The God of Small Things - Wendy's Review

he God of Loss. The God of Small Things. He left no footprints in sand, no ripples in water, no image in mirrors. -From The God of Small Things, page 250-

Arundhati Roy's first novel, The God Of Small Things, is a dazzling masterpiece of language. Roy constructs the story around one central theme: Things can change in a day. Set in a small town in the state of Kerala, India - the novel shifts back and forth from present day to the past - building to a sudden and terrible end with suspense drenched in original

The novel centers around two twins - Rahel and Estha - and their mother, Ammu. Living with Ammu's extended family, the twins witness the unfolding of a drama which begins with the arrival of their young cousin from England, Sopie Mol. Relationships are gradually revealed, and the innocence of childhood becomes bared to the realities of adulthood. Although the reader is told the ending, this serves to create tension as Roy spirals backward and forward in time, constructing the pieces while uncovering the truth inch by inch. The reader's heart will bleed for little Estha with his pointy shoes and Elvis puff, who occupies "very little space in the world."

Roy explores the prohibition of love between castes, and the violence of the fledgling Communist movement - both topics which made this novel controversial in India.

The man standing in the shade of the rubber trees with coins of sunshine dancing on his body, holding her daughter in his arms, glanced up and caught Ammu's gaze. Centuries telescoped into one evanescent moment. History was wrong-footed, caught off guard. Sloughed off like an old snakeskin. Its marks, its scars, its wounds from old wars and the walking-backwards days all fell away. -From The God Of Small Things, page 168-

Despite its difficult subject matter (or maybe because of it), Roy won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997 for this novel. With an artist's ability to construct scene, Roy immerses the reader in the novel:

She had forgotten just how damp the monsoon air in Ayemenem could be. Swollen cupboards creaked. Locked windows burst open. Books got soft and wavy between their covers. Strange insects appeared like ideas in the evenings and burned themselves on Baby Kochamma's dim forty-watt bulbs. In the daytime their crisp, incinerated corpses littered the floor and windowsills, and until Kochu Maria swept them away in her plastic dustpan, the air smelled of Something Burning. -From The God of Small Things, page 11-

Highly recommended; rated 5/5.

By Jeffrey Eugenides
Completed September 29, 2007

I know I am in the minority here, but Middlesex was a huge disappointment for me. We all know the plot - that it's a story about a Greek girl who later discovers that she's actually a boy. The premise is excellent, but the book falls short in so many ways.

Eugenides is a wonderful writer, and he does an excellent job telling a story - too bad it's not the story of Callie but of her grandparents and parents too. You reach the middle of this 500+ page book before Callie is even conceived. However, Callie narrates the whole thing. How would she know such details about her grandparents and parents? She can't - and I think it's a major flaw in the book (not to mention that you have to wait until the middle of the book for Callie to be introduced as a character. Oh sorry, did I say that already? Well, it's worth repeating because it's a major flaw too).

Because half of the book is dedicated to Callie's lineage, I feel his/her character lacks development, which is a huge shame. For me, Callie had the potential to be one of the most interesting characters in modern American literature. Instead, the character falls flat - just like the entire novel.

Middlesex is a Pulitzer prize winner and a recent selection for the Oprah Book Club. Obviously, many people enjoyed this novel. I am sorry that I am not one of them. However, I am more sorry that I wasted a week of my life finishing a book that I now call Middlesucks. ( )

(Cross-posted from my blog)

Kimmie's view of The Executioner's Song

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
Pulitzer Prize Winner 1980
I've been forgetting to post here. I've got "The Executioner's Song" at my blog. This was a reread for me. I read it as a teenager soon after it was first published. It's always been one of my favorites.

Book 8 in this challenge and the second of 3 books on slavery that I will be reading. This is an historical novel based on a ground-breaking legal case fought in late C18th Scotland. A hard-hitting novel with some stomach churning detail but a great read nonetheless.
BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting an interview with the author on its book club program at 16:00 GMT 7 October 2007. I was lucky enough to be at the recording. Perhaps my question will even be aired!
Full review and more details of the recording here.
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron wasn't originally on my list for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. I enjoyed this Newbery Award winner so much, though, that I wanted to share my thoughts with other challenge participants.

We meet the protagonist of this novel, Lucky Trimble, when she is eavesdropping on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Her town being very small, only 43 people, she is able to immediately identify the voices of the participants as they talk about hitting bottom and then finding their "higher power." Lucky wonders about this higher power and wants to know how to find hers. Obviously she can't ask anyone because then they'd know she was eavesdropping! Lucky needs her higher power because she thinks her guardian, her father's ex-wife Brigitte, is planning to return to her home in France, leaving Lucky to be a ward of the state.

I really enjoyed this sweet little book about belonging, accepting loss, and moving on. I liked Lucky a lot and wouldn't mind meeting her in future books from Susan Patron! This coming week is Banned Books Week at your local library and that is actually one of the reasons I read this book. It seems some people think the word "scrotum" is inappropriate for the target audience of this book (ages 9-12). I, personally, prefer the use of anatomically correct terms and that is exactly how the word was used. Anyway, I had to check it out for myself and I'm glad I did!

Also posted on my blog here.
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton
321 pages
First Sentence:
On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing Faust
at the Academy of Music in New York.

It's a bit of a boring introduction sentence, especially since the book is neither about Christine Nilsson or the Academy of Music, but Edith Wharton likes to display "pop NY culture" in her novels, perhaps as a way of saying, "Hey, I'm one of one Old NY. I know your trends and tastes." Edith Wharton was born into New York's elite. And she despised it and what it represented.

Our story opens with the formal announcement of the engagement of Newland Archer and his beloved, May Welland, and the introduction of a would be scandal, May's cousin Countess Ellen Olenska's recent fleeing from her dastardly husband. We never find out what exactly her husband has done but it is common knowledge that he is a scoundrel and she had every right to leave to protect herself. While everyone concedes that Ellen is not to blame, society has a hard time accepting her boldness in desiring a divorce(to leave is all right but to divorce is not allowed). As Ellen is completely different than Newland's native Old New York he soon falls madly in love with her. He then must chose between love and duty.

I can't say much about Wharton's ideology without giving away the plot. The ending was a little puzzling at first(as seems to be her trademark) but with a little analysis it becomes a story that is rich with moral guidance. After reading some of Hermione Lee's thick biography about Wharton I can see that she may have been writing these novels to speak to herself as much as society. She struggled in a loveless marriage for many many years before divorcing. There was at least one man to whom she was extremely close to both before the divorce and after. There was also an affair at one point. Edith's life was very unsatisfying and depressing except for her writing.

(This review is slightly modified from the review on my blog. I removed the more personal final paragraphs that don't have much to do with the review.)

Booklogged is Backlogged!

I lost track of the fact that I'm a contributer on this blog, so to get up to speed I'm going to do a quick post about the books I've read so far for this challenge.

2 Newbery Award Winners:
Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron --My review.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin --My review.

2 Pultizer Prize Winners:
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx (Also, a National Book Award) --My review.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee --My review.

1 Edgar Award Winner:
Bones by Jane Burke --My review.

City of Bones by Michael Connelly

This is the third book for the Book Awards Challenge and won the Anthony Award. It is basically the story of a detective in the LAPD, Harry Bosch, who is investigating a 20 year old murder case based on the discovery of the bones of a twelve year old boy buried in a hillside. There is a subplot involving a romance with a female rookie cop.

Strengths of City of Bones: I truly enjoyed the mystery element of this book. There were some great plot twists which did keep me guessing throughout the book. Every time I thought I knew who the killer was, there would be something clearing that person and implicating another. I also liked that these clues didn't come out of midair, but they were things that had been mentioned, discussed, or dismissed at an earlier time in the story. I like Bosch's character. Connelly was able to give him some complexity that is not always prevalent in this genre.

If you'd like to read more, read the complete review at my blog.


What's a Book Awards Challenge or Four Legged Friends Challenge without the classic Newbery Winner, Shiloh by the infamous Phyllis Reynolds Naylor? I've read it several times before, but just couldn't resist another go.

11 year old Marty Preston wants nothing more than to take home the dirty, abused beagle he found in the woods, but his parents tell him that since the dog actually belongs to a mean old man down the road, Marty is heartbroken and unsure of what to do. When the dog runs away again and heads straight for Marty, the young boy is faced with all sorts of moral and ethical dilemmas.

This is a classic book and I'm sure most of you have read it several times over, as I have. If not, run out and get it!!

Fabulous book - even better as a reread (thanks to my face2face book group).

I love everything about this even though others in my book group didn't. Full review here, including the reservations of those, not so enamoured as myself!

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

I got this for a steal at a recent book sale, still wrapped up in plastic. I was having second thoughts but realizing that it is a Newbery winner, I decided that it was a good buy.

On the back blurb: An absurd and fantastic tale … Truth and fiction cleverly intermingled.” - SLJ

Professor William Waterman Sherman just wants to be alone. So he decides to take a year off and spend it crossing the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon the likes of which no one has seen. But when he is found after just three weeks floating in the Atlantic among the wreckage of twenty hot-air balloons, the world is naturally eager to know what happened. How did he end up with so many balloons … and in the wrong ocean?

I didn’t regret this read. And at the risk of spoiling things for you, I come back with more questions … questions one step ahead of those above:

If you were shipwrecked (ok, balloon-wrecked) on a supposedly uninhabited island, only to discover that on that island, you are probably among the richest people in the world with close to a billion dollars to spend a day. Everyday could be a vacation and there is no limit to what you occupy your time with. Would you want to stay or go? What if you were forced to stay as a perennial guest? What if you had to stay even in the light of dire circumstances?

Read the rest of my review here.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Cover Image This is my second book for the Reading Awards Challenge. My full review is on my blog. Suffice it to say, I loved this book and highly recommend it. Come on over to my blog to read the full review.
By Marilynne Robinson
Completed September 21, 2007

Gilead is a lyrical ode to fathers and sons. Written as a long letter to his seven-year-old son, the story centers on a dying preacher, John Ames, and his views on religion, small-town life, his ancestors and forgiveness. You could almost feel the urgency in his pen as he writes passages about his life - a way to leave behind something for his young son who would never get to know his father.

Reverend Ames recounts nostalgic stories about the town of Gilead, which formed to assist runaway slaves and later became a hideaway for abolitionist John Brown. He shifts into stories about his grandfather, father and brother - who all shared different religious views. He also recollects childhood stories about his friend Boughton, who was also a preacher in Gilead.

Then, the story explores father-son relationships further by introducing one of Boughton's sons, and Reverend Ames's namesake, John Ames Boughton. Jack, as he was called, had a lifetime of trouble in his back pocket, and he was a constant source of worry for Reverend Ames and his friend. There was a certain event in Jack's past that was particularly bothersome for Reverend Ames, and he could never forgive him. As the reverend reaches his last days, Jack returns to town ,and Reverend Ames begins to worry about the influence his namesake will have on his young son.

Gilead has many touching moments, but I found the story to be burdened by the religious discourses that Reverend Ames follows. I am not a student of religious philosophy, so the philosophers mentioned only confused me. However, in a style I favor for my sermons, Gilead is short, poignant and allegorical, reminding us that to love and forgive are what life is all about.

(cross-posted on my blog)
This is an excerpt of my review which can be read in it's entirety here.

"Mark David Chapman now gets the fan mail that John Lennon can't; Richard Ramirez...may have destroyed a dozen women's chances for connubial happiness but still receives numerous offers of marriage in prison himself. In a country that doesn't discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable."

In a series of long, highly detailed letters to her absent husband, Eva Khatchadourian writes of their life together and raising their children. One of whom (Kevin) ends up killing several schoolmates and a staff member in the high school gym.

Becky's Review of The Tale of Despereaux

DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux.

I didn't know what to expect from The Tale of Despereaux. I had read both positive and negative reviews. I had HEARD both positive and negative reviews from people I know and trust. Yet I knew I would have to read it myself to see where I was in the spectrum. I really enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux. If you like stories with talking animals--particularly talking mice--then this book will probably appeal. (I know there are some folks that don't like the 'animal fantasy' genre as a whole. People who like their animals to be realistic.) Despereaux is the smallest and youngest mouse in his family. He was 'odd' from his birth. Odd because he was said to be born with 'his eyes open.' Many in the mouse community dislike him. They seem him as odd, different, weird, un-mouselike. He's an outsider among his own. The Tale of Despereaux is about conformity and nonconformity. About being different, about being unique, about finding love and acceptance. About searching for that love and acceptance--because often it is NOT freely given. Yes, Despereaux is different. He is not interested in mousey things. He is drawn to music that only he--and his big ears--can hear. He is drawn to the beautiful world of humans. He is drawn to the Princess. Princess Pea. But this is not Despereaux's story alone. It involves a rat, a princess, a grief-stricken king, an abused and abandoned peasant girl, a prison guard, and a hardened prisoner. The book is enjoyable. And I think many will enjoy it. It did win the Newbery after all.

Giller Prize - Runaway, by Alice Munro

Last week, while banished from my house so that painter men could change our walls from a boring white to an inviting brown, I was thankful to live in beautiful California, and that our townhouse has a pool just outside the front door. So, I sat beside the pool and finished the next book in my Book Awards Reading Challenge, Runaway, by Alice Munro. This book won the Giller Prize, which is an award given for outstanding works of Canadian fiction.

If you're unaware of Alice Munro's work, it is almost exclusively comprised of short stories, and Runaway is no exception. There are 8 short stories in this volume, all of them about Canadian women. With so many short stories, I feel as though I am getting a glimpse of a the author didn't have enough of an idea to write a novel, so they decided to keep it brief instead. With Munro's stories, however, I feel like she is giving me an entire story in a very brief period of time. There are no wasted words in the genre, and I get the feeling that Munro doesn't like to waste words.

I liked all of the stories in the book, though perhaps my favorites might be the trilogy focused on a character named Juliet. The first story in the series, Chance tells of Juliet's chance meeting with a man on a train, a meeting which changes her life forever. The second story, Soon, takes place a few years after Chance, and is about a visit that Juliet and her infant daughter, Penelope, make to her parents. The third, and saddest story in the group, Silence, tells of Juliet and Penelope's only see the story from Juliet's side, you don't get to find out exactly why it is that Penelope has decided to distance herself so completely from her mother.

Fans of An Affair to Remember will appreciate Tricks, the story of a young woman who escapes the obligations of her daily life, caring for her sister, who is ill, by attending a Shakespeare Festival in a neighboring village once a year.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Every story is full of well-developed, complicated characters. The motivations and actions of the characters are so rich and odd, you can't help but want to come back for more.

It was a fine day by the pool, I must say.
Winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, 2003

This book was a good mix of mystery and horror. I liked how the point of view switched from Mark while he was obsessed with the house and his uncle Tim trying to figure out what happened to his nephew.

More book information here.

A Canticle for Leibowitz

This is an excerpt from the review I posted on my blog, which can be found here.

Mankind is nearly destroyed in a nuclear war. Most of the survivors decide that science and intellectuals are the ones who caused the trouble, so all books should be destroyed. A few, including an electrical engineer for the Army, named Leibowitz decide to save as much written material they can through hiding and transcribing and memorization (like 'Farenheit 451'). That makes Leibowitz a candidate for sainthood many, many years after his death. That is where the story picks up.

Basically, the church (which wields an extraordinary amount of power in the future) puts Leibowitz's good works into action by recreating modern society. Cars, architecture, the space program, all get restored by these monks with their knowledge of past scientific discovery. Of course, that puts them at odds with the other residents of the world who don't see the benefit of scientific progress. Guess where this all leads? Right, the same kind of war that destroyed mankind to begin with.

Becky's Review of Speaker For the Dead

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card.

Speaker for the Dead is the sequel to Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. But in many ways, it is even more instrumental than Ender's Game. You see, Ender's Game started out as a story--a short story. Orson Scott Card was working on ideas for a new novel, and the basic premise of Speaker for the Dead came to him. Although, at the time the Speaker was a Singer. He thought and worked and thought and worked. And then it came to him, what if the Speaker was Ender! What if he used one of his *old* characters, and gave him a new story. There was one problem. The story needed to be fleshed out before this new novel could work. And it needed more "fleshing" than just a simple prologue or chapter could do. What he needed was to turn his original story into a novel all its own. This is when the characters (we know and love) came into existence. This is when Andrew/Ender was "born."

Speaker for the Dead is a sequel, but it didn't begin life that way--and you don't have to read it that way, either. It was my intention all along for Speaker to be able to stand alone, for it to make sense whether you have read Ender's Game or not. Indeed, in my mind this was the "real" book; if I hadn't been trying to write Speaker for the Dead back in 1983, there would never have been a novel version of Ender's Game at all.
How did Speaker for the Dead come to be? As with all my stories, this one began with more than one idea. The concept of a "speaker for the dead" arose from my experiences with death and funerals. I have written of this at greater length elsewhere; suffice it to say that I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life that, in effect, we kill them all over again. No, that is too strong. Let me just say that we erase them, we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.
I rejected that idea. . . No, to understand who a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story--what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That's the story that we never know, the story that we never can know--and yet, at the time of death, it's the only story truly worth telling.
Speaker for the Dead is the story of a planet, a colony, in need. Lusitania. Home of colonists, Catholic colonists who speak Portuguese and Stark, and home of the "Piggies", pequeninos, "Little Ones." It has been three thousand years since the close of Ender's Game. Humans have supposedly learned much since the xenocide. They have come to regret the destruction of the Hive Queen and the "buggers" and have a new policy when dealing with alien species. This policy plays an important role in Speaker for the Dead. The pequeninos are different--very different from the human colonists. Their is a fence separating the two. Only xenologists--one or two at a time--could visit the pequeninos. Only for a few hours each day. And their were strict guidelines as to how much they could ask and tell. Pipo and Libo are the xenologists. One master, one apprentice. Novinha is the (young) xenobiologist. The three work together closely, but when tragedy strikes--Pipo's murdered by the Piggies--lives are destroyed and things are set into motion that can't be undone.

Andrew Wiggin is THE Speaker for the Dead, though only a few know it. (There are many who have that title of "speaker" but only one is the original. The author of The Hive Queen and the Hegemon.) When he receives the call to 'speak' the death of Pipo, he begins his journey to Lusitania...little knowing that it will forever change his life and determine his destiny.

There are many things I loved about Speaker. I love how Ender has matured into Andrew. I loved seeing how much he's grown...changed. He is wise. But his wisdom doesn't make him less human, it makes him more human. I love how this novel is about taking broken things, messy things, ugly things--and making them whole, making sense of the chaos, making them beautiful. In some ways, it is more philosophical than Ender's Game. Again, it is the characters that make Speaker for the Dead such an outstanding novel. His characters aren't perfect--far from it--but they're real.

Sickness and healing are in every heart. Death and deliverance are in every hand. (240)

Of all of the humans, he is the one who will understand us. (347)

When you really know someone, you can't hate them. (370)

Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart. (370)
The Sculptress by Minette Walters was the 1994 Edgar Award Winner. It is the story of Olive Martin who was arrested, tried, and convicted to spend at least 25 years in prison for the murder and dismemberment of her mother and her sister. She is called "The Sculptress" for the strange figurines she carves in her jail cell.

Rosalind Leigh is a writer who has suffered personal tragedy of her own. She is assigned by her editor to write a book about Olive Martin; it is an assignment she does not want but has no choice but to accept.

Through the course of her interviews with Olive, Roz becomes convinced that Olive did not commit the crimes of which she has been convicted. While doing research for the book, Roz becomes more and more involved in Olive's story all the while using the information she uncovers to build (at least in her own mind) a case for Olive's innocence.

This is a very tightly crafted mystery that for me easily falls under the heading "just cannot put it down until I know who did it". As a matter of fact, when I finished this book I wished that Minette Walters had written other mysteries using Roz as the writer/detective of true crime events. There is something very likeable about Roz as Walters has written her, and it would be a pleasure to read more about this character.

I highly recommend this book to mystery lovers -- especially the ones who like to see if they can unravel the mystery before the ending explains it all. The trail Walters leaves for her readers to follow is not an easy one, but the end is very rewarding.

The Executioner's Song---Kimmie

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer Pulitzer Prize 1980

I finished this some time ago but haven't been online to post. I read it many, many years ago and have always considered it one of my favorites. It's a big book---1056 pages but it is very easy to read. I've written more on my blog.

#5 Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones

Winner of the Commonwealth Writer's Award 2007.

Universally praised in the blogosphere, I found myself feeling surprisingly neutral when I'd finished reading. I analysed it and myself to death in the week since and have finally captured my thoughts here. The book improved while reviewing, finally earning a respectable *** 1/2.

Lowry, Lois. 1989. Number the Stars.

Number the Stars is a Newbery winner. It is the story of a young girl, Annemarie, and her family. The book is set during World War II in Denmark, 1943 to be precise. Annemarie and Ellen are best friends. The two live together in the same apartment building. The two go to school together. The two do practically everything together. But all that is about to change, you see, Ellen and her family is Jewish. And while the soldiers--Nazis--have been occupying Denmark for over a year, their policies are about to change. There is danger in the air, and everyone--young and old--can feel it. This is the story of two girls, two friends, and two brave families. I always enjoy reading about the war and the holocaust from the danish perspective. For one thing, the resistance movement is strong, powerful. Denmark was a nation with people who cared, who took risks, who did the right thing, who saved lives. I think this book can be read and enjoyed by everyone--no matter your age--despite the fact that it is a "children's book."

I read this book for three reasons.

1) It is part of the Book Awards Challenge. It is a Newbery winner.
2) It is part of the Something About Me Challenge. It is on Booklogged's list. Booklogged writes, "I really like Lois Lowry, both as a person and an author. The other reason I chose this book is because my ancestor are from Denmark, which is the setting for this story." I like Lowry as well. This one along with The Giver and Gossamer make her a must-read in my opinion.
3) I haven't read it in nine years. But the first time I read it, I had a very emotional reaction to it. I was *inspired* to seek out other titles about the war and children--especially holocaust related titles. This book started a life-long interest in the subject. And I did want to share that.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, is a delightfully creepy little story. Coraline and her parents live in a house that they share with some delightfully eccentric neighbours. There are the two former actors who like to reminisce about their glory days. And there’s the man with the mice. They all keep calling her “Caroline,” which does not please Coraline at all, and they never seem to listen when she corrects them.

Coraline likes to explore things. She spends a lot of time outside until that fateful rainy day when her mother forbids her to go outside. Like most kids would, she whingingly asks what she’s supposed to do. Her mother gives her a list of suggestions, none of which please Coraline. So she goes to her father and asks permission to go outside. When he learns that her mother has already forbidden it, he refuses to give his assent. But his suggestion of what to do on that rainy day pleases Coraline a bit more: explore the inside. Find out how many doors there are, how many blue things, and a few other tasks.

Coraline does so, and is very puzzled by one door that does not open. She goes to her mother to find out what it goes to, and her mother tells her that it goes nowhere. Disbelieving, Coraline makes her skepticism so obvious that her mother digs out the key and opens the door that opens to a brick wall. When the house had been subdivided to make separate living areas, the wall was placed there to prevent access to another part of the house. Her mother doesn’t lock the door, telling Coraline there’s obviously no need to do so.

Coraline gets a mysterious warning from the man with the mice. His mice, he tells her, told him to give her a message: she’s not to go through the door. Coraline is puzzled, but politely brushes him and his warning aside.

What Coraline finds when the brick wall disappears and she goes through to explore the other world, and the adventures she shares with an intrepid cat as her companion, make for a delightfully creepy tale.
Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett, is reminiscent of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler but definitely stands on its own. Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay have a one-of-a-kind teacher. Instead of sitting them down with books and lectures and pointless homework excitements, she pretty much leads them where their fancy takes them. Petra and Calder aren’t friends at first, but as they bump into each other under some very interesting circumstances, a friendship quickly grows between them. They are fascinated with the theft of a Vermeer painting, and the thief’s insistence that the painting will not be returned until the works not actually painted by Vermeer are noted in all of the museums. They study the suspicious characters around them as they search for the painting.

The story is quick-paced but quite intricate in detail. Calder corresponds with his friend Tommy, whose stepfather Fred moved him and his mother away, using a code they invented from his favourite pentominoes. The letters to and from Calder and Tommy are written in code, and the reader has to decipher them to find out what was said. Very fun. And there is also a secret message in Brett Helquist’s delightful illustrations. I loved the book, and believe it definitely deserved its 2005 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile.

A sequel is out, called The Wright 3. Tommy is back in town, and perhaps a little envious of Calder’s friendship with Petra and their solution of the crime. Because everyone knows he’s a much better detective than Calder. I’m looking forward to reading this one as well.
Did I like it? Well, that’s a little hard to say. It was well written. The characters were believable. But the plot, well, not so much.

Duncan is spending his summer working in the lost and found section at the Toronto Transit Authority. That sounds more glamourous than it really is, as the majority of his days are spent packing up boxes of unclaimed items to go to the YMCA sale. He snares a cool leather jacket. One day, bored, he picks up a book with no title or author on the cover, and sits down to read. Instead of finding a novel, though, he is horrified to find that it is a journal of a sociopath’s experiments in animal torture, then arson, and his desire to move on to something bigger.

Duncan enlists his friends Vinnie and Wayne to help him track down the book’s author before a murder is committed. In the end, though, the man who Duncan has christened Roach turns up at the lost-and-found, asking for a book that he’d lost.

You know, I kept asking myself whether a sociopath would really go to the lost-and-found department looking for the book in which he’d written down all his bizarre experiments on animals and torture, and in which he’d recorded his plans for attacking a woman next, along with detailed notes on the three women he’d been following. I suppose it’s possible, but it seemed a little unreal to me. Okay, yeah, Duncan did take the journal to the police, who brushed it off as a kid’s summer prank. So he stole it back on his way out of the police station.

This thread was far-fetched enough that it really distracted from my enjoyment of the book. And the descriptions of Roach seemed as though they were taken right out of “Profiling for Dummies.” They were a little too far-fetched, in an already far-fetched book.

So I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but I would be willing to give the author another try.

My original review is posted here

Jacob Jankowski has the world as his oyster. He is in college about to graduate from vet school, he has parents who love him, a secure future, and a girl he is smitten with.

In the course of one day, his world spins out of control and his life is irrevocably changed. Unable to cope, he runs away and although he doesn't do so with the intention of joining the circus, that's what happens just the same. There he meets the love of his life but he will have many trials and tribulations before he can call her his own.

The story flashes back and forth from the past to the present, ranging from Jacob's days at the circus where he meets many people, some good, some bad, to his days as a 93-year-old nursing home resident who is a widower. Several of Jacob's memories are poignant but this is one of my favorites:

"Those were the salad days; the halcyon years! The sleepless nights, the wailing babies; the days the interior of the house looked like it had been hit by a hurricane; the times I had five kids, a chimpanzee, and a wife in bed with fever. Even when the fourth glass of milk got spilled in a single night, or the shrill screeching threatened to split my skull, or when I was bailing out some son or other-or, in one memorable instance, Bobo- from a minor predicament at the police station, they were good years, grand years.

But it all zipped by. One minute Marlena and I were in it up to our eyeballs, and the next thing we knew the kids were borrowing the car and fleeing the coop for college. And now, here I am. In my nineties and alone." -pg 327

I could relate a lot because, already, I fondly remember the days when my children were babies. Now they are teens and I don't know where the time has gone.

There is also quite a bit to learn about the history of the American circus and the culture of the people who lived and worked it.

There are books that fill you with suspense and have you turning pages, unable to put them down. This book was not like that for me. Instead, it was like visiting a place and time that I am fascinated with, visiting friends and escaping there for several afternoons. I really enjoyed this one. (4.5/5)

Backblurb: The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.

My take: I started out pretty well, then slowly getting more and more disoriented. With more characters introduced, I felt things getting murkier. After recovering several chapters in , and sorting out who was who, backtracking to understand the importance of newspaper stories interspersed … I started picking up pace and started enjoying myself. I was hooked.

Read the rest of this entry on my blog »

The Devil in the White City - Wendy's Book Review

Its official name was the World's Columbian Exposition, its official purpose to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America, bu under Burnham, its chief builder, it had become something enchanting, known throughout the world as the White City. -From The Devil in the White City, page 4-

And in Chicago a young handsome doctor stepped from a train, his surgical valise in hand. He entered a world of clamor, smoke, and steam, refulgent with the scents of murdered cattle and pigs. he found it to his liking. -From The Devil in the White City, page 12-

Erik Larson has written an evocative and compelling novel about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the first known serial killer to strike on American soil. Told in alternating chapters, Larson reveals the excitement and creativity of man's imagination in the building of the fair, juxtaposed with the horrific destruction of an evil man's fantasies. Larson's ability to create setting and suspense, make The Devil in the White City read more like fiction than non fiction.

Cab drivers cursed and gentled their horses. A lamplighter scuttled along the edges of the crowd igniting the gas jets atop cast-iron poles. Abruptly there was color everywhere: the yellow streetcars and the sudden blues of telegraph boys jolting past with satchels full of joy and gloom; cab drivers lighting the red night-lamps at the backs of their hansoms; a large gilded lion crouching before the hat store across the street. In the high buildings above, gas and electric lights bloomed in the dusk like moonflowers. -From The Devil in the White City, page 17-

I found myself sinking into the story of the fair - relishing the details like the inventors who proposed outrageous ideas to "out Eiffel the Eiffel" and descriptions of the devices and concepts which were new in 1893, but which we now take for granted (moving pictures, the first zipper, an electric kitchen, an automatic dishwasher, boxed pancake mix, and Cracker Jacks to name a few). Set against the backdrop of the labor unions and economic depression, the novel reveals the true spirit of man's endurance and determination. The 1893 World's Fair is with us today every time we watch The Wizard of Oz (who's Emerald City was inspired by the tremendous architecture of the fair), or when we celebrate Columbus Day, or when we stroll down a carnival midway or ride a Ferris Wheel. Larson's accessible prose puts it all together for the reader without weighing her down with facts.

Larson's parallel story about H. H. Holmes - the first American serial killer - is just as compelling and provides the dark side to the White City.

I found some great Internet sites of photos and information about the fair here and here and here.

This is a novel I can highly recommend. Rated 4.5/5; read my original review here.

(Crossposted from my blog. My first post here!)

Back blurb:
Born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, at the precise moment of India’s independence, the infant Saleem Sinai is celebrated in the press and welcomed by Prime Minister Nehru himself. But this coincidence of birth has consequences Saleem is not prepared for: telepathic powers that connect him with 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’ - all born in the initial hour of India’s independence - and an uncanny sense of smell that allows him to sniff out dangers others cannot perceive. Inextricably linked to his nation, Saleem’s biography is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs that mirrors the course of modern India at its most impossible and glorious.

My take: Half fiction and non-fiction (or some would believe otherwise), a prophecy of the life of our lead character, Saleem Sinai, sums up how his life is inevitably entwined with the turbulent history of India.

There will be two heads but you will see only one - there will be knees andnose - a nose and knees. … Newspaper praises him, two mothers raise him! Bicyclists love him - but crowds will shove him! Sisters will weep, cobra will creep …

Spittoons will brain him - doctors will drain him - jungle will claim him - wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him - tyrants will fry him …

He will have sons without having sons. He will be old before he is old! And he will die … before he is dead!

Saleem narrates the events of his own life to his lover Padma, a first person account of his own life. While the title would lead us to believe that it is about the super powers of this elite group of midnight’s children, the book bespeaks of a generation struggling to shape the world into a better place and at the same time, they becoming a product of the very environment they aim to change.

I’d been complaining about how it took me a while to get into it. In fact it took me two months to finish it (I carried it everywhere to force me to read in short bursts). For someone who can finish reading a novel in 3 days, this is excuciatingly long. In hindsight, I better appreciate the book knowing it is divided into three parts. ...

Read more here.

The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings

(Cross-posted from my blog)

The winner of the 1939 Pulitzer Prize, The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings is a quaint story of a boy, Jody, his life on a Florida farm during the late 1800's, and ultimately, the adoption of his fawn, Flag. Descriptive and enchanting, Rawlings paints a realistic picture of early Florida life and the love humans feel for their pets.

Jody lives on a small farm in the present-day Ocala National Forest with his father and mother. Times are tough. Crops don't grow, bears and wolves prey on their livestock, relationships with neighbors are strained, and the weather is relentlessly hot and rainy. Jody's farm struggles every day to exist in these meager conditions. Jody also combats loneliness with no siblings or friends with whom to pass the time. He yearns for a pet to call his own, and he finally gets his way when he befriends an orphaned fawn. However, as Flag becomes a yearling, the deer exacerbates the family's struggle by eating their crops. Jody is ordered to shoot his pet - and he is torn between doing the right thing for his family and killing the thing he loves the most.

This story is rich with history. You really capture a sense of what it was like to live in Florida during this time period. Many think of Florida as a tourist haven, which it is in parts, but most of Florida is rich with vegetation and animals. Even today, I live among Florida's wildlife, from snakes in my pool to alligators on the golf course. While these animals are really just "pests" in my life, they could make or break a family like Jody's. I gained a new appreciation for what life was like for the pioneers who tried to carve a life in Florida's unforgiving land.

My only complaint about The Yearling is that it is very descriptive - perhaps to a fault. You must really like to read about nature to enjoy this story. If you do, I would highly recommend Marjorie Rawlings's inspirational and historical tale.

The Echo Maker

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
2006 National Book Award Winner

This is a book I read for an online book club. It wasn't on my original list, but it fit here and on the Unread Authors Challenge. My little two cents is on my blog.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck--Gautami's 5th Book

Title: The Pearl
Author: John Steinbeck/Nobel Prize winner-1962
Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 0142000698

Publisher: Penguin Books 1976
Pages: 87

Rating: 4.5/5

I have read a few books before this by Steinbeck. As I liked those, I had to read The Pearl too. It is a very thin book compared to East of Eden. I finished it in around one hour yesterday. It appears simple in the surface but has a great message to convey.

Kino, a fisherman and Juana live in a brush house; have an infant son named Coyotito who is bitten by a scorpion. As they are poor, the doctor refuses to treat him. Juana had already sucked the poison out. However, they both secretly make a wish to find a Pearl.

For more, click The Pearl...

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
This is my 5th book for the Book Awards Reading Challenge

Pages: 351
First Published: 1984
Awards: Guardian Fiction Prize (shortlisted for the Booker Prize)
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Yangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adrift from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund.

Comments: On the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all European and American persons in Japanese occupied China were herded into internment camps. This is the story of one boy's war, eleven-year-old Jim who is separated from his parents on that fateful day. First living by his wits on the streets, a foreigner in the country in which he was born, and then later joining other British and Americans in an internment camp where he is used by everyone. This is a story of war and is a dark story, which progressively gets darker and darker. It was a good read but not a page-turner nor did it particularly touch me. I wish we had been given deeper insight into the other characters feelings and I had hoped for more by the ending. Nevertheless, a good read and an interesting point of view of World War II.

As an aside, I have seen the move though only the once way back when it came out. I think I may like to see it again, now that I've read the book.

Come visit me at my blog!
I read this at the time of its Booker longlisting and before it won the Toronto Book Award 2007. But I did read it within the timeframe of this challenge so I've decided to count it.

Plus I met Redhill at this year's Edinburgh Book Festival so my review includes some insights straight from the author's mouth. You'll find my review at:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I just finished reading my first book in the challenge. The full review is on my blog . I have some doubts about the ending and would love to hear what other people thought of the book.

Book: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Pages: 569
My Rating: A
Award: Pulitzer 1972

I've had this book on my shelf for quite awhile now and it feels good to have finally read it! I must say, I really enjoyed it a lot! This story about a handicapped man writing his grandmother's history kept me totally interested all the way through. It's mostly about the grandma and her life in the late 1800's trying to make it in the wild west with a man who has big dreams that never seem to quite get fulfilled. I thought her husband was great! But he did drive her crazy and in the end some not-too-good things happened.
Then, the story would flip to the current time (1970) and we'd learn more about the guy writing about his grandma and the struggles and problems he is facing.
I've read one other Wallace Stegner (Crossing to Safety) and totally enjoyed that too. I'll have to continue to add his books to my list!

The Echo Maker - Wendy's Review

All the humans revered Crane, the great orator. Where cranes gathered, their speech carried miles. The Aztecs called themselves the Crane People. One of the Anishinaabe clans was named the Cranes - Ajijak or Businassee - the Echo Makers. The Cranes were leaders, voices that called all people together. Crow and Cheyenne carved cranes' leg bones into hollow flutes, echoing the echo maker. -From The Echo Maker, page 181-

Richard Power's novel - The Echo Maker - is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the National Book Award. Beneath a simple story lies complex questions about self and memory. How does memory define who we are? Is our sense of self and the larger world just a series of synapses and neurons firing or is it something bigger?

The novel begins with a horrific car accident along the Platte River during the annual crane migration. Mark Schulter survives the crash, but is left with a rare and devastating brain injury called Capgras Syndrome. Believing his sister, Karin, is really an imposter who is pretending to be his sister, Mark's recovery from his injuries takes the reader along a winding path of self-discovery, misidentification, conspiracies, and the complex and sometimes fragile nature of relationships. Powers constructs the novel around four major characters: Mark Schulter, his sister Karin, a renowned scientist named Gerald Weber, and Barbara Gillespie - a nursing home aide who is surrounded by mystery. It is not only Mark who struggles with his identity. Karin, a woman who has tried unsuccessfully to shed her past, finds herself searching to re-define it.

When Mark was himself again, she would restart them both. She'd get him on his feet, listen to him, help him find what he need to be. And this time she'd take him away with her, someplace reasonable. -From The Echo Maker, page 26-

Making herself over, personality du jour. Imagination, even memory, all too ready to accommodate her, whoever her is. Anything for a scratch behind the ears. Scratch from anyone. She is nothing. No one. Worse than no one. Blank at the core. She must change her life. From the mess of her fouled nest, salvage something. Anything. -From The Echo Maker, page 407-

Gerald Weber is shocked to discover that perhaps he is only defined by the way others perceive him - that perhaps his life's work is no more than a critics review: He'd let his critics convince him. Something had eroded, the core pleasure in his accomplishment. - From The Echo Maker, page 315-

This novel is meant to be read slowly - it is a thoughtful novel, and one that is challenging on an intellectual level. Powers deftly constructs a story which questions the very core of who we are and how self is defined - a fascinating treatise about what makes us human. The backdrop of Nebraska and its incredible crane migration - an astounding feat of migratory memory and ritual - is a fitting symbol of the novel's thematic content. With a surprising twist at the end, the novel is ultimately a satisfying read.

Recommended; Rated 4.5/5; read my original review here.

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

This novel tells the story of Pi (Piscine Molitor Patel) who grows up in Pondicherry, India. His father runs the towns zoo and he spends time observing the animals when he isn't in school. His other main interest is in religion and he starts life as a Hindu before converting to Christianity and then Islam. Unusally and to the disappointment of the local priests, he does not denounce his previosus religions and prefers to follow all three and observe all of their religious practices.

His mother and father decide to emigrate to Canada and take their family with them. The animals are to be sold and those travelling to America are to go by boat with them on their trip. Something goes wrong with the boat and it sinks leaving only Pi in a small lifeboat along with a spotted hyena, zebra, orang-utan and Royal Bengal Tiger. The rest of the book looks at life aboard the boat, the struggle for survival against all the odds and the relationships between its survivors.

I really enjoyed this book. The story was engaging and I loved the talk about the animals and religion at the beginning. The story while Pi is at sea was also really well told. It was very detailed and it was like you were there watching him and going through the journey with him. My only problem with this book was the last section. I don't want to go into it to too much detail so as to spoil it for others, but it changed the focus of the story considerably and made it much more ambiguous. I think I preferred it being the way it was before. If you have read it feel free to comment with your opinions on the ending...
Title: The Hours
Author: Michael Cunningham
Country: America
Year: 1998
Rating: B-
Pages: 230 pgs.

First sentence: She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather.

Passionate, profound, and deeply moving. That is the description found on the back cover of my copy of The Hours. That statement places a large expectation in the mind of the reader. Does the novel live up to it? In some ways, yes. In others, no.

Michael Cunningham pays homage to Virginia Woolf in this novel about three women (including Virginia Woolf herself) from three different generations who are tied together by Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway. Writing in a style reminiscent, but not quite as good, as Woolf herself, Cunningham takes you on a day's journey in the lives of these three women, as we see how their stories intertwine.

I felt the largest weakness of the novel was the one-dimensional aspect of the women, particularly Laura Brown and Clarissa. I was particularly disappointed with the imitative style of Clarissa's storyline. I was expecting something more out of a Pulitzer winning book.

Would I recommend The Hours to others? Maybe. I don't feel as if I wasted my time reading it. The quality of writing is superb, and for that alone, I feel it was worth the read. And I really enjoyed the symbolism he incorporates, particularly with roses. But it might not stick around on my bookshelf that much longer (keep an eye on my PBS account if you would like the book--it will probably end up there soon).
“Bridge to Terabithia” is the story of Jess, a ten-year-old boy who feels that he doesn’t quite fit in, both at home and at school. This is why he spends the whole summer waking up at dawn to practice running before his mother and his sisters are up. He thinks that if he manages to become the fastest runner in fifth grade, he will cease to be “that weird kid who draws” and will find his place at last. However, on the first day of school he has a surprise – Leslie, the new girl in school and his new neighbour, manages to outrun every single one of the boys. At first Jess resents her for this, but soon the two become close friends, and create a magic world just for themselves – Terabithia, a place in which they are King and Queen.

I imagine that most readers are surprised by how this story unfolds, but unfortunately I knew exactly where it was going from the start. A few months back, when the movie was released, I read an article about it, and the writer felt the need to give away the ending in the very first paragraph (with no spoilers warning, of course). So I wasn’t surprised, but fortunately that didn’t ruin the story for me, and it didn’t mean there weren’t other little surprises along the way. I was surprised, for example, by the story’s voice, which reminded me a little of Southern literature. I liked how Jess’s thoughts were conveyed in a believable manner, without the tone of a ten-year-old ever being exaggerated. It made the book seem very earnest, and that was one of my favourite things about it.

Another thing I already knew (unlike those who were unfortunately misled by the fact that the movie was marketed as being another Narnia) was that this is not a fantasy story. The story makes it clear all along that the Kingdom of Terabithia only exists in Jess and Leslie’s imaginations, and the time they spend visiting it is actually time spent playing together in the woods. That, however, doesn’t make it any less special, or any less magical.

What this story is about is the power of friendship, the power that a single person, crossing paths with you at the right time, can have to change your life. I think that’s something most of us have experienced at one point or another: meeting someone who in one way or another shows us a whole new world, and helps us find out who we really are.

Another thing I loved is how Leslie introduces Jess to the pleasure of reading. There are references to Narnia, and also to Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain: He was reading one of Leslie’s books, and the adventures of an assistant pig keeper were far more important to him than Brenda’s sauce. I’m a fan of Taran’s adventures myself, so this sentence put a big smile on my face.

The ending, of course, left me teary-eyed. I liked how the very last chapter was hopeful, and how Jess grew closer to his little sister May Belle.

I didn’t watch the movie adaptation when it was showing in theatres because I wanted to read the book first. Now that I have, it is no longer showing, and the DVD is not available yet. It’s going to be released next month, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to post my thoughts on it with the book still fresh in my mind.

The Executioner's Song by Kimmie

The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
1980 Pulitzer Prize

Mailer writes a detail account of the last 9 months of Gary Gilmores life from his release from prison until his execution by firing squad. A longer review is on my blog. This is a book I read long ago. (Long,long ago) It's just as good as I remembered.
I've just posted a review of my third Book Awards Challenge selection, The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers. This was an incredible book that gave me quite a lot to think about. The writing was also some of the best I've experienced so far this year. I'll be looking for more books by Powers and would love some suggestions where to start.

I've always envied men who could watch their wives grow old. Boughton lost his wife five years ago, and he married before I did. His oldest boy has snow white hair. His grandchildren are mostly married. And as for me, it is still true that I will never see a child of mine grow up and I will never see a wife of mine grow old. I've shepherded a good many people through their lives, I've baptized babies by the hundred, and all that time I have felt as though a great part of life was closed to me. Your mother says I was like Abraham. But I had no old wife and no promise of a child. I was just getting by on books and baseball and fried-egg sandwiches.

Gilead is a book told in two chapters...the first chapter being about 215 pages long, and the second chapter being the last 32 pages. It is told in the form of a letter written by a dying, elderly preacher, John Ames, to his 7 year old son. He knows that his son will miss out on knowing his father as he grows up, and wants to leave something of his true self to the boy. The title, Gilead, refers to the fictional small Iowa town in which they live. A town famous for its involvement in the abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War. In fact, the narrator's grandfather went on many guerrilla type missions with the famous John Brown.

Ames wants to give his son a taste for his thoughts, dreams, and hopes. He wants his son to understand his theological views on the world. He wants him to know how much the love of his wife and child have meant to him, though they came late in his life. He tells stories of his grandfather, of his journey with his father to find the grave of his grandfather after he disappears, and of his brother's struggle with religion in a house full of preachers. He tells of his friendship with his best friend, Boughton, which has spanned their lifetimes. He tells of his namesake, John Ames Boughton, aka, 'Jack', the son of his best friend, whom he deeply distrusts as a man of no honor. He spends quite a bit of time writing to his son about how he dislikes Jack, how he does not trust him, how he fears that Jack will take advantage of his wife after he is gone. This anger and distrust for Jack takes up a large part of the first chapter, and a large part of Ames' thoughts and energies.

In the second chapter, Jack tells the reverend a startling story of his own life, one that in some ways is completely different than that of Ames, but also one that Ames can sympathize with totally, and one that allows Ames to let go of his anger and distrust for the younger man.

A couple of my book blog friends have also read this book, and loved it. They said they loved the contemplative nature of the writing, the depth of feeling and the meandering tale. Me? Not so much. I found myself bored by most of the book. There were moments that touched me, and I have to wonder if I would have been more pulled into the tale if I were religious, so that the references to scripture meant more to me. I'm not sure. The themes he addresses are universal, so they should reach out universally, right? I liked the ending, liked the last 100 pages more than the rest of the book. I don't know that I would recommend this book, since I wasn't thrilled by it myself, though I have to wonder if Starshine's new Husby, having just graduated from Seminary, might really enjoy it, and get far more from it than I did. Looking at the reviews on Amazon, clearly many people have really loved this book.

#3 - The Boy and The Sea - Kirsty Gunn

Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year 2007

The first deviation from my original list. I had to read it - I was at the awards ceremony!

Details of the ceremony and my review can be found at:

Laura's Review - The Road

The Road
Cormac MacCarthy
241 pages

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.

Reflections: A man and his son set out on a journey across a country which has been destroyed in some kind of apocalyptic event. This event apparently took place several years ago, but everything is still covered in ash. No life remains in the towns, and there are usually signs of a hasty departure, of townspeople fleeing to safety. Very few were spared; bodies appear in buidings, and even in the middle of the road. It is not clear how or why the man and boy survived up to this point. Now they are on their way south, hopeful of finding a better place.

Survival skills are paramount. Bands of robbers roam the land, looting and killing. Survivors often resort to cannibalism. The contents of homes and stores have usually been ransacked by travellers and bandits. Yet the man and boy explore every building they come across. Occasionally they find something: blankets, clothes, or food. At the same time, MacCarthy's describes in great detail these once-fashionable houses, in a way that made me question why we place so much importance on our homes and other material possessions.

The man's deep love for the boy permeates every sentence in this book. The emotional intensity is evident both in their will to live and in the ways they care for one another. MacCarthy manages to convey this deep feeling through the most basic dialogue, as in this example when they have just come across a bountiful store of food:

Go ahead, he said. Don't let it get cold.
What do I eat first?
Whatever you like.
Is this coffee?
Yes. Here. You put the butter on your biscuits. Like this.
Do you think we should thank the people?
The people?
The people who gave us all this.
Well. Yes, I guess we could do that.

The most haunting aspect of this book was the boy's mother's death. She apparently committed suicide when it became evident the world as she knew it would be destroyed. She preferred to end her life; the man chose to remain with his son and try to survive. When considering what path I would choose, I realized how difficult this decision could be. There really is no correct answer.

This is a beautifully-written book that will remain with me for a very long time. ( )
Original review can be found here.

I just posted my review of Dance of the Happy Shades, by Alice Munro, on my blog (it's the second title discussed). This was the winner of the 1982 Governor General's Award in Canada, and is a collection of short stories. I really enjoyed reading this, and it has made me want to explore Munro's writing further.

"The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read this book early in the summer, but I had forgotten to post my review here. Thank you Kristin for reminding me!

“The Remains of the Day” is the story of Stevens, one of the last old-fashioned butlers in England. Stevens served Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall for 35 years, and after his master’s death, he remained working at the house when it was sold to an American gentleman. When he is given a week off by his new employer, Stevens decides to take a road trip to Cornwall to see Miss Keaton, a former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. The story, told in the first person, alternates the account of Stevens’ trip with reminiscences of the past.

I could never have guessed that an account of the life of a butler and of the details of his profession could make for such an entrancing story. But of course, the details of professional affairs of a butler are only the beginning of what this story is about. This is a tale of loss, of sacrifice, of choices and regret. Set in the 1940’s, the story also examines, through Stevens’ memories, the state of Europe before and during the Second World War, dealing with topics like anti-Semitism and fascism.

There is a sad quietness to this book that really gripped me. The degree of emotional restraint Stevens shows is almost alarming. When wondering what it is that makes a great butler, he comes to the conclusion that it is having “a dignity in keeping with his position”. In other words, it is his opinion that a truly great butler never steps outside his role unless he is completely alone. But as one reads the books, it becomes increasingly obvious that Stevens doesn’t step outside his role even when he is alone. He denies himself things like a personal life, an occasional emotional outburst, the right to criticize his employer.

As the story advances, then, one realizes that Stevens is a narrator that cannot be fully trusted. His emotional restraint is such that he is ultimately lying to himself about key matters. His memories are distorted, and, although this is never clearly stated in the book, he seems to be aware of this at some level.

I loved the subtlety of this book. It is full of feelings – full of sadness, regret, and ultimately, hopefulness – but they are palely lurking behind the page, hiding between the lines. They are disguised, but remain ever-present throughout the story.

The use of language in this book is very formal, to a degree that is almost stiff, but it remains beautiful and charming despite of that. And the ending – without giving anything away, I’ll just say that the ending is absolutely perfect. Very moving, very sad, but hopeful in a quiet sort of way.