Ada Blackjack

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).


Black Hearts in Battersea

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.


May is a Month

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:

Fiction:

  • 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)

Nonfiction:

  • Into Thin Air: a Personal Account … by Jon Krakauer

Series continuations:

  • 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.

 


Into Thin Air

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).


Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle

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.


The Beach

Garland, Alex. The Beach. New York: Riverhead Books, 1997.

Reason read: Thailand’s Constitution Day is observed on December 10th.

The quick and dirty plot: Richard is a young and adventurous English traveler hellbent on moving around the fringes of the world with a brazen attitude. He boasts of exploring where others fear to tread. However, on his first night in Bangkok Richard’s whole world changes after he thinks he has seen everything. His meeting with Daffy, also known as Mr. Duck, is a fateful turning point for all involved. Daffy, a Scottish traveler, ends up committing suicide but not before he leaves Richard a map of a beach he called paradise. Intrigued and unable to ignore the siren call of adventure, Richard recruits a French couple to join him and find this hidden oasis. Compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Garland takes us to the beach where a group of other tourists have created a commune, complete with an off-center leader and other misfits.

Author fact: this is Garland’s first novel.

No quotes to mention.

Book trivia: The Beach was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio in 2000.

Nancy said: nothing except to say The Beach takes place in Thailand.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Thai Tales” (p 226).


Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha

Gilman, Dorothy. Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1985.

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

When we left Mrs. Pollifax after her African safari she and Cyrus Reed had just started a new romance. Now ten months later they are newlyweds living in a house they bought together. He’s off in upstate Vermont somewhere on a bird-counting expedition and Emily is overseeing renovations on their house when who should stop by for a visit, but old friend (and CIA man), Bishop. Of course, he needs Mrs. Pollifax for a delicate assignment and, but of course, there is no time to waste. If she agrees to take the case she doesn’t even have time to contact the hubby or pack properly (although she does remember to grab a snazzy hat). In an era when you could leave strangers in your house, Emily pops off a note to Cyrus and leaves the handymen to work unsupervised. Mrs. Pollifax’s new mission is a trip to Hong Kong to find missing agent Sheng Ti (a character from a previous story I didn’t read). Here’s the thing about Mrs. Pollifax – she will talk to just about anyone so the characters she meets run the gamut. She blithely shares information with double agents, gangsters and psychics alike. You could call this an adventure with just the right amount of silliness boiled in. There is death and violence and the threat of terrorism but take, for examples, the agents’s “secret” language, “…should be arriving you-know-where in fifteen minutes…” (p 128). I’m surprised the statement wasn’t followed by a wink-wink.
Mrs. Pollifax gets herself in a pickle but now she has a secret weapon to help save the day, her lovable husband, Cyrus!
Author fact: According to the back flap of Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, Dorothy Gilman lived in New Mexico and Nova Scotia. That sounds like the best of both worlds.

Book trivia: My copy of Mrs. Pollifax was peppered with highlighting. It was if someone had been using it as a vocabulary primer for words like shrubbery and ensconced were marked.

Nancy said: Nancy called Emily Pollifax a “dithery elderly woman with a penchant for unusual hats” (p 98). I would agree with that.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple and to the point chapter, “Hong Kong” (p 97).