Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.
Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.
Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.
Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.
Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).
Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.
Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.
Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).
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).
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).
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).
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).
Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
Reason read: to finish the series started in October.
Undset’s fourth and final book of the Master of Hestviken series is about finding forgiveness within one’s true identity.
Olav Audunsson now has a daughter of marrying age. He is dismayed when her first suitor is a teenage boy exiled for accidentally killing a man. History repeats itself as Aslak’s dilemma mirrors Olav’s past mistake, but Olav does not want to acknowledge this in any way. Instead of compassion for Aslak’s situation, Olav convinces his daughter to marry another. In addition, Eirik, the amoral and reckless son Olav has taken for his own has returned to Hestviken. Eirik’s life is also following the same path as Olav’s in that his relationships are troubled. His standing as a moral member of society is compromised. Olav is helpless and can only watch as Eirik struggles to make his way in the world as a decent citizen. Olav, Eirik, and Cecelia all journey towards forgiving one another as well as themselves.
Author fact: Undset also wrote the memoir, Return to the Future, which is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: The Son Avenger is the last fiction I will read of Sigrid Undset’s.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Son Avenger part of the Master of Hestviken masterpiece.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).
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).
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).
King, Laurie R. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: On the Segregation of the Queen. Read by Jenny Sterlin. Recorded Books, 1995.
King, Laurie R. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: On the Segregation of the Queen. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
Reason read: January is Female Mystery month. Take that anyway you want.
Such a clever plot. Take an established character like Sherlock Holmes and re-imagine him after retirement, living in the country and tending his beloved bees. Although he is only in his late 50s Holmes wants nothing more to do with solving crimes and revealing the truth behind mysteries…until he meets Mary Russell. She is ever bit the investigator he had been in his heyday and then some. He cannot help but be drawn to her keen sense of observation, her energized brain and her innate talent as an investigator.
Despite being nearly three times her age, it is interesting to watch Homes get closer to Mary emotionally and how she reacts to it. When there is physical contact between them Mary is clutched by sudden awareness of his physicality. There is a subtle shift to their relationship and what each wants from it.
The final mystery in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice threatens the lives of both Mary and Holmes. They are in so much danger people around them start paying the consequences. It takes everything in Sherlock and Russell’s combined powers of investigation to stay alive.
Quotes to quote: ” I refuse to accept gallant stupidity in place of rational necessity” (p 165) and “When in ignorance, consult a library” (p 301)..
Author fact: King is a native to San Francisco, California.
Book trivia: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is the first of a series of books about Sherlock and Russell.
Nancy said: Pearl says she loves King’s series involving Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the great chapter called “Ms Mystery” (p 169).
Carrington, Patricia. Freedom in Meditation. New York: Anchor Press, 1977.
Reason read: January is traditionally the month everyone tries to hit the reset button. Yoga and meditation are high on resolution lists. I’m reading Freedom in Meditation in honor of good intentions.
The very first thing I learned about meditation while reading Carrington’s book is that meditation is not just meditating on a mat in a near-dark room. It is not sitting quietly and emptying the mind while incense swirls about your ears. Consider the clinically standardized meditation taught in two sessions. Or the Benson method which has supposed health benefits like lowering blood pressure and even a lowering of metabolism. In truth, meditation success depends on the personality. But also true to every kind of meditation locale and atmosphere (vibe, if you will) are important. Every technique recommends having plants nearby, the burning of incense and candles, maybe even bell ringing, but above all else, calm and quiet. Meditation can be seen as a rebirth, a companion to hypnosis even. Carrington goes on to to talk about the science of meditation, the therapist’s opinion of meditation, and even the misuse of the practice which I found interesting.
Author fact: At the time of publication, Dr. Carrington was a clinical psychologist who taught at Princeton.
Book trivia: There are only two illustrations in Freedom in Meditation. Both are showing you what to do with your hands during meditation.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions Freedom in Meditation first in her list of zen books. She says it is “probably the best book written about meditation” for beginners (Book Lust p 255).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).
Dunnett, Dorothy. To Lie with Lions. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
Reason read: to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
We are now deeper into the fifteenth century. The year is 1471 and Nicholas de Fluery is insistent on climbing to the top of the mercantile empire but as usual he has competition with the other “lions” of industry and he has bigger and more personal problems closer to home.
Niccolo kidnaps the child he believes is his flesh and blood away from his estranged wife, Gelis. This becomes a 15th century “war of the roses” when Nicholas and Gelis spar back and forth for control over their son. They have been at odds since their wedding night so both are skilled at harming each other and take great pleasure in it.
The title of the book comes from Nicholas’s skillful ability to play both sides of the game. For a while he literally serves two different kings at the same time.
My only gripe about this installment? Nicholas’s kid at times seems like a toddler and at other times seems older or younger. His motor skills and speech were not consistent.
Author fact: I believe I skipped an author fact last month. I’m going to skip it again since I have a couple more times to talk about Dunnett in later blogs.
Book trivia: as with other installments of the Nicholas de Fluery saga, To Lie with Lions includes a map of the region, an extensive list of characters, a genealogy chart, and an overview of previous plots in the story.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To Lie with Lions since it is part of a huge series.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the same old chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79).
Pullman, Philip. The Amber Spyglass. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Reason read: to end the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).
In Amber Spyglass, the last installment of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra, who started off as an ordinary kid in The Golden Compass, is seen as the most important child who has ever lived according to the church. Their fate depends on Lyra’s journey into womanhood. She may be important but she is also seen as a threat as she is in the position of biblical Eve as the temptress of man’s downfall. Heavy, right? Remarkably, young Lyra is on the cusp of introducing the concept of sin (Dust) to the world. She must be stopped before the Dust (sin=evil) takes over. When we first catch up with Lyra in The Amber Spyglass, she has been hidden away and kept drugged and sleeping in a cave by her mother (remember Mrs Coulter?). But. But! But, is Mrs Coulter all that evil? She acts the grieving mother as she recounts how she almost killed Lyra earlier.
This is an epic battle between good and evil with lots of fight scenes and dying declarations (just wait until you get to the land of the dead). The references to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden are laid on pretty thick, but Lyra is coming into her own as a young woman and she has an equally adulting young man as her companion…
The good news is that many of your favorite characters are back even if they died in an earlier installment. Iorek Byrnison the armored bear is back with his army! I was excited to see the bears and the witches but there are plenty of new creatures like harpies and ghosts. Probably my favorite characters to imagine are Gallivespians. They are small, slender spies able to ride hawks and dragonflies.
As an aside, Pullman is a huge fan of the word anbaric. As far as I can tell it is derived from the Greek and refers to the electrostatic properties of amber. Yup.
Author fact: Pullman also wrote another trilogy of thrillers featuring Sally Lockhart.
Book trivia: Amber Spyglass wraps up the His Dark Materials trilogy.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Amber Spyglass.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 208).
Willis, Connie. Fire Watch. New York: Bluejay International, 1985.
Reason read: to make up for the missed short story in Time Machine, the anthology edited by Bill Adler, Jr.
Fire Watch is made up of twelve short stories. It is her first short story collection. The stories are as follows:
- Fire Watch – favorite line, “The past is beyond saving” (p 35).
- Service for the Burial of the Dead – imagine attending your own funeral. This is a dark story and probably one of my favorites.
- Lost and Found – line I liked, “What else had he missed because he wasn’t looking for it?” (p 76).
- All My Darling Daughters – probably the most disturbing short story in the entire book.
- The Father of the Bride – the other side of a fairy tale.
- A Letter from the Clearys – read this one two or three times!
- And Come from Miles Around – everyone gathers for the eclipse of the century.
- The Sidon in the Mirror – a creepy tale about copying someone to the point of being twins.
- Daisy, in the Sun – a family copes of post-nuclear war.
- Mail-Order Clone – you know the saying, “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything”? Well, this is the blind leading the blind.
- Samaritan – can you baptize an orangutan? The church treats him like a human so why not?
- Blued Moon – a comedy of error after error about coincidences.
Author fact: Connie Willis went to the University of Northern Colorado.
Book trivia: There is a scene in the movie American President (starring Annette Bening and Michael Douglas) when Douglas wants to send Bening flowers; specifically the state flower of Virginia where Bening’s character is from. He ends up sending a dogwood which is reported to be a tree and a bush (“sir”). I was reminded of that scene when I found out there are two Fire Watch publications. It’s a book and a short story. I was supposed to read the shorter version in December, but the book is also on my list so what the hey.
Nancy said: nothing specific about Fire Watch.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 246).
Rodriguez Julia, Edgardo. The Renunciation: a Novel. Translated by Andrew Hurley. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997.
Reason read: Puerto Rico’s Hostos Day is in January; to celebrate the birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos.
The year is 1753 in colonial Puerto Rico. Bishop Larra, desperate to bring calm to a slave population on the verge of revolt, arranges a marriage between Baltasar Montanez, a poor slave leader and Josefina Prats, the wealthy and white daughter of the secretary of state. The idea is to make the destitute population believe they can too can marry their way into wealth and equality; to calm black indignation and for a while it seems to work. There is peace in the community because if Baltasar can marry up…. Until Montanez’s true personality comes to light. He is not the hero everyone thinks he is. [As an aside, I tracked all of the different words and phrases used to describe Baltasar: enigma, hero, declasse, upstart, benefactor, traitor, puppet, emancipated slave, peacemaker, verbsoe, rhetorical, slightly pompous, of great intelligence, well-pleased, cynical, intruder, black, cane-cutter, handsome, a figure of profound historical significance…I could go on.] Here is a commentary on not only Puerto Rico’s political climate in the eighteenth century, but a study in human nature. Was the marriage orchestrated by Bishop Larra? Was the bride’s father involved from the beginning? Who holds the lie and who lives the truth?
A word of warning. Obviously, as most arranged marriages go, Baltasar and Josefina’s marriage is not a sexual one. Her enjoyment comes from peeping through the keyhole to spy on Baltasar’s legendary yet unimaginative orgies.
Author fact: Julia has received a Guggenheim fellowship.
Book trivia: The Renunciation is Edgardo Rodriguez Julia’s first English-translated work.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Renunciation “difficult but exhilarating” and if you are interested in colonial Puerto Rico you shouldn’t miss it (Book Lust To Go p 57).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Puerto Rico” (p 52).
Barry, Lynda. The Good Times are Killing Me. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988.
Barry, Lynda. The Good Times Are Killing Me. Canada: Drawn & Quarterly, 2017.
Reason read: January is Barry’s birth month. Read in her honor.
This is a unique book that took me all of two days to read. When it ended so abruptly I thought there was some kind of scanning mistake (I was reading it as an ebook). I was startled. So much so that I borrowed a print version just to make sure I didn’t miss out on something. Then I read it again. And again.
Edna Arkins is a child is trying to grow up in the tumultuous 1960s. Her white neighbors are fleeing her urban Seattle neighborhood as other ethnic groups take up residence. She herself is white and doesn’t understand their prejudice. Told from the first person and using music as her Polaris, Edna struggles to work out her rapidly changing adolescence. In response to confusing and callous adult racism Edna forges a taboo relationship with a Black girl named Bonna. She thinks Bonna is beautiful. What is most captivating about Edna is her awkwardness and honesty as she navigates through changing relationships. I wanted Bonna and Edna to conquer the world together. I wanted them to break down just one barrier; to get one adult to accept and understand their friendship. My fervent hope for a happy ending made the truth that much more difficult to swallow.
Lines I liked, “I could always tell the difference between God and a streetlight” (p 11), and “Like all it was was any black girl slapping any white girl who had mouthed off to her, something that happened every single day and would just keep on happening, world without end” (p 139).
Author fact: Barry in known for her graphic novels.
Book trivia: The last section of The Good Times are Killing Me includes a thirty-four page “music notebook” full of biographies of famous and not-so famous musicians and styles of music. The illustrations are fantastic.
Nancy said: Pearl said Good Times are Killing Me touches on the themes of childhood and adolescence.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Confessional: I deleted Good Times are Killing Me from my list because it is not a graphic novel. Pearl could have included it in the previous “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).