Unashamed by Francine Rivers (Christy 2001)

after reading William Henry is a Fine Name earlier this summer for The Christy Challenge...which was selected as the winner for this year's "young adult" category...I decided to read a few more Christy Award winners for the Book Awards Reading Challenge...

so...my first read for the Books Award challenge is Unashamed by Francine Rivers...which won the 2001 Christy Award in the "international historical" category...

I'd never read a Francine Rivers book before...although I did recently see the movie The Last Sin Eater based on her novel by the same name...and if all of her books are this good...I can't wait to read them all...

Unashamed is the second of five books in the Lineage of Grace series...each story is a historical fiction account of five women in Christ's family tree...they include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary...

Unashamed is the story of Rahab...a prostitute living in the city of Jericho...who helped save the lives of Israelite spies...

and I don't really know what more to say than I loved this book...and have ordered the others in this series from the library so I can read them all...in fact, my moms Bible study group will be doing the book on Mary just before Christmas...I can't wait!

Francine does an amazing job of expressing what Rahab's thoughts and emotions might have been while she waited for her hometown to be attacked...she helped me understand how the politics and religion in this culture may have affected her faith in God...and how her faith in God may have impacted her relationships...

I think it's amazing that a person can take an event that happened thousands of years ago and still make it relevant to my life today...of course you can't go wrong when you start with Scripture!!!

in the back of the book is a study/discussion guide that can be used for personal study or group discussion which helps the reader dig a little further into the Scripture and apply it to their life...

the book is short and easy to read...and I would encourage anyone who doesn't consider themselves a "reader" to read this...I think the length will not seem daunting and the story will keep you motivated to complete it...and you may even want to read the rest of them!

blessings, mamabright :-)
I looked back and realized that I never posted reviews here for two other books I've read for this challenge. In order not to flood the blog with three reviews in a row from me, I'll just link to these reviews in my own blog, and I'll try to keep up in the future!

Newbery Award: The Higher Power of Lucky

Pulitzer Prize: The Road
This review is cross-posted at my blog.

I hardly know where to start writing about Half of a Yellow Sun. It was so brutal, and so powerful. Apparently I'm not the only one who really isn't quite sure where to start; there's no Wikipedia article about it yet in spite of the fact that it won this year's Orange Prize.

Before reading this, I knew very little about the Biafran War/Nigerian Civil War/Nigeria-Biafra War (whichever name you prefer --Adichie seems to prefer the latter). I kept setting aside the book, both to look up information about the war and to process what was happening in the narrative.

I think I'm most impressed by Adichie's ability to realistically portray the everyday lives of people living in turbulent times. Aside from finding themselves in the middle of a war, the characters have very different ideas, traditions and lifestyles, depending on whether they're older or younger, wealthy or poor, black or white, African or English, educated or illiterate. I loved this diverse look at the people of this time and place. And it was fascinating to see how they all keep trying to live as normally as possible in spite of the upheaval of war.

The narrative switches back and forth from the early 60s to the late 60s a few times, and I found this hard to follow. I don't think it's a flaw in the novel so much as that I realize I just have a very linear way of thinking. I would have had an easier time with a strictly chronological story. The last several chapters, though, just pound straight through to the end of the war, and these chapters are so devastating that I felt emotionally bruised for hours after finishing the book.

I can't really mention the part I most want to discuss with others who have read the book without spoilers, so if you haven't read the book yet and intend to, please stop reading now. There may also be spoilers in the comments if people comment on the spoilers below.

Possession, A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Here's my first book completed for the Awards Challenge! It won the Man Booker Prize Award in 1990. I've looked forward to reading it for awhile and I'm happy to have finally done it. However, I was just a little bit disappointed. I thought it would be more.... hmmm... more.... I don't know.... page-turning, or quickly moving or something. It was actually quite slow. I liked the story, about two scholars each with a particular poet as their speciallty. One of them discovers that there may have been a link in the past with the lives of these two poets. So together, they investigate and unravel the mystery. All of it is done with journal entries, letters and poems from the these poets and people in their lives. I loved how she did this, except the poetry. I must admit...shhhhh.... that I skipped the really long poems! But other than that, it was really quite good. Amazing that stories this complicated can come out of someone's head! Amazing!

Waiting by Ha Jin

Thalia from Judging the Cover

In the first paragraphs of Waiting by Ha Jin, I was reminded of Ernest Hemingway. Jin has a spare descriptive style reminiscent of Old Man and the Sea. Unfortunately, I didn't find the story as compelling as Hemingway's masterpiece.

Lin Kong is an army doctor hoping to divorce his wife so he can marry his comrade Manna Wu. Set against decades of Chinese political turmoil, Kong struggles to do right by his wife, his daughter and his mistress. In the end, he realizes his actions had nothing to do with nobility, simply an unwillingness to take a chance.

The 1999 National Book Award Winner, Waiting is part of the Book Awards Reading Challenge. Although the book was deep from an intellectual standpoint, I didn't find the plot or the characters compelling. The Kong's inner monologues were silly and seemed forced. Show, not tell. Isn't that the first rule of writing?

This is the biggest problem I have with "award-winning" books. Too often, they sound pretty, but the substance is forced. Great books, transcending books pull you in, compel you to think, to wonder, without flashing neon lights saying: Here, look, here is the theme. Waiting reminds me of a line from Breakfast at Tiffany's: "A sterling silver telephone dialer. I certainly think it's handsome, but well, you do understand."

Strengths: Jin captures the style of Hemingway, has actually won the Hemingway award. The story is vaguely interesting from a literary perspective.

Weaknesses: Apart from pretty language, there isn't much here. It tries to be compelling and intellectual but for me, it fell short.

Verdict: Burke it. I might read something from Jin again because he writes well but Waiting left me feeling meh.

Recommended reads on China: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan.

Recommended reads on self-deception: An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Rating : 3.0/5
Reason for Reading : Book Awards Challenge

Subtitled "The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation", this isn't a grammatical how-to book, it's about the correct use of punctuation. It starts by looking at the different meanings you can give to the same passage of text without changing the words, just the placement of the punctuation. For example compare the two passages:

Dear Jack,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy - will you let me be yours?


Dear Jack,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You gave ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

It then spends a bit of time talking about the main punctuation marks including the full stop, comma, apostrophe, exclaimation mark, question mark, colon and semicolon. She gives you the correct use of each and then a little time is spent on some examples showing how correct use changes the meaning of a sentence.

It was quite funny in places, but it didn't really tell me much that I didn't know already (except perhaps about the semicolon which I have never used). I think the main problem with this book is that people who already use punctuation are the type of people who will be interested in reading this book. Those who are unsure or don't really bother with it will see it as boring and pedantic and therefore not read it. This mostly defeats it's purpose!

To Kill a Mockingbird - Review

Rating : 4.5/5
Reason for reading : Something About Me Challenge, Book Awards Reading Challenge

Tells the story of the Finch family (father Atticus, son Jem and daughter Scout) living in Maycombe in America. It is set back when black people were seen as inferior citizens and were mostly employed by white people in the kitchen or picking cotton. The story starts with the children telling ghost stories about the reclusive neightbour next door who they nickname "Boo" Radley. This keeps them and their friend Dill entertained for most of the summer.

The small town is rocked when negro Tom Robinson (a family man with a wife and children) is accused of raping white Mayella Ewell. The Ewell's are not the most respected of families, being poor with an alcholic father and too many children to feed on their benefit money, and are deemed "trash" by some of the other white folks. Despite this, at the time the book is set (around the 1930/40's), white people do not loose court cases if the defendent is black. Atticus is given the case to defend Tom, which he does to the best of his ability despite knowing his loss is nearly inevitable and the town folk call his all kinds of names.

It was a really touching book that covers a range of topics. Foremost if the racial discrimination that went on at the time and how people were starting to change their attitudes and realise that all people are equal and that the colour of their skin is of no importance. It also discusses the class system at the time, with Atticus telling his children that no matter how rich the person, if they mistreat someone on grounds of race they are trash. The hypocrasy of the townsfolk was interesting as well. There is one incidence of a Jewish teacher who teaches Scout's class about discrimination as Hitler is starting to round up the Jews in Germany. She was however overheard at the trial of Tom making derogetary remarks about black people.

The parts covering childhood and family values stopped the book from being too serious. The children are very intelligent and really grow up in the few short years the book covers. I really liked all the central characters, especially Atticus. I grew to like their neighbour Miss Maudie and their overbearing Aunt Alexandra. It also had a lovely sense of humour running through the novel. I can see why people love it so much.
Finally read my first book for this challenge!

Pages: 287
Finished: July 28, 2007
Reason for Reading: yahoo pulitzer book group read for July
First Published: 2006
Awards: 2007 Pulitzer Prize
Rating: 2/5

First Sentence:

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.

Recommend: Take it or leave it. It is not a bad book but I didn't really find it a good book either.

My main problem was I just didn't find it believable. Read more on my blog

A Different Kind of Book from Bruce Chatwin

The first book I finished reading for this challenge was On the Black Hill, by Bruce Chatwin, which won the 1982 Costa/Whitbread Award. I have read other things by Chatwin, but this one did not take the reader on a journey to a foreign land, but rather on a journey to a farm in Wales, where twin brothers Lewis and Benjamin Jones live their entire eighty years in an area of a few square miles.

I found the book quite readable, though Lewis and Benjamin's quiet acceptance of their lot in life was frustrating at times. There were times when I would say to myself as I was reading, "Please you two, stick up for yourselves!" particularly against their father and his strict control of the family.

If you are interested, I posted a longer review on my blog, along with a review of a book I read for another challenge. The Chatwin book is in the second part of the post.

Middlesex -- kookiejar's review

I always feel like my weakest, least persuasive reviews are about the books I love the most. I just don't have the words to describe feelings this strong.

I am left nearly speechless over this book. I could turn to any random page and pull out line after line of beautiful, fully engaging prose, but that would be a disservice to this work which must be viewed as a whole.

Our narrator, Calliope Stephanides is telling us her history reaching as far back as her grandparents courtship in Greece and Turkey. That most unconventional relationship gives way to the marriage of Cal's parents and then to the birth of our heroine. A heroine who in the course of time discovers that she is neither female or male and yet both. Cal is a true hermaphrodite and her story is the tale of how we see ourselves as men and women and as Americans.

It gets down to the nitty gritty about how we identify ourselves. Is our sexuality based on our anatomies or our hearts? And are we Americans based on the country of our births or rather what place we call home? These are questions that we must answer for ourselves, and not let anyone else decide. The answers are at the very heart of who we are and what our place in the world should be.

I was held enthralled by Eugenides gorgeous prose, unusual sense of humor and unique perspective into the hearts and minds of the Stephanides family. There is not one character in this book that you don't become fully attached to. These are characters that continued to live in my mind long after I'd put this book back on my shelf and walked away.

Please do yourself a favor and read this book. You will not regret one moment that you spend with these unforgettable people.

As always, my blog is here.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

This was my first book for the Book Awards Challenge and it was simply one of the best books that I've read in a long time. The story revolves around Sethe, a former slave who had escaped to the North, and her family, and the scars (both physical and mental) left over from slavery. This was at times a very uncomfortable book to read. And, I'll admit, that there were some parts where I had no idea what was going on, although I think this says more about my abilities than Ms. Morrison's.

One of the things that I liked best about this book was that we are told about slavery from the slaves themselves, instead of from the viewpoint of the slaveowners. And the telling is done in such a way as to not just tug at but absolutely strain our emotions -- there is no feeling of being at a safe distance from the horrors. We are put inside the characters' heads and forced to see them as human beings, subject to the same wants, fears, and joys that we have.

The main theme of the book involves the necessity of facing the past and dealing with our demons before we can truly move on. I think this is an important lesson for everyone, no matter what their past may contain. And the specific example of facing the horrors of slavery is also a lesson for the United States of today, as so many of our race-related issues can be traced to that time period and its aftermath.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman has received lots of awards around the world. I can see why it would, it's got a unique story line and beautiful language, but if I were an award giver, it wouldn't get one from me.
Lyra is content to run wild among the scholars of Jordan College, with her daemon familiar always by her side. But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle—a struggle born of Gobblers and stolen children, witch clans and armored bears. And as she hurtles toward danger in the cold, far North, young Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she is destined to win, or to lose, this more-than-mortal battle.
Lyra is a fascinating character. I loved her. I liked most of the book, although it is very dark and brutal and I don't think it's appropriate for children. But at the very end, it starts preaching from a parallel universe Bible and that really bothered me. One, because I don't like people re-writing the Bible; two, it was so out of character for the rest of the story.

I'd be interested in hearing if this bothered anyone else—and why or why not.

For a more detailed review, visit my blog.
Winner of the 1993 World Fantasy Award.

"I thought for a long time, trying to put my finger on why I liked this book so much. Sure, it had a powerful plot and a memorable cast of characters. It was full of action, drama, suspense, and mystery. But what really got me was the mood. Powers created a sense of doomsday momentum that started off gradually and built to its inevitable conclusion, taking no prisoners along the way. It reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and classic film noir movies."

For the full review, please visit my site here.
There are no spoilers in this post!

I recently read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as part of my re-read before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. This one is probably my 2nd favorite Harry Potter.

My original review was posted on Friday, the day before the last one was released. You could find it here, but it isn't so relevant any longer. That post does contain spoilers for Half-Blood Prince, but none for Deathly Hallows.

This book won the 2006 British Book Award Prize.
My next challenge book was "Akehenaten: Dweller in Truth" by Naguib Mahfouz. It qualifies for both challenges since Mr. Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize in 1988 (Book Award), and it is about Egypt(Armchair Traveler). After reading the "Cairo Trilogy" quite a few years ago, I went searching for more of this acclaimed authors work when the book award challenge started. Akhenaten reached out at me, so to speak, because not only am I interested in archaeology with a fascination on Ancient Egypt, but I will be seeing the Amarna exhibit at Penn Museum in September. I thought it would be a fitting read for the summer.

I liked this story. I read several reviews after reading the book and tend to disagree with some of the people who seem to forget that it is fiction, not historical fact. Although it was convincingly written, at times you could imagine the words as fact. It was very easy to get pulled back into ancient Egypt with the writing style. Told though the eyes of a young man who, on a trip down the Nile, questions his father about Akhenaten as they pass by the abandoned city. The boy, curious, goes on a journey to interview the people involved. I have to believe that his father was some high ranking official or perhaps in the current Pharaoh's inner circle because he has no trouble getting an audience with some powerful people, including the former wife and queen, Nefertiti who is under house arrest (This is where the book becomes fiction as many scholars believed she died before her husband.)

Each player in the tale of Akehenaten and his quest to convert ancient Egypt to monotheism has a different take on the story and of the "heretic" Pharaoh himself, leaving the reader to come to his own conclusion. Written in a interview format, each player is given a brief introduction, and then is allowed to tell his story, with minimal comments by the narrator. It was not meant to be historically factual, just a fictionalized account of a young man curious to find out about a part of his history that is being erased as he writes.

Direct and to the point, this book is simple at first glance and yet modern and thought provoking. I will be reading more of Mr. Mahfouz's stores of Ancient Egypt.

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Title: Middlesex
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Pages: 529
Rating: 4.25/5

Now, before you gasp at my rating--I think this book had all the potential to be ranked higher, but I think it was just a bad Reading time for me.

The story begins, "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

Pretty intriguing if you ask me! Cal, the narrator, tells the story of his family beginning with his grandparents in Greece all the way to his own arrival in the book as a baby girl. The story is engaging and Cal is a wonderful storyteller, but at times the book felt a little long to me, a little too heavy in the details. I do think most of this was my own impatience at the time--maybe not from the book.

Anyway, I would recommend it (as many others have). My full review is here.
I expected a depressing story as I cautiously started Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I have read several reviews of this book and knew it was a father-son story set in a post-apocalyptic United States, and that they would have to defend themselves against hunger, the weather and roaming bands of cannibals. How could this story be uplifting? How could this story be anything by dismal, foreboding and (again) depressing? (more)

This is a multi layered story with themes of slavery and subjugation, unspeakable horrors, loss and despair and yet as I read it the inspiration and hope of the characters shone through despite the dark and bleak experiences that each had in some way undergone.

Having read a number of reviews I was well prepared for the dark side of this book. The contrast that came when a small ray of light shone for the characters was all the more arresting. For example the simple act of laughing, followed by the quilting that drew women like Celie and Sofia together.

So I appreciated the moments of hope and the inspiration. The centrality of learning was another theme of the book that I was not expecting. Here, I am using education, not in the formal sense but rather in the wider way in which we are all life long learners.

In Nettie’s letters the way that education was seen as so important and the revelations it bought – Nettie writes of being so thankful to her teacher for ‘keeping alive in me somehow the desire to know’ (page 119). What a priceless gift that was and remains so today.

I also loved the reciprocity of the learning that struck me in a number of places. For example, Nettie works for Corrine and Samuel and admits that even though she looks after their children she does not feel like a maid. Nettie further explains ‘I guess this is because they teach me , and I teach the children and there is no beginning or end to teaching and working – it all runs together. (page 120)

I enjoyed the challenges to taken for granted assumptions, the close juxtaposition of God, fatherhood, love and relationships that Alice Walkers characters grappled with. The reader cannot help but become engaged with many of ‘the big questions of life’! In conversation with Shug Celie ponders ‘God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’s know what you are looking for….’ (page 176) The perseverance and spirit of the women as they grow and learn more of themselves and their spirit was inspiring.

Finally I loved the phrase that made me laugh out loud ‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it’ (page 177). After all, as my friends know purple is my favourite colour!

The Color Purple is one of those books that will keep me thinking long after I put it back in my bookcase. I highly recommend it.
This is my review for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle. Winner of the 1993 man Booker Prize.

Let me just say that I LOVE Roddy Doyle's writing. I have always been a big fan of his, and my favorite book of his happens to be "The Van". I was very happy to see this book on the list because somehow this book had escaped me. Set in a small Irish village in the 1960's, it is narrated by Paddy or Patrick Clarke. Written exactly how a 10 year old thinks, and would write his thoughts, the mood and writing style took you right into his mind. It gave you a clear mental picture of what a child's world is really like. Tales of playing in construction sites, lying to their parents, and sibling rivalry as only a child could say it. Funny and sometimes sad, it is about how he grows up, rather quickly, as his parent's fight and eventually divorce.

There were no chapters which made it harder to read, for me anyway, because I tend to pace my reading by the ubiquitous "just one more chapter"! But after 20 pages or so, this was not missed at all! It did have quite a few Irish expressions which were funny and some of them I had completely forgotten about and made me laugh out loud. It did take me a bit to get through, but I did enjoy it.

A Look at The Blind Assassin - 2000 Booker Prize

I have just recently finished reading The Blind Assassin. I found it to be tragic but at the same time I was left feeling disconnected from the story. However, Margaret Atwood is most certainly a very able writer. I look forward to reading more from her. Please stop by and read my full review.
The Higher Power of Lucky
by Susan Patron

2006, 134 pp.

Newbery Medal

Rating: 4/5

This book created a little controversy when it won the Newbery Medal because it contains the word 'scrotum' in relation to a snake bite on a dog. I'm almost conservative as they come, and I don't see what the big deal is. I really liked this book and found it to be very charming.

Lucky is a girl whose mother has died and who lives with a Frenchwoman. They live in the desert of California in a very small (population: 43) community. Also in her life besides her French guardian Brigitte are Miles, a cute little boy whose favorite book is Are You My Mother?, and Lincoln, a boy her age who is obsessed with knot tying.

These relationships and the longings of this little girl form the heart of the book. I really cared about these characters and found myself rooting for all of them.

Juliette - an intro

I have spent more time thinking about my list than reading since I saw this challenge on a friend's site. Thank you Gill!
Eventually I have decided to commit to the five below. Like lots of other fellow challengers I have a list of read before challenge and I would like to go back and read some again, so I have put them plus my others to choose from at the bottom, to be decided!

1 The Color Purple by Alice Walker Pulitzer 1983, National Book Award 1983) First read July 19th 2 The Bone People Keri Hulme Booker
3 A Visit to William Blake’s Inn; Nancy Willard Newbery
4 The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood Booker Prize 2000
5 The Higher Power of Lucky Susan Patron Newbery

To be decided
The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
Schindler's List Thomas Keneally
Hotel Du Lac Anita Brookner
Moon Tiger Penelope Lively
Possession: A Romance A. S. Byatt

The Plague Albert Camus
Atonement Ian McEwan

(Mo's review) Three Junes by Julia Glass

I actually finished reading “Three Junes” last weekend, but have been putting off writing my review, because (at the risk of sounding ‘literary illiterate’) I’m still not certain if I enjoyed the book or not.

According to the back cover, this 2002 National Book Award winning novel is one “set in Greece, Scotland, Greenwich Village, and Long Island, that traces the members of a Scottish family as they confront the joys and longings, fulfillments and betrayals of love in all its guises.” Written in three sections which each focus on different central characters, I found myself either utterly apathetic or completely absorbed with them, depending on where I found myself in the book.

You can read my full review here

mamabright's list...finally!

This challenge intrigued me from the first moment I saw it...and I joined immediately...I knew that this challenge would stretch me to read some books I wouldn't normally pick up...

I've selected eight that I'm for sure going to read...ones that I probably would have picked up...and then another eight that I'm interested in reading...but I probably wouldn't have picked up...and I'll select my final four from this list depending on what I'm in the mood for when the time comes...

here are the 8 definites...

  • Unashamed by Francine Rivers (Christy 2001)

  • Arena by Karen Hancock (Christy 2003)

  • Songbird by Lisa Samson (Christy 2004)

  • Whence Came a Prince by Liz Curtis Higgs (Christy 2006)

  • Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (Newbery 1946)

  • The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (Newbery 1948)

  • The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (Newbery 1950)

  • Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (Newbery 1952)

here are the 8 alternates...

  • The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Pulitzer 1939)

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McCurtry (Pulitzer 1986)

  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Pulitzer 1983, National Book Award 1983)

  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (Commonwealth Writers' Prize 1995)

  • Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann (Nobel 1929)

  • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Nobel 1929)

  • something by Rudyard Kipling (Nobel 1907)

  • something by Ernest Hemingway (Nobel 1954)

  • something by John Steinbeck (Nobel 1962)

I haven't read any of these books...so I'm really looking forward to this challenge...thanks, 3M!

blessings, mamabright :-)
I reviewed the God of Small Things (winner of the 1997 Booker Prize):

Excerpt - "The God of Small Things is a complex book that addresses personal loss and weighs it against a country’s politics and cultural traditions. It revolves around one day in the life of a pair of fraternal “egg-twins, ” Estha and Rahel, a day that changed their lives forever, and changed the world very little at all."

The complete review is here.
This book is an interesting peek into the lives of gangsters in 1930's New York. Billy Bathgate was born in the Bronx slums, living a fatherless and reckless life, until he is befriended by famous gangster, Dutch Schultz. Schultz shows him the inner workings of crime, killing, gambling and bootlegging. Billy latches on to this less-than-admirable life as way to scratch some type of existence for his insane mother and himself. An opportunist and a quick study, Billy seems to be numb to the unethical lifestyle of a gangster. That is, until he falls in love with Schultz's girlfriend...(more).

Title: The Optimist's Daughter
Author: Eudora Welty
Country: America (south)
Year: 1972
Rating: B+
Pages: 180 pgs

Prize: 1973 Pulitzer

The Optimist's Daughter is a character-driven rather than a plot-driven story. Therefore, a quick summary of the plot does not do it justice. The majority of what makes the novella a good read is hidden below the surface, as Welty explores issues including love, loss, memory and the passage of time. Although short, it is not an easy read, and is best read at leisure, absorbing the words rather than scanning them.

Read more here.
It too was not on my list but I finished reading it. Hence posting an excerpt of my review.

The Moon Is Down
By John Steinbeck

First Published: 1942
ISBN: 0140187464

Publisher: Penguin/1995

Pages: 112
Rating: 4/5

It is lesser known than some of Steinbeck's other works, but it can be compared with his best. The story moves with good pace, the portrayals are effective and the story rises to make powerfully its eternal point about human liberty. The book is an assertion of freedom and human spirit. This may be the most direct, concise and effective piece of mass propaganda ever written but even after more than six decades, this novel is just as relevant and just as compelling.....

For full review, click The Moon is Down...

David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars is an intriguing mix of literary finesse and shrewd plot-making. While it may not exactly qualify as genre-bending it does tend to push the limits of a reader’s boundaries. The opening chapter, filled with taut courtroom dialogue and jumpy fisherman ‘types’ seemed to run perpendicular to the breathtaking character portraits that followed it. This back and forth continued throughout the book, although it may be safe to assume that the more literary aspects of the novel remained dominant.

The novel is set on the coast of an island in the Puget Sound in 1955 and follows the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a local fisherman of Japanese origin who is under arrest for the murder of Carl Heine, another local fisherman. The murder is supposed to have been committed over a land dispute going back to before the war when Miyamoto’s family worked on the Heine family strawberry farm.

The novel uses this ‘drama’ as a backdrop to explore racism, the complications of love and loss, and above all, the destructive capacities of war on an individual. The main male characters in the novel – Ishmael, Carl and Kabuo – share a certain grim understanding of what part of their soul they were asked to give away when they willingly went to war to fight for their country. All of them use the word murderer in their self-reflection, an idea that is only accentuated as Kabuo’s murder trial plays out.

Guterson moves easily from one perspective to another, detailing the interior life of the many individuals that make up the small island community. Through these variegated lenses he manages to paint a faithful and engaging portrait of life as it may have been before and after WWII in a community that was home to a significant percentage of Japanese-Americans. All of whom were sent to the internment camps and who struggled with their bi-cultural identities.

Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue, is the character Guterson uses to express most of this bi-cultural burden and the novel follows her life in exquisite detail. From her childhood working on the island’s strawberry farms, to her secret adolescent love affair with Ishmael Chambers, to her internment during the war and subsequent marriage to Kabuo. She is a remarkable character. Torn between her understanding of her own culture and her youthful love for Ishmael, she navigates a harsh course through the racial climate of pre-WWII America.

Ishmael, for his part, returns from the war minus an arm but overloaded with a raft of bitterness. About losing Hatsue and, especially, about his understanding of how the war managed to transform him. He is a pivotal element of the novel, a man in possession of valuable information about the murder trial. His emotional struggle is one of the more poignant elements of the entire book.

Overall, Guterson does manage to marry the considerable differences between the more sensational undercurrents of the story and its literary mood, creating a lovely piece of fiction with a lot to say about 1950’s America.

This review cross posted at Incurable Logophilia

A Confederacy of Dunces reviewed by raidergirl3

I recently completed A Confederacy of Dunces, Pulitzer Prize winner of 1981. I originally picked it for the Southern Reading Challenge as it is set in New Orleans. I had never heard of the character of Ignatius J Reilly before, and I'm not sure why, because surely, there is no character like him in literature. This thirty year old, over educated, doofus, still living with his mother wreaks havoc wherever he goes. This comedy is filled with very interesting characters and was laugh out loud funny in parts.

see my complete review here

Book 2 - Sacred Hunger - Barry Unsworth

Booker Prize Winner 1992

2007 marks the bi-centennial of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, a trade upon which the prosperity of Georgian Britain was founded. There can no more relevant read, therefore, than Barry Unsworth’s “Sacred Hunger”.

The love of money, the making of profit is the sacred hunger of the title. This quest justifies everything and sanctifies all purposes. Unsworth examines the mentality of the British merchants of the 18th century. Living in their gaudy houses, playing with culture, romance and love, they ruthlessly pillage Africa of its lifeblood. Detailed analysis of the triangular trade is woven into the first half of the novel which follows the history of The Liverpool Merchant slaver ship from conception and build to its disappearance in an Atlantic storm. Its tortuous voyage, the lives it blighted and destroyed (both in Britain and Africa) form a fascinating and, at times, horrendous narrative.

The second half of the novel focuses on the British in America where “white man is speaking with forked tongue” to vanquish the indigeneous nation on the other side of the Atlantic. It's heartbreaking to understand that shiny bright beads, baubles and the odd gun persuaded coastal Africans to hunt and enslave those from the interior. It's doubly heartbreaking to watch shiny bright medals persuading Indian chiefs to hand over lands to the British King.

While the history of the ship, its crew and its cargo steers us through the first half of the novel, the emnity between the two main protagonists, cousins Erasmus Kemp (the ship owner’s son) and Matthew Paris (the ship’s doctor) provides the narrative drive in the second. For Kemp wants Paris to pay for the damage done to his family when the ship did not return and pursues him across the Atlantic. In the meantime Paris, along with the visionary Delblanc, form a utopian society with the survivors of the ship. Can this fledgling society, founded on the theft and brutalising of half its population, coalesce and heal? Or will the sacred hunger, common to mankind, reemerge even here?

Unsworth has done his homework but wears it lightly. There are many colourful characters and plenty of plot to disguise the research. If there is any fault in this novel, and I admit this grudgingly, it is that the pace of the first two sections is very slow. However, once The Liverpool Merchant reaches Africa, the pages turn very, very quickly indeed.

Wow. What a powerful book. I immediately was drawn into the characters. This book is about several black women and their lives and how they all come together while living at Brewster Place, a run down tennament.

It was funny at times and sad at times. I had hoped the end would be more joyful. It did have that "life will go on" message, but not as much as I had hoped. The hardships these women had to endure were so real. Definitely a book not to be missed.

~Rebecca at Fond of Books

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech - Review by Sally906

Review also posted HERE:

Opening Sentence: "...Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart, and that is true..."

Rated 'C'

The title is derived from the expression "Don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins" And the book is all about conclusions being jumped to before the facts are in. Salamanca (Sal) Tree Hiddle has lost her mother - and her father has moved her from the country to the city. We don't know how her mother got lost, although you suspect where she might be. Sal travels with her two wonderfully individual grandparents to visit the place where her mother is. As they travel Sal tells her grandparents a story about her friend Phoebe, who is convinced there is a lunatic out to murder HER family, but whose mother walks out on them.

The two story lines merge and show how different families cope with life - Sal's father hiding the truth about Sal's mother from her, and then when she does learn what happened, Sal pretends that it hasn't. Then there is Phoebe's uptight family, held together by a mother who cracks under the stress of it. This is a book about love, loss, joy, sadness and laughter. I can see why it won the Newbery Medal - and why English teachers jump for joy to discuss the themes in class.

A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experience TravellersFor the first two weeks of the challenge, I read two Newbery Medal Award winners. First, A Visit to William Black's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard. Click the link for my super small review of this lovely and wonderful picture book. I love William Blake's poetry as much as the author does, and the whimsical pictures and poetry she writes in homage are delight. It makes me nostalgic for innocence.

Today, I finished Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I found it interesting based on the information it has about survival and life in the Arctic, and I wonder how much has changed since the book was published thirty years ago. I will eventually read both sequels to the trilogy.

Looking forward to my next updates and posting longer reviews when I can.
“Kafka on the Shore” is the story of two characters, who we follow in alternating chapters: a 15-year-old boy who calls himself Kafka Tamuta, and who decides to run away from home on his birthday; and a man in his sixties, Nakata. Nakata experienced a very strange accident during WW2, when he was only 9 years old, after which he lost his memory, the ability to read and write, and became, in his own words, “dumb”. He gained, however, some very unusual abilities in return.

This story begins realistically enough: a boy decides to run away from home, and so he takes the night bus from Tokyo to Takamatsu, a small town where he has no friends or relatives, and where, thus, he is not likely to be looked for. Soon enough, though, the reader is confronted with a series of surreal events: cats speak, fish and leeches rain down, spirits walk about, prophecies are made, and entrances to other worlds are opened. And there are appearances by popular culture icons like Johnny Walker or Colonel Sanders (the Kentucky Fried Chicken logo guy, in case anyone is wondering).

There was something about this book that reminded me slightly of Neil Gaiman's “American Gods”. The use of these two last figures helped, but there’s something else, something about the mood of the book I cannot quite pinpoint.

As the story advances, a lot of questions are raised, and we realize that there is a connection between the boy Kafka and the man Nakata. However, not all the questions are answered at the end. At some point in the book, one of the characters says:
“I went all over Japan interviewing people who’d survived lightening strikes. It took me a few years. Most of the interviews were pretty interesting. A small publisher put it out, but it barely sold. The book didn’t come to any conclusion, and nobody wants to read a book that doesn’t have one. For me, thought, having no conclusion seemed perfectly fine.”
This made me smile, because it so obviously applies to Murakami’s books. Not that they have no resolution, but, like I said, there are many questions that linger. This got me thinking that in a way his books are a little like songs. A song doesn’t necessarily have to make sense – in fact, more often than not, the concept of “sense” doesn’t even apply to music. Its realm is not that of logic. And yet, it still moves us, it still makes us experience a myriad of emotions; it still has power over us. The same can be said, to some extent, of Murakami’s novels. They don’t always make sense, but they still resonate within me. And music is very often mentioned in this book. For an interesting take on the relationship between Murakami and music, read this post by Dark Orpheus.

Books are another thing that is very important in this novel. Kafka is an avid reader, and this drew me to him immediately. There is a delightful library where Kafka ends up working and where many important scenes take place. And there are a lot of books that are mentioned or quoted throughout the story.

A little warning that perhaps not everyone will find relevant – this book contains a very disturbing scene involving cats. I am a cat lover, but more than that, I am a person who is extremely disturbed by any violence towards animals, especially cats. It’s the kind of stuff that haunts me and seriously gives me nightmares. There is a horrifying scene in this book, and I know that the emotional effect it had on me is exactly what Murakami was trying to achieve, but it was still very painful for me to read. It’s a scene I sincerely hope to forget. I’m not saying that this scene should keep anyone from reading the book, but I think it’s good to be prepared for it.

I really liked this book. It had a very unique mood, interesting and memorable characters, and it was a story I responded to emotionally, even if I’m not sure I completely made sense of it. I will certainly be reading more of Murakami’s work in the future.

Innocent Erendira by Gabriel Garcia Marquez--Gautami's 2nd Book

Finished reading and reviewing another book of short stories. This time by Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Again adding one more book to my list...!! I will update my list soon.

Title: Innocent Erendira
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

ISBN: 0140157522

Publishers: Penguin Books/1996

Pages: 183

Genre: Short Stories

Rating: 4/5

Err..I should say it has a novella and 11 short stories. All are Marquez like..:D

The novella,
The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, is a very poignant rendering about Erendira, who is only fourteen years old when we first meet her and is punished by her grandmother in a very diabolical manner when she accidentally burns her grand mother’s house. The way Erendira has to repay is heart rending. She runs away numerous times only to be brought back....

For more, click here..

They traveled lightly, the Gillayleys, not loaded down with trivia. But then, in the end we all travel very lightly indeed. Nothing to carry more substantial than memories...and maybe that's the heaviest baggage of all... -From The Bone People, page 323-

Keri Hulme's Booker Prize winning first novel -
The Bone People - is a searing, brutal novel about love, violence, language, and mystery. Set in the bleak environment of a New Zealand sea town, the novel introduces three damaged characters all seeking something more in their lives, all having suffered loss and trauma.

Kerewin Holmes, a frustrated artist who turns to alcohol for solace, has built herself a tower - a self-imposed prison, where she can hide from the world and stave off the pain of her family's rejection. She holds tenaciously to her philosophy of life:
"...To care for anything deeply is to invite disaster."

Joe also chooses alcohol to warm his soul. He has lost his wife and is trying to raise his adopted son Simon alone. Joe's love for Simon is a mixture of tenderness and brutality.

Simon, perhaps the most heart wrenching character in the book, is a child with a mysterious past. Washed up on shore after a shipwreck and breathed back to life by Joe, Simon is mute, angry and disturbed. These three characters come together in a clash of culture and ambivalence and burn themselves into the heart of the reader.

Hulmes writing is poetic and lyrical, filled with mystical ambiance and beautiful imagery. It ebbs and flows like the sea, building to a terrible climax. At times, feeling battered and exhausted, I wanted to put the book down and not finish it; but each time the words and the story lured me back. There are some beautiful and haunting passages in this novel, such as when Simon gifts Kerewin an amber, gold, turquoise and coral rosary and Kerewin thinks:

Who owned you?
Prayed with you?

Played with you?

What prayers, said, in what moods?

Joy, or grief?

Love, or anger,

Or tears?

-From The Bone People, pages 140-141-

Hulme treats the reader to a great deal of Maori culture, weaving Maori phrases throughout the novel (she also provides their translation in an appendix). The book veers into mystical realism at times, which I believe actually added to the mood and flavor of the story rather than taking away from it.

The Bone People
is not an easy read - it is disturbing and rips at the reader's heart - but, ultimately its words and imagery, its message about what it means to be human, will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.

Highly recommended.

**Original review posted on my blog.

Voices from Chernobyl - 2005 NBCC Non-fiction

I recently finished a non-fiction book about the 1986 accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. It was a heartbreaking book, filled with interviews with the people who suffered through it, the people who's loved ones died from radiation poisoning. I did not know much about the accident before reading this, I only knew that it was tragic and frightening. I can't imagine how scary it must have been to be endangered by something invisible, something that is almost impossible to contain. I have posted a full review of the book on my blog.


Translated by Seamus Heaney
215 pages
First sentence:"So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness."

Beowulf is the ancient tale of the terrorizing of the Danes by Grendel, the heinous beast, and the hero, Beowulf, who travels in defense of the Dane kingdom. This translation is poetic yet masculine to the core. I read along to the sound-recording read by the author, which was a pleasure. Mr. Heaney's accent was certainly a plus. But I warn those who may try to listen while they read, this book-on-tape is comprised "unabridged sections" of the original. That means that every so often a sentence or 2 are skipped. And several times a page or 2(or 3) are completely removed. I had to stop the tape and read these to be able to find where the story had jumped to. Most of the time the section skipped over was reflective of past battles and didn't have anything to do with the storyline.

I was familiar with the story already but had never read the entire book, which is not long or difficult at all. Though the book is over 200 pages, all the left-hand pages are written in Old English while the right-hand pages are in Modern English; so you're actually reading only about 100 pages, broken down in poetic stanzas. The language is full of emotion. The characters, while we would consider them arrogant and boastful, for it's original time period they would appear courageous and noble, or cowardly and spiteful, depending on the individual.

I enjoyed my reading time. It is clear why this translation won the Whitbread Award. The author is also the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1995. I have to agree with this assessment:
"for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles
and the living past."

I read this in preparation for 9th grade Lit. in the fall. The story is violent and a bit graphic but any older child who loves adventure will listen to this story with pleasure. If they can tolerate the Lord of the Rings then this one will be no trouble. Just don't try to pronounce the names.

Katie List!

Hi Readers -
So here are my twelve (okay ... thirteen, I made it a baker's dozen)
1. The Sea by John Banville (Booker Prize for Fiction)
2. The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard (Agatha Award)
3. Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger (Anthony Award)
4. Snow by Orhan Panuk (Nobel Prize)
5. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Orange Prize)
6. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (PEN/Faulkner Award)
7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Pulitzer Prize)
8. Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (Edgar Award for Best Critical Work or Biography)
9. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (Printz Award)
10. Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (National Book Award for Young Peoples' Literature)
11. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (National Book Award for Non Fiction)
12. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (National Book Award for Non Fiction)
13. Paladin of Souls by Louis McMaster Bujold (Hugo and Nebula Award)

I've actually got a couple of these sitting on my nightstand, I've started with The Road by Cormac McCarthy which my friend Holley recommended very highly!

Just by way of introduction, I'm married with three girls and am a LiBrArIaN in my copious spare time =) You can visit me at The Burrow. I'll be posting my reviews in both spots. I hope to hear from you!
Later -

Pulitzer Prize Winner 1936

I have a general rule - film tie-in covers are to be avoided. Yet I have no argument with the classic image from a classic film on the cover of this classic novel - it is an icon after all!

I first read this in my teens and my great memories have been fed in the intervening decades with periodic viewings of the film. That would appear to be a common experience for several in my reading group requested a reread.

Arguably the first blockbuster (it has sold more than 38 million copies) Gone with the Wind at 1010 pages is long .... very long ... too long?

It is essentially the tale of a tormented love triangle: Scarlett's unrequited love for Ashley, Rhett's unrequited love for Scarlett and ultimately Scarlett's unrequited love for Rhett. As a teenage I enjoyed the Rhett/Scarlett cat and mouse games but, in middle age, I tired of Scarlett's emotional scotoma around page 600. The green-eyed independent Southern belle, a spirited heroine to be admired when I was 17, is a selfish, heartless, unintelligent little madam. Like Rhett, at the end I couldn't give a damn about her predicament although I find myself debating whether the monster was created by the circumstances or by Rhett himself.

To reduce Gone with The Wind to romantic saga is to render it a great disservice. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and defeat of the South, military tactics and the corruption of scallawags, carpetbaggers and the administration during the Reconstruction of Georgia is laid out in all its fascinating and inglorious detail. So too are the effects on the population - the men who died, the women who survived and the slaves or "darkies" who were freed.

This brings us to the controversial elements of the novel. There is no doubt that Mitchell's portrayal is a patriotic pro-Confederate stance. The Southerners are also pro-slavery ... which is only to be expected. Anything else woud destroy the historical context of the novel. But does Gone With the Wind cross the line and become racist? There is evidence for this: the dimwittedness of the "darkies", who form a threatening anonymous mass after the war. And does Mitchell go so far as to endorse the formation of the KKK? On the other hand, when the negroes are named, they are honourable people who form a backbone of society. Think Mammy. Think Uncle Peter.

However there are those who are not so ambivalent as myself. AliceRandall says her book, The Wind Done Gone, is a form of political protest, an “antidote to the poison” of racism in Gone With the Wind. “I wrote this book so that Gone With the Wind would no longer sit on the shelf unanswered, so that young black girls who were damaged by that book, as I was, would have somewhere to turn,” she says. “To create a literary parody is to derive the most absurd thing possible from the original text, and that is what I have created in Cynara—an intelligent black woman.”

For those who wish to follow the further adventures of Scarlett and Rhett there are 848 pages of the authorised sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. Personally, I'll be leaving Scarlett in her mansion in Peachtree Street, Atlanta, the street, where unfortunately her creator met her demise. Margaret Mitchell was struck by a speeding automobile on Peachtree Street in 1949. She died 5 days later.

In usual anticipation of new Harry Potter books, I'll reread the entire series, however, this time I decided to only read the 6th book, since I have yet to reread that book. I'm glad I did that, if only because I have a whole lot of other books to read! This also counted for my first book choice in the Book Award Challenge, having won the British Book Award.

I'm not going to do a plot synopsis on this book, you all know how it goes, but I will say that I loved this book, as I love all of the other Harry Potter books. This one is touching in more ways than the others, and just as exciting as books 4 and 5. Harry Potter and Dumbledore gain even more strength in their untouchable bond and Harry continues to learn more about his past, as well as his future. I will admit, tears were shed at the end of the story and it took me a bit of time to recover. I'm recovering all over again now!

I'm very much looking forward to next week and the release of book 7, though in an extremely bittersweet way. This books have meant a lot to me over the years and now they're ending, however I know Rowling will do it in a tasteful and sentimental manner. I can't wait to read it!

Kimmie To Kill a Mockingbird 1961 Pulitzer

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
1961 Pulitzer Prize

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is about a young tomboy growing up in the Deep South during the mid-1930"s. The book spans a little over two years as she learns about prejudice.
I've written a little more at my blog, KimmiesKrap
I recommend this book to everyone. It's a very easy, entertaining and heartwarming story.


Alisia's Updated List

Here is my updated list for the challenge:

1. Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan (1986 Newbery)
2. The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch (1978 Booker)
3. March - Geraldine Brooks (2006 Pulitzer)
4. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1961 Pulitzer)
5. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy (1997 Booker)
6. The Giver - Lois Lowry (1994 Newbery)
7. The Hours - Michael Cunningham (1999 PEN/Faulkner; Pulitzer)
8. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (1973 Pulitzer)
9. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood (2000 Booker)
10. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke (2005 Hugo)
11. Parable of the Talents - Octavia Butler (Nebula)
12. The Road - Cormac McCarthy (2007 Pulitzer)

1. Sophie's Choice - William Styron (1980 National Book Award)
2. Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold (Nebula)
3. Gilead - Marilynne Robinson (2004 National Book Critic's Circle; 2005 Pulitzer)
4. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides (2003 Pulitzer)
5. Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech (1995 Newbery)

updated list

OK, I know the challenge has just begun and I don't have to have a fixed list but I've been playing with it all the same. I've swapped out a few from my first preliminary list and added in some that I've been especially wanting to read. I don't think I'll need to do any more re-arranging now for a while!

Here's my updated list:

1. The Love of a Good Woman – Alice Munro (Giller Prize 1998)
2. Mercy Among the Children – David Adams Richards (Giller Prize 2000)
3. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk (IMPAC Dublin 2003, Nobel 2006)
4. No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod (IMPAC Dublin 2001)
5. The Road - Cormac McCarthy (Pulitzer 2007)
6. The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney (Costa/Whitbread 2006)
7. Le soleil de Scorta (Scortas’ Sun) – Laurent Gaudé (Prix Goncourt 2004)
8. Suite française – Irène Némirovsky (Prix Renaudot 2004)
9. Them – Joyce Carol Oates (National Book Award 1970)
10. The Silent Cry - Kenzaburo Oe (Tanizaki Prize 1967, Nobel 1994)
11. Snow Country - Yasunari Kawabata (Nobel 1968)
12. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II – John Dower (Pulitzer/Non-Fiction 2000, National Book Award/Non-Fiction 1999)

I won't re-list all the possible alternates but you can see the full post on my blog HERE.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

By Yiyun Li
ISBN: 000719663-6
Publishers: Harper Perennial/2006
Pages: 203
Rating: 4/5

A collection of short stories "Thousand years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li" was not on my list. After I picked it up, I saw that it has won "Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award" and "The Guardian First Book Award."

'A Thousand Years of Good Prayers' portrays a discerning look at life in contemporary China and its recent past. Most of the stories take place in a rural and small town China labouring under economic change and the move to a more free-market economy. All the ten stories delve into the ruin of the Cultural Revolution on the modern Chinese. The writing is immaculate, vivid, at times deeply unsettling. The stories cover a wide range of topics...

.......for more, click
Thousand years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li...

Laura's Review - Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison
581 pages
First sentence: I am an invisible man.
Reflections: Invisible Man was first published in 1947, and won the National Book Award in 1953. It is, essentially, a young black man's search for identity in white American society, long before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his mark. The nameless main character has a series of experiences on his quest, reminiscent of Homer's Odyssey(there's even a "cyclops": at one point it's revealed that a larger-than-life character actually has only one eye!). He sets out on his journey remembering his grandfather's dying words: "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. ... I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree ' em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open."
Ellison portrays the characters, his life experiences, and various acts of racism in great, descriptive detail. The protagonist begins his quest on departure from an historically black college located in the Deep South, where the president acts subservient to white benefactors. He experiences more overt acts of racism finding employment in Harlem, and eventually becomes an activist member of a political movement. It appears he is accepted for his gift of oratory, but in reality he is being used by the white leaders of the movement to further their hidden agendas. He eventually realizes that as a black man he is invisible to whites, he simply doesn't matter.
Reading Invisible Man, I reflected on the "invisibility" of African Americans still today. Lincoln University, an historically black university, is only a few miles from my house. Over more than 150 years, Lincoln has produced notable alumni like Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. Yet it is virtually invisible to the surrounding community, which is comprised of farms and housing developments, and is predominantly white. There are few public events, and rarely do I see Lincoln students in our local shops. However, there is one incident that haunts me, and makes me ashamed of the community I live in. One hot summer evening, we went to the local Dairy Queen. While there, a Lincoln University van drove up and several students came into the DQ, ordering ice cream and taking seats at a group of tables. Other customers came into the store, and every single one placed their order, and nonchalantly strode outdoors to eat their ice cream. I was appalled. We have such a long way to go to achieve equality and community.
I wanted to be enthralled by this book and unfortunately, I wasn't. Yet considering the times in which it was written, it is a bold piece of literature and an important, thought-provoking book.

Ender's Game

It is time to talk about an old friend. Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. A novel that has become without a doubt my most favorite book in the entire world. Okay, so you might think I'm a bit overly dramatic at times. (I've been told this countless times.) But this time, I really, really mean it. (You still don't believe me, do you?) To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born. No, I wasn't born loving Ender's Game, but sometimes it feels like it. (Yes, it was that life-changing.) It was seven years ago. The fall of 2000. I was taking a Master's level class in Children's Literature. The professor was Dr. Betty Carter. Ender's Game was a required book for the class. Up until that point, I had never read a science fiction book. Never heard of Orson Scott Card. Never even heard of the Nebula and Hugo awards. I was in for quite a surprise. I liked it, I really liked it. Melodramatic as it sounds, this book opened up a new world for me. I began to devour anything and everything Orson Scott Card. I began to spend my weekends searching used bookstores for copies of his works. And I began to obsessively check his official website maybe not every day but more than three times a week. I especially fell in love with his "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" columns. And as my whole family--even extended family--can tell you, I began centering whole conversations around Orson Scott Card. Did you know that he.....Guess what OSC thinks about this....If OSC likes a movie, then I'll see it. (Although I don't always always agree with him on everything.) If he recommends a book, I try to read it. (I especially read it if it's a kid or YA book since that's my passion.) So maybe it's not normal to know what your favorite author likes to watch on tv...but if he chooses to write about it...then I might as well read it and remember it like trivia. Why is Ender's Game such a life-changing book? Yes, it is wonderful. Yes, it is practically perfect in every way. Yes, I could read it a hundred times and never get bored with it. But it did much more than that. Now, when you ask me to list my top ten books...or my top twenty books...it's hard for me not to make the majority of my list Orson Scott Card.

Ender's Game is the novel that started it all. It remains my favorite and my best. My second favorite would probably be Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus.

What makes Ender's Game so perfect? The characters. Yes, there is action. Yes, there is a war. But it is the characters that draw you in. It is Ender and Valentine and Peter that make you keep turning the pages. I think OSC gets characters in a way that few other authors do. He creates thoroughly human characters.

Andrew Wiggin "Ender" shows readers that it is not easy to be a hero. That 'saving the world' demands great sacrifice and selflessness. A hero's life is not a happy life. Yet a hero is what the world needs when the story opens. Set hundreds of years in the future, Ender's Game shows an Earth that has survived two alien invasions. The "Buggers" (an insect-like alien race) have been defeated twice. But the war--though over--carries on. As long as this alien race is out there somewhere, the Earth could still be in danger. Therefore, the world has united as one to fight their common enemy. The brightest and best children are taken from countries all over the world to Battle School. This school is a space station. The children--ranging in age from six to sixteen--are trained from the very beginning by the military. Everything has a purpose--from the "video games" that psychoanalyze each student to the battle games the children play in zero gravity. The military--the powers that be--believe Ender to be the savior that the world has been looking for all these years. And they will devote their lives to ensuring that he becomes exactly the kind of hero they need for the final battle that is to come. The problem? Such training is not healthy psychologically. These children aren't really children. They're being raised to kill and destroy the enemy as defined by the powers that be. They're being taught to hate. They're being taught to love war....to love battle...to love competition. They don't know about love. They don't know about kindness. They don't know about mercy and compassion. Most forget what life was like on Earth altogether. They've forgotten about their families, their homes, their customs. In other words, they've forgotten just why Earth is worth defending and protecting. The war has become a game to them almost. A fight for the sake of fighting.

To read a more in-depth review (also written by me) click here. Although I'll warn you now, there are spoilers. It was written for a class. And in writing assignments like those, it is all about summary and analysis. And you can't analyze a book without discussing the ending!

My Author Study Paper on Orson Scott Card
“You protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Grass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn’t do. A woman, a child, a brother – a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia.”
Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” takes place some years after the end of the American Civil War, and it follows the lives of mainly two ex-slaves, Sethe and Paul D., who escaped from a plantation named Sweet Home.

This book is based on the true story of the slave Margaret Garner, and I don’t recommend doing what I did, which is looking the story up before reading the novel. While this knowledge will help one make sense of things at first, it also spoils one of the best things about this novel, which is the way in which things are slowly revealed.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that slavery was terrible. And yet “slavery was terrible” can easily become a cold, abstract fact. The horrors that are described in this novel force us to break down that fact until it no longer is cold or abstract. We need books like this to go from knowing to understanding just how terrible slavery was.

The things the characters in this book go through are beyond horrific. They are beyond most of our worse nightmares. The way Toni Morrison describes these horrors, however, is not always by giving us the straight facts. The picture she paints is diffuse, and it comes into focus gradually. We often get a character’s emotional reaction to the facts before we get the facts themselves. There is a dream-like, blurry quality to Morrison’s writing.

“Beloved” is an historical book and a ghost story at the same time. It’s also one of the heaviest books I’ve read in my life. The things we gradually learn throughout the book – who Beloved is, what Sethe did, how and why – are unimaginable, and yet Toni Morrison enables us to imagine the sort of despair that could be behind something like that.

This is an uncomfortable book to read, but, exactly for that reason, a necessary book. We need books like this to keep history from becoming cold and abstract.