In Search of Safety

Kuklin, Susan. In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.

Reason read: this is an Early Review from LibraryThing. Although I am hardly reading anything these days, this was too important to ignore.

In Search of Safety is comprised of five refugee stories from five different parts of the world yet all have two common threads. All five stories are of individuals seeking safety despite varying circumstances. They all end up in the United States in, of all places, Nebraska.
Fraidoon from Afghanistan, Nathan from Myanmar, Nyarout from South Sudan, Shireen from Northern Iraq, and Dieudonne from Burundi. Each refugee demonstrates remarkable courage, strength and, above all, trust to journey to America. In Search of Safety is compassionate and Kuklin is respectful in telling each harrowing story. The book’s hidden strength is the amount of information in Part VI: Notes and Resources.

Book trivia: there is a great number of touching photographs and (in the published edition) maps.


My Family and Other Animals

Durrell, Gerald. My Family and Other Animals. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956.

Reason read: April is Humor month. If this makes me laugh through any part of Covid-19 I say bring it on!

Gerald Durrell wanted to write a serious book about the animals he encountered as a ten year old child on the the island of Corfu. Instead, his sense of humor and wacky family kept getting the better of his memories from 1935 – 1939. Instead of just documenting the creatures of his childhood, My Family and Other Animals is a hilarious memoir with some pretty unbelievable (obviously exaggerated) moments. How is it possible that eldest son, Lawrence, convinces his widowed mom to pack up their London home and transplant a family of three kids and a dog to the Greek island of Corfu? This same mom not only tolerates the critters Gerald brings into the house, but accepts them as bona fide pets. Insects, lizards, turtles, birds all join the Durrell family with hilarious results.

Best quote to quote, “I forgot about the eminent danger of being educated, and went off with Roger to hunt for glowworms in the sprawling brambles” (p 52). Typical kid.

Author fact: the list of books Durrell has written is extensive. I am only reading the Corfu trilogy.

Book trivia: My Family and Other Animals is part of a trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned My Family and Other Animals as one that made her laugh out loud.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220).


Pandora's Star

Hamilton, Peter F. Pandora’s Star. New York: Random House, 2004.

Reason read: in honor of science fiction month, science fiction week, and science fiction day. all those things.

I have read many different reviews calling Pandora’s Star “epic,” a “space opera,” and “sweeping.” I have to wonder if that is because the book is so freaking long. And. And! And, it doesn’t have a conclusive ending. That’s right. You read over 900 pages only to find you end up hanging off a cliff. Yup. Pandora’s Star takes place in a time when re-life is a common occurrence. Individuals spend time in a womb tank and be reborn following a rejuvenation policy at age sixty-five; or they can modify their DNA and clone themselves. Memory edits are common. They can buy smart memories to give themselves an instant education while they boss around their e-butlers; or they can dump memories in a secure store for nostalgia’s sake. OCtattoos allow one to smell what other’s are up to. Can you just imagine?
This is a world where farms are mechanized. Native plants are destroyed and factories produce everything the inhabitants need. Power plants and super conductor cables rule the landscape. Domesticated beasts like tands, galens, longtrus, finnars, and barntran are as common as the Silfen alien population. Just look out for the armored six legged monster called the Alamo Avenger or the furry Yeti-like creature, the Korrok-hi. Departments like Planetary Science, the Alien Encounter Office, and Emergency Defense are necessary.
This is the best line in the whole book, “Astrogration, move the wormhole exit to geosynchronous height above the third planets daylight terminator” (p 191).
Ozzie Isaac, inventor of the gateways speaks in poetry. My favorite things about him is that he can switch his retinal inserts to ultraviolet. That’s just way cool. He’s only one of many, many interesting characters. My advice is pay attention to everyone you meet. Sooner or later they all come back into the picture.

Author fact: Hamilton has written an impressive list of books. I’m only reading two.

Book trivia: Pandora’s Star in continued by Judas Unchained. Phew, I say. Because otherwise how else would I figure out how it all ended?

Nancy said: Pearl said a lot about Pandora’s Star. She said she couldn’t praise it enough, that it was not to be missed, that the characters are three-dimensional, and that it compared to Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Space Operas” (p 210).


Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.

Reason read: March is African Writers Month.

Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).

As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).

Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.

Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.

Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”

BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).


Rage of the Vulture

Unsworth, Barry. Rage of the Vulture. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.

Reason read: March is (or was) a good time to visit Turkey. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “good time to visit” reasons, but I guess there was one straggler. Oh well.

As an aside, I am always daunted by books with lists of characters. It’s as if the author is warning the reader, “I have included so many people you won’t be able to keep up.” One character I could not wrap my empathy around was Captain Robert Markham. He’s not very lovable as the main protagonist. He doesn’t connect with his ten year old son except to see him as a rival for his wife’s affections. It’s as if he doesn’t know what to do with his boy, Henry. This fact is not lost on the kid. Meanwhile, Robert treats his wife as an ornamental yet extremely fragile vase he parades out and places front and center during social occasions. His saves his sexual appetite for Henry’s governess. He all but rapes this poor girl because he has told her his truth; his Armenian fiance was raped and murdered twelve years earlier at their engagement party. What happens when all these secrets are revealed and Markham’s world starts to unravel? It’s an interesting dilemma.

Lines that got me (and there were a lot of them so I will try to keep this to a minimum), “He seemed to live behind some contrived fence, as ill or afflicted people do” (p 22), and “He would silence this voice of consolation which sought to make his apostasy trivial” (p 231).

Author fact: Unsworth also wrote Sacred Hunger which is also on my list.

Book trivia: I could picture this as a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust To Go Pearl recommended Rage of the Vulture as a book written by a non-Turkish writer. In More Book Lust Pearl mentions Rage of the Vulture as a historical novel and describes the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights: Fiction” (p 239). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction (p 79).


Openhearted Audience

Haviland, Virginia, ed. The Openhearted Audience: Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980.

Reason read: Pearl included this in the chapter called “Your Tax Dollars at Work” and tax filing time is normally April. Read in memory of normalcy.

Openhearted Audience is a collection of essays (actually lectures given in observance of National Children’s Book Week, (in November) at the Library of Congress) by authors who primarily write books for children:

  • Pamela Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins series (which is not on my list).
  • Maurice Sendak who wrote so many good books (everyone knows Where the Wild Things Are). None are on my challenge list, though. I liked what he had to say about New York, “Now, the point of going to New York was that you ate in New York” (p 32). Amen.
  • Joan Didion who wrote Miami, which I finished for the challenge and Play It as It Lies which will be read later. she wanted to know what it means to write for children as opposed to adults. Is there stigma attached to writing for a less developed intelligence?
  • Erik Haugaard who made the point about sharing art. I have often wondered why it is important to us that people first agree, then like, our recommendations where art is concerned. the fact we can find ourselves offended when one doesn’t share our opinions, or worse, dislike the recommendation mystifies me. Even though we didn’t produce the art, write the book, or make the movie, we feel rejected somehow; as if the art we presented were our own.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote The Wizard of Earthsea (her first book for children).
  • Ivan Southall who said “Life is more than blunt reaction” (p 87).
  • Virginia Hamilton who won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1969.
  • Jill Paton Walsh who won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1974.
  • Eleanor Cameron who talks of dreams.
  • John Rowe Townsend who was both a critic and a children’s writer.

Author Editor fact: Haviland interviewed Sendak. I wonder what that experience was like because he seemed like a curmudgeon.

Book trivia: Openhearted Audience is full of great illustrations.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about this selection. In fact, she didn’t pick it. A librarian from Illinois sent Pearl a list of government documents people should read and Openhearted Audience was included.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust as mentioned before in the chapter called “You Tax Dollars at Work” (p 239).


Two Old Women

Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. New York: Perennial, 1993.

Reason read: Seward Day is in March.

Two old women do not know each other very well before being abandoned by their People. Surviving the wilds of Arctic Circle Alaska is serious business, especially when you are elderly. Winter is closing in, food is scarce, and it is time for the tribe to be moving on. The Athabaskan Chief and his Council make the tough decision to leave their weakest behind in order to survive the harsh elements. This means seventy-five year old Sa’ and eighty year old Ch’idzigyaak are left to fend for themselves: finding food, making clothes, securing shelter, and staving off loneliness. These women are tough and resourceful, which makes for great perseverance.
Spoiler alert. This has a happy ending so you know the women survive. That wasn’t the plot twist for me. What I didn’t expect was the women’s fear of their tribe “finding” them again. They were suspicious of potential malevolent behavior (including cannibalism) if they were discovered to have survived. Even when they are reunited with their People, it takes time to trust them again. Who can blame them?

In my modern day society, I thought could not imagine a society where a community leaves its elderly behind, knowing full well they will probably will die. But then again, oh wait. I do. Italy, March 2020. They had to make the hard decision to not offer ventilators to anyone over the age of 80. Survival of the fittest.

Quote I liked best, “The body needs food but the mind needs people” (p 65).

Author fact: Wallis was born in the Alaskan interior. Two Old Women is her first novel.

Book trivia: Two Old Women was illustrated by James Grant.

Nancy said: Pearl actually didn’t chose Two Old Women. She asked author Dana Stabenow to select some Alaskan titles. Stabenow said Two Old Women is very controversial in Alaska.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “All Set For Alaska” (p 15).


Love That Dog

Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2001.

Reason read: April is Dog month.

Watch a boy learn to love writing poetry. At first he comes across as aloof, retorting that only girls are into poetry. Don’t tell anyone I can write, he begs the teacher, Miss Stretchberry. Little by little, poem by poem, Jack’s confidence as a poet grows. It is extremely clever how Creech uses well known (and loved) poets to reach into young Jack’s mind and pull out confidence. Even though this book is only 80 pages long, every single word is golden.
As an aside, the adult in me immediately clued into Jack’s tense changing when writing about his dog, Sky. I had that sense of foreboding that only comes from a loss of innocence. Adulthood taught me to expect the worst.

Best line of all: “I think Robert Frost has a little too much time on his hands” (p 20).

Author fact: Creech is a Newbery Medal winner for a different book. Her list of published titles is impressive, but I am only reading Love That Dog.

Book trivia: This seems like a book for children, but adults could learn a thing or two from Jack.

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Love That Dog is that it is suited for boys and girls equally.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).


On the Night Plain

Lennon, J. Robert. On the Night Plain. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.

Reason read: April is Sibling month.

Grant Person is a curious character. When we first meet this protagonist, he is leaving his Montana sheep ranching family for somewhere (anywhere?) else. His whole attitude is one of ambivalence. If the train stops he’ll get on board. If not, oh well. He’ll go back to his parents and brother as if nothing happened. He has no clear direction other than he would head due east towards New York. He ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey for some time then wanders home again when he learns his mother has died.
When Grant returns, he is the exact opposite. He comes home to a sheep ranch barely surviving. After his mother’s death, his father runs away. His brother with dreams of being an artist has one foot out the door himself. By himself, Grant becomes singular in his focus to save the farm. It’s a stark story with barely any color or light.

There were a lot of lines I really, really like. “A smile seemed to think about appearing on Cotter’s face but it never arrived” (p 55),

Author fact: J. Robert Lennon also wrote The Funnies which I have already read for the Challenge. He also wrote a series which I am not reading.

Book trivia: I could see this being a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl jokes Lennon is successful at setting a tragedy of Greek proportions on a failing sheep farm on the Great Plains. In More book Lust Pearl included On the Night Plain as an example of brothers who have loved and hated one another.

BookLust Twist: Pearl liked this one. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Western Fiction” (p 240); also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh, Brother” (p 180).


More Than Petticoats

Kennedy, Kate. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2005.

Reason read: to satisfy a Portland Public Reading Challenge category: Maine history.


More Than Petticoats is a series of biographies focusing on historically significant women by location. I believe every state in the country has a book and some states, like California, have a second volume. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I read More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Thirteen biographies of some women you might know and others you may not recognize: Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr, Kate Furbish, Abbie Burgess Grant, Lillian M.N. Stevens, Sarah Orne Jewett, Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, Lillian “La Nordica” Norton, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Florence Nicolar Shay, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florence Eastman Williams, Sister R. Mildred Barker, and Margaret Chase Smith. From 1738 – 1995. I love Maine’s rich history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Franklin Pierce. I could go on and on.

As an aside, my sister takes pictures of a water fountain close to her library. I now know the history of the girl: the Women’s Christian Temperance Union dedicated the fountain to Lillian M.N. Stevens. Very cool.

Confessional: I want to visit Abbie Burgess Grant’s grave. According to Kennedy, Grant is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in South Thomaston. Her final resting place should be easy to find. Her headstone is the one with the lighthouse.
I also want to visit Sarah Orne Jewett’s house in South Brunswick. I hear it’s open to the public. I should just go on a Maine Women vacation.


The Calligrapher

Docx, Edward. The Calligrapher. Boston: Houghton Miffler Company, 2003.

Reason read: March is hero month. The hero in The Calligrapher is a dead poet.

I love books that have the ability to suck you into its pages. I started reading The Calligrapher and before I knew it 75 pages were devoured before I next looked up.
Onto the plot: Jasper Jackson is a classy cad. He knows his wine. He knows his fish. He knows fashion. He knows his classical tunes. As a professional calligrapher, he knows the poetry of John Donne intimately. He also cheats on women who are already labeled “the other woman.” He can’t have a monogamous relationship to save his life…until he meets gorgeous-girl Madeleine. She is everything he has ever wanted in a partner: smart, funny, sarcastic, gone from home a lot as a travel writer, and of course, so beautiful everyone stops to stare wherever she goes. Miss Perfect. Jackson is willing to give up every other fling and sexual conquest for this girl. He has met his match in Maddy. He even takes her to meet his grandmother. No other woman has had the honor. Unfortunately, the other broken hearts Jasper has trampled on to get to Madeleine just won’t go away. He needs to deal with those messes before he can come clean. But. Is it too late?

Quotes I really liked, “Time cleared its throat and tapped its brand new watch” (p 43), and “Curious how the empty eyes of a dead fish could beseech a person so” (p 224).

As an aside, I have never thought about them before, but vellum and parchment and how they’re made. Calf and sheep, respectively. Ugh.

Author fact: Docx has written a bunch of other stuff. None of it is on my list, though. Bummer. As another aside, I checked out his list on LibraryThing and was a little taken aback by the photos. He’s one of those authors who has a hunch he might, just might, be good looking.

Book trivia: This should be a movie starring Hugh Grant. Oh wait. He already did one of those cad-turned-sensitive-guy movies for Nick Hornsby.

Nancy said: Pearl made comparisons to A.S. Byatt and she described the plot. That’s it.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dick Lit” (p 78).


The 21

Mosebach, Martin. The 21: a journey into the land of Coptic martyrs. Translated by Alta L. Price. Walden, New York: Plough Publishing, 2019.

Reason read: Early Review selection from LibraryThing.

At the very least, The 21 is a thoughtful examination of the martyrs and their humble lives before they became regarded as saints. Mosebach travels to their villages, respectfully meets with their families, and comes away with a poignant picture of stoic grief and outward pride in equal emotion. The most important element to this story is its power to move people regardless of their personal beliefs. Mosebach was compelled to tell the stories of the men in orange; martyrs compared to Jesus on the cross, exposed and seemingly calm before the facing impending execution. The aftermath was just as heart wrenching as the deaths. What those families had to go through just to bring the bodies home; how they needed to search the desert sand for the bodies first before their sons, brothers, and husbands could be buried in El-Aour as saints. Imagine: sixteen of the twenty one had been neighbors; living on the same narrow lane. Unimaginable: each home had an identical iPad so families and loved ones could watch the full, unedited version of the executions. This goes to show you how differently western culture views tragedy. The families of El-Aour proved the enemy had not won as the desired effect had not been achieved. Despite all that, The 21 was a hard book to read.

Author fact: Mosebach is also an accomplished poet.

Book trivia: The 21 was originally published in Germany in 2018 and became a best seller. The foreward was written by the Archbishop of London.

Publisher trivia: Plough is a faith publication whose mission is to find common ground with all.


The Tequila Worm

Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2005.

Reason read: another selection for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

I have to admit it was the title of this book that first drew me in. I have never eaten the worm from a tequila bottle, but I have often wondered about it.

Sofia is someone I wish I had known in my own coming of age days. She is joyful, kind, and true to herself. Even at such a young age she knows an opportunity when she sees it and isn’t afraid to be ambitious enough to reach for it. Growing up in a barrio in Texas, Sofia cherishes her family traditions but wants to spread her wings. When she earns the opportunity to go away to a reputable boarding school she jumps at the chance. There she learns more about her culture by being without it. This is a heartwarming story about embracing differences and the power of family.


Baghdad without a Map

Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.

Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.

Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.

As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.

Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).

Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.

Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.


All Elevations Unknown

Lightner Jr., Sam. All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo. New York: Broadway Books, 2001.

Reason read: Mount Kinabalu was first ascended in March 1851.

As an extremely accomplished rock climber, Sam Lightner was always looking for the next summit. Coming across a black and white photo of a mysterious mountain somewhere in the heart of Borneo sent his NeedToConquer heart beating a little faster and his adventurous spirit into overdrive. Where, exactly, was this mountain and how soon could he scale it? The map was labeled “all elevations unknown.” In the spring of 1999, following Major Tom Harrisson’s book, The World Within as his bible, Lightner and a team of fellow climbers, camera men, porters, and unseen spirits set off into the jungle. A total of twenty-seven men follow Harrisson’s footsteps to conquer mountain known as Batu Lawi.
What makes All Elevations Unknown different from other extreme sport memoirs is Lightner’s historical look-back of what Tom Harrisson was going through fifty-four years earlier. Every other chapter is set in 1945 as Tom and his native tribe of Kelabit fight off the enemy Japanese at the end of World War II. For Harrisson, it was a struggle to keep the Kelabit from using their own inhumane war tactics of decapitation and poisoned darts. For Lightner in present day, sponsorship makes it a struggle to keep the photographers and reporters from interfering with, or even ruining, the climb. Both men, fifty-four years apart, experience a necessary inconvenience by collaborating with men with different motives.
As an aside: evading leeches sounded like a true nightmare until Lightner mentioned centipedes….

Author fact: Lightner is an international rock climber and has been the subject of a documentary.

Book trivia: Sadly, there are no maps or real photographs relevant to the adventure in All Elevations Unknown. In the online version there is an image of the famed mountain. Additional trivia: Lightner includes climbing terms for those not in the know.

Nancy said: Pearl said All Elevations Unknown was “entertaining” (Book Lust To Go p 39).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called ” Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).