Ordinary Jack

Cresswell, Helen. Ordinary Jack.New York: Macmillan Publishing, Co., 1977.

Jack Matthew Bagthorpe is one of four Bagthorpe children. He is convinced he is the ordinary one because all of his siblings have special talents or are considered “genius” except him. They are either mathematical, musical or sporty. Middle child Jack is none of these things. He (and his dog Zero) are practically ignored or shunned because of their lack of specialness. An accomplishment is a string in someone’s bow and Jack didn’t have a one. Uncle Parker is keen to Jack’s plight and sets out to make him extraordinary. Uncle Parker has decided Jack’s hidden talent will be the gift of prophecy, and later, of dowsing. The funny thing is, the Bagthorpe family come completely unglued when Jack’s “prophesies” start to come true. Of course, there is mayhem at the end. My favorite part is when Zero learns how to fetch. The family is completely dumbfounded by the event. You have to feel sorry for the dog!

Favorite line, “‘I have been given that information at least three times in the last hour and am by now in perfect possession of it’” (p 12).

Reason read: July is National Kids Month

Author fact: Cresswell also wrote for television.

Book trivia: Ordinary Jack is the first in the Bagthorpe Saga. I am only reading one other book in the series.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called ” Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).

Faith Fox

Gardam, Jane. Faith Fox. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003.

While the title of this book is Faith Fox, Faith is not the star of the show. The real star is her deceased mother, Holly. Holly Fox died of a blood clot while giving birth to Faith and her passing devastates everyone who knew her. Holly’s overly loving mother, Thomasina, can’t face the newborn who killed her daughter so she runs away with a widower, not even attending Holly’s funeral. Then there is Holly’s overworked doctor husband, Andrew, who can’t deal with a newborn emotionally or physically. He decides to cart the baby off to his brother Jack’s Tibetan commune in northern England. There, Andrew reconnects with his pre-Holly love interest, Jocasta (now married to Andrew’s brother, Jack). It is all of these characters that make Faith Fox so interesting. Threaded throughout the story is the push-pull struggle of north versus south England. Underlying prejudices shape certain characters and their behaviors.
This is one of those books you have to read carefully or else you might miss something. Gardam’s language is conversational, almost conspiratorial. It’s as if she is leaning in and speaking under her breath, all in a rush to tell you all the dirty secrets.

Reason read: Jane Gardam’s birth month is July.

Author fact: In 1999 Gardam was awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for a lifetime’s commitment to literature.

Book trivia: This has been described as a “comedy of manners” in more than one review.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jane Gardam: Too Good To Miss” (p 96).

Price of Silence

Long, Liza. The Price of Silence: a Mom’s Perspective of Mental Illness. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2014.

Liza Long is a single mother trying to raise a son with a mental illness. She will tell you this fact many times throughout The Price of Silence. Many will recognize her as the author of the blog post, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” Price of Silence is the long version (excuse the pun) of that post. This was a hard book to read on so many different levels. I felt that Long was trying to justify the blog post that thrust her into the spotlight. If not justify, then to at least explain it further; to clarify points. I felt she was defending herself against many different misconceptions, the biggest misconception being what it is like to raise a mentally ill child. Long is desperate to make the world understand that there is an unfair stigma attached to the treatment of mental illness (stigma is something else she mentions a lot). A physical injury is treated with urgency while “anything above the neck” is hemmed and hawed over with head scratching and no clear treatment plan. A physical injury has a logical explanation while the violent outburst of an autistic does not. There is a lot of hand wringing that takes place in The Price of Silence but it is effective. I was drawn into Long’s story and felt her frustrations clearly. Long was able to articulate the facts along side her feelings, something that isn’t easy to do while in the midst of the turmoil.

As an aside, I often wonder if Long would have allowed her blog post to be renamed, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” had Mrs. Lanza survived her son’s attack. I feel the post was renamed for shock value and to possibly draw in misinformed reader; the one who read it simply because he or she thought there had been a mistake and the real Mrs. Lanza was still alive. I wanted Long to call the post, “I Could Have Been Adam Lanza’s Mother” (much in the same way Dave Matthews could have been a parking lot attendant. Mr. Matthews is not a parking lot attendant of course, but the point being anything can happen. Lanza’s story could have been Long’s.)

Reason read: As a member of LibraryThing’s Early Review program, this was the June selection. I should note that Price of Silence should go on sale August 28, 2014.

Author fact: Long has a blog here.

Book trivia: This copy of Price of Silence promises an index at publication but I do not know if the final version will include photographs or any other personalization.

Dark Sun

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Not being a scientist and being even less interested in making a bomb of any sort, I found some of Rhodes’s Dark Sun tedious. Having said that, I firmly believe to dumb it down for the sake of the common reader would be to turn Dark Sun into a children’s bedtime story for the nuclear physicists who truly are interested in U235 and CP-1. The sections involving espionage were far more exciting and hard to believe they weren’t scenes taken straight from a spy movie thriller.

Scary quote, “In the end, out in the Pacific, two planes carrying two bombs had compelled the war’s termination” (p 17).

An aside: why is it that spies totally look like spies?

Reason read: Atom bomb was first tested in the month of July (July 16, 1945). I am lumping hydro in with atom. Sue me.

Author fact: Rhodes calls nonfiction “verity.” I love it.

Book trivia: confession: this was way too long and totally not my subject. I gave up after 200 pages. Can you tell by the length of this review? Yup.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bomb Makers” (p 42).

Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Richler, Mordecai. The Apprenticeship of Mordecai Richler. New York: Washington Square Press, 1959.

Duddy Kravitz is a third generation Jewish immigrant who reminds me of Kevin Spacey’s character in House of Cards. Although Duddy is only a teenager growing up in 1950s Montreal, he is amoral, scheming, conniving, sly, and even amusing. He goes after what he wants with a corrupt, combative, yet subtle bully air just like a well trained politician. He knows how to hustle for jobs while hustling people at the same time. No one is immune to his charms or betrayals. At the heart of the story Duddy has plans to own land because, in his mind, that is the only way he can be sure he will be Somebody in the end. He’ll steamroll over anybody and everybody to get what he wants. His pride won’t let him be human. In the end, Duddy ultimately becomes Richler’s mouthpiece for topics such as greed, politics, religion and family and you can’t help but admire Duddy’s tenacity no matter how much you hate his moral character. Just like Frank Underwood, he is a begrudgingly likeable villain.

Best lines, “He had a smile that melted the rubber bands in the girls’ panties left, right and center (p 150) and “The higher you climbed up splendid tree-lined streets the thicker the ivy, the more massive the mansions, and the more important the man inside (p 196).

Reason read: Canada Day is celebrated in July.

Author fact: Richler is known for his satire.

Book trivia: Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was made into a movie in 1974 and starred Richard Dreyfuss. Yup. I could see that.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Canadian Fiction” (p 50).

In the Graveyard of Empires

Jones, Seth G. In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. Read by William Hughes. New York: Blackstone Audio, 2010

Jones starts In the Graveyard of Empires going back to Alexander the Great’s march into Afghanistan. This is to put Afghanistan’s tumultuous history into perspective. Readers shouldn’t be worried a historical quagmire because Jones moves through the early bloodshed pretty quickly. Around the time of the Soviet invasion he slows the tempo down and goes into more detail. One of the things I appreciated about Jones’s writing is that he manages to stay pretty objective, hardly inserting himself into the analysis, despite his personal ties to the region. He stays true to the subtitle, “America’s War in Afghanistan” of which he had no military part. He served as advisor to the commanding general of the U.S. Special Ops Forces. His work is heavily supplemented by countless interviews and extensive research. You can read more of his profile on the RAND corporation website.
For me, the hardest section to read was not about the attacks on September 11th, 2001, but rather when international aide workers came under attack in 2003 and 2004. Five Medecins Sans Frontieres workers were kidnapped and executed. These are a group of people who dare to deliver aid where few others are willing to go.

Reason read: travel sites list July as the best time to go to Afghanistan. No offense, but is there really a good time to go to Afghanistan in this day and age?

Author fact: As mentioned earlier, Jones has a profile on the RAND site and is listed as the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Book Audio trivia: this is the first audio book I have listened to where the narrator doesn’t have some kind of accent.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires (nonfiction)” (p 5). Sound familiar?

Rowed Trip

Angus, Colin and Julie Angus. Rowed Trip: a Journey by Oar from Scotland to Syria. Birmingham: Menasha Ridge Press, 2009.

There are several different subject categories in which I could put Rowed Trip: adventure, boating, bicycling, travel, culture, or even marriage to name a few, because all of these subjects are covered in Colin and Julie’s account of their journey from Scotland to Syria. Everything about their trip is either informative or funny but always entertaining. To start from the beginning, Colin’s ancestors are from Scotland while Julie’s are from Syria. While studying a map (I forgot why) they realized there are various waterways the entire distance between their homeland countries. As seasoned adventure travelers they asked themselves wouldn’t it be fun to travel the entire distance by boat? Both Colin and Julie have considerable experience in this area and have written books about it. As newlyweds, married less than a year, what better way to break in a marriage?
To be fair, in actuality¬†Rowed Trip is a misnomer. The entire trip wasn’t by oar as the subtitle suggests. There were miles traveled by ingenious bicycles and trailers as well. Due to complicated lock systems most of France was traversed by bike, to name one instance. Because Colin and Julie each take turns writing the chapters their individually personalities reveal themselves. Colin’s style of writing is more descriptive of the surroundings while Julie has more introspective emotion. Both narratives are didactic at times. It was interesting to read how they handled navigating the locks in each country (which seems to be one of their biggest challenges besides getting their trailer stolen and blown bike tires).
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Rowed Trip and breaking with the Lust rules, I probably will research Colin and Julie’s other books not on my list.

Favorite quote: I didn’t really have a favorite quote or at least no passages jumped out at me. However, I did enjoy the couple’s efforts to navigate in countries where neither spoke the language. They lived by one of my favorite philosophies, “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission>”

Reason read: July is ocean month. Maybe not nationally recognized as such, but it’s one of my favorite times to be on the water.

Author(s) fact: Colin and Julie are married and each have written other books about their adventures as I have mentioned before.

Book trivia: Rowed Trip includes a smattering of photos. I think there could have been more. Or, at least, I would have liked to seen more.

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


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