Moonlight Downs

Hyland, Adrian. Moonlight Downs. New York: Soho Press, 2008.

Reason read: Believe it or not, I have no idea why I started reading this in January.

Emily Tempest is finally home after a long twelve-year absence. Half white and half Aboriginal, she must relearn her place in the landscape; to re-establish old relationships with the community and people she used to love. But, at the same time she is a pesky armchair detective, always poking her nose where it shouldn’t be. When a beloved member of the Moonlight Downs mob is murdered, Emily goes on the hunt to find his killer. It’s personal because Emily has an extra special relationship with the victim’s daughter.
Confessional: all throughout the book, when Emily was fearing for her life I thought it was an exaggeration until a few more people die. The amount of violence towards the end of the book was surprising.
Another confessional: you will appreciate Hyland’s glossary of Aboriginal words in the beginning of the book.

As an aside, I love it when there are little tiny overlaps in my books. I am reading about the Bacardi family in Cuba in another book. In Moonlight Downs a Cuban shows up in Australia.

Confessional: I kept a running list of all the characters I met in Moonlight Downs.

Best and only quote of the book, “As the fury subsided it made room for questions” (p 142).

Author fact: Hyland has lived and worked among the Indigenous people of Australia.

Book trivia: Moonlight Downs is the first Emily Tempest mystery in the series. It was published as Diamond Dove in Australia. As an aside, I am also reading Gunshot Road for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Moonlight Downs in a list of more Australian fiction that “absolutely shouldn’t be missed” (Book Lust To Go p 30).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz: Fiction” (p 29).


Catastrophist

Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.

The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.

Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).

Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.

Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).


Graced Land

Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.

Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.

As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…

Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.

Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.

Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.

Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).


Persuader

Child, Lee. Persuader. Read by Dick Hill. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio, 2003.

Reason read: to finish the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…

I think this has to be my favorite Reacher story simply because it takes place, for the most part, outside of Portland, Maine. The ocean is always present so right away you can bet Reacher has to tangle with it at some point in the story. Of course he does. [As an aside, my favorite section of Dick Hill’s narrative is when Jack struggles with the ocean for a second time, not learning his lesson the first time around.] But, back to the plot. Reacher gets sucked into a compromising position, this time by his own accord. Ten years ago, a critical investigation went sideways and someone under Reacher’s military command was horrifically murder. Up until present day Reacher had thought the killer was dead by his own hand. He witnessed a demise he thought no one could survive..and yet ten years later here is proof the nemesis not only survived, but is thriving. Revenge is Jack’s motive.
Of course, Reacher wouldn’t be Reacher without an eye-roll inducing romance. This time it’s with a federal agent and I agree with other reviewers when they say it feels like Child threw in the relationship with Duffy because it is simply part of the formula for Reacher’s modus operandi. It was short lived and kind of silly.

As an aside, exactly how is Reacher running around with an Anaconda firearm in his pants? Pun intended?
My other gripe? Lee child has obviously never tried to tie his hair back with a rubber band. If he had, he would know it hurts like hell to take it out! No self respecting woman (or man-bunned hipster) would reach for a rubber band. If a real hair tie wasn’t available, a bread tie or a pencil or even a piece of string would do.
Last gripe. For the most part Child has stayed away from cheesy lines but he let this one slip by, “Gravity had no effect on her perfection.” Gag.

Favorite line – I have to include this line because it’s the first one in the book, “The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot” (p 1). If that doesn’t grab your attention!

Author fact: Rumor has it, Child spent a lot of money on the publicity campaign for this book.

Book trivia: This is the seventh Reacher book in the series and the last one on my Challenge list. A more specific to the book piece of trivia – the Persuader is a type of firearm and not a reference to Reacher’s personality.

Nancy said: Pearl suggested finishing the Reacher series with Persuader.
Actually, Pearl had more to say about Persuader than any other book. She admits, with nothing else to read, she picked it up out of boredom, but by the first line she was hooked.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Farming of Bones

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Reason read: Danticat’s birth month is in January. I may have mentioned this before, but she is barely a month older than me.

Danticat has one of those voices that just spills over you in a warm ooze. Be warned, though. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of extreme violence spurred on by dictatorial blind hatred. It begins slowly and subtly; almost a foreshadowing. A Haitian man, walking down the side of the road, is struck and killed by an automobile driven by a man rushing to get to the birth of his grandson. Consider this – the Haitian’s corpse is unceremoniously thrown into a deep and dark ravine to cover up the accident. The Dominican Republican man continues his hurried journey home without a second glance. Days later said-same grandson dies in his sleep and is given an elaborate vigil, an orchid painted casket, and ceremonial burial of grandeur. These two families, the hit and run victim and the newborn babe, share the same level of shock and grief but only one is allowed to fully demonstrate their pain. The Haitian man doesn’t even get a pine casket.
This is just the beginning of Danticat’s tale as we follow Haitian servant Amabelle Desir as she works in a wealthy Dominican Republic household. Life seems to be perfect considering the circumstances and her position in life. She is passionately in love with a cane worker she plans to marry and her employer was once a childhood playmate. They get along and Amabelle is treated well. Enter Domincan Republican dictator Rafael Trujillo and his plan to wipe out the entire Haitian population by mass genocide. Those who can not flee fast enough are subject to horrific torture before being hacked or burned to death. Amabelle’s world is turned upside down when she is separated from her love as she tries to escape the massacre.
The ending was perfect. I won’t give it away, but in order for this book to mean something there was no other ending possible.

Quotes I just have to quote, “Wherever I go, I will always be standing over her body” (p 205), “But some sorrows were simply too individual to share” (p 252), and “You may be surprised what we use our dreams to do, how we drape them over our sight and carry them like amulets to protect us from evil spells” (p 265).

Author fact: Danticat won the American Book Award for The Farming of Bones.

Book trivia: The Farming of Bones is Danticat’s second novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Farming of Bones “very political.” Because of the nonfiction elements to the story I would definitely agree.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contrary Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).


Sanctuary

Bruen, Ken. Sanctuary. New York: Minotaur Books, 2009.

Reason read: Bruen’s birth month is in January. Read in his honor.

Warning! This is the kind of book you can read in one sitting. It is less than 200 pages with a very fast paced, tight plot. That isn’t a bad thing. It only means you can reread it a second or third time. You may need to.
The first time I met Jack Taylor I wasn’t sure I liked him. Like his creator, he carries a massive amount of surly anger inside him. Everything Jack Taylor mutters is dripping with sarcasm. Because I met him mid series (Sanctuary is the seventh book), I was hoping Bruen would bring me up to speed on exactly what makes Taylor tick. I wasn’t too disappointed. He is ex-police, booted from the force for his excessive drinking; walks with a pronounced limp and wears a hearing aid. He has stayed “friends” with a former partner, Ridge, and often discusses unsolved crimes with her. In this case, Taylor has received a check list of future murders: two guards, a nun, a judge, and a child. Ridge, recovering from breast cancer surgery doesn’t think much of the list, but when a guard, a nun, and a judge all die, it is hard for Taylor to ignore the list.
Taylor also has a priest for a nemesis. Who gets on the wrong side of the church in Ireland? Apparently Jack Taylor.
Here’s another detail to Sanctuary that I loved: Bruen’s inclusion of music. I could have compiled a “Sanctuary Playlist” from the music he mentions. To name a few: Snow Patrol, Philip Fogerty, Rolling Stones, and Johnny Duhan.

Line I loved, “Books had brought me through so many hangovers, not that I could read them then, but they were a lifeline to some semblance of sanity” (p 65).

Author fact: There are a bunch of YouTube videos of Ken Bruen talking about his writing process and how he got started. Like reading his book, once I started watching, I couldn’t stop. He is a fascinating person.

Book trivia: Sanctuary is book seven of the Jack Taylor mystery series and the only one I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bruen’s mystery “gritty.” She goes on to say, if you are going to read more of the series you do not need to read them in order because the story lines are contained. As I mentioned earlier, I am not reading any other Bruen mystery for the Challenge.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).


December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child