Power of One

Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

Reason read: Courtenay’s birth month is in August.

Confessional One: I accidentally ordered the childrens’ book version of The Power of One. Before I realized my mistake I was already half way through it.
Confessional Two: the version for children needed to be returned before I was finished so I jumped over the the adult full length story. I’m glad I did.

Confessional Three: The Power of One started a little slow for me. Maybe because I started with a book for children? At times I thought it contained magical realism. Once the story picked up I was thoroughly engrossed.

Known only by the derogatory name of Pisskop, a child is born in South Africa and in the shadow of Hitler’s rise to cruel power. In 1939 Pisskop seems destined for demise. He was born of the wrong color, white. He spoke the wrong language, English. He was raised by a woman of the wrong color, black. His own mother all but nonexistent. Pisskop knew fear, cruelty, humiliation and abandonment all before he turned six years old. Through a series of unremarkable events Pisskop is led to the people and opportunities that would bestow courage and grit on the young boy. Harry Crown, who renames Pisskop, Peekay. Hoppie Groenewald, who offers Peekay a green sucker at their first fateful meeting (a gesture Peekay will always remember). Doc, who becomes a mentor and a father figure for Peekay. Geel Peet, who takes Peekay’s boxing skills to another level. Because of these early relationships, Peekay gains confidence and courage, vowing to overcome his color, his speech, his pitiful upbringing. In his dreams he survives to become the welterweight champion of the world.

Lines I liked: “Man brutalized thinks only of his survival” (p 215), “The indigo night was pricked with sharp cold stars” (p 257), “The photograph captured the exact moment when I understood with conviction that racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men” (p 265), and one more, “You either disappear into a plebian background or move forward to where most others fear to follow” (p 472).

Author fact: Courtenay was born in South Africa.

Nancy said: nothing specific, besides plot, about Power of One.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: A Reader’s Itinerary” (p 3).


Niccolo Rising

Dunnett, Dorothy. Niccolo Rising. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Reason read: Dunnett’s birth month is in August.

When Dunnett finished the Francis Crawford of Lymond series she felt there was more to Francis Crawford’s story that needed to be detailed. By way of explanation she went back to the 15th century. Niccolo Rising is the first in the House of Niccolo series and features Nicholas de Fluery, three generations before Francis Crawford of Lymond’s birth. For reference, the 1459 Queen of Scots is thirteen years old.
Be prepared for high drama! Nicholas (or Niccolo or Nicholas vander Poele or Claes, as he is first called) only wants what every young man craves – acceptance, recognition, and love from his elders. When we first meet him, he is known as Claes, an eighteen year old dyer’s apprentice. Clumsy as a puppy and equally annoying, the people in his life spend most of their time babysitting his actions and cleaning up his messes. It is hard to imagine Claes’s transformation into a good-with-numbers, savvy businessman who capture the heart of one of the most prestigious women in the country. Much like 15th century Bruges’s commerce and trade, Claes undergoes a spiritual and intellectual growth. By the end of Niccolo Rising he is practically unrecognizable. And that’s when the fun starts…

As an aside, the list of characters, both real and fictional, is daunting. Read and reread this book extremely carefully. You might miss something if you don’t.

Author fact: Dunnett also wrote about Macbeth.

Book trivia: Niccolo Rising is the first book in the Niccolo House series and since they tie into the House of Lymond series Dunnett suggested reading them in the order they were written and not in chronological order. Yay! I’m actually reading them in the right order…for once.

Nancy said: Pearl said it would be a shame to miss out on the House of Niccolo series  (More Book Lust p 80).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79).


An August Attempt

So. I’ve done a few short runs here and there. Nothing crazy, but at least I’m back in it somewhat. Spent more time with the books. Speaking of which, here they are:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman (EB/print)
  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (AB)
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli (EB)
  • Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (EB)
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print)
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)

Nonfiction:

  • A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China by Kirsty Needham
  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird
  • Eurydice Street by Sofka Zinovieff

Series continuation:

  • Arctic Chill by Arnuldur Indridason (EB/print) – which I forgot to mention when I was plotting the month. It’s the last book of the series -that I’m reading. (There are others.)
  • Big Bad City by Ed McBain

LibraryThing Early Review:

  • Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – which came after I plotted the month of reading so it wasn’t mentioned before.

 


Crazy Jack

Napoli, Donna Jo. Crazy Jack. New York: Random House, 1999.

Reason read: August is Fairy Tale month.

Everyone knows the traditional English story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack sells the family cow for some worthless beans. Said beans grow into a magical beanstalk that reaches up into the clouds. When Jack climbs the stalk he comes to find the home of an ugly and mean giant. Escaping the giant’s cannibalistic wrath, Jack is able to steal away with a goose that lays golden eggs, a pot of gold, and a magical singing harp.
However, Donna Jo Napoli’s version has more substance in that you meet Jack when he is nine years old and living on a farm with his mother and father. Next door is beautiful Flora and life is perfect. But, Jack’s dad, being a gambler, ends up losing the farm. Literally. In his guilt and shame he commits suicide and Jack goes crazy with grief. Over time Jack’s life is turned upside down. As he grows up, he and his mother become poorer and poorer until finally, they are down to their last cow. To make matters worse, lovely Flora announces her engagement to another (sane) man. True to the original telling, Jack sells the family cow for some seemingly worthless beans that end up growing into a huge beanstalk that reaches the heavens. And like the original story, Jack climbs the beanstalk and discovers that giant and his riches. But, Napoli adds a sex scene and in the end has a powerful message for her readers. Jack may be crazy but he also has a heart. His ending is a happily ever after despite the heartache.

Line I really liked, “I’ll share my bed with whatever dreams come” (p 60).

Author fact: Napoli dedicated Crazy Jack to Barry. I guess he “always stands by his crazy woman.” That made me laugh. She also thanked the librarians at Swathmore College. Napoli sounds like someone with whom I could hang out.

Book trivia: Crazy Jack is so short it can be read in a day, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Take your time with Jack and the Giant. You won’t regret it.

Nancy said: Napoli’s reinterpretations of classic tales are good for teenage girls (More Book Lust, p 94).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 93).


Jackie By Josie

Preston, Caroline. Jackie By Josie. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born in July; read in honor of her birth month.

Josie Trask is one neurotic woman…but she has a lot of heart. Hired to research the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for a less-than-serious biographer, Josie moves back in her childhood Massachusetts home for the summer in order to be close to her source’s personal history. It’s right after Jackie O’s death and digging up the most private of Jackie’s dirt takes time. This means moving back in with an overbearing and alcoholic mother while contending with a typical three year old son, all on her own. Husband Peter has headed to California for a teaching job, carpooling with college friend, Monica. While Josie is trying to satisfy a constantly demanding employer and worrying about her absent husband, she is convinced her mother is dating a criminal and her husband is having an affair. As Josie digs deeper into Jackie’s life she can’t help but notice the similarities. What lessons can she learn from the life of a former First Lady?

Author fact: While Preston has written a bunch of books, Jackie by Josie is the only one I am readng for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Jackie by Josie is Preston’s first book.

Nancy said: Jackie By Josie was “wonderful reading, each in its own way” (More Book Lust, p 132). She goes on to say some books have more depth than others. I would think Jackie By Josie is one such book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132). I keep wanting to add the word “Period” to it. As an aside, this could also have been listed in Pearl’s Maiden Voyages chapter.


Black Hearts in Battersea

Aiken, Joan. Black Hearts in Battersea. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1964.

Reason: July is Kids Month and Pearl lists this as a book best for kids.

The first thing Ms. Aiken wants you to know about Black Hearts in Battersea is that it takes place in the same time period as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, near the beginning of the nineteenth century. The second thing you should know is that some characters in Wolves are also in Black Hearts. Simon, an orphan who lived in a cave and came to the rescue in Wolves is the main character in Black Hearts. This time Simon is looking for his friend, Dr. Gabriel Field who has mysteriously disappeared after inviting Simon to come study art with him. A mystery ensues when everyone Simon encounters denies even knowing Dr. Field. It is as if the man never existed in Battersea. While waiting for Dr. Field to reappear Simon befriends the Duke of Battersea, gets a job with a blacksmith, and rooms with a suspicious peasant family. It’s a fun tale of adventure, especially after Simon meets bedraggled Dido who gets him in all sorts of trouble.

Author fact: As I mentioned before, Aiken also wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book I read in September of 2013. Some are calling this a series so I should have read Black Hearts in Battersea in October of 2013. Bummer.

Book trivia: Black Hearts was illustrated by Robin Jacques.

Nancy said: nothing special.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21). This book, interesting enough, is good for boys and girls.


“Verlie I Say Unto You”

Adams, Alice. “Verlie I Say Unto You.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Reason read: June is short story month.

My first reaction to “Verlie” is to comment on the blindness of the privileged. Verlie is a maid in Todd family’s home. When news of Verlie’s husband’s death reaches the Todd household no one is sure how to tell Verlie. Their naive expectation of her reaction is one of grief. Never mind the fact Verlie and Horace haven’t seen each other in years. They can’t understand why she smiles at the news. It’s obvious they don’t know their employee even though she has been with them “forever.”

Author fact: Alice’s mother was also a writer, just not as accomplished as Alice.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).