Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

1997 National Book Award

Cold Mountain is set during the Civil War. It's the story of Inman, Ada and Ruby and how the war has affected them all. Even though it's set during a war, there's not alot of action in it. It's really just about people and how they survive. It's a great book that I'd recommend to anyone. There's a little bit more here.
Green, John. 2005. LOOKING FOR ALASKA. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525475060 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

LOOKING FOR ALASKA is a coming-of-age novel starring Miles Halter and his eccentric cast of friends. Miles had always been different from his peers; for years he’d been searching for the “Great Perhaps” but he finally begins to understand the meaning of life when he ventures forth into the great unknown leaving his familiar home and school in Florida for his new life at a boarding school in Alabama. Miles, like all the characters in LOOKING FOR ALASKA, has his own eccentricities. Mile’s eccentric obsession—besides his love for philosophy—is his fascination with memorizing the last words of famous people. “It was an indulgence, learning last words. Other people had chocolate; I had dying declarations” (11). Miles, nicknamed, “Pudge,” is soon initiated into a close circle of friends including his roommate Chip Martin (the Colonel) and Alaska Young. It is his relationships with his friends—Alaska in particular—that will change his life forever.

LOOKING FOR ALASKA is well written. It is at times laugh-out-loud funny such as when Pudge and his friends are playing pranks on their peers or pondering the glory of the bufriedo, a deep-fried burrito, and at other times deeply touching such as when Pudge and Alaska are discussing the meaning of life and what it means to truly live.

Book Awards Challenge Rules

Welcome to the Book Awards Reading Challenge! The rules for this challenge are as follows:

1. Read any 12 award-winning books from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008. Please look on the sidebar for eligible books from the Pulitzer, Booker, etc. prize lists. Also feel free to pick non-fiction books or other prize winners not listed.

EDIT: Any book from an author who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature will be accepted. However, at least SIX of your twelve books must be actual book prize winners.

2. Books may be cross-posted with other challenges.

3. You may post your challenge books just on your blog, or you may also contribute to this blog by giving your email address in a comment to this post. I will email you an invitation to be a contributor. Please write your email address in a manner similar to the following: janedoe AT hotmail DOT com. You must be a blogger member in order to contribute.

4. There will be prizes.

1st prize: 5 credits or in-stock books from
2nd prize: 3 credits or in-stock books from
3rd prize: 1 credit or in-stock books from

Everyone who completes 12 books for the challenge will be entered once into the drawing. For every book over 12 completed, you will receive one more chance for the prize. For example, if you complete 14 books, you will receive 3 chances.

5. Anyone may participate, but to be eligible for the prize, you must sign up by November 1, 2007. To participate in this blog, you must sign up before January 1, 2008.

6. This is NOT required, but if you would like to discuss prize-winning books with others, you are encouraged to join any or all of the follow yahoo book groups:

7. Have fun reading!


1. When posting your reviews, please do not use the title of a book as a label. There are simply too many eligible books to use that feature. If you want to search for a review of a book, just go to the top left corner of the screen and put in the title of the book in the search box. All posts with that title should come up in the search. Definitely use which award the book won, though. If it won more than one award, use both labels. You are free to use your name as a label as well.

2. If you'd like to list books that you've read before this challenge, please use the BC Reads label. Please do not post a full review of BC Reads, though. A listing of previous books read with links is acceptable. You might want to put how you rated the book after the title.

3. I may edit your posts slightly if I see a misspelling--especially in the title of a book. I want books to be able to come up in the search function. Also, the correct spelling for Newbery is NEWBERY.

4. On this announcement post, I will highlight items in a different color when the announcement is new. I may use another announcement post if needed as well.

5. Recent eligible book lists added: Agatha, British Book Award, Giller Prize, and the Nobel Prize.

6. You may choose any book by a Nobel-prize winning author for this challenge. However, at least SIX of your twelve books must be actual award-winning books from the book lists.

7. Recent eligible book lists added: Anthony, Arthur C. Clarke, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy.

8. Recent eligible book lists added: Spur, Gold Dagger, and IMPAC Dublin.

9. IMPORTANT: If you requested an invite and haven't received it, please look in your bulk/junk email folder. I don't want anyone to think I'm ignoring them! ANY booklover is more than welcome to post to this blog. If you still haven't received one, please comment again so that I can add you to our contributors.

10. I'm not going to be able to list all the prize winners, so feel free to choose from the non-fiction, history, "best first novel", or "young adult", etc. division of any prize.

11. Recent eligible book lists added: PEN/Hemingway, Independent Foreign Fiction, Royal Society Prize, and James Tait Black.

12. You may post your reviews in full on this site or just post a link. If you do post a link, however, please use the link to the review only. If you point it to your blog's front page, it is hard to find the review of the book after weeks or months.

13. Have fun reading!

Becky's Review of Gone With The Wind

Mitchell, Margaret. 1936. Gone With The Wind.

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need...

--The Rolling Stones

Because I used to love her, but it's all over now...
--The Rolling Stones

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. (5)

Thus begins Margaret Mitchell's classic novel Gone With The Wind. Does it surprise you that Scarlett O'Hara "was not beautiful"? Can you conceptualize (fancy word for imagine) a Scarlett O'Hara that isn't beautiful? Try. Really. I bet you can't help but think of the beautiful Vivian Leigh. And that is where I think Hollywood did a huge disservice to the world. I have a love-hate relationship with the movie. I do. The movie has its moments of brilliance. Moments I love. But the movie has little to do with what Margaret Mitchell actually wrote. It got a few of the surface details right, I think, but it makes a mockery of it in places. Mitchell's novel has heart and soul and substance. Actual substance. The movie? Well. It's more stereotypes. Hollywood's version of the South is far from the South portrayed in Mitchell's pages. Especially when it comes to Scarlett and Tara. (But I digress.)

What did Scarlett look like? We're told that "it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white-skin" (5).

Even if you've never read the book, I would imagine you've got a fairly good notion of what Gone With The Wind is about. At least on the surface. It's the story of the spoiled-rotten Scarlett O'Hara and her quest to win her heart's desire through any means possible. Scarlett is one that doesn't ask if it's wrong or right. She only lives by this question--does it get me one step closer to what I want? If it does--then look out!

Scarlett. Rhett. Ashley. You probably know the basics. A woman wants what she can't have. She wants it until she can have it. The moment she has it. She doesn't want it anymore. Scarlett is in a perpetual state of frustration. The man in her bed doing her bidding is rarely the man in her heart.

The book is about much more than Scarlett and her quest for love, however. It's a love story, I won't deny it. But there is much more than love at stake in the novel. War. Reconstruction. Civilization. Society. Culture. Class. Race. Money. Politics. Survival. It's a novel of contrasts. The Old South vs. The New South. Conformity vs. Individuality. The haves vs. the have-nots. If asked to sum up Gone With The Wind in one word, most would probably say "Love." I'd say gumption. People who have it; people who don't. What do I mean by gumption? Partly spirit. Partly courage. Partly determination. Partly ambition. People with gumption act. They do what they must when they must.

One of my favorite non-love scenes from the book is Scarlett's conversation with Grandma Fontaine. A wonderful, wonderful character by the way. The setting is after Gerald's funeral. Scarlett is pregnant with Frank Kennedy's baby. (Yes, the movie killed Gerald, her father, off too soon.)
"We bow to the inevitable. We’re not wheat, we’re buckwheat! When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it’s dry and can’t bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat’s got sap in it and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up almost as straight and strong as before. We aren’t a stiff-necked tribe. We’re mighty limber when a hard wind’s blowing, because we know it pays to be limber. When trouble comes we bow to the inevitable without any mouthing, and we work and we smile and we bide our time. And we play along with lesser folks and we take what we can get from them. And when we’re strong enough, we kick the folks whose necks we’ve climbed over. That, my child, is the secret of the survival.” And after a pause, she added: “I pass it on to you.”

The old lady cackled, as if she were amused by her words, despite the venom in them. She looked as if she expected some comment from Scarlett but the words had made little sense to her and she could think of nothing to say. (709-710)

It's a novel that goes above and beyond the central character of Scarlett. Even if you hate Scarlett, I'd imagine you'd find some character to love. Be it Melanie. Rhett. Mammy. Uncle Peter. Grandma Fontaine. How could you not? There are so many characters, so many individual stories. Stories of triumph. Stories of loss. Stories of hope. Stories of disappointment. Stories of survival. Stories of failure. There is depth and meaning that the movie doesn't even try to accommodate. Depth and meaning that even diehard fans can't help but learn something new with each rereading.

To read the full review, visit my site.

Crispin by Avi

Avi. 2002. Crispin: The Cross of Lead.

I honestly didn't know what to expect from this one. Not the most clever way to start out a review, but true nevertheless. The cover. I was not easily won over with the cover. It is ugly and unappealing. It doesn't shout out "read me, read me." But I'd heard good things about it, of course, and it did win the Newbery in 2003. So I knew that I had to get past my initial misgivings.

Here's how it begins:
England, A.D. 1377 "In the midst of life comes death." How often did our village priest preach those words. Yet I have also heard that "in the midst of death comes life." If this be a riddle, so was my life. The day after my mother died, the priest and I wrapped her body in a gray shroud and carried her to the village church. Our burden was not great. In life she had been a small woman with little strength. Death made her even less. Her name had been Asta.
Our narrator is a young boy. At first, we only know him as Asta's son. Later his real name is revealed, Crispin. Here is a young boy, a peasant, tied to the land for life. But the day after his mother's funeral everything changes. (Or maybe it's the day of his mother's funeral.)

Told by John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) that he must return the ox to the manor since his mother is died (and he's now an orphan) he is told that he can starve. His life, his welfare is of no concern for this substitute lord-of-the-manor. Upset, he runs into the woods. He's working out his emotions--anger, grief, confusion, etc., but a fall and a bump on the head changes his life. Or you could say saves his life. He wakes up at some point during the night. He sees two men. One is John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) and the other is unknown to him at that time. What he hears confuses him. He can't make sense of it. But when he is seen, he gets a sick feeling that his life is in danger.

He is able to get away and hide for the rest of that night and the day. But the next night, he makes his way to his trusted friend, the priest, Father Quinel. What the priest tells him doesn't erase his questions. If anything, it just adds to his confusion. He's told that his mother could read and write. He's told that he was baptized (albeit secretly) Crispin. He's told that he MUST flee for his life. That John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) has started spreading lies about him. Accused him of theft. Is offering an award for whoever kills him. The priest gives him a few things to do on his own, and makes arrangement to meet him again before the two part ways forever.

His errand? To go to Goodwife Peregrine's house and pick up a cross of lead. But on his way to meet the priest one last time, the time where all would be revealed, he is met by another man instead. A man who claims he comes in the priest's place. But something doesn't feel right.

Crispin doesn't know who he is or exactly why John Aycliffe (boo, hiss) is out to kill him. Why Aycliffe (boo, hiss) wants him dead so very badly. He doesn't know who he is or where he needs to go, he just knows that his life is in danger and he is being pursued relentlessly.

Crispin's journey could have been a lonely one. But he meets an unusual friend, a man called Bear, who takes him under his protection. Together they try to make sense of it all. But the journey won't be easy.

I loved this book. I can easily see now why it won the Newbery. I definitely recommend this one to lovers of historical fiction. Also for those that love coming-of-age novels.

7th book - Middlesex

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2003

This beautifully written book is more than a story of a hermaphrodite. It is a rich family history interwoven with the history of Greek immigrants, as well as a history of life in the Detroit area from the early auto industry through the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. I liked all the characters from the grandparents Desdemona and Lefty through the narrator, Cal/Callie.

More book information here.

The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy

The story mostly focuses around dizygotic (from two eggs) twins Estha and Rahel who have no last name due to their mother being undecided at the time whether she would use their fathers name or her fathers name. It is set in India mostly and follows their family members when their white cousin Sophie Mol comes to visit them (the three are children at the time) and their uncle, her biological father. She is found drowned in the river after only being with them for a couple of weeks.

The story jumps around quite a lot in time narrating the events leading up to Sophie's arrival, later death and the far reaching consequences over twenty years later for the twins and their family. The storytelling reminded me in style of Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie's Midnights Children in the way it wasn't a linear tale and the way the characters were developed. The book it most brought to mind was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It tells of love, who you can love, how much and in what way. A strange novel which I can't work out if I enjoyed or not. The final short chapter was beautiful concerning the twins mother, but I didn't like how Roy left the story of the twins. In places it was quite a slow and difficult read, but some of the language really stayed with me. I think this one needs some time dwelling on it before I can properly move on.

Two More Down

So far I've only read two of the books on my original list for this challenge. But I have completed two additional award-winning books, bringing me to a total of eight.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was a 2000 Printz Honor Book, and my review is here. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was a co-winner of the 1966 Nebula Award for Best Novel. My review is here.

Angle of Repose - Wendy's Book Review

What interests me in all these papers is not Susan Burling Ward the novelist and illustrator, and not Oliver Ward the engineer, and not the West they spend their lives in. What really interests me is how two such unlike particles clung together, and under what strains, rolling downhill into their future until they reached the angle of repose where I knew them. That’s where the interest is. That’s where the meaning will be if I find any. -From Angle of Repose, page 199-

Lyman Ward, a retired history professor and writer, returns to his grandparent’s home in Grass Valley, California - wheelchair bound and facing a progressive, crippling bone disease. His intent is to research his grandmother’s life through the news clippings and letters of her past. To write her story, Ward must fill in gaps, imagine conversations, and uncover the truths which lie hidden in Susan Burling Ward’s history. During this one hot, dry summer in a quest to know his grandmother, he will discover the meaning beneath the shadows of his own life.

Wallace Stegner penned Angle of Repose in 1971 for which he won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. The novel - said to be his masterpiece - connects two points in American history…that of the late nineteenth century West with that of the turbulent, sometimes self-indulgent Vietnam era. Stegner creates complex and intriguing characters. Susan Burling (based on the historical figure of Mary Hallock Foote - a nineteenth century writer and illustrator) becomes an unlikely pioneer when she marries the quiet and ambitious dreamer Oliver Ward. Their adventures in mining camps and the vast wilderness of Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, and California create a backdrop of unbelievable beauty and isolation from which their lives unfold.

She guided her horse through willows and alders and runted birches, leaned and weaved until the brush ended and she broke into the open. She was at the edge of a meadow miles long, not a tree in it except for the wriggling line that marked the course of the Lake Fork. Stirrup-high grass flowed and flawed in the wind, and its motion revealed and hid and revealed again streaks and splashes of flowers-rust of paintbrush, blue of pentstemon, yellow of buttercups, scarlet of gilia, blue-tinged white of columbines. All around, rimming the valley, bare peaks patched with snow looked down from above the scalloped curve of timberline. -From Angle of Repose, page 237-

Angle of Repose is not simply an historical novel. It explores the idea of identity and how the past often intersects the present. When Lyman Ward explores his grandmother’s story, he is really seeking to find understanding in his own life.

Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don’t completely comprehend. - From Angle of Repose, page 5-

Stegner’s prose is alluring, filled with gorgeous descriptions which engage the reader’s senses. His characters are bigger than life, but carry real flaws which allow the reader to identify with them; to nod in understanding; to empathize with their torments and cheer for their successes. I can understand why Angle of Repose is lauded, why it captured the Pulitzer and why readers are quick to recommend it. I found myself completely immersed in the lives of Susan, Oliver and Lyman Ward and I was sad to turn the last page of this sprawling and satisfying novel.

Highly recommended; a must read; rated 5/5.

Winner Prix Femina 2006. Also on the Orange Prize 2008 shortlist. A multi-generational family portrait depicting the ramifications of both war and bad parenting. And an obnoxious child with a bit of Kevin about him.
Full thoughts here.

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Holley’s Review #12 of 12
The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay
1923 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

In the interest of A) finishing the Book Awards Reading Challenge, B) celebrating National Poetry Month and C) finding some poetry I like, I decided to give Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work a try. She was recommended to me by a valued patron at the library so I knew I’d found my final selection when I noticed this work had also won an award.

In this work I found everything I love in poetry. Things to ponder on, things to sigh over, things to cry about…a great collection all together! I found a particularly good passage in Three Songs from “The Lamp and the Bell”:

“Summer, for all your guile,
Will brown in a week to Autumn,
And launched leaves throw a shadow below
Over the brook’s clear bottom,--
And the chariest bud the year can boast
Be brought to bloom by the chastening frost.

I love the imagery of the shadow on the bottom of the brook from a fall leaf floating on its surface. I can see the picture so clearly in my mind and it reminds me of those great, perfect-temperature fall days when you can take a walk in a wooded area and feel the sunlight dappling your skin and a light breeze lifting your hair. Fall is my favorite season and this poem in particular played to the season's every strength.

Happy Reading!

Dreamland -- Ma Titwonky

Dreamland by Kevin Baker was published in 1999 and was named a New York Times Notable Book. It is part of a trilogy Baker has written about the city of New York and its history as viewed from 3 separate times. Dreamland concerns the early part of the 20th century when an amusement park named Dreamland existed on Coney Island.

Many of the characters in Dreamland are real people who lived, or more likely merely survived, one day at a time in tenements or right on the streets of New York. Women had few if any rights except to work in sweatshops and turn over their pay to the head of the household in which they lived. Many women lived by their wits and what their bodies could provide for them. It would be hard to decide which type of life was worse -- being a worker who often worked 15 hours a day for practically no pay, or the prostitutes whose lives were often cut short by disease or beatings by men on the streets. Neither life was worth much, yet still people persevered to have whatever kind of future they might make for themselves.

It was into this environment Baker introduced characters like Esther, a sewing machine operator from the Lower East side of New York. She wished for a better life but never really expected to have it. Or Big Tim Sullivan who was 2nd man on the totem pole at Tammany Hall, and who made his money wherever opportunity presented itself. Or Gyp the Blood and Kid Twist, both gangsters whose lives cross because one's sister is the other's girlfriend. Or Trick the Dwarf who is a carnival performer, and who is the one connecting all these people with his stories.

Ever since I saw the movie Gangs Of New York, I have been interested in the history of old New York. Dreamland was an excellent addition to what I've seen or read so far thanks to Kevin Baker's gift for story telling and making that time in that city very real and very turbulent. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a first rate plot and fascinating characters.
Because I read mainly novels, the identity and experience of the author is usually immaterial to me. Of course, who they are and where they are from shape their words and the stories they tell, but seldom do I pay attention to these things. My belief is that the authors would want it to be so - that they would wish for their stories and characters to stand on their own, and to be authentic without our knowing anything about the artist who brought them to life.

Sometimes, however, this isn't possible. Having looked at the copyright of The Grapes of Wrath, for example, I know going in that John Steinbeck is writing in the here and now. He is writing a story about events that are going on around him, and he doesn't yet know what the future holds for the Joads, or for anyone else entrenched in the Depression.

I remember feeling this way when I read The Diary of Anne Frank. That I knew her tragic fate going in, but when she put her words, her hopes and dreams, to paper, she still clung to the hope of a future ahead, outside of the Secret Annex.

Which brings me to Suite Française, a novel divided into two parts, by Irene Némirovsky. The knowledge that while she was writing these words, the war was raging around her, and she did not know whether she would live or die, permeates and perfumes every page of this novel. That she intended it to be a novel in five parts, but died in Auschwitz with only two parts complete, makes it even more poignant.

The first part of the book, Storm in June, tells the stories of several families and individuals fleeing Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. The stories told are from very different points of view, from the wealthy woman trying to keep her family heirlooms together, along with her ailing father-in-law, her children, and her servants, to the married couple who work at a bank, and fear mainly for their son, who is a prisoner of war, but also for their jobs, their security, and their lives. There is a priest, trying to transport a group of teen-agers from what can only be described as a correctional facility, to safety, while deep in his heart, he wishes to be far away from them, as he sees no evidence of God within them. There is the aesthete, proud of his figurine collection, and of the good luck (and smarts!) that conspired to leave him single and childless at a time when so much worry would be wasted on caring about another human being.
Some of his friends had gone, but he was neither Jewish nor a Mason, thank God, he thought with a scornful smile. He had never been involved in politics and didn't see why he wouldn't be left alone, a poor man like him, very quiet, very harmless, who never hurt anybody and who loved nothing in this world but his porcelain collection. He thought, on a more serious note, that this was the secret of his happiness amid so much upheaval. He loved nothing, at least nothing that time could distort, that death could carry away; he'd been right not to have married, not to have had children...My God, everyone else had been taken in. He'd been the only clever one.

The second story is Dolce, and takes place two years later, in a small village during the occupation. The families of the village are required to take soldiers into their homes, to live with them and adjust to their presence. The glimpse of both sides of this situation, and of a young (married) French woman who falls in love with a young (married) German soldier who comes to live with her, and the events that ultimately pull them apart, are gripping.
"He asked my permission to go into the garden to pick some strawberries. I couldn't exactly refuse. You're forgetting he's in charge here now, unfortunately...He's being polite, but he could take whatever he wants, go wherever he pleases and even throw us out into the street. He wears kid gloves to claim his rights as a conqueror. I can't hold that against him. I think he's right. We're not on a battlefield. We can keep all our feelings deep inside. Superficially at least, why not be polite and considerate? Ther'e something inhuman about our situation. Why make it worse? It isn' isn't reasonable, Mother." Lucile spoke so passionately that she surprised even herself.

These are unfinished stories, not polished or edited as Ms. Némirovsky would surely have wanted them to be. She had long term plans for some of these characters, as evidenced in her notes, included in an appendix at the back of the book. Some of them were to spill over into the remaining three stories. One was to be titled Captivity, and it sounds like it would have been the story of characters in a concentration camp. For the final two stories, she was waiting to see what would happen, wanted them to be based upon real events, and to have them talk to readers well into the future. I only wish she had been able to finish her book.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (author of The Virgin Suicides), is first and foremost the story of Calliope, a young Greek girl growing up in the suburbs of Michigan, and how at puberty, she becomes Cal, a young Greek boy.

The story spans three generations, starting with Desdemona and Lefty, a brother and sister fleeing Greece during the war with Turkey in 1922. Unfortunately, Desdemona and Lefty are in love with each other, and the anonymity of fleeing their homeland for America gives them the opportunity to start over, as husband and wife. Their story is a sad one, because as Desdemona discovers the dangers of birth defects involved if they have children, she becomes a distant and frustrated wife.

Their son, Milton, is a successful entrepreneur who marries his second cousin, Tessie, sealing Calliope's fate. Calliope is born with a birth defect, 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphordites, which means that though she appears to be a girl, she has both girl parts and boy parts, though the boy parts are more difficult to see if you're not looking. It takes a bit of a stretch of the imagination to believe that her doctor wouldn't notice, that her mother wouldn't notice while changing her diaper, but since the story isn't graphic in its detail of the physical abnormality, you can give them a pass. Genetically, though, he's a boy, with XY chromosomes and a desire for women.

The story travels back and forth across time, as the narrator, 41 year old Cal, tells the story from the beginning, from his grandparents' love affair and sad marriage, to the success of his father's hot dog franchise and the race riots of 1967 Detroit, and on to Cal's own coming of age, his fear of not knowing exactly what was wrong with him, but trying desperately to hide the fact that clearly, something was.

Did I love this book? No. I thought it could have been about 150 pages shorter (it weighed in at 529 pages). Some of the details went on too long for me, and I found myself a little bit bored. It took me quite awhile to read this book, though the second half sucked me in, and I read the last 300 pages in just the last few days. I'm not sure I can recommend this I said, it just didn't suck me in enough. But anyone interested in trans-gender issues, or in the experience of three generations of a recent immigrant family, might enjoy the book more than I did.

Atonement -- Ma Titwonky

Atonement by Ian McEwan won the 2005 NBCC Award. At first the story seems to be about an incident witnessed by 13 year old Briony Tallis. At the time, she believes she has witnessed an act of brutality. She advises her family of what she saw which involves her sister, her cousin, and a family protege; the police are called, and people's lives are changed forever on the mistake of a child with a colorful and productive imagination.

The story moves on to describe the lives lived by Briony's sister Cee, and the family charlady's son Robbie Turner. Robbie's life takes him into war, and the scenes written for this part of the book are as vivid and heart stopping as any war-themed story I've ever read. This is when it starts to become clear that Atonement is about more than a child's misunderstanding. Whether or not Briony was correct about what she believed she saw, Robbie Turner's life is altered immeasurably by what he witnesses in war and how he deals with the horror he is forced to experience.

It is the third part of the book that describes how the story of these people comes together. Or does it? In this section of the book McEwan talks about writers and how what they commit to paper can change perspective or alter emotions. By the time I got to this part of the book I was hopelessly hooked on the story, and I was very impressed the way McEwan chose to end it.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys becoming engrossed in interesting characters written just exactly how people are. None of us goes through life holding to the same ideas we had in childhood - not if we truly grow up at all. And all of us, no matter how some may try to ignore it, have a conscience that in some part plays a role in how our lives are lived. The question is, can we ever really Atone for mistakes we may have made along the way? McEwan wisely leaves that question for each reader to decide for her/himself.
The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson won the 2007 Edgar Award. It is the fictional story of John Wells, an American and agent for the CIA. He is also the first and only American to have joined the ranks of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and moved up the pecking order toward becoming a trusted insider. His goal is to report as much information as possible back to the CIA so that al-Qaeda can be stopped before attacking the US once again. The problem is that both the CIA and al-Qaeda want his unquestionable loyalty, and being a slave to those two masters proves to be a very difficult and dangerous occupation.

The Faithful Spy is to spy thrillers what the Russians vs American Agent novels were to the Cold War. Anyone with an interest in the current global climate of terrorism would find something to engage him/her in this novel. It's timely, well written, and tightly plotted. It gives readers a sense of what kinds of sacrifices people who do what John Wells does make on a daily basis. It also points out the extraordinary sense of alertness and focus people on either side of the terrorism issue need to have all the time. Except, and this point is well made in the book, terrorists can be wrong many times; Counterterrorism agents only need to be wrong once. The responsibility is intense, and many who do this kind of work lead very solitary lives because the work consumes more of their time than anything else does.

Ever since 9/11, I have read more and more books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the influence of terrorism world-wide. I found A Faithful Spy to be an excellent addition to my collection. Not only is this a timely subject, but Alex Berenson has a very good grasp of the whole terrorism concept, and he was able in The Faithful Spy to give his readers a compelling sense of what fighting such an abomination can be. It's all-consuming and exhausting.

The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin won the 1975 Hugo Award. Ursula LeGuin has won numerous awards for her books and short stories, all of which are from the sci-fi/fantasy genre. This is not a genre I normally read because
  • I don't like to work that hard at following a story
  • I find it mind numbingly boring
  • I think this type of sci-fi is an excuse to write pretentious philosophical nonsense

In spite of that, I read The Dispossessed mainly because it had been on my TBR pile forever (I have no idea how it got there in the first place), and because I thought surely I could not go wrong because this one won an award. Goes to show what I know about sci-fi.

The first problem I had with this book was that there were numerous typos that many times resulted in a correct word being used that had an incorrect context in the sentence within which it was written. For instance, I was reading about a person who was described as an "eighty year old child". He was talking to "a seven year old child." It took me several pages to realize that people on this kid's planet do not have exceptionally long childhoods; the "eighty year old child" was, in fact, eight. This was a typo that affected the context of the story I was reading. This is not the only example of typos, and in addition, there were other occasions in which words were outright misspelled. I expected better printing from an award winning book no matter what the genre.

Then there's the pretentious philosophical discussions. The book is full of exchanges like this one:
"That is the dilemma of determinism. You are quite right, it is implicit in Simultanist thinking. But Sequency thinking also has its dilemma. It is like this, to make a foolish little picture -- you are throwing a rock at a tree, and if you are a Simultanist the rock has already hit the tree, and if you are a Sequentist it never can. So which do you choose? Maybe you prefer to throw rocks without thinking about it, no choice. I prefer to make things difficult, and choose both."
This is just a part of a discussion that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of proving that future societies will endlessly debate subjects we current earthlings would view as "Who Cares???" subjects. Unfortunately I have little to no appreciation for an author who actually sat down and figured out all this nonsense before she wrote it. Some consider her brilliant. I put her in the category of those who like to feel superior to the rest of us mere mortals by writing philosophical discussions that eventually lead me to the conclusion that I've just read pages of gibberish for which I do not understand the purpose.

Granted, because sci-fi is not my genre of choice, I may not be presenting the most objective interview possible. However, I've read some sci-fi that did hold my interest and had a story with a beginning, middle, and an end I understood. The Dispossessed is about Shevek, a physicist and anarchist. He leaves his planet where everyone thinks as he does, and goes to a different planet which is governed by a capitalistic process. His goal is to break down walls that have been built up isolating those who believe what he believes from those who don't. All of this is done in a very cerebral context, so there's lots of long winded speeches about various theories and how they do or do not work for those who are governed by them. It is difficult to sustain interest in these harangues for a whole book.

Another problem with the clarity in this book is that it's told from the present and the past. There is no explanation for when the reader leaves the present to learn more of the back story of Shevek. As a result, until this became clearer, there was confusion in understanding where Shevek was in time and which planet he was actually living on.

I know there is an audience for this kind of sci-fi, and hopefully those readers will be able to discern from what I've written that this is the kind of material they love to read. As for me... I wish I'd read Harry Potter.
By Geraldine Brooks
Completed April 11, 2008

What happens to a family when a husband and father goes to war? Many books explore this question, and one of the most famous is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. But what about the husband and father - how is he impacted by the war during and after the battles are fought? For these questions, we can rely on the fantastic storytelling of Geraldine Brooks and her Pulitzer-winning March.

In this novel, we learn about Mr. March who was away during Little Women, which offered a creative canvas for Brooks’ story. March, an active abolitionist, enlisted as an army chaplain at the beginning of the Civil War. His service took many twists and turns before he ended up on a Yankee-controlled plantation, where he taught former slaves how to read, write and do math. While there, he fell victim to “the fever” and later a bullet, which forced him to a hospital in Washington, D.C.

Readers of the original Little Women may envision Jo’s father to be a docile, patient, kind-hearted man who made more good decisions than bad. Furthermore, one might expect Marmee March to be the typical antebellum wife and mother – silent, obedient and sinless. Brooks took a different path with these characterizations, however, in March. March was, in fact, very fallible whose idealism cost him (and his family) their fortune and almost March’s life. Marmee March was an impulsive hot head, constrained by the societal and marital norms of her time. Together, their marriage had secrets and miscommunications, which sounded very “normal” to me. Other readers may prefer Alcott’s original depictions, and if you’re one, I recommend skipping March because you will feel frustrated by the Marches.

While this story explored slave conditions and the horrors of the Civil War, the war’s toll on March left the biggest impression. He emerged hopeless and depressed. I think of war veterans now and realize that nothing has changed. We need to do a better job in helping our service men and women when they return to civilian life – whether we agree with the war or not. To me, that’s the biggest lesson I learned from March. The affects of war are timeless, and if you are interested in the social and psychological impacts of war on men, women and children, I would recommend March to you. ( )

(Cross-posted from my blog)
The story of Iris Chase and her younger sister Laura as told by Iris aged 83 along with a selection of newspaper clippings. Brought up at the beginning of the last century into a wealthy family in Canada, Iris is charged by her parents and housekeeper Reenie to take care of Laura who can be very literal about life. When their family starts heavily loosing money, their father's button factory is set alight and Laura's communist friend Alex Thomas is blamed. The girls hide him until he is able to escape and he is never forgotten by either girl.

Iris marries prominent businessman Richard Griffin in a bid to save her fathers business against her wishes aged 18. Him and his poisonous sister Winifred soon take over both hers and Laura's lives using them as pawns in their own games in their political endeavours. There are sections amidst the main storyline with two unnamed lovers who are meeting in secret. The man tells the woman a wonderful series of stories he makes up, my favourites were following the blind assassin and the girl from the temple.

It is typical Atwood storytelling with the plot jumping around from the present, to the past, to newspaper articles which tell you the end of the main story before you hear about how they all get there plus the unnamed lovers. There were some great twists and revelations at the end, and I didn't see all of them coming which is always good. It took a little longer than usual to really grab my attention, but I loved it once I started to get to know the characters more. That is Atwood's strength, her development of her characters especially the female ones.

The Accidental - Ali Smith

A family of four are renting a house in Norfolk for a holiday. They are quite fragmented, the daughter Astrid is 12 and is going through an awkward stage on the threshold of womanhood. She is obsessed with filming everything with her new camera and won't touch any of the furniture in the house or the cutlery as she doesn't know who has touched it previosuly. Marcus is the 16 year old son who has taken to taking his dinner upstairs to eat and being even more anti social than usual. His mother is really beginning to worry about him. Michael is their step-father the children put up with. He lectures in English and Literary Criticism but has a more personal relationship with some of his students. Eve, their mother and Michael's wife, is an author who has suddendly found her brand of novels in the "Genuine Article Series" hit the big time.

One day out of the blue a woman turns up at the front door saying she is late. She is invited in by Michael who assumes she is something to do with Eve. Eve later assumes she is one of Michael's girls. It turns out none of them do and in the process of her spending her holiday with them, Amber learns their secrets and somehow manages to bring them together as a family, for a time at least.

The novel was split into three main parts (beginning, middle and end) with each character narrating a section including Amber. What I loved about it was that each voice was different and you got the sense that it really was someone different telling you their version of events. I particularly enjoyed one section were Michael was thinking in sonnets and his section was all written in poetry. I really enjoyed this novel and I liked that it took the family back to their "real life" after their time with Amber at the holiday home. I can definitely see why it won the Whitbread Prize and was nominated for both The Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Holley’s Review #11 of 12
The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004 by Adrienne Rich
2004 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for Poetry

I’m always disappointed by modern poetry. I am the last person to be considered a poetry expert, but I know what I like and I’ve never found it in the newer material. Rich’s collection has a beautiful cover (I know, I know…don’t judge a book…) and some interesting poem titles but I just did not enjoy all the interpretive spacing and stream of consciousness. I was by turns fascinated and bemused, but mostly confused. My apologies go out to all those more proficient than I in the reading of poetry.

Happy Reading!

Bootlegger's Daughter


My Review is posted here at my blog.

Thomas the Rhymer - Ellen Kushner

A prose re-telling of the famous traditional ballad of Thomas the Rhymer. Thomas bargains away seven years of his life inadvertantly for a kiss form the Queen of the Fairies who takes him to her fair realm. She was attracted to him for his harping and bardic skills. The time passes in days and Thomas asks to live out the full seven years in the fairy land as her lover and harper. He can stay as long as he only speaks to her (apart from when he is performing of course) and is careful to eat only the human food she provides for him. At the end of the seven years when he returns to the mortal realm, she makes him True Thomas and he can never tell a lie.

The story is fleshed out further with the relationhips Thomas has with elderly, childless couple Gavin and Meg before he is taken away as well as his mortal love Elspeth amongst his many other conquests. The tale is told in four sections starting with Gavin's tale, then Thomas Meg and finally Elspeth. There were also two beautiful stories within the main text in the fairy realm about a white dove who cries tears of blood and Thomas' invisible servant.

I really enjoyed this tale. A mixture of fantasy, romance and fairy tale it was everything I enjoy in a novel. There are two previews of some of Kushner's other novels which I will read at a later date and I do hope to read more of her tales in the future.

March - in March

For my March book to read for the challenge, I read March, by Geraldine Brooks, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. I wasn't sure I would like it, since it is supposed to be the story of Mr. March, the father from the book Little Women. As Little Women is one of my all-time favorites, I wasn't sure that anyone could do justice to any story related to it.

Geraldine Brooks delivered, in my opinion, and as it turns out, I'm glad I read the book! My additional blathering about it can be found here.

Agatha Award 1999, Mariner's Compass

By Earlene Fowler © 1999
Published by Penguin Books Ltd.
1999 Agatha Award Winner

Review posted at my blog, Needles and Pens.

Laura's List

This is a challenge I simply cannot resist; I am prone to using the prize lists for TBR ideas anyway. And Michelle is graciously allowing overlap with other challenges, and I don't have to choose all my books before the start of the challenge, and there are prizes! How could I refuse?

TBR (with links to LibraryThing)

  1. The Invisible Man,, by Ralph Ellison - National Book Award 1953 (completed 7/9/07 - review)
  2. The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty - Pulitzer 1973 (completed 8/10/07 - review)
  3. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy - Pulitzer 2007 (completed 9/2/07 - review)
  4. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck - Nobel Prize author, 1962 (completed 10/6/2007 - review)
  5. Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri - Pulitzer 2000 (completed 10/11/2007 - review)
  6. The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney - Costa/Whitbread 2006 (completed 11/9/2007 - review)
  7. The Giver, by Lois Lowry - Newbery 1994 (completed 12/15/2007 - review)
  8. March, by Geraldine Brooks - Pulitzer 2006 (completed 1/22/2008 - review)
  9. The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch - Booker 1978 (completed 2/21/2008 - review)
  10. The Bone People, by Keri Hulme - Booker 1985 (completed 3/30/2008 - review)
  11. The Gathering, by Anne Enright - Booker 2007 (completed 4/2/2008 - review)
  12. TBD, most likely Pulitzer 2008

The Gathering
Anne Enright
261 pages

"There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all." (p. 27)

The Gathering is an intimate and painful look at grief. Veronica Hegarty's life has been turned upside-down by her brother Liam's suicide. Throughout this novel Veronica operates in a fog, disconnected from her siblings, her husband, and her children. She is barely able to function. As she reflects on her brother's life, she tries to piece together elements of their shared past, but her childhood memories are fraught with inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Liam's death also makes her keenly aware of her own less-than-satisfying adult life: "I was living my life in inverted commas. I could pick up my keys and go 'home' where I could 'have sex' with my 'husband' just like lots of other people did. This is what I had been doing for years. And I didn't seem to mind the inverted commas, or even notice that I was living in them, until my brother died." (p. 181) When did it all go wrong?

As winner of the 2007 Booker Prize, The Gathering has received more than its share of reviews. It seems to be a "love it or hate it" book, mostly because it is so bleak. This is, indeed, a very sad book. Each person seems to be lost in their own island of grief, unable to support one another. Veronica withdraws completely; her siblings are each caught up in their own childhood baggage and destructive behavior patterns. As the book draws to a close, the truth has proven to be elusive, and the future is uncertain. Those looking for neat and tidy endings will be disappointed, but I found The Gathering's stark realism to be both intense and memorable. ( )

My original review can be found here.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is one of those books that I love so much that I am hesitant about trying to write about it for fear of trivializing it in some way. I reread this book in February, but was unable to even approach writing about it until I decided to just do one of these questionnaires so that I can be walked through the process.

Title and author of book? The Color Purple by Alice Walker

What led you to pick up this book? I've read it before, probably twice, maybe three times. This year, I saw the movie for the first time, which made me want to reread the novel.

Give a brief summary of the plot: The main character, Celie, grows up poor in an abusive household. In fact, it seems like everyone she knows is abusive or abused, so it seems normal to her -- this is probably a result of the crushing despair of poverty. She's married off young to a man who continues the pattern of abuse. He's also in love with another woman, a woman who becomes Celie's friend.

What did you like most about the book? For me, the most moving part of the story is Celie's separation from her sister; my favorite part of the book has something to do with this separation, but to talk about that would be a huge spoiler. I also really like the letter structure of the novel, and I like the use of dialect in this book, even though dialect is usually distracting for me. And I really love the way Celie grows into a level of strength that allows her to start standing up for herself somewhat.

What did you like least?There isn't anything I could really say I dislike about this book, but some scenes are disturbing. For me, the most difficult scene is the one in which a friend of Celie's is beaten and imprisoned for trying to stand up for herself.

What did you think of the writing style? The writing is amazing. As I said above, it's epistolary and uses dialect. Some parts are written in standard English, and those beautiful passages only serve to highlight the simplicity of Celie's uneducated writing and speech. But don't get me wrong; Celie's words are also beautiful. It's amazing to me how Walker manages to write in these two different styles, and make both of them so full of insight.

What did you think of the main character?: I can remember that upon my first reading of this book, I felt frustrated with Celie. She tolerated such terrible treatment, and I was angry with her. I think I have a better understanding of human nature now, so I realize that Celie is a person who has spent her entire life so beaten down -- and not just by individuals, but by society as a whole -- that it's impossible that she could have lived her early years of adulthood in any other way. During this reading of the novel, I was able to notice Celie's gradual strengthening, and rather than resenting Shug's presence in Celie's life at all, I was able to see how she helped Celie grow. I was also able, this time, to appreciate the way women in the book support each other and give each other a sense of community in a world that completely marginalized women of their era, race, and socioeconomic class. Not that the men of their era, race and socioeconomic class fared much better.

Any other particularly interesting characters?Most of the words of wisdom are given to Shug and to Nettie. I think that Walker gave her own voice to those characters at times. They are both amazingly strong and they both overcome terrible circumstances through a combination of luck, talent and introspection.

If this book has been made into a movie, and if you’ve seen the movie, compare the book to the movie. If you've only seen the movie, if you liked it, you should really treat yourself to the book. The movie leaves out so much.

Share a quote from the book: I'll share two, so that you can see the contrasts mentioned above.
The years have come and gone without a single word from you. Only the sky above us do we hold in common. I look at it often, as if, somehow, reflected from its immensities, I will one day find myself gazing into your eyes. Your dear, large, clean and beautiful eyes.

And this is Celie, speaking of her stepson (Harpo) and her husband (Harpo's daddy).

Harpo no better at fighting his daddy back than me. Every day his daddy get up, sit on the porch, look out at nothing. Sometime look at the trees out front the house. Look at a butterfly if it light on the rail. Drink a little water in the day. A little wine in the evening. But mostly never move.

Harpo complain bout all the plowing we have to do.

His daddy say, You gonna do it.

Harpo nearly as big as his daddy. He strong in body but weak in will. He scared.

Me and him out in the field all day. Us sweat, chopping and plowing. I'm roasted coffee bean color now. He black as the inside of a chimney. His eyes be sad and thoughtful. His face begin to look like a woman's face.
I saw Looking for Alaska at the library and grabbed it because it's by the same author as An Abundance of Katherines, a book I picked for the Printz challenge. And because this book also won the 2006 Printz award. And because I loved Green's videoblog with his brother, and am so sad it's over, although they do still videoblog now and then in their own blogs. Here's a videoletter to his brother that Green made when Looking for Alaska was being challenged. It is the best censorship rant ever.

But back to the book.

It's really an outstanding book. I usually feel that the highest praise I can mentally (or in a blogpost) give a YA book is that it will make kids think. But then I read this book, which made me, an allegedly sophisticated adult reader with an actual literature degree, think.

It made me think about death, and what happens after we die (my answer = I don't know and neither does anyone else). And it made me think about the ways in which emotional pain can be as deadly as physical pain. It made me think about my friend who studies religion and has expressed some of the same ideas as Green (who also studied religion). It also made me think about belonging, and what it meant to me as a kid, and what it means to kids I know. It made me think about what, exactly, home is.

The narrator is Miles, a high school junior, who goes away to boarding school. There, he meets a group of friends, the first group of friends he's had in his life. In his old school he was an outcast, but the sense of belonging he feels at this new school triggers a lot of growth in him. This reminded me of a boy I know, who was an outcast in his previous school, but is now thriving, with a group he belongs to, in a different school.

Miles' group of friends is what many parents would consider "the wrong crowd."

But for Miles, it's the right crowd, because although they introduce him to "booze and mischief" as well as smoking and sex, all of which contribute to the constant threat of expulsion dangling over their heads, they understand him. They look at him, and they see Miles, who he really is, and they accept him. This matters so much more to kids, I think, than whether the people who include them are "good kids" or "bad kids."

And really, let's be perfectly honest here. There is no way to protect your kid from kids who know about alcohol, mischief, sex and smoking. The only real control you have over how they react to this inevitable exposure is to teach your kids to think for themselves. That is really the only protection parents can give their children from whatever they consider the evils of the world, although a sad number of parents believe that fearmongering, threats, and lots of screaming and bullying will somehow have a positive effect.

The sun around which the rest of the group revolves is Alaska, a girl with so much charisma that everyone seems to be at least a little bit in love with her. Alaska is impulsive and reckless, as well as troubled, and she barely shares the source of those troubles with her closest friends. In the end, knowing Alaska is the greatest source of pain Miles has encountered in his life, but it's also a catalyst for his personal growth, for him to start forming his own values and viewpoints and interests, beyond the interest he arrived at the school with, which is the last words of famous people.

I really can not recommend this book strongly enough. I can't wait to read An Abundance of Katherines now, and I think I've found a new favorite writer.

Now, in case you fell madly in love with Green's brain watching that video (and who wouldn't?) you can get more at his blog.

And below is an (admittedly dated) example of the awesomeness of Hank Green, John's brother.

"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame." Oscar Wilde
1993 Schlegel-Tieck Prize for German Literature Translation

This book completes round 2 for me. I've now read 24 prize winners in the course of this challenge. But there are still a few months to go and I'm not stopping!

You'll find my review for book 24 at:

Man Asian Literary Prize

2011 Shin Kyung-sook, for Please Look After Mom
2010 Bi Feiyu, for Three Sisters
2009 Su Tong, for The Boat to Redemption
2008 Miguel Syjuco, for Ilustrado
2007 Jiang Rong, for Wolf Totem