September/October '08 Reviews

1. Tricia (The Road Home)
2. Jill (Possession)
3. tanabata (Maus I & II)
4. Joy (Last Days of Summer)
5. Juliann (The Optimist\'s Daughter)
6. Mrs. V (The Invention of Hugo Cabret)
7. Teresa (The Lost Dog)
8. Joy (Murphy\'s Law)
9. Teresa (The Omnivore\'s Dilemma)
10. raidergirl3(Last Orders)
11. raidergirl3(The View from Saturday)
12. Mrs. V (Princess Academy)
13. Connie (The Tale of Despereaux)
14. Joy (Year of Wonders)
15. Joy (The Chatham School Affair)
16. Rebecca/The Book Lady (Interpreter of Maladies)
17. Robin (Varjak Paw)
18. Joy (The God of Animals)
19. Sanddancer (The Sea)
20. Joy (Runaway)
21. Sanddancer (Last Orders)
22. Sanddancer (The Gathering)
23. Christine (Alias Grace)
24. Jill (The Road Home)
25. Jaime (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)
26. Jessica (American Gods)
27. Jessica (American Gods)
28. RedHeadRamble(A Farewell to Arms)
29. Jessica (The Accidental)
30. Jill (Heart-Shaped Box)
31. Teresa (The Daughter of Time)
32. Teresa (Persepolis)
33. Alice (Wild Swans)
34. The End of the Alphabet (Nely)
35. tanabata (Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino)
36. Rebecca @ The Book Lady\'s Blog (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Tim
37. Nely (The Gathering)
38. Lauren (My Sister\'s Keeper)
39. Lauren (Water for Elephants)
40. Jessica (Watchmen)
41. Jessica (Kafka on the Shore)
42. Sanddancer (Boy A)
43. Tricia (Ender\'s Game)
44. LizzySiddal (Late Nights on Air)
45. LizzySiddal (Catholics)
46. LizzySiddal (Helpless)
47. LizzySiddal (The White Tiger)
48. Tiny Librarian (On Beauty)
49. Tiny Librarian (Murder With Peacocks)
50. Teddy (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao )
51. teddy (Snow Falling on Cedars)
52. sheri
53. The Tenderness of Wolves (lesley)
54. The Giver (lesley)

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Stardust - Neil Gaiman

Tristran Thorn lives in Wall and is in love with the beautiful Victoria Forester. She says she will give him whatever he wants if he brings backthe star that has just fallen from the sky. To retrieve the star is no easy natter however. First he has to cross the Wall into the unknown magical realm beyond. Turns out the star is a woman who does not want to be given to some random lady as a token of Tristran's love.

Also after the star is a wicked witch who wants to cut out her heart to share with her sisters to regain their youth. There are also two remaining princes who need the necklace she wears to prove they are the next King of the realm. Secrets are revealed about Tristram's past and a true adventure is underway where Tristram discovers way more than he bargained for.

A brilliant story that was adapted well into a film of the same name. The book had a different ending albeit getting to the same point as the film and I enjoyed both versions. One of my favourite Gaiman novels so far, I look forward to seeing what he writes next.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Vivid and Beautiful

The year is 1954 and Kabuo Miyamoto a Japanese American fisherman is standing trial for murder in small town in Puget Sound Washington. Up until World War II, his family was growing strawberries and making payments towards owning the land they lived and worked on. With the onset so the war left for the land, they were sent away to a Japanese internment camp. After the war ended they came back to Puget Sound only to find the land that they had struggled for was sold.

The narrator of the story was the journalist covering the trial, Ishmael Chambers. As a child, he played with and later fell in love with Hatsue. When she was sent to the Japanese internment camp with her family, she sent Ishmael a "Dear John" letter. When she returned to Puget Sound, she was married to Kabuo Miyamoto.

Ishmael never stopped loving Hatsue and may be the only one to be able to uncover the truth and set Kabuo free. Will he let his feelings get in the way of doing the right thing? My lips are sealed.

This is a book of love, friendship, betrayal, honor, tradition, and racism. David’s Guterson’s characters ring true to me. His writing flows beautifully as he peels away the layers of the town and it’s inhabitants. This is a fast reading book that I didn’t want to put down. I highly recommend it!


Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

by Patrick Süskind
Translated from the German by John E. Woods
Winner of the World Fantasy Award, 1987
Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in Paris. Yet there is one odour he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill...
I can’t quite put my finger on it but something kept me from really loving this story. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but I think I expected something more. Too high expectations perhaps? The translation? Actually I loved the beginning, when the story took place in Paris, but once Grenouille left Paris, I lost a bit of momentum in reading and never really got it back.
Grenouille was an interesting character though. He’s despicable and selfish and egotistical but there were the odd moments I almost felt sympathy toward him. I’m not sure I ever really got to know him or any of the other characters although maybe that's the point since for him everything and everyone is defined purely by scent of the lack thereof.
Every human being smelled differently, no one knew that better than Grenouille, who recognized thousands upon thousands of individual odours and could sniff out the difference of each human being from birth on. And yet – there was a basic perfumatory theme to the odour of humanity, a rather simple one, incidentally: a sweaty-oily, sour-cheesy, quite richly repulsive basic theme that clung to all humans equally and above which each individual’s aura hovered only as a small cloud of more refined particularity. (p. 154)
Some of the descriptions about perfumery were quite fascinating. I’d never given much thought to the process of extracting the basic scents before so that part of the story was interesting. Overall, it’s a great concept that just didn’t completely grab me. I’m looking forward to finally watching the movie though and seeing how it compares to the book. (My Rating: 3.5/5)

Read an extract here.
*originally posted at In Spring it is the Dawn

Laura's Review - Kaddish for a Child not Born

Kaddish for a Child not Born
Imre Kertesz
95 pages

I lived in such a way that the Germans might return at any time; thus I didn't quite live. (p. 45)

This book is a holocaust survivor's first-person narrative exploring the impact of imprisonment at Auschwitz on his adult life.
Then she asked me whether I suffered or perhaps even still suffer from my Jewishness aside from what I had to suffer in the past. I answered ... that I have carried this sin as my sin even though I have never committed it. (p. 56)

As the title indicates, the narrator is mourning the child he never had. His marriage fell apart after he emphatically refused to have children: No -- it should never happen to another child, what happened to me: my childhood. (p. 71)

This is a short book written in a free-form style, and yet was not an easy read. It is probably best read in small pieces and then digested through contemplation. I was not in the mood for this kind of book and probably should have set it aside. Nonetheless, I could see that, if read with proper attention, it could be a quite powerful book. ( )

My original review can be found here.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Tammy's review

Title: The Grapes of Wrath

Author: John Steinbeck

First Published: 1939

No. of Pages: 464

Synopsis (from B&N): Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots, Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity.

Comments and Critique: John Steinbeck was a master storyteller. He had the ability to get you interested in the story and to hold your interest for page after page. The story of the Joads is heartbreaking but at the same time shows mankind’s strength of character in the face of overwhelming odds, especially in the character of Ma Joad. Without doubt, she was my favorite – she showed resilience through poverty, hunger, and death, all the while presenting a brave face to the outside world and trying everything she could to keep her family together.

It’s always been difficult for me to imagine what it was truly like to live through the Great Depression. The only family I have that was alive then is my grandmother. She’s told me a little about her life growing up on a central Florida farm as the 2nd oldest of 8 children, but has never wanted to talk much in detail about the experience. I’ve noticed that many elderly people do that, they either don't discuss it or they downplay the hardships that you know they suffered, often with the comment that, “We didn’t have much, but then neither did anyone else.” It’s almost like it wasn’t as bad because so many were suffering right alongside. That was also a theme in this book. Steinbeck really focused on the interaction of the migrants and showed how they looked out for one another, shared their food and lodgings, and provided moral support.

My copy of the book has extensive commentary, which provides a good look at the historical and social context of the story. My next step is to watch the movie version, which I’ve always heard is excellent, and see how it compares to the book.

Interesting facts:: John Steinbeck lived with an Oklahoma family and travelled with them to California as research for this book. The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940. John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes


This 1990 Booker Prize winner was second only to LOTR on the poll of what books I should take. It seemed to be popular with the visitors and I can understand why. I read this during my unfortunate delay before departure. It was absorbing and while a bit lengthy at over 500 paperback pages, enjoyable. It is complex, literary, stylistically varied, and meta. There are various writing styles employed from poetry, critical academia, memoir writing, fairytales, to epistolary writing. While I found the ending just a tad too maudlin and the modern characters Maud and Roland not as well drawn out as Ash and Christabel, I liked the book overall. Byatt obviously took care in tracing the mystery aspect, and it is certainly not a conventional romance (or romances). It has many themes and interesting implements. It has academics writing not about poets, but also other academics. There's a definite sense of meta literary and commentary beneath the surface. The idea of not only romantic possession, but that which possesses us from the long gone writers. It reminds me of Shakespeare academia and the sheer obsession academics have about him whoever he may be. Just a little thing could just how history views people and how we are enthralled, or "possessed" with the dead and ideas from and of them. I am glad to own this novel as I find that it will be immensely rereadable.

Crossposted from

The Secret River by Kate Grenville (Jill)

The Secret River
By Kate Grenville
Completed October 19, 2008

The Secret River by Kate Grenville, for me, was a meandering story, winding its way slowly but steadily into a tale of sad success. Will Thornhill, convicted for stealing in England, was sent to Australia with his wife and children to serve out his sentence. Will was a river man and saw the openness of Australia as a way to make a good living –a place where he can be free in every sense of the word.

After serving his sentence, Will claimed 100 acres and settled his family along a riverbank occupied by fellow Brits and (understandably) inhospitable natives. His wife, Sal, a strong-willed, sensible woman agreed to this settlement with a promise that they would return to London in five years. But in Will’s heart, he knew that his 100 acres was the only way to carve a living that would provide for his family without the English societal restraints.

Grenville’s account of the struggles between the colonists and aboriginal people was eye-opening and compelling. In a modern context, we know what happened of this struggle, but it was mesmerizing and suspenseful to see this story play out in an early 19th century setting.

Grenville has an easy writing style and her ability to draw her characters is superb. My only complaint about The Secret River was that it started too slowly for me. I say this with a grain of salt – there was a lot going on in my life when I started this book, which may have ruined my focus. For me, the second half of the book, when Will and his family settled on to their land, was exhilarating and gripping. The ending left me with a sense of sadness that reminded me that colonialism and the greed of a country can leave people heart-broken, even if they seem successful on paper.

This is my first Kate Grenville book but certainly not my last. I would recommend The Secret River to readers who enjoy quality literary and historical fiction. ( )

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese
Gene Luen Yang

Three seemingly different threads of stories actually comprise a whole, only it doesn't look that way at first.

It starts with a folk tale from China called the Monkey King. Aah, the Monkey King. I remember watching a movie or something once starring Thomas Gibson titled The Monkey King. I don't remember much except that it starred Thomas Gibson. And the costumes. Or that some people were in costumes. Darn. But I digress. I'm not familiar with the story of The Monkey King but in this graphic novel it seems we meet him at the start of the tale.

It shifts to the States where Jin Wang, a son of two Chinese nationals who emigrated there, just transferred to a school where he is the only student of Chinese-descent. That until he meets Wei-Chen from Taiwan.

Then there's the panels where it seems we are watching a situational comedy with a Chinese relative visiting an all-American boy named Danny, making the latter totally ashamed.

The three threads somehow make one beautiful pattern in the end which obviously I won't spoil for you. The story is not titled American Born Chinese just because, right?

It's basically a story about fitting in; the Monkey King not wanting to admit he's a monkey but a god, Jin Wang is an American-born Chinese trying to fit in to his new school and his only friend is an immigrant from Taiwan named Wei-Chen, and the Danny thread with his shamefaced thoughts of having his Chinese relative spoil his perfect, all-American life.

Fitting in is difficult everywhere, more so when one reaches adolescence. You don't have to be an immigrant or descended from an immigrant to know that. But it gets more difficult if you try to fit in with a different culture, with a different set of values and this is apparent in Jin Wang's case. There are and always will be stereotypes no matter how much we all try to steer clear from them.

Lovely way to bring all the tension and difficulties of growing up Chinese-American in the States without losing the Chinese identity behind.

This book won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2007.

The Secret River - Wendy's Review

They call this Broken Bay, Blackwood said. River comes in yonder. He pointed ahead, where Thornhill could see only confusing stretches of water and thickly forested headlands. Best hidden river in the world, Blackwood said with satisfaction. Never find your way in nor you’d been shown like I’m showing you.

Looking inland, where gusts of wind scraped at the water, Thornhill strained to find that secret river. -From The Secret River, page 100-

Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River was short listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Commonwealth Prize. Once you’ve read this harrowing and gorgeously constructed story, you will understand why.

Set in the early part of the nineteenth century, the novel tells the story of William Thornhill - a boy born into poverty along London’s Thames River who learns to steal early on to ensure his survival. Illiterate and quick to anger, William must learn to sustain himself in the face of hunger and cold. He finds his strength as a waterman, paddling hard against the unforgiving waters of the Thames, and turns away from towering spaces of Christ Church.

It was a place with no charity in its grey stones for a boy with the seat out of his britches.

He could not understand any of it, knew only that God was as foreign as a fish. -From The Secret River, page 10-

Then one day, Will gets caught stealing lumber. After a short trial, he is found guilty and sent to a penal colony (along with his young wife Sal and their infant son) in New South Wales. This new land is as beautiful as it is foreign.

For every one of the years of his life, this bay had been here, filling its shape in the land. He had laboured like a mole, head down, in the darkness and dirt of London, and all the time this tree shifting its leathery leaves above him had been quietly breathing, quietly growing. -From The Secret River, page 80-

For William, the vast and unsettled landscape of New South Wales becomes a place where he believes his dreams may grow.

A chaos opened up inside of him, a confusion of wanting. No one had ever spoken to him of how a man might fall in love with a piece of ground. No one had ever spoken of how there could be this teasing sparkle and dance of light among the trees, this calm clean space that invited feet to enter it. -From The Secret River, page 106-

As Will and his ever increasing family begin to scrape out a space of their own along the secret river, there seems to be only one thing standing between Will and his dreams: the native people.

Grenville shows the wide gap between English and Aboriginal cultures…and the tremendous misunderstanding fueled by an inability to adequately communicate. Her prose is magnificent as she describes the land of Australia and gradually builds the tension between the characters, before bringing the novel to its inevitable and devastating conclusion. I was completely absorbed by this historical piece of work which is evocative, poetic and pulsing with the life of a time far in the past. It is a novel which explores the moral wilderness of a man in parallel with the physical wilderness of a new country. It is a story about choices, dreams and sacrifice. A pioneer tale which translates well in today’s environment of cultural divides and racial differences, The Secret River is a must read.

Highly recommended.

Dominican Family Saga

"Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku - the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still waiting for his first kiss, is just its most recent victim."
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(Front flap)

I had some problems warming up to this book. It is not a cozy read. The book starts out telling us about Oscar and his childhood. We learn of his obsessions from a young age with science fiction, video games, and girls. I didn’t really warm up to him, yet I wanted him to succeed in life. I did get quite annoyed with his character at times as with the attitude of some of the other male characters especially. I’m not an old prude, honest, but do Dominican men have sex on the brain or is that just my female interpretation?

As the book progresses we learn about Oscar’s mother Beli and his grand parents coloured history in the Dominican Republic. We learn of the brutality that is brought about on their family and the many deaths. Beli must flee to the United States for fear of her life.

Diaz captures the economic, political and psychological Dominican history and we learn quite a bit about it here. I think this novel was worth the read just for that, but I did like other parts of the story as well. Was it worthy of winning the Pulitzer? I'll leave that up to you to decide for yourselves.

There are many Spanish words in the book with no definitions. Some can be figured out by the reader by the context, however, if you do decide to read it, I highly recommend that you have a Spanish-English dictionary nearby.


An Abundance of Katherines

Green, John. 2006. An Abundance of Katherines.

An Abundance of Katherines is about nothing and everything all at the same time. If it has a message at all, the message is that you write your own message, tell your own story. Our hero is recent high school graduate, Colin Singleton. And Singleton's problem is that he's single. He's got a long history of being the dumpee (as opposed to being the dumper). He's been dumped nineteen times--so he says--all by girls named Katherine. We first meet Colin after his nineteenth break-up.

Hassan is the best friend a half-Jewish boy could ever hope to have. (Did I mention he was Muslim?) He is Colin's sidekick. And their relationship--this friendship--is quite the motivating force behind the narrative. Two individuals who on their own might be a wee bit odd, but together they make a great team. A hilarious team. Colin is stuck within himself. As a person. He defines himself as the boy who's doomed to fall in love with Katherines and get dumped. That and he defines himself as a child prodigy (high I.Q) who's bound to grow up and NOT be a genuius, NOT matter. He defines himself as a failure. He hasn't found true love. He hasn't made a difference in the world. Half the time he doesn't even know if it's possible for his life to matter when it all comes down to it. He's stuck focusing on himself. All the time. Worrying about his future. Worrying about who's going to dump him next. Worrying if he's ever NOT going to be dumped.

Fortunately, Hassan wants Colin to get it. To learn that life is for living. So the two embark on a road trip. A road trip that soon takes an unexpected turn to an out-of-the-way town of Gutshot. There he meets Lindsay. A girl who while not a Katherine may just be the best thing that ever happened to him. Maybe. But first, he has to stop and ponder the meaning of the universe and write this unbelievably complex theorem on why his love life is so ridiculously awful.

First sentence: The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Bookawards II - Wendy's Challenge List

  1. Maus I and Maus II, by Art Spiegelman (1992 Pulitzer in Special Awards and Citations - Letters) - COMPLETED August 31, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  2. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century) - COMPLETED November 7, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  3. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson (Winner of the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2003 Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, AND 2007 IMPAC Dublin Award) - COMPLETED January 6, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review.
  4. The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (Winner of the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction) - COMPLETED January 16, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. The True History of the Kelly Gang, by Peter Carey (2001 Booker and 2001 Commonwealth Writers Prize)
  6. Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler (1989 Pulitzer)
  7. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya (1972 Premio Quinto Sol National Chicano Award)
  8. We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver (2005 Orange Prize)
  9. Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth (1992 Booker)
  10. The Known World, by Edward P. Jones (2005 IMPAC Dublin, 2003 National Book Critics Circle, 2004 Pulitzer)
  11. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett (2002 PEN/Faulkner)
  12. A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul (2001 Nobel Prize for Literature)
  13. The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize) - COMPLETED October 13, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  14. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon (2003 Costa Novel Award)
  15. Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain (1999 Whitbread/Costa Award) - COMPLETED October 9, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  16. The Collected Stories of William Faulkner, by William Faulkner (1951 National Book Award)
  17. The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker (1995 Booker Award) - COMPLETED December 25, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review.
  18. The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (2008 Booker Award) - COMPLETED January 3, 2009; rated 4/5; read my review.
He remembers now how his dreams for Frederiksborg preoccupied him. He remembers how, in a single night, he understood that the architecture must strive for order and unity, and proceed in a gradual way, like a piece of music, across the linked islands, towards a climactic structure, and how, at dawn, he woke his Dutch architect, Hans Steenwinckel, and showed him a flurry of drawings. “Hans,” he said, “we must respect what the land is telling us. The logical axis, the logical progression of the buildings, is towards the north, and so this is where the climax must arrive. This is the place that the King must occupy. Beyond it, there must be nothing else; only the light on the water, the diminuendo and then silence…” -From Music and Silence, page 259-

King Christian IV was the King of both Denmark and Norway from 1588 until his death in 1648. Known as a reformer, King Christian IV implemented a series of domestic reforms, built new fortresses, and initiated a policy of overseas trade during his nearly 60 years as Monarch. The year 1629 ushered in a period of financial distress, and domestic unhappiness when the King discovered his second wife - Kirsten Munk - was sustaining an extramarital affair with a German officer. King Christian IV ultimately expelled Kirsten from Copenhagen to live out her days in Jutland - the western, continental part of Denmark which separates the North Sea from the Kattegat and Baltic Sea.

It is this part of King Christian IV’s reign (1629 - 1630) which serves as the backdrop to Rose Tremain’s Whitbread/Costa Award winning novel Music and Silence. This lush story is told from multiple points of view. The manipulative and seductive Kirsten Munk is introduced through her journal entries.

Well, for my thirtieth birthday I have been given a new Looking glass which I thought I would adore. I thought I would dote upon this new Glass of mine. But there is an error in it, an undoubted fault in its silvering, so that the wicked object makes me look fat. I have sent for a hammer. -From Music and Silence, page 7-

Her self-centered musings create a character who is perhaps one of the most intriguing villains in literature…one who is blackly humorous, yet ultimately sad.

The reader also meets Peter Claire - an English lutenist who arrives in Denmark to become part of the royal orchestra - only to become smitten with Kirsten’s female companion Emilia. Throughout the narrative, Tremain intersperses the life of the King in his youth (and his friendship with Bror Brorson which haunts him), with his dreams, turmoils and fears of adulthood.

In Tremain’s competent hands, this historical novel becomes a symphony of romantic twists and turns, and a saga which encompasses all the excesses and political intrigue of royal life in seventeenth century Europe. Tremain explores such complex themes as order vs. chaos, love vs. hate, dreams vs. reality, and betrayal vs. loyalty - all through the metaphor of music and silence. The novel’s thematic elements are connected beautifully to setting, as when King Christian journeys to Norway to spearhead the development of a silver mine during the harsh winter months. He gazes at a waterfall - the Isfoss - which has frozen solid, and imagines the tiny crystals of ice forming in the roaring water.

They acquire thickness, length and weight. The water is transparent clay, moulding them, layer upon layer, and as the layers accumulate, the roar of the river has become muffled. The human ear has to strain to hear it. And then, in the space of a single night, it falls silent. -From Music and Silence, page 107-

It is the beauty of these kinds of images which transform Tremain’s novel from an historical piece of fiction into an extraordinary work of literature. Music and Silence is exceptionally wrought - a delicious tale which I highly recommend.

Laura's Book Awards II Challenge List

I loved the first Book Awards Challenge and I have a few long-term projects I'm reading for, so yeah, I'm in. My reading list includes:
  1. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway (Pulitzer Prize) - completed 8/9/2008 (review)
  2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon (Pulitzer Prize) - completed 9/20/2008 (review)
  3. The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville (Orange Prize) - completed 10/8/2008 (review)
  4. Kaddish for a Child not Born, by Imre Kertesz (Nobel Prize) - completed 10/24/2008 (review)
  5. The Conservationist, by Nadine Gordimer (Booker Prize, Nobel Prize) - completed 11/25/2008 (review)
  6. The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (Orange Prize) - completed 1/3/2009 (review)
  7. Property, by Valerie Martin (Orange Prize) - completed 1/7/2009 (review)
  8. A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry (Giller Prize, Commonwealth Writers' Prize) - completed 1/19/2009 (review)
  9. Schindler's Ark, by Thomas Kenneally (Booker Prize) - completed 3/16/2009 (review)
  10. The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (Booker Prize) - completed 4/1/2009 (review)

The Idea of Perfection
Kate Grenville
400 pages

The Idea of Perfection takes place in the Australian town of Karakarook, NSW, population 1374. Harley Savage, a middle-aged textile artist, travels from Sydney to create a heritage museum. Douglas Cheeseman, an engineer, is sent to demolish an old bridge. From this initial setup I expected intense conflict and community uprising, but that turned out to be secondary to the story of human foibles and relationships. Both Douglas and Harley are unmarried; he is divorced and she is a widow. Both are lonely, but they resist forming relationships with others. Douglas remains on the fringe of the local work crew. Harley feels awkward with others, and stubbornly resists a stray dog's repeated attentions. Both draw gradually to one another.

In fact, the entire book moves in a very gradual manner. Grenville oh-so-slowly reveals details that build a complete picture of the main characters and the town's citizens. At the beginning of the book, Douglas is looking out of an upstairs hotel room window. Only later, after learning he suffers from vertigo, does it become clear that just looking out the window was an accomplishment. Details of Harley's childhood and married life are droppped like a trail of breadcrumbs. Slowly the reader sees these two, their physical imperfections, and their inherent inner goodness. In contrast, Grenville introduces local housewife Felicity Porcelline, who is portrayed -- again, gradually -- as someone obsessed with her appearance, the cleanliness of her home, and her son's academic performance. She appears perfect on the outside, but inside she leads a self-centered, deceptive life.

This book had a surprisingly strong impact on me. I loved the slow reveal of the characters, and their ultimate depth. And while the book moved quickly, Grenville suggests plot in the same way she does her characters. There were many times in this novel where she made a subtle point that connected several other events in a way that literally left me wide-eyed, astonished, and saying "OH ... !!" out loud. The Idea of Perfection is sure to be one of my top reads of 2008. ( )

My original review can be found here.


Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Pages: 324
First Published: March, 2008
Genre: southern fiction, historical fiction
Award: Bellwether Prize
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:

Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep.

Comments: A story of 1940s Mississippi. A tale of two families; one black, the other white. Henry McAllen moves from the city with his wife, two young daughters and his cantankerous, racist father to land he has just bought. On that land are four sharecroppers but the story focuses on one family, that of Hap Jackson his wife and three young children. Henry's younger brother is off fighting in WWII as is Hap's oldest son who are both around the same age. When the war ends both of these young men eventually return war weary and world-wise to the South of the Forties, a viciously, racist time and place.

Each chapter is narrated by one of the six main characters and the whole story unfolds slowly through the eyes of each one. The contrasting eyes of Hap, an enterprising black man trying to get his family their own land, and Henry, who considers himself forward thinking where 'coloreds' are concerned yet who knows the limits. The contrasting eyes of Florence, black sharecropper wife who is midwife to the local black folks and Laura, a city bred white woman who becomes beaten down by the farm land. And finally through the contrasting eyes of Jamie, returning white air force hero who is so mentally disturbed by the war he has become an alcoholic and cares not what anyone thinks of him outside the family, and Ronsell the returning hero from the first fighting black platoon, directly under Patton's orders, and a deeply loving and caring man but in his returning home of Mississippi he is just a n*gger.

I really hate to gush in my reviews but all I want to say about this book is "Wow! Wow! Wow!". Beautiful, brilliant, sad, and disheartening yet ending on a bittersweet slight glimpse of hope. I felt for each and every one of the six main characters. It takes a lot of skill to write a book through the eyes of 6 different people but Jordan pulls it off with flowing grace. Beautiful and heartrending. Read this book!

J's Review: Posession: A Romance

Maud shivered, as she always shivered, on reading this document. What had Christabel thought, when she read it? Where had Christabel been, and why had she gone, and where had Randolph Ash been, between July 1859 and the summer of 1860? There was no record, Roland said, of Ash not being at home. He had published nothing during 1860 and had written few letters - those there were, were dated from Bloomsbury, as usual. LaMotte scholars had never found any satisfactory explanation for Christabel's apparent absence at the time of Blanche's death, and had worked on the supposition of a quarrel between the two women. This quarrel now looked quite different, Maude thought, without becoming clearer.
I finally finished reading Possession: A Romance, by A.S. Byatt. I'm sorry to say that I never felt truly drawn into the story. It reminded me of something my mom once said when I was working on my Masters Degree in Comparative Literature. She said, "I'm not a huge fan of 'capital L Literature'. What I want to read is a good story." Not that the two are mutually exclusive, and I would argue that the best of 'capital L Literature' is great because of the story, not because of the genius of the author. Reading Possession, I never got sucked in, I was always waiting for the story to have some passion, some caring for the characters, some real drama. I found it had tenderness toward its characters, and there is real skill in the way that Byatt interweaves diaries, letters, and narrative to tell her story. But again, I couldn't make myself care about any of it.

The book starts with a young, frustrated academic, Roland Michell, doing some research on his subject, (fictional) Victorian poet Randolph Ash. He comes across some unfinished letters in Ash's handwriting, tucked amongst the pages of a book in the library. Impulsively, he tucks the letters into his wallet, rather than alerting the librarian of their existence, or at least tucking them back where they belong. The letters appear to be to a woman that Ash has just met, and feels a connection to. He wants to see more of her. But who is she? Scholarship on Ash is that he was a faithful husband, happily married to the same woman for over 40 years. Roland asks around, and ends up entering into a partnership with Maud Bailey, a scholar who studies the life and works of a contemporary of Ash, Christabel LaMotte, the woman for whom Ash's letter was meant.

Roland and Maud go on a search for the truth, which they are hiding from their contemporaries in LaMotte and Ash studies, hoping to be the ones to break the story to the academic world, which would be a huge feather in their caps, and a great help in their careers as well. The rest of the book travels between their story and that of LaMotte and Ash, which is told mainly through their letters to one another, through their respective poems, and through diaries written by Ash's wife and LaMotte's cousin. It's intriguing enough, with plenty of twists and turns and surprises to keep the reader interested. Unfortunately, for me, Byatt kept her characters at an emotional distance, so while I was slightly interested in finding out what had happened between these Victorian poets 150 years ago, I sort of resented the amount of time and effort that I had to put into the discovery.

The Birchbark House

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Little Frog Book 1

Pages: 240
First Published: 1999
Genre: children, historical fiction
Award: WILLA Award
Rating: 3/5

First sentence:

The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.

Comments: My first thought about this book is that is is a Little House on the Prairie from the Indian perspective. The illustrations are even reminiscent of Garth Williams. However, it doesn't hold up to Wilder's books at all.

The book chronicles a year in the life a little Ojibwa girl. The book is divided into seasons and we follow her as her family and tribe lead their normal lives. Mostly there are no connections with the white man though her father trades with the white traders and voyageurs. Each chapter is episodic but no major plot runs through book or even within the chapters. This is not to say it was boring. There is a lot of description and a look into Native life that is interesting and enjoyable to read. Omakayas, whose name means Little Frog in English, is a fully developed character and the reader feels for her. The rest of the family members are only seen through her eyes and therefore do not feel fully developed.

Personally, I enjoyed the story. It is a quiet book, there is deep tragedy in the middle, but mostly it simply follows the life of a First Nations girl. It is most definitely a girl's book. I tried to read it aloud to my son as it was part of our school curriculum but he had no interest in it whatever. There are no boy characters, at least not fully developed ones, for him to connect with and nothing happened to hold his attention. So I stopped reading to him and finished the book on my own. The writing, full of description and light on dialogue is not conducive to reading aloud anyway. I think this book would be enjoyed by those interested in pre-white man Indian life and will especially appeal to girls ten and over.