Life and Times of Miami Beach

Armbruster, Ann. The Life and Times of Miami Beach. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Reason read: Hurricane Irma blew into town on September 10th, 2017.

The Life and Times of Miami Beach would make a good coffee table book; one of those gorgeous to look at and flip through (even if you don’t have the time to read) books. The photography (in both black and white and color) is spectacular.
We begin in 1900. Miami Beach was nothing but spits of sand and swamp. By 1915 keen-eyed entrepreneur Carl Fisher looked at the bug and alligator infested mangroves and said resolutely why not? Why not create a vacation hot spot out of an uninhabited peninsula? In the beginning business was slow. Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn’t impressed with a tourist season that was only two months long.
By the 1920s Miami Beach was a real estate developer’s dream. Hotel growth exploded with expensive, over-the-top, grandiose places to stay. Prohibition was a joke as rum runners smuggled alcohol in disguised as fish and shipped it inland marketed as grapefruits or tomatoes. Swim suits could be rented for twenty five cents.
In the 1930s the big names wanted to be seen in Miami Beach. Names like Firestone, Ford, Maytag, Honeywell, Florsheim, Hoover, and Hertz. Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh came to visit.
In the 1940s Miami became a haven for military men.
By the late ’50s and early ’60s Miami Beach’s identity was changing again with visits from tourists from all over. Over two million people were flocking to the Beach paradise. Jackie Gleason, the Beatles, Debbie Reynolds and Desi Arnaz (to name a few) added to the publicity.
Armbruster ends her coffee table book with the wrap up “1970s to present” present means the ’80s). The last chapter is a quick four pages dedicated to Miami Beach’s flagging economy and reputation and its rebirth and redevelopment.

As an aside, Phish had a New Year’s Eve run in Miami Beach a few years ago. I didn’t attend but I heard the show was epic.

Author fact: Armbruster has no outward connection to Miami. According to her bio she was born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, and studied in New York. My guess is that someone she is related to has the connection to Miami.

Book trivia: The Life and Times of Miami Beach can be called a gorgeous book with over 200 photographs and illustrations.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Armbruster’s book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).


Babylon Rolling

Boyden, Amanda. Babylon Rolling. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

Reason read: Hurricane Ivan roared through the eastern seaboard in September 2004. I should know because it disrupted my wedding.

Five very different New Orleans families on Orchid Street are under a microscope in Boyden’s second book, Babylon Rolling. A careless accident will initially bring these neighbors into focus, but it’s the threat of intolerance that tightens their connections to one another.
Ed and Ariel with their two children (impossibly named Miles and Ella), are newly transplanted from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s a stay at home dad while she is a GM for a hotel. There is trouble in the marriage. Sharon Harris has all she can handle with her two trouble-making boys, Daniel aka “Fearious” and Michael aka “Muzzy.” Both are druglord wannabes. Cerise and Roy Brown are trying to live in peace with their grown daughter Maria. Racist Philomenia Beargard de Bruges keeps an eye on the street while her husband, Joe battles colon cancer. Then there are the Guptas who have moved into the largest house on the block. Their presence is barely felt in the plot.

One of the least liked elements of Boyden’s writing is her character stereotypes. The voice of each community member vibrates with an exaggerated edge, especially the “thugs” and African Americans. Dialogues sound forced and even comical at times. Confessional: the only character I liked was Cerise. She was the only normal one of the bunch.

Quotes I liked enough to mention, “Ed needed to work on his acceptance of overweight humans” (p 14) and “Her duties at this point in the marriage are very clearly defined, such that she has to do next to nothing for him should she not want to” (p 187).

Author fact: Boyden’s first novel was Pretty Little Dirty which is not on my Challenge list but sounds like it was a success.

Nancy said: Babylon Rolling features “a large cast of exquisitely drawn characters” (Book Lust To Go p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “News From N’Orleans” (p 155).


Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Read by Sam Dastor.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Gandgi being born in August.

Vish Puri is India’s most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his watchword. His bread and butter cases mostly consist of background and character checks for betrothed couples. In a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm it is critical for parents to know they have chosen wisely for their offspring. Other cases involve revealing hoaxes or frauds, but every once in awhile a case with more significance comes along. Such is the case of the man who died laughing. A prominent scientist while in a laughing class was seemingly murdered by the Hindu goddess Kali. She appeared to be floating above the crowd brandishing a huge sword. Many thought it was a supernatural occurrence because Kali was devoid of strings or wires. She really seemed to be hovering above the crowd. Lucky for India that Puri retained a kernel of skepticism. Along with his trusty team, Facecream, Tubelight and Flush, Puri is on the case.

Author fact: I love with when people or places connect. One of the most influential books I read earlier this year was by Emmanuel Jal who was mentored by Emma McCune. Tarquin Hall did a profile on Emma when he was a news reporter.

Book trivia: Hall started writing the Puri series in 2008. There are two others after The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, but I’m not reading them.

Lines I liked: none enough to quote this time.

Nancy said: nothing special.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212). Here’s what happens when the title of a book is incorrectly indexed in Book Lust To Go: Somehow The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing was indexed as The Man Who Died Laughing. Alphabetically under M instead of C which meant that I had to change four different spreadsheets.


Under the Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Eurydice Street

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

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

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

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

Book trivia: Eurydice Street includes two hand drawn maps.

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

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


Case of the Missing Servant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Season in Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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