I had hoped to write up individual blog posts about all of these things, but time has just crept away and I decided to just combine the past month’s worth of books and random adventures into one. This post will include short reviews of Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha, The Other Side of Everything by Lauren Doyle Owens, Blood Sisters by Jane Corry , and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I’ll also tell you about our quick visit to Vista House/Crown Point in the Columbia River Gorge and our experiences at the Portland Seafood and Wine Festival.
Last month, we did venture to Disneyland, and I plan to write a post about that trip very soon!
This post contains affiliate links, see disclosures for more detail. I received complimentary review copies of these books, all opinions are honest and my own.
First, the Reviews:
I am drawn to memoirs about people who leave their regular lives in order to start a farm, move to another country, etc. This is Jennifer McGaha’s personal story about doing just that. It starts with a comfortably middle class family living in a beautiful home who overextend and make some poor money choices, end up deeply in debt and completely broke. They move into a ramshackle house in the country that is owned by some relatives and therefore has low rent. It comes with a plethora of problems (including snakes) and some “new normal” experiences with chickens, goats, gardening, and home improvement. Much of this tale is entertaining and fascinating, but I didn’t agree with some of her choices (moving away for a time) because I thought they were incredibly self-centered. The author never takes responsibility for her part in the fiasco, and seems content to whine and blame everything on her husband. Although she tells a great story overall, I didn’t love her attitude throughout. It is worth reading to live vicariously through their cautionary adventures.
This is an intriguing, dark read. At first, I wasn’t sure about it, but it grew on me as I became more and more attached to the characters. It’s the story of a fairly close-knit neighborhood, its inhabitants and their reactions as first one, then another elderly person are brutally murdered. These aren’t superbly likable characters, each of them has done (and some continue to do) some not-so-pleasant things. Yet, somehow, I was drawn to them, flaws and all. Bernard, the elderly man who knew (and didn’t really like) the murder victim, gathers together with the other longtime residents to create safety in numbers. Amy, the emotionally messed up cancer survivor who begins to paint what she believed happened during the murders, to the point where she draws suspicion upon herself. And Maddie, the teenage waitress who might know who committed the murders but doesn’t really believe it. A captivating story with a satisfying conclusion.
Blood Sisters got me back into my psychological suspense comfort zone. Another book with not-very likable characters! Two sisters and one’s best friend were involved in an accident. One girl died, and now, fifteen years later, two of them are dealing with the consequences. Kitty cannot speak and suffers from other effects of the accident and is living in an institution. Alison is an art teacher who seemingly has it together, yet has emotionally never recovered from the trauma. Alison takes a job as an art teacher in a prison, partly as a penance for being the only one left standing, but partly because she really needs the money. As the days and events unfold, nothing is really as it seems, and surprises lurk in unexpected places. I was very shocked at a couple of the twists, and some of the most surprising things are not revealed until the very end. This is a solid thriller, highly recommended.
Hannah follows up her wildly successful historical novel The Nightingale with this more contemplative tale set in 1970s Alaska. As with all of Hannah’s novels, this one is emotionally gut-wrenching in so many ways. It follows Ernt, Cora, and thirteen-year-old Leni Allbright as they move to Alaska in 1974. Ernt has been struggling after his experiences as a POW in Vietnam, and when he inherits a house in the wilds of Alaska, they think this might just be what they need to feel free and establish a life outside of the bounds of stressful society. They are woefully unprepared to survive, yet the other inhabitants surround them with care and acceptance and help them get settled. Leni thinks that just maybe, things will be all right, but as winter and darkness set in, so do Ernt’s dark moods. I really liked this novel and how it makes Alaska almost like a character in the story. It was long, but it needed to be in order to help the reader feel the atmosphere and situation. It’s also a difficult read at times, Ernt’s violence seems interminable, and I thought it carried on a bit too long for my liking. The ending is uplifting and a bit bittersweet. Totally worth reading, every Kristin Hannah book is gripping and unique.
Now the Travel:
Vista House at Crown Point
We had to drop our daughter off at a retreat in Corbett, Oregon, so we decided to stop by Vista House at Crown Point in the Columbia River Gorge on the way home. In the winter, Vista House itself is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10-4. The viewpoint itself is open every day, but if you want to go inside, check the website for hours before you go. I cannot remember the last time I went inside to actually read about the area, I may have never done it before. There was a huge fire in the Gorge this past summer, so the old Highway that tours by all of the waterfalls is only partially opened at this point. They hope to have it completely open by spring, but should be by summer at the latest. There are many exhibits in the basement of Vista House that explain how things have developed since it was built in 1917. From the old automobile tourists to modern-day I-84, the changes have been amazing. A shout out to the fantastic volunteers who took the time to chat and answer questions about the area. If you’re heading to Multnomah Falls or one of the other major tourist attractions, definitely take a bit of time to visit Vista House and Crown Point. The views are spectacular and the information is fascinating.
Portland Seafood and Wine Festival
We have been to the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival many times over the years, but our schedule has never been free to attend the Portland festival before now. We pre-purchased our one-day tickets for $14 each, which saved time waiting in line. The festival opened at 12 on Saturday, and we were in line at 11:30 and were not alone. By the time it opened, there were hundreds of people in line waiting to enter. There were some things we liked about this festival, and some things we didn’t. Unsure if we will return, we might want to try the Astoria festival as a new one on the list (even though they allow kids). Here are the Good and the Not-So-Good:
- Really wonderful seafood choices. The PDX festival had some great choices. We particularly liked the shrimp cakes and fish tacos from the Newport Fisherman’s Wives, as well as the Seafood sandwiches from Line and Lure. Definitely would have liked to see more crab choices though, the crab melts were pretty small for the cost.
- Quite a bit of seating: This was a good and a not-so-good thing. It was good at first because there was plenty of seating to eat your meal if you ate right away. Yet, as people started getting tired (or intoxicated) or their kids started getting tired, we noticed groups of people sitting at tables with nothing in front of them to eat or drink for very long periods of time, while people with plates of food had nowhere to sit.
- Live music: There were bands and individual singers, the music made the atmosphere lively and festive.
- Great selection of wineries (as well as a couple of breweries and distilleries) Can’t quibble about the quantity and quality of wines. There was something for every palate. Found some old favorites in Tesoaria with their double gold winner Alchemy, Spangler with their amazing big reds such as their reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and Noble with their delicious Passion. Also found some new winners with CatMan Cellars and their Barbera, and Resolu Cellars with their Barbitivo.
- Discovered Silagy Sauce, a small-batch hot sauce company out of Battleground. Ended up buying bottles of all of their sauces. Yum.
- Way too many kids and strollers. I fail to see any good reason why people would even want to bring their children to a wine/alcohol festival. When I asked about this on the festival’s Facebook page, I got a not-terribly-polite answer that they want this to be a family friendly (?) event and the sponsors want it that way so if we didn’t like it maybe this isn’t the place for us. People with giant strollers and dragging around small children seem very counter-intuitive to a wine festival. There was literally nothing for kids to do other than eat and take up space that was badly needed. If you think kids should be allowed, please let me know the reasons in the comments. I just can’t fathom why except that people don’t want to find a babysitter and I’d love to hear if there are reasons I can’t think of.
- The food prices are pretty high for the amount you get at some of the places. I love those crab/shrimp melts on French bread, but they seem to get smaller and smaller each year.
- Very, very crowded. We got there early, and when we left around 5 the line appeared to be about 45 min to an hour long because they were at capacity inside. They have said that they are making it bigger next year, but I’m not sure this will help.
- Some of the vendors were super pushy and again, strange for this type of festival–time shares and the like are just annoying.
Overall, we’ve had a fun January and start to February. Hopefully I can keep up with things a bit better, but no promises. There may be more short reviews in my future.