Motown

Estleman, Loren D. Motown. Bantam Books, 1991.

Reason read: to continue the Detroit series started in honor of January being the month Michigan became a state.

It’s 1966, thirty years later and a whole generation after Whiskey River. The times, they certainly are different. The Supreme Court now demands a search warrant to tap phones. Seatbelts are a thing. Dean Martin has a talk show. The American Steelhaulers Association is a very powerful labor union. What will they think of next? In the midst of all this, protagonist and ex-cop Rick Amery is down on his luck. Only 37 years old and he doesn’t have a stable place to live or a decent paying job. So when Big Auto comes calling to hire him to go undercover, it’s an easy decision. Plus, he loves, loves, loves cars. He loves cars. Did I mention he loves cars? His job is to spy on a safety organization. A guy named Porter is a big advocate of anything that will make the consumer stay a little safer in an automobile. He’s out to expose Big Auto’s shortcuts because they have started cutting back on safety to beef up horsepower, like making smaller brake drums to make room for a bigger engine.
Old characters from Whiskey River like Joey Machine are legends in Motown. Constantine “Connie” Minor is back as a lawn mower salesman having quit the journalism business twenty years before.
Like Whiskey River Estleman pays tribute to the auto and clothing fashions of the time: Sting Ray Corvettes, Volvo, Ramblers, Studebakers, Chevy Impala, Mercedes, VW Beetle, Corvair, Cobra, Camaro Z28, Excaliburs, denim, gaberdine, wool, mother of pearl, suede, silk, loafers, leather, wingtips and wide lapels.
True to the times, Estleman does not shy away from racism and often using language that wouldn’t be politically correct for this day and age: “Nigger killings off Twelfth Street aren’t exactly Commissioner’s priority” (p 48). Hard words to read, but a reality of the 1960s.

As an aside, I agree with Mike Gallente about boxed pasta when he explains, “Directions say 8-10 minutes but that’s at least 2 minutes too long” (p 209).

Lines I liked, “Napoleon was on Elba for only ten months, and he didn’t have TWA” (p 141), “Why don’t you just drop your pants and use a ruler?” (So Enid says on page 152). “Ouzo was slightly less treacherous than the Viet Cong” (p 231), and “He drove down the straight, smooth shotgun barrel of his thoughts, not paying attention to anything outside, trusting his hands on the wheel and his feet on the pedals to guide him scratchless through the physical world” (p 269).

Author fact: Estleman also wrote a mystery series starring a character called Amos Walker.

Book trivia: Motown takes place thirty years after Whiskey River.

Play list: “Blowin’ in the Wind,””House of the Rising Sun,” “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Summer in the City,” “The Quest,” Smokey Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Cab Calloway, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Elvis, Little Richard, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots Were Made for Walking,” the Supremes’s “Itching My Heart,”, Otis Redding, the Miracles, Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Beach Boys’s “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Freedom Road,” Lou Rawls, Little Anthony, “Praise Ye Lord,” the Temptations,” Barry McGuire, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Jitterbug after Whiskey River. I’m reading Motown because it was written directly after Whiskey River. Not sure if I’m right or not.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).


Perelandra

Lewis, C.S. Perelandra. Scribner, 2003.

Reason read: January is National Science Fiction month.

Every time I read a science fiction of Lewis’s I can’t help but think of The Wardrobe series and how it could have easily been written in an even more fantastic manner. Instead of an unknown land beyond a wardrobe, the children could have landed on a completely different planet in a completely different universe. But I digress…
Perelandra is a Planet of Pleasure (Venus) where strange desires give way to shameless naked beauty much like the Garden of Eden. Meanwhile, Evil is trying to create a New World Order. Sound familiar? Religion is heavy-handed and ever present in Lewis’s work. Perelandra is either orgasmic or hellish; hideous or beautiful. The colors are vibrant and throbbing: gold and green oceans and silver flashes across the sky. That was the element of Perelandra I liked the best. The imagery was fantastic.
Here’s a stereotype: Ransom needs to travel naked like so many other time travelers. I guess clothes are hard to transmute through time and space.

Author fact: I don’t think I have mentioned this before, but Lewis was an academic.

Book trivia: Perelandra was also called Voyage to Venus.

Nancy said: Pearl put Perelandra in the category of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Rebecca

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. Harper, 1938.

Reason read: as a “romance” I chose Rebecca for Valentine’s Day. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I chose it for the category of a book where a house is featured predominantly. Manderley is that house.

I took Rebecca to Florida for a five day trip and in that short time I devoured the entire book from start to finish. I can see why it has never gone out of print. Rebecca is a true psychological thriller that doesn’t need blood and gore to make it creepy. Even though the ghost of Rebecca never makes an appearance, you can feel her presence in every scene. In a nutshell, a young and inexperienced traveling companion falls in love with a much older widower while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Before meeting him, she heard all the rumors about how his wife tragically drowned in a sailing accident less than a year prior. She has heard all about his palatial estate, Manderley, handed down from generation to generation. Rather than travel on to New York as a companion, Mr. de Winter asks our unnamed heroine for her hand in marriage. And so begins the adventure. No one really likes the new Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca’s ghost seems to be everywhere thanks to Mrs. Danvers, the former Mrs. de Winter’s personal assistant. Danny just won’t let Rebecca die. While Rebecca does not make an appearance anywhere in the novel, her presence is felt everywhere.

As an aside, I wish Daphne Du Maurier was still alive to answer questions about Rebecca. Actually, I have questions about both the book and the character. The first Mrs. de Winter fascinates me.

Author fact: Du Maurier won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century with Rebecca.

Book trivia: My edition of Rebecca included a note from the editor, an author’s note, and the original epilogue.

Nancy said: in Book Lust Pearl said Rebecca is an annual read for some fans. In More Book Lust Pearl mentioned liking the opening line to Rebecca.

Setlist: Destiny’s Waltz, the Blue Danube, Merry Widow, Auld Lang Syne, Good Save the Queen.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203). From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 140). Lastly, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cornwall’s Charm” (p 71). You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. She mentioned it either a bunch of times in one Book Lust or it makes its way into all three.


Dance Upon the Air

Roberts, Nora. Dance Upon the Air. Jove, 2001.

Reason read: Valentine’s Day is in February. Read Dance Upon the Air in honor of love.

I always read romance novels with a grain of smirk. I can get easily irritated by fluffy characters and airy dialogue. For example, Dance Upon the Air: who hires a complete stranger at first sight, lends them money, gives them a house, and puts them in charge of a business inside a ten minute conversation? A witch, that’s who. Of course. Having another character point out this generosity weirdness doesn’t make it any more believable until you remind yourself (again) that Mia Devlin is a witch and she’s totally comfortable giving a stranger control of her bookstore bakery. She more than knows what she’s doing when stranger “Nell” shows up in her bakery and announces she knows how to bake, run a business, and charm the socks off everyone she meets.
Nell is on the run. But, this is a romance novel so of course there is the hunky (and very single, of course) sheriff of the island who knows Nell is not Nell. However, he’s sexually attracted to her (of course he is) so he’s not about to scare her off with his suspicions. There needs to be the overly tough, slightly rebellious sister who is, by the way, a cop (of course she is).
In a nutshell: strange woman shows up on a small island where everyone will talk. She’s hiding out from an abusive husband who thinks she’s dead. She is so charming that by the time deadly hubby figures out where she is, the entire island is behind her. The plotline of Dance Upon the Air totally reminded me of the movie Sleeping with the Enemy, but I would have to think there are hundreds of victim-runs-away-from-abuser-to-start-a-new-life stories out there. Don’t forget the witches.

Author fact: Roberts has at least three pennames.

Book trivia: Dance Upon the Air is the first book in the Three Sisters trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about the Three sisters Island trilogy except to list the three books. More on that later.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p ). Again! I am always irritated with myself when I don’t do the homework before starting a series. Pearl lists the books in the trilogy out of chronological order. Of course she lists the last title of the series first. Like a blind sheep, I borrowed the last book first. Bah, bah.


Great Glorious Goddamned Of It All

Ritter, Josh. The Great Glorious Goddamned of it All. Toronto: Hanover Square Press, 2021.

Reason read: Josh Ritter is a master of words. It does not matter if he is writing a song or a novel, his imagery and storytelling is bar none.

If you know Josh Ritter’s music, then you know his writing style through and through. His novels are no different. Filled with exquisite detail, they capture the imagination with fantastic characters and plot. Great Glorious tells the tale of a lumberjacking family from the perspective of ninety-plus year old Weldon Applegate on his deathbed. Lumberjacking as a profession, I must admit, is something I don’t really think about that much (despite spending four years at a boarding school in the hardwood-dense White Mountains. Let me digress: I can remember huge timber trucks overloaded with enormous fresh-cut trees barreling down the winding narrow backroads of Maine. Narrowly missing by what seemed like only inches, these behemoths would rock my father’s teeny Dodge Diplomat as they screamed by. My father’s lips would be pressed into a grim line as his hands, white knuckled, gripped ten and two on the wheel. I know I heard a swear or two…). Speaking of swearing, Josh Ritter is such a quiet, soft spoken guy that the profanity was a bit of a surprise.
But, back to the plot of The Great Glorious Goddamn Of It All. Elderly Weldon Applegate looks back on his long life. From his hospital bed he remembers his family’s land called the Lost Lot, a stretch of mountainside nearly impossible to log. Weldon’s family has owned this land deemed too dangerous to describe for generations. It’s where good men go to die for want of timber; timber so profitable, the monstrous Linden Laughlin wants it for himself despite the well known bad omens. Through magic and humor, Weldon recounts his battle (at thirteen years of age!) with Linden. Word of caution: there is unexpected violence.
I am always fascinated by character names and Josh’s are exceptionally strange: Linden Laughlin, Unto Sisson, Oral Avery, Billy Lowground, Shorty Wade, Joe Moufreau (sounds like Joe Motherfukcer), Weldon and Tom Applegate, and Serwalter Scott (sounds like Sir Walter). There are more to enjoy!

Lines I loved, “The lights held the promise of laughter and forgetting” (p 140).

Author fact: This is Ritter’s second novel.

Book trivia: the audio version of The Great Glorious Goddamn Of It All includes new music from Josh.

Playlist: “Beautiful Dreamer,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Some Somewhere,” and “Stars for a Crown.”


Whiskey River

Estleman, Loren D. Whiskey River: a Novel of Detroit. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2015.
Estleman, Loren D. Whiskey River: a Novel of Detroit. New York: Bantam books, 1990.

Reason read: Michigan became a state in January.

The first novel in Estleman’s Detroit series, Whiskey River, takes the reader into Detroit’s dark and dangerous Prohibition era where true events and real people are cooked together with vivid imagination, humor and grit to serve up a tasty story. Torture, murder, prostitution, political scandals, suicides, grand jury trials, corruption, and Detroit’s seedy underground keep the reader enthralled.
Constance “Connie” Minor goes from having bylines in the local newspaper to his own column in the tabloids. The price for this upgrade? Riding shotgun with warring mob bosses, Jack Dance and Joey Machine. He gets a ringside seat to kidnappings, smuggling, and up-close and personal torture and murder. Why is so liked by these mobsters is beyond me.
Hattie was one of my favorite characters. By day her establishment was a funeral home but by night the lights were turned low for more “lively” entertainment. She was a dame who took no gruff from anyone.
As an aside, I found the inequality and racism a little difficult to stomach, especially since nothing has changed since the 1930s: “Is he white?…If he weren’t they wouldn’t have bothered to call it in” (p 57).
I most enjoyed Whiskey River as a period piece. the 1930s comes alive with the vernacular, fashion, and transportation of the day: spats, derbies, top coats, silks, wingtips, stoles, fedoras, stockings, LaSalles, Auburns, Packards, Model As, Vikings, Buicks, and blind pigs.

Quotes I liked, “Remember, it took a fresh kid to tell the emperor his ass was hanging out” (p 30), “Someday maybe I’ll learn not to write the whole story until I’ve met its subject” (p 37), “Something had gone wrong with the natural order when an Oklahoma train robber was shot to death at the wheel of an automobile in downtown Detroit” (p 67), “Courage is the first casualty of experience” (p 92), and lastly, “A dream come true: I had a gangster for a critic” (p 199).

Author fact: Estleman won the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus award three times.

Book trivia: Whiskey River is the first in seven novels about Detroit. I am reading all of them for the Challenge.

Playlist: Bessie Smith, “Potato Head Blues,” Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, King Oliver, “Royal Garden Blue,” “What a Friend I Have in Jesus,” Praise God, For Whom All Blessings Flow,” and Glen Gray’s “Casa Loma Stomp.”

Nancy said: Pearl explains there are seven “Detroit” novels and calls them sweeping and gritty (More Book Lust p 26).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 25).


Changed Man

Prose, Francine. A Changed Man. New York: Harper Collins,

Reason read: Happy New Year! January is traditionally the month to turn over a new leaf. Read in honor of resolutions. I also read this for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge (category: a book that gives you hope for the future).

Vincent Nolan wants to be a changed man. Once a Neo-Nazi and a self-described “punk storm-trooper rapist,” Vincent is looking for redemption in the eyes of Meyer Maslow, a Holocaust survivor. I didn’t quite believe the situation. Why wouldn’t Maslow be more suspicious of Nolan? How does he trust this guy wants to change just…like…that? Is he really A Changed Man? How has Vincent become a moral hero overnight? On the flip side, I am also suspicious that no one at Brotherhood Watch would be worried for Vincent’s safety…if he really is a changed man. He just left a very dangerous, cult-like organization. Think gangs. Wouldn’t ARM want retaliation? Wouldn’t Vincent’s cousin be looking for him after Vincent stole his truck, prescription meds, and Soldier of Fortune magazine, and then left his little hate club?
The only parts I found believable were the times when someone was jealous of someone else (and this happens a lot): Brotherhood Watch donation coordinator, Bonny, was jealous of her ex-husband’s new wife (very appropriate) and she was jealous of her ex-husband’s importance in society (As a cardiologist, he saves lives. What does she do?); Maslow was jealous of Elie Wiesel’s “Holocaust” fame, then he was jealous of Vincent’s “changed man” fame; Vincent was jealous of the Iranian prisoner’s story getting more attention than his own transformation and he was also jealous of Timothy McVeigh’s limelight. Yes, that Timothy McVeigh. Threaded through A Changed Man is the real-life drama of the Oklahoma City bombing and the subsequent execution of McVeigh. It allows Prose to show both sides of a tragedy. The Jews were ecstatic when McVeigh was put to death while the neo-Nazis mourned and honored their hero. As an aside, Prose made Vincent look a lot like McVeigh for added creepville.
Overall, A Changed Man might be heavy on subject (Holocaust survivor, neo-Nazis, etc.) but super light on drama complete with a Hallmark-like ending.

Quotes to quote, “Becoming a white supremist for the free lunch seems even sleazier than joining because you believe that the white race is an endangered species, or because you like wearing camouflaged gear and the boots” (p 18), “Vincent’s not in the mood to explain about Raymond wanting him dead” (p 182).

Playlist: Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Ricky Martin, Marc Antony, Tito Puente, Iron Fust, Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” Beethoven, Stravinsky, Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Wedding March.”

Nancy said: Pearl said A Changed Man was in the stack of books by her side of the bed.

BookLust Twist: from the introduction of More Book Lust (p x).


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library 2022 Reading Challenge in the category of “A book that makes you feel hopeful for the future.” I don’t know why, but this one does.

It was pointed out that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn nothing happens. There is no over-the-top drama involving sex, violence, or rock and roll. Instead, A Tree is a simple and honest story about what it means to be human. Harsh realities about poverty, crime, alcoholism, life, and death are not ignored or sugarcoated. I would argue that something does happen in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A little girl comes of age. In the summer of 1912 Francie Nolan was a scrappy eleven year old. At the time, her best friend was a tree that seemed to like poor people. By the end of the story, Francie has lost her father, gained a baby sister, managed to find her way to college, and started to date. It is a story of hope.
One of my favorite moments was when Francie understands for the first time she can read and the fact she would never be lonely again. Books would be her companions for any circumstance. Another favorite scene was when Francie graduates and she receives roses from her deceased daddy. It broke my heart.

Confessional: The scene when Katie is playing the piano with the children bothered me. Neely starts to sign and it is noted his voice is starting to change. It is then that Francie remarks, “You know what Mama would say if she were sitting here now?” Where did she go? She was just playing the piano. I think Smith meant Johnny. Johnny was the one who was missing from the scene.

Signs of the times, “He was a boy, he handled the money.” The candy store was a boys store and Francie had to wait outside while her brother bought her candy.

Phrasing I adored, “ground-down poor” and “helpless relaxation.”

Author fact: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has such clarity it is impossible to ignore its autobiographical nature. Rumor has it, Smith originally wrote the story as a memoir but her publishers urged her to fictionalize it to reach a wider audience. Could they not handle the truth?

Book trivia: My edition had a foreword by Anna Quinlan. She compared Francie to Jo March, Betsy Ray, and Anne of Green Gables. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was also published in an Armed Services edition. The wartime copy was specially sized to fit in a soldier’s rucksack.

Playlist: because Francie’s father is a singing waiter there were lots of great tunes mentioned in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “There are Smiles That Make You Happy,” At the Darkstrutters’ Ball,” “When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home,” “My Wild Rose,” “Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land,” “You’ll find Old Dixieland in France,” There’s a Quaker Down in Quaker Time,” Ted Lewis’s “For When My Baby Smiles at Me,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (a song I can remember my mother singing while she vacuumed), “Molly Malone,” “The Soldier’s Chorus,” “When I Get You Alone Tonight,” “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “She May Have Seen Better Days,” “I’m Wearin’ My Heart Away for You,” “Ave Maria,” “Beautiful Blue Danube,” “At the Devil’s Ball,” “My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon,” “Kerry Dancers,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” Harrigan, That’s Me,” “The River Shannon,” “Holy Night,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Schubert Serenade,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon,” Handle’s “Largo,” Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” Verdi, Walter Wildflower, “O, Sole Mio,” “Some Sunday Morning,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Silent night,” “Annie Laurie,” “Last Rose of Summer,” “Sweet Adeline,” “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” “A Shanty in Shantytown,” “When You Wore a Tulip,” “Dear Old Girl,” ” I’m Sorry I made You Cry,” “Over There,” “K-K-Katy,” “The Rose of No Man’s Land,” “Mother Macree,” and “The Band Played On.”

Nancy said: Pearl called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a “classic coming-of-age” story.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).


Lost in Place

Salzman, Mark. Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Reason read: China is a big influence on Salzman. There is a spring festival that takes place in China at the end of January/beginning of February. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book for the category “An older book by a favorite author.”

Salzman can take an ordinary upbringing and turn it into a tragic comedy full of deep sighs and tears of laughter. What were American boys in the mid 70s obsessing over? Sex, drugs and rock and roll…and Bruce Lee. Picture Mark Salzman at thirteen listening to Ozzy Osbourne and practicing flying kicks just like his idol. Only add a bald wig, cello lessons, and an obsession with all things Chinese while living in the suburbs of Connecticut, and you have the makings of an incredibly sweet and hilarious memoir. This should have been a movie.

Line that made me laugh, “Man, you know the world is a confusing place when you’re a boy and your dad tries to get you to switch from self-defense to ballet” (p 112).
Most profound line, “We all crave certainty, we dream of serenity, and we want to discover our true identities” (p 266).

Author fact: Salzman is one of my favorite authors. I have already read Iron and Silk and The Soloist. I have two others on my Challenge list.

Playlist: Aerosmith, Aldo Parisot, Bach, the Beatles’s “Michelle,” Black Sabbath, Boy George, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chick Corea, Chopin, Duane Allman, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, Jan Hammer, Jaco Pastorius, kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon,” Ravi Menuhin, Stanley Clark, Ted Nugent, Talking Heads, Ten Years, Van Halen, The Who, Weather Report, Yo Yo Ma, “The Candy Man,” and “Dreamweaver,”

Nancy said: Pearl called Lost in Place funny and self-deprecating and totally irresistible.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Mark Salzman: Too Good To Miss” (p 194).


Tangerine

Bloor, Edward. Tangerine. New York: Scholastic Signature, 1997.

Reason read: I needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Tangerine, Florida seems like a strange and dangerous place to live. Constant lightning strikes in the afternoons, continuous underground muck fires, and resulting sinkholes plague the community. That’s not all. Prized koi fish are mysteriously disappearing from the community pond. Swarms of mosquitos are so thick, trucks with choking pesticides spray daily as if on war patrol. Multiple houses need fumigating because of termites. Then the robberies begin…and the vandalism and graffiti.
Paul Fisher and his family have recently moved to this unstable area and all middle-schooler Paul wants to do is make the soccer team. Despite having a disability (he is legally blind), he is an excellent goalie. He just needs a chance. Since all eyes (pun totally intended) are on Paul’s older brother, Eric, the high school football star destined for greatness, that chance seems slim. Everyone adores Eric so why does Paul fear his brother so much?
Tangerine stuns the reader with harsh realities usually missing from young adult novels. Publishers Weekly said “it breaks the mold” and I agree one hundred percent. Confessional: some scenes were so harsh I found myself catching my breath.

Line that gave me pause, “Eric was as phony as he needed to be” (p 57). Little did I know how telling that line would be.

Author fact: Bloor has written a bunch of books but I am only reading Tangerine for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Tangerine is Bloor’s first novel. My edition has an introduction from Danny DeVito.

Playlist: “Try to Remember.”

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Tangerine is that it is more appropriate for boys than girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Monkeys

Minot, Susan. Monkeys. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000.

Reason read: Even though Monkeys isn’t about animals, I am reading it in honor of the television series “All Creatures Great and Small” first airing in the month of January. In addition, I needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Monkeys was the term of endearment Rosie Vincent called her large brood of seven children. Cheerful and sometimes silly, Rosie was the glue that held this chaotic family together. When she is tragically killed the children are left to deal with their grief. Sometimes they are forced to parent an alcoholic father who can’t focus on his responsibilities (but manages to remarry in a year). As a stand alone novel of vignettes Monkeys may seem disjointed and fuzzy; not very well thought out, but when you consider Monkeys as a transparent autobiography, it makes way more sense. Minot herself has six siblings. Her mother was killed at a train crossing, exactly like Rosie Vincent. The first story (told in first person) could very well be Minot herself reliving her childhood memories. The rest of the stories are in third person and might be true events about her siblings.
As an aside, it would be interesting to read Monkeys along with with the works of her sister (The Tiny One) and brother (The Blue Bowl) for comparison.

One quote to quote, “One evening, Mum asked her to promise she wouldn’t commit suicide until she was eighteen” (p 81).

Author fact: At last check, Minot lived in Maine.

Book trivia: Monkeys is Minot’s first fiction.

Playlist, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Nancy said: Pearl said that Monkeys was one perspective on growing up in a large, dysfunctional New England Catholic family.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 5).


Lottery

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Amereon Limited, 1976.

I don’t think I have to explain the plot to anyone. In one sentence: it is the short story of a community that annually choses someone to stone to death. I had so many questions as a teenager reading The Lottery in high school. Who was the third person narrator and why do they never express emotion or share the thoughts and feelings of other characters? It’s as if the scene they describe is too horrible for humanity and they purposely keep their distance by staying out of the other characters’ heads. As a result, the dialogue has to be heavy and masterful enough to carry the action. Otherwise, no one would understand what is truly going on. The other questions I had: Who was Mr. Summers and why does he get to conduct the lottery? Who came up with the black box in the first place? If everyone avoids the black box and keeps their distance from it, why have it around at all? No one wanted to help Mr. Summers even move it. Did this community continue using the box just because of tradition? Lastly, how does Jackson as a young mother come up with something like this?

Reason read: Shirley Jackson was born in December. Read in her honor.

Author fact: Jackson is bets known for her horror.

Book trivia: The Lottery first appeared in “The New Yorker in 1948. It was awarded the O Henry Award in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl described The Lottery as “endlessly anthologized.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100).


My Soul to Take

Sigurdardottir, Yrsa. My Soul to Take: a Novel of Iceland. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

Reason read: Denmark’s Parliament granted Iceland independence in December 1918.

The tiny Icelandic town of Snaefellsness is not known for a high crime rate, so when two people are murdered in a similar fashion, the whole town buzzes with alarmed alertness. Why would anyone torture both victims with pins in their feet before killing them? More questions: what does a dead fox have to do with one of the victims? Does the New Age health resort in an old farmhouse have anything to do with either victim? What secrets are hidden in this renovated farmhouse? Thora Gudmundsdottir, lawyer to the owner of the resort, must defend Jonas as the main suspect, but that’s not why she was initially called to Snaefellsness. Her client was planning to sue the previous owners of the farmhouse because they didn’t disclose it was haunted. The ghosts of children are said to moan and wail on the property.
Sigurdardottir is crafty. The introduction of World War II Nazi flags and swastikas gave the plot a darker (and unnecessary) tone. The themes of incest and rape are enough.

Confessional: because Icelandic names do not roll off the tongue so easily for me, and there a lot of them, I needed to keep notes on who was who for most of the story. I found myself asking, “will this person be important later?”

Author fact: Sigurdardottir also writes books for children.

Book trivia: My Soul to Take is book #2 in a series featuring lawyer/single mother, Thora Gudmundsdottir. True to form, I read Sigurdardottir’s books out of order. She also wrote Last Rituals which I should have read before My Soul to Take.

Playlist: “Eye of the Tiger” and “Final Countdown,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about My Soul to Take but I should note I missed the word “series.” Ugh.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Iceland” (p 99). Doesn’t get any simpler than that.


The Sound and the Fury

Faulkner, William. Novels 1926 – 1929: The Sound and the Fury. The Library of America, 2006.

Reason read: December is Southern Fiction month. Luckily, this is the last Faulkner I have to read.

I wish I could say I adored The Sound and the Fury. I feel like I have an obligation to at least like Faulkner’s writing style because it is so close to another author I actually love, James Joyce. Faulkner appears to be heavily influenced by the Irish author.
Even though Sound got easier and easier to read as I went along, I couldn’t like the characters. Getting into the minds of the three Compson brothers didn’t help. Benjamin, Quentin, and Jason’s narratives all blur together and become one complicated and tangled stream of consciousness. I learned early on that the trick to Faulkner is to remember chronology is of little importance, the duplicity of names can be confusing, and for The Sound and the Fury, you must be comfortable with themes of mental illness, incest, and suicide. Virginity is a commodity in southern fiction. The moral of the story is every tree has a few secret nuts.

Lines I found myself liking: “She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below the Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose Geography met the requirements (minimum)” (p 947), and “Honeysuckle is the saddest odor of all, I think” (p 1007). Not a line, but I liked the random illustrated eye.
As an aside, I would like to see the Sound and the Fury movie. I think I might understand the plot a little better if I did.

Author fact: Faulkner skipped the second grade and his surname used to be spelled without the ‘u.’

Book trivia: the appendix includes 46 years of Compson history, some helpful and some not so much.

Nancy said: Pearl called all of Faulkner’s novels “enduring.” Just how they endure, I don’t know.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).


Spartina

Casey, John. Spartina. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Reason read: Read in respect for the December storms that batter the New England coastline.

Rhode Islander Dick Pierce suffers from a throat-strangling envy of the rich people who flock to his touristy seaside town of Narragansett every summer. His mistress calls it “class-rage.” Money, or the lack of it, makes Dick an ornery man. Most of the time he is able to control his disdain for the wealthy nonsense, but every once in awhile his temper will flare. It is difficult for him, as a year-rounder, to make a back-breaking living as a commercial fisherman while watching his neighbors folic in the house his family used to own. With a wife and two sons to support Dick knows he needs to captain his own vessel to bring in a better profit. He can’t make ends meet crewing for someone else. His saving grace is a 50-foot boat he calls Spartina he has been slowly building in the back yard. Now all he needs is an engine. Desperation to put Spartina in the water leads Dick down a dangerous path of foolish choices and regrettable actions. Drugs, adultery, theft. Nothing is off limits when a man is driven.
Confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the main character.

Author fact: Casey has a very intimate knowledge of boats, down to the very last detail. He is from Worcester, just down the road from me.

Book trivia: the history of Rhode Island is threaded through Spartina. It was unexpected to get a little lesson on the Narragansett tribe and their intended use of wampum.

Playlist: “Autumn Leaves,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Maybe, Baby,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.

Nancy said: Pearl said “You could do far worse than spend a reading life perusing books by Iowa’s distinguished MFA alumni…” (Book Lust p 107).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Ecofiction” (p 78) and again in “Growing Writers” (p 107). Even though Pearl included this in a chapter called “Ecofiction” it didn’t rule the plot.