April 2007 archive

Fall On Your Knees – Book Review

  You might cross this road and walk a few steps to the edge of the cliff. Down below is the jagged water. All day it chatters back and forth across the gravel beach, unless the weather’s rough. Farther out it’s mauve like a pair of cold lips; closer in it’s copper green, gun gray, seducing seaweed to dance the seven veils despite the chill, chained to their rocks by the hair. And there on the cliff you might sit with your legs dangling even on a flinty winter day, and feel soothed by the salt wind. – From Fall On Your Knees, page 27-

Ann-Marie MacDonalds multigenerational family saga Fall On Your Knees captures the reader from the start with a finely tuned sense of place and characters who fill the page. The story begins with James Piper, a native of Cape Breton Island, and Materia, his tragic Lebanese child-bride. One by one, children are born to the Pipers – each with distinct and compelling personalities. MacDonald takes her time, gradually revealing the dark shadows beneath the surface of this family.

Some of my favorite parts of the novel consisted of the careful construction of character and the beautiful and horrible imagery.

A war changes people in a number of ways. It either shortcuts you to your very self; or it triggers such variations that you might as well have been a larva, pupating in dampness, darkness and tightly wrapped puttees. Then, providing you don’t take flight from a burst shell, you emerge from your khaki cocoon so changed from what you were that you fear you’ve gone mad, because people at home treat you as though you were someone else. Someone, who, through a bizarre coincidence, had the same name, address and blood ties as you, but who must have died in the war. -From Fall On Your Knees, page 112-

This book is full of tragedy, and yet MacDonald tempers it with a sardonic humor and accessible prose that compels the reader to keep turning the pages. My favorite character is Frances – the imaginative second child of the Pipers who has a biting wit and a gift for words.

You might think Frances would be a slob, but she isn’t, she’s very neat and organized. She has accommodated Lily with a framed magazine photograph of Mary Pickford in a stupid gingham apron. It hangs next to Lily’s color print of Jesus with the lambs. Jesus looks sad, of course, “because he’s thinking about how much he likes lamb chops,” says Frances, but Lily is not fooled by that . The rest of the walls are covered in Frances’ collection. She writes away for publicity photos. There is one of Lillian Gish trapped on an ice floe. There is Houdini naked and furious in a milk can. There is an actual poster that an usher at the Empire gave her of Theda Bara in Sin, holding her unbelievably long tresses at arm’s length above her head like a madwoman. Frances calls her Head of Haira. Mercedes thinks the picture is immoral. -From Fall On Your Knees, page 192-

Fall On Your Knees is a magnificent, sprawling novel of family secrets, religious obsession, and survival. It resonates with unforgettable characters.


The Space Between Us – Book Review

Thrity Umrigar has written a searingly honest novel about two women living in Bombay. Sera is wealthy, a Parsi who has lived a materially rich life, but suffered a violent marriage. Bhima, on the other hand, is poor and living in a slum with her granddaughter. The two women’s lives intersect because Bhima becomes Sera’s house servant.

The novel alternates between Sera’s and Bhima’s points of view – giving the reader insight into their personal histories which have made them who they are today. Although the two women have built a friendship with each other, filled with tenderness, they cannot escape the caste system into which they have been born.

Umrigar does an apt job of showing the gaping differences between the various castes in India. She writes with a sensitivity to women’s issues which I found touching. She weaves a story which is almost predictable based on the rigid adherence to culture which we see from all the characters. Despite its underlying sadness, the novel does leave the reader with a flush of hope at the end.


Cloud Atlas – Book Review

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the rices of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a wold will come to pass. -From Cloud Atlas, page 508-

David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas, is at once brilliant, far reaching in scope and immensely creative. I read this book like an addict – hanging on the words, seeking the answers, caught up in the worlds Mitchell flawlessly creates. I feel like I could re-read this book several times and continue to find new meanings each time. David Mitchell is a newly discovered author for me – and I am in awe of his talent. I will most certainly be reading his other two novels –Ghostwritten AND Number9Dream – in the very near future.

Cloud Atlas appears to be six seemingly disparate stories, but they are woven together and connected as the novel progresses. Tucked into the stories, Mitchell alludes to the novel’s structure at least twice.

Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year’s fragments into a “sextet for overlapping soloist”: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. -From Cloud Atlas, page 445-

One model of time: an infinite matroyoshka doll of painted moments, each “shell” (the present) encased inside a nest of “shells” (previous presents) I call the actual past but which we perceive as the virtual past. The doll of “now” likewise encases a nest of presents yet to be, which I call the actual future but which we perceive as the virtual future. -From Cloud Atlas, page 393-

Confused? Don’t be. Mitchell brings it all together in an incredible symphony of writing brilliance. Not only does he create memorable characters, he weaves his words like a painter – fabricating beautiful descriptions of setting.

The tropic sun fattens & fills the noon sky. The men work seminaked with sun-blacked torsos & straw hats. The planking oozes scorching tar that sticks to one’s soles. Rain squalls blow up from nowhere & vanish with the same rapidity & the deck hisses itself dry in a minute. Portuguese man-o’-wars pulsate in the quick-silver sea, flying fish bewitch the beholder & ocher shadows of hammerheads circle the Prophetess. -From Cloud Atlas, page 37-

I was excited to see Eva van Outryvede Crommelynck (a wonderful character from Mitchell’s latest novel, Black Swan Green) make an appearance in this one as a young girl. It gives me some cautious hope that  in a future novel we might seen the dynamic and lovable Jason Taylor again!

A common theme in Cloud Atlas is that of power as a destructive force. Mitchell writes:

‘What drives some to accrue power where the majority of their compatriots lose, mishandle, or eschew power? Is it addiction? Wealth? Survival? Natural selection? I propose these are all pretexts and results, not the root cause. The only answer can be ‘There is no “Why.” This is our nature.’ ‘Who’ and ‘What’ run deeper than ‘Why.’ -page 129-


The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. -page 444-

Ultimately, Mitchell evokes a world where all humans are connected – like souls which ‘cross ages like clouds cross skies.’ This is truly a beautifully written novel which will stay with the reader long after the final page has been turned.

Highly recommended.

History Meme

I am unofficially “tagged” for this meme after reading A Fraternity of Dreamers’ post about it.

I.   Go to Wikipedia and type in your month and day of birth (no year):

August 19

II.  List three events:

1934 – First All -American Soap Box Derby is held in Dayton, Ohio
1944 WWII Liberation of Paris – Paris rises against German occupation with the help of Allied Troups
1991Collapse of the Soviet Union – Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is placed under arrest while on holiday in the town of Foros, Crimea

III. List two births:

1871Orville Wright, American Aviation pioneer (d. 1955)
1930Frank McCourt, Irish-American author

IV. List one death:

1980Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank (b. 1889)

V.   List one holiday:

Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the Savior’s Transfiguration, popularly known as the “Apples Feast” which is the first day of the year when eating apples is allowed (!)

I’m supposed to “tag” five other people – but instead consider yourself “tagged” if you read this and want to play! Just leave me a comment with a link to your blog so I can come read your answers.

LitMinds Interview

Imagine my surprise when Carrie Evans from LitMinds contacted me to request an interview for their blog! I was tremendously flattered and a bit nervous that I would not have anything important to say. The interview is up on their blog today and can be found here.

My thanks to LitMinds for allowing me the opportunity to discuss books, reading and writing as part of their wonderful community!

The Dystopian Challenge


I managed to complete this challenge without a day to spare, finishing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood on the last day. This was a fabulous challenge for me as I don’t normally read much Dystopian Literature. I can’t really pick a favorite book from the books I read. I gave The Road and The Handmaid’s Tale both 5/5 ratings, with Cloud Atlas scoring a 4.75/5. Paul Auster’s book was my least favorite of the bunch.

Thank you Lisa for hosting such an awesome challenge!


Lisa over at Books.Lists.Life has proposed an interesting challenge. The Dystopian Challenge runs from March 31st through November 6th. There aren’t a lot of rules:

  1. Pick any number of books you wish to read that fall into the Utopia/Dystopia genre.
  2. They do not have to be books you’ve never read, but hopefully they aren’t books you read last week.

I thought about resisting this one…but then I realized that there are two books on my list (one I’m currently reading) which fit this description; and two more that I’ve been wanting to read for some time. So…I’m in!

Here are my books for this challenge:

1. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (Completed 4/18/2007; read a review here.)
2. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Completed 5/17/2007; read a review here.)
3. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (Completed 11/5/2007; read a review here.)
4.  In the Country of Last Things, by Paul Auster (Completed 9/23/2007; read a review here.)

To read reviews of books read by participants, go here.

The Year Of Pleasures – Book Review

In a way, my situation reminded me of a little girl I’d once seen exiting a roller coaster at a state fair, all wide eyes and pale face and shaky knees. When her brother asked if she’d like to ride again, she said, “not until I’m way readier.” I felt myself trapped in line for a ride I was not nearly ready for, looking back but moving forward in the only direction I could go. -From The Year of Pleasures, page 5 –

How do we move forward when all we want to do is stand still? How do we overcome our grief in order to find joy again? These are the central questions which rise from the pages of Elizabeth Berg’s wonderful novel The Year Of Pleasures.

The story revolves around a middle aged woman, Betta Nolan, who finds herself suddenly without her beloved husband, John. As the book progresses, the reader is carried along on Betta’s journey of rediscovery. She moves from Boston to a small town in Illinois where she learns that some friendships never die and the slow rhythm of life can open new doors to self-fulfillment. The characters between the pages of this book simply shine – Bennie, the ten year old who lives next door; Matthew, the twenty something college kid; Lydia, an elderly woman with her own deeply embedded painful memories; the three wild women friends from Betta’s college years; and finally, John. The reader never meets John before his death, and yet his character comes alive in the novel through the tiny scraps of paper he leaves behind in a cigar box, and ultimately through Betta’s memories of him.

Berg has a wonderful gift – she is able to wrap a story around the reader like a warm blanket on a cold night. Her ability to show the depth of women’s friendships and the pleasure in simple things is amazing. With attention to detail and flawless dialogue, Berg is able to transport the reader into the lives of her characters. As most of her books do, this one had me laughing and crying and wishing it would never end.

Highly recommended.

The Southern Reading Challenge

June 1st through August 31st

COMPLETED this challenge on August 18, 2007
Thank you, Maggie for a great challenge!

Maggie over at Maggie Reads is sponsoring the Southern Reading Challenge 2007 and it sounds like a lot of fun. The goal is to read three books set in the South and written by a Southern author. She’s even supplied a map to help participants determine what States are acceptable for the challenge!.

I can’t resist this one! I’ve found three books on my stacks that I think meet the criteria:

1. The Evening Star, by Larry McMurtry (Completed June 30, 2007; read a review here.)
2. Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison (Completed August 1, 2007; read a review here.)
3. No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy (Completed July 20, 2007; read a review here.)

Alternate Read:
The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd

Of course, I can change my mind before June 1st, right?!??

I WON!!!

I can’t tell you how many book drawings I’ve entered. I enter them all! I never win…until this week! Thanks so much to Lynne over at Dovegreyreader who had a book giveaway in honor of Buy A Friend A Book (BAFAB) week. Her wonderful cats did the honors of picking two people to win What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn. Besides me – Nan, at Letters From A Hill Farm, also had luck on her side. I’ll be looking forward to getting my book in the mail and promise to give you all a review when I’m finished reading it!

A New Blog…

…for those of you who want to see all the reading challenges in ONE PLACE! I’ve started a blog called: A Novel Challenge. Please come on over and visit me there! Drop me a comment with a link if there are reading challenges out there which I haven’t listed. I’m working on starting a Google group where like-minded readers can go to chat about their reading and the challenges they are doing (and get a little reader-ly support to finish their goals!). If I can ever figure out Google’s system for groups, I’ll let you know!

OKAY – I gave up on Google’s groups…much too confusing for my non-computerized brain. Instead, I opened a Yahoo group. Come on over and let’s talk!

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