The Numbers

DATE: 5/1/19

Challenge Titles Finished (Totals To Date):

  • Books: 1,297
  • Poetry: 78
  • Short stories: 55
  • Plays: 2

Titles Finished: Totals for 2019:

  • Books: 46
  • Poetry: 0
  • Short stories: 0
  • Plays: 0
  • Early Reviews: 4

All titles left to go for Challenge: 4,283

Next count: 6/1/2018


Mariner’s Compass

Fowler, Earlene. Mariner’s Compass. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1999.

Reason read: May is supposedly National Museum Month and Benni works in a museum…

The theme of Mariner’s Compass is, in a word, home. Benni Harper learns a lot about what ‘home’ means when she becomes the sole heir of a stranger’s modest fortune. Jacob Chandler, dead of an apparent heart attack, leaves everything to Albenia Louise Harper with the condition that she live in his house for two weeks straight. If she does, she will inherit his house and everything in it, a modest bank account, and a dog named Scout. Benni takes two weeks off from her job at the museum, leaves her husband at home and honors the strange request. To the reader, there are many ways this particular premise for a plot could fall flat. Benni could decide she doesn’t need a stranger’s inheritance and refuse to stay in the house. (Who’s watching to see that she does it anyway?) Or she could live in the house for fourteen days straight and not be curious enough to investigate this mysterious Jacob Chandler. Luckily for Fowler fans, Benni not only takes the challenge but goes to great lengths to solve the mystery. The plot thickens when this stranger for all intents and purposes seems like in life he had been Benni’s stalker. He knows the name of her childhood horse. He has a picture of her deceased mother. He has newspaper clippings of every major event in Benni’s life. Just who is this guy?
My biggest pet peeve? Despite the ominous idea of Jacob Chandler being a stalker, Benni is not discreet. She tells just about anyone the entire story. Not your typical behavior when your life might be in danger.

Lines to like: I didn’t make note of any. Weird.

Book trivia: There were a few places where a twist in the plot was too transparent to be a shock. When Bennie has a picture of the deceased Chandler sent to his sister I knew she wouldn’t recognize the man as her brother. I won’t spell out the other situations as they would definitely spoil the plot. Let’s just say, there were no surprises for me at the end.

Author fact: taken from the back flap of Mariner’s Compass: Folwer was raised in La Puente, California which explains her expansive knowledge of Mexican food and customs.

Nancy said: Pearl included Mariner’s Compass in a chapter about mysteries under the subsection of occupations (museum). Truth be told, Benni’s occupation does not play a factor in this book. She doesn’t do a day of work at the museum. There is a subplot. The new mayor wants to replace the museum with a bigger money maker. In protest Benni’s grandmother and a group of other women (including the mayor’s mother) arrange a sit-in until the issue can be resolved.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


Topper Takes a Trip

Smith, Thorne. Topper Takes a Trip. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

Reason read: to finish the series started in March in honor of Thorne Smith’s birth month.

When we pick up with Mr. Topper and his wife, Mary Topper, they are in the South of France enjoying a holiday on the Riviera. After his adventure frolicking with ghosts and nearly becoming one himself in the last installment Cosmos Topper decides to take his wife on a vacation to the beaches of the French Riviera. He is hoping to rekindle his marriage and make up for his previous shenanigans. Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and their companions have been left far behind…or have they? While taking a bath Mr. Topper washes someone else’s foot. And so it begin again. Only this time Mr. Topper’s ghostly girlfriend decides he would be more fun as one of them. The only problem? Mr. Topper is still alive.
I have to admit there were some scenes so outrageous I was embarrassed to read them. I don’t think I am spoiling the plot any by saying this, but when Mrs. Topper takes Marion’s leg and swings it around like a weapon I cringed throughout the entire scene. It was beyond ridiculous. I can only imagine what the movie version was like.
But back to the plot. As I was saying, this time Topper’s friends have missed him so much they want to make him one of them. Sound familiar? It’s a repeat of the end of Topper when he crashes into the infamous tree. I couldn’t help feel sorry for Mrs. Topper the whole time.

The best line I liked, “A cat had to get used to so many disagreeable facts of life” (p 121).

Author fact: Thorne Smith was a huge fan of Dorothy Parker’s.

Book trivia: my copy of Topper Takes a Trip has an introduction by Carolyn See. Very cool.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Topper Takes a Trip.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 101).


Summer at Fairacre

Read, Miss. Summer at Fairacre. Boston: Houghton, 2001.

Reason read: Miss Read’s birth month is in April.

After a long winter the folks of Fairacre cannot wait for sunshine and roses. No one is more anxious for warmer weather than schoolteacher Miss Read. She is looking forward to a long list of many projects. They do not include the unwanted attentions of Henry Mawne while his wife is out of town. Any woman could relate. If a married man brought another woman flowers, or brought her books, invited her to lectures or a sherry party, or mailed her postcards signed with love, all while his wife was away for whatever reason, people would talk. But Henry Mawne isn’t Miss Read’s only problem. She has issues with the woman who cleans the school and her house. Miss Read spends most of the book fretting about who will clean these places while Mrs. Pringle is ill. I have to admit it is a little curious how Mrs. Pringle can string Miss Read along.
One of the best things about Miss Read is how real her character was throughout the story. How fiercely protective she was of her private time. The episode when she had a twitch in her eye that led her to wonder if she was going blind was so apropos. How many of us have felt a pang and instantly wondered if we had an incurable disease? Despite Miss Read’s wonderful personality, I loved friend Amy even more. She was hysterical.

Quote I liked, “What would happen if we all spoke the unvarnished truth?” (p 14) and “Sometimes life seems as contrary as a cat” (p 201).

Author fact: Miss Read’s real name was Dora Jessie Saint.

Book trivia: Summer at Fairacre is number sixteen in a series. My only other book on the Challenge list was Thrush Green.

Nancy said: Scenes of British village life can be found in the novels of Miss Read.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Barchester and Beyond” (p 15). As an aside, I have no idea how I ended up reading two books from the same chapter in the same month.


Ethel and Ernest

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.

This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.

Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.

Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.


Flight Behavior

Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior. New York: HarperPerennial, 2012.

Reason read: I love, love, love Kingsolver’s writing. Challenge be damned!

“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and that is one part rapture” (p 1). This is the very first sentence in Flight Behavior. The thing about Kingsolver’s writing is that she has the ability to look at the human condition and give it emotions and intelligence. How many of us have been slightly excited about ruining our lives in some manner? There is a certain buzz about the brain when the potential for destruction shows itself. Like imagining yourself hurtling out of a speeding vehicle, your hand reaching for the latch…
Dellarobia is a young housewife trapped by circumstance: uneducated, having only graduated from high school; untraveled and naive, never setting foot outside her backwoods county. She is rooted in place with two small children, always bowing down to the criticisms of an overbearing mother-in-law who still has her son wrapped around her little finger. Dellarobia’s entire life has been one pitfall after another. Marrying her high school boyfriend after he gets her pregnant locks her into the only relationship she’s even known. Poverty has kept her stuck in a never ending cycle day in and day out. So when the opportunity for small indulgences dance into view, she takes them in the form of hopeless crushes and fantasies of infidelity. She was on her way to meet her newest flame; on her way to finally overstepping that boundary of no return when something scared her into going back. Vanity had forced Dellarobia to leave her glasses behind when she hikes up a mountain to meet her illicit love interest. Through the blur a burning fire appeared, changing her life forever.

Lines I loved (out of a million), “Plenty of people took this way out, looking future damage in the eye and naming it something else” (p 1), and “If she could pretend ice cream flavored breakfast snacks did not cause obesity, he might overlook the less advantageous aspects of lung cancer” (p 169).

Author fact: Kingsolver is partly responsible for my love affair with the southwest. Because of her I dream of visiting Arizona.

Book trivia: I read a lot of interviews where readers are disappointed with Kingsolver’s didactic storytelling. Get over it, people! Kingsolver is like that rock musician who needs to tell you about Amnesty International or Planned Parenthood, or how our current political landscape sucks. When the public builds a celebrity a soapbox high enough to see over all the bullsh!t he or she going to stand on that soapbox to say something important to them. How could they not?


Five Children and It

Nesbit, E. Five Children and It. New York: Dover Publications, 2002.

Reason read: Nesbit was born in the month of May.

The Psammead or Sammyad is a strange looking sand fairy capable of granting wishes. I loved the description of “it” as having eyes on long horns like a snail, ears like a bat, body like a spider, hands and feet like a monkey, and whiskers like a rat. And. And! And, the thing talks! When five children named Cyril (Squirrel), Roberts (Bobs), Anthea (Panther), Hilary (the Lamb), and Jane, digging in the sand discover the Psammead can grant wishes they immediately embark on making choices that always seem to backfire on them: wealth, becoming physically bigger than an opponent, living in a castle, growing angel wings, fighting wild Indians, to name a few. Even after they decide to be more thoughtful with their wishes they still run into disaster. Luckily, their parents are away dealing with an ailing grandmother so they have plenty of opportunities to get it right…and wrong. The best part of Five Children and It is the relationship between the siblings. It rings true no matter what drama they face.

Sometimes the language of the turn of the century really comes through. “Smell their fists” is a euphemism for fighting, for example.

Weird quotes to quote, “It is easy if you love the Baby as much as you ought to” (p 42) and “That lot’s all long hair, drink and rude women” (p 65).

Author fact: E. Nesbit is actually Edith Nesbit.

Book trivia: Five Children and It was originally published in 1902. My 2002 edition was illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Nancy said: Pearl said Nesbit influenced writers before and after her.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fantasy for Old and Young” (p 83).


From Red Earth

Uwimana, Denise. From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness. New York: Plough Publishing House, 2019

Reason read: and Early Review book for LibraryThing.

I began reading this book review on the 25th anniversary of the start of Uwimana’s story. April 7th, 1994 began a hundred-day nightmare as nearly one million Rwandan Tutsi were brutally slaughtered by neighboring Hutus. Uwimana’s suffering began as more of an inconvenience three years earlier when her village had an innocuous curfew and her husband was forced to leave his family. Prejudices abounded but they were manageable. At the time Uwimana would practice small acts of defiance such as combing her hair in Tutsi fashion or having clandestine visits with her husband, but as mentioned before, life was bearable. Everything came to a head when President Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6th, 1994. Then the real nightmare began. Tutsi were blamed for the death and a campaign to wipe out there tribe ensured.
While Uwimana writes in a crystalline clear voice I took in her words slowly and with great thoughtfulness. There is a subtle grace to the things she says. First she survived. Remarkable. Then she healed. Incredible. Finally, she forgave. Indescribable strength.