Sanctuary

Bruen, Ken. Sanctuary. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009.

Reason read: Bruen’s birth month is in January. Read in his honor.

Warning! This is the kind of book you can read in one sitting. It is less than 200 pages with a very fast paced, tight plot. That isn’t a bad thing. It only means you can reread it a second or third time. You may need to.
The first time I met Jack Taylor I wasn’t sure I liked him. Like his creator, he carries a massive amount of surly anger inside him. Everything Jack Taylor mutters is dripping with sarcasm. Because I met him mid series (Sanctuary is the seventh book), I was hoping Bruen would bring me up to speed on exactly what makes Taylor tick. I wasn’t too disappointed. He is ex-police, booted from the force for his excessive drinking; walks with a pronounced limp and wears a hearing aid. He has stayed “friends” with a former partner, Ridge, and often discusses unsolved crimes with her. In this case, Taylor has received a check list of future murders: two guards, a nun, a judge, and a child. Ridge, recovering from breast cancer surgery doesn’t think much of the list, but when a guard, a nun, and a judge all die, it is hard for Taylor to ignore the list.
Taylor also has a priest for a nemesis. Who gets on the wrong side of the church in Ireland? Apparently Jack Taylor.
Here’s another detail to Sanctuary that I loved: Bruen’s inclusion of music. I could have compiled a “Sanctuary Playlist” from the music he mentions. To name a few: Snow Patrol, Philip Fogerty, Rolling Stones, and Johnny Duhan.

Line I loved, “Books had brought me through so many hangovers, not that I could read them then, but they were a lifeline to some semblance of sanity” (p 65).

Author fact: There are a bunch of YouTube videos of Ken Bruen talking about his writing process and how he got started. Like reading his book, once I started watching, I couldn’t stop. He is a fascinating person.

Book trivia: Sanctuary is book seven of the Jack Taylor mystery series and the only one I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bruen’s mystery “gritty.” She goes on to say, if you are going to read more of the series you do not need to read them in order because the story lines are contained. As I mentioned earlier, I am not reading any other Bruen mystery for the Challenge.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).


Saddest Pleasure

Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.

Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.

When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.

Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).

Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.

Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.

Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).


People’s History of the Supreme Court

Irons, Peter. A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Reason read: in celebration of the Constitution.

We begin, as they say, from the beginning. The year is 1787 and the controversies of the day are slavery and racial segregation, free speech and a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. What year are we in now? Aren’t we still battling against racial discrimination? Aren’t we still fighting for free speech and women’s rights? What’s that saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same? It is disheartening to think we have been railing against crooked judges since the beginning of the Supreme Court. Its inception had a rocky start. Rutledge was deranged and Wilson was jailed for debt, just to name a few examples. It makes you realize the abuse of power really is timeless. McKinley was able to place a brilliant conservative justice with an incompetent one. Sound familiar? Fear and intimidation has not changed. Since the beginning of the Supreme Court there have been men who serve as chief justice who cannot separate personal bias from judicial duty.
On the other hand, time marches on and some things do change. At the time of writing, Irons’s world consisted of a Supreme Court that had been mostly all white and mostly all old men. We have made some strides to having a diversified Supreme Court. So…there is that. Also, consider this: in the 1920’s a woman had her own minimum wage. Isn’t that special?
I could go on and on. Last comment:Even though this is geared towards a tenth grade reader, it is an important book. Everyone should take a stab at it. If not to see where we are going, but to see where we have been.

Author fact: Peter Irons called Howard Zinn a mentor. Additionally, Irons was arrested in 1963 for refusing to serve in the military. If you were a conscientious objector, you had to have a religion to cite as your reason for not fighting.

Book trivia: for the longest time A People’s History of the Supreme Court has been used as a law and history textbook across the country.

Nancy said: Pearl called A People’s History of the Supreme Court “readable” (p 136).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).


A Long Way From Home

Briscoe, Connie. A Long Way From Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Reason read: Briscoe’s birth month is Devember. Read in her honor.

Clara starts off as a nearly eleven year old slave, owned by former president James Madison. As she grows up, she struggles to conform to the polite, obedient, and subservient ways of her mother and aunts, all house slaves in the Montpelier mansion. The inevitable and imminent death of President Madison means unclear futures for all of his slaves, field and house. Whispered questions like, ‘when he finally died would they be freed?’ ‘Could they stay on the plantation, especially if it is all they ever knew?’ scatter through hallways like runaway marbles on a tile floor. Would Madison’s slaves even have a choice? What no one saw coming was Madison’s awful stepson, Todd, taking over as Massa of Montpelier. His attraction to Clara sets off a terrible chain of events and life changes for everyone involved.
This is supposed to be the story of three generations of house slaves: Susie, Clara, and Susan. Susie is barely in the story, but Clara passes on her feisty nature to her daughter Susan. When Susan is sold away to satisfy a debt, readers follow her coming of age, growth into womanhood, and emerging sense of independence.
Aside from a great character story, A Long Way From Home is a fantastic historical fiction. Events of the Civil War described in detail color the fate of the south and give the story an interesting perspective.

Telling quotes, “These days, no one wearing a skirt at Montpelier ever slept alone when Mass Todd and his buddies were around” (p 70).

Author fact: According the back flap of A Long Way From Home Briscoe is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation. This story is her story.

Book trivia: I could see this made into a movie. It has an important story to tell so why isn’t it a movie?

Nancy said: Pearl said to consider A Long Way From Home for the reading list when considering African American fiction written by women.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Says” (p 16).


Aguero Sisters

Garcia, Cristina. The Aguero Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Reason read: December is the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had removed the “best time to travel to [fill in the blank]” but I guess not.

The Aguero Sisters starts with a bang (pun totally intended). Ignacio and Blanca Aguero are a husband and wife naturalist team, slogging through the Zapata swamp shooting specimens for a U.S. based museum. Suddenly forty-four year old Ignacio turns the gun on his wife and pulls the trigger…The mystery of what really happened in the swamp on that day in 1948 doesn’t become clear until much, much later.
The rest of the novel follows the lives of Ignacio’s adult daughters and their very different lives. Constancia Aguero Cruz lives in New York, married to a tobacco shop owner with a daughter in Oahu and a son in Morningside Heights, New York. She has been kept apart from her sister in Cuba for as long as she can remember, but she doesn’t really know why. Reina was only six when her mother died. She still lives in Cuba as an electrician and mechanic and has many passions, seducing married men. She has a daughter, Dulcita, in Madrid, Spain. Interspersed between this current-day, third-person narrative is Ignacio’s first person account of his life, starting with remembering his parents, Reinaldo and Soledad Aguero. Through his accounts, the history of Ignacio and his daughters becomes clearer and clearer, like sediment settling in the bottom of a glass of murky water once the agitation of stirring has stopped.

Line I liked, “Reina stares out the window for hours trying to make sense of the density of stars” (p 39). Me too, Reina. Me too.

Other lines worth mentioning, “she is the first to admit she has a low threshold for disorder” (p 27), “My sense of smell is heightened by hunger” (p 205), and “A confidence in her walk is what gives birth to lust” (p 233).

Author fact: Like her characters, Garcia grew up in Havana and New York.

Book trivia: Garcia does a fantastic job fleshing out the characters of The Aguero Sisters. So much so that I felt it necessary to take notes on all the details.

Nancy said: Pearl included the Aguero Sisters as one example of wonderful novels being turned out by Cuban emigres.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).


December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.

Wyoming Summer

O’Hara, Mary. Wyoming Summer. New York: Doubleday, 1963.

Reason read: October marks the month O’Hara passed away. Read in her memory.

Wyoming Summer unfolds as a love letter to the wild west. Originating from O’Hara’s journals, it tells the story of her life on a Wyoming ranch. She loves her horses, her dude-ranch summer camp for teenage boys, and even a wayward bull who keeps getting loose and raising hell across the prairie. Her music, milking cows, and marriage to husband Michael help keep her grounded, for it isn’t an easy life on the range. Setbacks come in the form of unpredictable weather, failing crops, and rejection letters and yet O’Hara finds perfection in all of it.
People will probably recognize O’Hara’s book, My Friend Flicka, more readily than Wyoming Summer. I enjoyed the small introduction of acquiring the horse at the end of Wyoming Summer. A glimpse of things to come as My Friend Flicka is also on my Challenge list.

Author fact: O’Hara was also an accomplished pianist and composer.

Book trivia: I wish there were pictures but sadly, there are none to be found.

Nancy said: Pearl said Wyoming Summer isn’t really set in Wyoming but the small sections that are make us feel as though we are really there. Did she and I read different books? I felt that a great deal of Wyoming Summer took place in Wyoming. The dude-ranch camp, the farming, the raising of horses…I didn’t count the pages but I felt it was significant enough to call it Wyoming Summer.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “WY Ever Not?” (p 262).