Secrets, Lies, Betrayals

Scarf, Maggie. Secrets, Lies, Betrayals: The Mind/Body Connection. How the Body Holds the Secrets of a Life, and How to Unlock Them. New York: Random House, 2004.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library reading challenge as a book I wish I had given myself. Here is the original reason. Everyone jokes that the root of all childhood trauma is mama. So, to blame on your mother, Mother’s Day is in May.

It is pretty fascinating to think that your physical body holds the keys to unlocking mental trauma. By paying attention to your body’s postures, tensions, aches, and pains, you could solve mysteries of the mind. Physical health could nurture mental health. Part memoir, part psychology is how I would describe Scarf’s Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. She uses stories from both sides of the couch, so to speak; both as a patient and as a therapist, to illustrate the benefits of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.

Confessional: I actually freaked myself out a little reading Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. Scarf was describing me at one point in the book. Back in the mid 90s I dated a guy who was quick to criticize me in weird and subtle ways. I never knew what he was really trying to say. Whenever we argued he would twist everything I said into illogical pretzels. I would get increasingly more and more confused; to the point where I would end up questioning my own side of the story. He would win by sheer convolution.

Author fact: Scarf wrote a bunch of best selling psychology books. In the middle of this didactic bibliography is a biography on Benjamin Franklin for young people.

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy Secrets for a psychologist in the family. My question is this, if the psychologist is any good, wouldn’t he or she already at least know of the book if not already have it?

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 117).


Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Brashares, Ann. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2001.

Reason read: school is wrapping up; Portland Public Library Book challenge. Also, May is “Birds and Bees” month.

This is the story of a pair of blue jeans found in a thrift shop. Just kidding. The magic word for this bestseller is friendship. Four girls from four incredibly different backgrounds have been friends since the womb; ever since their pregnant mothers became friends in an aerobics class. Even though their mothers’s friendships died and withered away, the daughters remained close. All four girls were born within seventeen days of one another but that is the only characteristic they have in common (besides living in Bethesda, Maryland):
Carmen. Her parents are divorced and in the beginning of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Carmen is headed to South Carolina to spend the summer with her dad, someone she doesn’t get to see very often. She feels lucky to have him to herself for once. They haven’t spent any real time since she was ten.
Tibby. Her has a huge family and she is the only one not traveling for the summer. Left behind in Maryland, she befriends a young girl with cancer.
Bridget. She is the athlete in the bunch. As a soccer star, she is headed to Baja, Mexico to camp to improve her skills. There, she falls in love with a counselor.
Lena. She gets to spend the summer in Greece with her grandparents who barely speak English. Think lots of situations lost in translation.

Author fact: Brashares has won an Indies Choice Book Award.

Book trivia: Sisterhood is the first book of five in the “pants” series. I am only reading the first two for the Book Lust Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as best for teenage girls, but said any teen or adult might like it.

BookTwist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23). I said that already.


Nampally Road

Alexander, Meena. Nampally Road. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1991.

Reason read: In honor of the International Flower Festival, held in the month of May.

While barely one hundred pages long, Nampally Road shouts a clear message of India. Protagonist and poet, Mira Kannadical returns to Hyderabad, India after four years studying in England. She has come home to teach poetry, but finds her neighborhood in a constant state of civil unrest; a battle field where violence and tear gas clouds are everyday occurrences. Police brutality and political corruption hold the community in paralyzed fear, especially after a woman is gang-raped by police officers and left for dead in a prison cell. Not many are willing to rock the boat after a group of orange sellers are attacked for protesting taxes. Mira is dating an activist who thinks differently. This suspends Mira in conflict as she tries to reconcile her beliefs with the changes of modern India.

Quotes to quote, “It was if the bloodshed in the afternoon already belonged in another country” (p 9) “I suffered from dislocation” (p 29), and “He died a safe death, in another country, under the gentle shade of the tamarind tree” (p 96).

Author fact: Alexander has written a great deal of poetry, but Nampally Road was her first novel. She died in 2018.

Book trivia: Illustrations are by Pablo Haz.

Nancy said: Pearl included Nampally Road as a book “by Indian writers (many of whom now live in England, Canada, or the United States” (p 127).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “India: A Reader’s Itinerary (Fiction)” (p 125).


Birds, Beasts, and Relatives

Durrell, Gerald. Birds, Beasts, and Relatives. New York: Penguin Books, 1978

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Humor month in April.

Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is one of those books that keeps the party going. As the second book in the Corfu trilogy, Birds includes stories previously untold in My Family and Other Animals. While the Durrell family only spent four years on the Greek island of Corfu, Gerald was able to dig around in his memory and find always humorous, and sometimes outrageous, and obviously exaggerated situations to share…much to his family’s chagrin. These stories usually involved young Gerald coming across some wild animal and insisting it become part of the family as an honorary pet (such as an owl, given to Gerald by an eccentric Countess). Interested in his natural surroundings, Gerald was guided by biologist and fellow naturalist, Theodore. It was Gerald’s keen observations about his world that held my attention.

Author fact: Durrell was a television personality and the subject of a few documentaries.

Book trivia: Birds, Beasts, and Other Relatives was actually Durrell’s twelfth autobiographical book. It is followed by The Garden of the Gods, which is also on my list.

Nancy said: Pearl included Birds, Beasts, and Relatives in a list of books which made her laugh out loud. Laughing is very good these days. In Book Lust To Go Pearl says Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is not up to “the joyful perfection of [My Family and Other Animals], but is no slouch” (Book Lust To Go p 70).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220); and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Corfu” (p 70).


Because of the Cats

Freeling, Nicholas. Because of the Cats. New York: Penguin Books, 1963.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of May 15th – May 21st being Police Week.

Whenever an author takes you on a journey to describe the landscape I always imagine a giant bird flying over the land. For the first few pages of Because of the Cats you get that same sensation. The reader looks down on the bigger picture of where the story takes place, this time in the small town of Bloemendaal. It is a simple place usually bereft of crime. Chief Inspector Piet Van der Valk is back on the case when a rash of burglaries escalates to rape in his jurisdiction. As Chief Inspector of the Morals and Children department his focus turns to a group of teens from Bloemendaal. This seems impossible as the town is virtually crime free and all of the suspects are rich. Why would they need to commit break-ins? Why? Because of the cats!
Because prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, law enforcement have a different relationship with the ladies of the night. Van der Valk allows Fedora to pick him up and bring him home for dinner. He even tells her, “You don’t bother my morals” (p 17). Pay attention to this woman for she is essential to the case.

The first reference to cats is when one of the rapists declares, “the cats won’t like it” (p 11).

Quote I liked, “It was, he knew from experience, fatal to fall in love with a theory” (p 25).

Author fact: when Love in Amsterdam was published and it became a success, Freeling said he was able to stop cooking other people’s dinners.

Book trivia: Because of the Cats was made into a Dutch-Belgium movie in 1973.

Nancy said: Pearl admitted Because of the Cats was one of the best mysteries because she admitted to feeling creeped-out when she finished it. If you can remember the sensation long after you have finished the book, that’s the sign of a good plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 119).


Bear Comes Home

Zabor, Rafi. The Bear Comes Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979.

Reason read: May is Music month.

In a nutshell:The Bear Comes Home is a story about a talking, walking, pants-wearing, saxophone-playing bear. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and then consider this: the bear is an avid reader, talks philosophy and emotionally and physically loves a woman. I knew from the inside flap this book was going to be an interesting read, especially when I read, “a vexed, physically passionate and anatomically correct inter-species love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris.” Um. Okay. It’s the “anatomically correct” piece that really puts it into perspective. But! Trust me when I say this is a deep book. I mean deeeep. Zabor is a little long winded when it comes to subjects he is passionate about. There are pages and page about jazz music and the musicians who perfected it, but somehow the entire thing works. The Bear is a little too angsty but considering his circumstances, stuck in the human world, who could blame him?

As an aside, I have two Natalie connections to this book. This time “Dancing Bear” from Leave Your Sleep (of course) and the mention of the song “But Not For Me” which Natalie has covered.
Another aside, I loved, loved, loved the musical references. Mention of Prince’s Black Album made me swoon (been missing him a lot lately).

Line to like, “It had to do with the heaviness of obsession” (p 363).

Author fact: Zabor is a musician as well as an author. Obviously.

Book trivia: Bear Comes Home features a few real life musicians. Obviously. Another piece of trivia: it won the PEN Faulkner award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Bear Comes Home is a “slightly different take on music in fiction” (Book Lust p 164).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Music and Musicians” (p 164).


Farthest North

Nansen, Dr. Fridtjof. Farthest North: the Incredible Three-Year Voyage to the Frozen Latitudes of the North. Edited by Jon Krakauer. New York: Modern Library, 1999.

Reason read: Peary’s birth month is in May. From one traveler to another…

Nansen’s journey, from June 24th, 1893 to April 7th, 1895, took him to the farthest reaches of the North Pole. Blessed with the support of the Norwegian government and the King of Norway, Nansen set sail with ample provisions, able men and strong sled dogs. Farthest North is Nansen’s first person account of the adventure, complete with journal entries and fantastic photography and drawings. A word of warning to the animal lovers: Nansen’s no-nonsense approach to killing various animals is harsh. I had a hard time with how he described shooting a curious seal.
Aside from his expedition, Nansen was a fascinating character. He invented a new type of sled for traversing the Arctic terrain. He was a biologist who worked with nature. His theory for success was to allow his ship, the Fram, to become trapped in the ice. The Fram was built to withstand the pressures of the ice floes and move with the fluctuations so as not to be torn apart. However, while Nansen was smart about the construction of the Fram, he was not so clever concerning the rising tides that ended up swamping his boats at one point of the expedition.
To keep busy during the ice entrapment, Nansen established a music factory, repairing much loved instruments. By default, Nansen’s love of forward progress transferred to his crew. To keep busy for the sake of industry, when the ship’s doctor didn’t have patients to see he set up a book binding business to care for the well used library.
Even though he failed to reach the true North Pole Nansen was the first one to cross Greenland successfully.

As an aside, I love a scientist who uses the technical word, “ugh.”

Favorite lines, “A good library was of great importance to an expedition like ours, and thanks to publishers and friends, both in our own and in other countries, we were very well supplied in this respect” (p 33), and “You can hear the vibrations of your own nerves” (p 228).

Author fact: Nansen won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with displaced victims of World War I. He was considered a great humanitarian.

Book trivia: Farthest North includes a biography of Nansen as well as an introduction to the text by Roland Huntford and three maps of Franz Josef Land.

Nancy said: Pearl said Farthest North would “fit the bill for armchair travelers” (p 233).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (the Arctic)” (p 233).


Master and Commander

O’Brian, Patrick. Master and Commander. Read by John Lee. Santa Ana, CA: Books on Tape, Inc., 1991.

Reason read: for my dad. He was born in the month of May and he loved stories about sea adventures.

For starters, Master and Commander is an excellent lesson in naval warships. The dense nautical terminology will make your eyes go dry if you let it. There are many areas where the plot and dialogue altogether cease making it an arid read. Amidst the didactic seagoing vessel lesson 19th century Britain is at war with France’s brash Napoleon. Young Jack Aubrey has been promoted to commander of the sloop Sophie. Along as his right hand man is Doctor Stephen Maturin. He acts as ship medic and surgeon and together they fight enemies on the high seas. Aubrey and Maturin are as different as they come but they balance each other out and truly need one another. Their relationship is the cornerstone of the whole series.
For every adventurer Master and Commander is a must read. Every battle is played out in stunning detail. Life on a man-of-war could not be any more vivid.

Author fact: Patrick O’Brian was born Richard Patrick Russ.

Book trivia: Master and Commander is first in the series and definitely should be read before any of the others in the series.

Nancy said: Pearl called Master and Commander an “archetypal oceangoing adventure…[one] that [is] well loved by both men and women, and by those readers who have spent time on boats as well as those who have never set foot in a seagoing vessal on even stepped into a rowboat, kayak , or canoe.” She also mentioned O’Brian’s “reliable historical detail and evocative writing” (Book Lust p 217).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217).


Barchester Towers

Trollope, Anthony. Barchester Towers. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005.

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

I will be 100% honest. I couldn’t get into Barchester Towers despite the fact it’s supposed to be Trollope’s most popular novel and many organizations have it on their “Top 1000 books to read.” Yes, it is satirical and it has it humorous parts. I just couldn’t get into any of the characters. I suspect my lack of enthusiasm centers around the fact the novel is focused on religion and the war between the high and low churches. The bishop has died and a new one needs to be appointed. There’s a lot of infighting about how that will be resolved.
The best element of Barchester Towers is the return of Septimus Harding. His daughter, Eleanor, is now a widow and eligible to remarry. The second best character was Mr. Stanhope, a member of the clergy. He has been in Italy for twelve years “recovering” from a sore throat and catching butterflies.

Quote I liked, “They had never, therefore, poured into each others ears their hopes and loves…” (p 252).

Author fact: According to Pearl, Trollope was a postman by day and an author in his spare time. He wrote whenever he could.

Book trivia: My copy contained both The Warden and Barchester Towers.

Nancy said: Pearl’s favorite Trollope is the entire Barchester series.

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


Love in Amsterdam

Freeling, Nicholas. Love in Amsterdam. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

Reason read: Police Week is May 15th – 20th…or something like that.

When we meet first Martin he has already been locked up for two weeks for allegedly murdering his ex-lover, Elsa.
In the first sections of Love in Amsterdam Inspector Van der Valk is an unusual cop with unorthodox methods of investigation. It is up to him to solve the crime and I have to admit, he is the most interesting part of the whole story. His philosophy this: it doesn’t matter whether Martin says or believes he is innocent or if he is in fact guilty as all get out. Inspector Van der Valk is going to let Martin into his confidences and listen to every rambling theory. He is going to allow Martin in on every part of the detailed investigation because the more he and Martin spend together the more the truth will emerge. Sooner or later Inspector Van der Valk will get his man. It is an unusual way to go about solving a crime, allowing his best suspect to be an active part of the investigation, but it works.
The second part of Love in Amsterdam is all about Martin’s past revealing motive for the murder: how he knew the victim, the subsequent relationship they had, and how it all fell apart in the end. Is this section supposed to cast doubt on Martin’s innocence?
The final section is a frantic wrapping up of the case. The murderer is revealed and Inspector Van der Valk gets his man.
Stanley Ellin said it best when he described Love in Amsterdam as having “the sinister, spellbinding perfection of a cobra uncoiling.” That is definitely true for the first part of the story.

Quotes to quote, “Dead bodies are not frightening nor are they communicative” (p 21) and “Professor Comenius watched everything with slightly protuberant, healthy lobster eyes” (p 142).

Author fact: Freeling was British, lived in Holland, and died in France.

Book trivia: Love in Amsterdam was Freeling’s first book. It was made into a television show for the BBC as well.

Nancy said: Pearl said “Freeling’s psychological mysteries…remain a classic of the genre” ( Book Lust p 120).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


Morbid Taste for Bones

Peters, Ellis. Morbid Taste for Bones. New York: Warner Books, 1994.

Reason read: the first Thursday in May is the start of Prayer Week.

Morbid Taste for Bones is the first book in the Cadfael Chronicles. In a nutshell: Prior Robert is looking a saint for his abbey. The abbey is in dire need of some reputable relics and not finding anything within his region Prior Robert has the idea to branch out to Wales. He has heard of a saint buried in Gwytherin where her ghost claimed in a dream mistreatment and neglect of her grave. She requests a burial elsewhere. Of course there is drama when Robert and a crew of support show up to exhume her. Words are exchanged but because of the late hour both parties agree to take up the argument the next day. The new day brings a fresh murder. Only Cadfael recognizes the death for what is truly was, a framing of an innocent man. This always happens when there is a love triangle. Read the book for more…

Author fact: Ellis Peters is the pen name of Edith Mary Pargeter.

Book trivia: The Cadfael Chronicles were adapted for television in 1996.

Nancy said: Pearl calls Morbid Taste for Bones one of her favorites. She includes it in the Book Lust section of amateur detectives (when the true occupation is something else). In More Book Lust she says Morbid Taste for Bones is “a pleasurable way to learn about British history” and that the best “pure mysteries featuring a member of the clergy are those by Ellis Peters (More Book Lust p 87).

BookLust Twist: from both Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117) and More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86). As an aside, this last chapter always reminds me of Natalie’s Tiny Desk Concert with NPR when she teaches the staff to sing “Weeping Pilgrim.”


Man in Gray Flannel

Wilson, Sloan. The Man in Gray Flannel. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002.

Reason read: Wilson was born in the month of May. Read in his honor.

This is the story of Tom Rath and economic survival in the 1950s era. Tom’s wife, Betsy and their three children want the good life. Tom is determined to give it to them, even if it means slogging to work doing a job he doesn’t completely enjoy. When a new prospect for employment pops up Rath jumps at the chance to move up the ladder but it is not without consequences.
The Man in Gray Flannel epitomizes the proverbial meaning of life in a material world. It is also a study of 1950s conformity and climbing the corporate ladder. You have one man who is a slave to his workaholic lifestyle and is miserable because of it while another man is angry because he can never get ahead. Tom’s boss, from the outside, projects an image of ease and calm amidst his wealth while Tom encounters roadblocks in every aspect of his life. The new higher paying job is not what he thought it would be. Secrets from his time as a solider in World War II will not stay buried. His wife wants more and more. Even the seemingly straightforward last will and testament of his grandmother’s estate doesn’t seem to be in his favor.
Confessional: the odd thing is, despite all of Tom’s setbacks and struggles, I couldn’t entirely feel for him. I felt more for his boss.

Author fact: This is Sloan Wilson’s first book.

Book trivia: The Man in Gray Flannel is autobiographical.

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about The Man in Gray Flannel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade:1950” (p 177).


Mariner’s Compass

Fowler, Earlene. Mariner’s Compass. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1999.

Reason read: May is supposedly National Museum Month and Benni works in a museum…

The theme of Mariner’s Compass is, in a word, home. Benni Harper learns a lot about what ‘home’ means when she becomes the sole heir of a stranger’s modest fortune. Jacob Chandler, dead of an apparent heart attack, leaves everything to Albenia Louise Harper with the condition that she live in his house for two weeks straight. If she does, she will inherit his house and everything in it, a modest bank account, and a dog named Scout. Benni takes two weeks off from her job at the museum, leaves her husband at home and honors the strange request. To the reader, there are many ways this particular premise for a plot could fall flat. Benni could decide she doesn’t need a stranger’s inheritance and refuse to stay in the house. (Who’s watching to see that she does it anyway?) Or she could live in the house for fourteen days straight and not be curious enough to investigate this mysterious Jacob Chandler. Luckily for Fowler fans, Benni not only takes the challenge but goes to great lengths to solve the mystery. The plot thickens when this stranger for all intents and purposes seems like in life he had been Benni’s stalker. He knows the name of her childhood horse. He has a picture of her deceased mother. He has newspaper clippings of every major event in Benni’s life. Just who is this guy?
My biggest pet peeve? Despite the ominous idea of Jacob Chandler being a stalker, Benni is not discreet. She tells just about anyone the entire story. Not your typical behavior when your life might be in danger.

Lines to like: I didn’t make note of any. Weird.

Book trivia: There were a few places where a twist in the plot was too transparent to be a shock. When Bennie has a picture of the deceased Chandler sent to his sister I knew she wouldn’t recognize the man as her brother. I won’t spell out the other situations as they would definitely spoil the plot. Let’s just say, there were no surprises for me at the end.

Author fact: taken from the back flap of Mariner’s Compass: Folwer was raised in La Puente, California which explains her expansive knowledge of Mexican food and customs.

Nancy said: Pearl included Mariner’s Compass in a chapter about mysteries under the subsection of occupations (museum). Truth be told, Benni’s occupation does not play a factor in this book. She doesn’t do a day of work at the museum. There is a subplot. The new mayor wants to replace the museum with a bigger money maker. In protest Benni’s grandmother and a group of other women (including the mayor’s mother) arrange a sit-in until the issue can be resolved.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


Ethel and Ernest

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel and Ernest: a True Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

Reason read: May is Graphic Novel month. I read that somewhere.

This is Raymond Brigg’s story of his parents as a couple from the moment they met until death did them part. Simplistic in graphic novel form but powerful in message. What started off as an accidental communication for the couple kicked off a poignant romance that lasted fifty years. Brigg’s loving tribute continues through his parents’s courtship and marriage, his mom giving birth to him at 38 years old (their only child), the war and the political aftermath, the ravages of aging, and finally each of their deaths. What makes the retelling so heartwarming is Brigg’s ability to communicate parental emotion. Every fear, hope, happiness and expectation they felt towards their son was delivered and exposed in loving detail.

Author fact: Briggs was removed from his parents (evacuated during the war for safety) when he was five years old.

Book trivia: Ethel and Ernest is a graphic novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Ethel and Ernest a “touching story” (Book Lust p 103).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 103). Interestingly enough, the title Ethel and Ernest and author Raymond Briggs are missing from the index.


Five Children and It

Nesbit, E. Five Children and It. New York: Dover Publications, 2002.

Reason read: Nesbit was born in the month of May.

The Psammead or Sammyad is a strange looking sand fairy capable of granting wishes. I loved the description of “it” as having eyes on long horns like a snail, ears like a bat, body like a spider, hands and feet like a monkey, and whiskers like a rat. And. And! And, the thing talks! When five children named Cyril (Squirrel), Roberts (Bobs), Anthea (Panther), Hilary (the Lamb), and Jane, digging in the sand discover the Psammead can grant wishes they immediately embark on making choices that always seem to backfire on them: wealth, becoming physically bigger than an opponent, living in a castle, growing angel wings, fighting wild Indians, to name a few. Even after they decide to be more thoughtful with their wishes they still run into disaster. Luckily, their parents are away dealing with an ailing grandmother so they have plenty of opportunities to get it right…and wrong. The best part of Five Children and It is the relationship between the siblings. It rings true no matter what drama they face.

Sometimes the language of the turn of the century really comes through. “Smell their fists” is a euphemism for fighting, for example.

Weird quotes to quote, “It is easy if you love the Baby as much as you ought to” (p 42) and “That lot’s all long hair, drink and rude women” (p 65).

Author fact: E. Nesbit is actually Edith Nesbit.

Book trivia: Five Children and It was originally published in 1902. My 2002 edition was illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Nancy said: Pearl said Nesbit influenced writers before and after her.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fantasy for Old and Young” (p 83).