Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Book Review

Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books. -From Isola Pribby to Juliet, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society-

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ first novel will certainly ruin you ‘for enjoying bad books.’ Set on the island of Guernsey (in the Channel Islands) in the months following the Second World War, the novel is written as a series of letters between Juliet Ashton and the diverse characters who people the story.  Juliet is struggling to find a subject for her next book when she unexpectedly receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer from Guernsey, who discovered Juliet’s name in the flyleaf of a Charles Lamb book.

I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true. -from Dawesy Adams to Juliet, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society-

Dawsey’s letters pique Juliet’s interest in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (a society impulsively created as an alibi to protect its members from arrest by German soldiers), and she begins to trade correspondence with the society’s other members. Through these letters (as well as exchanges between Juliet and her literary agent, her new boyfriend in London, and her best friend Sophie) the story about the German occupation of Guernsey and its effects on the island’s residents begins to unfold.

We started out hopeful, sure they’d be gone in six months. But it stretched on and on. Food grew hard to come by, and soon there was no firewood left. Days were grey with hard work and evenings were black with boredom. Everyone was sickly from so little nourishment and bleak from wondering if it would ever end. We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us. -from Eben Ramsey to Juliet, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society-

One character, Elizabeth, is introduced not through her voice, but through the voices of those who knew and loved her. It is this character that provides the glue which binds all the characters together and gives us a glimpse into what it means to maintain one’s humanity in the face of tragedy.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a heartfelt and captivating book about a small community of people connected through their love of literature and the trauma of war. The novel is deeply satisfying due in large part because of Shaffer and Barrows’ sharp wit coupled with a discerning eye towards what makes characters memorable and unique. Book lovers will relate to the authors’ astute observations of literature and the healing power of sharing a book with a good friend. This is a novel which makes the reader laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. Beautifully written with warmth and humor, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is highly recommended.

Chunkster Challenge – 2008


January 7 – December 20, 2008

UPDATE July 29, 2008: CHALLENGE COMPLETED

I have technically completed this challenge having read FOUR chunksters. But, since the challenge runs through December 20th, I’m going to continue ticking books off my list until then. Many of these books have been sitting on my shelf screaming to be read…and darn it, I’m going to read them!

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I didn’t participate in this challenge last year, so when Dana at So Many Books, So Little Time agreed to host it for 2008, I couldn’t resist. Actually, it is an easy challenge for me to commit to given I have already committed to reading some pretty big books in 2008. Here are the rules:1. Books must be at least 450 pages (regular type)
2. You have to read a minimum of 4 (one per quarter)
3. Any chunkster started after January 1st qualifies
4. Books must be reviewed

…And there are prizes (yay!)

I will choose from the following list of books:

  1. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (702 pages)
  2. The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff (579 pages) – COMPLETED July 28, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review.
  3. Cancer Ward, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (536 pages)
  4. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver (543) – COMPLETED July 12, 2008; 5/5; read my review.
  5. Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo (528 pages) – COMPLETED June 7, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review.
  6. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (933 pages)
  7. The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (973 pages)
  8. World Without End, by Ken Follett (1014 pages)
  9. HeyDay, by Kurt Anderson (620 pages)
  10. Lisey’s Story, by Steven King (509 pages)
  11. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy (1215 pages)
  12. The Winter Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly (707 pages) – COMPLETED January 5, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review.
  13. Conversation in the Cathedral, by Mario Vargas Llosa (601 pages)

The ARC Reading Challenge

June 21, 2008 – September 21, 2008

UPDATE July 29, 2008: CHALLENGE COMPLETED.

I finished 4 ARCs and read part way through a 5th (but didn’t complete it) which means technically, I’ve finished this challenge. BUT, since the challenge actually runs through September 21st and I still have tons of ARCs on my shelf, I’m going to keep ticking off my reads for the challenge until it ends in September.

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Teddy from So Many Precious Books So Little Time is hosting her FIRST reading challenge – and it’s a good one! The ARC Challenge is all about reading Advance Reader’s Copies (or Advance Reader’s Editions) of books.

Here are the rules:

1. Make a list of all of the ARC’s that you currently have and/or are on their way to you.
2. If you have:

  • 1-3 ARC’s then pick at least one to read and review for this challenge.
  • 4-6 ARC’s then pick at least two to read and review for this challenge.
  • 7-9 ARC’s then pick at least three to read and review for this challenge.
  • 10 or more Arc’s then pick at least 4 to read and review for this challenge.

3. Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.
4. List the books that you plan to read for this challenge (you can change it at any time, as long as the books you change are also ARCs). You can read the books on your list in any order.
5. Read the books and review them on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, you can post your review on sites like Amazon. Leave a comment on the post about the challenge with a link to each of your reviews.

SO, of course I’m joining…

Here is the list of my current ARCs and ones I am expecting to arrive before the challenge is through (bolded books are those I expect to read during the challenge period, although that may change):

  1. Comfort Food, by Kate Jacobs (COMPLETED June 25, 2008; rated 2/5; read my review)
  2. The House at Midnight, by Lucie Whitehouse (COMPLETED June 28, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  3. The Island of Eternal Love, by Daina Chaviano (DNF; unrated; read my thoughts)
  4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (COMPLETED July 31, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. Leftovers, by Laura Weiss (COMPLETED July 31, 2008; rated 3/5; read my review)
  6. The Map Thief, by Heather Terrell (COMPLETED August 9, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  7. Guernica, by Dave Boling (COMPLETED September 14, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  8. The Glimmer Palace, by Beatrice Colin
  9. The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff (COMPLETED July 28, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  10. The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent (COMPLETED September 9, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  11. Ships Without a Shore, by Anne R. Pierce, PhD (COMPLETED September 16, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  12. House and Home, by Kathleen McCleary (COMPLETED September 6, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  13. Black Wave, by John and Jean Silverwood
  14. Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rostnay (COMPLETED September 2, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  15. The Suspicions of Mr. Witcher, by Kate Summerscale
  16. Sweetsmoke, by David Fuller (COMPLETED August 20, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  17. Rules for Saying Goodbye, by Katherine Taylor (COMPLETED August 4, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  18. The White Mary, by Kira Salak (COMPLETED July 16, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)

The 19th Wife – Book Review

I am but one, yet to this day countless others lead lives even more destitute and enslaved than mine ever was. Perhaps my story is the exception because I escaped, at great risk, polygamy’s conjugal chains; and that my husband is the Mormon Church’s Prophet and Leader, Brigham Young, and I am his 19th and final, wife. -From The 19th Wife, page 6-

Ann Eliza Young was, in fact, a plural wife of Brigham Young in the late 1800s. Her life, including her very public divorce and attack against Celestial Marriage (which spurred the passage of the Poland Act, and ultimately forced the LDS Church to ban the practice), is the basis for David Ebershoff’s third historical novel The 19th Wife. Ebershoff weaves the fictionalized version of Ann Eliza’s story with that of a present day plural wife, her son and a murder mystery.

Ebershoff’s writing engaged me immediately, especially when he speaks in Ann Eliza’s voice. He includes letters, newspaper reports and occasional other narrators to construct a complete picture of the life of this interesting historical female character. I was less engaged by the parallel story from present day. It was during those parts of the novel where I remembered I was reading a book. At times the plot felt contrived to connect to Ann Eliza’s life, and I never really related to the primary narrator who is the son of an accused murderess.

At times, Ebershoff tends to ramble a bit, but he quickly gets back on track and moves the plot forward. His portrayal of the first Saints is not entirely flattering and this may upset some people. But, he relies heavily on the history of the LDS church and its leaders to weave his tale, and for that he cannot be faulted.

The novel is a real door stopper at nearly 600 pages (I read an Advance Reader’s Edition) but despite its length, it is a fairly quick read which speaks well of Ebershoff’s direct and compelling prose. I would be interested to read Ebershoff’s first novel The Danish Girl, loosely based on the life of Danish painter Einar Wegener who became the first man to undergo a sex-change operation in 1931.

This novel will be released by Random House August 5th. For those readers who like historical novels or who are interested in the history of the LDS church and its leaders, this is a book you might like.

Mailbox Monday – July 28, 2008

Marcia at The Printed Page is hosting this fun weekly event – each Monday bloggers share the books which have arrived in their mailbox that week. I have had a very lucrative week regarding books, so I thought it would be fun to play along with Marcia.

Advance Reader’s Editions which arrived this week in my mailbox:

  1. Guernica, by Dave Boling – To be published by Bloomsbury with a projected release date of September 2, 2008.  This is Boling’s first novel which revolves around the bombing of Guernica during WWII. The blurb on the back reads: ‘History and fiction merge seamlessly in this beautiful novel about the resilience of family, love, and tradition in the face of hardship.
  2. So Long at the Fair, by Christina Schwarz – Released July 8, 2008 by Doubleday this novel explores ‘the emotional labyrinth of a marriage on the brink of collapse and proves that no matter how hard we work to stifle them, the secrets of the past refuse to be ignored.
  3. Leftovers, by Laura Wiess – Released by Pocket Books in January of this year. I won this book in a give-away hosted by Wendy at Musings of A Bookish Kitty.  The blurb on the back of the book says: ‘Blair and Ardith have committed an unforgivable act in the name of love and justice. But in order to understand what could drive two young women to such extreme measures, first you’ll have to understand why.‘ This is classified as Young Adult Fiction.
  4. Dervishes, by Beth Helms – Released in March 2008 by Picador, this was another freebie from my friend Wendy at Musings of A Bookish Kitty.  Helms debut novel is ‘the story of a mother and daughter cut loose from their foundations, hungry fo rindependence but dangerously naive.
  5. The Map Thief, by Heather Terrell – Due for Release July 29th by Ballantine Books. This is a hard cover edition which I received through an unsolicited email from Authors On The Web. The book flap says: ‘Weaving rich historical detail and astounding fact into a fast-paced suspense-fiction ride, The Map Thief is an incredible entree to the murky underworld of stolen artifacts and the thieves and traders who broker them.

I also received a hard-cover review copy of Home Girl, by Judith Matloff from Random House publishers (published June 24, 2008). It appeals to me on a personal level as it is a memoir about a disastrous home makeover. Those of you who know me, know I recently did an extreme home makeover of my home…and although it was not disastrous, it was quite an experience.

So what has come into your home this week? Interested in other readers’ acquisitions? Visit Marcia at this week’s post of Mailbox Monday.

Sunday Salon – July 27, 2008

July 27, 2008

Good morning! Last week I did not post a Salon entry because I was out of town doing something quite bookish. Over the last year, I have met several women on Library Thing who I have grown to respect and adore. We decided to meet in person at the amazing Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon. The hotel was originally built in 1912 and has been renovated beautifully. Each room is themed after an author. There are books everywhere and a fabulous library which looks out on the ocean. I will definitely be going back there someday!

After weeks of smoke, heat and general anxiety…I was looking forward to getting to the coast. The meet-up was a resounding success! We talked and talked, laughed a lot, shared meals and visited tons of bookstores (yes, I bought a lot of books, too!). On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel and drove to Portland where we got completely lost and overwhelmed in the book stacks of Powells Bookstore. Below are some of my favorite photos from the weekend:

**Click on thumbnails to view the entire photo in a larger size

  • Photo #1: The view from our room.
  • Photo #2: The Sylvia Beach Hotel.
  • Photo#3: The “gang” who met up at the hotel.
  • Photo#4: My LT friends and me at Powell’s Bookstore.

To read more about our fabulous and bookish weekend, visit Terri’s post!

So, you are probably wondering what I bought, aren’t you? My new acquisitions are:

  1. Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, by Merrill Markoe
  2. The Courage Consort, by Michael Faber
  3. The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan
  4. Writing With Intent, by Margaret Atwood
  5. The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver
  6. The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland
  7. Close Range, by Annie Proulx
  8. The Optimist’s Daughter, by Eudora Welty
  9. Crossing the River, by Caryl Phillips
  10. Where or When, by Anita Shreve
  11. Hardcover edition of one of my favorite John Irving books: Hotel New Hampshire

I also acquired two more books due to the kindness and generosity of my book friends (thank you Terri and Paola!):

  1. Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain
  2. Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

And lastly, I made my first Bookcrossing “catch” when I found The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz in the Sylvia Beach library. This one has been getting mixed reviews, and some of my trusted lit-bloggers have not liked it…but, it won the Pulitzer so I am going to at least try it.

Whew! Lots of books, great prices…and the joy of sharing book-buying with good friends. Who could ask for a better weekend?

I’ve read a few books since the last time I joined you. I finished The White Mary (read my review) which was graphic, but fairly well written. It made me want to read Kira Salak’s non fiction one of these days. Then I tried reading an Advance Reader’s Edition of The Island of Eternal Love, by Daina Chaviano (read my thoughts). Oh, how I wanted to like this book – but it was not to be. The translation was horrible – stilted and distant. I gave up on the book at page 110 (much longer than I usually read a book I’m not enjoying).

My next read was fabulous. Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner (read my review) won the Booker Prize in 1984 and in my opinion was well-deserving of that award. This was my first Brookner novel, but won’t be my last. I love her “voice” and style – rather old-fashioned and eloquent.

I’ve now immersed myself in The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff which is due to be released in August. This is a book I got through the Library Thing’s Early Reviewer Program. It’s taken me a while to start the book (it is nearly 600 pages), but I am flying through it. So far I’m finding it to be a well-written historical fiction about pologamy, a murder, and the Latter Day Saints (the “Firsts”). Stay tuned for a review of this book in a few days.

My final thoughts today have to do with a very interesting article which appeared in The Guardian this week pertaining to Reader’s Block. According to Stuart Jefferies, the idea of reader’s block is less about being truly ‘blocked’ and more about ‘the great is-ought dilemma. You know you should, but you probably won’t.‘ Stuart notes that despite the rise in expenditure on books, the number of hours spent reading books is declining. He adds:

According to Teletext’s 2007 study of 4,000 Britons’ reading habits, the top reasons for not reading are: too tired (48%); watch TV instead (46%); play computer games (26%); work late (21%). A lot of respondents say that they do not have time to read books except when they go on holiday and then, because they are so unfamiliar with the literary world, many of them find it not just difficult to know what to read but (there is no nice way to say this) also how to turn the pages.

AND:

According to the Office for National Statistics, a third of Britons read “challenging literature” in order to seem well-read even though they could not follow what the book was about.

The article goes on to give pointers as to how to avoid reader’s block.

I buy a ton of books and have a towering TBR mountain in my bedroom; but I also read between 90 and 100 books a year (which I believe is far above the national average). I have yet to really experience a reader’s block of any sort. And yes, I read challenging literature…sometimes because I think I should…but I usually finish the books and am glad I read them.

So, do you experience reader’s block? Do you spend more time buying books than actually reading them? Do you attempt “challenging literature” because you want to seem well-read, not because the book really interests you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Natalie, by Anne Enright – Short Story Review

After reading The Gathering, I was eager to read more work by Anne Enright.  So when the 21st Fiction Yahoo group chose Enright’s short story Natalie to read and discuss, I was pleased. I read this story on-line at the New Yorker.

Natalie is narrated by an unnamed teenage protagonist who is laying in bed ruminating on her relationship with her boyfriend (also unnamed), Natalie, Natalie’s boyfriend Billy, and Billy’s mother Mrs. Casey. We learn that the narrator and Natalie have a psuedo-friendship of sorts and that Billy’s mother has ovarian cancer.

Although the title suggests this will be a story about Natalie, instead Natalie becomes the conduit for the narrator to reach a conclusion about life and death, and human connections. Natalie’s view of the world is that people are unconnected – they live or die independent of their relationships with each other. The narrator has a more idealistic view of the world. She resists the idea of ultimately being alone and searches for connections with others. Eventually, Natalies influence seems to shift the narrator’s viewpoint:

We are not connected. Because this is what Natalie is saying, isn’t it? That we are alone. -From Natalie-

Enright is skilled at capturing the voice of her narrator and convincing the reader we are indeed inside the head of a teenager. Despite her adept writing, Enright’s short story did not resonate with me. In the end, I felt a complete disconnect with the characters. Given the underlying theme of the story, perhaps this was Enright’s intention…but it didn’t work for me.

I must admit to needing help to work this short story out…and for that I thank the very astute readers at the 21st Fiction Yahoo group. I’d recommend the story as a thought provoking read which will stimulate group discussion. But, if you are just looking for an enjoyable short story, you could probably skip this one.

AND THE WINNER IS…

ALISIA from Book Haven!

Congratulations, Alisia. I’m sending you an email and if you could kindly respond with your mailing address, I will send your book out immediately!

I chose the winner randomly after writing all the names on slips of paper, mixing them up and having my husband draw a name from the hat. Thank you to all who participated in this give-away.

Friday Finds – July 25, 2008

July 25, 2008

I missed this event last week as I was out of town…but I bookmarked some blogs which have fueled my list this week! **Click on book titles to take you to Amazon; click on blog links to take you to that blogger’s review of the book.

1. The Foreigner, by Francie Lin as featured on Breaking the Fourth Wall who writes:

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. As Francie Lin’s first book, you can’t help but wonder what she’ll do as a follow up! It’s absolutely brilliant, well-written and fast paced. Even with my hopelessly busy schedule, I simply couldn’t put it down.

With those kinds of accolades who wouldn’t want to read this book?

2. Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri as featured on Michelle’s blog Novels Now.

I’ve heard tons of good things about this book from fellow readers, and Michelle’s review reminded me once again I need to read this one.

3. No One You Know, by Michelle Richmond as featured on Presenting Lenore.

Lenore “extremely highly” recommends this novel about an unsolved murder. This one sounds like the kind of book I’d love.

4. Wind River, by Tom Morrissey as featured on My Friend Amy.

Amy hasn’t read this one yet, but she’s enjoyed this author before. He’s an author I’ve never heard of, and since I love reading new-to-me authors and this one looks fabulous…I’ve added it to my Amazon wish list.

5. The Book of Negroes (also titled: Someone Knows My Name) by Lawrence Hill as featured on BiblioHistoria.

Historia writes:

This book has been very well researched, and the details of the slave chains, the slave ships and the plantations is totally riveting. Also the research of the British during the revolution, and life in Nova Scotia and in Freetown.

Incidentally, the book won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book this year. Sounds like a winner to me!

So those are my finds for this week. What are you reading? What have you discovered this week? To read other readers’ finds, visit Jenn’s Friday Finds Post for today at Should Be Reading.