Running Blind

Child, Lee. Running Blind. New York: Berkley, 2000.

Reason read: to continue the series started in July (the month New York became a state) because Lee Child lives there…or did at the time of publication. Confessional: I thought I was supposed to read Echo Burning next. I am glad I was wrong.

There are so many twists to Running Blind that it might feel a little like walking through a haunted house. You never know when something is going to pop out at you, but because stuff does pop out at you, and with alarming frequency, you come to expect the surprises. They might not even shock you over time. The premise of Running Blind is former military women are being murdered all over the country. The cause of death is a mystery. There are no fatal wounds, no signs of a struggle, none of the women defending themselves, there wasn’t even forced entry into their homes. The commonality between each murdered victim besides military connections is Jack Reacher. Of course. What makes this story like all the others is that government officials keep trying to pin the murders on Reacher. He’s always guilty in every book. What makes this story slightly different from the rest is this time Reacher has a serious girlfriend, a lawyer to help bail him out.

Author fact: Child calls himself an “insatiable reader” (from an interview). Indeed, his website’s homepage has him reading on a couch. It’s a great photo.

Book trivia: confessional: the end of this book is a little hokey. I had a hard time swallowing the “whodunit” at the grand finale. Yes, pun totally intended. Once you read the book you will get it. I promise. Another book trivia: Running Blind was published as The Visitor in the United Kingdom.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read child in order. Luckily for me I didn’t pay attention to her order. She places Echo Burning before Running Blind. According to Wikipedia and Child’s own site, Echo was published the year after Running.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Jamesland

Huneven, Michelle. Jamesland. New York: Random House, 2003.

Reason read: October is Mental Health Awareness month.

The theme for this book is crazy. Seriously. Every character has their own special brand of crazy. Alice Black think she’s going crazy after confronting a deer in her living room in the middle of the night. Former crazy talented head chef Pete Ross knows he’s going crazy after attempting suicide a few times for no apparent reason. Unitarian minister Helen Harland has her own brand of crazy dealing with a mean-spirited church administration who gave her a lukewarm performance evaluation. How these three meet and deal with their separate brands of crazy is the heart and soul of the story. They are completely different people and yet. Yet! Yet, they bond over the insanities (my word) in their lives.
Alice Black is trying to get over a breakup with a married man. As she struggles to make sense of the lies (“For sure I’m going to leave my famous-actress wife…”) she befriends Helen in the hopes of understanding the meaning of a frightened deer in her living room. Helen is desperate for any kind of friends and has a habit of pulling anyone and everyone, including the wife of Alice’s affair, into her orbit. She hopes they help her make sense of her life. Then there is divorced and messy Pete who still lives with his mother, who still lives under the thumb of his mother. Helen insists on keeping him in her crazy circle of friends.
At the center of all this drama is Alice’s great-great grandfather, William James, Henry James’s lesser known brother. He is the key to spiritual awakening, with the help of a crazy medium, of all three.

Quotes to quote, “Walking in such public areas made him feel more acutely the lunatic at large” (p 257) and “It counts as an honor to cut up a euthanized hippopotamus” (p 379).

Author fact: Huneven also wrote Round Rock, which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: I could see this as a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Jamesland but in the intro to the chapter she said some of the books “have unexpected depth” I think she was talking about Jamesland.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132).


Obsession with Butterflies

Russell, Sharman Apt. An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

Reason read: there is a place in Western Massachusetts called Magic Wings. It opened in the month of October. Originally, this was the reason I chose to read Obsession in the month of October. Joyously, I have a new yet fleeting new reason. Monhegan has been inundated with monarch butterflies since September, resting before their journey to Mexico and beyond. We haven’t seen such a migration in years so it is nice to have them back.

This was a fun read. Right off the bat it was interesting to learn about string theory and the idea that there are ten dimensions, butterflies being one of them. But, Russell goes on from there. Recounting mythologies, symbolisms, scientific studies, pop cultures, history, evolution, obsessions, butterflies play an enormous role in our lives, sometimes in the center of it, sometimes on the periphery. Russell has a way with words that is pure magic.
And. And! And, who doesn’t love an author who can compare the antics of caterpillars to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, with the line, “This is a sprint, the ultimate chase scene” (p 25). There is such a witty humor to Russell’s writing.

I loved this droll little line, “Birds don’t eat their own droppings” (p 21). Okay. Here is an example of Russell’s humor if butterflies posted personals, “Personal ad #24: M seeks F, no pets, no parasites, no kinky hobbies, must like kids and nectar” (p 85) and “Personal ad #189: M, forceful type, wants F any age, minor role-playing, must enjoy airplane rides” (p 88). Too funny.

As an aside, butterflies have long been thought to be the souls of children no longer with us. Indeed, my aunt got a tattoo of a butterfly on her forearm to mourn the loss of her only son.

Author fact: Russell taught writing at two different institutions at the time of publication.

Book trivia: Obsession with Butterflies was illustrated by Jennifer Clark.

Nancy said: Pearl said Obsession with Butterflies is “designed to introduce readers to the (brief) life and behavior of one of the most varied, fascinating, and graceful creatures in the world” (p 69). She goes on to say more but you’ll just have to read More Book Lust to be in the know!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 69).


Agony and the Ecstasy

Stone, Irving. The Agony and the Ecstasy: the Biographical Novel of Michelangelo. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1961.

Reason read: September is the month of the Italian holiday Feast of St. Gennaro.

I enjoyed the biographical novel of Michelangelo very much. The great master became flesh and blood before my very eyes: from early childhood Michelangelo was audacious. He could get his master to pay for his apprenticeship when it should have been the other way around. He could connive the mortuary key from a priest so that he could do the unthinkable – dissect corpses; all to better understand the muscles and bones that make up human body. He steals another man’s mistress because he could. He count strand up to a Pope and not take no for an answer. His loves were passionate: while he loved three women dearly, his art meant more than anything. He believed he was freeing his subjects from their marble prisons. He battled Pope Julius II who insisted Michelangelo work in every medium except marble. He was capable of emotional outbursts of jealousy and despair like when his competition with Leonardo da Vinci became too much or when the woman of his dreams held him at arms length and never offered him more than a hand to kiss…
He was such a tragic figure, but I also enjoyed getting to know Michelangelo as a physical human being; learning that he was ambidextrous while chiseling his sculptures. When his right hand grew tired of driving the chisel he would simply switch hands to keep working. The fact he became an architect at age seventy was astonishing.

Quotes I liked, “Strange how his heart could stand empty because his hands were empty” (p 169), “I need my complete self-respect” (p 439), and “Michelangelo’s ears were plugged with the bubbling hot wax of anger” (p 369). Oh! And the countless times Michelangelo said, “I’ll put my hand in fire” when he was extremely confident he could accomplish something.

Author fact: Irving Stone also wrote The Origin, a biographical novel about Charles Darwin (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: at the end of The Agony and the Ecstasy Stone includes a bibliography, glossary, and the present locations of Michelangelo’s works (present for 1961).

Nancy said: Pearl called The Agony and the Ecstasy a “great biographical novel. I would have to agree!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 48).


Tripwire

Child, Lee. Tripwire. New York: Berkley Books, 1999.

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state. At the time of publication, Lee Child lived in New York City.

Jack “No Middle Name” Reacher is back. This time as a Key West pool digger. He digs polls by hand, as unlikely as that sounds, and enjoys his anonymity and unfettered lifestyle. Physical labor and an on again-off again girlfriend agree with him until one day the peace is shattered. A strange private investigator all the way from New York comes nosing around, asking questions about Jack. The plot thickens when this same PI is found murdered only hours after snooping into Jack’s life. By now, if you read the other books in the series, you know Jack isn’t one to shrug and turn back to his daily routine. Compelled to figure out who has been asking about him and why (never mind who killed the private investigator), Jack makes his way back to New York and into a past he thought he had put behind him.
Tripwire takes Jack back to Vietnam and old war memories resurface. He visiting the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command center in Hawaii looking for answers. Of course he isn’t alone. Along for the ride is his former command officer’s daughter because someone wants her dead…

Confessional: I had the honor of visiting JPAC and touring one of the labs where the identification of bones was in progress. Reading Child’s description of the white bones laid out on shiny steel tables brought back memories of my own.

Author fact: Lee Child has crazy blue eyes.

Book trivia: Michael Connelly has endorsed Tripwire.

Nancy said: nothing specific except to say you don’t need to read the Reacher series in order.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Bronx Masquerade

Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books, 2002.

Reason read: August is the time of year when parents start thinking about sending their kids back to school. Bronx Masquerade takes place in high school.

Eighteen teenagers from all walks of life use poetry to tell it like it is. In the form of a poetry slam each student in Mr. Ward’s class gets an opportunity to share a piece of him or herself. Not all are eager for the spotlight, but the more students stand up and share, the more the others get to thinking this poetry thing isn’t such a bad idea.

  • Lupa Algann – her big sister had a baby so she wants one.
  • Janelle Battle – has a crush on Devon; has a weight problem she is self- conscious about.
  • Judianne Alexander – she sells herself short; has a crush on Tyrone.
  • Leslie Lucas – lost her mom at a young age.
  • Gloria Martinez – she had a baby while still a sophomore in high school; baby daddy wants nothing to do with the child.
  • Diondra Jordan – a shy artist.
  • Sheila Gamberoni – wants to be more “ethnic”so she asks to change her name in class. Even though she is Italian heritage she has white skin.
  • Raul Ramirez – An artist with ambition.
  • Amy Moscowitz – an atheist who comes from a Jewish family
  • Tyrone Bittings – closest character to a protagonist the story has. He responds to every poem and his perceptions of his classmates. He is convinced he is going to die young if the color of his skin has anything to say about it.
  • Devon Hope – a basketball player.
  • Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone – tough guy who loves music.
  • Raynard Patterson – cousin to Sterling.
  • Darien Lopez – Puerto Rican boy trying to break out of the stereotypical mold.
  • Chankara Troupe – comes from an abusive home.
  • Others: Tanisha, Steve, Sterling, and Porscha

All of these students pull courage from their classmates and try it on for themselves. One by one they are pulled to the front of the classroom to stand up strong. By doing so they reveal glimpses of lives their classmates knew nothing about.
Mr. Ward’s Open Mike class gains momentum when a reporter gets wind of the class and makes a visit.
Best surprise: Grimes features real life poet Pedro Pietri.

Quotes I had to quote, “Knees knocking like a skeleton on Halloween, embarrassment bleaching my black cheeks red, eyes stupid to the page in front of me” (p 4). If that doesn’t describe nerves, I don’t know what!
Here’s another – “I try on my life like a dress and it doesn’t fit” (p 110). Last one, “The truth of his words pinned me to the wall” (p 135).

Author fact: Grimes also wrote Jazmin’s Notebook which won a Coretta Scott King Honor award.

Book trivia: the copy I read was the ten year re-release with a new introduction by the author.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Bronx Masquerade was good for boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 24).


American Chica

Arana, Marie. American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. New York: Dial Press, 2001.

Reason read: August is called the selfish month by some. Nancy Pearl called her autobiography chapter in More Book Lust “Me, Me, Me” which made me think to read American Chica in August.

Marie Arana grew up in an intercultural family with a South American father born in Peru, and a North American mother. Her parents met in Boston, Massachusetts of all places. This all sounds exotic and fun, but it wasn’t always easy for Arana to know how to fit in on either side of the cultural divide.
The very first sentence of American Chica sets the entire tone of Arana’s memoir, “The corridors of my skull are haunted” (p 5). Indeed, Arana’s family history hides ghosts and her story prods proverbial skeletons out of closets. I won’t give away the details but there was one moment in Arana’s story that had me holding my breath. She has a brush with impropriety that is tinged with the guilty question of did I bring this on myself? Is it somehow my fault? I could relate.The most poignant pieces of Arana’s writing was when she was remembering her innocence; the times when prejudice didn’t darken her childhood.

Other lines I liked, “It is more than a simple resentment, less than an all-out war” (p 63).

Author fact: According to the back flap of American Chica, Arana served on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Book Critics Circle.

Book trivia: Arana’s memoir does not include any photographs except a family portrait in the beginning.

Nancy said: Pearl called American Chica “a beautifully written memoir” (More Book Lust p 167).

BookLust Twist: As mentioned earlier, from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies” (p 167).