Beyond Euphrates

Stark, Freya. Beyond Euphrates: autobiography 1928 – 1933. London: John Murray, 1951.

Reason read: Stark was born in January. Reading Beyond Euphrates to continue the series.

When we left Freya at the end of Traveller’s Prelude Freya had just gained her independence as an adult and the travel bug had bitten hard. She takes her first journey in 1928 to Damascus. As a woman, traveling without an escort was unheard of in 1928. To make matters worse, because Freya could speak several different languages, she was believed to be a Russian spy when she reached Baghdad. The more Freya travels, the more her independent spirit grows. She scoffs at using escorts and chaperones. At one point she fears being tied to a job because it might keep her rooted in one place and yet she needed to earn a living in order to keep traveling. It was at this point that she started writing articles and her first book, Baghdad Sketches was published. Stark ends Beyond Euphrates in hopes of traveling to Yemen next. Amusingly enough, in her last letter to her mother she rejoices to find a good face cream.

Quotes to quote. An example of bravery: “I don’t mind the chance at being shot at, but did not want to be held up by police and kept all night in one of their solitary little towers for safety…” (p 270). An example of humor: “Darling B, I am busy with prostitutes” (p 267).

Author fact: Stark had a sense of humor. Case in point: “Captain Holt told me I had better go home from North Persia by way of Moscow (where he is to be): and I had to remind him that I am a Bolshevic spy” (p 127).

Book trivia: Beyond Euphrates also has great photographs. Not as many of Freya, though. Second book trivia – I am reading a first edition of Beyond Euphrates.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Lady Travellers” (p 142).

Full Steam Ahead

Blumberg, Rhoda. Full Steam Ahead: the Race to Build a Transcontinental Railroad. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 1996.

Reason read: February is Train Month.

The greed of gold brought out the best and worst in businessmen. Entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to cash in on the craze. For Theodore Judah he saw the need for a transcontinental railroad, not to transport passengers but supplies to the miners and merchants who supported them. Abraham Lincoln climbed aboard the idea of a transcontinental railroad because he envisioned the transportation of troops and supplies. Central Pacific Railroad started laying tracks west. Union Pacific starting laying tracks west. And the race was on.
Blumberg paints the historical picture of the birth of the transcontinental railroad in broad strokes. Written for young adults, she steamrolls through the Chinese labor used to build the railroad, the blasting of the mountains that stood in their way, conquering the arid desert, the conflict with the “wild” Indians, even the slaughter of buffalo, until she reaches the grand conclusion of the last spike celebration.

Author fact: Blumberg has written several books on historical events, but Full Steam Ahead is the only one I am reading.

Book trivia: Full Steam Ahead is meant for young adults so there are plenty of amazing photographs and illustrations. I appreciated the portraits and the political cartoon.

Nancy said: Pearl said a great way to learn about most things is to “read a really great children’s book on the subject” (p 200) and she listed Blumberg for learning about the transcontinental railroad.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Riding the Rails: Railroad History” (p 200).

Color of Money

Tevis, Walter. The Color of Money. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1984.

Reason read: Tevis was born in February. Read in his honor.

“Fast” Eddie Felson was a pool shark twenty years ago. He dominated the underground pool circuit as a hustler for big bucks. Now he is playing exhibition competitions against his former rival Minnesota Fats in shopping malls for cheap prizes. His future looks bleak as he sips his Manhattans. Thanks to a failed marriage Eddie has lost his pool hall business and he has no other real world skills to make a living. He has never had a 9 to 5 job that he liked. All he can do is what he has known since high school, shooting pool, playing the shark. He needs to reenter the world of competitive pool for money. But, how? He is an old man playing a young man’s game. The rules have changed along with the style of play. He has a lot to learn and Minnesota Fats can only take him so far.

As an aside, when The Color of Money was made into a movie I didn’t care for it. I had this opinion that Tom Cruise only starred in movies where the protagonist had to lose something big in order to shape up and fly straight (think Risky Business, Top Gun & Cocktail). This was one of those plots.

Author fact: Tevis was known for his short stories. He often wrote for Playboy magazine.

Book trivia: The Color of Money is the last novel Tevis wrote. Second book trivia – I did not know the Hustler should have been read first. “Fast” Eddie Felson is the protagonist in both stories. Once again, I have read them backwards. Sigh.

Nancy said: Nothing about The Color of Money.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Child Prodigies” (p 43). For the sake of argument I must say I don’t think The Color of Money belongs in this chapter. No one in this book is a child or a prodigy.

City of Falling Angels

Berendt, John. The City of Falling Angels. Read by Holter Graham. New York: RandomHouse Audio, 2005.

Reason read: Read in honor of Venice Carnivale, which takes place in February.

Author fact: You might recognize John’s name as the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which was a best seller and made into a movie.

When one thinks of Venice, the imagery of gondolas and waterways and brightly colored carnival masks usually come to mind. Venice itself is a complicated city and lends itself to an air of old world intrigue. John Berendt fell in love with the city the first time he visited. Upon a subsequent visit, Berendt arrived three days after a devastating fire has ravaged the grand a historic La Fenice Opera House. Rumors of arson swirl among the community prompting Berendt to put on his investigative persona and dig in the ashes of history. Eventually, through meeting a cast of colorful characters, he uncovers the truths and fictions surrounding La Fenice Opera House and Venice.
Special note: if you want to read City of Falling Angels, do yourself a favor and listen to it on CD and make sure to get the version with Berendt’s interview at the end. His explanation for the title of the book is eyeopening.

Narrator trivia: Holter Graham is also an actor for the big screen but I haven’t seen any of his movies.

Book trivia: The first thing that Berendt tells you about City of Falling Angels is that it is true. None of the names have been changed. It is truly a work of nonfiction.

Nancy said: Berendt’s book “explores contemporary Venice” and that he makes the city sound beautiful “despite its bureaucratic nightmares and dangers” (p 241). She even includes a quote she found especially evocative.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Veni, Vedi, Venice” (p 240).

Almond Picker

Hornby, Simonetta Agnello. The Almond Picker. Translated by Alastair McEwan. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Reason read: There is a festival is Sicily in February called the Almond Blossom festival.

Maria Rosalia Inzerillo, otherwise known as Mennulara, is a mystery. Born into poverty in Western Sicily, she grew up picking almonds with her farming family. As soon as she was of age, Mennulara became the maid for the rich and powerful Alfallipe family. Over time, she became an indispensable administrator of all their affairs, financial and even personal. She had a talent for investments and became a shrewd businesswoman. Rumors surrounded Mennulara: her wealth, her position in the Alfallipe family, even her rumored connections with the mafia. In life, Mennulara was described as outspoken, brash, brave, rude, unique, bad tempered, devoted, dignified, diffident, distant, unpleasant, imperious, ugly, beautiful, complex, secretive, a tyrant. When she dies at a relatively young age the entire community clamors for answers. Who was this woman? How odd that a seemingly common servant’s death would reverberate through the Italian community and no group is more obsessed than the Alfallipe family. Convinced she owes them her inheritance and then-some, they scheme and squabble to find it. The final outcome is brilliant.
Starting on Monday, September 23rd, 1963 The Almond Picker documents a month in time. The accounts are daily (skipping Saturday, September 28th, 1963)until October 1st, 1963 with a final entry on October 23rd of that same year.

Author fact: Hornby is a rock star. Not only is she a fantastic author but she is a champion for victims of domestic abuse. Which explains the abuse scenes in The Almond Picker.

Book trivia: The Almond Picker is Hornby’s first novel. Second book trivia – Hornby dedicated The Almond Picker to British Airways.

Nancy said: Nancy just pointed out The Almond Picker takes place in Sicily.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Sicily” (p 209).

Backup Men

Thomas, Ross. The Backup Men.New York: William Morrow & Company, 1971.

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

Mac McCorkle and Mike Padillo are “saloon” keepers in Washington D.C. They came to Washington after their place of the same name in Bonn on the banks of the Rein had been blown up. Oddly enough, despite their reputations, their Washington D.C. establishment has yet to be assaulted. Despite the fact they are trying to put their pasts behind them and keep their noses clean, through various mishaps they find themselves with a new job, to protect a young man from assassination. Peter Paul Kassim is on the brink of becoming King of Llaquah, a country that has recently discovered it sits on nearly 100 billion barrels of oil reserves. Kassim stands in the way of political enemies who are extremely interested in getting Kassim out of the way.
The Backup Men is a fast paced suspense novel, but what really hold the story together is McCorkle and Padillo’s relationship. Their characters and conversations are witty, humorous and at times, utterly astonishing.

As an aside: From everything I have read, The Backup Men is not a continuation of a series, but rather has some of the same characters from previous novels. From what I could tell, it was not necessary to read the previous stories in order to understand The Backup Men.

Edited to add the only quote that I liked, “That type of revenge was based on rage which, if heated to the right temperature, can make any action, no matter how foolish, seem coldly logical and completely justified… (p 154). I won’t quote the whole sentence because it involves the word “baby” and the verb “slam.”

Author fact: Thomas wrote a ton of books. I have 24 of them on my list.

Book trivia: Many of Thomas’s books have reoccurring characters. The Backup Men is the third book to include Mac and Mike (Mac McCorkle and Mike Padillo). Both characters were first introduced in The Cold War Swap (also on my list).

Nancy said: Absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ross Thomas: Too Good To Miss” (p 234).


Roberts, Nora. Captivated: Donovan Legacy, Book One. New York: Harper Collins, 2011.

Reason read: Nora Roberts writes romances. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be full of candy hearts, flowers and…love.

In the interest of getting through as many books as possible for the Challenge, I have to say I love this kind of read. It’s fast and easy and painless. I read Captivated in four days.
Book One of the Donovan Legacy is Captivated. Morgana Donovan is a beautiful woman with one of those trendy New Age shops in Monterey, California. She is content to be a single, thirty-something, business owner who lives with a dog and a cat and practices magic in her spare time. She is proud of her legacy as she comes from a long line of witches from Ireland. Nash Kirkland is a successful screenwriter, known for his horror films. He is on the prowl for information on his next topic of terror, witches. He comes to Morgana’s shop in the hopes of interviewing a real live witch…only he doesn’t believe in such a thing for real. What follows is Morgana’s attempt to convince him her powers are real and Nash’s struggle to not fall in love with what he doesn’t believe. From there, it’s a pretty cut and dried love story.

Author fact: Roberts has written a whole slew of romance novels. I am reading the Donovan Legacy series, the Dream series and the Sisters series. Ten books total.

Book trivia: Captivated is Book One in the Donovan Legacy, followed by Entranced, Charmed, and Enchanted.

Nancy said: Nancy called the Donovan Legacy a “great historical” (p 207). I didn’t really get that in Captivated. Morgana does go to Ireland to be with her parents and they talked family history…maybe there is something in a later book that is more related to history.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here To Stay” (p 207). Confessional: I have a complaint about this. Nancy only mentions The Donovan Legacy as the title, never mentioning that it is comprised of four separate novels. So, the individual titles are not indexed in Book Lust. Oddly enough, she does spell out the individual titles in the Three sisters Island trilogy.