Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: Vile Village. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
Reason read: to finish the series started in October in honor of Halloween.
Once again, right off the bat, Snicket asks you to go read someone else’s book. He says, “And if you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight, so if you have any sense at all you will put this book down and pick up another one” (p 6). With an introduction like that, how could you not keep reading Snicket’s book? Very clever. By now you know the format: Snicket is still offering meanings for words and phrases. The three orphaned Bauldelaire children are looking for a place to call home. Violet is a teenager and still very much interested in inventions. Klaus is on the cusp of turning thirteen and still loves reading. Sunny is still an infant with four teeth who still can’t speak in full sentences, but she loves to bite things. They have escaped (again) from Count Olaf and his band of wicked accomplices. Banker and Bauldelaire family friend, Mr. Poe, is still in charge of sending the Baudelaire orphans to their next town of tragedy. This time it’s V.F.D. (“Village of Fowl Devotees”), a mysterious town covered in crows. The problem is, no one in the town wants to be responsible for the children. As the name suggests, the community is devoted to their murder of crows. At a Council of the Elders, a timid and loner handyman who is too skittish to speak up at Council meetings, is order to become the children’s guardian. All day long they must do chores for the community and always be respectful of the crows, crows, and more crows. By day, thousands of them hang around in town but by night they roost in the Nevermore tree on the outskirts of town, conveniently right by the handyman’s house.
As an aside, I skipped from Book 3 to 7. By not reading books 4-6 I missed out on Violet working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Klaus being enrolled at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three children living with a couple named Jerome and Esme Squalor. At the end of book 6 Duncan and Isadora, two of three triplets are kidnapped. In Vile Village it is up to Klaus, Violet, and Sunny to rescue them.
Additionally, what is pretty amazing about the series of unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans experienced thus far is that they all happened in less than a year’s time. The fire that killed their parents, the escape from Count Olaf’s house, the escape from Uncle Monty’s house, the escape from Aunt Josephine’s cliff side mansion, the time in the Finite Forest, or at 667 Dark Avenue. Books 1-7 take place in less than 365 days.
Author fact: So far I have told you Lemony was a pen name, his birth month is February, and that I was born in the same month. My last author fact is that Lemony is married to illustrator Lisa Brown.
Book trivia: Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and the last one I am reading for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series “wonderful.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-ups” (p 174).
Hoffman, Alice. White Horses. Berkley Books: New York, 1982.
Reason read: Judging a book by its cover, I chose White Horses to read in honor of when the television show “All Creatures Great and Small” first aired. I assumed there was at least one horse in the book when I scheduled it for January.
Family: Dina (mother), Harry aka King (father), Rueben (son), Teresa (daughter), and Silver (favorite son). Here’s what you need to know about these people: Every character is deeply flowed. Dina is tragic. King is a jerk. Rueben is nonexistent. Teresa is hopeless. Silver is a conundrum. Everyone is left wanting in one way or another. This is a book with an overarching theme of obsession and I spent most of the time either feeling sorry for the entire family or wondering what the hell was going on with them. Well written without a doubt, but with a stranger-than-strange plot. Dina is obsessed with Arias. These fairytale dark-haired, dark-eyed cowboys supposedly swoop in on mythical white horses to save the day. Dina truly believes that at any second an Aria will arrive outside her kitchen window and steal her away. She stares hungrily at her own son as Silver has the hair, the eyes, and he always wears a white shirt that could substitute nicely for the prerequisite white horse. The favorite son takes on a whole new level of importance when Teresa falls in love with him. What is so special about Silver that makes everyone fawn over him, despite the fact he turned out to be a petty thief, drug dealer, and betraying snitch? Honestly, it’s Hoffman’s control over her storytelling that kept me hanging on to her every word. There is a delicate subtlety to her intentions that was just beautiful.
Confessional: I had to sit with this book for awhile. I just didn’t know how I felt about any of it.
Quotes I liked, “Dina was certain that every jump in temperature could force arguments to rise from the dust, ghosts would appear in the midday haze” (p 3), and “Even after she had climbed onto the raised platform of the cafe, she still wasn’t certain that the bones in the graveyard hadn’t followed her into the heart of the city” (p 37).
Author fact: I have five different Hoffman books on my challenge list. I have finished three of them (including White Horses).
Book trivia: I could see this as an adaptation for the big screen.
Nancy said: Pearl said “It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that much popular fiction of late has as its text or subtext a family in trouble” (Book Lust p 82).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and only mentioned in the chapter called “Families in Trouble” (p 82), although Pearl could have included it in the first chapter, “A…is for Alice (p 1) because there she lists other Hoffman books.
Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.
Reason read: The movie Hotel Rwanda was released in the United States on December 22nd, 2004.
The title of the book comes from a letter written to Paston Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. In it, several Advent pastors, hiding in a hospital state, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families…” (p 42). Such a devastating cry for help…only to end in betrayal. But probably the most helpless and hopeless line in the book (for me anyway), was “I took it we were under attack, and did nothing because I had no idea what to do” (p 33). I can’t imagine knowing full well murderers were coming for me, and yet having no idea how to save myself. Imagine having nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. No way to protect yourself. Heartbreaking. Like macabre trick or treating, gangs went from town to town, just looking for people to massacre.
I find myself asking over and over again how neighbors, friends, relatives, business partners could rise up against their brethren. To kill over and over again with such horrific brutality. Not just an impersonal shot to the head. Not just a quick execution from a far off distance, but an up-close and personal hacking, slashing, chopping; a hand to hand combat/rape/pillage with machetes and knives, sticks and stony rage. The willingness, the eagerness to turn on people you had once worked, lived, learned or played side by side. Colleagues killed colleagues. Neighbors annihilated neighbors. Teachers assassinated their students. Friends turned one another with surprising ease. Gourevitch tries to make sense of it in We Wish to Inform You… by going back historically and analyzing the time before the genocide. His style is to think about the subject from a distance and then living with it up close. He walks around a topic to scrutinize it from every angle. His focus was to ask what really happened and how its aftermath is understood today (at the time of his writing).
Quotes to quote (besides the ones previously mentioned), “Five hundred years is a very long life for any regime, at any time, anywhere” (p 49), “But the decimation had been utterly gratuitous” (p 180), and “What does suffering have to do with genocide, when the idea itself is the crime” (p 202)?
Author fact: Gourevitch spent his childhood in Connecticut.
Book trivia: We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was awarded the Guardian First Book Award.
Nancy said: Pearl called We wish to Inform You…”personal” and “heart-wrenching” in Book Lust. In Book Lust To Go she included a link to a video of an interview she conducted with Gourevitch in —. The video is no longer available, but I have been able to request archives from Seattle Channel before so…an update: The super fantastic folks at Seattle worked their magic! Within a day I got an email with a link to the interview! Spectacular.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: Today and Yesterday” (p 9) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).
Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.
Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.
Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?
Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).
Dark, Alice Elliott. Think of England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002.
Reason read: Dark was born in December; read in her honor.
Confessional: I read this so fast I didn’t start a blog or take many notes. It’s like a bullet train that sped by me once I finished reading and jumped off.
Jane MacLeod’s life is chronicled in this short first novel from Alice Elliott Dark. We first meet nine year old Jane in rural Pennsylvania where she aspires to be a writer. Under bed covers and behind doors, she writes stories about her family. [Confessional: For a moment this activity reminded me of Harriet, the Spy. By comparison, Jane is more introspective and less mean.] Jane claims she can remember the moment she was born. She carefully watches her parents and their teetering-on-rocky relationship. As young as she is, Jane understands not all is perfect in their household. She can tell when her mother has had too much to drink and she listens closely when the adults
talk snipe at each other openly; when her parents forget they are not alone in the room. After a tragic accident, the story jumps many years and Jane is now far away from her family and living in London as a twenty-something writer. She has befriended a few artists, who encourage her poetic endeavors, and a married man who encourages her romantic ones. Fast forward a bunch of years and Jane is back in the States, now living in New York with a daughter of her own. Reunited with family, Jane comes full circle in her quest to understand the tragedy which separated them so long ago.
The title comes from Lady Hillingdon’s 1912 sad journal when she revealed she thinks of England whenever she must have unwanted sex with her husband. Yup. So there’s that. Jane’s mother uses the phrase whenever there is a setback of any size.
Lines I liked, “She was a slow burning shadow” (p 21), “She fought back by competing; if her mother made her feel small, she’d make herself even smaller” (p 32), “They stared at each other across a chasm of diverging logic, all the misunderstandings between them crammed between rings of the phone” (p32), and “Ghosts could cross water, after all” (p 184). There were dozens of other lines I would like to share, but this will have to do. Just read the book. Seriously.
Author fact: Think of England is Dark’s first novel.
Book trivia: when trying to search for Think of England the book, I kept coming up with K.J. Charles. I like that Dark is a little obscure.
Nancy said: Pearl called Dark’s writing “highly polished and controlled (but frequently emotionally charged” (Book Lust p 1).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…is for Alice” (p 1).
Snicket, Lemony. The Wide Window. New York: Scholastic Publishers, 2000.
Reason read: to continue the series started in October in observance of Halloween.
To recap the entire series thus far: Klaus, Violet, and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans. Their parents dying wish was for the children to be under the guardianship of a relative. Any relative. Throughout the series Mr. Poe, the family banker, has been responsible for placing the children with members of the family, no matter how distant. First came Count Olaf who tried to marry Violet in order to obtain rights to a substantial inheritance (due to the children when they came of age). Then came Uncle Monty who died of a bite from his own snake. Now, in The Wide Window, the children have been placed with Aunt Josephine who is a second cousin’s sister-in-law and has a phobia of nearly everything. Aunt Josephine lives in a huge house precariously balanced on a mountain ledge above Lake Lachrymose. Of course there is a wide window overlooking the water. Of course, Count Olaf isn’t far behind the children, having escaped every other time in the series. A master of disguises, this time he shows up with a peg leg and a patch over one eye, claiming to be Captain Sham.
As with other Lemony Snicket books, there is a formula to The Wide Window: the adults are oblivious to what is directly in front of them, readers will hear the phrase, “a word which means” a lot, and Snicket will urge his audience to read another book if they want a happy ending, “If you are interested in reading a story filled with thrilling good times, I am sorry to inform you that you are most certainly reading the wrong book…this is your last chance” (p 5). This is really quite clever because nine times out of ten one will keep reading just to witness the next tragedy.
Quote to quote, “A library is normally a very good place to work in the afternoon, but not if its window has been smashed and there is a hurricane approaching” (p 46). Sounds about right.
Author fact: Snicket was born in February…same as me.
Book trivia: Wide Window is the third book in the series.
Nancy said: Pearl has called all Snicket books wonderful.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-Ups” (p 174).
Farmer, Nancy. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. New York: Richard Jackson Book, 1994.
Reason read: October is National Fantasy Month.
The year is 2194 in Zimbabwe, Africa. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm takes place in a world of computer animated Dobermans and genetically engineered monkeys; a world where creatures called She Elephants (that aren’t actually elephants) mine for plastic in a toxic dump. Robots and rockets are the norm. Basically, insert your favorite sci-fi stereotype here. It is also a world full of ancient African cultures and traditions. Witchcraft, spirits, and powers beyond human recognition rule the landscape.
In this landscape are Tendai, Rita, and Kuda. They are the overprotected and bored children of General Matsika, Chief of Security. Matisika has too many enemies so homeschooling, work, play; essentially his children’s every blessed second is spent behind gigantic heavily guarded walls. Much to his father’s disappointment, Tendai, the oldest child, will never make a good warrior. Tendai is the gentlest and most sensitive of all the children. He has the ability to physically feel the harm done to others. Rita, the middle child, is fiery and headstrong; not afraid to speak her mind or start a fight with anyone, human or otherwise. Kuda, by default the youngest, is impetuous and bold; simply not afraid of anything.
Confined as they are, the three children are eager to break out of their homemade prison when given the chance. And rest assured, break out they finally do. There wouldn’t be a story otherwise. Once the Matsika children find a way to trick their babysitter, the adventure outside the fortified mansion begins and it is not what any of them expected. Sold into slavery, the children are forced to work along side the vlei people sorting trash for a tyrant so large she is called “She Elephant.” It is not a spoiler to say they escape from this predicament only to fall in the trap of another and another and another.
General Matsika, consumed with remorse for letting down his guard for a second, hires a mutant detective agency called Ear, Eye, Arm to find his children. Ear has super sensitive hearing. Eye (you guessed it) has super sight. Arm is the most unique of all as he can feel empathy to the point of seeing into one’s soul. Together they chase the children from one entrapment to the other. The ending combines science fiction with ancient African customs for a Hollywood ending.
Apparently, I didn’t like any lines because I have nothing to quote.
As with any good fantasy, there has to be a connection to reality to help the reader connect. Instead of “jet” lag, individuals in 2194 experience “rocket” lag. Funny.
Author fact: Nancy Farmer wrote a bunch of really good stuff. Unfortunately, none of it is on my Challenge list. Boo.
Book trivia: The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm won a Newbery Honor award in 1995.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm except to describe the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasy for Grown-Ups” (p 174). I would definitely agree this would be entertaining for adults.
Ben Jelloun, Tahar. The Last Friend. Translated by Kevin Michel Cape. New York: Penguin Books, 2007.
Reason read: Ben Jelloun was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.
In 1950s Morocco, schoolboy Ali meets Mamet (Mohammed) for the first time after a school yard fight. Their personalities and views on life could not be further apart. They are opposite in every way. Mamet has to fight every aspect of his life: rebelling against the Communist party sexually; betraying his religion with food and drink; ignoring his culture by committing adultery. To compensate for feeling inferior he is full of unnecessary bravado. Yet, their differences make them curious friends. Best friends at that. Without knowing it, they protect each other time and time again. Over the span of thirty years and many trials and tribulations, their relationship deepens into a profound bond; one even their wives find hard to accept. It is as if Ali and Mamet’s separate relationships orbit around their singular connection. Despite moving apart Ali and Mamet remain close until a misunderstanding and an even larger betrayal comes between them.
The lines I loved, “Friendship begins with sharing secrets” (p 16), “I discovered that ideology indoctrination can bind even an intelligent mind” (p 26), “In friendship, as in love, everyone needs an element of mystery” (p 51), and “I found myself walking down a boulevard under a cold sun, considering different scenarios to protect our friendship from the tragedy of death” (p 154).
As an aside, I never thought of Bob Marley as a misogynist.
Author fact: Ben Jelloun also wrote This Blinding Absence of Light which I read almost a year ago.
Book trivia: There is a scene in a Bette Midler movie where a mother picks a horrendous fight with her daughter in order to force her daughter to live her best life. While the fight is extremely painful to the daughter, she is able to pick up the pieces and move on. The final scene of the movie is of her getting married while her mother watches from a distance. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but The Last Friend could be a movie with a similar scene…
Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything about The Last Friend specifically, but she mentions the translation by Linda Coverdale is “superb.” I didn’t read that version.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “North African Notes: Morocco” (p 161).
Joyce, William. Santa Calls. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.
Reason read: Christmas is in December. Santa calls at Christmastime. If you believe in that kind of thing.
When you are finished reading Santa Calls you might ask yourself, is that it? Is that all to the story? But, do yourself a favor – read it again. And again and again. It is the story of a little boy named Art who is often cruel to his little sister, Esther. Together, they receive a curious present which sends them, along with their friend, Spaulding Littlefeets, on a terrific journey to the North Pole to see Santa Claus. Before they can investigate Santa’s reason for the invitation, the children are confronted by a terrible queen and her evil minions. It is very reminiscent of the wicked witch and her flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. Once the children thwart the awful queen, (this is a book for children after all), they are back in Abilene, Texas in the blink of an eye. Was it all a dream? Esther doesn’t think so.
Author fact: Joyce dedicated Santa Calls to the Wizard of Oz, among others. Pretty cool.
Book trivia: Santa Calls was illustrated by William Joyce. Each page is a work of art. Enjoy them to the fullest.
Confessional: when I was a child, we would have a community get-together at the one room school. Us kids would put on a play for the adults, enjoy a potluck dinner followed by slightly off key carols. Everyone, children and adults, would eagerly look forward to a rousing (by this point drunken) “Jiggle Bells” because that would be Santa’s cue to stumble on stage with a bulging red sack of toys. Santa would be slightly tipsy and sort of off balanced as he made his way to sit on the edge of the stage; girls and boys lined up to sit on his lap. I was always a little shy of the fisherman hidden under the red suit and very wary of sitting on his lap. In an effort to be overlooked I would stand behind a curtain and stare up at the starry night; my eyes straining to see Rudolph’s shiny red nose. There were times I could have sworn I saw something glow.
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Santa Calls except to summarize the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Christmas Books For the Whole Family To Read” (p 55).
Milne, A.A. Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: Yearling Book, 1954.
Reason read: Please do not quote me on this, but I read somewhere that Eeyore’s birthday is in December. Read in his honor if that’s true.
I had forgotten Winnie-the-Pooh started off as Edward Bear. Edward is a respectable name for a loveable, if not absent minded, practical, and decent bear. I didn’t know Pooh was a swan until Christopher Robin had other ideas and Winnie-ther-Pooh Bear was born. Who doesn’t know Pooh and his woodland mates: Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo? The adventures they have in Hundred Acre Wood are legendary. To bring you back down memory lane- Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s door. Pooh and Piglet search for a Woozie. Eeyore misplaces his tail. Piglet is rescued during a flood. Pooh and Piglet want to trap a Heffalump. The gang goes looking for the North Pole. Eeyore has a birthday…Every story has Pooh being slow-witted and honey-sweet.
In addition to being nice and thoughtful Pooh has the attitude of Ready for Anything. We could all learn a thing or two from Winnie-the-Pooh.
Lines I loved: the musings of Eeyore, “Inasmuch as which?” (p 45); the wisdom of Christopher Robin, ” a little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference” (p 122), the kindness of Piglet, “It’s so much more friendly with two” (p 134). Yes, yes, and yes.
Author fact: After serving in World War I, Milne dedicated the rest of his life to writing stories inspired by his son, Christopher. Interestingly enough, another famous author of stories for children, Hugh Lofting, had a son named Christopher who was also an inspiration.
Book trivia: Winnie-the-Pooh was “decorated” by Ernest H. Shepard. I just love that. As an aside, I seem to have taken the character of Tigger the tiger for granted. I just assumed he was always part of the gang from the start. He is nowhere to be found in the first book.
Confessional: when I was in my early twenties I met a man who adored Pooh Bear and all Pooh’s friends. This man became my first and only summer romantic. Now, whenever I see anything Pooh related I think of him.
Nancy said: Pearl said when she thinks of islands the first thing that comes to mind is the chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh in which Piglet is completely surrounded by water. Not exactly a statement about the book…
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1920s)” (p 175). Also in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oceania, or Miles of Isles” (p 164). The inclusion of this book in Lust To Go was a head scratcher for me. In this chapter the title, Winnie-the-Pooh, is italicized instead of bolded like all the other titles. But because it is included in the index I put it on my list.
Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of Butterflies. New York: Penguin, 1995.
Reason read: On November 25th, 1960 Patria Mercedes Mirabal (36), Minerva Mirabal (31), Maria Teresa Mirabal (25), and Rufino De La Cruz (37) were murdered. True story. Read in their memory.
Julia Alvarez framed In the Time of Butterflies around one truth: On November 25th, 1960 three sisters, known as “las mariposas,” died under very suspicious circumstances in the Dominican Republic. While their Jeep was found at the bottom of a steep cliff, their injuries told of a much different and violent death. Before their murders these courageous women were no ordinary citizens of the Republic. After being radicalized at University three of the four sisters defiantly joined an underground movement to overthrow the country’s tyrannical leader, Rafael Leonides Trujillo. Imprisoned for their activities, the women failed to see the warning signs when they are suddenly freed without fanfare. They don’t think anything amiss when their imprisoned husbands are moved to a more remote prison, forcing the sisters to travel a deserted mountain road to visit them. The story begins with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister, who feels almost a sideshow freak. Every year on the anniversary of her sisters’ murders, some reporter comes calling to hear the sad tale. Because the narration of In the Time of Butterflies is told from the perspective of each sister, character development happens seamlessly. They take turns releasing their passions and convictions, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third.
In the Time of Butterflies is an extremely exquisite and tragic tale. As Dede says, “If you multiply by zero, you still get zero, and a thousand heartaches.”
Lines to linger over (and there were a bunch), “It took some doing and undoing to bring me down to earth” (p 120), “The kissing was bringing on waves of pleasure she feared would capsize her self-control” (p 204), “Even so, my voice threw sparks” (p 261) and lastly, “But if she had a ghost in her heart, she didn’t give out his name” (p 271).
Author fact: Alvarez also wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents which I thought was on my Challenge list, but the only Alvarez I am to read is In the Time of Butterflies. Bummer.
Book trivia: While the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and their driver is a fact, Alvarez admits to filling in their personalities with her imagination.
Nancy said: Pearl called In the Time of Butterflies “heartrending.”
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction Around the World” (p 113) and in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Dominican Republic” (p 52).
Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Darkest Road. New York: Arbor House, 1986.
Reason read: to finish the series started in September in honor of Fantasy month.
This is the conclusion of the Tapestry series. Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, is busy assembling his armies for battle. Everyone knows magic must prevail…but will it? It all comes down to the decision of young Darien. Darien, who was born of Darkness and Light; half mortal, half god; good versus evil and so on and so forth. Darien still struggles with his identity. Because his mother insists on giving him space to work out his issues he feels lost and unloved. There is a lesson to be learned from this. Darien is left to his own devices, not because he isn’t loved, but because he is trusted to do the right thing on his own. Which side will be his? Enter Lancelot to be his protector from both sides of identity. There is a whole lot more that goes on in The Darkest Road. All the typical battles and trysts; atypical alliances and love affairs. The humans are in there, too.
Author fact: My next Kay book for the Challenge is The Last Light of the Sun, but I also have Under Heaven and The Lions of al-Rassan to read.
Book trivia: This is the last book in the Tapestry series.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Darkest Road in her list of critically acclaimed fantasy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #2: The Reptile Room. Harper Perennial, 2004.
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Halloween and all things spooky.
The Reptile Room starts with a small recap of the first unfortunate event because it is important for the reader to know that Mr. Poe, a family friend from the bank, is still in charge of finding the Baudelaire orphans a suitable place to live. It is even more important to be reminded that Count Olaf escaped in the first Unfortunate book. When we meet back up with the children they have been shuffled off to their even more distance relative, Uncle Monty. Montgomery Montgomery is a world renowned herpetologist with a roomful of, you guessed it, snakes (hence the title of Book Number Two of the Series of Unfortunate Events). Of course, the snakes turn out to be the Baudelaire children’s downfall. I won’t say anymore than that.
True to form, the stylistic pattern for Lemony’s books is to constantly remind you to slam the book closed and not read another word; to go read another book if you want a happy ending. Dear reader, you also need to accept Lemony is going to define words every now and then. It’s all part of the schtick. It just is.
Lines I actually liked, “It is plenty difficult to wait for Halloween when the tedious month of September is still ahead of you” (p 27). Agreed. “You couldn’t tell how the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked, because the facial expressions of a snake are difficult to read” (p 67). Again, agreed.
Author fact: Last time I told you Lemony’s real name. This time I can tell you he was born in February.
Book trivia: I am reading an electronic version without illustrations so it’s only 78 pages long.
Nancy said: Pearl called the series “wonderful.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasies For Grown-Ups” (p 174).
Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.
Reason read: During these crazy times I need to remember to breath; to be still. Read for me, myself, and moi.
The title of this book does not lie. Gunaratana offers a how-to for insight mindfulness in a straight-forward and easy-to-understand language. This is not the deeply didactic philosophy of mindfulness, but rather a deep dive into South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first order of business is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding mindfulness and meditation. For example, there is no magic to this vipassana style medication. You won’t levitate. Instead, you become grounded in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Speaking of concentration, you learn the concept of shallow concentration which seems contrary to successful mindfulness. In other words, you won’t lose yourself in mindfulness. Instead, you will train your mind to concentrate on a mental object, the breath being more convenient and ever-present. I am reminded of one of my favorite Natalie Merchant lyric from ‘Not in This Life,’ “Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out.” Despite the easy language and thin volume, Mindfulness is a treasure trove of information.
As an aside, I have to laugh when Gunaratana advised not to sit in any one position for more than twenty minutes. Please! I can’t sit comfortably in any position for more than five, maybe ten minutes tops.
Quotes I loved, “Life seems a perpetual struggle, an enormous effort against staggering odds” (p 9), “What we face every day is unpredictable” (p 53), “Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from” ( 77), and “Somewhere in the process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy” (p 82). Amen.
Author fact: Gunaratana was ordained as a monk at the age of twelve. Twelve! I shudder to think what I was doing at the age of twelve.
Book trivia: I can tell this book helped many people. My copy was dog-eared and heavily underlined.
Nancy said: Pearl said there was useful information in Mindfulness in Plain English. She goes on to say “Gunaratana’s book is much less theoretical, vis-a-vis Buddhist philosophy and psychology…but more practical and systematic in its presentation of technique” (Book Lust p 255).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).
Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.
Reason read: Veteran’s Day is November 11th, 2020. Read in honor of Civil War veterans long dead and gone but never forgotten.
One of the most interesting aspects of Rifles for Watie is that it is told from the perspective of multiple groups in and around the American civil war of April 1861 – April 1865. Keith visited actual battle locations to get a sense of the varying conflicts and not just the well known ones related to violent battle. Poverty, wealth, prejudice, pride, religion, gender, tribal feuding, slavery, freedom. Right or wrong, all of these issues collide.
Keith used diaries, journals, and personal letters to give Rifles for Watie first person authenticity. To personalize it even further, he used interviews conducted for his thesis. Between the years of 1940 and 1941 he visited with twenty two veterans and listened to their nostalgic reminiscing. These oral histories captured the large and small personal sacrifices of war. Ever in their debt, Keith was careful to give all twenty two individuals credit saying, “my obligation to all their memories is very deep” (Introduction, Rifles for Watie p 12). While General Watie and James G. Blunt were a real-life historical figures, the character of Jeffrey and the other soldiers in Rifles for Watie are Keith’s imagination; I would like to think of them as a creative combination of all the men Harold Keith interviewed.
My favorite segment was when Jefferey was having a passionate argument with Lucy. Every side of the conflict is laid bare; because there are more than two sides to every truth. Good guys aren’t necessarily all that good. Bad guys aren’t that bad. Dogs are just dogs.
An aside: My sticking point. Early on in Rifles for Watie Jeffrey’s family is violently attacked by rebel bushwhackers. The family manages to fend off the raiders, but not before the bushwhackers threaten a much more violent return. I was confused as to why Jeffrey would leave his family knowing they barely survived the first vicious attack. Yes, it gave Jefferey the impetus to join the war to fight the rebels, but what about his defenseless family back in Kansas? No matter. When he is home on furlough all seems fine and there is no mention of bushwhackers ever returning.
Author fact: Keith was dedicated to the state of Oklahoma where he was born, raised, lived, and died.
Book trivia: Rifles for Watie won a Newbery Award in 1958.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rifles for Watie except that it explores one of the least well-known aspects of the Civil War.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).