High Cotton

Johnson, Kristie Robin. High Cotton: Essays. Clearwater, Florida: Raised Voices, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, this was the July 2020 selection.

While Johnson’s book is categorized as a collection of essays, her crystal clear voice trills bright honesty and makes this a captivating memoir on multiple levels: what it means to be an African American woman in the volatile twenty-first century (in addition to being the sixth generation of a family who can be trace their ancestral past to slavery in Deep South Georgia). Adding to the cultural, economic, and societal battles, Johnson is a woman with personal strife: family addictions, histories of abuse, teenage pregnancy, and ever-constant poverty. How does one explain a manicure while buying food on welfare? Why does one even need to explain? There, in a succinct nutshell, is reality of millions. Other realities include the ever-constant reminder that racism and gender bias are alive and well in our country.
My only complaint? Because the essays were so autobiographical in nature I wanted more structure in the way of chronology.

Confessional: I read On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff at the same time and I have to admit, their stories were so similar that I would sometimes confuse the two.

Confessional two: No. More of a question: why does one have to be a rape “victim” in order to acknowledge the bravery of an accuser coming forward? Better yet, why would acknowledging the bravery of Cosby’s accusers force one to “unearth” one’s uncomfortable truth? Couldn’t Kristie stand on the side of women who allege they fell prey to a man of wealth and power (regardless of their (or her) skin color)?


The Country of the Pointed Firs

Jewett, Sarah Orne. The Country of the Pointed Firs. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.

Reason read: July marked the first time I have spent more than ten days on Monhegan since 1992. I wanted to celebrate Maine with a simple book.

It could take you a day to read The Country of the Painted Firs. A mere 88 pages in length, you could spend just an afternoon with Ms. Jewett’s novel. That being said, I urge you to take more time with this sweet little book. This is portrait of turn of the century coastal Maine living at its simplest and most honest. Jewett illustrates a time when hospitality, good manners, friendship and community mattered most. While there is not much of a plot, the characters are carefully crafted. Today, the people you meet throughout all of Maine are just as colorful and hard working as they were in Jewett’s fictional town of Dunnet Landing. The statement, “One trade helps another” as one character says, is as true today as it was in 1896 when Country of the Pointed Firs was first published.

Author fact: Jewett was from South Berwick, Maine. Her full name was Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, named for her father, Theodore.

Book trivia: Henry James and Ursula K. LeGuin both reviewed The Country of the Pointed Firs and declared it a masterpiece.

Nancy said: Pearl said Country of the Pointed Firs “is the perfect choice when you are feeling overwhelmed with the weight of the contemporary world” (More Book Lust p 57), and “a classic that has kept its charm” in Book Lust To Go (p 135).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Cozies” (p 57), and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).


Shadow of the Wind

Zafron, Carlos Ruiz. Shadow of the Wind. Translated by Lucia Greives.

Reason read: the pilgrimage to El Rocio occurs in July.

When we first meet Daniel Sempre he is ten years old and his father has just introduced him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel has been granted the choice of one book as a birthday present. By chance, he chooses Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. So the mystery begins. Daniel is no ordinary boy. When he was very young he coveted a fountain pen reputed to once belong to Jules Verne. His father would accompany him weekly to “visit” this pen in a storefront window. [As an aside, what ten year old would utter, “all the evidence to the contrary”? Had he been reading Sherlock Holmes?] Moving on from the pen, Daniel becomes fascinated with writer Julian Carax and the mystery surrounding him. From there, the mystery deepens to the point of harrowing. Shadows become dangerous. Secrets become lethal. It’s a story within a story best savored slow.

Quotes I just had to quote, “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept” and “To truly hate is an art one learns with time.”

As an aside, when I read the quote, “Childhood devotions make unfaithful and fickle lovers” I was reminded of Charles Causely’s poem, “Rhyme of Innocence and Experience” when he wrote, “Where are all the other girls and boys and why have you brought me children’s toys?”

Author fact: Sadly, Carlos Ruiz Zafron just passed away, reportedly from colon cancer.

Book trivia: Shadow of the Wind was an international bestseller and translated into dozens of languages.

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said about Shadow of the Wind is that it offered a “vivid picture” of Spain.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Spain.” (p 220). How simple can you get?


Sand County Almanac

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: and sketches Here and There. Read by Cassandra Campbell. New York: Penguin Audio, 2020.

Reason read: Turtleback Zoo opened in the month of June. Read to honor a place that I used to love to visit. This zoo always treated their animals with such care. It has been years since I lasted visited. It could be completely different now.

There are certain books in the world you can’t help but try to read all in one sitting. They draw you in and you can’t find your way out of the pages until you reach the final words of The and End. A Sand County Almanac is one such book, especially as an audio read by Cassandra Campbell. Hour after hour would rush by as I got lost in Aldo’s world. I could hear the calling of the birds in the fields, the rattle of dried leaves in the oak trees signifying winter is on its way, and the gurgling rush of the stream as it stubbed its toes on rocks worn smooth. Leopold’s observations were so warm I couldn’t help but think if he were alive today, he and Josh Ritter would be friends.

Author fact: Leopold smoked. Okay, so it’s not the most enlightening fact, but it shocked me nonetheless. I like my naturalists without vices.

Book trivia: Barbara Kingsolver wrote the introduction to Sand County Almanac.

Nancy said: Pearl called A Sand County Almanac a “beautifully written classic.” Another interesting point. Pearl points out a section I found particularly intriguing. As Leopold saws through a fallen oak on his property he recounts historical moments the tress has lived through, ring by ring. Pearl called this section “transcendent” and I couldn’t agree more.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s ” (p 70).


Beautiful Place To Die

Nunn, Malla. A Beautiful Place To Die. Read by Saul Reichlin. New York: Atria Books, 2009.

Reason read: South African began self-governing on July 11, 1931.

Detective Sargent Emmanuel Cooper makes his debut in A Beautiful Place To Die as the only officer put in charge of solving the murder of an important Afrikaner in the small South African town of Jacob’s Rest. This is no ordinary murder. This Afrikaner is Dutch-born Captain Pretorius and despite this being 1952 apartheid South Africa, Pretorius is liked and respected by everyone. Pretorius’s strapping four sons are out for blood while racial tensions clash with color blind desires.
An Englishman, Emmanuel Cooper comes to the case as a complete outsider. He also comes with personal baggage from his soldier days in World War II. He can’t shake daytime memories and haunting nightmares. He often hears voices and has an unfortunate deep addiction to pain medication; medication he feels is necessary to tame real and imagined injuries. To complicate matters, the Security Branch in charge of flushing out black communist radicals stand in Cooper’s way of solving the crime. National Party laws crack down on acts of immortality between blacks and whites and Copper has plenty of suspects on either side of the color divide.

Quotes, “The world is a cruel place for old soldiers” and ” His smile was a trench…”

Author fact: A Beautiful Place to Die is Malla Nunn’s first novel. She is an award winning filmmaker.

Book trivia: A Beautiful Place To Die won a 2009 Davitt Award.

Nancy said: Pearl includes A Beautiful Place to Die in the category of “Break Your Heart” books as a contemporary mystery.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).


Garden of the Gods

Durrell, Gerald. Garden of the Gods. New York: Penguin books, 1978.

Reason read: to “finish” the series started in May. Finish is in quotes because there are more books in the series, but I am not reading them for the Challenge.

Durrell has again dug back into his childhood and the four year stint on the Greek island of Corfu for the next installment of his memoir series. This time sister Margo’s relationships and brother Leslie’s gun obsession take more of a center stage but don’t worry, Gerald’s “pets” still abound. He still has plenty of stories regarding the mishaps involving animals. Another constant is all of the Durrell children continue to lie to mother and she continues to eat it up, no questions asked, just like one of Gerald’s baby birds.
I have to wonder if the family was as fun loving and accepting of the practical jokes and antics as they seem to be? What kind of household welcomes perfect strangers into their home as guests? Especially ones with no intention of leaving? And speaking of guests, what mother would put up with dead birds falling at her feet while she tried to entertain a prominent guest?
All in all, exaggerated antics aside, Garden of the Gods is a charming and funny book.

Best quote, “My first fear was that my beautiful horns might be broken, my second, that my brother might be dead” (p 527).

Author fact: the internet is littered with a myriad of pictures of Durrell. He looks more comfortable with his animal friends than the humans.

Book trivia: the American version of Garden of the Gods was published as Fauna and Family in 1978.

Nancy said: Pearl wasn’t as enamored with Garden of the Gods as Durrell’s first book. The sequel is “not up to the joyful perfection of the first book” (Book Lust To Go, p 70), but she does admit that it is humorous.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Corfu” (p 70).


Bright Nights, Big City

McInerney, Jay. Bright Nights, Big City. New York: Vintage Books, 1984

Reason read: New York became a state in the month of July. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library reading challenge for the category of novel written in second person.

While reading Bright Nights, Big City you want to call its protagonist a sucker. On the mean streets of New York City he buys fake Rolex watches, falls for fake schemes, follows around false friends, and believes a model could fake loving him enough to stay married until death do them part. You want to call this guy a loser because you know there isn’t a happy ending for him. There can’t be. Drugs constantly addle his mind and he never sleeps enough. His spiral becomes out of control when he loses his fact checking job for a publication, he loses his freak friends, and nearly loses his mind. What he doesn’t realize is that he has a lot to mourn. He had wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be married to a hot girl. He wanted his mother to survive cancer. He is literally drowning his deep seeded in a tsunami of cocaine and bright lights. The end comes when rock bottom is met and our friend has to have an awakening of sorts.

Author fact: McInerney also wrote the screenplay for the movie of the same name.

Book trivia: Bright Nights, Big City was made into a movie starring Michael J. Fox in 1988. You can tell I haven’t seen it because I kept getting it confused with the movie starring Robert Downey, Jr., Less Than Zero.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bright Nights, Big City a “wonderful” novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170).


Murder on the Orient Express

Christie, Agatha. Murder on the Orient Express. Read by David Suchet. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.

Reason read: July is the month smoke-generating trains were outlawed in New York in 1908. The first electric train ran in 1904.

The first thing you need to know about Murder on the Orient Express is that while it is a widely known title and probably one of Christie’s most popular, it is actually the eighth mystery novel to feature Belgian Inspector, Hercule Poirot. This time he is traveling back to London via the Orient Express. Despite the train being full, Poirot is able to obtain a first class berth, thanks to a friend who works for the railroad. On the very first night an unsavory passenger is stabbed twelve times and dies of his injuries. Initially, this was to be a three-day journey, but travel is halted due to a large storm dropping massive amounts of snow on the tracks. Since no one can get on or off the train, finding the killer should be easy. In true Poirot style the case is solved with wit and humor. The interrogations are the best.

For Murder on the Orient Express, Christie drew from different real-life events for inspiration. First, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 and her own experiences traveling the Orient Express.

Best quote, “Americans, as you know, don’t care what they pay.”

Author fact: Agatha Christie was a VAD in the First World War.

Book trivia: Murder on the Orient Express was made into two movies, three separate radio programs, three different television series, a play, and a video game. I told you it was popular!

Nancy said: Interestingly enough, Pearl first mentioned Murder on the Orient Express in relation to another book, The 8:55 to Baghdad, by Andrew Eames. Later in the chapter she includes Murder as a “classic crime novel.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Making Tracks By Train” (p 138).


Alligator

Moore, Lisa. Alligator. New York: Black Cat Publishing, 2005.

Reason read: In Newfoundland they celebrate Orangemen’s Day and the Battle of the Boyne in July, specifically on the 12th.

Alligator’s strength as a first novel lies in its character development. Each chapter is dedicated to a different person loosely connected to the one before. Beverly and Madeleine are sisters. Colleen is Beverly’s daughter. Isobel is Madeleine’s friend. You get the point. Every character is flawed and vulnerable in their own way.
My favorite element to the book was how sharply Moore brought grief specifically into focus. When Beverly loses David to a sudden brain aneurysm her numb emptiness is palpable. These simple lines illustrate the heaviness of loss, “More than once she noticed orange peels next to her lawn chair and realized she was already eaten the orange” (p 49) and “David was dead but she would apply mascara” (p 54).
My least favorite aspect to the plot was the unexpected brutality of some of the characters. This was a much darker novel than I expected.

Quotes to quote, “Somehow Beverly has raised a daughter whose voice can be shrill as a fire alarm” (p 22), “Flexibility meant a prismatic comprehension of all aspect of experience” (p 68), and “You store your saddest memories in your feet, she said” (p 186).

Author fact: Moore also wrote February. I will be reading that one in a few years.

Book trivia: Alligator is Lisa Moore’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl was actually gushing about Moore’s other novel, February, and only mentioned Alligator as an aside.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super obvious chapter called “Newfoundland” (p 153).


By the River Piedra…

Coelho, Paulo. By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: a Novel of Forgiveness. Translated by Al;an R. Clarke. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.

Reason read: July is the month of summer romances…or returning to one. One of the most romantic places on earth, in my opinion, is Monhegan Island, Maine. Ten miles out to sea there is something about the smell of the salty ocean, the cries of gulls and crashing surf amidst summer wildflowers and dusky fireflies. Boats rock in the harbor shrouded by early morning fog. I was able to read the novella By the River… in two nights amidst all this on said island.
By the River Piedra romances its reader from start to finish. Protagonist Pilar is twenty eight years old and making her way through life as an independent and capable young woman in Spain. By coincidence she reunites with her boyfriend from eleven years ago. He has turned into a handsome spiritual guru who happens to be a much trusted healer. Together they rekindle their romance while on a journey to the French Pyrenees. Age and time have given them a fresh perspective on love, forgiveness, and spirituality.

Author fact: Coelho also wrote the more famous novel, The Alchemist, which is not on my list for whatever reason.

Book trivia: By the River Piedra… was an international best seller.

Nancy said: absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 144).


Framley Parsonage

Trollope, Anthony. Framley Parsonage. New York: Penguin, 1993.

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

As usual Trollope’s fourth novel in the Barsetshire Chronicle is laden with characters. One of the first people readers meet is Mark Robarts, a vicar with ambitions to further his career. The gist of the story is that Robarts loans Nathaniel Sowerby money even though Robarts realizes Sowerby is an unsavory character, always gambling and up to no good. Of course there is some good old fashioned courting of the ladies going on that complicates the story.
Trollope explores human emotions such as humiliation (Robarts not being able to afford to give a loan but does it anyway), romance (between Mark’s sister, Lucy, and Lord Lufton), greed (inappropriate relationships because of lower class status) and affection (bailing a friend out of a sticky situation). The subplot of Lucy and Lord Lufton is my favorite. Lady Lufton doesn’t think Lucy is good enough for her son (what mother does?).

Author fact: Trollope wanted to be a political figure at one point in his life.

Book trivia: At the end of Framley Parsonage Doctor Thorne gets married. Remember him?

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Framley Parsonage but she did say that Trollope is one of her favorite writers.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barsetshire and Beyond” (p 15).


Forward the Foundation

Asimov, Isaac. Forward the Foundation. New York: Bantam Spectrum, 1994.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month. If you are keeping track then you know I am off by a month or two.

In the beginning of Forward the Foundation Hari Seldon is forty years old and a professor at Streeling University. He is still trying to define psychohistory as something more than a mathematical way of analyzing society to predict the future. There are those who expect his predictions to save the Empire. Luckily, he is not alone in his efforts, but surrounded by key characters from the previous novel (Prelude to Foundation):
Dors Venabili, acting as guardian in Prelude to Foundation, is now Seldon’s wife but still insists on protecting him wherever he goes. When their granddaughter, Wanda, has reoccurring dreams of Seldon’s death it is reason enough Dors needs to be extra attentive to Seldon’s safety. We learn she has superhuman skills and never ages.
Raych is twenty years old at the beginning of Forward the Foundation and Seldon has adopted him as his son.
In Prelude to Foundation Yugo Amaryl had been a heatsinker in the Dahl Sector, the lowest rung on society’s ladder, but Seldon had seen something in him worth saving. In Forward the Foundation Yugo is now a respected mathematician, intellectual, and budding obsessive psychohistorian. For all intents and purposes he has become Seldon’s right hand man.
Eto Demerzel, Emperor Cleon’s First Minister and the “person” responsible for Seldon meeting his wife, steps aside to let Seldon take the position. After ten years as First Minister he grows sick of it and finds a way to retire. Fast forward twenty more years and Seldon is now seventy. As the empire dies Seldon finds himself struggling to keep up with the demands of researching psychohistory.
Asimov has a subtle and sly humor that threads its way through Forward the Foundation. One of my favorite moments was when Seldon was describing mathematical symbolism using water themes – rivers, rivulets, and currents. After listening to this Amaryl replies to Seldon “dryly.” Oh, the irony. My second favorite moment was when librarians were described as “the oldest Guild in the Empire.” Exactly.

Quotes I liked, “A paradox arises only out of an ambiguity that deceives either unwittingly or by design” (p 32) and “People tended to avoid the humiliation of failure by joining the obviously winning side even against their own opinions” (p 31).

Author fact: Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books.

Book trivia: The “Zeroth Law” comes up in Forward the Foundation. Instead of applying to the laws of thermodynamics it is in regards to robots and first appears in a different Asimov story called “Runaround.”

Nancy said: Pearl said the Foundation series should be read in order.

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


Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

Llosa, Mario Vargas. Aunt Julia and the Script Writer. Translated by Helen R. Lane. New York: Avon, 1982.

Reason read: July is the busiest time to visit Peru.

As a struggling writer, eighteen year old Marito (Mario) makes ends meet by writing news stories for a local Peruvian radio station while in law school. He welcomes two new distractions into his life and uses them to spice up his storytelling: his beautiful aunt (by marriage only), Julia, and the brilliant but crazy radio scriptwriter, Pedro Comancho. Thirteen years his senior, Aunt Julia begins a clandestine romance with Mario and at the same time Comancho takes Marito under his wing as his ever-growing confused confidant.
It is the differing point of view narratives that keep the story interesting as the reader bounces between the first person account of Marito and Comancho’s soap opera dramas told in the third person.

As an aside, when Aunt Julia says she’s old enough to be Marito’s mother I just had to do the math. Julia is only thirteen or fourteen years older than Mario. Yes, fourteen year olds have babies. It is possible, but it made me shudder all the same.

Lines I liked, “He was a creature given to short-lived, contradictory, but invariably sincere enthusiasms” (p 10), and “In the span of just a few seconds I went from hating her with all my heart to missing her with all my soul (p 157).

Author fact: Aunt Julia and the Script Writer is autobiographical. Also, Llosa has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Book trivia: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter was made into a 1990 movie called “Tune in Tomorrow.”

Nancy said: Pearl called Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter her favorite Llosa novel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 144).


Blood Safari

Meyer, Deon. Blood Safari. Translated by K.L. Seegers. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009.

Reason read: Deon Meyer was born in the month of July. Read in his honor.

Young and beautiful Emma Le Roux thought she needed a body guard after at least two masked men broke into her South African home and tried to kill her. How does she know they wanted to kill her? They weren’t looking to steal anything and they weren’t typical vandals, so who were they exactly? What was their motive to harm her, someone with seemingly no known enemies? Was it a coincidence the violence arrived on her doorstep only after she starting asking questions about seeing her dead brother on television? In her mind she had a right to question what she saw for all she knew he had been dead for twenty years. According to to news program he was wanted for murder. Did Emma’s brother really brutally gun down four poachers? To find out the truth she enlists the help of Martin Lemmer, employed by the protection agency, Body Armor.
Lemmer, as he prefers to be called, is your typical strong, silent-type bodyguard. He has rules he refers to as “Lemmer Laws” that supposedly cannot be broken and yet he has a way of breaking them. The first Lemmer law is Don’t Get Involved with a client. He breaks that one almost immediately when he doesn’t believe Emma’s story and he lets his body guard down. Emma is nearly killed on his watch. Someone out there wants her dead in the worst way. Now Lemmer has gone from protecting Emma to seeking revenge on whoever hurt her.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but think of the viral honey badger video whenever a honey badger was mentioned. I couldn’t get the narrator’s voice out of my head!

Simple truth I had to quote, “The barrel of a gun changes everything” (p 19). Yes. Yes, it does.

Author fact: Meyer’s author picture on the back cover is interesting. He looks like he is dressed in a black turtleneck or high collared coat and yet he’s lying in the sand?

Book trivia: Blood Safari was translated from the Africaans.

Nancy said: Pearl said she couldn’t imagine Meyer’s Blood Safari taking place anywhere but South Africa because of the history of old wounds never healing. She also called Blood Safari “fast-paced and emotionally nuanced” (Book Lust To Go p 216)

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “South Africa (Fiction)” (p 215).


Forrest Gump

Groom, Winston. Forrest Gump. New York: Pocket Books, 1986.

Reason read: the movie Forrest Gump was released in July of 1994.

It seems ridiculous to write a book review for a story everyone knows so well….or I should say they think they know. I must refrain from making the typical comparisons of what scenes were different in the book from the movie, what details were kept the same…You get the picture. I’m sure someone else has written that blog. Anyway, on to the plot:
Forrest Gump goes through life as an accidentally brilliant idiot who can say he attended Harvard, saved Chairman Mao from drowning, visited the White House twice, thwarted plans to be eaten by cannibals, and even took a trip to space with an orangutan courtesy of NASA. These are just some of the crazy adventures Gump experiences. He manages to be a part of history’s most significant moments, both good and bad. I particularly liked the scene with the president who said, “I am not a crook!”
It is not a spoiler to say I was annoyed with Jenny just as much in the book as I was the movie.
And speaking of comparisons, I will say this about comparing the book to the movie, though. Gump in the book is a far coarser character. Forrest in the movie is so sweet compared to the foul-mouthed man-child in the novel. That took a little getting used to. Meh.

Quotes to quote, “I outrunned him tho cause that is my specialty but let me say this: they aint no question in my mind that I am up the creek for sure” (p 50) and everybody’s favorite throughout the book, “…and that’s all I got to say about that” (p 65). Another, “There are just times when you can’t let the right thing stand in your way” (p 94).

Author fact: From also wrote A Storm in Flanders which was on my Challenge list (already completed).

Book trivia: the book is very different from the movie, but Gump’s lovable character shines through either way.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Forrest Gump because it is the more well known of Groom’s work.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). As an aside, I deleted Forrest Gump from my master list of Lust books because it didn’t belong in the chapter about World War I. Plus, Forrest Gump is not nonfiction.