Saturday, March 31, 2007

Laura's Review - Old Filth

Old Filth (original review in my journal)
Jane Gardam
290 pages

First Sentence: The Benchers' luncheon room of the Inner Temple.

Reflections: Edward Feathers, or "Old Filth," is a Raj Orphan, the child of a British couple living in Malaya, who is sent back to England around the age of 5, ostensibly for his own good. He is first cared for by a foster mother, then sent away to school, and informally adopted by his best friend's family, spending all of his holidays with them. The experience leaves a scar: "All my life, from my early childhood, I have been left, or dumped, or separated by death, from everyone I loved or who cared for me."

The book is set in the present time, when "Old Filth" is well into his 80s and very wealthy, having had a successful law career in Hong Kong. Recently widowed and quite a curmudgeon, he is learning to manage on his own. He spends much of his time remembering the past, and gradually tells the story of his childhood. I found these parts of the story quite sad. On the effect of the "Raj orphan" experience:

"They say it suits some. They come out fizzing and yelling, 'I didn't need parents,' and waving the red, white, and blue. Snooty for life. But we're all touched, one way or the other."

"Most of them learned never to like anyone, ever, their whole lives."

"If you haven't been loved as a child, you don't know how to love a child."

Back in the present, "Old Filth" sets out on a journey to visit two cousins with whom he shared his first foster home. He has not travelled in years, and his household staff believe he is unfit to drive. But he's stubborn, so he does it anyway. There are some poignant moments as he encounters everyday modern conveniences which are foreign to him, and reunites with the cousins, each of whom have had very different life experiences from his own. Later, he visits another part of the country where he spent time during World War II, and again reconnects with memories and people. Along the way he makes peace with himself and comes to terms with his childhood experiences.

"Old Filth" is a quirky and memorable character who makes this book enjoyable.

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Thoughts of Joy..." ~ Beasts of No Nation (Iweala)

"Thoughts of Joy..." can be found here.

You can't let the light-weight of this book fool you; it is very heavy in content. It was an extremely difficult book to read and to rate. The language in which the narrator speaks is broken pidgin English, but I found it to be easy to comprehend; however, it may cause some to be annoyed.

The story of civil war is told through the eyes of Agu, a young boy, that is torn from his place of hiding to either join the rebel soldiers or die. Agu's experience is horrifying and leaves him stripped of all innocence. What else would you expect with the oxymoron "child-soldier"?

This by no means is a pleasurable read. It is filled with brutality and sadness. I learned from it, so ultimately I'm glad I read it, but it's not for everybody.

Golden Country- Amy's First DNF of 2007

Originally posted here.

This is my first DNF for 2007. It's not that it's bad. It's just so.....plodding. It switches perspectives often and I am having a hard time keeping things straight. It's like I am not interested enough to try.

I am about a third of the way into it and I am not hooked. This book is due at the library and I have no desire to renew it so for now I am giving up on it. I am going to move it down to my alternates list and move on to my next book. I may pick it up later in the year because I don't hate it...I just don't find it engaging right now.

Tournament of Books


March 8, 2007
- The Morning News is doing its annual Tournament of Books. It's a lot of fun. Today there are interesting reviews of Half of a Yellow Sun and Absurdistan...the two books that went head to head in the first round. Half of a Yellow Sun came out as the winner.

March 9, 2007 - Another round...this time between the Echo Maker and The Emperor's Children. The winner is here.

March 12, 2007 - Not a great review of Brookland, which is on the NYT Most Notable List. It went up against Firmin. Check out the results here.

March 14, 2007 - I was looking forward to Round five with two NYT Most Notables facing off (and both books I want to read): Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes AND One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson. They both got good reviews (which made me especially happy because I just purchased both of these books in the last two weeks), but one came out ahead as the better mystery of the two. Check it out here.

March 15, 2007 - Colin Meloy writes a witty and original review to expose today's winner in the TOB. The Lay of The Land faces off against a book I've never heard of - English, August.

March 16, 2007 - A surprise winner today over at TOB. Apex Hides the Hurt and Alentejo Blue are both reviewed for Round Seven. Are the rest of you enjoying this as much as I am?

March 19, 2007 - Hope everyone had a grand back to the tournament. Round eight - whereby Against the Day is pitted against a short, graphic novel: The Pride of Bahgdad. I have to admit, I would probably never read either one of these books. Check out the not so surprising winner here.

March 20, 2007 - We are onto the next tier of the challenge...officially Round Two, Match One. Half of a Yellow Sun came up against The Emperor's Children. I thought it would be a blow away win for Adichie's beautiful book, but it seems the judge actually didn't really like either book! To read the review and see who won "by default" go here.

March 21, 2007 - The first day of Spring and Round Two, Match Two at the Tournament of Books. Lots of people have been waiting breathlessly to see Firmin face off against The Road. From the small amount of information I've gleaned about these two books (sorry, haven't read either - YET), I didn't think it would be much of a competition. And it wasn't. At least according to judge Mark Sarvas. See the results here.

March 22, 2007 - Round Two, Match Three. I'll warn you right now - if you intend to read either of these books you might not want to read Maud Newton's lengthy reviews with spoilers included. Here's another judge who apparently liked neither book too much. Lay of the Land receives a bit more of her verbal thrashing, but One Good Turn doesn't fare well either. Click on over to The Morning News to view the results of this match.

March 23, 2007 - So here we are in the final match of Round Two - Alentejo Blue vs. Against The Day. How can someone really determine which of these two books is "the winner?" They are of vastly different styles. It would be like me trying to choose which I like better: chocolate or reading (I love them both and couldn't possibly choose one over the other!). At any rate, Sam Lipsyte admits to not having finished reading Pynchon's massive tome, but that doesn't seem to impact the judging. Once again there is a fair amount of negative comments for both books. Go here to see the results.

March 26, 2007 - We are in the semi-final round and what a way to kick it off with Half of a Yellow Sun pitted against The Road. I've read the former, and loved it. The latter is on my TBR pile for May. Elizabeth Gaffney admits to loving both books (finally a judge who enjoyed the books!) and having a difficult time choosing the winner. To see her pick, go here.

March 27, 2007 - In Match Two of the Semi-finals Against the Day faces off with One Good Turn. Apparently Judge Sasha Frere-Jones didn't think it necessary to actually read both books. In fact, she'd already made up her mind before reading either book. Does this seem a little meaningless to anyone else? Results are here.

March 28, 2007 - So today is the Zombie round where they resurrect a "loser" and pair it with a winner. The Road vs. Against The Day. You already know which one wins, right? Here is what I've been pondering. How did Pynchon's giant tome make it into the semi-finals when almost no one can even finish reading it?

March 29, 2007 - One Good Turn goes against Absurdistan in the final Zombie round. Rosecrans Baldwin writes an interesting review of these books - one that will likely keep me from reading either book for a long time. To end the suspense, go here for the winner.

The Championship Round
March 30, 2007

And so, The Tournament of Books comes to an end. All the judges voted and the winner has been chosen. I bet 99% of you can guess who steamrolled over the competition to become number one!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oprah's Book Club -- The Road

Just thought I'd leave a quick note to the group that Oprah has selected NYT's very own "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy as her new book club selection. If you haven't joined Oprah's Book Club yet, just let me say that there will be tons of discussion and reference materials over on her website and I know that nearly everyone here has either read "The Road" or is planning to. So, there you go....

Also, if you haven't reserved your copy at the library yet, or bought your own, do it soon. They will be in high demand.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Terrorist - - Kookiejar's Review

I generally like Updike's work. In his Rabbit Angstrom series he encapsulated the American experience through 4 decades, and taken as a whole, may go down in history as 'The Great American Novel".

"Terrorist", however, will probably go down in history as "when John Updike jumped the shark".

"Terrorist" treads many familiar Updike themes, religion, patriotism, consumerism, infidelity and marriage. It is
the story of a teenage boy of half Arab ancestry who adopts the religion and culture of his absent father, but gets sucked into the ugly, fanatical side of Islam. The crux of the story is, will he or won't he fulfill his perceived destiny and blow up the truck bomb as he's been instructed to do.

However this novel, although well-written, is just not believable. The boy, Ahmad, talks like a 70 year old man who is trying to sound like a teenager. His main rival at school is a black boy named Tylenol (Really, Mr Updike? Tylenol? I know people sometimes give their children silly names, but this is beyond my ken), and the
guidance counselor who becomes a surrogate father to Ahmad (a character we are supposed to root for, mind you), is such a bitter, cruel, mean-spirited misogynist I wish Ahmad would have blown him up.

The only part of the novel that I really enjoyed were the parts where we spent time with the guidance counselor's wife. She is a pathetic, fat mess of a woman (and married to that man, you can sympathize with her apathy about her life), who turns out to be more useful and vital than even she knew. If the novel focused on her part in the story instead of relegating her to a short chapter, I would have been a lot happier with it.

Read this if you want to but I say, you'd be better off reading something else.

Monday, March 26, 2007

March 2007 Update from Wendy

3/26/2007: Finished my last NYT Notable for this month!

3/25/2007 Update:

Who has read Black Swan Green? I am really engaged in this novel. The first 20-25 pages were a little difficult because of the British slang (most of which I'd never heard of and found myself laughing at), but then I got immersed in the narration and hardly noticed it anymore. I'm half way through the book and it is taking me down memory lane as to what it was like to be a kid and growing up in a small town. Fabulous story; brilliant writing!

3/23/2007 Update:

Finished The Translator...on to Black Swan Green!

3/21/2007 Update:

I finished To Kill A Mockingbird today. WOW! Loved it. Its reviewed on my blog. Now I'm ready to begin The Translator...which may pale in comparison.

3/16/2007 Update:

I just finished The Inheritance of Loss today. I can't believe how long it took me to read this book! It was beautifully written...but hard for me because of my ignorance of Indian politics. Anyway I will post a review soon as soon as I figure out what I want to say. Next on my reading list is To Kill a Mockingbird...then I'm going to read The Translator.

3/11/2007 Update:

I am about 50 pages into Inheritance of Loss. I was a little worried about this book because I have read some "fair" reviews of it. But, I'm finding that I'm enjoying Desai's lyrical writing. She has a tremendous sense of place and a beautiful way with words. I'm relishing the beauty of her language...will keep you posted *smile*.

Previous update from 3/4/2007:
Okay, I spent a little time today perusing my reading groups and challenges and figuring out what I need to read and when. I've set myself a very challenging reading month in March and revamped my plans for this challenge. If I'm going to hit 20 books in 2007, I need to be a bit more aggressive! So, in March I am planning on reading the following NYT Most Notables:

Inheritance of Loss (finished March 16, 2007)
Beasts of No Nation (finished March 5, 2007 - see my review posted on this site)
The Translator (finished March 23, 2007)
Black Swan Green (finished March 26, 2007)

This will put me ahead of my pace for the year :)

Black Swan Green - A Book Review by Wendy

The world's a headmaster who works on your faults. I don't mean in a mystical or a Jesus way. More how you'll keep tripping over a hidden step, over and over, till you finally understand: Watch out for that step! Everything that's wrong with us, if we're too selfish or too Yessir, nosir, Three bags full sir or too anything, that's a hidden step. -From Black Swan Green, page 291-

Thirteen year old Jason Taylor narrates a year of his life in this original coming-of-age story set in a sleepy English Village in 1982. A sensitive, imaginative youth who struggles with a persistant stammer (referred to as 'Hangman'), Jason captures the essence of adolescence with all of its pain, humor and budding sexuality. Mitchell's brilliant writing plunges the reader back in time to the adventures of youth...such as the joy of spending a Saturday exploring forgotten paths through the woods and playing in abandoned barns.

In 1982, Britain found itself embroiled in the Falklands War, and Mitchell weaves this through the novel, using it as a backdrop to the undercurrents of domestic unrest within Jason's home.

A Pyrrhic victory is one where you win, but the cost of winning is so high that it would've been better if you'd never bothered with the war in the first place. Useful word, isn't it?
-From Black Swan Green, page 115-

Mitchell's novel pulls the reader into its pages with remarkable characterizations and spot on dialogue (although to be honest, as a non-Brit reader, the dialect took a bit of getting used to). Even the character's names are unique, such as Squelch Hill, Gilbert Swinyard, Pete Redmarley, Miss de Roo and Mr. Inkberrow. Dawn Madden, tough-as-nails and sexy, and her power hungry boyfriend who embody the cruelty that lurks in all childhoods; and the magnificent Eva Van Outryve de Crommelynck are just a few of the many characters who materialize in living, breathing form. When Madam Crommelynck meets Jason for the first time and discovers his age, she says:

"Ackkk, a wonderful, miserable age. not a boy, not a teenager. Impatience but timidity too. Emotional incontinence." -From Black Swan Green, page 144-

I fell in love with Jason Taylor - perhaps because he writes poetry while still trying to keep up with the town bullies, or maybe because of his wry humor, or possibly due to his fine vision of what is important in life. At any rate, this is a kid that snatches the reader's heart and hangs onto it until the end.

At once both searingly honest and outrageously funny, Black Swan Green is a must read.

Highly Recommended.

Favorite Passages

Down the hollow, round the bend, I came across a thatched cottage made of sooty bricks and crooked timber. Martins were busy under its eaves. PRIVATE said a sign hung on the slatted gate, where the name should go. newborn flowers in the garden were licorice allsorts blue, pink, and yellow. Maybe I heard scissors. maybe I heard a poem, seeping from its cracks. So I stood and listened, just for a minute, like a hungry robin listening for worms. -From Black Swan Green, page 70-

A bolt slid like a rifle and an old man opened up. His skin was blotched as a dying banana. He wore a collarless shirt and braces. "Good Afternoon?" -From Black Swan Green, page 142-

I dip my fountain pen into a pot of ink, and a Wessex helicopter crashes into a glacier on South Georgia. I line up my protractor on an angle in my Maths book and a Sidewinder missile locks onto a Mirage III. I draw a circle with my compass and a Welsh Guard stands up in a patch of burning gorse and gets a bullet through his eye. How can the world just go on, as if none of this is happening? -From Black Swan Green, page 106-

The Original post of this review may be found on my blog here.

Laura's Review - Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
433 pages

First Sentence: Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.

Last Sentence: Ugwu writes his dedication last: For Master, my good man.

Reflections: This book takes place during the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70, when the southern part of Nigeria seceded and formed its own state, known as Biafra. We see the conflict through the eyes of the main characters, who are Biafran: Olanna and Odenigbo, well-off and well-educated academics; Ugwu, their houseboy; Kainene, Olanna's twin sister; and Richard, a British expat and Kainene's partner (and the only one who is not native to the country). We get to know them before the war, becoming familiar with their "normal" life, and watching with horror as the war's violence and atrocities come closer and closer.

"The world has to know the truth of what is happening, because they simply cannot remain silent while we die."

Why do human beings do this to one another? Why is war considered an effective method of resolving conflict? And why do powerful, economically advantaged, nations stand by and allow crimes against humanity? It is too easy to distance ourselves from the conflict and the people, as if they are not real. Adichie's writing makes it real. We can identify with the characters, their day-to-day routine and concerns. As their lives are torn apart by war, as they lose their livelihood and have to fight for housing and food, as they witness and experience violence and fear, we realize that yes, this does happen to real people.

"...the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person."

And despite this reality, those of us living in predominantly white cultures do not hear or read enough about it. War, violence, poverty, and famine rage in Africa and the Middle East today, and there are not enough calls for humanitarian relief and action that will bring an end to the conflict. In the United States, gun violence is escalating and is especially devastating in the poor areas of our cities. But the news media quickly tire of these stories, unless one of "our own" (usually white, American) is at risk.

Are we not all one people? What would it take to bring unity and an end to violence?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Visitor Map

Some of you may have noticed the new addition to our side bar: A Visitor Map.

By clicking on the map you can see where visitors are coming from...and the map also provides little blue stars to visually observe visitors.

Thank you to KookieJar who suggested we put one of these on this site.

"Thoughts of Joy..." ~ The Inhabited World (Long)

"Thoughts of Joy..." can be found here.

I had an 'on again/off again' relationship with this book. I first was introduced to it by Kristin at Books for Breakfast and was very intrigued, so I put it on my forever long TBR list. Then, I decided I wasn't interested in reading about a ghost and crossed it off. However, when the NYT Notable Book Challenge came along (it being on the list of choices) and my desire to stretch myself in genres, I decided to take the plunge. All in all, it was a bit somber, but I'm glad I read it.

What stands out most to me is the in-depth emotional content and well-developed characters. Long's ability to weave deep connections to these characters was very well done. The concept of Evan (the main character) being a 'ghost' is far from freaky or scary, despite his ability to 'live' on the premise where he lived and died, as he seeks the reason "why?" he was led to suicide. So, we go on the journey with him, going from who lives in the house now back to Evan's childhood and forward again.

Closure to the plot was there, yet I had hoped for a more satisfying ending. I feel a vague sense of being left to dangle. Maybe that's how Evan felt. Hmmm, something to ponder.

Sally906's Review: SUITE FRANCAISE

Review: SUITE FRANCAISE - Irene Nemirovsky

Original review is here

Rated A

It is hard to know how to describe this book. Irene Nemirovsky was a Jewish woman who decided to write a novel based on her experiences as the Germans invaded France in WWII. Although a work of fiction - much of the scenes are based on fact. She was captured and died in Auschwitz concentration camp.

Originally meant to be a book in 5 parts she only wrote 2 prior to her capture. In the first part, Storm in June, she tells of the panicked exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. All classes of people pack up their belongings and flee, forced to rub shoulders in traffic-jams on the crowded roads south, some behaving with dignity, others with nauseating selfishness. Some die - some overcome dreadful situations and start to pick up their life again. Her description and observations just leave you breathless as she conjures up in your minds eye just how it must have been.

In part two, Dolce, she writes about some of the survivors from part one who are now in a small French village where Nazi soldiers are billeted, she describes how the German men were treated by the villagers, and concentrates on one young woman she tries to resist the attractions of a German officer, and takes the risk of defending a young farmer who joins the resistance.

The story ends in 1941 - the author never returned to write the end of her "Suite Francaise"

Read this book - it will be a great experience.

Sally906's Review: HALF A YELLOW SUN

Review: HALF A YELLOW SUN - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Original review is here

Rated A+

At the time of the 1960 Nigerian independence from Great Britain, the country had a federal constitution comprised of three regions defined by the three principal ethnic groups in the country. The first region was the Muslim Hausa/Fulani semi-autonomous feudal states in the north. The second was the principally animist kingdom of Yoruba in the south-west; and the Christian Igbo were the third group in the south-east. As the British withdrew, the barely suppressed ethnic tensions broke out. In 1966 some 30,000 Igbos were massacred by Hausas, as reprisal following an ill-fated coup in the Nigerian Government by Igbo military. Over one million refugees fled to their Igbo homeland in the east, and in May 1967, the Igbo region formally seceded from Nigeria and the Independent Republic of Biafra was born. Nigeria responded with military force, and a bloody civil war ensued. The Nigerian forces, backed by Britain and the USA, gradually advanced. By 1969 the Biafran people were cut off from the sea and surrounded by Nigerian troops. At this point Nigeria closed the borders, all supplies into Biafra were severely restricted. Starvation gradually defeated the Biafrans. In January 1970, the short-lived Biafran nation fell and was re-incorporated into Nigeria. It is believed that over one million people died of starvation during the war.

It is with this heartbreaking civil war in the background that Nigerian Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sets her second novel, HALF A YELLOW SUN. The whole conflict is seen through the eyes of three characters. The first is Ugwu, a peasant houseboy who comes to work for a professor with revolutionary ideas. The second character is Olanna, an educated, wealthy Nigerian woman who becomes the mistress of the professor. Finally, there is Richard, a white man who is in Nigeria to research Igbo art, but is drawn into the conflict through his love for Olanna’s sister. It is through these three narrators that the reader experiences lives being turned upside down by ideals and war. You see how they go from a comfortable existence to a life where everything familiar is taken away. Rape, torture, murder and the fight for survival destroys the last vestiges of civility. The characters come alive for the reader, just leaping out of the pages straight into your heart. This is an emotional, and horrific, period of world history. Adichie is able to let the reader see the horrors without letting you drown in them. Even at the very worst part of the ordeal she is able to inject a little humour to show that all the spirit is not destroyed. This book made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me angry that humans are able to do this to each other. Don’t be put off by the politics; they are in the background only. The real story is the survival by those whose lives are influenced by politics without fully understanding the nuances of political motives. The story is about uselessness, despair, love, standing up for what is right. It is about relationships, as well as what makes innocent people turn into war criminals. It is a book you must read.

Sally906's March Update

OK - here is where I am for now - may add a few more titles in May - see how many of these I have read by then :)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - read
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky - read
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - on order at library (I'm second on list)
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson - scheduled to read in April
The Road by Cormac McCarthy - on order at library (I'm 3rd on list)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Road - Amy's Review

Original review posted here.

Cormac McCarthy
Library Book
241 pgs

Reason for Reading: I read this for the NYT Notable Books Challenge.

***Spoilers Below***

I have never read anything by Cormac McCarthy and I really didn't know what to expect. What really hooked me into putting this book on my list for this challenge was the fact that the setting is post-apocalyptic. Other than that, I don't know much about the author or any of his other books.

I knew going into this book that the subject matter would be grim but McCarthy does an excellent job of using few words to pack a wallop. I actually felt the hopelessness of the man and the boy as they go through the ravaged and desolate countryside. I was horrified at the thought of people being held captive for food and the impossible situation of having to run to save yourself and being unable to help them at all. This is the stuff nightmares are made of and at this point in the book I wasn't sure I would be able to finish.

Then they find a hidden shelter and they have a reprieve from sleeping in the rain, being half-starved, cold, and filthy. I was so delighted to see them finally have some small comforts and I could almost feel how wonderful a bath and clean clothes would feel after weeks without and how wonderful such feasts of the stores that they discover would be, and oh! to sleep on a cot instead of the cold ground. At this point, I couldn't put the book down.

All the way through the book I was going back and forth.

In the end, I have to say that I really liked this book. The fact that it took me to both extremes is, I suppose, a testament to the author's skill.

One thing that I didn't like is the lack of punctuation. I don't like reading conversations without quotation marks. I find it distracting and this is the second book that I have read recently that has done this. I am unsure if this a some sort of fad or a writing style that I am unfamiliar with. If anyone wants to clue me in on this, I would appreciate it. I would hate to remain ignorant forever. (4/5)

The Translator - A Book Review by Wendy

'It's a lonely thing,' he said, 'you can't avoid it.'
'The spiritual path. Everyone is on his own in this.'
-From The Translator, page 202-

Sammar, a Sudanese widow who has left her child in the care of her aunt and moved to Scotland to become an Arabic translator, narrates this poetic novel of love and faith.

I have read some critical reviews of this book which condemn it as "only a love story." The Translator is, in fact, a love story - but it is also much more. Aboulela is a controlled, meditative writer who weaves a deeper meaning into her novel. The gapping maw between cultures and religions are exposed in this simple story with a subtleness I appreciated. The author explores grief, and moving on, and clinging to one's faith - all anchored in an exquisite atmosphere of place.

Aboulela has a finely tuned sense of what it means to love. In one scene, Sammar is cooking soup for Rae, a man who Sammar loves and who has been ill. In this uncomplicated act, Aboulela reveals something about Sammar's character which anyone who has loved another can relate to.

She made soup for him. She cut up courgettes, celery and onion. Her feelings were in the soup. The froth that rose to the surface of the water when she boiled the chicken, the softened, shapeless tomatoes. Pasta shaped into the smallest stars. Spice that she had to search for, the name unknown in English, not in any of the Arabic-English dictionaries that she had. -From The Translator, page 97-

The Translator transports the reader to another culture, offering glimpses into what it means to have faith and how difficult it is to abide by one's beliefs. It is not a complicated novel; but it left me contemplating the larger issues of life.


*Orginal post of this review located here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Beasts of No Nation - Lisa's review

A horrible and shocking little book. At 142 pages, it sure packs a wallop, and is a book I probably won't forget for a long, long time. Set in an unnamed African country, it is the story of a young boy who is conscripted to be a soldier in some unnamed war. Placed in a terrible dilemma - go along with the soldiers or die - you journey with him into hell.

One of the difficult things about reading this book is that it is written as the character would think -- in other words, in a type of pidgin English. You get used to it very quickly, but here's a small sample:

This darkness is so full like it is my mother's hug. Heya! I am remembering my mother and how she is so good to me that each time she is hugging me that is all I am needing to see the dark skin of her arm holding me close to her and I am knowing that the life I am living is so good. I am walking with my hand stretching out in front of me because I am trying to catch all of those thought that is floating around me so I can make sure no part of me is missing.

On a side note, the author of this book - notable by the New York Times, was born in 1982. So that's what it's come to. I'm reading books by people born when I was in high school. Boy, do I feel old.

*cross posted on

Everyman - 3M's Review


Philip Roth

182 pp.

Rating: 1

Everyman could have been a good book. If only. . . Had he not. . . I will get to those details later.

The book traces a 70-something man's history of his health problems, his three marriages, and his affairs. After doing some research on Roth, I wondered if it is a bit autobiographical. At the end of the novel, he regrets his life. His sons and his ex-wives hate him, and he doesn't get to spend time with the one person he does love, his daughter Nancy. He is even jealous of his brother's good health and stops calling him--a brother who has always been there for him. There are lessons to be learned from the novel, sure, but here is my objection to it.

He could have written this novel without the graphic s * x scenes. It really does border on p * r n. How such a le wd book could be awarded the PEN/Faulkner is beyond me. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

An NPR interview with Philip Roth about the book Everyman is here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kim's Review of Lisey's Story by Stephen King

509 pages, library, hardback
published in 2006
started 3/13/07, finished 3/19/07

First Sentence: "To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all butinvisible, and no one knew it better than Lisey Landon."

Reason for reading: For the NYT Notable Books Challenge

Lisey Debusher Landon lost her husband, Scott, two years ago, after a twenty-five year marriage of the most profound and sometimes frightening intimacy. Scott was an award-winning, best selling novelist and a very complicated man. Early in their relationship, before they married, Lisey had to learn from him about books and blood and bools. Later, she understood there was a place that Scott went-a place that both terrified and healed him, that could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed in order to live. Now it's Lisey's turn to face Scott's demons, Lisey's turn to go to Boo'ya Moon. What begins as a widow's effort to sort through the papers of her celebrated husband becomes a nearly fatal journey into the darkness he inhabited.

Believe it or not, Stephen King has written a love story! Oh, don't worry, the Stephen King we have come to know and love is still here, but the underlying love story between Scott and Lisey is just plain wonderful. And the reader gets the feeling this is a very personal book for Mr. King, near and dear to his heart. What I really enjoyed was Scott and Lisey's "secret" language. Anyone in a relationship knows there are phrases or words that you only use with each other and that only you will understand completely. King captures that beautifully. I have to admit, though, it did take awhile to get used to this language because a lot of things are not explained right away. But, if you are patient, you slowly find out the meaning of these words and phrases and how they tie in with Scott and Lisey's past. Words like "bool" become common and flow off your tongue after awhile. Stephen King is known for the thrills and chills he puts into his books, and this one is no exception. When Scott's past and his "long-boy" and Boo'ya Moon are finally fully revealed to the reader, it will send shudders down your spine. I haven't read a Stephen King book in probably 10 years, and I found that I still enjoyed him after all this time.

Favorite part: To me, the best part of the book was the relationship between Scott and Lisey.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Keep - Kookiejar's Review

This novel was a bit of a mind game. Just when I thought I had a handle on the narrative...('Okay, two long estranged cousins reunite to turn an old European castle into a technology-free retreat...I get it'), Egan would pull the run out from under my feet. ('Wait! Now it's about some petty criminal in prison whose taking a creative writing course and may or may not be in lust with the teacher?')

The perspective between these two stories seems wildly disparate, but the farther you get into the novel, the more closely entwined the stories become, until at last you find they are both part of the same story after all.

Then, in the third section, we get a whole new story that, while integral to the first two, puts them all into a whole new light.

While, in the early going this novel challenged my patience, it was worth sticking out to the end. However, the final couple of paragraphs irritated me. A story should make you ask questions and then help you answer those questions. The heroine's actions at the end left me with the question 'why?'.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss - Book Review by Wendy

The original posting of this review may be found on my blog here.

Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss?
- From The Inheritance of Loss, page 3 -

Kiran Desai has written a novel of depth and complexity, filled with multiple characters and beautiful, lyrical prose which explores such themes as colonialism, illegal immigration and political strife. I will admit to being somewhat overwhelmed at times due to my ignorance of Indian history, class systems and politics. In fact, this book forced me to do something I seldom do - research the history of the time and geography of the area. What I discovered is a country which is vast in its scope and complicated in its history. For those readers with extensive knowledge about this region, Desai's book will resonate. For those like myself who do not have that knowledge base, this novel will lose some of its power, but is worth reading anyway.

Desai artfully weaves together the stories of several characters, moving from the present day (1980s) to their past histories without a glitch. She examines life in the town of Kalimpong, a hill town nestled in the lower Himalaya of West Bengal, where cultures collide. Kalimpong has a rich history and was the site of violent riots between the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the West Bengal government between 1986 and 1988. Desai's novel drops its characters into the midst of this chaos and allows the reader to gain a better understanding of the vast cultural rifts between the people.

The novel centers around a retired Judge, his granddaughter Sai, the cook, the cook's son Biju and Gyan who is Sai's tutor. All these characters are flawed and seeking fulfillment, and all experience loss as the tale unravels. The Judge, a surly and unhappy man, has little love in his heart for anyone except his dog, Mutt. He is filled with hatred for other Indians, wishing instead he had been born English. Biju also experiences this ambivalence for his own people which seems spawned by his experience of rejection and racism as an illegal immigrant living in America.

The habit of hate had accompanied Biju and he found that he possessed an awe of white people, who arguably had done India great harm, and a lack of generosity regarding almost everyone else, who had never done a single harmful thing to India. - From The Inheritance of Loss, page 86 -

Biju's father (the cook) has sent his only son to America to seek a better life. The cook hopes for contentment and dignity which he believes will come with Biju's success.

He imagined sofa TV bank account. Eventually Biju would make enough and the cook would retire. He would receive a daughter-in-law to serve him food, crick-crack his toes, grandchildren to swat like flies. Time might have died in the house that sat on the mountain ledge, its lines grown indistinct with moss, its roof loaded with ferns, but with each letter, the cook trundled toward a future.
- From The Inheritance of Loss, page 20 -

Sai, having come to live with her grandfather after her parents die, imagines a life of love.

Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfillment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself. - From The Inheritance of Loss, page 3 -

Finally, Gyan who tutors Sai longs to be part of the political changes. A Nepali who feels torn between his attraction toward Sai and his cultural roots, Gyan is perhaps the saddest character in the book.

He wasn't a bad person. He didn't want to fight. The trouble was that he'd tried to be part of the larger questions, tried to become part of politics and history. Happiness had a smaller location, though this wasn't something to flaunt, of course; very few would stand up and announce, "Actually I'm a coward," but his timidity might be disguised, well, in a perfectly ordinary existence situated between meek contours. - From The Inheritance of Loss, page 299 -

As The Inheritance of Loss unfolded, I was struck by the depth of the prose. Desai reveals the rigid adherence to the class system in simple ways, such as when a maid tells her employer the story of falling in love with a Rai although she herself is a Sherpa.

Before one knew it one could slide into areas of the heart that should be referred to only between social equals. - From The Inheritance of Loss, page 75 -

Desai uncovers the pain of being an illegal immigrant by allowing the reader to see through Biju's eyes as he struggles to find work, sleeps in a basement with rats nibbling on his hair, and longs to return to his homeland.

The issues of colonialism and globalization are constant themes in the novel. It speaks to Desai's gift as a writer that she tackles these immense issues with ease using eloquent prose.

Tenzing was certainly the first, or else he was made to wait with the bags so Hilary could take the first step on behalf of that colonial enterprise of sticking your flag on what was not yours.
- From The Inheritance of Loss, page 171 -

This Sai had learned. This underneath, and on top a flat creed: cake was better than laddoos, fork spoon knife better than hands, sipping the blood of Christ and consuming a wafer of his body was more civilized than garlanding a phallic symbol with marigolds. English was better than Hindi.
- From The Inheritance of Loss, page 33 -

I found myself falling into the rhythm of this novel, absorbing the flavors and sights of a foreign land and striving to understand its people. There are so many facets to The Inheritance of Loss, it is hard to categorize it. I believe Desai has written a novel which fully encompasses the Indian experience. I was touched by how the characters sought out their dreams and futures by looking outside their culture, religion and country when perhaps the answers lay closer to home. Desai touches on this as well at the end of the book when Biju, who is now far less innocent, contemplates the steady stream of immigration from India to America.

This way of leaving your family for work had condemned them over several generations to have their hearts always in other places, their minds thinking about people elsewhere; they could never be in a single existence at one time. - From The Inheritance of Loss, page 342 -

Kiran Desai has written an exquisite novel which is deserving of the Booker Award and its place on the New York Times Most Notable Fiction list. This is a novel to be savored for its stunning prose, complex characters and finely captured sense of place.


Friday, March 16, 2007

A theory about p. 74 of The Road

Only read my theory in the comments if you have read the book!

Laura's Review - Suite Francaise

Original Review

Irene Nemirovsky was an author of Jewish descent living in France in 1940. She initially intended for Suite Francaise to be a 5-part novel. Unfortunately, the war intervened. Nemirovsky completed two parts of the novel, and was then taken to Auschwitz where she died. Her daughters managed to hide the manuscript and it was published some 60 years later.What a fantastic book! The writing is wonderful. The first part takes place in 1940 when the Germans marched on Paris. It tells the stories of several different people who evacuated Paris, and what happened to them over the next several months. The characters range from the wealthy & famous to the ordinary. Each situation is one of personal tragedy, which is portrayed in poignant and realistic ways. The second part takes place in 1941, and describes the German occupation of a French village and the relationships that develop between soldiers and villagers. The characters introduced in this part have some connections to characters in the first part. Nemirovsky is superb at character development, and in her depiction of the French class system.The end of the book includes notes from Nemirovsky's notebook which show her creative process both in writing these first two volumes and in planning the third. It was interesting to read what she had planned for some characters who seemed ancillary in the first two parts. The final appendix contains correspondence, first from her and later, sadly, from her husband who attempts to locate her after she is taken away to the camp.

Laura's Review - The Inheritance of Loss

The Inheritance of Loss won the Booker Prize in 2006. The novel is set in India during the 1980s, and the plot centered around political conflict. I'm sure if I had more knowledge of the situation in India at that time, I would have appreciated the novel more. Kiran Desai's prose is lyrical and beautiful. It was her writing that held my interest. I failed to identify with most of the characters. Each of the main characters is an outsider: for various reasons they are not in their home country or have spent so much time away from India that they feel out of place. For example, two elderly women who spent extensive time in England, ensure they always have on hand "familiar comforts" such as English foods and clothing. This I could relate to, having spent 4 years away from my home country. Although it was a fantastic experience, many times I felt like an outsider and knew I would never be fully part of the local community. I've been surprised to feel even more of an outsider since returning "home." Living abroad changes you in many ways. It's made me stronger and more thoughtful, and increased my curiosity about other cultures. Unfortunately there are few I can share this experience with so it remains a somewhat hidden part of who I am ...

Laura's Introduction and Progress Year to Date

Hello all,

I was delighted to learn about this challenge from Wendy. I started the year with the "50 Book Challenge" which seemed like a huge goal until I got started and realized a book a week wasn't as difficult as it sounded.

So then I decided, it's not just about how many you read, but what you read. And because I've "met" so many interesting fellow readers through the Yahoo Bookworms group, LiveJournal, and LibraryThing, I've come across many other challenges to try. Not wanting to overdo it, I'm now also "Reading across Borders," and have decided to have a go at the NYT Notable Books also. I'm also keeping track of the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die. If you'd like to learn more about me and the books I've read or want to read, check out my book journal or my library.

As for the New York Times Notable books, I've read 3. I'd like to read 10 in 2007. I will post my reviews separately, but have also linked to the original review below.
  1. "Black Swan Green", by David Mitchell - I read this in 2006, before I started keeping a journal
  2. The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
  3. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky
"Half of a Yellow Sun" is currently waiting for me at my local library. Hopefully the ice storm currently hitting Southeastern Pennsylvania will not prevent me from getting there tomorrow!

I'm looking forward to reading and discussing with all of you ...

Amy's Progress Report

I am currently reading "Golden Country" but I am only about 20 pgs into it. Not really far enough to have much of an opinion except to say that I like what I have read so far.

I have "The Road" and am currently #1 on the waiting list at the library for "The Ghost Map". I have high hopes of reading them before the end of March. However, I am also reading a lengthy book("The Tea Rose") for my April TBR challenge and I have a book that I am trying to read for the lenten season that I would like to finish within the next week, so that may delay my progress a bit.

I am still here and pluggin' along though! I haven't had a lot of time to check in lately but I hope everyone is enjoying their reading.

I look forward to hearing about it!

I also wanted to add that I am dropping a couple of books on my list to alternates and adding one(thanks to Michelle's review)

I am going to drop "The Echo Maker" "The Use of Enchantments" and "The Inheritance of Loss" to alternates. I will read them if I have time but they are not top priority. I am adding "Apex Hides the Hurt" because Michelle's review really piqued my interest.

Progress Report--Kookiejar

Just like two weeks ago, when I last checked in, I am only 50 pages into 'Half of a Yellow Sun', however with a few books from this month's stack cleared away, I should be getting back to that one.

In other news, I have finished 'The Keep' and 'Terrorist' and will post reviews of them before long. Trying to space them out a little. Also trying to figure out how to write a review of 'The Keep' that doesn't give too much away.

Looking forward to starting 'Alentejo Blue', 'Old Filth' and 'Golden Country' before the month is up. Barring any unforseen book ambush, of course.

Unrelated to this challenge, I gave up on my March TBR book so that freed me up to finish my third Chunkster, which will breeze by because I am loving it. I'll be posting a review of that at the end of the month on my blog.

Anxiously awaiting news of your progess.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The List

**Updated 3/14/2007 to include one missed book by Roberto Bolano!!

For the 2007 challenge, participants should choose from the NYT Most Notable Fiction list for 2006, which include (alphabetical by author):

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Translater, by Leila Aboulela
Alentjo Blue, by Monica Ali
One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
Brookland, by Emily Barton
Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolano
Only Revolutions, by Mark Z. Danielewski
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
The Dead Fish Museum, by Charles D'Ambrosio
The Keep, by Jennifer Eagan
Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg
The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford
The Dissident, by Nell Freudenberger
Skinner's Drift, by Lisa Fugard
Old Filth, by Jane Gardam
Golden Country, by Jennifer Gilmore
Intuition, by Allegra Goodman
The Stories of Mary Gordon, by Mary Gordon
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin
The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houellebecq
Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala
All Aunt Hagar's Children, by Edward P. Jones
The Uses of Enchantment, by Heidi Julavits
Forgetfulness, by Ward Just
Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury
Lisey's Story, by Stephen King
The Inhabited World, by David Long
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
After This, by Alice McDermott
Gallatin Canyon: Stories, by Thomas McGuane
The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud
Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell
Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky
High Lonesome: New and Selected Stories, by Joyce Carol Oates
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers
Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon
Everyman, by Phillip Roth
Absurditan, by Gary Shteyngart
Eat the Document, by Dana Spiotta
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler
Terrorist, by John Updike
Apex Hides the Hurt, by Colson Whitehead
A Woman in Jerusalem, by A.B. Yehoshua

PLEASE let me know if I've missed any!!!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kim's Review of The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits

354 pages, hardcover, library
published in 2006
started 3/9/07, finished 3/13/07

First Sentence: " The following might have happened on a late-fall afternoon in the Boston suburb of West Salem."

Reason for reading: for the NYT Notable Books Challenge

WARNING: If you have not read this book, there may be spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk!

In late afternoon on November 7, 1985, sixteen year old Mary Veal was abducted after field hockey practice at her all girls New England prep school. Or was she? A few weeks later an unharmed Mary reappears as suddenly and mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming to have little memory of what happened to her. Her socially ambitious mother, a compelling if frosty woman descended from a Salem witch, is concerned that Mary has somehow been sullied by the experience and sends her to therapy with a psychologist named Dr. Hammer.
Mary turns out to be a cagey and difficult patient. Dr. Hammer begins to suspect that Mary concocted her tale of abduction when he discovers its parallels with a seventeenth century narrative of a girl who was abducted by Indians and who caused her rescuer to be hanged as a witch. Hammer, eager to further his career, decides to write a book about Mary's faked abduction, a project her mother sanctions because she'd rather her daughter be a liar than a rape victim.
Fifteen years later, Mary has returned to Boston for her Mother's funeral. Her abduction-real or imagined-has tainted many lives, including her own. When Mary finds a suggestive letter to her mother, she suspects her mother had planned a reconciliation before her death. Thus begins a quest that requires Mary to revisit the people and places in her past.

This was a very confusing, but very intriguing book. I kept thinking I was missing something the entire time because while I understood the surface story, I just wasn't "getting" it. And I still don't understand most of what happens in the book, which is why I can't wait for someone else to read it so we can discuss. Each chapter falls into 3 sections: "What Might Have Happened" (which focuses on Mary's "abduction" in 1985), "Notes" (which focus on Mary's therapy sessions with Dr. Hammer following her "abduction") and "West Salem" (which is the present day). I found I enjoyed Mary's therapy appointments with Dr. Hammer the most and the "abduction" story the least. I keep putting abduction in quotes because I am still not exactly clear on what happened and who is actually narrating those parts of the book. Is this Mary's actual version of what happened, her fantasy of what happened or even Dr. Hammer's version of what he thinks happened? It is all very confusing and almost dream-like. I found I could not connect with Mary at all and I found her rather annoying most of the time. She did not take any responsibility for her actions then didn't understand why people couldn't forgive her. All in all, I have no idea what to think of this book, although I found it somewhat intriguing at the same time. This is a tough one to recommend.

Favorite part:During one of Mary's therapy sessions with Dr. Hammer, they do a role reversal, with Mary playing the Doctor and Dr. Hammer playing Mary. It was a very interesting and entertaining exchange.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Keep - Amy's Review

This review is also posted here.

Jennifer Egan
Library Book
240 pgs

I chose this title for the challenge because I was very intrigued by the summary that I read. Here is a part of it : "Two cousins, irreversibly damaged by a childhood prank whose devastating consequences changed their lives, reunite twenty years later to renovate a medieval castle in Eastern Europe, a castle steeped in blood lore and family pride."

***** Possible SPOILER
material below!

When I started reading "The Keep" I was prepared for a suspenseful thriller.

We start out meeting Danny and we learn of his cousins Rafe and Howard and the prank that affected all of their lives.

We then fast forward to Danny at age 36. Howard has purchased a castle in Eastern Europe and has given Danny a one-way ticket to come to the castle. Danny is unsure why.

We quickly begin to learn things about Danny like the fact that he can sense wifi connections through a tingling in his skin and he gets incredibly uncomfortable when he is disconnected (no cell phone, computer, etc.) for too long.

Maybe I missed some important connections, but things got strange and confusing to me after this point. Howard reveals his vision for the castle( a hotel that is electronic gadget free), Danny sleeps with an 89-year-old baroness(why?), falls from a window onto his head, becomes convinced that Howard is out to get revenge for the childhood prank, escapes to a nearby town and more.

After finishing the book, I discovered that there are actually three separate storylines going on with the stories intersecting and being told from different perspectives. The latter two storylines I understood and even enjoyed. The first storyline, though I understood how it connected, didn't make any more sense to me when I finished than when I when I started.

I was just left feeling like this book could have been better than it was. (2.5/5)

The Echo Maker - 3M's Review

The original review of this title may be found here.

I've been wanting to read The Echo Maker for several reasons. I always like to read novels that are set close to where I grew up--on the prairie in the Colorado/Nebraska/Kansas region. This novel is set in Kearney, Nebraska, where my sister currently lives. Also, I like to read award-winning novels, and The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award. Lastly, it concerns Capgras and Cotard's Syndromes, and I have an intense interest in these because I know a person who experienced them.

Warning: there may be some minor spoilers below.

Mark Schluter has been in a rollover accident and has sustained a severe head injury. As Mark starts to get better, he insists that his sister is an impostor. He also doesn't recognize his dog, Blackie. He begins to think that his home has been duplicated and perhaps the whole community has as well.

His sister Karin (Mark calls her Kopy Karin and Karbon Karin) is devastated when he refuses to accept her as his sister, and she calls in a nationally known doctor who has written several popular books on brain disorders. "Shrinky" as Mark calls him, comes to Kearney, runs a few tests, consults with Mark's doctor, and then goes home. Is he truly interested in Mark's case or does he just want another "story" for his new book? Mark does trust "Shrinky," though, as well as his nurse's aide Barbara--two people he did not know before the accident. Much of Mark's time is spent trying to figure out who wrote a mysterious note found on his nightstand in the hospital.

"I am No One
but Tonight on North Line Road
GOD led me to you
so You could live
and bring back someone else."

We do find out who wrote the note, how the accident occurred, and if Mark gets well again. Contrary to some bad reviews of the book, I liked how the characters were developed--even if some weren't likable. While I was interested in the various characters' thoughts and feelings, I thought some of it extraneous. I appreciated the setting (of course) and the descriptions of the birds. I didn't like the vulgar language and s*xual content, but I guess that is the norm in a modern novel today.

Also, I'm not sure why, when referring to prairie farm people, certain very negative subjects have to always be brought up. The people I know from the area are the most decent in the entire USA, and I'm always sad to see it when they are portrayed with negative qualities that might occur in less than 0.5% of the population of the region.

All in all, I'm glad I read the novel because of the reasons I stated in the first paragraph. I'm not sure that most readers would appreciate it, though.

Note: After doing a little research after I read the book, I found a book that contains very similar individual case descriptions that are mentioned in The Echo Maker:
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind By V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D., and Sandra Blakeslee. New York, William Morrow, 1998, 328 pp.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Joining in - and my books!!

I'm happy to be joining this challenge!! I looked at it longingly for some time, but Wendy finally "talked" me into joining by a comment she made on my blog today! My book blog is Breaking the Fourth Wall. I also have a "regular" blog about my life - I have two little ones, work part time as a marriage therapist, and love love love yoga!

Looking at the list, I see that I've already read three of the books on the list (links are my reviews):

Black Swan Green

Half of a Yellow Sun
The Inheritance of Loss

I'm adding the following books, all of which are already on my reading list. In other words, I'm joining a challenge that just gets me in gear reading books I already want to read anyway!! Here's what I'll read from this list in the remaining months of this year:

Beasts of No Nation
The Echo Maker
The Road
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Suite Francaise

Looking forward to chatting and reading with all of you!

Spoiler Alerts

I just want to say "THANK YOU!" to all of those that have been posting a "Spoiler" alert in their reviews. I truly appreciate it.

My thoughts on books do not contain spoilers and I don't like to read them either; I barely read dust jackets! Over the years, I have found that it is often helpful to know something about a chosen book through the dust jacket, a review, word of mouth, etc. because I have been burned many times by plain and simply not knowing...however, I still do not want to read much.

Anyway, this blog is the perfect place to review and discuss the books with freedom. I can't wait to read my choices so I can read all of your reviews!


~*~ Joy ~*~

Friday, March 9, 2007

Literary Feline's Progress - Step One: Obtaining the Books

I recently came into possession of several of the NYT 2006 Notable Books. Let the challenge begin! Okay, so maybe not quite yet. I had every intention of beginning Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn (which I already had on hand) once I finished with my current reading selection, however, that is not meant to be. I do hope to get to it or one of my more recent acquisitions before the end of the month. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but let's think positive.

The most recent additions to my personal library in relation to this challenge include:

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala (not on my original list)
The Inhabited World by David Long
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta

I already have copies of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn. They are staring at me from my desk shelf. My cat is not too pleased with their location as that's one of his favorite spots to peer out at the world. Hopefully they will find themselves on my read shelves before he misses his spot too much.

Let me close with a quick shout out to the participants in this great challenge. I am very much enjoying your reviews and reading your thoughts on the books you have chosen to read. I look forward to joining in on the discussions!

Kim's Review of The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Note: To read a great review of this book or to participate in a discussion about this book, go here

241 pages, library, hardcover
published in 2006
started 3/6/07, finished 3/8/07

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

Reason for reading: I read this as part of the NYT Notable Books Challenge

Summary:A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food-and each other.

*WARNING: If you have not read the book, there are spoilers below. Read at your own risk!

This was my first McCarthy novel, so I did not know what to expect. I had heard great things about the book so I had hoped that I would love it, too. And I actually did end up enjoying it very much. McCarthy definitely writes sparse, beautiful prose. No one can argue with that. I felt like I was traveling in this devastated, hopeless world with the father and his son (so much so, that when they found that bunker full of food and supplies, I almost cried, I was so extremely relieved and happy for them and wished they could stay forever!). I thought this was actually a wonderful story about love and how love can get you through almost anything; or at least motivate you to keep on going when all seems hopeless and pointless. As for the ending (I know there is a lot of talk about this so I will throw in my two cents): my first reaction was that the people were "bad" and wanted to take the boy and eat him. But then I thought about it and if this group had been following the father and son all that time, they could have easily ambushed them whenever they wanted to, and they didn't. The man also let the boy keep his pistol and he wrapped the father's body in the blanket , which was a nice gesture, when they could have just taken him and eaten the body. So, I do think that those people were there to help the boy. Did I like the nice, pat, hopeful ending? I would have to say (even though I am in the minority), that I did like how the book ended. It gives us hope that the boy will be OK and that is fine with me after so much sadness.
Now, I do have to say (even though I will be booed and hissed at for saying it), I enjoyed Paul Auster's "In the Country of Last Things" (another postapocalyptic novel) a little bit more than this book. I guess I am the type of reader who needs a little bit more plot to go with her prose :0)
All in all, this was a very good read and I would definitely recommend this book to people.

Favorite part:
I already mentioned the I loved the part where they found the bunker full of food and supplies, but the part where they found the house with the people in the basement was a great part, too. It was so creepy and disturbing that I couldn't forget about it for the rest of the book! And I became like the little boy; whenever the father wanted to open another door, I was scared they would find more people!

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Sarah's (Loose Baggy Monster) review of "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

NOTE: this is an excerpt from the review posted on my blog. The fuller review contains some "spoilers" so I thought I would only give a briefer version here. I'm sorry if the review feels choppy (plus it's my first book review of a work of fiction, so bear with me)....

In his review of Half of a Yellow Sun for The Morning News's Tournament of Books, Brady Udall makes the observation, that "[f]or a war novel there is a distressing surplus of discourse, with characters holding forth in long paragraphs on subjects like Marxism, European colonialism, and tribal politics." I have to say, that this sentence caught my attention, for in my opinion, it does a bit of disservice to Adichie's work to categorize it in such a simplistic manner. Yes, Half of a Yellow Sun is about war and the ways in which the ravages of violence can quickly pervade a family, community, country, etc., but in many respects, I feel that it is also a novel about ideas, the transmission of those ideas, and the ways in which those ideas play out in a practical sense in the "real" world. Thus, it is vitally important that the first part of the novel focuses on the daily lives of these academic revolutionaries, who do sit around the radio engaging in a "surplus of discourse" involving the politics and various -isms that Udall mentions above. It sets the stage for the way in which the realities of war (the hunger, the pervasive death and terror) often seem to betray the ideals of revolution (or in this case the secession of Biafra from Nigeria, 1967-1970).

The pacing of Adichie's novel really reflected (for me) the descent into chaos once war began. For the first half of the novel, Adichie sets the scene, introducing us to the major characters, giving us glimpses into their everyday lives. We meet Odenigbo, the revolutionary academic, and Ugwu, his houseboy. Olanna, a fellow academic, is also Odenigbo's lover. And we meet Richard, an Englishman, who is also the lover of Kainene, Olanna's twin sister. Adichie seems to enjoy "pairing" in this novel: we have Olanna/Kainene, Odenigbo/Ugwu, Odenigbo/Richard, and a pairing that really struck me, that of Richard/Ugwu. Richard is a writer, entranced with a vision of Africa as he perceives it through the "roped pot" as an artistic artifact. Richard is also impotent on occasion, both in a sexual sense as well as an authorial sense. He writes page upon page, but his story has no cohesiveness (we are told), he can't seem to make sense of his experience, and ultimately, he ends up with little more than a title, which Ugwu later appropriates for his own work (and to a far more effective end).

I feel that Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredibly rich novel, although its full impact didn't strike me until I had finished the book and mulled it over. I did find myself lagging in some parts (particularly early on), but in the end, I can't wait to read this over again, to mine the riches I know are there. However, given that I have 19 other books in this challenge, perhaps a good rereading should be postponed for another occasion....

I do recommend this book, and as a shout-out to Apparent Dip (my husband) and the classic tv show "The Reading Rainbow" I feel compelled to say: "But don't take my word for it...."