Bray, Libba. A Great and Terrible Beauty. Ember, 2003.
Reason read: May is birds and bees month. A Great and Terrible Beauty is a book written for teenagers. I think you can figure it out from there.
Even though this is a book best for teens I found myself enthralled with the story of Gemma. After her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, Gemma is sent to an finishing school in London. Everyone is saying her mother died of cholera because the truth is far more scandalous for the Victorian era. Despite taking place in Victorian England, Gemma’s boarding school could be in western Maine in the 21st century. The cattiness of school girls is as timeless as it is universal. In short, there will always be a crew, a posse, a clique, or gang. Some group of individuals designed to alienate and torture others. The names of these groups will change, but for the outsider the unfathomable desire to belong to one of them will never change. The act of self-mutilation in an effort to feel “something” is timeless, as well. Cutting in an effort to feel something is also represented in the story. The title of the book comes from the great and terrible beauty of power. There is an unspoken responsibility when bestowed with power. Gemma has the power to visit another realm; one filled with beautiful visions and terrible evils.
Two lines I liked, “Your mind is not a cage” (p 128) and “What kind of girl am I to enjoy a kiss I’ve seized so boldly, without waiting to have it asked for and taken from me, the way I should?” (p 210).
Author fact: according to the author bio, Libba is a cat person. Cool.
Book trivia: A Great and Terrible Beauty is the first of three books in the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. I am not reading Rebel Angels or The Sweet Far Thing. Too bad because I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty.
Playlist: “God Save the Queen”.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about A Great and Terrible Beauty other than to indicate it is best for teenage girls. I would disagree. Boys need to know about prejudices against women. Gemma’s brother is a prime example of what was (and still is) wrong with our society. Girls, females, women are not supposed to be pretty objects for men to own no matter the century. We can’t erase how long it took women to have a vote or to play professional sports, but we can educate our boys, males, men to make better choices when it comes to the representation and treatment of women. [Stepping down from soap box now…]
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).
Corriveau, Art. Housewrights. Penguin Books, 2002.
Reason read: April has a week dedicated to librarians.
The early 1900s. It is an age when nature is stepping aside for the steamroller that is science. A father with twins so identical even he can’t tell them apart shows up in eight-year-old Lily’s Vermont yard, looking for carpentry work. Unabashed and unconventional, Lily takes to the boys and they can’t help falling in love with her as only little boys can when a girl can climb a tree faster or shows no fear diving into a pond from a great height.
Fast forward ten years and one of the twins, Oren, comes calling. He has never forgotten Lily. Eighteen years old, Lily now works as a librarian in the same town she never left. Did she stay where she was just so Oren or Ian could find her? Oren came back first. They marry, build a house and settle into the community as husband and wife. Soon after brother Ian arrives in town after surviving the horrors of the First Great War. He is a shell-shocked sleepwalking mess and Lily feels the old pull towards him; with Oren’s blessing she welcomes Ian into their home. The three set up house as if time has stood still and they are once again children, locked in the play of deep friendship. Only now with adult alcohol to go with the games and music and loud laughter. It isn’t long before their unconventional arrangement becomes the talk of the town.
More than a story about conformity and appearances, Housewrights is a lesson in identity and acceptance. It is about changing with the times and making peace with the past.
Quote to quote, “She also knew not to trust everything men said when they were drinking” (p 4). Good girl. I should note, there were many, many more passages I could quote. This just set up a premonition perfectly.
Book trivia: Housewrights has a pretty accurate account of how maple syrup is produced and how a house brought from a catalog is put together.
Author fact: Housewrights is Art Corriveau’s first novel. It should be made into a movie.
Playlist: “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” “The Wedding March,” and “The Gentlemen’s Waltz.”
Nancy said: Pearl did not say much about Housewrights.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Libraries and Librarians” (p 138).
Doyle, Roddy. The Snapper. Penguin Books, 1992.
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland.
I can safely say most everyone knows about Doyle’s first novel, The Commitments. It was made into a pretty good movie and had a phenomenal soundtrack. I am willing to bet more people know the music than the book or the movie combined. The Snapper is like an episode of Seinfeld where a whole lot of nothing happens to an ordinary group of people. The plot centers around the fact Jimmy Rabbitte’s sister is pregnant. If you remember Jimmy Rabbitte, Jr., he was the guy who started the band, the Commitments. He wanted to be a manager of someone famous in the worst way. Remember how, in The Commitments he was always practicing his interview? In The Snapper his dreams have changed slightly. Still looking for fame, he now wants to be a disc jockey. But enough about Jimmy Jr. This time he isn’t the lead character. He is firmly in the background while his sister, Sharon Rabbitte, takes center stage as a twenty year old unwed mother-to-be. Like The Commitments, the dialogue carries the story. Family members and friends all try to guess the baby daddy. I felt bad for Sharon’s highly emotional and confused father. One day embarrassed about who knocked up his daughter, the next reading everything he can about what she is going through. The Snapper gives a spot-on account of the good, bad, and ugly elements of pregnancy.
Author fact: Doyle has also written books for children.
Book trivia: The Snapper is the next book in the trilogy, but can easily read on its own. Aside from the Rabbitte family, there is nothing to tie The Snapper back to The Commitments.
Playlist: Jennifer Rush’s “Power of Love,” “The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music,” “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” Bon Jovi, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Tina Turner, Victor Sylvester, Alison Moyet’s “Is This Love,” Alexander O’Neil’s “Fake,” and James Brown’s “Living in America.”
Nancy said: Pearl thinks of Doyle when she thinks of Irish fiction.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).
Estleman, Loren D. Edsel: a Novel of Detroit. The Mysterious Press, 1995.
Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state. I also needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge.
For Edsel: a Novel of Detroit, we jump back to the 1950s. Former reporter Constance “Connie” Minor has been hired to come up with an advertising pitch to sell the Ford “e-car” Edsel. At the same time, he is hired to be a spy for the United Auto Workers labor union. As he bounces between loyalties and the law, Connie also juggles dating two women. Per the usual Estlemen plot, Connie burrows underground into the world of mobsters, corrupt politicians, and ex-cops with hidden agendas. Once again, it is the dialogue that keeps Edsel hopping.
Like the other Estleman novels, Edsel is a parade of cars: Skyliner, Studebaker (my dad had one of those), Lincoln Capri, Ford Fairlane, Hudson Hornet, Bel-Air, Mercury Montclair, deVille, corsair, Citation, and Roadmaster.
This is going to sound strange, but I loved the last few pages of Edsel. If this had been a movie, the end roll of credits would have been a political and economic snapshot of how 1950s fared. Like the voiceover of the crime noir detective wrapping up the solving of a crime.
What was that movie when someone soandso goes back in time and laughingly asks her family, “you bought an Edsel?” knowing that in the future, this model was doomed to fail in a big way. I think it was “Peggy Sue Got Married” but I can’t remember the name of the actress who goes back in time.
Quote I liked, Israel Zed’s advice, “Time isn’t as important as attitude” (p 85). Two more lines to like, “I had to maneuver my lips out of the way of my words” (p 72), “Young women who are out to seduce fossils don’t begin by telling them they’re two years younger than their fathers” (p 147), and “Never plead problems of health to the man who holds your professional future in the file drawer of his desk” (p 278).
Author fact: Estleman was nominated for a Pulitzer.
Playlist: Little Richard, “After the Ball,” “The Black Bottom,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” “Sixteen Tons,” Teresa Brewer, Xavier Cugat, Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House,” Elvis’s “Hond Dog,” Jerry Lee Lewis, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Frankie Lane’s “Mule Train,” and Bill Haley and the Comets.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Country Country: the Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).
Hijuelos. Oscar. The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989.
Reason read: March is Music month.
Delve into this book if you want a cultural education in Cuba and its music. Taking place in the 1950s, two Cuban brothers emigrate to the United States with big dreams of conquering the music scene. Cesar Castillo looks back on his life, playing mambo music with his brother, Nester and having a small spotlight in the fame arena after a guest appearance on an episode of I Love Lucy. I read this book on the heels of the Netflix documentary about Desi and Lucy so it seemed as if the couple was everywhere. Confessional: I couldn’t really get into this book. The parts where Desi Arnez makes an appearance were my favorite and, as the story went on, I began to skip scenes that involved sex or Nestor pining over “Beautiful Maria.” I grew weary of the repetition. I did appreciate all the references to music of the era.
Author fact: Hijuelos was honored with the 1985 Rome Fellowship in Literature of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Book trivia: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love was made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas in 1992.
One of the best aspects of Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love is the musical education you will get. Singers, composers, pianists, violinists, and lyricists from Catalan, Dominican, Cuban, Columbian, and Puerto Rican backgrounds flood the pages of Mambo.
Playlist (because this is a book about music, there was a lot to mention.): Musicians and composers – Alberto Beltran, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Beny More, Cesar Nestor, Desi Arnaz, Enric Madriguera, Ernesto Lecuona, Fletcher Anderson, Glorious Gloria Parker, Maurio Bauza, Mongo Santamaria, Miguelito Valdez, Manny Jimenez, Nelson Pinedo, Nat King Cole, Noro Morales, Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Olga Chorens, Ornette Coleman, Rene Touzet, Tito Rodriguez, and Vincento Valdez.
Songs: “Acercate Mas,” “Besame Mucho,” “Beautiful Maria of My Soul,” “Cielito Lindo,” “Frenesi,” “Hong Kong Mambo,” “In the Still of the Night,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” “Moonlight Becomes You,” “Mambo de Paree,” “Mambo Nine,” “Mambo for a Hot Night,” Mambo Number Eight,” and “Twilight in Havana.”
Nancy said: Pearl included a sentence about the plot for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called Cuba Si!” (p 68)
Roberts, Nora. Face the Fire. Jove Books, 2002.
Reason read: to finished the trilogy started in February in honor of Valentine’s Day and love and romance and cheesy chick lit.
To recap the trilogy: Nell came to Three Sisters Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, looking to escape an abusive husband (a la Sleeping with the Enemy). She found a sisterhood of witches with Ripley and Mia and true love with Ripley’s brother. In the second installment, Ripley, the witch with the biggest chip on her shoulder needed to chill out. She found true love with a witch researcher. In Face the Fire, it is Mia’s turn to find her true love. The only problem is, her true love is someone who walked away from her many years ago, leaving deep scars and a toughened exterior. While I appreciated the fact Mia’s story ran through the earlier installments, I was disappointment when she decided she could have a sexual relationship with long lost love, Sam. Like the other plots in the Three Sisters Island trilogy, there is an element of evil that must be vanquished before anyone can live happily ever after.
Book trivia: Face the Fire is the last book in the trilogy.
Playlist: “Sea of Love” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say much about Face the Fire except it was out of chronological order in Book Lust.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).
Treichel, Hans-Ulrich. Lost. Translated by Carol Brown Janeway. Pantheon Books, 1999.
Reason read: April is known for April Fool’s Day. Lost is known for its black humor.
Who is more important? The son who didn’t go missing in1945 or the lost son who has the potential to be found? When we think of war, we think of brave soldiers on the battlefield; soldiers sustaining horrific wounds and giving up previous lives. We hardly think of the refugees, the byproducts of conflict. Treichel tells the German story of an-every wartime family fleeing Russian encroachment. In haste and confusion, an infant is handed off for safe keeping, never to be seen again. Despite having a second son, the parents never forget their firstborn son, Arnold. When this second son is told the story of his missing older brother he is only eight years old and wise enough to know that if Arnold is found, his life will change forever. As the younger and more insignificant brother, he will have to share everything he has had to himself for his entire life. Thus begins his story of his parents’ obsessive journey to identify Arnold. Told through the first person lens of an eight year old, the narration is at turns darkly funny and heartbreaking.
Treichel speaks volumes in the things he doesn’t say, “…the dreadful thing that the Russians had done to them, my mother in particular” (p 13). Is he talking about the event when his older brother was “lost” or something more sinister? Is he implying rape?
Author fact: Lost is Treichel’s first novel.
Book trivia: Lost has been called a “small masterpiece” by several reviewers. Indeed, being only 136 pages long, it is a tiny but well written book. Interestingly enough, there are no chapters or even paragraphs.
Nancy said: While Lost is mentioned twice, neither time does Pearl say anything more about the book than to describe the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Black Humor” (p 40). and then again in the chapter called “First Novels” (p 87).
Gregory, Philippa. The Other Boleyn Girl. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Reason read: March is Women’s History Month
The year is 1521. One of Mary Boleyn’s uncle has just been ceremoniously executed; beheaded in front of the entire watchful community. Married at twelve years old, aristocrat Mary Boleyn no longer thinks life is a joke. She definitely isn’t laughing when her father and uncle start putting Mary in King Henry the VIII’s way. The devious plot is to woo the philandering king away from his Spanish wife who, horrors upon horrors, hasn’t been able to produce an heir to the throne. Mary, successfully in capturing Henry’s attention, also succeeds in giving Henry first a daughter and then a much needed son. Unfortunately, despite wanting this heir to the throne, King Henry desires every last ounce of Mary’s attention. When motherhood agrees with Mary and she starts to dote on her children more than the needy king, she quickly loses favor with Henry and his court. This isn’t good. The more dear a Boleyn girl is to the throne, the more her family benefits. Which is why no one cares when Mary’s sister, Anne, begins to seduce the king right under Mary’s nose. Never mind the king is married. Never mind that Mary is married. You get the picture. King Henry the VIII switches love interests as often as the tower beheads people.
The moral of the story is stand too close to the sun and you will get burned.
Author fact: Gregory has written many, many other books but The Other Boleyn Girl is the only one I am reading for the Challenge.
Book trivia: The Other Boleyn Girl is first in the series. The next is The Queen’s Fool but I’m not reading it for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Other Boleyn Girl except to explain the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Biographical Novels” (p 37).
Estleman, Loren D. King of the Corner. Bantam, 1992.
Reason read: to finished the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state.
King of the Corner opens with Kevin “Doc” Miller being released from prison. Doc did seven years time for hosting a party where an underage girl died of a cocaine overdose. He didn’t bring the drugs and he certainly didn’t bring the girl, but he went down for it all nonetheless. It’s the 1990s and Big Auto has been swallowed up by Big Crime. After seven years behind bars, Doc needs a job but he still loves baseball. Somehow he finds himself taking over someone else’s job as a cabbie. Because of his height and overall size one fare. Maynard Ance, convinces him to assist with a bond pick up. And that’s where the trouble begins. Like being sucked down a drain, Doc finds himself pulled into bad company. His situation goes from bad to worse when he ends up on the scene of a murder, s direct violation of his parole. To paint a further picture, if you are familiar with other other “Detroit” books in Estleman’s series, you’ll know why the fact Patsy Orr’s accountant now works for Maynard Ance is trouble. Old ghosts never die.
Pay close attention to what characters say because dialogue drives the action.
Line I liked, “He wondered if the daily routine would just fade away on its own or if he would have to change it himself.” I was reminded of Red from “Shawshank Redemption” and he was not able to take a piss without first asking permission.
Book trivia: King of the Corner was the third and final installment in the Detroit series. Interestingly enough, I am reading a total of seven for the Challenge.
Play list: “Okie From Muskogee,” “White Christmas,” Waylon Jennings, M.C. Hammer, Otis Redding, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, Michael Jackson, Lou Rawls, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Martha and the Vandellas, Elvis, and Anita Baker’s “Watch Your Step,”
Nancy said: Pearl called the whole series of “Detroit” novels “sweeping” and “gritty.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).
Dunn, Mary Lois. The Man in the Box: a Story From Vietnam. McGraw Hill, 1968.
Reason read: I read somewhere that March 8th is Hug a G.I. Day. I read this in honor of the thousands of men kept in little boxes from every war.
If you read this book with a child’s intent, it is a story about a young boy who knows the worth of a human life and tries with heroic measures to save it. If you read this book with an adult’s cynicism, it is a book that glorifies American soldiers in the Vietnam War and completely misses the point of the Vietnamese culture. My advice is to read it as Mary Lois Dunn intended: as a story for children. Chau Li witnesses the horrible torture of an American soldier kept cramped prisoner in a small cane box. His own father suffered in same-such box but did not survive the brutality. Determined to somehow save the American, Chau Li risks everything to squirrel “Dah Vid” away in a cave until together they can safely rejoin the Green Barets hidden somewhere in the deep Vietnamese jungle. As they hide out from the Viet Cong Chau Li and Dah Vid grow close, form a friendship and make unrealistic promises. Spoiler alert: the end is ambiguous which is surprising for a book meant for children.
Author fact: Mary Lois Dunn was a librarian.
Book trivia: The Man in the Box won the Oklahoma Sequoyah Children’s Book Award in 1968.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Man in the Box “harrowing and sad” and although it is long out of print, it is “definitely worth tracking down” (Book Lust p 115).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction For Kids Of All Ages” (p 115).
Roberts, Nora. Heaven and Earth. Jove Books, 2001.
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of love (February 14th). All you need is love, love, love. Right?
In the Three Sisters Island trilogy, the plot of Heaven and Earth turns away from Nell and directs its focus onto Sheriff’s Deputy, Ripley Karen Todd. Before I go any further with the plot, I have to say there is always a popular formula to love and romance in bodice rippers: stubborn character refuses to accept second character’s heartthrob’s advances. However, handsome or beautiful second character is persistent. Very persistent with a charming veneer. Heaven and Earth is no different. Ripley is the stubborn one and newly arrived MacAllister Booke is persistent and charming. Be warned ladies, he also has a strong jaw. The problem lies in the fact MacAllister’s life work is researching people of the strange ilk: shaman, vampire, ghost, brujo, necromancer, witch, lycanthrope, alien, psychic, and neo-druid all interest him. Ripley doesn’t want to be researched. She doesn’t even like being associated with weird. There were more than a few times I resisted the urge to roll my eyes after reading lines like this, “She caught the unmistakable scent of Nell’s beef-and-barley soup and quickly decided it was that, and that alone, that was making her mouth water” (p 50). Yes, the hunky and irresistible MacAllister Booke was in Ripley’s presence.
Having said all that, I appreciated the consistency from one novel to the next. Ripley is still locked in a battle of wills with Mia Devlin. Ripley still resents the fact that she, at heart, is a witch. She’ll need to come to terms with this when Nell’s ex-husband convinces a shady reporter to pay the residents of Three Sisters Island a visit. It takes an ominous turn from there.
A word of obvious warning: Heaven and Earth is a little dated. A $20 spot as a bribe wouldn’t get you boo. These days a Benjamin is a good place to start.
As an aside, what brother calls his sister, “baby”? It kind of made my skin crawl.
Quotes to quote (aside from the eye-roll inducing ones), “He always liked the sound of the sea, especially at night when it seemed to fill the world” (p 37). Amen to that. Another one I wish could have been reworked, “A headache blasted his temples” (p 250).
Author fact: Did you know there is a Romance Writers Hall of Fame and Roberts was the first one to be inducted?
Book trivia: Heaven and Earth is the second installment of the trilogy.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Heaven and Earth except to list it out of chronological order.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).
Doyle, Roddy. The Commitments. Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.
Reason read: The Commitments takes place in Dublin, Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day is in March. Plus, I needed a book about music for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
Having never seen the movie of the same name, I had no idea what to expect from the book. Much the same way “The Full Monty” made me laugh out loud, so did The Commitments. It’s a fun read. A lively group of young unemployed men and women want to be a band. They want to be famous and rake in the money, but they don’t know what it takes. When they hire a manager the first thing he tells them is that they will be a soul band. The then instructs them to stretch themselves to find out what “soul” means to them: the streets? The act of getting outside one’s self? What they learn is that relationships are hard and people are complicated. Doyle takes us through the first installment of the Barrytown trilogy with humor and grit.
Quote to quote, “For a few minutes the Commitments broke up” (p 64). Aint love grand?
Author fact: Doyle has won the Booker Prize.
Book trivia: Despite The Commitments being more of a novella at 154 pages, it was made into a movie in 1991.
Playlist (and there is a lot): Animal (from the Muppets), Al Green, BB King, Big Joe Turner, the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Berry Gordy, BP Fallon, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Booker T and the MGs, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Charlie Parker, the Crystals, Depeche Mode, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Eddie Floyd, Eddie and the Red Hots, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Frank Sinatra, the Four Tops, George Michael, Gladys Knight, George Jones, Herbie Hancock, Human League, Isaac Hayes, John Coltrane, Joey Irish Fagan, Jackie Wilson, Jethro Tull, Joe Rex, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Lamont Dozier, the Monkees, Madness, Madonna, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Microdisney, Martha and the Vandellas, Otis Redding, Phil Lynott, Peter Tosh, Percy Sledge, the Ronettes, Roxy Music, Rolling Stones, the Shangra-Las, Simple Minds, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Steve Cropper, Sam Cooke, the Strangles, Stevie Wonder, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, the Specials, Tina Turner, U2, Wilson Pickett, and Yoko Ono.
Songs: “Anything Goes,” “Bells of Rhymney,” “Chain Gang,” “Dancing in the Streets,” “Get On Up,” “Knock on Wood,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “I Thank You,” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Louise,” “The Lord is My Shepard,” “Masters and Servants,” “My Girl,” “Morning Has Broken,” “Moon River,” “Night Train,” “Out of Sight,” “Papa Got a Brand New Bag,” “Relax,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Sex Machine,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Stoned Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.”
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned the “Barrytown Trilogy” as an example of humorous Irish fiction even though she feels on the whole, fiction coming out of Ireland is sad.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).
Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Translated by Philip Gabriel. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book whose author is someone I identify with. Murakami is a runner. I’d like to think I am, too.
Kafka on the Shore is a mystery. Exactly who is Kafka Tamura? In the beginning of the story all we know is that Kafka isn’t this boy’s real name and he is a teenage runaway. Why he left his father is a mystery. All we know is that life with dad was terrible. Somewhere out there is an adopted sister (six years older) and a mother; both who have been missing for years. Is there a connection? Why did his mother disappear with the adopted daughter and not take her natural born son? Who is Crow? An imaginary friend who lives in an alternate metaphysical reality?
Nakata is an aging simpleton. His backstory is even more of a mystery. As a child he was involved in the Rice Bowl Hill Incident of 1944. A group of school children were allegedly hypnotized after seeing a silver duralumin object glint in the sky. Most of the children woke up soon after the incident but Nakata stayed in a coma. As an adult, Nakata finds cats with master skills and is able to predict weird phenomena like fish and leeches falling from the sky. Word of warning: Nakata gets involved with a strange character. His scene with the cats is highly disturbing to an animal lover. but then again, I am the kind of person who needs to change the channel because I can’t bear those uber-long ASPCA commercials with the sad music.
At some point these two characters come together metaphorically, but their journey to this point is like a winding labyrinth full of unusual characters like Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders and a stone Nakata must talk to. Kafka on the Shore will take you through a modern Oedipus Rex tragedy.
As an aside, I liked the characters of Oshima and Hoshino. Oshima drives Kafka two and a half hours over the mountains to a place to stay saying, “it’s a straight shot, it’s still light out, and he has a full tank of gas.” Only, in reality it is a five hour drive, it won’t be light out when he gets home and that tank of gas will be long gone. Hoshino goes to remarkable lengths to help Nakata with his mysterious quest, even quitting his trucking job to be a chauffeur. That is the true definition of a selfless friend.
Lines I liked, “He wasn’t sure why, but striped brown cats were the hardest to get on the same page with” (p 71), and “Why do hundred of thousands even millions of people group together and try to annihilate each other?” (p 359).
Author fact: I have three other of Murakami’s books on my Challenge list: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and A Wild Sheep Chase but there are plenty more out there.
Setlist: Cream’s “Crossroads,” Duke Ellington, Beethoven’s “Ghost,”, Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” , Berlioz, Beach Boys, Hayden, Led Zeppelin, Liszt, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “Sexy Motherfucker,” Radiohead’s “Kid A,” Rolling Stones, Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann Trio, Schumann, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Wagner, Schubert’s Sonata in D Minor, Wagner, “Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi,” Mozart’s “Posthorn Serenade,” “Edelweiss,” and “As Time Goes By.”
Nancy said: Pearl said the plots to Murakami’s novels are not easy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage, 1995.
Reason read: February is National Black History Month.
Invisible Man’s nameless southern protagonist forces the reader to run the gamut of emotions: by turns we are frightened, touched, shocked, amused, even pitying and hopeful. When we first meet him, he lives on the hem of society in an unused part of the basement of a building for whites. He steals shelter and electricity like a boogeyman. He is truly invisible. There comes a point in time when he tries to reach the light by going to college only to be expelled after being accused of offending a white man. Invisible again. Through various trials and tribulations this nameless young man finally makes it to New York where he is confronted with the reality of his race. His lack of identity allows him to be mistaken for someone else. As he becomes more and more invisible, the more and more I wanted him to rage against it. The problem is, when you are a young black man trying to escape the white man’s thumb in the 1940s, rage is the last emotion you are allowed to express. Every endeavor leads him closer to destruction. Like a horror movie, I wanted to read Invisible Man with one eye closed against all the gross misunderstandings prejudice and racism can bring.
Quote to quote, “The light is the truth, and truth is the light” (p 7).
Author fact: Ellison was a literary scholar and essayist in addition to a novelist.
Book trivia: Modern Library called Invisible Man one of the top 100 novels of all time. Others have used words like monumental and epic to describe it. It won a National Book Award in 1953.
Playlist: Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue?” Dvorak’s New World Symphony, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man river,”
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Invisible Man except to include it in a list of one hundred good reads.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1950s” (p 177).
Cotto, Andrew. Pasta Mike: a novella about friendship and loss. Black Rose Writing, 2021.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was chosen to review this book.
As soon as I saw the mention of Talk Space in Cotto’s book, I knew this would be a hard read. While Pasta Mike is supposed to be fictional it reads as one hundred percent reality. The first person narrative makes the reader feel as though Cotto himself is sitting down and talking, talking, talking about his best friend, Mike. Like a one man play or a nonstop monologue, it read so real that I refused to believe any of it was imagination. Grief is a hard mountain to climb and Cotto does not shy away from the struggle or the damage that struggle can do. The writing flows easily and fast and, in my opinion, Pasta Mike was over too soon. Cotto could have filled one hundred more pages with memories of Mike.
Playlist: Frank Sinatra