The Calligrapher

Docx, Edward. The Calligrapher. Boston: Houghton Miffler Company, 2003.

Reason read: March is hero month. The hero in The Calligrapher is a dead poet.

I love books that have the ability to suck you into its pages. I started reading The Calligrapher and before I knew it 75 pages were devoured before I next looked up.
Onto the plot: Jasper Jackson is a classy cad. He knows his wine. He knows his fish. He knows fashion. He knows his classical tunes. As a professional calligrapher, he knows the poetry of John Donne intimately. He also cheats on women who are already labeled “the other woman.” He can’t have a monogamous relationship to save his life…until he meets gorgeous-girl Madeleine. She is everything he has ever wanted in a partner: smart, funny, sarcastic, gone from home a lot as a travel writer, and of course, so beautiful everyone stops to stare wherever she goes. Miss Perfect. Jackson is willing to give up every other fling and sexual conquest for this girl. He has met his match in Maddy. He even takes her to meet his grandmother. No other woman has had the honor. Unfortunately, the other broken hearts Jasper has trampled on to get to Madeleine just won’t go away. He needs to deal with those messes before he can come clean. But. Is it too late?

Quotes I really liked, “Time cleared its throat and tapped its brand new watch” (p 43), and “Curious how the empty eyes of a dead fish could beseech a person so” (p 224).

As an aside, I have never thought about them before, but vellum and parchment and how they’re made. Calf and sheep, respectively. Ugh.

Author fact: Docx has written a bunch of other stuff. None of it is on my list, though. Bummer. As another aside, I checked out his list on LibraryThing and was a little taken aback by the photos. He’s one of those authors who has a hunch he might, just might, be good looking.

Book trivia: This should be a movie starring Hugh Grant. Oh wait. He already did one of those cad-turned-sensitive-guy movies for Nick Hornsby.

Nancy said: Pearl made comparisons to A.S. Byatt and she described the plot. That’s it.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dick Lit” (p 78).


Maisie Dobbs

Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs. Narrated by Rita Barrington. Hampton, NH: BBC Audiobooks America, 2005.

Reason read: March is International Women’s Month. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge. The category is “a cozy mystery.” I took “cozy” to mean a mystery without violence; no bombs exploding or crazy gun fights. Nothing fast paced; no cars screaming around corners on two wheels. Maybe “cozy” includes a sleeping cat or a steaming cup of tea.

Nancy Pearl should have included Maisie Dobbs in her list of characters she would like to befriend because I would like to hang out with Ms Dobbs myself. Maisie is one of those can’t-do-wrong girls that everyone, men and women alike, fall in love with. She is smart, pretty, loyal, and keenly perceptive.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1910. After her mother dies, Maisie, at the age of thirteen, takes a job as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton. Living in the Compton mansion is a far cry from her father’s humble costermonger home and inquisitive Maisie can’t help but explore every richly decorated room, especially the well stocked library. Night after night she is drawn to sneaking down the stairs and taking advantage of the massive collection. When discovered, Lady Rowan does not seek punishment. Rather, recognizing a talent for learning, rewards Maisie with extensive tutoring from family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a private investigator who uses psychology and acute observation to solve mysteries. Maisie becomes his apprentice and subsequently takes over the business after Blanche’s retirement. One case takes Maisie back to her days as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. The plot takes a turn down memory lane as Maisie’s wartime ghosts are revealed. A second mystery concerning the love of Maisie’s life emerges.
War is a constant character throughout Maisie Dobbs, whether the reader is looking back to Maisie’s volunteer work as a nurse in France, or looking ahead to the mysterious retreat for disfigured veterans. The psychology of war is ever present.

Favorite line, “Dawn is a home when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth” (p 249).

Author fact: Winspear wrote a ton of books but I am only reading Maisie Dobbs for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: Maisie Dobbs is Winspear’s first novel and won an Edgar Award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Winspear does a outstanding job of conveying post-World War I English society. I would also add Winspear does an outstanding job of conveying post traumatic stress and other debilitating effects of war.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


On Not Being Able to Paint

Field, Joanna. On Not Being Able to Paint. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1957.

Reason read: Field was born in the month of February. Her birthday is one day before mine. Read in her memory.

On Not Being Able to Paint is divided into five sections, the first four all relating to Free Drawing. The fifth and final section is focused on painting. Words like “psychic creativity” and “moral education” are thrown around, which makes me think I’m in for the psychobabble ride reading of my life. I wasn’t disappointed. There is a fair amount of deep psychology in On not Being Able to Paint. Even though the slim volume is less than 200 pages, it took me forever to read. In the end, I questioned if the obstacles which prevent one from painting are not the exact same “blocks” writers sometimes complain of experiencing when unable to write. Sure enough, Field is connecting free drawings with the self conscious.
As an aside, the first edition of On Not Being Able to Paint was written for educators. The second edition (my version) includes an appendix and Anna Freud’s foreword. I appreciated that Field was able to recognize that emotional drawing is not completely devoid of influence and that she shouldn’t be so fixated on depicting beauty for beauty’s sake.
Confessional: I was a bit disappointed by Field’s “art.” The illustrations were childlike and well, for lack of a better word, weird. As Field explains, and I said earlier, they are “free drawings” that helped her connect to the self conscious. I hope she was successful.

Quote to quote, “And the result was a sense of false certainty, a compulsive and deceptive sanity, a tyrannical victory of the common sense view which always sees objects as objects, but at cost of something else that was seeking recognition, something more to do with imaginative than with common sense reality” (p 76). Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Whatever that means!

Author fact: Joanna Field was the pen name of Marion Milner.

Book trivia: Illustrations are by Joanna Field, aka Marion Milner. Forward by Anna Freud.

Nancy said: Pearl said On Not Being Able to Paint was a later favorite of hers.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the cheating chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).


Persuader

Child, Lee. Persuader. Read by Dick Hill. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio, 2003.

Reason read: to finish the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…

I think this has to be my favorite Reacher story simply because it takes place, for the most part, outside of Portland, Maine. The ocean is always present so right away you can bet Reacher has to tangle with it at some point in the story. Of course he does. [As an aside, my favorite section of Dick Hill’s narrative is when Jack struggles with the ocean for a second time, not learning his lesson the first time around.] But, back to the plot. Reacher gets sucked into a compromising position, this time by his own accord. Ten years ago, a critical investigation went sideways and someone under Reacher’s military command was horrifically murder. Up until present day Reacher had thought the killer was dead by his own hand. He witnessed a demise he thought no one could survive..and yet ten years later here is proof the nemesis not only survived, but is thriving. Revenge is Jack’s motive.
Of course, Reacher wouldn’t be Reacher without an eye-roll inducing romance. This time it’s with a federal agent and I agree with other reviewers when they say it feels like Child threw in the relationship with Duffy because it is simply part of the formula for Reacher’s modus operandi. It was short lived and kind of silly.

As an aside, exactly how is Reacher running around with an Anaconda firearm in his pants? Pun intended?
My other gripe? Lee child has obviously never tried to tie his hair back with a rubber band. If he had, he would know it hurts like hell to take it out! No self respecting woman (or man-bunned hipster) would reach for a rubber band. If a real hair tie wasn’t available, a bread tie or a pencil or even a piece of string would do.
Last gripe. For the most part Child has stayed away from cheesy lines but he let this one slip by, “Gravity had no effect on her perfection.” Gag.

Favorite line – I have to include this line because it’s the first one in the book, “The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot” (p 1). If that doesn’t grab your attention!

Author fact: Rumor has it, Child spent a lot of money on the publicity campaign for this book.

Book trivia: This is the seventh Reacher book in the series and the last one on my Challenge list. A more specific to the book piece of trivia – the Persuader is a type of firearm and not a reference to Reacher’s personality.

Nancy said: Pearl suggested finishing the Reacher series with Persuader.
Actually, Pearl had more to say about Persuader than any other book. She admits, with nothing else to read, she picked it up out of boredom, but by the first line she was hooked.

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


Farming of Bones

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Reason read: Danticat’s birth month is in January. I may have mentioned this before, but she is barely a month older than me.

Danticat has one of those voices that just spills over you in a warm ooze. Be warned, though. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of extreme violence spurred on by dictatorial blind hatred. It begins slowly and subtly; almost a foreshadowing. A Haitian man, walking down the side of the road, is struck and killed by an automobile driven by a man rushing to get to the birth of his grandson. Consider this – the Haitian’s corpse is unceremoniously thrown into a deep and dark ravine to cover up the accident. The Dominican Republican man continues his hurried journey home without a second glance. Days later said-same grandson dies in his sleep and is given an elaborate vigil, an orchid painted casket, and ceremonial burial of grandeur. These two families, the hit and run victim and the newborn babe, share the same level of shock and grief but only one is allowed to fully demonstrate their pain. The Haitian man doesn’t even get a pine casket.
This is just the beginning of Danticat’s tale as we follow Haitian servant Amabelle Desir as she works in a wealthy Dominican Republic household. Life seems to be perfect considering the circumstances and her position in life. She is passionately in love with a cane worker she plans to marry and her employer was once a childhood playmate. They get along and Amabelle is treated well. Enter Domincan Republican dictator Rafael Trujillo and his plan to wipe out the entire Haitian population by mass genocide. Those who can not flee fast enough are subject to horrific torture before being hacked or burned to death. Amabelle’s world is turned upside down when she is separated from her love as she tries to escape the massacre.
The ending was perfect. I won’t give it away, but in order for this book to mean something there was no other ending possible.

Quotes I just have to quote, “Wherever I go, I will always be standing over her body” (p 205), “But some sorrows were simply too individual to share” (p 252), and “You may be surprised what we use our dreams to do, how we drape them over our sight and carry them like amulets to protect us from evil spells” (p 265).

Author fact: Danticat won the American Book Award for The Farming of Bones.

Book trivia: The Farming of Bones is Danticat’s second novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Farming of Bones “very political.” Because of the nonfiction elements to the story I would definitely agree.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contrary Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).


Short History of Nearly Everything

Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Read by Bill Bryson.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every “history” Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there’s a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets…and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it’s explained. The telling is everything.

Quotes I just had to quote. Here is an example of Bryson’s humor, “Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level” (p 5), and “Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely” (p 27).

Author fact: I poked around Bill Bryson’s FaceBook page. It’s pretty funny.

Book trivia: I am listening to the audio version read by Bill Bryson. Pearl may think that the book itself shouldn’t be missed, but I say the book actually read by the author shouldn’t be missed either.

Nancy said: Pearl has an asterisk next to A Short History of Nearly Everything as one Bryson book that especially shouldn’t be missed. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To miss” (p 36).


Without Fail

Child, Lee. Without Fail. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…never mind the connection. Just go with it.

When we catch up to Jack Reacher this time, he is in Atlantic City. But, not for very long. He somehow finds himself in Washington D.C., approached by a Secret Service agent who needs his help. Another damsel in distress. This one has ties to his dead brother, so how can he say no? Agent M.E. Froelich wants, errr no, needs to test the holes in her security detail guarding the newly elected vice-president, Brook Armstrong. She tells Reacher she’s just a girl playing in a competitive man’s world and those resentful men? They’re all out to get her; prove she’s horrible at her job. What Reacher doesn’t know is this isn’t really a test. No one is bitter about Froelich’s position. Instead, Vice President Armstrong has been receiving very real death threats. Now Reacher is in it deep and he can’t back out. He needs to figure out who is behind the threats before the vice president is assassinated. The clock is ticking…

A few annoyances. This is the first time I have to agree with Pearl. She said you didn’t need to read the Reacher series in order. I agree because in Without Fail Reacher asserts he has never owned anything. Not true. In Echo Burning he unloaded a house previously left to him by a military mentor. In truth he owned that.
Second annoyance. Froelich. She is Joe Reacher’s former lover. She is definitely not over the breakup (as he left her) and even less over Joe’s death. She talks a tough talk but every other second she’s bringing up Joe. She weirdly blames Jack for everything. As a member of the secret service I thought she would be a little tougher than that.

Author fact: Did I ever mention that, according to Child’s website, he also is 6’4″ just like his character, Jack Reacher? Hmmmm…

Book trivia: Without Fail is the sixth book in the Reacher series.

Nancy said: Nothing specific about Without Fail.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 42).