A 2016 Bestseller

This Is Where It Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp, was published in 2016, and was a New York Times bestselling Young Adult hardcover for 24 weeks, achieving the #1 spot.

This Is Where It EndsI downloaded the eBook from the Seattle Public Library, and read it on the Libby by OverDrive app on my phone.

It’s 10:01 A.M. at Opportunity High School, in Opportunity, Alabama.

The first sentence is: “The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

Claire is enjoying start-of-season track practice with her best friend, and fellow JROTC member, Chris.

Time is running out.” Tomás and his friend Fareed are breaking into the school records in Principal Trenton’s office.

Autumn is at an assembly, sitting between Sylv and an empty chair, listening to Principal Trenton’s same old start-of-semester speech. Despite Trenton’s inspirational words, all college will be, for Autumn, is a way to escape her miserable life. Ever since her mother’s accident, her abusive, alcoholic father won’t let Autumn dance. Autumn used to love dancing

Sylv is at the assembly, looking at the empty chair next to Autumn – the chair where Tyler should be sitting. She’s glad Tyler isn’t here. Sylv wishes Autumn would open up to her about her mother’s death. Sylv loves watching Autumn dance.

The assembly is over, and it’s time for Sylv to head to U.S. History.

10:02 A.M. Tomás finds what he’s looking for: the permanent record of Tyler Browne. He learns that Tyler is a closet genius, with an astoundingly high SAT score. Tomás thinks: “Maybe that explains why, despite his bravado, Tyler never made good on any of his treats. He may be a maggot, but he’s the smartest kind: a harmless one.

Claire runs another lap with Chris. She wonders what’s going to happen when they both graduate. Claire decides that breaking up with Tyler was the right thing to do.

Autumn is asked by a girl named Asha about her auditioning for Dance. Autumn is uncomfortable. Sylv wishes she could be a better girlfriend to Autumn and encourage her more.

10:04 A.M. The assembly is over, but no one is leaving the auditorium. Autumn wonders why everyone is crowding around the doors.

Sylv figures it out; Some prankster has locked the doors.

Tomás didn’t learn much from Tyler’s file. He and Fareed agree to skip school for the rest of the day.

10:05 A.M. Inside the auditorium, Tyler begins shooting.

That’s a synopsis of the first four chapters of This Is Where It Ends. It continues for twenty-two more chapters, each covering a span of a minute or two. That doesn’t mean the chapters are short – it means the action is elongated. It’s 54 minutes, described in about 300 pages.

This Is Where It Ends is the fictional story of a school shooting, told in real time, from the points of view of Autumn (Tyler’s sister), Sylvia (who Tyler hates because of her relationship with his sister), Sylvia’s twin brother Tomás, and Claire (Tyler’s ex-girlfriend).

Claire and Chris literally run for help, pushing their muscles more than they’ve ever been pushed. Fareed calls 911, hiding his accent so the police won’t think it’s a terrorist attack and target him. Tomás and Fareed could easily climb out of a window and be safe, but they both choose to try to break into the auditorium. If only Autumn would sacrifice herself, if only one of her classmates would give away her hiding spot, Tyler might stop the killing, but she and Sylv and Asha are frozen in fear. Sylvia prays to God, and accepts that it will not be a question of getting out, but rather how much longer she’ll be alive.

Yeah, this was an extremely intense book. It was one of the more intense, emotional books I’ve read in a long time. The violence, the tension, and the fear was overwhelming. I had to stop reading every once in a while, and catch my breath. The minute-by-minute style of this book suited the story perfectly, and magnified the horror.

I couldn’t put this book down. I loved This Is Where It Ends very much. I cared about the characters, and their stories, and their thoughts. This Is Where It Ends is beautifully written.

As I was searching the internet for a 2016 bestseller, and I found This Is Where It Ends, I learned that Marieke Nijkamp is Dutch. She lives in The Netherlands. She wrote this very American book in English, her second language. I can’t wrap my mind around that.

  • A bestseller from 2016

Graphic Mythology

I saw the 2010 movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief  a long time ago. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it, but I enjoyed it enough to want to read the 2005 book it was based on, someday.

Then the 2017 Reading Challenge came along, with a category named “A book based on mythology”, and I figured this would be as good a time as any to read the book The Lightning Thief as any.

I checked with the Seattle Public Library, and, of course, they had the book, and the movie – and a graphic novel. I didn’t know there was a graphic novel. I checked out the graphic novel, because it looked like fun, and I hadn’t read a graphic novel in a while. I’m a little confused about the order of publication, but I think this is a graphic novelization of the movie based on the book.

I didn’t remember much about the movie, so reading the story now was full of surprises for me.

The Lightning ThiefPercy Jackson & The Olympians, Book One, The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel, written by Rick Riordan, adapted by Robert Venditti, art by Attila Futaki, color by José Villarrubia, was published in 2010.

Percy Jackson is one day away from failing the sixth grade at Yancy Academy. If he’s kicked out, it will be his sixth school in six years. He tries to be a good student, but Percy has dyslexia, and ADHD.

Strange things are happening around Percy. He didn’t touch that girl who was teasing him, and yet she somehow landed in the fountain. He’s attacked by Mrs. Dodds, and yet there is no Mrs. Dodds at Yates Academy.

Percy’s Mythology instructor, Mr. Brunner, and Percy’s best friend, Grover, seem to be conspiring to protect Percy. They’re both dropping hints that Percy Jackson is special, and needs to be protected.

Percy’s mother doesn’t seem especially concerned about Percy  leaving Yates. She has plans to send him to a school – more like a camp, actually – that Percy’s father wants him to go to. Percy will be safe there, she says. Percy has never met his father.

Percy and his mother go on a short vacation. Grover shows up – he now has goat legs – and warns that danger is coming. The three of them try to run, but only Percy and Grover manage to escape. His mother dies in an attack from a minotaur.

Percy Jackson wakes up in Camp Half-Blood. He learns that the Greek gods he’d been studying in school are real. Grover is a satyr. Mr. Brunner is a centaur, and his name is actually Chiron. He’s that Chiron – the trainer of Hercules.

Percy Jackson doesn’t have dyslexia. He has trouble reading English because his brain’s been hardwired for Ancient Greek. He’s hyperactive because his body’s been hardwired for battle.

Like every other kid in camp, Percy is half-human, with at least one parent a god. Percy is one of the “Undetermined” – since he doesn’t know who his father is.

Percy is bullied by Clarisse, daughter of Ares, and befriended by Annabeth, daughter of Athena.

Soon after battle training begins at Camp Half-Blood, Percy Jackson’s special abilities are suddenly revealed. It becomes obvious who Percy’s father is. Percy really is special. Just as suddenly, he is given a quest. He must find the lightning thief. His quest will take him into the underworld. He won’t be going alone, however. Grover and Annabeth will be at his side.

The three heroes travel across the United States, toward a recording studio in Los Angeles (the entrance to the underworld), in a race against time, in order to prevent a war of Olympian proportions.

The Lightning Thief is an exciting story and a clever take on ancient Greek mythology set in the modern world. The artwork of the graphic novel was good, but nothing really special.

It is, of course, “Book One”, so although the story is complete, it does end with an opening for the next book.

Overall, I enjoyed it.

  • A book based on mythology

Different Time Periods

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg, was published in 2013.

The All-Girl Filling Stations Last ReunionI downloaded the eBook from The Seattle Public Library. It was the first book I have ever read on my phone. It was also the first book by Fannie Flagg I have ever read (although I’ve actually eaten fried green tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe).

It’s 2005, in Point Clear, Alabama. Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr., known to her friends as Sookie, has three married daughters, Dee Dee, Cee Cee, and Le Le. Her only son, Carter, aged 25, remains unmarried.

The story starts right after Cee Cee’s pet-friendly wedding. Sookie is adjusting to life in an empty nest, trying to get rid of the blue jays in her yard, and trying to figure out what to do about her mother, Lenore, who, depending on who you ask, is either “eccentric” or “batty as hell”.

One morning, Pete, the mailman, arrives with a registered letter for Mrs. Earle Poole, Jr. The letter is from the Texas Board of Health

At the age of 59, Sookie is about to discover that she’s not who she thought she was.

It’s 1916. Stanislaw Ludic Jurdabralinski, an immigrant from Poland, arrives in Pulaski, Wisconsin. He finds work with the railroad, and when the railroad leaves town, he finds other work in Pulaski. He marries a woman named Linka Marie. He becomes a US citizen. Stanislaw and Linka have a baby girl, named Fritzi Willinka Jurdabralinski. Then they have a boy, named Wencent Stanislaw Zdislaw Jurdabralinsli. Then they have twin girls, Gertrude May (born May 31) and Tula June (born June 1). Then they have a girl, named Sophie Marie.

In 2005, in Point Clear, Sookie is trying to come to grips with the idea that she is not a Simmons; she is a Jurdabralinski. Worse, she was born a Catholic, according to the records.

Days go by as Sookie thinks back on her life and wonders how she could have not known that she was adopted.

Decades go by as Stanislaw saves enough to buy a Phillips 66 filling station, which survives the great depression. His son takes over the management, and it becomes known as Wink’s Phillips 66. As American women begin driving more, Wink’s Phillips 66 thrives, thanks to its clean restrooms and the handsomeness of its manager.

In 1938, Fritzi, the eldest daughter, the defiant one, the troublemaker, begins dating a barnstorming pilot named Billy Bevins. Fritzi’s mother is not surprised. Fritzi falls in love with Billy, and with flying, after one night on the town.

In 2005, Sookie finds a psychiatrist who is willing to meet with her at The Waffle House.

In 1939, the Polish community of Pulaski sees newsreels of Poland being invaded. In 1941, they hear the news that America has entered World War II. Billy and Wink join the US Army Air Corps. Fritzi is sore that, although England and Russia accept female pilots, America does not.

Papa becomes too ill to work, and with Wink off to war, Fritzi, Gertrude, Tula, and Sophie run the filling station.

Wink’s Phillips 66, the all-girl filling station, is just the beginning of the story.

Earlier in the Reading Challenge, I read a book named Candyland. It was written by one author pretending to be two authors, supposedly in two radically different styles. I was disappointed in it, because the two styles were not as radically different as advertised. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is what Candyland should have been. Although Fannie Flagg doesn’t pretend to be two authors, this book’s two alternating stories are radically different, and it works.

Point Clear, Alabama is shown from a single point of view (mostly). It’s silly and hilarious. It focuses on hour-by-hour events.

Pulaski, Wisconsin is more serious in tone, but not without its funny moments. It flows through a generation of immigrants. It’s a brief history of twentieth-century America, and how war changed the nature of its workforce. It’s about the short, sad history of the WASPs, and their uncredited service to their country.

Of course, these two timelines converge into one – in a way I wasn’t expecting.

This book was wonderful and amazing. I loved it. I loved it a lot.

  • A book set in two different time periods

 

Espionage

The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, was first published in 1915.

The Thirty-Nine StepsRichard Hannay is an adventurer. He is in London, after several years in Rhodesia. A Scotsman by birth, Hannay hasn’t been to England since he was six years old. He finds London exciting at first, but soon becomes bored with the city. He plans to leave for South Africa as soon as he can.

One evening, while returning home to his London flat, he is confronted by a neighbor he doesn’t know. The neighbor, an American from Kentucky, invites himself into Hannay’s flat, and locks the door behind them. The neighbor introduces himself as a dead man.

The American neighbor’s name is Franklin P. Scudder. He tells Hannay that he’s a spy, and that he’s uncovered an anarchist plot to destabilize European authority. Mr. Scudder has faked his own death in order to work without detection. Hannay agrees to let Mr. Scudder hide in his flat.

Mr. Scudder hides out in Hannay’s flat for four days. Then Hannay comes home on the fourth evening to find his guest on the floor, with a knife in his chest. Franklin P. Scudder had become an actual dead man.

In a state of panic, not quite trusting either the police or the government, and afraid of Mr. Scudder’s enemies, Hannay finds Mr. Scudder’s notebook, disguises himself, and flees to Scotland.

Life is no longer dull for Richard Hannay.

As Hannay hides out in Scotland, he uses his gift for puzzles to decipher the coded notes in Scudder’s book. He learns that he is in middle of something quite different from what Scudder had told him. There was one repeated phrase in the notebook, however, which Hanney could not make heads or tails of: “(‘Thirty-nine steps’)”.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is a classic man-on-the-run thriller. The book follows the adventures, and misadventures, of Hannay as he avoids capture in the countryside of Scotland. He pretends to be an expert on Free Trade, and gives a lecture. He pretends to be a road worker. He relies on the hospitality of farmers. He is driven by a strong sense of patriotism, for if Scudder’s notes are accurate, the future of Great Britain is at stake.

The antiquated language, and the Scottish dialog, made reading this 113-page book slow at times, but it held my interest all the way through. I enjoyed it.

  • An espionage thriller

This Could Be Fun

I saw this book on the used-book shelf in Phillip’s office and thought, “With a title like that, there’s no way this book can be any good.” Then, in the next thought, “This could be bad enough to be fun.” So, I bought it. The money I spent went to the area’s food banks, so that’s something.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, by Lawrence Block, was published in 1967.

Tanner's Twelve SwingersEvan Michael Tanner is “the most unusual spy who ever lived!“, according to the book cover. He’s a freelance spy. He loves to work for lost causes. The FBI and CIA are both watching him closely. He’s been continuously awake, 24 hours per day, for seventeen years, because of a piece of North Korean shrapnel that destroyed the sleep center of his brain.

Tanner lives in an apartment in Manhattan, and earns barely enough to pay the rent by writing theses and term papers for students. He is an unusual spy.

While in Athens, Greece, Tanner gave away his passport to someone trying to escape to London. Then, with the assistance of allies, Tanner makes his way to Macedonia to visit his infant son and the boy’s mother.

Macedonia is just a stop on his way to Latvia. Tanner had made a promise to smuggle a dear friend’s girlfriend, Sofija, a member of the Soviet Women’s Gymnastic Troupe, out of Latvia. To do this, Tanner is going to have to smuggle himself into the Soviet Union, somehow.

Tanner has a network of friends across Europe, who are willing to help him, in exchange for a favor or two.

It’s a complicated journey, and it keeps getting more complicated. He is talked into bringing a defecting Yugoslav official, and his 300-page manuscript, with him into Russia and home to the USA. As he and the official make their way across Eastern Europe, sneaking across borders, Tanner accumulates more and more things to smuggle back to America: microfilm, Chinese documents, a child, Sofija, Sofija’s sister, and ten other members of their gymnastic troupe.

Getting out of Latvia is going to be a lot tougher than it was getting in.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers was not as bad as I expected it to be. It wasn’t great, but it had its moments. It had some good action sequences, and some tense scenes. The story flowed well.

The men in the story tended to be the same comrade-in-arms types. The women tended to be same naïve farmer’s daughter types. The book wasn’t big on character development.

When I saw the word “swingers” in the title, I was picturing go-go booted sexpots. (Perhaps I was supposed to picture that.) It turned out to be a different kind of swinger.

I won’t recommend this book, but it was fun to read.

  • A book you got from a used book sale

I Finally Read It

I’ve been hearing about Rabbit, Run, and what a great book it is, for ages. Now, Popsugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge has knocked this book off of my To Be Read list.

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike, was first published in 1960.

Rabbit RunAs a high school senior, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom was a record-breaking basketball star. Now, at age twenty-six, Rabbit demonstrates kitchen gadgets in dime stores.

Rabbit’s wife, Janice, is pregnant. Their son, Nelson, is two years old. They live in a cramped apartment in Mount Judge, Pennsylvania. Rabbit would rather play basketball. He would rather have the life he had in high school.

He gets in his car, on his way to pick up Nelson, and, entirely on impulse, Rabbit runs. He has no idea where he’s going. He hasn’t thought things through. He just picks a direction and drives away.

Rabbit, Run isn’t a road trip. Rabbit doesn’t run far, but he keeps running. He lives in the moment and continues to be driven by impulses. He seeks out his old coach, who introduces him to a part-time prostitute, who provides him with a place to stay. He befriends a young Episcopal minister, who tries to talk him into returning to Janice. Rabbit doesn’t want to go back to Janice, but frequently asks how she is.

“If you have the guts to be yourself,” [Rabbit] says, “other people’ll pay your price.”

There isn’t much plot to Rabbit, Run. It’s a story driven by characters, dialog, and descriptions. It’s full of witty lines. (Rabbit, during a conversation with his former high school rival, thinks: “God, this guy is a middle-aged bore and he’s not even thirty.“) It’s my kind of book.

Harry Angstrom is the central character in the novel, but he is not the only character. The book often changes points of view. Large sections follow Jack Eccles, the Episcopal minister (from Janice’s family’s church) as he tries to figure out what to do about Harry.

Rabbit, Run is an adult novel. It contains explicit sex. It contains religious contemplation. It is funny at times, but mostly tragic. It is a complex novel. I’m sure someone could spend a lot of time analyzing its imagery. (I have no doubt that someone already has.)

Rabbit, Run is not light reading

I absolutely loved it. I’m glad I finally read it.

  • A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long

Another Recommendation

Elizabeth Guizzetti is the author of Other Systems – a book I read for the 2016 Reading Challenge. It was “A book recommended by someone you just met”. I enjoyed it so much that I bought the sequel: Light Side of the Moon, which I also enjoyed but never got around to writing a proper review.

Elizabeth Guizzetti has a channel in a quiet corner of YouTube. Among other things, she reviews books – too infrequently, in my opinion. Here’s her review of The Park, by Voss Foster:

OK, she made me want to read this book. Unfortunately, the Seattle Public Library didn’t have it, or anything else by Voss Foster. I thought about buying it, if it wasn’t too much, and contributing it to the office lending library when I (and maybe Phillip) was finished with it. The Park was out of stock at both Elliott Bay Books and Powells. Amazon had it. That was a possibility.

I remembered my Kobo Mini eReader. Ever since our computer suddenly decided that it wasn’t going to play nice with Seattle Public Library eBooks anymore, I hardly ever use my Kobo Mini. I logged into Kobo Books and discovered that they had The Park as a free download. That beat Amazon’s price.

The ParkThe Park, by Voss Foster, was published in 2015.

It’s January 1, 2074. Twelve people wake up in separate areas of a mobile home park, which is surrounded by electric fences and armed guards. They each remember where they were the night before, but none remember how they got to wherever they are.

They each find a letter from Evenstad Media, explaining that they are contestants in a new television game show. The goal is to be the only survivor. There are no rules, and no laws apply.  No criminal charges will result from anything they do. The winner will receive twenty million US dollars. The families of the losers will receive some compensation.

Shelter is provided for the contestants. Food is provided, but not replenished. They are each given a mysterious medallion (which seems to contain a random weapon), called a Contained Energy Source Unit (or CESU). They’re also given an electronic journal. Writing in the journal is encouraged, but not required.

The letter promises that there are more CESUs hidden in the park.

The Park is an epistolary novel. We learn about the twelve contestants through their journal entries. We learn about the game from the letter they find. We learn about Evenstad Media through internal emails. We learn about key events in the show from online reviews.

The story builds up slowly. Each of the short journal entries starts off as a self-introduction to the contestants, and their personalities. No one wants to kill anyone, at first. Friendships are formed. Two contestants fall in love.

But, twenty million dollars is a lot of money, and everyone does want to get out of the park.

The Park doesn’t have the most original plot ever, but that didn’t matter to me. It was a well-told story with enough twists to keep it interesting.

I have mixed feelings about the epistolary formant for this story. On the negative side, what’s the point of the journals? I never got a sense of how journal-writing fit into the television show, or into Evenstad Media’s mission. What’s motivating the contestants to write in them? What if any of them simply tossed the journals aside and worked on survival?

On the positive side, the journals gave each of the twelve constants an equal voice. It created a real sense that any one of them could be the one walking out of the park. It was a nice way to present multiple viewpoints of various events. The journals didn’t make sense to me, but they served a purpose.

I went into it with some skepticism: Even 57 years in the future, could a corporation – no matter how powerful – really get away with broadcasting murders on a television show? But, the book surprised me with a plausible explanation for that.

I enjoyed The Park. It had some interesting characters, and it kept me guessing until the very last ePage. The Park is the first in a series of Evenstad Media stories. I’m now curious what the other books have in store – which was, of course, the (brilliant) strategy Kobo Books had in mind when they gave away the first book free.

  • A book recommended by an author you love

(If you’re reading this, Elizabeth Guizzetti, please do more book reviews!)

A Lifespan

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, was first published in 1922.

The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonBenjamin Button was born in the summer of 1860. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button, were well off, socially and financially. They defied the custom of the day by having their first child in a hospital, rather that at home.

Benjamin Button’s birth caused the family physician to resign from their service, and nearly ruined the reputation of the hospital.

Benjamin Button was born a 70-year-old man. No one could explain it.

Although Benjamin looked, spoke, and acted like a 70-year-old man, his father insisted on treating him like a newborn baby. Benjamin wasn’t having it. He preferred the Encyclopedia Britannica to his stuffed animals.

Roger Button’s social status was nearly ruined. The only thing people could think of to complement this strange addition to the Button family was to say that he resembled his grandfather.

When he was twelve, Benjamin Button first began to suspect that he was, in fact, aging backward.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button follows the humorous misadventures of a man who becomes younger as his age increases. He’s mistaken for his father’s father, and then for his father’s brother. He causes scandal when he marries a woman his age, when he appears thirty years older than her. He causes further scandal when, decades later, he’s seen as a young man married to an older woman.

When he’s old enough to enter school, he’s too old to attend. When he’s too old to enter school, he’s the right age to attend.

When Benjamin Button becomes a baby, his life fades away.

The copy I borrowed from the library is 52 pages long. That seemed to be the right amount of pages for this story of one man’s life.

One thing I found odd about this story is the absence of Benjamin’s mother. She’s mentioned as Mrs. Roger Button, but we never meet her. We never learn how she feels about being the young mother of a 70-year-old man. We never even learn her name. Maybe it’s a sign of the times.

I liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It’s an hilarious, classic tale of social satire.

  • A book that takes place over a character’s life span

Ring Road Trip

Rigning í nóvember, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, was published in Iceland in 2004. It was translated into English by Brian FitzGibbon in 2013 as Butterflies in November.

Butterflies in NovemberThe narrator is a 33-year-old woman, living in Reykjavík. She is self-employed as a proofreader, editor, and translator. (She speaks eleven languages.) She runs her business the old-fashioned way, picking up and delivering projects at the clients’ homes.

One day, in late October, while out driving, she accidentally hits and kills a goose. On the same day, her boyfriend tells her that he doesn’t want to see her anymore.

On the same day, her best friend, Auður, a single mother who is six months pregnant, calls the narrator to tell her that she has an appointment with a fortune-teller that she can’t keep. Auður suggests that the narrator go to her appointment instead.

Still that same day, the narrator visits the fortune-teller who gives her cryptic forecasts – something about things happening in threes, a ring road, a ring on a finger, wetness, and a lottery ticket.

That same day, the narrator’s husband tells her they can’t go on with their marriage. Her behavior is too bizarre, and he can’t take it anymore. That, and his girlfriend is pregnant. The husband does accept the narrator’s offer of a goose dinner. The narrator loves to cook.

The narrator takes the day’s events in stride. She cooks the goose she killed. She and her husband discuss his plans like old friends. She helps him pack his books. She turns down her boyfriend’s request to get back together. (News travels fast in Reykjavík.)

The narrator decides it’s time for her to take a tropical vacation, even though the time for summer vacation is past.

She receives a phone call from the Association of the Deaf. She’d bought a winning lottery ticket from them, and has won first prize: a prefabricated summer bungalow, ready to be assembled wherever she’d like.

Auður slips on some ice and is taken to a hospital. Auður asks the narrator to keep her four year old son, Tumi, over the weekend. Tumi is deaf, with poor eyesight, and a sleepwalker. The narrator has no experience caring for children. She takes Tumi for the weekend, and does her best. She takes him grocery shopping, and watches what parents buy to figure out what to buy for a four-year-old. They stop into a video store to rent a DVD of The Lion King. She buys a lottery ticket and lets Tumi pick out the numbers.

There is only one winning ticket. Together, Tumi and the narrator have won 44 million krónur – the largest prize in the history of the Icelandic lottery.

In the hospital, Auður learns that she is having twins, and that her fall has complicated things. The narrator reluctantly agrees to keep Tumi for the next three months.

Her plan for a vacation in the tropics becomes a November road trip along Iceland’s National Highway No. 1 – the Ring Road – with a four-year-old boy, pet goldfish, and a glove compartment stuffed with thousand-krónur banknotes. Their destination is a small coastal village – a place from her past – where a prefabricated bungalow, assembled by the Association of the Deaf, awaits.

Butterflies in November is, at its heart, a fun, quirky road trip. The narrator and Tumi meet interesting characters along the way. They grow together and learn from each other. Unexpected events happen which seem ordinary, but are also as out of place as butterflies in November.

It’s a story about moving forward with your life while facing your past. It’s about gaining freedom and responsibility simultaneously.

It’s a humorous story, in a dark sort of way. There is a lot of wordplay and symbolism in this book which, I suspect, was even more clever in the original Icelandic. The dual-time-zone watch her husband gave her becomes a “two-timing watch”. A chessboard pattern on a kitchen floor becomes the scene of two people planning their moves toward each other. The spiderweb crack in the windshield becomes a metaphor for the intricate weave of events that brought her to the Ring Road at that very spot – just in time to hit a sheep and crack her windshield. There seems to be no wasted words in this book.

After the story is a section named Forty-Seven Cooking Recipes and One Knitting Recipe. It’s explained that the recipes are connected to the narrative of Butterflies in November. It also comes with a word of caution: The recipes are more or less fictitious.

I didn’t enjoy that last section much, but I loved the rest of Butterflies in November. I thought it was well-written, with believable characters – as quirky as they were. It was an emotionally moving novel. I feel that with all its intricacies, it would get better with repeated readings.

  • A book with a month or day of the week in the title

A Book From Times Past

Phillip and I were clearing out some storage boxes today, when we found a thin book tucked away behind some unrelated things. The book is named Clamshell Boy. It took a while for either of us to realize where this book had come from.

We used to vacation in Ocean Shores, Washington every October. We haven’t been back there in years. One route we followed on our drive out to Long Beach Peninsula took us through the town of Montesano, where we’d always stop into a particular convenience store. We’d stop there on the way to the ocean for fun, but stopped on the way home only if we needed a bathroom.

This little store sold an amazing variety of things. It sold gasoline and food. It sold souvenirs with a wide range of quality and prices. It sold hunting, fishing, geocaching, and camping supplies. It sold maps. It sold clothes. And it sold books. It was there, we agreed, that we bought the book we found today.

Why we bought this book, and why neither one of us got around to reading it until now, remains unknown. My theory is that one of us bought it on impulse and, in the excitement of our vacation, it had been forgotten in the car trunk until we got home and unpacked, where it was put aside, swept up in a cleaning day, and forgotten again.

I was not expecting to complete a Reading Challenge category today.

Clamshell Boy: A Makah Legend, written and adapted by Terri Cohlene, and illustrated by Charles Reasoner, was published in 1990.

Clamshell Boy

Long ago, a young Makah girl named Salmonberry was playing with her friends on the beach. The sun started going down. They had to rush home before Basket Woman caught them.

Basket Woman was a giant who captured children after dark, and cooked them.

Salmonberry didn’t believe this silly legend. Then Basket Woman appeared, and explained that the legend about her was cruel and wrong. To prove that she was a good giant, she offered the children a ride home in her basket. Salmonberry and her friends accepted Basket Woman’s offer.

The legend of Basket Woman turned out to be true.

None of the Makah people knew where Basket Woman lived. No one had ever returned from a capture by Basket Woman. Salmonberry’s mother cried, and her tears landed in a clamshell. Clamshell Boy appeared from the spirit of the clamshell, and swore to the people that he would save Salmonberry and her friends from Basket Woman.

Clamshell Boy set off on a quest to find and kill Basket Woman.

I read Clamshell Boy in one afternoon. It is nicely illustrated in a style reminiscent of the people of the Pacific Northwest. The back of the book contains historic and cultural information about the Makah. I enjoyed it.

  • A book you bought on a trip