I finished the challenge a week ago. The real challenge was getting all the posts up on my blog after weeks of computer problems. Another problem was different lists. I had one list on my blog and another handwritten in a book journal I keep. Between the two I read 20 books. But I pulled my original list to claim the challenge completed. The original list is here and the 20 book list is n the sidebar.

I enjoyed this challenge and I'll be joining BACII. I'll be better organized this year.

'The Scortas' Sun' - Laurent Gaudé

(Originally published in French as Le Soleil des Scorta, published in the US and Canada as The House of Scorta.)
Translated from the French by Andrew Brown

WINNER of the Prix Goncourt, 2004
Boasting a notorious brigand as an ancestor, the Scorta family is born into extreme poverty in the small Italian village of Montepuccio. Each successive generation must confront their heritage and attempt to wrest a living out of the sun-scorched fields of Apulia, while passing on their pride, their cherished memories, and their passionate appetite for life. Spanning five generations of Scortas, the family’s deepest secrets and fiercest passions are at last revealed by Carmela as she makes her final confession to the village priest.
A profoundly human work set in the glorious landscape of southern Italy, Laurent Gaudé’s sweeping, cinematic tale of family life won the Prix Goncourt in 2004.
I really felt I was armchair travelling while reading this book, as it transported me to the hot, sun-scorched landscape of the Apulia region of southern Italy. The story covers several generations of the Scorta family from a rather illustrious beginning. Sometimes the author gives detailed descriptions that really bring the people and events to life, other times the story skips ahead several years down the road. In this way it was like snapshots of their lives laid out to tell their story. Despite the secrets, passions, and regrets of each successive generation, what comes through is their strong attachment to the land and the importance of family. Like the previous book I read, it was the vividly portrayed setting that really made this an enjoyable read. (4/5)
Olives are eternal. A single olive doesn’t last. It grows ripe and rots. But olives succeed one another, in an infinite, repetitive way. They’re all different, but the long chain of them is endless. They have the same shape, the same colour, they have been ripened by the same sun and have the same taste. So yes, olives are eternal. Like men. The same infinite succession of life and death.
Cross-posted on my blog.

Beloved review by Athena

This Pulitzer Prize winning and critically acclaimed novel is very sad and includes many stories of horror and trauma. The persistence of memory and the past is part of the novel from a mother's obsessive overprotection to the reconciliation of people's past personal and with slavery as a whole: "To Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. The 'better life' she believed she and Denver were living was simply not that other one."

The narrative shifts with a stream of consciousness writing towards the end of the book. It also reminded me of an even more twisted version of Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray by that time.

It's a complex novel, but very beautifully written. I love the prose. It is difficult to read due to the story and plot, but the literary prose is wonderful. Morrison is also very adept at characterization. I get a total sense of these characters whether or not I agree or actually sympathise with them. She presents them so clearly and honestly. It is not a pleasurable read, and like many books literary books, it is not for everyone. It's difficult, but honest and well written.
If you'd like to see a particular award listed on the sidebar, enter it into Mr. Linky below. It would be really helpful if you could provide a link to the winners, too! I can't promise I'll add everything nominated below to the sidebar, but I'll at least add some. Thanks!

'The Tenderness of Wolves' - Stef Penney

WINNER of the Costa Book of the Year, 2006
Interview with the author
1867, Canada.
As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a woman steels herself for the journey of a lifetime. A man has been brutally murdered and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. The violence has re-opened old wounds and inflamed deep-running tensions in the frontier township – some want to solve the crime; others seek only to exploit it.
To clear her son’s name, she has no choice but to follow the tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin and head north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it…
The quote on the back of my copy that calls it ‘a fascinating, suspense-filled adventure’ pretty much describes my thoughts on it as well. The historical aspects of the fur trade and pioneer life in northern Canada were very interesting. It wasn’t necessarily fast-paced and full of action but the murder mystery and the search for the perpetrator added suspense. And the fact that the search led them through such harsh terrain was certainly an adventure. A nicely told story with a large, varied cast of characters, it was actually the bitterly cold, snowy landscape, so vividly portrayed, that became the strongest element of the story for me. At it’s core, a mystery, but more than that too. All in all, a very enjoyable read. (4/5)

Stef Penney talks about the novel:

Cross-posted on my blog.

The novel begins by introducing us to Daniel Waterhouse, a member of the Royal Society, around 1655. He shares a room with Issac Newton at Cambridge where they are studying together. The tale begins with him in the present day which is 1713 being taken back to England to pen his tales of life with Issac and rival Leibniz in the scientific and alchemical world. It is filled with scientific persons such as Christopher Wren and Hooke along with various royals like Charles II, James II and William of Orange as Daniel later gets caught up in politics and has a spell in the Tower of London as a traitor. Many scientific principles and experiments are described along with some unpleasant ones involving live stray dogs.

The second part of the narrative centres around Jack, "the King's Vagabond" and the lady he rescues from the Turks Eliza. They are both very colourful characters. Jack is a knave who listens to the Imp of the Perverse following this inner voice into many troubles and scrapes when he could easily take the easy way out. Eliza is called a whore by many, but has a vast intelligence and head for numbers. She becomes a spy for William of Orange as the story progresses and a double agent, while poor Jack has syphillis and will not last to the end of the tale.

The final section sees Daniel and Eliza's interests coming together independently with both of them escaping death and the many plots around them. Eliza and Daniel also both do work with Bob, Jacks more reliable brother who always tried to be a force of good and balance in Jack's life. Daniel has survived The Plague and the Great Fire of London and Eliza has escaped slavery to bring them into a new era.

Sorry for the wandering review, it is difficult to know where to even begin with this immense novel. My poor eyes are wrecked now. It is very long with a very small typeface which can be quite a strain at times. Overall I found it difficult to get into this book, but once Eliza and Jack were introduced it became much more fun! Both were favourite characters of mine and Eliza uses her femine charms indiscriminantly which made for an interesting read. I will read the two follow up books in the series at some point in the future, but for now I need to rest my aching eyes.

Prize Eligibility

If you have completed the challenge and want to be entered for the prizes, you must enter the link to your wrap-up post here. If you don't have a blog, simply enter your name in the Mr. Linky with a list of the books you read in the comments.

This must be done by July 7 to be eligible for the prizes!

Thanks, everyone, for participating, and I hope you'll consider joining us for the next one as well.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

1968 Newbery Medal Winner

This book is about a little girl who wants to be special. Claudia and her little brother run away from home and hole up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Claudia finds a mystery to solve. She thinks if she can prove Michelangelo sculpted a particular statue she'll be able to go home. There's more on my blog. This was one of my favorites when I was a child,
WINNER of the Newbery Medal, 2004
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.
What a cute story! Little Despereaux, different from the other mice for his love of reading and music, is a very brave little mouse on a very dangerous quest. It is perhaps at its heart a simple story of hope and forgiveness, but it’s so nicely told. Because of the narrative style, in which the author often addresses the reader directly, this would be a great book to read aloud. And the book itself was a joy to hold. I personally love those rough-cut edges and the illustrations were wonderful, really adding to the story. A story to make you smile. Recommended for kids and kids-at-heart. (3.5/5)
Despereaux waited until she was gone, and then he reached out and, with one paw, touched the lovely words. Once upon a time.
Cross-posted on my blog.
WINNER of the World Fantasy Award 2006, WINNER of the Franz Kafka Prize 2006
Kafka on the Shore follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophecy. The ageing Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his simple life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle.
At once a classic tale of quest, Kafka on the Shore is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is a bewitching and wildly inventive novel from a master stylist.
I can’t begin to fully understand what it all means but it was a very fun ride all the same. I was immediately drawn in and as the strands slowly started to come together I had to keep reading to find out what would happen next. And what happened next was never predictable, as I’ve come to expect from Murakami. This book had some other standard Murakami fare: cats, the importance of shadows, quirky characters, and a blurring between reality and fantasy, which seems to reflect Murakami’s thoughts on writing:
“For me, writing a novel is like having a dream. Writing a novel lets me intentionally dream while I’m still awake. I can continue yesterday’s dream today, something you can’t normally do in everyday life. It’s also a way of descending deep into my own consciousness. So while I see it as dreamlike, it’s not fantasy. For me the dreamlike is very real.”
His simple prose makes it highly readable and even though some things are never fully explained and remain unclear at the end of the novel, it’s an enjoyable, compelling read. One that certainly deserves a second reading someday. (4.5/5)
Murakami himself had this to say when asked the meaning of the book:
"Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren't any solutions provided. Instead, several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It's hard to explain, but that's the kind of novel I set out to write."
Excerpts from the book, an interview with Murakami about Kafka on the Shore and information on his other works can be found here.

Cross-posted on my blog.
WINNER Printz Award 2005, Orange Prize for New Writers NOMINEE 2005

“Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen–year–old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

It’s been quite a few days since I finished reading this and I’m still not entirely sure what my final thoughts on it are. Some parts felt unnecessary, others not fleshed out enough. Daisy was a strong character though, and even when her teen-speak and attitude annoyed me slightly, it always felt authentic (I can only assume, not being around any English-speaking teenagers these days). But somehow the war, which affects all their lives so profoundly, didn’t seem realistic, perhaps because the details were so vague or only alluded to. I suppose it really was mainly Daisy’s story of growing up during a difficult time. I did enjoy the book while I was reading it, especially the part with Daisy and Piper, but overall I don’t think it’ll stay with me. Still it was worth reading and I’d certainly try something else by Meg Rosoff sometime. (3/5)

Cross-posted on my blog.
Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Novel, 2004
Two little girls banished from a neighbourhood birthday party take a wrong turn down an unfamiliar Baltimore street – and encounter an abandoned stroller with an infant inside. What happens next is shocking and terrible, and three families are irreparably destroyed.

Seven years later, Alice Manning and Ronnie Fuller, now eighteen, are released from “kid prison” to begin their lives over again. But the secrets swirling around the original crime continue to haunt the parents, the lawyers, the police – all the adults in Alice and Ronnie’s lives. And now another child has disappeared, under freakishly similar circumstances…
Another book that started out well but lost momentum along the way, for me at least. The narration is shared by several of the characters and I thought Lippman did a great job of keeping me sympathetic but slightly suspicious of all of them. It was clear that everyone had secrets they were hiding. The ending wasn’t particularly surprising though and the pace, especially toward the end, was just too slow to be suspenseful. As a psychological drama it wasn’t too bad but I don’t think it lives up to it’s billing on the cover as “a novel of suspense”. Overall it was OK but not the page-turner that I’d been hoping for. (3/5)

Cross-posted on my blog.
WINNER - Agatha Award for Best Novel, 2004

I was in the mood for a light mystery and this fit my mood perfectly. I enjoyed following along as Maisie searched for answers, even when she was a bit of a know-it-all, as well as catching up with several of the other characters that were introduced in the first book. I found the mystery aspect a bit more satisfying this time, and as in the previous book, I really enjoyed the setting and details of the time period. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series, I’m guessing sooner rather than later. (4/5)

Cross-posted on my blog.
WINNER of the Pulitzer Prize 2007

I have to admit that I wasn’t terribly interested in reading this when I first heard about it. A post-apocalyptic survival story that sounded so bleak. I’ve had mixed results with the dystopian books I’ve read although it is true that I usually appreciate the ideas behind them even when I don’t particularly care for the writing itself, like Nineteen Eighty-Four or Fahrenheit 451. Well The Road certainly surprised me and exceeded my expectations. Bleak, definitely, and harsh, and depressing, but it was also moving, and compelling, set in a vivid landscape. In its own way it was a page turner.

Many people have commented on and complained about the missing quotation marks and apostrophes in the negative contractions, like dont or wont, instead of don’t or won’t etc. I noticed but it didn’t bother me at all. The lack of punctuation and McCarthy’s sparse, stark prose really added to the atmosphere created by the story, cutting to the heart of the characters and the terrible journey they are on. It’s amazing sometimes just how much can be said without saying much at all. But at the same time he had me reaching for the dictionary at times.
Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence. (p. 274)
Beautifully-written, it’s the kind of book that deserves to be read more than once. This was also my first time to read anything by McCarthy but I’m now very interested in reading more by him. (4.5/5)

Cross-posted on my blog.
WINNER - Newbery Medal, 2005
Glittering. That’s how Katie Takeshima’s sister Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason. And so are people’s eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it’s Lynn who explains to her why people stop them on the street to stare. And it’s Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow. But when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering – kira-kira – in the future.
It was a moving story and I enjoyed hearing it through the voice of young Katie. It might not be full of action but it kept me turning the pages, wanting to read on about the family’s problems and how they coped with them. I came to care about the family, especially the sisters, and wanted to see how things turned out. I suppose because it was about a Japanese family, it also reminded me a little bit of Obasan by Joy Kogawa.

When I was a child, I didn’t even know about the internment of Japanese, or other “enemy aliens” in the history of Canada or the US. If these kinds of books were available then, I certainly wasn’t aware of them. Even though Kira-Kira isn’t an internment story itself, taking place after WWII in the 1950s, it does deal with the difficult life the Japanese immigrants had to endure because of racism and discrimination. So I think it’s great that Kadohata has written this specifically as a children’s story. I’m sure there are some adults too who could use a lesson in tolerance but that’s another issue. Overall it was an engaging story on a topic that many people like not to think about. (4/5)

Cross-posted on my blog.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road
Cormac McCarthy

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

You forget some things, dont you?

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

I'll be frank and say that the reason I wanted to read this in the first place is that Viggo Mortensen is playing the role of the man traveling the road with his son. I mean, when I heard that Viggo signed on I immediately wished for a copy of the book. Not that wishes do come true (but in this case it does, I had to pay for my copy though) and by the time I got around to this one I already read No Country for Old Men and was blown by it (not to mention the movie version).

That is a pretty long paragraph to say that my prime motivating factor in buying this was an actor who played Aragorn in Peter Jackson's version of Lord of the Rings. Enough said. Let me discuss the book.

It's sometime in the future and two people are walking down the road. A future that is bleak, post-apocalyptic. A man and his son traverse scorched plains searching for food to keep them alive. Along the way they see remnants of things past: the houses left behind, the dessicated corpses of those who didn't survive what - a bomb, an explosion - who knows exactly, it was never mentioned. But we are left with the man and his son. Both unnamed. Both trying to survive. And there are others like them; searching for salvation or god knows what, desperate for food and companionship. Or just plain desperate.

It's a future as cold as that coldblooded killer named Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Again, McCarthy manages to disturb me not just of images of a future that is dark yet all too real but of thoughts and feelings that are all too relevant now. My heart races at the thought of some of the survivors killing each other and yet, desperation is indeed a motive. Some scenes are too gruesome to mention even but like I said, everything that McCarthy conjures in this powerful story is relevant in the here and now. It is a bleak future but it is also a part of who we are as people, who we can be when the going gets tougher and tougher each day.

But above the seeming darkness there is still love. And hope. The love shown by the father to the son, relentlessly rallying the boy to survive amidst the desolation of winter with nothing but the clothes on their back and hardly any food to eat. There's hope in a handful of apples found along the way, the scent of which brings back memories of a not so distant past of warmth and laughter. Still, the love is shared only by the two of them, and hope like the apple comes and goes.

In a world where rules don't apply what separates men from beasts? Good from evil? Is survival reason enough to forget one's humanity? These aren't the only questions I asked myself. And there are times I had to put it down because the image in my head gets too disturbing, afraid that if I think of them at all then it becomes all to real. But the image is still there, as gruesome as the future painted by the author.

I was actually reminded of a conversation between Kaylee and Simon in Joss Whedon's short-running Firefly series. In an episode, Kaylee was practically telling the young doctor that out there in the black, in that wide expanse of the universe where the ship Serenity sails looking for business, good manners don't matter. Something that Simon objected to; to him manners become all the more important. Something to that effect.

Of course McCarthy somehow made that entire conversation all the more serious and disturbing in this story which practically deals with the same thing. Yeah. Manners. Morals actually. How you deal with yourself when you're trying to survive. How you deal with others who aren't on the same page as you. How you deal, period.

Read this. You should.

This is my last book for the first Book Award Reading Challenge. The Road won both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007 and the James Tait Black Memorial Award in 2006.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

2002 Man Booker Prize

Life of Pi is a charming story about survival and finding God where ever you are. Pi has survived a sinking ship and winds up on a lifeboat with a tiger. More on my blog. A really fun and thoughtful book.

Anil's Ghost review by Athena

A Giller Prize and Governor General's Award winner, Michael Ondaatje weaves a story about Anil Tissera, a Sri Lankan who has studied and relocated abroad, returns to her native country as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international organisation on a human rights investigation amidst the violent civil conflict. She becomes embroiled in the unsafe political climate, trying to solve the mystery of a skeleton while rediscovering her personal history.

Many years ago, I read The English Patient. While I found the prose very nice at times, I did not feel for any of the characters or were particularly enchanted or engaged with them or the story. Like in TEP, Ondaatje shifts between narratives, flashbacks and perspectives in this book. It is his trademark non-linear prose style. Scenes are revisited more than once and dispensed later as if in memory of conversations past. Going forwards and backwards like short stories or vignettes in the novel. People in or affected by conflict seems to be a theme of his, such as World War II in TEP or the Sri Lanka civil conflict in this novel. The internal emotional life and identity affected by the external, violent conflicts, and there are many strangers amidst the confusion. I have noticed also that both books include people who have extramarital affairs and lost loves.

Sometimes I felt I was watching the characters through a screen or a gauze. I saw them move, but I couldn't quite get the feel of them or who they were. There were a few moments, I liked, but overall, I still have not warmed to Ondaatje's style. He introduced too many characters, and the plot suffers as a result. Being a character novel would be fine, but I was apathetic towards most of the characters. The book was slow even if it did not take me long to read. I think the book has some interesting themes, but falls short in pacing, plot and certain characterizations.

Crossposted from Aquatique.net

Now in November by Joesphine Johnson, 1935

This story reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It is a very bleak story of burden, desperation and tragedy, woven with a thread of hope, of a farming family in the dustbowl days of the Great Depression. Marget tells the story of her two sisters, Kerrin and Merle, and her parents, and the farm-hand, Grant in a ten-year span starting in her early teen years. Battling debts, drought, unrequited love among other challenges over this time period, the characters never prevail but never completely lose their sense of hope. A raw and gritty novel that deserves a read.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking
Joan Didion

I've read this book sometime last year. I have to admit it took a long time for me to read for personal reasons. For one thing it was a book given by a friend a couple or so weeks after my mom passed on. I tried reading it a couple of months after the fact and gave up. Then there's the part where I can't seem to read anymore because my eyes almost always fill with tears and I just had to close the book and think happy thoughts. Ok, that didn't sound right.

But the initial difficulty passed as did time. Maybe sadness and grief work that way. Maybe I was still in denial, in my own state of magical thinking. When I picked the book up again last year, more than a year after I received it in the mail, I was ready. Still hurting but ready nonetheless.

Didion's book is an account of the twelve-month period after her husband, John Dunne, died of a massive heart attack. At the time of his death their daughter, Quintana Roo, was sick and admitted to another hospital for septic shock. And while the book covers the process of grieving, it basically embraces the power of marriage and family, and eventually the notions of the one left behind, as in this case the widow Joan.
This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that ut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.

There is clarity in her perceptions that those who have lost someone can relate with. Maybe that's why I cried while reading. Or at times I just had to stop.
Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.

And while there is clarity, there is also a sense of repetition which is understandable. This is magical thinking after all.
Survivors look back and see omens, messages they missed.

They remember the tree that died, the gull that splattered onto the hood of the car.

They live by symbols. They read meaning into the barrage of spam on the unused computer, the delete key that stops working, the imagined abandonment in the decision to replace it. The voice in my answering machine is still John's. The fact that it was his in the first place was arbitrary, having to do with who was around on the day the answering machine last needed programming, but if I need to retape it now I would do so with a sense of betrayal.

Didion gives a voice or an echo of what's it like to lose someone. A voice for those of us who can't find it yet, for those who stammer and mumble incoherently, for those who want to get out of that state of denial because there is plenty here, and plenty more room for thoughts of moving on and remembering well.

But for others whose grief are unfathomable, this is just an echo because theirs that can never be defined. They can never be assuaged by thoughts that others have felt that same hollow feeling inside. And I can understand that.

It took me more than a year to finally read the book and a handful of months to finally post about it. I'm just glad I did both: read and finally post about it.

This is technically speaking the second (or third) book I read (I'm not really sure) for the Book Awards Reading Challenge but obviously I only posted about it now. But this would count as my eleventh book in all. The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award in 2005 for nonfiction.

Gilead review by Athena

This Pulitizer prize winning book by Marilynne Robinson is the definition of modern literary novels. The novel does not have much in the way of plot. It is an epistolary novel of an old man writing for his very young son about his life. It is extremely introspective and beautifully written. I do not think it is for everyone, but I could relate to it because I am like the character and the style. It is not to say that I think as the character does all the time, but I certainly do understand why they mean with lines such as this:
I don't know why solitude would be a balm for loneliness, but that is how it always was for me in those days, (p 18-9 hardcover)

It is the kind of book I can see myself rereading because it reminds me of so many things of myself and my inner world. It is introspective and reflective, spiritual and pensive:
Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes. And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing. But that cannot be true. I can't believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great substance of human life. (104)

Such passages like this are why I would not recommend it to everyone. It took me awhile to read this book because I knew how reflective of myself it was, and how moody I was to avoid such deep thoughts. Many people, even bibliophiles would not necessarily enjoy this book. It is not everyone's cup of tea especially since it does talk of faith and God, but not necessarily in an obtrusive way. I think it would vary for each individual's faith. Here a particularly spiritual passage:
Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it? I suppose Calvin's God was a Frenchman, just as mine is a Middle Westerner of New England extraction. Well we all bring such light to bear these great matters as we can. I do like Calvin's image, though, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us. I believe we think about that far too little. It would be a way into understanding essential things, since presumably the world exists for God's enjoyment, no in any simple sense, of course, but as you enjoy the being of a child even when he is in every way a thorn in your heart. (124-5)

I have quoted from the book so much in this review because I really love and can relate to the words, prose, and style so much. The tone is like my own when I write in my journal, but obviously not as well written. I think there a few people who can appreciate such a work, but they truly will if they read it. It's not for everyone, and I am one of those reviewers who ultimately review for myself so I would not recommend it at all if you do not think you can enjoy an introvert's novel. I do want to reread this again which says enough about how much I like this book.

Here are some more exerpts:
When I'm up here in my study with the radio on and some old book in my hands and it's nighttime and the wind blows and the house creaks, I forget where I am, and it's as thought I'm back in the hard times for a minute or two, and there's a sweetness in the experience I don't understand. But that only enhances the value of it. My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature. (95)

Remembering when they said what they did about looking in windows and wondering about other people's lives made me feel companionable with them. I could have said that's three of us, because as the Lord knows, for many years I did exactly the same thing. (202)

Oh!, I will miss the world! (115)

Crossposted from Aquatique,net

Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes, 1931

This is a beautiful, charming novel well-deserving of its Pulitzer award for 1931.

Jane Ward is a young girl at the turn of the 20th century in upper class Chicago. She falls in love at the tender age of 19 with Andre, the artist, marries Stephen, the sensible provider, and later contemplates a life with Jimmy, the musician, but stays with her husband, Stephen. Jane's journey through life is a story about the path not taken. Her children, in contrast, take those paths not taken much to her surprise and disappointment. At times, the story plods a bit, but it's in step with Jane's life which she sees as dull a times, but this only further illustrating the novel's themes which were heavily influenced by the demise of the Victorian era.

If you can find this book, read it!
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Scott O'Dell

Remember the news about the photographed uncontacted Amazon tribe a couple or so weeks ago? I was reminded of that while reading this story about Karana, the girl left behind on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Although the tribe called Ghalas-at where Karana belongs wasn't exactly uncontacted, they basically live peacefully in a contained environment within the island. That is until the Aleuts came hunting for otters and then eventually caused the massacre of most of the tribesmen of Ghalas-at.

After the massacre, another ship bearing friendly men offering to rescue the tribe off the island came and took the surviving members into another ship. Karana, also known as Wonapalei or The Girl with the Long Black Hair jumped off the ship in order to be with her brother Ramo who failed to make it to the ship on time. The ship didn't come back for them because of the rough seas. And for sometime the two siblings hope that it would eventually, to no avail.

Some shocking events led to the death of Ramo and Karana was eventually left alone to fend off for herself for around eighteen years on the island. Those years form the meat of the story; how Karana pulls off the feat, living alone, living under fear of the Aleuts who eventually came back to hunt more otters, and then living well without any other human on the island.

What intrigued me is the fact that this story is based on a real-life account of a woman only referred to as The Lost Woman of San Nicolas. Scott O'Dell imagined the life she learned to live while left alone in the island. And what a life that is!

It brings to mind that Tom Hanks movie Castaway. At least that part where she searches for caves and eventually builds a place for her to live. The book is written from Karana's point of view and most of it is limited to survival at the start and eventually how to live. Obviously she is a strong woman to make it on her own. But the book rarely deals with her feelings of loneliness until the time that the Aleuts left the second time. Maybe because her tribe taught her to be tough. Maybe her culture taught her not to wallow. But she sure had a lot of resolve to stay alive and live with the challenges of having wild dogs, of foxes, of not having anyone to talk with on the island and yet she never appeared depressed. Oh gee, maybe it's because I'm so used to reading books that deal with depressive feelings that I look for it in everything I read! Kidding.

Karana is indeed admirable in that way. I can see this book as required reading for young children because of the lessons one can learn from Karana's strength, her change of perspectives after living alone for years, and her eventual longing for human company in the end.

One teeny tiny point is that Karana's memory, or that of the author failed her at one point at came up with the name Kimko who was never mentioned from the beginning and she must have confused it with Nanko, the guy her sister Ulape loves, and the chief Kimki who left the island in search for other safe islands earlier on. Again, no spoiler there. I just have spurts of attention to details thing that gets to me so when a name comes up that wasn't even mentioned before I blame the editor for failing to notice it even.

Then again, maybe it is indeed Karana's memory failing her eventually.

Other than that it's just an ok read. It's quite easy to read. Enough to pass the time while waiting in line for something and it's ten or so pages short of 200 pages. But my heart never raced that much for Karana; maybe because I sensed early on her strength and resolve, that she would be able to tackle everything that's thrown her way. And after reading the final few pages I was right.

This is my tenth book for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. The Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Award in 1961.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber
Angela Carter

Metaphors make the world vibrant. Words come alive when a writer deftly adds them in the mix, subtly or otherwise, and somehow brings a story to life. I love metaphors. I am awed by authors who uses them well. Angela Carter is one of them.
His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.

Gee, that image will probably stay in my head for the better part of the week!

There are as many ways to rewrite beloved fairy tales as the number of angels standing on top of a pin. Did that make sense? But in that varied ideas of retelling, there's always the comparison with the known tale, justified or otherwise. So it takes a master manipulator to stretch well-known tales of old into something new, something different, something sexy, something scary and yet something truly original just the same. This is what The Bloody Chamber is all about. It's reading fairy tales in a new light.

Composed of ten renarrated stories in all, the venerable Ms. Carter managed to play with the tales and make them fit our adult mind. Not that fairy tales are meant exclusively for children, no. What I mean here is that she writes the tales with the adults in mind. I mean gee, you wouldn't exactly be reading this paragraph to your very young children, would you?
Then he kissed me. And with, this time, no reticence. He kissed me and laid his hand imperatively upon my breast, beneath the sheath of ancient lace. I stumbled on the winding stair that led to the bedroom, to the carved, gilded bed on which he had been conceived. I stammered foolishly: We've not taken luncheon yet; and, besides, it is broad daylight...

All the better to see you.

He made me put on my choker, the family heirloom of one woman who had escaped the blade. With trembling fingers, I fastened the thing about my neck. It was cold as ice and chilled me. He twined my hair into a rope and lifted it off my shoulders so that he could the better kiss the downy furrows below my ears; that made me shudder. And he kissed those blazing rubies, too. He kissed them before he kissed my mouth. Rapt, he intoned:' Of her apparel she retains/Only her sonorous jewellery.'

A dozen husbands impaled a dozen brides while the mewing gulls swung on invisible trapezes in the empty air outside.

To think that's not exactly the most graphic of descriptions there is in the entire book. Believe me when I say there are lots of them.

The ten stories include The Bloody Chamber, an adaptation of Bluebeard. Two takes on Beauty and the Beasts titled The Courtship of Mr. Lyon and The Tiger's Bride. Puss-in-Boots is based on Puss in Boots, hahaha. I have no idea where The Erl King is based. Sorry. The Snow Child is based on Snow White. In The Lady of the House of Love, the lead female sleeps during the day so more or less this is akin to Sleeping Beauty, as there is also a mention of that tale in this story. Two stories based on The Little Red Riding Hood titled The Werewolf, and The Company of Wolves. I also don't know where Wolf-Alice is based on. Hahaha. My apologies.

But more than the ever present theme of woman's sexuality, the tales are practically meant for the lover of fairy tales of old and seeing the other side to it. In The Bloody Chamber, there is that mother-daughter bond highlighted by Carter. In The Lady of the House of Love, the Countess defies the role left for her to play by her ancestors of old. Women as property in both The Tiger's Bride and Puss-in-Boots. Both pureness and corruption are prevalent in the stories with wolves.

But there are conventional tales as well. The Courtship of Mr. Lyon is practically a rewriting of Beauty and the Beast down to the last scene. There is a damsel in distress rescued by a dashing debonair in Puss-in-Boots.

I'm just rambling. This is a book that shouldn't be missed by those who adore fairy tales to bits.

It's dark, it's delightful, and it can be read in one sitting or savoured one story at a time. But this I guarantee; there is power in Ms. Carter's words, power that make you see these old tales differently. As powerful as her description of that choker of rubies that is "bright as arterial blood."

I mean gee, that's ultimate coolness. Writing a fairy tale and using the words arterial blood in it as a description forebodes darkness and everything else that could happen in it.

This is my ninth book for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This won the Cheltenham Festival of Literature Award in 1979.

The Undertaker's Wife

Last month, I read The Undertaker's Wife, by Loren D. Estleman. It was the winner of the 2006 Spur Award, and I really enjoyed reading it. I originally chose it, because I thought it would be different than most of the other things I had decided to read for this challenge, and it was! The writing was evocative and still accessible, and - at least for me - the story never dragged.

I have written more about it here, if you are interested.

Beloved from Kimmie

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Pulitzer Prize 1988

Suggested by the life of Margaret Gardner Beloved is the story of a woman determined to deep her children out of slavery. There's a little more on my blog. I like the book, but I wasn't as moved by it. Perhaps because of the story of Garner
Synopsis from Barnes & Noble:

"Ralph Elllison's Invisible Man is a monumental novel, one that can well be called an epic of modern American Negro life. It is a strange story, in which many extraordinary things happen, some of them shocking and brutal, some of them pitiful and touching—yet always with elements of comedy and irony and burlesque that appear in unexpected places. It is a book that has a great deal to say and which is destined to have a great deal said about it.

After a brief prologue, the story begins with a terrifying experience of the hero's high school days, moves quickly to the campus of a Southern Negro college and then to New York's Harlem, where most of the action takes place. The many people that the hero meets in the course of his wanderings are remarkably various, complex and significant. With them he becomes involved in an amazing series of adventures, in which he is sometimes befriended but more often deceived and betrayed—as much by himself and his own illusions as by the duplicity of the blindness of others."

This novel has received praise from all quarters ever since its original publication, and in my opinion every bit of praise is well-deserved. This is a magnificent book. Mr. Ellison is able to make you connect with the main character in a way that few authors can. It's not an easy read, but then I'm sure it wasn't meant to be. And by not easy, I don't mean the writing style -- the book flows and moves incredibly quickly -- but rather the subject matter. Often, an author can only shake us out of our comfort zone by showing us how brutal and ugly life can truly be. And there's no doubt that, no matter how advanced and "civilized" our society is, there continues to be discrimination of all types. As a white woman, I'm sure that I will never truly understand what it feels like to be a minority in our society, but this book moved me just a little bit closer and for that, Mr. Ellison deserves and receives my gratitude.

The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson, 1924

The McLaughlins are a large, Scottish immigrant farming family in Iowa. Wully, recently home from the Civil War, falls in love with Chirstie who is pregnant with another man's child. The "scandalous" plot is not particularly compelling and there is an anti-climactic portion that drags without satisfactory resolution which may explain why no movie came from it. An easy read but one of the more forgettable Pulitzers, sorry to say.