Benioff, David. City of Thieves. Read by Ron Perlman. New York: Penguin Audio, 2009
Leningrad, 1942. Lev Beniof is arrested for being out after curfew and caught in the act of robbing the dead body of a German paratrooper. The penalty for such crimes is death. Awaiting his fate Lev meets fellow prisoner and alleged Red Army deserter, Kolya Vlasov. Lev and Kolya couldn’t be more mismatched. Lev is a quiet and unassuming insomniac Russian Jew, only 17 and still an insecure, awkward virgin. Kolya a 20 year old smooth (never shuts up) talker, exceedingly well read and charming. Instead of being executed as expected together they are tasked with finding a dozen eggs for Colonel Grechko’s daughter’s wedding cake. Finding these eggs in starved Leningrad is absurd but it is also a matter of life and death.
The horrors or war and the harsh realities of deprivation are an interesting juxtaposition against the sometimes comical relationship of Lev and Kolya. Their growing friendship reminds me of Gene and Phineas from John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. While the two endure the bitter cold, starvation and the threat of the German enemy their journey is tempered with Kolya’s humorous blatherings about jokes, literature and sex. The ending is predictable but stays with you long after you close the book.
Reason read: January was Russia’s coldest month on record. Read in honor of that.
Author fact: According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia Benioff took his mother’s maiden name but was born Friedman.
Book trivia: There is a rumor floating around that this will be made into a movie.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Saint Petersburg/Leningrad/Saint Petersburg” (p 195). Interestingly enough, plays up the “historical fiction” hype. In the first chapter of City of Thieves Benioff insinuates the story is about his grandfather and that when his grandfather refused to be specific about some details he was told to “make it up.” None of that is true. It just makes for a more interesting story to think that it *could* have happened that way.
Smith, Alexander McCall. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Narrated by Lisette Lecat. New York: Recorded Books, 1998.
As soon as you meet Mma Precious Ramotswe you realize she is a force to be reckoned with. As Botswana’s first female detective she spends most of her time solving mysteries by using her intuition and her ability to read people. She is a good judge of character so while she isn’t always solving major crimes like murders, she is making individual lives better. Take the very first case for example, “The Daddy.” A man claiming to be a woman’s long lost father moves into her house and starts to take advantage of her generosity. The woman has reason to believe the man is an imposter and goes to Precious for help. Precious tells the man his “daughter” has been in a terrible accident and needs a blood transfusion. Only he can supply the blood needed…and that the procedure is highly dangerous so there is a good chance he will not survive. BUT, he will save his daughter! Precious knows a true father will lay down his own life for his only daughter while a perfect stranger will not. Sure enough, the imposter admits he is a fraud and is run out of town. The list of “mysteries” solved grows longer and as a result so does Mma Ramotswe’s reputation. She becomes the number one detective agency for Botswana. The types of mysteries Mma Ramotswe solves range from deadly serious (the disappearance of a young boy) to the downright silly (a father doesn’t want his young daughter seeing boys). Probably my favorite cases are the latter because the daughter pulls a fast one on both her father and Mma Ramotswe but I also liked the time when Mma Ramotswe has to steal back a stolen Mercedes Benz and return it to its rightful owner without anyone knowing how it all happened.
Reason read: January celebrates the female heroine of mysteries. This is the first book in a very long series. I will be reading five more. I can’t wait to read some of the others.
Author fact: Alexander McCall Smith looks a little like John Cleese to me. I have no idea why.
Book trivia: Interesting fact – I heard that HBO made a series out of the books. That’s cool. Now I wish I subscribed to HBO!
BookLust Twist: Nancy Pearl must love this book. It is mention in all three “Lust” books: Book Lust (in the huge chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 123)), More Book Lust (in the chapter called “Ms Mystery” (p 170)),and Book Lust To Go (in the chapter called simply “Botswana” (p 70)). I have to admit I agree. This was a great book!
Maugham, William Somerset. Mr Maugham Himself: Of Human Bondage. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1954.
I have to give fair warning – this story is incredibly sad and slow. It is the story of club-footed orphan Philip Carey (whom you won’t like very much) from the time of his birth until he becomes a married man. All of his life he he has been hindered by his deformity and maybe this is what makes him so nasty. You pity him at first and as a result probably one of the saddest scenes in the entire book is before Philip turns sour, when he is just a teenager. Philip is praying to God for a normal foot. He wants to run and play like all the other boys in preparatory school. He just wants to be normal. At school he had read passage in the Bible that led him to believe that if he just prayed long enough and honestly believed in God’s work he would be healed of his deformity. Of course that doesn’t come to fruition and he is bitterly devastated. Things turn from bad to worse when a so-called friend seeks the company of other boys. Philip’s plight (like the plot) plods along painfully. Philip eventually leaves school to live in Germany for a time. He then goes to Paris to study art. By this time we are used to his callous ways. I personally started to tire of his selfishness and indifference to the people around him. I ended up not caring what happened to him. This is where my reading ended. How sad is that?
Reason read: Honoring the fact Maugham was born in the month of January. Enough said.
Author fact: Maugham was supposed to be a doctor. Turns out he was a better writer.
Book trivia: Of Human Bondage was made into a movie starring Bette Davis (in 1934). Of course it was.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1910s” (p 176).
Jones, Dorothy. Tatiana. Fairbanks: Vanessapress, 2001.
Tatiana is an Aleut woman clinging to her ancestral truths in spite the while man’s emergence and the prevalence of modern medicine, technology and unfamiliar customs. This is first apparent when her husband needs surgery after a burst appendix. She is grateful for modern healthcare saving his life but is somewhat disappointed when the old remedies of her culture couldn’t do the same. This sociological shift is even more evident in the upbringing of her children. Her daughter’s mouth is washed out with soap for not speaking English in class; her son, home from a higher education school in Oregon, is bored with the tiny town life that used to thrill him. The divide even affects Tatiana personally when her aacha (friend with whom she has a special bond) Katya is baptized by the missionaries, marries a white man and is ruined by him. It is this relationship that is interlaced throughout Tatiana’s present day life. It is one of Tatiana’s deepest sorrows. But, nothing drives home the differences between Tatiana’s old way of life and the modern more than World War II. Evacuated to a southern Alaskan village Tatiana’s entire way of life is disrupted and turned upside down.
This was chock full of lines that I connected with immediately. I can’t quote them all but here are a few: “His hands talk more than his mouth” (p 5), and “Some will stronger than mine soaked my soul in that fear” (p 7). Here is another, “Fear made me mean” (p 80). Does anyone else think of Yoda reading that?
There was only one moment in the book that disappointed me. On page 239, the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tatiana says of her son’s soldier friend Lawrence, “I never did see Lawrence…again” and yet four months later, “Lawrence, Paulie’s soldier friend, rushed into the house. Must have been that other soldier friend named Lawrence.
Reason read: Alaska formally became a state in the month of January.
Author fact: Tatiana is Dorothy Jones’s first book.
Book trivia: Not many libraries have this book. In fact, no library in my immediate area of even my whole state had it. My copy was borrowed from Colorado. Thanks, ‘Rado! However, I have to add this small disappointment – my interlibrary loan came with lots of paperwork taped to the front with the strict words, “Do not remove.” I am dying to see the art work for the cover (by Sara Tabbert). I took a peek at Sara’s website and now I’m even more disappointed I can’t see the cover art. Maybe if I tear a little corner….
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Alaska” (p 17). There’s a no brainer!
Hudson, W. H. Idle Days in Patagonia. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd. 1954.
In the very beginning Idle Days in Patagonia holds your attention. Hudson first grabs you with his narrow escape from drowning when the boat he was a passenger on went aground. Then after a trek through the dunes without food or water he arrives at an Englishman’s camp where he proceeds to shoot himself in the knee with a revolver. Then, if that wasn’t enough, while his companion goes to seek help he inadvertently cuddles up with a poisonous snake that has found its way into his sleeping bag. What’s even more astounding is that he is glad the Englishman isn’t there because he would have killed the “poor” creature! Because Hudson is an ornithologist he tends to go on and on about birds. Great if you are into that sort or thing. Not so much if you aren’t. Towards the end of Idle Days in Patagonia Hudson belabors certain subjects (I found his chapter on eyes to be rather dull) to the point of reader disinterest. All in all Idle Days in Patagonia was like a giant freight train that started off with a great deal of energy, but once the fuel source was depleted, rolled to a slow and painful stop.
Favorite passages, “To my mind there is nothing in life so delightful as that feeling of relief, of escape, and absolute freedom which one experiences in a vast solitude, where man has perhaps never been, and has, at any rate, left no trace of his existence” (p 7).
Reason read: December – January is the best time to visit Patagonia (I guess).
Author fact: If you have ever read The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway you know Hudson was mentioned.
BookLust twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Patagonia” (p 173).
Chabon, Michael. The Final Solution:a Story of Detection. Read by Michael York. New York: Harper Audio, 2004.
In a nutshell: a mute boy of nine or ten years old is discovered walking with a large gray parrot through the English countryside. When it is discovered the parrot speaks German (reciting poetry and rattling off strange numbers) it is determined the boy is Jewish and has escaped Nazi Germany. He is taken in by a vicar and his family and all seems well until another boarder in the vicar’s home is brutally murdered. Is there a connection between the newly arrived boy with the literate parrot and the untimely death of a fellow boarder? A once famous but now virtually unknown and very elderly detective is pulled out of retirement to find out.
While Final Solution is one of the shorter “detective” stories I have read thus far I enjoyed the character development immensely. The very first character you meet is the thinly veiled Sherlock Holmes. Chabon doesn’t come right out and say this is the illustrious character of Conan Doyle, but savvy readers can recognize Holmes in the details. What is surprising is how decrepit Chabon makes the retired detective out to be. True, our mysterious sleuth is 89 years old and more interested in bee keeping (even though he doesn’t like honey), but from description alone I expected him to fall to pieces any second. He really is a walking bag of bones!
Reason read: I read somewhere that January is Adopt a Rescued Bird month. Ironically, the bird in Final Solution does need rescuing at some point!
Author fact: I did some poking around and discovered that while Chabon is really good looking he scoffs at anybody or anything that would recognize him for that since it is not something he earned.
Book trivia: There is a section of Final Solution that takes an odd turn. The story is told from the point of view of the parrot. His musings about chicken are funny.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Parrots” (p 183). Simple enough.
Cameron, Eleanor. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1954.
It all starts with a green ad in the newspaper, “Wanted: A small spaceship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two boys between the ages if eight and eleven…” (p 4). David Topman is just that boy. After reading the advertisement he sets out to build a spaceship with his friend, Chuck Masterson. He and Chuck are about to set off on a wild adventure, one that takes them (and a chicken named Mrs. Pennyfeather) to outer space and the satellite called Basidium-X (the x is for the unknown).
This is a great story that entwines science with fantasy and wild imagination. I am particularly partial to why Mrs. Pennyfeather needed to come along as a mascot although I feel bad for her husband, Rooster John and their family…
Reason read: First month, first chapter. Simple as that. Plus, I needed a kids-eye break from the heavy nonfiction I have been reading.
Author fact: Cameron spent some time as a research librarian. Rock on.
Book trivia: This is actually part of a series. Sadly, I won’t be reading any others. They look like fun.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the introduction (p x) but not listed in the index. Technically, according to my own rules I didn’t have to read this one. Eleanor Cameron isn’t listed in the index either.
Matyszak, Philip. Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day. Thames & Hudson
This is a very different guide book; definitely one like no other. For starters, don’t think you can use this in modern-day Greece. It’s a time machine of sorts. You explore ancient Athens as if you are a tourist from 2,500 years ago. In addition, it is full of humor. Where else can you learn how to say “Unhand my wife immediately, you drunken unpleasant fellow” in Greek? Matyszak calls this a “useful phrase” to know! But that’s how Matyszak’s entire “guide” is – full of humor and wit.
Goofy quotations, “If inspired toward romantic adventure, a traveller should note that Boeotian women are as famed for their beauty as Boeotian men are famed for their thick-headedness – but also that even when true, the general is not reliable guide to the particular” (p 13).
Reason read: So, there is this day in celebrated in January called “Female Domination Day.” What better time to read about Greece?
Author fact: Matyszak is a Greek historian which explains why he wrote Ancient Athens… and followed it up with Ancient Rome…
Book trivia: While Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day is really short it is packed full of really interesting facts and covers a wide array of information. I particularly liked the photographs of Greek art.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).
Vasari, Giorgio. The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 4. Translated by A.B. Hinds. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1927.
Reason read: Way back in October I started the series in honor of National Art Month. I am finally finished!
One of the coolest features of all four volumes is that if you want to see some of the art describes the location of where it can be seen is mentioned in the footnotes (or, at least where it was at the time of publication). For example David Ghirlanai’s art can be seen in the Musee de Cluny in Paris. One of the more frustrating features of all four volumes is that Vasari gets sidetracked very easily. He should be talking about one artist but ends up focusing on another. I can’t count how many times he said, “But back to —.” Deja vu. I said this in Vol. 3′s review as well. Vasari inserts himself more in volume 4 than in previous volumes like when talking about his friend Francesco (De’ Salviati or Francesco Rossi) but especially at the end, when he includes his own biography. The final chapter is devoted to himself so that Vasari can speak of his own life and artistic accomplishments. I will admit 100% I ran out of steam before I got to Vasari’s chapter about himself.
Favorite parts & quotes, since he said it so often, “But after this somewhat lengthy digression, which however I do not think out of place, I return to Rustico” (p 37). My favorite artist had to have been Rustico. He was generous and fond of animals, “He so tamed a porcupine that it remained under the table like a dog, and sometimes pricked people’s legs…” (p 32).
Author fact: What I constantly had to keep in mind was that Vasari was writing about his contemporaries. He worked with some of the artists he writes about although he refers to himself in the third person which is a little odd.
Book trivia: In every volume of Lives of the Painters there is an illustration of one of the artists. In volume four it is Michelagnolo’s.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46). Can I just say this was a huge pain in the butt. For one thing, Pearl mentions Vasari’s Lives of the Painters… but fails to mention it is four volumes (essentially four books).
Postscript ~ something funny is going on with LibraryThing. My review for Vol. 3 is on the Vol. 4 page and yet it’s like to the review belongs to someone else. At first glance I haven’t written a review and I haven’t until you see it’s the review for Vol. 3. Weird. I’m not sure how to fix that.
Lawson, Robert. Rabbit Hill. New york: Dell Publishing, 1975.
This is a kids book an adult could easily read in an hour or so. It’s simple but extremely cute. It’s the story of a family of rabbits excited by the possibility of a new family moving into their neighborhood. New residents mean gardens full of food, sheds full of hay, houses full of warmth.
One of the best things about Rabbit Hill is how human Lawson makes these animals. For example, Father Rabbit is constantly bringing up his Kentucky Bluegrass days and Mother Rabbit is always fretting about one thing or another. The animals around Father know to quickly change the subject or else they will be talking about the southern good ‘ole days all afternoon and the animals around Mother know to avoid certain subjects like pesky little boys and noxious car fumes.
Favorite quotations, (from the letter from Mother Rabbit to her uncle after she invites him to visit them) “…and maybe you shouldn’t risk your life although you haven’t much of it left but we will be looking forward to seeing you anyway” (p 49).
Reason read: The television show “All Creatures Great & Small” aired in the month of January and since Rabbit Hill has so many different animal characters I decided to read in honor of the show.
Author fact: Lawson was a gifted artist and illustrated his own books, including Rabbit Hill. I guess I can blame Lawson for my being deathly afraid of the cover when I was a kid. Just look at that rabbit! His expression is positively creepy!
Book trivia: Rabbit Hill is a Newbery Award winner.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).
Thackerary, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair: a Novel Without a Hero. New York: The Book League of America, date unknown.
The story opens with two graduating students leaving Miss Pickerton’s academy for young ladies. One graduate, Amelia Sedley, is well loved and receives an enormous send off while her companion, Rebecca Sharp, barely garners a glance. Becky is an orphaned governess, traveling with Amelia as her guest. Once at the Sedley home Rebecca sets out to become betrothed to Amelia’s brother, Joseph. Jos serves as Collector of Boggley Wollah in the East India Company’s Civil Service. Once that attempt fails Rebecca becomes even more amoral and shameless. In today’s terms she would be classified as a psychopath because of her lack of conscience and her inability to feel anything for her fellow man. Amelia is disgustingly sweet and Rebecca is shamelessly indifferent. Neither one makes a satisfying hero in Thackeray’s eyes. I found the story to be plotless and pointless. What made the reading more difficult was Thackeray getting confused and mixing up the characters.
Lines that got me for one reason or another, “Now and then he would make a desperate attempt to get rid of his superabundant fat, but his indolence and love of good living speedily got the better of these endeavors at reform…” (p 13), “Sir Put Crawley was a philosopher with a taste for what is called low life” (p 41), and “…if you are not allowed to touch the heart sometimes in spite of syntax, and are not to be loved until you know the difference between trimeter and tetrameter, may all poetry go to the deuce and every schoolmaster perish miserably!” (p 60).
Reason read: First month, first chapter. Wish I hadn’t.
Author fact: Vanity Fair (published in 1848) was Thackeray’s best known work.
Book trivia: I was astounded to learn (through IMDB) that Vanity Fair was made into a movie for the big screen and television nearly a dozen times. It even had a radio version.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the introduction (p x). Pearl says Vanity Fair is one of the books at her bedside.
Carroll, Lewis. The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York: The Modern Library, 1958.
Everyone knows the story of Alice in Wonderland. If they don’t remember the duchess with the baby piglet or the gryphon they surely remember the queen who was constantly crying, “off with his head” or the white rabbit with the pocket watch and white gloves who was always late. And who can forget the caterpillar smoking the hookah on the giant mushroom or the episodes of Drink Me, Eat Me? There is no doubt that Lewis Carroll had a strange imagination. In rereading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I was taken back to a fantastical world where flamingos and hedgehogs were used as croquet pieces, Alice’s tears could create a flood, fish wore wigs and Alice grew and shrank so many times I lost count. My favorite scene was the trial and the king who wanted a sentence before the verdict. It’s satirical and funny. Perfect for kids and adults.
Favorite quote: From the introduction – in a letter Lewis wrote, “I never dance, unless I am allowed to do it in my own peculiar way” (p 8). Funny.
Reason read: Lewis Carroll was born and died in the month of January.
Author fact: Lewis Carroll’s real name was Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and he was the Mathematical Lecturer of Christ Church.
Book trivia: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been adapted into many different movies, theater productions, musicals, and television shows. Too many to count.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Comics with a Sense of Place” (p 68).
Laws, Rose and Dianna Harris. Gold Coast Madam. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2012.
I honestly couldn’t tell you if I liked reading this book or not. There were times when I thought it wildly entertaining while other times I found myself distracted by questioning Laws and her motives for wanting to publish her story.
The most sincere chapters were in the beginning. There is no denying Laws had a difficult childhood. She learned at a very early age that some men will do anything for sex and, for the most part, get away with it. When she was still a child her father was caught having sex with someone other than her mother. As a result he and his mistress were beaten but that didn’t stop them for continuing their illicit activities. When Rose’s mother wanted Rose to get married and have children Rose’s early strategy was to pick a guy to date for a month until one got her pregnant. That lucky sperm donor would become her husband. Way to pick a soul mate! Unfortunately, she latched herself to someone who wanted nothing more than to keep her pregnant. Rose was pregnant eight times in as many years. When she admitted to aborting one of the children her husband beat her senseless.
From here the story goes downhill. Oddly enough Rose was never able to succeed at a legitimate business to support herself and her five children. For some reason the only thing she excelled at was prostituting herself and the $400 an hour call girls she employed. She calls herself a “hanky-panky entrepreneur” and coyly suggests she had all of Chicago in the palm of her hand. Everyone from high ranking officials to members of the Chicago mob were at her beck and call. Every time she got into trouble it was always the fault or screw up of someone else. One claim I couldn’t wrap my brain around was that she didn’t involve her children in the “hanky-panky” business but that seems improbable. Kids are really smart and at one point they were living in the hourly rate motel used for hookups. How could they not know what was going on?
Like I said, I’m not sure what I think about this book. It’s conversational style makes it a very easy if not skeptical read.
Max, Tucker. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. New York: Kensington, 2009.
If there really is a Hell down? there, those fated to that destination will have this book to read, over and over again. Seriously. How can I describe this thing? Honestly, in one sentence, it’s the escapades of a guy in his early 20s. Big deal. That’s it. Only this guy happens to be an alcoholic womanizer with money to burn and a posse like-minded friends to have tag along. The book is nothing more than a series of drunk-to-excess adventures hooking up with ditzy, drunk, trashy women. Sex described in minute detail. Reading it is like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, only each story gets progressively worse and worse. Every misadventure is more and more exaggerated until you start to question the author’s grip on reality. Drink to the point of puking. Have outrageous sex with big chested blondes. Repeat. The most stupefying thing about this book is that not only was it born out of conquest-written blogs, but it was so popular that it was made into a movie. People love it (the blog, the book, the movie). Women (supposedly) throw themselves at Max and his crew at every chance they get. The more vile he is the more people adore him. His biggest dilemma used to be ‘which woman do I fukc?’ until he realized it didn’t matter. Both would have him.
I admit, there were parts of the book I giggled about. There were certain lines I had to reread because they were funny. Max does have a sense of humor. But, he can’t write. I spent more time cringing at the grammatical errors and implausible situations than anything else. Then, there is that repetition I mentioned before. I ended up skimming or even completely skipping parts if I thought they sounded too familiar (which ended up being half the book). The best thing about I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is that I will be selling it back to the bookstore and getting my money back.
Tuchman, W. Barbara. The Zimmerman Telegram. New York: Viking Press, 1958.
I can only imagine how popular this book must have been in its day. The First Great War was not a distant memory at the time of its publication. In fact, the events of World War I were probably still fresh in everyone’s mind having just survived the Second World War. I know The Zimmerman Telegram was required reading for at least one political science course at my college.
Probably the most compelling thing about Tuchman’s writing is her ability to make even well-known history as compelling whodunnit mystery. Written as smoothly as a novel The Zimmerman Telegram recounts the events leading up to the United State’s involvement in World War I starting with a telegraph written by Arthur Zimmerman to Imperial German Minister in Mexico Von Eckhardt. This telegram was proposing a partnership between Germany, Mexico and Japan to form an allegiance against the U.S. Intercepted by the British, it is important to point out that the U.S. was reluctant to join the war until provoked by this telegram.
The line that summed it all up for me (and was ironically enough on the first page),”Mute and passive on the paper, they gave forth no hint that a key to the war’s deadlock lay concealed in their irregular jumble” (p 3).
Disclaimer: I wasn’t supposed to read this until 2013 but I felt so bad about abandoning A Distant Mirror that I wanted to read something else by Tuchman before the month was over.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 225).