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).


Rome and a Villa

Clark, Eleanor. Rome and a Villa. New York: Atheneum, 1962.

Reason read: Eleanor Clark died in the month of February. Read in her memory.

Even though the last time Clark visited Rome the year was 1974, you cannot help but daydream of traveling to the ancient city when you read Rome and a Villa. I started a mental checklist of everything I hoped to see, should I get there myself: the 124 steps of Santa Mana Aracoeli beside the Campidoglio, feral cats scattering in the rain, the Piazza Vittorio, the famous Trevi Fountain which was funded with a second tax on wine, and capable of moving 80,000 cubic meters of water per day.
Clark even opened my eyes to the Roman influences here in the United States: Penn Station in New York City; how it was designed with the Baths of Caracalle in mind.
Beyond architecture and tourist draws, Clark paints pictures of influential individuals like Julius Caesar and Hadrian. She meanders with her narrative and is sometimes difficult to follow, but worth it if you can stick with her.

Author fact: Clark was a native of Connecticut, right down the road from me. Her dust jacket photograph reminds me of a great-aunt I used to know.

Book trivia: Rome and a Villa was illustrated by Eugene Berman. They’re pretty spectacular.

Nancy said: Pearl said Rome and a Villa is for the traveler. I think it would be interesting to reread Rome and a Villa after a trip to Rome, just to compare notes.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Roman Holiday” (p 188).


Alexandria

Bantock, Nick. Alexandria: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine Unfolds. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.

Reason: What a wicked game to play to make me feel this way. – Chris Isaac.

You all know the star couple of the early 1990s, Griffin Moss and Sabine Strohem, but do you know Matthew Sedon and his lovely paramour, Isabella de Reims? Matthew and Isabella are caught in that can’t-connect world Griffin and Sabine know all too well. Separated by continents, absence is making the heart turn passionate. Matthew struggles to keep his mind on archaeology dig in Egypt while Isabella attempts to study in France. Both encounter evil signs of nemesis Viktor Frolatti who seems bound and determined to keep them apart.
As always, Bantock’s art is stunning. Bold colors, violent insinuations, and passionate designs decorate every postcard, letter, envelope and stamp exchanged. As always, the voyeuristic thrill of opening someone’s mail cannot be ignored.


All Deliberate Speed

Ogletree, Charles. All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.

Reason read: February is the month to celebrate Civil Rights. Well, we should be proactively doing something all year long…

You could call All Deliberate Speed a history book as it is filled with didactic chapters and faculty could use it as a textbook, but I would argue it is more of a beautifully written memoir. Ogletree shares his personal reflections on the civil rights decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the conundrum of legalized racial inequality, and how the words “all deliberate speed” allowed the end of segregation to become a reality at a snail’s pace. Rest assured, this isn’t an autobiography. Ogletree doesn’t delve too deep into his personal life with the exception of how it relates to the topic at hand and his part in it. Ogletree writes, not as one who did his homework on a singular subject, as one standing outside the topic at hand, but rather as one who actually lived the history and had a tangible part of the action. “Present at the creation,” if you will. Ogletree’s narration is as much from fact as it is from memory.

The tradition of “Black Graduation” at Stanford originated as a protest of which author Ogletree had a part.

As an aside, I always love it when an author rights a wrong. Somehow there was a research error and Professor Jack Balkin was not given credit. Ogletree made a point to mention that.

Author fact: Ogletree has a strong family history connection to Brown v. Board of Education.

Book trivia: The black and white photographs in All Deliberate Speed are great.

Nancy said: Pearl called All Deliberate Speed “excellent.” Agreed.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Civil Rights and Wrongs” (p 49).


The Last Good Kiss

Crumley, James. The Last Good Kiss. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.

Reason read: February is friendship month and Sughrue’s friendship with T is pretty interesting.

C.W. Sughrue is an interesting character. He has a convoluted story as well. Sughrue is an investigator out of Montana, but is currently in Sonoma, California, looking for a girl who has been missing out of Haight-Ashbury for ten years. Hired for only eighty-seven bucks and no clues to go on, besides easy women and an abundance of alcohol, he isn’t having a lot of luck. Only, this girl isn’t the one he was first hired to find. He started down the rabbit hole, hired by a woman looking for her alcoholic ex-husband, a famous author and poet. The ex lives with his mother across the way from him and his current wife…and the plot thickens.
I had trouble keeping score. Betty Sue went missing ten years ago, was thought to have run away looking for the bright lights of stardom. Instead, she is rumored to have taken up fame as a porn star. Sughrue falls in love with her just by seeing a picture. Seems everyone is in love with Betty Sue.

Lines I liked,”When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog names Fireball Roberts in a ramshackeld joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a spring afternoon (p 1). How’s that for an opening line? Here’s another one, “As we shared the whiskey, I wondered how long men had been forgiving each other over strong drink for being fools” (p 164).

Author fact: Crumley has been compared to Raymond Chandler. He has written a few other mysteries, but I’m not reading them. Crumley died on September 17th, 2008.

Book trivia: This is a deceivingly fast read. You may want to guzzle your through it, but do yourself a favor, sip it slow and take your time. There are a few plot twists worth staying sober for.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say much about the Last Good Kiss despite in being in two different Book Lust chapters. As an aside, Pearl was hesitant to read Lee Child because of his gratuitous violence, but did she know of Crumley’s penchant for shooting people?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 121), and again in “Montana: In Big Sky Country” (p 156). I would argue Pearl needed to pick a different Crumley mystery for this chapter as The Last Good Kiss mostly takes place in Colorado and California.


Gryphon

Bantock, Nick. Gryphon: in which the extraordinary correspondence of Griffin and Sabine is rediscovered. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001.

Reason read: I have flung myself so far down the rabbit hole I can’t find my way home. Maybe I’ve lost sight of what home means. I don’t know. After revisiting Griffin & Sabine and Sabine’s Notebook I realized I couldn’t stop with The Golden Mean. I couldn’t stop. At all. I couldn’t stop. For nothing. I guess you could say it was all for nothing.

In Gryphon we move on from Griffin and Sabine to Matthew and Isabella, another pair of star-crossed lovers. Don’t worry, G & S are still there, just in a murkier role. Sabine needs help from archaeologist Matthew, but the meaning behind her request is all smoke and mirrors. As with all the other books in the series, the art is amazing, even if the story has gotten a little too cloaked in mystery.

Best line in a letter, “I’ve tried to escape from the realm of your skin, by concentrating on your voice, but that only leads to your mouth and then I’m back where I started” (Matthew to Isabella).


Migrations: Open Hearts

International Centre for the Picture Book in Society, ed. Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Studio, 2019.

Reason read: This was an Early Review from LibraryThing that I didn’t receive. I was curious about it so after publication I borrowed it from the local public library.

Coming from a place of spoiled privilege, I need more books like Migrations in my life, despite its deceiving simplicity. Growing up, my parents were not wealthy, but they provided. I always had a roof over my head, a safe and comfortable place to call home. It is hard to think of what life would be like without a secure or reliable place to live. The reality is we live in a world where thousands and thousands of people are displaced every single day.
With it’s beautiful hand painted art, illustrators of children’s books from all over the world took part in contributing postcards to the project. The layout of Migrations reminded me so much of Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine.


The Morning Star

Bantock, Nick. The Morning Star: In Which the Extraordinary Correspondence of Griffin & Sabine is Illuminated. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003.

Reason read: Friday, I’m in love. – the Cure.

Back to Griffin & Sabine. It always comes back to Griffin Moss & Sabine Strohem. Except not. This time, it is Matthew and Isabella. Matthew Sedon and Isabella de Reims are madly, hopelessly, truly in love. Except, like Griffin and Sabine before them, they cannot reach each other. He, in Alexandria, Egypt. She, in Paris, France. The archaeologist and the student worlds apart. Unable to connect, their romance depends on the guidance of the only other couple to experience such a divide. Through similar letters and postcards, Matthew & Isabella explore worlds beyond their imagination. Will they ever meet?

Book trivia: this was supposed to be the final book in the Griffin and Sabine saga. It is not.


Little Havana Blues

Poey, Delia, and Virgil Suarez, eds. Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology. Houston: Texas: Arte Publico Press, 1996.

Reason read: the current Cuba reformed constitution was put into place in the month of February of last year.

Little Havana Blues is a unique anthology comprised of fifty poems, twelve short stories, three plays, and eleven essays. The introduction argues that Cuban-American literature is not new to the 1990s. Because most published works were in Spanish, the emergence of Spanish-English sheds a whole new light on the literature. The “Spanglish” culture reverberates through every single submission.
I have to admit, the oddest story is, “The Defector” by Ricardo Pau-Llosa, a fiction about a talking capybara who lives is a bizarre zoo.
Most interesting quote from “Memories of My Father” by Omar Torres, “I don’t know why a woman would want to get married; you’re either a housewife, an old maid or a prostitute” (p 363).
I have been reading a lot about Cuba lately. I feel that learning about Cuba’s rich and troubled history helped me appreciate the submissions in Little Havana Blues.

Author Editor fact: Virgil Suarez’s writing is included in Little Havana Blues.

Book trivia: Little Havana Blues was made possible through several different grants.

Nancy said: Pearl said Little Havana Blues is an “excellent introduction to many writers who are likely to be unfamiliar to mainstream American readers” (p 68).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).


Museum at Purgatory

Bantock, Nick. The Museum at Purgatory. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Reason read: I am on another one of my cat kicks. Meh. Can’t be helped. Can’t be stopped. I’m just going with it.

Meet Non, Curator of the Museum at Purgatory. First, pay attention to his name. Non, the absence of anything and everything. He facilitates the acquisition of collections in that place between heaven and hell. Wait for it. Non is dead, too. He curates the collections of other dead artists, archaeologists, and collectors while they all figure out where they are ultimately going to end up, Heaven or Hell.
If you are familiar with Bantock’s work, you know his books are always filled with explosive art and imaginative words that only fuel curiosity to cult-like proportions. I am a fan of everything, and I mean everything, he does.
Favorite rooms: It’s a tie between the Gazio Room, with it’s shrines and navigational boxes, and the Delancet Room, full of lost post. As an ardent letter writer, I think Delancet has the slight edge over Gazio. Just saying.

Book trivia: I love the dedication for The Museum at Purgatory.


Anna In-Between

Nunez, Elizabeth. Anne In-Between. New York: Akashic Books, 2009.

Reason read: Anna In-Between reflects on childhood. Every time my birthday nears, so do I. Read for myself.

Thirty-nine year old Anna returns to her parents’ home in the Caribbean islands. Anna has been in New York City as an in-demand editor for almost eighteen years, returning to her Caribbean home periodically for short visits. She returns, not because of a longing for her country, but only to check in on her aging parents. They appreciate the visits but feel Anna has lost touch with her roots. It is as if Anna cannot wait to bolt from her childhood memories, the color of her mixed-race skin, and her emotional parents.
On this particular trip, Anna discovers her mother has advanced stage breast cancer and is appalled her parents have been aware of the growing tumors all along. It is inconceivable they chose not to do anything about the disease growing in Beatrice’s breast. With Anna’s insistence of medical care ever increasing, Anna’s parents finally visit a doctor to begin treating the disease with chemotherapy. Anna’s mother, however, draws the line at traveling to the United States for necessary-for-survival surgery, strongly believing her dark skin will warrant sub par treatment.
Mother and daughter are locked in a cultural battle; mother accusing daughter of becoming too Americanized as if it were akin to catching a different debilitating disease. [As an aside, their fight reminded me of my own battles. My mother is convinced I no longer have the capacity to take care of my childhood home; as if the ways of Monhegan are too foreign to me as now I live with running water, working lights, and an automatic thermostat.] Anna In-Between is the dance of expectation. Mothers want so much for their daughters that reality seems like a constant disappointment, an “you can never do anything right” attitude. Been there! Beatrice is not entirely to blame in all this. Anna has her assumptions, too. She has so much pent up resentment towards her mother she thinks Beatrice blames her for a failed marriage, is disappointed in Anna’s less than impressive career, and is embarrassed by Anna’s less than impeccable appearance. It is hard for Anna to empathize; to see Beatrice as human when she feels like such a failure herself. I won’t spoil the plot, but I can say Nunez’s gift is a satisfactory non-ending with a healthy dose of hope. For Anna and Beatrice.
Interestingly enough, Nunez refers to the locale of Anna In-Between as “the island” as if she doesn’t want to put a pin the map of where the story actually takes place.

Author fact: Nunez was born in Trinidad.

Book trivia: Anna In-Between was reviewed by Edwidge Danticat. I just finished reading The Farming of Bones by Danticat last month.

Nancy said: Pearl said she has enjoyed the novels of Nunez and made mention of Anna In-Between (Book Lust To Go p 58).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean – Trinidad and Tobago” (p 58).


Making Tracks

Weber, Matt. Making Tracks: How I Learned to Love Snowmobiling in Maine. Yarmouth, Maine: IslandPort Press, 2019.

Reason read: Christmas gift from my mother oops! sister!

Making Tracks thoughtfully combines a love of snowmobiling with an obvious respect for Maine, marriage, and mother nature. Part memoir, part comedy, Matt playfully tells stories and shares black and white photographs of his adventures riding with family and friends all over the great state of Maine. Despite the casual language, Matt is incredibly informative for beginners or those experts seeking advice on adventure riding in Maine. A list of resources is included. [As an aside, because the references include websites, it is always best to do your homework and make sure the links are still available.]

The title is a little misleading. Matt never hated to ride a snowmobile so the loving to ride came quite easily. He implies he was forced to love it when in actuality, his love of riding grew.

Favorite part: Tarzan. Without a doubt, Tarzan. My husband and I once found Tarzan hopelessly stranded amid sand and seaweed on a beach at low tide. His leash had gotten tangled around mid-sized rocks and no matter how he struggled, he couldn’t break free…and the tide was coming in, as it is bound to do twice a day. We did what any pet lover would do, and even though he didn’t need to, a grateful Matt repaid us in sea critters. Yum. Can’t refuse those things! But back to Making Tracks. It was touching to learn of Tarzan’s life, beginning and end.

Author fact: Confessional – Matt is “my” island neighbor when I am home-home. I have to wonder how differently I would view his book if I could have situational amnesia and forget my favored prejudice. True, Matt and I do not have a friendship per se; we have never had a meal together and we aren’t even friends on social sites, but I also know if my mother needed anything, anything at all, I could call Matt. He is just that kind of guy.

Second confessional: Weber’s book got me through a near two hour wait at the DMV. I was waiting to renew my license to get the all-important “real” identification card when their system ominously “went down.” Anxious employees wrung their hands and with eyes downcast, admitted it could be “hours” before it came back up. A few people who couldn’t stomach that kind of wait quietly gathered their things and slipped out the door. Me, I had no choice but to stay.

Book trivia: Making Tracks is super generous with photographs and includes a section on resources. I said that already. Meh.


On Not Being Able to Paint

Field, Joanna. On Not Being Able to Paint. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1957.

Reason read: Field was born in the month of February. Her birthday is one day before mine. Read in her memory.

On Not Being Able to Paint is divided into five sections, the first four all relating to Free Drawing. The fifth and final section is focused on painting. Words like “psychic creativity” and “moral education” are thrown around, which makes me think I’m in for the psychobabble ride reading of my life. I wasn’t disappointed. There is a fair amount of deep psychology in On not Being Able to Paint. Even though the slim volume is less than 200 pages, it took me forever to read. In the end, I questioned if the obstacles which prevent one from painting are not the exact same “blocks” writers sometimes complain of experiencing when unable to write. Sure enough, Field is connecting free drawings with the self conscious.
As an aside, the first edition of On Not Being Able to Paint was written for educators. The second edition (my version) includes an appendix and Anna Freud’s foreword. I appreciated that Field was able to recognize that emotional drawing is not completely devoid of influence and that she shouldn’t be so fixated on depicting beauty for beauty’s sake.
Confessional: I was a bit disappointed by Field’s “art.” The illustrations were childlike and well, for lack of a better word, weird. As Field explains, and I said earlier, they are “free drawings” that helped her connect to the self conscious. I hope she was successful.

Quote to quote, “And the result was a sense of false certainty, a compulsive and deceptive sanity, a tyrannical victory of the common sense view which always sees objects as objects, but at cost of something else that was seeking recognition, something more to do with imaginative than with common sense reality” (p 76). Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Whatever that means!

Author fact: Joanna Field was the pen name of Marion Milner.

Book trivia: Illustrations are by Joanna Field, aka Marion Milner. Forward by Anna Freud.

Nancy said: Pearl said On Not Being Able to Paint was a later favorite of hers.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the cheating chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).


Foundation and Empire

Asimov, Isaac. Foundation and Empire. New York: Bantam Books,

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

I am going to write the blah blah review because, after all, I only need to prove I read the thing. I never said I would enjoy it.
Part I of Foundation and Empire focuses on General Bel Riose and his attempt to take over the empire. He needs to be able to make metals (tungsten out of aluminum and iridium out of iron). When Riose launches a plan to attack the Foundation a trader by the name of Lathan intercepts the plot. Lathan runs to the Emporor of Trantor to squeal on Riose.
Part II of Foundation and Empire takes place 100 years later. A strange mutant called “the Mule” is terrorizing the land with his ability to manipulate the emotions of those around him. He changes the course of the empire in a myriad of ways.
Confessional: I hate it when I get confused by details. On page 120 Bayta sends the clown out of the room (…and the clown left without a sound”). Yet, a few paragraphs later the Captain turns to the clown to ask him a question (“The captain faced the trembling Magnifico, who obviously distrusted this huge, hard man who faced him” p 22). What the what? The clown would have to have left the room and then immediately come right back in according to the narrative but nowhere does it indicate Magnifico does that.

Can I be truthful? If these Foundations were not as short as they are, I wouldn’t be reading them.

Quotes I liked, “All was arranged in such a way that the future as foreseen by the unalterable mathematics of psychohistory would involve their early isolation from the main body of Imperial civilization and their gradual growth intho the germs of the Second Galactic Empire- cutting an inevitable barbarian interregnum from thirty thousand years to scarcely a thousand” (p 22).

Book trivia: Foundation and Empire consist of two different stories and is considered the second book in the series.

Nancy said: nothing specific about Foundation and Empire.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).