Power of One

Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.

Reason read: Courtenay’s birth month is in August.

Confessional One: I accidentally ordered the childrens’ book version of The Power of One. Before I realized my mistake I was already half way through it.
Confessional Two: the version for children needed to be returned before I was finished so I jumped over the the adult full length story. I’m glad I did.

Confessional Three: The Power of One started a little slow for me. Maybe because I started with a book for children? At times I thought it contained magical realism. Once the story picked up I was thoroughly engrossed.

Known only by the derogatory name of Pisskop, a child is born in South Africa and in the shadow of Hitler’s rise to cruel power. In 1939 Pisskop seems destined for demise. He was born of the wrong color, white. He spoke the wrong language, English. He was raised by a woman of the wrong color, black. His own mother all but nonexistent. Pisskop knew fear, cruelty, humiliation and abandonment all before he turned six years old. Through a series of unremarkable events Pisskop is led to the people and opportunities that would bestow courage and grit on the young boy. Harry Crown, who renames Pisskop, Peekay. Hoppie Groenewald, who offers Peekay a green sucker at their first fateful meeting (a gesture Peekay will always remember). Doc, who becomes a mentor and a father figure for Peekay. Geel Peet, who takes Peekay’s boxing skills to another level. Because of these early relationships, Peekay gains confidence and courage, vowing to overcome his color, his speech, his pitiful upbringing. In his dreams he survives to become the welterweight champion of the world.

Lines I liked: “Man brutalized thinks only of his survival” (p 215), “The indigo night was pricked with sharp cold stars” (p 257), “The photograph captured the exact moment when I understood with conviction that racism is a primary force of evil designed to destroy good men” (p 265), and one more, “You either disappear into a plebian background or move forward to where most others fear to follow” (p 472).

Author fact: Courtenay was born in South Africa.

Nancy said: nothing specific, besides plot, about Power of One.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: A Reader’s Itinerary” (p 3).


Niccolo Rising

Dunnett, Dorothy. Niccolo Rising. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Reason read: Dunnett’s birth month is in August.

When Dunnett finished the Francis Crawford of Lymond series she felt there was more to Francis Crawford’s story that needed to be detailed. By way of explanation she went back to the 15th century. Niccolo Rising is the first in the House of Niccolo series and features Nicholas de Fluery, three generations before Francis Crawford of Lymond’s birth. For reference, the 1459 Queen of Scots is thirteen years old.
Be prepared for high drama! Nicholas (or Niccolo or Nicholas vander Poele or Claes, as he is first called) only wants what every young man craves – acceptance, recognition, and love from his elders. When we first meet him, he is known as Claes, an eighteen year old dyer’s apprentice. Clumsy as a puppy and equally annoying, the people in his life spend most of their time babysitting his actions and cleaning up his messes. It is hard to imagine Claes’s transformation into a good-with-numbers, savvy businessman who capture the heart of one of the most prestigious women in the country. Much like 15th century Bruges’s commerce and trade, Claes undergoes a spiritual and intellectual growth. By the end of Niccolo Rising he is practically unrecognizable. And that’s when the fun starts…

As an aside, the list of characters, both real and fictional, is daunting. Read and reread this book extremely carefully. You might miss something if you don’t.

Author fact: Dunnett also wrote about Macbeth.

Book trivia: Niccolo Rising is the first book in the Niccolo House series and since they tie into the House of Lymond series Dunnett suggested reading them in the order they were written and not in chronological order. Yay! I’m actually reading them in the right order…for once.

Nancy said: Pearl said it would be a shame to miss out on the House of Niccolo series  (More Book Lust p 80).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79).


Big, Bad City

McBain, Ed. Big Bad City. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in memory of McBain’s passing (2005). Confessional: I don’t know how I continue to do this, but I read Big Bad City out of order. Big Bad City was published in 1999.

As with Cop Hater, the locale in Big Bad City bears a strong resemblance to gritty real-life New York City. While McBain never writes the words “New” or “York” together readers can imagine a 1990s version of the Big Apple. The three different story lines weave around each other like a Celtic knot in The Big Bad City: first, a young nun with breast implants is discovered murdered on a park bench. Unbeknownst to Carella, the man who murdered his father has been stalking him, waiting for the right time to gun him down survival-of-the-fittest style; and speaking of guns, how did notorious Cookie Boy the burglar go from petty theft to two counts of murder in fell swoop? Precinct 87 has their hands full with these seemingly unrelated crimes.

Quotes I liked enough to mention here, “Do it. do it, but he had not done it, he had not killed the man who’d killed his father because he’d felt somewhere deep inside him that becoming a beast of prey was tantamount to having been that beast all along” (p 54), and “…and he drew his own nine at once, so there were three nines on this bright September morning, all facing each other with nowhere to go but murder” (p 270).

Author fact: Have you seen the number of things McBain has written? The list goes on and on and on. Most surprising was the screenplay for “The Birds.”

Book trivia: This was the first time I had seen COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) referenced in a mystery novel.

Nancy said: nothing specific about Big Bad City.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p ).


Under the Snow

Ekman, Kirsten. Under the Snow. Translated by Joan Tate. New York: Picador. 1999.

Reason read: August is Ekman’s birth month; read in her honor.

I love it when someone calls a book “moody.” It’s even better when I agree with them.
There are tensions in an isolated village near the Lapland border where everyone knows your name, wants your secrets, and suffers together through a winter that is “5,064 hours long” (p 4). Even Police Constable Torsson has an attitude when he learns he has to travel 25 miles over the ice and snow to investigate the death of a young teacher. When a man is found frozen to death in a snowbank and the entire community won’t talk about the details, for all appearances it looks like an accident. This much is true – after getting into a fight after a mah-jongg game Matti Olsen collapsed and died of exposure. Case closed. Or is it? A friend of Matti’s arrives the next summer and convinces Torsson it isn’t really over; the case deserves a second look. Is it connected to a woman with a piece of bloody rope in a backpack?
For most of the story it bounces from perspective to perspective as different characters share what they want you to know. Most effectively, Ekman reserves the first person narrative for the murderer’s detailed confession.

Quotes to quote even if they are a little abstract, “Waves of small talk were now lapping over the place where he had sunk” (p 12) and “The headwaiter decided not to love him, a delusion requiring no great spiritual struggle” (p 45).

Author fact: Ekman also wrote Black Water which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Under the Snow was first published in 1961. For some reason that took me by surprise. It wasn’t translated by Joan Tate until 1996.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Under the Snow.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the cute chapter called “Swede(n) Isn’t It?” (p 223).


Eurydice Street

Zinovieff, Sofka. Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens. London: Granta Books, 2005.

Reason read: Domition of the Holy Mother Virgin occurs on August 15th.

British-born Sofka Zinovieff travels back to Athens, Greece with her Greek husband and children. In Eurydice Street she recounts the first year of her efforts to “become” Greek. Embracing culture, politics and customs, Zinovieff vividly describes the swirling life around her. Because of her unbridled enthusiasm, friends comment she is more Greek than her husband. Eurydice Street is an interesting blend of history, travelogue, memoir, and political commentary on all things Athens.

Author fact: Eurydice Street is Zinovieff’s first book.

Book trivia: Eurydice Street includes two hand drawn maps.

Nancy said: Eurydice Street was an “excellent choice” for reading about Greece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).


Case of the Missing Servant

Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Missing Servant. Read by Sam Dastor. North Kingston, RI: BBC Audiobooks America, 2009.
Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Missing Servant. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Reason read: Rajir Ratna Ganghi, the youngest Indian Prime Minister was born in August.

Vish Puri is India’s Most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his game. His bread and butter cases consist mostly of scoping out potential partners in a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm. Fathers consider the services Puri and his team provides a deeper background check of eligible mates for their daughters.  Then one day a servant girl goes missing. Rumor has it, her own employer (a wealthy lawyer) murdered her. All the evidence points to him so this should be an easy case…
Interesting tidbit – Puri doesn’t like being compared to Sherlock Holmes. “Sherlock is a fictional character” he sniffs.

As an aside, I loved the nicknames of Puri’s Most Private investigation team. Tubelight and Facecream were my favorites.

Book trivia: The Case of the Missing Servant is the first in a series featuring Vish Puri. But, as a reader you feel as though you were dropped in the middle of Vish’s life as he remembers other, earlier cases.

Author fact: The Case of the Missing Servant is Hall’s first book.

Nancy said: nothing specific about The Case of the Missing Servant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: India” (p 212).


Season in Red

Needham, Kirsty. A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China. NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2006.

Reason read: the Double 7 Festival takes place in August.

Kirsty Needham traveled to Beijing, China in 2004 to immerse herself in the the culture. She wanted to see how China was modernizing at that time. As a journalist she arrived with a suitcase full of preconceived notions of how her time will be spent. She soon learns nothing is as it seems in a world full of constantly changing communist propaganda and government bureaucracy. As she says, “But there is a difference between knowing what you are letting yourself in for, and how you actually react when you find yourself there” (p 94). SARS, Saint Bernard dogs, controversial bicycles, progressive fashion and techno-night clubs are all the rage.

While I didn’t find any lines I wanted to quote, I did find some pop culture I wanted to look up after reading A Season in Red: the Taiwanese mandopop all girl-band, SHE and the kind-of-sexy singer, Jay Chou.

Author fact: Needham was able to work in Beijing thanks to an Australia-China Council exchange program.

Book trivia: there are no maps, photographs or significant illustrations in A Season in Red.

Nancy said: Nancy said she needed to be “very picky” about the books she included about the Middle Kingdom. A Season in Red made the cut. (Book Lust To Go p 60).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “China: the Middle Kingdom” (p 60).