Agony and the Ecstasy

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).


The Shining

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).


Foundation and Earth

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).


Murder with Puffins

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.”


Tripwire

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).


Jim the Boy: a Novel

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).


Thank You and OK!

Chadwick, David. Thank You and OK!: An American Zen Failure in Japan. New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1994.

Reason read: Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day on September 18th.

I love how Chadwick opens his preface. It all starts with not getting a calendar for Christmas one year and feeling lost come New Year’s day. In that case, why not go to Japan? In truth, Chadwick had been studying the Zen life since the 60s. He went back to Japan in the mid 80s to reestablish his training.
Thank You and OK! covers a four year period in Texan Chadwick’s life and there are two threads to his story: his stay at Hogoji monastery and his life with his second wife Elin in modern Japan. As an aside, one needs to pay attention to dates to orientate oneself to each story but it isn’t hard to do.
My biggest take-away from reading Thank You and OK! is just how different are the details when the bigger picture is the same. What I mean by that is Japan and the United States both have vending machines, but you can buy hot sake out of one in Japan. Japan and the United States both have weird insects, but in Japan their centipedes are over a foot long and are poisonous. Counting the months of pregnancy even differ. In the States we start with zero. In Japan they start with one. That’s oversimplifying the case, but you get the idea.

Lines to make me nod, “I’ve always been hesitant to get physical with insects” (p 12), “we didn’t talk while we ate but everybody slurped the bejeezus out of the noodles” (p 49), and “I can never control what I say anyway, things just come out” (p 52).

Unrelated fact I did not know before reading Thank You and OK!: the author of the song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” committed suicide.

As an aside, I wonder how many people picked up the tip about asking for directions to an imaginary place as a way of checking out the scene without paying for it and tried it for themselves?

Author fact: Chadwick is a self professed Texas-raised wanderer, college dropout, bumbling social activist and hobbyhorse musician.

Book trivia: no fun photographs of Japan. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Thank You and OK! was one of the best gaijin accounts.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 118).


In the City of Fear

Just, Ward. In the City of Fear. New York: Viking Press, 1982.

Reason read: Ward Just’s birth month is in September. Read in his honor.

The political arena of Washington D.C. sets the stage for Ward Just’s In the City of Fear. Amidst the unwinnable war in Vietnam those in charge are growing more and more afraid. Politicians, military personnel, newspaper bigwigs, even rich housewives are caught up in the confusion and distrust. Their public society has turned into one of late night secret meetings and closed door whisperings. At the center of the story is confusion and distrust of another kind: a love triangle. Congressman Piatt Warden turns a blind eye to what really matters around him while Sam Joyce, an army colonel stays faithful to a woman he can’t have, Piatt’s wife, Marina.
For me, the most profound scene was the funeral at the end. The scene laid bare all the harsh realities of saying goodbye to the deceased; each mourner trying to stake a claim as the widow, the father, the sibling, the best friend, or colleague. Who knew the departed best? Who loved him most?

Admittedly, I had a crush on Sam Joyce. Was it the last name, so close to an Irish author named James? Was it the fact he was so steadfastly faithful to a married woman? It certainly wasn’t because it signed up for five consecutive tours of duty in Vietnam.

Quotes to quote, “It’s the unnaturalness of your condition that you cling to” (p 171), and “Well, it was before they knew that the war was impossible to win” (p 158).

Author fact: this is going to be a super trivial fact, but the author photo on the back cover of In the City of Fear states Just is 46 years old. If that is the case, he is a very old looking 46 with a lot of worry in his face. Maybe it’s the cigarette clenched between his lips and the drawn in eyebrows, frowning above hooded eyes?

Book trivia: this is Ward Just’s 7th novel. Additionally, In the City of Fear is a popular title. Hewson, Burke, Enmon and Wilson have all used it.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about In the City of Fear.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 136).


Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Madj, Hooman. The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran. New York: Anchor Books, 2008.

Reason read: the Iran-Iraq War of 1980.

Iran, a land of contradictions and gross misunderstanding. Madj shares historical facts and personal reflections revealing a side of Iran and Iranians few westerners get to see. Does he want to clear up misconceptions? He understands there is a widespread lack of thoughtful acceptance of middle eastern culture. The United States especially is not on solid ground with their relationship is an understatement. The two sides are polarizing when there is so much more to understand. How can westerners reconcile dead camels on display, their throats slit for religious sacrifice? Other illogical points to consider: Birth records in Iran were instituted in 1930. Also, the chador was illegal for women to wear in the 1930s. Interestingly enough, the Shah was persuaded not to enforce this law until it was finally changed in 1941. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 promised to do away with class. Even the employees of the President dress the same as the man who poured their tea. In contrast, Madj says “When American…politicians may often come from ordinary backgrounds their lifestyles usually change dramatically when they have reached the pinnacle of power, they are long removed from their more humble roots” (p 17). This doesn’t happen in Iran.
Madj sits comfortably in a dual cultural identity, western (educated in both England and the United States) and middle eastern as the son of an Iranian diplomat and the grandson of a professor of Islamic philosophy. It’s as if he wants us to understand him as much as he wants to explain Iranian culture. Take the practice of ta’arouf, for example. He recognizes that it is an exhausting and sometime ridiculous practice similar to an over-polite chess match. Or customary gestures of hello: in the United States you thrust out your right hand to grasp someone else’s right hand (and shake vigorously), but in Iran you instead place your right hand over your heart as a gesture of respect. It’s the little things…

Quote that struck me, “Just as one doesn’t have to be religious to feel and appreciate the emotion of a gospel signer, one doesn’t have to be devout to feel the emotion of Muslim religious music, and Shia chants reach into a place deep in the Iranian soul, formed by centuries of cultural DNA and the certain Persian knowledge that the world is indeed a wicked place” (p 87).

Author fact: Madj is a writer of short fiction and has his own website here.

Book trivia: Majd includes some really great color photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Iran” (p 108).


Foreign Correspondence

Brooks, Geraldine. Foreign Correspondence: a Pen Pal’s Journey From Down Under to All Over. Thorndike, Maine: Thorndike Press, 1998.

Reason read: International Reading Day is on September 8th.

Brooks started writing to pen pals when she was ten years old. [As an aside, I think I was around the same age when I formed my letter-writing habit.] Finding all of Brooks’s pen pal letters prompted her to wonder if she could find their authors some thirty some odd years later. Where were these forty-something year olds? Who were they now as adults and what lives were they living? Before she launches on her journey to find lost relations, Brooks spends some time remembering her own childhood and how each pen pal played a part in it. As a kid she yearned to get away from boring Australia with its lack of culture and panache. As a good girl, she recalls her fear of her father’s lack of participation in Catholic worship and how it might send him to hell and yet she herself wanted to be a rebel; “to kiss boys, take drugs, be hauled by the hair into a police van at an antiwar protest” (p 78). She remembers wanting to expand her religious horizons with the letters she would write and receive. Those pen pals would bring Brooks full circle by reminding her of her roots and just how far she has come as an adult.

Quote I liked, “We have grown older together, trapped in the aspic of our age gap” (p 59) and “It’s unfortunate to arrive at an Arab summit in Casablanca only to find that your underwear is touring sub-Saharan Africa without you” (p 142).

Author fact: According to Brooks’s memoir, she had a budding acting career early in life.

Book trivia: Brooks includes touching photographs of her family as well as the pen pals who shaped her life.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned an interview with Brooks. I had to ask the Seattle Channel if they could rerelease the video because it was over ten years old. I am happy to say they consented and even though the interview didn’t mention Foreign Correspondence I enjoyed it very much. As an aside, the interview focused on People of the Book (not on my list).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz” (p 26).


The Most Offending Soul Alive

Heimann, Judith M. The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 19997.

Reason read: Tom Harrisson’s birth month is September. Read in his honor.

Tom Harrisson lived from 1911 to 1976 and was, as Heimann puts it, “an adventurer who lived among cannibals.” That in and of itself is enough to write a book about but Tom was also a man who even as a child loved to push buttons. He had an ongoing battle with hierarchy and thrived on seeing what he could get away with on a daily basis. In his adult life, often drunk and disorderly, it was his brilliant mind that made him forgivable to most people; everyone except his own father. His brilliance is the only reason I can think of for his friend to turn a blind eye when Tom begins a blatantly obvious affair with the friend’s wife. Aside from “stealing women from their men” as the Grateful Dead said, Tom’s passion was researching flora and fauna and traveled to such places as Sarawak and New Hebrides to study new species. Later, when he met the cannibals, he became interested in sociology and became an expert at observing culture. Even though the rest of The Most Offending Soul Alive isn’t as interesting Heimann goes on to colorfully detail the rest of Harrisson’s  life, ending with his fatal accident in January 1976. While not much else has been written about Harrisson otherwise, I feel that Heimann’s is a bias laden, no-stone-left-unturned kind of biography.

Author fact: Tom Harrisson was a neighbor of Heimann’s on Borneo.

Book trivia: The Most Offending Soul Alive is chock full of interesting photographs.

Nancy said: Judith Heimann’s biography “brings him [Harrisson] to vivid life” (Book Lust To Go p 39).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).


Spring of the Ram

Dunnett, Dorothy. The Spring of the Ram: Book Two of the House of Niccolo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

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

The Spring of the Ram is book two in the House of Niccolo series. Judith Wilt, in her introduction recaps the first book, Niccolo Rising to orient those who have missed out. When we rejoin Nicholas de Fleury he is now nineteen years old and married to the owner of the dye shop for which he had apprenticed. As a budding entrepreneur this is a well played move. In terms of intelligence and cleverness, Nicholas is certainly showing his mettle. His business sense is growing; and as head of an army he is becoming well traveled and worldly. The is an era when trade and exploration are burgeoning. Art and politics are duplicitous, and sensuality and relationships are used as weapons against human emotion. In the opening chapter Nicolas’ eleven year old step-daughter, Catherine, is seduced by his arch rival. He chases Catherine only to find she is in love with her captor and is perfectly content to marry him “when she is a woman” which is after he first menstrual cycle.
Niccolo’s personality is as entertaining as they come. His bad boy ways earn him a reputation known far and wide as reckless and daring. Entering Florence, he aims to secure the Silk Road, the only accessible trade route to the East. That is his singular quest for the rest of The Spring of the Ram.

Quotes to quote: “She didn’t miss Noah; not at all; except when she needed someone to take out her dog” (p 145) and “Her features were build on the thigh bones of mice; her eyes lay fronded in fish pools, their lids upper and lower like mollusks” (p 168). Errr…okay.

Author fact: Dunnett passed away in 2001.

Book trivia: Even if you have read Niccolo Rising Judith Wilt’s recap is a nice setup to The Spring of the Ram and shouldn’t be skipped.

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


Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop

Grimes, Tom, ed. Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: 43 Stories , Recollections, & Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth-Century American Literature. New York: Hyperion, 1999.

Reason read: Grimes celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop became a national institution in the early 1950s, but before that, as early as the late 1890s, the Workshop was designed to teach “verse making.” The University of Iowa wanted to cultivate writers with something creative to say. They developed the first creative writing program in the country and it continues to be one of the best. Why? Obviously, it is the writers who come out of the program. Then there’s this: “Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic-depression, alcoholism, or other lovely addictions in themselves or their immediate families” (p 9).

Stories:

  • Chip off the Old Block by Wallace Stegner.
  • And In My Heart by R.V. Cassill. Best line: “As if the arrow at the heart could listen to the merely human cry that protests its flight” (p 55).
  • The Comforts of Home by Flannery O’Connor.
  • The Illegibility of This World by Richard Stern. Best line: “Fear gets so loud, I can’t sleep” (p 118).
  • The Fisherman Who Got Away by Thomas Williams.
  • Offspring of the First Generation by Bette Pesetsky.
  • The Hustler by Walter Tevis.
  • Put Yourself in My Shoes by Raymond Carver.
  • Saints by Bharati Mukherjee.
  • Dunkleblau by Clark Blais.
  • Falling in Love by Andre Dubus.
  • The Last Generation by Joy Williams.
  • A More Complete Cross-Section by John Casey.
  • A Sorrowful Woman by Gail Godwin.
  • Thirty-Four Seasons of Winter by William Kittredge.
  • Mouses by Thom Jones. “I’m embarrassed to admit that I was a little afraid to confront the consequences” (p 247).
  • A Solo Song: For Doc by James Alan McPherson.
  • Paper Latern by Stuart Dybek.
  • Work by Denis Johnson
  • His Dog by Ron Hansen
  • A Woman’s Restaurant by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
  • Aren’t You Happy For Me? by Richard Bausch.
  • Blessed Assurance: a Moral Tale by Allan Gurganus.
  • Long Distance by Jane Smiley.
  • Alma by Jayne Anne Phillips.
  • White Angel by Michael Cunningham.
  • Mundo’s Sign by Bob Shacochis.
  • The Story of My Life by Kim Edwards.
  • Birthmates by Gish Jen.
  • The Year of Getting to Know Us by Ethan Canin.
  • The Zealous Mourner by Marly Swick.
  • The Commuter by Colin Harrison.
  • Planting by Kathryn Harrison.
  • The Sutton Pie Safe by Pinckney Benedict.
  • Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth McCracken.
  • Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt.
  • Open House by Charles D’Ambrosio.
  • Lilacs by Abraham Verghese.
  • A Hole in the Sheets by Susan Power.
  • Brownsville by Tom Piazza.
  • Pipa’s Story by Lan Samantha Chang.
  • Buckeye the Elder by Brady Udall.
  • Speaking in Tongues by ZZ Packer.

Other quotes I liked, “Good writers are ruthless, and willing to say anything” (p 377).

Author  Editor fact: Not surprising, Tom Grimes is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. At the time of The Workshop publication, he directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southwest Texas State University.

Book trivia: There was only one story I had a problem with. Marly Swick in The Zealous Mourner has a detail about her character making a point of locking a bathroom door and yet, there is no mention of anyone UNlocking it when the husband stands in the doorway, blinking in the harsh light and announcing he has to pee.

Nancy said: Nancy suggested if you wanted to read up on more writers who spent time in Iowa to check out The Workshop.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 108).


Where Eagles Dare Not Perch

Bridgford, Peter. Where Eagles Dare Not Perch. Castroville, Texas: Black Rose Publishing, 2018.

Reason read: the July pick for the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

In a nutshell: the American civil war changed people. In Where Eagles Dare Not Perch Zachary Webster, a sharpshooter in the Civil War, has honed his skills to become a numbed-to-life killing machine. In battle he thrives on ramping up the death toll. On furlough in Maine he discovers his naive girlfriend, Catherine Brandford, has been seemingly sweet on another. Anger takes over but Zachary doesn’t commit a crime of passion when killing his enemy. He first stalks the man like prey, corners him, and in the end gives no thought to leaving the man to bleed to death in the snow. Early on Bridgford wants you to know revenge begets revenge. The victim’s brother, a “tattooed giant” of a man, goes on the hunt for Zachary. Just as ruthless as Zachary, Jedediah Stiller has his own tale of horror to contend with. He ends up playing a cruel game that has him fighting for his life. Despite this agony he hungers for pain; to feel it and inflict it in equal measures. Above all, he knows he must find Zachary. Catherine Brandford also knows and fears this acutely. With her bumbling innocence, she embarks on a quest to get to Zachary first, but she too runs into her own private hell. Who will find Zachary first? When will the hunter become prey? The rest of Where Eagles Dare Not Perch is one big cat and mouse game with a lot of gratuitous violence for everyone involved thrown in.

Do you know my number one sign of a good book? When the plot doesn’t do it, it’s when I find myself cringing as I remember characters long after I have turned the last page and closed the book. It is one thing for an author to make you feel something for the characters while you are in the  midst of the tale, but it’s quite another to make you think about those same characters when you are finished. That’s not to say I really liked any of Bridgford’s people; not Zachary or Jedediah or even Catherine. The more important revelation I must stress is that I believed them. I believed the hate. I believed the hurt. I believed the need for revenge on all levels. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say I even believed the ultimate forgiveness…

Confessional: electronic books are not as popular as the print so I knew I would have a really good chance of getting Where Eagles Dare Not Perch when requesting it through LibraryThing.
Confessional Two: I *might* have a little bias. I know of Bridgford somewhat. He taught school on the island where I grew up and he ended up marrying my sister’s college friend.

Book trivia: There was one final scene that I thought was a bit much. It was almost as if Bridgford didn’t know how to wrap up the tale. He ended up including a bizarre couple who ooze more hateful hate than anyone you have previously met. I thought it was an unnecessary grand finale.


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).