August 5, 2014

A Dog's Purpose

A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron
2010 A Forge Book (Tom Doherty Associates, LLC)
Finished on 5/6/14
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

All dogs go to heaven… unless they have unfinished business here on Earth.

This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog’s search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog’s Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life’s most basic question: Why are we here?

Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden-haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for his new life’s meaning leads him into the loving arms of eight-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog.

But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders—will he ever find his purpose?

Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny, A Dog’s Purpose is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog’s many lives, but also a dog’s eye-commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bond between man and man’s best friend. This moving and beautifully crafted story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose.

I’m not what you would call a dog-lover. Don’t get me wrong. I love my Annie-Dog. And I love my daughter’s dog, Scout, as well as my good friends’ dogs, Bandit, Sundance and Suki. 

But unlike my husband, I don’t go out of my way to greet strange dogs while out on a walk, nor do I lie down on a kitchen floor to wrestle with someone else’s dog. It’s not that I dislike them; I just don’t feel that instant affection for dogs I don’t know. However, unlike my husband, I love a good dog story, even if the dog dies in the end or if the story has a canine narrator. I haven’t read too many books of this genre, but those I have read have been very, very good. So when a good friend (who loved The Art of Racing in the Rain as much as I did) told me about A Dog’s Purpose, I knew I was in for a treat. I went into the story almost completely ignorant of the premise, for which I am glad. The turn of events in Bailey’s life was completely unpredictable and surprising, yet without any cloying, saccharine sentimentality. Cameron has a great imagination and his mesmerizing novel (or dare I say tale), held my interest from start to finish. I read the book in a mere six days, which anymore is quite remarkable for me!

Final Thoughts:

Fans of The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle will undoubtedly fall in love with Bailey, just as they did with Enzo and Almondine. W. Bruce Cameron has won my heart and his inspirational story has me looking at my sweet girl, Annie, with a new awareness. Do I believe in reincarnation? Maybe... What I do know is that when we rescued our sweet girl, she rescued us as well, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I borrowed A Dog’s Purpose from a friend, but it’s one to own and read at least one more time. And, yes—it will make you laugh and cry.

Other Dog Books I’ve Read/Reviewed:

The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski)
Marley & Me (Jon Grogan)
One Good Dog (Susan Wilson)

August 3, 2014

Gratitude Lately

 Lately, I've been thankful for

A new juicer and 
all the fixins for Adirondack Margaritas

The first day of summer!

Another beautiful morning commute

A peaceful deck

An inviting patio
and the soothing sounds
 of a water feature

A storm system that
stayed north of us
(creepy sky!)
This sweet and 
happy dog of ours

A great new-to-me beer 
with a cool label

and a tick-free dog

Lazy Sunday mornings
and time to cook

Clean windows
and a beautiful neighborhood

And unseasonably cool summer nights,
in August, no less!

Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?

For more Gratitude posts, click here.

July 27, 2014

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
2012 Random House
Finished on 4/29/14
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home, was named a best book of the year by The Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Kirkus, BookPage and Amazon. It was also a Barnes and Noble Discover pick, Target club pick, Costco Pennie’s pick, New York Times bestseller, as well as an American Library Association Alex Award winner.

Publisher’s Blurb:

My sister Greta and I were having our portrait painted by our Uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying . . .

1987. The only person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus is her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can be herself only in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life. At the funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail containing a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and that this unexpected friend just might be the one she needs the most.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.

When I started reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home, I was instantly transported back to the mid-1980s when the national and local news was filled with horror stories (and panic) about AIDS, both here in the United States and in countries all over the world. Today, AIDS is still very much a world-wide epidemic and yet it doesn’t seem quite as prevalent in the headlines as it once was. Other than a friend of a friend, I have only known one person to have this terrible disease. Wilson was a young man with whom I worked with at HBJ Publishers in San Diego and although I didn’t know him very well, he and my husband were good friends and we were devastated when we learned of his untimely death from the disease in 1986.

Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel is an exquisite story about a young girl and the close relationship she shares with her uncle, and ultimately, the formation of a unique friendship with her uncle’s partner, Toby. I read this absorbing book as slowly as possible, trying to savor Brunt’s lyrical prose, and although it took me a couple of weeks to read, I wanted to continue reading and was sorry when I came to the end of the book. This is a powerful tale of love and loyalty and is quite simply unforgettable. Someday, I would love to listen to the audio edition of this coming-of-age novel and I think, in the right hands, it would make an excellent film.

Final Thoughts:

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is one of the best books I’ve read this year. While talking with friends and customers about specific books dealing with a difficult subject-matter such as Alzheimer’s and AIDS, I am often met with resistance to even considering giving the book a chance. I do hope that readers won’t be put off when they learn that this book is about AIDS. While Brunt’s novel is essentially about the death of a man infected with AIDS, I feel the disease is simply a backdrop to an achingly beautiful story about the tender relationship between 14-year-old June and her uncle’s partner, Toby. I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s engaging style and endearing characters, and I look forward to seeing what she has in store for her second novel!

July 25, 2014

{this moment}

~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.
A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


July 13, 2014

The Treatment

The Treatment by Mo Hayder
Jack Caffery Series #2
2012 Dreamscape Media (audio)
Reader: Damien Goodwin
Finished on 4/18/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:
The suspense is relentless in The Treatment, an emotional powerhouse of a thriller that brings back Jack Caffery, the detective from Mo Hayder’s acclaimed novel Birdman. A masterful blend of psychological insight and forensic detail, Hayder’s latest thriller is as chilling as it is heartbreaking, a gritty, gripping tour de force of suspense.

It is a perfect summer day in London’s up-market Brockwell Park. Yet, behind the elegant facade of one house, a man and his wife have been taken prisoner in their own home and their young son has disappeared. But the final horror of their terrifying ordeal is still to be revealed.

Called in to investigate, Jack Caffery tries desperately to make sense of the meager clues found at the crime scene. But the echoes of a devastating disappearance in his own past make it impossible for him to view the crime objectively. And as Jack digs deeper, as the disturbing parallels between past and present mount, the real nightmares begin...

I read Mo Hayder’s intense thriller, Gone, a few years ago and have now listened to the audio productions of Birdman and The Treatment. These last two thrillers were exceptionally good on audio. The reader hits his marks with precise tension and emotion, yet I feel the suspense would have been even greater if I had read the print editions (as I did with Gone) rather than listening.

Final Thoughts:

Like Tana French, Mo Hayder is quickly becoming one of my favorite mystery authors. Her thrillers are gritty and not for the faint of heart, but I’ve enjoyed the character development of Caffery and am eager to see how he grows in the future installments to this series. The Treatment is not a heart-stopping thriller like Gone, but still very good! I plan to pick up #3 (Ritual) later this fall. 

Click here to read my review for Birdman.

Click here to read my review for Gone.

July 11, 2014

{this moment}

~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.
A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


July 1, 2014

Paris in July 2014

It's that time of year! Paris in July is celebrating its 5th year and I have my stack ready to go. I decided to be a bit more realistic than I've been with other challenges and limited myself to three new books, one re-read and one that I'm currently reading (and almost to the halfway mark). It would be so easy to find more for this pile, but let's be serious. :) There are only 31 days in the month and my granddaughter will be here for two of those weeks. I'll be lucky to finish the Doerr novel!

Click here to see what I attempted to read in 2012. 

Click here to see meet our lovely hosts and get the details about this challenge.

June 29, 2014


Landline by Rainbow Rowell
2014 St. Martin’s Press
Finished on 4/7/14
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
ARC – Book on sale July 8, 2014

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Georgie McCool tells her husband she can’t spare the time away from work to visit his family at Christmas, she never expects him to pack up the kids and go without her. Maybe she should have expected that. Maybe Neal, who’s always a little bit mad at Georgie, has finally had enough. Alone with her memories and unsure of their future, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but it might be an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts… But what if Georgie and Neal would be better off if they never got married at all?

Rainbow Rowell inspired the young-adult world with Eleanor & Park and Fangirl and now she delivers that same fresh humor and heart with a thirty something love story that will resonate with everyone.

It is very rare that I read more than one or two books by a single author in any given year. As it turns out, I read three of Rainbow Rowell’s novels within a nine month span, so that must tell you something about how much I enjoy her writing. I adored her teen sensation, Eleanor & Park, and I was so pleased that her novel Attachments was just as entertaining. I was very excited when one of my co-workers shared her ARC of Landline with me and I dove right into it on my trip out to Oregon this past spring. It’s a good read, but not nearly as impressive these other two books of hers. I felt like the whole premise for communicating with a younger Neal was a silly plot device and so implausible that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to thoroughly enjoy the storyline. I also think it would’ve have been nice to get Neal’s point of view, as we did with Park, in Eleanor & Park. Nonetheless, my heartstrings were gently tugged and I might have even cried as I read the final pages, had I not been sitting on an airplane, surrounded by strangers.

Final Thoughts:

Rainbow Rowell is definitely an author to keep tabs on. While her latest novel fell short of my expectations, I still plan to read Fangirl and will anxiously await her next release.

Click here to read my review of Eleanor & Park.

Click here to read my review of Attachments.

June 27, 2014

{this moment}

~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.
A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


June 26, 2014

How I Spent My Spring Vacation

Remember this?

 Spring Reading

Well, I don't think I did too poorly. I managed to read more than I thought I would, given that spring is usually a very busy time of year around here. I had a couple of trips out to Oregon (and other than the flights to and from, I rarely spend any time reading while on vacation), several pots to fill with pretty flowers, weeds to pull, a porch and deck to scrub, windows to wash, friends to entertain... did I mention the weeds?  I even managed to squeeze in a couple of bike rides.

So, what did I read from this lovely stack? In no particular order:

1. Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Blunt (review pending, but it was very, very good!)

2. Landline by Rainbow Rowell (review pending)

3. The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes (review pending)

I also read four or five other books that weren't in this stack and I started All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which is AMAZING!

Now to put together my summer reading list. I hope to spend my weekends relaxing out on the deck, ignoring the weeds and piddly housework. We have a young houseguest arriving a week from Saturday and a short getaway trip to Kansas City toward the end of July, but other than that, I should have plenty of time for reading, as well as catching up on my reviews, blog-hopping, and getting out on the bike trails. Yes, I am ever the optimist! ;)

June 25, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
May 2014

Click on photo for larger image.

June 23, 2014

On What Grounds

On What Grounds by Cleo Coyle
Coffeehouse Mysteries, #1
2003 Berkley Publishing Group
Finished on 4/11/14
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Coffee makes a sad man cheerful; a languourous man, active; a cold man, warm; a warm man, glowing; a debilitated man, strong. It intoxicates, without inviting the police; it excites a flow of spirits, and it awakens mental powers thought to be dead... When coffee is bad, it is the wickedest thing in town; when good, the most glorious. When it has lost its aromatic flavor and appeals no more to the eye, smell or taste, it is fierie; but when left in a sick room, with the lid off, it fills the room with a fragrance only jacqueminots can rival. The very smell of coffee in a sick room terrorizes death. (John Ernest McCann, 1902 Coffee Almanac)

Publisher’s Blurb:

Clare Cosi used to manage the historic Village Blend coffeehouse…until she opted for quieter pastures and a more suburban life. But after ten years and a little friendly cajoling from the owner (a fresh pot of Jamaican Blue Mountain was all it took), she’s back to the grind, serving coffee and solving crime—one cup at a time…

With a sprawling rent-free apartment directly above The Village Blend, her cat Java by her side, and plenty of coffeehouse redecorating ideas, Clare is thrilled to return to work. Until she discovers the assistant manager unconscious in the back of the store, coffee grounds strewn everywhere. Police arrive on the scene to investigate. But when they find no sign of forced entry or foul play, they deem it an accident. Case closed. But Clare is not convinced. And after the police leave, there are a few things she just can’t get out of her mind… Why was the trash bin in the wrong place? If this wasn’t an accident, is Clare in danger? And…are all detectives this handsome?

Once upon a time, many years ago (long before the advent of Starbucks and Keurig machines) I used to drink Folgers coffee. Nothing fancy, just black with one packet of Sweet & Low. Actually, I think I started drinking Yuban, but I haven’t seen that brand in at least 20 years. In any event, I bought coffee in a large tin can, which required a can opener, as opposed to the “newer” plastic containers with the peel-off seal.

My husband and I rely heavily on our 2-cup mornings before heading off to work and when we were drinking that particular blend, we thought it was good. Well, decent, but much better than the industrial strength pots that were brewed (and left to sit far too long on the burner) at work. Many years later (and after switching from Sweet & Low to Splenda), I was served the most delicious cup of coffee, brewed with fresh ground Kona beans. I suddenly realized what I’d been missing. Out with the 3 lb. container of Folgers and in with a coffee bean grinder and fresh beans from The Mill, a local coffee house here in town. We’d become sophisticated coffee drinkers!

I rarely drink coffee after I’ve had my two cups at home, but every so often, when I need just a little pick-me-up, I indulge in something decadent from the cafĂ© at my bookstore. My favorite coffee treat is a Salted Caramel Mocha, but it’s a seasonal drink, so I usually just get a Mocha. However, a few years ago my husband and I discovered Americanos and we’ve found a couple of coffee shops that make this simple, yet delicious cup of coffee. Who knew coffee could taste so good?!

In addition to improving our taste in coffee over the years, we’ve also upgraded our method for brewing that perfect cup. We’ve gone from our 1980’s Mr. Coffee (which I didn’t know how to use, but owned just in case we ever had company!) to a variety of coffee makers, including a Cuisinart Grind & Brew and a Melitta “pour-over-cup” brew cone. But now we feel like we own the Cadillac of coffee makers. Our Keurig not only gives us a perfectly brewed individual cup of coffee, but it allows us to choose our own favorite blend or flavor, ready to drink in far less time than it takes to brew an entire pot.

So, what does all this have to do with books? Well, after reading several glowing reviews for Cleo Coyle’s Coffeehouse Mysteries on Nan’s blog, I decided to give On What Grounds a try. The book was merely ok, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few tricks of the coffee trade while reading this mystery. For instance…

On the Perfect Cup:
The perfect cup of coffee is a mystifying thing.

To many of my customers, the entire process seems like some sort of alchemy they dare not try at home.

If the beans are Robusta rather than Arabica, the roasting time too long or short, the filtering water too hot or cold, the grinds too finely or coarsely milled, the brew allowed to sit too long—any of it can harm the end product. Vigilance is what gets you that perfect cup—vigilance and stubbornness in protecting the quality.

On Espresso:
Stovetop espresso pots usually come in three-,six-, and nine-cup models. Using one is quite simple. First you unscrew the bottom of the pot and fill the base with water, up to the small steam spout. Then grind whole beans. (The Blend uses one heaping tablespoon of grounds for every 3 ounces of water.)

The term espresso refers to the method of brewing and not to the bean so a quality bean will give you a good cup, and the Village Blend suggest a dark roast like French or Italian.

Grind them into fine particles, but be careful not to overgrind. Beans ground too fine, into a powder, will make the brew bitter.

Once the proper amount is ground, place the grinds in the little basket provided with the machine, tamp it down tightly. The basket will sit above the water as you screw on the top part of the pot.

Next place the pot over low heat. In a few minutes, the water will boil. Steam will rapidly force the water up through the grounds and into the empty pot, filling it almost instantly.

On Storage:

Whenever I walk into a kitchen and see beans stored in a clear glass jar on the countertop, I shudder. Exposure to light will affect the beans’ freshness and the coffee will lose its flavor.

I shudder twice as violently when I see storage directions on some of those inferior grocery store coffee brands. They actually tell you to “Store your coffee in the refrigerator,” implying you should simply take the bag you just bought at the store, open it, and put it in the fridge to be retrieved daily. Big mistake!

When the storage bag or container is removed from the refrigerator or freezer for daily use, it exposes the coffee to moisture in the air. The container then goes back in the freezer or fridge, and the moisture condenses and ruins the coffee.

A refrigerator or freezer should be used for long-term storage only. A vacuum-sealed bag, for example, can be placed in the fridge or freezer and opened only when ready to be used. But once the bag is opened, the beans should be transferred to a proper container, and not returned to the fridge or freezer.

Do buy fresh roasted coffee often and buy only what you will use in the next one or two weeks since the fresh smell and taste of coffee begin to decline almost immediately after roasting.

On Melitta Brewing:

[…]Water for the Melitta method should be heated just to boiling[…]

The trick with a Melitta is to pour slowly and stir, allowing the water to seep smoothly through the layers of grinds and into the carafe without channeling up. And of course, one must use a cone-shaped filter. Flat-bottom filters of any sort should be outlawed in my opinion, as they require more beans per fluid ounce of water to get the same strength of brew. Flat bottoms dissipate. Cones concentrate, saving beans and consequently costs[…]

Final Thoughts: I enjoyed reading On What Grounds, but I can’t say that I loved it, nor am I sure I want to read further along in this series. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of “cozy” mysteries, preferring a more intense thriller that keeps me on the edge of my seat, heart racing. However, now that I’ve met the main cast of characters, I’m a bit curious to see what’s in store for Clare and the men in her life. And, there’s always the coffee-making tips and recipes to drool over!

June 20, 2014

{this moment}

 ~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. 
A simple, special, extraordinary moment. 
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


June 11, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Depoe Bay, Oregon

Click on link for more information about this annual event.
Click on photos for larger view.

June 7, 2014


Birdman by Mo Hayder
Jack Caffery Series #1
2012 Dreamscape Media, LLC (audio)
Reader: Damien Goodwin
Finished on 4/1/14
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)


Your worst nightmare is his dream come true....

A relentless debut novel filled with cutting-edge forensic and investigative detail, Birdman marks the arrival of a uniquely talented writer.

Detective Jack Caffery—young, driven, and seemingly unshockable—catches a career-making or career-breaking homicide in his first case as lead investigator with London's crack murder squad. A young woman's body has been discovered, dumped on wasteland near the Millennium Dome site in Greenwich, England. It's the most brutal degradation of the human form that the squad has ever uncovered. Caffery's well-deserved reputation is that of the most stoic of detectives, but his initial inspection of the corpse will forever sear his psyche.

One by one, four more corpses are discovered only steps away from the first. Five bodies, all young women, all ritualistically murdered with cunning precision. And when a postmortem examination reveals a singular, macabre signature linking the victims, Caffery realizes that he's facing the most dangerous offender known to the force: a sexual serial killer.

In the murky recesses of his own mind, Caffery harbors the haunting legacy of a loved one's slaying. What baffles him is that not a single missing person's report has been filed for any of the five young women. How has the Birdman chosen these seemingly perfect victims?

Now, as he employs every weapon forensic science can offer, Caffery knows that time is running out before the killer strikes again, and that he must put away his tortured past in order to safeguard the Birdman's next prey.

With refined craft and beguiling imagination, Mo Hayder is certain to skip the hearts of the most demanding readers of crime fiction.

It’s been almost exactly two years since I first read Mo Hayder’s intense thriller, Gone. I am very particular about reading a series in order, but when one of my friends insisted I read Gone, and not knowing it was the fifth in the series, I dove in. Looking back, I probably couldn’t have started with Birdman, as it wasn’t yet available in the U.S., but now that Mo Hayder has gained popularity over on this side of the pond, I can easily catch up on her backlist, as well her latest release, Wolf.

I read the print format of Gone, but decided to listen to Birdman when I saw it was available at my library. Damien Goodwin does a fine job as a reader and I was quickly transported Jack Caffrey’s modern-day England. The narrative kept my interest and while it’s been almost three months (!!) since I finished this thriller, I can still envision many scenes quite clearly.

Final Thoughts: Mo Hayder and Tana French have become my go-to authors when I’m looking for a fast-paced thriller. Both audio and print versions of these authors’ series work well for me, but I gravitate more toward the audios since they don’t require a lot of concentration and I can work while listening (or helping to fly an Airbus jet, even if only mentally!).

Click here to read my review of Gone.

May 30, 2014

{this moment}

 ~ A Friday ritual ~
A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. 
A simple, special, extraordinary moment. 
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.


May 19, 2014

East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fiction (Classic)
1952 Penguin Books
Finished on 3/27/04
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

In his journal, John Steinbeck called East of Eden “the first book,” and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new, rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives, nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness, enveloped by a mysterious darkness.

First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.

The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.

I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you wanted to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a bright grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding—unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of est. Where I ever got such an idea I cannot say, unless it could be that the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the birth and death of the day had some part in my feeling about the two ranges of mountains.

And so begins John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, East of Eden.

Several years ago, I posted a list of my favorite classics, followed by another list showing those that failed to impress me. Prior to reacquainting myself with all of these titles, I would have said that I’m not a big fan of the classics. I typically read only one or two a year (if that), just to satisfy a mild curiosity about one I may have missed in high school or college. But, apparently, these two lists indicate that I have found several classic novels quite enjoyable, if not memorable. There are even a couple that I’ve read more than once and a few that I’d like to re-read someday. The Grapes of Wrath, which I read in high school (probably 35 years ago!), is one that remains a favorite. I’ve read other novels by Steinbeck, but that particular saga is one I always remember with great fondness.

In addition to ignoring the classics, I also tend to shy away from large books, too impatient to get to all the others I’ve got stacked up around me. But when Trish mentioned that she was going to spend the month of March reading East of Eden, I decided it was time to dust off my lovely Steinbeck Centennial Edition of East of Eden and join her. I am so glad I finally took the time to read this book, as it is such a readable classic. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down! It’s quite long (601 pages, to be exact) and nearly every single page filled with text and very little white space. And yet the pages flew! It still took me almost the entire month to read, but I never once felt bored or grew tired of Steinbeck’s writing, in spite of his occasional diatribes, which he is prone to incorporate throughout his novels. Had I read this in college, I probably would have had to analyze these diatribes, as well as the biblical imagery, themes such as good versus evil, characterization and plot. One of the benefits of reading a classic later in life is that, if I choose to, I can simply enjoy the story. And I did! I liked the characters I was supposed to like and despised those who were evil (Lee and Cathy, respectively). And, having grown up in California, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Steinbeck’s descriptions of the landscape and vegetation.

On California's flora:
On the wide level acres of the valley the topsoil lay deep and fertile. It required only a rich winter of rain to make it break forth in grass and flowers. The spring flowers in a wet year were unbelievable. The whole valley floor, and the foothills too, would be carpeted with lupins and poppies. Once a woman told me that colored flowers would seem more bright if you added a few white flowers to give the colors definition. Every petal of blue lupin is edged with white, so that a field of lupins is more blue than you can imagine. And mixed with these were splashes of California poppies. These too are a burning color—not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies. When their season was over the yellow mustard came up and grew to a great height. When my grandfather came into the valley the mustard was so tall that a man on horseback showed only his head above the yellow flowers. On the uplands the grass would be strewn with buttercups, with hen-and-chickens, with black-centered yellow violets. And a little later in the season there would be red and yellow stands of Indian paintbrush. These were the flowers of the open places exposed to the sun.

Under the live oaks, shaded and dusky, the maidenhair flourished and gave a good smell, and under the mossy banks of the water courses whole clumps of five fingered ferns and goldy-backs hung down. Then there were harebells, tiny lanterns, cream white and almost sinful looking, and these were so rare and magical that a child, finding one, felt singled out and special all day long.

Final Thoughts:

I’m glad I finally made time for this wonderful, albeit ambitious, novel. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the film (the 1955 original), starring James Dean, Raymond Massey and Julie Harris. I finally turned it off after close to an hour; it was so disappointing and not at all what I envisioned. I wonder if I’d enjoy the mini-series (starring Jane Seymour) any better? Nonetheless, reading East of Eden has inspired me to make time to re-read The Grapes of Wrath, as well Travels with Charley, which is another favorite. Thanks for the nudge, Trish!

May 18, 2014

Gratitude Lately

Lately, I've been thankful for

Shorts, sandals and afternoon walks
with the world's best dog

Air conditioner repairmen
with good news on
 a blistering hot day
(in May!)

New discoveries that
satisfy a sweet tooth

Weather reporters, safe basements
and a little something
 to calm the nerves

 Down comforters, heated car seats 
and the knowledge that summer 
is really just around the corner.

Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?