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).


Beak of the Finch

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. Read by John McDonough. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2017.

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month.

Islands are the perfect laboratory for studying a species. In the case of the Galapagos archipelago, the islands are isolated like a fortress; no one can easily arrive or depart. Princeton University biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, along with their daughters, take a small group of scientists to help them investigate Darwin’s finches. By the beak of the finch they are able to track an evolutionary journey through time. Beak of the Finch is an extraordinary account of survival of the fittest as it happened then; as it is happening right now. Our world is constantly evolving and adapting and we aren’t done yet.
Word to the wise – listen to this on audio. John McDonough does a fantastic job. Weiner’s writing may be approachable science, but McDonough’s reading makes it all the more enjoyable.
As an aside, I love books I like to describe as “rabbit holes.” They take me to knowledge I never would have learned otherwise. I think people describe the internet that way sometimes. In this case, I learned that when a finch is ready to mate its beak turns black. Who knew? Also, at one point Weiner was describing the weather and mentioned El Nino which in turn made me wonder about the name El Nino. I had never really thought about its origin before. Turns out, El Nino means “the child” in Spanish and the storms are named as such because they tended to arrive around Christmastime.

Author fact: Weiner also wrote Time, Love, Memory: a Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origin of Behavior (which I have already read) and His Brother’s Keeper: a Story from the Edge of Medicine, also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Beak of the Finch won a Pulitzer. Another piece of trivia is that Beak of the Finch is full of great illustrations like the one of the iguana on page 104.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl describes the plot to Beak of the Finch. In More Book Lust she has a whole chapter (of only three books) dedicated to Weiner and says specifically of Beak of the Finch, “about evolutionary biology as played out on an island in the Galapagos” (More Book Lust p 233). Finally, in Book Lust To Go Pearl says Beak of the Finch is “wonderfully written, extremely readable, and a superb example of the best kind of popular science writing” (Book Lust To Go p 88).

BookLust Twist: Nancy loves this book. It is indexed in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 39), in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jonathan Weiner: Too Good to Miss” (p 233) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).


Crossers

Caputo, Philip. Crossers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Reason read: Arizona became a state in February.

Be prepared to go on an epic journey crisscrossing time when you read Crossers. Caputo will seize you by the scruff of your psyche to take you back and forth from the New York of September 11th, 2001 to the wild west of the early 1900s. You will bounce from the dirty roads of rural Mexico to the tranquil streets of Connecticut. Characters from all walks of life will march across the page: ruthless drug lords and crusty wild west outlaws; graceful artists and desperate illegal aliens. At the center of the story is one man, Gil Castle. Consumed by grief after losing his wife in the 9/11 attacks, Gil retreats to his generations old family’s ranch in a remote corner of southwest Arizona. There he joins his uncle and cousin and tries to rebuild his heart while mending fences, tending cattle, and fighting off mules and murderers. In this respite he thought he could escaped the senseless violence of the terror attacks, but when the present day ancestors of ancient ghosts come seeking revenge for something his grandfather had done, Gil realizes his own family’s past has a dark and dangerous story to tell and he will pay the price.

The line that gripped me, “The interregnum of fear that had gripped him on the train had passed; as grief, the true monarch of his heart, resumed its oppression” (p 32).

Author fact: Caputo also wrote Horn of Africa, which is also on my list.

Book trivia: This could have been a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl said “There are many good reads, both fiction and nonfiction, about an important but bleak subject: the hazards of illegally crossing the Arizona-Mexico border. Two of the best novels I’ve discovered are Philip Caputo’s Crossers and…” (Book Lust To Go p 31).

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


Alone in the Crowd

Garcia-Roza, Luis Alfredo. Alone in the Crowd. Translated by Benjamin Moser. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007.

Reason read: Brazil’s Carnival takes place in February.

Espinosa, the book worm police chief in Rio de Janeiro has a problem. An elderly woman in his district was struck dead by a bus. Despite this happening in a crowd of people, no one can say for sure what really happened. Had she been pushed or not? She could have slipped off the curb and fallen into the path of the bus. Given her age this was the likely scenario. Dozens of witnesses and no one saw a thing. Ordinarily, a police chief with dozens of other more pressing cases would call this an accident and move on, but Espinosa can’t for some reason. This same elderly woman tried to visit him earlier in the day. She had something to say to him and him alone. That one detail has Chief Inspector Espinosa thinking and the more he thinks the more his past haunts him.

Lines I liked, “The chief didn’t much believe in coincidences, especially when they resulted in death” (p 67).

Confessional: once again, I am reading books in a series out of order. Luckily, this time I only have two. Not a big deal.

Author fact: Garcia-Roza’s first claim to fame was writing textbooks for philosophy and psychology.

Book trivia: Alone in the Crowd was super short. You could read this in a weekend, which is a good thing because you will want to jump to the next book in the series immediately.

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 straightforward chapter “Brazil” (p 43).


Renunciation

Rodriguez Julia, Edgardo. The Renunciation: a Novel. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997.

Reason read: Puerto Rico’s Hostos Day is in January; to celebrate the birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos.

The year is 1753 in colonial Puerto Rico. Bishop Larra, desperate to bring calm to a slave population on the verge of revolt, arranges a marriage between Baltasar Montanez, a poor slave leader and Josefina Prats, the wealthy and white daughter of the secretary of state. The idea is to make the destitute population believe they can too can marry their way into wealth and equality; to calm black indignation and for a while it seems to work. There is peace in the community because if Baltasar can marry up…. Until Montanez’s true personality comes to light. He is not the hero everyone thinks he is. [As an aside, I tracked all of the different words and phrases used to describe Baltasar: enigma, hero, declasse, upstart, benefactor, traitor, puppet, emancipated slave, peacemaker, verbsoe, rhetorical, slightly pompous, of great intelligence, well-pleased, cynical, intruder, black, cane-cutter, handsome, a figure of profound historical significance…I could go on.] Here is a commentary on not only Puerto Rico’s political climate in the eighteenth century, but a study in human nature. Was the marriage orchestrated by Bishop Larra? Was the bride’s father involved from the beginning? Who holds the lie and who lives the truth?
A word of warning. Obviously, as most arranged marriages go, Baltasar and Josefina’s marriage is not a sexual one. Her enjoyment comes from peeping through the keyhole to spy on Baltasar’s legendary yet unimaginative orgies.

Author fact: Julia has received a Guggenheim fellowship.

Book trivia: The Renunciation is Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s first English-translated work.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Renunciation “difficult but exhilarating” and if you are interested in colonial Puerto Rico you shouldn’t miss it (Book Lust To Go p 57).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Puerto Rico” (p 52).


Daisy Bates in the Desert

Blackburn, Julia. Daisy Bates in the Desert: A Woman’s Life Among the Aborigines. New York: Vintage Departures, 1995.

Reason read: Australia Day is January 26th.

Julia Blackburn became fascinated by Daisy Bates quite by accident. In the beginning of her book Blackburn imagines Ms. Bates’s feelings and memories but by the middle of the book there is an odd shift in perspective and suddenly Blackburn assumes the role of Bates, talking in the first person as if she IS Daisy Bates. It was a little unsettling until I settled into the narrative…and then she switches back.
Through Blackburn’s words Daisy Bates became this larger than life figure; a woman trying to save the natives of Australia. At times it was difficult for me to understand her motives or her successes, but I learned to understand her passions. She truly cared for the people of the desert. 

Line I had to quote, “I suppose it would have been awkward to pack and easily broken and anyway the skull of a good friend would not provide much comfort when one was feeling lonely” (p 95). On a personal note, when my first cat was ailing I seriously considered taking her to a taxidermist for eternal preservation. I loved her that much.
Another line I liked, “The sky was breathing; I could feel the cavity of the night expanding and contracting around me as if I was in the belly of the universe” (p 122). I feel that way about Monhegan sometimes.

As an aside, I am not sure what to do with the image of naked women with dingo puppies tied about their waists.

Author fact: Blackburn wrote several books which won awards. The most successful were Thin Paths and The Leper’s Companions. Neither are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Disappointingly there are not a lot of pictures of Daisy Bates. The best one is of her on a swing.

Nancy said: Pearl called Daisy Bates in the Desert “fabulous” (Book Lust To Go p 28)

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz” (p 26).