Beautiful Place To Die

Nunn, Malla. A Beautiful Place To Die. Read by Saul Reichlin. New York: Atria Books, 2009.

Reason read: South African began self-governing on July 11, 1931.

Detective Sargent Emmanuel Cooper makes his debut in A Beautiful Place To Die as the only officer put in charge of solving the murder of an important Afrikaner in the small South African town of Jacob’s Rest. This is no ordinary murder. This Afrikaner is Dutch-born Captain Pretorius and despite this being 1952 apartheid South Africa, Pretorius is liked and respected by everyone. Pretorius’s strapping four sons are out for blood while racial tensions clash with color blind desires.
An Englishman, Emmanuel Cooper comes to the case as a complete outsider. He also comes with personal baggage from his soldier days in World War II. He can’t shake daytime memories and haunting nightmares. He often hears voices and has an unfortunate deep addiction to pain medication; medication he feels is necessary to tame real and imagined injuries. To complicate matters, the Security Branch in charge of flushing out black communist radicals stand in Cooper’s way of solving the crime. National Party laws crack down on acts of immortality between blacks and whites and Copper has plenty of suspects on either side of the color divide.

Quotes, “The world is a cruel place for old soldiers” and ” His smile was a trench…”

Author fact: A Beautiful Place to Die is Malla Nunn’s first novel. She is an award winning filmmaker.

Book trivia: A Beautiful Place To Die won a 2009 Davitt Award.

Nancy said: Pearl includes A Beautiful Place to Die in the category of “Break Your Heart” books as a contemporary mystery.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).


Bright Nights, Big City

McInerney, Jay. Bright Nights, Big City. New York: Vintage Books, 1984

Reason read: New York became a state in the month of July. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library reading challenge for the category of novel written in second person.

While reading Bright Nights, Big City you want to call its protagonist a sucker. On the mean streets of New York City he buys fake Rolex watches, falls for fake schemes, follows around false friends, and believes a model could fake loving him enough to stay married until death do them part. You want to call this guy a loser because you know there isn’t a happy ending for him. There can’t be. Drugs constantly addle his mind and he never sleeps enough. His spiral becomes out of control when he loses his fact checking job for a publication, he loses his freak friends, and nearly loses his mind. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a lot to mourn. He had wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be married to a hot girl. He wanted his mother to survive cancer. He is literally drowning his deep seeded in a tsunami of cocaine and bright lights. The end comes when rock bottom is met and our friend has to have an awakening of sorts.

Author fact: McInerney also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name.

Book trivia: Bright Nights, Big City was made into a movie starring Michael J. Fox in 1988. You can tell I haven’t seen it because I kept getting it confused with the movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., Less Than Zero.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bright Nights, Big City a “wonderful” novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170).


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).


Murder on the Orient Express

Christie, Agatha. Murder on the Orient Express. Read by David Suchet. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.

Reason read: July is the month smoke-generating trains were outlawed in New York in 1908. The first electric train ran in 1904.

The first thing you need to know about Murder on the Orient Express is that while it is a widely known title and probably one of Christie’s most popular, it is actually the eighth mystery novel to feature Belgian Inspector, Hercule Poirot. This time he is traveling back to London via the Orient Express. Despite the train being full, Poirot is able to obtain a first class berth, thanks to a friend who works for the railroad. On the very first night an unsavory passenger is stabbed twelve times and dies of his injuries. Initially, this was to be a three-day journey, but travel is halted due to a large storm dropping massive amounts of snow on the tracks. Since no one can get on or off the train, finding the killer should be easy. In true Poirot style the case is solved with wit and humor. The interrogations are the best.

For Murder on the Orient Express, Christie drew from different real-life events for inspiration. First, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 and her own experiences traveling the Orient Express.

Best quote, “Americans, as you know, don’t care what they pay.”

Author fact: Agatha Christie was a VAD in the First World War.

Book trivia: Murder on the Orient Express was made into two movies, three separate radio programs, three different television series, a play, and a video game. I told you it was popular!

Nancy said: Interestingly enough, Pearl first mentioned Murder on the Orient Express in relation to another book, The 8:55 to Baghdad, by Andrew Eames. Later in the chapter she includes Murder as a “classic crime novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Making Tracks By Train” (p 138).


Mosquito Coast

Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Reason read: June 21st is Father’s Day. Ahem.

Despite this being a book read in honor of Father’s Day, Charlie Fox’s dad isn’t the ideal father figure. He could fit into the role of Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining. Allie Fox, from the town of Hadley in Massachusetts, doesn’t trust the traditional school system, doesn’t trust the government, doesn’t trust his neighbors. He believes he can teach his children (Charlie, Jerry and the twins, Clover and April) all they need to know. He doesn’t suffer fools and constantly tests his children’s courage, especially eldest son Charlie’s. He is in constant competition with other men (“How many push ups can you do?”); he is proud, defiant, and must not, absolutely cannot, be embarrassed in front of his family. Fed up with his own country, Papa Fox is easily swayed by Honduran migrant workers to pack up his family and move to the Mosquito Coast. Once there, Theroux threads a growing sense of unease throughout the pages. The first whiff of danger comes with Father jokes about throwing Mr. Haddy overboard and it is possible to believe he is mad enough to have done it. Like Kings’s Jack Torrance, Allie Fox displays an escalating sense of craziness as time goes on. Paranoia grows like mold in the jungles of Honduras. It goes without saying that things don’t end well for the Fox family; or maybe they do if you like endings like The Shining.

As an aside, it is really strange to read about the area in which I currently call “home.” I try not to over analyze Theroux’s descriptions of Northampton or Hatfield or Springfield.

Lines or phrases I liked: First the phrases – “four-o’clock-in-the-morning courage,” and “creepy-quiet.”
Here are the lines I liked – “It was the town of dead ends” (p 108), “But what can you do with people who have already been corrupted?” (p 190), and last one, ” When a person is suffering and afraid, his ailments are obvious and his injuries stick out” (p 298).

Author fact: I think it is obvious Theroux spent some time in Massachusetts.

Book trivia: Woodcuts are by David Frampton. Another piece of trivia: Mosquito Coast was made into a movie in 1986.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito Coast other than explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Fathers and Sons” (p 85).


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).


Lovely Bones

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Reason read: Father’s Day is June 21, 2020. Susie’s father never gave up on finding Susie’s killer. A father’s love triumphs against all tragedies, doesn’t it?

This is the sort of book that takes you by the throat and hold you in a death grip like Darth Vader. I say this because there are times when I could not breathe while reading The Lovely Bones because I was either actively holding my breath, or choking on the different expressions of heartbreak. In truth, every emotion (think stages of grief) floats just under the icy surface of reality as a dead girl narrates “life” after murder. Susie Salmon was an ordinary girl who knew right from wrong; knew the man in the cornfield wasn’t quite right, but yet curiosity got the better of her. Now, she is suspended in this alternate universe of “heaven” while watching her family, friends, and community cope with her murder. In her heaven, reality is a school-like atmosphere while she blandly looks down on the world she left behind. She is unmoved when her mother seeks a drastic remedy for grief, or when her would-be boyfriend almost finds her body.
What impressed me the most about The Lovely Bones was the end. Sebold did not feel pressured to give into a Hollywood ending. It might be a spoiler alert, but the ending is more realistic than what you would see in a movie. I’m alright with that.

As an aside, I have been watching Mind Hunter on Netflix (just started, so don’t ruin it for me) and The Lovely Bones keeps popping into my head every time another Georgian boy goes missing. I kept asking how? every single time.

Quotes I liked, “There wasn’t a lot of bullshit in my heaven” (p 8), and “In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on” (p 37).

Author fact: The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s first novel.

Book trivia: everyone knows The Lovely Bones was made into a movie in December of 2009. I still have yet to see it.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Lovely Bones original and shocking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…My name is Alice” (p 1).


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).


June Travels

Of course I am not really traveling anywhere, but for the first time in a couple of months I have (finally) gotten back to reading. and. And! And, I did drive a car for the first time since 3/19/20. There’s that. In truth, I have been reading all along, just not with the pleasure and leisure I used to have. All of that is slowly coming back, in part due to the realization it’s okay to disappear into the pages from time to time. It is okay to read with no other agenda. I have started to think of the books as different forms of travel. Without further ado, here are the books for June:

Fiction:

  • The Second Summer of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. Places I’ll go: Washington, D.C. & Alabama.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Places: Pennsylvania & something like heaven.
  • Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Places: around Sweden.
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. Places: Barcelona, Spain and thensome.
  • Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Places: My back yard of Western Massachusetts and Honduras.
  • Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell. Place: Cofu, Greece.

Nonfiction:

  • Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro. Places: all around New England

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.


Nampally Road

Alexander, Meena. Nampally Road. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1991.

Reason read: In honor of the International Flower Festival, held in the month of May.

While barely one hundred pages long, Nampally Road shouts a clear message of India. Protagonist and poet, Mira Kannadical returns to Hyderabad, India after four years studying in England. She has come home to teach poetry, but finds her neighborhood in a constant state of civil unrest; a battle field where violence and tear gas clouds are everyday occurrences. Police brutality and political corruption hold the community in paralyzed fear, especially after a woman is gang-raped by police officers and left for dead in a prison cell. Not many are willing to rock the boat after a group of orange sellers are attacked for protesting taxes. Mira is dating an activist who thinks differently. This suspends Mira in conflict as she tries to reconcile her beliefs with the changes of modern India.

Quotes to quote, “It was if the bloodshed in the afternoon already belonged in another country” (p 9) “I suffered from dislocation” (p 29), and “He died a safe death, in another country, under the gentle shade of the tamarind tree” (p 96).

Author fact: Alexander has written a great deal of poetry, but Nampally Road was her first novel. She died in 2018.

Book trivia: Illustrations are by Pablo Haz.

Nancy said: Pearl included Nampally Road as a book “by Indian writers (many of whom now live in England, Canada, or the United States” (p 127).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: A Reader’s Itinerary (Fiction)” (p 125).


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).


Brothers K

Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. Read by Robertson Dean. New York: Dial Press, 1996.

Reason read: April is National Sibling month. April is Easter. April is spring training month for baseball. April is Humor month. The Brothers K has all these elements and more.

To say this is the saga of one family in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington would be only somewhat accurate. To call The Brothers K a book about baseball and religion would also be somewhat accurate. Papa Hugh “Smoke” Chance was a talented enough pitcher to be drafted into the minor leagues and was on his way to the majors. Mama Chance was an extremely devout Seven Day Adventist. Baseball and religion. As with any parents of influence, their themes are the backbone of The Brothers K. Arguably, there is a great deal of sports play by play and religious fervor, as other reviewers have pointed out. What saves The Brothers K from being long winded and tedious is narrator and youngest son, Kincade Chance. His humor and sharp wit keep the plot from getting too bogged down. Interspersed with his story is older brother, Everett’s school essay and biography about the family patriarch.
Despite there being six children in the Chance household, only eldest Everett, middle brother Peter, and next to youngest brother Irwin have significant stories. Kincade doesn’t share very many details about himself and even less about his science obsessed twin sisters, Winnifred and Beatrice. Everett grows up to be an outspoken politician against the Vietnam War. Peter becomes the perpetual student; first studying at Harvard, then Buddhism in India. Irwin’s tragic story is that he sent to Vietnam and forever changed.

As an aside, I have a friend who always says “darn tootin'” whenever he is absolutely sure of something. Until The Brothers K I had never heard anyone else say that.

Author fact: Duncan also wrote River Why and My Story as Told by Water, both on my Challenge list.

Book Audio trivia: Robertson Dean’s reading of The Brothers K is fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl called Brothers K “engrossing” (“Brothers and Sisters”),
“well-written and interesting” (“Families in Trouble”), and a novel “complicated by the whole Oedipal shtick” (“Mothers and Sons”).

BookLust Twist: You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. It will show up in a bunch of different places. For Brothers K it is indexed in Book Lust in three different chapters, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 46), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), and “Mothers and Sons” (p 160).


Baking Cakes in Kigali

Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.

Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.

Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.

Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).


My Family and Other Animals

Durrell, Gerald. My Family and Other Animals. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956.

Reason read: April is Humor month. If this makes me laugh through any part of Covid-19 I say bring it on!

Gerald Durrell wanted to write a serious book about the animals he encountered as a ten year old child on the the island of Corfu. Instead, his sense of humor and wacky family kept getting the better of his memories from 1935 – 1939. Instead of just documenting the creatures of his childhood, My Family and Other Animals is a hilarious memoir with some pretty unbelievable (obviously exaggerated) moments. How is it possible that eldest son, Lawrence, convinces his widowed mom to pack up their London home and transplant a family of three kids and a dog to the Greek island of Corfu? This same mom not only tolerates the critters Gerald brings into the house, but accepts them as bona fide pets. Insects, lizards, turtles, birds all join the Durrell family with hilarious results.

Best quote to quote, “I forgot about the eminent danger of being educated, and went off with Roger to hunt for glowworms in the sprawling brambles” (p 52). Typical kid.

Author fact: the list of books Durrell has written is extensive. I am only reading the Corfu trilogy.

Book trivia: My Family and Other Animals is part of a trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned My Family and Other Animals as one that made her laugh out loud.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220).