Review: ‘Once Upon a River’ by Diane Setterfield

Based on the title and the cover, I had a feeling that this book was going to have a fairy tale feel to it, but I didn’t anticipate just dreamlike it was going to be. If I am going to be completely honest, I felt like the book could have been somewhat shorter, especially for what the reveal eventually was.

The story centers around a mysterious man and a young child who show up at an inn, barely alive. In fact, the child is presumed dead until suddenly she wakes up. Noone knows who she is or where she came from, though she looks like two children from different families that went missing around the same time. Inevitably what follows is a back and forth as the village and the impacted families try to figure out the strange child who constantly looks to the river, from where she was pulled.

Parts of this book irked me, particularly because it seemed like the village was more concerned about what story they were going to tell and how the events that unfolded fit into the narrative, than the welfare of the child. She is continuously tossed back and forth between people like a plaything that is interesting when the mood suits. The child, who can’t speak, tries to tell them in her own way where she is from, but the village, wrapped up in their own affairs, hardly takes the time to really try to listen to the child.

However, this gripe is more on the characters than on the book itself. Setterfield is a good storyteller and is able to use descriptive language to pull the reader in to the fairy tale until it’s hard to know what is reality. I could definitely see each scene clearly and loved the way Setterfield described the ever flowing river and its varying moods.

I am definitely glad that I had a chance to read a Setterfield novel, and now, more than ever, want to read her other book, “The Thirteenth Tale.” I am just disappointed that I missed the book club discussion on this book as I would have loved to hear what everyone else thought.


Review: ‘Dreamland’ by Nicholas Sparks

This isn’t a Nicholas Sparks book that I am used to. It was definitely enjoyable but it wasn’t your typical romance and had a completely different feel.

Colby Miles is on vacation from the farm that he took over from his family. While in Florida, he takes on a music gig, reflecting on the musical career he once dreamed about before obligations and responsibilities took over. Then he meets Morgan Lee, a recent graduate of a musical program who plans to move to Nashville to be a star. As he gets to know Morgan and her passion for music, he begins to think about his own dreams and whether there is still time to do what he is passionate about.

Miles away, Beverly is trying to make a life for her and her son after fleeing an abusive husband. She finds a new place to call home and gets them settled, placing her son in the local school and starting to call it home, but she is constantly worried that her husband will find her.

Throughout most of the book I was waiting for that pivotal moment when the stories were going to collide. Sparks does a great job fleshing out the two plots and the characters until you think you know everything about them. Just when you get settled, Sparks pulls the rug out from under you. Having been ardent Sparks fan for years, I knew the twist was coming but he continuously surprises me on how he does it.

There was a musical element to this book that almost made it it’s own story. I have no doubts that a movie adaptation will be in the works soon enough and I am curious to know which celebrities will be cast for the roles of Colby and Morgan. I definitely want to hear the score that is put together for the music in this book.

If you enjoy Nicholas Sparks, there is no reason why you shouldn’t read this. Enjoyable all the way around.

Book Club Discussion: ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ by Patricia Highsmith

In the opening pages of this book, the reader is introduced to Tom Ripley, running from someone who is in pursuit of him. We don’t know why but the reader is immediately drawn in wanting to know more about why someone would be after him, what did Tom do and is that person going to be successful? It isn’t before long before all is revealed.

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is an interesting character study of an individual who is essentially a chameleon, constantly changing to reflect the environment around him, shifting in and out of character whether it be himself or someone else. What the reader soon learns is that Ripley is a fraud, manipulative and constantly scamming the system to live life. He is tasked with finding Dickie Greenleaf who has gone overseas to Italy to be an artist. While Ripley barely knows Greenleaf, he takes on the assignment and thus the real story begins.

I had only heard about the movie with Matt Damon that was made in the later 1990s but had never read the book. Upon finishing the book, I tried to watch the movie but was sorely disappointed. It was completely different from Highsmith’s book. While the general plot was the same, various scenes and character traits were different, which I felt did a disservice to the story that Patricia Highsmith gives readers.

This was the November discussion for the Modern Library Book Club and it was a unanimous vote that this was a great book and interesting study of an unhappy man who uses others to blame for his misfortunes. There was some awe in how Ripley was able to manifest into different characters when appropriate and was able to adjust to an obstacle without harm. The group also discussed the author, Patricia Highsmith, who is said have had a complicated life and in some ways related to Ripley.

It is not to be denied that Highsmith is a brilliant writer. Her knack for detail is uncanny and throughout the book she provides not only physical descriptions about Italy that makes it vivid in the readers mind, but she goes into the culture of the Italian people from the language to the currency, etc. She does it such a way that it is sprinkled within the plot and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story.

This is definitely a page turner, as with each incident the reader anticipates that surely Ripley will slip up and make a mistake that will lead to his demise. However, since the story of Ripley continues on in four other books, I am interested to see how his character further manifests. I think this will be a series worth finishing.

November 2022 TBR

The holiday season is among us! You can’t go to any store around here without it looking like someone vomited Christmas everywhere and you hear the Christmas carols playing over the intercom. To me, Christmas doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving, when Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, but hey, that’s just me. I will continue to enjoy the fall until then. Though, with the mild weather we have been having, it feels like we are going back a season rather than forward.

I am starting November with a focus on my mental health. Work has been crap and it has severely impacted me mental health. I am working on lowering my stress and getting my anxiety under control. Thankfully I have books to help.

My November reading list is light primarily because I don’t want to cause undue stress by creating an unrealistic TBR and also because the holidays are in a few weeks. With my husband and I hosting Thanksgiving and the family coming in early, I highly doubt I will get barely any reading in.

Book Club picks

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty” by Patrick Radden Keefe

This is the November read for the Capital District Book Club and it is definitely interesting. It’s about the Sackler family who made a name for themselves in the pharmaceutical industry. It is the same family who owns the company that made oxycontin, which today has become the forefront of the opioid epidemic in the US. I am definitely enjoying this book so far, though I am not that far into it. I did read Keefe’s other book “Say Nothing” earlier this year for the same book club which was also good.

Gringos” by Charles Portis

This is the December pick for the Modern Library Book Club and I don’t much about it except that it takes place in Mexico. Everyone in book club is looking forward to this read so it must be good. Charles Portis is also the author of the book, “True Grit” of which movie adaptations were made, most recently in 2010.

Personal picks

The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I started this book a few weeks ago but I have yet to finish it. I enjoy it while I am reading it but then I put it down and forget to pick it up. I really want to finish it so I am moving it on to this month’s TBR. I really want to learn the secret behind the house. I am getting Shirley Jackson vibes right now but I don’t think I am correct. Hoping to be done sooner rather than later.

The Cartographers” by Peng Shepherd

Another book leftover from last month but since it’s on my seasonal TBR as well, I figured I might as well get to it. Besides it’s a bookish mystery. This is right up my alley. It is also on my personal shelves and I need to get the number of unread books down.

What are you reading in November?

October 2022 wrap-up

October has come and gone. In fact, as I sit here writing this, it’s already a week into November. So you can say that this is a little late. But that is life.

It has been a challenging few weeks at work which means that nothing in my personal life has gotten done. The stress has been so much that my anxiety has skyrocketed to the point that it has become difficult to make the simplest of decisions. Thankfully I had scheduled vacation for this week, not knowing how much I was going to need it. It has been giving me to a chance to calm down, relax and do the things I enjoy. But I am taking it one step at a time.

Which brings me here. I realized that the months totally changed without me noticing and thus I never really wrapped up my reading. I feel a little unmoored as it is a way of me resetting for the new month. But I guess, better late than never.

“Dreamland” is the newest book by Nicholas Sparks and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a bit different than his other books but it still has that unexpected twist that leaves your mouth hanging open. I particularly liked how this book focused on music and is set outside the Carolinas, which is also rare for Sparks. It’s not my favorite of Sparks’ books but it is still very enjoyable. You will get sucked into the story and only emerge back to reality when you close the book.

Another book has finally gotten off the forgotten shelf on my personal TBR. Louisa May Alcott is another author that I am trying to get through and though I have had this book far longer than I can remember, I only just cracked it open. I am so glad that I finally got around to it. Knowing that gothic fables were her passion, I held no doubt that this was going to be a good one. It is a story that is based on the legend of Faust, where the main character makes a pact with the devil and the impact that has on his life. I was definitely turning the pages wanting to know what was going to happen.

“Once Upon A River” was the October read for the Capital District Book Club and it definitely fit the theme. This book was magical in every sense of the word. I felt like I was reading a fairy tale. There were parts of the plot that irked me some, especially the way the village treated the little girl who is at the heart of the story. However, that didn’t take away from the overall experience. I missed the book club discussion which was disappointing because I wanted to hear what everyone else thought. I definitely want to read more of Setterfield in the future.

I had never heard of this book before someone in the Metaphorically Speaking Book Club proposed it for a monthly pick. In fact, it was actually hard to come by, However, I eventually obtained a copy and started reading. I didn’t think I was going to like this book so didn’t go in with many expectations. I finished it and felt like I need to reread it, not only for the enjoyment of it but also because there was so much in this short book, that surely I missed something. The themes that McGill sprinkles throughout the plot are subtle and yet have a profound impact on the characters. Definitely worth a read.

Talk about a well written book. If you haven’t read “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, stop what you are doing and read it right now. Patricia Highsmith is an artist the way that she develops the character of Ripley, making this more than a normal read. It’s more of a character study on someone who is manipulative and leads a fraudulent life, masquerading as someone else. The first book was genius and have heard each book only gets better. This is a series I might just have to finish. As for the movie, well it just doesn’t compare. I actually stopped watching it, because it was so different from the book.

Have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think? What did you read in October? Let’s discuss!

Monday reading check-in (10/24/22)

Sorry for the disappearing act for the last few weeks but things have been really hectic at work. We are in budget season so there are a lot of meetings, which means long work days. It doesn’t leave much room for anything else. Then last week I was sick with a really bad cold or touch of the flu. I am almost 100%, except for a lingering cough that is just annoying at this point.

I have been reading while I can and have enjoyed some really good books of late. Here are the latest:

Recently finished

Currently reading

Reading next

What are you reading this week?

October 2022 TBR

Fall is definitely in the air here in upstate New York. The leaves are changing colors and it’s nice to just stand at my window and look at the trees outside. Some areas have foliage peaking in terms of the colors. I don’t know what it is but there is definitely a different atmosphere when it comes to this time of the year. Though for me, it’s the start of the busiest times.

My work schedule gets even more hectic and unpredictable. I will be lucky if I can get a lot of reading in but I don’t give up trying. I continue to bring a book with me to read during lunch and am trying to restart the habit of reading before bed instead of watching YouTube videos, a habit I picked up during COVID.

I am excited for this month’s TBR with several mysterious and thrilling books in the queue.

Book Club reads

The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith

I don’t know much about this book except that it is a thriller. Member of the Modern Library Book Club were very excited about reading this, many claiming that they had read the whole trilogy years ago. It sounds like it will be perfect for the spooky season.

Once Upon a River” by Diane Setterfield

I had seen this book make its rounds on the blogosphere but I didn’t know much about it. I was intrigued when the Capital District Book Club chose it. I have started reading it and I am enjoying the writing. Definitely has the touch of a fairy tale and can’t wait to delve more into it.

Bed Stuy” by Jerry McGill

This book was surprisingly hard to find. None of the libraries had a copy of it and it wasn’t in the local book stores. It sounds really good though and I am kind of getting vibes of “The Reader” from the summary. Whether that ends up being true, remains to be seen.

Personal picks

A Modern Mephistopheles” by Louisa May Alcott

Most people know Louisa May Alcott for Little Women and her other children’s novels, but I discovered years ago that her true passion was writing thrillers. I have read a few over the years, which were pretty good. However, this one I just couldn’t get into, until now. Maybe it’s the time of year but I have had a yearning for some dark classics. This one doesn’t disappoint.

The House of Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

How can you think of October and not think of Hawthorne’s writing. “The Scarlet Letter” immediately comes to mind but since I have read that notable work, I figured that I would go with one that I have yet to read. It is set in a haunted mansion so I would say it definitely fits with this month’s theme.

The Cartographers” by Peng Shepherd

This book definitely sounds interesting. A cartographer’s father is found death with a strange map in his possession. The map is rare and valuable and she must figure out the secret behind it. I have a feeling this is going to be filled with twists and turns along the way.

What are you reading this month?

September reading wrap-up

Well September is gone. I swear I am losing days somewhere. I feel like it was only yesterday that I writing my TBR for the month and now I am doing a wrap-up. With that being said, it’s going to be a short one because I only managed to get to a handful of books.

This was definitely different from Mandel’s first book, “Station Eleven” and not what I was expecting. I did enjoy it as it was filled with interesting characters and twists and turns. I kept reading because I needed to see how the different story plots were going to interweave and how the characters were going to end up. Mandel has knack for jumping between story lines just at pivotal moments that makes you want to get back to the one previously.

FINALLY. I have finally read this classic that has sat on my shelves for so long. Unfortunately I was unable to go to the book club discussion due to a last minute work event which was a totally bummer. I really wanted to hear what other people’s thoughts were on this book. I loved it. It was like looking back at history as we follow Francie Nolan growing up at the turn of the 20th Century. It was like sitting at my kitchen table with my parents listening to their stories of growing up. I couldn’t get enough.

I started out loving this book but I was a little underwhelmed by it in the end. I enjoyed reading about the history of the west and really loved the cultural references to the food, languages and customs of the family. But in terms of the plot itself, I felt that this could have went so much further than it did, especially when it came to the character of Luz.

I think this is the first Nicholas Sparks book that didn’t make me cry. But it’s Nicholas Sparks so of course I loved it. We follow the relationship of Colby and Morgan Lee who meet while both are vacationing in Florida. Miles away, Beverly is on our own journey of building a life after fleeing from an abusive relationship. The whole time I was trying to figure out how the two stories were going to intersect and Sparks just doesn’t give any hints up until the reveal, leaving the reader wondering what the hell just happened. I definitely wasn’t expecting this one.

What did you read over September? Have you read any on this list? Let’s discuss!

Monday reading check-in (10/3/22)

Happy Monday, book admirers!

It’s probably that time to remember to take a moment, breathe, clear your mind for a second and go on about your day. At least that is what I try to tell myself as my days are getting busier by the moment. Sometimes it feels that I don’t have a moment for myself and I am learning to take time out of my busy schedule to just breathe. I deserve it. It’s why I have been trying to actually take a lunch break and read, if just to help me reset. Easier said than done, but I still lug around a book with me, if only for the gentle reminder. I wasn’t so successful last week but yet managed to read more than one book.

Recently finished

Currently reading

Reading next

What are you reading this week?

Back to School Series: Books I read in high school part 2

In the third installment of the Back to School Series, I am returning to high school again to focus on my senior year. I thought I had already posted this but apparently I forgot to schedule it. In the last post, I focused on books in grades 9-11, but in my senior year, I took AP (advanced placement), which was essentially a college-level course. We had an aggressive reading list and we read so many great books that year that ultimately solidified my love for the classics and diversified my reading.

Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“Pride and Prejudice” is one of the classics that I had fell in love with a year prior when I read it privately so I was excited to read it again in a class setting. It also involved watching the older version of the movie.

Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

Another book that I had already fallen in love with but a class setting provides a whole other perspective. It was another book that we had to watch the movie that went along with it but I can’t remember which version.

Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

I think had it not been for school, I may never have read this book. I had known the story of Frankenstein through the version that Hollywood has depicted but the book is a whole other monster. I absolutely loved the book and was surprised by how much it would impact me. I will say the Robert D’Niro version is the closest adaptation of the book.

Death of Salesman” by Arthur Miller

This was one of several plays that we read and I absolutely loved it. If there was one thing I remember about this play was how vivid the writing was and how emotional it was.

The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams

Another great play that I had never heard of until we had to read it in class. I am due to read this again because the details are now a little fuzzy, but I remember thoroughly enjoying it at the time.

Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw

Many probably know this one as “My Fair Lady” which was a movie starring Audrey Hepburn. The movie is actually very similar to the book, but it was very interesting reading it anyway.

Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

This was probably my favorite Shakespeare that I read throughout my high school career. Honestly, if it wasn’t for school, I probably would never have read Shakespeare at all.