The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
I thought this was a terrific book. Rinker and Nick Buck, two brothers from Maine, ages 60 and 54, buy three mules and set off to make the first unassisted crossing of the Oregon Trail by covered wagon in a century. A wagon trip with their father and siblings from New Jersey to Pennsylvania a half-century earlier is part of a parallel story about their father, who died young. Rinker, a journalist, gets fascinated by the history of the Oregon Trail, and reads over 100 books about it before they head west from Missouri to Oregon, sometimes following the original wheel ruts of some of the 400,000 pioneers of the mid-nineteenth century. Rinker originally thought of taking the trip alone, but it’s clear that would never have worked. Nick can fix anything, and is skilled at driving a team, and it really takes two people to catch and harness three mules every morning. The mules, Jake, Beck, and Bute have very distinct personalities. Wagon wheels, brakes, and axles need frequent repair, and the mules need regular care. The men, not so much. Rinker sleeps on a mattress in the wagon while Nick and his terrier, Olive Oyl, sleep on the ground or in sheds. Showers and laundry are infrequent and meals are very simple. A series of strangers greet them, help them navigate mountain and river crossings, and offer space in their corrals for the mules at night, and become their trail family. The kindness of those they encounter on their trip, with one notable exception, stunned them with their hospitality. I enjoyed the descriptions of the scenery, found the history of the trail quite interesting, and hoped the very different brothers would find a way over all the obstacles to reach the end of the trail. A very enjoyable journey, one that reminded me a bit of The Longest Road, by Philip Caputo.
Dashing Through the Snow by Debbie Macomber
Once I got past the first scene in an airport, I enjoyed reading this light holiday romance. Ashley Davidson, a grad student in San Francisco who works in a diner, wants to fly home to Seattle in time to surprise her mother for Christmas. Naturally, no seats are available, but the man in line behind her gets the option to be on a wait list. Instead, they end up sharing the last rental car available at the airport. Sensible Ashley wants a character reference, and accepts one from Dashiell’s mother on the phone. Ashley and Dash don’t get on at first, especially as Dash wants to drive straight through, even skipping meals, to get to a job interview. Instead, they somehow end up with a puppy and are chased by the FBI, who are looking for a different Ashley Davidson.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
What is Night Vale? First it was a popular podcast set in a surreal town in the desert. Now it’s a book, audiobook, and ebook that fans of the podcast, along with the reader looking for something a little different, can enjoy. I’ve only listened to the first two podcasts, and it took me a little while to feel welcome in Night Vale. But once you visit there, it’s really hard to leave. Night Vale is a cross between Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon tales and The Twilight Zone. Strange lights appear in the sky, helicopters and secret police are here to protect us, a sentient haze works at the movie theater, and angels named Erika don’t exist. There is an opening for an intern at the local radio station, but it’s not a job with a good future. Customers at the Moonlight All-Nite Diner may pick fruit off the tree who is also a waitress, or eat invisible pie. Single parent Diane works in an office where her boss Catherine denies that a man named Evan ever worked there and seems oblivious to the tarantula on her desk. Diane’s son Josh, a teenager, is a shapeshifter. This is a problem while he’s learning to drive. 19-year-old Jackie runs an unusual pawn shop. She’s been 19 for decades but can’t remember her childhood. Now Jackie can’t get rid of a piece of paper that simply says King City. Diane and Jackie finally work together to learn more about King City and to confront Troy, Josh’s father. Along the way, they brave trips to the library (all the librarians are tentacled monsters) and to City Hall. I enjoyed my visit, and plan to listen to more of the ongoing podcasts.
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
The latest Mitford book is sweet and charming, with a little humor. Fans of the Father Tim books will enjoy reading that his adopted son Dooley is getting married! Dooley and his fiancée are planning a simple country wedding at Meadowgate Farm. To make it simpler, they plan a potluck dinner. Family is ready to help in any way, from planting grass seed to making sure that the chickens and cows are kept away from the wedding location to planting flowers and welcoming the meanest bull in the county, Choo-choo. Of course, complications abound, from threatening weather to lost luggage. But the wedding preparation is simply the frame for another brief visit with Cynthia, Father Tim, Dooley, and the rest of their friends and family. This is sure to be a hit with Jan Karon’s many fans. Enjoy!
A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
Sam Clair, 40, is a book editor for Timmins and Ross in London. She lives alone, and likes it. Sam dislikes the frequent meetings with the other editors, and edits mostly women’s fiction. When her star author delivers a very different book than expected and a police inspector interviews her about a missed delivery, life gets more interesting. A break-in at her flat leads to an acquaintance with her reclusive upstairs neighbor, and increased attention from the attractive inspector, Jake Fields. Even Sam’s mother, Helena, a solicitor, gets involved when Sam’s author and friend Kit Lovell goes missing. Kit has just sent Sam his new manuscript, a tell-all about a fashion icon’s death that may be libelous. A fascinating look at the world of London book publishing, where Sam has both too much work and too many parties to attend, and hopes that her newest assistant, Miranda, might stay for longer than a couple of months. A cozy mystery with humor and a touch of romance, I enjoyed the fast pace and the lack of predictability. This is the first novel from a former book editor who writes articles about the arts and books about Victorian life.
Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett
Amy Gallup is a published writer, but has had writer’s block for twenty years. Living with her basset hound Alphonse in a small house in southern California, she teaches writing. Some unsettling events with her last group of aspiring writers led Amy to teaching exclusively online. After an accident knocks her unconscious, she gives an interview to a local reporter, but can’t remember what she said. The newspaper account of the interview is hilarious, and helps jump start her career. Carla and other members of the writing class want her back, longtime agent Maxine keeps calling, and Amy starts writing stories. Getting her fifteen minutes of fame, Amy is booked for interviews and talks around the country, and comes out of her hermit’s shell. I loved that she insisted on taking her dog with her on tour, and that she doesn’t buy into the hype of marketing and branding one’s writing. The people in her new writing group are memorable, as are some people she meets on her travels, as well as the handful of people in Amy’s past that she recalls for the reader, especially her former husband Max. A book about writers and writing doesn’t sound compelling, but I found it alternately touching and very funny.