Middlesex

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides
"Middlesex" follows a family from Asia Minor to Detroit. It tells the story of Cal/Callie who is intersexed and tells where the family genetics came from. I really enjoyed the book. I read it with the Pulitzer_literature group on Yahoo. Everyone seemed to like it but no one had alot to say about it.

Newbery Award winner 2004 Criss Cross Lynne Rae Perkins


First sentence – She wished something would happen.

Having reflected upon this book for a while I am still unsure regarding my view of it. I am wondering if it is ‘my age’ that meant that this book did not connect with me. Many of the Newbery award winners and myriads of other children’s books I have read have invariable ‘spoken’ to me. This is often in the form of deeper lessons for life, those truths that lie beneath the story. Alternatively it may be that a book resonates as I reflect upon how it could be shared in the classroom. Disappointingly Criss Cross failed to inspire and stimulate. There was a glimmer of reflection as two of the young people related to one another as they shared the task of supporting an aging and infirm ‘granny’ character. There was a sense of looking out beyond and giving to another. In my opinion this was the best part of the book. Giving to another enriched both of the characters as they found reward. Apart from this instance my view was that the characters and situations were lacking in depth. I have passed my copy to my young friend Chloe and look forward to hearing her view.

Walk Two Moons
By Sharon Creech © 1994
Published by Scholastic Inc.
1995 Newbery Medal winner


Walk Two Moons is the story of 13-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle (most people call her “Sal”) and her trip across the country, from Ohio to Idaho, with her Gram and Gramps. But this is no ordinary vacation. Sal’s mother has gone to “find herself,” and Sal hopes to bring her back home. Her biggest worry is that they won’t get there in time for her mother’s birthday. Somehow, she feels that will make a difference.

Along the way, Gram asks Sal to tell a story.

“Salamanca, why don’t you entertain us?”

“What sort of thing did you have in mind?”

Gramps said, “How about a story? Spin us a yarn.”

I certainly do know heaps of stories, but I learned most of them from Gramps. Gram suggested I tell one about my mother. That I could not do. I had just reached the point where I could stop thinking about her every minute of every day.

Gramps said, “Well then, what about your friends? You got any tales to tell about them?”

Instantly, Phoebe Winterbottom came to mind. There was certainly a hog’s belly full of things to tell about her. “I could tell you an extensively strange story,” I warned.

“Oh, good!” Gram said. “Delicious!”


Some time after Sal’s mother left, her father decided – against Sal’s wishes – to rent out the family farm in Kentucky and move to Ohio. There, she befriended Phoebe Winterbottom, and it was Phoebe’s story that she told to Gram and Gramps – a strange story about Phoebe’s mother, her suspicious next-door neighbor, and “the lunatic.”

Throughout the telling of Phoebe’s story, Sal tells us bits of her own story, and as the miles roll by, we come to know Sal’s deepest thoughts, dreams and fears. Walk Two Moons cleverly delves into the complexities of relationships, between friends, spouses, parent and child, boy and girl, humans and their environment, all with the underlying theme of, “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”

Sharon Creech has done a wonderful job of characterization in this book. The characters are fun and believable, each with their own human foibles and strengths. From the delightfully mischievous (and deeply in love) Gram and Gramps, to the sensitive soul that is Sal, to Phoebe Winterbottom, with her overactive imagination and drama-queen tendencies, by the end of the book you know and care about each one.

Walk Two Moons had me hooked from page one. I laughed, cried, and fell in love with the characters. Though written for children, I recommend it for readers of all ages, middle grade to adult. A great read, in just 280 pages!
I loved this book. Again, it was a quick read, which I seem to be getting a lot of lately, so I polished it off in 2 sittings.
The first thing I noticed when I started this book was that the first chapter appeared to be chapter 2. Hmmm. Did I get a bum copy? Doesn't look like a bum copy. The next chapter is 3, then 5, then 7. Oh, OK, prime numbers. Christopher Boone is writing a murder mystery, and he is an autistic savant living in Swindon, England, and loves 'maths'. He finds great comfort in numbers and the way they work...it helps him to cope with the rest of the world, which he definitely doesn't understand. He doesn't understand emotions, or people's emotions and facial expressions. He likes maths and science and animals. The book starts with Christopher discovering the still-warm body of a neighbor's dog on her lawn, speared by a garden fork. Christopher liked the dog, and resolves to find out who the killer is, and to write a book detailing his quest. So he does what any good detective would do...he starts asking questions. His questions lead him on a journey where he discovers not only who killed the dog, but also some secrets that throw his world into a spiral that ends with him stretching amazingly outside of his comfort zone.

What I liked best about the book, I think, was Christopher's 'voice'. I liked how he detailed the rules that help him get through life, the rules that can help him to ground himself and make him feel safe when the world is somewhat out of control.

Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks. He said that I was clearly a very logical person, so he was surprised that I should think like this because it wasn't very logical.

I said that I liked things to be in a nice order. And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical. Especially if those things were numbers or an argument. But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order. And that was why I had Good Days and Black Days. And I said that some people who worked in an office came out of their house in the morning and saw that the sun was shining and it make them feel happy, or they saw that it was raining and it made them feel sad, but the only difference was the weather and if they worked in an office the weather didn't have anything to do with whether they had a good day or a bad day.

About 1/3 of the way into the book, Christopher makes a discovery that throws him for a huge loop, and from that point on, I couldn't put the book down. I had to know what was going to happen, where the book was going with this, was he going to be able to cope with the new reality in which he found himself, seeing as how 4 yellow cars in a row could make him stop eating and communicating, and he was unable to stand being touched by anyone, even family.

I liked this book a lot, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I am looking forward to future novels from this author. This book was Mark Haddon's debut novel (though he's written childrens books before), and what a debut...it won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year, and the 2004 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book. I read it for the Book Awards Reading Challenge.

~In an odd moment of synchronicity, Christopher likes to watch his Blue Planet video...and, the same day I read about him watching Blue Planet, and he described which episode he was watching, Maya was watching TV, and started watching that very same episode. She rarely watches Blue Planet, doesn't have the DVD or anything, so it was indeed coincidence. She was excited, because it was talking about underwater mountains and volcanoes that she has studied in her Earth Science class, and I was excited because Christopher had talked about these same mountains and volcanoes in my book. Groovy, huh?

‘There are two kinds of travel’….. So begins this 1948 Newbery award winner, a brilliant book ranging from scientific truths to absolute fantasy. At first I thought the mingling of fact and fiction would disappoint me. To the contrary I was completely enthralled and really involved in the adventure. Black and white illustrations complemented the text and explained further some of the inventions. Underneath all the fantasy was a depth and a number of truths regarding ‘teamship’ and questions regarding riches. Excellent writing and highly recommended.

A footnote – at first I was captivated as I too have flown in hot air balloons. This has been with a friend, an amateur in the Pyrennees along with my husband, not to mention my then 87 year old mum and friend! It is the most magical and wonderful form of transport. I have already recommended this to Dave and his family, especially Chloe whose childhood took her round the Pyrenean countryside as her mum followed their beautiful balloon named One World Dreaming.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Hours
By Michael Cunningham
Completed October 27, 2007


The Hours is a complex yet succinct look into the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf as she writes Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a party for her best friend, Richard, and Laura Brown as she plans a birthday party for her husband. These three women's stories are distinctive and seemingly unrelated, but as the book ends, you are swept into the many parallels and connections of these women's lives.

Without spoiling the ending, I will remark that some of these parallels include lesbianism, suicide, party plannning and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. It's an eclectic mix, but if you're familar with Woolf's literature, you will probably connect the dots pretty quickly. Admittedly, I have not read any of Woolf's books, but a quick study of her on Wikipedia was enough for me to fully appreciate what Michael Cunningham was trying to tell in his Pulitzer prize winning story.

The Hours is an interesting women's tale with characters you can empathize with. I feel fortunate to have seen the movie before reading the book, so the talents of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman and Ed Harris filled my head as I read Cunningham's words. I highly recommend either one, or even better, both the book and movie for an introspective look into the lives of three thought-provoking women. ( )

(Cross-posted from my blog)

Am I right that Virginia Woolf has never won an award for any of her writing, even posthumously? I'm planning on picking up another one of her books, and this thought just popped into my head. I thought she may have won a Nobel prize, but apparently not.
“The Looming Tower,” by Lawrence Wright, which is an account of the rise of Al-Qaeda in particular, and Islamic fundamentalism in general, won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction for 2007.

I learned a lot of things from this book. For starters, radical Islam has been around for quite a while, starting with the writings of Sayyid Qutb, a scholar who attended school in the United States in the late 1940s. Qutb’s writings excoriated the influences of modernity, specifically secularism, democracy, individualism, tolerances, materialism, mixing of sexes, etc.

Wright recounts the long history of Islamic movements in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, culminating the formation of Al Qaeda in the 1990s, headed by Osama bin Laden. Their philosophy of mass murder of innocents relies on the concept of “takfir,” which essentially says that anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who does not agree completely with the fundamentalists’ particular interpretation of Islam, is an infidel and should be killed. A rather extreme point of view, which has no basis in the Koran but developed later among some radical Muslims.

Wright did exhaustive research for this book (his list of interview subjects takes up seven pages), and it shows in the meticulous detail of his story. For the most part the story moves right along, but it gets bogged down a little in the details of the long series of wars in Afghanistan (against the Russians), where bin Laden and his friends first started to wage “holy war.” As Wright humorously points out, the Afghans actually just wanted Osama and pals to go away because they were such incompetent fighters.

The book also describes, in painful detail, many of the puzzle pieces held by either the FBI, CIA or NSA, who didn’t share information and thus couldn’t put together the big picture of Al Qaeda’s grand plan.

Alongside the chronicle of Al Qaeda's rise, Wright recounts the compelling story of FBI agent John O’Neill and his efforts to track down the terror network. O’Neill was a flamboyant character who juggled relationships with four (yes, four) women at once as he worked long days and nights on the Al Qaeda case. O’Neill, the one person who could have probably put all the pieces together, didn’t get the support he needed and retired from the FBI in August 2001. He took a job as head of security for the World Trade Center and was killed on Sept. 11.

So, it’s not exactly a cheery tale, but it’s definitely worth reading, if you are interested in learning about the factors that led to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and the people who tried to stop it.
Lost Boy, Lost Girl
Peter Straub

This book won the Bram Stoker Award in 2003 if I go by the list provided here. As this is not part of the Tentative Twelve list I came up with that somehow revolved into a Final Twelve in my book blog, I'm including it as an additional read as I plan to go through the Final Twelve after all. There's no rush, the deadline is next year. Hahaha! I probably need to update the list (as well as my extras) later.

For now here's the link to my thoughts on Lost Boy, Lost Girl. This is a really lovely book.
This book is the winner of the 2002 Booker prize, and I read it for two challenges. It is the first book in the Canadian authors challenge and my fifth book in the Reading Awards Challenge.

Briefly, Pi is Piscine Patel (nicknamed Pi) who, at the age of 16, is on a boat immigrating with his family from India to Canada when the boat unexpectedly sinks. The majority of the story is told from Pi's point of view as he becomes the lone survivor during months at sea in a rescue lifeboat.

STRENGTHS OF LIFE OF PI: This is not normally the type of book I'd choose to read. I am not into adventure/survival stories, but Martel's writing was able to hold my attention throughout the book.

The rest of my review is here.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling---Gautami's 7th book



Title: Kim
Author: Rudyard Kipling
ISBN-13: 9780140183528

Publisher: Penguin Group/338pages
First Published: 1901



Kim is a story about a British orphan about thirteen years of age who has been raised on the streets of Lahore, now in Pakistan. He speaks fluent Hindi, understands assorted dialects and, is well versed in whirl of religions and cultures. He takes to the road as a disciple of a wandering Tibetan priest in search of a mythical holy river with healing powers. Along the way, he has a chance meeting with his deceased father's old army regiment and his identity is revealed to him. The army sends him to an English language Catholic school in the south, but his underlying value, because of his knowledge of local language and understanding of culture, is quickly made use by a member of the British secret service.

Kim is not a children’s book. A child may be the main character, but the book is too philosophical and filled with complex human behaviour to be of much interest to children. The main thrush of the book is the relationship between Kim and the Red Lama, the basic story of two people, one an orphan boy and the other an elderly mystic, finding many of the things they are seeking in caring for and looking after one another.

In Kim, Kipling characterizes all the good of India while playing down the contrasts. He shows us what India would have been like in an ideal situation of mutual tolerance. Kipling’s observations are remarkable and one realizes from time to time that it is not the writer’s imagination about a period long gone but that he was in fact a part of that period.

For more, please do visit here....

Rudyard Kipling---Nobel Prize1907

Whitbread - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I loved this book. It was a quick read, which I seem to be getting a lot of lately, so I polished it off in 2 sittings.

The first thing I noticed when I started this book was that the first chapter appeared to be chapter 2. Hmmm. Did I get a bum copy? Doesn't look like a bum copy. The next chapter is 3, then 5, then 7. Oh, OK, prime numbers. Christopher Boone is writing a murder mystery, and he is an autistic savant, and loves 'maths'. He finds great comfort in numbers and the way they work...it helps him to cope with the rest of the world, which he definitely doesn't understand. He doesn't understand emotions, or people's emotions and facial expressions. He likes maths and science and animals. The book starts with Christopher discovering the just murdered body of a neighbor's dog on her lawn. Christopher liked the dog, and resolves to find out who the killer is, and to write a book detailing his quest. So he does what any good detective would do...he starts asking questions. His questions lead him on a journey where he discovers not only who killed the dog, but also some secrets that throw his world into a spiral that ends with him stretching amazingly outside of his comfort zone.

What I liked best about the book, I think, was Christopher's 'voice'. I liked how he detailed the rules that help him get through life, the rules that can help him to ground himself and make him feel safe when the world is somewhat out of control.

Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don't speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don't eat my lunch and Take No Risks. He said that I was clearly a very logical person, so he was surprised that I should think like this because it wasn't very logical.

I said that I liked things to be in a nice order. And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical. Especially if those things were numbers or an argument. But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order. And that was why I had Good Days and Black Days. And I said that some people who worked in an office came out of their house in the morning and saw that the sun was shining and it make them feel happy, or they saw that it was raining and it made them feel sad, but the only difference was the weather and if they worked in an office the weather didn't have anything to do with whether they had a good day or a bad day.

About 1/3 of the way into the book, Christopher makes a discovery that throws him for a huge loop, and from that point on, I couldn't put the book down. I had to know what was going to happen, where the book was going with this, was he going to be able to cope with the new reality in which he found himself, seeing as how 4 yellow cars in a row could make him stop eating and communicating, and he was unable to stand being touched by anyone, even family.

I liked this book a lot, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I am looking forward to future novels from this author. This book was Mark Haddon's debut novel, and what a debut...it won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year, and the 2004 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for Best First Book.

The Giver - Lois Lowry

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Country: America
Year: 1993
Rating: A
Pages: 179 pgs.

First sentence: It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.

Short Summary: Jonas lives in a world where everything is perfect and under control. When Jonas is twelve, he is singled out in his community to receive special training from the Receiver of Memories. The Receiver is the only person in the whole community that holds the memories of true pleasure and pain. Now it is Jonas' turn.

Was this a challenge book? I read this book for the BookAwards Challenge. It is the 1993 winner of the Newbery Award.

What did I think? **This might contain small spoilers**
The Giver is a though-provoking book for people of all ages. It is interesting to think about what it would be like to live in a community like Jonas': never experiencing pain, to always be content, yet having no knowledge that life could be any different. A life where you have no chocie, everything is assigned to you, including your career, spouse, and children. Where there is no true concept of feelings (or colors!). I particularly like that the ending is left ambiguous. It certainly gives the reader a lot to think about.

Complete post can be found here.

Newbery 2004, The Tale of Despereaux


The Tale of Despereaux:
Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread

By Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
First edition 2003 published by Candlewick Press


Thanks to a wonderful fourth grade teacher who reads this book aloud to her class each year, The Tale of Despereaux is a favorite of my two youngest children. It made my daughter’s birthday wish list three years ago, and recently my son joined in the chorus of, “Mom, you HAVE to read Despereaux!”

Finally, I have.

Despereaux is the youngest in the Tilling family, a disappointingly small, weak, sickly mouse, born – much to his family’s dismay – with his eyes open.

“This is the last,” proclaimed Antoinette from her bed. “I will have no more mice babies. They are hard on my beauty. They ruin, for me, my looks. This is the last one. No more.”

“The last one,” said the father. “And he’ll be dead soon. He can’t live. Not with his eyes open like that.”

But reader, he did live.

This is his story.

As he grows, Despereaux never quite fits in with the rest of the castle’s mouse community, refusing to search for crumbs and chew on books like a regular mouse, but choosing instead to savor the beauty in music and fairy tales. Left to pursue this very un-mouselike behavior, Despereaux eventually discovers – and falls in love with – the Princess Pea. And there, his adventure begins.

Despereaux’s tale includes an interesting cast of characters; King Phillip and Princess Pea, a judgmental community of mice, Gregory the jailer, Chiaroscuro the rat, Miggery Sow, the abandoned and abused servant girl. Each has his own life experiences and resulting ambitions, bringing Despereaux to his ultimate challenge. The story is a tale of good and evil, lightness and dark, with underlying themes of empathy, courage, love, forgiveness and the acceptance of differences.

With a storyteller’s narrative style, the author addresses the reader directly throughout the story, contemplating the deeper ideas within the tale. This unique narration, paired with short, concise chapters, makes The Tale of Despereaux a perfect read-aloud story. And one that is hard to put down.

Despereaux learns many lessons in his quest for love and “once upon a time,” lessons of bravery and courtesy, honor and devotion. He learns that even a small mouse can be a knight in shining armor. And in the darkness of the castle dungeon, he learns that “stories are light.”

If this is so, reader, then The Tale of Despereaux shines brightly.

Skellig by David Almond

From Commonsensemedia: Michael’s family has just moved to an old fixer-upper. But his baby sister is in the hospital with a heart problem, and Michael feels devastated and helpless.

When he sneaks into the crumbling garage, Michael finds a stranger named Skellig living (or apparently dying) there, a man immobilized by arthritis, subsisting on insects and spiders, and surrounded by owl pellets. While helping him, Michael discovers that the man is oddly light and has strange growths on his back that maybe wings.

As Skellig begins to inhabit Michael’s dreams, he and his new friend, Mina, help Skellig into an abandoned house. There Skellig seems to have an odd relationship with the owls, who bring him food. And as Michael’s mother keeps vigil by the baby’s hospital bed, Michael begins to feel his sister’s heart beating within his own, and Skellig appears in his mother’s dreams as well.

My thoughts: I really love this book. Any initial disgust one has about Skellig’s outer ugliness is erased as his true character slowly reveals itself. It reminds me of the movie City of Angels because it seemed to me that Skellig was an angel … but definitely not fitting into the stereotypical cherubs, but with a darker (though not necessarily sinister, maybe realistic?) side to it. But then the book never claims that Skellig, the creature languishing in Michael’s garage is an angel.

The writing is beautiful, interwoven with snatches of Blake’s poetry. The imagery is also beautiful, as if one were half-awake, with a dreamlike quality. One scene I remember vividly is the description of how, in a moonlit room, Michael, Mina and Skellig join hands, slowly twirling … and in a haze they realize they are slowly floating, no flying in the air on their newfound wings. It sounds corny when I write it like this, but Almond’s imagery has a sense of grandeur and mystery.

Read more on my blog.

Lisey's Story
Stephen King

I haven't read Stephen King in a while. Unlike others who buy every SK book available, I have managed to get by with only a handful of his books. I've seen the movies though. I'm not really sure how faithful they were to the written works but one of my favorite films include The Shawshank Redemption.

Some books I dearly loved like The Stand, The Green Mile, The Eyes of the Dragon and the Dark Tower (even if I haven't read the last book from that series, for one reason or another I had it shelved until I reread all six books prior to it), one scared the hell out of me (The Shining), and one somewhat creepy (It) but all of them are generally more than your average good reads. There was a time I wanted to buy The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon but I never got around to doing that. I was more like the occasional fan. If I like what I read at the back of his book I'd probably buy it. That's how I had all the abovementioned books (except The Eyes of the Dragon which was gift). Plus I have On Writing, still unread. Gee, I'm stressing myself with two of my unread Kings!

And Lisey's Story will be part of my treasured King books (despite my paperback copy which somehow bleeds ink and smudges some letters after turning the pages). It was such a pleasure to read.

It's a story about love, marriage, letting go when the dearly beloved passed on and the love that endures after death. It's also a story about families and the blood ties that either gives strength or destroys, of sisterhood and the unspoken commitment to be there for each other no matter what happens.

It's also a tale of madness. One that kills and one that restores and refreshes one's senses. A madness that believes that not everything is at it seems and that this world is but one of many.

Reading Stephen King is opening yourself to his world, his language, his manner of laying down the tale. You either get him or not. You either love the play of words, the atmosphere he creates and the characters who mouths stuff you may or may not understand. I initially had difficulty with some of the accented words and I had to speak (at least in my mind) some in a Southern accent, which I have to admit I have very limited exposure to since I'm not from the US nor anywhere near it.

But what's more important to me than the accents or even the made up words that can be a bit tricky (I sometimes turn back the pages to recall what the hell SOWISA means even if I know the context from whence it came) is how everything falls into place in the end. And in this, the master of horror never disappoints.

One last thing.

I knew I have read BOOL before. I just can't remember where. A search pointed me to Wikipedia's entry on Lisey's Story stating that the phrase "Bool! The end!" appeared in "Wizard and Glass" which is the fourth book in the Dark Tower series. It's also the book that reeled me in because of the Dave McKean illustrations.

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This post originally appeared in my blog titled as Strap It On.

I didn't know that this book won the Bram Stoker Award for 2006 until now. So I'm including this in my additional reads for the Book Awards Reading Challenge as well. Of course I still plan to go through the rest of my Final Twelve as I've read one on the list and another two off from my pool of books. My thoughts on those books to follow, hopefully soon.

Sarah, Plain and Tall

Of all the classic children's books to have never read, I can't believe I've skipped over this one for years and years. In fact, I just found out several weeks ago that it is actually part of a series! Who know?! Not me, but I'm sure all of you!

Sarah, Plain and Tall is a Newbery Award Winner book by Patricia MacLachlan. In its short 64 page self, this lovely book tells the huge story of a widower in 19th century Midwest, that advertises for a wife and mother for his two young children, Anna and Caleb. Sarah answers the advertisement and soon arrives from Maine, winning the hearts of the children and their father very quickly. Young Caleb however, having never met his mother due to her death during his birth, is frightened that Sarah is so homesick for Maine that she will not want to stay with their family forever. Sarah soon makes it known that though she loves Maine and misses it very much, she loves the children and their father more.

This was really such a sweet and lovely story. Though it was very short for a chapter book, it conveyed all of its meaning in the pages it did have and left me wanting more of this family. Now that I know I can have more in the sequels, I'm happy! Mark one off my Book Award Challenge list!
Holley’s Review #3 of 12
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
PEN/Faulkner Award
National Book Critics Circle Award
Southeastern Booksellers Association Award – Fiction

I have flirted with this book for years. I’ve watched its popularity wax and wane and said to myself at every turn, “I need to read that.” Well, now I have and I really don’t know what to say. I did not enjoy it and to finish it I had to absolutely gut it out like a Navy SEAL recruit. The way people raved about the beauty of the language I was just sure I would love it so imagine my disappointment with the tedious book I found it to be. There were beautiful passages, images, turns of phrase, descriptions of characters…it was all there, but this book just did not resonate with me.

One friend pointed out that it was a tedious situation for the hostages and I was just picking up on that but somehow I don’t think that was it. I’ve never had an ear for opera so perhaps that is some of it as well. The thoughts of people losing focus, forgetting allegiances and disregarding their own safety (not to mention a months-long hostage standoff complete with food, music and soccer) to hear someone sing surpassed my abilities at suspension of disbelief. I won’t spoil the ending for you here but to me it seemed slapdash and thrown together. Like the tediousness of the hostage situation, perhaps it was a literary device to parallel the same sudden brutality in the hostages’ rescue but, again, I doubt it.

I understand the theme of music being used to bring together people of different backgrounds and ethnicities. I understand falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time. I’ve read and liked other hostage/terrorist novels. I did not like this particular book. All this being said, I think Patchett’s writing is beautiful even if I did not like the book and I look forward to finally picking up my ARC of her newest, Run.

Happy Reading!
htw

My list

Sadly I have only completed six books so far for this challenge. Here is what I have completed and what I have left to complete.

1. Interpreter of Maladies Lahiri, Jhumpa [Pulitzer Prize]

2. Bel Canto By Anne Patchett [Booker Prize]

3. Blindess By Jose SARAMAGO [Nobel Prize]

4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker [Pulitzer Prize]

5. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006 Booker)

6. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997 Booker)

7. March by: Geraldine Brooks [2006 Pulitzer Prize]

8. The Known World by: Edward P. Jones [2004 Pulitzer Prize]

9. Three Junes by: Julia Glass [2002 National Book Award]

10. Love in the Time of Cholera by: Gabriel García Márquez [1982 Nobel Prize]

11. Beloved By Toni Morison [ 1993 Nobel Prize]

12. The Magical Year of Thinking [2005 National Book Award]

13. Devil in the White City [2004 Edgar Award Winner for Best Fact Crime]



We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is the story of a marriage with children. Eva, the wife, writes letters to Franklin, her husband, after they are separated. The focus of her letters is the fact that their son, Kevin, killed a teacher and several carefully handpicked students at his high school.

In my opinion, there are several compelling aspects to this book. The first is Kevin himself. He is presented as a difficult baby who grows into a difficult child who becomes an even more difficult teenager. He's overtly sullen and withdrawn toward his family, and the tension this creates in the family is almost palpable on the printed page.

The second is the dynamic between husband and wife. Eva recognizes the elements in her child's personality that make him so difficult to love. Franklin prefers not to see just how troublesome Kevin's behavior is, and because Eva loves Franklin so much, she allows his judgments about Kevin, no matter how improbable, to override her own misgivings time and time again. Lionel Shriver displayed tremendous skill at accurately depicting Eva's I'm-onto-him attitude vs Franklin's boys-will-be-boys way of looking at Kevin's behavior. And when Kevin's actions resulted in huge consequences to those he chose to toy with, Shriver continued to keep that precarious balance going between the two parents with Franklin's evaluation always keeping Eva's suspicions just under the radar.

The third compelling aspect to this book is Eva herself. She is a successful business woman who has a strong entrepreneurial background. She took the germ of an idea for a travel guide and built it into a strong business with her personal touch continually keeping the company on the path she'd chosen for it. She is smart, educated, familiar with numerous cultures throughout the world, and her conversations, no matter what the topic, are never dull. That's the business side of Eva. The wife and mother side are completely different. That smart, savvy, knowledgeable businesswoman simply doesn't exist in a familial setting. For Eva this causes years and years of frustration. For the rest of the family it creates an us-against-her atmosphere. Little by little this erodes whatever relationship these people share.

In my opinion, this is an excellent book. If the reader is looking for reasons for how or why something like the Columbine massacre happened, this book can provide some insight. For me, while I realize that was supposed to be the point of the book, I was just as fascinated by the family dynamics and what that quietly explosive situation finally produced.

Newbery Medal - Number the Stars



Number the Stars is the story of Annemarie, a 10 year old Danish Christian girl in 1943. Denmark is occupied by the Nazis, and now they are preparing to deport all of the Jews, including Annemarie's best friend, Ellen, and her family. Annemarie's family works with Ellen's family to spirit them away, and the events occurring around Annemarie do not always make sense. But she wants her friend to be safe, desperately, and is willing to be brave to help.

While the characters in Number the Stars are fictional, the events portrayed are very much real. I had never read anything about the rescue of the Danish Jews before. What an amazing display of collective resistance. The people of Denmark worked together to save the vast majority of Denmark's Jewish population, by spiriting them away to neighboring Switzerland.

I read Number the Stars for the Book Awards Reading Challenge, as it received the 1990 Newbery Medal. Number the Stars is a Children's Book, and reads like one, but it is among the best in the genre. However, sometimes truth can be even more poignant than fiction. Lois Lowry includes an afterword to the book, discussing the facts and details of the rescue, and in that afterword she included a quote which spoke to me, much like the words of Anne Frank. These are the words of a young man, Kim Malthe-Bruun, a 21-year old member of the Danish Resistance.
...and I want you all to remember - that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of - something he can work and fight for.
That would be a great gift indeed, and one that is needed here and now, more than ever.

Newbery 2004


Delightful writing from the pen of Kate Di Camillo tells an apparently simple fairy tale story of a small brave mouse who despite having the odds stacked against him enables light to triumph over darkness. The reader is challenged by the apparently simple questions posed by the author who writes in a simple but never condescending style. In my opinion deep respect for her readers was evident.

On the face of it this is a good over evil story, light winning over the darkness. But behind the simplicity are laid to the big questions of life. The short chapters lead from one unlikely scenario to the next but almost inevitably a puzzle or query arises from her writing. Themes of being different, standing up for what is right, forgiveness and challenging taken for granted assumptions are used to encourage thinking and reflection far from the soup, red cloth, needle and small ears that are never far from the narrative.

I would highly recommend this book, especially for reading aloud, just allow plenty of space for reflection and discussion.

Newbery 2007

In my opinion this is a profound book as themes and threads are intertwined at many levels. On the surface there is adventure, detail and day to day life from a child’s point of view. Look further and we find a myriad of issues such as the loss of a parent, friendships, finding the ‘higher power’, coping with a desolate and dusty life style not to mention that the characters are each grappling with growing up. Through the story we witness the children supporting one another and we are often reminded of the challenges children face.

What is so delightful is the very way in which the author reasons like a child and gives voice to the fears and anxieties that we may well recognise from our own childhoods. For those of us who work with children it is very true to life - their fears, their sometimes simplistic views, uncluttered, reasoning that sounds quite straight forward. The characters are life like and well painted and provide humour. I especially liked Brigitte as she clearly attempts to speak English, despite her French nationality. Then there is Lincoln who ties knots incessantly. People think he is clueless but as Lucky tells him ‘..but you’re really not’. One such knot, a Ten Strand Round Knot was a gift to her. From that knot she wishes that she too could bring together all the complicated strands in her life and so weave it all into a beautiful neat ten strand knot. This is a delightful image of learning from someone whom others see as ‘clueless’. This is a very short read but it prompted many reflective moments that would be a joy to share with a young reader

Newbery 1976


‘For a moment he seemed no more than an uncomplicated small boy, caught up in bubbling wonder by a marvellous sight’

Set in the mysterious Welsh countryside this is a story woven with myth and Arthurian legend. Will, recuperating from hepatitis and staying with his Welsh uncle and aunt overcomes the Dark evil with the help of Bran, a young boy whose origins are clouded in mystery. As we learn more of his story themes of separation, roots and belonging emerge. For Bran the boundaries surrounding ‘his story’ have been tightly controlled by his father. Finally he is able to ask and face those questions that were previously unspeakable. This was a poignant and tense part of the book for me that somehow does not often get mention – I liked the way in which Susan Cooper brings together the longing question of humanity ‘where do I come from’ to the legend aspect of her saga.
This fourth book in the Dark is Rising sequence was the first book in the series that I have read and had it not been for the Newbery Award it would not have been my choice. Having said that it was compelling, magical and certainly full of mystery!

Newbery 1978



I read this book in almost one sitting. Snuggled up in bed it was started before I turned off the light and finished the next morning. As an adult I really related to this book. As far as our children are concerned we may need to reflect upon the purpose of education. In my view it is about forming people who, however academically and technically skilful, are not reduced to inarticulate embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth. This book addresses the ‘big questions of life and death, meaning and truth’ in the context of a childhood friendship. Yes, it is soul achingly sad …. yet few of us are untouched from grief in life ... I would highly recommend this book to be read and shared by children and caring adults everywhere.I read this book in almost one sitting. Snuggled up in bed it was started before I turned off the light and finished the next morning. As an adult I really related to this book. As far as our children are concerned we may need to reflect upon the purpose of education. In my view it is about forming people who, however academically and technically skilful, are not reduced to inarticulate embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth. This book addresses the ‘big questions of life and death, meaning and truth’ in the context of a childhood friendship. Yes, it is soul achingly sad …. yet few of us are untouched from grief in life ... I would highly recommend this book to be read and shared by children and caring adults everywhere.
I read this book in almost one sitting. Snuggled up in bed it was started before I turned off the light and finished the next morning. As an adult I really related to this book. As far as our children are concerned we may need to reflect upon the purpose of education. In my view it is about forming people who, however academically and technically skilful, are not reduced to inarticulate embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth. This book addresses the ‘big questions of life and death, meaning and truth’ in the context of a childhood friendship. Yes, it is soul achingly sad …. yet few of us are untouched from grief in life ... I would highly recommend this book to be read and shared by children and caring adults everywhere.I read this book in almost one sitting. Snuggled up in bed it was started before I turned off the light and finished the next morning. As an adult I really related to this book. As far as our children are concerned we may need to reflect upon the purpose of education. In my view it is about forming people who, however academically and technically skilful, are not reduced to inarticulate embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth. This book addresses the ‘big questions of life and death, meaning and truth’ in the context of a childhood friendship. Yes, it is soul achingly sad …. yet few of us are untouched from grief in life ... I would highly recommend this book to be read and shared by children and caring adults everywhere.
I read this book in almost one sitting. Snuggled up in bed it was started before I turned off the light and finished the next morning. As an adult I really related to this book. As far as our children are concerned we may need to reflect upon the purpose of education. In my view it is about forming people who, however academically and technically skilful, are not reduced to inarticulate embarrassment by the great questions of life and death, meaning and truth. This book addresses the ‘big questions of life and death, meaning and truth’ in the context of a childhood friendship. Yes, it is soul achingly sad …. yet few of us are untouched from grief in life ... I would highly recommend this book to be read and shared by children and caring adults everywhere.



Newbery 1996

This winner is set in 14th century mediaeval England. In a sense that fact is immaterial in terms of the story. What the setting does offer is a wonderful reason for using delightful, varied and unusual vocabulary. I marked many passages of beautiful writing reminiscent of the period setting yet deeply adding to the depth of the story. The Author’s note at the end was just what I wanted as I completed the book as it answered many of my puzzles as I read.

The central character Beetle is ‘needed by no one’ at one point. Gradually, glimmerings of self belief appear in response to the actions of other characters. At one point she is given a comb that she has much coveted. However it was given with a wink and a compliment and although ‘she did not know it, they were also gifts, and they nestled in Beetle’s heart and stayed there’. Wondrously, Beetle then begins to share what she learns along her journey and others begin to value her. She is painted as a kind and humble character and the fruit of those traits becomes increasingly evident. Beetle continues to learn from her experiences and in doing so is able to give increasingly of herself. Naturally she comes up against events that mean she loses faith in herself, yet even then the reader learns that the friendship and loyalty she has shown is repaid and proffers great comfort.

The main question the story poses is found towards the end when she is asked by Magister Reese ‘And what, inn girl, do you want of life?’ By the end she discovers for herself the great truth of life and through her actions she gives Edward (a small waif) the self confidence and skills he had previously lacked – and so the circle is continued.

An excellent and very satisfying read with themes ranging from success to failure, perseverance, life long learning, hope and compassion. This was well deserving of the Newbery Medal award and would be delightful to read aloud.

Pulitzer 2007

At the outset I was not sure I would stick with this book. A few pages in and I was glued to every phrase. Compulsive desire to read just a few more pages developed.

I was asking myself, how is it that a sad, depressing account of a barren and bleak world with two characters moving from one moment to the next in an apparently unending and pointless journey hold the reader. As I reflect I think it may have something to do with the love shared between father and son. This gave the journey hope or was it simply the raw survival instinct? Their were tensions, the power of love and the fight for survival bought me face to face with the big question ‘what would we have done in their shoes?’ Right and wrong, love thy neighbour – all so very easy in a land of plenty. Not so easy when you hear the boy simply state that they had killed the man, even though they had walked back to put his clothes back on the road.

I kept asking myself why are they continuing, what do they expect to be the end point, is it the raw instinct to survive? On reflection of course they were continuing for the same reason that I had to turn the page, they were persevering with the hope that the next step would be the salvation, the good news.

I did want to know about the past, had the mother killed herself, what had actually happened to create such ash, devastation and obliteration of civilisation as we know it.
And what about the inner fire of the boy – was this hope, the spiritual being within …

I found the ending strange, slightly unexpected, and was not quite sure what to read into the last paragraph. All I know was that the last paragraphs were beautiful language and reflected the profound nature of this work. This book will speak to me long after it is back on the shelf.

Orange 2007

"The world has to know the truth of what is happening, because they simply cannot remain silent while we die."

For those of us who did not know the truth this book was most surely essential reading.

At first I marvelled at what I was learning about the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70. Told from the Biafran point of view the main characters are Biafran: Olanna and Odenigbo, well-off and well-educated academics; Ugwu, their houseboy; Kainene, Olanna's twin sister and Richard who is a British expat and Kainene's partner Their lives are laid before us as their characters are developed. Little by little uncomfortable, sometimes slightly shocking phrases begin to appear. Issues of race, culture, loyalty, class and ethnicity become intermingled and I struggled attempting to unravel the reasons for the characters’ behaviours.

I was not far into the book when I found myself often reaching for my tiny index sticky markers. I used these when I felt anger, compelled to ask a question, exclaim or simply love the turn of phrase of the author. Sometimes in Half a Yellow Sun it was the simplicity of what was said that was so compelling. All was not bleak and in places there were wonderful examples of hope and the survival of the human spirit. The young Ugwu dedicates himself to mastering English and is justifiably proud of his efforts while we see Richard, white European equally keen to speak Igbo. Both wish to be considered as achieving – so what is it about a culture that gives a character a sense of belonging and the acceptance?

I ‘knew’ that there were going to be the most terrible scenes of violence, descriptions of atrocities that beggared belief but was still shocked at the starkness. The historical political events continue as we witness human beings whom we have got to know in their everyday pre war life struggle to survive, looking for places to live, food to eat and people they have lost. Grief, violence and fear replace the evenings of comfort and dinner parties pre war. It makes you wonder why some become so preoccupied with material extras of life.

The strength of the human spirit does triumph in numerous ways. Here is one example from which I resolved to learn.

Edna has just heard of the cruel death of four little girls when the Baptist church in her home town had been bombed. Edna sobs herself to sleep and Olanna who has been attempting to comfort her

…….. ‘sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery’…….

So at the end, the lasting theme for me is one of man’s inhumanity to man. When will we learn to respect and value human life, refrain from taking up arms and give to those in greatest need ....

Do visit the author's website where you may read further regarding the history. Deeply moving are the personal stories of Nigerians who have responded to the book and have written their own personal reflections: http://www.halfofayellowsun.com/


Title: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Country: UK
Year: 2004
Rating: A-
Pages: 782 pgs.

First sentence:
Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.

What I thought: Other than the fact that it was hard to read this book with a belly the size of a basketball, I really enjoyed it. :) It took me two weeks to finish the book, but that is not a sign of weakness. I have heard many people refer to JS&MR as an "adult Harry Potter". I believe that does a disservice to both this novel and the Harry Potter series. Yes, it involves magicians in the UK, but that is where the similarities end. What makes this story unique is the foray into magical theory and a fantastical history of England. Large portions of the book are occupied with debate over the history of magic in England, and how it should be brought back. Don't let this description turn you off, it's a very hard book to describe, but well worth the time it takes to read it. It does become a bit murky in the middle, but last 200 pages really pick up the pace!

Pulitzer Prize: March, by Geraldine Brooks


If you're familiar with Little Women, the story by Louisa May Alcott, you know it is the tale of a year in the life of the March daughters, Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth, and their mother, Marmee, and their growth and changes while their father is away at war. Mr. March is an abolitionist preacher who has gone along with the Union army in the Civil War, hoping to provide spiritual solace to the troops, and to 'walk the walk' that he has been talking for so long, about the sacrifices required to defeat the scourge of slavery. (And no, he would never say something so modern as 'walk the walk'...that was mine.) His story is told partially in the form of letters home to Marmee and the girls, partially in his remembrances of his past, and partially in his telling of his current trip with the troops. He talks of his journey into the South when he was a young man of 18, how he was seduced for a short while by the beauty and gentile life led by the plantation owners there, and how he was disabused of his perceptions of their gentility. He came back North a more fervent abolitionist, and became a preacher. He tells of his meeting and the short courtship of his wife, Marmee, a much more fervent abolitionist than he. He tells of his dealings with John Brown, and what those dealings cost him. It is an intriguing story.


Toward the end of the story, he is layed low by fever, and Marmee is called to help him, just as happens in Little Women. At this point, the story changes to Marmee's perspective for a few chapters, and we see that some of the assumptions that Mr. March has made, assumptions with repercussions deep and final, and based on his beliefs of what Marmee wanted and admired in a husband, were indeed false assumptions.


The part of the story that is told in the present tense, of his trip with the troops, and his time spent on a plantation that is being run by a northerner, with slaves who have been freed and are for the first time hoping to by paid for their labor, is heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time.


Brooks did extensive research on the period and on the Alcott family. The part of Mr. March is based upon Alcott's father, a transcendentalist who kept company with the likes of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom play parts in March.


I enjoyed this book quite a bit, both for the writing, and for the glimpse of the abolitionist movement it gave. It was also nice to return, briefly, to the world of Little Women. Actually, when I returned March to the library yesterday, I checked out Little Women, in the hopes that my daughter will enjoy it as much as I did.

I recently finished my 5th selection for this challenge, The Underpainter by Jane Urquhart. Here is an excerpt from my review:

The Underpainter is narrated by an elderly painter named Austin and covers a large span of his life, from his childhood into his forties. I mentioned before that this book reminds me of Philippe Claudel's Les Ames Grises and this is mostly because the tone of the narrator is so similar – such sorrow and regret, and such a need to account for his life. Austin circles in and out of his own story and the story of one of his friends – George. The two stories are, of course, linked far more deeply than is initially expected. And the way Urquhart moves us through these men’s lives is so adept, each new experience echoing another...

See the rest of this post at my blog here

The Stone Diaries - NBCC 1994

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields made it on to my Book Awards Reading Challenge by accident, in a way. I was just interested in participating in the challenge so I went through a bunch of award lists and chose titles that seemed interesting to me. I am so glad that I accidentally chose to read this title. It just might make it on to my top ten list, that is, top ten novels I've ever read.

The Stone Diaries is the account of Daisy Stone Goodwill's life, as told by herself. She was born in 1905 and died in the 1990s and, so, her life also tells the story of the tumultuous decades of the twentieth century. I love that each stage of her life offers some truth about the decade in which it occurred. I love that she doesn't let any one event from her life be the whole definition of her life. Yes, she was twice widowed but she doesn't think about herself only in those terms. Yes, she was a mother, an author, a gardener, an aunt, a friend but no one facet of her life describes it all...she is just Daisy.

I'm just so glad I chose to read this book. I'm also glad that I was able to purchase a copy at the Friends of the Library booksale last week! This one is definitely one to be read over and over again.

Also posted on my blog, HERE.
The story is set in a society filled with rules, no real feelings and an emphasis on interdependence. Jonas is an Eleven about to become to Tweleve. Each age group recieves something new when they collectively move up a level and are all one year older. Twelve is where they recieve their Assignments (jobs) after being carefully monitored through their earlier life so a mistake is not made. Jonas is nervous about what he will be Assigned as he has no idea what he will get. Nothing called to him specifically during his voluntary work hours and he tried a lot of different things out.

At the ceremony something special happens to him that will change his life forever. A whole new world of pain, anger, love and colour are opened up to him along with different climates and the concept of hills. The community made a decision some time ago to opt for sameness and only now does Jonas realise that that took away all of their choices and freedoms in life.

A really interesting look at a utopian/dystopian society. Quite creepy in places, you know when they take about the old being "Released" that it isn't as pleasant as it sounds. Learning about the society and the different stages growing up was fascinating. For example until a certain age children have jackets that fasten at the back to learn to rely on others. Later on they get their first front fastening coat and then later one with pockets as they can now be trusted to be responsible for their own small personal items. The family unit idea and surpressing "Stirrings" was another interesting idea. I will definately be reading the next two in the series to see what happens to Jonas next...

East of Eden - Wendy's Review

There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well - or ill? -From East of Eden, page 413-

I have yet to be disappointed by anything John Steinbeck writes ... and East of Eden is no exception.

Set in the heart of the Salinas Valley, the novel spans three generations of two families whose lives overlap - the Trasks and the Hamiltons. Samuel Hamilton, an Irish immigrant and dreamer who believes in the goodness of mankind, raises his family without financial wealth but rich with love and family unity.

He came to Salinas Valley full-blown and hearty, full of in inventions and energy. His eyes were very bulue, and when he was tired one of them wandered outward a little. he was a big man but delicate in a way. In the dusty business of ranching he seemed always immaculate. His hands were clever. He was a good blacksmith and carpenter and woodcarver, and he could improvise anything with bits of wood and metal. -From East of Eden, page 8-9-

Adam Trask descends from wealth, and the conflict of sibling rivalry and moral weakness.

These usually bought land, but good land, and built their houses of planed lumber and had carpets and colored-glass diamond panes in their windows. There were numbers of these families and they got the good land of the valley and cleared the yellow mustard away and planted wheat. Such a man was Adam Trask. -From East of Eden, page 13-

Narrated in the philosophical voice of Samuel's grandson (who flavors this all-American classic with his thoughts and observations of the politics and economics of life in America at the turn of the century), Steinbeck uses the timeless story of Cain and Abel to draw his characters - and with this adds a greater depth to a novel rich with symbolism.

As in all of Steinbeck's novels, the characters drive the story. Lee, a Chinese servant, surprises and delights the reader with his wisdom and gentle nature. Cathy (later Kate) surpasses the stereotypical evil character, allowing reader empathy to exist side by side with revulsion and demonstrating no one is all good or all bad. The overriding message of East of Eden seems to be that man (or woman) are free to choose their path regardless of inheritance or circumstances - in fact, perhaps in spite of them.

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. -From East of Eden, page 132-

Now there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, 'Do thou,' and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in 'Thou shalt.' Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But 'Thou mayest'! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win. -From East of Eden, page 303-

Steinbeck's fine sense of place resonates throughout the novel. It is easy to see why East of Eden is considered his greatest work.

A classic which is a must read, this novel is highly recommended; rated 5/5.
It is not outside, it is inside: wholly within.
Meister Eckhart

It was an old and rather poor church, many of the ikons were without settings, but such churches are the best for praying in.

Dostoevsky
The Solid Mandala, Patrick White, 1966. I'd been meaning to read this for quite a while, partly because of the intiguing title, and partly because of its epigraph from Meister Eckhart (always on the look-out for all things medieval). But I have to admit it was a sense of duty more than anything else that kept me plugging away through the first two hundred pages. I don't find Patrick White's novels easy to like. It portrays the everyday life of twin brothers, Waldo and Arthur, in grimy detail. Mucus, excrement, furtive orgasms, tedious suburbia, two old men and their two old dogs. Their codependent relationship of love and hate borders on homosexuality. The first two hundred pages are told in Waldo's voice: the 'clever' twin, awkward and unlucky in love, narcissistic and burdened by his half-wit of a brother, he dwells endlessly on his thwarted literary ambitions. But, just when I thought I couldn't take any more, the narrative shifts into Arthur's voice. And lightens, and comes together, and starts making sense. Becomes beautiful.

Arthur is a holy fool. He is a lot cleverer than Waldo admits, because Waldo's identity is predicated on being the smart one beside Arthur's stupidity. In the first two thirds of the novel we see Waldo constantly taking care of Arthur, but in the last third it is revealed that Arthur is just as preoccupied with taking care of Waldo, perceiving his weaknesses so accurately that he knows to conceal what he knows, what he reads, and the success of his own relationships. He discovers that the concept of the mandala expresses perfectly what he intuitively knows:
"The Mandala is a symbol of totality. It is believed to be the 'dwelling of the god'. Its protective circle is a pattern of order superimposed on - psychic - chaos. Sometimes its geometric form is seen as a vision (either waking or in a dream) or -"
His voice had fallen to the most elaborate hush.
"Or danced." Arthur read.
Arthur is obsessed with marbles, which become the 'solid mandalas' of the title. Over the years, his collection condenses to four special marbles, which represent himself, and the three people he most loves. He considers throwing one away because it has a knot in it, before realizing the the knot, in fact, is the point: '...till from looking at his own hands, soothing, rather than soothed by, the revolving marble, he realized that the knot at the heart of the mandala, at most times so tortuously inwoven, would dissolve, if only temporally, in light' (p. 273). He offers this marble to Waldo, 'half sensing that Waldo would never untie the knot.'

There are repeated references to Tiresius, as well as to The Brothers Karamazov, which acts as an echo of the brothers' fraught relationship, and their searches for transcendence. Their weatherboard house is fronted by a tragic parody of a Classical facade. Finishing the novel, I understood why White deserved the Nobel Prize. It is a heavy novel, but the weight of it is essential. Arthur's voice would not come as such a relief if it had not been proceeded by Waldo's. His revelations would not seem so dearly won. The two are connected, bound together. The epiphanies are expertly enfolded into the structure of the whole, much more convincingly than in my hazy memory of The Tree of Man. I was quite astonished how White managed to make this heavy material blaze with light - like the knot in Arthur's marble. There are also some echoes of The Idiot, and in my opinion, The Solid Mandala is a worthy successor to Dostoevsky, much more so than Coetzee's Master of St Petersburg, which I didn't care for. This novel is quite remarkable. Consider me a convert.

Cross-posted at The Little Book Room.

Image: 'The One', Kiolero, flikr.

Hunger

Hunger, by Knut Hamsun. More fun than I thought it would be, after the front cover glibly declared that it was one of the most disturbing books in existence. A young Nowegian hovers on the brink of starvation in nineteenth century Oslo, to proud to do much about it. It was disturbing, and the main character was difficult to like (I think this was the point), but I did find myself warming to him towards the end. There's even the odd medieval reference, as he attempts to write a play set in the Middle Ages. It's been compared with Dosteovsky, but is a little one dimensional in comparison.


Read the review in context here.


The story of Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen. Set in 1943 in Copenhagan, Denmark during the Second World War. King Christian X of Denmark has decided to surrender to Germany. They are a small country with not much of an army and giving in will allow many Danish to live who would have died had they put up a fight. The downside is that there are now German soldiers on every corner and the Danish are doing without a lot of basic items like cream and coffee.

One day a local Jewish family who own a ribbon and button shop are no longer there. Annemarie's best friend Ellen is Jewish, but as they don't own a shop they feel safe. On going to the synagogue the following Saturday their Rabi informs them that the Germans have taken all their records with all the names of the Jews and where they live. The Rosens have to find safety and Annemarie and her family do a very brave thing stepping in to help.

It was a very well written tale that didn't take long to read. There were definate hold my breath moments, waiting to see if they would be caught and "relocated". The afterward at the end was really interesting as well, setting straight which parts of the tale were true and which were fictional. Another great tale by Lowry.

Focusing on the time when black people were kept as slaves by white folks in the South of North America. It follows Sethe and her family alternating between present day and past events leading up to how they got there. Sethe started off in Sweet Home along with the Sweet Home men (Paul A, Paul D, Paul F, Sixo and Halle) where they are owned by the Garners. There they are given a restricted kind of freedom, the men are allowed to carry rifles and they are never beaten. Everything changes when Mr Garner dies and Mrs Garner calls in the help of Schoolteacher and his nephews to help run the farm. He has the attitude of most white people at the time and treats Sethe and the others like little better than animals.

Sethe manages to get her children out to her mother-in-law (a freed slave) and after suffering a horrific ordeal, follows them alone and heavily pregnant on foot. 28 days after arriving safely Schoolteacher shows up to claim her and the children so in defence she commits infanticide believing it the only way to save her children. Years later when Paul D shows up out of the blue to visit, Sethe and her remaining daughter Denver are sharing their house with an unhappy young ghost.

It was a beautiful book filled with cruelty, based on a true story it shows one womans desperate struggle to do the best for her family. It was very unsettling and in places it was almost too much to endure. The violence and beatings are told without much emphasis for the most part as it was almost expected in those days. Humans can be such horrible creatures, I hope we never resort to slavery again in the future. I gave this book a low rating as I just couldn't enjoy it despite being so well written, it was just a bit much for me.

#11 A Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam


Susan Hill is a successful author of mysteries with a publishing house of her own. Each year she runs a competition for new authors, the prize being the publication of their novel.


Chris Ewan's book A Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam won The Long Barn Books First Novel Award in 2006. It's a throughly entertaining and often comic mystery set in Amsterdam. Loved it! More here.

Laura's Review - Interpreter of Maladies


Interpreter of Maladies
Jhumpa Lahiri
193 pages

Reflections: This beautifully-written collection of short stories portrays various “maladies” of the human condition, such as loss, loneliness, and isolation. As the title suggests, Lahiri interprets these maladies for her readers. And she is absolutely brilliant. The emotions raised by each story are so profound, and so deep, that you can't help but feel them at the core of your own being. As with any collection, a few stories stood out:
  • A Temporary Matter – A couple mourns the loss of a stillborn baby, and begins sharing secrets with one another during a power outage. Their grief, and the void between them, is palpable.
  • Sexy – Miranda, an American woman, has an affair with a married Indian man. At the same time, her office mate consoles her cousin in India, whose husband has left her for a young English woman. Miranda meets the cousin on a visit to the US and, while babysitting her son, has a revelation about her own romantic relationship.
  • Mrs. Sen’s – An Indian woman has recently arrived in the US, and provides after-school care for a boy while her husband teaches at a local university. She is isolated and lonely, is afraid to drive a car, and longs for friends and comforts of home.
  • The Third and Final Continent – A young man, educated in London, comes to the US to work at a university. He is recently married, and waiting for his wife’s immigration papers to be processed so she can join him. For six weeks he rents a room from Mrs. Croft, a 103-year-old woman whose daughter visits once a week to deliver food. He contemplates the woman’s infirmity and isolation, as well as his own emotional uncertainty about life as a married man.
After each of these stories, I had to set this book aside and allow the feelings to wash over and through me. Despite this, it was difficult to put down and even more difficult to let go of when finished. A wonderful book, and very deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. ( )
My original review can be found here.

The Tin Flute

The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy
Translated by Alan Brown

First Published: 1945
Award: Governor General's Award

Nineteen year old Florentine Lacasse works in a diner at the back of a department store. She is the eldest of 11 children with one more on the way. Her father has never held a steady job and she is the primary money earner of the family. Florentine is chasing after a young man who is rising up in the world, yet he holds her in disdain for the poverty she exudes.

This is a novel of characters and far from a plot-driven story. We intimately get to know the parents of Florentine, a couple of her siblings and the two men in her life. These people become a part of your life as you learn their innermost thoughts.

Set in 1939, during the first year of Canada's involvement in World War II, The Tin Flute is a stark portrayal of poverty. This is a dark, tragic story in a world where men sign up for the army to escape from their poverty.

The first 100 pages were very slow and hard for me to read. I almost gave up on this book but I'm very glad I didn't. This is one of those books that will haunt me for a very long time.

Please come visit me on my blog.

The Plague--Kimmie

The Plague by Albert Camus
1957 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature

"The Plague" tells about a city's reaction to a plague. It's a wonderfully written novel. And it's also bone-chilling. It details how people would react in language that shows me how people would have reacted in a smaller planet. And it makes me afraid to think what would happen if the bird flu came to my town---Houston. I've got a little more on Kimmie's Krap.

The Complete Stories, National Book Award 1972

I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and his dishonor.

-Thomas Merton, about O'Connor


It's taken me a couple of months to get through this thick book of short stories. Some of them a hard to digest; not because they are so terrible but because some of them lack a clear plot. The opening story, The Geranium, left me feeling that perhaps some pages were missing from the book. Several stories run this way. I suppose we sometimes get so used to being hit over the head with a lesson about humanity it a jarring way that when we see the mundane showing us a much sutler lesson it is more difficult to find it.

It is said that one of the most remarkable things about O'Connor's work is that she was so young but had such a clear idea of how people worked and lived and thought. She drew very detailed portraits of her characters. To the reader they are very real. We know these people in our own families and friends, casual acquaintances, people we run into in the street.

Some readers are put off by the frequent use of a common racial slur. O'Connor uses the common language of the South from between 1946 till her death in 1964. Another trait of many of her stories is the elderly parent/adult child relationship. Often the parents believe their children are worthless no-goods and the children are angry and spiteful. Clearly no one is listening to anyone else or looking out for each other.

All of the stories are interesting to think on. I think all of them can gain more significance by knowing more about the author's background and life. I plan to read Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose in the near future.

Giller Shortlist

Elizabeth Hay for Late Nights on Air
Michael Ondaatje for Divisadero
Daniel Poliquin for A Secret Between Us, trans. Donald Winkler
M.G. Vassanji for The Assassin’s Song
Alissa York for Effigy
2007 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALISTS

Fiction
Mischa Berlinski - Fieldwork
Lydia Davis - Varieties of Disturbance
Joshua Ferris - Then We Came to the End
Denis Johnson - Tree of Smoke
Jim Shepard - Like You'd Understand, Anyway
Here's my Decades Challenge post from my blog "Thoughts of Joy...":


I'm posting my list for yet another challenge, but I am not sure if I will be able to follow through. I've been wanting to read these books and this challenge helps to motivate me, yet I don't want to feel any pressure; therefore, I give myself the permission to read what I want, when I want and if I want. If I complete it...great! If I don't, that's okay too. I will certainly give it a good try.

I LOVED IT! :)


COMPLETED ON: 10-9-07

Sponsored By: 3M
July 1, 2007 - June 30, 2008


All my choices are Newbery Medal Winners:
(awarded for best American book for children)



*1.
Walk Two Moons (Creech) ~ 1995
Finished on 8-18-07


*2.
Maniac Magee (Spinelli) ~ 1991
Finished on 9-10-07


*3. Number the Stars (Lowry) ~ 1990
Finished on 9-16-07


*4.
The Whipping Boy (Fleischman) ~ 1987
Finished on 8-14-07


*5.
Sarah, Plain and Tall (MacLachlan) ~ 1986
Finished on 7-25-07


*6.
Dear Mr. Henshaw (Cleary) ~ 1984
Finished on 8-8-07


*7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Taylor) ~ 1977
Finished on 10-3-07


8. Julie of the Wolves (George) ~ 1973
Reshelved


9. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (O'Brien) ~ 1972


*10.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Konigsburg) ~ 1968
Finished on 9-7-07


*11.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (O'Dell) ~ 1961
Finished on 9-11-07


*12. The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Speare) ~ 1959
Finished on 10-9-07



ALTERNATES:

*1. The Higher Power of Lucky (Patron) ~ 2007
Finished on 9-17-07

2. Ginger Pye (Estes) ~ 1952


3. The Twenty-One Balloons (Pene du Bois) ~ 1948


*4. Caddie Woodlawn (Brink) ~ 1936
Finished on 9-30-07