Blue Diary

Hoffman, Alice. Blue Diary. Berkley Trade, 2002.

Reason read: in honor of Alice Hoffman’s birth month I chose Blue Diary.

Ethan and Jorie are the perfect couple. From the outside looking in they have everything. Ethan Ford. Let us start with him. What’s not to love about Ethan? He’s a first-rate carpenter, a volunteer fireman who has saved many people from various burning buildings, an excellent little league coach, he’s extremely good looking, generous and kind, married to Jorie and father to sixth grader, Collie. This is a tight knot community in Massachusetts. Everyone knows everyone. Jorie, Charlotte, Trisha, Mark, Barney and Dave all went to high school together. Ethan is the odd man out. That’s the way he likes it.
Blue Diary bounces from third person perspective to the first person narrative of Kat, Collie Ford’s best friend. They will share devastation in common. Kat lost her father to suicide, Collie will lose his to incarceration. This is a story about perception.
Interestingly, everyone seems to be pining for someone else. Jorie’s best friend, Charlotte, has a deep crush on Ethan (but then again, who doesn’t?). Barney has the hots for Charlotte. Confessional: I didn’t like many of the characters so I had a hard time rooting for anyone.
As an aside, Hoffman likes to write in color so when I started reading Blue Diary I started to take note of everything described as blue: blue air, brilliant and blue, blue eyes, shimmering blue, blue ice, blue shadows (2), blue images, blue ponds, blue shapes, blue jays (several), blue blur, blue, blue skies, still blue, pinched and blue, blue flickering, Blue tint, blue silk, written in blue, China blue, blue frock, inkberry blue, blue skies, blue circles, blue dress, blue dusk, blue binding, blueberry, blue leatherette, wash blue, bluer still, frozen and blue, sweet blue, bluebirds, blue diary, milky blue, now blue, and the variations of blue, indigo and cobalt.

As an another aside. Usually, when an event as big as the arrest of a neighborhood’s favorite man, reporters are on the front lawn of the accused before it’s even on the evening news. In Blue diary it’s backwards.

Author fact: Hoffman is a New Yorker.

Book trivia: This is not a spoiler alert. While the title of the book is Blue Diary you never get to read the diary. The little key to the diary is literally the key to everything.

Playlist: “All You Need Is Love”

Nancy said: Pearl said something along the lines of if you want to see the evolution of Hoffman’s writing, read Blue Diary.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).

The Wedding

West, Dorothy. The Wedding. Read by Robin Miles. Books on Tape, 2021.

Reason read: February was the month Massachusetts became a state. The Wedding takes place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

Dorothy West is a master of character development. Every member of the Martha’s Vineyard Oval community is meticulously realized by their actions and reactions to events surrounding them and by the subservient relationships they keep: black and white, man and wife, neighbor and stranger, parent and child, landlord and tenant. Strangely enough, there is harmony in the contrasts.
It is the wedding of beautiful Shelby Coles. Her engagement to a white jazz musician from New York City has her family in turmoil. Lute McNeil would like nothing better than to steal Miss Coles for his own. He already has three young daughters by three different white women, but in his obsessive mind Shelby would make the perfect mother for his biracial children. Even though the Oval is comprised of black middle class residents, the question of belonging is pervasive. The standard assumption that blonde hair and blue eyes means white race. Everyone uses color to get what they want. Example: the preacher uses the image of white children in danger of hurting themselves around a derelict barn in order to get a white man to give him a horse that was of no use to him. The preacher is really after the barn wood.
Dorothy West forces her characters to face the question of identity. The end of The Wedding will leave you hanging. Would Shelby have given Lute a chance if tragedy had not intervened? Were Shelby’s sisters right in their warnings about misguided infatuation?

Author fact: Dorothy West was 85 years old when she wrote The Wedding.

Book trivia: West was known for her short stories. The Wedding is only one of two novels West wrote in her lifetime.

Playlist: “Swing Lo Sweet Chariot” and “Motherless Child”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Wedding other than to indicate it takes place on Martha’s Vineyard.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Martha’s Vineyard” (p 141). No big stretch there.

June Travels

Of course I am not really traveling anywhere, but for the first time in a couple of months I have (finally) gotten back to reading. and. And! And, I did drive a car for the first time since 3/19/20. There’s that. In truth, I have been reading all along, just not with the pleasure and leisure I used to have. All of that is slowly coming back, in part due to the realization it’s okay to disappear into the pages from time to time. It is okay to read with no other agenda. I have started to think of the books as different forms of travel. Without further ado, here are the books for June:


  • The Second Summer of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Places I’ll go: Washington, D.C. & Alabama.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Places: Pennsylvania & something like heaven.
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Places: around Sweden.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Places: Barcelona, Spain and thensome.
  • Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Places: My back yard of Western Massachusetts and Honduras.
  • Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell. Place: Cofu, Greece.


  • Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro. Places: all around New England

Isabel’s Bed

Lipman, Elinor. Isabel’s Bed. New York: Washington Square Press, 1995.

Reason read: Lipman’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.

Harriet Mahoney gave twelve years of her life to a man who just left her to marry a woman he’s only known for a few months. Adding insult to injury, he kicks Harriet out of the house she has shared with him as his common law wife for all those years. Dejected but determined to land on her feet, (without her parents’s help…she is over forty, after all!) Harriet takes a job in the seaside town of Truro, Cape Cod, to ghost write celebrity Isabel Krug’s tabloid story. Everyone knows Isabel was the femme fatale using a vibrator in a married man’s bed. Everyone knows the married guy’s wife stormed into the bedroom and shot him dead. Everyone knows because the trial was a sensation full of titillating details, but Isabel wants the world to know her side of the story (it’s even more sordid) and because she isn’t shy, she’s willing to tell all. Harriet is in for the ride of her life working with feisty Isabel…until the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity widow comes knocking.
This is a fun read but a bit silly at times.

Line I really liked, “My taste buds strained in their direction” (p 276).

Author fact: Lipman is from Lowell, Massachusetts. Same as Hey Jack Kerouac.

Book trivia: So. This story is supposed to take place in Cape Cod. One character is supposed to have a wicked Boston accent. He does…for the most part. It comes and goes.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Isabel’s Bed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elinor Lipman: Too Good to Miss” (p 146).

Beautiful Place to Die

Craig, Philip A. A Beautiful Place to Die. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989.

Reason read: February is the month in which Massachusetts became a state and Martha’s Vineyard is the “beautiful place to die”.

You can always tell when an author has either spent time or lived in the area where his or her book takes place. The details are sharper, the descriptions more lovingly told…if that makes sense. There is a care to the words. Philip R. Craig is no different. Because of the way he describes the island of Martha’s Vineyard early on in A Beautiful Place To Die, you can tell he calls it home.

Jefferson Washington Jackson is a retired Boston cop/Vietnam veteran living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard trying to forget about the bullet still lodged in his back. To keep himself occupied he is an avid fisherman, a successful gardener (does better with vegetables than flowers) and a decent cook. After a friend’s boat explodes and someone he knew was killed Jeff finds a new hobby as private investigator. Along with a suspicious boat explosion there are rumors of drug busts and murder. There are plenty of little twists and turns to A Beautiful Place to Die so even though it is a short (211 pages) read, it is entertaining.

Quotes I love (see confessional), “Librarians are wonderfully valuable people” (p 122), “Women are the gender of reality” (p 174), and “When I’m king of the world I’m going to ban pay toilets as an affront to civilization” (p 175).

Side note: When J.W. tells Zee how he came to live on M.V. it reminded me of Monhegan. Many islanders can’t afford to buy a place where they grew up. They rely on inheriting family property to stay on the island…

Confessional: I have a crush on Jefferson Washington Jackson. Consider the facts: he gardens, cooks, appreciates librarians, understands a Barbar kind of day, likes Sam Adams beer and a clean house, has a sense of humor, has the same opinion of pay toilets, and is able to survive getting shot twice in 48 hours! What’s not to love?

Author fact: According the to back flap, Philip Craig grew up on a small cattle ranch in Durango, Colorado. The Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard is quite a departure from the wild west.

Book trivia: This is book one is the Martha’s Vineyard series.

BookLust Twist: from <em>Book Lust To Go</em> in the chapter simply called “Martha’s Vineyard” (p 142). No twist there…

The Good City

Hiestand, Emily and Ande Zellman, editors. The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

I read this book with bias because I love Boston. It is my favorite city when compared to New York, Denver or San Diego. Hands down, bar none. I love everything about Boston and I love it for everything it isn’t. In The Good City Emily Hiestand and Ande Zellman compile essays from fifteen different writers who have or had a connection with Beantown. Some writers returned to the city with a change of heart, like Susan Orlean. Other have never left and staunchly stand by the historic city. It shouldn’t be read like travel guide although, I admit, I jotted down notes for the next time I’m there: Isabella Stewart Gardiner’s Museum, the Christian Science Center, to name two.

Boston is the destination after a long journey of self discovery. It looks back on history and looks forward with robotics.

Reason read: Reading in honor of the Boston Marathon, which took place place yesterday, on April 15th.

Author fact: Technically, I should be writing a fact about all 15 essay contributors but I’ll suffice it to say Susan Orlean and John Hanson Mitchell are two authors I am reading again for the challenge.

Book trivia: Don’t think of this as a travel guide because it’s not. Think of it as a compilation of writers expressing their feelings about a city that moved them in one way or another.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the catchy chapter called “Boston: Beans, Bird and the Red Sox” (p).

Postscript. How awful. On the day I am supposed to post this Boston is recovering from a bombing attack. There are no words to describe what I feel right now. I do know this – Boston is a tough and gritty town. We WILL get through this.

Outermost House

Beston, Henry. The Outermost House: a Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1988.

Even though Cape Cod is nothing like Monhegan Island this was a great read for vacation.

Henry Beston built a two room house on Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Originally the house was designed to be a summer getaway cabin but after two weeks Beston decided to see what it would be like to spend a year on the beach. During that time he wrote a memoir of the experience, recording everything he saw, heard, smelled, touched and experienced. As a result he published The Outermost House which became a best seller. Along the lines of Thoreau, Beston was enamored with living the simple life and experiencing nature in it most raw form. There were many times I found myself agreeing with Beston or being envious of his adventure. Even the storms that blew up the beach produced fascinating fodder for Beston’s book.

Favorite lines: “On its solitary dune my house faced the four walls of the world” (p 9), “Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp riffle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea” (p 43) and one more, “Wraiths of memories began to take shape” (p 216).

Author Fact: Well, this fact isn’t about Beston. It’s about his house. His cabin on Cape Cod was named a national literary landmark until it was destroyed in the blizzard of 1978.

Book Trivia: Beston’s wife wouldn’t marry him until he had finished The Outermost House.

Reason read: October is National Animal Month.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Wild Life” (p 244).

Call Me When You Land

Schiavone, Michael. Call Me When You Land. New York: Permanent Press, 2011.

If Nancy Pearl had to categorize this book for one of the chapters in Book Lust this would easily fit into either her “Families in Trouble” or “First Novel” chapter. If she had to categorize this book as a selection in More Book Lust it could easily fit into her “Men Channeling Women” chapter. First, there’s Katie Olmstead. Alcoholic, artist, single mother slowly losing her grip on reality. Then there’s Katie’s reality, C.J., the angst-ridden son. C.J. is uncommunicative, lonely and lost. Finally, there’s great-uncle Walter. Coughing up blood, stoned, patient and pathetic. Parsing out words of wisdom to said mother and son while quietly raging against his own frailty. Spoiler: he disappears from the story halfway through; a disappointment because he was the glue that held mother and son together.
All of these characters fit an eye-rolling stereotypical mold. Katie, in a spurt of mothering, makes her son breakfast. C.J. isn’t used to seeing his mom awake much less standing at that hour is skeptical and more than a little suspicious. Their dialogue is full of cliche zingers like, “what’s your deal this morning?” and “I’m not poisoning you.” Character development is minimal. People like Peter and Caroline pop up without introduction. There is a lot of backtracking to fill in the blanks.
To be honest I read this book like it reads: in fits and starts. It wasn’t the kind of book I could read for hours on end without coming up for air. I was beyond frustrated by all the name brand products. Aquafina, Alka-Seltzer, Aleve, Advil, Best Buy, Barolo, Benadryl, Ben & Jerry’s, Coors, Claratin, Cabernet, Capri Sun, Chips Ahoy, Clearasil, Dunkin Donuts, Disney, Dewars, Diet Coke, Dairy Queen, Desitin, Dolce & Gabbana, Emergen-C, Eggos, Febreze, Fruit Rollup, Gap, Gatorade, Grand Marnier, Halo 3, Hydroxycut, Hot Pocket, iPhone, J. Crew, Joy, Keds, Kools, Kleenex, Liz Claiborne, Mountain Dew, McDonalds, Marc Jacobs, Odwalla, Pepsi, Pellogrino, Palmolive, Prozac, Ray-Bans, Ritalin, Rockstar, Rice-a-Roni, Ragu, StairMaster, Starbucks, Sprite, Snuggie, Shiraz, Splenda, SeaWorld, Timberland, Tylenol, Trader Joe’s, Target, Tag, Tuff, Tropicana, Tanquerey, Under Armour, Visine, Vasaline. I know I could list a dozen more. If this were a movie the product placement would be nauseating. Writing should be timeless. If the products aren’t around ten years from now the piece becomes dated and clunky. There is the danger of alienating the reader as well. Not everyone will know what Halo 3 or Rockstar is. Something gets lost in translation when the product is the punchline to a funny line.

What I liked best about Call Me When You Land is the potential for a happy ending. The promise of change is hanging in the air. Differences are happening and that’s all that matters.

House on Oyster Creek (with spoiler)

Schmidt, Heidi Jon. The House on Oyster Creek. New York: NAL Accent, 2010.

Probably the most distracting aspect of Schmidt’s style of writing was her almost fanatical need to portray Henry as the older, colder, and uncaring husband. I get it. Schmidt wants the reader to cheer Charlotte on when she meets a man more to her liking, more to her temperament, more to her everything. You aren’t supposed to hate the damsel in distress. You aren’t even allowed to dislike her. In order to make the damsel’s potential affair acceptable said damsel’s husband needs to be bad. Very bad. If the husband is really awful you wind up begging, praying for that knight in shining armor. In an attempt to make Henry bad I think Schmidt went overboard. As a result Henry became a caricature of the very worst. In the first chapter alone (we’re talking 13 pages) there were over 24 negative words associated with Henry. Here are some, but not all, of the words and phrases used to describe Henry’s words, actions and demeanor. I left out dialogue with Charlotte:

  • irritation
  • seething
  • contempt
  • staunch
  • “heart seemed to harden” (p 3)
  • bleak
  • rebellious
  • stark
  • “nothing pleased him” (p 6)
  • fury
  • bitter
  • “fit to kill” (p 7)
  • “real hatred” (p 8.)
  • rigid
  • suspicion
  • jeer
  • scorn
  • irritated
  • contemptuous
  • darkening
  • “glance was poison” (p 11)
  • infuriating
  • infuriated
  • “patience stretched to breaking” (p 13)
  • shuddered
  • “spasm of disgust” (p 13)
  • icy

To make matters worse, on the other side of this marriage is Charlotte and her demure, sweet, sensitive, caring, loving, “made of empathy” personality. Schmidt is not as fanatical about driving that point home. But, you get the point just the same.

However…once I got beyond page 14 I loved The House on Oyster Creek. Charlotte is a little self-righteous at times but after putting up with Henry all those years she deserves to. While House on Oyster Creek focuses on Charlotte as she makes her way the book is really about the entire community she joins. Schmidt is extremely accurate when introducing Charlotte to the new community. when it comes to a tight-knit community there will always be this Them and Us attitude. You could be in a community for over 30 years and just because you are the first generation to do so, you are still the newcomers in town. The more generations you can brag of, the more clout you have in the community.

Of course, I had favorite lines that I really hope Schmidt keeps in the book, but I won’t quote them here.

I have to admit I never rooted for Charlotte to have an affair. There was something so broken about Henry that I think Charlotte owed it to him to work it out. When Darryl ends up marrying someone else I was happy. I can admit the story ended exactly how I wanted it to end.

The Odd Sea (with spoiler)

odd seaReiken, Frederick. The Odd Sea. New York: Delta, 1998.

From the very first page I thought the location of this book sounded really familiar. Westfield River, the Hilltowns, Dalton, Cummington…like seeing a familiar face while on vacation far, far from home. You can’t place it, yet you know it. Why? Work? School? The neighborhood? Until finally, one last detail seals the deal and suddenly you remember – the cashier from your favorite grocery store. It was “Mohawk Trail” that finally brought Western Massachusetts into sharp focus for me. Without a doubt, I was reading about my stomping grounds (and lately, stomp I do).

So, back to The Odd Sea. This is Frederick Reiken’s first novel and I have to say, I have a soft spot for firsts. This is the haunting story of the Shumway family and their lives after the dissapearance of 16 year old Ethan Shumway. It’s told from the point of view of younger brother Philip. My copy of The Odd Sea has notes in the margins that I found distracting. They made suggestions and speculations I wouldn’t have considered otherwise as well as ones overly obvious. One of the repeating, clear-as-day themes of the notes was Philip’s inability to accept his brother’s vanishing as never-coming-back final. I considered that obvious because otherwise, there wouldn’t be a story to tell. Philip can’t move on like the rest of his family. He needs to dig for answers, search for clues, and come up empty, bewildered, and denying every single time. I wasn’t surprised when, by the end of the book, Ethan is never found.
After reading Ordinary People I was ready to start my own BookLust chapter on “Mothers Who Lose It.” Probably one of my favorite descriptions in the book is of Philip’s mother’s insomnia. Having been afflicted with sleeplessness I could picture her nocturnal habits perfectly. “Some nights she did not bake or read. Instead she’d stand out with the stars. She said on clear nights the sky could draw the sadness from her heart” (p 10). I also enjoyed the scene when Victoria teaches Philip’s sister, Dana, to eat rose petals. Having eaten a few island roses in my day, I could taste the silkiness on my own tongue.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the chapter called “Small Town Life” (p 203).