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).


Seven Up

Evanovich, Janet. Seven Up. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery Month.

Has this ever happen to you – you read a book so fast with as little thought as possible and by the time you finish it, you have no idea what you read? Unfortunately, this is what happened to me at the end of Seven Up. Suddenly, I was on the last page and Stephanie Plum was about to sleep with the wrong guy. What? Here’s what I remember: Stephanie’s newest collar is a retired old mobster in his seventies who has a hard time getting an erection. Pun totally intended. Despite Eddie DeChooch’s advanced age, Stephanie can’t bring him in no matter how easy it seems to be. DeChooch is elusive even when she has help. He is only wanted for stealing cigarettes but something seems amiss. Two members of the mafia are also looking for him. Here’s where the plot takes a twist: when Stephanie tries to apprehend DeChooch, she finds a dead body in his shed. Of course she does. Stephanie is notorious for finding dead bodies all over Trenton. As a side plot, Stephanie’s friend Mooner goes missing, and when his roommate also disappears, Stephanie can’t help but think they are involved in the mafia hunt for DeChooch. Of course all of the usual suspects are in the plot: grandmother Mazur, Lula, Ranger, Joe Morelli, and Rex, the hamster. New to the scene is Stephanie’s sister, Valerie. She comes to visit Trenton with her two kids after her husband left her for the babysitter. If you are keeping track of Stephanie’s relationship with Joe, they are engaged and she has “bought” a wedding dress. If you are keeping track of the cars Stephanie kills, two: a Honda and a Cadillac.
Consistencies: Plum still keeps her .38 in a cookie jar, Grandmother Mazur still finds dates by attending funerals, People are still breaking into Plum’s apartment no matter what kind of lock system she has in place, her mother still calls with that night’s dinner menu, and pineapple upside down cake is still her favorite.

Lines to like, “No matter if you are suffering depression or wanted for murder, you still pay your respects in the Burg” (p 33) and “I might be a stay-at-home mother someday, but I’ll always be trying to fly off the garage roof” (p 269).

Author fact: This is the seventh book I have read by Ms. Evanovich. What have I not told you about the author? Did I tell you in some photographs she reminds me of Reba McEntire? It mush be the red hair and perky smile.

Book trivia: Evanovich is up to twenty six Plum books. this is only number seven, obviously.

Playlist: Godsmack and Coolio.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t consider Seven Up a mystery. She does think it is hilarious.

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


Hot Six

Evanovich, Janet. Hot Six. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery Month.

This time, Ranger is the one being hunted. A rookie cop arrested Ranger for carrying a concealed weapon without a license. Everyone knows to let Ranger do his own thing only the rookie didn’t get the memo. Ranger gets into further trouble when he is seen on surveillance camera entering a building with a man who is later found with a bullet hole in his head and partially burned. Looks like an open and shut case because everyone knows Ranger is not above killing people.
Every time we meet up with Stephanie Plum you can bet a destroyed vehicle or two or three will be in her wake. This time the nest one is a Rollswagon, part old fashioned Volkswagen Beetle and part Rolls Royce. One hundred percent vintage. Never heard of one. Stephanie doesn’t have it for more than an hour before she’s attacked by someone driving a Crown Vic. What else is new? She bumbles her way through cases, same as ever or as she says, “Then you have to pee and you miss a double homicide” (p 77).
All the usual characters are still around: Vinnie, Lula, Connie, Joe, even Grandmas Mazur who still frequents wakes and funerals for kicks and is now going for her own driver’s license. The bad guys are still ransacking Stephanie’s apartment while her hamster, Rex, runs frantically on his exercise wheel.
The problem with reading the Stephanie Plum series back to back to back is that the plot formula becomes a schtick. Stephanie is a food motivated, bumbling beginner bounty hunter, who always gets her man. Plot twist: Stephanie inherits a dog and things heat up with Morelli and Ranger.

Let’s do a cousin count: We know Stephanie’s cousin Shirley is married to Gazarra. Cousin Maureen works at the button factory. Cousin Janine works at the post office. Cousin Marion works at the bank. In Hot Six we learn Shirley is a whiner and Stephanie has a cousin Bunny who works at the credit union. There’s another cousin named Evelyn. Let’s not forget cousin Vinny!

Best line, “Getting shot, no matter how minor the wound, is not conducive to clear thinking” (p 403).

Author fact: Janet has used the pen name Steffie Hall.

Book trivia: to count there are twenty-five Stephanie Plum mysteries. Hot Six is well…number six. Duh.

Nancy said: Pearl said Evanovich’s books couldn’t be called mysteries because they were too funny.

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


Three to Get Deadly

Evanovich, Janet. Three to Get Deadly. New York: Scribner, 1997.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery month.

When we meet up with Stephanie Plum in the third Evanovich mystery, she is still driving her powder blue behemoth of a Buick, she still wears Doc Martins, and of course she still works for her cousin Vinny as a bounty hunter. In fact, Three to Get Deadly takes place only five months after when Stephanie first became an apprehension agent in One for the Money. All of the usual characters are back: Rex the hamster, grandma, Joe Morelli, and Ranger (we have to have Ranger). Even the ex-prostitute-turned-file-clerk Lula is back. She sometimes steals the show. In Three to Get Deadly, Lula is more Stephanie’s seemingly-smarter-than-Stephanie sidekick, ready to kick some butt…or hoping she will anyway. Only this time Stephanie’s new case is beloved Trenton resident and sweet candy store owner, Mo Bedemier. Everyone wants to criticize Stephanie for harassing dear old Mo. No one will be kicking Mo’s butt anytime soon. According to the law, he was pulled over for speeding (harmless) and was found to be carrying a concealed weapon (not so harmless). Speeding and a concealed gun – a double no-no in the State of New Jersey. What makes this case even more controversial is that whenever Stephanie goes to apprehend Mo, she finds a dead body instead. The bodies pile up in alarming numbers.
As an aside, everyone is a cousin. Eddie Gazarra married Stephanie’s cousin Shirley. Cousin Maureen works at the button factory. Cousin Jeanine works at the post office. Let’s not forget cousin Vinny!
As another aside, I have a crush on the mysterious Ranger. He is funny and sassy and dark and, I assume, handsome. When Stephanie said he went home to eat tofu and tree bark I actually laughed out loud.

Lines I liked, “She could probably be a brain surgeon if she just had a decent haircut” (p 60), “If I allowed myself to consider what was being said about me at this very moment I’d probably fall over in a faint” (p 130), and “Failure makes me hungry” (p 134). It’s Stephanie’s love of food that endears me to her.

Author fact: Evanovich has a series called Stephanie Plum and Diesel.

Book trivia: Three to Get Deadly won a 1998 Dilys Award.

Nancy said: Pearl said “you can’t exactly label as mysteries the hilarious series by Janet Evanovich….they’re better described as irresistible romps through the world of lowlifes” (Book Lust p 171).

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


Two for the Dough

Evanovich, Janet. Two for the Dough. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery month…or something like it.

Stephanie Plum is a self-professed “fugitive apprehension agent” otherwise known as a budding bounty hunter. In One for the Money Stephanie falls into the business when her cousin, Vincent, needs a fill-in for an absent agent. Turns out, Stephanie has a knack for accidentally catching the fugitives. She’s a little clumsy and a lot reckless, but with luck and accidental courage, she catches on pretty quick.
This time, in Two for the Dough, Stephanie is after one Kenny Mancuso, Joe Morelli’s cousin. To bring you up to speed, Joe is the innocent “bad guy” Stephanie needed to apprehend in the last book, One for the Money. Ex-military man Kenny has been accused of shooting his former best friend in the knee. Armed with a stun gun, pepper spray, flashlights, a .38 and a friend named Ricardo Carlos Manoso (aka Ranger), Stephanie is back on the hunt for Kenny. Things heat up when the best friend is shot a second time, this time, fatally. Did Kenny come back to finish the job? When Stephanie’s spunky grandmother is stabbed in the hand with an ice pick, things turn serious. It’s personal this time. Stephanie needs to watch her step because now family’s involved. The plot is fun, a little unbelievable, sometimes a little mumbo jumbo, and more often than not, forgettable.
As an aside, everyone seems to be a cousin of someone else. Stephanie has the fugitive apprehension gig because of her cousin, Vinny. Some guy named Gazarra is married to her cousin. Stephanie is after Kenny who is a cousin of Joe’s. A car at the scene of the crime belonged to another cousin of Joe’s; this time a guy named Leo.

Quote to quote, “When in dread, my rule was always to procrastinate” (p 173). Yup. It’s the only one I liked.

Author fact: Evanovich has an official FaceBook page.

Book trivia: Like One for the Money, Two for the Dough was a best seller.

Nancy said: Pearl said Two for the Dough will having you laughing.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 171).


Schoolgirls

Orenstein, Peggy. Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. New York: Anchor, 1995.

Reason read: as part of a mother’s new year’s eve resolution I am reading this in solidarity.

Peggy Orenstein started her Schoolgirls project after reading a report by the American Association of University Women, “Shortchanging girls, Shortchanging America” in her daily newspaper. Inspired, she set out to probe deeper into this cultural chasm and ended up writing Schoolgirls.
Orenstein’s approach to her project was to visit two ethnically polarized middle schools and observe the behaviors of young girls, specifically eighth graders, from all walks of life. She even singled out specific children to learn more about their personal lives. She witnessed girls with declining confidence, girls with conflicting responsibilities: do I stay at home and take care of my younger siblings or do I go to school where I’m not learning much? Do I quit school to get a job to support my family? Orenstein shed light on challenges all girls face no matter their socio-economic backgrounds: self-image and eating disorders, sex, teen pregnancy, and harassment, cliques and bullying, and dipping academic success. One element of young girls’ lives not addressed was the advent of technology: texting, social media platforms, webcams.

Author fact: Schoolgirls has its own webpage here.

Book trivia: The re-issue of Schoolgirls features a new foreword.

Nancy said: Pearl said Orenstein should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), and Queen Bees & Wannabes (Wiseman) as they are all about “teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are better Than One” (p 227).


Body Project

Brumberg, Joan Jacob. The Body Project. New York: Random House, 1997.

Reason read: Mothers have a special New Year’s Resolution. I’m not a mother, but I know one who has made some good promises to the new year. Read in her honor.

The Body Project is centered on female adolescence and body image. Probably the most fascinating aspect to The Body Project is Brumberg’s collection of diaries she used as research for the narrative. She could draw on the experiences of Victorian era girls as if she had interviewed them just yesterday. She is able to compare perceptions throughout the ages and the changing times. There is special attention paid to how mothers relate to their daughters. Take for example, menarche and menstruation. When mothers teach their daughters about the process they talk about how to “take care of it” meaning the bleeding, but rarely do they explain why the blood is happening in the first place. Brumberg cites a distinct disconnect between menstruation and fertility. Mothers even do not fully explain what is physically happening to their daughters’ bodies.
It’s as if Brumberg needs to be that mother figure for young girls. The Body Project has a whole chapter on acne: pimples and blackheads, calling it the plague of youth or a sign of poverty. Not only is the history of the treatment of acne covered, but how marketing took advantage of the plight of teenagers with unclear skin. Eye opening for me was when Brumberg addressed masturbation and the misconception it causes acne. I have to admit, I never heard of that. Wasn’t the theory you would go blind?
Another body project is more well known – the desire to be thin. One girl didn’t want to attend Mount Holyoke for fear of gaining weight. She had heard the food was quite good but her goal was to lose weight, not gain it.
A word of warning: Brumberg focusses mainly on middle class girls and all of her reporting is from mid-nineties statistics. Despite that, it is an interesting read.

As an aside, before I even cracked open the pages of The Body Project I said to myself, I bet you anything Brumberg is going to mention Madonna and within 50 pages, boom! There was Madonna.
Another aha moment, I did not know the Girl Scouts of America was the first group to systematically teach menstruation to young girls.
As another aside, Brumberg discusses the changing age of consent and the need for girls to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages. Kisa and I were watching a video from an emerging all-girl band and wondering how old they were. I predicted some of them hadn’t experienced menarche yet for they didn’t look a day over ten or eleven years old. Their seductive poses were well beyond their ages.

Quote worth quoting, “…A body is a proxy for the self…” (p 128).

Author fact: at the time of publication, Brumberg was a professor at Cornell University teaching Women’s History and Women’s Studies.

Book trivia: This is specific to my copy of The Body Project. It looks as though an animal chewed through a chapter for there are claw marks and several pages have gaping holes.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Brumberg with Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), Queen Bees and Wannabes (Wiseman), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).


Across the Savage Sea

Fontenoy, Maud. Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006.

Reason read: my good friend Frank was born in January and he loved, loved, loved boats and the sea. Read in his memory. Also as a selection for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge: An extreme survival story.

Maud Fontenoy was twenty-five years old when she decided to embark on a nearly four month journey across the North Atlantic in 2003. She was officially at sea for 117 days. While she kept in constant contact with family, friends, sponsors, and news agencies, Fontenoy was alone with only what the ocean could offer her for company. She was entertained by dolphins, mesmerized by whales, stymied by fish, and terrorized for a short time by sharks. Occasionally, a tanker would cross her path, as she was squarely in their shipping lane for a good part of the journey. The real threat to her journey, however, was not the sharks, nor the tankers but the weather. Tropical storms would wreak havoc on Fontenoy and her little boat. Despite the fact meteorologists kept her abreast of developing weather patterns, there was little she could do to avoid the high seas and violent winds that came with them. Her strength and fortitude to just survive were astounding.

Confessional: I read this book before I started the Book Lust Challenge. I opted to read it again because I couldn’t remember many details. Plus, it’s a pretty short book so it was easy to add it back on the list. If I ever met Fontenoy in person I would like to ask if anyone ever found her message in a bottle.

Somebody helped me out. There is a moment when Fontenoy was convinced a much larger vessel was bearing down on her. She describes how her radar detector went off, beeping like crazy. However, she later shares that her detector was defective and said it “detected no vessels during the crossing.” So, what was the beeping? Does that mean the droning of the vessel’s engine and the smell of exhaust was all in her imagination? Was there a near miss with another vessel or not?

Quote to quote, “I wondered why the god of the sea had chosen to keep me in the palm of his hand” (p 95).

Author fact: Fontenoy has written two books about sailing. Both are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: there is a small section of photographs for which I am grateful. I had a hard time picturing Fontenoy’s craft, Pilot.

Nancy said: Pearl said Across the Savage Sea is “well worth your reading time.” I completely agree. So much so that I’m reading it again for the Challenge. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row your Boat” (p 191).


One for the Money

Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.

Reason read: I read somewhere that January is Female Mystery Month.

Suspend most of your beliefs in regards to reality and you will enjoy Stephanie Plum and her naïve and bumbling beginning as an amateur bounty hunter. After her cousin Vinnie temporarily loses an agent he hires down and out Plum to take his place. She has absolutely no experience but she’s desperate. She’s already hocked a few appliances to keep the rent going and her car has just been repossessed. Her first case worth $10,000? Who does she need to bring in, you may ask? Her old childhood nemesis, Joe Morelli. They have history dating back to a high school indiscretion that took place behind a case of cannoli and then was gossiped all over town. Plum is still embarrassed all these years later. Now Morelli’s a cop accused of murder and on the run. Self defense, he claims. Armed with pepper spray and an unloaded gun she doesn’t really know how to use, Stephanie Plum sets out to capture Morelli by stealing his car and stalking him across Trenton, New Jersey. He’s not that hard to find. She keeps running into Morelli all over town. Problem is, every time she tries to apprehend him, he gets her all hot and bothered instead.
Speaking of being bothered, here’s where I really get annoyed. Stephanie is viciously attacked by a sexual deviant boxer named Ramirez. This madman comes close to raping her and yet later, Joe is able to climb into her apartment through a window. As someone who was nearly a rape victim, why would she leave a window open? That detail doesn’t seem to be as important as collaring Morelli and getting her ten grand. Will Stephanie keep her cool and get her man?

Quote to make me cringe, “Truth is, I wasn’t used to being a minority, and I felt like a black man looking up a white woman’s skirts in a WASP suburb of Birmingham” (p 108). Ouch. she also doesn’t like handicapped old people who take all the best parking spots. Double ouch.
Lines I actually liked, “Doesn’t matter whether it’s cats or coleslaw, death is not attractive” (p 124) and “Range etiquette was never to point the gun at the guy standing next to you” (p 150). Good point.

Author fact: to date Evanovitch has written twenty-six Stephanie Plum mysteries. I am reading ten of them.

Book trivia: One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich’s series starring Stephanie Plum.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t think Evanovich’s books should be in the category of mysteries.

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


Menopocalypse

Thebe, Amanda. Menopocalypse: How I Learned to Thrive During Menopause and How You Can Too. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books.

Amanda Thebe wants you to join a community of women pushing their way through middle age. Through her book, Menopocalypse, she wants you to know you are not alone, nor are you living in Crazy Town. Your body and mind may feel like they have been taken over by aliens, but fear not! This too shall pass. Thebe’s style of writing is approachable and conversationally candid. She swears a lot. I’m okay with that. I’m less okay with how often she repeats herself. In the chapter about stress and sleep she bullets different ways to combat stress and get more sleep. Only they are not all different – walking is mentioned three different times. It’s as if the repetitiveness is there to combat a shorter book. That being said, there is a lot of great information in an easily digestible format. I never knew the loss of balance after menopause was a thing.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about this book. I requested an Advanced Reader’s Copy because I am in the thick of “the change” myself. Most appreciated: the photographs of strength training moves and a suggested scheduled routine. As an avid runner, I always appreciate a variety of routines to keep me fit.

Deep confessional: it took me a while to recognize my own sorry state of affairs. In my mid-forties I was training for a full marathon and my periods were wildly erratic. Previously blessed with a cycle as regular as clockwork, I suddenly found myself never knowing when the flow would start, how heavy it would be, or how long it would last. I was ruining clothes and my disposition on a frequent basis. Doctors told me this: because of all the running I was putting my body through, my body was “rebelling” and holding my menstrual cycle “hostage.” I was told to be patient as it would take some time to get back to normal. That was over five years ago. My body officially resigned from menstruation two years ago.

Author fact: Thebe is a personally trainer with twenty years in the industry, so her physique was already primed for menopause. Her book should have a disclaimer, “results not typical.”

Book trivia: According to the back cover, this book is already on sale (since October 2020).


Hannah Coulter

Berry, Wendell. Hannah Coulter. New York: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005.

Reason read: Stick with me for a second because this will seem strange. I put Hannah Coulter in the November transgender category for the simple reason Keith does an amazing job writing in a woman’s voice.

There is a simple grace to the plot of Hannah Coulter. There is a simple grace to the character of Hannah Coulter, as well. You won’t find major conflict. You won’t tremendous disaster or upheaval. No crazy mood swings or dramatic tantrums. Hannah is simply an elderly Kentucky farmer nearing the end of her life, sharing her life story with an unknown audience. She has survived two husbands and the changing of her community, but really what she truly wants to talk about is love. Love as a parent, grandparent, farmer, Port William resident, and, most importantly, the wife of a tormented veteran. It is this last love that brings a change of tone to Hannah Coulter. It’s as if the entire book was written to support the chapter of Okinawa. Hannah tries to make sense of the war; to put it into a context she can understand. “You were living, it seemed, inside a dark cloud filled with lightning and thunder; thousands of tons of explosives, bombs and shells, machine gun and rifle fire” (p 169). Hannah puts it into a perspective the reader can understand. It is easy to forgot about the involuntary reactions of the body during fear and pain. Based on the animated and passionate voice, Berry seems to be the veteran in the two pages describing the Battle of Okinawa. He is that puzzle piece that completes the picture but doesn’t quite fit the space; as if the jigsaw didn’t cut the angles correctly.
Much like a yoga instructor asking practitioners to “breathe through their heart’s center,” I am asking readers of Hannah Coulter to read with heartfelt intention; to inhale the words gently and with a deliberate pace. It is well worth the effort.

As an aside, the imagery of the landscape and the people reminded me of a Josh Ritter song.

I could have quoted lines from Hannah Coulter for days upon days. The writing is that beautiful. Here are a few of my favorites, “You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering” (p 171), “It was a time between times, almost a no time” (p 172), and “It was not a look a woman would want to look back at unless she was ready to take off her clothes” (p 219). I love how the subdued passion just smolders with that one sentence.

Author fact: Berry is able to channel Hannah’s voice in part because he is a Kentucky farmer.

Book trivia: Hannah Coulter is not the only book to feature the Kentucky town of Port William.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Hannah Coulter.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).


Wild Girl

Skelton, Helen. Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the July pick.

The premise of Wild Girl is to inspire young women (or more accurately, young girls) to get outside and have grand adventures. The subtitle would have you believe this is a guide to teach girls exactly that, how to have those big adventures albeit on a much smaller scale than Skelton’s. (Make sure to ask your parents, she advises.) Upon closer inspection, Wild Girl reminded me of FaceBook in brag book form. It seems to be more of an illustrated memoir about Ms. Skelton’s own epic experiences, complete with several smiling photos in every chapter. There is no doubt she is an A type woman: athletic, attractive, adventurous, amusing, ambition, and without a doubt, aspiring. For every chapter (focused on a single event across the globe) there are eighteen to twenty pages dedicated to Skelton: where she went (South Pole, for example), what sport she performed (snowboard, kite skiing, snow biking), how long she was gone, the temperatures and weather she experienced in each region, what she packed for gear, how she prepared and/or trained, a snippet of a diary, really cute illustrations, and last but not least, several photographs of her performing her wild adventure. Only two pages are reserved for giving girls ideas or advice about how to have their own “epic” adventure (like having a snowball fight). The subtitle should have been how to inspire incredible outdoor adventures. Dream big! If I can do it, you can too!
Confessional: The coolest part of Skelton’s book is the two pages in each chapter dedicated to women who made names for themselves doing similar adventures. They get a mini biography and an illustration of their likeness.

Book trivia: There are well over fifty photographs of Helen in this slim book. The final printing will have them all in color! Very cool.


Box Garden

Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.

Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.

In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.

Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.

Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).


Miss Mole

Young, E. H. Miss Mole. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1985

Reason read: Miss Mole was supposed to be this quick, under 300 page easy read I could bang out in a week’s time. Instead it turned out to be a slog I put down and then forgot to pick back up…for eight weeks. Oops.

Confessional: In the beginning, I didn’t care for Hannah Mole. In the beginning I was questioning myself, was I supposed to like Hannah Mole? Possibly not, since this was included in the More Book Lust chapter called “Viragos.” After finishing the book and with careful consideration, I think I am supposed to see Hannah as an independent, plucky, middle aged woman who barges through life with integrity, wit and humor. She had a prejudice against nonconformist ministers, tells small lies (don’t we all?), and keeps secrets. The more Miss Mole’s personality blossomed, the more I admired her. Plucky! As my grandmother used to say.

As an aside, I don’t know why Hannah Mole would subject herself to being a companion for a succession of crotchety old women. As a middle aged spinster, she starts working for Reverend Corder. It seems as if she has traded in her difficult women for a pompous ass.

Line I liked, “I was wondering if the best wives are the ones who are not married” (p 41).

Author fact: Miss Mole is considered Young’s best work.

Book trivia: Miss Mole won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.

Nancy said: Pearl said Miss Mole was a virago you should not miss.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from, as I’ve said several times over, the chapter called “Viragos” (p 227).


Baking Cakes in Kigali

Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.

Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.

Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.

Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).