Beautiful Place To Die

Nunn, Malla. A Beautiful Place To Die. Read by Saul Reichlin. New York: Atria Books, 2009.

Reason read: South African began self-governing on July 11, 1931.

Detective Sargent Emmanuel Cooper makes his debut in A Beautiful Place To Die as the only officer put in charge of solving the murder of an important Afrikaner in the small South African town of Jacob’s Rest. This is no ordinary murder. This Afrikaner is Dutch-born Captain Pretorius and despite this being 1952 apartheid South Africa, Pretorius is liked and respected by everyone. Pretorius’s strapping four sons are out for blood while racial tensions clash with color blind desires.
An Englishman, Emmanuel Cooper comes to the case as a complete outsider. He also comes with personal baggage from his soldier days in World War II. He can’t shake daytime memories and haunting nightmares. He often hears voices and has an unfortunate deep addiction to pain medication; medication he feels is necessary to tame real and imagined injuries. To complicate matters, the Security Branch in charge of flushing out black communist radicals stand in Cooper’s way of solving the crime. National Party laws crack down on acts of immortality between blacks and whites and Copper has plenty of suspects on either side of the color divide.

Quotes, “The world is a cruel place for old soldiers” and ” His smile was a trench…”

Author fact: A Beautiful Place to Die is Malla Nunn’s first novel. She is an award winning filmmaker.

Book trivia: A Beautiful Place To Die won a 2009 Davitt Award.

Nancy said: Pearl includes A Beautiful Place to Die in the category of “Break Your Heart” books as a contemporary mystery.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).


Garden of the Gods

Durrell, Gerald. Garden of the Gods. New York: Penguin books, 1978.

Reason read: to “finish” the series started in May. Finish is in quotes because there are more books in the series, but I am not reading them for the Challenge.

Durrell has again dug back into his childhood and the four year stint on the Greek island of Corfu for the next installment of his memoir series. This time sister Margo’s relationships and brother Leslie’s gun obsession take more of a center stage but don’t worry, Gerald’s “pets” still abound. He still has plenty of stories regarding the mishaps involving animals. Another constant is all of the Durrell children continue to lie to mother and she continues to eat it up, no questions asked, just like one of Gerald’s baby birds.
I have to wonder if the family was as fun loving and accepting of the practical jokes and antics as they seem to be? What kind of household welcomes perfect strangers into their home as guests? Especially ones with no intention of leaving? And speaking of guests, what mother would put up with dead birds falling at her feet while she tried to entertain a prominent guest?
All in all, exaggerated antics aside, Garden of the Gods is a charming and funny book.

Best quote, “My first fear was that my beautiful horns might be broken, my second, that my brother might be dead” (p 527).

Author fact: the internet is littered with a myriad of pictures of Durrell. He looks more comfortable with his animal friends than the humans.

Book trivia: the American version of Garden of the Gods was published as Fauna and Family in 1978.

Nancy said: Pearl wasn’t as enamored with Garden of the Gods as Durrell’s first book. The sequel is “not up to the joyful perfection of the first book” (Book Lust To Go, p 70), but she does admit that it is humorous.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Corfu” (p 70).


Bright Nights, Big City

McInerney, Jay. Bright Nights, Big City. New York: Vintage Books, 1984

Reason read: New York became a state in the month of July. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library reading challenge for the category of novel written in second person.

While reading Bright Nights, Big City you want to call its protagonist a sucker. On the mean streets of New York City he buys fake Rolex watches, falls for fake schemes, follows around false friends, and believes a model could fake loving him enough to stay married until death do them part. You want to call this guy a loser because you know there isn’t a happy ending for him. There can’t be. Drugs constantly addle his mind and he never sleeps enough. His spiral becomes out of control when he loses his fact checking job for a publication, he loses his freak friends, and nearly loses his mind. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a lot to mourn. He had wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be married to a hot girl. He wanted his mother to survive cancer. He is literally drowning his deep seeded in a tsunami of cocaine and bright lights. The end comes when rock bottom is met and our friend has to have an awakening of sorts.

Author fact: McInerney also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name.

Book trivia: Bright Nights, Big City was made into a movie starring Michael J. Fox in 1988. You can tell I haven’t seen it because I kept getting it confused with the movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., Less Than Zero.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bright Nights, Big City a “wonderful” novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170).


Box Garden

Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.

Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.

In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.

Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.

Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).


Murder on the Orient Express

Christie, Agatha. Murder on the Orient Express. Read by David Suchet. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.

Reason read: July is the month smoke-generating trains were outlawed in New York in 1908. The first electric train ran in 1904.

The first thing you need to know about Murder on the Orient Express is that while it is a widely known title and probably one of Christie’s most popular, it is actually the eighth mystery novel to feature Belgian Inspector, Hercule Poirot. This time he is traveling back to London via the Orient Express. Despite the train being full, Poirot is able to obtain a first class berth, thanks to a friend who works for the railroad. On the very first night an unsavory passenger is stabbed twelve times and dies of his injuries. Initially, this was to be a three-day journey, but travel is halted due to a large storm dropping massive amounts of snow on the tracks. Since no one can get on or off the train, finding the killer should be easy. In true Poirot style the case is solved with wit and humor. The interrogations are the best.

For Murder on the Orient Express, Christie drew from different real-life events for inspiration. First, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 and her own experiences traveling the Orient Express.

Best quote, “Americans, as you know, don’t care what they pay.”

Author fact: Agatha Christie was a VAD in the First World War.

Book trivia: Murder on the Orient Express was made into two movies, three separate radio programs, three different television series, a play, and a video game. I told you it was popular!

Nancy said: Interestingly enough, Pearl first mentioned Murder on the Orient Express in relation to another book, The 8:55 to Baghdad, by Andrew Eames. Later in the chapter she includes Murder as a “classic crime novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Making Tracks By Train” (p 138).


Mosquito Coast

Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Reason read: June 21st is Father’s Day. Ahem.

Despite this being a book read in honor of Father’s Day, Charlie Fox’s dad isn’t the ideal father figure. He could fit into the role of Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining. Allie Fox, from the town of Hadley in Massachusetts, doesn’t trust the traditional school system, doesn’t trust the government, doesn’t trust his neighbors. He believes he can teach his children (Charlie, Jerry and the twins, Clover and April) all they need to know. He doesn’t suffer fools and constantly tests his children’s courage, especially eldest son Charlie’s. He is in constant competition with other men (“How many push ups can you do?”); he is proud, defiant, and must not, absolutely cannot, be embarrassed in front of his family. Fed up with his own country, Papa Fox is easily swayed by Honduran migrant workers to pack up his family and move to the Mosquito Coast. Once there, Theroux threads a growing sense of unease throughout the pages. The first whiff of danger comes with Father jokes about throwing Mr. Haddy overboard and it is possible to believe he is mad enough to have done it. Like Kings’s Jack Torrance, Allie Fox displays an escalating sense of craziness as time goes on. Paranoia grows like mold in the jungles of Honduras. It goes without saying that things don’t end well for the Fox family; or maybe they do if you like endings like The Shining.

As an aside, it is really strange to read about the area in which I currently call “home.” I try not to over analyze Theroux’s descriptions of Northampton or Hatfield or Springfield.

Lines or phrases I liked: First the phrases – “four-o’clock-in-the-morning courage,” and “creepy-quiet.”
Here are the lines I liked – “It was the town of dead ends” (p 108), “But what can you do with people who have already been corrupted?” (p 190), and last one, ” When a person is suffering and afraid, his ailments are obvious and his injuries stick out” (p 298).

Author fact: I think it is obvious Theroux spent some time in Massachusetts.

Book trivia: Woodcuts are by David Frampton. Another piece of trivia: Mosquito Coast was made into a movie in 1986.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito Coast other than explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Fathers and Sons” (p 85).


The Good War

Terkel, Studs. “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War Two. New York: Partheon Books, 1984

Reason read: I am taking a full two months to the “The Good War.” Victory Day is May 9th and D-Day is June 6th.

The best way to read “The Good War” is to sit down with a cup of coffee and envision a WWII vet sitting across from you. He has a faraway look in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands as he remembers best a single event that most likely changed his life forever. But, don’t stop there. Now sitting across from you could be a businessman, a nurse, a dress maker, a dancer, a man who was just a child during the war and thought the battlefield was place of adventure. you might imagine someone who survived a prison camp, or a conscientious objector, or a young boy who thought enlisting would be a chance to prove himself…Terkel interviewed people from all walks of life. Each story is unique and yet, yet hauntingly similar. You hear of young men losing their sense of humanity in the face of unimaginable cruelty: a man remembers watching his comrade in arms throw pebbles into the open skull of a dead Japanese soldier; the smell of cooking cats. Other young men speak of hiding their sexual orientation while trying to appear manly enough for battle (Ted Allenby’s story reminded me of Ryan O’Callaghan a great deal). But, you also hear from the women: wives and girlfriends left behind, Red Cross nurses on the front lines, even singers sent to entertain the troops. It is easy to see why this stunning nonfiction won a Pulitzer.

Quotes to quote, “No matter what the official edict, for millions of American women home would never be again a Doll’s House” (p 10), and “I got on the stick and wrote the President again” (p 21), and “Must a society experience horror in order to understand horror?” (p 14).

Author fact: Studs’s real name was Louis.

Book trivia: “The Good War” won a Pulitzer for nonfiction in 1985.

Nancy said: Pearl said you could never do better than Terkel’s “The Good War” for an oral history. Agreed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War Two Nonfiction” (p 254).


Little Wonder

Abramsky, Sasha. Little Wonder: the Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Superstar. Brooklyn, New York: Akashic Books, 2020.

Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing, I was chosen to review this for the Early Review program.

Charlotte Dod. If you don’t know her name, you don’t know the history of women in sports. Don’t feel bad though. Despite being a multitalented athlete, her fame as a star burned bright in many arenas, but faded from all of them just as quickly. First known as a tennis sensation at the age of fourteen, Lottie (as she was known), only played competitively for five years. In that time she became the doyenne of tennis, winning five Wimbledons. The only years she didn’t win she didn’t even compete. Sadly, it was as if she grew tired of smashing the competition and needed new thrills. She left the sport…at twenty one years of age. After tennis, Dod set her sights on field hockey. She helped pioneer the sport for women. Then came skating. Obsessively training for hours on end, Dod was not only able to pass the rigorous women’s skating test, she passed the much more difficult men’s test as well. When she was done with ice skates and cold weather , she moved on to golf and mountaineering and archery and Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing and choral singing. She climbed mountains in support of women seeking equal rights and won a silver medal for archery at the 1908 summer Olympic games.
While Abramsky does a great job detailing Lottie’s life, he has to fill in the gaps with speculation because sadly, much of her correspondence was lost or deliberately destroyed. Expect words like “maybe” and “perhaps” and “might.” The photographs are fantastic.
Arabella Garrett Anderson, Agatha Christie, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Nelly Bly were contemporaries of Dod’s.


Perfection Salad

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. New York: North Point Press, 1986.

Reason read: June is the month we usually migrate to the CSA and our farm of choice, Mountain View. I’m also reading this as part of the Portland Public Library reading challenge.

This was a great read on so many levels. Laura Shapiro writes with an easy and often humorous style. If you are interested in the science behind cooking; the chemical process of cooking food or the biological process of digestion; how arithmetic factors into cooking. How about the study of bacteria, whether it be from the germy dishcloth or the garbage can? Domestic “scientists” were determined to improve diets through science and chemistry.
Cooking because the great equalizer at the turn of the century. the interest in learning to cook was as such that in shops cooking was done in the open so that customers could witness both ingredients and preparation (the birth of the cooking show?).
From a feminist angle, it was great to read about so many women “firsts.” For example, Ellen Richards as the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even though she was considered a “special student” she broke the male-only barrier in 1870.
My favorite invention from this time period was the “Aladdin Oven” – a portable stove the size of a dinner pail that would cook a meal all day long. The first slow cooker!

Author fact: Shapiro has two books listed in More Book Lust. The second book, Something From the Oven is on my list to be read in a few years.

Nancy said: Pearl called Perfection Salad “entertaining and informative” and promised readers it would “change the way you look at food and its preparation” (More Book Lust p 73).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed 600s” (p 71).


Second Summer of the Sisterhood

Brashares, Ann. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.

Reason read: to finish the series started in May in honor of Birds & Bees month.

Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are back for another summer wearing “The Pants.” Carmen continues to be a brat. I think she is supposed to be seen as the fiery Puerto Rican. In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants she threw a rock through a window because she was mad at her dad for having a girlfriend and starting a new family. In Second Summer of the Traveling Pants it’s her mom’s happiness she can’t bear to witness.
Tibby’s situation was a little more believable. Away at college and desperate forget a friend who died of leukemia, she shuns her old life and adopts the crappy attitudes of a couple of loner kids in her class. This, I know a little something about. Sadly, I am guilty of changing my personality to impress new people.
Bridget is away in Alabama, working for her estranged grandmother and trying to escape an unfortunate event in The sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Gram thinks Bridget is a lonely girl named Gilda and with Bridget’s weight gain and dyed hair Grandma is easily fooled.
Lena has the simplest yet most complicated story. After leaving Greece she couldn’t stand to be away from Kostos so she broke up with him. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s perfect teenage logic for you. Who hasn’t done something dramatic thinking it was the only choice? Kostos accepts the breakup until he sees Lena and professes his undying love for her…until something else happens.
All four girls have moments when The Pants don’t work for them. The magic just isn’t there and they have to rely on growing up to see the solution. the real magic happens when they begin to see their mothers as human beings.

Author fact: Brashares has also written nonfiction. None of it is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Second Summer did not do as well as Sisterhood. Sequels are a hard nut to crack.

Nancy said: Pearl included Second Summer of the Sisterhood in a list of “teen-pleasers.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Lovely Bones

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Reason read: Father’s Day is June 21, 2020. Susie’s father never gave up on finding Susie’s killer. A father’s love triumphs against all tragedies, doesn’t it?

This is the sort of book that takes you by the throat and hold you in a death grip like Darth Vader. I say this because there are times when I could not breathe while reading The Lovely Bones because I was either actively holding my breath, or choking on the different expressions of heartbreak. In truth, every emotion (think stages of grief) floats just under the icy surface of reality as a dead girl narrates “life” after murder. Susie Salmon was an ordinary girl who knew right from wrong; knew the man in the cornfield wasn’t quite right, but yet curiosity got the better of her. Now, she is suspended in this alternate universe of “heaven” while watching her family, friends, and community cope with her murder. In her heaven, reality is a school-like atmosphere while she blandly looks down on the world she left behind. She is unmoved when her mother seeks a drastic remedy for grief, or when her would-be boyfriend almost finds her body.
What impressed me the most about The Lovely Bones was the end. Sebold did not feel pressured to give into a Hollywood ending. It might be a spoiler alert, but the ending is more realistic than what you would see in a movie. I’m alright with that.

As an aside, I have been watching Mind Hunter on Netflix (just started, so don’t ruin it for me) and The Lovely Bones keeps popping into my head every time another Georgian boy goes missing. I kept asking how? every single time.

Quotes I liked, “There wasn’t a lot of bullshit in my heaven” (p 8), and “In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on” (p 37).

Author fact: The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s first novel.

Book trivia: everyone knows The Lovely Bones was made into a movie in December of 2009. I still have yet to see it.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Lovely Bones original and shocking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…My name is Alice” (p 1).


Miss Mole

Young, E. H. Miss Mole. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1985

Reason read: Miss Mole was supposed to be this quick, under 300 page easy read I could bang out in a week’s time. Instead it turned out to be a slog I put down and then forgot to pick back up…for eight weeks. Oops.

Confessional: In the beginning, I didn’t care for Hannah Mole. In the beginning I was questioning myself, was I supposed to like Hannah Mole? Possibly not, since this was included in the More Book Lust chapter called “Viragos.” After finishing the book and with careful consideration, I think I am supposed to see Hannah as an independent, plucky, middle aged woman who barges through life with integrity, wit and humor. She had a prejudice against nonconformist ministers, tells small lies (don’t we all?), and keeps secrets. The more Miss Mole’s personality blossomed, the more I admired her. Plucky! As my grandmother used to say.

As an aside, I don’t know why Hannah Mole would subject herself to being a companion for a succession of crotchety old women. As a middle aged spinster, she starts working for Reverend Corder. It seems as if she has traded in her difficult women for a pompous ass.

Line I liked, “I was wondering if the best wives are the ones who are not married” (p 41).

Author fact: Miss Mole is considered Young’s best work.

Book trivia: Miss Mole won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.

Nancy said: Pearl said Miss Mole was a virago you should not miss.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from, as I’ve said several times over, the chapter called “Viragos” (p 227).


Fine Mess

Duke, Kim. A Fine Mess. Plymouth, MI: BHC Press, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I was selected to read and review Duke’s book.

The first word that comes to mind when reading A Fine Mess is chameleon. Depending on your mood, this book could be seen as trivial happy horse you-know-what or,if you are in a good mood, poignant and heartwarming. The good news is Duke acknowledges that in the title by calling A Fine Mess “little” and “odd.” Okay, so it is a lot odd at times.
Depending on your mood, you could see the colorful illustrations and photography as evocative and capable of inspiring heartfelt emotion. On another day you could be annoyed by the self-help journaling pages; declaring A Fine Mess as helpful as the pseudo-psychological quizzes you find in the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine. How Happy Are You? Take This Test To Find Out!
Depending on your mood, you could question what making fun of a sculpture has to do with breast cancer. You could question why Duke doesn’t bemoan the loss of hair or appetite or secure body image. On another day you could applaud her ability to make connections to before cancer and after cancer and her courageous ability to make sense of the randomness of the disease.
Depending on your mood, A Fine Mess could be a humorous gift to give a struggling friend or your worst enemy.
Either way, one thing is for certain. It will take you all of ten minutes to read. Whether you go back and read it again is entirely dependent on your mood.

As an aside, I want to ask Duke if her statement about hope was intentionally similar to the Emily Dickinson poem. That seemed a little coy, even if it was a play on words.


Secrets, Lies, Betrayals

Scarf, Maggie. Secrets, Lies, Betrayals: The Mind/Body Connection. How the Body Holds the Secrets of a Life, and How to Unlock Them. New York: Random House, 2004.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library reading challenge as a book I wish I had given myself. Here is the original reason. Everyone jokes that the root of all childhood trauma is mama. So, to blame on your mother, Mother’s Day is in May.

It is pretty fascinating to think that your physical body holds the keys to unlocking mental trauma. By paying attention to your body’s postures, tensions, aches, and pains, you could solve mysteries of the mind. Physical health could nurture mental health. Part memoir, part psychology is how I would describe Scarf’s Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. She uses stories from both sides of the couch, so to speak; both as a patient and as a therapist, to illustrate the benefits of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.

Confessional: I actually freaked myself out a little reading Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. Scarf was describing me at one point in the book. Back in the mid 90s I dated a guy who was quick to criticize me in weird and subtle ways. I never knew what he was really trying to say. Whenever we argued he would twist everything I said into illogical pretzels. I would get increasingly more and more confused; to the point where I would end up questioning my own side of the story. He would win by sheer convolution.

Author fact: Scarf wrote a bunch of best selling psychology books. In the middle of this didactic bibliography is a biography on Benjamin Franklin for young people.

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy Secrets for a psychologist in the family. My question is this, if the psychologist is any good, wouldn’t he or she already at least know of the book if not already have it?

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 117).


Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Brashares, Ann. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2001.

Reason read: school is wrapping up; Portland Public Library Book challenge. Also, May is “Birds and Bees” month.

This is the story of a pair of blue jeans found in a thrift shop. Just kidding. The magic word for this bestseller is friendship. Four girls from four incredibly different backgrounds have been friends since the womb; ever since their pregnant mothers became friends in an aerobics class. Even though their mothers’s friendships died and withered away, the daughters remained close. All four girls were born within seventeen days of one another but that is the only characteristic they have in common (besides living in Bethesda, Maryland):
Carmen. Her parents are divorced and in the beginning of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Carmen is headed to South Carolina to spend the summer with her dad, someone she doesn’t get to see very often. She feels lucky to have him to herself for once. They haven’t spent any real time since she was ten.
Tibby. Her has a huge family and she is the only one not traveling for the summer. Left behind in Maryland, she befriends a young girl with cancer.
Bridget. She is the athlete in the bunch. As a soccer star, she is headed to Baja, Mexico to camp to improve her skills. There, she falls in love with a counselor.
Lena. She gets to spend the summer in Greece with her grandparents who barely speak English. Think lots of situations lost in translation.

Author fact: Brashares has won an Indies Choice Book Award.

Book trivia: Sisterhood is the first book of five in the “pants” series. I am only reading the first two for the Book Lust Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as best for teenage girls, but said any teen or adult might like it.

BookTwist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23). I said that already.