Saturday, September 28, 2019


We are about to embark on our latest National Park adventure. This year we will visit Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California. We hope to hike as much as the weather and my lung capacity will allow. There are rain, possible snow showers, as well as sun in the forecast!
The photo above does not do justice to the entire area but you can get further info and pictures here  and the history of volcanoes in the area here.
I was inspired to go to Lassen by a book, of course. Nevada Barr's fourth mystery, Firestorm, was set there. Finally we will see it in real life without the wild fires and blizzards that feature in the book.

I will be back to my blog and yours later next week.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

The Wildlands, Abby Geni, Counterpoint, 2018, 357 pp
I read this novel for a reading group. When we discussed it last week we all agreed that it started out rather unimpressive, got better as it went along, then became totally gripping and had a perfect ending.
The McCloud family of Mercy, Oklahoma, lost every bit of their home and farm due to a Category Five tornado. The four siblings had already lost their mother at the birth of the youngest; their father disappeared without a trace in the tornado. Darlene, the eldest, was left with no choice but to give up her dream of college and take care of Tucker, Jane and Cora.

Tucker soon took off. Darlene worked at the local grocery store while Jane and Cora went to school. All of them were crammed into a rundown motor home living in near poverty.

After a year, Tucker resurfaces, having become an eco-terrorist. He lures 9 year old Cora to join him on a cross-country mission to wreak havoc on those who mistreat animals.

I felt the author took too long setting up the story with a tightly controlled narrative style, telling rather than showing the extreme emotional distress of these siblings. Once Cora leaves with Tucker the pace and style of the story picked up. 

It was then I saw that Darlene's tightly controlling nature had been the voice of that first part. When Tucker is in control of the story, it gets progressively wilder and crazy. Darlene's life then becomes a desperate search for her abducted sister.

I have read novels about eco-terrorism before. Like any terrorist, a madness takes over with such characters. The author got that exactly right with Tucker. You don't know until the very last chapters whether Cora will survive the madness or perish.

All in all, a great read with a well-constructed plot.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Last Day, Domenica Ruta, Speigel & Grau, 2019, 274 pp
Domenica Ruta is an author to watch. Her debut With or Without You, a memoir, was so gripping I read it in a day. Last Day, her first novel, was one I had to warm up to but she left me impressed by the end.
We may be reaching saturation on the post-apocalyptic novel just as we may be reaching saturation on the climate change debate. Who among us can go through each and every day knowing that the long prophesied end of the world as we know it is quite probably coming in the next 50 to 100 years?

Last Day is another look at the ultimate outcome for the sentient being experiment on planet Earth. It is told from multiple viewpoints as various as we have in real life: an astronaut on the International Space Station, a young woman raised by religious helicopter parents, a messed up tatoo artist with criminal tendencies, a mentally challenged orphan aging out of group homes, and a lapsed Jehovah's Witness.

At the fictional future time in which the story takes place, all around the world humans celebrate/anticipate the end of days. Once a year on May 28, in accordance with each area's traditional ethos, Last Day is a worldwide event.

The tone of Domenica Ruta's sparkling imagination is layered with humanist wit. A funny doomsday story, you might ask? Yes, I say.

Within all the variety of human personality types, goals and ethics, she seems to say, we share the responsibility and the consequences for our home world and our individual lives. Really, because of that deep truth, how else could it end?

Monday, September 23, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, 304 pp
In her debut, a memoir, T Kira Madden relates a childhood full of loneliness and confusion but also so much love that it did not destroy her. Reading the book I was aware of it being carefully crafted with the most beautiful language she could create. Without self pity she revealed emotions that both fit her age as she grew while tinging them with the insights she gained from looking back as a grown woman.
I don't want to say more. I knew maybe too much from listening to her interview on the Otherppl podcast before reading her book. So much that I was in doubt about getting into it. As it turned out her style of compiling incidents into vignettes both short and long was a perfect blend of the wonder and the horror of childhood.

Not once did I feel emotionally manipulated nor was I overcome by what she exposes. Perhaps if I knew her personally or was a relative I would have. Instead my heart went out to her. She seems to have come to a place in life free of recrimination. She did mention therapy in her interview, but she clearly never stopped loving either of her parents.

If you decide to read the book, perhaps you will have some of the thoughts and speculations I had concerning this paradox: how some people have had fine, almost idyllic childhoods and grew up to have bad lives while some lived through bad troubles and grew up to find themselves and create good lives. I suppose we are all somewhere on that particular spectrum. It behooves us all to live with tolerance for others, especially our parents and our children.

Saturday, September 21, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

With Shuddering Fall, Joyce Carol Oates, Vanguard Press, 1964, 316 pp 
This the first novel by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it once before in 1992 and judging from what I said about the book in my reading log, I had little idea what it was about except that the characters were like no one I had yet met in books or in life.
Rereading it 27 years later I could hardly believe it was a debut novel. I do know from having read Invisible Writer, a biography of JCO by Greg Johnson, that she wrote several novels and then threw them away before even seeking publication. I also learned that she was raised in a small rural town similar to the one in this novel.

She therefore did not just make up a dark story wherein an innocent 17 year old girl gets mixed up with the violent son of the crazy hermit who was a neighbor and old friend of her father. She saw lives like these around her as a child.

I don't agree with the synopsis/summary on the Goodreads page but to tell you why would be to reveal too much about the plot. The girl Karen does enter into a compulsive affair with Shar, a race car driver, but her reason for doing so is buried in the first section of the story. Revenge is the main theme formed from a violent act against her father which was beyond Karen's experience of life so far. 

Her unwavering commitment, her lack of concern for herself, her icy control, are portrayed in scenes as chilling as anything I have read by Shirley Jackson or Carson McCullers or Flannery O'Connor.

I am pleased that I took the time to reread With Shuddering Fall. I have been reading Joyce Carol Oates for many years, but sporadically and in no particular order. I hope to read all the novels in order, a large project because she is so prolific. She has devoted fans as well as readers who dislike her books with equal passion. I am one of the former. How about you?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Red Sparrow, Jason Matthews, Scribner, 2013, 431 pp
I picked this up on a whim at the library because my husband and I loved the 2018 movie adaptation. (I will watch Jennifer Lawrence in anything she does.)
Jason Matthews is another retired CIA officer who turned to fiction. Former intelligence people write the best spy fiction in my opinion because they have lived it.

The book goes into much more detail than the movie about both CIA and Russian intelligence. Plus Putin is quite present in the story. Was he even in the movie? Even though Matthews may have overdone it a bit with all that detail, I found the novel quite informative.

Finally, the book ends with the idea that there will be more to the story of Dominika and Nathaniel. What do you know? There are two sequels! Hopefully there will be two more movies as well.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

No Curtain Call, Alice Zogg, Aventine Press, 2019, 200 pp
This is the latest mystery by my self-publishing friend Alice Zogg. It is her 14th book! She has recently left her series character who featured in the first 10 books and her last four have been stand-alones set in and around Los Angeles. 
Retired sheriff's department lieutenant Nick Fox is trying to make a new life for himself after being nearly blown to bits during his police work. An old friend asks Nick to investigate the death of his high school age son.

The case is three and a half years cold, having been written off as a suicide. The thing is, the boy died from an opioid overdose and no one had ever seen him even drink let alone use drugs.

The other thing is Jim Hoang was a high achiever at the elite Citadel High School who had performed his first role in the school musical but died on stage during the final curtain call. His parents believe he was murdered.

Nick Fox knows how to conduct an investigation and most of the potential suspects are drama students from Citadel. Having recently read Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, also set in an elite high school with an emphasis on the performing arts, I must admire how well Alice Zogg drew her characters with all their teenage drama on and off the stage.

This author never lets me figure out who done it until her investigator does. As always she continues to outdo her earlier books with ever tighter plots and deeper looks into the characters. She is proof of the maxim that one can teach oneself to write simply by writing. Since I know her personally I know that she writes these books for her own enjoyment and from her own drive to create them.

I do enjoy a mystery I can read in one day!

Sunday, September 15, 2019


Star Watchman, Ben Bova, ACE Books, 1964, 217 pp
Many years ago I read Mars by Ben Bova, liked it, and decided to put the author on my Big Fat Reading Project lists. I thought that Star Watchman was his first book. Now I have found out it was his second and his first is either out of print or hard to find. So I am starting with this one and going on from here.
The human race has expanded into space and built an interstellar empire by taking over from an ancient alien race known as "the Others," a barbaric and ruthless sort who are still around with designs to recover their power. 

Star Watch Junior Officer Emil Vorgens has been dispatched to investigate an uprising on Shinar, a relatively minor planet. He is rather out of his depth on his first mission and must man up, defy Earth's military leader on Shinar, and try to prevent an all out major war with the Others.

This was an entertaining story complete with three opposing forces: Earth, the Others and a revolutionary band of Shinar inhabitants. Vorgens uses his wits, his courage and his commitment to the role of Watchman to resolve the situation.

In Ben Bova's introduction to the edition I read, he says, "The problems of colonial wars...where major powers fight 'minor' wars in some Third World country were uppermost in my mind as I wrote Star Watchman." Those minor wars in the early 1960s were France in Algeria and the US in Vietnam.

Thus I found Bova's ideas about a better way for those two countries to handle such conflicts, as he portrayed those ideas in his story, quite interesting and applicable even to today's conflicts around the world.

Bova has written scads of books, won 6 Hugo awards and is still going with his latest book Earth just released this past July. I look forward to reading more.

If you have read Bova, which have been your favorite books?

Friday, September 13, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Gain, Richard Powers, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998, 408pp
Continuing my reading of Richard Powers novels in reverse publication order. Seven read and five to go.
I was worried I would dislike Gain because one of the main characters has cancer, ovarian to be exact. I get squeamish reading "cancer novels" and I did in this one too. However, in classic Powers style, he ties her story in with the carcinogenic impact of toxic waste produced by the cosmetics factory of a huge American company located in this woman's town.

Clare & Company, started by three brothers as a soap manufacturing concern in 19th century Boston, grew into an international consumer products conglomerate (think Proctor & Gamble.) Tracing the growth of this business gives Powers the opportunity to present a history of capitalist business practice in America. 

Most of the financial shenanigans went over my head but the rest of it was fascinating as it traces the incredible growth of just about everything in America over three centuries, showing how we got from then to now. Makes your head spin.

I happen to be one who fully believes that the malignant rise of cancer in the world is a direct result of the radiation and chemicals we spew into the environment. That is a downside of all that industrial growth and our luxurious way of life. Don't get me started on the epic fail of medicine to find an even somewhat humanitarian way to treat this scourge. (My apologies to those who have successfully survived the disease.)

Now I find myself reading all the labels on my soaps, cleaners and cosmetic products even more obsessively than I did before.

Once again, Richard Powers took a scenario from which we suffer while we benefit, focused it on the personal human level, and forced me to learn much more than I knew before. Gain is a link from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to the world we have today.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli, Alfred A Knopf, 2019, 375 pp
Another one of the best books I have read this year. This is an utterly down-to-earth while at the same time enchanting novel. Luiselli tells the stories of a "found" family; of children lost while emigrating to America from Central America; of one woman's obsession with those lost children; and of two special children who tie it all together.
A man and a woman, both single parents, meet while working together to document the sounds and diverse peoples of New York City. They fall in love and make a family with the woman's daughter and the man's son. Their lives are happy for several years.

When the adults find their interests and paths diverging they set out for Arizona where the man wants to document lost Apaches. The woman hopes she can find the missing immigrant children of a New York friend and still preserve her marriage. The two children are closer than many natural siblings.

Will this "family" come unhinged due to the parents growing apart? Their weeks long trip across the country by automobile is a process of disintegration for the parents while the children sense with a growing awareness that the parents might not stay together. The boy invents a heroic quest to save his family and reintegrate his parents. Though this section of the book dragged a bit for me it was livened up by all the details of their days and reminded me of the road trips my family made every summer when I was young.
Luiselli structures her story using intricate methods that parallel the puzzles of family, Native American genocide and the current immigration crisis. She begins quietly in New York, meanders through the road trip section, then explodes into the final section with a change of narrator and a bit of magical realism.
I would say the risks in Lost Children Archive are as high for the reader as they are for the characters. If you make it all the way you will be rewarded with a tragic but magical finish that will blow your mind and stir your heart.

Monday, September 09, 2019


Reading groups are few this month and I have already read The Alice Network. That is fine because there are so many great books releasing lately that all I want to do is read what I want to read. Even so, I am always glad to see my reader friends in real life!

One Book At A Time:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Carol's Group:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Bookie Babes:
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
So, female spies, humans vs animals, and a psychological thriller. Sounds pretty good.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these? What are your groups discussing this month?

Sunday, September 08, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Memories of the Future, Siri Hustvedt, Simon & Schuster, 2019, 315 pp
This is the fourth Siri Hustvedt novel I have read. It sounds hyperbolic but I pretty much worship this author for her intelligence and her well formed feminist views. My top two favorites are What I Loved and The Blazing World. I think Memories of the Future is her most tricky and complex novel yet and don't expect everyone to like it. In fact, possibly many readers I know would not like it at all.
What she has done is created a fictional memoir. In the process she examines memory, the female in the arts, a #MeToo incident, and the power of imagination, anger and rebellion to lead a woman to freedom despite all.

Since I am trying, and mostly failing, to write an account of my own life, I found gems in Hustvedt's novel as to how it can be done. I have thought of taking a class in memoir writing but have a horror of someone else telling me how to do it before I have made all my own mistakes first.

I have been reading through a self-created syllabus of actual memoirs and autobiographies. Each time I read one I am given illuminations. Probably not the most efficient way to go about getting the project done but I learn the most about writing by reading.

Here in Siri Hustvedt's ficitonal memoir is another clue: writing memoir is a dialogue among one's various selves over the decades. I was beginning to realize that on my own but I got a brilliant example of how to do it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Stone Upon Stone, Wieslaw Mysliwski, Archipelago Books, 2010, 534 pp (originally published in Poland, 1999, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston)
"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone" 
-from a folk song

This book was my translated novel for the month. It has sat on my shelves for almost a decade and I kept putting off reading it because it is so long. It turned out to be a mixed blessing.

First of all, it took me 10 days to read, during which I got several wonderful naps. The title comes from the folk song quoted above. Polish peasants, people who have farmed grain and raised animals for centuries upon centuries, are now dealing with rapid change after WWII has left their ancient country under communist rule.

The pace of life went at the speed evoked in the song. A peasant son narrates his life story. I don't know if it is a Polish thing but he and everyone else in the book go on and on, so many words. Like a cow chewing cud, they ruminate about their thoughts, tell tales, and give each other advice.

Gradually I became immersed in a world that only moves as fast as a day from sunrise to sunset, a year from planting to harvest to cold long winter to spring planting again. I moved into the head and heart of a man who rebelled and fought against the tyranny of his father, the monotony of peasant life, the oppression of military invasion, but never lost his sense of himself or became beaten down.

The translation is wonderful. It sings, it sounds modern and almost serves as a metaphor for the wrenching changes these people were put through. The underlying wisdom of such simple folk, derived from their intimate connection with the land and its cycles of life, comes rising up out of all those words. 
Like the overwhelming majority of reviews I read, I too ended up loving the book, feeling a transcendence as regards the extremes of which human life is composed. I do not regret one second of the time I spent reading what is a masterpiece of an epic. Life is a mixed blessing.

"Stone upon stone
On stone a stone
And on that stone
Another stone"

Sunday, September 01, 2019


August was a tough month for reading in my world. I am a Leo but this year my sun sign let me down. What with a long translated, though wonderful, book that took me ten days to read as well as my husband's health crisis during which I could not concentrate on a book, I fell behind. During those days he was in hospital all I could do was talk to my sister, my sister-in-law, and my girlfriends on the phone and watch the first season of Orange is the New Black (nicely distracting.) I don't ever get to be a drama queen and I am quite tired of the role. Here is to a better September when my Virgo moon and rising will stabilize the world for me.

Stats: 9 books read. 5 by women. 1 psychological thriller. 1 memoir. 1 translated. 2 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 1 Sci Fi. 1 mystery.

Where I went: I stayed in the USA except for one book set in Poland.

Authors new to me: A J Finn, Dani Shapiro, Wieslaw Mysliwski.
Favorites: Stone Upon Stone, Lost Children Archive
Least favorites: The Woman in the Window, Inheritance

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit 

Have you read any of these? What were your favorite reads in August?