Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974.

Reason read: Pirsig’s birth month is in the month of September.

When you are traveling across the country on a motorcycle, you have more than enough time to analyze the world around you in ways you wouldn’t if you chose to passively ride in a car or fly by plane. Pirsig takes his love of motorcycle maintenance and equates it to examining the way we live. If you excuse the didactic moments that seem holier than thou, he even shares opinions on how to live that life a little better. These philosophical monologues are referred to as Chautauquas. Under the guise of a summer trip across America with an unknown protagonist (common knowledge it is Pirsig himself), his son, Chris, and two companions, Pirsig delves into the life of Phaedrus (his past self), meditation, and philosophy. He uses his friend, John, to illustrate the difference between the mindful exploration and ignorant bliss. While the unnamed narrator (Pirsig) constantly tunes his machine, John prefers to not know anything about how his engine runs. This equates to the two men seeing the world differently. The author learns to care deeply for anything that involves his life while John prefers to let a mechanic do all the maintenance in life. The narrator is anxious to teach John his ways and patiently waits for his motorcycle to break down so he can be the hero and enlighten him. For me, the book gets interesting when John and his wife go they separate way. The narrator and his son are left to travel the rest of the journey alone. The reasoning of temperate reason versus dark passion is fascinating.

Quotes I liked, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive” (p 187), “The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know” (p 256), “The dog has a certain relationship to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten” (p 412), and “I’m hanging onto my temper now” (p 497).

Author fact: Pirsig also wrote Lila: an Inquiry into Morals. I am not reading it for the Challenge even though it is the sequel to Zen. Zen is the only book I am reading.
Another author fact: Pirsig wrote instruction manuals for a living, but went home every night to work on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This reminded me of Joan Didion and how she would work at Vogue during the day but come home at night to work on her own novels.

Book trivia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a work of fictionalized autobiography.

Nancy said: Pearl called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a classic; highly readable and indispensable.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beckoning Road” (p 19).


A Seat at the Table

Raphael, Amy. A Seat at the Table. London: Virago, 2020.

Reason read: I wanted to read this when it was first published in Great Britain in 2019 because I heard the interview with Natalie Merchant was pretty interesting. I ordered it on Amazon. Two years later, it finally showed up.

You hear stories by the hundreds about women in the music industry having a difficult time “making it.” This could be said for almost every male-dominated industry but it seems music has the hardest stereotypes to break. Musicians in general are supposed to be larger than life superstars. Sex symbols. Unobtainable idols high up on that stage. This was a role for men while women demurely sang backup or tapped a tambourine against a swiveling hip. Women as lead singers, guitarists, drummers, producers, DJs, and song writers were not to be taken seriously. Amy Raphael returns with a second book of interviews, tackling these subjects and more.
As an aside, I can remember a musician friend telling me she couldn’t let the fans know she was married to her bassist because it would “ruin the fantasy” for some followers (his and hers). Gulp. Natalie Merchant was badgered during her younger years in 10,000 Maniacs to wear tighter, sexier clothes. Nowadays, she’s getting grief about letting her hair go gray.

Playlist:

  • Jessica Curry
    • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
  • Maggie Rogers
    • Alaska
    • Better
  • Emmy the Great
    • First Love
    • Virtue
    • Second Love
    • Constantly
    • Three Cities
  • Dream Wife
    • F.U.U.
    • Somebody
  • Natalie Merchant
    • Tigerlily
    • Motherland
    • Texas
    • What’s The Matter Here?
  • Lauren Mayberry
    • The Bones of What You Believe
    • Love is Dead
  • Poppy Ajudha
    • Love Falls Down
    • Spilling Into You
    • Tepid Soul
    • She is the Sum
  • Kalie Shorr (from Portland, Maine)
    • Fight Like a Girl
    • He’s Just Not into You
    • Two Hands,
  • Tracey Thorn
    • Eden
    • Missing
    • A Distant Shore
    • Walking Wounded
    • Temperamental
  • Mitski – who had the best quote, “In a way I am always in translation” (p 234).
    • Bag of Bones
    • Lush
    • Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
    • Bury Me at Makeout Creek
    • Puberty 2
    • Be the Cowboy
  • Catherine Marks
  • Georgia
    • Come
    • Georgia
  • Clara Amfo
  • Alison Moyet:
    • Winter Kills
    • Nobody’s Diary
    • Situation
    • Don’t Go
  • Hole:
    • Miss World
    • Softer Softest
  • Debbie Harry:
    • Heart of Glass
  • Christine and the Queens:
    • Girlfriend
    • iT
    • Be Freaky
  • Ibeyi:
    • Deathless
    • Ash
    • River
    • Mama Says
    • Ghosts
    • No Man is Big Enough for My Arms
  • Nadine Shah:
    • Love Your Dum
    • Fast Food
    • Stealing Cars
    • Holiday Destination
  • Kate Tempest:
    • Everybody Down
  • Other (my apologies if I missed someone):
    • 10,000 Maniacs
    • A – Anita Mui, Archie Marsh, Annie Lennox, Ani DiFranco, Anna Calri, Adele, Aztec Camera, Alanis Morrissette, Al Jarreau, Al Green, Amy Winehouse
    • B – Backstreet Boys, Blondie, Best Coast, Billy Bragg, the Beach Boys, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Britney, Belle & Sebastian, Bon Iver, Bright Eyes, The Beatles, Blak Twang, Bahamadía, Bikini Kill, Beck, Billy Boy Arnold, Beyoncé, Buzzcocks, Brian Eno, Buju Banton, Biggie Smalls, Blur, Breeders, Beethoven, Bridget St. John, Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Marley, Bauhaus, Boomtown Rats, Britney Spears, Big Star, Bonnie Tyler
    • C – Cardi B., Connie Traverse, Carly Rae Jepson, the Cure, Cocteau Twins, the Clash, Cole Porter, Christina Aguilera, Confucius MC, Chester P., Cream, the Cranberries, Cat Stevens, CHVRCHES, Crowded House, the Carpenters
    • D – Dixie Chicks, Diane Cluck, Dr. Feelgood, D’Angelo, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, DELS, Damon Albam, Diana Ross, Daft Punk, Debbie Harry, Daniel Johnston
    • E – Elastica, Elephant Man, Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Edie Piaf, Everything but the Girl
    • F – Faces, Foals, the Fureys, Ferry Lawrenson, Fairport Convention, Feminist Frequency, Florence Welch, Fungazi, Faye Wong, Fiona Apple, Faith Hill, the Frames
    • G – Guns ‘N Roses, Ghostface Killah, Green Day, Gustav Holst, Gravediggaz, Genesis, Glen Hansard, Gang of Four
    • H – Harlocks, Hot Chocolate
    • I – Ian Drury
    • J – Jeff Buckley, John Bonham, Jarvis Crocker, Jack the Lad, Jah Shaka, Jack White, Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell, Jill Scott, Jacques Brel, Joanna Newson, Jesus and Mary Chain, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Cliff, Joy Division, Joan Jett
    • K – Karen Dalton, the Killers, Karen O, Kimya Dawson, Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush, the Kinks, Kathleen Hanna, Kelly Rowland, Kanye West, Kwes, Kelela
    • L – Laura Branigan, the Lettermen, Leftfield, Lauryn Hill, Leslie Cheung, Leonard Cohen, Liam Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, Lily Allen, Le Tigre, Luther Vandross
    • M – Missy Elliot, My Bloody Valentine, M.I.A., Marine Girls, Metallica, Mary J Blige, Mo Def, Moldy Peaches, Mariah Carey, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, Meshell Ndegocell, Madonna, Mirah, Mos Def, Melanie, Michael Stipe, Meg White, The Microphones, Marvin Gaye, Marvelettes, Massive Attack, Micachu, Martin Gore, Mozart
    • N – N.E.R.D., Nick Cave, Nirvana, Nadine Shah, Nina Simone, New Order, New Christy Minstrels, Nick Drake
    • O – Orange Juice, Organized Konfusion, Outkast
    • P – Paramour, Pussycat Dolls, the Pretenders, Peter Tosh, the Police, Paul Simon, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Platters, Pharoahe Monch, Pantera, Poly Styrene, Prince, Pharrell Williams, Patti Smith, Pixies, P!nk, Pussycat Dolls, PJ Harvey, Paul Weller, Pig Bag
    • R – Reba McEntire, Ringo Starr, Rebecca Black, Rolling Stones, Radio Head, Ryan Adams, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Robbie Williams
    • S – Slipknot, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Solange, Shania Twain, St. Vincent, Sound of Rum, Stone Roses, Spice Girls, Selena Gomez, Smashing Pumpkins, Sleepers, Skinnyman, the Supremes, Style Council, the Shirells, Sade, Sandy Denny, Sleater-Kinney, Steely Dan, the Shangri-Las, Sujan Stevens, Sonic Youth, Status Quo, the Smiths, Sugababies, the Saturdays, Spear of Destiny, the Slits, Solange Knowles, Serg Gainsbourgh, Sigrid
    • T – Tom Robinson Band, Tallest Man on Earth, Talking Heads, Taylor Swift, Tina Turner Tchaikovsky, Tracy Chapman, Take That, T-Rex, Tegan and Sara
    • U – U2
    • V – Vince Clark, Vampire Weekend, Vivaldi, Velvet Underground
    • W – White Stripes, Wilko Johnson, Wolf Alice, Weezer, Whitney Houston, the Who
    • X – X-Ray Specs, XTC
    • Y – the Young Marble Giants, Yazoo, Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs

To See and See Again

Bahrampour, Tara. To See and See Again: a Life in Iran and America. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999.

Reason read: The Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has a category called “a book by an Iranian or Iranian American author.”

Tara Bahrampour was eleven years old at the height of the Islamic Revolution. As the bullets flew over garden walls, she and her family escaped Iran to the Pacific Northwest with one suitcase each. Old enough to remember her Iranian culture, but young enough to embrace America’s freedoms, Bahrampour balanced two very different lifestyles in her heart and mind. Having an Iranian father and American mother partially helped Bahrampour navigate the divide while she was young. When Bahrampour returns to Iran for a wedding, she is the first in her family after fifteen years to do so. The perspective from a twenty-six year old woman blossoms from remembered street games and childhood toys into the realities of the treatment of women, ceremony surrounding meals, and the strict regime after the Islamic Revolution. She is understandably nostalgic for the Tehran of her youth but fiercely protective of her Americanized viewpoints and attitudes. At first Bahrampour is naïve to the changes of her homeland’s rule and is shocked when she has trouble repossessing her American passport or when she hears stories of people escaping the military by wearing sheepskin and crawling over the border with a herd of sheep. Reality sets in when she is detained for talking to two blond tourists. As a Moslem Iranian woman officials fear her morality could be in danger. In the end, aside from rebuffing marriage proposal after marriage proposal, Bahrampour comes to an understanding about where she belongs. The Iran of her youth has left an indelible mark on her memory. At the core, it is who she is no matter where she goes.

Quotes to quote, “Everyone was so dazzled with what they wanted Iran to be that they missed seeing what it was” (p 248) and “…if that is how it is with loss – that you never really let go of the thing you are missing” (p 356).

Author fact: Bahrampour has written for predominantly New York-based publications. To See and See Again is her first memoir.

Book trivia: Each chapter is introduced with a black and white photograph. Nothing more, nothing less.

Playlist: “Love Story,” “Grease is the Word,” “You’re in My Heart” by Rod Stewart, “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys, “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA, “Slip-Slidin’ Away” by Paul Simon Iron Maiden, Slayer, Boney M., Supertramp, REO Speedwagon, the Bee Gees, “Carry on Wayward Son,” “I am a Woman in Love,” Chris Isaak, Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” “Tavern in the Town,” “Cider Through a Straw,” Ace of Base, Metallica, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and of course, Bahrampour’s mother, Karen Alexander.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about To See and See Again except to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Iran” (p 107).


Everything That Rises Must Converge

O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge. New York: The Library of America, 1988.

Reason read: September is Southern Writers Month.

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are like the crack of the whip dangerously close to your head. Sometimes humorous, sometimes peculiar, often times violent, but always breathtakingly true. Imagine the nervous laughter that bubbles up when you realize that whip has missed your face. You laugh because you want it to be a skillful miss as opposed to a clumsy mistake. Imagine the quirkiness of characters who are dangerously misunderstood. There is always something a little sinister about O’Connor. She enjoys the abrupt turn of events that take her readers by surprise. She holds us witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a compilation of nine short stories:

  • “Everything That Rises Must Converge” – we start with the discomfort of a mother’s obvious prejudice.
  • “Greenleaf” – a fight over property and propriety.
  • “A View of the Woods” – a punch to the gut when you least expect it.
  • “The Enduring Chill” – another tale about an overbearing mother.
  • “The Comforts of Home” – mother and son disagree about taking a brash girl into their home.
  • “The Lame Shall Enter First” – a widower tried to take in a second son with horrible results.
  • “Revelation” – another story heavy on the racism.
  • “Parker’s Back” – a man obsessed with tattoos
  • “Judgement Day” – an elderly and racist father is terrified of dying in New York City.

Quotes I liked, “There was a continuous thud in the back of Asbury’s head as if his heart and got trapped in it and was fighting to get out” (p 565), and “Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time” (p 603), and “In addition to her other bad qualities, she was forever sniffing up sin” (p 655).

Author fact: Flannery O’Connor died too young at the age of thirty-nine. Imagine the books and stories she could have written had she lived to a hundred!

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Everything That Rises Must Converge in “Growing Writers” or “Southern Fiction” but she did mention O’Connor as a great fiction-writer and a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).


Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Christie, Agatha. Why didn’t They Ask Evans? New York: William Morrow, 1934.

Reason read: September is Christie’s birth month. Read in her honor.

Bobby Jones cannot play golf to save his life and yet he insists on trying. While out on the links he loses his ball over a fog-shrouded cliff. While searching for it Bobby is shocked to find instead a mangled and dying man. Had he fallen off the cliff in the fog? Was he pushed? Bobby has stumbled onto a mystery. Of course he has! This is an Agatha Christie murder mystery, after all. When the man opens his eyes and with all lucidity asks Bobby, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Bobby is haunted by the question. Exactly who is Evans and what was the question that should have been asked? Bobby shares this strange incident with his friend, Lady Francis Derwent, and together they decide there is more to the story. Their suspicions deepen when Bobby learns a photograph the dead man had been carrying was swapped to hide his true identity. Alex Pritchard is actually Alan Carstairs. Soon there after and out of the blue, Bobby is offered a job in Buenos Ares. When he doesn’t leave England someone tries to poison his beer. It is obvious someone wants Bobby off the case, but who and why? Like a good Scooby mystery, the villain wraps up all the clues.
As an aside, there were details in the story that didn’t make sense. If I found a dying man I wouldn’t ask someone else to stay with the body while I left to go play an organ at my father’s church. I think my father would understand my absence given I had just witnessed a man die in front of me. Also, Frankie gained entry into the suspected murderer’s home by faking a car accident. Under the guise of having a concussion a doctor in on the ruse tells the Bassington-ffrench family Frankie “cannot be moved.” She is to stay with them until she is well. However, in no time at all she is making friends with Mrs. Bassington-ffrench and playing tennis. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable story.

Line I liked, “Ignoring Mrs. Rivington’s treatment of doctors as though they were library Books, Bobby returned to the point” (p123).

Author fact: Christie is touted as one of the best selling authors of all time.

Book trivia: Why didn’t They Ask Evans? was originally published as The Boomerang Clue.

Nancy said: Pearl said Why Didnt They Ask Evans? was on her bedside table, waiting to be read.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the introduction (p ix).


To the Nines

Evanovich, Janet. To the Nines. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Reason read: I started the Stephanie Plum series in January in honor of Female Mystery Month. I am now on #9. To the Nines is the penultimate Plum book on my Challenge List.

The best thing about Evanovich’s Plum series is the consistency of characters and timeline. With every book, Stephanie’s life progresses with little backtracking or inconsistency. Evanovich does a great job catching the reader up, especially if someone is jumping into the series in midstream and hasn’t read books one through eight. Reading the entire series is helpful, but not necessary.
Even though I am irked about Stephanie’s relationships with Morelli and Ranger (more on that later), I appreciate the growth in them. I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say that at the end of To the Nines Stephanie drops calling Morelli by his last name and moves onto calling him Joe. Is that a subtle hint that she is ready to get more serious? She did just move back in with him and gave up her apartment to her sister. Speaking of Valerie, she just had a baby (out of wedlock) and that definitely has Stephanie’s biological clock ticking a little louder. Enough of that. Onto the plot:
The bounty hunting part of Stephanie’s life takes more of a back seat in To the Nines. This time around, she is more on the side of the hunted. Someone is sending her creepy messages coupled with a calling card of one rose and one carnation. It’s the same message sent to several other victims. Could she be next on this serial killer’s list? This time Ranger and Joe make a concerted effort to protect Stephanie as she tries to figure out who is capable of getting so close to her they can take a lock of her hair?
Spoiler alert: for those interested in Stephanie’s vehicular destruction, her new sunshine yellow Ford Escape survives the entire story.

Things that irked me: what in the world is so special about Stephanie Plum? Why does she have not one, but two very hot men giving her all the attention in the world? What makes them stay around even though she can’t chose between them? In all actuality, Ranger probably isn’t a choice. He’s probably just a plaything, but still…Hmm. I have to admit, I liked Stephanie as a hypocrite. She can flirt with Ranger but still get jealous when she thinks Morelli is up to no good with another girl.
Another thing that irked me was less of an appearance by Rex. He barely factored into To the Nines at all.

Lines I liked, “I know emotion covers a lot of ground, but I couldn’t hang a better name on my feelings” (p 84), “There’s a difference between being trusting and stupid” (p 294).

Author fact: Evanovich has won the John Creasy Memorial Last Laugh and Silver Dagger awards.

Book trivia: To the Nines features pineapple upside-down cake, as usual.

Playlist: Eminem and Tom Jones.

Nancy said: To the Nines is not exactly a murder mystery according to Pearl. She did say you will laugh all the way through the series.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Translated by Reg Keeland. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Reason read: to finish the Millennium trilogy started in July.

As with all the other “Girl Who…” books in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is “chaptered” by dates and picks up pretty much where The Girl Who Played with Fire left off. Authorities are still looking for Lisbeth Salander as a murderer, even though she has been brought to a hospital with three gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Her admittance into the hospital is the opening scene to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, allowing Larsson to begin this final installment in a full sprint. This is no dainty dip-a-toe-in-the-pool beginning. Larsson cannonballs right into the action without fanfare. Meanwhile, Lisbeth’s half brother has killed a bunch of people, stolen a police cruiser and escaped into the unknown. All the while Salander’s murderous, revenge-seeking father is in the same hospital…only two doors down.
Larsson is long winded in some places and could have used a little more editing in others, but the last installment in the Millennium series does not disappoint. Lisbeth Salander gets more and more interesting with every chapter. You never want her story to end. Her trial is riveting.
The only element to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest I didn’t care for was the side story of Erika Berger and her stalker. For someone who calls Berger his best friend of twenty five years, Mikael Blomkvist was strangely missing from her drama.

Lines I liked, “History is reticent about women who were common soldiers, who bore arms, belonged to regiments, and took part in battles on the same terms a smen, though hardly a war has been waged without women soldiers in the ranks” (p 6).

As an aside, I sort of have an issue with the title of the book. As a rule, hornets are not solitary creatures. In a group they are called a “bike” so I would think the nest the girl kicked belongs to more than one hornet. Hornets, plural.
As an another aside, I just finished reading The Eye of the Leopard by Henning Mankell. Part of his story takes place in Sweden (Norrland, to be exact) so it was cool to see the same least populated region come up in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

Confessional: I don’t know why, because Larsson doesn’t go into great detail about the landscape, but I really would like to visit Sweden someday. I am more intrigued by the country by reading the Millennium trilogy than ever before. I wonder if iFit has a series in Sweden…?

Author fact: who knows how many other “girl who” stories Larsson could have come up with! He was only fifty when he died and he never saw the success of any of his Millennium books.

Book trivia: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was made into a movie in Sweden.

Nancy said: Pearl said it was a sad day when Larsson died just after finishing the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It?” (p 222).


Harriet the Spy

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).


Death at La Fenice

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).


I Got the Dog

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.


Summer Tree

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.

The players:
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).


Eye of the Leopard

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).


My Fence is Electric: and Other Stories

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.


Love, Zac

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.


Nemesis

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).