Shtetl

Hoffman, Eva. Shtetl: the Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Reason read: in honor of Hannukah.

Inspired by a documentary Hoffman saw on Frontline, this is the biography of Bransk, a Polish town that no longer exists thanks to the thoroughness of the Nazis under Russian rule. One of the most difficult segments to read was the recounting of young Bransk boys conscripted into the Russian army. They were religiously converted away from their birthright and upon returning home, shunned by their own people.
As an aside, I am afraid of cult figures and the power they can wield over seemingly intelligent people. I was surprised to learn of a man in the 1750s by the name of Jakub Frank who claimed he was the Messiah. He wanted to rule all of Poland and had a strong sexual appetite for young girls and orgies.

Quotes to quote, “I believe that if we are to understand what happened in Poland during the war, we must begin by acknowledging, from within each memory, the terrible complexity of everyone’s circumstances and behavior” (p 6).

Author fact: Hoffman grew up in Cracow, Poland.

Book trivia: Shtetl was written after Hoffman saw a documentary by the same name of Frontline in 1996.

Nancy said: Pearl admires Hoffman’s writing and reads everything she publishes, but for the Challenge I am only reading Shtetl. Pearl would have bought Shtetl for someone exploring Jewish roots.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181) and from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


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.


Echo Maker

Powers, Richard. Echo Maker. London: Picador, 2007.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Echo Maker for the category of National Book Award Winner.

What would you do if your only brother, the younger sibling you have protected since birth, has a terrible automobile accident that leaves him utterly convinced you are not kin; that you are an imposter? According to him you are a replica, a fake, a fraud, a well trained actor down to the very last identifying detail. Maybe even a highly technical robot with lifelike emotion and memory? Mark’s neurological condition is called Capgras and he swears Karen is a copy of his flesh and blood sibling. Despite facing haunting hometown memories and more than six months of Mark not recognizing her, Karen separates from her job and sells her home in order to become his legal guardian. Even world-famous neurologist and best selling author, Gerald Weber, is stumped by Mark’s condition. He comes to study Mark not only to answer Karen’s cry for help, but to stroke a faltering ego. The introduction of Dr. Weber allows author Powers to include such psychological disorders as Fregola Syndrome, Synesthesia, Pleiotropy, Agnosia, Dyscalculia, Tinnitus, Acrophobia, Sundowner Syndrome, Amnesia, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Aphasia and Klurer-Bucy Syndrome. It gets a little heavy at times. Then there’s too-good-to-be-true Barbara. She arrives on the scene as an aide in the hospital but something seems off with her as well. People cannot help but fall in love with her without really understanding why. If Mark’s medical condition wasn’t enough of a plot, Powers has thrown in a political and ecological battle over a preserve with tourist-drawing cranes which migrate to the area every year. Are the cranes and Mark’s accident connected?

Confessional: I would have liked Dr. Weber’s story to start earlier in the book. He arrives on the Nebraskan scene after Karen invites him to study her brother’s case. From there, he is intertwined with the saga but it would have brought more context to his involvement if the reader had been able to follow his journey sooner than meeting Mark.

Lines to like, “Home was the place you never escaped even in nightmare” (p 8),”Disaster trumped the past and gave her temporary asylum” (p 46), and “She curled into the threat of doing this again” (p 58). I could go on and on and on. Echo Maker has dozens of great one-liners.

Playlist: Brahms, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Schubert…and I am sure there were more. For the first time in my life I lost a library book. I have no idea what happened and it confounds me.

Author fact: I have a total of nine works to read by Richard Powers. I have finished three with six to go.

Book trivia: This should have been a movie. It was almost a Pulitzer winning book.

Nancy said: Pearl called Echo Maker brilliant and thought provoking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Nebraska: the Big Empty” (p 148).


Amigoland

Casares, Oscar. Amigoland. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Reason read: November 1st is Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Welcome to the elderly world of brothers Don Fidencio and Don Celestino. Sustaining through years of stubborn memory are so long ago fabled events that the brothers cannot come to an agreement of truth. At the center of their debate is the brothers’ grandfather and a terrific century-old tale of kidnapping, murder, scalping, a ranch called El Rancho Capote, and a bear in a circus. The story is so fantastic, and each memory is so faulty, it has taken on a life of its own. So much so that Don Celestino’s much younger paramour (and housekeeper), Soccoro, convinces the brothers to take a trip to Mexico to settle the debate once and for all. Soccoro and Don Celestino spirit Don Fidencio away from his nursing home without medications, identification, or money. The both heartwarming and heartbreaking problem is time is running out for both cantankerous men (Don Fidencio is over ninety). The moral of Amigoland is when you tell a story long enough it becomes fact, even if your memory is faulty.

As an aside, I would not know anything about the game of Bunco (mentioned in Amigoland if it weren’t for a friend of mine. She plays Bunco with a group of women once a month.

Author fact: Casares is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Book trivia: Amigoland is Casares’ first novel.

Playlist: Narcisco Martinez

Nancy said: Pearl called Amigoland “warm and funny.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Postcards from Mexico” (p 183). As an aside, Pearl could have included Amigoland in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages.”


House of the Spirits

Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2005.

Reason read: read in honor of the ghosts…just in time for Halloween.

The House of the Spirits begins with a letter to a hundred year old grandfather. Meet the del Valle family. Clara del Valle has paranormal powers as every magical realism book must have. Clara predicts her sister’s death by poison and is traumatized into muteness by the autopsy (wouldn’t you if you saw your sister cut open?). The generational story goes on to include more crimes against humanity in the form of adultery, rape, whippings, curses, maiming, and murder. Balanced with all that grief is an undeniable love story. Passion abounds between the harshness.
As an aside, my favorite character of them all was Rosa de Valle. Born with green hair she is thought to be a mermaid and was murdered early in the story.

Author fact: Allende write a letter to her 99 year old grandfather and The House of the Spirits was born.

Book trivia: I always find it really interesting when novels (or art of any kind) that end up being huge successes are at first rejected. Allende and Van Gogh have that in common.

Nancy said: Pearl said The House of the Spirits offers “a picture of Chile that’s suffused with love (and a bit of magic)” (Book Lust To Go p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Magical Realism” (p 148) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 114).


White Tiger

Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger: a Novel. New York: Free Press, 2008.

Reason read: There is a festival in October that celebrates women called the Sanjhi Festival.

Much like Between the Assassinations, The White Tiger takes place over the course of seven nights. Balram Halwai, also known as the White Tiger, is writing a nightly letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao prior to the Premier’s visit. Does Balram want the Premier to see India for what it really is or is there a different motive, one that is more personal? The reader isn’t 100% sure until the end. In these letters Balram explains his life and how he escaped servitude as a rich man’s chauffeur to become a cocksure and wealthy businessman. He makes no excuses for his methods for success or the sacrifices he (and his family) had to make. Even from a young age Balram knew he was destined to make his way out of the slums of India, even if it meant murder and corruption and betrayal.
As an aside, I am intrigued by Balram’s frequent references to his favorite poets: Muhammed Iqbal, Rumi, Mizra Ghalib, and a fourth whose name he can’t remember. The known three are actual middle eastern poets.

When stand-alone novels have a ring of familiarity across them I question if the author is striking the formulaic bell.

Edited to add the one quote I liked: “Strange thoughts brew in your heart when you spend too much time with old books” (p 218). Yup.

Author fact: Adiga also wrote Between the Assassinations which I read in 2017.

Book trivia: White Tiger was adapted for film in 2021. Of course, I haven’t seen it.

Playlist: Sting, Enya, Eminem.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned The White Tiger winning the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 213).


Out Stealing Horses

Petterson, Per. Out Stealing Horses. New York: Picador, 2003.

Reason read: Petterson is a Norwegian writer. An old friend of mine lives in Norway and was born in October. Read in her honor even though we haven’t spoken in a long time.

Trond Sander, at 67 years old, is a simple man living alone with his dog, Lyra, deep in the Norwegian woods. He likes the quiet. He loves the solitude. It’s as if he has run away from memories. In reality, he has done just that. Trond lost his sister and wife in one month three years prior. That was when he stopped talking to people. His silence is profound until he meets a stranger in the woods near his cabin. Only this stranger carries the very memories Trond has been trying to escape. Lars is a member of a family with entangled deep tragedies and Trond knows them well. Petterson is able to move Trond from past to present with remarkable grace. Trond as a teenager versus Trond, the aging adult in Norway’s breathtaking landscape. Like any good drama, there is violence, illicit love, abandonment, and atonement with surprises along the way. I hope the movie is as spectacular as the book.

Lines I liked, “When the record ends I will go to bed and sleep as heavily as possible without being dead, and awake to a new millennium and not let it mean a thing” (p 5) and “A shipwrecked man without an anchor in the world except in his own liquid thoughts where time has lost its sequence” (p 195).

Author fact: I am reading three of Per Petterson’s novels: In the Wake, In Siberia, and Out Stealing Horses.

Book trivia: Out Stealing Horses was made into a movie Just last year in 2020. It looks really good.

Playlist: Billie Holliday

Nancy said: Pearl had a lot to say about Out Stealing Horses. Along with the general plot she said the writing is spare and restrained. The plot emerges slowly and should not to be missed. She also mentioned the translation as being beautiful and the cover as evocative.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: the Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


To See and See Again

Bahrampour, Tara. To See and See Again: a Life in Iran and America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999.

Reason read: The Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has a category called “a book by an Iranian or Iranian American author.”

Tara Bahrampour was eleven years old at the height of the Islamic Revolution. As the bullets flew over garden walls, she and her family escaped Iran to the Pacific Northwest with one suitcase each. Old enough to remember her Iranian culture, but young enough to embrace America’s freedoms, Bahrampour balanced two very different lifestyles in her heart and mind. Having an Iranian father and American mother partially helped Bahrampour navigate the divide while she was young. When Bahrampour returns to Iran for a wedding, she is the first in her family after fifteen years to do so. The perspective from a twenty-six year old woman blossoms from remembered street games and childhood toys into the realities of the treatment of women, ceremony surrounding meals, and the strict regime after the Islamic Revolution. She is understandably nostalgic for the Tehran of her youth but fiercely protective of her Americanized viewpoints and attitudes. At first Bahrampour is na├»ve to the changes of her homeland’s rule and is shocked when she has trouble repossessing her American passport or when she hears stories of people escaping the military by wearing sheepskin and crawling over the border with a herd of sheep. Reality sets in when she is detained for talking to two blond tourists. As a Moslem Iranian woman officials fear her morality could be in danger. In the end, aside from rebuffing marriage proposal after marriage proposal, Bahrampour comes to an understanding about where she belongs. The Iran of her youth has left an indelible mark on her memory. At the core, it is who she is no matter where she goes.

Quotes to quote, “Everyone was so dazzled with what they wanted Iran to be that they missed seeing what it was” (p 248) and “…if that is how it is with loss – that you never really let go of the thing you are missing” (p 356).

Author fact: Bahrampour has written for predominantly New York-based publications. To See and See Again is her first memoir.

Book trivia: Each chapter is introduced with a black and white photograph. Nothing more, nothing less.

Playlist: “Love Story,” “Grease is the Word,” “You’re in My Heart” by Rod Stewart, “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys, “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, “Slip-Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon Iron Maiden, Slayer, Boney M., Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, the Bee Gees, “Carry on Wayward Son,” “I am a Woman in Love,” Chris Isaak, Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” “Tavern in the Town,” “Cider Through a Straw,” Ace of Base, Metallica, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and of course, Bahrampour’s mother, Karen Alexander.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To See and See Again except to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 107).


Olive Kitteridge

Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: In Rockland, Maine, there is a festival dedicated to lobsters. Read Olive Kitteridge in honor of the critters.

Comprised of thirteen short stories with varying narratives, Strout cleverly tells the story of Olive Kitteridge. Olive is lurking in most of each connecting tale. Sometimes characters gossip about her, like in the story called “Winter Concert.” In the first story “Pharmacy” Olive’s husband, Henry Kitteridge, doesn’t seem to have a happy life since he retired from his old fashioned pharmacy. Olive is presented as a woman who doesn’t suffer fools easily. She shows the world an angry and proud face most of the time. I think they call it “Yankee stoicism.” Other stories:

  • “Incoming Tide” – Olive is present when a woman tries to commit suicide.
  • “The Piano Player” – Angela O’Meara plays the piano for ungrateful guests.
  • “A Little Burst” – Olive’s only son is getting married to a woman she doesn’t like.
  • “Starving” – Harmon is starving in his marriage while he befriends a girl with anorexia.
  • “A Different Road” – a couple are victims of a crime by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Winter Concert” – A couple attends a concert where the wife learns of her husband’s secret rendezvous.
  • “Tulips” – bitterness.
  • “A Basket of Trips” – a death cuts a marriage short.
  • “Ship in a Bottle” – a girl is stood up on her wedding day.
  • “Security” – Olive tries to visit her son in New York; a story about expectations.
  • “Criminal” – the story of a neurotic kleptomaniac.
  • “River” – My favorite story of the the bunch. Olive is a widow and learning to be polite.

Author fact: Strout also wrote Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me. Both are on my Challenge list. I read Amy & Isabelle in 2007 and I read Abide with Me in 2013.

Book trivia: Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer in 2008.

Playlist: “Good Night, Irene,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Noel,” “We Shall Overcome, “”Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “Feelings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Beethoven, “Fools Rush In,” “Whenever I Feel Afraid,” Phish, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and Debussy.

Nancy said: Pearl said Olive Kitteridge would be an excellent choice for a book club.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the curious chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. New York: Puffin Books, 2015.

Reason read: Recognizing the Malawi cabinet crisis of August 1964.

William Kamkwamba was no ordinary child from Malawi. He had imagination, ambition, and a curiosity that couldn’t be kept down even when his family couldn’t afford to send him to school. His drive was to improve his family’s situation after a severe drought left the landscape barren and his community on the brink of starvation, but really he loved to learn. He loved school so much he found a way to sneak into classes after he had been kicked out for nonpayment. Once found out he resorted to borrowing books at the library. One particular physics textbook resonated with him. Using money from a wealthy friend and the knowledge gained from reading and scrounging for supplies anywhere he could find them (flip flops, his father’s bicycle, melted PVC pips, the spring from a ball point pen…) Kamkwamba set out to build a windmill. His first invention in 2001 was modest, creating enough power to light a lightbulb. From there, Kamkwamba went bigger – big enough to charge cellphones and light his parent’s living room. The bigger the windmill, the more he could power. Soon his ambition went beyond his family and friends to extend to his entire community of Wimbe and he attracted the attention of powerful people. Doors opened across the world for Kamkwamba.

As an aside, I had a penpal from Malawi. He was killed in a car accident.

Author fact: William Kamkwamba received a degree from Dartmouth.

Book trivia: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind became a NetFlix documentary.

Playlist: Dolly Parton, Black Missionaries, Billy Kaunda, and “Silent Night.”

Nancy said: Pearl called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind “heartwarming (but not soppy) and inspiring.” She also gave a shout out to librarians and libraries.

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


When Rain Clouds Gather

Head, Bessie. When Rain Clouds Gather. Oxford: Heinemann Education Publishers, 1995.

Reason read: Confessional – For weeks I have been calling this book When Storm Clouds Gather. I have no idea why.

In the most rural part of Botswana, untouched by western agricultural technologies, political refugee, Makhaya, and Englishman Gilbert Balfour try to revolutionize traditional farming methods. For the tribespeople of drought-ridden Golema Mmidi, this change is not always welcome, even if it means the end of entrenched poverty and the threat of starvation. Traditions run deep and when your tribal chief doesn’t approve of the new ways, the battle is more uphill than ever. Set against the backdrop of farming is the subject of love. Despite unrelenting unfavorable climate, the tribespeople of Golema Mmidi are passionate people. Head drew details for When Rain Clouds Gather from her own experiences as a refugee, living at the Bamangwato Development farm. It is hard to tell if the romantic parts are autobiographical as well.

Quotes to quote, “He was a platform speaker who never got down from the platform” (p 58), “It meant that if you loved people you had to allow complete invasion by them of your life, and he wasn’t built to face invasions of any kind” (p 67),”There were too many independent-minded people there, and tragedies of life had liberated them from the environmental control of the tribe” (p 141), and “You have to be loved a bit by the time you die” (p 179).

Author fact: Bessie Head was a biracial South African author and lived as a refugee like her character, Makhaya.

Book trivia: When Rain Clouds Gather was Bessie Head’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl said When Rain Clouds Gather is Bessie Head’s best-known novel. She also included what a librarian said about the book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Botswana” (p 42).


The Photographer

Guibert, Emmanuel, Didier Lefleve, and Frederic Lemercier. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second, 2009.

Reason read: Afghanistan gained its independence from British rule in July 1919.

I didn’t know what to expect when I read a review of The Photographer, calling it a “photographic graphic novel.” It is quite unique and simply put, amazing. In three parts, The Photographer tells the story of how the aid workers of Medecins Sans Frontieres, smuggled across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan disguised as women in chadri, provided medical support to small communities during conflict. Didier Lefleve, a French photojournalist, traveled with the group to Zaragandara during the Afghan-Soviet War of 1986. In this district of Yaftali Sufla MSF establishes a field hospital while staffing a second one. The final part is Didier Lefleve’s nearly disastrous solo departure from Afghanistan. As the tagline for MSF reads, “We go where we are needed most,” The photographs and journal of Lefleve tell the entire story in intimate detail. It is a powerful print documentary.
It seems impossible for there to be humor in The Photographer, especially when you read of children with their eyes apparently glued shut and paralyzed by shrapnel, but it exists. One word: peaches. I confess. I giggled. That’s all I can say about that.
Most amazing fact: despite the reality they are fighting the Russians, Afghan doctors are able to obtain x-rays for patients, disguised as English speaking colleagues. they send men who are too old to be conscripted. No one suspects the men of being part of the resistance.

As an aside, I have supported MWF (known by the American subsidiary as Doctors Without Borders), for years. I first learned of the organization when Natalie would invite members to speak about their work during a set break in her concerts. I shared Natalie’s pride when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. I appreciated learning about Juliette Fournot, the woman who started the US arm of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Author facts: Emmanuel Guibert is an accomplished graphic novelist. I am only reading one of his works. Didier Lefleve died way too young at only 49 years of age. Frederic Lemercier was the mastermind behind the layout and coloring of The Photographer.

Book trivia: The English translation of The Photographer was publisher in 2009. Lefleve didn’t live long enough to see it. He passed from a heart attack in 2007.

Playlist: Michel Jonasz

Nancy said: Pearl called The Photographer “one of the best books” she read in 2009.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires” (p 3).


Rivergods

Bangs, Richard and Christian Kallen. Rivergods: Exploring the World’s Great Wild Rivers. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1985.

Reason read: June is National River Cleanup Month.

Rivergods balances adventurous text from Bangs and Kallen with gorgeous photography. Christian Kallen and Richard Bangs bring many of the most powerful, yet mostly unheard of, rivers to life as they describe trying to raft or kayak each one. By traveling all corners of the globe, they are able to meet indigenous peoples in South America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. By studying their anthropologies, they learn a little about each culture including head hunting and cannibalism. Each river teaches them about the power of Mother Nature and the real dangers of trying to tame her.
As an aside, when I started running with Dr. Tommy Rivs, one of the things he taught me early on was about Islamic religion. In accordance with the beliefs of Islam, no humans or animals can be portrayed or duplicated by man. All art such as tile work, tapestries, and carpets must be of geometric shapes and flowers. It was cool to see Bangs and Kallen talk about it in Rivergods.

Lines to like, “It was like trying to admire a beautiful painting after having been mugged” (p 108). I wish I could quote all of the reviews from the back cover of Rivergods. Admiration, humor, and maybe a little envy are evident in the reviewer’s words.

Author fact: Richard Bangs has a pretty cool website here. Christian Kallen coauthored another book with Bangs called Riding the Dragon’s Back.

Book trivia: Rivergods is oversized and full of gorgeous photography.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rivergods.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Water, Water Everywhere” (p 252).


44 Scotland Street

Smith, Alexander McCall. 44 Scotland Street. New York: Anchor Books, 2005.

Reason read: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is in June.

This is a delightful book if the characters do not drive you nuts. You will meet the community of 44 Scotland Street and the surrounding neighborhood: Tim, Jamie, Bertie, Irene, Stuart, Big Lou, Hugh, Angus, Ronnie, Mags, Pete, Christabel, Melanie, Domenica, Matthew, Bruce, Gordon, Raeburn, Todd, Sasha, Lizzie, and Pat. Twenty year old Pat is at the center of the story. Newly relocated to 44 Scotland Street, she rents a room from vain Bruce Anderson and finds a job in an art gallery with Matthew. She is sort of at a loss as to what to do with her life (she’s on her second gap year from university). It is only after a painting from the art gallery goes missing that the plot picks up, albeit a little predictably: Bruce is an exaggerated narcist who Pat can’t help but fall in love with, while Matthew, sweet and a little bumbling, falls in love with Pat. There are heroes and villains at 44 Scotland Street. They all have their moments of love and loss. At the center of it all is a painting that may or may not be worth some money.

Author fact: Smith has a new book coming out in October. Check it out here.

Book trivia: 44 Scotland Street started off as a daily in a newspaper so it was written as it was being published. Before that, it was an idea from a conversation with Armistead Maupin at an Amy Tan party.

Playlist: “As Time Goes By,” “The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen,” “Good-Night Irene,” “Play Misty for Me,” Red Hot Chili Peppers,

Nancy said: Pearl called 44 Scotland Street “entertaining.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scotland: More Than Haggis, Kilts and Ian Rankin” (p 198). Interesting to note that Ian Rankin does appear in 44 Scotland Street as himself.


Sea Runners

Doig, Ivan. The Sea Runners: a Novel. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1982.

Reason read: Doig was born in June – read in his honor.

Four men escape their Russian-controlled work camp in a stolen canoe: Braaf, Karlsson, Melander, and Wennburg. Courageous, when you consider they started in New Archangel (Sitka), Alaska in the mid-1800s. Herculean, when you add how while paddling their way to Astoria, Oregon they faced rough ocean swells, unrelenting weather, unfamiliar coastal environments, insufficient maps for navigation, hostile Tlingit Indians, starvation, sheer exhaustion from relentless physical toil, and an instinctual deep distrust of one another. They were not friends before they made their escape. Imagine putting your trust in a man who gets seasick often and has a deep fear of the ocean. Even though Sea Runners is fictional, it is based on a very similar true story of a daring escape. Doig learned of Karl Gronland, Andreas Lyndfast, Karl Wasterholm, and a fourth man who was killed by Indians during the journey. From these actual men sprung the stunning adventure of Braaf, Karlsson, Melander, and Wennburg. You could say the sea was a fifth character as Doig’s words makes the ocean come alive with emotion.

As an aside, Doig favors words like slim and slender.

Quotes to quote: none. I would have mentioned a few here, but no part of the publication could be reproduced in any form without the permission of the publisher. I wasn’t going to take the time for a blog no one cares about but me.

Author fact: Doig also wrote Bucking the Sun which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Sea Runners is fictional but based on true events.

Nancy said: Pearl only said that while other books about the Inside Passage talk about going up Alaska’s coast, Sea Runners goes down.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Inside the Inside Passage” (p 105).