Favorite books of 2018: a top 10 list

According to Goodreads, in 2018 I read 49 books. The shortest book, “Owls in the family” by one of our favorite writers, Farley Mowat, was 91 pages. The longest book, at 640 pages, was “Prairie fires: the American dream” by Caroline Fraser – a book about Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved children’s book author. The average length of book was 286 pages (probably because the book group I belong to in Portland makes a practice of reading books that are less than 300 pages long). The most popular book was “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, read by 1,162,980 people on Goodreads – we read this book for the Long Island Community Library’s summer book group, led by Jean Murley. The least popular book was “Native gems for his crown” by Gary Klumpenhower, which was read by 3 people on Goodreads. Gary Klumpenhower was the pastor of the First Navajo Christian Reformed Church in Tohatchi, New Mexico, where my grandfather was pastor in the early 20th century.

Choosing my favorite 10 books out of these 49 is difficult, but these were some of the ones I enjoyed most, choosing half that are fiction, and half that are non-fiction. Most of these can be found at the Long Island Community Library.

Ross Poldark / by Winston Graham. Okay, so I did read this book picturing Aiden Turner as Poldark, and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. But I loved reading this first book of the series, which takes place in Cornwall, several centuries ago. My favorite Poldark season on PBS was the first one, so it was a delight to read the growing love story between the two main characters. Unlike the television show, it’s wonderful to hear (read) the characters’ thoughts along the way, adding a new dimension to a favorite story.

On living / by Kerry Egan. Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain, and these are stories about her patients, as well as her own philosophy and thoughts on living, and dying. But rather than being a depressing book, it is so uplifting. Often funny, sometimes sad, Kerry not only shares her patient’s stories, but also brings in her own traumatic story that helped to shape her professionally and personally. She shares the mistakes she made, as well as the beauty one finds at the end of life. This book is a joy to read (and at only 206 pages in a small book, it’s a quick read).

City of thieves / by David Benioff. Two unlikely friends during WWII in search of eggs – good writing and humor tempered the grimness of the background of war and starvation. I stayed up late one night to finish as I wanted to find out what happened to Lev after “the week he met my grandmother, made his best friend, and killed two Germans.” (Mostly wanted to find out which character he married, which I guessed correctly).
Ironically, when I was reading this book, Michael and I took a road trip from Maine to Vermont along country roads, and saw so many signs for “eggs for sale.” I had to remind myself that I was reading a novel, that the two characters wouldn’t need to find eggs in northern New England.

Bonjour Kale: a memoir of Paris, love, and recipes / by Kristen Beddard. Even if you aren’t a major kale eater (I prefer my kale in the Maine Squeeze’s smoothie “Kale Storm”), you will love this book, if you are a fan of great writing. Kristen ends up living in Paris when her husband gets a job there – you will suffer along with her as she struggles with the language and culture and tries to find her path, which ends up being: kale! This is also a wonderful story of falling in love – not just with her husband, but with life in France, which doesn’t come easily to this author expatriate. And yes, there are recipes, mostly featuring kale (of course).

Hitty: her first hundred years / by Rachel Field. What a wonderful book! I finally read it, after all these years of being a Maine resident, and lover of Maine literature, especially children’s literature. I was not disappointed or bored, but instead relished the adventures of Hitty, a most resilient doll, who suffered all sorts of indignities, but somehow survived, with great cheer. Who knows what tales she could continue to tell, 90 years after this book was originally published in 1929? Rachel Field (1894-1942), a Maine author, is known to us islanders for her poem, “If once you have slept on an island” (you’ll never be the same). There are lovely illustrations, too, by Dorothy P. Lathrop.

Grateful: the transformative power of giving thanks / by Diana Butler Bass. This is a timely book – just what we should all be reading in these times, when gratitude (and a little prayer) is the best way to get through. Who would have thought a whole book about gratitude would be so interesting … and uplifting? I actually went to college with Diana – she was a senior while I was a lowly freshman. I don’t think she remembers me, but I do remember her kindness to me, as a newcomer to academia.

The sisters from Hardscrabble Bay / by Beverly Jenson. Alanna Rich lent me this book, which she has a personal connection to (you’ll have to ask her about it sometime). This book about two sisters who grew up in New Brunswick and Maine during the early 20th century, is written with humor and love, as they are based on family members of the author.

A homemade life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table / by Molly Wizenberg. I picked this up at the Art & Soul booksale this summer, and brought it with me on a trip out to Washington State to visit family. It was the perfect book for traveling, especially since Molly lives in Seattle, and got married in Bellingham, where my mother lives. This book was so entertaining and fun to read, it really brought me joy.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine / by Gail Honeyman. Nancy Jordan recommended this book in her “Library suggests” and I finally took her advice. Although initially I had my doubts, as the characters seemed very unlikeable, it definitely grew on me, as Eleanor’s heart opens up to the world around her, and she overcomes her difficult past.

Skein: the heartbreaks and triumphs of a long distance knitter / by Christen Mattix. Reading this book felt much like being there with Christen, over the four year stretch of knitting her blue line to the bay (which was supposed to take three months), as it had a meditative feel to the book. I loved this book for many reasons: her spiritual aspect of life and deepness of thought, her beautiful writing, and mostly for her success at creating community, something which is abundance here on Long Island, on the other side of the country from Bellingham, Washington, where this book takes place. My sister, who lives in nearby Ferndale, gave me this book as an early Christmas gift – and presented it to me at the actual bench where Christen knit her blue line. So, now I can picture where all of this happened (in a beautiful neighborhood, where I would love to live), and as a knitter myself, I could appreciate the knitting aspect of the book, also.

I hope these books find their way to your bedside table, or at least make you think about what books you enjoyed most last year. Happy New Year, and may all your books spark joy! (or at least provoke thought)

“Away in the manger” : ceramic nativity set by David Singo

Just in time for Advent, we present to you a new exhibit showcasing a ceramic nativity set made by David Singo in 1980.

And just in time for St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6) we include a ceramic Santa, also made by Dave in 1980.

Long Island Community Library
Small meeting room glass case
The exhibit is open during library hours

Knit for Your Neighbors – Sit n’ Knit

How’s this for a great idea?
Yesterday, at the Portland Public Library, they had a gathering of knitters, to kick off an initiative to knit items to keep people warm, such as hats, mittens, and scarves. So, gather those items you have already made, and drop them off at the Reference Desk at PPL, or make this an inspiration to gather up your needles or hooks and knit and crochet to keep our neighbors warm! (just in time for this brisk weather we’re having)

After I stopped in to PPL to check out the activities, I stopped in a downtown store to buy a candle, on my way to the ferry – the woman behind the checkout desk was knitting hand warmers, so I told her all about the PPL initiative, and gave her the hat knitting pattern I had picked up at the sit ‘n knit. She was very excited!

I love when libraries and knitting intersect* – well done, Meg Gray, the Science and Technology Librarian at PPL, who organized the activity and initiative.

For more information:


And about collecting the items:


*Just a reminder that at our own Long Island Community Library, we have a group of knitters that gather on Thursday afternoons – no doubt they are knitting up items such as these for various charities. If you are a knitter (or crafter, in general), I’m sure they would love to have you join in!

“A cup of coffee would save my life!”*: an ode to coffee in literature

In honor of Jane Cullen, my Great Diamond Island coffee buddy

October 1st is International Coffee Day, and what better month, with our crisp weather which makes us crave hot drinks, to pay tribute to … coffee! Although an inveterate tea drinker, these past few years I’ve fallen in love with café society, especially in Portland, with its plethora of coffee venues. What better place, especially on a cool autumn day, to hang out with a good book in places like Arabica, Bard, or Higher Grounds, while waiting for the ferry. By tradition, coffee houses are a place to gather, whether in the 1960s beatnik era or the 16th century Middle East, and thankfully that tradition has not waned. Coffee is alive and well today, whether you like your coffee as a cappuccino, espresso or latte! (or just regular old fashioned coffee)

As far as coffee in literature, who can resist non-fiction titles such as

The coffee lover’s diet : change your coffee, change your life

Coffee for one : how the new way to make your morning brew became a tempest in a coffee pod

Coffee: a dark history

Fun fiction titles include cozy mystery titles, such as these by Cleo Coyle: Holiday Buzz, Murder by Mocha, and Murder Most Frothy. And then there are these great titles by Alex Erickson: Death by Coffee, Death by Vanilla Latte, Death by Espresso, etc. Sandra Balzo also jumped on the coffee house bandwagon with her mystery series, which includes Murder on the Orient Espresso, Uncommon Grounds, and To the Last Drop.

And just as I was about to write this blog, “Signature,” a literary website, tempted me with this list of “best coffee books for coffee lovers”
(Which just goes to show I’m on the right track with these coffee books)

So, while my first love is tea (see this blog for October 2016), I hope you enjoyed my ode to coffee!

*Excerpt from Blood and thunder: an epic of the American West, by Hampton Sides. Description of a French trapper, hovering near death: “The men has more or less written off the poor fellow, who in his death agonies kept hallucinating that he smelled coffee – a luxury no one traveling with Kearny had seen or tasted in months. ‘Don’t you smell it?’ Robideaux beseeched them. ‘A cup of coffee would save my life!’” eventually someone did make him a cup of coffee, and poured “’this precious draught into the waning body of our friend Robideaux. His warmth returned, and with it hopes of life.’

Two women, two countries – American wives abroad in the mid-20th century

One of my favorite places to acquire books is in the free book box in front of Maine Charitable Mechanic Association – these books, weeded from the MCMA book collection, are ripe for the picking, and often include many wonderful travel books written in the mid-20th century. Two of these books caught my eye, and I enjoyed reading each one, savoring stories of women living abroad, with their husbands leading the way.

One of the books was Amalia Lindal’s “Ripples from Iceland,” published in 1962. Amalia met her Icelandic husband in college, married him, and moved to Iceland, where she proceeded to have 4 children, all boys (and apparently there was a 5th child born after the book was published). The book covers the years 1949 to 1961, and Amalia’s perspective alternates between personal stories of her life there, and her general insight and opinions about Icelandic life. The photo on the back shows her with her husband and four young boys – although she has a smile on her face, she appears somewhat exhausted, and for good reason! Not only raising children and running a household, but also negotiating a difficult language and foreign culture, not to mention very traditional women’s roles – fortunately her good humor probably saved her. As usual, after I finished the book, I wanted to know what happened to her. Sadly, rather than spending the rest of her life in Iceland, as she intended, she left in 1972 – divorced her husband, moved to Toronto, and remarried. She instructed “Short Story Writing” at the University of Toronto, and was a free-lance writer. She died sometime before 1985.

The second book I picked up was Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s “A view from the Nile” published in 1970. In this case, Elizabeth, or “B.J.” married an American man, Robert A. Fernea, an anthropologist – they initially lived in Iraq, while he was working on his doctorate. This book was written about their life in Egypt – she is pregnant in the beginning of the book, and by the end of the book she has had three children. She has less general observations about Egyptian life than Amalia about Icelandic life, but the impressions of local life are quite interesting and entertaining. B.J. knew this was a temporary part of her life, which may have made it a more special time. They came home to America in 1965, and she went on to become “an influential writer and filmmaker who spent much of her life in the field producing numerous ethnographies and films that capture the struggles and turmoil of African and Middle Eastern cultures” (Wikipedia). She died in 2008.

Both these books offer an interesting perspective on what life was like in these vastly different countries, and how these women negotiated marriage and motherhood while living in places totally foreign to their usual lives at home in America.

LICL Summer 2018 Book Group

What is a perfect summer read? How about “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”? Jean Murley is returning to our island to lead this book group in August. Jean, the daughter of Penny and Curt Murley, is a an associate professor of English at Queensborough Community College in New York.

Come join us this month on Tuesday evenings (Aug. 7, 14, and 21, from 7-8 p.m.) at the Long Island Community Library small meeting room, for what promises to be a fun and scintillating conversation about one of America’s best loved books (and also on the banned book list)


Art and Soul July 21 2018

The Long Island Community Library is in the midst of preparing for this year’s library fundraiser: Art and Soul. Yesterday a group of us sorted books into categories in one of the classrooms – categories include gardening, travel, cookbooks and food, biographies, history, children’s books, puzzles, and self-help books. Baskets are being created for raffling off. Annie is working away on gathering delicious food items to sell. Jeanne is hanging some beautiful artwork for the silent auction. So, mark your calendars! and come support your favorite island library.

Comic artists: exhibit at Portland Public Library this month

There is a fabulous comic exhibit at the Portland Public Library this month, up for a few more days – if you have a chance stop by! Here is more information about it:

June 1 – 23, 2018:
30×30: Comic Artists
Held in conjunction with the Maine Comic Arts Festival
Portland Public Library and Casablanca Comics celebrate the comic arts in our June 2018 exhibit, 30”x30”. Artists’ panels will be enlarged to an exaggerated size to amplify the expression and detail of each unique work, creating the experience of a giant comic strip throughout the Lewis Gallery. Though the works are non-sequential, each artist has submitted their comic book vision of a library scene—a visual love letter to libraries everywhere. 30”x30” premiers in conjunction with the Maine Comic Arts Festival (MeCAF) at Portland Public Library, a day-long celebration of comics arts and creators (held June 2nd)

Authors on the bay: Anne Weber

This month I’m introducing a new book by Anne Weber, a resident of Great Diamond Island: Constabulary Tales, short stories based on Anne’s experience as the island constable. Extremely well-written, entertaining, and funny, these stories give a glimpse into island life, especially on an island where locals and summer folk blend in an intricate dance. I asked Anne about her book:

How did this book come about?
I’ve journaled on and off for many years, so I’d been writing. When I joined a writing group through ‘senior college’, I began to put some of my experiences as constable down on paper as stories with a beginning, a middle and end.

Obviously although it is fiction, it is based on truth – what percentage, roughly, would you say is based on reality?
While the stories began as memoir – a half-sister to truth, I realized the Constable had far more patience and understanding than I ever had. Once I realized she was so non-judgmental, I knew I was writing fiction. To answer your question, I would say 15%.

How has your community responded to the book?
So far anyone who has commented to me has liked it. The book was available in late fall so I suspect many summer residents haven’t seen it yet. Guess the jury is still out.

Is there still no Constable?
That is correct. We live in a lawless land.

How is island life conducive to writing?
The island provides peace and solitude but the writer still has to provide the discipline.

If someone wanted to buy a copy of your book, what is the best way?
The Long Island Store has copies for sale, as does Ports of Call on Commercial St. It’s available on amazon.com and I seem to carry a few copies with me at all times.

What are you working on now?
I have several projects going. I’m working on another play for the GDI reader’s theater. A novella about an island woman who gets involved in mayhem and mischief is on the shelf. Then there’s my biography of artist John Mulvany, a relative. I’ve been working on this for twenty years.

Although Anne would love for you to buy her book, it is also available to read through the Long Island Community Library.

Great American Read

The Great American Read begins tonight on PBS at 8 p.m. I’ll be watching it – how about you? I’ve already chosen my “my favorite” from the 100 books  (not sure about my choice, as there were a few great options.) Anyway, here is more (from the website):

THE GREAT AMERICAN READ is an eight-part series that explores and celebrates the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels (as chosen in a national survey). It investigates how and why writers create their fictional worlds, how we as readers are affected by these stories, and what these 100 different books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience.

For more information:


You can also go through Maine PBS and vote for your favorite there:





A small library on an island on the coast of Maine