Master of Hestviken: the Axe

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: the Axe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge. The category is women in translation.

Considered to be the companion to Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, The Master of Hestviken series tells the saga of Olav Audunsson in thirteenth century Norway. As a boy he was raised by a foster family. When you are first plunked down in the middle of the drama you meet Steinfinn, a young man who fell in love with a fair maiden named Ingebjorg. So far so good, except Ingebjorg was betrothed to someone named Mattias. Doesn’t matter. Steinfinn and Ingebjorg run away and live together as if they are man and wife. They soon have a family of three children, one of them being the beautiful Ingunn. In addition to their own children they foster a young lad by the aforementioned name of Olav Audunsson. Thus begins the romance of Ingunn and Olav. Both Olav and Ingunn’s fathers agreed the two would grow up to marry each other, but after Steinfinn passes the young couple are told it was only a game their fathers played and the betrothal is not real. Cue the violins, people. Olav commits murder with an axe named Kinfetch and that complicates things. He escapes punishment but in the meantime Ingunn is struck by some mysterious paralysis amid rumors of witchcraft. And the plot thickens. Especially when she becomes pregnant during Olav’s exile…

As an aside, I have to admit, thirteenth century drama is not my cup of tea. Luckily, The Master of Hestviken is chopped up into four books and each book is a little over 200 pages long.

Author fact: Undset was originally born in Denmark.

Book trivia: Master of Hestviken was originally published in one single volume and according to the inside flap, had been out of print in England until 1962.

Nancy said: The Axe is part of the series that Pearl considers Unset’s “other” masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


African Queen

Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.

Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!

Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.

To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.

Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?

As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.

Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.

Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.

Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.


Beauty

McKinley, Robin. Beauty: the Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.

Reason read: August is Fairy Tale month.

Here’s a question for you. Do you enjoy an adaptation or a retelling more or less if you don’t remember the details of the original? For me, I don’t remember the details of Beauty and the Beast except to say the Disney version was centered around Belle, her sickly woodsman father, the Beast, and the talking tea kettle. I remember it also had singing furniture and, of course, a droopy rose was at the center of the story. McKinley’s version has three daughters, Gracie, Hope and Honour. Honour, nicknamed Beauty, is the protagonist of the story and ironically, is not at all beautiful like her sisters. Instead she is homely, unromantic, and scholarly; the bravest and strongest of the bunch. Honour’s father has fallen on hard times as a shipping merchant and the family must move to the country. Enter the proximity of an enchanted/haunted forest. We first learn about these mysterious woods when Ger becomes angry with Beauty about being in the woods of Blue Hill.
To speed up the telling up the story you know so well: father runs into trouble in the enchanted forest, has a dust up with the Beast, and promises to send a daughter to the Beast to save his own hide. Beauty, being the bravest and most admirable, is the logical choice. Beauty falls in love with Beast despite his appearance and by turns becomes a looker herself. When she promises to marry Beast, the spell is broken. The end.

Author fact: McKinley and I went to the same high school. I can remember teachers mentioning her in English class.

Book trivia: Beauty is McKinley’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl included Beauty in a list of books that are sure to be “teen pleasers…great choices for teenage girls as well as their mothers” said this about McKinley, “McKinley is another major contributor…” (More Book Lust). The inside flap promises Beauty is appropriate for ages ten and up.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in “Best for Teens” (p 23) and again in “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 93).


July Mistakes

So. I never posted what I hoped to accomplish reading for July. Whoops and whoops. To tell you the truth, I got busy with other things. What other things I couldn’t tell you. It’s not the thing keeping me up at night. Besides, if I’m truly honest no one reads this blather anyway. In my mind the “you” that I address is really me, myself and moi; our own whacked out sense of conformity. Let’s face it, my reviews are as uninspiring as dry toast carelessly dropped in sand. It’s obvious something needs to change. I just haven’t figured out what that something is or what the much needed change looks like. Not yet at least. I need a who, where, what, why, and how analysis to shake off the same as it ever was. It’ll come to me eventually.
But, enough of that and that and that. Here’s what July looked like for books and why:

Fiction:

  • Killing Floor by Lee Child – in honor of New York becoming a state in July (Child lives in New York).
  • Alligator by Lisa Moore – in honor of Orangemen Day in Newfoundland.
  • Forrest Gump by winston Groom – on honor of the movie of the same name being released in the month of July.
  • Aunt Julia and the Script Writer by Mario Vargas Llosa – in honor of July being the busiest month to visit Peru.
  • Accidental Man by Iris Murdoch – in honor of Murdoch’s birth month.
  • Blood Safari by Leon Meyer – in honor of Meyer’s birth month.
  • By the River Piedra I Sat down and Wept by Paulo Coelho – in honor of July being Summer Fling Month.

Series continuation:

  • Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Yes, I am behind.
  • Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson.
  • Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. Confessional. Even though there are two more books in the Barsetshire Chronicles I am putting Trollope back on the shelf for a little while. The stories are not interconnected and I am getting bored.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm. I only started this. It will be finished in August.

What startles me as I type this list is I didn’t finish any nonfiction in July. I started the Holocaust memoir but haven’t finished it yet. No nonfiction. Huh.


Take This Man

Busch, Frederick. Take This Man. New York: Ballantine Books, 1983.

Reason read: February is Busch’s death month. Read in his memory.

This is a love story in its purest form. Simple plot: Ellen LaRue Spencer is on her way to California to see her soldier fiance who hasn’t shipped out to war yet. Her car breaks down in a barren midwest town where she meets hapless Tony Prioleau. Despite his unsuccessful business ventures and his thing for television (he wants to harness the power of television to assist in the war effort), Ellen is attracted to him and ends up in his bed..but she still leaves him for her fiance. Ten years later, a son shows up on Tony’s doorstep and the love Tony buried all those years ago comes bubbling back up. He accepts the boy as his own, no questions asked.
I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say that Ellen herself comes back to Tony. But not without complications. She is still married and still confused about the depth of her attraction to Tony.
Confessional: the last twenty pages are heartbreaking.

Vivid lines, “…poured an unfresh breath into Prioleau’s face to say…” (p 46). I just love that image.
Other lines I liked, “And you cook like a mass murderer” (p 55). I don’t know what that would taste like. I’m guessing not good. And. And! And, “Twenty years later, and she was still in transit, collecting men at the edge of the sea (p 156) and “…but he was frightened as he stepped up onto the side porch to get hugged home” (p 192).

Author fact: Take This Man is Busch’s eighth book.

Book trivia: The cover of Take This Man is intriguing. Two people are adrift in a rowboat. In my mind it symbolized Tony and Ellen’s relationship. It was never solidified or tethered to reality.

Nancy said: absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Frederick Busch: Too Good To Miss” (p 48).


Lamb in Love

Brown, Carrie. Lamb in Love. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1999.

Reason read: the television show “All Creatures Great and Small” first aired in January. A lamb is a creature.

Vida Stephen at forty-one years of age is considered a spinster in her rural English village. She lives a simple life of being the nanny to a mute young man with mental challenges. She has cared for Manford Perry practically all his life after his mother died young and his father is often away for long periods of time, traveling overseas. Vida and Manford are all alone in the gigantic Southend House with its myriad of dusty and dim unused rooms. In truth they are all they know. The community collectively shakes its head and tsks, of the opinion Vida is wasting away caring for Manford all alone in the sad and crumbling mansion.
Then there is Norris Lamb. He thinks differently of Vida. Even though he has known her (and her situation for years) he has begun to slowly, slowly fall in love with her. Like Vida, he is single with seemingly one purpose in life, to be the village’s postmaster. His world centers on stamps. They represent the wonderment of worlds untraveled. When his love for Vida takes him in new directions it is as if he doesn’t recognize his old life anymore.
Vida, Manford, and Norris all go through a metamorphosis of sorts. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say this changing, by the end of the story, offers hope for a new beginning for each of them.
Brown’s writing had the ability to make me change my mind several times about each character. I oscillated between wanting triumph and hoping for failure and back again.

As an aside, I loved the way the moon was almost another character in the book. It is not a plot spoiler to say I loved how the moon caused Vida to dance with wild abandon at the fountain and kept Norris company on his lonely walk home. Additionally, there is the fact that on July 31st of that summer a man has done the unthinkable by actually walking on the moon.

Quotes I just have to mention, “And you don’t see a nearly naked woman dancing in the moonlight in a ruined garden and then just go about your business as though nothing has happened, do you?” (p 3), “And then he’d stopped, and his face had taken on a surprised expression, as if the feeling that pressed up out of his heart at that moment was transforming him into a different man” (p 53), “She felt indebted to a ghost and under constant surveillance” (p 59) and one more, “The ugly shape of jealousy was arranging itself in his heart (p 265).

Author fact: Brown also wrote Rose’s Garden and Confinement. The latter is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: this book challenged my perception of love, romance, and relationships. It should be a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl just described the plot of Lamb in Love. She never really explains who has the interesting character.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the delightful chapter called “Real Characters” (p 197).


January Come Lately

I try not to think about white rabbits running around with time pieces muttering about being late. Whenever I do I am reminded this is being written three days behind schedule. Nevertheless, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Foundation¬†by Isaac Asimov – in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown – this is a stretch…All Creatures Great and Small first aired as a television show in January and there is a creature in the title.
  • The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry – in honor of Barry’s birth month.
  • A Cold Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow – in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January.

Nonfiction:

  • Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn – in honor of Australia’s National Day on January 26th.
  • The Turk by Tom Standage in honor of Wolfgang Von Klempelen’s birth month.
  • Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington – in honor of January being National Yoga month.
  • Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley – in honor of Adopt a Bird Month. I read that somewhere…

Series continuations:

  • To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – I know what you are thinking. I am neither black nor a girl. I am a middle-aged white woman who barely remembers being a girl. I requested this book because I work in an extremely diverse environment and let’s face it, I want to be known as well-read, regardless of color.

For fun:

  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – my sister gave this to me as a Christmas gift. I wonder if she is trying to tell me something.