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).


Baghdad without a Map

Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.

Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.

Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.

As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.

Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).

Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.

Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.


All Elevations Unknown

Lightner Jr., Sam. All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.

Reason read: Mount Kinabalu was first ascended in March 1851.

As an extremely accomplished rock climber, Sam Lightner was always looking for the next summit. Coming across a black and white photo of a mysterious mountain somewhere in the heart of Borneo sent his NeedToConquer heart beating a little faster and his adventurous spirit into overdrive. Where, exactly, was this mountain and how soon could he scale it? The map was labeled “all elevations unknown.” In the spring of 1999, following Major Tom Harrisson’s book, The World Within as his bible, Lightner and a team of fellow climbers, camera men, porters, and unseen spirits set off into the jungle. A total of twenty-seven men follow Harrisson’s footsteps to conquer mountain known as Batu Lawi.
What makes All Elevations Unknown different from other extreme sport memoirs is Lightner’s historical look-back of what Tom Harrisson was going through fifty-four years earlier. Every other chapter is set in 1945 as Tom and his native tribe of Kelabit fight off the enemy Japanese at the end of World War II. For Harrisson, it was a struggle to keep the Kelabit from using their own inhumane war tactics of decapitation and poisoned darts. For Lightner in present day, sponsorship makes it a struggle to keep the photographers and reporters from interfering with, or even ruining, the climb. Both men, fifty-four years apart, experience a necessary inconvenience by collaborating with men with different motives.
As an aside: evading leeches sounded like a true nightmare until Lightner mentioned centipedes….

Author fact: Lightner is an international rock climber and has been the subject of a documentary.

Book trivia: Sadly, there are no maps or real photographs relevant to the adventure in All Elevations Unknown. In the online version there is an image of the famed mountain. Additional trivia: Lightner includes climbing terms for those not in the know.

Nancy said: Pearl said All Elevations Unknown was “entertaining” (Book Lust To Go p 39).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called ” Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).


Gunshot Road

Hyland, Adrian. Gunshot Road. New York: Soho Press, 2010.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of I have no idea what. I continue to have no idea.

In the last Emily Tempest installment, Emily had just returned to the Outback. When we catch up to her in Gunshot Road, she has settled in as a Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO) for the Bluebush police department. Only half the uniform fits her and she is “allergic to authority.” Add her temperament as a hothead, not afraid of authority and you can imagine why the job isn’t sitting with her as comfortably as she (and others) would like. To top it off, her superior is a by-the-book replacement by the name of Bruce Cockburn. Cockburn is filling in for Emily’s old friend, Tom MacGillivray while Tom is hospitalized. Unfortunately, Bruce doesn’t get Emily at all. All the barriers are there; the biggest being gender. As a female investigator she isn’t taken seriously. Being biracial doesn’t help either. Her very first case is a murder investigation at the Green Swamp Well Roadhouse and she has very little support during the investigation. Par for the course, someone is covering up something much bigger.
As an aside, Emily is someone I could kick back with and enjoy a beer. I admire her smart, funny, and courageous attitude. I do not, however, believe she could fire a shotgun with her big toe while wrestling, with her hands tied, with a 200lb+ brute. As you can probably tell, there is a lot of violence in Hyland novels.
Best part of Gunshot Road: Emily’s best friend, Hazel, and boyfriend, Jojo, are back. Yes!

Quote to quote, “Rage and shame, deaf to reason, swept through me in storms that tore aware the flimsy tarps lashed above my soul” (p 241 – 242).

As another aside, I was bothered by the cruelty towards animals in both Hyland books. It seems as if the citizens of the Aboriginal bush like to take their revenge out on dogs. A dog in Moonlight Downs was punched a killing blow because it bit a trespasser. This time, in Gunshot Road, a dog was beaten with a hammer. I’m more of a cat person but geeze!

Author fact: I wish I was reading Hyland’s nonfiction, Kinglake-350. It won a few awards. As of Gunshot Road, I am officially done with this author.

Book trivia: the one thing I remember commenting on before is Hyland’s use of music in his books. Almost right away in Gunshot Road he quoted “Mother and Child Reunion.” He also introduced me to the Pigram Brothers, a band of seven brothers from Broome, WA in Australia. Coral Cowboys, Cold Chisel, and Buffalo Express are others.

Nancy said: Gunshot Road was included in the list of Australian fiction that shouldn’t be missed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz: Fiction” (p 26).


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).


March Same As It Ever Was

This March will mark my eighth time running the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race. When I lived in town I would watch the runners race by, seemingly effortlessly. I could spy on them from my third floor apartment; while I sipped coffee I wondered what it would be like to able to run six miles knowing believing I couldn’t run a single one. Look at me now, Dad.

Here are the books I’m reading for the month of March:

Fiction:

  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – in honor of International Women’s month and to check off a category from the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge list (a cozy mystery).
  • Miss Mole by E.H. Young – in honor of Young’s birth month.
  • The Calligrapher by Edward Docx – in honor of March is Action Hero month.
  • On the Night Plain by J. Robert Lennon – in honor of Yellowstone National Park.
  • Pandora’s Star by Peter Hamilton – in honor of sci-fi month.

Nonfiction:

  • All Elevations Unknown: an Adventure into the Heart of Borneo by Sam Lightner, Jr. – in honor of the first time Mount Kinabu was ascended (March 1851).
  • Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz – in memory of the March 2003 bombing of Baghdad.

Series Continuations:

  • Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland – to continue the series started in January in honor something I can’t remember.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • The 21: A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs by Martin Mosebach (started in February).

Barrow’s Boys

Fleming, Fergus. Barrow’s Boys: New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.

Reason read: February is Exploration Month.

I was excited to finally read Barrow’s Boys as Fergus promised a plethora of primary sources – the best kind when reading about adventure that involves exploration, danger, and cannibalism! [Although, I have to admit it was not easy to read about the starvation, desperation, and death.] In times of peace, what better use of the navy than to go exploring? The burning question of the day was where did the river Niger go? When that expedition initially failed John Barrow started a second expedition, setting his sights on the Northwest Passage and Antarctica. What was out there? As Second Secretary to the Admiralty in 1816 Barrow was aware of these unanswered questions. Using elite naval officers Barrow put together a string of ambitious expeditions that spanned the world.

Author fact: Fleming is one of those jack of all trades kind of guy. He trained to be an accountant and a barrister in London, England. He has worked as a furniture maker and an editor. He is obviously a great writer as well. As an aside, I think he looks like Liam Neelson.

Book trivia: Barrow’s Boys includes maps. Lots of maps. Each one is dedicated to a different expedition. Barrow’s Boys also includes two sections of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl said in Book Lust that Fleming was chatty, entertaining, and historically accurate. All things I would want in a story. She then goes on to say (in Book Lust To Go) Fleming’s biography is one of her favorites. She calls it “enthralling (p 83).

BookLust Twist: from a bunch of places. Book Lust contains Barrow’s Boys in two different places: in the chapter called “Adventure By the Book: Nonfiction” (p 8) and again in chapter “Here Be Dragons: the Great Explorers and Expeditions” (p 110). Barrow’s Boys is also in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Explorers” (p 83).