The Last Good Kiss

Crumley, James. The Last Good Kiss. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.

Reason read: February is friendship month and Sughrue’s friendship with T is pretty interesting.

C.W. Sughrue is an interesting character. He has a convoluted story as well. Sughrue is an investigator out of Montana, but is currently in Sonoma, California, looking for a girl who has been missing out of Haight-Ashbury for ten years. Hired for only eighty-seven bucks and no clues to go on, besides easy women and an abundance of alcohol, he isn’t having a lot of luck. Only, this girl isn’t the one he was first hired to find. He started down the rabbit hole, hired by a woman looking for her alcoholic ex-husband, a famous author and poet. The ex lives with his mother across the way from him and his current wife…and the plot thickens.
I had trouble keeping score. Betty Sue went missing ten years ago, was thought to have run away looking for the bright lights of stardom. Instead, she is rumored to have taken up fame as a porn star. Sughrue falls in love with her just by seeing a picture. Seems everyone is in love with Betty Sue.

Lines I liked,”When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog names Fireball Roberts in a ramshackeld joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a spring afternoon (p 1). How’s that for an opening line? Here’s another one, “As we shared the whiskey, I wondered how long men had been forgiving each other over strong drink for being fools” (p 164).

Author fact: Crumley has been compared to Raymond Chandler. He has written a few other mysteries, but I’m not reading them. Crumley died on September 17th, 2008.

Book trivia: This is a deceivingly fast read. You may want to guzzle your through it, but do yourself a favor, sip it slow and take your time. There are a few plot twists worth staying sober for.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say much about the Last Good Kiss despite in being in two different Book Lust chapters. As an aside, Pearl was hesitant to read Lee Child because of his gratuitous violence, but did she know of Crumley’s penchant for shooting people?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 121), and again in “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156). I would argue Pearl needed to pick a different Crumley mystery for this chapter as The Last Good Kiss mostly takes place in Colorado and California.


Little Havana Blues

Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology. Houston: Texas: Arte Publico Press, 1996.

Reason read: the current Cuba reformed constitution was put into place in the month of February of last year.

Little Havana Blues is a unique anthology comprised of fifty poems, twelve short stories, three plays, and eleven essays. The introduction argues that Cuban-American literature is not new to the 1990s. Because most published works were in Spanish, the emergence of Spanish-English sheds a whole new light on the literature. The “Spanglish” culture reverberates through every single submission.
I have to admit, the oddest story is, “The Defector” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa, a fiction about a talking capybara who lives is a bizarre zoo.
Most interesting quote from “Memories of My Father” by Omar Torres, “I don’t know why a woman would want to get married; you’re either a housewife, an old maid or a prostitute” (p 363).
I have been reading a lot about Cuba lately. I feel that learning about Cuba’s rich and troubled history helped me appreciate the submissions in Little Havana Blues.

Author Editor fact: Virgil Suarez’s writing is included in Little Havana Blues.

Book trivia: Little Havana Blues was made possible through several different grants.

Nancy said: Pearl said Little Havana Blues is an “excellent introduction to many writers who are likely to be unfamiliar to mainstream American readers” (p 68).

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


Passage to India

Forster, E.M. Passage to India. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Janovich, 1924.

Reason read: Forster was born and died in January, the first and seventh, respectively.

Much has been written about Passage to India. Hundreds of writers had offered up their opinion on the classic. I won’t bore you with the plot except to say India is at odds with British rule in every sense. It clouds judgement beyond reason, as most prejudices do. Indian-born Aziz is curious about the English and offers to take two British women to see the infamous caves of Marabar. My comment is Aziz acts oddly enough for me to question what exactly did happen in those isolated and mysterious caves?…which is exactly what Mr. Forster wanted me to do.
Every relationship in Passage to India suffers from the affects of rumor, doubt, ulterior motive, class, and racism. Friends become enemies and back again as stories and perceptions change and change again.

Quotes to quote, “One tip can buy too much as well as too little; indeed the coin that buys the exact truth has not yet been minted” (p 10), “Any man can travel light until he has a wife and children” (p 106), and “The racist problem can take subtle forms” (p 141).

Author fact: E. M. stands for Edward Morgan. Everyone knows that. But, did you know E.M. spent six months in India?

Book trivia: Passage to India was made into a movie starring Alec Guinness in 1984. It won two Oscars. Passage to India was also adapted to the stage twice and to television for the BBC.

Nancy said: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade” (p 176).


Catastrophist

Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.

The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.

Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).

Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.

Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).


Graced Land

Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.

Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.

As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…

Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.

Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.

Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.

Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).


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).