Saturday, November 25, 2023

Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy

I am a bit obsessed right now with the poet C P Cavafy (1863-1933).  He  was born to Greek parents but lived most of his life in Alexandria Egypt.  I first discovered him in a book of essays by the very fine writer Philip Lopate.  It's another example of how books can lead us to other books and authors we otherwise would never have heard of.  

Ithaka is Cavafy's best known poem and though it is set in ancient Greece, critics say its really about the journey through life

(Translated by Edmund Keeley)

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean"

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Last Talk With Lola Faye by Thomas H Cook

"A wave of relief passed over me. So this is why Lola Faye Gilroy had dragged herself from God knows where over to the Museum of the West on a wet December night. She'd come to make the case before me, clarify the issue Woody Gilroy had raised in his suicide note, rid herself of the guilt he'd laid at her feet, revisit all that in a talk with me, then enter her plea at the end of it: not guilty".

Lucas Paige the narrator of The Last Talk With Lola Faye (2010) has been successful in life one would think. He's a Harvard educated college professor who has published a number of history books.  All the more impressive since Lucas grew up in a small Southern town where very few of his peers went to college, let alone Harvard.

But Lucas is bitter and angry because his dream was to write great books, not the mediocrities he's been writing as he sees it.  Lucas' personal life is not going well either.  His wife Julia left him a few years back and her departing words were "Call me, Luke, when your past is in the past".  

And so at the start of The Last Talk With Lola Faye, Lucas is in St Louis at a book signing when Lola Faye walks in.  Lucas hasn't seen Lola Faye or been back to Glenville, Alabama in twenty years.  And yet here is Lola, his father's mistress.  Their affair led to Lucas' father's murder when Lola's husband found out.  Lucas is furious and in shock.   How does this woman dare to show up at his book signing after the pain she caused?  And why has she sought him out?  

Lola Faye asks if they can go somewhere to talk.  Lucas is not thrilled with this idea but he cautiously agrees.  And as the two sit down for drinks they discuss the tragic events of the night of Lucas' father's murder and what really happened.  Lucas it turns out consumed with his own ambition and desire to get out of Glenville made alot of assumptions about his parents and their marriage that turned out not to be true and led to tragic results.

All through the novel as Lucas and Lola have their talk I thought I knew what the big reveal would be, the deep secret, but then Thomas Cook would expertly draw back from where I thought the story was heading.  Publisher's Weekly gave The Last Talk With Lola Faye a starred review and I agree.  I was gripped all the way through and the ending was powerful, redemptive and a suprise I did not see coming.  If you have never read Thomas H Cook you absolutely should.  I highly recommend The Last Talk With Lola Faye.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Victorian novel is a favorite genre of mine and I am pleased to say that in the past eight years I have read some of the great novels from this period.  I had yet to read Wilkie Collins however and I was torn.  He is best known for two classic novels: The Woman In White and The Moonstone.  I went with The Moonstone (1868) and I am happy with my choice.

The Moonstone begins in 1799 when a British officer Colonel John Herncastle while serving in India steals a precious yellow diamond adorning a statue of the Hindu God of the Moon.  Herncastle is a bad character who murders three of the Hindu priests guarding the yellow diamond and he takes the gem back to England.  

Fast forward and it's 1848.  John Herncastle is a an elderly spiteful man and his life has not gone well.  He has never been able to shake the rumors of what he did as a young officer in India.  He has no friends and his sister, the wealthy Lady Verinder, refuses to see him.  Herncastle is furious and writes out his will stating that after his death the yellow diamond will be given to his niece Rachel Verinder, Lady Verinder's daughter, on her 18th birthday.  Herncastle is giving the diamond to Rachel not to make amends. He knows that possessing the diamond comes with a curse and so it's his way of getting back at his family.

Herncastle dies and Rachel's eighteenth birthday arrives.  Rachel is thrilled to receive the diamond not knowing it's backstory.  But her mother and her cousin Franklin Blake do know or they suspect something and they are worried.  Also three mysterious Indian men have recently been seen walking the grounds of the Verinder estate.

On the night of Rachel's party all her friends are there including two men who are competing for Rachel's hand in marriage, her cousin Franklin Blake and her other cousin Godfrey Ablewhite.  Apparently in the 19th century you could marry your cousin.  

Rachel wears the diamond on her dress at the party.  It's a festive evening and then the next morning the diamond is missing, a detective is called in and things go downhill with alot of unhappiness for the characters involved.  The yellow diamond (the moonstone) does have a curse attached to it but not in the way I originally thought.  

It's not that people in posession of the diamond come down with a fatal illness or fall down a flight of stairs.  But rather once the diamond goes missing people start suspecting each other, tempers flare, engagements are broken off and in one tragic case a young housemaid of the Verinders with a past that included prison for theft is afraid she will be blamed and though she is not responsible it ends tragically.  

The Moonstone is told in the form of a number of first person narrators.  My favorite narrator is the butler Gabrielle Betteredge who is certain that all of life's answers can be found in the pages of his well worn copy of Robinson Crusoe.  My least favorite character and narrator was Drusilla Clack, a busy body who is constantly forcing her religious pamphlets on friends and relatives.  In fact the one complaint I have about The Moonstone is that the eight chapters narrated by Drusilla distracted from the story and should have been omitted.  Doing so would have tightened up the book in my opinion.

But otherwise I enjoyed The Moonstone.  Along with Bleak House it is considered to be one the first British Detective novels.  It is also a romance and I found The Moonstone to be a classic worthy of praise.

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

"Mr Harding is a good man, the warden to an alms house which provides a peaceful home to twelve old men. The young and zealous John Bold is also a good man, but he believes he sees in Harding's comfortable existence an injustice which must be exposed. The law, the church and the self-righteous national press all have their say in the scandal that ensues, causing a crisis in the hearts and minds of many in the quiet country town of Barchester". - Penguin Books

My thoughts - The Warden (1855) by Anthony Trollope is the first novel in his acclaimed Chronicles of Barsetshire series.  There are six books in the series, all set in the fictional English cathedral town of Barchester.  And having read Trollope's excellent stand alone novel The Way We Live Now, I came to The Warden with high expectations.  The Warden is 113 pages and so I was sure I would have the book finished in three days tops.  

But the Warden took me longer to complete than I anticipated.  I struggled to finish it actually.  I think it's partly because I am not a focused reader these days.  Increasingly I read ten pages of a book then I'm scrolling the internet or turning on the news, picking up another novel and that's not a good way to read.  I need to start committing to a book because otherwise I lose the rhythm.  

That said, if The Warden had held my interest I would have been able to finish it in three days.  It's one of Anthony Trollope's earliest novels and maybe his powers as a writer weren't yet at the heights they would reach in his later classics.   The story itself didn't grab me nor did the characters but I understand that changes as one reads deeper into the Barchester series.

The Warden is the first book I have now read from my Victober list and I am hoping to get to Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and the Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Mary Young before the month is through but to do so I will resolve to read thirty pages a night and focus.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Too Late To Die by Bill Crider

"There were many county sheriffs, and Rhodes knew some of them, who were really politicians—men who liked the title, but not the job; men who turned all the work over to their deputies and spent their time in the drugstores drinking coffee with the rest of the good old boys. Men like Ralph Claymore. Rhodes had never been like that, and he never could be." 

A few weeks ago Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery (please check out Tracy's excellent website under blogs I follow) was reviewing Murder Most Fowl, book seven in Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery series.  Now I am normally hesitant to check out a new series because I have too many books on my TBR list as it is.  But I was intrigued by Tracy's review of Murder Most Fowl and so I decided to start with the first book in Bill Crider's Dan Rhodes mystery series, Too Late To Die (1986) and I found it to be a very enjoyable experience

Too Late To Die (1986) is set in Clearview, a small town within Blacklin County, TX.  There is no serious crime in Clearview and the people who live there have known each other for years.  Dan Rhodes is the Sheriff of Clearview.  He has a small department consisting of his deputy, Johnny Sherman, the dispatcher, old Hack Jensen and Lawton the jailer who as the book describes him is almost as old as Hack Jensen.  

Sheriff Dan Rhodes is running for reelection when Too Late To Die begins.  He doesn't like the politics and the backslapping part of his job but he understands it comes with the territory.  Sheriff Rhodes' wife Claire passed away a year back and he misses her very much.  He has a grown daughter named Cathy who he has a good relationship with.  Sheriff Rhodes is smart and thoughtful.  He doesn't throw his weight around but when trouble arrives he will meet it courageously.

And trouble arrives when a local woman Jeanne Clinton who everyone in Clearview knew and liked is found murdered in her home.  Jeanne in her younger days was rather wild but a few years back she married her husband Elmer Clinton who is 30 years her senior.  Despite the age difference it seems to have been a good marriage.  But then Jeanne turns up dead and it turns out that while Elmer was at work a number of men in the neighborhood would drop by Jeanne's house for coffee.  Was it just coffee and talk or something more?  DId one of these men get rebuffed and murder Jeanne or did her husband Elmer find out and in a fit of jealousy lose control?

On paper Too Late To Die may sound like an average small town mystery novel with a conventional plot and a good-hearted Sheriff trying to solve the case.  But Too Late To Die won the prestigious Anthony Award in 1987 for best first novel and what set the book apart for me was the writing.  Bill Crider has a very nice writing style.  I enjoyed the humor that is delicately placed throughout the book.  I enjoyed descriptions of Clearview and its people.  Bill Crider spends his time on local color and customs and it pays off. I never knew for example how popular Dr. Pepper is in Texas and very refreshing in the hot climate of Clearview.  And most important there is Sheriff Dan Rhodes who is interesting, smart, a good man and I see myself following him at least into book two of this series.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

A Trick of The Light by Louise Penny

A Trick of the Light (2011) is the 7th book in Louise Penny's excellent Three Pines Mystery series.  I am reading these books in order which is recommended because starting with Penny's first novel Still Life we get to know the residents of Three Pines, a charming little village off the beaten path.  We learn the secrets of the people who reside there, their hopes, fears, their interactions with each other and how they change and grow as the series progresses.

And at the center of each of Penny's novels is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache tasked with solving the crime.  A mystery series rises or falls based on its lead detective and Armand Gamache with his dedication to justice, knowledge of history, the arts, human psychology, kind but tough when he needs to be is definitely a detective worth following.

And so when A Trick of The Light begins one of the local residents of Three Pines, Clara Morrow, is experiencing a moment she has dreamed of all her life.  Clara's artwork is having a solo showing at a very prestigious museum in Montreal.  After the exhibit there is a party at Clara's home and all of Clara's neighbors are there and art critics and gallery owners as well.

Peter, Clara's husband, is happy for his wife's success but he's conflicted.  It's understandable in that Peter is an artist too and he feels some jealousy that his artwork which supported both he and Clara throughout their marriage is seen as good but not great.  Peter would have liked his own solo exhibit and he feels bad that he is thinking this way.  

But before the issues between Clara and Peter can be dealt with they are quickly overshadowed the morning after the party when a dead woman is discovered in Clara's garden.  She was killed the night of the party but by who and why?  And Clara knows the dead woman, Lillian Dyson, her childhood friend.  Clara and Lillian were as close as could be as children but had a major falling out in college.  They haven't seen or spoken to each other since.   Lillian would go on to be an art critic known for her vicious reviews which could and did destroy people's careers and so the list of suspects is long.  

A Louise Penny's novel usually has more than one storyline going and A Trick of The Light is no exception.  Book six of the series, Bury Your Dead, recounted a terrible police raid that ended in  tragedy.  The police were ambushed, young officers died and Armand Gamache and his first lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir were badly injured.  Gamache is still trying to recover emotionally and deal with survivor's guilt and he is making progress.  But Jean-Guy Beauvior never one to share his feelings is doing poorly and is using opiods to deal with his lingering physical and emotional pain.

So I plan before the year ends to read book eight and maybe even squeeze in book nine in this series.  I am eager to find out what is next in store for Armand Gamache, Jean Guy Beauvoir, Clara, Peter and all of the fascinating residents of Three Pines who make this series such a delight.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Hurricane Season and September Book Haul.

Here in Florida we are all tracking Hurricane Lee.  I'm worried.  It will be a category 5 soon and everything hinges on it making a northward turn on Tuesday and therfore no landfall as I understand.  But no one can say for sure.  The maps I am seeing right now are scary.

But on a positive note I was at the library today and checked out five books I am looking forward to reading: 

The Everglades: Rivers of Grass by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas  -  Marjorie Stoneman Douglas devoted her life to preserving the Everglades.  Sadly too many (including me) first heard of her after that terrible mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.  But I would like to know more about The Everglades and this book is her classic.


Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas - Saw Elizabeth Vargas interviewed by Diane Sawyer about a week ago about her battle with addiction and how she recovered. I was pleased to see her memoir at the library and I wish her the best.

Walter Benjamin at the Diary Queen by Larry McMurty  I keep promising myself I will read Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove because he's an excellent writer.  But until then I will read his memoir about growing up in West Texas.  

All That Is Bitter And Sweet by Ashley Judd -  Loved her in Ruby In Paradise.  Always interesting on and off the screen.  Tragic about her Mom, Naomi Judd. RIP.

Florida: A Short History by Michael Gannon - Might as well find out something about the history of where I am living.  And as I understand Michael Gannon is one of the best historians out there when it comes to Florida history.

So a pretty good book haul today.  Stay safe and happy reading!