Monthly Archives: August 2008

Maus I and Maus II – Book Reviews

Art Spiegelman won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize under the category of Special Awards and Citations – Letters for his amazing graphic books Maus I and Maus II. The books comprise a powerful memoir which recounts the lives and survival of the author’s parents Vladek and Anja Spiegelman  during WWII in Poland where they were eventually captured and transported to Auswchitz. But it is also a story about Art Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his father, and the impact of survival on the survivor’s family.

Told in a cartoon format where the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Nazi soldiers as cats, the story gains much of its power from the form in which it is written.

Spiegelman alternates between Poland during the war (where Vladek recounts the terrible and terrifying days of the Nazi occupation) and Rego Park, New York in the 1980s (where Art and his aging father struggle to establish meaningful lives together).

The result is a story which compels the reader to keep turning the pages while terror comes to life through vivid illustrations. It is a story of survival and finally of love – love between a man and a woman which the German camps could not destroy, and love between a father and son. Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began are powerful documentaries of a family who survived the Holocaust and its impact on their future and the child who was born after the war.

This was my first foray into Graphic Art as story and I was moved and touched by it. If you decide to read Spiegelman’s work, you must read both books, back to back without a rest in between.

Highly recommended.

Sunday Salon – August 31, 2008

August 31, 2008

11:00AM

Good morning, Saloners and all my other faithful readers! I have some business to take care of first, then on to the real reason for this post – thoughts on reading.

Business #1: Book Blogger Appreciation Week is September 15th through 19th (I blogged about this here). My Friend Amy is currently accepting nominations in a number of categories – have you nominated your favorite blogs yet? If you want to see all the blogs which are currently registered, check out Ocelott’s Journal where they are all listed alphabetically.

Business #2: My Sweetsmoke Giveaway closes on September 3rd. I’ll take entries until 5:00pm PCT and then I’ll draw a winner. Don’t miss out on a chance (or five) to win a signed, hardcover, first edition copy of this terrific book!

Business #3: TLC Book Tours is spotlighting Kathleen McLeary and her book House and Home beginning September 3rd. To get the schedule, visit the Authors On Tour page of TLC Book Tours. Caribousmom will be the site of this tour on September 17th and will feature a guest post by the author. Also watch my blog for a review of McLeary’s book!

Now onto reading thoughts…

I finished reading Rose Tremain’s The Colour this week (read my review). She has a tremendous gift of creating characters and immersing the reader in setting. I think I’ve found myself a new favorite author. I’m looking forward to readingl her novel Music and Silence for the CafeDeiLetterati Yahoo group in October; and Miriam from Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group) has been gracious enough to offer me a review copy of Tremain’s Orange Prize winning book The Road Home. I can’t wait to sink into it (it arrived Friday!).

I zipped through Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos (read my review) – much lighter fare than Tremain, but thoroughly enjoyable. You might remember my rave review of her sequel to this book (read my review of Belong To Me) earlier in the year.  Even though I read these in reverse, it didn’t matter much. If you enjoy well-written Chick Lit (also known as Women’s Fiction or Summer Reading), I can recommend de los Santos.

I read Maus I: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman yesterday in one big gulp and today will finish Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began by the same author. This is my first foray into graphic novels (although these are actually memoirs, not novels) and I was not sure I’d enjoy them. But, I could have saved my doubts. These are powerful books which examine how people survived the Holocaust, and how that survival not only impacted their futures, but the lives of their children as well. I would highly recommend both of these books. I’ll be posting a review of both of Spiegelman’s books later today.

So what’s on your reading pile today? Whatever it is, I hope you will enjoy it!

The Chick Lit Challenge

chicklitchallenge.jpg

June 1 – September 1, 2008

UPDATE August 31, 2008: I completed this challenge on August 29, 2008. It was really fun to read these light, very well-written novels. There wasn’t a bad one in the bunch! Thank you Debi for hosting the challenge!

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Hosted by Debi at Journey to the End of the TBR Pile, the Chick Lit Challenge is simple: Read three books from the Chick Lit genre. I have a few of these on my TBR pile, so it was hard to say no to this one! Here’s my list (subject to change):

  1. The Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Wait Clayton (COMPLETED June 10, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  2. Rules for Saying Goodbye, by Katherine Taylor (COMPLETED August 4, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  3. Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos (COMPLETED August 29, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)

The Well-Rounded Challenge

July 1 – December 31, 2008

UPDATE: August 31, 2008: I have completed this challenge (actually reading one more book than I needed to without realizing it!). My favorite book in this challenge was a toss up between The Poisonwood Bible, The Colour, and People of the Book. I rated all of them 5/5 and can highly recommend these novels. Thank you to Jan for hosting this fun challenge!

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Jan is hosting A Well-Rounded Challenge which will help all challenge addicts get their challenge books read…How? By reading 1 book from 6 different challenges for which you’ve signed up.

Here are the rules as posted on the challenge blog:

  • Any combination of challenges works.
  • You must be signed up with the other challenges.
  • You may listen to eAudio, cassette tapes or compact discs.
  • You may read all six books from the same challenge.
  • To be well-rounded however means stretching yourself to include as many challenges (and books) as you can fit into this six month time frame.
  • You don’t have to blog or write a review (but you can if you want to).
  • Even if a challenge begins after July you may use it for this challenge.
  • Even if a challenge ends after 12/31/08 you may use it for this challenge.

My plan is to read one book from each of these challenges:

  1. Celebrate the Author Hotel Du Lac, by Anita Brookner (COMPLETED July 22, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review)
  2. Every Day is a HolidayCrossing the River, by Caryl Phillips (COMPLETED August 7, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  3. 888 ChallengePeople of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (COMPLETED July 4, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  4. Chick LitLove Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos (COMPLETED August 29, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)
  5. TBR 2008The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver (COMPLETED July 12, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  6. Orange Prize ProjectThe Colour, by Rose Tremain (COMPLETED August 25, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  7. My Year of Living DangerouslyLeftovers, by Laura Weiss (COMPLETED July 31, 2008; rated 3/5; read my review)

Love Walked In – Book Review

My life – my real life – started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit and, yes, I know how that sounds. Or I know how it might sound, to the kind of person I used to be, one who spent her days skirting around the edges of adulthood, commitment, responsibility, accomplishment – whatever word you use to describe diving into the deepest part of being human. Take your pick; they’re all woefully inadequate, but they’re also all we have. -From Love Walked In, page 287-

Cornelia Brown, a cafe store manager living in Philadelphia, hasn’t decided what to do with her life. But all that changes when Martin Grace, a handsome and seemingly perfect guy, walks into the coffee shop one day and Cornelia’s life takes a turn which will forever change her future.

Love Walked In is written in two points of view – that of Cornelia as she wrestles with who she is – and that of Clare Hobbs – an eleven-year old girl who is hiding a secret and struggling to cope with her mother’s bipolar disease. In this novel about love, overcoming hardship and loss, and the power of human connection, the reader will meet Martin (a man whose narcissism is tempered by his desire to do the right thing), Linny (Cornelia’s best friend with an uncanny ability to see beneath the surfaces and discern exactly what the truth is), and Teo (Cornelia’s stunning, green-eyed brother-in-law who is almost too good to be true).

Earlier this year I read the sequel to this novel: Belong to Me (reviewed here) which I loved. The two books really should be read in order, but I found that reading them out of order did not take away any of my pleasure at getting to know the characters.  Marisa de los Santos writes from the heart – she creates characters who live, breathe and dance through life; characters who could be your best friend or your brother or sister.

Love Walked In is women’s fiction (aka “chick lit”) at its best. Funny, touching and ultimately satisfying, this is a novel I can recommend to those who love this genre.

Summer Reading Challenge

June 1 – August 31, 2008

UPDATE: August 30, 2008: It is clear, with one day left in the challenge, that will fall short of the books I listed to complete for this challenge. That said, I’m not disappointed. I finished 7 of the 9 I hoped to read – all of which were review books. So I count this challenge as a success even though it remains uncompleted. Thanks, Kathleen for hosting another great reading challenge!

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I couldn’t resist this button – and that is always the problem with Kathleen’s challenges…she has such great buttons I just cannot say “no” to them! Kathleen at Rock Creek Rumblings is hosting this seasonal challenge to create a list of summer reads and stick to it! I’ve been getting a lot of ARC’s lately and I need to have a plan to read them in a timely manner…so this is the perfect challenge to get them done.

Here is my list:

  1. Takeover, by Lisa Black (COMPLETED June 8, 2008; rated 4/5; 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 Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton (COMPLETED June 10, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. Comfort Food, by Kate Jacobs (COMPLETED June 25, 2008; rated 2/5; read my review)
  6. Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay
  7. The 19th Wife, by Davi Ebershoff (COMPLETED July 28, 2008; rated 3.5/5; read my review)
  8. 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)
  9. The Glimmer Palace, by Beatrice Colin

Review, Write and Win…

Field Report is a free site that holds cash-prize contests for good writing. The sort of writing they’re interested in is first person nonfiction. You don’t have to be a professional writer to win cash prizes…and the site provides a video of one lucky winner who was a postal worker.

There are basically two aspects to the site – reviewing other people’s submitted work, and submitting work yourself.

I read through the submission agreement carefully, and am a little wary of it. The agreement requires writers to grant certain rights to the site which may impact the writer’s ability to publish their work later; or if it is published later, Field Report may be entitled to certain commissions.  But even if you decide not to enter your writing on the site (and become eligible for prizes), you can still enjoy reading and reviewing submitted materials.

I joined the site and played on it for about 45 minutes. I read five submitted pieces and found a couple that were pretty well written and interesting.

Why not check it out? It’s free and fun – and a great way to kill an hour on line! To get started, visit this page to learn more.

Friday Finds – August 29, 2008

August 29, 2008

I belong to several book groups on Yahoo – and often my book “finds” come through them. This week I discovered Pears on A Willow Tree, by Leslie Pietrzyk as recommended by Gayla (from the Yahoo group Weekly Reads). Gayla writes: ‘The prose is beautifully composed; the bevy of voices allows an intimate feeling about each character and a love for this stubborn family who believe everyone must live by each other.‘ Doesn’t this sound like the kind of book you’d love?

The September/October edition of Bookmarks Magazine arrived this week and in it I found many books to add to my burgeoning wish list. They include:

As usual, the lit-bloggers keep tempting me to buy yet more books:

The Night Villa, by Carol Goodman as featured on S. Krishna’s Books. Although the book is considered mystery genre, S. Krisna writes: ‘Carol Goodman’s ability to craft yet another novel which is rooted in so much history with so many mythological aspects astounds me. I don’t know how she isn’t a master of Greek and Roman mythology by this point. I can’t even begin to imagine how much research must go into her novels, but however much work is required, I’m glad the author takes the time to do it well. Her books really are unsurpassed, especially because they are so unique.

Short Stories: Months and Seasons, by Christopher Meeks as featured on Adventures in Reading. Meeks’ name keeps popping up on the book blogs, and so I payed attention when I saw this book being reviewed. Adventures in Reading notes: ‘…within these short narratives Meeks talent at exploring the power dynamics within relationships, almost exclusively between men and women, is fascinating. Of these eleven stories all of them provide a unique glimpse on the interaction of men and women.‘ I love reading literature that explores relationships and this books sounds like a good read.

The Sorrows of an American, by Siri Hustvedt as featured on Joanne’s blog Aspiring Writers. Hustvedt has appeared on the Orange Prize for Fiction lists and so I was eager to see what Joanne thought of this book. She wrote: ‘This is an engrossing and intelligent novel. Set in Brooklyn, NY and Minnesota. Erik, a psychoanalyst narrates the story of intrigue that besets him and his family. He’s also trying to reclaim his life after divorce.‘ I’ve added it to my wish list and maybe I’ll read this one for the Orange Prize Project Yahoo group in February when the group celebrates this author.

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt as featured on Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-A-Holic. Stephanie found herself thinking about the book even after flipping the last page – and it sounds wonderful. Stephanie writes: ‘A brilliant, well-written novel, The Secret History is going to be one that sticks with me for quite some time.‘ AND ‘Donna Tartt’s writing is amazing. It’s beautiful, and the story which is a tough read seems to flow with ease.‘ On to my wish list it goes!

Visitors, by Anita Brookner as featured on Adventures in Reading. Last month I read Hotel Du Lac by this author (read my review) and loved it. So when Adventures in Reading wrote: ‘Visitors is a delicate and subtle novel filled with well-crafted complexities and demands.‘ I knew this is one I’d enjoy.

So what books ended up in your “I need to have” pile this week? To see other reader’s “finds” visit today’s Friday Finds post on Should Be Reading.

The Colour – Book Review

For a few moments, the sun disappeared behind a cloud, and in the shadow, nothing of it was visible, only the shingly mud and the herringbone imprints of the ducks’ feet. But Joseph knew that he’d seen something. He stood without moving, waiting for the sun to come out again. It returned and sparkled on the water, dazzling him. He had to close his eyes for a second, and when he opened them again, he’d forgotten the precise spot where the colour had revealed itself. Then he saw it once more, a minute patch of shining yellow dust. -From The Colour, page 57-

In 1864, a newly married couple – Joseph and Harriet Blackstone – travel with Joseph’s mother Lilian from England to New Zealand to begin their lives together. For Harriet, it is the beginning of a future, a dream about her own home in the beautiful wilderness of New Zealand, a chance to have a garden and animals and to create something out of her life. For Lilian, the move represents failure and loneliness where she must give up her comfortable existence in England, be forced to piece back together the shattered remains of her china, and live on dirt floors in a cob house which leaks. For Joseph, the move to New Zealand is an escape from his past – a past he has buried and hidden from everyone – and a chance to heal his guilt and make his mother (finally) be proud of him.

Joseph Blackstone longed to do something that would please his mother. Something definitive. Something which would undo all that he’d done wrongly or inadequately in the past. He thought that if he could achieve this, then he would rest. -From The Colour, page 55-

The inhospitable and breathtaking land of New Zealand seems pitted against these people almost from the very first when Joseph mistakenly builds his home on an exposed hill instead of the protected flats. Then one day Joseph discovers gold dust in the creek near his home and keeps it a secret from both Harriet and Lilian. It becomes an obsession which promises his redemption and one which will finally drive him to the other side of the Southern Alps where a Gold Rush is underway.

Rose Tremain writes extraordinary prose which thrusts her reader into the midst of a stark and unforgiving environment. She develops her characters flawlessly – uncovering Joseph’s motivations, desires and finally his devastating secret as he struggles to find gold among desperate men. Joseph’s loss of love and morality is heartbreaking.

He felt that contentment was present in every other creature and every other thing – in the waterbirds which drank from the river, in the rats which scurried around his claim, looking for food, and in the songs the Glaswegian miners sang in the evenings. He alone lacked it. -From The Colour, page 223-

Harriet Blackstone is a raw character who grows before the reader’s eyes from an uncertain individual to a woman of courage and fortitude. In Tremain’s hands, Harriet is fully realized.

Better that we never know (she wrote to her father) what lies beyond the next hill. For the answer might come back “nothing.” And I confess that, having travelled across the world, I do not feel I would be content with that “nothing.” My habit of looking at the mountains has not gone away. They are so fine. I wish that I could paint a picture of them for you. And they Contain a mystery: that is what I feel. And I ask myself: Is the mystery they contain the mystery of my life? -From The Colour, page 168-

Lilian, too, grows from a difficult woman into one the reader comes to respect. Faced with the loss of everything she knows, she eventually puts aside the broken pieces of her life and strives to make something of what she has been given.

Thematically The Colour revolves around the power of nature, love and desire, materialism vs. inner contentment, and the connection between cultures. Tremain introduces a Chinese man who has left his family in China to join the Rush – not as a seeker of gold, but as a gardener providing sustenance for the miners.  There is also Pare – a Maori woman who develops a mystical relationship with a small boy whom she once cared for. Despite the wide scope of theme and character in this novel, it never feels scattered. Tremain connects all the threads for her readers, giving them a book which is illuminating and satisfying. Tremain is a gifted storyteller, and in The Colour she combines all her talents and creates a novel which resonates with the reader.

Highly recommended.

Mailbox Monday – August 25, 2008

What books arrived in your mailbox this past week? Here’s what I found:

Fire in the Blood, by Irene Nemirovsky was sent to me by a dear, bookie friend who remembered my birthday.  I am very excited about this book because I read Suite Francaise in February 2007 and loved it (read my review). I have had Fire in the Blood on my wish list ever since – and now I no longer have to wish for it … Thank you, Jill!

The Grift, by Debra Ginsberg arrived from Shaye Areheart Books – a beautiful hard cover review copy. This one is about a psuedo-psychic who doesn’t believe in psychic abilities until she finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery…and suddenly is able to see the future. Ginsberg has written one other novel: Blind Submission.

Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal, by Ruskin Bond came all the way from India thanks to A Reader From India. I won this charming little book in a give-away and it looks fabulous. I’m looking forward to reading it!

Good-Bye and Amen, by Beth Gutcheon arrived on Saturday from Nicole at Authors on the Web (thank you, Nicole!). This is the sequel to Leeway Cottage which I have sitting patiently on my TBR mountain (and now it will get moved up and read sooner rather than later so that I can throw myself into this latest book). It is set on the coast of Maine, so how could I resist? Good-Bye and Amen was just released in July – have any of your read it yet?

What gems arrived at your home this week? Check out today’s Mailbox Monday post at Marcia’s blog and leave a comment!