Gastronomical Me

Fisher, M.F.K. The Gastronomical Me. New York: North Point Press, 1989.

Reason read: November is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness month.

This is a series of essays written about Fisher’s life between 1912 and 1941. She covers a wide range of topics; from the first time food became significant to her as a teenager in boarding school to her adventures as a newly married wife living in France. When she said goodbye to her Californian-American palate and encountered French cuisine it was like having an epiphany for Fisher. Her ears (and taste buds) were open to a whole new way of experiencing food and drink. Sprinkled throughout the stories are glimpses of Fisher’s personal history. Her relationship with sister Norah and brother David, the demise of her first marriage with Al, the slow death of her second love, Chexbres, and her awakening to a different culture in Mexico. At times I found Fisher’s language to be overly dramatic. I wondered if she spoke like that in real life.

Confessional: I found Fisher to be a bit snobbish. Every time she called someone stupid or simple for whatever reason, I cringed.

Quote I cared for, “Everyone knows, from books or experience, that living out of sight of any shore does rich and powerful things to humans (p 40).

Author fact: Fisher has written over thirty books. I have already read A Considerable Town for the Challenge and have two more to go. Another more basic piece of trivia is that M.F.K. stands for Mary Frances Kennedy.

Book trivia: Gastronomical Me has been called Fisher’s most autobiographical work and has been considered her best.

Nancy said: M.F.K. Fisher “expresses her love of good food and its importance in the lives of families and communities” (p 91).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).

A Fine Balance

Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance. Read by John Lee. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, Inc., 2001.

Reason read: in honor of India celebrating Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth month as Children’s Day in November. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Originally, I chose this book to read in November because supposedly November is a good month to visit India. Since I have never been to India in November or at any time, I couldn’t really say when is the best time to visit.

I could tell I was going to like A Fine Balance when I got to this line early in the the novel, “How much gratitude for a little sherbet…how starved they seemed for ordinary kindness” (p 8). The writing is so graceful and honest. This is the story of the daily lives of four people in an unnamed seaside town in India, thrown together by a housing shortage after the government has declared a state of emergency. At the center is Dina Dalal, a widowed seamstress. As a matter of pride she will not remarry just to be supported by a man. In order to stay self sufficient she takes in borders. One such border is Manek Kohlah, a student attending college in the city. He is studying refrigeration. Ishvar Darji and Omprakash, two other borders, are tailors fleeing caste-centric brutalities in their village. There is no doubt in my mind most people find this story incredibly tragic, considering its ending. I found it sad but with a thin thread of optimism. When a once bitter character can laugh by the end of it, you know the human spirit has not been broken.

The word that comes up time and time again when describing Mistry’s work is depth. Depth of characters, depth of plot, and of human emotion. That being said, pay attention to Dina. Her transformation is the best part of the book.

Author fact: Mistry also wrote Such a Long Journey in 1991. It’s also on my list.

Favorite line, “If there was an abundance of misery in the world, there was also sufficient joy, yes – as long as one knew where to look for it” (p 588.)

Book trivia: On November 30th, 2001 A Fine Balance was chosen as an “Oprah book” for her book club. As an aside, I went to her website to see how such a book is talked about, promoted, marketed, and so on. I was surprised to see her website would have such a crappy cover shot. The image is super blurry so my guess is the file is too big. I guess I expected Oprah’s website to be just like her magazine, big and glossy.

Nancy said: not much. Just described the plot, which is surprising considering Mistry’s masterful writing. I would have thought Pearl would want to say more.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990)s” (p 179) and again in “Passage to India” (p 181).

Mrs. Pollifax on Safari

Gilman, Dorothy. Mrs. Pollifax on Safari. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1977.

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

Note: This may be my third Pollifax book but I’m actually skipping the next two in the series, The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax (#3) and A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax (#4). Mrs. Pollifax on Safari is actually #5.

Lovable Mrs. Pollifax is back! This time she has traveled to Africa to go on safari. Her mission is to take lots and lots of pictures and oh by the way, find an infamous assassin. Acting as the CIA’s voluntary grandma spy, Emily Pollifax, albeit with bumbling charm, befriends every strange character she meets in the hopes one of them is the elusive and deadly Aristotle. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Gilman mystery if something didn’t go according to plan. This is a quick read, but highly enjoyable.

As an aside, this is not a spoiler but, but. But! Gilman gives Pollifax an umbrella to carry throughout her journey through Africa. Because the umbrella/parasol is mentioned a dozen times I thought for sure it would be used as a weapon, contain a secret clue or something significant. In the end, Pollifax gives the umbrella away without incident. Oh well.

Laugh out loud lines, “If I can find someone to water my geraniums, yes I could go to Africa for the weekend” (p 8). Who does that?

Author fact: Here’s what I got from the back flap of Safari: at the time of publication Ms. Gilman lived in Maine! How cool is that?

As an aside, in 1977 the clothing store “Abercrombie’s” was a good place to go for outfitting an African safari wardrobe.

Book trivia: Like the other Pollifax books, Safari is short. This one is barely 180 pages long.

Nancy said: Nancy calls Mrs. Pollifax on Safari “lighter fare” and describes the plot. She ends the chapter by saying the rest of the story is “pure fiction” (p 267).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the ever so simple (and obvious) chapter called “Zambia” (p 266).

No Villain Need Be

Fisher, Vardis. No Villain Need Be. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, & Company, Inc., 1936.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in memory of Butch Cassidy robbing a bank in Idaho in August 1896.

Confessional: I could not wait for this series to be over and done with! I found Vridar a very selfish and troubled man throughout the earlier books. He pushes his wife to suicide at the end of We Are Betrayed and then spends more of No Villain Need Be trying to sort out his guilt. Another trait of Mr. Hunter’s that I could quite reconcile is his lack of parenting. True, those were different times but when he moved to Baltimore all I could ask was, what about his sons? This does not get any better in No Villain Need Be. His common law wife at one point asks him if he is going to see his children and he replies that he is “not ready yet” to face them. In case, you are wondering – his parents have his two sons back in Idaho.
But, back to the plot. Vridar is now a so=called grown up. He keeps gin in the bathroom, has written more than half a dozen books and is teaching at a college. He has obtained his doctorate in philosophy and even has a common law wife, Athene (whom I’ve already mentioned). Athene is an admirable character. She seems the most honest, being above the game playing. She helps Vridar behave as a more mature adult. Despite all the drama in the earlier installments, the series ends without much fanfare.
A curiosity: Vridar teaches philosophy while his brother, Mertyl, teaches Psychology. Even more curious, Mertyl lives and teaches wherever Vridar happens to end up.

Spoken by Vridar, these statements have some truth to them – “Love sets out to lick the world and ends up by pushing a baby-buggy to Mobile (p 40) and “I don’t believe in legislating people into heaven” (p 93). Amen, brother. Earlier in the tetralogy I agreed with Vridar’s opinion of Greek life. Now in No Villain Need Be I applaud his stance on academic commencement ceremonies. We both think they are silly.

Another quote I liked, “Pleasure as a manic depressive, asylumed in Manhattan” (p 210).
Finally, I want to thank the University of Massachusetts (Amherst campus) for sharing Vardis Fisher’s tetralogy with me.

Author fact: so far I have told you this about Mr. Fisher: he was born and raised in Idaho and that he was married three times. Last fact: Mr. Fisher wrote a great deal more beyond the life of Vardis Hunter. Sadly, I’m not reading any of it.

Book trivia: No Villain Need Be‘s title came from George Meredith: “Tis morning: but no morning can restore what we have forfeited. I see no sin: The wrong is mixed. In tragic life, God wot, No villain need Be! Passions spin the plot: We are betrayed by what is false within.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Idaho: and Nary a Potato to be Seen” (p 121).

I Will Bear Witness

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933 – 1941. Translated by Martin Chalmers. New York: Random House, 1998.

Reason read: Klemperer was born on October 9th in 1881. He started keeping a diary at 17 years of age. I Will Bear Witness was read in his honor.

No matter how you dress it up, this is a hard book to read. Mainly because hindsight is 20/20 and we know what a travesty the Nazi years truly were to the German-Jewish people. Today, more than ever, reading Klemperer’s journals are valuable lessons in fortitude, courage, and grace. Despite everything he remained committed to documenting his world around him…even as it slowly fell apart. I see similarities to modern day America. At first the indignity was small, a blip: the loss of admittance to his library’s reading room. No Jews allowed. Then, the indignities became too big to ignore – the loss of his teaching position at the university, then use of the beloved automobile, then they had to move from their new dream house. Every creature comfort was slowly stripped away. His typewriter, tobacco, even new socks. Can you imagine smoking blackberry tea or filling an application for used socks? What is so admirable is, in the face of all this humility, Klemperer still recognized and drew attention to the civility his enemy occasionally displayed.

From the very beginning, although he was only 52 years of age at the start of I Will Bear Witness, Klemperer was convinced he had not long to live. He made comments like, “I no longer think about tomorrow” (p 15), and “My heart cannot bear all this misery much longer” (p 17). He was sure his heart would give out any day. It was if each passing birthday came as a shock to him because he could see the future of Germany’s political landscape. How would he survive it? Yet, every day he strove to improve his life and that of his wife of 45 years. Buying land, building a house, learning to drive a car, taking Eva to her beloved flower shows, keeping a diary and continuing to write throughout it all. These are the little triumphs of Klemperer’s life.

Confessional: Because his sentences were so choppy, it took me some time to get into the rhythm of his words.

Favorite line, “The man is a blinkered fanatic” (p 41). One guess who he was talking about! Another line I have to mention, “I do not know whether history is racing ahead or standing still” (p 79). This, after Hindenburg’s death. The magnitude of the implications! One last quote to quote, “It cannot be helped, one cannot live normally in an abnormal time” (p 227).

Author fact: In the end Klemperer’s heart did betray him. He died of a heart attack in 1960 when he was 79 years old.

Book trivia: This is truly trivia, but I love, love, love the photograph of Eva and Victor Klemperer on the spine of I Will Bear Witness. Both are standing behind their beloved automobile with smiles on their faces. Victor is hunched in such a way he actually appears to be laughing. He has an impish look on his face.

Nancy said: Klemperer was “one of the best observers whose records we have of those terrible, and ordinary, years inside Germany” (p 131).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 130).

In the Valley of Mist

Hardy, Justine. In the Valley of Mist: Kashmir: One Family in a Changing World. New York: Free Press, 2009.

Reason read: the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 happened in October.

Just to orientate you: Kashmir separates India and Pakistan. Both areas had been warring over this beautiful area for decades. Meanwhile, a separatist insurgent group within Kashmir also sought independence. By 1989 rising tensions finally gave way to major conflict. Justine Hardy wanted to tell the story of the innocent families living within the conflict. With their blessing, via In the Valley of Mist, she attempts to expose the corruption and controversy caught between three very different worlds. Everything, from manner of dress to religious convictions, are examined.

As an aside, I tend to count things when I get annoyed by something. This time it was how often Hardy referred to the region’s beauty, calling it pretty or sweet or beautiful. I think she wanted to emphasize it’s attraction to starkly contrast it with the ugliness of war and the utter destruction after the 2005 earthquake.

Author fact: Hardy was a British journalist of over twenty years who has written six books. I am reading just this one.

Book trivia: In the Valley of Mist has a great collection of photographs, most of them include the author’s handsome face.

Nancy said: In the Valley of Mist “takes place against a backdrop of Calcutta and a sea voyage” (p 213). I think Pearl was reading an entirely different book. For starters, Calcutta is nowhere near Kashmir (Calcutta is south of Kashmir by nearly 1,700 kilometers) and I didn’t see any “sea voyage” as a focal point. The jihad, the insurgency, the oppression of women. Those were the main points of In the Valley of Mist in my mind. True, the family Hardy spent time with lived on houseboats, but they were on the Dal lake, not the ocean.

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

Discarded Duke

Butler, Nancy. The Discarded Duke. New York: Signet Book, 2002.

Reason read: In the spirit of romance novels, I am reading The Discarded Duke in recognition of Jane Eyre being published in October. I know, it’s a stretch…

Confessional: I am not a fan of romance novels.

Like any good romance, there has to be a love triangle. Here’s Discarded Duke‘s triangle of love: point A. = Beautiful widow Ursula Roarke, looking for a new husband, point B. = pretty Damien Danover (the Duke of Ardsley), looking to finally settle down with a suitable mate and, point C. = the ruggedly handsome shepherd, William Ridd, who just wants to take care of wool producing sheep in peace and quiet. As you can guess, Beautiful widow wants to seduce rich duke but can’t help the animal attraction she feels towards poor rough-around-the-edges shepherd. Can you see where this is going? Like any good romance the characters are stereotypical in attractiveness and sex appeal. The Widow Ursula, despite being a widow, is still a young and voluptuous, willful and fiery redhead determined to get her way. The dainty Duke is powerful, attractive, wealthy, slightly persnickety and described as a man who can look like he’s smelled a week old fish or behave like a dry old stick. William the innocent, minding-his-own-business sheepherder is bronzed by the sun, doesn’t own the beloved sheep he tends (one guess who does!), has a wry sense of sunny humor but has a dark and stormy past. Of course he does. What decent hero does not? Except Ridd has the scars to prove the violence. Of course Will and Ursula exchange barbs like two elementary school kids on the playground. But, like any good romance, there are secrets galore and assumptions to be made on all sides of the isosceles.
But wait! There’s a fourth point to the triangle. Huh? Now, technically, it’s a rectangle of love. Judith Coltrane, former friend and potentially past love interest of Ardsley’s from back in the day. She has waited in vain for the Duke to return after he ran after from a tragedy on the home front twelves years ago. See, everyone has a secret. So when the Duke rolls back into town with Lady Ursula all this time later…

Probably the best element of Butler’s story is the character development. Yes, they are all slightly stereotypical in their socioeconomic positions (everyone looks down on poor, come-from-nothing William Ridd, obviously. Insert eye roll here.). But every single character has a dark and vulnerable side. And. And! And, they are all likeable characters.

Okay, okay! Having said all that, I admit it! As far as romances go, this one wasn’t that bad.

Probably the best cringe-worthy quote, “It was difficult to have a proper argument when one was naked” (p 209).

Author fact: Nancy Butler’s real name is Nancy Hajeski.

Book trivia: this is the kind of book I would hide at the bottom of my bag and would never, ever be seen reading in public. The cover is of a passionate couple in a lovers’ embrace. It could be worse. Neither individual is in a state of partial undress. Not even in the least. No glistening chest, no bared shoulder. No exposed thigh…Adding to my good fortune is the fact I had to request this book from outside my network so it arrived with a book strap and a warning, “do not remove!” Wouldn’t think of it!

Nancy said: The Discarded Duke is “a good example of well-developed characters and a gripping plot” (p 207). I would agree completely.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love Is Here To Stay” (p 203).

Sense of the World

Roberts, Jason. Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Roberts, Jason. Sense of the World. Read by John Curless. Price Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2007.

Reason read: James Holman was born in October.

Fourth-born Britain James Holman was destined for the clergy. Instead, he got bit by the travel bug. Like any decent explorer, James Holman bucked authority. After inexplicably going blind at the age of 25 he refused to stand still. When doctors wanted him to languish in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean for his health, Holman instead ignored their advice and set out for France by himself.  Naturally Holman didn’t stop there. He joined the Navy to continue his travels through far reaching places such as Siberia and Africa.
Despite Holman’s remarkable ability to perceive the world as though sighted he was mostly viewed as a novelty and when he passed away his fifteen minutes of fame were quickly up. Roberts decided to resurrect Holman’s biography because he simply couldn’t believe the world had forgotten about this remarkable, yet blind, traveler. He best describes Holman as such, “Alone, sightless, with no prior command of native languages and with only a wisp of fund, he had forged a path equivalent to wandering to the moon” (p 320). Pretty remarkable.

I must start of by saying I learned a great deal from reading this book. For starters, I was unaware that there was a point in history when you could buy your rank: for a gold star on your uniform it would cost you an average of 400 pounds. On that same note I must confess I didn’t know what a phaeton looked like so I had to look it up.

Quotes I liked, “What nature wishes us to guard with care, it wreathes abundantly in pain receptors” (p 56), and “It was time to learn how to be blind” (p 67).

Author fact: Jason Roberts was a journalist at the time of Sense of the World’s publication.

Narrator & audio trivia: I couldn’t get over the way John Curless pronounced the word ‘lieutenant’. Must be the accent.

Book trivia: There are some fabulous portraits of Holman in Sense of the World. The coolest thing is for every portrait Roberts describes there is a picture to refer to.

Nancy said: Nancy included Holman in her list of travelers but disagreed with Roberts on the subtitle, How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler saying it is “somewhat arguable” (p 84).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simply chapter called “Explorers” (p 83).

Breakfast on Pluto

McCabe, Patrick. Breakfast on Pluto. New York: HarperFlamingo, 1998.

Reason read: October is the best time to visit Ireland and this time, I have it from a reliable source. According to a born and raised Dubliner, October is the best month and Breakfast on Pluto was written by an Irishman.

Confessional: I had to read the Prelude a second time to make sure I wasn’t confusing Patrick Braden with Patrick McCabe.

This story will unhinge you a little. Patrick Braden starts his life as a babe left on the doorsteps of a church where he is taken in by Father Bernard McIvor, who just so happens to be Patrick’s real father. Not knowing what else to do with the child, the pastor takes Patrick to an abusive and alcoholic foster home. It is around this time that Patrick decides he is a transvestite and starts calling himself “Pussy”. While Pussy shares his life story in lighthearted, sometimes amusing, sometimes matter of fact anecdotes, there is always a dark and violent undercurrent. That can’t be helped when the protagonist’s boyfriend is murdered, Pussy becomes a prostitute and gets involved in terrorism. Need I say more?

A cool thing about Breakfast on Pluto: it references a lot of music. It prompted me to take a journey to YouTube to look up the song “Breakfast on Pluto” by Don Partridge as well as the music of Vic Damone and the theme song to A Summer Place.

Author fact: McCabe has written thirteen books but I am only reading this one for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Breakfast on Pluto was made into a movie starring Cillian Murphy in 2005. Patrick McCabe was one of the writers on the project. I, of course, have not seen it.
Another piece of trivia: Breakfast on Pluto was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1998.

Nancy said: Breakfast on Pluto was a “good novel” set in Ireland.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 126).

Aristotle Detective

Doody, Margaret Anne. Aristotle Detective. Great Britain: The Bodley Head, Ltd., 1978.

Reason read: October in Greece; in honor of Ochi (Ochi/Ohi = no, it’s not okay!) Day. It is Greece’s response to Mussolini’s demand to occupy Greece during WWII. Their refusal to give in to Axis power is celebrated every October 28th. Very cool.

Picture this. The year is 332 B.C. and Athens is under the thumb of Alexander the Great. Closer to home, an Athenian citizen is found with an arrow clean through his jugular. A clear case of murder for no one stabs themselves to death with an arrow, so deduces the citizen public. What is not so clear is how Philemon, a young man already in exile for an accidental death in a barroom brawl, is fingered for the crime. Just how can an absent man commit such a heinous act? The task to prove his innocence falls to Philemon’s cousin, Stephanos. Under Athenian law, inexperienced and naive Stephanos must defend the family name in Philemon’s absence. Here’s where Aristotle comes in. Once Stephanos’s mentor, Stephanos knows he can trust Aristotle to guide him to the truth. Like all gripping suspense stories, all evidence points to Philemon’s guilt and clearing his name becomes a Herculean task. It’s the proverbial David and Goliath story with Stephanos the clear underdog. Stephanos is impetuous, emotional and faced with never-ending bad luck. Like the unrelenting surf, he is pounded with one set back after another. Of course this makes for a great mystery! How will Stephanos clear his family name?

Confessional: can I just say how much I loved seeing Pheidippides as a character in Aristotle Detective? And how is this for tongue-in-cheek? “Pheidippides must have been something of a runner” (p 278). I’ll say!

Quote I could relate to very well, “I turned over clothes in the press, and looked into jars and under furniture – into well-swept and barren corners, in the stupid manner of all personal looking for a lost object” (p 83). Been there!

Author fact: It is rare to not see an “about the author” blurb somewhere on a book: back cover, inside flap, somewhere usually with a smiling photograph to accompany it. Aristotle Detective does not give any clues as to Doody’s personal life except for the dedication. She has a sister named Mary Elizabeth Howell-Jones whom Doody considers a “real” classicist.

Book trivia: Aristotle Detective is the first in a series and is Doody’s first fiction. It’s the only Doody book I am reading.

Nancy said: Nancy called Doody a “classicist” and described the Aristotle plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Classical World” (p 59).

All Hallows’ Eve

Williams, Charles. All Hallows’ Eve. New York: Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1948.

Reason read: This is a spooky story so I’m reading this for Halloween, of course.

This is a love story that thrives beyond the grave. Lester and Richard were married only the day before when Lester is killed by a falling airplane. What are the chances? Now Lester is caught between two very different worlds – the living world where Richard still walks about grieving and Lester’s dead and silent world in limbo. She hasn’t made it into either heaven nor hell. Some people can sense her and some can even see her outright. Still others, she can walk clean through and they wouldn’t feel even the slightest whisper. Lester feels alone but she is not. Not really. Also killed in the bizarre crash was her living best friend, Evelyn. Both seek the afterlife forgiveness of a third girl, Betty, who Lester and Evelyn were cruel to in school. Betty is under the spell of evil in the form of her mother, Lady Wallingford, and religious and biological Father Simon Leclerc. Father Simon, better known as The Clerk, is seen as a prophet, a religious leader, a powerful orator able to sway large masses with his preaching…a devil in disguise who practices magic. He has Evelyn under his power as well. She turns out to be the evil one.

Williams is a strange author. His storytelling is dense and sometimes confusing. I likened it to hacking through a thick and oppressive jungle with a dull machete. You spend a lot of time slogging through the narrative and sometimes miss the finer nuances of the story. I found myself frequently rereading passages if only to orient myself to time and place.

Quotes (or imagery) I liked, “The two dead girls went together slowly out of the park” (p 22), and “She did not dichotomize; mechanics were not separate from spirit, nor from imagination, nor that from passion” (p 225).

Confessional: I had to look up two words from this book: sacerdotalism and susurration. Learn something new everyday.

Author fact: Williams wrote All Hallows’ Eve as part of a series called “The Aspects of Power.” It is #7 in the series and is the only one I’m reading for the challenge. for once, I am glad to be missing out.
Second author fact: Williams died following an operation.

Book trivia: All Hallows’ Eve has been compared to James’s Turn of the Screw. Second piece of trivia: T.S. Eliot wrote the introduction to All Hallows’ Eve.

Nancy said: Nancy called All Hallows’ Eve a “lost classic” (p 99); “Williams’s own spiritual beliefs lend a spellbinding conviction to the ensuing struggle between good and evil, magic and art” (p 100).

BookLust: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 99). True enough.

Beautiful Children

Bock, Charles. Beautiful Children. Read by Mark Deakins. New York: Random House Audio, 2008.

Reason read: As some of you know, my cousin was homeless and lived under the neon in Las Vegas. In October of a certain year he was found dead. Beautiful Children was read in his honor, but now I have a new event to memorialize: the Las Vegas concert massacre earlier this month. October is a cruel, cruel month and Beautiful Children is a cruel, cruel book.

I don’t know how to review this book. I was not expecting to dislike every character, even the missing kid, Newell. I hated that I liked him least of all. The premise of the story is twelve year old Newell goes missing on the streets of Las Vegas. Vegas gives Bock a huge canvas to work with. Think about it: the seedy and spectacular people, the gritty and shiny atmosphere, the ever-lurking potential for danger around every corner. It’s Sin City, after all! Bock does take advantage of the expanse of his canvas but not in a good way. It’s almost like he had too much space so he overfilled it with garbage. Story lines are jumbled and discombobulated. Like marbles scattering in a hallway, Bock careens from one time and place to another. Yes, there are criminals, strippers, homeless kids, drug addicts, pawnshop owners, gamblers, sex addicts, comic book illustrators, beggars, liars, thieves…all of them sad and pitiful. The center of this story is supposed to be focused on a missing kid. Yes, the parents are grief stricken and the marriage suffers, but not enough attention is paid to the here and now of that intense drama. Instead, Bock delves into what intense sadness does to to a sex life. There are no FBI agents anxiously hovering over wire-tapped telephones while hand wringing, pale faced parents look on. There are no episodes of pounding the streets, littering them with Have You Seen Me? fliers. Instead, Bock focuses on the underbelly of the beast; a world where pedophiles and pornographers feel at home.

Maybe it’s because I listened to this on audio. Maybe it’s because the sex scenes were practically pornographic. Maybe it’s because the story couldn’t stay linear for two minutes. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t find a character to love or even like. I suspect, if I look for the truth closer to home, I didn’t like Beautiful Children because, for all of his over the top, down and dirty descriptions of Las Vegas, when it came right down to it, he was describing my cousin’s last home. My cousin could have been that homeless kid on page 122.

Author fact: Charles Bock is a native of Las Vegas.

Narrator fact: Mark Deakins has appeared on the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Never saw an episode.

Book trivia: Beautiful Children was Charles Bock’s first novel.

Nancy said: Nancy described the plot but also mentioned the sins in Beautiful Children are not the ones you would expect of Vegas.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple and obvious chapter called (drum roll) “Las Vegas” (p 129).

Henry James: the Treacherous Years

Edel, Leon. Henry James: the Treacherous Years (1895 – 1901), Vol. 4. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1969.

Reason read: to continue the series started in April, in honor of James’s birth month.

The “treacherous” years, as Edel calls them cover 1895 to 1901. In the beginning of this installment Edel pays special attention to James’s playwright period. My favorite piece of history from this time is of H.G. Wells as a theater critic. I had no idea. Because of James’s limited success in the theater his plays are all but forgotten when one thinks of the works of Henry James, which is a pity since he cared about them a great deal. The failure stays with him for a long time and is referred to often. It is also during this time that James writes the well-known piece, “Turn of the Screw” and he settles down enough to buy Lamb House in Rye, East Sussex, England. First, as a long-term rental agreement and then as an outright purchase (the biggest of his life). He ends up spending nearly twenty years in this house; a sure sign the bachelor is finally starting to slow down. During this time he surrounds himself with youth, preferably talented, sensitive young men.

Favorite confessional line, “Memory has a way of telescoping fact, and Sir Edmund’s reminiscences must be retouched by documentary evidence” (p 84).

Favorite fact about James: Dictating James and writing James were two different artists using two different voices. I find that really interesting.

Book trivia: Edel goes back in time and recounts details previously outlined in the Middle Years. While researching the Treacherous Years he found new details about the previous portion of James’s life.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans” (p 144). I have to ask. Can someone who has spent nearly his entire adult life residing in Europe really truly call himself an American?

Amazing Mrs. Pollifax

Gilman, Dorothy. The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970.

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

Once you get beyond Mrs. Pollifax’s naivete: her willingness to go anywhere on a moment’s notice, for example, you can’t help but fall in love with the retired widow. Never mind the fact that the last time she agreed to go somewhere (spur of the moment) on such an unknown trip she almost died several times over. When you catch up with Miss Emily Pollifax in The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax you learn she is now taking karate lessons. Small reveal (and big bummer for me), Mrs. Pollifax doesn’t use her newfound martial arts skills but she does fly a helicopter! See what I mean? Most of Mrs. Pollifax’s feats in Turkey are nothing short of incredible, but the overall story is fun. Can’t wait for the next one!

Confessional: there is a small part of me that thinks Gilman is poking fun at the CIA. More than once, the agency is two steps behind the enemy and seem more concerned with trivial things like how did Mrs. Pollifax lose her garden hat?

One of the best lines comes from Colin when he says, “…these men stole my uncle’s jeep, dumped a dead man in our garage and kidnapped your friend” as if it’s the most normal day in his young life (p 72).
Another funny quote, “But we must stay alive a little longer to annoy him, yes?” By all means, survive long enough to annoy someone!

Author fact: Gilman was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey same as her heroine, Mrs. Pollifax.

Book trivia: I am reading five of the Mrs. Pollifax series. There are fourteen total.

Nancy said: The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax is just the ticket if you are “looking for something a lot lighter in tone and mood that still gives you a sense of Turkish life and customs” (p 240).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights: Fiction” (p 239).

We Are Betrayed

Fisher, Vardis. We Are Betrayed. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.

Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Idaho.

We started the story of Vridar (Vreed) Hunter as a young boy in In Tragic Life. In Passions Spin the Plot Vreed is college age and still obsessed with his childhood love, Neloa. By the time we catch up with him in We Are Betrayed Vreed has married Neloa and she has given him a child without fanfare. Much was made of his virginity and his preoccupation with sex in the previous installments, so it was a surprise fatherhood was treated so nonchalantly. New also to Vridar’s character is his commitment to fight in the war. He develops a new sense of courage at the thought of fighting for his country in France. His desire to be a writer and scholar also takes hold. Fisher does a great job of maturing Vridar before our eyes. His attitude towards fraternities was the first admirable demonstration for me, but there is no doubt Vridar is a tortured  and obsessed soul. The terrible games he played to test Neloa’s love for him are despicable. In fact, it’s Neloa and Vridar’s relationship I found the most disturbing. I won’t give away the ending, but I found myself not wanting to finish the series because of it.

My personal gripe has been how depressing Fisher is with Vridar’s life. True to form, Fisher starts We Are Betrayed with, the sentence “When Vridar married Neloa Doole he was ashamed of her…” (p 5). Vreed can’t be happy about anything.

As an aside, there was one section which confused me the most. Vridar and Neloa have their first child and Vridar leaves for war shortly thereafter. In a letter to Vridar, Neloa talks about Agnes singing about daddy being somewhere in France and she tells Vreed, “your daddy has been preaching to Agnes…trying to make a Mormon of her” (p 93). Who is Agnes? Lincoln is Vreed and Neloa’s first child, a boy. Did I miss something?

Author fact: Fisher was married three times. Will Vridar marry three times?

Book trivia: this is the penultimate book in the Vridar series.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Idaho: and Nary a Potato to be Seen” (p 121).