How Green Was My Valley

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).


Flashman and the Angel of the Lord

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
  • Joshua

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).


Ringed Castle

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).


Man Who Was Taller Than God

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).


Cod

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.


Flashman and the Mountain of Light

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.


Eve Green

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).