New feature - The Book Awards Shop

If you look at the top right hand tab at the top of this home page, you will see 'SHOP.' This will take you to The Book Awards Shop, where you can shop on Amazon by different book award categories. Not all the awards listed on the sidebar are there yet, but I'll be working to add them all eventually.

I hope you'll like this new feature -- happy shopping!

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman, Art. 1986. Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History.

This is a true-must-read of a book, well, a graphic novel to be exact. But still, must-read at all accounts. I loved the format of this one. No, not just the graphicness of it. But the framework of the story. How this novel is just as much about a father-son relationship--in all its complications--as it is about Jewishness, about the Holocaust. I also love the exploration of the psychology of it. So often with "Holocaust" books the issue of long-term effects, of psychological and emotional trauma that persists through the decades following such a horrific event, doesn't come up. It's a non-issue. Often memoirs are about a specific period of time. Liberation comes from either the Americans and the Russians. And voila. Horror over. But life isn't that easy.

In this first volume, we meet Artie, an artist, and his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor who is grumbling his way through a second marriage to a fellow-survivor, Mala. (Artie's mother, Anja, committed suicide in the late 1960s.) Artie seeks out his father in this volume wanting to hear his story, his past. Seeking answers to questions not only about his father, but his mother as well. Questions about the Nazis, the war, the Holocaust, how these two survived despite the odds. We, as readers, follow two stories, the contemporary setting where a son is asking some hard questions of his father and getting inspired to write about them in graphic novel form, and the historical setting--1930s and 1940s--where we meet his parents and learn their stories and backgrounds.

His father isn't in the best of health, and their relationship is strained. The book addresses the question of if parents ever really understand their children and/or if children can ever truly understand their parents. Can stressful tensions--ongoing issues and conflicts--ever be resolved peacefully? The drama is just as much about healing as it is the Nazis. And I think that is one of the reasons it's so powerful, so resonating. These characters--represented as mice in the novel--feel authentic. They're flawed but lovable. Their stories matter. (By the way, the Nazis are cats. The Polish are pigs. The French are frogs.)

The story is continued in Maus II.

Spiegelman, Art. 1991. Maus II: A Survivor's Tale: And Here My Troubles Began.

If Maus I was great, Maus II is even greater. If you thought the first one was heart-felt and moving, wait until you get to this one. Everything is more intense. The sorrows and griefs are even deeper; the actions even more troubling. For here we get to the heart of the story. The darkest place of all. Artie's father and mother have been captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. (In this graphic novel, the name is "Mauschwitz" instead of Auschwitz.) In the contemporary story line, we see that Artie's father isn't doing well; in fact, it becomes obvious, that he's dying. This complicates things tenfold. More guilt. More anger. More frustration. Even in fine health, Artie had a difficult time getting along with his father. Now, when his father perhaps needs him more than ever, he's crankier and grouchier and meaner than ever. Life isn't easy. Never easy. This is a complex novel--graphic novel--with heart and soul. Highly recommended.

Sunshine - Robin McKinley

Sunshine is the nickname of Rae Seddon. When she was younger her mother left her father and she has been raised to be her mother's daughter. This becomes more apparent as we learn her father was a sorcerer from the famous Blaize family. Sunshine works in a bakery where she is famous for making her delicious cinnanmon rolls among other pastries and deserts. Everything changes though one day when she takes a drive up to the lake and doesn't hear the vampires coming (well you don't do you).

She wakes up surrounded by the creatures and is taken to a house where she is chained to the wall to be food for another vampire Constantine who is an enemy of their Masters. Con is trying to beat Bo by not eating Sunshinee. Sunshine on the other hand knows that no one escapes alive from vampires. All she has to help her is a small lock knife tucked in her bra.

During her incarcaration she remembers time spent with her grandmother, her father's mother, when she was young after her father left. She taught her transmuting, how she could change an object into another eg a feather into a leaf. Although she has been raised her mother's daughter, she still has the powers of her fathers line and she must be prepared so they do not suddenly express themselves. This could be her way out of her current situation although what to do about the trapped vampire as it doesn't seem fair to leave him behind. After all he didn't eat her, but it is sunshine outside.

I think this has had mixed reviews on the blogsphere, but I have to say I enjoyed it immensley. I loved Sunshine and reading her thought patterns which were at times a little jumbled as they would really be. I also really liked the supporting characters of Charlie, Con, Mel, Yolanda and Pat especially. There are so many vampire books around at the moment and this really does give you a different twist on the genre. My only random note was that was a random nearly sex scene in the middle of the book that seemed very out of place, but it did set up some conflict in the story which worked well. There could definitely be a sequel which I would most definitely rush out to get and read.

The Man In the High Castle

Dick, Philip K. 1962. The Man in the High Castle. 272 pages.

For a week Mr. R. Childan had been anxiously watching the mail.

What can I say about this one? Really. An alternative reality is created, a reality in which the Axis powers won World War II. The United States? Not so united. They've been divided--some being more occupied than others--between Germany and Japan. Life isn't all bad--well, unless you happen to be Jewish or black. For this reason, it is better to be on the Japanese side of the border. (Don't even ask what the Germans did to Africa.) This nightmarish reality is all too real for the handful of characters the reader meets. (Yes, a few of the characters are Jewish.)

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. This book is all about choices--ethical and moral questions that these characters have to answer. It isn't easy to be the person you want to be, should be. Life is too complex to be simplified into wrong and right...or so it appears. Some decisions change your life forever. Some change who you are. Some hasten the inevitable...death itself. How much of yourself would you be willing to sacrifice to be "safe" in this nightmare-of-a-world?

One of the fascinating aspects of this one is how the novel revolves around a book or two. Specifically, the novel revolves around another novel and its author. A science-fiction novel that in itself is an alternate reality. A novel imagining what life would be like if the Allies had won the war. This novel is by Hawthorne Abendsen. It's called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. And this novel weaves its way into the stories of the many characters and narrators. As you can imagine, this novel isn't all that popular with the powers-that-be. It's outlawed on the German-occupied side of the country. But that doesn't stop people from reading it. Giving this novel power. If anything, it makes it all that more popular.

This one is definitely interesting! It's a bit more philosophical and ideas-oriented than action-packed. But I enjoyed reading it.

Plot summary (from the publisher?)

It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war--and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.
Schindler's Ark
Thomas Keneally
428 pages

Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who saved thousands of Jewish people from death in World War II Poland. His story is well known, thanks to the film adaptation of this book. The book is a realistic, factual, stark portrayal of real human drama. Keneally portrays Oskar as a compassionate savior, but not a saint. He was a womanizer and a heavy drinker. After witnessing violence in a Polish ghetto, he was moved to establish a camp on the premises of his factory, with better conditions for his workers. Still, his workers were not immune to the random acts of violence and murder. During the last year or so of the war, through deft negotiation and subterfuge, he managed to transport thousands of Jews to safety, ensuring their liberation when the war came to an end.

Even though I've read several books about the holocaust, I've been able to distance myself from the reality -- not denying these events occurred, but not facing the brutality, either. This book was different. I'm sure my mind was not as graphic as the film, and I unconsciously protected myself from the worst of it, but I still had to take frequent breaks. There were so many individual, heartbreaking stories; I found myself wondering how it could be classified as fiction. The author's note reads,
"To use the texture and devices of a novel to tell a true story is a course which has frequently been followed in modern writing. It is the one I have chosen to follow here; both because the craft of the novelist is the only craft to which I can lay claim, and because the novel's techniques seem suited for a character of such ambiguity and magnitude as Oskar. I have attempted to avoid all fiction, though, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between the reality and myths which are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature. Sometimes it has been necessary to attempt to reconstruct conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record. But most exchanges and conversations, and all events, are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews), of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue. "
Seems like nonfiction to me ...

I suspect this book won the Booker Prize more on the basis of Schindler's story; the writing itself was not as fine as I'd hoped. And Keneally was rather repetitive regarding Schindler's appetite for women and alcohol. Was he portraying him as "merely human," or admiring him? I found it tiresome, so a book I would normally have rated 4 stars ended up with only 3. ( )

My original review can be found here.

The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai

The 2006 Booker Prize winner set in the foothills of the Himalayas and part of the time in New York. We follow Sai the orphaned gradaughter of the judge she lives with. He treated his wife terribly and disowned his daughter, but his one love is dog Mutt who he completely spoils. Living with them also is Cook whose son Biju has been sent to New York to find a better life.

Sai has fallen in love with her maths tutor Gyan and he feels the same until their world is shaken up by the Nepalese community uprising. Gyan is Nepalese and is torn between his love and his loyalties. In New York Biju is struggling to make his own way as an illegal immigrant. Back home all anyone wants to do is get to the West where everything is better, they can make more money and get ahead in life. Sadly things are very different from the perception and Biju has some terrible experiences living in a cramped basement and changing jobs often to avoid being caught out.

To be honest I don't have too much to say about this. I enjoyed the style of writing, but I wasn't really taken with the story. I wasn't too involved with the characters except the charming Mutt and I spent most of the book hoping nothing bad would happen to her. Desai was the youngest woman to win the Booker Prize, but I am not sure I would make the effort to read more of her novels in the future.

The Winter Of Our Discontent

Steinbeck, John. 1961. The Winter of Our Discontent. 304 pages.

When the fair gold morning of April stirred Mary Hawley awake, she turned over to her husband and saw him, little fingers pulling a frog mouth at her.
"You're silly," she said. "Ethan, you've got your comical genius."
"Oh say, Miss Mousie, will you marry me?"
"Did you wake up silly?"
"The year's at the day. The day's at the morn."
"I guess you did. Do you remember it's Good Friday?"
He said hollowly, "The dirty Romans are forming up for Calvary."

Despite it's rather odd opening, The Winter Of Our Discontent held my interest. It is the story of a man, Ethan Hawley, and his family, his good wife, Mary, his son, Allan, his daughter, Ellen. It's a story of the conflict between ambition and honesty. Ethan has always found himself to be a good man, a just man, an honest man. A man who plays by the rules.

Ethan comes from a legacy, a family with a long history in the area. He's as "established" as he can be. But he's not wealthy. Not anymore. His father lost the family fortune. And now Ethan finds himself--a grown man with two kids--a clerk in a grocery store. He's embarrassed that it's come to this. A Hawley, a man who just twenty years--give or take a few--would have been the big man, the boss man, sunk to working for another man--and not just another man, but an Italian immigrant. Marullo.

But Ethan is noticing the world around him. Noticing that businessmen--including his banking friends--are more concerned with money, with making a profit, than by doing right by their customers. Dollar signs have got them mesmerized. They don't see their family, their friends, their neighbors, their acquaintances. They've lived in town their whole life--know practically everyone--yet when it comes down to it--money comes first and foremost over being kind and compassionate and concerned. Everyone is looking out for their selves. Everyone is greedy. Everyone is selfish. If it's good for you--financially beneficial--then it's right for you no matter who else gets hurt. So Ethan begins to contemplate joining them. If everyone does business this way, lives this way, then maybe it's time he joins them, enters the so-called real world; maybe if he does then his wife will have something to be proud of. She wishes--the children wish as well--for more money. And her friend, Margie, says its in the cards. Her tarot card readings have shown that Ethan is about to strike it rich. With this "prophecy" Ethan decides to go for it...step by step. But will this descent into the "real world" be his undoing? Will his ambition lead to a happily ever after ending? Will his actions--some quite cutthroat when you think about it--be something he can be proud of at the end of the day?

The writing is quite good. Better than good when you think about it. I marked passage after passage. The subject matter is interesting--complex. The hard examination of life, love, marriage, and friendship in a community. I can't say that I "loved" this one; but I did appreciate it. The writing. The language. The complexity and substance.

A day, a livelong day, is not one thing but many. It changes not only in growing light toward zenith and decline again, but in texture and mood, in tone and meaning, warped by a thousand factors of season, of heat or cold, of still or multi winds, torqued by odors, tastes, and the fabrics of ice or grass, of bud or leaf or black-drawn naked limbs. And as a day changes so do its subjects...(514)
"Way I look at it, it doesn't matter about believing. I don't believe in extrasensory perception, or lightning or the hydrogen bomb, or even violets or schools of fish--but I know they exist. I don't believe in ghosts but I've seen them." (560)
A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers. Everyone takes what he wants or can from it and thus changes it to his measure. Some pick out parts and reject the rest, some strain the story through their mesh of prejudice, some paint it with their own delight. A story must have some points of contact with the reader to make him feel at home in it. Only then can he accept wonders. (569)
What a frightening thing is the human, a mass of gauges and dials and registers, and we can read only a few and those perhaps not accurately. (576)
Sometimes I wish I knew the nature of night thoughts. They're close kin to dreams. Sometimes I can direct them, and other times they take their head and come rushing over me like strong, unmanaged horses. (587)
It's hard to know how simple or complicated a man is. When you become too sure, you're usually wrong. (634)
I wonder about people who say they haven't time to think. For myself, I can double think. I find that weighing vegetables, passing the time of day with customers, fighting or loving Mary, coping with the children--none of these prevents a second and continuing layer of thinking, wondering, conjecturing. Surely this must be true of everyone. Maybe not having time to think is not having the wish to think. (676)

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha - J's Review

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the story of a ten-year-old Irish boy in 1968. The book is told in Paddy's voice, and Roddy Doyle captures the confusion and attempts to make sense of the world that go along with being 10, suppositions and extrapolations that children make. Paddy on death and religion:

When Indians died - Red ones - they went to the happy hunting ground. Vikings went to Valhalla when they died or they got killed. We went to heaven, unless we went to hell. You went to hell if you had a mortal sin on your soul when you died, even if you were on your way to confession when the lorry hit you. Before you got into heaven you usually had to go to Purgatory for a bit, to get rid of the sins on your soul, usually for a few million years. Purgatory was like hell but it didn't go on forever.

It was about a million years for every venial sin, depending on the sin and if you'd done it before and promised that you wouldn't do it again. Telling lies to your parents, cursing, taking the Lord's name in vain - they were all a million years.
-A million
-Two million
-Three million

Robbing stuff out of shops was worse: magazines were more serious than sweets. Four million years for Football Monthly, two million for Goal and Football Weekly. If you made a good confession right before you died you didn't have to go to Purgatory at all; you went straight up to heaven.

Most of the book is little bits like this, short vignettes about Paddy's adventures with his friends. Paddy's perspective seems spot on to me, though I've never been a small boy.

Interspersed amongst Paddy's adventures and fights is a more serious story line, that of the crumbling marriage of his parents. They fight, increasingly often, increasingly loudly. At the beginning of the book, Paddy's little brother, Sinbad, is able to pretend that there's nothing wrong, but by the end, there's no pretending anymore. In my mind, the section of the book that is dedicated to this storyline was stronger than the somewhat rambling nature of the rest.

But it took two to tango. He must have had his reasons. Sometimes Da didn't need reasons; he had his mood already. But not all the time. Usually he was fair, and he listened when we were in trouble. He listened to me more than Sinbad. There must have been a reason why he hated Ma. There must have been something wrong with her, at least one thing. I couldn't see it. I wanted to. I wanted to understand. I wanted to be on both sides. He was my da.

The poignancy and sadness of this last section made the rest of the book worthwhile to me. Getting into Paddy's head first did help to give weight and depth to the more serious part. But I will admit that I had some trouble getting through the majority of the book, because I kept waiting for something to happen beyond random tellings of steeplechases through the neighborhood and kids beating each other up.

January/February '09 Reviews

1. The God of Small Things (K)
2. The Curious incident of the dog in the night-time (K)
3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Nely)
4. The White Tiger (Caribousmom)
5. Out Stealing Horses (Caribousmom)
6. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
7. raidergirl3(Amsterdam)
8. raidergirl3(The Road Home)
9. raidergirl3(Mercy Among the Children)
10. Blindness (Nely)
11. Never Let Me Go (Becky)
12. Challenge Wrap-Up (Nely)
13. Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking (lesley)
14. Tricia (A Wrinkle in Time)
15. Tricia (Because of Winn-Dixie)
16. Becky (Anubis Gates)
17. The Glass Castle (Rebecca)
18. My Sister's Keeper (Rebecca)
19. Small Island (Jill)
20. alisonwonderland (Water for Elephants)
21. Life of Pi (At Home With Books)
22. TheChicGeek (The Wood Wife by Terri Windling - Mythopoetic Fantasy Award)
23. Erin (Seeker)
24. Erin The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay)
25. Erin (Monster)
26. Erin (Keeper of Dreams)
27. Erin (Dancing on the Edge)
28. Middlesex (Lauren)
29. J (Tamar)
30. Farm Lane Books (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
31. Tricia (A Bride Most Begrudging)
32. Matt
33. Tiny Librarian (Out Stealing Horses)
34. Life Of Pi (TheChicGeek)
35. Jill (We Need To Talk About Kevin)
36. K (A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry)
37. J (Criss Cross)
38. Samantha
39. Alice (The Gates of theAlamo)
40. TheChicGeek (March)
41. lupingirl (Cold Mountain)
42. BooksPlease (White Noise by Don DeLillo)
43. Matt (Hunting)
44. K (Dead Until Dark, Sookie Stackhouse)
45. Kimmie (Ironweed)
46. Erin (The Name of the Wind)
47. Life of Pi (A Novel Menagerie)
48. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (A Novel Menagerie)
49. Of Mice & Men (A Novel Menagerie)
50. An Artist of the Floating World (tanabata)
51. Jill (Peace Like A River)
52. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (The Book Lady's Blog)
53. Robin (The Devil's Arithmetic)
54. Robin (To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel)
55. Mee (Kafka on the Shore)
56. Mee (The Tale of One Bad Rat)
57. Beloved (Desert Rose)
58. Elizabeth (The Graveyard Book)
59. JLS Hall (Hotel Du Lac)

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