Race of the Scorpions

Dunnett, Dorothy. Race of the Scorpions. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.

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

Race of the Scorpions is the third installment in the House of Niccolo series. Nicholas vander Poele is a mere twenty-one years old and already a widower. His stepdaughters want nothing to do with him and summarily locked him out of house and business.
Of course there are interesting character maneuvers as well. Niccolo has a new enemy in Katelina van Borsten. She seduced Claes into taking her virginity and after their second tryst became pregnant. She ended up marrying Simon who’s first wife gave birth to Claes. Ultimately, Kate married Claes’s stepfather and together they are raising Kate and Claes’s child, unbeknownst to Simon. All the while, Nicholas is growing in power. His business sense is blossoming which further irritates his enemies.

Dunnett continues to masterfully weave fictional story-lines around real people, places and events. It’s what could have happened and probably did.
As an aside, her sex scenes are only hints of trysts and conquests, tastefully done.

Quotes to quote, “She long ago concluded that the world would be a more efficient place if managed by women” (p 9), “He assumed the face of an owl” (p 137), “No matter what you did, no matter what you planned, the unexpected happened” (p 203), and my favorite, “You don’t inherit three hundred years of scorpion blood and end up a buttercup” (p 265).

Author fact: Taking a break from author facts for this one. I will have several opportunities to say more as I am reading lots of Dunnett in the future!

Book trivia: the introduction to Race of the Scorpions spells out exactly what has happened in Niccolo Rising (Vol. One) and Spring of the Ram (Vol. Two).

Nancy said: Nancy said it would be “a shame to miss out on [the] House of Niccolo series” (More Book Lust p 80).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Though Fiction” (p 79).


Playing For Pizza

Grisham, John. Playing for Pizza. New York: Bantam Dell, 2007.

Reason read: the Verdi Fest in Parma is traditionally held in October.

When we first meet Rick Dockery he is laid up in a hospital bed after a nasty American Football Conference championship game collision. After this latest concussion third string quarterback Dockery’s career is more than over. His agent, Arnie, is told over and over no one will touch him with a ten foot pole. Don’t even ask. Like many athletes with a less than stellar career, but the passion to play, Dockery heads to another country to continue playing the game he loves so much. He arrives in Italy with the stereotypical chip on his shoulder. Where are the cheerleaders? In his mind, it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be back in the States, playing for the NFL…or so he dreams. What follows is Dockery’s slow acceptance of Italy, his education of what Europeans consider football, and (gulp) what true loyalty means. Grisham keeps the plot light and uncomplicated for a quick and easy read.

Confession: when Dockery gets tangled up in a budding romance with a woman already involved in a seven year relationship I thought I would see more drama. Not so. I think that plot line was designed to introduce opera and not much else.

As an aside, Grisham’s descriptions Italy made me want to plan a visit. I made a list of every region and landmark he mentioned.

Funny quote, “Later he learned that Sly and Trey had been driven away by a drunk uncle who couldn’t find Parma” (p 101).

Author fact: Grisham makes a huge departure from his legal mysteries with Playing for Pizza but he didn’t go into it blind. Parma really does have a football team with a few American players.

Book trivia: Playing for Pizza is short enough to read in a weekend.

Nancy said: Nancy called Playing for Pizza “captivating” and described the plot a little.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Parma” (p 172).


African Laughter

Lessing, Doris. African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe.New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Reason read: to celebrate Lessing’s birth month in October.

Even though Doris Lessing was born to British parents in Iran and didn’t move to Southern Rhodesia until she was six, Lessing called the African continent her homeland. She spent twenty-four years there until she moved to London, England. African Laughter is a very personal memoir about four trips back to Zimbabwe after being exiled for twenty-five years.
Interestingly enough, the title African Laughter comes from Lessing’s joy of hearing Africans laugh. “The marvelous African laughter born somewhere in the gut, seizing the whole body with good-humoured philosophy” (p 80).

Confessional: there were times when I got lost in Lessing’s chronology. An example: Lessing is visiting her brother and describing a scene languishing on the verandah. Her brother’s two Alsatians (popular dogs as pets in Africa) are lounging nearby. One dog in particular, Sheba, hungers for Lessing’s female attentions. Lessing then seamlessly goes on to describe how Sheba finally attached herself to her male owner only to be strangled to death in some loose wire at the end of a fence. Because she doesn’t reference two periods in time I wasn’t sure when this happened. Subsequent mentions of poor Sheba are depressing, knowing her sad demise.

Lines I liked, “All writers know the state of trying to remember what actually happened, rather than what was invented, or half invented, a meld of truth and fiction” (p 72) and “With a library and perhaps some sympathetic adult to advise them, there in nothing in the world they cannot study” ( p 206).

Author fact: Lessing was born in Iran in 1919.

Book trivia: African Laughter has some great insight into other books Lessing has written, like The Golden Notebook.

Nancy said: Nancy mentioned African Laughter as one of the books she found “engrossing” after she had written the “Dreaming of Africa” section in Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Zipping Through Zimbabwe/Roaming Rhodesia” (p 268).


Joey Goes to Sea

Villiers, Alan. Joey Goes to Sea. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport, 2014.

Reason read: a gift from my aunt Jennifer and because I love cats.

This is such a cute story and the fact that is is based on true events makes it even more special. Joey is a little ginger kitten who went to sea aboard the Joseph Conrad with author Alan Villiers. According to Villiers, the events in the story are real. Joey caught flying fish, fought with a bird, and really did fall overboard!
The illustrations are wonderful, too.


Oxford Book of Oxford

Morris, Jan, ed. The Oxford Book of Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Reason read: Morris’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.

The grand and illustrious Oxford University. What can you aay about an institution which has its foundation firmly planted in the Middle Ages? Jan Morris carefully selected the best documentation across history to give readers an accurate portrayal of one of the world’s oldest and respected institutions. Using a comprehensive inclusion of journal entries, letters, poetry, newspaper articles, institution records and recollections, memoirs and memories Oxford University from 1200 – 1945 is exposed and celebrated.
Favorite anecdotes:

  • Professor Buckland, the legendary carnivore supposedly ate the one of the Kings of France’s carefully preserved heart.
  • Theologian and president of Magdalen for 63 years, Martin Routh, was extremely funny.

Quotes to quote, “Proud Prelate, you know what you were before I made you; if you do not immediately comply with my request, by G-d I will unfrock you. Elizabeth.” (p 46), “I really think, if anyone should ask me what qualifications were necessary for Trinity College, I should say there was only one, Drink, drink, drink” (p 182).

Author fact: Jan also wrote under the name James and was transgender. She underwent sex “reassignment” in 1972, way before Bruce Jenner made it a television event.

Book trivia: The Oxford Book of Oxford has some great photographs of the buildings that make up Oxford. My copy had a stamp from the San Mateo Public Library which on the book pocket read, “Questions answered.” I wish they could tell me the one exception to Morris’s dedication!

Nancy said: The Oxford Book of Oxford “is a good place to get an overview of the city” (Book Lust To Go p 170). I would slightly disagree inasmuch that The Oxford Book of Oxford (EDITED by Morris) is predominantly about the institution and the colleges that make up Oxford rather than the city itself. I would like to think Pearl meant to include the travel book simply called Oxford written BY Morris. Maybe she did. At the end of the chapter she references Morris’s Oxford which is a different book and yet NOT in the index of Book Lust To Go.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oxford” (p 170). See my ramblings in “Nancy said” for more.


Bridge on the Drina

Ivo, Andric. The Bridge on the Drina. Translated by Lovett F. Edwards. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Reason read: Mehmed Pasha built the bridge on the Drina and was born in October. Read in his honor.

The bridge on the Drina stands as a silent character in Bridge on the Drina and acts as a symbol for life. As civilization is buckling, the bridge stands solid, spying on and witness to all humanity. . It is an integral part of the community. If you were Christian and lived on the left bank you had to cross the bridge to be christened on the right side. It was a sources of food as people fished from it or hunted doves from under it. It had historical significance as families shared legends about it. Andric takes us through the sixteenth century and the laborious construction of the bridge to four hundred years later and the modernized twentieth century and how the bridge became a symbol across generations. It all started with the tortured memory of the grand Vizier. How, as a young boy, he was forcibly removed from his mother during the Ottoman crusades. The river Drina is where he lost sight of her. Hence, the bridge.

Quote I liked, “The story was noised far and abroad” (p 36).

Author fact: Ivo Andric won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. Another piece of trivia: Andric grew up on the banks of the Drina.

Book trivia: the introduction to Bridge on the Drina gives the history of Bosnia. It helps ground the reader to a sense of place.

Nancy said: “The Bridge on the Drina describes the relationships between various ethnic groupings in a small Bosnian town from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries” (Book Lust p 32).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Balkan Specters” (p 31).


Gardening Under Lights

Halleck, Leslie F. Gardening Under Lights: the Complete Guide for Indoor Growers. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2018.

Reason read: this book was sent as an Early Review for the LibraryThing program.

Right away, the first thing to notice about Gardening Under Lights is how gorgeous is the physical book. The colors, fonts and photographs are beautiful. The second thing to notice is Halleck’s humor and easy going language. The information is a mix of Let Me Break This Down For You and technical and expert information. The first chapter, Why Plants Need Light, offers a simple explanation for the premise of the entire book. From there, the information is thorough and detailed. Every aspect of growing plants is covered, from growing conditions to containers; from diseases to how deep to dig; from selecting the right lighting bulbs to sowing, watering, culling, cutting, rooting, transplanting, harvesting, and propagating. My favorite section was in the middle about edible plants like herbs (I struggle with cilantro bolting)  and vegetables, but the section on diseases was a close second.

As an aside, I plan to loan this book to a friend and I have a suspicion I won’t get it back!