December 2007
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Longlisted for Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2011 Shortlisted Best Written Book Blog - 2010

Monthly archives for December, 2007

The Borrowers – Book Review

The Borrowers – Book Review

“And, under this clock, below the wainscot, there was a  hole…” -From The Borrowers, page 8-

Enchanting and full of the unrestrained joy of a child’s imagination, Mary Norton’s award winning book The Borrowers ranks among my favorites of childhood. In this lovely 50th Anniversary Edition, Norton explains the process which led her to write the story.

Looking back, the idea seems to be part of an early fantasy in the life of a very short-sighted child, before i was known that she needed glasses. -From the Introduction of The Borrowers, page xv-

When one cannot see panoramas or stars in the vast sea of sky, it is natural to look more closely at the tiny details concealed within the shrubs or along creek beds, or beneath the floorboards hidden among the dust motes. And this was what Norton did as a child. Her splendid imagination created entire worlds…and later, just before war broke out in Europe, her mind returned to these little people of her childhood…and The Borrowers was born.

Norton’s endearing story centers around the Clocks – a family of tiny people who live beneath the floor of an old English country home. Arrietty, the Clocks only daughter, longs to go with her father on his borrowing escapades in the big house. And one day, he takes her with him. But, the unimaginable and most frightening thing occurs. Arrietty is “seen” by a boy and life for the Clocks is never again quite the same. Told in accessible language which draws the reader in, The Borrowers is classic children’s literature which will be enjoyed by “kids” of all ages.

Norton wrote an entire series of Borrowers books which continue to capture the adventures of the Clock family. As a child, I read them all – over and over again. If you have not experienced the joy of a Norton story, you are missing something wonderful.

The 50th Anniversary edition of The Borrowers (published in 2003 by Harcourt Inc) contains the original British illustrations, never before published in the United States, and is recommended as a beautiful edition for the library.

This book is highly recommended.

Sunday Salon – December 30, 200...

Sunday Salon – December 30, 2007

December 30, 2007

My husband and I have been out of town since Friday and although my post is late today, that does not reflect a lack of reading…merely a lack of access to the Internet.

In the last week, I read The Outlander, by Gil Adamson – an early review book from Ecco/Harper Collins which blew me away (read my review here).

I then picked up Candide, by Voltaire. Although slim, it packs a punch and is not exactly a “light” read. I have the Barnes and Noble Classic edition which has a great timeline and introduction, as well as ample notes and comments that helped me keep the historical events in perspective and gave me a better understanding of the novel’s meaning. In addition, this particular edition includes some incredible pencil plates drawn by Alan Odle. Overall, I enjoyed the book (read my review here), but I’m glad that this will be the discussion book for my Banned Books Yahoo group in January as I believe a novel like this can only be fully appreciated after much discussion and analysis.

After Candide, I felt a tremendous need for something light. I’ve picked up Mary Norton’s classic children’s book: The Borrowers. This was a favorite book of mine from childhood. I read the whole series at least half a dozen times. The story appeals to the imaginative mind of child in that it revolves around a family of “little people” called The Clocks who live beneath the floorboards of an old English country home. Norton is a gifted writer whose work has been honored and recognized by the Lewis Carroll Shelf Awards and The Carnegie Medal Award, as well as making the ALA’s list of most Distinguished Books. This is one I am happy to read snuggled beneath a blanket in front of the fire with a cup of good peppermint tea in my hand. If you haven’t read The Borrowers and the books that followed it…do yourself a favor and go get yourself a copy. You won’t regret it!

Candide – Book Review

Candide – Book Review

Master Pangloss taught the metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology. He could prove admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and in this best of all possible worlds the baron’s castle was the most magnificent of all castles, and my lady the best of all possible baronesses. -From Candide, page 12-

Voltaire published Candide – a classic satire which skewers politics, religious fanaticism, war, and colonialism – in 1759 to almost immediate success, despite being quickly condemned by French and Swiss authorities and banned by the Catholic church. The book sold phenomenally well “underground” and is considered one of the greatest satires of all time.

Voltaire created the naive, young Candide as a way to poke fun at religion and politics, while at the same time questioning the philosophy of Leibniz who was the eternal optimist, believing that all happened for the best and we lived in the best of all worlds. Faced with cataclysmic events (such as the 1755 earthquake of Lisbon which killed thousands), Voltaire questions the idea of a benevolent God who could allow such tragedy.

In the novel, Candide faces ludicrous and horrible situations…including floggings, beatings, betrayal, imprisonment, and separation from his beloved Cunegonde. Throughout his travels, Candide meets officials, Jesuits, and philosophers…and discovers a Utopian community…which all gives Voltaire ample opportunity to to attack corruption and hypocrisy in religion, government, philosophy and science. One of my favorite moments in the book was when Candide questions the leader of the Country of El Dorado (Utopia). The scene that follows puts Voltaire’s cutting humor on display:

Candide was interesting in seeing some of their priests and had Cacambo ask the old man where they were; at which he, smiling, said: “My friends, we are all priests. The king and all the heads of the families sing solemn hymns of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.” What!” says Cacambo, “you have no monks among you to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same opinion as themselves?” -From Candide, page 71-

Voltaire’s classic is as relevant today as it was nearly 250 years ago. Truly a book which will stimulate important discussion, this one is highly recommended.

The Outlander – Book Review

The Outlander – Book Review

The girl stood in her ditch under a a hard, small  moon. Pale foam rose from where her shoes sank into mud. No more voices inside her head, no noise but these dogs. She saw her own course along the ground as a trail of bright light, now doused in the ditchwater. She clambered up the bank and onto a road, her stiff funeral skirt made of bedspread and curtain, her hair wild and falling in dark ropes about her face. The widow gathered up her shawl and fled witchlike down the empty road. -From The Outlander, page 4-

Gil Adamson’s debut novel – The Outlander – will create instant fans and, I predict, hit the bestseller lists when it is released in April 2008. The novel opens with a nineteen year old woman fleeing from search dogs after she has murdered her husband. Set in 1903 among the mountain ranges of Western Canada, the novel is breathtaking in its scope and mesmerizing in its detail. Full of suspense, it had me turning the pages long into the night…and I was sorry to see the novel end; although I believe Adamson has deftly written the ending to allow for a sequel.

Adamson’s writing is a mix of Diana Gibaldan and Cormac McCarthy. She expertly creates setting which places the reader into the story and supplies a cast of characters who come alive on the pages. Mary Boulton, the self-made widow, quickly becomes a character the reader relates to – an unlikely character to evoke sympathy at first, but one who the reader gows to love. Along with Mary are such memorable personalities as: the red-haired twins (Mary’s persistent brother-in-laws), the Reverend Bonnycastle (a pastor who believes in boxing as a way to preach the word), Charlie McEchern (the dwarf with a head for business), the Cregan brothers (charming felons, cattle rustlers and horse thieves), Giovanni (the Italian giant with the gift of brewing whiskey), and finally The Ridgerunner … a man who needs no one, until he meets Mary.

This novel has it all – gorgeous scenery, a tantalizing plot, great characters and a sprinkling of romance. I will be watching for more Adamson novels…and, yes, hoping for that sequel!

Highly recommended.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Bo...

The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Book Review

Some say that we shall never know and that to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed away by the finger of God. – From The Bridge of San Luis Rey, page 9 –

Thornton Wilder earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which has been called his masterpiece. The novella (only 107 pages) begins in the summer of 1714 when a bridge of great construction fails and plunges five people to their deaths in the gorge below. A witness to the tragedy, Brother Juniper, embarks on a quest to prove divine intervention by exploring (in great depth) the lives of the people killed.

The book is essentially a lesson in philosophy – exploring the meaning of love, the twists and turns of one’s life amid the greater scheme of things, and whether death is fate or God’s plan. There are not any real answers to any of the questions – just the questions.

Wilder writes in old fashioned language and the novella is set in a foreign country with all the subtle references to politics and religion of the time. I admit to getting dragged down in it all and struggled to slog through and finish the book.

Wilder’s character development is one of the strengths of the book; and Wilder does this within a very few pages which speaks to his gift as a writer. My favorite characters were the twins Esteban and Manual and I think Wilder does an apt job of presenting their relationship to each other and the devastation of loss that occurs between them. Wilder connects all the central characters to each other…something that took me by surprise…sort of like the six degrees of separation theory. Because of this I expected a resolution to the ultimate question: Could it have been fate that plunged these people to their deaths? Or something larger? But, Wilder apparently never intended to provide an answer. In the afterword of the book I read, the publisher shares a letter from Wilder to one of his readers:

‘The book is not supposed to solve. A vague comfort is supposed to hover above the unanswered questions, but it is not a theorem with its Q.E.D. The book is supposed to be as puzzling and distressing as the news that five of your friends died in an automobile accident.’

Perhaps had this been a non fiction philosophy text, I could accept Wilder’s cop out on this issue. But, this is a work of fiction and I wanted the character of Brother Juniper to at least come to his own conclusion. Instead, the reader is left with an odd feeling of detachment.

Because this has been touted as a great work of literature, I wanted not only to like it, but to “get it.” I’m sorry to say, neither of those things happened. 

Not recommended.

Sunday Salon – December 23, 200...

Sunday Salon – December 23, 2007
December 23, 2007

7:40 AM

Two days before Christmas, and I wouldn’t have thought I’d have time to read. But, this is looking like a quiet sort of day – cloudy and cold, with snow on the breeze. And I think I’ll finish my current read today – The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder. Wilder is probably best known for his play: Our Town. But The Bridge of San Luis Rey earned him a Pulitzer prize in 1928. I started this novella yesterday and despite its slim size, it is taking me longer to read than I thought it would. The book is described as a moral fable – and Wilder links the characters in unusual ways. I’ll share more thoughts after I’ve finished it.

Last week I completed my read of  I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak (read my review here). I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Book Thief, but it is worth the read. Zusak is one author I’ll be keeping my eye on. He is brilliant.

I read my second Kiran Desai book this week: Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (read my review here). The novel was a bit of a disappointment. Desai writes beautiful, lyrical prose … but her characters in this book are a bit strange. The novel is touted as a satire of Indian culture – and the humor is entrenched in the Indian experience, which may be why the book felt like it passed me by. Earlier in the year I read her Booker prize winning novel: The Inheritance of Loss (read my review here), which I enjoyed. But, that said, it forced me to do some research on my own to understand the subtleties of the story and it was work to wade through. I’ve given Desai two goes … and my feeling toward her work is this: strong beautiful writing, but weak character development. I’d have to think twice before reading another of her novels.

More later…

6:50 PM

I finally finished The Bridge of San Luis Rey – in between making Swedish meatballs, Cardamon Bread, and prepping other food for our big dinner tomorrow. I haven’t yet written a book review. I must admit to being a little …well, confused might be a good word. I’m not a dummy. I have a professional degree and did well in college. I love reading award winning fiction. But, I have to admit to being less than thrilled about this novella. First of all, it is only just over 100 pages and it took me two days to slog through it. There were some good parts, but most of it was just plain work to read. I know this is supposed to be this very intellectual, literary morality tale…but I turned the last page and said “huh?” The book I read had a wonderful introduction by Russell Banks, and a good Afterword provided by the publisher. But, I still thought there was far too much intellectualizing and very little basic information about what this book was about. From what I can gather, Wilder’s goal was to ask questions and pose ideas and readers were left to come to their own conclusions. I guess I would have liked a little more structure. I’ll think about this one for a day or so and eventually write a review. In the meantime, have any of you read this one? What did you think? Anyone else think it is over rated? Or am I just not in a philosophical mood?

Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard ̵...

Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard – Book Review

So, at the family’s pleading, Dr. Banerjee, who prided himself on being a good sport, hoisted himself into the tree, stethoscope and blood pressure pump about his neck. He climbed all the way up to Sampath so he could look into his eyes and ears, check his tongue, listen to his heart, take his blood pressure and hit his knee with an expertly aimed karate-like move of his hand. Then he climbed down and got back into the scooter rickshaw he had arrived in. ‘He is a crazy person,’ he said, beaming, the mirth of the entire situation too much for him. ‘Nobody except God can do anything about that.’ And he disappeared back into town. -From Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, page 56-

Kiran Desai, Booker prize winning author of The Inheritance of Loss, has written a quirky satire about a family living in India. The book, set in a village called Shahkot, opens with the main character’s birth during the beginning of monsoon season. Twenty years later, Sampath Chawla has disappointed his family with his meaningless lifestyle and lack of motivation.

‘Phoo!’ Mr. Chawla snorted. ‘Progress! Ever since he was born, this boy has been progressing steadily in the wrong direction. Instead of trying to work his way upward, he started on the downward climb and now he is almost as close to the bottom as he could ever be’

‘But the world is round,’ said Ammaji, pleased by her own cleverness. ‘Wait and see! Even if it appears he is going downhill, he will come up out on the other side. Yes, on top of the world. He is just taking the longer route.’ -From Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, page 26-

One day, Sampath boards a bus into the country, and ends up climbing a tree in a guava orchard. From there, things get decidedly strange as the villagers grant him holy man status due to his propensity to mutter bizarre adages such as: ‘Some people can only digest fish cooked in a light curry. Others are of a sour disposition and should not eat pickled fish.’

Filled with eccentric characters such as Kulfi, Sampath’s mother who is obsessed with food; and Pinky, Sampath’s sister who is looking for love but has an aggressive streak…the book borders on weird. The humor is subtle and entrenched in the Indian experience – so I felt like I was missing some of the satire.

Although Desai’s writing is engaging, the story ends abruptly and left me largely unsatisfied. This one is forgettable.

Not recommended.

A Season for Joy

A Season for Joy

Earlier this year I posted about a little girl from Texas who had been hospitalized and was fighting for her life after her organ transplant began to fail. This week Ashley came home to Texas (the photo above was taken by her mom and posted on her blog several days ago). Ashley’s story is one of faith, one of hope, one of courage…and now one of joy. Her story is uplifting at times, and at other times it can be devastating. I have laughed and I have cried while reading her mother’s words. Ultimately, I always feel incredibly lucky to be able to know Ashley because of her mother’s courage in sharing her story.

During this Christmas season, I am reminded once again of the tremendous gift of life we have been given – and which we should celebrate with joy.

May Ashley’s first Christmas at home (rather than in a hospital bed) be filled with joy and peace, laughter and love. Merry Christmas, Ashley!

Something About Me Challenge Wrap Up

Something About Me Challenge Wrap Up

Challenge Wrap Up

Thank you to Lisa at Breaking the Fourth Wall for hosting this challenge! My original reading list consisted of more books, but the rules state that participants must complete five (5) books at a minimum…and I have done that, so I’m taking credit for a finish on this one. Here are the books I read:

1. The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett (Completed August 26, 2007; read a review here)
2. The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (Completed September 6, 2007; read a review here)
3. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck (Completed October 12, 2007; read a review here)
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns (Completed December 8, 2007; read a review here)

5. I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak (Completed December 17, 2007; read a review here)

My favorites were East of Eden AND A Thousand Splendid Suns – both of which I rated 5/5. There was not a “dud” in the bunch!

I still want to read many of the books on my original posting for this challenge…and will continue ‘checking them off’ as we move into 2008. Lisa is keeping the Something About Me Challenge blog open so I’ll be posting reviews there as well.

I Am The Messenger – Book Revie...

I Am The Messenger – Book Review

People die of broken hearts. They have heart attacks. And it’s the heart that hurts most when things go wrong and fall apart. – From I Am The Messenger, page 270 –

After reading Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief earlier this year (read my review here), I rushed right out and bought I Am The Messenger. It has taken me 11 months to actually sit down and read it…and although I can’t rate it at the level of The Book Thief, I wasn’t disappointed.

Ed Kennedy is a young taxi driver, a do-nothing sort of guy who hangs around with his friends playing cards and drinking coffee with his geriatric, smelly dog, The Doorman. Then one day he intervenes in a bank robbery…and his life changes. He begins receiving playing cards – aces – with messages he must figure out. The novel creates tension in that the reader (and Ed) are kept in the dark as to who the deliverer of the messages is…until the very last page.

Written in simple prose, but with Zusak’s signature brilliant language, I Am The Messenger delivers powerful and profound messages of faith, the underlying goodness of humanity, and the admonition that one must risk and stretch to achieve their purpose in life.

I want words at my funeral.
But I guess that means you need life in your life. – From I Am The Messenger, page 278 –

I love that Zusak is still a young man with, I hope, lots more stories inside of him. He is a writer of immense talent, and I Am the Messenger is just another example of this.

Recommended.

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