The Kindness of Strangers - Katrina Kittle

The Kindness Of Strangers by Katrina Kittle is the 2006 Winner of The Great Lakes Book Award.

The Kindness of Strangers was not an easy book to read because of its subject matter. However, it was nearly impossible for me to put this book down.

Sarah Laden, a widow with two sons, believes she is friends with Courtney Kendrick, mother of Jordan Kendrick. When Sarah's husband died, it was Courtney who stayed in touch with Sarah and encouraged her to deal with her grief and not lose interest in her own life. Sarah's son, Danny, and Courtney's son, Jordan, are in the same grade in school and are also friends. In fact, Danny is one of the only friends Jordan has since he is often a reclusive child who seems to have few if any social skills. His mother has implied he may be autistic.

Kittle has interwoven the lives of her characters in such a realistic way that it's possible to believe good friends like Sarah and Courtney could really not be aware of what was going on behind the closed doors of their individual homes. Which makes what happens to these two families all the more horrifying when their carefully constructed images begin to unravel. Secrets are carefully protected so that no one person has a clear picture of the whole. For me, the book kept the tension inherent in these kinds of situations throughout.

It was obvious to me from the beginning of this book that Kittle well researched her topic. I particularly liked the way she wrote about the children in her book. As a result of reading The Kindness of Strangers, I will be looking for more of her work.
The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad won the Ethnic Multicultural Media Academy (EMMA) Award for Best Book in 2004.

Norwegian journalist, Asne Seierstad, spent 4 months living with the Khan family in Kabul, Afghanistan. The father of the family, Sultan Khan, spent his life trying to protect the culture of his country by buying and selling books. For this behavior, he was arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned. He hid his books in attics all over Kabul, but the ones that were found were often burned in the street by soldiers who were unable to read what they destroyed.

The social and political structure of Afghanistan has been chaotic for decades. The country has been occupied by Russia for 10 years, ruled by The Taliban, dictated to by Warlords and tribal chieftans, invaded by the American coalition after 9/11, and, for a time, dominated by the Northern Alliance. Through all this, the Afghani people have been subjected to rigid religious mandates which come and go with whomever is the ruling power of the day. Seierstad chronicles all of this in The Bookseller Of Kabul simply by following the business and personal live of Sultan Khan and his family. The result is a fascinating picture of what life in Afghanistan has been like for those who have to try to survive there.

What I found most interesting about this book was Sultan Khan himself. It is an admirable, even heroic, position to risk one's life for the preservation of the printed word. The thing about Sultan Khan, however, is that he's not a very likable individual. We generally expect our heroes to represent the best in people, yet with Khan he's simply not a very appealing man. He rules his family as any other patriarch in Afghanistan would, however, his methods and values are generally not in the best interests of his family. His wives exist to serve him; his children are expected to do whatever his wishes dictate for them. He is consumed by the business of his books while he neglects the education of his own family. It is hard to reconcile the idea of hero with a man who shows no consideration for his children, his wives, or his siblings.

It was also interesting to read about the lives of Afghani women. When women were permitted to work outside the home, their lives were far more livable than they were when forced to remain inside their homes all day every day. If there is going to be education in Afghani society, it will be the women of the culture who provide it. The majority of school teachers are women, so when they may work, children can go to school. When they are not allowed to work, schools close since there are not enough male teachers to keep the schools functioning. Without jobs outside the home to provide some variety in their lives, women are relegated to staying inside and doing traditional womanly chores. There is no intellectual stimulation, and drudgery becomes the rule of the household. When given the choice between women working vs staying at home only to serve them, most men choose the latter.

In the four months Asne Seierstad lived with the Khan family, she took full advantage of the opportunity she was given to record the trials and tribulations of Afghani life. Her descriptions of a woman's life in Kabul was absorbing and ultimately, very sad. I needed to remind myself than Sultan Khan did serve a valuable purpose with his work to keep books from being obliterated in his country. However, the thought is never very far away that while Khan may say his motives are honorable, he's really in it all for the money.


Jottings from Jan

Jottings from Jan
Title: The Corrections
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Genre: literature
Challenges: 100+, 101 Books in 1001 Days, 2008/2009 Unread Authors, New Classics, Book Awards II - National Book Awards
Rating: A+
No. of CTs/Playing time: 15/22
Published: 2001
Dates listened to: 9/9/08 - 9/28/08

From the back cover - “The Corrections has been hailed as ‘ferociously detailed, gratifyingly mind-expanding,’ by Booklist in a starred review. It is a New York Times best-seller, an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Crafted by New Yorker writer Jonathan Franzen, this novel draws parallels between the problems in one family and the malfunctions of modern society.

“Statistically, the Lamberts may be a typical Midwestern family. But in reality, they are far from it. Alfred, the father, is losing his fight to control Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. His wife, Enid, no longer in control of her household, feels her choices slipping away. Their three grown children are struggling with their own clashes between dreams and disasters. But for one Christmas, Enid is determined to being them together for the ideal family holiday.

“As Franzen traces the Lamberts’ lurch toward the crisis of this Christmas, he seasons his novel with satire, humor, and affection. The final chapter, infused with hope, is the perfect conclusion of Enid’s quirky quest to correct the course of her life.”

This is America’s classic dysfunctional family and I could so relate to it -- the playing of family members against each other and the feeling of being in prison whether in a rest home or the family home or one’s own mind. As Publishers Weekly says -- “This is, simply, a masterpiece.”

see my blog -

The Penderwicks

Birdsall, Jeanne. 2005. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.

For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye.

I liked this one. A lot. It was a nice and enjoyable novel. One that a whole family could enjoy. One that was meant to be read aloud and shared. It's not a loud story. Not crammed with action and explosions and bathroom jokes. But it's a good and pleasant one. It's a story of the Penderwick family--Mr. Penderwick, Rosalind (12), Skye (11), Jane (10), and Batty (4), and their dog, Hound. Mrs. Penderwick died when Batty was just a baby. (From cancer I believe.)

The book is about one of their summers. The summer that they visit Arundel, a cottage. It is owned by a rather grumpy and snooty woman Mrs. Tifton. But Mrs. Tifton has a son, Jeffrey, and a gardener, Cagney, and there is where the fun begins. New friends to make. Problems to create and solve. Life to be experienced.

Recommended for those who like a bit of old-fashioned charm in their lives.

About the book:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy is on many State Award Master Lists, including those for Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. Other awards and honors include:

  • National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • Book Sense National Bestseller
  • Booklist Editors’ Choice
  • Kirkus Reviews Editors’ Choice
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
  • Child Magazine Best Kids’ Book of the Year
  • Children’s Book Sense Top Ten Pick
  • 2007 Kalbacher Klapperschlange (Germany)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Katrina's Review of The Famished Road (Booker 1991)

This book about the life a a spirit-child, he struggles and fights for his chance to live, and at many times has to fight against the spirits who want him to return to the spirit world.
The book deals with many African political and social problems, including poverty, hunger, lack of stability and the dirty tricks and means used by politicians to capture as man votes as they can. The whole community is filled with spirits and their actions can affect the life of all, yet the boy is the person most affected. He moves between normal life, the spirit world and a time and space where they both converge.
I'll be honest and say that this book was a struggle, I'm sure that their were many references to folk tales, religion and cultural beliefs that I just didn't know enough about to recognise. However, this is a book that I wish I had had the opportunity to study when I was at university, it would have been great to learn about the influences, origins and context of the novel and to attend seminars and hear other peoples views about it.
2008 Booker Challenge: Book 5/6
Fall into Reading: Book 1
Olympic Challenge: Nigeria
Book Awards 2: Book 1/10

Laura's Review - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
636 pages

In 1939, Josef Kavalier's parents, wishing to keep him safe from persecution against the Jews, arranged for him to travel from Prague to the United States. On arrival in New York City, he met his cousin Sam Klayman and, through both talent and luck, the two young men were able to launch a superhero comic book just at the point when the genre was becoming popular. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the story of their business partnership and their lifelong friendship.

The book covers a period of some twenty years and is both broad in its scope and deep in its many layers of character and plot. Joe is the most well-developed character in the novel. In Prague he trained as a magician and a Houdini-like escape artist. He is also a very talented artist. However, he is haunted by guilt and other demons. Tormented by leaving his family behind, he tries desperately to rescue them and acts out his anger on Germans he encounters in New York City. He finds love in Rosa Saks, but leaves her behind when, immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlists in the Navy to act out his need for revenge on the Germans.

Sam Klayman's character is somewhat less developed, but still appealing. Abandoned by his father and devoted to his mother, it is Sam who spots Joe's artistic talent and persuades his boss to launch a comic book featuring a character known as The Escapist. Sam is largely unaware of his sexual identity, and one of the more touching scenes involves both emerging awareness of his homosexuality, and his realization that society would not accept him if this were known. Sam proves himself a true friend when he sacrifices his own happiness in a selfless act for another person.

Despite its length, this book was an easy and fun read. In addition to the well-drawn characters, the book offers up historical detail concerning the comic book industry, the Empire State Building, World War II, and post-war New York City. It's easy to see why this book won the Pulitzer Prize. ( )

My original review can be found here.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck's classic story of family and life in pre-revolutionary China. This did not take as long as I thought, and while sad at times, I liked the book. I think the prose is distinct, the story compelling and honest, and the characters very real. I liked the themes of the novel which explored man's relation to the earth, changing fortunes, China at the turn of the century, and women's role in society and family. She writes everything so deftly and without judgment; a very true story teller. I am very familiar with Chinese culture, family, and livelihood. Buck said she wrote about China because it was all she knew. She might have been a foreigner, but there is such an candid and wonderful perspective in her writing. Dare I say it, but this book is very Chinese. It is difficult to describe how she captured the Chinese characters and cultural identity so well. Once again, I found so much honesty in her writing. I liked how she painted the picture of O-Lan and the other women in Chinese society. While I appreciated the writing and the book, I do not think I will continue with the trilogy because I am not particularly attached to the characters beyond this book, and the stories can be rather sad. I would be interested in reading more of Buck's other stories.

Crossposted from

Last Orders

This Booker Prize winning book by Graham Swift tells of four men on a day trip to scatter their friend's ashes to the sea. The chapters are short and the narratives switches with each chapter. Most are told by Ray, the closest friend of the dead man Jack Dodds. There are numerous flashbacks revealing the lives of all the men and a couple of others in their lives. The dialogue is quite sharp and well written; Swift has a knack for characterisation. The language and changing perspectives makes it evocative. I sometimes managed to feel the bitterness and the anger that some of the characters do when they narrate. It is very English; all the characters have a working class background and there is something very stylistic and true about the way he writes about their livelihood. If anything, it feels sincere even if real working class Londoners do not all the issues these characters did. I liked the book for the most part, but it got bit depressing the further you went. The flashbacks reveal missed opportunities, unsaid things, wrong choices, bad luck, and estranged relationships. The ending, as with life, is open ended. Not a very uplifting read, but Swift does have a good voice throughout the story.

For a review of the film as well, go to

Maus I & II

by Art Spiegelman
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize Special Letters Award, 1992
Pantheon, softcover box set, 280 p.
Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father, his father’s terrifying story, and History itself.
Moving back and forth from Poland to Rego Park, New York, Maus tells two powerful stories: The first is Spiegelman’s father’s account of how he and his wife survived Hitler’s Europe, a harrowing tale filled with countless brushes with death, improbably escapes, and the terror of confinement and betrayal. The second is the author’s tortured relationship with his aging father as they try to lead a normal life of minor arguments and passing visits against a backdrop of history too large to pacify. At all levels, this is the ultimate survivor’s tale – and that, too, of the chidren who somehow survive even the survivors.
There have been several wonderful reviews of this lately that I'm not sure I have anything new to add. But what an incredible way to tell a story about the Holocaust! Art Spiegelman’s drawings are powerful and really make the words and the horror of what his father and all the other Jews experienced all the more vivid. Much has been said about his use of animals to depict different groups (the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats, the Americans as dogs, etc.) and I think this works really effectively to make it not just the story of Vladek and Anya Spiegelman but all Jews and everyone who was affected by what happened.

One of my favourite parts of the story though was how Art related the process of getting the story from his father alongside the story itself. It was this look at their relationship that made it extremely personal, and touching.
Partly because of the visual style, and also Vladek’s resourcefulness, especially after he found himself in Auschwitz, I also couldn’t help but think of the film, Life is Beautiful, while I was reading this. Such a beautiful, moving film!
Thanks to the nudge from a couple of challenges, I'm so glad to have finally read this!
My Rating: 4.5/5

(image found here)

*originally posted at In Spring it is the Dawn
Title: The Roche Harbor Caper
Author: D. M. Ulmer
Genre: mystery
Challenges: 100+, 101 Books in 1001 Days, Casual, TBR, Book a Week
Rating: B+
Pages: 130
Published: 2007
Dates read: 8/23/08 - 8/31/08

From the back cover - “The Roche Harbor Caper is the second novel in a series based upon the character, Michael Kincaid, created by the late Walter H. Hesse. Kincaid is a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major turned Professor of English Literature at a college campus in Port Angeles, Washington. He indulges his passion for writing mysteries under a transparent nom-de-plume, Harry Steele, main protagonist in Kincaid’s novels. The first sequel is set in the environs of resort town, Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Agreeing to take on a seemingly innocuous investigation, Kincaid finds himself amidst an electrifying case of white slavery, whose perpetrators threaten not only his own life, but that of his son with whom he has been recently reunited.”

The author is a personal friend of my husband’s. They both are docents at the Museum of Flight. Don has published two earlier novels with iUniverse so I don’t know how likely you are to find a copy of this book. I would loan it out. I love his style and characters and ease of telling a story. He has another book coming out called Silent Battleground which is a Tom Clancy type story along the lines of The Hunt for Red October. I’m looking forward to it.