In the High Peaks

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Reading Update: Eleanor Oliphant, The Safekeep, and Looking Forward

When times are very, very bad, it is such a solace to have lots of books to retreat to and, yes, be buried by! As of July 1st, we are in a constitutional crisis in this country, and the majority of the Supreme Court, in their presidential immunity decision, has created it. I am reeling...

I was absolutely enchanted by my reading of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.  I wondered why I haven't read it sooner, but I'm so very glad that I read it NOW, while I'm feeling so much despair (about our country). Eleanor is the completely original, wonderful, enjoyable, heart-warming heroine of her own story. I had no idea! I can't think of a book I have thrilled to more in the past few years. And to think I bought it on a sheer whim, when it came up for sale for $1.99 as an ebook. Then I devoured it! What great memories I have of this book to carry me forward! So, yes, I am counting it as one of my Twenty Books of Summer. 


The Safekeep by the Dutch author Yael Van Der Wouden (in translation), has received many mega-starred reviews. (To see the excerpts from reviews, click on the link and scroll down to "Reviews.") It was published in June. The wide-spread, though vaguely stated words of acclaim set me on to it. The novel is set in the Netherlands in 1961, and has been widely touted as an historical novel. 

Now that I've read The Safekeep in its entirety, I would agree that it is indeed an historical novel, definitely. But the first half of the novel betrays no evidence whatsoever of that fact. This half of the novel depicts the lives of Isabel and her two brothers and Eva, her oldest brother's girlfriend. Isabel, as a young woman, lives alone (and lonely) in the family house in the east of the Netherlands after her mother's death. When Isabel's brother Louis decides that Eva should stay with Isabel while he is away for 6 weeks for a work project, everything turns on its head. Why does Eva want to stay there, when she knows Isabel dislikes her and is totally antagonistic? And on that note, ensues a huge drama that reaches back to the world of the Netherlands and the Dutch people, especially the Dutch people as a whole, in World War II. 

The Safekeep deserves all the high praise that has been bestowed on it. I will say that for me, at times, it was an uncomfortable read, because of the relationship that evolves between Isabel and Eva, and the deeply unfortunate aftermath. It is so worthwhile--the language and the translation is flawless. I AM so glad that I read it, and I will always remember it, so I recommend it without reservation.

Another book that I've put on my Twenty Books of Summer List.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

A Brief Check-In: Doris Kearns Goodwin & More

Today, Saturday, was such a stellar weather day here, which buoyed us as we ran around scurrying to get LOADS of chores done before an unprecedented, extended heat wave hits our area. At least 4 days of 92+ degrees weather next week starting Tuesday, for our home in the mountains. This has never happened before. In fact, we have not had a single day of 90-degree weather here in at least four years. Fortunately, we recently purchased a new AC unit for our second story, which gets hit hard by heat. I realize so many of you will be suffering from much higher temperatures, so I do wish you the best. Just get that cool drink by your side and dive into books!

I am still listening, with the utmost fascination and appreciation, to Doris Kearns Goodwin's memoir An Unfinished Love Story. I have 6 hours of listening left of the more than 17 hours total. It is SO good! I love the conversations that she details with her husband Dick Goodwin, which she relates in total, as she prepared to write this book. Going over his entire history in the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. An incomparable speechwriter, Goodwin was! Excerpts from the speeches are included in the audiobook. What can I say? It's a MUST! Listen. Especially now. I hope many of you will be able to hear what political life was like in the 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" brought us Medicare, Medicaid, Civil Rights, the Civil Rights Voting Act, and so much more. 

I realize that Doris is in her 80s now--Gosh! She seems so vital on MSNBC and NBC. I do hope she has the strength and the will to keep writing, in whatever form! Maybe not 400-page books, but whatever she can manage. I so hate to lose such gifted, accomplished historians and writers!

Yes, everyone, I DEVOURED a thriller! In 2 DAYS. Last weekend!  You know, thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, and so many of them are schlock, so I really searched and searched for a good one. It's on my Twenty Books of Summer ListInvisible Girl by Lisa Jewell, published in 2020, a year when many great books got lost in the shuffle due to Covid.  I was mesmerized and not disappointed, which is a huge boon, given how many waste-of-time thrillers are out there. Such a great way to relax, when a thriller is clever and smart beyond belief.

I have finished another book on my list, an historical novel, The Storms We Made by Vanessa Chan. I was attracted to this book because I knew nothing about how Malay (now Malaysia) was affected by World War II. This was Chan's debut novel. It was a heart-wrenching story of how the people of Malay were subjugated by the Japanese, but there was a more compelling story within, of how a Malaysian woman, a wife and mother, was subverted to become a spy for the Japanese. Much more to this story, of course, but I hesitate to give it a strong recommendation because the writing was not strong, and I hesitate to say this, but I felt it had many flaws, including the ending, which was so over the top and unnecessarily brutal in way that was pointlessly contrived. I'm sure others have felt differently about this novel. I would love to hear your comments if you've read this. I would hope to be persuaded otherwise!

Looking forward to reading about your summer literary adventures!