Thursday, August 31, 2023

First Lines: August 2023 edition

Below are the first lines of the books (and one court document) I finished reading in August.  Plus one book I did not finish. 


Book 1

They’d driven all the way to Mr. Styles’s house before Anna realized that her father was nervous.



Book 2

More than a century ago the Robber Barons discovered Lac Massawippi.  They came with purpose from Montreal, Boston, New York, and burrowing deep into the Canadian wilderness they built the great lodge.


Book 3

I reached out a hand from under the blankets, and rang the bell for Jeeves.



Book 4


December 1949

Julia Child had a mayonnaise problem.

Book 5





Book 6

If she screamed, she sealed her fate.  She had to keep her rage locked up inside her, her feelings as tightly buttoned as her blouse.

Did not finish

Samuel Adams delivered what may count as the most remarkable second act in American life.

The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan. 448 pages.  Published 2017.

I really liked the parts with the diving lessons.  Overall, well written but quite a tense and violent book.  Maybe I’ll like it more after we discuss it in book club next month.


Book 2

A Rule Against Murder, by Louise Penny (Book 4 of 18 in A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery).  313 pages.  Published 2008.

Bad things happen in bad weather in a bad family at a great bed and breakfast in Quebec.


Book 3

The Code of the Woosters, by P.G. Wodehouse.  254 pages. Published 1938. 

The fate of the silver cow creamer determines Bertie’s fate.


Book 4

Mastering the Art of French Murder, by Colleen Gleason.  304 pages. Published 2023. 

Enjoyable cozy mystery that takes place in 1949 Paris. Includes Julia Child as a character.  It’s astonishing that I kept reading this book after those first lines.  I CANNOT STAND mayonnaise.  I cannot abide it.  This book begins and ends with mayonnaise.

The Boston Globe has written extensively about mayo.  The survey says fully 25% of condiment consumers despise mayo.



Book 5

Indictment, Fulton Superior Court, by Fani T. Willis, District Attorney.  98 pages.  Published Aug 14, 2023.

Okay, not really a book.  

41 counts. 19 indictees (is that a word?). 

Key phrases:

“the Grand Jurors aforesaid, in the name and behalf of the citizens of Georgia”

“an act of racketeering activity”

“overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy”

“unindicted co-conspirator”

“contrary to the laws of said State, the good order, peace, and dignity thereof.”

“knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully”

“caused to be tweeted”

“despite the fact that Donald John Trump lost the Nov 3, 2020, presidential election in those states.”

“unlawful breach of election equipment”

To me, the most shameful part of the indictees’ behavior is how they persecuted and falsely accused upstanding citizens who served as election officers.


Book 6

The Woman They Could Not Silence, by Kate Moore.  454 pages of text; total 560 pages.  Published 2021.

The story of Elizabeth Packard, a capable and brave woman who fought strenuously for the rights of women and of mental illness patients in the 1850-1880s.  The story is true, but the book is written like a novel.  This book was recommended to me by two different people, and I now recommend it to you, although it will make you angry.

This link has spoilers!  

Did not finish

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, by Stacy Schiff.  402 pages, of which text and photos are 328 pages. Published  2022.

Samuel Adams was a propagandist for the American Revolution.  And, based on my reading to page 113 (about ⅓ of the text) , he was a jagoff, and so were the Massachusetts colonists.  This biography earned high praise, and I judge it to be well written.  Even though Adams was a principled person agitating for freedom from monarchy (although how principled can a propagandist be?), I don’t want to read about him right now.

How about you? What have you been reading?

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

First Lines: July 2023 edition

What does one hope to find in a
Ghirardelli box?
Probably not coins.

Below are the first lines of the 11 books (3,000+ pages!) I finished reading in July, thanks mostly to insomnia,  encouragement from the library’s summer reading bingo, and the library relentlessly delivering books on hold to my kindle.   AND I learned how to read while walking on the treadmill.  But really, it’s the insomnia.

Includes three very short reads, one children’s lit and one graphic memoir, and a couple of books about money.



Book 1


Would I like to be a bookseller de m├ętier?  On the whole – in spite of my employer’s kindness to me, and some happy days I spent in the shop – no.

-   George Orwell, ‘Bookshop Memories,’ London, November 1936


Orwell’s reluctance to commit to bookselling is understandable.


Book 2

The king is ready for war.

         Louis of France is not yet thirty, and already he is the greatest king in Europe.  He loves his subjects.  He loves God.  And his armies have never been defeated.



Book 3

January 20, 2009

“Brother John - good to see you.  You ready?”


Book 4

One after another the people are swallowed up into the plane to Amsterdam, one after another after another.  Yoel is approaching the aircraft’s door but the flow of passengers is suddenly halted by somebody, a woman in an orange windbreaker, who has planted herself in the doorway of the Boeing 737 and refuses to step inside.


Book 5


2:00 PM

“Now, this is living,” Linus said, standing in the middle of the empty cemetery. 

Book 6

A friend of mine and I were once at the Squirrel Cage – what locals call that dark, neon cavern on Forbes Avenue with its aura of spilled beer and seventies rock on the jukebox – and we’d decided that “Pittsburgh” was every bit as iconic an American signifier as “Manhattan” or “Hollywood.”


Book 7

Go now, or you’ll never go, Evvie warned herself.



Book 8

Part One: Your friends are sure to visit

Chapter 1: The following Thursday…

“I was talking to a woman in Ruskin court, and she said she’s on a diet,” says Joyce, finishing her glass of wine.  “She’s eighty-two!”


Book 9

Author’s Note:  Money is Fiction

In the fall of 2008, I went out to dinner with my aunt Janet.



Book 10

“All too often when there is mass unemployment in the black community, it’s referred to as a social problem, and when there is mass unemployment in the white community, it’s referred to as a depression,” said Martin Luther King in 1968.  “But there is no basic difference.  The fact is, that the Negro faces a literal depression all over the US.”


Book 11

Amerigo Ormea left his house at five thirty in the morning.  It looked like rain.

Did not finish

Who am I?

It can matter little who I am.

It may be that I took to the trade, sufficiently comprehended in the title of this work without a word of it being read, because I had no other means of making a living; or it may be that for the work of detection I had a longing which I could not overcome.

The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Diary of a Bookseller (#1 in a  series) by Shaun Bythell

310 pages • first pub 2017.

Amusing descriptions of customers and co-workers, and the difficulties of running a secondhand book shop in small-town Scotland.  I incurred huge guilt for reading this book on a kindle, the nemesis of bookshops everywhere.


This paragraph stood out to me as one that would only be written by a bookshop owner:

Today was a golden, sunny day; the low light of December and January illuminates the Penguin section in a way that never happens at other times of the year. The undoubted highlight of the day was selling a book called Donald McLeod’s Gloomy Memories, published in 1892, to a customer who had been looking for it for six years.             - page 265

Perhaps the most delightful part about reading this book (which I was led to read so I could check off a library bingo square) is discovering that the bookshop is currently (in July 2023) in operation and the town has developed a bookshop-based tourism industry.  Check out the facebook page:



Book 2

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz with Hatem Aly (Illustrator). 384 pages.  Published 2016. 

A 2017 Newbery Honor Book, Winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

This was an extraordinary tale.  For a children’s book it includes deep philosophical and theological questions, and well-rounded characters.  Although I have never read Chaucer, the style seems modeled after Chaucerian tales of the Middle Ages.  The story is humorous, at times fantastical, and also quite violent, perhaps as a story taking place in 13th century Europe must be.  Some children reading this might need to have adult guidance regarding the antisemitic and anti-Muslim thoughts expressed by some characters.  The king referenced in the first lines is Louis IX, King of France, who was 28 years old in 1242, the year this book takes place.  After his death in 1270 he was canonized as a saint.  Some of his behavior, as recorded by history and in this book, is decidedly less than saintly.

Library bingo "Royalty" square!



Book 3

March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell.  Graphic book.  187 pages. Published 2015.

Read for discussion at church.



Book 4

House on Endless Waters, by Emuna Elon, Translation to English by Emuna Elon. 2016.  309 pages.

If the book Apeirogon was structured as a kaleidoscope, this book is structured in non-Euclidean geometry.  Or perhaps I should say that time converges in on itself in the telling of the story.  It’s extremely introspective, and deals with difficult subject matter (Holocaust and post-Holocaust trauma).  Very good writing, although sometimes repetitive, which alternately annoyed me and sat right with me.  There is much examination of the writing process.  The protagonist reminded me a bit of Harriet in Harriet the Spy.   Do people in Amsterdam really not use curtains or shades?  (The internet says they do not use curtains!) For book club. Library bingo "Scary Stuff" square.



Book 5

Kings of B’more by R. Eric Thomas.  Published 2022.  410 pages.

I enjoyed this young adult book.  It starts a bit slowly but then picks up speed as two teen friends in Baltimore have a stupendous day of fun and meaning all over the Baltimore-Washington area.  The characters are likable and the plot takes many twists and turns, including some funny scenes.  The protagonists are two male Black gay teens, who are accompanied by an assortment of realistic to off-the-wall friends and family members.  Includes a scene in Druid Hill Park.

I didn't pick this book for this reason, but it ended up fitting the Library bingo square for "Initialed first name of author".


Book 6

An Alternative History of Pittsburgh by Ed Simon, 176 pages.  Published 2021.

I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Frank Lloyd Wright was prevented from constructing a monstrous building where Point State Park is right now.  The chapters on the Great Fire of 1845 and on Martin Delaney (“Free Soil” 1831) were the most interesting to me.


Each chapter in this book gives the reader just a taste of each historical event. I learned that Pittsburgh was the place where:

·  the nascent Republican Party held their first convention in 1856,

·  the Fenian Brotherhood (aka the Irish Republican Army) made the decision to invade Canada in 1866,

·  the first nickelodeon (movie theater) was opened in 1905,

·  Czechoslovakia was declared into being as a country (1918).  


I learned that Colonel Henry Bouquet, who has a street named after him in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, was a nasty piece of work who was responsible for biological warfare against the peaceful indigenous population in 1763.  He shouldn’t have a street named after him.


Book 7

Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes.  320 pages. pub 2019.

I selected this book because it fits the library bingo square for “Debut novels”.  It is also a “Read with Jenna Book Club” pick, which fits another bingo square, and it is a romantic comedy.   I enjoyed it; light reading.



Book 8

The Man Who Died Twice (A Thursday Murder Club Mystery), by Richard Osman.  352 pages.  Published 2021. 

Oh, those lovable curmudgeonly amateur murder investigators who live at the Old Folks Home! A lot of murder and mayhem considering the dwelling place of the main characters.



Book 9

Money: The True Story of a Made-up Thing, by Jacob Goldstein.  244 pages.  Published 2020.

One of the causes of the Great Depression was that US money was on the gold standard, and the Fed did the wrong thing. 

Raising interest rates was the exact opposite of what the Fed should have done. … By raising interest rates in the fall of 1931, the Fed put its boot on the throat of a country that was lying on the ground after getting the snot kicked out of it for two years.  The Chairman of the Fed said the rise in rates was called for “by every known rule,” which is to say the Fed did exactly what the gold standard demanded.   - page 137

Book 10

The Color of Money:  Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap, by Mehrsa Baradaran.  372 pages; the text is 285 pages.  Published 2017.

This is more than an examination of the racial wealth gap. If you have a hard time wrapping your head around how racism is systemic, this book will help provide understanding.   I had to read it very quickly because the Kindle Powers That Be were about to snatch it away. One thing I felt the book did not fully address was how the changes in income tax structure after the 1970s affected wealth, income inequality, and banking.  An early chapter includes a fascinating but dismaying account of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, formed in 1865.


Here’s a review from the London School of Economics and another one from the LA Review of Books.



Book 11

The Watcher, by Italo Calvino.  First published in Italian with the title  La giornata d'uno scrutatore in 1963 in Italy.  I read it in a collection published in English in the US in 1971.  Translated into English by William Weaver.  73 pages.

I found this novella by stumbling across an utterly British podcast (“Past Present Future”) in the middle of the night.  Thanks, Insomnia!  The episode I listened to is titled “The Novel that Unravels Democracy,” a discussion with novelist Ian McEwan about The Watcher, “one of the greatest of all works of political fiction”, according to the podcast notes.  I don’t know about that – what qualifies as political fiction? – but I did find a number of similarities between my precinct’s election and the election that The Watcher oversaw.  The protagonist’s first name is Amerigo (pronounced “Ah-mer-EEE-go”, accent on 3rd syllable).  Hmm.  Author’s first name is Italo. 

Did not finish

The Female Detective (British Library Crime Classics) by Andrew Forrester.  288 pages.  First published in 1864. 

This is touted as “the first instance of a female detective in crime fiction” (Booklist).  The narrator will not reveal her name or details of her life, and says she will describe her detective cases without using the first person (“I”).  And then proceeds to tell about a case, referring to herself in the first person.  The prose was too turgid for me at this time.  One review said the first story has the densest prose.  Maybe I’ll come back to this book at some point – will skip the rest of the first story.

I cannot recognize whose likeness is on this $2 bill.