Secret Knowledge of Water

Childs, Craig. The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. Seattle: Sasquatch, 2000.

Reason read: I’m reading this for several reasons. The original reason was since this is a nature book and John Muir’s birth month is in April I wanted to read this in his honor. Second reason is Earth Day being in April. Duh. Third (and probably most important reason…) I am headed to Arizona in the next month!

I just finished a harrowing tale that involved desperate illegal immigrants trying to brave the scorching harsh desert to make it to the promised land of the United States. Images of Mexican refugees left to die of thirst, roasting in the arid desert played through my mind as I read Craig Childs’s Secret Knowledge of Water. Childs willingly and eagerly traverses this seemingly barren landscape; bringing his readers through ravines and canyons; vast wastelands that look like the epitome of nothingness. But, pay attention to Childs’s lyrical language and a new desert starts to form before our eyes. Dripping caverns create pools of water rich with organisms.
There is an egotistical slant to my interest in a subject or rather, my attention to reading about it. Secret Knowledge of Water was interesting enough but it became more fascinating when Child talked of specific areas I plan to visit in May.

Lines I liked because I am in love with the night sky, “hysterical swarming of stars” (p 14), and “Then the stars took everything” (p 41).
Other lines I liked, “The world changed color when you think you might doe soon” (p 235), and “The entire Grand Canyon is thus a machine devised to capture and drive flash floods” (p 242).

Author fact: Childs also wrote The Animal Dialogues which is on my Challenge list. At the time of Secret’s publication he was a river guide.

Book trivia: The Secret Knowledge of Water does not contain photographs but it does have illustrations.

Nancy said: Pearl wanted to mention another book by Childs but since it was not specifically about Arizona she settled on Secret Knowledge.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30).


Council of the Cursed

Tremayne, Peter. The Council of the Cursed. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008.

Reason read: to “finish” the series started last month in honor of St. Patrick’s Day being in the month of March.

The year is 670 AD and wise Fidelma of Cashel has been called to the city of french city Autun to act as advisor to the Irish delegation to a Christian council normally hostile to the Celtic Church. This council decided the religious rule of Saint Benedict to be of Roman church practices. Like Absolution for Murder, Fidelma and her now husband Eadulf encounter a murder upon their arrival to Autun. Because of her reputation as a “crime solver” Bishop Leodegar asks Fidelma to investigate the death, giving her full access to investigate despite the fact a year earlier Leogedar ordered a full segregation of the sexes. Male members of the church were ordered to be celibate or, if already married, give up their families and divorce their wives. Women were simply forbidden in almost all areas. Some women disappeared altogether. Additional to this stumbling block, the death occurred a full week before Fidelma and Eadulf’s arrival. They have no chance to examine the body of Abbot Dabhoc or seek clues from the crime scene in real time. No one seems to want the couple to solve this crime. Is it because Fidelma is a woman? Witnesses are hostile, other individuals mysteriously disappear or are found dead outside the gates of the city. It is only after Fidelma and Eadulf experience near-death “accidents” that they begin to wonder if they are uncovering a much larger scandal.
Also like Absolution for Murder readers are treated to a little lesson on religion. One example among many Tremayne outlined: God is either the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost or he is the Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Both mean the same thing so which is right?
Since Absolution for Murder Fidelma and Eadulf have gotten married and have a son. This makes sense because Council of the Cursed is eighteen books later.

Quote I liked, “Truth is never found through a game of chance” (p 77).
Best word I liked, “scriptorium” (the library).

Author fact: Tremayne also writes as Peter MacAlan.

Book trivia: All of Tremayne’s books seem a little heavy on the religious lectures. Council of the Cursed is no different.

Nancy said: Pearl said she has enjoyed Tremayne’s series over the years and recommended The Council of the Cursed as a good place to start.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).


All Souls

Marias, Javier. All Souls. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Reason read: Oxford Jazz festival is in April.

I don’t exactly know how to explain All Souls except to say it is the first person narrative of a professor at Oxford with a two year contract. He remembers not having a heavy teaching load, but instead had heavy opinions of his colleagues. Most of his narrative is remembering his struggle to carry on a more then superficial affair with a married woman and the hurt he felt when she snubbed him for a month when her child was ill. He was a hard character to feel sorry for.
Confessional: I don’t think I much like the narrator of All Souls. He is an opinionated, standoffish, snarly man. On the other hand, I was fascinated with Will the porter. At ninety years old he lives in his head and those around him never know what era he thinks he is in but they accommodate him nicely.

Quote to quote, “Mrs. Alabaster was a smiling, authoritarian woman, with one of those very English smiles that you see adorning the faces of those famous strangers in films as they’re about to chose their next victim” (p 75).
Here’s another odd one, “We always condemn ourselves by what we say, not by what we do, but what we say or what we say we do, not by that others say or by what we actually have done” (p 31).

Author fact: Marias also wrote the Your Face Tomorrow series which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: All Souls was the first fiction of Marias to be translated by Margaret Jull Costa in 1992.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing special about All Souls except to quote a line from it.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oxford” in the section “Literary Fiction” (p 171).


Absolution By Murder

Tremayne, Peter. Absolution By Murder. New York: New American Library, 1997.

Reason read: read in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

To set the stage for Absolution by Murder: Sister Fidelma mysteries are set during the medieval mid-seventh century. At this time in history there is the well-known debate between the Celtic Christian and Roman churches in the Northumbria region. Its king stages a debate to determine the supreme authority and religious doctrine. The heroine of the series, Sister Fidelma, is an advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland. But, when the Abbess of the Columban order is murdered Fidelma takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of who killed her friend.
Readers will get a lesson in the differences between blessings at the Trinity versus Columban church. Picture the sign of the cross: is it Celtic with the first, third and fifth fingers raised? Or is it Roman with only the thumb, fist and second fingers? The hand gestures are different yet both are valid forms of worship.

Lines I liked: I will not quoting anything because the author didn’t allow any part of the publication to be reproduced for any reason without the consent…blah blah blah. Instead, I will outline a scene I liked. Because of the time in history Tremayne needed to illustrate a world-is-flat kind of ignorance. Because the science of a solar eclipse was not widely understood in the seventh century, some took its occurrence as an omen something terrible was about to happen. In this case superstition rang true because soon after the eclipse people started to die.

Author fact: Peter Berresford Ellis  is Peter Tremayne’s real name. He started his writing career as a reporter.

Book trivia: Absolution by Murder is the first Sister Fidelma mystery. Nearly thirty more follow.

Nancy said: Pearl said you have to be in certain mood to enjoy Tremayne mysteries and that “those committed to reading the series in order” should start with Absolution by Murder.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 112).


Cherry

Wheeler, Sara. Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard. New York: Random House, 2002.

Reason read: Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s final trip to the Antarctic. Scott was born in March. Read in his honor.

This was the age when everyone wanted to get to a Pole. North Pole or South Pole, it didn’t matter. For Apsley Cherry-Garrard, his expedition was to the South Pole with Robert Falcon Scott (Scott’s second journey).
Antarctica fueled the competitive spirits of Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition as they constantly compared their experiences in the Antarctic to Shackleton’s and kept a close eye on reports of Amundsen’s progress a short distance away. I am not going to review the events of what happened during this particular expedition as everyone is well familiar with Scott’s demise. Let’s focus on Cherry.
After the expedition Cherry’s life was consumed by his experiences. His opinion of Scott changed several different times as the reality of what he lived through sharpened. The expedition gave him purpose in life (writing a book and lecturing about it) while haunting his sleep and stunting his ability to move on from it. He predicted that large government-funded science stations would pop up in the Antarctic. He specifically mentioned Ross Island as a location for such a station. Wheeler does a fantastic job painting a sympathetic portrait of a complicated man.
As an aside, I am trying to imagine the amount of gear one would take to the South Pole. It boggled my mind that Scott would ask Cherry to learn how to type and to bring two typewriters even though no one else knew how to use them.

As another aside, wouldn’t it be terrible to name your pony and then have to eat him later?

Quotes to quote, “If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore” (Cherry’s own words, p 218) and “They decided to marry before gas masks were permanently strapped to their faces” (p 259).

Author fact: Wheeler is an Arctic explorer in her own right. I have of her books on my Challenge list: Evia, Terra Incognita, Too Close to the Sun, and Travels in a Thin Country.

Book trivia: Wheeler includes a modest set of photographs not only of the expedition but of Cherry’s childhood and later years. My favorite was of Cherry at one of his typewriters.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cherry a “great” biography.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (Antarctica)” (p 235).


White Sky, Black Ice

Jones, Stan. White Sky, Black Ice. New York: Soho Press, 1999.

Reason read: Alaska’s Seward Day takes place in March.

The first book in Stan Jones’s Nathan Active series has the task of painting a picture of who Nathan Active is. The character development is slow in regards to Active’s personality. Jones spends a lot of time building the backstory of Active’s adoption after his fifteen year old Inupiat mother gave him up. He was raised by a white couple in Anchorage and grew up to be a state trooper. Here’s the rub: he has been posted back in his little birth village of Chukchi where he feels torn between the cultures of his upbringing and the traditions in his blood. He’s an obvious outsider, being raised in the big city. But when atypical suicides start happening one right after the other Active decides to listen to his ancestral roots and dig in.

Confessional: because White Sky, Black Ice takes an environmental spin I kept thinking of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. She also tackles the theory that our planet is going to hell.

Author fact: Stan Jones launched the Kotzubue newspaper. He was also an editor for a couple of other newspapers.

Book trivia: White Sky, Black Ice is the first in the Nathan Active series.

Nancy said: Pear said nothing specific except to say White Sky, Black Ice is the first in a series.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the interesting chapter “All Set For Alaska” (p 14).


Blackout

Garcia-Roza, Luiz Alfredo. Blackout: an Inspector Espinosa Mystery. Translated by Benjamin Moser. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008.

Reason read: to finish the series started in February in honor of Brazil’s Carnival.

When a crippled and seemingly homeless man is found shot to death in a cul-de-sac in a wealthy neighborhood Espinosa knew from childhood personal intrigue is added to his professional duty to find the killer. The secluded neighborhood is up a very steep hill so why would a vagrant man with only one leg be there, especially late at night in a torrential downpour? Espinosa likes two men for the crime. Both were collecting their cars in the same cul-de-sac after a dinner party. Both men initially lie to Espinosa but one man in particular holds his attention longer. There is something about Aldo. Espinosa and his team slowly turn up the pressure on their prime suspect, showing up at Aldo’s work, following him around town, and repeatedly interviewing his therapist wife. Such scrutiny finally reveals Aldo is having an affair with a coworker. Even after Aldo’s wife is found murdered Espinosa refuses to consider he has an open and shut case. He shows considerable restraint when he does not eagerly arrest the obvious suspect.
Character development is subtle and substantial all at once. The character of Camilla Bruno was intriguing. Was she seducing patients or not? I wish I had more Garcia-Rozas on my Challenge list. I would have liked to see how Espinoza’s personality evolves. His love of books, for example.
One of the best part’s of Garcia-Roza’s writing is his elegant descriptions of the Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods (Copacabana and Ipanema specifically). I found myself playing around with Google Earth just to see how close he came to matching the true landscapes.

As an aside, I just finished watching two documentaries about how an innocent man spent considerable time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit because the state wanted to close their high profile case. Police became fixed on the wrong man and made the evidence fit the guilt instead of looking at every viable suspect out there. Espinosa would have been good on both of these cases. He certainly wouldn’t have rushed to judgement.

Author fact: Garcia-Roza is an academic and has written at least five other books which are not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: this is the sixth book in the Espinosa series.

Nancy said: Pearl said “mystery fans can rejoice in reading Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s complex novels” (Book Lust To Go p 45).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Brazil” (p 43).