Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy. New York: Harper Collins, 1964.
Reason read: I have a friend named Harriet, born in the month of September.
Harriet M. Welsch is an eleven year old kid who ultimately wants to be a famous writer. She has been told in order to be an accomplished author, she needs to write a lot; she needs to write about anything and everything she sees. As a result, she is a spying, nosy, snotty, opinionated little brat with harsh criticisms about everyone she stalks. Maybe this is the adult in me being annoyed, but I found Harriet to be mean spirited to the point of shocking, and she gets worse before she gets better! I almost drew the line when she would spy on people from inside their own home. She comes from money (she has a cook and a nanny; cake and milk everyday) while her friend Sport, of the same age, has to be the one to manage the family finances and make his own lunch, among other things. We cannot forget creepy mad scientist friend June who wants to blow up things.
And. Speaking of blowing up things. All hell breaks loose when Harriet’s classmates get ahold of her beloved “work,” a notebook where she has been keeping very detailed notes on everyone she spies upon. The only problem is she never writes anything nice or complimentary. Like I said, it’s all super mean. Here is a quote to illustrate what I mean, “She saw the drunk old man and felt such a hatred for him that she almost fell off the bed” (p 195).
Author fact: Fitzhugh herself illustrated Harriet the Spy. The drawings are really interesting because the character of Harriet is drawn completely different than the other characters.
Book trivia: Harriet mentions a movie starring Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine. I too went down the rabbit hole to see if this Apollo movie really did exist. I don’t think so.
Nancy said: Pearl said Harriet the Spy was appropriate for girls and boys alike.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the super simple chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).
Leon, Donna. Death at La Fenice. New York: HarperPerennial, 2004.
Reason read: Donna Leon was born in September. Read in her honor.
Death at La Fenice is a super fast read. You could probably finish it in a couple of days if you didn’t have anything else going on in your life…
This is Donna Leon’s first novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. When a world famous orchestral conductor dies of an apparent poisoning, Brunetti enters a world of snobbish culture of music and celebrity.
The best part of Death at La Fenice is Brunetti’s personality. The balance he must practice between home life, being a father and husband, with trying to solve a mystery without any real leads or suspects. Who would want to kill Helmut Wellauer; this esteemed man of music; so beloved in the music world? Another great reason to read Leon’s series is her descriptions of Venice. You will get to know this watery world in beautiful detail.
Quotes to quote, “Why was it that the word with which we confronted death always sounded so inadequate, so blatantly false?” (p 80), “To be a servant for twenty years is certainly to win the right not to be treated like a servant” (p 170).
Author fact: it is rumored that Leon wrote Death at La Fenice as a joke.
Book trivia: Death at La Fenice is the first in a series of mysteries to feature Commissario Guido Brunetti.
Nancy said: Pearl included Death at La Fenice in her list of books to read before traveling to Venice (More Book Lust). In Book Lust To Go, she reiterated that “no plans for a trip to Venice would be complete without reading the series of mysteries by American Donna Leon” (p 242).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the typical chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46) and again in Book Lust To Go in the more clever chapter called “Veni, Vidi, Venice” (p 240).
Boyden, Amanda. I Got the Dog. New Orleans: Lavender Ink, 2020.
Reason read: an Early Review from LibraryThing.
At turns Boyden is tender and sweet, sassy and sarcastic, funny and melancholy. There is heartache and humor underneath the solid layer of honesty. She twists and turns from childhood memories to adult turmoil with as much ease as I imagine she does swinging on her beloved trapeze. I loved her fierce attitude. It’s a bit rambling in places. You get the general idea she is heartbroken over her divorce, but at the same time celebrates breaking free while remembering seemingly unrelated bits of her past.
As an aside, who else Google Arcade Fire’s performance at Jazz Fest to find Boyden (and friends) dancing on stage in paper mache bobble heads? All I could picture was Natalie Merchant swaying under the weight of a ginormous puppet head as she sang “You Happy Puppet” on July 4th, 1989. Performance art at its best.
Here’s the strange thing – out of all the Early Review books, this is one of my favorites. For some reason I have a hard time articulating why.
Kay, Guy Gavriel. Summer Tree: The Fionavar Tapestry: Book One. New York: Roc Trade, 2001.
Expect the typical push and pull of good versus evil; light versus dark. Five typical college students are attending a lecture at the University of Toronto. This normal behavior grounds the lesser fan of fantasy and urges them to keep reading as the students are summoned by a dwarf and a mage to return to the world of Fionavar for a celebration. It’s High King Ailell of Brennin’s fiftieth year of rein and these five students are very important guests…or at least one of them seems to be. Being able to relate is the name of the game when trying to hook someone who isn’t a hard core fanatic of the fantasy genre. Summer Tree draws from Nordic and Celtic mythology as another way to insert familiarity into the plot. The characters are straight out of stereotyping (leave it to a burly man who has to avenge his humiliation with violence). The theme is definitely medieval, even in fashion with doublet and hose. The mystery of why these five students are important is dangled in front of the reader like a carrot on a stick. Another mystery is the sleeping danger that lurks beneath the mountain. This danger is hidden away and the possibility of its exposure is intriguing. All told, it is the dangerous Summer Tree that is the star of the show. The Summer Tree has blood magic and is sacred to Mornir of the Thunder. It is the place where people hang naked until the ultimate sacrifice of death.
Kevin, the musician.
Dave, the law student. He has a bad feeling about going to this new world and tries to bail at the last minute. He instead goes missing.
Kim Ford, studying to be a doctor. She becomes a seer early in the plot.
Paul Shafer, not well and grieving for a dead girlfriend.
Jennifer Lowell, a target for the prince’s affections.
Loren, the mage. Also known as Silvercloak.
Diamuid, the prince who has a thing for Jennifer.
One complaint is the implausible emotion brought on by unrealistic dialogue. Case in point: if a friend told me a dog “wanted” him I would have a hard time leaving the statement to hang in the air without so much as a raised eyebrow. I would be quizzically asking what he meant, or at the very least exclaiming the less intelligent, “whaa?!?”
A writing tactic I appreciated was the different perspectives of the same situation. It was reminiscent of Michael Dorris’s Yellow Raft in Blue Water, which I loved.
Expect a little sexism. Leave it to a man who has to avenge his humiliation. Case in point, most annoying quote: “She was growing too undisciplined; it was time to have her married.”
Author fact: Kay has been compared to Tolkien a bunch of times.
Book trivia: Summer Tree is Book One of the Fionavar Tapestry. There are two other books in the series.
Nancy said: Summer Tree was included in Pearl’s list of contemporary critically acclaimed fantasy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).
Mankell, Henning. The Eye of the Leopard. Translated by Steven T. Murray. New York: Random House, 2009.
Reason read: Read in honor of Levy Mwanawasa Day in Zambia.
Jumping between Hans Olofson’s Swedish childhood in Norrland and adult life in Mutshatsha, Africa, Eye of the Leopard depresses its reader with hopelessness and failure. Hans tries to escape memories of a father driven to drink out of loneliness and a series of personal tragedies by embarking on the quest that once belonged to a now deceased girlfriend. Janine wanted to see the mission station and grave of a legendary missionary, but as a 25 year old white European, Hans is confronted with grim realities. Janine’s dream is not his to obtain. Not only is he sorely out of place due to ignorance, his skin color is monumentally hated. A series of abandonments haunt him: his father left him for the bottle, Janine died, his best friend disowned him, and his mother just plain vanished when he was a small child. Sweden was a mediocre existence; an ultimate dead end. Even Africa is not what he envisioned for himself. Despite being ready to leave as soon as he arrives, Olofson takes a job on an egg farm. His own actions confound him. While Africa gives him a clean slate from everyone who deserted him and every failure he experienced in Norrland, he can’t imagine calling a place like Africa home.
The title of the novel comes from Olofson’s obsessive hallucination of a leopard in the African bush. The leopard comes to be symbolic of everything Olofson can’t escape.
Quotes that got me, “It is a constant reminder of a sailor who wound up in the utterly wrong place, who managed to make landfall where there wasn’t any sea,” “In every person’s life there are ill-considered actions, trips that never needed to be taken,” and “He feels like a conman who has grown tired of not being unmasked.”
Author fact: Mankell traveled to Africa. Many suspect parts of Eye of the Leopard to be autobiographical.
Book trivia: Eye of the Leopard is a departure from Mankell’s Swedish mysteries. Incidentally, there was a National Geographic documentary of the same name produced in 2006. Completely unrelated to the book, though.
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Eye of the Leopard except to say it takes place in Zambia, just after it achieved independence.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the penultimate chapter simply called “Zambia” (p 266).
Newman, Mark. My Fence is Electric: and Other Stories. Australia: Odyssey Books, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing I was selected to read and review My Fence is Electric.
It would have been great If Newman had called his book, My Fence is Electric: and Other Eclectic Stories because the stories are both electric and eclectic. Twenty seven in all; ranging from a single paragraph to several pages long, they run the gamut of plot, theme, character, voice and emotional impact. Newman’s talent as a writing chameleon is apparent in every paragraph. The very first story reminded me of Lovely Bones while another had me thinking of the Daley twins. Despite the entire volume being extremely short, take your time with this one. Savor the stories as if you would an elaborate charcuterie. Each bite is a different adventure.
Author fact: Newman has a a website here.
Forgrave, Reid. Love, Zac: Small-Twon Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was asked to read and review Love, Zac.
The entire time I was reading Love, Zac I was asking myself why this book wasn’t written sooner. It is not Forgrave’s fault for coming to the table with Zac’s story after the fact; when it was too late to save Zac himself. I believe this is the kind of book that could save lives if the right people read it at the right time and read it the right way. Don’t look at it as one kid’s story; one instance of a brain injury gone wrong. Don’t diminish the damage by arguing Zac didn’t even play football in college. Read it for what it is, a plaintive cry, a demand to take a harder look at a hard hitting sport. There is no denying the fact an epidemic of football-induced concussions ruin lives long after the game is over. Forgrave writes in a manner that is straight to the heart; a punch to the gut.
Love, Zac was advertised as a book every parent should read. I am not a parent. I am not a coach. But, here is the irony. I sit with Love, Zac on my knees while my husband shouts “hit ’em!” at the television. Opening day of the NFL’s 2020 season in a pandemic.
Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. New York: Signet, 2000.
Reason read: Christie’s birth month is in September. Read in her honor even though I already read her Murder on the Orient Express this summer.
Nemesis is a breath of fresh air. When seemingly ordinary people: dentists, librarians, park guides (what have you) get caught up in murders again and again and again I get annoyed by the coincidence…especially if it is an unexplained phenomenon. Miss Jane Marple addresses crime’s ability to find her time and time again, acknowledging how odd it is for this elderly women to be an accidental investigator. I found that refreshing.
On to the plot: Jason Rafiel, an extremely wealthy man dies. Seeing his name in the obituary section of the newspaper sends Miss Marple down memory lane. She immediately beings to reminisce about the deceased even though she only met him once on a trip in the Caribbean West Indies. Oddly enough, they were thrown together to solve a mystery. Imagine that! What a coincidence when she receives a letter from the dead man asking her to take on an investigation without any information. If she can, she stands to earn 20,000. Is she to solve a crime or just a conundrum? Miss Jane Marple, elderly and nosy, is up to the task despite not knowing a single detail. Dear readers, this will be the final case of her investigative career. Back to the drama: Mysterious Mr. Rafiel sends her on a garden tour lasting two to three weeks and prearranges every detail for Miss Marple, right down to the people she needs to meet.
A warning to those sensitive to a time before political correctness: there is a lot of ageism and sexism. I have a high tolerance for the days before being polite…except for when they say a woman is asking to be raped. “Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be.” Whatever that means. I also took offense to the line, “Accuracy is more of a male quality than a female one.” Again, whatever.
Confessional: I have always wanted to read a Miss Marple mystery.
Lines I did like, “Well, she hadn’t wished to get mixed up in any murders, but it just happened” (p 8) and “Miss Marple lost herself in a train of thoughts that arose from her thoughts” (p 53).
Author fact: Besides the character of Miss Jane Marple, Christie is responsible for the creation of Inspector Hercule Poirot.
Book trivia: Nemesis is a Miss Marple mystery. The interesting thing is this is the only Miss Marple I am reading for the Lust Challenge, and it is well down the list in the series, meaning it was written late in Christie’s life. I have no idea why Pearl chose this particular title.
Nancy said: Pearl said Nemesis was “written quite late in Christie’s career, but up to her high standards” (Book Lust p 118).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the ginormous chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).
Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.
Reason read: September would have been Back to School month for most children. Now it’s the back to school month for some children, thanks to COVID-19.
This is one of the more imaginative books for kids I have read in a long time. Stanley Yelnats stands accused of stealing the shoes of a major league baseball legend nicknamed Sweet Feet. He claimed they mysteriously fell from the sky and hit him on the head. In lieu of jail, Stanley’s punishment of choice is 180 days at Camp Green Lake, a correctional facility for delinquent boys (“this isn’t Girl Scouts”). Once Stanley arrives he quickly learns every boy has to dig a 5’x5′ hole once a day in a desert full of scorpions, rattle snakes, and yellow lizards. Every boy has a nickname and every boy had a place in the pecking order. Stanley, soon renamed Caveman, is in the back of the line; ruled by X-Ray, Armpit, and the others. Interspersed in Stanley’s story is the legend of his family’s curse and how it follows Stanley to drought-ridden Camp Green Lake. I could go on and on about how clever Holes is, but it will take you a day to read it for yourself.
Author fact: Sachar has his own website here.
Book trivia: Holes was made into a movie in 2003 starring Shia LaBeouf and Sigourney Weaver. Of course I haven’t seen it, but it looks cute. Update: by the time I turned the very last page of the book I had the movie queued up.
Nancy said: Pearl said Holes was appropriate for boys and girls alike.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls”
Stone, Irving. The Agony and the Ecstasy: the Biographical Novel of Michelangelo. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1961.
Reason read: September is the month of the Italian holiday Feast of St. Gennaro.
I enjoyed the biographical novel of Michelangelo very much. The great master became flesh and blood before my very eyes: from early childhood Michelangelo was audacious. He could get his master to pay for his apprenticeship when it should have been the other way around. He could connive the mortuary key from a priest so that he could do the unthinkable – dissect corpses; all to better understand the muscles and bones that make up human body. He steals another man’s mistress because he could. He count strand up to a Pope and not take no for an answer. His loves were passionate: while he loved three women dearly, his art meant more than anything. He believed he was freeing his subjects from their marble prisons. He battled Pope Julius II who insisted Michelangelo work in every medium except marble. He was capable of emotional outbursts of jealousy and despair like when his competition with Leonardo da Vinci became too much or when the woman of his dreams held him at arms length and never offered him more than a hand to kiss…
He was such a tragic figure, but I also enjoyed getting to know Michelangelo as a physical human being; learning that he was ambidextrous while chiseling his sculptures. When his right hand grew tired of driving the chisel he would simply switch hands to keep working. The fact he became an architect at age seventy was astonishing.
Quotes I liked, “Strange how his heart could stand empty because his hands were empty” (p 169), “I need my complete self-respect” (p 439), and “Michelangelo’s ears were plugged with the bubbling hot wax of anger” (p 369). Oh! And the countless times Michelangelo said, “I’ll put my hand in fire” when he was extremely confident he could accomplish something.
Author fact: Irving Stone also wrote The Origin, a biographical novel about Charles Darwin (also on my Challenge list).
Book trivia: at the end of The Agony and the Ecstasy Stone includes a bibliography, glossary, and the present locations of Michelangelo’s works (present for 1961).
Nancy said: Pearl called The Agony and the Ecstasy a “great biographical novel. I would have to agree!
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 48).
King, Stephen. The Shining. Read by Campbell Scott. New York: Recorded Books, 2005.
Reason read: Stephen King was born in the month of September. Read in his honor.
The magic of King’s writing is this could be the story of any family anywhere. This sad tale is so middle America, it could be about you if you look in the mirror long and hard enough. Jack Torrence is a man struggling to be something other than a drunk with writer’s block. Fired from his Vermont teaching job after he is found guilty of assault, Jack takes a job in Colorado as caretaker for a massive mountainside hotel during the off season. How hard can it be to watch over a hulking, empty hotel when it is closed for the winter in the middle of nowhere? With only his wife and son to keep him company, Jack hopes to use the mountainside solitude to secure a spot more firmly on the sobriety wagon and break through his writer’s block. Only, this is no ordinary hotel and it’s not really empty. It lives and breathes tragedy and hones into each family member’s deepest and darkest secret. Paranoias of each family member are amplified and personified. Because Jack was accidentally and drunkenly violent with their son, Danny, wife Wendy sees Jack as a growing threat. She grows increasingly nervous for their safety. Jack in turn grows more and more resentful of Wendy’s distrust. Meanwhile, poor Danny (‘Doc’) has the gift of telepathy (the Shining) so he knows his parents have every right to be suspicious. Disaster is right around the corner for all of them.
As an aside, when you have The Shining read to you, you start to hear the psychological breakdown of each character.
Confessional: I can remember reading this book in high school. Here’s the weirdest part. What sticks in my head most is not the plot or even the characters. What I recall most is whenever I was sufficiently frightened enough I would stop reading and do push ups until I felt brave enough to continue.
So. In addition to listening to this on audio, I was also reading it as an e-book. Someone classified the book as “advice on parenting.” Funny.
Author fact: Stephen King was born in the same hospital as my nephew.
Narrator fact: Campbell Scott is great at the spooky voices. Not so much at the gender specific voices. Wendy sounded exactly like Jack.
Book trivia: I think everyone is familiar with Jack Nicholson’s performance in the horror classic, but what people forget is that legendary Stanley Kubrick adapted The Shining to film.
Nancy said: absolutely nothing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the benign chapter “100 Good Reads: Decade By Decade (1970s) (p 178).
Asimov, Isaac. Foundation and Earth. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1986.
Reason read: to finish the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
The hunt is on for planet Earth. Former Councilman of the First Foundation Golan Revize sets out with historian Janov Pelorate and a woman named Bliss. It is centuries after the fall of the First Galactic Empire and the future of humankind lies in the ability to form a new empire. But where? Golan is convinced neither the First Foundation nor the Second are stable enough for success. Instead, he hangs his hope on using Gaia. Before that can happen he must find Earth, the planet that has been lost for thousands of years. It is not going to be easy. In some cultures of the galaxy, it is a superstition to utter the word, ‘Earth.” One must say ‘the Oldest’ instead.
Interestingly enough, even though Bliss is a friend and a helper, she is without paperwork, and she is not part of the travel log. As a result, problems regarding immigration arise. She is seen as “entertainment” for the two men who are the only ones accounted for on the spaceship.
Foundation and Earth is heavy with philosophical questions like, is a toe tapping in time to music part of the action, acting as an in-time accompanying drum beat or a response to the action of music being played?
Quote I liked, “It’s easy to deduce something you already know” (p 53).
Author fact: Asimov wrote more than 440 books during the course of his career.
Book trivia: Foundation and Earth is the last book in the Foundation series.
Nancy said: nothing specific about Foundation and Earth.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).
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.”
Child, Lee. Tripwire. New York: Berkley Books, 1999.
Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state. At the time of publication, Lee Child lived in New York City.
Jack “No Middle Name” Reacher is back. This time as a Key West pool digger. He digs polls by hand, as unlikely as that sounds, and enjoys his anonymity and unfettered lifestyle. Physical labor and an on again-off again girlfriend agree with him until one day the peace is shattered. A strange private investigator all the way from New York comes nosing around, asking questions about Jack. The plot thickens when this same PI is found murdered only hours after snooping into Jack’s life. By now, if you read the other books in the series, you know Jack isn’t one to shrug and turn back to his daily routine. Compelled to figure out who has been asking about him and why (never mind who killed the private investigator), Jack makes his way back to New York and into a past he thought he had put behind him.
Tripwire takes Jack back to Vietnam and old war memories resurface. He visiting the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command center in Hawaii looking for answers. Of course he isn’t alone. Along for the ride is his former command officer’s daughter because someone wants her dead…
Confessional: I had the honor of visiting JPAC and touring one of the labs where the identification of bones was in progress. Reading Child’s description of the white bones laid out on shiny steel tables brought back memories of my own.
Author fact: Lee Child has crazy blue eyes.
Book trivia: Michael Connelly has endorsed Tripwire.
Nancy said: nothing specific except to say you don’t need to read the Reacher series in order.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).
Earley, Tony. Jim the Boy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
Reason read: September is back to school month for some.
There is a sweetness to the story of ten year old Jim Glass. In the prologue readers learn Jim was born a week after his father passed of a heart attack while working in the fields. Even though he never knew his father, young Jim is not without male guidance as he is surrounded by three protective uncles. His mother’s brothers keep an eye on Jim as well as their too-young-to-be-a-widow sister, Cissy.
Earley colors Jim the Boy‘s characters with real life angst and everything that goes with it. For Jim it’s immature prejudices and naive hubris amidst competition and companionship with classmates. Growing up in depression era North Carolina, Jim assumes that his house in town is better than those of the mountain boys yet learns differently when he visits a friend with polio. Meanwhile, his mother Cissy struggle to do what is right by Jim. In her heart she wants to remain faithful to a man dead ten years despite needing to give Jim a true father from which she feels he should learn life’s harder lessons.
One of my favorite parts of the story was when the uncles wake Jim in the middle of the night to witness electricity coming to their little town. While light bulbs chased away the shadows. At first Jim was excited but then he felt the change made the world a little darker; an interesting perception for a boy so young.
Author fact: Earley is also an author of a collection of short stories not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Jim the Boy is the first in a series about North Carolina boy, Jim Glass.
Nancy said: Pearl called Jim the Boy a coming of age tale.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), and again the the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).