August 2007 archive

A Thank You …

Today I surpassed 10,000 visitors to my site since I began keeping track in February of this year. In honor of that, and as a way to thank my readers, I decided to give away a book. I put the names off  all those readers who have left comments on my blog since February, and drew a name.

And the winner is …. Laura at Musings – CONGRATULATIONS, LAURA!!!

I’m giving away one or two of my gently used books – please let me know which one or two you would like:

Stolen Lives, by Malika Oufkir
Eat The Document, by Dana Spiotta
Ferris Beach, by Jill McCorkle
Gifted, by Nikita Lalwani (an early release edition)
Our Lady of the Forest, by David Gutterson
For Whom The Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway

Thank you to ALL the readers who have visited my site over the last year!

The Country of the Pointed Firs – Book Review

We were standing where there was a fine view of the harbor and its long stretches of shore all covered by the great army of the pointed firs, darkly cloaked and standing as if they waited to embark. As we looked far seaward among the outer islands, the trees seemed to march seaward still, going steadily over the heights and down to the water’s edge. -From The Country of the Pointed Firs, page 29-

Sarah Orne Jewett published her best known novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, in 1896 – first in a serialized version for the Atlantic Monthly, and later in book form by Houghton Mifflin.  It was an instant success.  After reading this wonderful novella, I can plainly see why.

The narrator of the story remains unnamed, but through her we are introduced to an endearing cast of characters who reside in the fictional seaside town of Dunnet Landing, Maine. Arriving in early summer, the narrator lodges with the central character – Mrs. Almira Todd – and spends the long, warm days writing and getting to know Dunnet’s people and environs. She visits the surrounding islands, attends a joyous family reunion, and has tea with a local fisherman. The story ends with the narrator bidding farewell before boarding a boat bound for her home in London.

Having spent many years on the coast of Maine, I found myself smiling, nodding, and laughing at the accuracy of Jewett’s dialog and characterizations.

“There was good singers there; yes, there was excellent singers,” she agreed heartily, putting down her teacup, “but I chanced to drift alongside Mis’ Peter Bowden o’ Great Bay, an’ I couldn’t help think’ if she was as far out o’ town as she was out o tune, she wouldn’t get back in a day.”-From The Country of the Pointed Firs, page 99-

“You can never tell beforehand how it’s goin’ to be, and ‘t ain’t worth while to wear a day all out before it comes.” -From The Country of the Pointed Firs, page 76-

When the narrator writes:I had suddenly left the forbidding coast and come into a smooth little harbor of friendship (page 102), the reader finds herself nodding in agreement. From Captain Littlepage with his outrageous stories of Arctic travels, to Elijah Tilley pining eight years for his dead wife, to elderly Mrs. Blackett and her daughter, the effervescent herbalist in the guise of Almira Todd – Jewett’s characters come to feel like old and dear friends.

Rich with setting, the novel places the reader on the rocky Maine coast with the sting of salt in the air and the dark green firs thrusting into an azure sky. It is a book meant to be read slowly while sipping tea and gently rocking on an old farmhouse porch. When the narrator writes: At last I had to say good-by to all my Dunnet Landing Friends, and my homelike place in the little house… (page 111), the reader will wish the summer were longer.

This is a book that will stay on my bookshelf forever and grow dogeared and ragged from re-reading.

Highly recommended.

Note: I read this book for the Something About Me Challenge as recommended by Megan. Megan wrote in her nomination: “I was trying to find some good New England writing. Something that had really spoken to me. The writing in this book is absolutely overwhelming.” I agree Megan! Thanks for the recommendation!

Lost Geography – Book Review

How long did memories last? Did they expire like medicines, get thick and unusable like old paint? -From Lost Geography, page 63-

I attended the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference in June of 2002 and had the pleasure of meeting Charlotte Bacon who was a presenter at the conference. Since she is a professor at the University of New Hampshire, we had geography in common – and I quickly bought her book which she autographed for me. Why I have waited more than five years to actually read this wonderful novel, I cannot tell you.

Lost Geography is Bacon’s debut novel (she has since published two other novels). The book spans nearly sixty years and follows four generations of a multicultural family. Bacon takes the reader around the world from the rural farmlands of Saskatchewan to the urban bustle of Toronto to the glamorous, brightly lit streets of Paris to the fog laden shops of London to the dusty roadways of Istanbul and finally to the glitter of New York City.

Bacon’s fine sense of place and lyrical descriptions make the novel a delight to read. But it is her gift at creating honest and convincing characters that keeps the reader turning the pages. Bacon uses the characters’ memories and experiences to bind them together through the years, showing us that family stories can connect one generation to the other. The idea of loss and survival, and making one’s unique way in the world while staying connected to those we love are strong themes in Lost Geography. Reading this novel was like sinking into a tub and letting the warm water wash over me. Bacon’s prose is genuine and gorgeously constructed; her characters will make you laugh and cry; and her pitch perfect descriptions of place will set you firmly in the story.


A New Blog – Notable Books

In early January of 2007, I decided to challenge myself to read 20 books from the New York Times Most Notable Book list. It started as a personal challenge and grew to include many other readers with the same ambition. A group blog was developed where participants in the challenge developed challenge lists and posted reviews of the books they read. Some lively discussions have ensued! Because of the enthusiastic response to that challenge, I decided to expand things a bit.

The Notable Books Blog will include notable book lists from a variety of sources (not just the New York Times). Notable book lists will begin with 2007 lists (with the exception of the NYT Most Notable, which will begin with the 2008 list). The New York Times Most Notable Blog still exists – and it will be up to Ariel at Sycorax Pine if the challenge will continue for 2008. If it does, my hope is that contributors will cross post their reviews to both blogs!

Although there will be no formal challenge guidelines, participants to The Notable Book Blog will be encouraged to challenge themselves to read books from the lists and post reviews to the site. Cross posting to personal blogs is permitted (and encouraged!).

If you’d like to become a contributor to my new blog, please click on over there and request an invitation!

Gifted – Book Review

“Rumi is a gifted child!” Mrs. Gold declared, unleashing the words with a thrilled upward turn of the mouth. Mahesh looked at Shreene, who was biting at the dry skin on her lower lip – a sign that she was tense. He looked at Rumi, who was staring at the floor, waiting for him to decipher the words. An then he cast his gaze back toward Mrs. Gol, and her radiant lines of teeth. “You mean she is doing well at school?” -From Gifted, page 6-

Nikita Lalwani’s debut novel Gifted is filled with vivid characterization and decidedly readable. Rumi, a second generation Indian with a gift for mathematics, is growing up with her family in Cardiff, Wales. Her father, Mahesh, drives her to achieve what only a few others have accomplished: acceptance at Oxford University at the age of fourteen. He is unrelenting and rigid in setting up Rumi’s schedule of studies – which last for hours after school beginning when she is only five years old. It becomes apparent early on, that Mahesh’s motivation is less about Rumi’s future, and more about his own feelings of inferiority.

When he arrived at the table, Mahesh got up to sit in the opposite chair, placing himself so that his back was to the rest of the room, preferring to look at the ambient reflections of people and light that were skimming against the window. He felt small, uncultivated somehow, shrunken with insecurity, and he knew it had something to do with the pub, the easy assurance with which alcohol and sport could connect these unknown people into a community of their own. It was ridiculous. “A little Indian man in the corner.” The words came into his head, circled with an imagined note of pity, like the red pen on a student mistake, too quickly for him to feel any thing other than shocked. Was this how he saw himself? -From Gifted, page 124-

Nikita Lalwani was born in India and raised in Cardiff, Wales – a predominantly white, Christian city – and I believe she must surely identify with Rumi who loves India from afar and wishes she were like the other children in her school.  Rumi wants to be accepted in her adopted country – and is like any young girl moving from childhood to adolescence. But, Rumi’s family clings to their Indian culture, isolating Rumi from her peers and demanding she surpass them academically. It is heartbreaking when Rumi asks her mother about sexual intercourse only to be told: “Forget science. That is their science, for white people. We do not do that.”

Rumi’s mother, Shreen, is vividly drawn – a woman who gave up her dreams of becoming a doctor to marry a controlling man who moved her away from her family and the country she loves. Shreen is a tragic character, and someone the reader pulls for throughout the novel. She is the person we hope will rescue Rumi with her love. The relationship between Rumi and Shreen is painful, but realistic – and it tugs at the reader’s heartstrings.

As the novel unfolds, the divide between cultures seems to grow wider. There is a sense of doom that pulls the reader through the story, a feeling of voyeurism as we yearn to see how it will all end. Gifted is a novel about love and boundaries, about defining success, about the fine line between protecting one’s children and smothering them. I found myself staying up long past my bedtime to finish this book – and it is one that I will be thinking about for a long time.

Recently nominated for the Booker Prize long list, this is a book which is highly recommended.

A Book Meme

I’ve seen this meme moving around the blogosphere and thought I’d give it a shot…

What are you reading now?

I am about 2/3rds of the way through Gifted, by Nikita Lalwani. I received the book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer Program. So far, I’m enjoying it. It made the Booker Prize long list recently, so I am eager to finish it and form an opinion as to whether it deserves its spot there!

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?

I have so many books stacked up to be read in the next few months it could be anything! Although I’m leaning heavily towards one of the following:
Lost Geography, by Charlotte Bacon
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
The Lizard Cage, by Karen Connelly
The Country of Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett

What magazines do you have in your bathroom right now?

None. I don’t read magazines in the bathroom…BUT, in my living room you can take your pick between Country Home, Country Living, Sunset Magazine, World Literature Today, Today in PT, NARHA’s Strides Magazine, or Reader’s Digest.

What’s the worst thing you were ever forced to read?

Luckily it has been a long time since I was forced to read anything. I’m an adult now. I get to pick. I’m sure there were lots of things I didn’t want to read in high school – but it’s been so long now that I forget what they were.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

That’s easy – The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Admit it, the librarians at your library know you on a first name basis, don’t they?

My library is teeny weeny and does not have much selection – so no, they don’t know me. Now, had this question been “The folks at Amazon” OR “The sales people at Barnes and Noble” I’d have had to say yes!

Is there a book you absolutely love, but for some reason, people never think it sounds interesting, or maybe they read it and don’t like it at all?

The Hotel New Hampshire, by John Irving is one of my all time favorite novels…but, I never can seem to convince other people to read it; and if they do read it, they often classify it as odd.

Do you read books while you eat? While you bathe? While you watch movies or TV? While you listen to music? While you’re on the computer? While you’re having sex? While you’re driving?

Yes for eating, watching TV and listening to music. I’ll open a book and read if I’m in stopped traffic for any length of time, but certainly not while the car is moving (I do have boundaries after all). Never on the computer. I don’t take baths because my tub is not comfortable and reading while in the shower is really not all that easy. While having sex? You’re kidding, right? That may be the only time I’m not thinking about books!

When you were little, did other children tease you about your reading habits?

No. And I don’t even really understand this question.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?

The last thing? The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge

September 1, 2007 – October 31, 2007

**CHALLENGE COMPLETED on October 29, 2007. Great challenge – I finally managed to put this book into my “completed” stack after owning it for almost three years! Thanks for hosting this one, Carl!

Read my reviews for this challenge here.

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting his annual RIP Challenge. He is offering a lot of different options for participants, and even though I am completely “over challenged” I just couldn’t resist this one!

Readers may choose from the following:

1. Peril The First – Read any four books from any subgenre of scary stories.
2. Peril The Second (aka The Obese Book Peril) – Read two fat tomes fitting the definition of scary stories.
3. Peril The Third (Scary Sandwich Peril) – Squeeze in a shorter book between those you’ve chosen in #2.
4. Peril The Fourth (Just a Bit of Peril) – Read just one book that fits the criteria.

And then there are additional perils, including the Short Story Sunday Peril in which you read one short story a week for the duration of the challenge (I count nine Sundays!).

Carl has many wonderful examples of books that meet the criteria.

Links to ALL READER REVIEWS for this challenge can be found here.

Due to my other challenges and reading commitments, I have decided to combine Peril the Fourth with the additional Short Story Sunday Peril. Several years ago I purchased a hardback of Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales. It has been sitting on my TBR stack for far too long…and King’s stories certainly meet the criteria.  I plan on reading the entire collection of 14 stories.

Everything’s Eventual, by Stephen King
1.  Autopsy Room Four (completed 10/13/2007)
2.  The Man in the Black Suit (completed 10/13/2007)
3.  All That You Love Will Be Carried Away (completed 10/13/2007)
4.  The Death of Jack Hamilton (completed 10/13/2007)
5.  In The Deathroom (completed 10/14/2007)
6.  The Little Sisters of Eluria (completed 10/24/2007)
7.  Everything’s Eventual (completed 10/27/2007)
8.  L.T.’s Theory of Pets (completed 10/27/2007)
9.  The Road Virus Heads North (completed 10/28/2007)
10.Lunch at the Gotham Cafe (completed 10/28/2007)
11.That Feeling, you Can Only Say What It Is In French (completed 10/28/2007)
12. 1408 (completed 10/29/2007)
13. Riding The Bullet (completed 10/29/2007)
14. Luckey Quarter (completed 10/29/2007)

Bastard Out Of Carolina – Book Review

Bastard Out of Carolina is a disturbing novel about a little girl named Ruth Ann – who happens to be illegitimate and surviving in a world of poverty, drunks, petty criminals, and a pedophile whom her mother loves. Allison’s writing is good – and it kept me reading this depressing story. But, the story itself made me furious – which may have been Allison’s goal.

Years ago I worked as a child care worker with abused girls (mostly the victims of sexual molestation and rape) between the ages of six and thirteen. That job made me completely unsympathetic toward the cycle of abuse and the parents who knowingly put their kids in harms way. In Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison explores the cycle of abuse and demonstrates realistically how abused children grow up with self-hatred and anger…and ultimately become the purveyors of abuse themselves. I found myself empathetic toward Ruth Ann, even as she becomes progressively more disturbed and dangerous. My understanding of her mother, however, was limited. In one particularly horrific scene, we see how she is willing to sacrifice her child for her own selfish needs of love. It made me sick – and it is hard for me to understand how anyone can make the choices this particular mother makes.

The novel provides excellent characterization of Ruth Ann’s extended family, including the multitude of Aunts who have their own issues and problems. My frustration, however, was that no one really comes forth to rescue Ruth Ann. Perhaps my anger really stems from how often this is true in real life.

I have a hard time recommending this novel – it is bleak, depressing, and left me with the desire to hurl it out the window because of the anger it triggered. I really hated the ending. But, if you like to read about dysfunctional families and want to read good writing  that will conjure up lots of emotion, perhaps you will like the book.

The Pulitzer Project

The Pulitzer Project
Ongoing Challenge to Read All the Pulitzer Winners

Michelle at 3M has created a new group blog called The Pulitzer Project for those readers who want to challenge themselves to read all the Pulitzer Prize Winners. There is no time limit – which makes this one very doable for me!

I will be tracking my progress here. I’ve included those I’ve read since 2005. I think I may have read some in high school, but since I can’t remember the details of those books I will be re-reading them.

Read in 2005:

The Hours, by Michael Cunningham – won in 1999 (unrated; not reviewed)
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx – won in 1994 (rated 4/5; not reviewed)
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry – won in 1986 (rated 5/5; not reviewed)

Read in 2006:

Gilead, by Marilyn Robinson – won in 2005 (rated 2.5/5; not reviewed)
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton – won in 1921 (rated 4.75/5; not reviewed)

Read in 2007:

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy – won in 2007 (completed May 17, 2007; rated 5/5; reviewed here)
March, by Geraldine Brooks – won in 2006 (completed April 3, 2007; rated 4/5; reviewed here)
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker – won in 1983 (completed January 12, 2007; rated 4.75/5; reviewed here)
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – won in 1961 (completed March 21, 2007; rated 5/5; reviewed here)
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck – won in 1940 (completed January 18, 2007; rated 5/5; reviewed here)
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides – won in 2003 (completed November 1, 2007; rated 4.5/5; reviewed here)
The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck – won in 1932 (completed November 28, 2007; rated 4.5/5; reviewed here)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder – won in 1928 (completed December 23, 2007; rated 3/5; reviewed here)

Read in 2008:

So Big, by Edna Ferber – won in 1925 (completed January 17, 2008; rated 5/5; reviewed here)

How Green Was My Valley – Book Review

How green was my Valley then, and the Valley of them that have gone – From How Green Was My Valley-

Richard Llewellyn has crafted a fine modern day classic with his expansive family saga set in the late 1800s in a South Wales coal mining town. Huw Morgan, now an old man, is ready to leave his home forever as a black slag heap threatens the village. But, before he goes, he looks back on his childhood and young adult life. His memories include work in the coal mines and the formation of unions with their strikes and violence; as well as more tender moments of a boy’s first love.

Beginning when Huw is only six years old, How Green Was My Valley is lovingly told and builds to its inevitable ending with a grace and simplicity enhanced by Llewellyn’s fine voice and lyrical Welsh dialect. The characters that inhabit the novel are tender, humorous, strong and real. One of my favorites is Mr. Gruffydd, the village pastor, who befriends Huw and his family.

When Mr. Gruffydd started his sermon, he always put a few sheets of paper on the ledge by the Bible, but never once was he seen to use them. He started to speak as though he were talking to a family, quietly, in a voice not loud, not soft. But presently you would hear a note coming into it and your hair would go cold at the back. It would drop don and down, until you could hear what he said only from the shapes of his mouth, but then he would throw a rock of sound into the quiet and bring your blood splashing up inside you, and keep it boiling for minutes while the royal thunder of his voice proclaimed again the Kingdom of God, and the Principality of Christ the Man. -From How Green Was My Valley, page 165-

Llewellyn writes as a musician composes a great symphony – exacting, beautifully wrought, with an ear for poetry and harmony. How Green Was My Valley is a novel about family unity, love, the pain of disappointment and the joy of shared dreams; it is about the strength of neighbors and the beauty of the Welsh countryside. Exquisitely rendered, it is a story the reader immerses herself in and never wants to end.

Highly recommended.

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