Llewellyn, Richard. How Green Was My Valley. New York: RosettaBooks LLC, 2013.
Reason read: December is the best time to visit Patagonia. Not so sure about Wales. Which leads me to my confessional: Patagonia is featured in the sequels (Up in the Singing Mountains and Down Where the Moon Was Small), but NOT in How Green Was My Valley. So, I’m sorta reading this one for the wrong reason…which means I’ll be reading the sequels for the wrong reasons as well. Regardless of how I got to this book, on with the review:
Richard Llewellyn has an amazing voice. There were so many passages I wanted to quote because they were all just so beautifully written. How Green Was My Valley is told from the first person perspective of Huw Morgan, looking back on his childhood in a small mining town in Wales. Huw comes from a large family of his parents, five brothers and three sisters. They live in an isolated valley in a community governed by the ways of God and the land. As Huw grows older and heads off to school he learns about the uglier side of growing up, like being bullied for being the new kid. After the first day of school Huw’s father and brothers teach him how to fight. [As an aside: this surprised me. Growing up with five older brothers, surely Huw would encounter a scuffle or two? It seems so unlikely that the siblings would never fight among themselves.] But, it was the harder lessons Huw learned that were more difficult to swallow: the poverty and starvation during the leaner months, what happens when desire gets out of hand and leads to rape and murder, and the death of a family member.
There were many, many lines I liked, but I’ll share just a few: “There is a funny thing in you when you know trouble is being made and waiting for you, in a little time to come” (p 211), and “Pain is a good cleanser of the mind and therefore of the sight” (p 341),
As an aside, the Welsh way of speaking reminded me of Yoda. Guess it’s all the Star Wars brewhaha going on right now.
Author fact: Llewellyn’s full name is Richard Dafydd Vivian Llewellyn Lloyd. Phew. One of his many occupations was coal miner.
Book trivia: How Green Was My Valley won the National Book Award and was made into a movie.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in two different chapters, “Patagonia” (p 174) and “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).
Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman and the Angel of the Lord. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1995.
Reason read: this continues the series started last April in honor of Fraser’s birth month.
If you have been keeping track, the Flashman papers are now in the years 1858 to 1859. Flashman is thirty six years old and back in America where old enemies remember him and new enemies are out to blackmail him. He’s not back by choice, though. Someone from his past had an old score to settle. So here’s Harry, knee deep in the conflicts of slavery…again. This time he’s working with “the angel of the Lord,” John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame. Yes, THAT John Brown.
Interestingly enough, Fraser decided to scale back the sex scenes for this particular installment. In addition to not having many opportunities to shag the lady next door, Flashman appears to be growing up some. To some he doesn’t appear to be as cowardly or as shallow…He still tries to get out of getting out of the October 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry but as usual, is unsuccessful.
For some reason I decided to keep track of the aliases of Flashman this time around:
- Bully Waterman
- Grattan Nugent-Hare
- Beauchamp Millward Comber
A line that made me laugh: “It’s a shame those books on etiquette don’t have a chapter to cover encounters with murderous lunatics whom you’d hoped never to meet again” (p 38).
Book trivia: this is the tenth Flashy book and penultimate Fraser book on my list. Are you keeping track?
Author fact: What haven’t I told you about George MacDonald Fraser? Have I mentioned he died in January of 2008? Well he did.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “George MacDonald Fraser: Too Good To Miss” (p 93).
Dunnett, Dorothy. The Ringed Castle. New York: Vintage Books, 1971.
Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
When we left Francis Crawford of Lymond he had just married Philippa Somerville and sent her home to England with his two year old son, Kuzum. Meanwhile, he hooked up with harem head, Kiaya Khatien, the former mistress of Dragus Rais. Because of her, his next adventure takes him to the crude and unforgiving lands of Russia where he becomes advisor to Tsar Ivan (later, Ivan the Terrible). It becomes Crawford’s mission to create, muster, train and equip a professional Russian army. Francis, now called the Voedoda Bolshoia, is becoming even calmer and more complicated but he remains just as cool and cruel as always. Typical, his motives are constantly questioned. I find his relationship with a golden eagle under his command is fascinating. I enjoyed best the scenes with this bird despite the cruel end.
Meanwhile, back in London, Philippa digs into her husband’s heritage and uncovers some troubling secrets, which by the way, sets up the final book, Checkmate, perfectly.
A line to make you sit up: right from the beginning, the opening sentence is “Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin” (p 3). Hello. Another line I liked, “And because death was a friend, the one man who was made to receive, like a tuning fork, the whispering omens of fate did not recognize it, until too late” (p 312).
Author fact: I am uninspired to dig up anything new on Ms. Dunnett at this time.
Book trivia: this installment of the Lymond series doesn’t have a Cast of Characters list. I guess you’re supposed to know everyone by now. Also, Dunnett wrote the foreword admitting to “manicuring to repair the defects.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Digging Up the Past Through History” (p 73).
Adams, Harold. The Man Who Was Taller Than God. New York: Walker and Company, 1992.
Reason read: to “finish” the series started with Hatchet Job in November (in honor of South Dakota becoming a state). Yes, I am reading them backwards.
This won’t take you anytime at all to read. Barely 156 pages it is a quick one. You could read it in one sitting, for sure. Anyway, the plot:
It’s the first murder the town of “hopeless” Hope, South Dakota has ever seen. Felton Edwards, a tall, womanizing, good for nothing and better-off-dead man, is found face down in a gravel pit. Some shot to death this tall drink of water and like Hatchet Job there is no shortage of suspects because everyone had a beef with Mr. Edwards. Never mind the fact he hasn’t been in Hope for the last 15 years. Enter Carl Wilcox, our hero. As a retired police officer he has been called back into service by Hope’s mayor, Christian Frykman. Frykman can’t bear the thought of a murder happening in his little town. Wilcox may have an unorthodox way of solving crimes (he makes more dates with single women than finding clues), but he always gets the job done.
Quotes I liked: “A man who talks as much as he does is bound to strike truth now and then” (said by Christian Frykman on page 20) and “It was enough to make my tired ache” (said by Carl Wilcox on page 136).
Book trivia: …Talller Than God is actually book number nine in the series. The title of the books comes from the fact that the dead man was “long enough to be taller than god”. Whatever that means.
Author fact: the inspiration for the Wilcox series is Adams’s own uncle, Sidney Dickey. I wonder if Mr. Dickey smoked like a chimney, had a sarcastic wit and a way with the ladies?
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Great Plains: Dakotas” (p 106).
Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: a Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.
Reason read: Mark Kurlansky was born in December.
This is a book about all things cod. Really. Beyond the historical and ecological significance of the fish there is etymology and art and music and of course, recipes. Don’t get too excited – they’re really old recipes that do not sound appetizing! As an aside, I have a student worker who is just amazed someone could write an entire book not just about fish in general, but a specific fish at that. Here’s my reply: It’s a concise book, but did you know that color of a cod fish depends on the local conditions? Also, the colder the water, the smaller the fish because cod grow faster in warmer waters. Better yet, there are fascinating tidbits not related to cod. For example, all English towns that end in “wich” were at one time salt producers. And did you know Clarence Birdseye of Brooklyn, New York held over 250 patents before his death and not all were related to the process of freezing food? But, back to the cod: let’s not forget about the historical significance this fish had on the American Revolution! Interesting, right? So, in the end one can safely say Cod is not just about the historical significance of one little fish, it’s about a way of life .
Two lines I liked, “Fishermen were keeping their secrets, while explorers were telling the world” (p 28) and “Finally, in 1902, seven years after the death of Huxley, the British government began to concede that there was such a thing as overfishing” (p 144). Imagine that.
Confessional: Mark Kurlansky prompted me to Google/YouTube the song “Saltfish” by Mighty Sparrow. I learned something new!
Author fact: Kurlansky has experience working on commercial fishing boats. Cool.
Book trivia: the physical book is one of those “feels good to hold” books and it includes great photographs & illustrations.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and Book Lust To Go. In the chapter “Mark Kurlansky: Too Good To Miss” (p 141) in Book Lust and again in the chapter “Newfoundland” (p 154) in Book Lust To Go.
Fraser, George MacDonald. Flashman and the Mountain of Light. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.
Reason read: Some of you might remember, way back in April I started the Flashman series in honor of Fraser’s April birth month. It seems so long ago…
Harry Flashman is back again! It almost seems like he won’t go away. The year is 1845 and this time Flashy is a spy for Her Majesty’s Secret Service! When we last left Flashy he was in Singapore. I have to admit, the start to Flashman and the Mountain of Light was a little slow this time around. It took me two chapters before I really got into it. If you are looking for Fraser’s trademark sex and violence, Flashman and the Mountain of Light does not disappoint. It just takes a little longer to get to. For the historians out there, Fraser covers the Sutlej Crisis and of course, the Mountain of Light or Koh-i-Noor, one of the largest diamonds in the world.
Confessional: this wasn’t my favorite. In fact, I didn’t even finish it.
Favorite line: “Optimism run mad, if you ask me, but then I’ve never been shipwrecked much, and philosophy in the face of tribulation aint my line” (p 105).
Author fact: According to the back flap of Flashman and the Mountain of Light Fraser helped with the screenplay for Lester’s The Three Musketeers. Sounds about right.
Book trivia: This is the ninth book in the Flashman series. I only have two more after this one.
BookLust Twist: Say it with me: from Book Lust in the chapter called “George MacDonald Fraser: Too Good To Miss” (p 93). You would think I would have this information memorized by now.
Fletcher, Susan. Eve Green. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.
Reason read: This is a stretch, but Dylan Thomas was Welsh. Eve Green takes place in Wales. Thomas died in November. See the connection? Didn’t think so.
I think this was my favorite book of everything I read in November. It spoke to me the way Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams did. Taylor Greer and Evangeline Green were a lot alike and I could hear their voices long after their stories were out of my hands.
Evangeline’s story begins In Birmingham where her mother commits suicide and, at seven years old, she is sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Wales. She has never met her father and her friends consist of one outcast boy from school, a 23 year old farm hand, and a reclusive. seemingly mentally ill man who frequents the woods near her grandparent’s farm. Everyone else represents jealousy and danger. When a blond, blue eyed classmate goes missing Eve’s world is turned upside down. It doesn’t help that she didn’t really like Rosie, nor that her reclusive friend is a suspect.
There were lots and lots of lines I liked in Eve Green. I really like Fletcher’s writing. Here are a couple of lines to remember, “But my point had been made: if someone expects trouble, they usually get it, in the end” (p 45) and “As I hovered by the door all I knew was that men weren’t designed for crying” (p 106). Why this last line hit me so hard – It’s true. I can’t stand to see grown men cry because it feels so unnatural, so wrong. Here are a couple more quotes I liked, “But at fifteen my heart was hungrier than ever” (p 177), and “Life’s a stone not yet carved on, an unwritten page” (p 280).
Author fact: Eve Green is Fletcher’s first novel.
Book trivia: some people feel that Fletcher gave a nod to Lee Harper when she included a misunderstood and potentially mentally ill man as a character in Eve Green.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).
Doerr, Anthony. Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. New York: Scribner, 2007.
Reason read: Doerr celebrates a birthday in November, or something like that.
Imagine coming home from the hospital after your wife has just given birth to twins and discovering you have won an award that will send you to Rome for a year, an award you didn’t ask for or even know about. So, six months later you pack up aforementioned wife and boys and off to Rome you go. Doerr spends the next year reading Pliny, exploring the ancient city and marveling at life BT (before twins) and AT (after twins). He is observant and witty on all accounts but by his own admission is too busy staring at Italy to write anything constructive. Until Four Seasons is born. If you are to read just one page of Four Seasons in Rome I strongly recommend reading page 141, starting with “What is Rome”.
Quotes I liked, “Sleep is a horizon: the harder you row toward it, the faster it recedes” (p 26) and “Complexities wane, miracles become unremarkable, and if we are not careful, pretty soon we’re gazing out at our lives as if through a burlap sack ” (p 54). There were many more, but I’ll leave it a that.
Author fact: Doerr has received two O. Henry Prizes and this book was as a result of winning an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, affording him a stipend ($1,300/month) and a writing studio in Rome.
Book trivia: there are no photographs in Four Seasons in Rome. I’m disappointed. There are, however, illustrations by Brian Rea at the beginning of each season.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Roman Holiday” (p 189).
Carman, Patrick. The Dark Hills Divide. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2005.
Reason read: November is Fantasy Convention month in some places in the world.
I need to preface this with the obvious: Dark Hills Divide is a book for kids. Okay, so onto the plot. Alexa Daley is twelve years old and is spending a month with her father in the town of Bridewell. Bridewell is no ordinary place as it is surrounded by huge walls that are 42′ high and 3′ thick. What Alexa wants to know is what is beyond, in the world she can not see? All her life she has lived behind those thick walls. All she knows is what her mayoral father tells her: that a mysterious man by the name of Thomas Warvold had the walls built by an army of prison convicts. Legend has it, the walls have kept out an unnamed evil.
And so begins the first book of the Land of Elyon series. As with any good fantasy book there is a menacing villain, talking animals and one brave-as-all-get-out kid. Pervis Kotcher, Bridewell’s head of security and resident bully, will stop at nothing to keep Alexa from seeing what is beyond the walls but like any determined kid, Alexa finds a way out. From there, things get weird and Alexa realizes everyone has secrets and the motto is “trust no one”.
As an aside, I was pleasantly surprised to see the traditional poem “Six Men of Indostan” or “The Blind Men and the Elephant” reimagined by John Godfrey Saxe. I know the John Godfrey Saxe version as interpreted by Natalie Merchant on her “Leave Your Sleep” album.
Author fact: I don’t think it would surprise you to learn Carman has his own website here.
Book trivia: Dark Hills Divide doesn’t have illustrations throughout the text, but there is a beautiful drawing of a wolf on the second page and illustrations of Alexa’s chess moves. Another detail, Dark Hills Divide is the first book in a series called “The Land of Elyon.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fantasy for Young and Old” (p 85).
Adams, Harold. Hatchet Job. New York: Walker and Company, 1996.
Reason read: South Dakota became a state in November.
Hatchet Job is such a short book (barely over 150 pages) that it can be read in one sitting and because it is so short it ends almost before it really begins. Here are a couple of other things you need to know about Hatchet Job: it’s the thirteenth book in the Carl Wilcox series but you do not need to have read the other twelve before enjoying Hatchet. Also, even though Hatchet Job was published in 1996 it takes place at least fifty years earlier. Details like Wilcox driving a Model T, women wearing or not wearing girdles, and lots of references to the Great War helped set the time frame.
Now for the plot: someone has murdered the town cop of Mustard with four chops with an ax or hatchet. The blows are precise and predictable. No one is shocked Lou Dupree is dead and if the town could cheer about such a demise, they would and loudly. Our hero, Carl Wilcox, is called in to solve the mystery and stand in as Mustard’s law enforcement until they can find a replacement. When Carl isn’t asking a million questions he’s trying seduce all the single ladies, but he has an eye for the married ones as well. It’s just a matter of time before Carl solves the case and gets a date. The real question is, which will happen first?
Author fact: in 1996 Harold Adams was the retired director of the Minnesota Charities Review Council.
Book trivia: Hatchet Job is part of the Carl Wilcox series.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Great Plains: the Dakotas” (p 106).
Dunnett, Dorothy. The Disorderly Knights. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dorothy Dunnett’s birth month.
The year is now 1551. Francis Crawford of Lymond, the blond-haired, blue eyed rebel of Edinburgh Scotland has a new mission from the King of France: to come to the aid of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John in Malta as they battle the Turks to defend their island. It begins as a confusing battle, and as with all great stories in history, not everyone is who they first appear to be. There is a traitor among them. Who can it be? It’s up to Francis to figure it out and in doing so discovers his worst enemy. On a personal note, in this installment of the Lymond Chronicles I was pleasantly surprised to see a more personal side to the dashing and devastatingly cruel Francis. This time Dunnett didn’t have him constantly drinking to falling down drunk, and while I wasn’t always agreeing with Lymond’s actions, they shed light on the complexities of his personality.
On another note, I was sad to lose key characters.
Quotes I liked, “Hatred shackled by promises to the dead was the vilest of all” (p 218) and “But that’s just immaturity boggling at the sad face of failure” (p 322).
Author fact: According the back cover of Disorderly Knights Dunnett was, to critics at that time, the “world’s greatest living writer of historical fiction.”
Book trivia: this is the third installment of the Lymond series.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through History” (p 79).
Novacek, Michael. Time Traveler: In Search of Dinosaurs and Ancient Mammals From Montana to Mongolia. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Reason read: October is Dinosaur Month. I don’t know who came up with that except to say that I read it on the internet.
Michael Novacek begins his book Time Traveler like a memoir, taking us back to a time when high school yearbooks crowned well endowed coeds with titles such as “Miss Sweater Girl” (and it wasn’t considered sexist). Novacek makes it autobiographically personal by including interesting artifacts (pun totally intended) about his own adolescence, like how he was in a rock band that could have gone somewhere, or that he kissed a girl named Diane in the back of a bus. He even includes some humor. Consider this quote, “…our last moment on earth will probably be marked by an image of a dark cab coming at us dead-on, with a flash of gold teeth and a tequila bottle on the dashboard” (p 166). It makes for a very entertaining read. But, that’s not to say he dumbs down paleontology and all things natural history. Just the opposite, in fact, his laid back writing style made the otherwise dry topic (for me anyways) far more interesting. Just wait until you get to the part about whales found in Patagonia and Michael’s harrowing adventures in Chile.
Quote I liked, “Nothing is worse than obligatory fun” (p 241).
Author fact: PBS made a documentary about Novacek’s work. That’s pretty cool. Something to put on the to do list…
Book trivia: I read a review that mentioned grainy photography but I don’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t see photographs. I thought they were all very cool illustrations.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Patagonia” (p 93).
Kotin, Lisa. My Confection: Odyssey of a Sugar Addict. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016.
Reason read: Read as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
There is one thing you need to know about Kotin’s writing style before delving into My Confection: Her voice – she’s sarcastic and funny and dramatic as all hell. From the very beginning I couldn’t tell if certain parts were exaggerations, outright lies, or just the unbelievable truth. Kotin seems to be in constant crisis mode. But by ten pages in, you know what? I couldn’t care less. I was laughing too hard. I liked her style of writing more than what she had to say, if that makes sense.
I’ve never met a sugar “addict” per se; someone who needed a macrobiotic rehabilitation or saw a therapist about tossing a cake in the driveway. However, I certainly know my fair share of self professed “sweet tooth” victims. They usually blame away their weight or complexion on the amount of sugar they simply cannot help but consume. I think humans in general are hardwired to crave sugar no matter the form. My uncle, suffering from severe Alzheimer’s, would sneak out of the house in the dead of night and trek the seven miles (down a winding mountain road with no street lights, shoulder or breakdown lane) into town for a Snickers bar. The store may or may not have been open when he arrived but he felt compelled, driven by some unknown sugar insanity to make the trip just the same. My aunt would predictably jump in the car and go screaming after him, knowing exactly where he went and why. Ironically enough, he choked to death on a contraband Christmas cookie he was in the process of trying to consume as quickly as possible. I kid you not. But, back to Kotin and her book.
The final thing I will say about My Confection is actually another thing you need to know: Kotin grows up right before your eyes. Her voice changes. She becomes a little more serious, a little less sarcastic. By that small change her addiction becomes more believable and you end up rooting for her all the more.
Dunnett, Dorothy. Pawn in Frankincense. New York: Random House, 1997.
Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month. This is book #4.
When we last left Francis Crawford of Lymond in The Disorderly Knights the year was 1552 and Francis had just uncovered and defeated a spy within the ranks of the Knights of St. John of Malta, Graham “Gabriel” Malett. Francis also had fathered a son, Khaireddin. It’s this son, hidden away somewhere within the Ottoman empire, that presents Lymond with his next challenge. For Khaireddin is being held as a political pawn in a very dangerous game. While Francis had defeated his enemy Graham, he also had to reluctantly let him go to ensure the safety of his missing son.
Some of Dunnett’s best characters return for the plot of Pawn but it’s the addition of Marthe that is intriguing. Marthe, a girl much like Francis in attitude and appearance adds sex appeal and a feisty fire to the plot. You later find out later she is his sister. Duh. Could have seen that coming. Another character I liked seeing return is Phillipa. She turns out to be a little spitfire herself.
Of course there are the intricate twists and turns you have come to expect from a Dunnett book. The chase across seas and deserts is pretty intense and as always, Dunnett does a fabulous job describing the people and places. The “live” chess game is intense.
Only quote to grab me, “With children, you have no private life” (p 293). Not very profound, but I liked it.
Book trivia: Pawn in Frankincense is book #4 in the Lymond series. I said that already. The other thing I would like to add is that you can definitely tell the Lymond series was written by a woman. There is so much attention given to clothing: fabric, style and fit.
Author fact: “In 1992, Queen Elizabeth appointed [Dunnett] an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.” I wonder what one gets out of that besides an impressive title?
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through History” (p 90).
Lipman, Elinor. Then She Found Me. Read by Mia Barron. BBC Audiobooks America, 2007.
Reason read: Lipman celebrates a birthday in October. Read in her honor.
In a nutshell: April Epner is a very single high school Latin teacher. All her life she has known she was adopted as a newborn. She had a good relationship with her Holocaust survivor parents and never really questioned her birth parents. What she didn’t know until she was in her 30s is that her biological mother is none other than Bernice Graverman, star of her own over-the-top talk show: Bernice G! When Bernice takes over April’s life by storm with her gaudy jewelry, loud outfits, glitzy lifestyle and overly aggressive matchmaking schemes April barely questions Bernice’s authenticity as her biological mother. I found that really odd. Instead, April allows Bernice to constantly call her at work, butt into her personal life, and wreak havoc – all for the sake of being the mom Bernice says she always knew she could. The entire time I was reading Then She Found Me I wanted to know why April & Bernice didn’t apply for DNA testing. HLA & PCR tests were both available in the 90s. It definitely comes up when April’s biological father comes back into the picture.
As an aside, this was the first time I didn’t care for the audio. I don’t know if it was the narrator (Mia Barron), as she was overly dramatic and made me dislike all female characters, or the possibility the book wasn’t meant to be read aloud because the dialogue was just so…what’s the word?…dramatic? Also, Jack’s New Hampshire (?) accent was terrible! Think exaggerated John F. Kennedy.
Author fact: According to the inside cover of Then She Found Me Lipman lived in western Massachusetts at the time of publication. No wonder she mentioned such places as Northampton & the gates of Smith College with ease. According to her website she mostly lives in New York now.
Book trivia: Then She Found Me was made into a movie starring Bette Midler. I keep saying I haven’t seen it, but I think I actually have…if there is a scene where Bette is being so mean to her daughter that the daughter has no choice but to disconnect (the healthiest thing for both of them). I remember the last scene of the movie is a wedding…same as the book.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elinor Lipman: Too Good To Miss” (p 146).