Harriet the Spy

Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy. New York: Harper Collins, 1964.

Reason read: I have a friend named Harriet, born in the month of September.

Harriet M. Welsch is an eleven year old kid who ultimately wants to be a famous writer. She has been told in order to be an accomplished author, she needs to write a lot; she needs to write about anything and everything she sees. As a result, she is a spying, nosy, snotty, opinionated little brat with harsh criticisms about everyone she stalks. Maybe this is the adult in me being annoyed, but I found Harriet to be mean spirited to the point of shocking, and she gets worse before she gets better! I almost drew the line when she would spy on people from inside their own home. She comes from money (she has a cook and a nanny; cake and milk everyday) while her friend Sport, of the same age, has to be the one to manage the family finances and make his own lunch, among other things. We cannot forget creepy mad scientist friend June who wants to blow up things.
And. Speaking of blowing up things. All hell breaks loose when Harriet’s classmates get ahold of her beloved “work,” a notebook where she has been keeping very detailed notes on everyone she spies upon. The only problem is she never writes anything nice or complimentary. Like I said, it’s all super mean. Here is a quote to illustrate what I mean, “She saw the drunk old man and felt such a hatred for him that she almost fell off the bed” (p 195).

Author fact: Fitzhugh herself illustrated Harriet the Spy. The drawings are really interesting because the character of Harriet is drawn completely different than the other characters.

Book trivia: Harriet mentions a movie starring Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine. I too went down the rabbit hole to see if this Apollo movie really did exist. I don’t think so.

Nancy said: Pearl said Harriet the Spy was appropriate for girls and boys alike.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the super simple chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).


Death at La Fenice

Leon, Donna. Death at La Fenice. New York: HarperPerennial, 2004.

Reason read: Donna Leon was born in September. Read in her honor.

Death at La Fenice is a super fast read. You could probably finish it in a couple of days if you didn’t have anything else going on in your life…
This is Donna Leon’s first novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. When a world famous orchestral conductor dies of an apparent poisoning, Brunetti enters a world of snobbish culture of music and celebrity.
The best part of Death at La Fenice is Brunetti’s personality. The balance he must practice between home life, being a father and husband, with trying to solve a mystery without any real leads or suspects. Who would want to kill Helmut Wellauer; this esteemed man of music; so beloved in the music world? Another great reason to read Leon’s series is her descriptions of Venice. You will get to know this watery world in beautiful detail.

Quotes to quote, “Why was it that the word with which we confronted death always sounded so inadequate, so blatantly false?” (p 80), “To be a servant for twenty years is certainly to win the right not to be treated like a servant” (p 170).

Author fact: it is rumored that Leon wrote Death at La Fenice as a joke.

Book trivia: Death at La Fenice is the first in a series of mysteries to feature Commissario Guido Brunetti.

Nancy said: Pearl included Death at La Fenice in her list of books to read before traveling to Venice (More Book Lust). In Book Lust To Go, she reiterated that “no plans for a trip to Venice would be complete without reading the series of mysteries by American Donna Leon” (p 242).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the typical chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46) and again in Book Lust To Go in the more clever chapter called “Veni, Vidi, Venice” (p 240).


Moby Dick

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Illustrated by Joseph Ciardiello. New York: Reader’s Digest, 1989.

Reason read: August is the month to be by the sea.

Who doesn’t know the story of Captain Ahab and his obsessive hunt for the albino whale he calls Moby Dick?
What makes Moby Dick such an iconic story is Ishmael and his keen observations, not just of monomaniacal Captain Ahab, but of the entire crew of the Peaquod and the everlasting mythology surrounding whales. While his voice changes throughout the narrative, he remains the iconic character driving the story. There is a rage in Ahab that is mirrored in Ishmael. There is also a lack of faith in Ishmael that is mirrored in Ahab. While there is an adventure plot, Moby Dick also has a mix of religion (sermon of Jonah and the Whale); the study of the color white as it relates to mountains, architecture, and of course, inhabitants of the ocean, whales and sharks; a lecture of the different types of whales, including the narwhal. Additionally, Moby Dick offers didactic lectures on a variety of subjects: art, food, religion, slavery. [As an aside, although it is a realistic exchange between the cook, Fleece, and sailor Stubb, it made me uncomfortable.]

Quotes to quote, “It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin (p 38), “Yes, as anyone knows, meditation and water are wedding forever” (p 24), and “All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven may have mercy on us all…for we are somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (p 89).

Author fact: it is sad to think that Herman Melville did not find success as a writer until after death.

Book trivia: The illustrations by Joseph Ciardiello are pretty cool.

Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line to Moby Dick slipped her mind and that is why it wasn’t included in her first book, Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140). As an aside, the title is hyphenated as Moby-Dick in the index while my copies (print and audio) are not. As another aside, I have to argue with the inclusion of Moby Dick in this chapter. If another lesser book started off “Call me Harold” would it have been included? Probably not. What makes “Call me Ishmael” is not the opening line itself, but the epic story that follows. Those three words are only the gateway to an unforgettable and insane adventure.


The Country of the Pointed Firs

Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Firs. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.

Reason read: July marked the first time I have spent more than ten days on Monhegan since 1992. I wanted to celebrate Maine with a simple book.

It could take you a day to read The Country of the Painted Firs. A mere 88 pages in length, you could spend just an afternoon with Ms. Jewett’s novel. That being said, I urge you to take more time with this sweet little book. This is portrait of turn of the century coastal Maine living at its simplest and most honest. Jewett illustrates a time when hospitality, good manners, friendship and community mattered most. While there is not much of a plot, the characters are carefully crafted. Today, the people you meet throughout all of Maine are just as colorful and hard working as they were in Jewett’s fictional town of Dunnet Landing. The statement, “One trade helps another” as one character says, is as true today as it was in 1896 when Country of the Pointed Firs was first published.

Author fact: Jewett was from South Berwick, Maine. Her full name was Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, named for her father, Theodore.

Book trivia: Henry James and Ursula K. LeGuin both reviewed The Country of the Pointed Firs and declared it a masterpiece.

Nancy said: Pearl said Country of the Pointed Firs “is the perfect choice when you are feeling overwhelmed with the weight of the contemporary world” (More Book Lust p 57), and “a classic that has kept its charm” in Book Lust To Go (p 135).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Cozies” (p 57), and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).


Sand County Almanac

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: and sketches Here and There. Read by Cassandra Campbell. New York: Penguin Audio, 2020.

Reason read: Turtleback Zoo opened in the month of June. Read to honor a place that I used to love to visit. This zoo always treated their animals with such care. It has been years since I lasted visited. It could be completely different now.

There are certain books in the world you can’t help but try to read all in one sitting. They draw you in and you can’t find your way out of the pages until you reach the final words of The and End. A Sand County Almanac is one such book, especially as an audio read by Cassandra Campbell. Hour after hour would rush by as I got lost in Aldo’s world. I could hear the calling of the birds in the fields, the rattle of dried leaves in the oak trees signifying winter is on its way, and the gurgling rush of the stream as it stubbed its toes on rocks worn smooth. Leopold’s observations were so warm I couldn’t help but think if he were alive today, he and Josh Ritter would be friends.

Author fact: Leopold smoked. Okay, so it’s not the most enlightening fact, but it shocked me nonetheless. I like my naturalists without vices.

Book trivia: Barbara Kingsolver wrote the introduction to Sand County Almanac.

Nancy said: Pearl called A Sand County Almanac a “beautifully written classic.” Another interesting point. Pearl points out a section I found particularly intriguing. As Leopold saws through a fallen oak on his property he recounts historical moments the tress has lived through, ring by ring. Pearl called this section “transcendent” and I couldn’t agree more.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s ” (p 70).


Box Garden

Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.

Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.

In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.

Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.

Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).


Perfection Salad

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. New York: North Point Press, 1986.

Reason read: June is the month we usually migrate to the CSA and our farm of choice, Mountain View. I’m also reading this as part of the Portland Public Library reading challenge.

This was a great read on so many levels. Laura Shapiro writes with an easy and often humorous style. If you are interested in the science behind cooking; the chemical process of cooking food or the biological process of digestion; how arithmetic factors into cooking. How about the study of bacteria, whether it be from the germy dishcloth or the garbage can? Domestic “scientists” were determined to improve diets through science and chemistry.
Cooking because the great equalizer at the turn of the century. the interest in learning to cook was as such that in shops cooking was done in the open so that customers could witness both ingredients and preparation (the birth of the cooking show?).
From a feminist angle, it was great to read about so many women “firsts.” For example, Ellen Richards as the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even though she was considered a “special student” she broke the male-only barrier in 1870.
My favorite invention from this time period was the “Aladdin Oven” – a portable stove the size of a dinner pail that would cook a meal all day long. The first slow cooker!

Author fact: Shapiro has two books listed in More Book Lust. The second book, Something From the Oven is on my list to be read in a few years.

Nancy said: Pearl called Perfection Salad “entertaining and informative” and promised readers it would “change the way you look at food and its preparation” (More Book Lust p 73).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed 600s” (p 71).


Second Summer of the Sisterhood

Brashares, Ann. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.

Reason read: to finish the series started in May in honor of Birds & Bees month.

Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are back for another summer wearing “The Pants.” Carmen continues to be a brat. I think she is supposed to be seen as the fiery Puerto Rican. In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants she threw a rock through a window because she was mad at her dad for having a girlfriend and starting a new family. In Second Summer of the Traveling Pants it’s her mom’s happiness she can’t bear to witness.
Tibby’s situation was a little more believable. Away at college and desperate forget a friend who died of leukemia, she shuns her old life and adopts the crappy attitudes of a couple of loner kids in her class. This, I know a little something about. Sadly, I am guilty of changing my personality to impress new people.
Bridget is away in Alabama, working for her estranged grandmother and trying to escape an unfortunate event in The sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Gram thinks Bridget is a lonely girl named Gilda and with Bridget’s weight gain and dyed hair Grandma is easily fooled.
Lena has the simplest yet most complicated story. After leaving Greece she couldn’t stand to be away from Kostos so she broke up with him. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s perfect teenage logic for you. Who hasn’t done something dramatic thinking it was the only choice? Kostos accepts the breakup until he sees Lena and professes his undying love for her…until something else happens.
All four girls have moments when The Pants don’t work for them. The magic just isn’t there and they have to rely on growing up to see the solution. the real magic happens when they begin to see their mothers as human beings.

Author fact: Brashares has also written nonfiction. None of it is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Second Summer did not do as well as Sisterhood. Sequels are a hard nut to crack.

Nancy said: Pearl included Second Summer of the Sisterhood in a list of “teen-pleasers.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Miss Mole

Young, E. H. Miss Mole. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1985

Reason read: Miss Mole was supposed to be this quick, under 300 page easy read I could bang out in a week’s time. Instead it turned out to be a slog I put down and then forgot to pick back up…for eight weeks. Oops.

Confessional: In the beginning, I didn’t care for Hannah Mole. In the beginning I was questioning myself, was I supposed to like Hannah Mole? Possibly not, since this was included in the More Book Lust chapter called “Viragos.” After finishing the book and with careful consideration, I think I am supposed to see Hannah as an independent, plucky, middle aged woman who barges through life with integrity, wit and humor. She had a prejudice against nonconformist ministers, tells small lies (don’t we all?), and keeps secrets. The more Miss Mole’s personality blossomed, the more I admired her. Plucky! As my grandmother used to say.

As an aside, I don’t know why Hannah Mole would subject herself to being a companion for a succession of crotchety old women. As a middle aged spinster, she starts working for Reverend Corder. It seems as if she has traded in her difficult women for a pompous ass.

Line I liked, “I was wondering if the best wives are the ones who are not married” (p 41).

Author fact: Miss Mole is considered Young’s best work.

Book trivia: Miss Mole won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.

Nancy said: Pearl said Miss Mole was a virago you should not miss.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from, as I’ve said several times over, the chapter called “Viragos” (p 227).


Secrets, Lies, Betrayals

Scarf, Maggie. Secrets, Lies, Betrayals: The Mind/Body Connection. How the Body Holds the Secrets of a Life, and How to Unlock Them. New York: Random House, 2004.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library reading challenge as a book I wish I had given myself. Here is the original reason. Everyone jokes that the root of all childhood trauma is mama. So, to blame on your mother, Mother’s Day is in May.

It is pretty fascinating to think that your physical body holds the keys to unlocking mental trauma. By paying attention to your body’s postures, tensions, aches, and pains, you could solve mysteries of the mind. Physical health could nurture mental health. Part memoir, part psychology is how I would describe Scarf’s Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. She uses stories from both sides of the couch, so to speak; both as a patient and as a therapist, to illustrate the benefits of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.

Confessional: I actually freaked myself out a little reading Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. Scarf was describing me at one point in the book. Back in the mid 90s I dated a guy who was quick to criticize me in weird and subtle ways. I never knew what he was really trying to say. Whenever we argued he would twist everything I said into illogical pretzels. I would get increasingly more and more confused; to the point where I would end up questioning my own side of the story. He would win by sheer convolution.

Author fact: Scarf wrote a bunch of best selling psychology books. In the middle of this didactic bibliography is a biography on Benjamin Franklin for young people.

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy Secrets for a psychologist in the family. My question is this, if the psychologist is any good, wouldn’t he or she already at least know of the book if not already have it?

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 117).


Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Brashares, Ann. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2001.

Reason read: school is wrapping up; Portland Public Library Book challenge. Also, May is “Birds and Bees” month.

This is the story of a pair of blue jeans found in a thrift shop. Just kidding. The magic word for this bestseller is friendship. Four girls from four incredibly different backgrounds have been friends since the womb; ever since their pregnant mothers became friends in an aerobics class. Even though their mothers’s friendships died and withered away, the daughters remained close. All four girls were born within seventeen days of one another but that is the only characteristic they have in common (besides living in Bethesda, Maryland):
Carmen. Her parents are divorced and in the beginning of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Carmen is headed to South Carolina to spend the summer with her dad, someone she doesn’t get to see very often. She feels lucky to have him to herself for once. They haven’t spent any real time since she was ten.
Tibby. Her has a huge family and she is the only one not traveling for the summer. Left behind in Maryland, she befriends a young girl with cancer.
Bridget. She is the athlete in the bunch. As a soccer star, she is headed to Baja, Mexico to camp to improve her skills. There, she falls in love with a counselor.
Lena. She gets to spend the summer in Greece with her grandparents who barely speak English. Think lots of situations lost in translation.

Author fact: Brashares has won an Indies Choice Book Award.

Book trivia: Sisterhood is the first book of five in the “pants” series. I am only reading the first two for the Book Lust Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as best for teenage girls, but said any teen or adult might like it.

BookTwist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23). I said that already.


Birds, Beasts, and Relatives

Durrell, Gerald. Birds, Beasts, and Relatives. New York: Penguin Books, 1978

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Humor month in April.

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is one of those books that keeps the party going. As the second book in the Corfu trilogy, Birds includes stories previously untold in My Family and Other Animals. While the Durrell family only spent four years on the Greek island of Corfu, Gerald was able to dig around in his memory and find always humorous, and sometimes outrageous, and obviously exaggerated situations to share…much to his family’s chagrin. These stories usually involved young Gerald coming across some wild animal and insisting it become part of the family as an honorary pet (such as an owl, given to Gerald by an eccentric Countess). Interested in his natural surroundings, Gerald was guided by biologist and fellow naturalist, Theodore. It was Gerald’s keen observations about his world that held my attention.

Author fact: Durrell was a television personality and the subject of a few documentaries.

Book trivia: Birds, Beasts, and Other Relatives was actually Durrell’s twelfth autobiographical book. It is followed by The Garden of the Gods, which is also on my list.

Nancy said: Pearl included Birds, Beasts, and Relatives in a list of books which made her laugh out loud. Laughing is very good these days. In Book Lust To Go Pearl says Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is not up to “the joyful perfection of [My Family and Other Animals], but is no slouch” (Book Lust To Go p 70).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220); and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Corfu” (p 70).


I Leap Over the Wall

Baldwin, Monica. I Leap Over the Wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-Eight Years in a Convent. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1950.

Reason read: Easter is one of the most religious holidays I know. During this pandemic crisis my family had a zoom meeting in order to be together. Read Baldwin in recognition of Easter.

Like the title implies, Monica Baldwin spent twenty-eight years of her life in a Roman Catholic convent. She had thought she wanted to give her life to God until one day…she didn’t. So after twenty-eight years, she left. Just like that. The first order of business “on the outside” was for Baldwin to find suitable clothes for the outside world. The second critical task was to secure suitable employment. The first was easier than the second considering England was in the midst of World War II. Baldwin struggled as a gardener, a matron at a camp for female munitions workers, a canteen cook, and a librarian. At heart she was always a writer. I Leap Over the Wall was meant to be a journalistic memoir, contrasting and comparing the structured life of being a nun to the haphazardness of the outside. Readers get a sense of how structured Baldwin’s life had been on the inside: the day to day duties of a novice and even the caste-like division of the monastic houses. Despite this structure, something she thought she needed, Baldwin knew from the very beginning that entering the convent was a mistake. It took her twenty-eight years to seek rescript from the Vatican.

Author fact: I find it really interesting that Baldwin entered the convent soon after the start of World War I and emerged during World War II.

Book trivia: My copy of I Leap Over the Wall was inscribed “Elinor E. Parker February 1, 1950 Brooklyn, N.Y.” I have no idea who Elinor was or how her book ended up in the attic of my parents.

Nancy said: Pearl said she was entranced with Baldwin’s book because it was a world she would never know.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86).


Pandora's Star

Hamilton, Peter F. Pandora’s Star. New York: Random House, 2004.

Reason read: in honor of science fiction month, science fiction week, and science fiction day. all those things.

I have read many different reviews calling Pandora’s Star “epic,” a “space opera,” and “sweeping.” I have to wonder if that is because the book is so freaking long. And. And! And, it doesn’t have a conclusive ending. That’s right. You read over 900 pages only to find you end up hanging off a cliff. Yup. Pandora’s Star takes place in a time when re-life is a common occurrence. Individuals spend time in a womb tank and be reborn following a rejuvenation policy at age sixty-five; or they can modify their DNA and clone themselves. Memory edits are common. They can buy smart memories to give themselves an instant education while they boss around their e-butlers; or they can dump memories in a secure store for nostalgia’s sake. OCtattoos allow one to smell what other’s are up to. Can you just imagine?
This is a world where farms are mechanized. Native plants are destroyed and factories produce everything the inhabitants need. Power plants and super conductor cables rule the landscape. Domesticated beasts like tands, galens, longtrus, finnars, and barntran are as common as the Silfen alien population. Just look out for the armored six legged monster called the Alamo Avenger or the furry Yeti-like creature, the Korrok-hi. Departments like Planetary Science, the Alien Encounter Office, and Emergency Defense are necessary.
This is the best line in the whole book, “Astrogration, move the wormhole exit to geosynchronous height above the third planets daylight terminator” (p 191).
Ozzie Isaac, inventor of the gateways speaks in poetry. My favorite things about him is that he can switch his retinal inserts to ultraviolet. That’s just way cool. He’s only one of many, many interesting characters. My advice is pay attention to everyone you meet. Sooner or later they all come back into the picture.

Author fact: Hamilton has written an impressive list of books. I’m only reading two.

Book trivia: Pandora’s Star in continued by Judas Unchained. Phew, I say. Because otherwise how else would I figure out how it all ended?

Nancy said: Pearl said a lot about Pandora’s Star. She said she couldn’t praise it enough, that it was not to be missed, that the characters are three-dimensional, and that it compared to Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Space Operas” (p 210).


Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.

Reason read: March is African Writers Month.

Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).

As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).

Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.

Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.

Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”

BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).