October Light

Gardner, John. October Light. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Reason read: Autumn in New England is pretty fantastic. October Light takes place (mostly) in Vermont.

When I first picked up October Light I thought it was going to be this old-timey story about two elderly siblings, living in seething resentment of one another in a farmhouse somewhere in Vermont. Admittedly, the book jacket didn’t give me much to go on.
So, the plot: James Page is angry at the world. So angry he can’t stand his sister Sally’s droning television and ends up silencing it with a shotgun blast. The shooting of the television sets in motion a series of events – James locks Sally in a room (but seemingly not her own room because she finds a trashy novel which doesn’t belong to her). She becomes absorbed in said trashy novel; literally can’t put it down and refuses to come out of the bedroom, even when her niece convinces James to free her. James doesn’t care either way. In truth, he is not without deep rooted grief, a grief that has hardened to him. One son committed suicide and another died in an accident. James’s sister, widowed and a polar opposite, does nothing to comfort him. The epic sibling battle lasts for the entire book and escalates to a catastrophic ending.
I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy the frame novel technique. Sally’s trashy novel seemed to be the story Gardner really wanted to write. There is no explanation of how this trashy novel came to be in her room until the end. In truth, the story came alive for me in the last fifty pages.

Confessional: the phrase “New England piss and vinegar” had me smiling. Yes, I know the type.

Line I liked, “It was a fact if life that if people knew what you were feeling they could work you around” (p 64).

Author fact: October Light uses the framed novel technique of a story within a story. Gardner does a great job with both voices.

Book trivia: October Light was illustrated by Elaine Raphael and Don Bolognese.

Nancy said: Pearl said October Light was another good novel set in New England. Really, I would beg to differ. Because this is a framed novel only a portion of it takes place in Vermont and even then the location is a rundown Vermont farmhouse. Not a lot of it takes place out and about in New England. Only at the end do you get a real sense of what it is like to live in New England…the covered bridges, mud season, endless waiting for spring…

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “New England Novels” (p 177).


Wyoming Summer

O’Hara, Mary. Wyoming Summer. New York: Doubleday, 1963.

Reason read: October marks the month O’Hara passed away. Read in her memory.

Wyoming Summer unfolds as a love letter to the wild west. Originating from O’Hara’s journals, it tells the story of her life on a Wyoming ranch. She loves her horses, her dude-ranch summer camp for teenage boys, and even a wayward bull who keeps getting loose and raising hell across the prairie. Her music, milking cows, and marriage to husband Michael help keep her grounded, for it isn’t an easy life on the range. Setbacks come in the form of unpredictable weather, failing crops, and rejection letters and yet O’Hara finds perfection in all of it.
People will probably recognize O’Hara’s book, My Friend Flicka, more readily than Wyoming Summer. I enjoyed the small introduction of acquiring the horse at the end of Wyoming Summer. A glimpse of things to come as My Friend Flicka is also on my Challenge list.

Author fact: O’Hara was also an accomplished pianist and composer.

Book trivia: I wish there were pictures but sadly, there are none to be found.

Nancy said: Pearl said Wyoming Summer isn’t really set in Wyoming but the small sections that are make us feel as though we are really there. Did she and I read different books? I felt that a great deal of Wyoming Summer took place in Wyoming. The dude-ranch camp, the farming, the raising of horses…I didn’t count the pages but I felt it was significant enough to call it Wyoming Summer.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “WY Ever Not?” (p 262).


Isabel’s Bed

Lipman, Elinor. Isabel’s Bed. New York: Washington Square Press, 1995.

Reason read: Lipman’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.

Harriet Mahoney gave twelve years of her life to a man who just left her to marry a woman he’s only known for a few months. Adding insult to injury, he kicks Harriet out of the house she has shared with him as his common law wife for all those years. Dejected but determined to land on her feet, (without her parents’s help…she is over forty, after all!) Harriet takes a job in the seaside town of Truro, Cape Cod, to ghost write celebrity Isabel Krug’s tabloid story. Everyone knows Isabel was the femme fatale using a vibrator in a married man’s bed. Everyone knows the married guy’s wife stormed into the bedroom and shot him dead. Everyone knows because the trial was a sensation full of titillating details, but Isabel wants the world to know her side of the story (it’s even more sordid) and because she isn’t shy, she’s willing to tell all. Harriet is in for the ride of her life working with feisty Isabel…until the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity widow comes knocking.
This is a fun read but a bit silly at times.

Line I really liked, “My taste buds strained in their direction” (p 276).

Author fact: Lipman is from Lowell, Massachusetts. Same as Hey Jack Kerouac.

Book trivia: So. This story is supposed to take place in Cape Cod. One character is supposed to have a wicked Boston accent. He does…for the most part. It comes and goes.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Isabel’s Bed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elinor Lipman: Too Good to Miss” (p 146).


Running Blind

Child, Lee. Running Blind. New York: Berkley, 2000.

Reason read: to continue the series started in July (the month New York became a state) because Lee Child lives there…or did at the time of publication. Confessional: I thought I was supposed to read Echo Burning next. I am glad I was wrong.

There are so many twists to Running Blind that it might feel a little like walking through a haunted house. You never know when something is going to pop out at you, but because stuff does pop out at you, and with alarming frequency, you come to expect the surprises. They might not even shock you over time. The premise of Running Blind is former military women are being murdered all over the country. The cause of death is a mystery. There are no fatal wounds, no signs of a struggle, none of the women defending themselves, there wasn’t even forced entry into their homes. The commonality between each murdered victim besides military connections is Jack Reacher. Of course. What makes this story like all the others is that government officials keep trying to pin the murders on Reacher. He’s always guilty in every book. What makes this story slightly different from the rest is this time Reacher has a serious girlfriend, a lawyer to help bail him out.

Author fact: Child calls himself an “insatiable reader” (from an interview). Indeed, his website’s homepage has him reading on a couch. It’s a great photo.

Book trivia: confessional: the end of this book is a little hokey. I had a hard time swallowing the “whodunit” at the grand finale. Yes, pun totally intended. Once you read the book you will get it. I promise. Another book trivia: Running Blind was published as The Visitor in the United Kingdom.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read child in order. Luckily for me I didn’t pay attention to her order. She places Echo Burning before Running Blind. According to Wikipedia and Child’s own site, Echo was published the year after Running.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Jamesland

Huneven, Michelle. Jamesland. New York: Random House, 2003.

Reason read: October is Mental Health Awareness month.

The theme for this book is crazy. Seriously. Every character has their own special brand of crazy. Alice Black think she’s going crazy after confronting a deer in her living room in the middle of the night. Former crazy talented head chef Pete Ross knows he’s going crazy after attempting suicide a few times for no apparent reason. Unitarian minister Helen Harland has her own brand of crazy dealing with a mean-spirited church administration who gave her a lukewarm performance evaluation. How these three meet and deal with their separate brands of crazy is the heart and soul of the story. They are completely different people and yet. Yet! Yet, they bond over the insanities (my word) in their lives.
Alice Black is trying to get over a breakup with a married man. As she struggles to make sense of the lies (“For sure I’m going to leave my famous-actress wife…”) she befriends Helen in the hopes of understanding the meaning of a frightened deer in her living room. Helen is desperate for any kind of friends and has a habit of pulling anyone and everyone, including the wife of Alice’s affair, into her orbit. She hopes they help her make sense of her life. Then there is divorced and messy Pete who still lives with his mother, who still lives under the thumb of his mother. Helen insists on keeping him in her crazy circle of friends.
At the center of all this drama is Alice’s great-great grandfather, William James, Henry James’s lesser known brother. He is the key to spiritual awakening, with the help of a crazy medium, of all three.

Quotes to quote, “Walking in such public areas made him feel more acutely the lunatic at large” (p 257) and “It counts as an honor to cut up a euthanized hippopotamus” (p 379).

Author fact: Huneven also wrote Round Rock, which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: I could see this as a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Jamesland but in the intro to the chapter she said some of the books “have unexpected depth” I think she was talking about Jamesland.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132).


Long Day Monday

Turnbull, Peter. Long Day Monday. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Reason read: October is Mystery Month.

An abandoned car. A dead woman buried in a field. A discarded child’s toy. A missing boy. Are these things connected or merely coincidences? Observations made in quick succession? Such is the mystery presented to the investigators of the renowned P Division in Glasgow, Scotland on a bright Thursday afternoon. First called to the scene of an abandoned vehicle, neatly parked by the side of a rural road, the plot thickens when the plates come back belonging to a stolen car. Upon further investigation of the area a body has been buried in a shallow grave. The young woman shows signs of starvation and previous restraint around her wrists and ankles. Is she a murder victim or a woman with an eating disorder who liked a little bondage with her sex life? How did she end up in the middle of nowhere buried under topsoil? What about the presence of a toy rabbit carelessly discarded nearby? Is it a coincidence that there is a ten year old boy missing? Are all of these clues connected? The police realize they will need to work through the weekend in order to make sense of it all. As a result, it’s going to be a long day Monday.
My favorite part was when the science of reconstructing a three dimensional face was employed. The technology was new at the time of Turnbull’s writing and it was considered cutting edge to use the details of sex, age, and ethnicity to rebuild someone’s likeness when the only physical evidence was the victim’s skull.

Author fact: Peter Turnbull worked as a steelworker and a crematorium assistant. I don’t know which is worse.

Book trivia: Long Day Monday is super short, under 200 pages.

Nancy said: Pearl called Long Day Monday “stark and dark” (p 121) and suggested it as a “taste of [Turnbull’s] brews” (p 121).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 121).


Obsession with Butterflies

Russell, Sharman Apt. An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

Reason read: there is a place in Western Massachusetts called Magic Wings. It opened in the month of October. Originally, this was the reason I chose to read Obsession in the month of October. Joyously, I have a new yet fleeting new reason. Monhegan has been inundated with monarch butterflies since September, resting before their journey to Mexico and beyond. We haven’t seen such a migration in years so it is nice to have them back.

This was a fun read. Right off the bat it was interesting to learn about string theory and the idea that there are ten dimensions, butterflies being one of them. But, Russell goes on from there. Recounting mythologies, symbolisms, scientific studies, pop cultures, history, evolution, obsessions, butterflies play an enormous role in our lives, sometimes in the center of it, sometimes on the periphery. Russell has a way with words that is pure magic.
And. And! And, who doesn’t love an author who can compare the antics of caterpillars to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, with the line, “This is a sprint, the ultimate chase scene” (p 25). There is such a witty humor to Russell’s writing.

I loved this droll little line, “Birds don’t eat their own droppings” (p 21). Okay. Here is an example of Russell’s humor if butterflies posted personals, “Personal ad #24: M seeks F, no pets, no parasites, no kinky hobbies, must like kids and nectar” (p 85) and “Personal ad #189: M, forceful type, wants F any age, minor role-playing, must enjoy airplane rides” (p 88). Too funny.

As an aside, butterflies have long been thought to be the souls of children no longer with us. Indeed, my aunt got a tattoo of a butterfly on her forearm to mourn the loss of her only son.

Author fact: Russell taught writing at two different institutions at the time of publication.

Book trivia: Obsession with Butterflies was illustrated by Jennifer Clark.

Nancy said: Pearl said Obsession with Butterflies is “designed to introduce readers to the (brief) life and behavior of one of the most varied, fascinating, and graceful creatures in the world” (p 69). She goes on to say more but you’ll just have to read More Book Lust to be in the know!

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 69).