Murder with Puffins

Andrews, Donna. Murder with Puffins. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.

Reason read: a book that takes place on Monhegan Island? How could I resist?

I will be 100% honest. I couldn’t finish this book. I couldn’t suspend reality high enough to believe anything about Murder with Puffins. It’s not the author’s fault in the least. I just know too much about Monhegan Island. I know for a fact no one would make the trek out to this remote island without making sure they have a place to stay, especially in the off-season. Everything is extremely limited so it’s not like you can pivot easily if your original plans don’t work out. It’s not as simple as hopping back on the boat either. Meg and Michael are looking for a romantic hideaway and they chose Meg’s aunt’s cabin on Monhegan. It is supposed to stand empty at this dismal, rainy time of year. Except this time Meg parents, brother, neighbor and aunt are all in residence. How could Meg not know that? The island is crawling with birders so there isn’t a single room available elsewhere… Then there is the islander who scares people off with shotguns and winds up dead. Someone Meg’s father is accused of murder and it’s up to Meg to clear his name. It’s a fun story. I couldn’t concentrate on the entertainment of it all because reality kept getting in the way. Oh well.

Author fact: Andrews wrote an apparently better book called Murder with Peacocks. Obviously, not on my Challenge list since Murder with Puffins is not either.

Book trivia: an additional hangup I had about this book ended up being the chapter titles. They are really corny. Here are a few: “They Shoot Puffins, Don’t They?” or “Round Up the Usual Puffins.”


Flight Behavior

Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior. New York: HarperPerennial, 2012.

Reason read: I love, love, love Kingsolver’s writing. Challenge be damned!

“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and that is one part rapture” (p 1). This is the very first sentence in Flight Behavior. The thing about Kingsolver’s writing is that she has the ability to look at the human condition and give it emotions and intelligence. How many of us have been slightly excited about ruining our lives in some manner? There is a certain buzz about the brain when the potential for destruction shows itself. Like imagining yourself hurtling out of a speeding vehicle, your hand reaching for the latch…
Dellarobia is a young housewife trapped by circumstance: uneducated, having only graduated from high school; untraveled and naive, never setting foot outside her backwoods county. She is rooted in place with two small children, always bowing down to the criticisms of an overbearing mother-in-law who still has her son wrapped around her little finger. Dellarobia’s entire life has been one pitfall after another. Marrying her high school boyfriend after he gets her pregnant locks her into the only relationship she’s even known. Poverty has kept her stuck in a never ending cycle day in and day out. So when the opportunity for small indulgences dance into view, she takes them in the form of hopeless crushes and fantasies of infidelity. She was on her way to meet her newest flame; on her way to finally overstepping that boundary of no return when something scared her into going back. Vanity had forced Dellarobia to leave her glasses behind when she hikes up a mountain to meet her illicit love interest. Through the blur a burning fire appeared, changing her life forever.

Lines I loved (out of a million), “Plenty of people took this way out, looking future damage in the eye and naming it something else” (p 1), and “If she could pretend ice cream flavored breakfast snacks did not cause obesity, he might overlook the less advantageous aspects of lung cancer” (p 169).

Author fact: Kingsolver is partly responsible for my love affair with the southwest. Because of her I dream of visiting Arizona.

Book trivia: I read a lot of interviews where readers are disappointed with Kingsolver’s didactic storytelling. Get over it, people! Kingsolver is like that rock musician who needs to tell you about Amnesty International or Planned Parenthood, or how our current political landscape sucks. When the public builds a celebrity a soapbox high enough to see over all the bullsh!t he or she going to stand on that soapbox to say something important to them. How could they not?


Arizona, New Mexico & the Grand Canyon Trips

Blond, Becca and Aaron Anderson. Arizona, New Mexico & the Grand Canyon Trips: 58 Themed Itineraries, 1005 Local Places to See. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet, 2009.

Reason read: Planning a trip to the Southwest this spring.

This has got to be one of the coolest travel books I have seen in a long time. There are fifty-eight themed itineraries (as the title suggests), but it’s the unique theme of each itinerary that is the real showcase. This guidebook takes into consideration practically every lifestyle imaginable. Do you want to hike the Grand Canyon exclusively? There’s a rim to rim itinerary for such an excursion. Do you want to go on an epic art tour in New Mexico? Maybe you are into beer and wine tastings? There are trips for that and that and that. Maybe you want to specifically look at Arizona architecture or follow its music scene. Like I said, there is a tour for those interests as well.
That being said, as with any tour book you definitely want to double check that the hotels and restaurants mentioned in the book are still operational. Additionally, prices for anything are bound to be different ten years after publication, but the canyons, buttes, deserts, and mesas aren’t going anywhere.
Another nice feature of this tour book is the time it will take to do each tour (providing you stick to the mileage they have laid out and avoid lengthy detours). They also suggest the best time to go, where you start and end up, and if you want to link on trip to another, which ones work the best. It made me want to take a year off and try every itinerary back to back. Of course there are detailed maps to help you plan such a thing.

Final thought: the photography included is spectacular. Then again, I think all desert photography is gorgeous.


Sharp

Dean, Michelle. Sharp: the Women Who Have Made an Art of Having an Opinion. New York: Grove Press, 2018.

Reason read: this was a gift from my sister. Of course I have to read it!

Ten women: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. What do all these women have in common, besides writing and being female? They all had sharp tongues and were not afraid to speak their minds. Michelle Dean sets out to give a mini biography of each “sharp” woman, make connections between them, and illustrate why they made her sharp list.

As an aside, I was confused by Dean’s treatment of Zora Neale Hurston in the West & Hurston chapter (p 59). It was obvious Hurston was not to be included as a “sharp” woman, so why include her as a connection to Rebecca West? Why include her in the chapter’s title? West and Hurston did not have much in common. In fact, the introduction of the Hurston material at the end of the chapter is clunky at best. Dean makes the lukewarm transition thus – Rebecca West had been out of her league covering a trial involving a lynching. Admittedly, Black journalist Ida B. Wells would have been more suited to the cause and, oh by the way, another Black writer who understood the state of prejudice and racism of the 1940s was Zora Neale Hurston. Dean then goes on to dedicate three pages to Hurston’s life and writing without much connectivity to Rebecca West or to the rest of the book. As a result those three pages end up sounding like an abbreviated and unintentional detour.
Additionally, were there absolutely no sharp women of color Dean could have included in her book; no one for more than a token few pages? I find it hard to believe there was not one woman of color who raised her voice loud enough to be heard by Dean.

Author fact: Dean won the 2016 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.

Book trivia:  This would have been a much richer book if Dean had secured permission to include one photographic portrait of each personality. As it was, only six of the ten sharp women made the cover. The other four were relegated to the back.


Living with the Little Devil Man

Lisetta, Lina. Living with the Little Devil Man. London: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2018.

Even though this is a quick read (less than 300 pages) I took my time with this story. While it is written plainly, be forewarned it is a hard one to read. Just as I am sure it was just as hard for the author to write. In a nutshell, it is the tragic story of a young man who was pushed off the path of normalcy at an early age by abusive parents. At the age of five Sterling started seeing a little devil man; an ugly little devil who taunted and terrorized him. Unable to articulate his malicious hallucination he kept it to himself. As Sterling grew older the visions became stronger and more pronounced. To combat this torture he turned to drugs and alcohol. These mind altering vices held the little devil man at bay and gave Sterling some sense of sanity despite finally being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. The rest of Sterling’s life was a precarious balance of normalcy and lunacy, sobriety and addiction, happiness and despair, violence and kindness, stability and unpredictability, caution and recklessness. Because no one ever knew what they would get people closest to Sterling had a hard time keeping him close. He experienced the push-pull of people wanting him near but ultimately needing him to leave. Even the author had breaking points. Prolonged stability in any part of Sterling’s life was nonexistent. There are no happy endings to Living with the Little Devil Man unless you consider the cautionary tale might save someone’s life.

As an aside, with respect to the author’s copyright wishes, I will not be quoting anything from this book as I am not intending this to be a critical review.

Reason read: Confessional – I read this for leisure. I work with Lina.


Exploring the Southwest

Gagne, Tammy. Exploring the Southwest. North Mankato, Minnesota: Abdo Publishing, 2018.

Reason read: planning a trip to the Southwest for my birthday.

This may be a book written for young children but I found it to be a good starting place for planning my trip to the southwest region of the United States. For starters, it was nice to clear up what states were officially considered “southwest.” Oklahoma and Texas were not part of my travel plans despite being part of the region.
The second detail I appreciated was the variety of topics covered by Ms Gagne. According to the index, the major topics were: history, nature (plants, animals, landscape, weather), industry, and people. I focused primarily on plants (chitalpa, desert spoon, prickly pear, sagebrush and tumbleweeds).
The third and final detail I appreciated was the photography. The front cover is the most stunning.

Book trivia: this is part of the Exploring America’s Regions series.


March to a Different Drummer

I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
  • Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
  • Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.

Nonfiction

  • Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
  • Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.

Series Continuation:

  • Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
  • Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
  • Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
  • Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
  • 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.