Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials Book One: The Golden Compass New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Reason read: November is National Writers Month and this month we are celebrating a writer of fantasy.
The Golden Compass seemingly takes place in Oxford, England, but there is an alternate universe at play. Young wild child Lyra Belacourt isn’t afraid of much, especially an alternate universe. But in the beginning of The Golden Compass all Lyra cares about is getting into the Retiring Room of Jordan College, a room where, if women are not allowed, then children definitely are not. Tell Lyra she can’t do something and of course, that’s all she wants to do. She lives in a world where shape-shifting spirit animals called daemon familiars are the norm. Every person has a daemon and when they die their daemon fades away like a wisp of smoke. Lyra’s daemon familiar is Pantalaimon, a fiercely protective companion who can be a moth, bird, mouse, ermine…whatever the situation requires. Pantalaimon won’t fix on a permanent shape until Lyra is older, closer to adulthood. But, I digress. Back to Lyra and the Retiring Room. She and Pantalaimon find a way to sneak into the room and eavesdrop on a secret meeting between her uncle and college officials. Uncle Asriel tells a tale of danger and mystique involving Dust in the North. Soon Lyra finds herself more than eavesdropping. Because of unknown talents she is pulled into a terrible world of evil scientists, kidnapped children, witch clans, and armored fighting bears. In The Golden Compass you will meet Gobblers, Tartars, Windsuckers, Breathless Ones, gyptians, Nalkainers, and many others, but it is Lyra and her daemon who will captivate you.
Author fact: Pullmann graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English. This is the third book in less than thirty days that mentions Oxford University.
Book trivia: Pullman took “His Dark Materials” from John Milton’s Paradise Lost in Book II. Also, The Golden Compass is the first book in a three volume set. The other two books are also on my list.
Nancy said: Nancy describes the overarching theme of Pullman’s His Dark Materials. She then goes on to say Pullman’s “finest invention was the daemon” (Book Lust p 209).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 208).
Roth, Hal. Always a Distant Anchorage. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.
Reason read: October is Library Friend month. I had to borrow this book from Byfield, Massachusetts; a town I have never heard of before.
Hal and Margaret Roth had an epic mission to sail around the world. Good thing they had the kind of relationship that could withstand being trapped together on a boat for nearly two years (46 months)! Their boat, Whisper, was a 10.7 meters long, black hulled fiberglass vessel that weighed 7.2 tons.
Their journey took them from the coast of Maine to Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, though the Panama Canal, across the South Pacific, winding through Tahiti and Fiji, crossing the Coral Sea and Australia, Bali, Africa, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and finally back through the Atlantic and the Caribbean, ending in Somes Sound, Maine. The amazing thing is, Roth did not come from a sailing background. Luckily, he was a gifted writer and this is his account of that epic journey (with excerpts from Margaret’s journal thrown in). Weather, fishing, the mechanics of boats and sailing, the culture and customs of each community and port, getting to know and establishing relationships with other sailors, even being shipwrecked on coral reef and observing drug runners. Everything Roth writes about is fascinating. He loves the word “squally.”
As an aside, Roth’s description of Greece makes me want to visit even more.
Quote to giggle over: from Margaret’s journal, “I don’t know why men have to swear when they fix things” (p 81).
Another quote, “I don’t mind the prayers and the ritual washing that used up my buckets of fresh water, but I wished the pilot had made some sign to me that he was giving up steering” (p 219). One last quote, “What was life anyway but a collection of new timbers, the seasoning and shaping into a useful hull, the long voyage, a gradual collapse, and the final rotting away (p 303)?
Author fact: Roth also wrote We Followed Odysseus which I will be reading a few years.
Book trivia: the hand drawn maps are fantastic, but the photographs are great too! I wish there had been more of the couple. On the back cover there is a photograph I must describe because it is so intimate and lovely: Margaret is cradled between Hal’s legs. She is clutching his bare foot while he has one arm casually slung over her shoulder. His hand barely brushes her breast…
Nancy said: Always a Distant Anchorage is “the perfect choice for those who dream of one big voyage” (p 201).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “See the Sea” (p 201).
Niven, Jennifer. Ada Blackjack: a True Story of Survival in the Arctic. New York: Hyperion, 2003.
Reason read: Ear-marking the reindeer is an Arctic tradition that takes place in the summer.
Jennifer Niven calls Ada Blackjack a hero. I don’t think I would go that far. She didn’t save anyone’s life and her heroic deeds were limited to having the courage and resourcefulness to survive her unlikely predicament physically unscathed. I say unlikely because what would a impoverished and divorced 23 year old Inuit woman (a rumored prostitute) be doing on a potentially illegal expedition in the wilds of an Arctic island with four young white men and a cat? Desperate to find a husband and to make enough money to care for her oft-ill son, Ada signs on a seamstress with explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson’s mission to colonize barren Wrangel Island off the coast of Siberia. Using the theory of squatters’ rights, Stafansson sent four young men and six months worth of supplies to plant the British flag on what he thought was unclaimed land. He only sent them with six months of supplies because he was sure they could survive off the land once they had exhausted their stores. What could possibly go wrong in the “friendly” Arctic?
It’s not a plot spoiler to say that Ada was the only human to make it out alive (and yes, the cat survives, too). But, here’s where the story gets interesting. Stefansson vacillates between wanting to take all the credit for Ada’s survival and pretending he’s never heard of the woman. It’s what happens after the rescue that becomes the bigger story.
As an aside, I love the process of discovery. While Niven was researching her first book, The Ice Master she discovered Nome, Alaska native Ada Blackjack. Ada’s adventure intrigued Niven enough to prompt her to dig into Blackjack’s life story and ultimately, write a memoir about her expedition with four white men (and a cat) to Wrangel Island. To carry that idea of discovery a step further, after reading Ada Blackjack I found a documentary on her. I got caught up in her mystique, too.
Author fact: Niven also wrote The Ice Master which is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Ada Blackjack includes two wonderful sections of photographs. A handful of comments about the photos: the expedition cat, Vic, is fantastic. Milton Galle is a man’s man and my favorite photo is of Vic and Milton. They were all good looking people.
Nancy said: If you like Krakauer or Junger, you will like Niven.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South” (p 231).
Aiken, Joan. Black Hearts in Battersea. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1964.
Reason: July is Kids Month and Pearl lists this as a book best for kids.
The first thing Ms. Aiken wants you to know about Black Hearts in Battersea is that it takes place in the same time period as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, near the beginning of the nineteenth century. The second thing you should know is that some characters in Wolves are also in Black Hearts. Simon, an orphan who lived in a cave and came to the rescue in Wolves is the main character in Black Hearts. This time Simon is looking for his friend, Dr. Gabriel Field who has mysteriously disappeared after inviting Simon to come study art with him. A mystery ensues when everyone Simon encounters denies even knowing Dr. Field. It is as if the man never existed in Battersea. While waiting for Dr. Field to reappear Simon befriends the Duke of Battersea, gets a job with a blacksmith, and rooms with a suspicious peasant family. It’s a fun tale of adventure, especially after Simon meets bedraggled Dido who gets him in all sorts of trouble.
Author fact: As I mentioned before, Aiken also wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book I read in September of 2013. Some are calling this a series so I should have read Black Hearts in Battersea in October of 2013. Bummer.
Book trivia: Black Hearts was illustrated by Robin Jacques.
Nancy said: nothing special.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21). This book, interesting enough, is good for boys and girls.
What about May? May was a month of personal disappointments and private pain. I weathered all without much fanfare. Running was nonexistent but I can’t say the same for books:
- Landfall: a Channel Story by Nevil Shute (EB)
- Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (AB, EB & print)
- Martin Sloane by Michael Redhill (EB & print)
- Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print)
- Adrian mole: the Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend (EB & print)
- Into Thin Air: a Personal Account … by Jon Krakauer
- Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
- Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor (EB & print)
- Angel at My Table by Janet Frame (EB & print)
Early Review from LibraryThing:
- 1968: — edited by — Aronson
Added – Plays:
- Medea by Euripides ~ in honor of the best time to go to Greece.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. New York: Anchor Books, 1997.
Reason read: the Mount Everest disaster occurred on May 10th 1996.
Jon Krakauer was given an assignment by Outside Magazine to join a climbing expedition ultimately going to the top of Mount Everest. Being an avid mountaineer he thrilled at the chance to join a professional team to reach the highest summit in the world. What he didn’t anticipate was being witness to one of the worst Everest disasters in the mountain’s history.
As Karakuer takes us to higher elevations he not only gives the reader a play by play of the events unfolding at each camp, he also details the physical and psychological effects wreaking havoc on the climbers, adventurer and Sherpa alike. It’s a grueling quest and Krakauer never lets you forget the danger.
It has been said that the mountaineering community is unique unto themselves. Never before was this more apparent than when Kraukauer described climbers so hellbent on reaching the top that they would push on past half dead individuals lying in the snow, slowly freezing to death. Or step casually over the legs of a half buried dead man…
Despite the dangers of climbing such high elevations, the challenge continues to draw thousands to Everest. It is an industry unto itself, making millions for guides, the sports corporations looking to sponsor them, and the Sherpas looking to lead the way.
I devoured this book. I found it was very easy to lose track of time and read 70-80 pages in one sitting.
Quotes I liked, “I thrilled in the fresh perspective that came from tipping the ordinary plane of existence on end” (p 23) and “Problem was, my inner voice resembled Chicken Little; it was screaming that I was about to die, but it did that almost every time I laced up my climbing boots” (p 101).
Author fact: I think Krakauer is best known for Into the Wild, but I am reading two others, Iceland and Where Men Win Glory.
Book trivia: There are the obligatory black and white photographs of the victims and a few of the mountain. Unlike a book a read recently where every photo was of the author, Jon Krakauer isn’t in a single one.
Nancy said: Krakauer’s book “sets the standard for personal adventure books” (p 8).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Adventure By the Book: Nonfiction” (p 8).
Gilman, Dorothy. Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Reason read: I started the Mrs. Pollifax series in September 2017 in honor of Grandparents Day. This is the last book I am reading for the series.
The one word for Mrs. Polllifax: gullible. Either that or the one word for the CIA is inept. Not sure which is more accurate. Emily and her new husband Cyrus are headed to Thailand for a little rest & relaxation; a real vacation without an ulterior motive. After their fiasco in China, they needed a break from all things dark and dangerous. They are all set to head out the door when who should catch wind of their trip, but old friend Bishop, and who should need a favor, but the old CIA. It sounds simple enough – all Bishop needs is for Emily to drop off a package for an informant and in exchange, receive some top secret information too important to send in a letter. What could possibly go wrong? If you have been paying attention to Emily Pollifax’s adventure you already know…a lot. This time, it’s Cyrus who goes missing. Never mess with a feisty woman when her man is kidnapped!
One quote to mention, “Like a toy flower dropped into a glass of water, Mrs. Pollifax felt herself expanding and flowering” (p 19).
Here’s one more, “…one could never know the traumas that such people; everyone carried around with them their own particular defenses, antagonisms, secrets and uncertainties…” (p 136). Very true.
Author fact: So far, I have told you this about Dorothy Gilman: She was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey and she lived in Maine at some point in her life. Since this is my last Mrs. Pollifax book it’s only fitting to tell you Dorothy Gilman died in 2012 on my birthday.
Book trivia: The Golden Triangle is short, short, short. Doesn’t even make it to 190 pages long.
Nancy said: nothing worth mentioning.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called Thai Tales (p 226). Here is the interesting thing about how Pearl included several books in the Mrs. Pollifax series. Each book is listed independently in a chapter about a foreign country. You would never know each book is connected in a series.