Man in Gray Flannel

Wilson, Sloan. The Man in Gray Flannel. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

Reason read: Wilson was born in the month of May. Read in his honor.

This is the story of Tom Rath and economic survival in the 1950s era. Tom’s wife, Betsy and their three children want the good life. Tom is determined to give it to them, even if it means slogging to work doing a job he doesn’t completely enjoy. When a new prospect for employment pops up Rath jumps at the chance to move up the ladder but it is not without consequences.
The Man in Gray Flannel epitomizes the proverbial meaning of life in a material world. It is also a study of 1950s conformity and climbing the corporate ladder. You have one man who is a slave to his workaholic lifestyle and is miserable because of it while another man is angry because he can never get ahead. Tom’s boss, from the outside, projects an image of ease and calm amidst his wealth while Tom encounters roadblocks in every aspect of his life. The new higher paying job is not what he thought it would be. Secrets from his time as a solider in World War II will not stay buried. His wife wants more and more. Even the seemingly straightforward last will and testament of his grandmother’s estate doesn’t seem to be in his favor.
Confessional: the odd thing is, despite all of Tom’s setbacks and struggles, I couldn’t entirely feel for him. I felt more for his boss.

Author fact: This is Sloan Wilson’s first book.

Book trivia: The Man in Gray Flannel is autobiographical.

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about The Man in Gray Flannel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade:1950” (p 177).


Mariner’s Compass

Fowler, Earlene. Mariner’s Compass. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1999.

Reason read: May is supposedly National Museum Month and Benni works in a museum…

The theme of Mariner’s Compass is, in a word, home. Benni Harper learns a lot about what ‘home’ means when she becomes the sole heir of a stranger’s modest fortune. Jacob Chandler, dead of an apparent heart attack, leaves everything to Albenia Louise Harper with the condition that she live in his house for two weeks straight. If she does, she will inherit his house and everything in it, a modest bank account, and a dog named Scout. Benni takes two weeks off from her job at the museum, leaves her husband at home and honors the strange request. To the reader, there are many ways this particular premise for a plot could fall flat. Benni could decide she doesn’t need a stranger’s inheritance and refuse to stay in the house. (Who’s watching to see that she does it anyway?) Or she could live in the house for fourteen days straight and not be curious enough to investigate this mysterious Jacob Chandler. Luckily for Fowler fans, Benni not only takes the challenge but goes to great lengths to solve the mystery. The plot thickens when this stranger for all intents and purposes seems like in life he had been Benni’s stalker. He knows the name of her childhood horse. He has a picture of her deceased mother. He has newspaper clippings of every major event in Benni’s life. Just who is this guy?
My biggest pet peeve? Despite the ominous idea of Jacob Chandler being a stalker, Benni is not discreet. She tells just about anyone the entire story. Not your typical behavior when your life might be in danger.

Lines to like: I didn’t make note of any. Weird.

Book trivia: There were a few places where a twist in the plot was too transparent to be a shock. When Bennie has a picture of the deceased Chandler sent to his sister I knew she wouldn’t recognize the man as her brother. I won’t spell out the other situations as they would definitely spoil the plot. Let’s just say, there were no surprises for me at the end.

Author fact: taken from the back flap of Mariner’s Compass: Folwer was raised in La Puente, California which explains her expansive knowledge of Mexican food and customs.

Nancy said: Pearl included Mariner’s Compass in a chapter about mysteries under the subsection of occupations (museum). Truth be told, Benni’s occupation does not play a factor in this book. She doesn’t do a day of work at the museum. There is a subplot. The new mayor wants to replace the museum with a bigger money maker. In protest Benni’s grandmother and a group of other women (including the mayor’s mother) arrange a sit-in until the issue can be resolved.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


Topper Takes a Trip

Smith, Thorne. Topper Takes a Trip. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

Reason read: to finish the series started in March in honor of Thorne Smith’s birth month.

When we pick up with Mr. Topper and his wife, Mary Topper, they are in the South of France enjoying a holiday on the Riviera. After his adventure frolicking with ghosts and nearly becoming one himself in the last installment Cosmos Topper decides to take his wife on a vacation to the beaches of the French Riviera. He is hoping to rekindle his marriage and make up for his previous shenanigans. Mr. and Mrs. Kirby and their companions have been left far behind…or have they? While taking a bath Mr. Topper washes someone else’s foot. And so it begin again. Only this time Mr. Topper’s ghostly girlfriend decides he would be more fun as one of them. The only problem? Mr. Topper is still alive.
I have to admit there were some scenes so outrageous I was embarrassed to read them. I don’t think I am spoiling the plot any by saying this, but when Mrs. Topper takes Marion’s leg and swings it around like a weapon I cringed throughout the entire scene. It was beyond ridiculous. I can only imagine what the movie version was like.
But back to the plot. As I was saying, this time Topper’s friends have missed him so much they want to make him one of them. Sound familiar? It’s a repeat of the end of Topper when he crashes into the infamous tree. I couldn’t help feel sorry for Mrs. Topper the whole time.

The best line I liked, “A cat had to get used to so many disagreeable facts of life” (p 121).

Author fact: Thorne Smith was a huge fan of Dorothy Parker’s.

Book trivia: my copy of Topper Takes a Trip has an introduction by Carolyn See. Very cool.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Topper Takes a Trip.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 101).


Ethel and Ernest

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.

This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.

Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.

Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.


City and the House

Ginzberg, Natalia. The City and the House. New York: Seaver, 1987.

Reason read: April is Letter Writing Month. The City and the House is epistolary.

Giuseppe leaves Italy for Princeton, New Jersey where his newlywed brother has promised him a teacher of Biology position. Cousin Roberta keeps him up to date on what has happened to his apartment since the new neighbors moved in. She also supplies very gossipy reports on the doings of Giuseppe’s movie-maker son, Alberico and exlover, Lucrezia. But, Giuseppe and Roberta are not the only ones in communication. Letters confirming and denying gossip and truth fly back and forth between various friends, lovers, and family. The different perspectives remind me of Michael Dorris’s Yellow Raft in Blue Water.
Confessional: In the beginning I had to keep a notebook of all the characters writing back and forth to one another; the correspondence of family members referencing other family members, neighbors, and friends all flowed back and forth like a storm-tossed tide. But like any written correspondence there are gaps in information and speculation fills those gaps. Is Lucrezia in love with Ignazio Fegiz? She can barely stand to write his name. Hints becomes reality. It was interesting to see the cycle of relationships, people moving back to one another while others move on entirely.

Quotes to quote, “Two people can get along very well without having anything to talk about (p 36) and “Once you’ve reached a certain age you realize that either you stand on your own two feet or you’ve had it” (p 70).

Author fact: Ginzburg was an Italian Communist.

Book trivia: The City and the House is Ginzburg’s last novel.

Nancy said: Pearl said if the literary technique of tales told in letters The City and the House is a good one.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 79).


Second Foundation

Asimov, Isaac. Second Foundation. New York: Gnome Press, 1953.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month. For the record, this is the last Foundation book I will read in order of printing. After Second Foundation, I will switch to the chronology.

Second Foundation, the third Foundation book to be published, but fifth in order of chronology, finds everyone looking for the Second Foundation. Hari Seldon, the last great scientist of the First Empire, has developed the science of human behavior to be distilled into a complicated mathematical equation. This science has the capability of predicting the future through human thought and emotion. Colonies of such scientists are camped out in Foundations, one at either end of the universe. In Part One The Mule, calling himself First Citizen of the Union, and his Regime are desperate to find the Second Foundation. Does it even exist? He enlists the help of Bail Channis, the one individual not afraid of him or influenced by his power.
The fascinating thing is Channis is not the plant but rather his knowledge is the true decoy.

Oddball quote, “At not quite thirty he was in marvelous good odor with the company” (p 6). How’s this for a description of a man “angularly animated toothpick” (p 10)?

Author fact: Asimov was a professor of biochemistry. Of course he was.

Book trivia: Second Foundation is also referred to as “Foundation 3” because it is the third true book of the series first published in 1953.

Nancy said: absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 214).


Hunting Season

Barr, Nevada. Hunting Season. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.

Reason read: to finish the series started in honor of Barr’s birth month in March.

The premise of the series is main character Anna Pigeon is a ranger assigned to different American parklands. Every time Pigeon shows up somewhere she’s confronted with a mystery (most of the time with a murder or two or three attached). You have to wonder how she doesn’t develop a stigma from all these coincidental deaths wherever she goes. She never seems to find littering her biggest problem.
This time Pigeon is stationed at Mt. Locust, a historic inn located on Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway. Two different crimes have her attention, the murder of Doyce Barnette and suspected poaching activity. Are the two related? All clues point toward Doyce being the apparent victim of a sex game gone wrong but true to mystery, nothing is adding up. Anna, as a woman and new to the area, has a difficult time being the boss of male rangers, some who have been around longer than she has.
Confessional: I knew who the killer was within the first 100 pages. It took me a few more to make absolutely sure but the clues Barr left were glaringly obvious. I was hoping she would pull a fast one and make the suspect Anna’s biggest ally. That I wouldn’t have seen coming.
Idiot move: Once again, I am reading a series out of order. Last month I read Flashback and at the end Pigeon agreed to marry her newly divorced boyfriend. Now, in Hunting Season Pigeon is lamenting the death of her first husband while silently cursing her married boyfriend.
Author fact: Barr does a great job keeping Anna Pigeon’s personality and life history accurate. Anna’s family life, love interests, personality, and even acquired scars stay consistent.

Book Audio trivia: Barbara Rosenblat isn’t half bad with the accents, although her Mississippi drawl could be called just “southern.”

Nancy said: nada; nothing specific about Hunting Season.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).