Life and Times of Miami Beach

Armbruster, Ann. The Life and Times of Miami Beach. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Reason read: Hurricane Irma blew into town on September 10th, 2017.

The Life and Times of Miami Beach would make a good coffee table book; one of those gorgeous to look at and flip through (even if you don’t have the time to read) books. The photography (in both black and white and color) is spectacular.
We begin in 1900. Miami Beach was nothing but spits of sand and swamp. By 1915 keen-eyed entrepreneur Carl Fisher looked at the bug and alligator infested mangroves and said resolutely why not? Why not create a vacation hot spot out of an uninhabited peninsula? In the beginning business was slow. Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn’t impressed with a tourist season that was only two months long.
By the 1920s Miami Beach was a real estate developer’s dream. Hotel growth exploded with expensive, over-the-top, grandiose places to stay. Prohibition was a joke as rum runners smuggled alcohol in disguised as fish and shipped it inland marketed as grapefruits or tomatoes. Swim suits could be rented for twenty five cents.
In the 1930s the big names wanted to be seen in Miami Beach. Names like Firestone, Ford, Maytag, Honeywell, Florsheim, Hoover, and Hertz. Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh came to visit.
In the 1940s Miami became a haven for military men.
By the late ’50s and early ’60s Miami Beach’s identity was changing again with visits from tourists from all over. Over two million people were flocking to the Beach paradise. Jackie Gleason, the Beatles, Debbie Reynolds and Desi Arnaz (to name a few) added to the publicity.
Armbruster ends her coffee table book with the wrap up “1970s to present” present means the ’80s). The last chapter is a quick four pages dedicated to Miami Beach’s flagging economy and reputation and its rebirth and redevelopment.

As an aside, Phish had a New Year’s Eve run in Miami Beach a few years ago. I didn’t attend but I heard the show was epic.

Author fact: Armbruster has no outward connection to Miami. According to her bio she was born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, and studied in New York. My guess is that someone she is related to has the connection to Miami.

Book trivia: The Life and Times of Miami Beach can be called a gorgeous book with over 200 photographs and illustrations.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Armbruster’s book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).


Babylon Rolling

Boyden, Amanda. Babylon Rolling. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

Reason read: Hurricane Ivan roared through the eastern seaboard in September 2004. I should know because it disrupted my wedding.

Five very different New Orleans families on Orchid Street are under a microscope in Boyden’s second book, Babylon Rolling. A careless accident will initially bring these neighbors into focus, but it’s the threat of intolerance that tightens their connections to one another.
Ed and Ariel with their two children (impossibly named Miles and Ella), are newly transplanted from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s a stay at home dad while she is a GM for a hotel. There is trouble in the marriage. Sharon Harris has all she can handle with her two trouble-making boys, Daniel aka “Fearious” and Michael aka “Muzzy.” Both are druglord wannabes. Cerise and Roy Brown are trying to live in peace with their grown daughter Maria. Racist Philomenia Beargard de Bruges keeps an eye on the street while her husband, Joe battles colon cancer. Then there are the Guptas who have moved into the largest house on the block. Their presence is barely felt in the plot.

One of the least liked elements of Boyden’s writing is her character stereotypes. The voice of each community member vibrates with an exaggerated edge, especially the “thugs” and African Americans. Dialogues sound forced and even comical at times. Confessional: the only character I liked was Cerise. She was the only normal one of the bunch.

Quotes I liked enough to mention, “Ed needed to work on his acceptance of overweight humans” (p 14) and “Her duties at this point in the marriage are very clearly defined, such that she has to do next to nothing for him should she not want to” (p 187).

Author fact: Boyden’s first novel was Pretty Little Dirty which is not on my Challenge list but sounds like it was a success.

Nancy said: Babylon Rolling features “a large cast of exquisitely drawn characters” (Book Lust To Go p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “News From N’Orleans” (p 155).


Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Read by Sam Dastor.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Gandgi being born in August.

Vish Puri is India’s most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his watchword. His bread and butter cases mostly consist of background and character checks for betrothed couples. In a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm it is critical for parents to know they have chosen wisely for their offspring. Other cases involve revealing hoaxes or frauds, but every once in awhile a case with more significance comes along. Such is the case of the man who died laughing. A prominent scientist while in a laughing class was seemingly murdered by the Hindu goddess Kali. She appeared to be floating above the crowd brandishing a huge sword. Many thought it was a supernatural occurrence because Kali was devoid of strings or wires. She really seemed to be hovering above the crowd. Lucky for India that Puri retained a kernel of skepticism. Along with his trusty team, Facecream, Tubelight and Flush, Puri is on the case.

Author fact: I love with when people or places connect. One of the most influential books I read earlier this year was by Emmanuel Jal who was mentored by Emma McCune. Tarquin Hall did a profile on Emma when he was a news reporter.

Book trivia: Hall started writing the Puri series in 2008. There are two others after The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, but I’m not reading them.

Lines I liked: none enough to quote this time.

Nancy said: nothing special.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212). Here’s what happens when the title of a book is incorrectly indexed in Book Lust To Go: Somehow The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing was indexed as The Man Who Died Laughing. Alphabetically under M instead of C which meant that I had to change four different spreadsheets.


Fuzz

McBain, Ed. Fuzz. New York: Warner Books, 2000.

Reason read: to finish the series started in July in memory of McBain’s passing.

McBain is a master of character development and dialogue detail.

The 87th Precinct has met its match in Fuzz. After a prominent citizen of a fictitious New York City is gunned down witnesses can only say they saw a man wearing a hearing aid. Dubbed the Deaf Man, it isn’t long before he strikes again. His modus operandi is to call the precinct to extort a sum of money or else someone is going to die. In the case of Parks Commissioner Cowper, it was $5,000. The next threat was aimed at the deputy mayor for $50,000. Finally, it was the mayor’s turn to die. Meanwhile on a different assignment, Steve Carella tries to figure out who is setting homeless people on fire. Dressed as a derelict Carella puts himself in danger and isn’t fast enough to get out of harm’s way…

Quotes I liked, “In a city notorious for its indifference, the citizens were obviously withdrawn now, hurrying past each other without so much as eyes meeting, insulating themselves, becoming tight private cocoons that defied the cold” (p 23),

Author fact: So, here’s a really odd one. McBain can describe the weather so well the heat detailed on the page can send trickles of sweat down your back or the lack of it can freeze your fingertips. Impressive, considering all the while you are in the comfort of your own temperature controlled home.

Book trivia: Fuzz was made into a movie in  starring Burt Reynolds.

Nancy said: I read Fuzz and Big Bad City out of order because Pearl listed Big Bad City before Fuzz. I should have known better than to trust Pearl to put the series in the order in which they should be read. It’s an attention to detail I would have appreciated.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust  in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 120).


Holding the Dream

Roberts, Nora. Holding the Dream. New York: Berkeley Books, 2012.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of August being Dream Month.

The “Dream” series sets you up to meet the Templeton family one by one. In Daring to Dream Margo Sullivan (now Templeton after marrying Josh) dared to give up a life of glamour to own her own second hand shop. In Holding the Dream, it’s Kate Powell who takes center stage. If Margo is the sexy one, Kate is the outwardly dowdy accountant, the sexy-behind-the-scenes-but-good-with-numbers one. Orphaned by a childhood tragedy, she joins the Templeton household as the ugly and odd duck; she grows up to be the ambitious accountant striving to pull her weight and forever indebted to the Templetons for their generosity. She is no nonsense and serious and to the letter with everything she does so how it that Kate is accused of embezzling from the firm she wants to make partner? Of course it’s a Templeton connection who swoops in to save the day.

Spoiler: It’s a little gimicky, but you meet Roger Thornhill briefly. Roger is someone Kate dated briefly within the firm. As a coworker he used her to get at her client list and snag her largest account. Frustratingly enough, I knew he was behind the embezzlement because he doesn’t factor into the story again until the very end. The scene between him and Kate early on is a vehicle only to introduce his character so that later on his guilt will make sense.

Book trivia: As with every Roberts romance, the fight scenes are a little cheesy. The “I’m in love with you but I hate you” push-pull is totally in play.

Nancy said: Holding the Dream is an example of a romance novel in which “the answer is always yes” according to Jayne Ann Krentz (Book Lust p 204).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).


Riot Days

Alyokhina, Maria. Riot Days. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2017.

Reason read: This is the August book for the Early Review program for LibraryThing. Riot Days is to be published on September 26th, according to Amazon’s website.

A word of caution before reading this blog or Alyokhina’s Riot Days: we both use strong language. Case in point: Alyokhina uses the see-you-next-Tuesday word not even ten words into Riot Days. Forgive me, but I draw the line at the c-word. No clue why.

Riot Days is sharp, choppy and biting. Words fly off the page like the staccato of machine gun fire. Even the illustrations are crude and unpolished; but all are perfect for the message Alyokhina wants to relay. The facts are such – in February of 2012 members of an all-girl punk band smuggled an electric guitar into an Orthodox church in Moscow to perform a “Punk Prayer” in protest to Putin’s regime. Alyokhina and another member of the band were finally arrested and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Alyokhina’s side of the story is interspersed with the court proceedings as if to say,  “look how reality can get twisted; this is what happens when you have convictions; you get convicted.” This is a quick but extremely worthwhile read. I don’t know how it will look when it is published, but my copy ends abruptly…with her freedom.

As an aside, I had a chance to check out Pussy Riot’s videos on YouTube. All I can say is wow.

Quote I hope stays in the book, “Right after our ‘Punk Prayer’ performance, I took the metro to my son’s kindergarten – it was noon” (p 29).


Everybody Was So Young

Vaill, Amanda. Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy – a Lost Generation Love Story. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

Reason read: F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in September. His novel Tender is the Night is based on Gerald and Sara Murphy.

I am trying to wrap my brain around just how special Sara and Gerald Murphy’s reputation was between post World War I and pre World War II. Just the who’s who name dropping when describing their inner circle alone is spectacular. Even at an early age, both Sara and Gerald hobnobbed with notables (Sara was warned not to wear a long scarf while flying with the Wright brothers and Gerald was schoolmates with Dorothy (Rothschild) Parker). The Murphys vacation spot of choice was a rocky beach in the south of France. It was easy to rub elbows with the big names for Paris was a hotbed for creativity during the 1920s. Artists, photographers, writers, poets and fashionistas alike flocked to the city center and soon made their way to the French Riviera. Gerald and Sara knew how to entertain all ages. Their children were treated to elaborate parties including a scavenger hunt that took them by sailboat across the Mediterranean. It was a charmed life…until it wasn’t. Interspersed with the good times are episodes of tragedy – illnesses, death, Fitzgerald’s drinking and subsequent estrangements from longtime friends. But, it was probably the tragic deaths of their two sons, Baoth and Patrick that were the most devastating and marked the end of an era for Sara and Gerald.

Pet peeve about Vaill’s book: many of the photographs Vaill refers to are not included in her book. The Fitzgeralds frolicking in the ocean; Sara with pearl looping down her bare back. Even the Pamploma photograph, which Vaill describes in great detail is not the same one included in the book. Hadley does not look at Gerald and Pauline does not look at her lap. Instead, all are looking straight into the camera. This might be why Pearl recommends reading Everybody was so Young with Living Well is the Best Revenge because Living Well includes more photographs and a section on Gerald’s art.

As an aside, I cannot help but think of my paternal grandparents while reading Everybody Was So Young. Their wealth and society was a mirror image of Gerald and Sara’s. To top it off, Sara’s family was well rooted on Long Island, just a short distance from where my Grandmother lived for many, many years in Quogue.

Favorite trivia: Gerald named his boat after a Louis Armstrong album, “The Weatherbird.” When having the boat built he had a copy of the record sealed in its hull. How cool is that?

Author fact: Everybody Was So Young is Amanda Vaill’s first book.

Book trivia: Everybody Was So Young includes two sections of 84 interesting photographs.

Nancy said: Nancy suggested reading Everybody Was So Young at the same time as Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Living Well is the Best Revenge. by Calvin Tomkins.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the interesting chapter called “Companion Reads” (p 62).