Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller, 1934

Beautiful prose and dialectally engaging so that you truly felt the happiness, heartache, excitement and dread of this farm family lead by the main character Cean. The book reminded me a lot of Conrad Richter's Awakenings trilogy - the pioneering family of the early to mid 19th century. What struck me about Cean is her reluctance to have children - despite the fact of giving birth to more than a dozen! Some of the plot twists develop rather abruptly but effectively nonetheless. Definitely of the strong pioneering women genre.

The Sea, the Sea - Iris Murdoch

Title: The Sea, The Sea
Iris Murdoch
5 out of 5

First sentence:
 The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine.

The Sea, the Sea starts out in the form of a journal, written by Charles Arrowby, a newly retired playwright/actor/director, who has adjourned to an old house outside a small village on the English coastline. He has decided to leave the London scene for good, and spends his time cooking simple meals--poached eggs on nettles, spring cabbage cooked slowly with dill, porridge with brown sugar and cream, and vegetarian stew--and diving into the sea for daily swims.

The beginning of the book sets this scene, describing his meals, daily activities, and his new home in an impromptu, journalistic style. Then, about 50 pages in, two things change. First, we see Charles for the first time from an outside perspective, through the letter he receives from Lizzie, an old flame. Second, Charles spots his long-lost childhood love, Hartley, in the local village. As the book shifts focus to Charles somewhat bizarre quest to destroy Hartley's marriage and re-claim her for himself, Murdoch shifts to a more straightforward narrative technique.

The opening scenes of Charles' adjusting to a life of retirement helped me as a reader to retain a semblance of sympathy for a character that becomes quite despicable. Although I detested his actions (he seems to make the wrong decision at every turn, and succeeds in lashing out at everyone around him), I could see the unacknowledged hurt and suffering that spurred him to take those actions. I really loved the gothic undertones; there were parts of the story that sent shivers down my spine and were very unnerving, in a way that most modern horror stories fail to achieve.

At one point, Charles' cousin asks him "What is the truth anyway?" And, I spent much of the novel trying to figure that out. I never did quite succeed, but I believe that is part of Iris' point. I also loved that the sea is a character itself, and we see its many emotions: cruel, gentle, and playful, amongst others, through the course of the novel. The story was very much a page turner, and I would definitely recommend it to others!

"Jealousy is perhaps the most involuntary of all strong emotions. It steals consciousness, it lies deeper than thought. It is always there, like a blackness in the eye, it discolours the world." (p.84)
May 24, 2008:
I'm wrapping up this challenge today...I didn't read everything I wanted to, but I reached the goal of 12 books, plus I added 7 alternates. Those I didn't get to here will be shifted to Bookawards II! Thanks Michelle. To read my full wrap up, visit my blog here.


I know, I know - I said I wasn't going to join anymore challenges. BUT, I couldn't pass this one up. I'm picking mostly books I either already have on my shelf, am reading for other challenges, or plan on reading for book groups.

Here's my FINAL list (pink highlights indicate author won Nobel only):
  1. The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, - Booker 1985 - COMPLETED July 12, 2007; read my review here.
  2. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood - Governor Generals Award (Canada) 1985 - COMPLETED November 5, 2007; read my review here.
  3. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood - Booker 2000 - COMPLETED August 1, 2007; read my review here.
  4. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy - Booker 1997 - COMPLETED September 29, 2007; read my review here.
  5. The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers - National Book Award 2006 - COMPLETED September 6, 2007; read my review here.
  6. Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides - Pulitzer 2003 - COMPLETED November 1, 2007; read my review here.
  7. Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee - Booker 1999 AND Commonwealth Writers Prize 2000 AND Nobel Prize awarded to author in 2003 - COMPLETED December 14, 2007; read my review here.
  8. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck - author won Nobel Prize in 1962 - COMPLETED October 12, 2007; read my review here.
  9. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner - Pulitzer 1972 - COMPLETED April 17, 2008; read my review here.
  10. The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard - NBA 2003, Miles Franklin 2004 - COMPLETED August 8, 2007; read my review here.
  11. The Borrowers, by Mary Norton - Carnegie Medal 1952 - COMPLETED December 31, 2007; read my review here.
  12. The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson - Edgar (Best Fact Crime) 2004 - COMPLETED September 12, 2007; read my review here.
Alternates (or extras):
  1. The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck - Pulitzer 1932; Nobel Prize 1938 - COMPLETED November 28, 2007; read my review here.
  2. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder - Pulitzer Prize 1928 - COMPLETED December 23, 2007; read my review here.
  3. The Giver, by Lois Lowry - Newbery Medal 1994 - COMPLETED January 1, 2008; read my review here.
  4. So Big, by Edna Ferber - Pulitzer Prize 1925 - COMPLETED January 17, 2008; read my review here.
  5. Life and Times of Michael K, by J.M. Coetzee - Booker Prize 1983; Nobel Laureate 2003 - COMPLETED February 17, 2008; read my review here.
  6. The Gathering, by Anne Enright - Booker Prize 2007 - COMPLETED March 9, 2008; read my review here.
  7. The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney - Costa/Whitbread 2006 - COMPLETED April 5, 2008; read my review here.

You can also find me at my main blog here, as well as at The Novel Challenges blog, The Notable Books Blog, The Lists - Books for the Obsessive Reader, and several other reading challenge blogs!

9th book - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Winner of the Hugo Award, 2005

I admit when I first saw this book I was reluctant to read it - not because of the subject. I like books about magic and history, but because of the size. From the beginning, however, Clarke's writing pulled me into this world in which magic is studied and practiced, used and misunderstood. I especially liked the interactions between Norrell and Strange and the ones between the servant Stephen Black and the faery gentleman with the thistle-down hair.

More book information here.

Winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, 1998

This was a good mystery featuring Jack Reacher who finds himself in the middle of an ongoing plot that threatens a small town. I liked how Jack and his new friends figure out the mystery and eventually outwit the criminals and I look forward to reading the next book in the series, Die Trying.

More book information here.

My Name is Read by Orhan Pamuk---Gautami's 16th book

Crossposted from my blog:

Title: My Name is Red
Author: Orhan Pamuk
ISBN: 0375706852
Publisher: Vintage International/2001
Pages: 413
rating: 3.5/5

I had started this book in January. For some reason, it stayed at page 43 for a few months. I again picked it up in April. I only read upto page 59. However, finally I decided to finish it this week. Today I did. You can say that I plodded through the book. It could only hold my interest after I had read it half way through.

This book has many layers to it. A murder mystery, a love story and also speaks out about Islamic society. One can feel the tensions throughout for the rise and fall of various empires which is told by the way of miniature art. At some point in the book, we do not care who the murder is but get involved in the treachery of politics, the love affair and want to know more about the Islamic society. Being an Indian, and knowing a bit about Islam did help me.

There is clash between cultures. Between spirituality and materialism. Between getting fame at whatever cost and bowing to art. Between God's will and man's doing. How does one define sin? Can one justify it? Does it merge somewhere? Is there really a fine line? These are few of the questions one asks while reading. A few get answered, a few don't. That does not take away anything from the book. We can see the eternal conflict between the old and new, and tradition and change i.e., that of East and West. Then there are those artists who only depend on copying, others who want to take in the western influence to show other perceptions.

This book has been narrated in many voices, mostly human. However, a few include a horse, a dog, a tree and a coin. Also we see voice of death. One tends to get different perception in this way of speaking. The novel begins with the voice of a dead person, the recently killed Elegant Effendi. His murderer is a recurring character, telling his story both anonymously and also as a character not identified by the others as being the killer, until the end.

The setting of the book is the late 16th century, in Istanbul. Elegant Effendi and his murderer are both artists: miniaturists and illustrators. Other important characters are Enishte Effendi, a master artist, his nephew, called Black, who too is a miniaturist, and his daughter Shekure. Black had fallen in love with Shekure, but it was not possible for them to marry. Black left Istanbul and returned after twelve years. Meanwhile, Shekure got married three years after he left, and has two sons. However her husband disappeared years ago and is presumed to be dead. Now her husband's brother Hasan, wants to marry her as does Black.

Pamuk's descriptions and evocations are like the miniatures he describes. Very detailed, very pictursque and paying attention to finer nuances which can be used to for different effects, at different times. It is a fascinating read, no doubt. However, it is very slow in the beginning. One has to literally plod through it to get to the end. That is worthwhile. I must mention it again, that this is not an effortless read. I am in no hurry read other books by him!

Perfume - Patrick Suskind

Subtitled "The story of a murderer" you know you are in for something not particularly pleasant. It tells the story of a man )Jean-Baptiste Grenouille) who is born amid a rubbish dump and whose mother then abandon's him in France. He lets out a mighty cry and his body is discovered and his mother found and hanged for her crime. As a result he is moved around different wet-nurses, each of which gets rid of him again as he is so greedy and they are unsettled by his lack of smell. He is finally sent to a boarding house where the owner has no sense of smell and is not put off her new charge, treating him as fairly as she treats the other children. It is not a pleasant time, but Grenouille sets his mind to getting on with life and is never heard complaining. His fellow students try to kill him a couple of times, they too are mistrustful of his lack of personal odour and it turns out that Grenouille has an uncanny sense of smell.

Eventually he is sent to work in a tanners yard doing all the most hazardous and disgusting jobs as he is the most expendable. He survives anthrax poisoning and gains some extra status before leaving and working for master perfumer, Giuseppe Baldini. There he can use his incredible sense of small to mix up new and exotic perfumes Baldinin then sells as his own. On walking through the town one day he smells an exquisite smell which he follows. It turns out to be a young red-haired girl on the cusp of puberty. To keep the smell with him he commits his first murder, but has no way of physically preserving her smell. He sets out on a series of failed experiments to bottle human and animal smells.

Again surviving a deadly illness he sets out in search of new ways of distilling scents outside the scope of the usual plants. He spends a number of years living in a cave before rejoining human society and succeeding in his goal. He has found another girl with a similar irresitible smell and has two years to perfect his technique. He practices on other young girls, killing them and removing their clothes and hair. He also spends tim emaking a series of personal perfumes to give himself different smells, one to render him invisible one to make others take notice and respect him and yet another to get people to avoid him.

It is a chilling, fatastical tale. Definiltely worth reading for it is beautifully crafted and the language flows wonderfully. Describing the smells of simple everyday things like money, different kinds of wood, breast milk etc was very sensual and I liked the idea of him making his different personal smells that people would inhale but not realise they were being manipulated by their noses. It reminded me of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov in some ways. It was a difficult subject matter about a man with no remorse (in this he has no concept of morals and right and wrong as we sense it), but the way the tale is told makes it a classic.

Wild Swans - Jung Chang

An autobiographical account of Jung Chang, her mother and her grandmother living in China. Her grandmother was one of the last generations to have her feet bound, a particularly painful procedure described in detail as tiny feet were seen as beautiful in China. She is given to a Warlord as a concubine by her ambitious father and doesn't know happiness until she gives birth to a daughter and is able to run away when her "husband" dies. She later remarries Dr Xia whose family do not approve of her previous marriage and connections. A family berevement forces them to move out by themselves (people mostly lived in family groups) with her daughter who is raised by Xia.

Japan's rule has been overthrown by the Chinese, but civil war between the Kuomintang and Communist party led by Mao throws the country into confusion. Jung's mother and father are staunch communists which is how they meet and both become officials. Her father in particular lives for the party and always puts it ahead of his wife to the extent that she suffers a miscarriage and almost dies because she is forced to march in harsh conditions and he refuses to let her ride in the car as she is a lower rank than him and he believes in setting an example. SHe nearly leaves him countless times, but comes to understand and love him over their years together. They have 5 children in total (2 girls and 3 boys) before the party turns on the officials and increases the torture of it's own people. Jung's parents fall foul of allegations and are taken in to custody and tortured from which her father never really recovers.

Jung herself is subjected to the brainwashing campaign of Chairman Mao who they are taught is ever closer than her parents. He sets himself up as almost an Emperor of old, a dictator who decrees that even plants and grass are uncommunist and must be pulled up. He causes widespread famine and later sends the children out to live with peasants to try and educate them and get cheap labour. He is very against intellectuals and so closes the universities and works against the educated. After his death, she is able to go to university and later travel to England to study further. By the end of the book things are slowly changing although she is not allowed back into China.

This was a very intersesting book and I hope to read the biography of Mao she has written with her English husband. I have never been to China and didn't know much of it's history so this was quite eye opening. The Chinese are portratyed as having immense national pride although being more brutal than the culture I am used to. The narrative is slightly detached in places, but I think to relive her life would have been a traumatic experience for her and so it makes sense. She also put off writing her account of her life for many years after moving permanently to England. A very personal account that educated me a little more which shows her parents to be innocent of all charges made against them and then punnished for their loyalty.

Speak-Laurie Halse Anderson

This was an excellent book and I would recommend it to anyone in or approaching high school.

My review can be found here.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Junot Diaz

This isn't really a review, it's just a brief post to say I started this book, but it flat out didn't appeal to me at all. I set it aside about a week ago, thinking I might come back to it. But I've decided against it; there's just too much other great literature begging for my attention.

This was my final read for the Book Awards Challenge. I don't feel guilty about not finishing it, because I've read loads of other book award winners above and beyond my challenge list. This one also counts towards the Pulitzer Project: again, I didn't read the whole thing but I can check it off my list: been there, done that.

In This Our Life, by Ellen Glasgow

This title, winner of the 1942 Pulitzer Prize, appealed to me when I read the summary of the plot both on Amazon, and in my local library catalog. I requested the book from another branch of the library, and as of today, it has still not arrived!

However, I did find several more summaries, and also learned that it was made into a movie with Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, and George Brent. I ended up getting the movie from Netflix and watching it.

I posted about it here on my blog. I hope I do actually get to read the book someday!
Recently, I’ve finished reading two more installments of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, “Eleven on Top” and “Twelve Sharp”, both of which earned the Quill Award (2005 and 2006, respectively), and subsequently qualify as my ninth and tenth selections for the Book Awards Challenge I’m participating in.

You can read my short reviews, here.

Pulitzer Prize 1940, The Grapes of Wrath

By John Steinbeck © 1939
Published by Penguin Books Ltd.
1940 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Review posted at my blog, Needles and Pens.
Independence Day is the sequel to The Sportswriter. The Lay of the Land, 2006, is the third book in the trilogy.

Frank Bascombe, is reminiscent of "Rabbit" Angstrom the main character in the Rabbit series (two are Pulitzer Fiction winners) by John Updike, and the overall writing styles, I found to be similar. Bascombe is a dreamy, drifter-like character both personally and professionally. His family life is in a shambles and although he has a "job," it seems only to provide further fodder for his attempt to figure out what he wants to do with his life. I may be subject to flaming here, but I find this character very emblematic of the loss of "manliness" in American men. This guy can't seem to make anything happen, and I'm not sure I have any sympathy for him since he has brains and money - perhaps too much so that enables his pathetic existence. He would make a good prime time network comedy leading male character.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan

I remember buying this book years ago in National Bookstore. Years, yes. My copy of Atonement is old, probably from the first batch of trade paperback release. I didn't even have a blog, much less a book blog then! The reason I probably didn't read this then is because I needed the time to grow old and be floored by the story now.

Yes, it floored me. I never used that description before. It is a story that quietly builds up a crescendo, lulls you into a sense of comfort and then eventually pulls the rug from under you much, much later when you think you're safely ensconced in a pillowy softness of an almost-happily ever after. And I think I have to write this down now before I fall further into the depths of my disorientation and attempt to pick the pieces of myself in the process.

I already posted that I was deeply worried about Robbie and Cecilia earlier as well as my hate for Briony but that would make sense only to those who have read the book or have seen the film. I haven't seen the film yet which I heard from good sources a faithful adaptation of the book. Now I want to. Again, I digress.

In a nutshell: Briony Tallis, the thirteen-year old wannabe writer accuses Robbie Turner, the son of the Tallises' cleaning lady, of assaulting her cousin Lola Quincey one summer night in 1935 while searching for the missing siblings of Lola in the garden of the Tallises' house in Surrey. Cecilia Tallis, Briony's older sister is in love with Robbie. The events prior and leading to the twins' disappearance is the heart of the accusation and the heart of the entire book. I wouldn't know how to put all that into words without sounding like I'm writing a case digest of a crime - all cold facts and none of the raw emotions involved - when in fact everything about the book speaks of how emotions affect the decisions we make and the paths we take as we live through trying circumstances.

The accusation is what Briony is atoning for in the story. Because it destroyed Robbie Turner's future, incarcerating him up to the time he volunteered for an early release to join the English campaign against the Germans in France.

Obviously I will not speak further of the story. But I will heap praises to Ian McEwan, with a scowling "How could you?" thrown in for good measure in between. Oops, sorry.

The writing is excellent. Using perspectives of the different characters of the book we get a sense of who they are, what they are like and where they are coming from. The difficulty (and genius of using this voice is that) we also see the bigger picture; so when things start happening a voice in your head starts screaming "This isn't happening" or "This is so unfair" or even simply "NO!" all to no avail.

There is also a war element in the story that brings to mind the harshness of the bombing attacks, the long journey to reach the beach only to find none of the boats that would take the soldiers back to England. There is the same attention to detail when McEwan deals with the nurses' training in the hospital - the way the sisters drum responsibility to the probationers, the cleanliness of the floors, the whiteness of the sheets, chilblains on the nurses hands - all evoke images in black and white, or sepia, your mind's eye picturing scenes in vivid detail.

Objectively speaking it's also a book about writing; what the author chooses to do with the material at hand. This thought is there from the moment we meet Briony and her early attempts to stage a play called The Trials of Arabella from the very first pages of the book.

In the end it is Briony's story, Briony's atonement. She with the writer's mind, her head in the clouds, conjuring a story to suit her reality. I mentioned I was starting to hate her to bits. I realize that the reason for the hate is that I understand her so much, I relate to her a lot and it is a very scary thought. Because it entails accepting gullibility, guilt and cowardice as well. And I can be very gullible, guilty and cowardly too.

I don't know if I made much sense so my apologies, I'm still trying to pick myself off the floor. Maybe I can go back and post about the book again much later. One thing is certain, I'm turning into an Ian McEwan fan. Goodness, so much for torturing myself with this heartbreaking yet unbelievably beautiful story.

A Year Down Yonder

Peck, Richard. 2000. A Year Down Yonder.

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck is a delightful book. Technically, it's a sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, a book that was a Newbery honor book and a National Book Award finalist, but I think the book could stand alone. (Though why you wouldn't want to read the equally delightful Long Way From Chicago in addition would be beyond me.) It is the story of a young teen girl, Mary Alice, (15) who goes to live with her grandmother (Grandma Dowdel) during the latter part of the Depression. It's set in Illinois in 1937-1938.

Grandma Dowdel is really something. Something else. She's definitely a one-of-a-kind character with spirit and gumption and personality and a mind all her own. Mary Alice does love her Grandma. In the past, she's spent seven summer vacations with her. But she's never experienced Grandma all-year-round before. And she's never really interacted with the small town, the community before. So she doesn't know quite what to expect during her transition from Chicago.

The book is perfectly delightful and charming. The characters. The stories. The personalities. The humor. I just fell in love with it all.