The Numbers

DATE: 11/25/20

Challenge Titles Finished (Totals To Date):

  • Books: 1,476
  • Poetry: 78
  • Short stories: 75
  • Plays: 4

Titles Finished: Totals for 2020:

  • Books: 87
  • Poetry: 0
  • Short stories: 12
  • Plays: 0
  • Early Reviews: 11

All titles left to go for Challenge: 4,113

Next count: 12/1/2020


Siddhartha

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Translated by Hilda Rosner. New York: MJF Books, 1951.

Reason read: New Year’s Day always evokes resolution talk. Meditation is big on people’s lists. Read Siddhartha as a resolution for someone out there.

How do I describe Siddhartha? In simple terms I would say it’s one man’s journey to find his identity. In the end he finds peace in listening to a river and hearing his heart. In listening, he learns. In hearing, he loves. There is a great deal that happens in between, of course. The proudest and more profound moment was when Siddhartha recognized the pain he currently experiences as the exact same pain he inflicted on his father so long ago. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Quotes to quote, “Had he ever lost his heart to anyone so completely, had he ever loved anybody so much, so blindly, so painfully, so hopelessly and yet so happily” (p 99), and “It seems to me, that love is the most important thing in the world’ (p 104).

Author fact: Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet and painter in addition to being a novelist.

Book trivia: This is short enough to read several times over. Do, because it will surprise you every time.

Nancy said: Pearl said :no list of books on Buddhism, however short, would be complete without recommending Hermann Hesse’s deceptively simple novel” (Book Lust p 255-256).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 256).


Across the Savage Sea

Fontenoy, Maud. Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006.

Reason read: my good friend Frank was born in January and he loved, loved, loved boats and the sea. Read in his memory. Also as a selection for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge: An extreme survival story.

Maud Fontenoy was twenty-five years old when she decided to embark on a nearly four month journey across the North Atlantic in 2003. She was officially at sea for 117 days. While she kept in constant contact with family, friends, sponsors, and news agencies, Fontenoy was alone with only what the ocean could offer her for company. She was entertained by dolphins, mesmerized by whales, stymied by fish, and terrorized for a short time by sharks. Occasionally, a tanker would cross her path, as she was squarely in their shipping lane for a good part of the journey. The real threat to her journey, however, was not the sharks, nor the tankers but the weather. Tropical storms would wreak havoc on Fontenoy and her little boat. Despite the fact meteorologists kept her abreast of developing weather patterns, there was little she could do to avoid the high seas and violent winds that came with them. Her strength and fortitude to just survive were astounding.

Confessional: I read this book before I started the Book Lust Challenge. I opted to read it again because I couldn’t remember many details. Plus, it’s a pretty short book so it was easy to add it back on the list. If I ever met Fontenoy in person I would like to ask if anyone ever found her message in a bottle.

Somebody helped me out. There is a moment when Fontenoy was convinced a much larger vessel was bearing down on her. She describes how her radar detector went off, beeping like crazy. However, she later shares that her detector was defective and said it “detected no vessels during the crossing.” So, what was the beeping? Does that mean the droning of the vessel’s engine and the smell of exhaust was all in her imagination? Was there a near miss with another vessel or not?

Quote to quote, “I wondered why the god of the sea had chosen to keep me in the palm of his hand” (p 95).

Author fact: Fontenoy has written two books about sailing. Both are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: there is a small section of photographs for which I am grateful. I had a hard time picturing Fontenoy’s craft, Pilot.

Nancy said: Pearl said Across the Savage Sea is “well worth your reading time.” I completely agree. So much so that I’m reading it again for the Challenge. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row your Boat” (p 191).


Alcestis

Beutner, Katharine. Alcestis. New York: SoHo, 2010.

Reason read: Female Dominion Day in parts of Greece is celebrated on January 8th. The premise is the women get to leave their husbands at home with the housework and kids while they celebrate being matriarchs.

Beutner takes Greek mythology and turns it on its head. It is no small feat to retool a myth and turn Euripides’s male-centered drama into a lesbian love story. This is the story of Alcestis, the woman who sacrificed her own life to save her husband’s. Her outward loyalty knows no limits, beginning with faking the end of her virginity on her wedding night when, like some men with a secret lover, Admetus can’t perform. But internally, Alcestis is no ordinary woman. She is a mortal with many complex personalities: as a dutiful daughter, a sacrificing wife, a ever-loving sister, a sheltered princess, and the passionate lover of a goddess.
Once Alcestis volunteers her life and she is in the underworld, she observes a place in a state of constantly shimmering and shifting allusion. It is difficult, but Alcestis begins a three-day search for her beloved sister who died at ten years old. Every time she inquires about Hippothoe she is met with strange riddles in place of replies as if to protect her from an unknown horror. No one wants to clearly say what has become of Hippothoe. Alcestis perseveres boldly for she is not afraid of the underworld, nor the gods who rule there. She will not take no for an answer. In the meantime, she says yes when she is seduced by, and ultimately falls in love with, Persephone. Alcestis seems to grow larger than life as her sexuality becomes more fluid and not as easily defined. When she is “rescued” and brought back to the living Alcestis is forever changed.

Line that stuck with me, “My mind stuttered and stuck” (p 189).

Author fact: Beutner earned her BA in classical studies from Smith College in 2003.

Book trivia: Alcestis was nominated and a finalist for a LAMBDA award in 2011.

Nancy said: Pearl called Alcestis a good novel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).


One for the Money

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Reason read: I read somewhere that January is Female Mystery Month.

Suspend most of your beliefs in regards to reality and you will enjoy Stephanie Plum and her naïve and bumbling beginning as an amateur bounty hunter. After her cousin Vinnie temporarily loses an agent he hires down and out Plum to take his place. She has absolutely no experience but she’s desperate. She’s already hocked a few appliances to keep the rent going and her car has just been repossessed. Her first case worth $10,000? Who does she need to bring in, you may ask? Her old childhood nemesis, Joe Morelli. They have history dating back to a high school indiscretion that took place behind a case of cannoli and then was gossiped all over town. Plum is still embarrassed all these years later. Now Morelli’s a cop accused of murder and on the run. Self defense, he claims. Armed with pepper spray and an unloaded gun she doesn’t really know how to use, Stephanie Plum sets out to capture Morelli by stealing his car and stalking him across Trenton, New Jersey. He’s not that hard to find. She keeps running into Morelli all over town. Problem is, every time she tries to apprehend him, he gets her all hot and bothered instead.
Speaking of being bothered, here’s where I really get annoyed. Stephanie is viciously attacked by a sexual deviant boxer named Ramirez. This madman comes close to raping her and yet later, Joe is able to climb into her apartment through a window. As someone who was nearly a rape victim, why would she leave a window open? That detail doesn’t seem to be as important as collaring Morelli and getting her ten grand. Will Stephanie keep her cool and get her man?

Quote to make me cringe, “Truth is, I wasn’t used to being a minority, and I felt like a black man looking up a white woman’s skirts in a WASP suburb of Birmingham” (p 108). Ouch. she also doesn’t like handicapped old people who take all the best parking spots. Double ouch.
Lines I actually liked, “Doesn’t matter whether it’s cats or coleslaw, death is not attractive” (p 124) and “Range etiquette was never to point the gun at the guy standing next to you” (p 150). Good point.

Author fact: to date Evanovitch has written twenty-six Stephanie Plum mysteries. I am reading ten of them.

Book trivia: One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich’s series starring Stephanie Plum.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t think Evanovich’s books should be in the category of mysteries.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Vile Village

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: Vile Village. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October in honor of Halloween.

Once again, right off the bat, Snicket asks you to go read someone else’s book. He says, “And if you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight, so if you have any sense at all you will put this book down and pick up another one” (p 6). With an introduction like that, how could you not keep reading Snicket’s book? Very clever. By now you know the format: Snicket is still offering meanings for words and phrases. The three orphaned Bauldelaire children are looking for a place to call home. Violet is a teenager and still very much interested in inventions. Klaus is on the cusp of turning thirteen and still loves reading. Sunny is still an infant with four teeth who still can’t speak in full sentences, but she loves to bite things. They have escaped (again) from Count Olaf and his band of wicked accomplices. Banker and Bauldelaire family friend, Mr. Poe, is still in charge of sending the Baudelaire orphans to their next town of tragedy. This time it’s V.F.D. (“Village of Fowl Devotees”), a mysterious town covered in crows. The problem is, no one in the town wants to be responsible for the children. As the name suggests, the community is devoted to their murder of crows. At a Council of the Elders, a timid and loner handyman who is too skittish to speak up at Council meetings, is order to become the children’s guardian. All day long they must do chores for the community and always be respectful of the crows, crows, and more crows. By day, thousands of them hang around in town but by night they roost in the Nevermore tree on the outskirts of town, conveniently right by the handyman’s house.
As an aside, I skipped from Book 3 to 7. By not reading books 4-6 I missed out on Violet working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Klaus being enrolled at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three children living with a couple named Jerome and Esme Squalor. At the end of book 6 Duncan and Isadora, two of three triplets are kidnapped. In Vile Village it is up to Klaus, Violet, and Sunny to rescue them.
Additionally, what is pretty amazing about the series of unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans experienced thus far is that they all happened in less than a year’s time. The fire that killed their parents, the escape from Count Olaf’s house, the escape from Uncle Monty’s house, the escape from Aunt Josephine’s cliff side mansion, the time in the Finite Forest, or at 667 Dark Avenue. Books 1-7 take place in less than 365 days.

Author fact: So far I have told you Lemony was a pen name, his birth month is February, and that I was born in the same month. My last author fact is that Lemony is married to illustrator Lisa Brown.

Book trivia: Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and the last one I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series “wonderful.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-ups” (p 174).


White Horses

Hoffman, Alice. White Horses. Berkley Books: New York, 1982.

Reason read: Judging a book by its cover, I chose White Horses to read in honor of when the television show “All Creatures Great and Small” first aired. I assumed there was at least one horse in the book when I scheduled it for January.

Family: Dina (mother), Harry aka King (father), Rueben (son), Teresa (daughter), and Silver (favorite son). Here’s what you need to know about these people: Every character is deeply flowed. Dina is tragic. King is a jerk. Rueben is nonexistent. Teresa is hopeless. Silver is a conundrum. Everyone is left wanting in one way or another. This is a book with an overarching theme of obsession and I spent most of the time either feeling sorry for the entire family or wondering what the hell was going on with them. Well written without a doubt, but with a stranger-than-strange plot. Dina is obsessed with Arias. These fairytale dark-haired, dark-eyed cowboys supposedly swoop in on mythical white horses to save the day. Dina truly believes that at any second an Aria will arrive outside her kitchen window and steal her away. She stares hungrily at her own son as Silver has the hair, the eyes, and he always wears a white shirt that could substitute nicely for the prerequisite white horse. The favorite son takes on a whole new level of importance when Teresa falls in love with him. What is so special about Silver that makes everyone fawn over him, despite the fact he turned out to be a petty thief, drug dealer, and betraying snitch? Honestly, it’s Hoffman’s control over her storytelling that kept me hanging on to her every word. There is a delicate subtlety to her intentions that was just beautiful.

Confessional: I had to sit with this book for awhile. I just didn’t know how I felt about any of it.

Quotes I liked, “Dina was certain that every jump in temperature could force arguments to rise from the dust, ghosts would appear in the midday haze” (p 3), and “Even after she had climbed onto the raised platform of the cafe, she still wasn’t certain that the bones in the graveyard hadn’t followed her into the heart of the city” (p 37).

Author fact: I have five different Hoffman books on my challenge list. I have finished three of them (including White Horses).

Book trivia: I could see this as an adaptation for the big screen.

Nancy said: Pearl said “It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that much popular fiction of late has as its text or subtext a family in trouble” (Book Lust p 82).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and only mentioned in the chapter called “Families in Trouble” (p 82), although Pearl could have included it in the first chapter, “A…is for Alice (p 1) because there she lists other Hoffman books.


We Wish to Inform You…

Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.

Reason read: The movie Hotel Rwanda was released in the United States on December 22nd, 2004.

The title of the book comes from a letter written to Paston Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. In it, several Advent pastors, hiding in a hospital state, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families…” (p 42). Such a devastating cry for help…only to end in betrayal. But probably the most helpless and hopeless line in the book (for me anyway), was “I took it we were under attack, and did nothing because I had no idea what to do” (p 33). I can’t imagine knowing full well murderers were coming for me, and yet having no idea how to save myself. Imagine having nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. No way to protect yourself. Heartbreaking. Like macabre trick or treating, gangs went from town to town, just looking for people to massacre.
I find myself asking over and over again how neighbors, friends, relatives, business partners could rise up against their brethren. To kill over and over again with such horrific brutality. Not just an impersonal shot to the head. Not just a quick execution from a far off distance, but an up-close and personal hacking, slashing, chopping; a hand to hand combat/rape/pillage with machetes and knives, sticks and stony rage. The willingness, the eagerness to turn on people you had once worked, lived, learned or played side by side. Colleagues killed colleagues. Neighbors annihilated neighbors. Teachers assassinated their students. Friends turned one another with surprising ease. Gourevitch tries to make sense of it in We Wish to Inform You… by going back historically and analyzing the time before the genocide. His style is to think about the subject from a distance and then living with it up close. He walks around a topic to scrutinize it from every angle. His focus was to ask what really happened and how its aftermath is understood today (at the time of his writing).

Quotes to quote (besides the ones previously mentioned), “Five hundred years is a very long life for any regime, at any time, anywhere” (p 49), “But the decimation had been utterly gratuitous” (p 180), and “What does suffering have to do with genocide, when the idea itself is the crime” (p 202)?

Author fact: Gourevitch spent his childhood in Connecticut.

Book trivia: We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was awarded the Guardian First Book Award.

Nancy said: Pearl called We wish to Inform You…”personal” and “heart-wrenching” in Book Lust. In Book Lust To Go she included a link to a video of an interview she conducted with Gourevitch in —. The video is no longer available, but I have been able to request archives from Seattle Channel before so…an update: The super fantastic folks at Seattle worked their magic! Within a day I got an email with a link to the interview! Spectacular.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: Today and Yesterday” (p 9) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).


Blue River

Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.

Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?

Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).


Menopocalypse

Thebe, Amanda. Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books.

Amanda Thebe wants you to join a community of women pushing their way through middle age. Through her book, Menopocalypse, she wants you to know you are not alone, nor are you living in Crazy Town. Your body and mind may feel like they have been taken over by aliens, but fear not! This too shall pass. Thebe’s style of writing is approachable and conversationally candid. She swears a lot. I’m okay with that. I’m less okay with how often she repeats herself. In the chapter about stress and sleep she bullets different ways to combat stress and get more sleep. Only they are not all different – walking is mentioned three different times. It’s as if the repetitiveness is there to combat a shorter book. That being said, there is a lot of great information in an easily digestible format. I never knew the loss of balance after menopause was a thing.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about this book. I requested an Advanced Reader’s Copy because I am in the thick of “the change” myself. Most appreciated: the photographs of strength training moves and a suggested scheduled routine. As an avid runner, I always appreciate a variety of routines to keep me fit.

Deep confessional: it took me a while to recognize my own sorry state of affairs. In my mid-forties I was training for a full marathon and my periods were wildly erratic. Previously blessed with a cycle as regular as clockwork, I suddenly found myself never knowing when the flow would start, how heavy it would be, or how long it would last. I was ruining clothes and my disposition on a frequent basis. Doctors told me this: because of all the running I was putting my body through, my body was “rebelling” and holding my menstrual cycle “hostage.” I was told to be patient as it would take some time to get back to normal. That was over five years ago. My body officially resigned from menstruation two years ago.

Author fact: Thebe is a personally trainer with twenty years in the industry, so her physique was already primed for menopause. Her book should have a disclaimer, “results not typical.”

Book trivia: According to the back cover, this book is already on sale (since October 2020).


On Being Human

Pastiloff, Jennifer. On Being Human: a Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. New York: Dutton, 2020.

Reason read: in the interest of self reflection I thought I would read this book.

There is no doubt Pastiloff is a talented writer. She executes words and sentiments like an executive chef whipping up a ten course meal using only the best ingredients. To continue the cheesy analogy, her ability to accomplish goals and banish self-loathing is nothing short of delicious. I hunger for that soul discovery/recovery as well. I want it for myself like craving a hot cranberry maple scone on a Sunday morning…but I digress.
Back to Pastiloff’s On Being Human. I can’t say why this took me forever to read. I started it in July. Yes, July. Only now, at the end of December am I wrapping it up. My one complaint? Pastiloff’s chronology was all over the place. If this was meant to be a collection of short, chopped up essays I could understand the disjointedness of it all. As a memoir, jumping from one timeframe to another, one awakening or realization to the next, was a little confusing. Aside from that little critique, I loved On Being Human. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this gigantic best seller? Nothing. It is vulnerable. It is lovely. It is broken and brave and beautiful. Just read it if you haven’t already.

Author fact: Jennifer has her own website and other socials here.

Book trivia: There are no photographs included in On Being Human, but if you look up Pastiloff on her website you will find a beautiful human. It is hard to imagine her being hung up on how she looks, but that’s what makes On Being Human that much more honest. Good looking people have insecurities as well.


Think of England

Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Reason read: Dark was born in December; read in her honor.

Confessional: I read this so fast I didn’t start a blog or take many notes. It’s like a bullet train that sped by me once I finished reading and jumped off.

Jane MacLeod’s life is chronicled in this short first novel from Alice Elliott Dark. We first meet nine year old Jane in rural Pennsylvania where she aspires to be a writer. Under bed covers and behind doors, she writes stories about her family. [Confessional: For a moment this activity reminded me of Harriet, the Spy. By comparison, Jane is more introspective and less mean.] Jane claims she can remember the moment she was born. She carefully watches her parents and their teetering-on-rocky relationship. As young as she is, Jane understands not all is perfect in their household. She can tell when her mother has had too much to drink and she listens closely when the adults talk snipe at each other openly; when her parents forget they are not alone in the room. After a tragic accident, the story jumps many years and Jane is now far away from her family and living in London as a twenty-something writer. She has befriended a few artists, who encourage her poetic endeavors, and a married man who encourages her romantic ones. Fast forward a bunch of years and Jane is back in the States, now living in New York with a daughter of her own. Reunited with family, Jane comes full circle in her quest to understand the tragedy which separated them so long ago.

The title comes from Lady Hillingdon’s 1912 sad journal when she revealed she thinks of England whenever she must have unwanted sex with her husband. Yup. So there’s that. Jane’s mother uses the phrase whenever there is a setback of any size.

Lines I liked, “She was a slow burning shadow” (p 21), “She fought back by competing; if her mother made her feel small, she’d make herself even smaller” (p 32), “They stared at each other across a chasm of diverging logic, all the misunderstandings between them crammed between rings of the phone” (p32), and “Ghosts could cross water, after all” (p 184). There were dozens of other lines I would like to share, but this will have to do. Just read the book. Seriously.

Author fact: Think of England is Dark’s first novel.

Book trivia: when trying to search for Think of England the book, I kept coming up with K.J. Charles. I like that Dark is a little obscure.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dark’s writing “highly polished and controlled (but frequently emotionally charged” (Book Lust p 1).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).


Wide Window

Snicket, Lemony. The Wide Window. New York: Scholastic Publishers, 2000.

Reason read: to continue the series started in October in observance of Halloween.

To recap the entire series thus far: Klaus, Violet, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans. Their parents dying wish was for the children to be under the guardianship of a relative. Any relative. Throughout the series Mr. Poe, the family banker, has been responsible for placing the children with members of the family, no matter how distant. First came Count Olaf who tried to marry Violet in order to obtain rights to a substantial inheritance (due to the children when they came of age). Then came Uncle Monty who died of a bite from his own snake. Now, in The Wide Window, the children have been placed with Aunt Josephine who is a second cousin’s sister-in-law and has a phobia of nearly everything. Aunt Josephine lives in a huge house precariously balanced on a mountain ledge above Lake Lachrymose. Of course there is a wide window overlooking the water. Of course, Count Olaf isn’t far behind the children, having escaped every other time in the series. A master of disguises, this time he shows up with a peg leg and a patch over one eye, claiming to be Captain Sham.
As with other Lemony Snicket books, there is a formula to The Wide Window: the adults are oblivious to what is directly in front of them, readers will hear the phrase, “a word which means” a lot, and Snicket will urge his audience to read another book if they want a happy ending, “If you are interested in reading a story filled with thrilling good times, I am sorry to inform you that you are most certainly reading the wrong book…this is your last chance” (p 5). This is really quite clever because nine times out of ten one will keep reading just to witness the next tragedy.

Quote to quote, “A library is normally a very good place to work in the afternoon, but not if its window has been smashed and there is a hurricane approaching” (p 46). Sounds about right.

Author fact: Snicket was born in February…same as me.

Book trivia: Wide Window is the third book in the series.

Nancy said: Pearl has called all Snicket books wonderful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-Ups” (p 174).


Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

Farmer, Nancy. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. New York: Richard Jackson Book, 1994.

Reason read: October is National Fantasy Month.

The year is 2194 in Zimbabwe, Africa. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm takes place in a world of computer animated Dobermans and genetically engineered monkeys; a world where creatures called She Elephants (that aren’t actually elephants) mine for plastic in a toxic dump. Robots and rockets are the norm. Basically, insert your favorite sci-fi stereotype here. It is also a world full of ancient African cultures and traditions. Witchcraft, spirits, and powers beyond human recognition rule the landscape.
In this landscape are Tendai, Rita, and Kuda. They are the overprotected and bored children of General Matsika, Chief of Security. Matisika has too many enemies so homeschooling, work, play; essentially his children’s every blessed second is spent behind gigantic heavily guarded walls. Much to his father’s disappointment, Tendai, the oldest child, will never make a good warrior. Tendai is the gentlest and most sensitive of all the children. He has the ability to physically feel the harm done to others. Rita, the middle child, is fiery and headstrong; not afraid to speak her mind or start a fight with anyone, human or otherwise. Kuda, by default the youngest, is impetuous and bold; simply not afraid of anything.
Confined as they are, the three children are eager to break out of their homemade prison when given the chance. And rest assured, break out they finally do. There wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Once the Matsika children find a way to trick their babysitter, the adventure outside the fortified mansion begins and it is not what any of them expected. Sold into slavery, the children are forced to work along side the vlei people sorting trash for a tyrant so large she is called “She Elephant.” It is not a spoiler to say they escape from this predicament only to fall in the trap of another and another and another.
General Matsika, consumed with remorse for letting down his guard for a second, hires a mutant detective agency called Ear, Eye, Arm to find his children. Ear has super sensitive hearing. Eye (you guessed it) has super sight. Arm is the most unique of all as he can feel empathy to the point of seeing into one’s soul. Together they chase the children from one entrapment to the other. The ending combines science fiction with ancient African customs for a Hollywood ending.

Apparently, I didn’t like any lines because I have nothing to quote.

As with any good fantasy, there has to be a connection to reality to help the reader connect. Instead of “jet” lag, individuals in 2194 experience “rocket” lag. Funny.

Author fact: Nancy Farmer wrote a bunch of really good stuff. Unfortunately, none of it is on my Challenge list. Boo.

Book trivia: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm won a Newbery Honor award in 1995.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm except to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasy for Grown-Ups” (p 174). I would definitely agree this would be entertaining for adults.


Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

Lofting, Hugh. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of…nothing. I read the Story of Doctor Dolittle by mistake. I’m actually ending the series with the Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle has upped its game from the last installment. Adventures on the high seas! A riveting murder trial! A daring bullfight with five bulls in the ring! And that’s just the first half of the book. Our story begins with ten year old Tommy Stubbins, born to Jacob Stubbins, a cobbler of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, being introduced to Dr. John Dolittle because of a squirrel in need of medical attention. Such an innocent beginning to a wild adventure! Tommy is quickly fascinated by Dolittle’s endeavors to learn the language of shellfish and convinces his parents to let him live with Dolittle as an assistant fulltime. Could Tommy learn how to talk to animals, too? As we learned in The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Doctor John knows a little something about talking to creatures of all kinds. He already established relationships with the furry and feathered kind and contains a whole menagerie in his house and gardens. But what about those creatures living in the sea? While waiting to hear from his fellow naturalist friend, Long Arrow, Dolittle toils in his basement, struggling to understand shellfish.
In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle the good doctor wants to learn how to talk to shellfish because of their prehistoric existence and goes to great lengths to obtain the knowledge. This quest takes Dolittle and Tommy to Spider Island, an unattached, floating island slowly drifting toward the South Pole. It is there they hope to find Dolittle’s frient, Long Arrow.

I think this quote would apply to any language, “Being a good noticer is terribly important to learning animal language” (p 43). Here are two more lines I liked, “No man stands any chance of going on a voyage when his wife hasn’t seen him in fifteen years” (p 104) and “…across the darkening sky, shreds of cloud swept like tattered witches flying from the storm” (p 190).

Author fact: Hugh Lofting went on to write many more installments of the Doctor Dolittle series.

Book trivia: In the Afterward written by Lofting’s son, Christopher, he explains how some of the original text and illustrations were inappropriate for children and had to be altered for the 1988 edition. As a soapbox aside, we used to say it wasn’t “PC” or “politically correct” to say things that would offend certain groups and yet (big inhale), we currently have a national leader who goes out of his way to offend as many people as he can.

Nancy said: Pearl said the first parrot she met in fiction was Polynesia (More Book Lust p 183). From Book Lust To Go Pearl was actually talking about another book that makes mention of the Dolittle books.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Parrots” (p 183) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (p 190).


Last Friend

Ben Jelloun, Tahar. The Last Friend. Translated by Kevin Michel Cape. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Reason read: Ben Jelloun was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

In 1950s Morocco, schoolboy Ali meets Mamet (Mohammed) for the first time after a school yard fight. Their personalities and views on life could not be further apart. They are opposite in every way. Mamet has to fight every aspect of his life: rebelling against the Communist party sexually; betraying his religion with food and drink; ignoring his culture by committing adultery. To compensate for feeling inferior he is full of unnecessary bravado. Yet, their differences make them curious friends. Best friends at that. Without knowing it, they protect each other time and time again. Over the span of thirty years and many trials and tribulations, their relationship deepens into a profound bond; one even their wives find hard to accept. It is as if Ali and Mamet’s separate relationships orbit around their singular connection. Despite moving apart Ali and Mamet remain close until a misunderstanding and an even larger betrayal comes between them.

The lines I loved, “Friendship begins with sharing secrets” (p 16), “I discovered that ideology indoctrination can bind even an intelligent mind” (p 26), “In friendship, as in love, everyone needs an element of mystery” (p 51), and “I found myself walking down a boulevard under a cold sun, considering different scenarios to protect our friendship from the tragedy of death” (p 154).

As an aside, I never thought of Bob Marley as a misogynist.

Author fact: Ben Jelloun also wrote This Blinding Absence of Light which I read almost a year ago.

Book trivia: There is a scene in a Bette Midler movie where a mother picks a horrendous fight with her daughter in order to force her daughter to live her best life. While the fight is extremely painful to the daughter, she is able to pick up the pieces and move on. The final scene of the movie is of her getting married while her mother watches from a distance. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but The Last Friend could be a movie with a similar scene…

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything about The Last Friend specifically, but she mentions the translation by Linda Coverdale is “superb.” I didn’t read that version.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 161).