Death of a Much-Travelled Woman

Wilson, Barbara. Death of a Much-Travelled Woman. New York: Open Road, 1998

Reason read: to “finish” the series started in January.

Cassandra Reilly is back! She is still very much the translator, the “accidental, expatriate, dyke detective.” This time her adventures are contained in nine short stories from around the globe and there is a crime of some sort (mostly murders) in every one. Of interest, Wilson occasionally makes a serious commentary on the perceptions of what it means to be a feminist and the rights of lesbians as legally married couples.

  • Death of a Much-Travelled Woman
  • Murder at the International Feminist Book Fair
  • Theft of the Poet
  • Belladonna
  • An Expatriot Death
  • Wie Bitte?
  • The Last Laugh
  • The Antivariaat Sophie
  • Mi Novelista

Author fact: Barbara Wilson also writes under the alias Barbara Sjoholm.

Book trivia: This is the third Cassandra Reilly book in the series.

Nancy said: Pearl included Death of a Much-Travelled Woman in her list of contemporary series featuring female sleuths.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


David Copperfield

Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Reason read: Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor.

David Copperfield is a classic: character driven and autobiographical in nature. Dickens illustrates the varying sides of human nature; how we all have faults. His portrayal of young David as a naïve child is brilliant. I could picture the boy being unreasonably afraid of a large bird because he acted just as I had when confronted with a gigantic angry fowl; or when Copperfield was bored at church and nearly falling asleep, slipping off his pew; or when he didn’t realize the adults were openly discussing him. His innocence is at the heart of his personality. As David matures and enters adulthood he learns relationships often fail and the motive of some people are not always pure at heart. Malicious people are everywhere. In the end (and I do mean the very end) Copperfield finds true happiness.

As an aside, I heard that the audio book read by Richard Armitage is very good. I didn’t listen to it.

Author fact: I read somewhere that Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, England. What the what? That sounds like a very interesting place.

Book trivia: David Copperfield is the eighth novel of Dickens and it is his favorite story. Maybe because it is a thinly veiled autobiography?

Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line of David Copperfield was a classic that had slipped her mind.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).


Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Volume One. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926.

Reason read: February 12th the is birthday of President Lincoln. Read in his honor.

Sandburg’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln is detailed, expressive, poignant, and at many times, repetitive and rambling. In the Prairie Years Sandburg, despite filling the book with long and meandering passages, has an overall lyrical language which is to be expected from a writer who is a talented poet first and foremost. He introduces our nation’s sixteenth president as being a captivating and complicated human being long before Lincoln entered the White House. Sandburg starts Lincoln’s story by portraying him as a quiet and sensitive child whose dreams were very important to him; catching the symbolisms of life at an early age. Later, as an adult, Lincoln would see his dreams and symbolisms as a connection to his future. As a teenager, learning became Lincoln’s obsession. He was said to always have a book in his hand; that he was constantly reading. I have an image of him studying big law books while plowing his father’s fields. All that book reading didn’t mean Lincoln was a soft sissy, though. Lincoln was the Superman of his day. As Sandburg frequently points out, because Abe was so tall and strong with “bulldog courage,” people were constantly challenging him to foot races, wrestling matches, and fist fights: anything to prove their strength against him. Sandburg seems proud to report most times these challengers lost.
In the midst of industry’s wheels just starting to turn, slavery was seen as a profitable business. At the same time, at the age of twenty-three, Lincoln’s political wheels were just starting to turn as well. He wasn’t interested in drinking or fishing. He wanted to continue to learn the law. He became a postmaster so he could have access to newspaper. In the first installment of Sandburg’s biography, we learn Lincoln grew into a complicated man with many sides. Lincoln the storyteller, always telling jokes and stories. Lincoln the neighbor, ready to help a friend, stranger, or animal in need. Lincoln the silent and sad, afraid to carry a pocketknife for fear of harming himself. Sandburg quotes Lincoln as once saying, “I stay away because I am conscious I should not know how to behave myself” (p 22).

Just think of the contemporaries of Lincoln’s day! John Marshall, Daniel Webster; Andrew Jackson was President, Edgar Allan Poe had just been thrown out of West Point and decided to become a writer, Charles Darwin started his journey on the Beagle, Johnnie Appleseed was starting to walk about with seeds in his pockets…

I have come to the conclusion I would have liked to have known Abraham Lincoln, even before he became President of the United States. He had a quick wit and an even faster sense of humor. I would have been drawn to his melancholy, too.

Lines I loved, “Days when he sank deep in the stream of human life and felt himself kin of all that swam in it, whether the waters were crystal or mud” (p 77).

Author fact: Carl Sandburg is better known as a poet. However, he did win a Pulitzer in History for Abraham Lincoln: the War Years (which I am not reading for the Challenge. Go figure.

Book trivia: Abraham Lincoln is a six volume set. I am only reading the first two volumes.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 175).


Riddley Walker

Hoban, Russell. Riddley Walker. New York: Summit books, 1980.

Reason read: Hoban’s birth month is in February. Read in his honor.

I wanted to like Riddley Walker. I really, really did. The problem is that I am not a science fiction consumer by any means. This book will demand your entire attention and hijack your time, thanks to a language that at first blush just looks like horribly spelled English. It’s trickier than that and way more brilliant. I didn’t have the time or inclination to get into it beyond fifty pages. The story opens with Riddley becoming a man at twelve years old. In post-apocalyptical English Kent, civilization is starting over from tribal scratch. Men carry spears and need to relearn skills like rediscovering fire in order to survive. Once man’s best friend, dogs are now killing machines that roam the streets in packs. Riddley finds symbolism in everything.
As an aside, the salvaging of iron reminded me of the opening scene of the movie “The Full Monty.” Aha! A movie I have seen! 😉

Lines I managed to like, “I don’t think it makes no differents where you start the telling of a thing” (p 8). Too true.

Author fact: Hoban was inspired to write Riddley Walker after seeing medieval wall art in a cathedral.

Book trivia: Riddley Walker won a few sci-fi awards and was nominated for a Nebula in 1981. It was also the inspiration for many plays. The movie “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” used themes from Riddley Walker.

Nancy said: Pearl had a lot to say about Riddley Walker. She starts by calling it one of the best of the postapocalyptic genre of novels. She then goes on to say she “doesn’t know of another novel that could arguably be called science fiction which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Nebula Award” (More Book Lust p 115). She finishes her praise by offering a suggestion for understanding the language: read it out loud, as her mother did.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Russell Hoban: Too Good To Miss” (p 114). This book finishes the chapter for me.


Maximize 365

Sherry, Kristin A. Maximize 365: A Year of Actionable Tips to Transform Your Life. Texas: Black Rose, 2021

Reason read: chosen for the Early Review Program for LibraryThing.

Inspired by a combination of the works of Bob Sager and Zig Ziglar Kristin Sherry has come up with her own five forms of life-wealth: Health and Wellness, Spirituality, Relationships, Career, and Finances. Each chapter is dedicated to themes surrounding the five forms of life-health and each theme is only a page long. Sherry’s book is chock full of great advice although not all of it is hers. She has curated dozens of websites, YouTube videos, Tedx Talks, quotes, articles and books from other experts and compiled them in Maximize 365. I thought of her book as more of an encyclopedia for the learners and the curious; anyone interested in self-development but too busy and overwhelmed to find each resource individually.
There is truth to the information Sherry shares in Maximize 365. My favorite example would be something my husband and I started doing early in the pandemic: taking hikes in the woods. Described by the Japanese as Shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest” Sherry reports taking twenty-minute walks through nature several times a week as a way to stave off depression. It works.
Another element of Maximize 365 I could relate to was when Sherry describes being busy as a “status symbol.” That may be true, but it is also a generational thing. My mother and father worked seven days a week. Sitting and reading a book was seen as indulgent or lazy. Always doing something constructive was preferred. Books and sitting still were saved for bad weather or illness. To this day my mother cannot sit in one place for very long. I have inherited her sense of constant motion.

My biggest pet peeve: sometimes Sherry will refer to a book but not give the author credit.

Confessional: I skipped the religious piece because what if I am not a practicing Christian? What if my belief does not have a capital G god? What if my book of faith is not the Bible?
Another way to make Maximize 365 more inclusive is to remove the word “marriage” and call it life relationships or intimate partnerships. Some people cannot get married because of their sexual orientation or ethnic differences. What if someone wanted to work on their relationship skills as a parent?


Spies of Warsaw

First, Alan. Spies of Warsaw. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: Furst was born in February; read in his honor.

The year is 1937 and German-born engineer, Edvard Uhl, finds himself caught up in smuggling German industrial plans relating to armament and arms. Like joining a gang, Edvard is drawn deeper and deeper into the fold. The tightening entanglement causes Uhl to become more and more paranoid about being exposed. But how to get out? This is how The Spies of Warsaw begins but it is not about Edvard. He is just a pawn; one little cog in the world of espionage. The real protagonist is Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, military attaché to the French Embassy. War is eminent and the stakes couldn’t be higher in the struggle for intel. Mercier, familiar with war as a decorated 1914 veteran, must make his moves carefully. One never knows who is counterintelligence and who is an ally. Who is a betrayer? In the midst of the political drama, Furst gives Mercier a love interest. Anna’s role is not to lighten the story but to add another layer of tension and mystery. While the book only covers seven months before World War II, the shadowy sense of place is heavy across Poland, Germany, and France.
As an aside, I particularly liked the train scenes: travelers waiting on the platform with the falling snow and paranoia circling in equal amounts.

Author fact: Furst has been compared to John le Carre.

Book trivia: Spies of Warsaw was made into a television drama for the BBC

Nancy said: Pearl said Furst’s novels are “great for their splendid sense of place – World War II Eastern Europe” (p 183).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181).


The Namesake

Lahiri, Jhumpa. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

Reason read: Vasant Panchami is a holiday celebrated in India to mark the coming of spring. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “a PPL Book of the Week pick.”

While this is the story of Gogol Ganguli, first we must start from the beginning. Perspective must be established. Before Gogol’s birth and as a Bengali Indian keeping with her culture, Ashima Ganguli comes to the United State to partake in an arranged marriage. By 1968, Ashima has only been in Cambridge, Massachusetts for eighteen months before becoming pregnant with her first child. This is where Lahiri first draws attention to the many differences between American and Indian practices and this is where Gogol’s life begins; in this state of conflicting cultures. But back to Ashima. The first evidence of cultural confusion: the fact women in Bengali do not give birth in a cold, sterile hospital. They birth in the warm and comforting home their parents. Gogol is out of place even before he has been born. Then a subtle example of cultural ignorance: once Ashima is in labor the nurse cannot figure out how to fold Ashima’s six yards of silk sari. Most importantly (and the crux of the story), Indian parents do not choose the name of their child on a whim. It is this last detail that sets the stage for Gogol’s life story: the importance of identity; the necessity of belonging; the eventual learning to compromise in order to belong in harmony. We follow Gogol through childhood into manhood as he navigates relationships with his family, love interests, and homeland.

As an aside, when Lahiri mentions the Boston Globe story about Andrew Wyeth and his Helga paintings it grounded me to time and place.

Lines I really liked, “American seconds tick on top of her pulse point” (p 4) and “If there is nothing decent on television she leafs through books she has taken out of out the library, books that occupy the space Ashoke normally does on the bed” (p 163). This last quote struck me because I do the same thing when my partner is away.

Author fact: Lahiri is American, but her parents are Indian immigrants from West Bengal.

Book trivia: The Namesake, New York Times bestseller, was made into a movie. Of course I have not seen it. Yet.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Namesake is slightly less depressing than Mukherjee’s Jasmine.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Immigrant Experience” (p 123).


Liar’s Game

Dickey, Eric Jerome. Liar’s Game. Rockland, MA: Wheel Publishing, Inc., 2000.

Reason read: Read in recognition of Black History month being in February. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Reading challenge for the category of a book written in multiple perspectives.

Vincent Calvary Browne, Jr. is a Negro Black Man trying to date after divorce. His ex-wife cheated. Adding insult to injury, she left him taking their three year old daughter out of the country. Baggage, baggage, baggage. Dana Ann Smith is a single woman trying to land on her feet in Los Angeles after leaving heavy debts and an even heavier romance in New York. Baggage, baggage, baggage. When Vince and Dana meet they are immediately attracted to one another. They seem like the perfect fit. However, in an effort to present their best selves to one another they hide their secrets under a pile of lies and more lies. Sooner or later, those lies start to reveal themselves as the couple gets more and more involved and Dana’s ex arrives from New York. Can Dana see beyond Vince’s lie about never being married or having children? Can she respect him as a father with an ex-wife? Can Vince hear Dana over the warning bells about her debt? Can he trust she is truly over her rich and hunky ex? What makes Liar’s Game so much fun is the varying perspectives of the same story. As the saying goes, there are are always three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. Dickey gives us all three.
A word of warning – the writing is a little dated. In today’s society, I don’t think many people would consider a cell phone a piece of technology for players.
I have to admit even though the sex scenes were a bit cliché it was refreshing to see a condom play a major role in the hot and heavy relationships. There is even a scene when the condom gets “lost.”

Simple but great lines to quote, “Hard living and bad loving ages a man” (p 2), “A smile is the shortest distance between two people” (p 6).

Author fact: Dickey died of cancer in January of this year. Sad.

Book trivia: I could see this as a movie or a daytime soap opera.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions Liar’s Game as another good example of fiction written by an African American male.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 13).


Devil’s Highway: a True Story

Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: a True Story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 2004.

Reason read: Read in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February even though Arizona is the bad guy in this story. I also needed a book with the topic of a group working towards a common goal for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Southern Arizona is an unforgiving territory but ask those in the know. The people of Veracruz would say Mexico is even more so. The risk of traversing southern Arizona’s blazing desert is worth it if it means getting out of a dead-end life in a violent country. As Natalie Merchant sings in ‘San Andreas Fault,’ “Go west. Paradise is there. You’ll have all that you can eat of milk and honey over there…it’s rags to riches over there.” The trick is to survive the journey. Enemies abound. Double-crossing smugglers. Keen-eyed border patrol. Camouflaged poisonous snakes. Lightning fast scorpions. None of these can hold a candle to the dangers of desert’s unrelenting heat. In May the temperature never dips below ninety degrees. In the daytime the sun gets so hot human bodies dry out and brains begin to boil. Through barely controlled rage, as if gritting his teeth, Urrea tells the harrowing story of twenty-six men who, in May of 2001, risk everything to make it to points north. The Devil’s Highway (or Path), as this stretch of southern Arizona desert is known, is notorious for being so dangerous even Border Patrol stays clear. Other reviews of Urrea’s book state that twelve of the twenty-six succeeded in making it to safety. I have an issue with this. To say that twelve made it to safety implies that they succeeded in arriving at their various U.S. destinations. They succeeding in disappearing into the fabric of nameless and faceless working-class communities across the country. Instead, they survived the desert, were nursed back to health and only to be regarded as witnesses for a criminal trial against their coyote and ultimately sent back to Mexico. There is more but I will leave it at that.

There were a lot of great lines to quote. Here are some of my favorites, “It was a forest of eldridge bones” (p 5), “As if the desert felt it hadn’t made its point, it added killer bees” (p 6), and “A magus can sit in his pickup and summon the Beast while eating a teriyaki bowl and Diet Coke” (p 13). Harsh realities.

Author fact: Urrea also wrote The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the North. Both titles are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Devil’s Highway is a best seller and came close to winning a Pulitzer.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Devil’s Highway would be a good read for a book group. She also said it has been “well reviewed.” Interestingly enough, Devil’s Highway is an aside in both chapters.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30), and again in the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 185)


The Building

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: Life in the Big City: The Building. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January.

So much tragedy and human heartache surrounding one building: the story of Monroe, a man trying to save all the children of New York after an accident involving a young boy changes his entire life; PJ Hammond and his singular obsession to buy the building he grew up in; the love affair between Gilda and poor poet, Benny in the shadow of the building (until Gilda goes and marries someone else for money); and Antonio Tonatti, the man who loved to play music in front of the majestic building until it was torn down. One building, so many stories. It’s as if the giant structure made of glass and steel stood guard over all these lives.There is one final story which ties all the other stories together. It’s bittersweet and beautiful. Quintessential New York.

Author fact: Eisner has a comic Hall of Fame award named after him.

Book trivia: Look carefully at the illustrations. Characters come back from other stories.

Nancy said: The Building is included in a list of books about New York that Pearl has enjoyed.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “New York City: A Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


Two for the Dough

Evanovich, Janet. Two for the Dough. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery month…or something like it.

Stephanie Plum is a self-professed “fugitive apprehension agent” otherwise known as a budding bounty hunter. In One for the Money Stephanie falls into the business when her cousin, Vincent, needs a fill-in for an absent agent. Turns out, Stephanie has a knack for accidentally catching the fugitives. She’s a little clumsy and a lot reckless, but with luck and accidental courage, she catches on pretty quick.
This time, in Two for the Dough, Stephanie is after one Kenny Mancuso, Joe Morelli’s cousin. To bring you up to speed, Joe is the innocent “bad guy” Stephanie needed to apprehend in the last book, One for the Money. Ex-military man Kenny has been accused of shooting his former best friend in the knee. Armed with a stun gun, pepper spray, flashlights, a .38 and a friend named Ricardo Carlos Manoso (aka Ranger), Stephanie is back on the hunt for Kenny. Things heat up when the best friend is shot a second time, this time, fatally. Did Kenny come back to finish the job? When Stephanie’s spunky grandmother is stabbed in the hand with an ice pick, things turn serious. It’s personal this time. Stephanie needs to watch her step because now family’s involved. The plot is fun, a little unbelievable, sometimes a little mumbo jumbo, and more often than not, forgettable.
As an aside, everyone seems to be a cousin of someone else. Stephanie has the fugitive apprehension gig because of her cousin, Vinny. Some guy named Gazarra is married to her cousin. Stephanie is after Kenny who is a cousin of Joe’s. A car at the scene of the crime belonged to another cousin of Joe’s; this time a guy named Leo.

Quote to quote, “When in dread, my rule was always to procrastinate” (p 173). Yup. It’s the only one I liked.

Author fact: Evanovich has an official FaceBook page.

Book trivia: Like One for the Money, Two for the Dough was a best seller.

Nancy said: Pearl said Two for the Dough will having you laughing.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 171).


Gaudi Afternoon

Wilson, Barbara. Gaudi Afternoon. Washington: Seal Press, 2001.

Reason read: February is my birth month and I want to honor women doing cool stuff. In honor of a female globetrotting translator, I’m reading Gaudi Afternoon.

What starts out as a promise to help a friend of a friend find a missing husband because she can speak Spanish, Cassandra Reilly jets off to Barcelona, Spain. She soon finds herself running all over the city, as in running into old lovers left and right. She is supposed to be looking for Ben Stevens, husband to Frankie. Instead, her time is taken up with deflecting old lover, Ana, and Ana’s quest to start a family with Cassandra; or lusting after on again-off again lover and hairdresser, Carmen; or getting orgasmic foot massages from the wacky weird foot therapist, Alice. Occasionally, in between being starved for sexual companionship, and looking for lost people, Cassandra works on translating a South American best seller and discovering the genius of Antonio Gaudi’s architecture. Then there’s looking for Ben…remember the missing husband of Frankie? Only, it isn’t Ben who is missing. This is a never ending kidnapping caper. The gender bending gets confusing at times.

Quotes to quote, “Or I’ll decide I need to catch up with an old lover in Uruguay, and political events will keep me there longer than expected” (p 3).

Pet peeve: small detail. Cassandra goes into a shop that seems to be full of nautical items. Maps are not nautical. Charts are the correct term.

Author fact: Wilson’s last name is Sjoholm. Like her lead heroine, she is a writer, editor, teacher and translator.

Book trivia: Gaudi Afternoon was made into a movie in 2001 starring Judy Davis. Of course I haven’t seen it.

Nancy said: Pearl said Gaudi Afternoon was a contemporary series featuring a female sleuth. I wouldn’t call Cassandra Reilly a “sleuth” but rather a woman who got caught up in sleuthing.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City: New York

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City: New York. New York: D.C. Comics, 1981.

Reason read: Will Eisner passed away in the month of January. Read in his memory.

Every time I think of New York I cannot help but also think of Natalie Merchant’s song, “Carnival.” How could I not? It’s an homage to a great city of contradiction. Her line, “A wild-eyed mystic prophet, on a traffic island, stopped and he raved of saving me” evokes so many conflicting emotions. Thanks to my nephew being born in New York City, I got to waken a dormant love for the Big Apple. Sights, smells, and sounds that are often times distasteful to some (like my husband), fill me with inexplicable energy and ambition. I want to run Central Park like I live on the upper west side. It’s as if New York’s grit and grime are tangible forms of strength and tenacity that speak loudly to me. In New York, Will Eisner captures perfectly the stark reality of the big city’s silent and subtle struggles. You can smell the stench of all corners of New York, hear the frenetic activity in every sentence. But, look and look again very carefully. There is power in what isn’t said. Look at the illustration of the people riding the subway. You can almost hear the rattle of the rails; and when the train grinds to a halt during a blackout there’s that one guy who doesn’t change expression. As the minutes tick by, the people around him slowly start to panic while he stoically stares ahead. There truly is always that one guy and if you were on that train, you would see him. This is a portrait of an important city doing unimportant things, all lovingly expressed in a series of vignettes; the constants of New York: Avenue C which connect the East side to West, the importance of stoops, the sentinels of the City (hydrants, mailboxes, traffic signals, lampposts, windows, and sewers), and the people. You can read the entire thing in minutes, but that only means you have time to read it again and again and again.

Best quotes, “The big city is after all a hive of concrete and steel in which living things swarm. Depositing, in the course of their lives, the residue of their existence, in the countless garbage cans that sit dumbly amid the swirl” (p 41).

Author fact: Will Eisner popularized the term “graphic novel.”

Book trivia: After New York the tribute to New York continues with The Building, City People Notebook, and, Invisible People.

Nancy said: Pearl said she really enjoyed New York.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York City: A Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


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).