September 15, 2014

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke
2011 Penguin Audio
Reader: Meghan O’Rourke
Finished on June 10, 2014
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

“Meghan O’Rourke has written a beautiful memoir about her loss of a truly irreplaceable mother—yes, it is sad, it is in fact heartrending, but it is many things more: courageous, inspiring, wonderfully intelligent and informed, and an intimate portrait of an American family as well.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Publisher’s Blurb:

From one of America’s foremost young literary voices, a transcendent portrait of the anguish of grief and the enduring power of familial love.

What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief? After her mother’s death, Meghan O’Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow. In the first anguished days, she began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief—its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies—and endeavor that ultimately produced this book. With poignant lyricism and unswerving candor, O’Rourke captures the fleeting moments of joy that make up a life, and the way memory can lead us out of the jagged darkness of loss. Effortlessly blending research and reflection, the personal and the universal, The Long Goodbye is not only an exceptional memoir, but a necessary one.

As I read Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir, The Long Goodbye, I was instantly transported back to December of last year, when I sat with my mother, brothers, and sisters as my stepfather, diagnosed only months earlier with cancer, slipped ever so slowly from this world. O’Rourke’s mother died of colon cancer in 2008, also in December (sadly, on Christmas Day). In her memoir, O’Rourke touches on so many (far too many) familiar topics about the death of a parent. As I listened, I found myself going to the ARC, which I’ve had on my shelves since 2011, noting and re-reading passages, nodding my head in agreement. Meghan’s voice and prose reminded me of Kelly Corrigan (another favorite author), tugging at my heartstrings, a lump growing in my throat as I willed myself not to cry in public as I listened to the audio book.

On mourning:
I was not entirely surprised to find that being a mourner was lonely. But I was surprised to discover that I felt lost. In the days following my mother’s death, I did not know what I was supposed to do, no, it seemed, did my friends and colleagues, especially those who had never suffered a similar loss. Some sent flowers but did not call for weeks. One friend launched into fifteen minutes of small talk when she saw me, before asking how I was, as if we had to warm up before diving into the churning, dangerous waters of grief. Others sent worried e-mails a few weeks later, signing off: “I hope you’re doing well.” It was a kind sentiment, but it made me angry. I was not “doing well.” And I found no relief in that worn-out refrain that at least my mother was “no longer suffering.”

Mainly, I thought one thing: My mother is dead, and I want her back. I wanted her back so intensely that I didn’t want to let go.

At least, not yet.

On the last taboo:
Grief is common, as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude brusquely reminds him. We know it exists in our midst. But experiencing it made me suddenly aware of how difficult it is to confront head-on. When we do, it’s usually in the form of self-help: we want to heal our grief. We’ve subscribed to the belief (or pretense) that it happens in five tidy stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (The jaggedness of my experience hardly corresponded to these stages.) As grief has been framed as a psychological process, it has also become a more private one. The rituals of public mourning that once helped channel a person’s experience of loss have, by and large, fallen away. Many Americans don’t wear black or beat their chests and wail in front of others. We may—I have done it—weep or despair, but we tend to do it alone, in the middle of the night. Although we have become more open about everything from incest to sex addiction, grief remains strangely taboo. In our culture of display, the sadness of death is largely silent.

On seeking the answers:
Sitting here among my precarious stacks of books about death and grief, trying to get “a handle” on what this loss means, trying to collect the information and set it all down, I am struck suddenly by the ridiculousness of my endeavor. I have felt that, as Flaubert wrote, “Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.” But life is out there in the world, in the hum of enterprise, flirtation, engagement, watching a sunrise, the sand under your feet, and the green in your eyes; life is in the moths fluttering up at dusk into the candle flames on a porch in summer.
I sit here in my tiny study, bills dropped on the floor, books piling by the desk—Death and Western Thought, Death’s Door, The Denial of Death, This Republic of Suffering—believing in some primitive part of my brain that if I read them all, if I learn everything there is to know, I’ll solve the problem. I will find the answer to the equation. And when I look up from my dutiful work, my head bowed to the page, there will be my mother again, saying, Good night, Meg from the door, the dog at her heels, her hair loose around her face, her eyes that were so particular, so hers—there she will be.
Where is she?

She is gone, and I will be, too, one day. I wake to my warm room, the wind roaring outside and the sun just coming up on another ordinary Tuesday when I will teach my class and go out to get coffee and eat some salad for lunch. But all the while my brain will be preoccupied by the question of death. And that makes it hard, at times, to pay my bills or pay attention to concerns of this world.
I can’t find the information I want in all these books. Not even in the Bible, which sits there, too, a fat red tome full of old wisdom. And that is my answer: I need to walk in the streets, through the bracing, chill air, to know it, to feel it, because it cannot be merely thought about.

Final Thoughts:

Anyone who has lost a parent, anyone who has sat beside one in hospice, anyone who has a heart, will not read this book with a dry eye. None of us will ever escape the death of a loved one and yet no one teaches us how to grieve. After losing my stepdaughter Rachel, I immersed myself in books about the loss of a child and now that I’ve lost a parent, I find myself drifting toward books about the loss of a spouse, as well as those dealing with the loss of a mother. Like O’Rourke, I’ve looked to books such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed for answers and consolation. I feel the need to have a road map to help guide me into the future, to not only be mentally prepared for that time in my life, but to also be comforted in the words of those who have survived what I know will eventually come. And yet, as I learned when we lost our daughter, nothing can prepare you for the death of a loved one, whether that death is expected or a knock-you-to-your-knees shock. Each and every loss is unique (and unbelievably painful) just as each and every loved one is unique in life. Having said that, I felt comforted hearing O’Rourke’s words, which are so familiar after nine years of grief.

September 12, 2014

The End of Your Life Book Club

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
2012 Random House Audio
Reader: Jeff Harding
Finished on May 9, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)


From Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, William Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey to Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book to John Updike’s My Father’s Tears: the books they shared allowed them to speak honestly and thoughtfully, to get to know each other, ask big questions, and especially talk about death. With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work. ~ Publishers Weekly

Publisher’s Blurb:

“Sharing books he loved with his savvy New Yorker mom had always been a great pleasure for both mother and son, becoming especially poignant when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, at age 73 . . . The books they shared allowed them to speak honestly and thoughtfully, to get to know each other, ask big questions, and especially talk about death. With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work.” —Publishers Weekly

“What are you reading?”

That’s the question Will Schwalbe asks his mother, Mary Anne, as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, Mary Anne returned from a humanitarian trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan suffering from what her doctors believed was a rare type of hepatitis. Months later she was diagnosed with a form of advanced pancreatic cancer, which is almost always fatal, often in six months or less.

This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Over the next two years, Will and Mary Anne carry on conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an eclectic array of books and a shared passion for reading. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, mother and son are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.

Will and Mary Anne share their hopes and concerns with each other—and rediscover their lives—through their favorite books. When they read, they aren’t a sick person and a well person, but a mother and a son taking a journey together. The result is a profoundly moving tale of loss that is also a joyful, and often humorous, celebration of life: Will’s love letter to his mother, and theirs to the printed page.

I started listening to the audio version of The End of Your Life Book Club last year, but after finishing the first chapter I knew it was the sort of book that would require dozens of Post-It Notes. I decided to stop listening and instead read the print edition in order to highlight some of my favorite passages. However, I never got around to getting a copy of the book, so I started listening again (from the beginning) with the idea that I’d just make notes and glance at the book once I’d finished. I found myself still wanting to take lengthy notes about the various books mentioned, as well as highlight the passages about a parent with cancer, so as soon as I finished the audio, I immediately bought the book. As I sit here composing this review, I find myself re-reading not just a paragraph here and there, but full pages and complete chapters. In addition to the beautiful story about the author and his mother, it’s a wealth of information for any bibliophile!

On reading:
Our book club got its formal start with the mocha and one of the most casual questions two people can ask each other: “What are you reading?” It’s something of a quaint question these days. More often in lulls of conversation people ask, “What movies have you seen?” or “Where are you going on vacation?” You can no longer assume, the way you could when I was growing up, that anyone is reading anything. But it’s a question my mother and I asked each other for as long as I can remember. 

We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.

On opening lines:
Mom and I loved opening lines of novels. “The small boys came early to the hanging” was one of favorites, from Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. How could you not go on reading? And the first sentence of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” And E. M. Forster’s first line in Howard’s End: “One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.” It’s the “may as well” that draws you in—casual, chatty even, yet it gives the reader a strong sense that there’s a lot of story to come.

On bound books:
One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. Sure, sometimes they’ll elude you by hiding in improbable places: in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt. But at other times they’ll confront you, and you’ll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn’t thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can’t whack you upside it.

From the Epilogue:
I often think about the things Mom taught me. Make your bed, every morning—it doesn’t matter if you feel like it, just do it. Write thank-you notes immediately. Unpack your suitcase, even if you’re only somewhere for the night. If you aren’t ten minutes early, you’re late. Be cheerful and listen to people, even if you don’t feel like it. Tell your spouse (children, grandchildren, parents) that you love them every day. Use shelf liner in bureaus. Keep a collection of presents on hand (Mom kept them in a “present drawer”), so that you’ll always have something to give people. Celebrate occasions. Be kind.
Even though nearly two years have passed since her death, I’m occasionally struck by the desire to call Mom and tell her something—usually about a book I’m reading that I know she’d love. Even though she’s not here, I tell her about it anyway. Just as I told her about the three million dollars the U.S. government has committed to building the library in Afghanistan. By the time this book is published, the Kabul library will be finished. I like to believe that she knows that.
…Mom taught me not to look away from the worst but to believe that we can all do better. She never wavered in her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you choose—electronic (even though that wasn’t for her) or printed, or audio—is the grandest entertainment, and also is how you take part in the human conversation. Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they’re how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others. Mom also showed me, over the course of two years and dozens of books and hundreds of hours in hospitals, that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who were very close to each other to begin with, and even after one of them has died.
Final Thoughts:

In 1995 I joined my first book club. It consisted of two good friends and myself and we read a wide variety of novels, which we discussed over elegant lunches and often times while playing a few hands of Mahjong. Over the years I have since joined numerous online book groups, as well as face-to-face groups with co-workers and friends. My current group is comprised of three dear friends and while we don’t read an “assigned” selection, we get together once a month to share our recommendations of some recent favorites. As I read Will Schwalbe’s memoir, I couldn’t help but think of my own mother. Like her own mother and sister, she too is a voracious reader. There is never a conversation with my mom that doesn’t include the same question Schwalbe posed to his mother: “What are you reading?” I love that my mom and I share this passion for the written word and I look forward to many more years of her recommendations and thoughts on her current read. Maybe when I’m ready to dive back into this book (as well as some of the books mentioned by Schwalbe), she’ll decide to join me.

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.