Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street

Baring-Gould, William S. Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective. New York: Viking Press, 1969.

Reason read: Rex Stout was born in December. Read in his honor.

Right off the bat I need to tell you Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street is better read after you have consumed every Rex Stout mystery starring the portly private detective. I guarantee you will have many more ah-ha moments if you already know the cases. Baring-Gould fills his book with a mountain of facts but they are oddly assembled; a veritable mishmash of all things Nero Wolfe (and Archie Goodwin).  Everything from fashion, and facial tics to food and every case in between is scrutinized. It’s as if Baring-Gould combed the pages of every mystery, never missing a single detail, to build a character profile and biography of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
Baring-Gould also has some interesting theories. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that Baring-Gould thinks Sherlock Holmes fathered Nero Wolfe. He draws thought-provoking connections between Holmes and Wolfe, including the similar phrases they utter.

Author fact: Baring-Gould’s first claim to fame was his analysis of Sherlock Holmes. He was the editor of the Annotated Sherlock Holmes among other publications.

Book trivia: in addition to the floor plan to Wolfe’s ground floor apartment, Baring-Gould also lays out an impressive chronology of Nero Wolfe’s movements from his birth in 1892 or 1893 to The Father Hunt case in August – September of 1967.

Nancy said: Nancy recommends reading Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street… if “the Nero Wolfe bug bites you” (p 226).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe: Too Good to Miss” (p 226).


The Beach

Garland, Alex. The Beach. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.

Reason read: Thailand’s Constitution Day is observed on December 10th.

The quick and dirty plot: Richard is a young and adventurous English traveler hellbent on moving around the fringes of the world with a brazen attitude. He boasts of exploring where others fear to tread. However, on his first night in Bangkok Richard’s whole world changes after he thinks he has seen everything. His meeting with Daffy, also known as Mr. Duck, is a fateful turning point for all involved. Daffy, a Scottish traveler, ends up committing suicide but not before he leaves Richard a map of a beach he called paradise. Intrigued and unable to ignore the siren call of adventure, Richard recruits a French couple to join him and find this hidden oasis. Compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Garland takes us to the beach where a group of other tourists have created a commune, complete with an off-center leader and other misfits.

Author fact: this is Garland’s first novel.

No quotes to mention.

Book trivia: The Beach was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000.

Nancy said: nothing except to say The Beach takes place in Thailand.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Thai Tales” (p 226).


Between the Assassinations

Adiga, Aravind. Between the Assassinations. New York: Free Press, 2008.

Reason read: in celebration of the Vivah Panchami festival (usually takes place in November or December).

Between the Assassinations is a series of connected short stories that take place over the course of one week in Kittur, India. The stories focus mainly on the poor of Kittur, their perceptions of the caste system and how they survive their lot in life. Some face it with hatred and revenge, as  does Shankara in “Day Two (Afternoon): St. Alfonso’s Boys’  High School and Junior College” (49). Some recognize family and the act of sticking together as being the only option like Keshava and Vittal in the beginning of “Day Two (Evening: Market and Maidan” (p 107). Others are constantly scheming like George in “Day Five (Evening): The Cathedral of Our Lady of Valencia” ( p 243). Every character has a deep personality and even deeper desires. Be forewarned,  most of the stories are desperate and all leave a chill in the air.

Quotes I liked, “A man might be stabbed in daylight, but never at night, and never while sipping tea” (p 31) and “His caste seemed to be common knowledge to people who had no business knowing it” (p 63).

Author fact: Adiga also wrote The White Tiger which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: At the end of Between the Assassinations there is a chronology of events occuring in Kittur between October 31st,  1984 and May 21st, 1991. It begins and end with assassinations, hence the title of the book.

Nancy said: nothing in particular except to say it is Indian fiction to be included in the India chapter (p 214).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 212).


Wanting

Flanagan, Richard. Wanting. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008.

Reason read: the Tasmania Food Fest occurs in December.

Set in 1839, real-life Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin has arrived for a governor’s position for the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. There, he and his wife, Lady Jane, fall in love with a spunky live-wire of a native Aboriginal child they call Mathinna. To the Franklins, Methinna is a grand experiment: to see if they can “civilize” the girl through Christianity. Viewed as a savage without reason, they want to tame her into their kind of submission. Leapfrogging ahead in time, Sir John Franklin and his crew have disappeared in the Arctic. Tales of cannibalism embarrass Lady Jane enough for her to approach Charles Dickens to tell a different story.
Through both timelines the emotion of wanting is explored. Sir John Franklin wanted to tame Mathinna. Later, he wanted to tame the Northwest Passage. Lady Jane wanted Methinna as the child she could not have herself and later, when her husband disappeared, she wanted to clear his name of the rumored savagery. How ironic. Dickens, in competition with other writers of the day like Thackeray, reveled in Franklin’s story and wanted a recognition he has never had before.

Author fact: Flanagan also wrote Gould’s Book of Fish, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, The Unknown Terrorist, and Death of a River Guide among others. These four listed are on my list.

Book trivia: Wanting is a short novel, only 252 pages long.

Nancy said: the angle of Lady Jane Franklin employing Charles Dickens to tell her husband’s tale was “deftly explored” in Richard Flanagan’s Wanting (p 232).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (the Arctic)” (p 230).


God Lives in St. Petersburg

Bissell, Tom. God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005.

Reason read: In recognition of the Decembrist uprising on December 26th, 1825.

God Lives in St. Petersburg is comprised of six short stories:

  • Death Defier – Two journalists are stuck in war torn Afghanistan and taken captive. Favorite line, “He disliked such emotional nudism” (p 21).
  • Aral – A biologist falls prey to a former KGB officer with a grudge. Best lines, “Hunger stumbled, heavy-footed, inside her stomach” (p 64).
  • Expensive Trips Nowhere – A hiker’s marriage is challenged when his wife develops a bond with their Kazakhstan guide. Best sarcastic line, “Jayne had stabilized into a teeth-clenched toleration of Douglas’s parents, Park-and-Seventieth gentry who never understood why their son had settled for “some mousy midwestern girl” (p 96).
  • The Ambassador’s Son – Alec is a spoiled ambassador’s son with a penchant for finding trouble. Favorite line, “Finally we had arrived at the shores of his unfaithfulness” (p 145).
  • God Lives in St. Petersburg – a teacher finds himself in a terrible situation with a student.
  • Animals in Our Lives – while walking around a zoo, a married couple watch their marriage disintegrate.

Bissell thrives on the theme of entrapment. Every story centers around a character’s inability to get away from an unpleasant situation. Whether it be ugly people, bad drugs or heartbreak.

Author fact: Bissell also wrote Chasing the Sea which is also on my Challenge list. I’ll be reading that in May 2047…if I am lucky.

Book trivia: Be prepared. There is a twinge of sadness to every story.

Nancy said: Nancy admitted Bissell hasn’t written a peace corps memoir but she thinks his experiences “certainly informed several of his other books” (p 176).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go from the chapter called “Peace Corps Memories” (p 175). There is nothing specifically about the Peace Corp or remembering it in the book though.


Doomsday Book

Willis, Connie. Doomsday Book. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
Willis, Connie. Doomsday Book. Read by Jenny Sterlin.

Reason read: Connie Willis was born in the month of December. Read in her honor. Confessional: this book is nearly 600 pages long so I decided to start it early.

I don’t know why I get so nervous about reading science fiction. I really shouldn’t when it comes to Connie Willis. I have enjoyed everything I had read from her so far and Doomsday Book is no different. In a word Doomsday Book is brilliant. Young and ambitious student historian Kivrin has been eagerly preparing to leave her 21st century world for that of fourteenth century Oxford. Wearing a costume proper for women of the era? Check. Middle English language lessons completed? Check. Customs training for her alibi for a woman traveling alone? Check. Proper inoculations for illnesses of the day? Check. Or it is check with a question mark? Her instructors back in 2054 had made painstaking calculation to ensure she would arrive decades before the Black Death, but is it possible she slipped twenty eight years passed the targeted date? Did she arrive at ground zero at the exact wrong time? Strangely enough, the 21st century is suffering an epidemic of its own. Modern day Oxford is quarantined and fear bordering on panic runs rampant.
This is a story of parallel tragedies and the human nature that transcends all time…despite being “sci-fi.”

Author fact: at the time of publication Willis lived in Greeley, Colorado. Such a beautiful place!

Book trivia: Doomsday Book won both the Hugo and Nebula award for science fiction.

Nancy said: in Book Lust, “many people believe Doomsday Book Willis’s most accomplished novel (p 246). In More Book Lust, nothing other than to list it as a time travel book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246). Also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Time Travel” (p 221).


Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha

Gilman, Dorothy. Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985.

Reason read: to continue the series started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.

When we left Mrs. Pollifax after her African safari she and Cyrus Reed had just started a new romance. Now ten months later they are newlyweds living in a house they bought together. He’s off in upstate Vermont somewhere on a bird-counting expedition and Emily is overseeing renovations on their house when who should stop by for a visit, but old friend (and CIA man), Bishop. Of course, he needs Mrs. Pollifax for a delicate assignment and, but of course, there is no time to waste. If she agrees to take the case she doesn’t even have time to contact the hubby or pack properly (although she does remember to grab a snazzy hat). In an era when you could leave strangers in your house, Emily pops off a note to Cyrus and leaves the handymen to work unsupervised. Mrs. Pollifax’s new mission is a trip to Hong Kong to find missing agent Sheng Ti (a character from a previous story I didn’t read). Here’s the thing about Mrs. Pollifax – she will talk to just about anyone so the characters she meets run the gamut. She blithely shares information with double agents, gangsters and psychics alike. You could call this an adventure with just the right amount of silliness boiled in. There is death and violence and the threat of terrorism but take, for examples, the agents’s “secret” language, “…should be arriving you-know-where in fifteen minutes…” (p 128). I’m surprised the statement wasn’t followed by a wink-wink.
Mrs. Pollifax gets herself in a pickle but now she has a secret weapon to help save the day, her lovable husband, Cyrus!
Author fact: According to the back flap of Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, Dorothy Gilman lived in New Mexico and Nova Scotia. That sounds like the best of both worlds.

Book trivia: My copy of Mrs. Pollifax was peppered with highlighting. It was if someone had been using it as a vocabulary primer for words like shrubbery and ensconced were marked.

Nancy said: Nancy called Emily Pollifax a “dithery elderly woman with a penchant for unusual hats” (p 98). I would agree with that.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple and to the point chapter, “Hong Kong” (p 97).