Archive | February, 2020

Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (4/5)

11 Feb

I’d planned to go hear Ann Patchett speak with a good friend of mine but I got the date wrong and in the end, she couldn’t make it. I felt terrible and bought us both signed copies so we could do a Buddy Read. We both loved the setup and hope to do it again. Hopefully, we can find a book we enjoy as much as we both liked The Dutch House. That might be a tall order.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Other books by Patchett reviewed on this blog:
Commonwealth (and book club reflection)
Truth and Beauty
Bel Canto

Summary from Goodreads:

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

I find it hard to put my thumb on what it is about Patchett’s storytelling that’s so wonderful. Part of it is a long, slow burn with a characterization that drives you crazy. Danny and Maeve aren’t so special. Their story is unique but not so outlandish that it seems like an adventure. They’re very real people and their accomplishments are very believable and attainable. Their losses are relatable and realistic. You almost feel like it could happen to you but it’s just far enough away that you know it won’t. It’s a story you get easily swept away in and can’t help but love.

I feel like Maeve and Danny could easily live down the street. They were well developed and you wanted to believe you could meet them. Even the side characters were wonderful. Celeste felt like people I knew. Andrea was one of the best villains I’ve yet encountered. Fluffy was the babysitter you loved and hated growing up. Patchett’s ability to create characters is part of her gift and I really love reading about the people she’s invented.

Maeve was my favorite character and since she’s the main character, it seems like a cheap pick. Danny tells the story, but it always felt like it was about Maeve. I’d forget Danny’s name from time to time. He was the lens through which we see Maeve and her place in the world. Their stories are linked but Maeve is the mastermind. She’s the dominant character and the one who is backing Danny up along the way, no matter what. She pushes him through med school and then supports his real estate business. She acts like a side character, though. She’s smart but never has great ambitions. She is humble and is alone for a lot of her life. She’s not showy or flashy in any way and I think that’s what I liked about her so much.

There wasn’t a lot I could say I had experienced in this book, but the characters were so well drawn that I felt like I knew Maeve and Danny. Their reactions and decisions were so logical and sensical that I would have made them myself and I loved seeing the book play out in a way I could relate to so well.

Ann Patchett
Personal photo taken October 14, 2020 Ann Arbor, MI

Danny’s schooling was my favorite part of the book. I loved how Danny became a doctor just to spite Andrea. I thought Maeve was really smart in how she sent Danny to boarding school and then I laughed when he went to med school and then told Maeve he didn’t want to be a doctor. Of course, she didn’t care if he became a doctor! She just wanted to get back at Andrea. The anger the siblings had at their step-mother was founded yet deeper than I could have anticipated. It was fun to watch.

Spoiler alert so skip to the next paragraph to miss them. I really disliked it when their mother came back. I thought I’d be excited to see what kind of woman she was and where she’d been for so long. I thought I’d react like Maeve. I reacted like Danny. I was mad at her for leaving and for being so kind to everyone else when she failed to be kind to her own children. I never grew to like her.

Family is a tricky thing. As much as their father was their blood family, he was very removed from Danny and Maeve growing up and seemed almost absent from their lives. The times he spends with Danny collecting the rents seemed like the most interaction the two had. In many ways, Sandy and Jocelyn are more parental to Maeve than anyone else and Maeve is Danny’s primary parent. Maeve’s ability to be a parent seems to always be in question. She lives far from Danny and the two have a very close bond. Through Celeste, we see how unusual this bond is and how much it bothers her. It seems like Danny didn’t have much of a parent to speak of but he turns out to be a pretty good dad in the end. Maybe Maeve gave him a better blueprint than I give her credit for.

Writer’s Takeaway: Character development cannot be neglected. Even more so, giving a character his or her own personality and not holding that back. Fluffy is a great example of this. She is a unique character throughout the novel. Andrea is a consistent villain as well. Each of the characters was unique and I think that’s something I struggle with in my books and hope to develop better.

An overall wonderful book and one I’m glad I read. Four out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1960-1979 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett | Books to the Ceiling
‘The Dutch House’ by Ann Patchett – This Old House | Tony’s Book World
“The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett | Leave Me Alone I Am Reading And Reviewing
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett | Clarion-Ledger / Hattiesburg American Mississippi Books Page
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – book review | Wishfully Reading

Book Review: The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison (3/5)

10 Feb

This isn’t the typical book for our book club. The group tends to skew younger for a library book club and we tend to read more ‘edgy’ novels and less conventional book club selections. So I was surprised when we were handed a book that reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It didn’t seem like a good pick for our group and I’m curious to see what people think of it at the meeting tonight.

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:

Frank Derrick is eighty-one. And he’s just been run over by a milk float. It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active. But now he’s broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. Frank lives with his cat Bill (which made more sense before Ben died) in the typically British town of Fullwind-on-Sea. The Villages in Bloom competition is the topic of conversation amongst his neighbours but Frank has no interest in that. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid the cold callers continuously knocking on his door. Emailing his daughter in America on the library computer and visiting his friend Smelly John used to be the highlights of his week. Now he can’t even do that. Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank’s life. She reminds him that there is a big wide-world beyond the four walls of his flat and that adventures, however small, come to people of all ages. Frank and Kelly’s story is sad and funny, moving, familiar, uplifting. It is a small and perfect look at a life neither remarkable nor disastrous, but completely extraordinary nonetheless.

This book never took off for me. I kept waiting for a story to start and it didn’t feel like one did. Frank is trying to get a semblance of his life back together after his accident and Kelly helps him find a way to do that but it seemed to me she made him take steps back before he moved forward. For a lot of the novel, he seemed to be slipping. He was selling his possessions and buying things he didn’t need. He was eating badly and was struggling to care for himself. It reminded me of my grandpa before he died. I couldn’t see any joy or way forward in his story. At the very end, he has a breakthrough but by then I’d given up on this book as being a sad story about a man’s descent into a trap of old age that he wasn’t going to climb out of.

Frank seemed real to me most of the time. I liked his internal dialogue. When he talked about the old ladies on the bus and how he thought they were always laughing at him, I related to that. I’ve for sure felt that way several times as well. I found it relatable when he couldn’t stop buying things and bringing them home even when he was selling things to make money. It seemed like a very real compulsion. We don’t get a lot of detail about the other characters to see if they feel as real as Frank but having a well constructed main character like him was a solid basis for the book.

Frank was my favorite character. I was tempted to say Kelly for a second, but we don’t know much about her and I think I only liked her because Frank liked her. Frank was easy to like, even when I pitied him. I wanted to help him because he was a nice man and really just wanted to be loved. I’m sure I might sympathize with him later in life, but I still liked him.

I have little in common with Frank and that was part of the reason I wasn’t as invested in his story. He’s very different from me and at a very different point in his life. My parents are only just retiring and my grandparents have always lived far away. Honestly, I’m more like Frank’s daughter than Frank. It was hard for me to relate to someone retired and with limited mobility like Frank had after his accident.

J.B. Morrison
Image via Goodreads

I was most interested in Frank’s trips to the pawnshop. I thought he was being so creative to try and make enough money to spend just one more week with Kelly. He seemed a bit ambitious to keep returning after his first trip didn’t go so well but I still admired his tenacity. I wished the things he held in such high regard had brought him more money, but I also think it’s the things we think are most valuable that others won’t see the value in.

The trip to the ocean struck me as odd. I found it odd Kelly would choose to spend her holiday with a patient and would treat him to extravagances like she did. Granted, they probably cost her very little overall but they meant so much to Frank. It was wonderful that she did that, but I thought it was unrealistic.

I’ve read more than one book lately about the elderly and how our society pushes them to the fringes of our thoughts and tends to forget them. This is the story of a man who was pushed to the outside. His daughter is distant, his neighbors unhelpful, and the one friend he has is now gone. He’s forced to face disability very quickly and I think Kelly paying attention to him when he felt so ignored was why he formed such an attachment to her. I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my grandmas but with large distances between us, it’s very hard.

Writer’s Takeaway: With a character-driven novel, it can be hard to have a strong storyline and I think this story was lacking. The story of how Frank became independent again and found his confidence was good in theory, but it was a bit slow-paced and it was hard to figure out where the story was heading for a while. It took me until the very end to see the path Frank was taking and I think it would have benefited from some clarification earlier on.

Overall, not a great book but a good example of wit and internal dialogue. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81- J.B Morrison | franny & perks
The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison | nowasIwrite
The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by JB Morrison | Spiteful Reviews

Book Club Reflection: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

6 Feb

My book club met recently to talk about a book I loved, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Unfortunately, we had some members who seemed more interested in talking to each other than they were in talking about the book. Those of us who pushed on were able to have some semblance of a discussion, but it was much shorter so this will be a smaller post.

One member brought some Korean wedding ducks a friend of hers had given as a gift. The friend was living in Korea and sent these wooden ducks to our member. Ducks mate for life so the wish was for our member’s marriage to be the same. It was fun to see a bit of the book’s culture join us for the meeting.

A few members commented on the speech in the back of our books that Caroline Kennedy gave. She calls the book a ‘fun summer read’ and many felt that was off base. We think of summer reads as light and short novels without much depth. This book was the complete opposite, so we wondered if the remark was supposed to be read sarcastically.

Many of us didn’t realize it was so hard to be Korean in Japan. Because it’s an island, Japan has historically had a very closed culture and it was not very welcoming to foreigners who came for any reason.

I was surprised how many people showed up to the meeting with a hand-written family tree! It was an easy way to keep track of the names. (I was one of two without one.) Some people felt this was a flaw in the book and that there were some characters who were unnecessary and that the book could have been shortened a bit by removing them.

Many were shocked at the prevalence of sex in the book. Hana was a clear example of this, but Noa’s Japanese girlfriend was highly sexualized as well. We were most surprised by the quick scene in the park when Goro’s wife (I may have this wrong) ran into a prostitute. We weren’t expecting the prevalence of sex, though we agreed nothing was graphic. It was very noticeable in a culture that was otherwise so formal.

This book tells us over and over that a woman’s lot is to suffer. Honestly, we didn’t feel that things had changed too much from the time this book was set until now. Two or three generations ago in the US, women had the same expectations out of life as Sunja did on a small island in Korea. The suffering of a woman seems to be almost universal.

None of us had heard of Pachinko before and we imagined it like upside-down Plinko. In the end, every man’s job revolved around it and it was very central to their stories. It is a game of chance and it’s always rigged just a bit. But the player remains hopeful that they can win, even knowing that they probably won’t. We believed it was a good metaphor for life.

Noa was a great character and very dynamic throughout the book. One thing that seemed inconsistent with him was that he was so smart, but he couldn’t figure out that Hansu was his father. It seems if someone’s paying for your school and living expenses, you might expect they’re more than a friend of your mother. It was understandably hard for him when he did figure this out and his subsequent death was tragic. We were bothered by how little attention seemed to be paid to Noa’s death. It was so sudden and tragic but we’re spared the suffering it caused and the book moves on.

Hansu makes many appearances in the book to come to Sunja’s rescue. We never get a solid answer on how he came to be married to a rich Japanese woman besides his good looks. We felt there might have been something more buried there. We did see that he had a bad side. Even though he risked a lot to help Sunja, we still see him hitting a prostitute and being controlling at other times. He’s a very unpredictable character and was someone we enjoyed seeing come up periodically.

Most of us adored this book and I’m so glad I was able to hear Lee speak about it. I hope our next book is as engaging! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 5-February-2020

5 Feb

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 

Currently reading: I’m still plugging away with Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley. The part I’m reading is short interviews with YA authors who are sharing their stories and advice. It’s really encouraging, if I’m being honest, and I’m liking it a lot.
I’m excited to have a lot of new books here! My next book club pick is What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha. This book focuses on the Flint Water Crisis. Since I live so close to Flint (less than an hour), this narrative really hits home because I’ve been there and see how differently the people in Flint have to live because of the crisis. And yes, it’s still ongoing.
I’ve decided on my next audiobook being Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard. My husband got me a print copy of this book a few years ago because it combines animals and running and he thought I’d love it. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to pick up the print version yet but I’m excited to experience it in audio.

Recently finished: I finally finished The Dutch House by Ann Patchett! My reading buddy and I were so excited to finish this one that we set a shorter time between our third meeting and this last one because we knew we’d rush to finish it. I’ll be reviewing it in the next week or two. I’m still teetering between four and five stars for this one.
I finally finished Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner. It felt like I read this one very slowly though I’m not sure that’s really true. It was a good enough story, but it wasn’t as fun for me as I thought. I’ll still finish the series, though. Again, I’m teetering. This one is either three or four stars.
The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison never picked up for me. It stayed pretty slow-paced throughout and I wasn’t able to get as invested as I wanted to be in the characters. This will be an interesting book club discussion and I’m curious to see what people think when we meet next week.

Reading Next: I’m not optimistic about starting it soon, but I still have The Running Man by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) waiting in the wings. I really hope I can start it before my vacation abroad, but we’ll see how it plays out.

Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Writing Check In- February 2020

4 Feb

I’ve been wanting to dedicate more time to writing. My husband had the suggestion of making a monthly feature to talk about my writing and how it’s going. It helps keep me honest(ish) and lets you all know when my masterpiece will be released to the world!

I heard back from the first agency I submitted to and, unfortunately, they’ve passed. Oh well, I didn’t expect the first one to stick. I wish I’d gotten some feedback from them, but no. I wrote back thanking them for their time and moved on.

The submission marathon continues! I’ve submitted it to three more agencies. I heard back from one almost immediately and they passed. I must have hit that agent at just the right time of the morning! Another wrote back that she passed and I was feeling courageous and asked her what made her say no. No response yet, but I’d love to get some substantial feedback.

I’ve changed my pitch letter a little, too. I added more of my elevator pitch which has intrigued some people in the past. I’m hoping that the new hook might get agents to read a little further. Fingers crossed.

I’m wondering how soon I need to seriously consider going to a writers’ conference. I know it’s a big expense, but it might be the information I need to really move forward with this project. It could give me an insight into where I’m falling short and maybe some more details on how I could edit in a different way or look for agents in new places.

The next agency I plan to pitch to has a lot of information for writers on their website. I’m exploring it as much as I can before I submit. So this next one might take a while, but I think it will help me make some positive changes.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Challenge Update, January 2020

3 Feb

I’m finally caught up on reviews! Reading a few long books really helps with that. You can look at my progress at any time on my challenge page.

Books finished in January:

Pachinko // Min Jin Lee (5/5)
American by Day // Derek B. Miller (4/5)
Colombiano // Rusy Young (4/5)
The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 // J.B. Morrison (3/5)

It feels so good to be near caught up! I expect I will be again next week.

When Are You Reading? Challenge

I’m off to a good start so far. The four books I’ve read so far represent two different eras and I’ve got another one in the works. I’ve ticked off 1940-1959, and 2000-Present. So far, so good!

Goodreads Challenge

So far, so good! I’m right about on track. If I’d been reading shorter books, I might be ahead. Maybe a few shorter ones coming soon will help with that.

Book of the Month

I’m so in love with Pachinko this month. I’ll be doing a book club reflection on it soon with even more love to share. This book swept me away and kept me engaged for its entire length which was a gift. I loved it so much and I hope I can convince everyone I meet to read it as well!

Added to my TBR

I’m holding steady at 65. Though I think I’ll have a book club blow-up coming soon.

  • Any Way the Wind Blows / Rainbow Rowell. I know I still need to read the second book in this series, but I’m so sure I’ll love it that I’ve added the third.
  • What the Eyes Don’t See / Mona Hanna Attisha. This is a book club pick and one I’m curious to read. It focuses on the Flint, Michigan water crisis. I live about 40 minutes from Flint and this ongoing crisis is one I’m interested to learn more about.

Personal Challenge

I’m gearing up again to track personal goals here. This is a great way to keep me accountable and to tell you about me outside the wide world of books.

  • Triathlon Age Group National Championships: I’ve registered for the race and booked my hotel room. This is my focus race for the year. I’ve signed up for six triathlons this summer and this will be the fourth. The other two are just bonus fun.
  • Submit my novel: I’ve submitted to three agents so far and heard back from one. I’ll talk more about this in my writing check-in.

I’m keeping it basic this year for personal goals. Anything else would be a bonus. Maybe I’ll add more later, but this is good for now.

How are your challenges going so far? I hope you’re off to a good start. If you love historical fiction, give some thought to my challenge for this year, it’s fun!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!