Barrow’s Boys

Fleming, Fergus. Barrow’s Boys: New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998.

Reason read: February is Exploration Month.

I was excited to finally read Barrow’s Boys as Fergus promised a plethora of primary sources – the best kind when reading about adventure that involves exploration, danger, and cannibalism! [Although, I have to admit it was not easy to read about the starvation, desperation, and death.] In times of peace, what better use of the navy than to go exploring? The burning question of the day was where did the river Niger go? When that expedition initially failed John Barrow started a second expedition, setting his sights on the Northwest Passage and Antarctica. What was out there? As Second Secretary to the Admiralty in 1816 Barrow was aware of these unanswered questions. Using elite naval officers Barrow put together a string of ambitious expeditions that spanned the world.

Author fact: Fleming is one of those jack of all trades kind of guy. He trained to be an accountant and a barrister in London, England. He has worked as a furniture maker and an editor. He is obviously a great writer as well. As an aside, I think he looks like Liam Neelson.

Book trivia: Barrow’s Boys includes maps. Lots of maps. Each one is dedicated to a different expedition. Barrow’s Boys also includes two sections of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl said in Book Lust that Fleming was chatty, entertaining, and historically accurate. All things I would want in a story. She then goes on to say (in Book Lust To Go) Fleming’s biography is one of her favorites. She calls it “enthralling (p 83).

BookLust Twist: from a bunch of places. Book Lust contains Barrow’s Boys in two different places: in the chapter called “Adventure By the Book: Nonfiction” (p 8) and again in chapter “Here Be Dragons: the Great Explorers and Expeditions” (p 110). Barrow’s Boys is also in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Explorers” (p 83).


Crimson Petal and the White

Faber, Michael. The Crimson Petal and the White. Narrated by Jill Tanner. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004.

Faber, Michael. The Crimson Petal and the White. New York: Harcourt, 2002.

Reason read: Charles Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor because Pearl compared Michael Faber to Dickens.

If you look at the panoramic picture, Crimson Petal and the White is a study of stark differences in 1870s London, England. Wealth and poverty. Employment and unwaged. Health and disease. Adam and Darwin. Men and women. Pious and deviant. Sane and deranged. Amidst all of this contradiction, we follow nineteen year old prostitute, Sugar. Desperate to lift herself out of the proverbial and literal gutter, Sugar prides herself on knowing how to please a man in more ways than just sexual; with great wit and cunning she appeals to a gentleman’s intellect. Men know to ask for her by name as she instinctively knows their every desire and willingly delivers. Is it an act? When left alone, she serenely spills venom in the form of writing a novel about a sex worker serial killer. She relishes every dagger plunge, every rat poisoned ravaged breath, every weak and begging man at her heroine’s mercy. Is this where the original Aileen Wuornos was born?
Nevertheless, for all outward appearances Sugar knows a thing or two about job security and makes herself indispensable to one wealthy man, perfume magnate, William Rackham. She becomes the “other woman” who has an ear for a man’s business troubles, as well as his family woes, and sexual discord. She takes great care to learn his business, then learn his life. All the better to insert herself into every corner.
The curious thing about Faber’s characters is that I didn’t care one way or another about them for most of the book. I wasn’t bothered by Rackham keeping a prostitute mistress (a la Pretty Woman). I didn’t feel bad for his young and mentally fragile wife, Agnes. I found Rackham’s brother, Henry, annoying. In the beginning, I only rooted for the cat, Puss. That changed neat the end of the book, but I can’t tell you why. Just read the book. Better yet, listen to the audio. The narration is great!

Lines worth mentioning, “Nothing, he finds, causes more inconvenience than a death, unless it be a marriage” (p 473).

Author fact: Faber has also written some short story collections, not on my Challenge list. As an aside, his brooding author photo reminded me of not one, but two ex-boyfriends.

Book trivia: Crimson is a hefty 800+ pages long and is often compared to Franzen’s The Corrections or Charles Dickens. Sundance made The Crimson Petal and the White into a series.

Nancy said: Pearl basically spells out the plot, but my favorite part is when she uses the word “guttersnipes.” Brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A Dickens of a Tale” (p 72).


Rome and a Villa

Clark, Eleanor. Rome and a Villa. New York: Atheneum, 1962.

Reason read: Eleanor Clark died in the month of February. Read in her memory.

Even though the last time Clark visited Rome the year was 1974, you cannot help but daydream of traveling to the ancient city when you read Rome and a Villa. I started a mental checklist of everything I hoped to see, should I get there myself: the 124 steps of Santa Mana Aracoeli beside the Campidoglio, feral cats scattering in the rain, the Piazza Vittorio, the famous Trevi Fountain which was funded with a second tax on wine, and capable of moving 80,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Clark even opened my eyes to the Roman influences here in the United States: Penn Station in New York City; how it was designed with the Baths of Caracalle in mind.
Beyond architecture and tourist draws, Clark paints pictures of influential individuals like Julius Caesar and Hadrian. She meanders with her narrative and is sometimes difficult to follow, but worth it if you can stick with her.

Author fact: Clark was a native of Connecticut, right down the road from me. Her dust jacket photograph reminds me of a great-aunt I used to know.

Book trivia: Rome and a Villa was illustrated by Eugene Berman. They’re pretty spectacular.

Nancy said: Pearl said Rome and a Villa is for the traveler. I think it would be interesting to reread Rome and a Villa after a trip to Rome, just to compare notes.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Roman Holiday” (p 188).


Alexandria

Bantock, Nick. Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.

Reason: What a wicked game to play to make me feel this way. – Chris Isaac.

You all know the star couple of the early 1990s, Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem, but do you know Matthew Sedon and his lovely paramour, Isabella de Reims? Matthew and Isabella are caught in that can’t-connect world Griffin and Sabine know all too well. Separated by continents, absence is making the heart turn passionate. Matthew struggles to keep his mind on archaeology dig in Egypt while Isabella attempts to study in France. Both encounter evil signs of nemesis Viktor Frolatti who seems bound and determined to keep them apart.
As always, Bantock’s art is stunning. Bold colors, violent insinuations, and passionate designs decorate every postcard, letter, envelope and stamp exchanged. As always, the voyeuristic thrill of opening someone’s mail cannot be ignored.


All Deliberate Speed

Ogletree, Charles. All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Reason read: February is the month to celebrate Civil Rights. Well, we should be proactively doing something all year long…

You could call All Deliberate Speed a history book as it is filled with didactic chapters and faculty could use it as a textbook, but I would argue it is more of a beautifully written memoir. Ogletree shares his personal reflections on the civil rights decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the conundrum of legalized racial inequality, and how the words “all deliberate speed” allowed the end of segregation to become a reality at a snail’s pace. Rest assured, this isn’t an autobiography. Ogletree doesn’t delve too deep into his personal life with the exception of how it relates to the topic at hand and his part in it. Ogletree writes, not as one who did his homework on a singular subject, as one standing outside the topic at hand, but rather as one who actually lived the history and had a tangible part of the action. “Present at the creation,” if you will. Ogletree’s narration is as much from fact as it is from memory.

The tradition of “Black Graduation” at Stanford originated as a protest of which author Ogletree had a part.

As an aside, I always love it when an author rights a wrong. Somehow there was a research error and Professor Jack Balkin was not given credit. Ogletree made a point to mention that.

Author fact: Ogletree has a strong family history connection to Brown v. Board of Education.

Book trivia: The black and white photographs in All Deliberate Speed are great.

Nancy said: Pearl called All Deliberate Speed “excellent.” Agreed.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Civil Rights and Wrongs” (p 49).


The Last Good Kiss

Crumley, James. The Last Good Kiss. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.

Reason read: February is friendship month and Sughrue’s friendship with T is pretty interesting.

C.W. Sughrue is an interesting character. He has a convoluted story as well. Sughrue is an investigator out of Montana, but is currently in Sonoma, California, looking for a girl who has been missing out of Haight-Ashbury for ten years. Hired for only eighty-seven bucks and no clues to go on, besides easy women and an abundance of alcohol, he isn’t having a lot of luck. Only, this girl isn’t the one he was first hired to find. He started down the rabbit hole, hired by a woman looking for her alcoholic ex-husband, a famous author and poet. The ex lives with his mother across the way from him and his current wife…and the plot thickens.
I had trouble keeping score. Betty Sue went missing ten years ago, was thought to have run away looking for the bright lights of stardom. Instead, she is rumored to have taken up fame as a porn star. Sughrue falls in love with her just by seeing a picture. Seems everyone is in love with Betty Sue.

Lines I liked,”When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog names Fireball Roberts in a ramshackeld joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a spring afternoon (p 1). How’s that for an opening line? Here’s another one, “As we shared the whiskey, I wondered how long men had been forgiving each other over strong drink for being fools” (p 164).

Author fact: Crumley has been compared to Raymond Chandler. He has written a few other mysteries, but I’m not reading them. Crumley died on September 17th, 2008.

Book trivia: This is a deceivingly fast read. You may want to guzzle your through it, but do yourself a favor, sip it slow and take your time. There are a few plot twists worth staying sober for.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say much about the Last Good Kiss despite in being in two different Book Lust chapters. As an aside, Pearl was hesitant to read Lee Child because of his gratuitous violence, but did she know of Crumley’s penchant for shooting people?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 121), and again in “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156). I would argue Pearl needed to pick a different Crumley mystery for this chapter as The Last Good Kiss mostly takes place in Colorado and California.


Gryphon

Bantock, Nick. Gryphon: in which the extraordinary correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is rediscovered. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001.

Reason read: I have flung myself so far down the rabbit hole I can’t find my way home. Maybe I’ve lost sight of what home means. I don’t know. After revisiting Griffin & Sabine and Sabine’s Notebook I realized I couldn’t stop with The Golden Mean. I couldn’t stop. At all. I couldn’t stop. For nothing. I guess you could say it was all for nothing.

In Gryphon we move on from Griffin and Sabine to Matthew and Isabella, another pair of star-crossed lovers. Don’t worry, G & S are still there, just in a murkier role. Sabine needs help from archaeologist Matthew, but the meaning behind her request is all smoke and mirrors. As with all the other books in the series, the art is amazing, even if the story has gotten a little too cloaked in mystery.

Best line in a letter, “I’ve tried to escape from the realm of your skin, by concentrating on your voice, but that only leads to your mouth and then I’m back where I started” (Matthew to Isabella).