Wandering Fire

Guy, Gavriel Kay. The Wandering Fire. New York: Arbor House, 1986.

Reason read: to continue the series started last month in honor of fantasy.

Although it isn’t readily obvious, Wandering Fire takes place six months after The Summer Tree. All of the humans are back. Kim is in desperate need of a dream to tell her the plan while Jennifer and Paul are chased by the wolf, Galadan. Paul is able to save them by pulling them back into Fionovar….and so begins the next installment of the Tapestry trilogy.
Like The Summer Tree before it, Wandering Fire, relies heavily on familiarity to keep non-fantasy readers engaged. This time the legends of King Arthur and Lancelot are front and center, with Jennifer as Guinevere from another lifetime. But, anyway…back to the plot. After hundreds of years of imprisonment, Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, has finally escaped the confines of his mountain jail. To punish the inhabitants of Fionavar he subjects them to a never-ending winter (I was reminded of the holiday special for kids: A Year Without Santa). I digress. Again. Needless to say, the cold confuses the calendar. Midsummer’s Eve is upon the people of Fionavar, but they have lost track of time because the weather is anything but summer-like. It takes a great deal of back and forth magic that I can’t even get into in order to break the spell. Did I mention fantasy isn’t my thing?
Meanwhile, there is the birth of Darien, half human and half demigod. He was born of darkness and light; of good and evil…you get the point. The real question is where will he end up when he is old enough to chose a side? Much like that Skywalker kid…I digress again.
One of my favorite characters dies. Bummer.

Line to like, “Are you trying to earn my hate?” I think I want to use that one on a few people.

Author fact: did I mention Kay is Canadian? I think he should write a fantasy about the U.S. and the upcoming election. It promises to be fantastic.

Book trivia: Wandering Fire was awarded the Prix Aurora Award (Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy award).

Nancy said: Pearl included The Wandering Fire in a list of contemporary critically acclaimed fantasy, but said nothing specific about the book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Summer Tree

Kay, Guy Gavriel. Summer Tree: The Fionavar Tapestry: Book One. New York: Roc Trade, 2001.

Expect the typical push and pull of good versus evil; light versus dark. Five typical college students are attending a lecture at the University of Toronto. This normal behavior grounds the lesser fan of fantasy and urges them to keep reading as the students are summoned by a dwarf and a mage to return to the world of Fionavar for a celebration. It’s High King Ailell of Brennin’s fiftieth year of rein and these five students are very important guests…or at least one of them seems to be. Being able to relate is the name of the game when trying to hook someone who isn’t a hard core fanatic of the fantasy genre. Summer Tree draws from Nordic and Celtic mythology as another way to insert familiarity into the plot. The characters are straight out of stereotyping (leave it to a burly man who has to avenge his humiliation with violence). The theme is definitely medieval, even in fashion with doublet and hose. The mystery of why these five students are important is dangled in front of the reader like a carrot on a stick. Another mystery is the sleeping danger that lurks beneath the mountain. This danger is hidden away and the possibility of its exposure is intriguing. All told, it is the dangerous Summer Tree that is the star of the show. The Summer Tree has blood magic and is sacred to Mornir of the Thunder. It is the place where people hang naked until the ultimate sacrifice of death.

The players:
Kevin, the musician.
Dave, the law student. He has a bad feeling about going to this new world and tries to bail at the last minute. He instead goes missing.
Kim Ford, studying to be a doctor. She becomes a seer early in the plot.
Paul Shafer, not well and grieving for a dead girlfriend.
Jennifer Lowell, a target for the prince’s affections.
Loren, the mage. Also known as Silvercloak.
Diamuid, the prince who has a thing for Jennifer.

One complaint is the implausible emotion brought on by unrealistic dialogue. Case in point: if a friend told me a dog “wanted” him I would have a hard time leaving the statement to hang in the air without so much as a raised eyebrow. I would be quizzically asking what he meant, or at the very least exclaiming the less intelligent, “whaa?!?”
A writing tactic I appreciated was the different perspectives of the same situation. It was reminiscent of Michael Dorris’s Yellow Raft in Blue Water, which I loved.

Expect a little sexism. Leave it to a man who has to avenge his humiliation. Case in point, most annoying quote: “She was growing too undisciplined; it was time to have her married.”

Author fact: Kay has been compared to Tolkien a bunch of times.

Book trivia: Summer Tree is Book One of the Fionavar Tapestry. There are two other books in the series.

Nancy said: Summer Tree was included in Pearl’s list of contemporary critically acclaimed fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Nemesis

Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. New York: Signet, 2000.

Reason read: Christie’s birth month is in September. Read in her honor even though I already read her Murder on the Orient Express this summer.

Nemesis is a breath of fresh air. When seemingly ordinary people: dentists, librarians, park guides (what have you) get caught up in murders again and again and again I get annoyed by the coincidence…especially if it is an unexplained phenomenon. Miss Jane Marple addresses crime’s ability to find her time and time again, acknowledging how odd it is for this elderly women to be an accidental investigator. I found that refreshing.
On to the plot: Jason Rafiel, an extremely wealthy man dies. Seeing his name in the obituary section of the newspaper sends Miss Marple down memory lane. She immediately beings to reminisce about the deceased even though she only met him once on a trip in the Caribbean West Indies. Oddly enough, they were thrown together to solve a mystery. Imagine that! What a coincidence when she receives a letter from the dead man asking her to take on an investigation without any information. If she can, she stands to earn 20,000. Is she to solve a crime or just a conundrum? Miss Jane Marple, elderly and nosy, is up to the task despite not knowing a single detail. Dear readers, this will be the final case of her investigative career. Back to the drama: Mysterious Mr. Rafiel sends her on a garden tour lasting two to three weeks and prearranges every detail for Miss Marple, right down to the people she needs to meet.
A warning to those sensitive to a time before political correctness: there is a lot of ageism and sexism. I have a high tolerance for the days before being polite…except for when they say a woman is asking to be raped. “Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be.” Whatever that means. I also took offense to the line, “Accuracy is more of a male quality than a female one.” Again, whatever.

Confessional: I have always wanted to read a Miss Marple mystery.

Lines I did like, “Well, she hadn’t wished to get mixed up in any murders, but it just happened” (p 8) and “Miss Marple lost herself in a train of thoughts that arose from her thoughts” (p 53).

Author fact: Besides the character of Miss Jane Marple, Christie is responsible for the creation of Inspector Hercule Poirot.

Book trivia: Nemesis is a Miss Marple mystery. The interesting thing is this is the only Miss Marple I am reading for the Lust Challenge, and it is well down the list in the series, meaning it was written late in Christie’s life. I have no idea why Pearl chose this particular title.

Nancy said: Pearl said Nemesis was “written quite late in Christie’s career, but up to her high standards” (Book Lust p 118).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the ginormous chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


Holes

Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.

Reason read: September would have been Back to School month for most children. Now it’s the back to school month for some children, thanks to COVID-19.

This is one of the more imaginative books for kids I have read in a long time. Stanley Yelnats stands accused of stealing the shoes of a major league baseball legend nicknamed Sweet Feet. He claimed they mysteriously fell from the sky and hit him on the head. In lieu of jail, Stanley’s punishment of choice is 180 days at Camp Green Lake, a correctional facility for delinquent boys (“this isn’t Girl Scouts”). Once Stanley arrives he quickly learns every boy has to dig a 5’x5′ hole once a day in a desert full of scorpions, rattle snakes, and yellow lizards. Every boy has a nickname and every boy had a place in the pecking order. Stanley, soon renamed Caveman, is in the back of the line; ruled by X-Ray, Armpit, and the others. Interspersed in Stanley’s story is the legend of his family’s curse and how it follows Stanley to drought-ridden Camp Green Lake. I could go on and on about how clever Holes is, but it will take you a day to read it for yourself.

Author fact: Sachar has his own website here.

Book trivia: Holes was made into a movie in 2003 starring Shia LaBeouf and Sigourney Weaver. Of course I haven’t seen it, but it looks cute. Update: by the time I turned the very last page of the book I had the movie queued up.

Nancy said: Pearl said Holes was appropriate for boys and girls alike.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls”


Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.

Reason read: Doyle died in July. Read in his memory.

If you were to read the Complete Sherlock Holmes in chronological order, you would not start with the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, twelve in all, start after Holmes and Watson have gone their separate ways and are no longer sharing rooms of a flat together. Watson is by this time married with a house of his own while Holmes is still on Baker Street. One constant that remains throughout all the stories is Holmes’s ability to confuse people with his keen sense of observation. “How could you know that?” is a constant refrain. Another constant is that all of the stories are told in first person from Watson’s point of view.

Short stories:

  • “Scandal in Bohemia” – a Duke and heir King is blackmailed by an actress. Sherlock, with the help of Holmes, attempts to end the threat but the woman outsmarts them.
  • “Red-Headed League” – what do you get when you mix a redhead, an Encyclopedia, a bank, and a scam? Answer: a Sherlock Holmes mystery, of course!
  • “A Case of Identity” – How far will a man go to keep his stepdaughter from marrying?
  • “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” – Did a man really murder his father or is there more going on?
  • “The Five Orange Pips” – a curse has come down through the generations, terrorizing a family.
  • “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – This was my favorite. A man goes missing and is believed to be dead while his wife has faith he is alive.
  • “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” – Who stole this precious jewel?
  • “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” – another crazy story about a father not wanting his daughters to marry because of losing the inheritance.
  • “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” – is it a spoiler to say this is one story where the criminals get away?
  • “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” – Just what the title says, a guy does the right thing.
  • “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” – family devotion illustrated with a coronet.
  • “The Adventure of the Copper Beaches” – a really interesting story about trying to thwart a wedding (another common theme for Sherlock).

Author fact: rumor has it, Sherlock Holmes is somewhat modeled after Dr. Joseph Bell, a professor of Dolye’s at Edinburgh University.

Book trivia: Despite publishing two novels previously, Doyle’s career didn’t take off until he started writing short stories. The twelve listed above were published together in 1892.

Nancy said: Pearl included the Complete Sherlock Holmes in a list of private-eye mysteries.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the really long chapter called “I love a Mystery” (p 117).


Bright Nights, Big City

McInerney, Jay. Bright Nights, Big City. New York: Vintage Books, 1984

Reason read: New York became a state in the month of July. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library reading challenge for the category of novel written in second person.

While reading Bright Nights, Big City you want to call its protagonist a sucker. On the mean streets of New York City he buys fake Rolex watches, falls for fake schemes, follows around false friends, and believes a model could fake loving him enough to stay married until death do them part. You want to call this guy a loser because you know there isn’t a happy ending for him. There can’t be. Drugs constantly addle his mind and he never sleeps enough. His spiral becomes out of control when he loses his fact checking job for a publication, he loses his freak friends, and nearly loses his mind. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a lot to mourn. He had wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be married to a hot girl. He wanted his mother to survive cancer. He is literally drowning his deep seeded in a tsunami of cocaine and bright lights. The end comes when rock bottom is met and our friend has to have an awakening of sorts.

Author fact: McInerney also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name.

Book trivia: Bright Nights, Big City was made into a movie starring Michael J. Fox in 1988. You can tell I haven’t seen it because I kept getting it confused with the movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., Less Than Zero.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bright Nights, Big City a “wonderful” novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170).


Mosquito Coast

Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Reason read: June 21st is Father’s Day. Ahem.

Despite this being a book read in honor of Father’s Day, Charlie Fox’s dad isn’t the ideal father figure. He could fit into the role of Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining. Allie Fox, from the town of Hadley in Massachusetts, doesn’t trust the traditional school system, doesn’t trust the government, doesn’t trust his neighbors. He believes he can teach his children (Charlie, Jerry and the twins, Clover and April) all they need to know. He doesn’t suffer fools and constantly tests his children’s courage, especially eldest son Charlie’s. He is in constant competition with other men (“How many push ups can you do?”); he is proud, defiant, and must not, absolutely cannot, be embarrassed in front of his family. Fed up with his own country, Papa Fox is easily swayed by Honduran migrant workers to pack up his family and move to the Mosquito Coast. Once there, Theroux threads a growing sense of unease throughout the pages. The first whiff of danger comes with Father jokes about throwing Mr. Haddy overboard and it is possible to believe he is mad enough to have done it. Like Kings’s Jack Torrance, Allie Fox displays an escalating sense of craziness as time goes on. Paranoia grows like mold in the jungles of Honduras. It goes without saying that things don’t end well for the Fox family; or maybe they do if you like endings like The Shining.

As an aside, it is really strange to read about the area in which I currently call “home.” I try not to over analyze Theroux’s descriptions of Northampton or Hatfield or Springfield.

Lines or phrases I liked: First the phrases – “four-o’clock-in-the-morning courage,” and “creepy-quiet.”
Here are the lines I liked – “It was the town of dead ends” (p 108), “But what can you do with people who have already been corrupted?” (p 190), and last one, ” When a person is suffering and afraid, his ailments are obvious and his injuries stick out” (p 298).

Author fact: I think it is obvious Theroux spent some time in Massachusetts.

Book trivia: Woodcuts are by David Frampton. Another piece of trivia: Mosquito Coast was made into a movie in 1986.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito Coast other than explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Fathers and Sons” (p 85).


The Good War

Terkel, Studs. “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War Two. New York: Partheon Books, 1984

Reason read: I am taking a full two months to the “The Good War.” Victory Day is May 9th and D-Day is June 6th.

The best way to read “The Good War” is to sit down with a cup of coffee and envision a WWII vet sitting across from you. He has a faraway look in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands as he remembers best a single event that most likely changed his life forever. But, don’t stop there. Now sitting across from you could be a businessman, a nurse, a dress maker, a dancer, a man who was just a child during the war and thought the battlefield was place of adventure. you might imagine someone who survived a prison camp, or a conscientious objector, or a young boy who thought enlisting would be a chance to prove himself…Terkel interviewed people from all walks of life. Each story is unique and yet, yet hauntingly similar. You hear of young men losing their sense of humanity in the face of unimaginable cruelty: a man remembers watching his comrade in arms throw pebbles into the open skull of a dead Japanese soldier; the smell of cooking cats. Other young men speak of hiding their sexual orientation while trying to appear manly enough for battle (Ted Allenby’s story reminded me of Ryan O’Callaghan a great deal). But, you also hear from the women: wives and girlfriends left behind, Red Cross nurses on the front lines, even singers sent to entertain the troops. It is easy to see why this stunning nonfiction won a Pulitzer.

Quotes to quote, “No matter what the official edict, for millions of American women home would never be again a Doll’s House” (p 10), and “I got on the stick and wrote the President again” (p 21), and “Must a society experience horror in order to understand horror?” (p 14).

Author fact: Studs’s real name was Louis.

Book trivia: “The Good War” won a Pulitzer for nonfiction in 1985.

Nancy said: Pearl said you could never do better than Terkel’s “The Good War” for an oral history. Agreed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War Two Nonfiction” (p 254).


Lovely Bones

Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Reason read: Father’s Day is June 21, 2020. Susie’s father never gave up on finding Susie’s killer. A father’s love triumphs against all tragedies, doesn’t it?

This is the sort of book that takes you by the throat and hold you in a death grip like Darth Vader. I say this because there are times when I could not breathe while reading The Lovely Bones because I was either actively holding my breath, or choking on the different expressions of heartbreak. In truth, every emotion (think stages of grief) floats just under the icy surface of reality as a dead girl narrates “life” after murder. Susie Salmon was an ordinary girl who knew right from wrong; knew the man in the cornfield wasn’t quite right, but yet curiosity got the better of her. Now, she is suspended in this alternate universe of “heaven” while watching her family, friends, and community cope with her murder. In her heaven, reality is a school-like atmosphere while she blandly looks down on the world she left behind. She is unmoved when her mother seeks a drastic remedy for grief, or when her would-be boyfriend almost finds her body.
What impressed me the most about The Lovely Bones was the end. Sebold did not feel pressured to give into a Hollywood ending. It might be a spoiler alert, but the ending is more realistic than what you would see in a movie. I’m alright with that.

As an aside, I have been watching Mind Hunter on Netflix (just started, so don’t ruin it for me) and The Lovely Bones keeps popping into my head every time another Georgian boy goes missing. I kept asking how? every single time.

Quotes I liked, “There wasn’t a lot of bullshit in my heaven” (p 8), and “In violence, it is the getting away that you concentrate on” (p 37).

Author fact: The Lovely Bones was Sebold’s first novel.

Book trivia: everyone knows The Lovely Bones was made into a movie in December of 2009. I still have yet to see it.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Lovely Bones original and shocking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very first chapter called “A…My name is Alice” (p 1).


Brothers K

Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. Read by Robertson Dean. New York: Dial Press, 1996.

Reason read: April is National Sibling month. April is Easter. April is spring training month for baseball. April is Humor month. The Brothers K has all these elements and more.

To say this is the saga of one family in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington would be only somewhat accurate. To call The Brothers K a book about baseball and religion would also be somewhat accurate. Papa Hugh “Smoke” Chance was a talented enough pitcher to be drafted into the minor leagues and was on his way to the majors. Mama Chance was an extremely devout Seven Day Adventist. Baseball and religion. As with any parents of influence, their themes are the backbone of The Brothers K. Arguably, there is a great deal of sports play by play and religious fervor, as other reviewers have pointed out. What saves The Brothers K from being long winded and tedious is narrator and youngest son, Kincade Chance. His humor and sharp wit keep the plot from getting too bogged down. Interspersed with his story is older brother, Everett’s school essay and biography about the family patriarch.
Despite there being six children in the Chance household, only eldest Everett, middle brother Peter, and next to youngest brother Irwin have significant stories. Kincade doesn’t share very many details about himself and even less about his science obsessed twin sisters, Winnifred and Beatrice. Everett grows up to be an outspoken politician against the Vietnam War. Peter becomes the perpetual student; first studying at Harvard, then Buddhism in India. Irwin’s tragic story is that he sent to Vietnam and forever changed.

As an aside, I have a friend who always says “darn tootin'” whenever he is absolutely sure of something. Until The Brothers K I had never heard anyone else say that.

Author fact: Duncan also wrote River Why and My Story as Told by Water, both on my Challenge list.

Book Audio trivia: Robertson Dean’s reading of The Brothers K is fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl called Brothers K “engrossing” (“Brothers and Sisters”),
“well-written and interesting” (“Families in Trouble”), and a novel “complicated by the whole Oedipal shtick” (“Mothers and Sons”).

BookLust Twist: You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. It will show up in a bunch of different places. For Brothers K it is indexed in Book Lust in three different chapters, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 46), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), and “Mothers and Sons” (p 160).


My Family and Other Animals

Durrell, Gerald. My Family and Other Animals. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956.

Reason read: April is Humor month. If this makes me laugh through any part of Covid-19 I say bring it on!

Gerald Durrell wanted to write a serious book about the animals he encountered as a ten year old child on the the island of Corfu. Instead, his sense of humor and wacky family kept getting the better of his memories from 1935 – 1939. Instead of just documenting the creatures of his childhood, My Family and Other Animals is a hilarious memoir with some pretty unbelievable (obviously exaggerated) moments. How is it possible that eldest son, Lawrence, convinces his widowed mom to pack up their London home and transplant a family of three kids and a dog to the Greek island of Corfu? This same mom not only tolerates the critters Gerald brings into the house, but accepts them as bona fide pets. Insects, lizards, turtles, birds all join the Durrell family with hilarious results.

Best quote to quote, “I forgot about the eminent danger of being educated, and went off with Roger to hunt for glowworms in the sprawling brambles” (p 52). Typical kid.

Author fact: the list of books Durrell has written is extensive. I am only reading the Corfu trilogy.

Book trivia: My Family and Other Animals is part of a trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned My Family and Other Animals as one that made her laugh out loud.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220).


Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.

Reason read: March is African Writers Month.

Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).

As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).

Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.

Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.

Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”

BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).


On the Night Plain

Lennon, J. Robert. On the Night Plain. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.

Reason read: April is Sibling month.

Grant Person is a curious character. When we first meet this protagonist, he is leaving his Montana sheep ranching family for somewhere (anywhere?) else. His whole attitude is one of ambivalence. If the train stops he’ll get on board. If not, oh well. He’ll go back to his parents and brother as if nothing happened. He has no clear direction other than he would head due east towards New York. He ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey for some time then wanders home again when he learns his mother has died.
When Grant returns, he is the exact opposite. He comes home to a sheep ranch barely surviving. After his mother’s death, his father runs away. His brother with dreams of being an artist has one foot out the door himself. By himself, Grant becomes singular in his focus to save the farm. It’s a stark story with barely any color or light.

There were a lot of lines I really, really like. “A smile seemed to think about appearing on Cotter’s face but it never arrived” (p 55),

Author fact: J. Robert Lennon also wrote The Funnies which I have already read for the Challenge. He also wrote a series which I am not reading.

Book trivia: I could see this being a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl jokes Lennon is successful at setting a tragedy of Greek proportions on a failing sheep farm on the Great Plains. In More book Lust Pearl included On the Night Plain as an example of brothers who have loved and hated one another.

BookLust Twist: Pearl liked this one. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Western Fiction” (p 240); also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh, Brother” (p 180).


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).