, Author: Cookie MonsterCookie Monster’s Guide to Life. Finished 9-5-18, 2/5 stars, humor, pub. 2018

Today after school Gage and I read a book together. I found Cookie Monster’s Guide to Life The Joy of Cookies in the 818 section of the library.  Really?  The high ratings on Goodreads make me think I missed something, but as I page back through the 160 pages of Cookie Monster screaming about cookies, I think maybe they got it wrong.  Well, anyway, G laughed a lot when I did the Cookie Monster voice and he even tried it out himself when he read, but he’s a kid.  This book was in the adult section.  I don’t get it.


Title: God: 48 Famous and Fascinating Minds Talk About God, Author: Jennifer BerneGod: 48 Famous and Fascinating Minds Talk About God by Jennifer Berne. Finished 9-10-18, 3/5 stars, pub. 2017

Quite a mix of believers in math and science mixed in with those who embrace the unknowable.  I returned the book to the library this morning or I’d offer a few quotes.  Illustrations for every quote.


Cleveland A to Z: Historical Essentials for Newcomers and Residents in Northeastern OhioCleveland A-Z by John J Grabowski. Finished 9-7-18, 5/5 stars, local history, pub.2017

Perfect for new Clevelanders and old.  A fun pictorial history lesson for the storied city of Cleveland.

 

 

Three great graphic novels – The Alchemist, The Good Earth, The Kite Runner

Title: The Alchemist: A Graphic Novel, Author: Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Finished 9-21-18, rating 4/5, graphic novel, 208 pages, pub. 1996

Graphic novel adapted by Derek Ruiz and illustrated by Daniel Sampere.

Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.

The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.  from Goodreads

I’ve always wanted to read The Alchemist and decided to give the graphic novel a try first. I was concerned when I saw the depictions of women in the first few pages.

Some questionably sexual panels from The Alchemist graphic novel

But I soldiered on and luckily the illustrator’s dream girls didn’t last past a few pages.  Still…  Anyway, I liked this parable adventure story and enjoyed it for what it was.  It didn’t change my life or world-view, but it was a quick enjoyable story of a boy who was told that dreams can become reality if you believe.  I probably won’t read the original, but am glad I know the story of this modern classic.


The Good EarthThe Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Finished 9-27-18, 4/5 stars, graphic novel, 144 pages, pub. 2017

Graphic novel adapted and illustrated by Nick Bertozzi

Pearl Buck’s 1931 Pulitzer Prize–winning classic about the rise and fall of Chinese villagers before World War I comes to life in this graphic novel by Nick Bertozzi.

In The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings. This story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading to fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.  from Goodreads

I was never all that interested in reading the classic novel, but I’m so glad I gave this a chance because I really enjoyed it.  The monochromatic illustrations (pinks and blues with the occasional red) worked and set a mood.  I liked Wang Lung, until I didn’t and then I really didn’t.  His tireless wife, O-Lan, one of the more sympathetic characters I’ve come across in a while.  My biggest complaint was that nowhere did it say that this was part one of a trilogy, so there was no ending. I will most likely pick up the next book to see what happens.


Title: The Kite Runner Graphic Novel, Author: Khaled HosseiniThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Finished 9-26-18, 4/5, graphic novel, 132 pages, pub. 2011

Illustrated by Fabio Celoni and Mirka Andolfo. Adapted by Tommaso Valsecchi

Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.   from Goodreads

This book was heartbreaking and I can only imagine that the novel is so much more so.  I don’t think I could willingly bring that much pain into my life right now, so I’m glad that I read the graphic novel. Children exposed to horrors they can’t understand.  Ultimately, it is a story friendship with the lesson of not waiting to mend your fences.