Golden Gate

Seth, Vikram. The Golden Gate: a Novel in Verse. New York: Random House, 1986.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge under the category of a novel in poem form.

This is an early eighties story of a group of people living in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridget in San Francisco. John is a successful but lonely executive looking for some kind of love. His ex-girlfriend-turned-loyal-good-friend, Janet Hayakawa, takes pity on him and places an ad in the personals (a la Rupert Holmes: if you like Pina Coladas). As John goes on bland blind date after bland blind date he finds ways to avoid second encounters with each woman until he meets Liz. It’s practically love at both sight for both of them…until he moves in with her and meets her cat. Competition with a pet is not easy.
Philip Weiss is also looking for love after his wife, Claire Cabot, left him and their young son, Paul. When Philip tries a different sort of love he is confronted with conflicting feelings. Morality, religion, and society’s attitudes guide his choices. These are just a few of the characters in Golden Gate. As the reader, you get to delve into their work, their relationships, their responsibilities. It’s all about human connections. Attitudes towards homosexuality. The loss of love. The ridiculous fights you can have in the throes of love. The fact it is one giant poem is just icing on the cake. I was captivated until the (surprising) end.
It took Vikram thirteen months to finish The Golden Gate.

As an aside, I like the names of the cats: Cuff, Link, and Charlemagne.

Line I liked, “Their brains appear to be dissolving to sugary sludge as they caress” (p 52). Isn’t that what true love is all about?

Playlist: “Apple of My Heart,” Brahms, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Mozart, Schonberg, Grateful Dead. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.

Author fact: Seth also wrote A Suitable Boy which is on my Challenge List.

Book trivia: Even the Dedication and Acknowledgements are in verse.

Nancy said: Pearl called Golden Gate funny and warm.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “California, Here We Come” (p 49), and again in “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186).


“At the Rialto”

Willis, Connie. “At the Rialto.” Impossible Things. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

Reason read: June is Short Story month.

Dr. Ruth Baringer, a quantum physicist, runs into obstacles everywhere she turns trying to attend a conference in America’s playground, Hollywood, California. She can’t even check into her room without it becoming a major event. Trying to attend different events at the conference become confused and convoluted. Even trying to connect with her roommate is impossible. Everything is insane. Meanwhile, a colleague wants her to go to the movies instead…after all, they are in Hollywood.

Story trivia: “At the Rialto” won a Nebula Award for best novelette.

Author fact: Willis was given the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award in 2012.

Nancy said: Pearl said Willis also wrote “wonderful” short stories and mention “At the Rialto” as one not to be missed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: To Good To Miss” (p 246).


Mariner’s Compass

Fowler, Earlene. Mariner’s Compass. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1999.

Reason read: May is supposedly National Museum Month and Benni works in a museum…

The theme of Mariner’s Compass is, in a word, home. Benni Harper learns a lot about what ‘home’ means when she becomes the sole heir of a stranger’s modest fortune. Jacob Chandler, dead of an apparent heart attack, leaves everything to Albenia Louise Harper with the condition that she live in his house for two weeks straight. If she does, she will inherit his house and everything in it, a modest bank account, and a dog named Scout. Benni takes two weeks off from her job at the museum, leaves her husband at home and honors the strange request. To the reader, there are many ways this particular premise for a plot could fall flat. Benni could decide she doesn’t need a stranger’s inheritance and refuse to stay in the house. (Who’s watching to see that she does it anyway?) Or she could live in the house for fourteen days straight and not be curious enough to investigate this mysterious Jacob Chandler. Luckily for Fowler fans, Benni not only takes the challenge but goes to great lengths to solve the mystery. The plot thickens when this stranger for all intents and purposes seems like in life he had been Benni’s stalker. He knows the name of her childhood horse. He has a picture of her deceased mother. He has newspaper clippings of every major event in Benni’s life. Just who is this guy?
My biggest pet peeve? Despite the ominous idea of Jacob Chandler being a stalker, Benni is not discreet. She tells just about anyone the entire story. Not your typical behavior when your life might be in danger.

Lines to like: I didn’t make note of any. Weird.

Book trivia: There were a few places where a twist in the plot was too transparent to be a shock. When Bennie has a picture of the deceased Chandler sent to his sister I knew she wouldn’t recognize the man as her brother. I won’t spell out the other situations as they would definitely spoil the plot. Let’s just say, there were no surprises for me at the end.

Author fact: taken from the back flap of Mariner’s Compass: Folwer was raised in La Puente, California which explains her expansive knowledge of Mexican food and customs.

Nancy said: Pearl included Mariner’s Compass in a chapter about mysteries under the subsection of occupations (museum). Truth be told, Benni’s occupation does not play a factor in this book. She doesn’t do a day of work at the museum. There is a subplot. The new mayor wants to replace the museum with a bigger money maker. In protest Benni’s grandmother and a group of other women (including the mayor’s mother) arrange a sit-in until the issue can be resolved.

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


Monkey’s Raincoat

Crais, Robert. The Monkey’s Raincoat. New York: Perfect Crime Book, 1987.

Reason read: I needed another category for March and decided to throw this one in the mix because March is a rainy month. Get it? Sigh.

It’s really too bad I don’t have a lot more of Robert Crais on my reading list. I fell in love with wisecracking private investigator, Elvis Cole, immediately. (My only other Crais is a Joe Pike mystery.) But, back to Elvis Cole. With Cole’s affinity for Disney characters, yoga, and a cat named nothing, he is a bundle of personality and then some. He’s thirty five years old, former military and security, likes to look at the ladies and isn’t above saying something outrageous just to see someone’s reaction. What’s not to love? I took to his sarcastic kindness right away.
When we first meet Elvis, he is about to launch into a new investigation involving a weepy woman’s missing husband and son. All clues lead to Mr. Missing taking off with a sexy young girlfriend until he is found shot to death in the Hollywood Hills. What starts off as a simple missing case has now evolved into a murderous mystery involving high stakes drug deals gone wrong and bad ass thugs who will stop at nothing to regain the upper hand. It is up to Elvis and his silent (in more ways than one) partner, Joe Pike, to find Ellen’s missing son and bring him back, dead or alive. The details are a little dated (these are the days of calling from street corner payphones and Wang Chung hits), but still a good read.
Mousy mom Ellen Lang was a mystery to me. She didn’t get Cole’s joke about the humor of paramedics (keeping one “in stitches”) yet she understood that two years at the “University of Southeast Asia” meant a stint in Vietnam. Throughout the entire book she wasn’t consistent to me. Someone who was consistent and I wanted more of was Joe Pike. The inside flap described him as an enigma and that just scratches the surface of Pike’s personality. Can’t wait to read more about him later.

Quote I liked, “Everything always goes wrong whent the cameras turned away” (p 27).

Author fact: If you ever get the chance to check out the author photo on the back of The Monkey’s Raincoat, please do. Robert Crais could not look any cooler in his over-sized sunglasses, Batman tee-shirt and glowing white kicks. The pose is pretty bad ass, too.

Book trivia: The Monkey’s Raincoat won the Anthony and Macavity Awards.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Monkey’s Raincoat except to include it in a list she called “private eye novels.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 116).


Finding the Dream

Roberts, Nora. Finding the Dream. New York: Severn House Publishing, 1996.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of dream month.

Finding the Dream ends the Templeton trilogy.  Just to recap: In Daring to Dream flamboyant Margot Sullivan found love. In Holding the Dream Serious Kate Powell found love. In Finding the Dream finally, it is practical Laura Templeton’s turn in the spotlight. Would she find love again after all she had been through? Here is my favorite part of the entire series: throughout the pages of Daring to Dream and Holding the Dream, Laura’s bad marriage and equally awful divorce had been playing out. It’s the one story line that successfully weaved its way through the entire trilogy (aside from the cheesy Seraphina treasure hunt). Peter Ridgeway, a Templeton employee, seduced Laura when she was a teenager. He only wanted to marry her so that he had a permanent “in” with the family hotel business. But after cheating on Laura and stealing their two daughter’s inheritance he flew the coop, marrying a Templeton rival. (Another story line that ran through all three books but was unsuccessful.) Now, it is time for Laura to climb out of the ashes of a failed marriage and find a true love for herself. Just as Margot and Kate had climbed out of the wreckage of their own personal traumas. And just like Margot and Kate, Laura finds a love interest who is wrong for her in every way. True to the Nora Roberts formula, refined Laura and rough-around-the-edges Michael Fury clash at every turn. How will they ever fall in love?

Author fact: Roberts has written as J.D. Robb for her Death series.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).


Daring to Dream

Roberts, Nora. Daring to Dream. New York: Berkeley Books, 2012.

Reason read: August is Beach Read month.

To understand Margo Sullivan you first have to meet the super wealthy Templeton family. Margo grew up living in the Templeton household because her mother has been the family’s housekeeper forever and the Templetons treat their help like family. I cannot mention family enough! But, even though the super perfect Templetons have always treated Margot like family, she never felt she belonged to them or with them. While every other member of the family stayed close to home, involved with the family’s multi-million dollar hotelier business, Margo always needed more, more, more. Like every character in a Nora Roberts novel, Margo sports a beyond beautiful face and impossibly perfect body. As a teenager she left her mother and the Templeton household in search of fame and fortune as an aspiring model. Jet setting around the world, Margo has been gone for years. She has been seen only in pictures as the face of a well known cosmetics company. At that time nothing could stop her, nothing until a scandal involving drugs, her manager and the bus he threw her under. Suddenly knocked her off her pedestal, Margot has to come crawling back to her mother…and the Templeton clan.
Every good N.R. romance has a beautiful someone fighting off his or her passionate urges towards a seemingly unwilling beautiful someone else. Daring to Dream is no different. When Margo arrives home with her tail between her legs, she alternates between hating and needing heir to the family business, Josh Templeton.

Author fact: Nora Roberts has written over 250 novels.

Book trivia: Daring to Dream is the first book in the “Dream” trilogy.

Nancy said: Daring to Dream is in the category of “contemporary” romance (Book Lust, p 204).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).


Afterlife

Monette, Paul. Afterlife. New York: Avon Books, 1990.

Reason read: June is Gay Pride month in some states. In other places it is in May, so I started this early in honor of both months.

The very first word that comes to mind when trying to describe Afterlife is heartbreaking. Taking place at the “start” of the AIDs epidemic in the heart of United State’s “ground zero” in San Francisco, it tells the story of a group of gay men trying to make sense of the horrific disease while coping with personal loss. Facing their own mortality, each man has lost a partner to AIDs but display very different coping mechanisms as they have very different support systems. They form a Saturday night support group of survivors, each asking themselves, but for how long? This is a story of courage; the willingness to live and love in the face of death.

Quotes to quote, “There were enough coffins to come” (p 224) and “This worthy man, terminally unctuous but otherwise bland as a serial killer, insisted on driving them up to the North Garden in his own Cadillac” (p 256).

Author fact: Monette was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Book trivia: this should have been a movie.

Nancy said: This was included in Book Lust because it fit in the category of “Books with characters who are gay or lesbian” (p 95).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Gay and Lesbian Fiction: Our of the Closet” (p 93).


Age of Gold

Brands, H.W. Age of Gold: the California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Reason read: May is history month.

January 24th 1848 is considered the date of the birth of the gold rush.

Age of Gold takes a thorough look at a slice of American history. Beginning in 1848 Brands introduces the reader to people from all walks of life, uncovering every story from land and sea across several continents. Part One describes in detail the first adventurers to travel from every corner of the earth to seek gold. It is here John Fremont is introduced for the first time. Part Two is an introduction to the frenzied hunt for gold: panning, picking, cradling, digging, mining, sifting, sluicing. Part Three sees the birth of California’s borders and governing body. San Francisco becomes the first city in the state.

Confessional: When I first heard Natalie sing “Gold Rush Brides” I wondered what she used for inspiration to write a song about the gold rush from the point of view of the women on the trail. Some time later Natalie read a passage from Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey collected by Lillian Schlissel before performing the song. I can’t help but think of this book in comparison to Age of Gold.

Author fact: Brands also wrote bestseller The First American (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: Age of Gold includes a great group of photographs.

Nancy said: Nancy called Age of Gold “wide-ranging and engaging” (p 20).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “American History: nonfiction” (p 20).


By May

I thought May was going to be a disaster. The first two and a half weeks were nothing but rain and way cooler temps. I worried about my garden. I didn’t feel like running. It felt like a downward spiral. I ended up running only 28 miles and running away to Monhegan for a week so it ended better than it began. But…it’s still raining.

“…when May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in every hour” ~ Natalie Merchant, These are Days.

“I wanted to be there by May, at the latest. April is over. Can you tell me how long before I can be there?” ~ Natalie Merchant, Painted Desert.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • H by Elizabeth Shepard (read in one day)
  • Nerve by Dick Francis (read in two days)
  • A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller

Nonfiction:

  • Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves
  • Age of Gold by HW Brands
  • Lusitania: an epic tragedy by Diana Preston

Series continuation:

  • “Q” is for Quarry by Sue Grafton (finished the series)
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee (okay, so I didn’t know this was part of a trilogy).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • At the Broken Places by Mary and Donald Collins

May I Read Another Book?

Confessional: I don’t have any runs planned for May. I don’t have any travel planned for May (except going home-home). All I want to do is read, plant my gardens & master the grill. While the garden and the grill ambitions cannot be quantified, here are the books!

Fiction:

  •  Nerve by Dick Francis ~ in honor of the Kentucky Derby being in May
  • A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller ~ in honor of Miller’s birth month. BTW – This is a behemoth (nearly 600 pages) so I am not confident I’ll finish it in time.
  • H by Elizabeth Shepard ! in honor of mental health month. This is barely 160 pages & will probably finish on a lunch break or two.

Nonfiction:

  • Age of Gold by H.W. Brands ~ in honor of History month being in May (confessional – this looks boring)
  • Lusitania: an epic tragedy by Diana Preston ~ in honor of the month the Lusitania sank
  • Goodbye to all That by Robert Graves ~ in honor of Memorial Day

Series continuations:

  • “Q” is for Quarry by Sue Grafton ~ to continue, and for me, finish the series started in April in honor of Grafton’s birth month (AB). Should be able to finish this in a weekend (AB + print)
  • Henry James: the Conquest of London (1870 – 1881) by Leon Edel ~ to continue the series started in April in honor of James’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • At the Broken Places: —- by Mary and Donald Collins

If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now

Loh, Sandra Tsing. If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now. New York: riverhead books, 1997.

Reason read: Loh’s birth month is in February.

Confessional: I finished this in a day. Not because it was my favorite book but because I was home sick.

This is the story of Bronwyn Peters and her boyfriend, Paul, trying to make it in the glamorous city of Los Angeles. Be prepared. This is a very dated (1990s) story and there will be times when you want to maybe slap the sh!t out of Sandra Loh. I grew weary of the plenitude of brand-name dropping that went on (Guess?, Porche, Sanyo, Motorola, Kohler, BMW, Berber, Dolce & Gabbana, Wamsutta, Crate and Barrel…to name a few), as well as hot-now celebrity names like David Lynch, Frank Zappa, Malcolm Forbes, and Madonna…
Confessional: there were definitely times I wanted to slap Bronwyn Peters. Despite listening to NPR and identifying with a Bohemian lifestyle, Bronwyn hungers for the lifestyle of $200 haircuts and Corian counters. She even convinces her struggling writer boyfriend to buy a condo in downtown Los Angeles after they come into a modest amount of money (clearly not enough for L.A. standards). They settle on a place they obviously cannot afford for long. Bronwyn knows full well they are out of their league and yet continues to plays the game to the hilt. Bronwyn’s one redeeming quality is her steadfast love for Paul. She stands by him through temptation and failure. In the end, If you Lived Here… is Loh’s platform for bringing to the forefront L.A.’s socio-economic class structure. She uses the riots as a backdrop to her commentary on attitudes, prejudices and the simple act of just wanting more.

Lines I liked: “Feeling like Bruce Willis is some sort of Dead Something action picture, Bronwyn gripped her flashlight” (p176), and “and because there was nothing else to do, she rolled over and stole her arms around her fellow, such as he was, because his was the body that was still there” (p 221).

Author fact: If you Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now is Loh’s first novel.

Book trivia: short, short, short!

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “California, Here We Come” (p 49).


Biodegradable Soap

Ephron, Amy. Biodegradable Soap. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

This is such a short, snarky little story about a community in suburban Los Angeles. Claudia Weiss is becoming more and more obsessed with recycling and the environment while her husband leaves her for a younger, more self-centered actress. Claudia’s friends gossip and have affairs of their own. One friend starts up an affair with her personal trainer and gets caught. Interspersed in the story are different current events: the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, the war in Iraq, the Exxon-Valdez spill… It’s truly an odd book.

Quote worth quoting, “That was what he liked about Lara – she was completely self-obsessed and he didn’t think she’d ever had an altruistic thought in her life” (p 45).

Reason read: Ehpron’s birth month is in October.

Author fact: Ephron has her own website here.

Book trivia: This is a quick, quick, quick read. 159 pages…but not really. Each “chapter” is short and choppy; only 1-2 pages long. If you were to squish the pages it’s only — pages long.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 6).


Bluebird Canyon

McCall, Dan. Bluebird Canyon. New York: Congdon & Weed, 1983.

Picture southern California. Now picture the star of a soap opera star named Rex Hooker with a penchant for self-destructiveness. The two go together in a stereotypical way, don’t you think? What isn’t so typical is Bluebird Canyon’s narrator, Oliver Bodley. Better known as “Triphammer” or “Trip”, Detective Bodley is a not so ordinary city police officer who gets caught up in Rex’s struggle to keep from losing it all. Interestingly enough, Rex and Trip go way back, as in high school way back. As the story unfolds, we find that Trip and Rex had been through quite a bit together back in their younger days. Just to give you an example. Rex and Trip are accused of partaking in the gang rape of a drunk girl. The victim’s brother and five of his friends proceed to kick the crap out of Trip and Rex…in detail. There’s more where that came from. Fast forward 20 years. Trip has been called to the Hooker estate for an apparent suicide attempt. Trip hasn’t seen his friend in those 20 years and Rex was rumored to be the victim. Be prepared. It gets nutty from there. Turns out, Rex is fine but 45 pages later his girlfriend’s sister accomplishes what he didn’t. Rex still lives with his parents but has a son, an ex-wife and a girlfriend. Meanwhile, at 37 years old, Triphammer is adrift. He doesn’t have a steady relationship, hates his exwife, in fact; he lives in a trailer on the beach (think Chris the DJ on Northern Exposure), he’s constantly losing his hat, and he doesn’t have a problem doing drugs in uniform (minus the hat). What he does mind, however, is being spit on.

All in all, some of Dan McCall’s plot was a little annoying. As I mentioned before, Trip is called to Summer Snow because Rex Hooker is trying to commit suicide. 45 pages later, another character hangs herself. It is mentioned the Hooker family is petrified of fire. 51 pages later Summer Snow is burning, thanks to an arsonist. I never grew to like Trip at all and I thought the writing was rambling and disconnected. At times the behavior of all the characters were exaggerated and ridiculous. Other times their actions were too sedate for the scene: two dogs were murdered on two separate occasions, two different houses were set on fire, two different suicides occurred…it all seemed a bit much. If McCall was trying to bring Rex’s soap opera to life in Bluebird Canyon he succeeded.

Quotes to make you sit up, “The world is full of assholes, and eventually they all turn up at the beach” (p 65), “My hole couldn’t handle a Q-tip” (Yes, he’s talking about what you think he’s talking about on p 72), “Chemists do not liven up a conference” (p 111), and “I wish my mind was a dog and I could train it to go sit” (p 244)

Reason read: California became a state on September 9th, 1850.

Author fact: Dan McCall passed away on June 17th, 2012. The Cornell Chronicle posted a really nice obituary about their former colleague.

Book trivia: I could see this as a movie, but to my knowledge one has never been made.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “California, Here We Come” (p 49).


Daughter of Fortune

Allende, Isabel. Daughter of Fortune. New York: Perennial, 2000.

This took me three days to read thanks to a five hour car ride, an hour boat ride and an evening by the sea. Read the day before, the day of, and the day after Isabel Allende’s birthday.

Daughter of Fortune is the didactic tale of what happens when you become so obsessed with a thought, a feeling that you carry the obsession long after you remember why or what it was all about. This is the complicated saga of Eliza Sommers, raised as an orphan by a Victorian brother and sister – strict and unfeeling Jeremy and his spinster sister Rose. Secrets abound in Daughter of Fortune. When Eliza falls in love with delivery boy Joaquin Andieta her whole life changes. An obsession to be his “slave” claims her and compels her to follow him from Valparasio, Chile to California during the gold rush of 1849.

Best lines to remember: “Many years later, standing before a human head preserved in a jar of gin, Eliza would remember the first meeting with Joaquin Andieta and again experience the same unbearable anguish” (p 80). This line, if you remember it 150 pages later, gives away the entire story. Another line to remember, “The girl felt that she was opening like a carnivorous flower, emitting demonic perfumes to attract her man like a Venus’s-flytrap, crushing him, swallowing him, digesting him, and finally spitting out the splinters of his bones” (p 94) and one more, “‘I told you before that a fixation of the heart is very stubborn: it burrows into the brain and breaks the heart. There are many fixations but love is the worst'” (p 129). Wise words from the Machi.

Best word in the book: epizootic.

Author Fact: According to Allende’s website she has received 12 honorary doctorates. I enjoyed poking around the family photos the most.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 600s (food)” (p 73).



Crazy in Alabama

Childress, Mark. Crazy in Alabama. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993.

Talk about crazy! This book drove me there! I called Made in America a book of multiple personalities. If that’s the case, Crazy in Alabama is a book of split personalities. Set in the 1960s, one half of the narration is dedicated to Lucille’s escapades in California. She’s seeking fame and fortune as a wannabe actress while on the run from the law with her husband’s decapitated head in a Tupperware container. The other half of the narration is from the perspective of Lucille’s nephew Peter Joseph (Peejoe). He’s in racially torn Alabama witnessing violence and civil unrest at its worst. While Lucille’s side of the story is insanely surreal, Peejoe’s is intensely serious. The disconnect between the two voices created a divide almost too big to ignore. Luckily, Childress pulls them together and makes the entire plot work…somehow.

Favorite lines: “She would miss her children but she had Chester’s head to keep her company” (p 37). Of course! Another favorite line, “My eye was the price I’d had to pay for seeing too much” (p 229). See the difference between Lucille and Peejoe’s worlds?

Author Fact: Mark Childress is also the author of three picture books for children.

Book Trivia: Crazy in Alabama was made into a movie starring Melanie Griffith in 1999. Haven’t seen it.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called Southern-Fried Fiction: Alabama (p 207).