May '09 Reviews

1. Samantha (In The Woods)
2. Farm Lane Books (Theory of War)
3. Farm Lane Books (The Secret River)
4. Kimmie (Rendezvous with Rama)
5. Erin (Dune)
6. Amy@TheSleepyReader(The Stones Cry Out)
7. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog (The Senator's Wife)
8. tanabata (The Graveyard Book)
9. tanabata (Skim)
10. alisonwonderland (Rapunzel's Revenge)
11. J (Small Island)
12. TheChicGeek (The Blind Assassin)
13. Jill (Interpreter of Maladies)
14. K (The Graveyard Book)
15. JLS Hall (The Optimist's Daughter)
16. Bellezza (Mudbound)
17. Amy@TheSleepyReader(A Proper Pursuit)
18. Jill (Mudbound)
19. alisonwonderland (Bridge to Terabithia)
20. alisonwonderland (Savvy)
21. alisonwonderland (The Full Cupboard of Life)
22. K (Amsterdam)
23. Kimmie (The Sound and the Fury)
24. Caribousmom (Midnight's Children)
25. Cath (The Circle)
26. Cath (The Circle)
27. tanabata (Still Life)
28. tanabata (Looking for Alaska)
29. tanabata (No Great Mischief)
30. Tiny Librarian (A Wrinkle in Time)
31. Tiny Librarian (Millions)
32. Kimmie (Breathing Lessons)
33. K (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas)
34. Tiny Librarian (Graveyard Book)
35. Amy@TheSleepyReader(The Worst Hard Time)
36. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)
37. JLS Hall (Great Victorian Collection)
38. JLS Hall (The Master)

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A Proper Pursuit- Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin
432 pages

Violet Hayes has always thought that her mother, who left when she was nine years old, was in a hospital somewhere struggling to recover and return to her family. However, upon announcing his intention to remarry her father tells her that her mother didn’t want to be tied down and that she left and divorced him. Violet discovers that her mother is in Chicago and since the World’s Fair(the year is 1893)is in town, Violet convinces her father to let her go there, stay with her grandmother, and see the Fair. She has intentions of searching for her mother and finding a little adventure. She also hopes to find love. Everyone seems to have their own agenda for Violet but she must do some soul-searching and discover what she truly wants as well as God’s will for her life before she is ready to fall in love.

Lynn Austin is one of my favorite authors. I have read several of her books and loved them all. Since A Proper Pursuit is a Christy award winner, I decided to read it for the Book Awards Challenge. As I mentioned this book was set at the turn of the century. In the past, this hasn’t been one of my favorite time periods to read about but since I have loved everything else written by Lynn Austin, I didn’t let that deter me. Violet is headstrong and beautiful as you would expect from our heroine. She is proposed to no less than three times in one week. However, each gentleman that has proposed has done so for his own selfish reasons and has not mentioned love to Violet. It takes her a while but Violet sorts out her life and reaches a satisfactory conclusion. It seemed to take her a bit too long, in my opinion, but she gets there eventually.

Overall,I enjoyed reading A Proper Pursuit. I found it a bit predictable and not my favorite Austin book but still very sweet. (3/5)

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Small Island ~ J's review

"But for me I had just one question - let me ask the Mother Country just one simple question: how come England did not know me?"

This is the question asked by the baffled Gilbert, one of the protagonists of Small Island, Andrea Levy's award winning tale of the first wave of Jamaicans to come to England after World War II. Gilbert is confused, because while any young student in Jamaica can recite the canals of England, the roadways, the ports, the railways, the docks, while they memorize the Parliaments and the laws that were debated there, while they take great pride in their mother country, the English that they meet have no idea of where Jamaica is. Most people guess Africa, probably because Gilbert is black. Gilbert is shocked, because Jamaica is part of the mighty British Empire, and so he imagines that all of the countries in that Empire would be part of a large family.

Small Island is told in four alternating first-person narratives that switch between a "present-day" story set in 1948, and flashbacks that establish the narrators' backgrounds. Gilbert and Hortense have come from Jamaica to London with high hopes of making it big in their fine and welcoming Mother Country. Queenie and Bernard are their English landlords.

Gilbert served in the Royal Air Force, with dreams of fighting for his country, dreams which are squelched by the brutal reality of racism in England. Nevertheless, he is frustrated by the slow life in Jamaica, and hopes to go to law school in England, and make his fortune there. Unfortunately, he does not have the money for passage over to England. Enter Hortence, a school teacher with dreams of her own. She wants to leave Jamaica as well, wants to experience the high style and sophistication of life in England. So, even though they don't know each other very well, they marry. She gives him the money he needs to go to England, he goes, finds a job and rents a room, and then sends for her to join him. Her disappointment at the shabbiness of post-war London is quickly eclipsed by her disappointment at the racism she experiences.

Queenie grew up on a dairy farm, and marries Bernard in order to escape that life, even though she finds him extremely dull. When he goes off to war, she begins to take in boarders to their oversized house. She doesn't see herself as being racist at all, though she does make comments like, "Don't worry, I don't mind being seen with you" when on a shopping expedition with Hortense. When Bernard returns from the war, he is horrified to find 'Coloreds' living in his house, and immediately begins plans to get them out.

Author Andrea Levy's father was among this first wave of immigrants from Jamaica to England, and Gilbert and Hortense's stories ring the most true. Their relationship is the most interesting, the most moving. Bernard seems more of a caricature, and a plot twist near the end of the book strains credibility. Nonetheless, this is a wonderful read, and I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those who have come from the Caribbean, as Gilbert's voice is so true to the region.

Small Island is being made into a mini-series for the BBC. It has won the Orange Prize, was the Whitbread Book of the Year, and also won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

The Stones Cry Out - Sibella Giorello

Also posted on my blog.

In the middle of a hot Richmond summer two men(one white and one black) fall from the top of a warehouse during a racially-charged rally. Though there are hundreds of people at the rally, no one sees anything.

Raleigh Harmon is an FBI Agent who specializes in forensic geology. She is assigned to investigate this case as a civil rights case. Her supervisor considers it a waste of time and manpower and she is breathing down her neck to wrap it up quickly. Raleigh wants to do it right but can Richmond’s racial unrest be contained while she solves this case?

The Stones Cry Out falls into the mystery category but it’s also Christian Fiction. I wouldn’t say that it’s a thrill ride or grabs you and won’t let go but I would say that it’s steadily paced to keep your interest. Raleigh’s field of geology is interesting and I thought that it was handled well. It’s the type of information that is interesting in small does but could easily be overdone if it was written in minute detail. That’s not the case in this story.

Raleigh is a Christian and there are definite elements of faith in the story but, once again, they are handled nicely and don’t come off as pretentious or preachy.

My only problem with The Stones Cry Out came during dream sequences where Raleigh’s dead father directs her investigation. It just seemed sort of been there, done that, to me. Yet, on the other hand, it’s very sweet to think of her father helping her even after his death. It’s a bit contradictory but I guess I both liked and disliked the dreams.

I would recommend The Stones Cry Out if you enjoy good, clean, mysteries. It’s an enjoyable read and it also won the Christy Award for Best First Novel in 2008. (3.5/5)

A stunningly inventive, deeply moving fiction debut: stories that take us from the slums of Colombia to the streets of Tehran; from New York City to Iowa City; from a tiny fishing village in Australia to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, in a masterly display of literary virtuosity and feeling.

In the magnificent opening story, “Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice,” a young writer is urged by his friends to mine his father’s experiences in Vietnam—and what seems at first a satire of turning one’s life into literary commerce becomes a transcendent exploration of homeland, and the ties between father and son. “Cartagena” provides a visceral glimpse of life in Colombia as it enters the mind of a fourteen-year-old hit man facing the ultimate test. In “Meeting Elise,” an aging New York painter mourns his body’s decline as he prepares to meet his daughter on the eve of her Carnegie Hall debut. And with graceful symmetry, the final, title story returns to Vietnam, to a fishing trawler crowded with refugees, where a young woman’s bond with a mother and her small son forces both women to a shattering decision.

Brilliant, daring, and demonstrating a jaw-dropping versatility of voice and point of view, The Boat is an extraordinary work of fiction that takes us to the heart of what it means to be human, and announces a writer of astonishing gifts.
Last year there was a great deal of excitement around this collection of short stories, culminating to being awarded at least one major literary prize (The Dylan Thomas Award). The author, Nam Le, was born in Vietnam, came to Australia as a child, and has lately been splitting his time between Australia, America and soon in the UK as well. We definitely claim him as an Aussie!

Nam Le has a chameleon like quality to his writing. In one story he is a struggling writer dealing with the visit of his father, in another he is a teenage assassin in the barrios of Columbia, and then again as a young woman visiting her friend in Tehran. He really doesn't miss a beat no matter whose voice he is telling the story in.

In Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice, the voice is that of a writer in his late 20s who is struggling to meet the deadline for an essay that is due, and with the visit by his father. Despite being of Vietnamese our writer has chosen to try and avoid telling the refugee stories that he knows, but during this visit by his father he gets to hear at least one more story of how his dad came to be living in Australia.

Having read that first story, it was something of a surprise to realise that the next story, Cartagena, is told from the point of view of a 14 year old hit man from the barrios of Columbia who needs to face up to the consequences of at least some of his actions.

Meeting Elise is another complete change of pace. This time the story is written from the perspective of an older man who is fast coming face to face with his mortality. He is hoping to meet up with his estranged daughter, but there is nothing at all certain in the arrangements.

The fourth story is probably my favourite, Halflead Bay. The main character is a young boy who is trying to deal with his mother's serious illness, and with the budding attraction he feels to Alison, who just happens to be connected with the town bully. My teaser from Teaser Tuesday came from this story.

If I had to pick my least favourite of this collection it would probably be Hiroshima. Le once again assumes a female voice, this time a young girl who is living in Hiroshima in the days before the end of WWII. Despite saying that it was my least favourite it was still a very poignant story, especially as the young girl comments about being able to differentiate between a squadron of planes flying overhead, and the war time slogans such as "do without until victory". One question that this story did make me think of is whether there are any historical fiction novels that are out there that speak about the Japanese WWII experience. There are a few that are set in Germany, but I don't know of any set in Japan about the normal Japanese persons experience.

In Tehran Calling, a young woman is trying to escape her broken romance and goes to visit her best friend who is now living in Tehran, and who is agitating for women's rights. Sarah and her friend Parvin had been somewhat estranged, but Sarah sees this as a chance to rectify that, but her visit to Tehran surprises her in many ways.

The final story in this collection, The Boat, is the story of a young girl who is trying to escape from Vietnam as one of the boat people. The boat is barely seaworthy, and very overcrowded, and it isn't long before the journey becomes perilous in many ways.

If you are looking for a short story collection, then this is certainly one to consider.