Hunting Season

Barr, Nevada. Hunting Season. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.

Reason read: to finish the series started in honor of Barr’s birth month in March.

The premise of the series is main character Anna Pigeon is a ranger assigned to different American parklands. Every time Pigeon shows up somewhere she’s confronted with a mystery (most of the time with a murder or two or three attached). You have to wonder how she doesn’t develop a stigma from all these coincidental deaths wherever she goes. She never seems to find littering her biggest problem.
This time Pigeon is stationed at Mt. Locust, a historic inn located on Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway. Two different crimes have her attention, the murder of Doyce Barnette and suspected poaching activity. Are the two related? All clues point toward Doyce being the apparent victim of a sex game gone wrong but true to mystery, nothing is adding up. Anna, as a woman and new to the area, has a difficult time being the boss of male rangers, some who have been around longer than she has.
Confessional: I knew who the killer was within the first 100 pages. It took me a few more to make absolutely sure but the clues Barr left were glaringly obvious. I was hoping she would pull a fast one and make the suspect Anna’s biggest ally. That I wouldn’t have seen coming.
Idiot move: Once again, I am reading a series out of order. Last month I read Flashback and at the end Pigeon agreed to marry her newly divorced boyfriend. Now, in Hunting Season Pigeon is lamenting the death of her first husband while silently cursing her married boyfriend.
Author fact: Barr does a great job keeping Anna Pigeon’s personality and life history accurate. Anna’s family life, love interests, personality, and even acquired scars stay consistent.

Book Audio trivia: Barbara Rosenblat isn’t half bad with the accents, although her Mississippi drawl could be called just “southern.”

Nancy said: nada; nothing specific about Hunting Season.

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


December Books

I opted out of the cutesy title for this blog because…well…I simply wasn’t in the mood to come up with anything clever. What was December all about? For the run it was a 5k that I finished in “about 30 minutes” as my running partner put it. I also ran a mile every day (from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). I think I’m satisfied with that accomplishment the most because I ran even when we were traveling, even when we were completely swamped with other things going on, even when I didn’t feel like lifting a finger. Despite it all, I still ran at least one mile.

Enough of that. In addition to running I read. Here are the books finished in the month of December. For some reason I surrounded myself with some of the most depressing books imaginable:

Fiction:

    • Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild – read in two lazy afternoons
    • Fay by Larry Brown – devoured in a week (super sad).
    • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (AB/print) – confessional: I started this the last week of November fearing I wouldn’t conquer all 600 pages before 12/31/17 but I did. (again, super sad book).
    • Wanting by Richard Flanagan (really, really sad when you consider Mathinna’s fate).
    • Between the Assassinations by Avarind Adiga (sad).
    • The Beach by Alex Garland (again, sad in a weird way).
    • God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories by Tom Bissell (the last of the sad books).
    • Nero Wolf of West Thirty-fifth Street: the Life and Times of America’s Largest Detective by William Stuart Baring-Gould.

Nonfiction:

  • Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman – read in three days. The only real funny book read this month.

Series continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha by Dorothy Gilman – read in the same weekend as Ballet Shoes.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi (started).

For fun:

  • Hit Reset: Revolutionary Yoga for Athletes by Erin Taylor.

Fay

Brown, Larry. Fay. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2000.

Reason reading: December is Southern Literature Month. Fay takes place in Mississippi.

You can’t help but fall in love with Fay…in the beginning. Despite being abused by animals and humans alike beautiful seventeen year old Fay Jones holds out hope she can be friends with either of them. Preferably both at some point in her young life. But for now she is eager to find Biloxi after running away from a potentially dangerous and definitely drunk father. With only the clothes on her back and two dollars hidden in her bra, she is uneducated and generous; thoughtful in a complicated and naive way. She’ll trust anyone who can steer her in the right direction. You’ll find yourself holding your breath as she hitches a ride with three drunk boys back to their trailer deep in the woods. You again become breathless when a cop picks her up and takes her home. Fay’s ignorance makes people want to help her and hurt her all at the same time. I must admit, over time Fay’s willingness (eagerness?) to fall in with some really bad people grew wearisome. She’s either intensely shallow or so stupid she can’t help herself. She doesn’t recognize when someone is taking advantage of her. When she goes from being a blushing virgin to an easy lay in one week’s time I felt myself losing interest in her fate and willing the character I did care about to stay away from her.
Because Brown will make you care about some people. Even Fay.

My biggest pet peeve? Brown is almost too coy, too cute and dare I say, cheesy? about creating reader suspense at times. His first mention of Alesandra elicited an eye roll from me. One inappropriate remark that spoke volumes in a sea of other details and then nothing for pages and pages. It’s the proverbial gun on a table. Sooner or later it has to go off.

The only line I liked, “Then he was standing there with his neatly pressed gray trousers, a blue stripe down each leg, a gun on his hip and a crisp shirt, his nameplate and his shiny brass and all the authority she feared” (p 34).

Author fact: Brown also wrote Joe and Dirty Work. I’m reading both. Here is the crazy thing. For the first time I have started tracking the approximate time certain books will come up on the schedule. According to the master calendar I will be reading Joe in December of 2037 and Dirty Work in October of 2040.

Book trivia: This should be a movie. It has everything. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Strippers, prostitutes and drug dealers. Explosions and violence. And don’t forget beautiful scenery of the Mississippi gulf coast.

Nancy said: Nancy said “any list of grit-lit practitioners worth its whiskey would also include Larry Brown” (p 106). She also said Fay drifts through life “serenely” and “almost untouched” by the violence around her. I don’t know if I would agree. Fay’s traumas haunt her constantly. I would see her more as resilient; trying to push on despite the abuses. She has a steely determination to survive.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very appropriate chapter called “Grit Lit” (p 106).


Absalom, Absalom!

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Library of America, 1984.

Reason read: September is Southern Gospel Month. You can’t get much more southern than Faulkner!
To be honest, there was some confusion as to when I really read this book. On LibraryThing I had marked it “accomplished” and the detail of tags indicated I had read it at some time…but I couldn’t find a review. Not here, nor on LibraryThing. Plus, it was still on my challenge list. Weird.

Every town has their legends; the stories passed down from generation to generation. The Mississippi town of Jefferson has the story of Thomas Sutpen and his “Sutpen One Hundred.” All told, Thomas Sutpen was seen as a strange, mysterious and even evil man. When he first arrived in Jefferson no one knew his story. He bought one hundred acres of land and then disappeared, leaving the townspeople to talk, talk, talk. When he returned again he had a crew of slaves, materials, and a plan to build a mansion, a legacy. All the while he continues to be secretive and uncommunicative causing the townspeople speculate as to what he’s really up to (as people are bound to do when left to their own devices). The gossip subsides only a little when Sutpen finishes his beautiful home and marries a respectable woman. Quietly he starts a family when his wife gives birth to a son and a daughter. But the chatter can’t escape him. New rumors crop up when word gets around of Sutpen encouraging savage fights between his slaves. There’s talk he even joins in for sport. And that’s just the beginning.
Ultimately, Absalom, Absalom! is a story of tragedy after tragedy. Faulkner described it as a story about a man who wanted a son, had too many of them & they ended up destroying him.

Author fact: Faulkner realized his hometown had a wealth of stories to tell.

Book trivia: in my opinion, this was the most complicated of Faulkner’s books if only because the plot was so involved.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 206).


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York: William Morrow, 2010.

Confession: I couldn’t put this down. A friend from Germany was in town, someone I hadn’t seen in almost three years and all I wanted to do was read Crooked Letter. I don’t normally want to ignore friends!

Crooked Letter takes place in rural Mississippi bouncing between the early 1970s and the late 2000s. From the very first sentence you are pulled into something sinister. Hints of evil lurk between the lines. Larry Ott has always been strange. A social outcast since grade school Larry pulls outrageous stunts, desperate to be noticed; bringing snakes to school, scaring girls with a grotesque Halloween mask. When a pretty high school classmate disappears Larry is suspected of murder. Unbelievably, he is the last person to be seen with her. While her body was never found and Larry’s guilt couldn’t be proven, he remained the town’s only suspect. Fast forward 25 years and another pretty young girl has gone missing. When she is found, raped and murdered, on Larry’s property it seems like an open and shut case. Except, Larry has a silent almost forgotten ally – Silas “32” Jones, a former classmate and one-time secret friend. Secret because in 1970s deep south Mississippi pockets of racism were more than alive and well. It wasn’t acceptable for white Larry to be seen with black Silas. As Chabot, Mississippi’s only constable Silas sets out to learn the truth, even if it means digging up the ugly past. Tom Franklin is very thorough with descriptions of each character’s personal life . You are pulled into Larry Ott’s mechanic shop and can smell the grease just as easily as riding along with Constable Silas Jones as he works his investigation. This is a story first and foremost about friendship and guilt and forgiveness. It is also a story about the harsh realities of racism and poverty and the scars that run deep.

I only found one bothersome discrepancy. Larry Ott is described as 41 years old. Miss Voncille is described as a woman in her “early 50s.”  That would mean at the very minimum there is a ten-year age difference between Larry and Voncille. But because they both attended the same high school Constable Silas asked Voncille if she knew Larry. Here’s the thing –  Larry would have been a toddler when Voncille started high school. If their ages had been reversed it would have allowed for the “legend” of Larry and his weirdness to be played up – Voncille could have heard stories of Larry despite the fact he graduated ten years ahead of Voncille.

In a way I could relate to Larry, especially his obsession with books. His father didn’t want him “wasting” the day by reading either.

Best line I hope is kept, “When he left, Larry lay amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from the weather” (p 251).


All-Girl Football Team

Nordan, Lewis. The All-Girl Football Team. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

At first I didn’t know what to make of the collection of short stories within The All-Girl Football Team. Most of the stories take place in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi and Sugar Mecklin is almost always the central character. Sugar is a typical young boy looking for ways to grow up fast in a stranger than strange household. Mama is obsessed with drama and tinged with mental illness and Daddy is an alcoholic with a thing for rock ‘n roll. All of the stories are laced with an off-kilter humor that alternately made me want to laugh and cry. The very first short story called, “Sugar Among the Chickens” tells the tale of eleven year old Sugar literally fishing (with a pole, hook and all) for the chickens in the front yard. Since his parents won’t let him go to the local watering hole chickens are his substitute for fish and fresh kernels of corn serve as bait…However, the third story, “Sugar, the Eunuchs and Big G.B” wasn’t nearly as funny as it was dark. In it Sugar tries to shoot his father. You’ll begin to notice Nordan has a things for guns, especially loaded ones. Probably the hardest story to read was “Wild Dog.” If you have a thing for animals read it with one eye shut tight.

Favorite section, “I threw a cat into the chicken yard…The rooster killed the cat, but it didn’t take a hook. Too bad about the cat. You’re not going to catch a rooster without making a sacrifice or two” (p 9).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, ” Lewis Nordan: Too Good To Miss” (p 173). Here is what I find interesting. “Off-kilter humor that alternately made me want to laugh and cry” was how I described Nordan’s autobiography, Boy With a Loaded Gun. Truth is stranger than fiction.


‘Sippi (with a spoiler of sorts)

Killens, John Oliver. ‘Sippi. New York: Trident Press, 1967.

In honor of Mississippi becoming a state in the month of December I put ‘Sippi on my list. What an incredibly expansive, volatile story! It follows the lives of two very different people growing up Wakefield County, Mississippi in the 1960s. Carrie Louise Wakefield was born into white money privilege about the same time as Charles Othello Chaney was born into black poverty servitude. “Chuck” and his family worked as servants for Carrie Louise’s extremely wealthy family and would forever be intertwined in each others lives. Over the ever growing turbulent years, events like the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights Movement and the death of Malcolm X stoked the fires of racial unrest. Despite Carrie and Chuck’s vastly different upbringings they both manage to go to college, see a world larger than little Wakefield County. Black and white becomes more and more complicated.        

Favorite lines:
“…seriously wondering how a little bouncing hunk of human essence could possibly emerge from this organized confusion” (p 4). If you couldn’t guess Killens is describing childbirth.
“She was time enough and overtime” (p 69). Here, he’s describing a beautiful woman.
“He had been daydreaming in the nighttime”  (p 129).
“Actually he had drunk the kind of whiskey that would not let you walk. It made you run. He was running drunk” (p 218).

A few complaints. It took a long time to get to the only place the story could end up. Some places were a little drawn out and repetitive. And, yes – I’m gonna blow it – the sex scenes between Carrie and Chuck are a little drawn out and more than a little ridiculous.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 208).


December Was…

img_0030December started off being my fresh start. New houses, new atttitude. It would have been a return to charity walks (or runs?) had a little thing called house hunting not gotten in the way! December ended up being a really, really difficult month. Lost another house, craziness at work, mental health taking a trip south, a passing of a friend and coworker… Here are the books I read escaped with. It may seem like a lot but, keep in mind, I cheated. I was able to read the first two in November.

  • The Quiet American by Graham Green ~ I read this in three days time…in November. Was really that good!
  • A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just ~ Another book I read in just a few days time, again…in November.
  • Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver ~ probably one of the best court-room dramas I have ever read.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson ~ funny, but repetitive!
  • A Family Affair by Rex Stout ~ very strange yet entertaining.
  • Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis ~again, strange but entertaining!
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella ~ okay. I’ll admit it. This one made me cry.
  • ‘Sippi by John Oliver Killens ~ powerful – really, really powerful. That’s all I can really say.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes ~ silly story about what happens with you combine boredom with good old fashioned English snobbery.
  • Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky ~ really interesting, but a bit dry at times (no pun intended).

For LibraryThing it was the fascinating Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni (really, really good).

Confession: I started Le Mort d’Arthur and couldn’t deal with neither volume one or two. Just not in the mood for the King, no matter how authoritative the version.

So. 11 books. Two being in the month of November and nine as the cure for what ailed me.

Edited to add: someone asked me to post “the count” at the end of each “— Was” blog. What a great idea. I will be starting that next month – something new to start 2009 with. Thanks, A!


24 hours

Iles, Greg. 24 Hours. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000.

A kidnapping mystery set in Mississippi…sort of an odd read for the holiday season, but December is the month Mississippi became a state.
Here’s the storyline: Basically, this guy, Joe, has set up the perfect kidnapping scheme. He targets a doctor who has a spouse and child, learns all he can about the doctor’s family and then while the doc is at an annual convention he kidnaps his/her child. His cousin (a hulking man with the IQ of a chipmunk) holds the child in a remote location while his “wife” entertains the male parent and Joe entertains the female parent for 24 hours. They call each other every 30 minutes and if a call is missed Cousin Chipmunk kills the kid. In the AM one parent wires the ransom to the other parent so the kidnapper doesn’t have any connection to the withdrawal. The money is always an amount the doctor can afford and the kidnapping always works because the child is worth more than getting the money back or calling the police. The detail that makes the whole thing work are the every 30 minutes phone calls. Everything hinges on those calls and the convention – because the convention is the guarantee the doctor will be separated from the rest of the family for at least 24 hours.
Despite the brilliant plot I have two problems with detail. In the beginning both parents are told their family has been scrutinized and studied in great detail. The kidnappers claim to know everything about the family. If that is true then why did they not know their latest kidnapping victim was diabetic? If they knew everything how did they miss such a large piece of a child’s life? The second problem with detail is on page 164 – one of the kidnappers says “You have to chill, Will!” and is delighted by the rhyme of the doctor’s name, yet two pages later Iles writes, “Why don’t you at least face the truth about something, Will.” It was the first time she [the kidnapper] had used his Christian name” (p 166). No, actually it wasn’t. She told Will to chill two pages earlier. Ugh.
All in all, this moved fast and was a constant page turner. Every time I had to put it down I was at “the good part” and hated to stop reading. The end is a little over-the-top dramatic and there are loose ends, but well worth the read.

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the “Southern Fried Fiction (Mississippi)” chapter (p 208).