Irving, John. A Prayer for Owen Meany. Read by Joe Barrett. Michigan: Brilliance Audio, 2009
Reason read: Even though most of A Prayer for Owen Meany does not take place in Canada I am reading this in honor of September being the best time to visit Toronto.
I don’t know where to begin with a review for A Prayer for Owen Meany. I have been driving to and from work everyday, listening to this incredible tale about a boy named Owen for a month now and I’ve been thinking there is no way I can sum this up story succinctly. Like other Irving tales, this is multifaceted and wrought with symbolism. As an adult living as an ex-pat in Toronto, Canada Johnny Wheelwright remembers his childhood and best friend, Owen Meany. They grew up together in the fictional seaside town of Gravesend, New Hampshire. To describe Owen as special is as inadequate as saying the Grand Canyon is “big”. There is so much more to Owen and his story from every angle. For starters, there is his size (barely five feet) and his voice (high-pitched and distinct). Then, there is his personal belief that is he is an instrument of God. Even when he accidentally hits Johnny’s mother with a line drive baseball, killing her instantly, he believes it was meant to happen that way. Owen is smart, witty, kind and considerate, but you can’t sway him from his political or religious beliefs (don’t get him started on John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe or later, the Vietnam war). I don’t want to spoil the story except to say you can’t help but fall in love with Owen and be shocked by the outrageous things he does.
My favorite scene was when Owen asks his dad to take him and Johnny to the beach in the middle of the night. The image of Owen banging on the cab of the truck, urging his father to drive faster will always stay with me.
Author fact: According to Irving’s website his birth name was Blunt but changed to Irving after his mom remarried.
Book trivia: the movie “Simon Birch” is based on A Prayer for Owen Meany but because the film is so dissimilar to the book Irving asked that the title and names of characters be different as well.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 142). The line (or sentence) Pearl is referring to from A Prayer for Owen Meany is the opening sentence, “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
As an aside: I love John Irving’s work so much I thought Pearl should have included a “Too Good To Miss” chapter for him.
Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman and the Redskins. New York: Plume, 1983.
Reason read: Flashman and the Redskins continues the series I started in April in honor of Fraser’s birth month.
Flashman and the Redskins circles back to where Flash for Freedom left off. Harry Flashman is up to his old tricks again. If you think I’m joking just know that sex is mentioned on the very first page. That’s Flashy for you! But, in Flashman and the Redskins he takes it a bit further. To get out of yet another jam Flashman is forced to take up with Susie, a madame of a New Orleans brothel (surprise, surprise), but to further complicate things, he ends up marrying her to ensure safe passage across the west to California. It’s on this journey that Flashman encounters the “redskins” and ends up marrying an Apache Indian too. Never a dull moment for 28 year old Harry. The multiple marriages set the stage for the rest of Flashman’s story with a twist at the end.
Fast forward and Flash is back in the States, this time with his real wife, Elspeth. To give you some perspective, the events in Royal Flash happened twenty eight years earlier. Remember Otto von Bismarck? This time Flashman is up against an even craftier opponent…a woman he has wronged (it was bound to happen sometime).
The charming way Flashman looks at women: “…she looked like a bellydancer who’s gone in for banking” (p 337).
Best line, “But life aint a bed of roses, and you must just pluck the thorns out of your rump and get on” (p 442).
As an aside, earlier this year someone decided Washington D.C.’s professional football team’s name needed to be changed. Suddenly the word “redskin” wasn’t political correct. I have to wonder if someone will try to ban this book on the same premise?
Author fact: What can I tell you about Mr. Fraser this time? According to Flashman and the Redskins Fraser also wrote The Pyrates (another Flashy book; after The Great Game but before Lady). This book is not listed in Book Lust. Hmmm…
Book trivia: for some reason the pagination is weird. The pages skip from xii to 15 immediately and I don’t think any are missing. Odd. Another piece of trivia: my copy included a map of the U.S. from Minnesota to Idaho called “Flashman’s West.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter “George MacDonald Fraser: Too Good To Miss” (p 93). Where else?
Christie, Agatha. The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Duke Classics, 2012. Epub 2015.
Reason read: September is Christie’s birth month.
Told from the point of view of Hastings, a guest at Styles, The Mysterious Affair at Styles tells the tale of a woman poisoned for her inheritance. Desperate for answers, Hastings introduces his friend, Inspector Hercule Poirot, to the dead woman’s son and to the crime in the hope the detective can solve the mystery. As with any mystery there is a revolving cast of characters, all suitable for the label “guilty.”
Having never seen film or television versions of Hercule Poirot, I picture him as a smug little man. His review of the crime scene is fascinating and I could picture his scrutiny perfectly. His relationship with Hastings is humorous, almost patronizing. The key to remember with this mystery is once a man is acquitted of a specific crime he can never be tried again for the same offense.
Lines worth mentioning: “Imagination is always a good servant and a bad master” (p 91) and “Who on earth but Poirot would have thought of a trial for murder as a restorer of conjugal happiness” (p 238).
Author fact: There is a lot of mystery surrounding Christie’s own life. At one point she herself became the center of a mystery as a missing person.
Book trivia: The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Inspector Hercule Poirot’s first appearance in an Agatha Christie mystery.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220).
Dunnett, Dorothy. Queens’ Play. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1964.
Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
Queens’ Play is the second book in the Lymond series starring “cool, daring, strangely haunted” Francis Crawford of Lymond. [By the way, don’t you just love that description of him? Not my words, though.] The year is 1550 and Mary, Queen of Scots is now a precocious seven years old. Actually, she’s not in this enough for me to call her precocious, I’m just imagining her that way. She has been sent to France as the betrothed to the Dauphin. Francis (or Lymond as he is sometimes called) goes “undercover” to follow her and protect her. There are a lot of other people who have designs on the throne and she is constantly at risk. As “Thady Boy Ballage” Lymond has dyed his hair jet black and poses as the companion to an Irish prince. He doesn’t stand on the fringes of politics and just watch for enemies. True to Francis form, Thady prefers and enjoys being in the thick of it, causing most of the trouble. He still drinks like a fish and plays just as hard as he protects.
I thought the cheetah/hare hunt was pretty outrageous and not nearly as fun as the rooftop scavenger hunt.
A word of warning – there are a great many characters in Queens’ Play and while Dunnett introduces you to the main players (three pages worth), there are more. I have read that Queens’ Play is the “slowest” of all the books in the Lymond series. For that I am grateful because I don’t want to give up quite yet. I still have several books to go!
Quote I liked for some weird reason, “Strong wine and stretched muscles disregarded, Lymond strode to the window and stayed there, gripping his anger hard until he could speak” (p 165).
Author fact: Dunnett was also an artist.
Book trivia: Queens’ Play is the second book in the six-book series.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines That Linger, Sentences That Stick” (p 142).
Simon, David. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991.
Reason read: There is a book festival held in Baltimore every September.
Question: What happens when a reporter, already on the Baltimore police beat, is allowed to have unlimited access to the city’s homicide unit for a full year? Answer: Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets, a 600 page play by play of what it is like to work a murder from start to finish. From the first report of a cold body to (sometimes) solving the case, Simon was there to witness and document every little moment. He followed various detectives as they got the call, examined the victim for cause of death, poured over the crime scene for clues, canvassed the neighborhoods for reluctant witnesses, stood over autopsies waiting for more evidence, paced the halls in hospital emergency rooms impatient for first-hand accounts from survivors, went on death notifications, stared at their murder boards trying to put the pieces together…These police officers portray the grim reality of crime but they also share moments of humor, sarcasm and a genuine love of the job. I found myself liking Detective McLarney and thinking it would be cool to have a beer with him.
Probably the hardest cases to read about were young Latonya Wallace and police officer Gene Cassidy.
Line I liked, “A heavily armed nation prone to violence finds it only reasonable to give law officers weapons and the authority to use them” (p 108).
Book trivia: This is an informal reporting on crime in Baltimore. No index, photographs or footnoted references.
Author fact: At the time of publication David Simon was a reporter with the Baltimore Sun. He took a leave of absence to write this book. In the time he took him to write Homicide 567 additional murders occurred.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called, you guessed it, “Baltimore” (p 34).
Zanes, Warren. Petty: the Biography. Henry Holt & Co., 2015.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
This is not your typical biography. Maybe it’s because of Petty’s private nature. Maybe it’s the direction the author wanted to take with the story. Maybe this is an unauthorized “biography” and so intimate details could not and would not be forthcoming. Whatever the reason, this is more about the making of the band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, than it is about Tom Petty, the individual.
That is not to say there aren’t stories about Petty’s childhood and family life growing up in Florida. The abuses he suffered, the poverty he endured, the dreams he clung to as a teenager are all there. But other parts of his life, the monumental and profound, like getting married and becoming a father, are skipped over as if worth barely a mention.
It is hard to say if this biography is authorized by Petty or not. Interviews with Petty are slyly hinted at but not wholly confirmed. Zanes arrives at more detail through band mates and friends. Almost the same intimate details are available on Wikipedia.
If you are looking for a detailed account of the music scene when Petty got his start with Mudcrutch, this is the book for you. Zanes does a great job setting the stage, so to speak, as well as shuttling the reader through the industry’s changes over the years.
Corbett, Judy. Castles in the Air: the Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion. London: Ebury Press, 2004.
Reason read: So. I was a little too ambitious with the June book list; as some of you might remember my reading appetite was bigger than what I could digest. Originally, Castles in the Air was on my June list in honor of the month my Knight in Shining Armor and I got engaged. We were in Loveland, Colorado and stayed at this fantastic B&B called Castle Marne. Get it? Castles in the Air & Castle Marne? Well, since I didn’t get around to reading Corbett’s book I was almost forced to move it to June 2016’s list…until I remembered I had another month I could celebrate castles in. September. The month Kisa and I got married. It’s a stretch and clearly not as straightforward as June, but it works.
Castles in the Air may not have the most original book title (think Don McLean) but it is a delightful read. Judy and her then boyfriend, Peter bought the Gwydir Castle in Wales and what follows is their adventure to restore it to its former glory. At first the going is a bit rough (“chainsaw gardening” says it all) but with the help of a band of misfit artisans the couple is able to piece together some semblance of Gwydir’s old glory…hauntings and peacocks included.
As an aside, I loved the language. Torch, jumper, chilblains & jackdaws all brought back memories of my adventures with an Irishman.
I didn’t find a plethora of lines to like, but there was this one: “Not a drop passed his lips the whole evening, but plenty passed our lips, and Michael’s tongue got looser and looser as if he was taking it out for a walk on a long piece of string” (pgs 198 – 199).
Author fact: Gwydir Castle has its own website (of course it does) and according to the site Judy and Peter still own it and run it as a B&B. More castle information: it’s open the the public April – October from 10am – 4pm, Saturdays and Mondays excluded.
Book trivia: Pictures are included (in color!) but they are only on the inside covers. Peter has a few illustrations as well.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “So We/I Bough/Built a House In…” (p 92).
Kraft, Eric. Inflating a Dog: the Story of Ella’s Lunch Launch. New York: Picador Press, 2002.
Reason read: in honor of Kraft’s birthday I started the “series” in February. It is now September and I have reached the final book on my list.
For Inflating a Dog we jump back in time to Peter Leroy’s childhood. His mother, desperately wanting to invent something or be in some kind of business for herself, buys a decrepit clam boat so she can start a floating “elegant excursions” cruise. The only problem is this, the boat leaks. Peter must secretly bail out the boat every evening to keep the old clam boat (and his mother’s dreams) afloat. But Inflating a Dog is also about Peter coming of age and lusting after Patti, his partner in crime.
True to Kraft’s sense of humor, nothing is as it seems. Men walk chickens on leashes and women can sell sandwiches with pastel breads.
Quotes I liked, “Do you want anything? She asked. At thirteen? I wanted everything” (p 20) and “If you are taking notes, jot this down: never buy a boat while you are under the beguiling influence of moonlight” (p 77).
Author fact: at the time of publication Kraft lived with his wife in New York City.
Book trivia: like many of the other Kraft books this one includes photographs and illustrations.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters, “Eric Kraft: Too Good to Miss” (p 141) of course, and “Sons and Mothers” (p 160 & 161). As an aside, the index misses the 2nd mention of Inflating a Dog on page 161.
Andersen, Lars. The Smoothies for Runners Book. Atlanta: Nordic Standard Publishing, 2012.
I am super glad I didn’t pay a lot for this book (okay, I got it for free). Where do I begin? First of all, it’s supposed to be an e-book. Right in the very beginning, the “How to Use This Book” section it talks about “clickable Table of Content.” Not with print you can’t.
I was also disappointed with the contradictory nutrition information. Andersen writes, “sugar comes in many forms…fruit juices should be consumed in post-run smoothies only” and yet three different pre-run smoothies feature fruit juices (apple, orange and pineapple). Another editing issue was the misinformation about a smoothie on page 49. Andersen talks about the importance of peanut butter as a protein but the smoothie (in the “green” section) doesn’t include peanut butter.
The organization of the recipes is a little wonky. While the smoothies are in three different categories: carbohydrate, multivitamin and green, the pre and post run smoothies are jumbled together. It would have been great to have further organization of all the pre-run smoothies grouped together before the post-run smoothies.
Last complaint – all the recipes come with a black and white photo of the smoothie. That tells me nothing. I’m wondering if the e-book version was in color?
Because Andersen mentioned his other books twice I got the feeling Smoothies for Runners was just a vehicle for promoting his other work. This one just felt cheap.
There are only 36 smoothies in the book and I’ve tried a handful. The “apple, grape, apple juice and honey” smoothie was refreshing but I don’t think it energized my 13 mile run any more than a Gu.
Golub, Joanna Sayago and Deena Kastor. Runner’s World Cookbook: 150 Ultimate Recipes for Fueling Up and Slimming Down – While Enjoying Every Bite. Rodale Books, 2013.
Can I tell you how much I loved this cookbook? When it was due back at the owning library I didn’t want to give it up! It took everything I had not to renew it again and again. Everything about the book was gorgeous, from the food to the photography. This is one book I
am definitely going to buy for myself had to buy for myself.
As someone who is starting to take running a little more seriously (as in serious enough to train for something longer than a 13.1 miler), I needed a little help with the other parts of (ahem) training. Stuff like strength training and yoga was the start (and oh so helpful), but I needed even more than that and that’s where nutrition came in. I had heard a great deal about the Runner’s World cookbook thanks to magazines like Running for Women. Finally, I borrowed it from a library and was not disappointed. The recipes are yummy and I have lost 12 pounds. So get out there and eat!
Adams, Alice. Families & Survivors. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1975.
Reason read: Alice Adams was born in the month of August. Yes, a completely boring reason to read Adams. I know.
This is the story of Louise from 1941 to 1971. We first meet Louise as a precocious teenager poolside with her best friend, Kate. As her story moves languidly through the years we watch Louise get married, have a child, have affairs, struggle with self-image and artistry and of course, grow older. Along the way we see both sides of wealth, both sides of ambition, both sides of a Southern versus Yankee culture.
Something to get used to – Adams includes a lot of parenthetic information. I found it to be a little distracting at first. And oddly enough, for the first ten years the perspective is third person about Louise then there is a switch to first person Maude, Louise’s daughter. Coming to that point was like unexpectedly hitting a speed bump in the center of town.
As an aside, another thing I was distracted by was the number of times Adams mentions the out-of-date shape of Louise’s pool.
Book trivia: Families and Survivors is Nancy Pearl’s favorite book from Adams. I found an interesting enough book but I can’t say it was my favorite. All in all I thought it was a book about growing older from the perspective of different couples. Once they all got divorced and remarried I found the characters little confusing to keep track of.
Author fact: Families and Survivors was, and still is, Adams’s first novel.
BookLust Twist: from the very first chapter in Book Lust, “A…My Name is Alice” (p 1). As an aside, because of the show Major Crimes, whenever I hear the name “Alice” I think of Rusty’s quest to find a Jane Doe they called Alice.
Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman’s Lady. New York: Penguin, 1988.
Reason read: to continue the series started in April in honor of Fraser’s birth month.
If you are keeping track we are now ten years into the biography of Harry Flashman. This is the sixth packet of papers and introduces events between 1842 – 1845 which were previously missing in earlier manuscripts. Like an earlier packet, this installment was edited by Flashman’s sister-in-law, Grizel de Rothschild and includes journal entries from Fashman’s wife Elspeth. I think it’s hysterical that Grizel cleaned up his “rough” language but left in his exploits with other women (because Flashman always gets his girl, whether she be an African queen or his own lovely wife). And speaking of Elspeth, Flashman has to turn his attention to her (more than normal) when she is kidnapped by a pirate who wants her for himself. Along the way (by way of Madagascar), Flashman is held captive by the ruthless Queen Ranavalona and forced to be her love slave (but of course).
Laugh out loud lines (warning: they are both a little crude): “…her udders were almost in her soup” (p 51) and “For a moment I wondered if having his love-muscle shot off had affected his brain…” (p 144).
Author fact: at the time of publication Fraser was living on the Isle of Man.
Book trivia: the footnotes are not as annoying this time around and there is a great deal of attention paid to the game of cricket.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “George MacDonald Fraser: Too Good To Miss” (p 93).
Dunnett, Dorothy. The Game of Kings.New York: Random house, 1997.
Reason read: Dunnett’s birth month is in August. How boring of a reason is that?
16th century Edinburgh, Scotland (1547). The Game of Kings sets the stage for the subsequent five additional volumes in the Lymond series. Master Francis Crawford of Lymond is the anti-hero with “elastic morals.” He is smart, funny, sarcastic and knows how to steal, kill, and charm. I’m sure he’s handsome, too. That is, if you like blondes. Dunnett refers to Lymond’s golden or yellow head quite frequently. Crawford has a chip on his shoulder. His reputation is shot and everyone is after him, friend and foe alike. He’s a scapegoat with a band of misfits (some not to be trusted) who traverse the countryside trying to clear his name. There are enough characters and subplots to make your head spin, but stick with Lymond! He’ll cheer you up.
If you read Game of Kings make sure you pick up the Vintage publication. Dunnett wrote her own foreword and confesses that the text has been “freshened.” Having not read other versions I have no idea what has been “freshened.”
Best lines, “You are not being badgered; you are being invaded” (p 21). See, Francis Crawford of Lymond has a sense of humor! More great lines, “My brilliant devil, my imitation queen, my past, my future, my hope of heaven and my knowledge of hell” (p 237), “There’s nothing to stop you from associating with my servants if you want to, but I’d prefer not to have the younger ones reduced to a state of crapulence for your purposes” (p 397), and “Open your mouth too far and someone will fill it with rubbish” (p 502).
Author fact: Dunnett also wrote the House of Niccolo series (also on my list).
Book trivia: The Game of Kings is “First in the legendary Lymond Chronicles” according to the front cover. Additionally, The Game of Kings is a self-contained novel and doesn’t leave the reader hanging.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 80).
DeFrances, John. In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1993.
Reason read: DeFrancis was born in the month of August – read in his honor.
When I first cracked open In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan I thought DeFrancis was thumbing his nose at his readers. The first chapter of In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan is called “You can’t Do That Anymore” Here, DeFrances spends time listing all of the routes he was able to travel back in 1935 that are now closed to present-day (in 1993) travelers. But, that’s not bragging – it’s the simple truth. As it was, retracing the steps of Genghis Khan was not a simple affair, even back then. Just getting camels at that time of year (May) proved to be difficult because in the summer months the camels were traditionally “retired” and put to pasture to fatten up. When the travelers were presented with only female camels their journey was further slowed as females need to rest more often, get later starts in the day and their loads had to be much lighter than males. Typical women!
This was a fun read. Besides the fragility of female camels I also learned that lamas teach and can marry while monks don’t teach and shouldn’t marry (most do). There is very little about Genghis Khan, per se, until they reach Etsina.
As an aside: I am also reading a book about things in society “speeding up” for the sake of wanting everything faster. In In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan I learned that lamas of Tibet and Mongolia devised a way of speeding up their orisons by using prayer wheels of varying sizes. They could spin them in order to have the text read faster.
One last comment – I was shaken to read about the “voluntary” human trafficking that went on. Families would sell their children (by the pound) for labor and even prostitution in order to survive.
The best lines, “…ignorance of the past also impedes understanding of the human landscape” (p 7), “I had to admit it was a matter of historical record that Genghis Khan had conquered China without the benefit of Band-Aids” (p 96), “Rhubarb, however served, even in pies that others found delicious, always seemed to me not fit for consumption by humans and, I would now add, by animals as well” (p 185), and one more, “In recalling my early travels it is fascinating to see how often a minor jigsaw piece of the past acquires greater significance when fitted into a new mosaic of the present” (p 228).
Book trivia: In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan is filled with wonderful illustrations by Myra Taketa who is, as DeFrances describes, a “multitalented secretary.”
Author fact: at the time of publication DeFrances was working on a “ground-breaking alphabetically based computerized Chinese-English dictionary” (p 285). He had since passed away. I don’t know if the dictionary was ever completed. I’ll have to look that up.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 102).
Gleick, James. Faster: the Acceleration of Just About Everything. Read by John McDonough. Prince Frederick MD: Recorded Books, 2000.
Reason read: Gleick’s birth month is in August.
Funny. Funny. Funny. From the moment Gleick started talking about fast-working medication for a yeast infection (because only slackers have time for one of those) I knew I would be in for a fun ride. He may go on and on about a topic (the impatience one feels one when the elevator doors do not close fast enough, for example) but his points are valid. It’s as if he is holding up a huge mirror and asking us to really look at how we behave when impatience or boredom sets in. Exactly how long does it take before YOU push the “door close” button in an elevator? It’s an interesting test.
And when Gleick says “the acceleration of just about everything” he means everything.
A cool element to Faster! is that each chapter is independent of each other and therefore do not need to be read in order. But, something to be aware of – the subject material is a little dated. If he thinks the conveniences of microwaves, television remote controls and synchronized watches are indications of our need-it-now society,what does he now think of what the 21st century has been up to with our texting, smart phones, Twitter accounts and 65 mph toll booths (because who needs to stop driving incessantly on those long road trips?). He mentions computer watches (a la Dick Tracy). Funny how Apple just released their version this past year. Gleick moves on to talk about computer chips embedded in the human body, and why not? We are already comfortable with metal piercing our bodies in the oh so most interesting of places. Why not a computer chip? Gleick brings up photography and the need to see our pictures within the hour. How about the ability to take a picture and share it with the world within seconds ala Instagram and FB? There are so many examples of our world getting faster. What about the need for speed for athletic competition? Doping. Amphetamines. And speaking of drugs, what’s that saying about liquor being quicker? It was interesting to think of hard liquor coming about because wine was too slow for the desired reaction to consumption. The list goes on. This was a great eye-opening read & I would love to know what Gleick would say about our need for speed these days.
Favorite line, “Language was not invented for improving the quality of introspection” (p 269).
Author fact: Of course James Gleick has a website.
Book trivia: John McDonough does a fabulous job with the narration. He made me laugh.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Science Books (For The Interested But Apprehensive Layperson)” (p 212).