Because of the Cats

Freeling, Nicholas. Because of the Cats. New York: Penguin Books, 1963.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of May 15th – May 21st being Police Week.

Whenever an author takes you on a journey to describe the landscape I always imagine a giant bird flying over the land. For the first few pages of Because of the Cats you get that same sensation. The reader looks down on the bigger picture of where the story takes place, this time in the small town of Bloemendaal. It is a simple place usually bereft of crime. Chief Inspector Piet Van der Valk is back on the case when a rash of burglaries escalates to rape in his jurisdiction. As Chief Inspector of the Morals and Children department his focus turns to a group of teens from Bloemendaal. This seems impossible as the town is virtually crime free and all of the suspects are rich. Why would they need to commit break-ins? Why? Because of the cats!
Because prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, law enforcement have a different relationship with the ladies of the night. Van der Valk allows Fedora to pick him up and bring him home for dinner. He even tells her, “You don’t bother my morals” (p 17). Pay attention to this woman for she is essential to the case.

The first reference to cats is when one of the rapists declares, “the cats won’t like it” (p 11).

Quote I liked, “It was, he knew from experience, fatal to fall in love with a theory” (p 25).

Author fact: when Love in Amsterdam was published and it became a success, Freeling said he was able to stop cooking other people’s dinners.

Book trivia: Because of the Cats was made into a Dutch-Belgium movie in 1973.

Nancy said: Pearl admitted Because of the Cats was one of the best mysteries because she admitted to feeling creeped-out when she finished it. If you can remember the sensation long after you have finished the book, that’s the sign of a good plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 119).


“What You Pawn…”

Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Reason read: June is National Short Story month.

If the idea of countdowns or running of out time makes you anxious, this short story might make the sweat bead on your brow just a little. The main protagonist, Jackson Jackson, spots his grandmother Agnes’s stolen powwow regalia in a pawnshop window. She had lost her battle with breast cancer so the regalia is all that the grandson would have left of her…if he can get it back. The shop owner makes a deal to sell back the regalia for $1,000. There is only one problem. No one Jackson Jackson knows has $1,000. As an additional gesture of kindness, the pawnshop owner gives the grandson twenty bucks and twenty-four hours to come up with the rest of the cash. The clock is ticking, however the twenty immediately vanishes in the form of “three bottles of imagination.” It might infuriate the reader but subsequently every time Jackson comes into money it is frittered away on something else. Hamburgers vomited back up. Losing lottery tickets. A cigar that will only burn away to nothing. Drinks with strangers. A round for everyone at the bar. But it is the kindness of strangers that gives our hero a break.

Line that stayed with me for obvious reasons, “Indian alcoholics are either sprinters or marathon runners” (98).

Author fact: Alexie has lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Book Story trivia: “What You Pawn…” was first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 2003.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102). The reading of this story marks the completion of this chapter.


Bear Comes Home

Zabor, Rafi. The Bear Comes Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979.

Reason read: May is Music month.

In a nutshell:The Bear Comes Home is a story about a talking, walking, pants-wearing, saxophone-playing bear. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and then consider this: the bear is an avid reader, talks philosophy and emotionally and physically loves a woman. I knew from the inside flap this book was going to be an interesting read, especially when I read, “a vexed, physically passionate and anatomically correct inter-species love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris.” Um. Okay. It’s the “anatomically correct” piece that really puts it into perspective. But! Trust me when I say this is a deep book. I mean deeeep. Zabor is a little long winded when it comes to subjects he is passionate about. There are pages and page about jazz music and the musicians who perfected it, but somehow the entire thing works. The Bear is a little too angsty but considering his circumstances, stuck in the human world, who could blame him?

As an aside, I have two Natalie connections to this book. This time “Dancing Bear” from Leave Your Sleep (of course) and the mention of the song “But Not For Me” which Natalie has covered.
Another aside, I loved, loved, loved the musical references. Mention of Prince’s Black Album made me swoon (been missing him a lot lately).

Line to like, “It had to do with the heaviness of obsession” (p 363).

Author fact: Zabor is a musician as well as an author. Obviously.

Book trivia: Bear Comes Home features a few real life musicians. Obviously. Another piece of trivia: it won the PEN Faulkner award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Bear Comes Home is a “slightly different take on music in fiction” (Book Lust p 164).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Music and Musicians” (p 164).


“Shadow Show”

Simak, Clifford. “Shadow Show.” Strangers in the Universe. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1950.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

The show of life must go on, even though one of the key actors has passed away. Bayard Lodge, Chief of Life Team 3 with psychologist Kent Forester, must figure out how to keep their play going. Much back and forth debate is given to the question of who did the dead man embody? What was his part? Just who would be missing from the group? Unfortunately, the end was predictable but it was entertaining read all the same.

Author fact: Simak won awards for his short stories but none for the ones I am reading for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Strangers in the Universe is a very thematic book.

Nancy said: Pearl considers “Shadow Show” one of Simak’s best and shouldn’t be missed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Farthest North

Nansen, Dr. Fridtjof. Farthest North: the Incredible Three-Year Voyage to the Frozen Latitudes of the North. Edited by Jon Krakauer. New York: Modern Library, 1999.

Reason read: Peary’s birth month is in May. From one traveler to another…

Nansen’s journey, from June 24th, 1893 to April 7th, 1895, took him to the farthest reaches of the North Pole. Blessed with the support of the Norwegian government and the King of Norway, Nansen set sail with ample provisions, able men and strong sled dogs. Farthest North is Nansen’s first person account of the adventure, complete with journal entries and fantastic photography and drawings. A word of warning to the animal lovers: Nansen’s no-nonsense approach to killing various animals is harsh. I had a hard time with how he described shooting a curious seal.
Aside from his expedition, Nansen was a fascinating character. He invented a new type of sled for traversing the Arctic terrain. He was a biologist who worked with nature. His theory for success was to allow his ship, the Fram, to become trapped in the ice. The Fram was built to withstand the pressures of the ice floes and move with the fluctuations so as not to be torn apart. However, while Nansen was smart about the construction of the Fram, he was not so clever concerning the rising tides that ended up swamping his boats at one point of the expedition.
To keep busy during the ice entrapment, Nansen established a music factory, repairing much loved instruments. By default, Nansen’s love of forward progress transferred to his crew. To keep busy for the sake of industry, when the ship’s doctor didn’t have patients to see he set up a book binding business to care for the well used library.
Even though he failed to reach the true North Pole Nansen was the first one to cross Greenland successfully.

As an aside, I love a scientist who uses the technical word, “ugh.”

Favorite lines, “A good library was of great importance to an expedition like ours, and thanks to publishers and friends, both in our own and in other countries, we were very well supplied in this respect” (p 33), and “You can hear the vibrations of your own nerves” (p 228).

Author fact: Nansen won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with displaced victims of World War I. He was considered a great humanitarian.

Book trivia: Farthest North includes a biography of Nansen as well as an introduction to the text by Roland Huntford and three maps of Franz Josef Land.

Nancy said: Pearl said Farthest North would “fit the bill for armchair travelers” (p 233).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (the Arctic)” (p 233).


Master and Commander

O’Brian, Patrick. Master and Commander. Read by John Lee. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, Inc., 1991.

Reason read: for my dad. He was born in the month of May and he loved stories about sea adventures.

For starters, Master and Commander is an excellent lesson in naval warships. The dense nautical terminology will make your eyes go dry if you let it. There are many areas where the plot and dialogue altogether cease making it an arid read. Amidst the didactic seagoing vessel lesson 19th century Britain is at war with France’s brash Napoleon. Young Jack Aubrey has been promoted to commander of the sloop Sophie. Along as his right hand man is Doctor Stephen Maturin. He acts as ship medic and surgeon and together they fight enemies on the high seas. Aubrey and Maturin are as different as they come but they balance each other out and truly need one another. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the whole series.
For every adventurer Master and Commander is a must read. Every battle is played out in stunning detail. Life on a man-of-war could not be any more vivid.

Author fact: Patrick O’Brian was born Richard Patrick Russ.

Book trivia: Master and Commander is first in the series and definitely should be read before any of the others in the series.

Nancy said: Pearl called Master and Commander an “archetypal oceangoing adventure…[one] that [is] well loved by both men and women, and by those readers who have spent time on boats as well as those who have never set foot in a seagoing vessal on even stepped into a rowboat, kayak , or canoe.” She also mentioned O’Brian’s “reliable historical detail and evocative writing” (Book Lust p 217).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217).


“Garden Party”

Mansfield, Katherine. “Garden Party.” Garden Party: and Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

“Garden Party” illustrates many themes: wealth versus poverty, insensitivity versus compassion, death versus life.
Wealthy Mrs. Sheridan has been preparing for an elaborate garden party with flowers and tents, food and music. Servants and gardeners and workers toil like busy bees here, there, and everywhere setting up chairs, organizing the musicians, placing the flowers just so. The excitement catches with her four children, too. But when a terrible accident leaves a man dead right outside their gates daughter Laura doesn’t thinks it’s appropriate for the show to go on. She questions the sensitivity of their actions. Later Mrs. Sheridan allows Laura to bring a basket of food to the dead man’s family. Walking through the poor neighborhood gives Laura a new perspective and in the face of mortality she learns about living.

Quote to quote, “The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty stricken” (p 71). What a devastating image.

Author fact: the location of the garden party was modeled after Mansfield’s own property.

Book trivia: my copy of Garden Party was marked up like someone was editing the book. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl asked her readers not to neglect Mansfield, calling “Garden Party” brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever! New Zealand in Print” (p 124).