Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Triumph of Deborah – Book Review

Two women were standing on high places, shielding their eyes from the blazing sun with their hands, peering into the distance in search of messengers from the battlefield. Each knew that her life depended on the outcome of the battle; but their lives depended on opposite results. -From The Triumph of Deborah, page 1-

The Triumph of Deborah opens with the war between the Canaanites and Israelites. Set in ancient Israel during the historical period of the Judges, the novel is a fictional re-working of the life of Deborah, a powerful prophetess and judge of Israel. According to biblical history, the war between Canaan and Israel lasted forty years. Etzioni-Halevy centers her novel towards the end of this time period.

Following the defeat of Canaan, Barak – a powerful man who leads Deborah’s army – takes as prisoner the beautiful, cold-hearted Asherah, the daughter of the Canann King Jabin. He also provides shelter for Asherah’s half sister (and King Jabin’s illegitimate daughter) Nogah who becomes a maid in Barak’s home. Barak is portrayed as a misogynistic man who seeks carnal pleasure with many women including Deborah, Asherah and Nogah. Interspersed in the romantic plot of the novel is the politics, history and culture of 11th and 12th century Israel.

Etzioni-Halevy has done her research and it shows. She aptly describes the agricultural lifestyle of the times, and introduces the prickly and complex leadership which made up the political structure of this theocracy. The battle scenes and aftermath are vivid and well-written. The central female characters demonstrate simultaneously the lack of women’s rights and the strength and power they managed to wield in a world dominated by men. Women of this time period aspired not only to leadership, but sought to find their own voice through literacy…and the novel’s most convincing moments are those which bring the women characters to life.

Etzioni-Halevy falls short, however, when she seeks to show the reader the intimate relationships between these women and Barak. At times the language feels stilted, awkward and contrived, especially during the love scenes.

Neither her mother nor her father nor Uriel had enlightened her about the pain slicing through her with the rupture of her barrier, receding as the heat unleashed itself in her, seeking an as yet unknown summit, mounting it, erupting into fire and a call of love for him, bringing forth the breaking of his own peak. -from The Triumph of Deborah, page 175-

In fairness to the author, I must admit that the historical romance genre is not one I typically read or enjoy and so when the novel veered in this direction I found it off-putting. What Etzioni-Halevy does best is to create scene and historical context for her characters. and it was this part of the book which piqued my interest.

Readers who prefer biblical fiction and historical romance will most likely enjoy this novel. I am grateful to the author for sending me a copy of her book to review.

Other bloggers who have read and reviewed this book:

Lenore at Presenting Lenore

Michele at Michele – One L

Nicole at Book Escape

Shana at Literarily

Julie at Booking Mama

Weekly Geeks #19 – Best of 2008

Week of September 27, 2008

Dewey has challenged the Weekly Geeks to name their top picks for books published in 2008. I have read some fantastic books this year…and whittling them down to “the best” was not easy. Here are my picks so far this year (click on the titles to read my reviews):

Best Chick Lit

Best Non Fiction

Best Literary Fiction

Best Gothic Fiction

Best Short Story Collection

Best Historical Fiction

Rated 5/5:

Rated 4.5/5:

Sunday Salon – September 28, 2008

September 28, 2008

12:30PM

I am so behind this morning! This has so far been a hectic weekend for me. Yesterday Triple Creek Ranch held its annual fundraiser and I was tasked with being the MC for our class demonstrations. It was actually quite a bit of fun (despite the extra work) and the kids who participated in the demonstrations had a wonderful time…and Triple Creek raised some money to continue its programs.

This morning I caught up on emails and posts and now I’m ready to talk books.

I finished reading A Garden of Earthly Delights, by Joyce Carol Oates (read my review) and although it was not an uplifting book, it was incredibly well written. For those of you who are Oates fans, you will probably enjoy this early novel.

I also finally completed reading The View From Castle Rock, by Alice Munro (read my review). I started this collection in July with a Yahoo book group, and took my time reading through the stories. This book is classfied as fiction – but in truth it is a blend of Munro’s family history (truth) with her imagination. Although I had read a short story by Munro earlier this year, this was my first book by her and I enjoyed it.

I’ve now picked up The Triumph of Deborah, by Eva Etzion-Halvey. The book is set in ancient Israel and based on he biblical account of Deborah as described in the book of Judges. I’m only 70 pages into the book so far and although the language can be a bit flowery, the story itself is interesting.  I’ll be posting a review of this book by early in the week.

Did you know that this is banned books week? I’ve posted a couple of articles on my Women Writers blog about Women Writers in Peril and selected banned/censored books written by women. I hope you’ll check them out. If you’ve written a review of any of the books listed in this article, please leave me a comment over there and I’ll make sure to post a link to your review.

I hope you all have a wonderful week which allows you some reading time!

The View From Castle Rock – Book Review

These are stories. You could say that such stories pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does. But not enough to swear on. And the part of this book that might be called family history has expanded into fiction, but always within the outline of a true narrative. With these developments the two streams came close enough together that they seemed to me meant to flow in one channel, as they do in this book. -From The View From Castle Rock, Introduction-

We can’t resist this rifling around in the past, sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life. -From The View From Castle Rock, Epilogue-

The View From Castle Rock is an interesting combination of fiction and truth – Alice Munro delves into her family background, digging up her ancestors and her childhood to create a series of linked stories which explore family connections, poverty, adversity and understanding of ordinary lives as part of a bigger history.

The collection begins deep in the Ettrick Valley, just south of Edinburgh Scotland. Munro visits a cemetery on a cold, rainy day and locates the headstones of her relatives.

Also, among various Laidlaws, a stone bearing the name of Robert Laidlaw, who died at Hopehouse January 29th 1800 aged seventy-two years. Son of Will, brother of Margaret, uncle of James, who probably never knew that he would be remembered by his link to these others, any more than he would know the date of his own death. My great-great-great-great-grandfather. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 6-

In this first story, the reader is introduced posthumously to the characters who will make up future stories in the collection.  Each new story moves the reader further into the present. In the title story: ‘The View From Castle Rock‘…Munro gives the reader a glimpse into what prompted the emmigration of her family from Scotland to Canada. A young boy follows his intoxicated father up the steep, uneven stone steps of an ancient castle and onto a roofless tower.

The sun was out now, shining on the stone heap of houses and streets below them, and the churches whose spires did not reach to this height, and some little trees and fields, then a wide silvery stretch of water. And beyond that a pale green and grayish-blue land, part in the sunlight and part in the shadow, a land as light as mist, sucked into the sky.

“So did I not tell you?” Andrew’s father said. “America. It is only a little bit of it, though, only the shore. There is where every man is sitting in the midst of his own properties, and even the beggars is riding around in carriages.” -From The View From Castle Rock, page 30-

Munro’s strength in these early stories is her ability to set place and time for the reader. She writes lush descriptions and peoples her prose with complex characters. When Walter, a young boy aboard a ship bound for America, writes in his journal ‘And this night in the year 1818 we lost sight of Scotland‘ the reader feels the anticipation as well as the sadness of saying good-bye to one’s homeland in search of a better life. Munro uses real documents (such as Walter’s journal) to help piece together the history of her family and there are times when it is difficult to ascertain what is fact and what is fiction.

And I am surely one of the liars the old man talks about, in what I have written about the voyage. Except for Walter’s journal, and the letters, the story is full of my invention.

The sighting of Fife from Castle Rock is related by Hogg, so it must be true. -From The View from Castle Rock, page 84-

Munro completes part I of her collection with the story ‘Working For A Living‘ which recollects of her father’s boyhood in the town of Blyth. Part II introduces Munro herself to the collection in the story ‘Fathers‘ – a painful look at the fine line between discipline and abuse and a girl’s relationship with her father.

Lying Under the Apple Tree‘ is about the coming of age of a young girl…the innocence of youth vanquished. The ideas of God, church values (morality) and sin weave themselves through this story. Munro also skillfully introduces nature into her theme of growing up and the recognition of one’s sexuality. Her use of dirt as a symbol is effective in introducing the concept of sex vs. a girl’s fantasies vs. the realities of love.

“Dirt,” my sister whispered to me when I got home. “Dirt on the back of your blouse.”

She watched me take it off in the bathroom, and scrub at it with a hard bar of soap. We didn’t have running hot water except in the winter, so she offered to get me some from the kettle. She didn’t ask me how the dirt had got there, she was only hoping to get rid of the evidence, keep me out of trouble. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 203-

In ‘Hired Girl‘ Munro continues to explore the idea of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. In addition she builds on the idea of place – physical place vs. one’s place in society. This concept of there being barriers between classes, is one of the main themes of Munro’s collection and in ‘Hired Girl‘ she emphasizes this idea.

I did not yet understand that maids didn’t have to find their way anywhere. They stayed put, where the work was. It was the people who made the work who could come and go. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 231-

The final stories of Munro’s collection are dedicated to her early marriage (‘The Ticket‘), and her maturation into a woman who is capable of looking at her history and life in the harsh light of reality (‘Home‘ and ‘What Do You Want to Know For?‘).  Munro’s recollections of her father in his later years and the home where she grew up being modernized, are touching exposes on what it means to finally be an adult and no longer be protected by the innocence of childhood. Munro writes:

The past needs to be approached from a distance. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 332-

The View From Castle Rock does that – in exploring her roots, Munro has succeeded in creating a unique blend of stories which look at one family’s history in the context of a bigger picture of what it means to live on the edge of poverty, connect to family, and create a life with meaning and understanding.

Recommended.

Weekly Geeks – September 26, 2008 – WRAP UP

This week we were challenged to catch up. Here’s how I did (based on my list I made at the beginning of the week):

1.  Post new challenges and events to my blog A Novel Challenge – COMPLETED Sunday, September 21, 2008
2.  Update my lists and post new reviews to my blog The Lists: Books for the Obsessive Reader– COMPLETED September 25, 2008
3.  Update my to read plan through the end of the year (noting which books must be read for challenges and book discussion groups); determine which challenges I can actually expect to finish and opt out of those which are just not going to get done. – COMPLETED Monday, September 22, 2008 **SEE BELOW
4.  Re-organize my TBR Mountain – COMPLETED Monday, September 22, 2008 (It took me two hours!!!)
5.  Post an article (or two) to my new blog Women Writers – COMPLETED Friday, September 26, 2008. Read my articles posted here:

6.  Update my sidebars for my blog Women Writers– COMPLETED Friday, September 26, 2008 – see my blog here.

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My challenge re-cap and to-read lists:

After reviewing all my challenges which end on December 31st of this year, it is evident that I will not complete the 2008 TBR Challenge OR the 888 Challenge. I’ve read only 3 out of 12 books on my TBR Challenge list and the rules state you cannot change your list (*note: I’ve dented my TBR mountain this year quite a bit, but not with the books I thought I was going to read). In the 888 challenge, I have the following to still read:

6 Pulitzers
5 Bookers
2 TBR books (in my stacks more than a year) **Will finish this category
4 Non fiction **Will finish this category
5 Banned
5 Notables **Will finish this category
6 Classics
0 Books around the World

I’m going to go ahead and leave both these challenges “open” just to see how much of a dent I make…
There are three challenges I might not finish, but I’m not ready to write them off yet: African Reading (I need to read 4 more books), 10 out of 100 Challenge (4 books to read before the end of October), and Russian Reading (I need to read 3 more books).

All the rest of my challenges are probably going to be completed. This includes: 2008 Decades (3 more decades to go), Celebrate the Author (4 books left), In Their Shoes (1 more book left), 2008 Mini challenge for A Novel Challenge Group (3 more to complete), Short Story Challenge (2 more collections), Year of Reading Dangerously (4 more books), 1% Well Read (4 books by the end of February), Notables (5 more books to read), Suspense-Thriller (1 more book by the end of December, then 6 books in 2009), Every Month is a Holiday (3 more books), and 100+ (26 books left).

To see my progress and links to reviews for all these challenges, visit my page for Reading Challenges.

Friday Finds – September 26, 2008

September 26, 2008

I spent a good deal of time earlier in the week re-organizing my TBR mountain. So I really have no business continuing to add books to my wish list – but that said, I can’t help myself. This book addiction thing is clearly out of control…thanks to the fabulous lit-blogs! In an effort to promote the Independent Book Sellers, I’m linking this week’s finds to Powell’s Bookstore rather than Amazon. My Friday Finds this week were:

Wish You Were Here, by Stewart O’Nan as featured on Lori’s blog She Treads Softly. Earlier this year I read Songs for the Missing (read my review) by O’Nan and loved it. So Lori’s review of Wish You Were Here caught my eye. Lori wrote: ‘This is a poignant novel that really is a character study of a family. The action and draw of the novel is found in the old and new complex relationships and behavior patterns of the family members rather than an exciting outside mystery.‘ This is the same style I loved in Songs for the Missing.

The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood as featured on Kim’s blog Bold, Blue, Adventure. I have to admit, this book has been on my radar for some time, but Kim’s review reminded me again of why I need to read this book. Kim writes: ‘Penelope, who, like the other inhabitants of Hades can glimpse out into the real world, speaks to us in modern language, and her Greek chorus performs a sea-chanty, a tapdance, and act out a courtroom scene for the benefit of the audience. It’s an interesting presentation. Some readers might find it disconcerting, but I really enjoyed this quick, easily digestible read.‘ I love Margaret Atwood’s books and will be adding this one to the TBR mountain one of these days.

Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford as featured on Marcia’s blog The Printed Page. (Note the link here is to Amazon as Powells is currently not offering pre-orders of this novel). This book will be released in January 2009. Marcia loved the ARC she read and wrote: ‘This story encompasses young love, race, family, sacrifice, race and internment camps. It is set on the border between Chinatown and Japantown in the heart of Seattle, Washington.‘ She touts the novel as a must read. She is also hosting a giveaway of 15 copies of the book (through the generosity of Random House). I’ve added my name to the hopefuls!

Heart of Diamonds, by Dave Donelson as featured on J. Kaye’s Book Blog. J. Kaye has not yet read her copy of the book, but she posted a descriptor which intrigued me: ‘The Congo is a very dangerous place for television journalist Valerie Grey in this tragic, fast-paced tale of avarice and betrayal. Amid the bloody violence of the country’s endless civil war, Grey uncovers a deadly diamond-smuggling scheme that reaches the White House by way of a famous American televangelist.‘ Sounds good, doesn’t it? Make sure you watch J. Kaye’s fabulous blog as she will be giving away her copy of the book once she’s read it!

I spent a little time this week at my local Barnes and Noble bookseller browsing the newly released novels. Here are a few that caught my eye:

Visit Jenn at Should Be Reading to see her finds for today…and to get links to other readers’ finds!

A Garden of Earthly Delights – Book Review

Clara felt heavy and hot and sad, imagining already school over in the afternoon and the way she would have to run to get away from the stones and mud balls. She and Ned would both have to run, cutting across muddy fields, with the boys laughing behind them…”White trash!” They were white trash, everybody knew that, and what it meant was that people were going to throw stones: you had to get hit sooner or later. -From A Garden of Earthly Delights, page 47-48-

There are plenty of stones getting thrown in Joyce Carol Oates’ early novel: A Garden of Earthly Delights. The novel centers around the character of Clara, an economically disadvantaged child growing up as part of the dysfunctional Walpole family. Clara is literally born in a ditch at the side of the road – symbolic of her later struggles to rise from the muck of poverty and dysfunction to make something of her life. Clara’s early years are marked by her alcoholic, abusive father who is a Kentucky-born migrant farm worker.  Carleton Walpole is a harsh, angry man who moves his family from one encampment to the next, never providing a stable home for any of them.

He turned and shaded his eyes to look back over the camp. He saw now that it was the same camp they’d been coming to for years. Even the smells were the same. Off to the right, down an incline, were two outhouses as always; it would smell violently down there, but the smell would be no surprise. That was the safe thing about these camps: there were no surprises. Carleton took a deep breath and looked out over the campsite, where the sun poured brilliantly down on the clutter; rain-rotted posts with drooping gray clotheslines, abandoned shoes, bottles of glinting red and green, tin cans all washed clean by the rain of many months, boards, rags, broken glass, wire, parts of barrels, and, at either side of the camp, rusted iron pipes rising up out of the ground and topped by faucets. -From A Garden of Earthly Delights, page 58-

Oates’ descriptions are raw, real and depressing – she captures the hopelessness of Clara’s surroundings perfectly. So it is no wonder when Clara meets the much older and charming Lowry, she wastes no time in fleeing from her father and her downtrodden family. Still a child, Clara envisions a life much different from that which her mother lived. She is not discouraged by the seemingly insurmountable challenges she faces, and is not afraid to work hard. She sees Lowry as her knight in shining armor, a man she can rely on. But as with all the men in Clara’s life, Lowry is less than dependable.

If Lowry was in one of his moods, it was like Clara did not exist. Or she was some kind of thing tied to his ankle, or a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, a weight, a burden but not too much of a burden; for Lowry wasn’t the kind of man who endures much of a burden. -From A Garden of Earthly Delights, page 130-

As the novel progresses, the reader watches Clara evolve from a girl with dreams of a home she can call her own, to a woman who is hardened by the world around her. With the impending birth of her son Swan, Clara takes control of her future by falling back on her ability to manipulate others into giving her what she needs.

The day Clara took her life into control was an ordinary day. She did not know up until the last moment exactly  how she would bring all those accidents into control, like a driver swerving aside to let a rabbit live or tearing into it and not even bothering to glance back: he might do one or the other and not know a moment before what it would be. -From A Garden of Earthly Delights, page 195-

Clara’s relationship with Revere – a man who offers stability and predictability to her – is developed over the last half of the book. This relationship represents all that Clara’s father was unable to provide, and so it is rimmed with sadness and disappointment.  The adult Clara, a woman who sees happiness in the accumulation of wealth, is a hard character to like. She hides behind the lie that everything she does is done for Swan – her only son. And yet her behavior is solely narcissistic and tinged with childishness. Swan is a tragic figure, a boy cut loose from his “roots” and unsure about where he fits in society. His moral decline is almost predictable, and yet still stuns the reader.

Originally written in 1966 (the first novel in the Wonderland Quartet), A Garden of Earthly Delights was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1968. Oates rewrote it in 2002 for publication by the Modern Library. She writes:

As a composer can hear music he can’t himself play on any instrument, so a young writer may have a vision he or she can’t quite execute; to feel something, however deeply, is not the same as possessing the power – the craft, the skill, the stubborn patience – to translate it into formal terms.

In rewriting her novel, Oates discovered some autobiographical elements to which she had previously been unaware – her own upbringing on a struggling family farm, her youthful exposure to stories about her paternal grandfather (a violent alcoholic named Carlton), the crude language of her childhood which was accepted as commonplace, and the similarity of the name Clara to that of Oates’ mother Carolina. In the rewritten version, Oates attempts to examine her characters more thoroughly so that the reader can ‘experience them intimately, from the inside.

A Garden of Earthly Delights is not so much about  what happens to a young girl raised in poverty and abuse, but is more about the awful gap between social classes.  It is about a young girl who must confront her past in order to move into her future. And it is about survival, as well as about those who do not survive. Oates writes:

The trajectory of social ambition and social tragedy dramatized by the Walpoles seems to me as relevant to the twenty-first century as it had seemed in the late 1960s, not dated but bitterly enhanced by our current widening disparity between social classes in America. Haves and have-nots is too crude a formula to describe this great subject, for as Swan Walpole discovers, to have and not to be, is to have lost one’s soul.

This is not an enjoyable book. It is harsh, shocking, and tragic. Dreary and depressing at times, this is a novel not always easy to read. And yet Oates writes with a beauty that is hard to deny.  Her ability to uncover the soul of her characters is amazing. Readers who enjoy strong literary novels with tragic characters, will want to read this book. Those who are offended by foul language (Oates does not temper her dialogue) or dislike stories centered around dysfunctional families, will probably not like A Garden of Earthly Delights.

5 Under 35 Award Challenge

Perpetual Challenge beginning October 1, 2008

Beginning in 2006, the National Book Foundation has recognized five young writers in its 5 Under 35 Program. The National Book Foundation writes:

These five writers have each been selected by a previous National Book Award Finalist or Winner as someone whose work is particularly promising and exciting and is among the best of a new generation of writers.

This challenge is designed as a perpetual challenge (no end date) to read the five books selected each year by the National Book Foundation in the 5 Under 35 Program. To see the lists of books chosen, follow the links below:

2006 Winners

2007 Winners

2008 Winners

Participants in the challenge should sign up by using the SIGN UP Mr. Linky below. Please provide the link DIRECTLY to your post about this challenge. This linky is for SIGN UPS only. If you do not have a blog, you can still sign up…either just put your name in Mr. Linky with no link OR leave a comment.

I will be providing  different posts with Mr. Linkys for links to reviews.

1. Kristi
2. Christagirl
3. Me (Caribousmom)
4. Judy (Intergalactic Bookworm)
5. Ashley

Powered by… Mister Linky’s Magical Widgets.

Mailbox Monday – September 22, 2008

It’s Monday and time to share what arrived in your mailbox this week!

Bedlam South, by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson. Due for release October 1st through Borders Press, the book is an historical novel set during the Civil War. I received an email from Penny at Author Marketing Exports, Inc and after learning that a significant portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to help Impact Missions (a non profit that aids needy and neglected children and families), I agreed to read and review this one. To learn more about this book, visit the website.

What goodies did you get? Visit Marcia at The Printed Page to read her Mailbox Monday post for today and see what other readers found in THEIR mailboxes!

Sunday Salon – September 21, 2008

September 21, 2008

11:15AM

Good morning! I’m a little behind today in my Sunday Salon post – I’ve been spending the morning catching up on emails, updating A Novel Challenge, and browsing my Google Reader. But it’s time now to talk books.

This was an incredibly busy week for me in more ways than one. My Friend Amy hosted Book Bloggers Appreciation Week and it was filled with author interviews, daily blog posts, giveaways, and awards. I am still working my way through the huge list of participating blogs and am adding many to my Google Reader. I was thrilled to win the award for Best Literary Fiction blog – thank you to those readers who voted for me! And congratulations to Amy for a job well done.

Aside from blogging, my work schedule was packed this week, and I am also getting ready for Triple Creek Ranch‘s annual fund raising event to help individuals with disability. But despite all these commitments, I did find some time to creep away into a corner and read.

I finished reading Guernica (read my review) and loved it. If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will not want to miss this one. Dave Boling is a talented writer and I’ll be looking forward to more from him in the future.

I also breezed through a non fiction book called Ships Without A Shore (read my review) which was quite interesting. I didn’t always agree with the author, but the book was well written and provocative.

I’ve been immersing myself in my first Joyce Carol Oate’s novel: A Garden of Earthly Delights. This was one of Oates’ first novels (written in the 1960s) and it was nominated for the National Book Award.  She wrote three other novels connected to this one and all four books comprise the Wonderland Quartet. I’m about half way through A Garden of Earthly Delights. It is an intense book – very dark and somewhat depressing. The dialogue is harsh and realistic. Oates is clearly a gifted writer, but I’m not sure how I feel about the story itself. So far I am not liking any of the characters … but, I am also oddly compelled to keep reading. I’ll be posting a review of this book mid-week.

Finally, I continue to read from The View from Castle Rock. I’ve really been enjoying these stories which are part fiction and part autobiographical. I’m expecting to finish this book by the end of the week and will be posting a review at that time.

This week I’m going to do some re-organizing of my TBR mountain and re-assessment of my reading challenges. Fall always seems like the perfect time to take stock of where I’m at…how about you? Do you find yourself compelled to organize when the temperatures drop and the days get shorter?