Yearly Archives: 2009

Top Ten of 2009

It is that time of year when the bloggers start putting out their lists of the great books they read. I love reading them and adding to my wish list.

I read some amazing books in 2009 – I tagged 22 books on Library Thing for “BEST of 2009.” But I have decided to whittle that list down to my top 10 for the year with one Notable Mention. Each book on this list garnered a five star rating. Publication dates are the dates for the edition I read. Here they are in ascending order with links to my reviews:

FireInTheBloodNotable Mention:

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky (published 2008 Vintage International, ISBN#9780307388001) – read my review

I read this book right at the end of the year and it really touched me. Set in a small village in France, Nemirovsky’s novella tells a tale of family secrets and explores the contrast between youth and old age, and the dark side of the human spirit.

Many thanks to Jill who knew I would love it.

Number 10:

mechanicsoffallingThe Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories by Catherine Brady (published 2009 University of Nevada Press, ISBN#9780874177633) – read my review

Catherine Brady’s fabulous collection of eleven short stories explores how individuals deal with the unexpected events in their lives. Filled with complex and memorable characters, these simple stories are an intriguing look at the deep issues of infidelity, violence, medical decline, aging and single parenthood.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book – it was a delight to experience Brady’s wise and excellent prose.

Number 9:

outstealinghorsesOut Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (published 2008 Picador, Translated from the Norwegian by Anne Born, ISBN#9780312427085) – read my review

Originally published in Norway in 2003, Out Stealing Horses has won numerous literary awards including the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, and International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize. The book tells the story of the aging Trond Sander who is remembering his youth and his relationship with his father. What appears to be a simple tale at first, eventually reveals itself as a complex study of grief and loss. Beautiful descriptions of the Norwegian countryside make this book especially memorable.

Number 8

LLoveMedicineove Medicine by Louise Erdrich (published 2005 Harper Perennial Modern Classics, ISBN#9780060786465) – read my review

Love Medicine has won a number of literary awards, including the American Book Award (1985), and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (1984). I found myself completely enthralled with Erdrich’s dreamlike and poetic prose in this beautifully wrought tale of a Native American family living on a North Dakota reservation. There are multiple characters in Love Medicine, and Erdrich alternates point of view and moves back and forth in time while exploring interconnectedness of family, personal despair and triumph, and the truths upon which our lives are built.

Number 7:

helpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett (published 2009 Putnam Adult, ISBN#9780399155345) – read my review

Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel got five star reviews all over the blog-0-sphere this year, and for good reason. Told from the points of view of a white journalist and two black maids in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, The Help tells a story about what it means to be human regardless of the color of one’s skin. Powerful and important, this novel swept me away and stayed with me long after I had turned the final page.

Many thanks to the publisher who sent me this Advance Readers Edition.

Number 6:

roadhomeThe Road Home by Rose Tremain (published 2008 Little, Brown and Company, ISBN#9780316002615) – read my review

Written with sensitivity and insight into the human condition, The Road Home snatched the coveted Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008. The protagonist, a young man named Lev, is forced to leave his home in Eastern Europe to seek work in London. What follows is a tale of loss and identity while Lev discovers that sometimes the past must be left behind in order to move forward.

Many thanks to Miriam at Little,  Brown and Company who sent me this book for review.

Number 5:

seaofpoppiesSea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (published 2008 Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN#9780374174224)  – read my review

Sea of Poppies is a sprawling saga set in India just prior to the Opium Wars in the mid-nineteenth century. Although filled with adventure and interesting plot twists, the novel is also about what makes us human in the face of crisis. Ghosh’s writing is richly textured and his  use of language in the novel is brilliant. This is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Number 4:

unaccustomedearthUnaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (published 2008 Knopf, ISBN#9780307265739)  – read my review

Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautifully rendered collection of short stories won the 2008  Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Lahiri is a gifted storyteller, one who writes effortlessly and ties together complex themes with ease. In Unaccustomed Earth, the stories share a common theme of growing and changing relationships over time and how these changed relationships accommodate, or not, the needs of the characters. Each story involves a Bengali family or individual who has immigrated to America.

Many thanks to both Terri and Laura – two amazing women who know exactly what I love to read.

Number 3:

LastNightInTwistedRiverLast Night in Twisted River by John Irving (published 2009 Random House, ISBN#9781400063840) – read my review

I was so thrilled when I saw Irving was set to publish another novel in 2009, and he did not disappoint me. Beginning in 1954 in New Hampshire, the novel spans more than fifty years (ending in 2005) and moves from Boston to Vermont to Iowa to Colorado and finally to Toronto. Last Night In Twisted River is full of  quirky and memorable characters. It is John Irving story telling at its best, and marked by Irving’s signature meandering style.  Big, lush and captivating … the novel is about life with all its ups and downs, unexpected events, and relationships which surprise us.

Many thanks to the publisher for sending me this Advance Readers Edition.

Number 2:

DisobedientGirlA Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman (published 2009 Atria, ISBN#9781439101957) – read my review

Ru Freeman’s writing is stunning, beautifully crafted and powerful. I loved this novel set in Sri Lanka which tells the story of two women whose lives are interconnected in surprising ways. A Disobedient Girl examines the destructive power of secrets, betrayal, loss, domestic violence, and the power of love to overcome tragedy. Freeman transports the reader with her exquisite language and extraordinary characters. I will be watching for more novels by this talented author in the future.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours who offered me the opportunity to read and review this book  – it is a novel which I will not soon forget.

Number 1:

inhoveringflightIn Hovering Flight by Joyce Hinnefeld (published 2008 Unbridled Books, ISBN#9781932961584) – read my review

It was not a hard decision to choose as my number one book of the year Joyce Hinnefeld’s beautifully wrought and soothing story about what it means to love another, about the flaws in relationships and how they are sustained despite these flaws. I loved this book. I read it shortly after Caribou died, and for some reason it spoke to me and comforted me. Perhaps it was Hinnefeld’s sensitive and evocative prose. Or maybe it was simply its celebration of the human spirit in the face of failed dreams and the ability to heal after loss. In Hovering Flight is a book I still think about even though I read it nearly a year ago.

Many thanks to Caitlin at Unbridled Books who continues to send me wonderful books written by talented authors.

Challenges I Won’t Complete in 2009…

The days of 2009 are dwindling and it is clear that a couple of reading challenges won’t get completed. They are:

2009MiniChallenge 2009 Mini-Challenges for A Novel Challenge Yahoo Group hosted my ME!

Yes, you read that correctly. I won’t finish a challenge for which I was actually the host. Oh well. I just lost steam on this one and decided I didn’t care if I finished it or not. Although I’ve hosted this challenge for a couple of years in a row now, I won’t be hosting it for 2010. I’ve put out feelers at the Yahoo group but have no takers for this yet…so it may be so-long to this challenge for now.

To see what I did manage to complete, visit my post about my progress here.

spice-of-life1Spice of Life Reading Challenge hosted by Rebecca.

I am actually really disappointed in myself for not completing this challenge – it was only FOUR books, and I couldn’t pull it off. I have a terrible track record in completing food related reading challenges, and I haven’t figured out why since I own a gazillion cookbooks and books about food and fiction which is food related. I just don’t seem to read any of them! I read one measly book for this challenge…to see my review of it (and look at the books I managed to ignore) visit this post.

Many thanks to Rebecca for hosting this original challenge – she put a ton of work into it and had mini-challenges and fun posts throughout the challenge period. I know I should just bow out of food-related challenges from now on, but if she hosts it again, I will probably not be able to resist.

Fire in the Blood – Book Review

FireInTheBloodWhen you’re twenty, love is like a fever, it makes you almost delirious. When it’s over you can hardly remember how it happened … Fire in the blood, how quickly it burns itself out. Faced with this blaze of dreams and desires, I felt so old, so cold, so wise … – from Fire in the Blood, page 37 –

A small village in France is the setting of Irene Nemirovsky’s novella Fire in the Blood. Narrated in the cynical voice of an older man named Silvio, the story centers around Silvio’s cousins Helene and Francois Erard, their daughter Collette, and Helene’s half sister’s adopted daughter Brigette. From the first, the reader understands that Silvio knows more than he is revealing about the lives of his extended family. He has regrets despite his worldly travels.

I felt this all the more strongly after such a good meal and excellent wine, thinking back to the past the cruel enemy who made me run away from this place. I tried being a civil servant in the Congo, a merchant in Tahiti, a trapper in Canada. Nothing made me happy. I thought I was seeking my fortune; in reality I was being propelled forward by the fire in my young blood. But as these passions are now extinguished I no longer know who I am. I feel I’ve traveled a long, pointless road, simply to end up where I began. – from Fire in the Blood, page 18 –

Silvio has wasted his inheritance and now lives alone with only his dog and maid for company. He is a fine observer of life in the village and notices the secrets people seek to conceal. Gradually those secrets are revealed, uncovering  the smoldering embers of passion in those closest to him.

Nemirovsky is a brilliant writer, and in this slim book she demonstrates her skill at exposing the darkness of the human soul through careful and deliberate character development. Silvio is not completely likable, and yet he draws the reader to him slowly and relentlessly. Everyone, it seems, harbors a secret…and it is Silvio who holds the key.

At its heart, Fire in the Blood is about the contrast between youth and old age, connection with others vs. solitude, passion vs. complacency. Nemirovsky deftly explores the comfort of solitude and ordinary life, and contrasts that with the power and joy of unrestrained love and the passion of youth.

And how can I define the pleasure I find here? I enjoy simple things, things within reach: a nice meal, some good wine, the secret, bitter pleasure of writing in this notebook; but, most especially, this divine solitude. What else do I need? But when I was twenty, how I burned! How is this fire lit within us? It devours everything and then, in a few years, a few months, a few hours even, it burns itself out. – from Fire in the Blood, page 52 –

I thoroughly enjoyed the passages which described the French countryside, its food and traditions, and the rhythm of life in a small village. In 1937, Nemirovsky made a trip to a village in Burgundy called Issy-l’Eveque…it was this small town which became the setting for Fire in the Blood (and later for the second part – Dolce– of her last novel Suite Francaise)

We thresh the wheat around here. It’s the end of summer, time to do the last of the heavy farm work for this season. A day of labour and a day to celebrate. Enormous golden flan cases bake in the oven; since the beginning of the week the children have been shaking plums off the trees so they can decorate them with fruit. There are a huge number of plums this year. The small orchard behind my house is buzzing with bees; the grass is dotted with ripe fruit, the golden skin bursting with little drops of sugar. On threshing day every household takes pride in offering their workers and neighbours the best wine, the thickest cream in the region. To go with them: pies crammed full of cherries and smothered with butter; those small, dry goat cheeses our farmers love so much; bowls of lentils and potatoes; and finally coffee and brandy. – from Fire in the Blood, page 64 –

Fire in the Blood is a quick read at less than 130 pages – but it is rich with detail. In many ways, this novella reminded me of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome – another story which is propelled by the dark mysteries of its characters. It is likely that Fire in the Blood was a manuscript in process – an unfinished work – as Irene Nemirovsky’s voice was silenced in 1942 at the hands of the Nazis. Despite this, the book works on every level from plot to character development to setting. Fire in the Blood reminds us of  Nemirovsky’s acute understanding of the human heart and her ability to reveal that which resides deep inside all of us. She is a talented writer who brings to life a small French village and its people, surprising us with secrets hidden beneath a facade of innocence. Fire in the Blood is a satisfying read and one which I highly recommend.


Other book blogger reviews of this book:

Kiss a Cloud
The Magic Lasso
Days of Reading
Jew Wishes

Have you read and reviewed this book? Leave me a link to your review in the comments and I’ll add it here.

TLC Book Tour and Giveaway: When She Flew

WhenSheFlew jennie2

Many thanks to TLC Book tours, author Jennie Shortridge and Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review When She Flew (read my review). See all posts for this tour here.

A little about Jennie Shortridge:

Jennie Shortridge is a bestselling novelist with  four published novels to her credit: Riding with the Queen, (NAL 2003), Eating Heaven (2005),  Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe (2008), and now When She Flew (2009). Her nonfiction work has appeared regularly in magazines and newspapers, including Glamour, Mademoiselle, Natural Home, and others. The Seattle writer has been called “an accomplished and superior novelist” by the Statesmen Journal and “a writer to watch out for,” by the Rocky Mountain News.

When not writing, she spends time in the community helping kids and adults learn to write better, and in 2006 co-founded (with fellow Seattle author Garth Stein) a collective of Northwest authors whose mission is to create “connections 
between writers, readers, librarians and booksellers to foster and support a passion 
for the written word.” In 2009, they pledged to undertake several community outreach initiatives, including:  panel discussions and writing workshops with all or partial proceeds benefiting literacy programs in the Northwest; the development of community “pocket” libraries in unconventional places; and book club events to encourage community support of local libraries and independent booksellers.

To read more about Jennie Shortridge and her work, visit the author’s website.

When She Flew and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder):

Shortridge’s 4th novel centers around a true story of a war veteran and his daughter living off the land in a forested park in Portland in 2004. One of the themes of the novel is the challenges faced by those people suffering from PTSD. In the novel, Shortridge dispels some of the myths surrounding this disorder…including questions around the ability to effectively parent.

I love novels which inspire me to learn more about a subject…and When She Flew motivated me to read a bit about PTSD. I was familiar with the disorder through some education I received as part of being a Search and Rescue volunteer…and in fact, had suffered a episode of PTSD myself following a search where I was part of the team who located a suicide victim. Fortunately, I received good support from people close to me and was able to resolve the psychological trauma I had experienced, although that particular search will always be with me.

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs defines PTSD as:

[…]an anxiety disorder that can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others’ lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or feel that you have no control over what is happening.

Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. These events can include:

  • Combat or military exposure
  • Child sexual or physical abuse
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Serious accidents, such as a car wreck.
  • Natural disasters, such as a fire, tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake.

After the event, you may feel scared, confused, or angry. If these feelings don’t go away or they get worse, you may have PTSD. These symptoms may disrupt your life, making it hard to continue with your daily activities.

PTSD is a medical diagnosis, established in 1980, defining symptoms that last at least a month after experiencing a major trauma.

The Gateway to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Information website provides some great national and international links to learn more about the disorder and to locate help or treatment if you are suffering from it. One site they linked to really caught my attention. Gift From Within is a non-profit organization which is dedicated to those suffering from PTSD, those at risk of PTSD and those who care for traumatized individuals. They develop and disseminate educational materials and other resources through their website, and maintain a roster of survivors who are willing to participate in an international network of peer support.

If you or a loved one has suffered from PTSD, I urge you to check out some of the resources available to you on line, or contact local resources for treatment.


BOOK GIVE-AWAY of When She Flew:

To wrap up my tour of this book, Jennie Shortridge has graciously agreed to give away a SIGNED copy of When She Flew to one of my readers. To enter the contest:

  • Simply leave a comment on this post by 8:00am (PST) January 5th.
  • Make sure you include a legitimate email address so I can contact you if you win.
  • I will draw a name sometime on January 5th and announce the winner here on my blog.
  • This giveaway is open to the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!!


When She Flew – Book Review

WhenSheFlewI turned to give Sweetie-pie one last look. She was watching me, and blinked twice before closing her eyes and swiveling her head away from me. Everything about a bird is made for flight: the way they breathe, the shape and design of their bodies, their weight. I wished I could fly, but even if I were covered with feathers, I would not be able to avoid gravity. – from When She Flew, page 66 –

Lindy, a 13 year old girl, is living in a forested Oregon park with her father. Pater has served time in Iraq and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but despite his challenges he is devoted to his daughter and focused on protecting her….from her drug addicted mother and the mean urban streets where crime is rampant. Far from being homeless (Pater has constructed a tree house, cultivates a garden and has arranged the water flow from nearby creek in order to have bathing facilities), Lindy and her father are living their lives off the land…traveling into town periodically to borrow library books and attend church. But when a group of birders spots Lindy in the woods, a full-blown search is mounted to “save” her.

Jess Villareal is one of the police officers on the search team…and she brings her own personal history along with her. Divorced and mostly estranged from her daughter and young grandson, Jess finds herself identifying with Lindy’s situation and is determined to help her, even if it means going against orders and breaking the law.

Jennie Shortridge’s fourth novel is a quick, compelling read. Written in the alternating viewpoints of Jess and Lindy and based on the true story of a war veteran and his young daughter found living in a wooded park in Portland, Oregon in 2004, When She Flew wastes no time in immersing the reader in the dramatic plot. Shortridge brings her characters to life on the page – revealing their desires, faults and motivations effortlessly. I found her style easy to read and poignantly realistic.

The novel delves into several themes: the misunderstandings which surround homelessness, the plight of war veterans suffering from PTSD, how we define ‘good’ parenting, and the broader issues around human and social relationships, including love, loss and healing from trauma. Shortridge’s ability to explore these themes without getting preachy or long-winded made me an instant fan of her work. Too often novelists take on big subjects and forget about the characters. When She Flew is all about the characters…especially the female characters who discover themselves by taking risks and being willing to defy the weight of social expectations and ‘fly.’

This was my first novel by Jennie Shortridge, but it will not be my last. I found her writing accessible and relevant, but most of all enjoyable. When She Flew will appeal to those readers who love well-developed characters and quickly paced plots.



reviewcopy2FTC Disclosure: This review copy was provided to me by the publisher through TLC Book Tours. My review is based on my HONEST opinion of the book. I received no compensation for my review other than the book itself.

Two More Completed Challenges

As 2009 winds down, I am reading and reading…and still finishing a couple of challenges just by the skin of my teeth. Here are two more that I can check off the list:

yearoflivingdangerously2009My Year of Reading Dangerously hosted by Estella.

I set out to read 12 “dangerous books” – you can see my list with links to my reviews and ratings here. This was a fun challenge and I read outside my comfort zone for many of these books. My most challenging read was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Although I am not hurrying to read another of his books soon, I appreciated his ability to write. My favorite read of the challenge was a collection of short stories by Catherine Brady (The Mechanics of Falling).

Thanks so much for hosting, Estella!!

orbisterrarum2009Orbis Terrarum hosted by Bethany at B&B Ex Libris.

For this challenge, participants were asked to read 10 books from 10 different countries and written by 10 different authors (countries were either defined by the country of origin of the author, or where the author was currently living). I actually ended up reading 12 books (you can view my list of books with links to reviews here). I really enjoyed this challenge. My favorite read was A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman (set in Sri Lanka). I also read books from Germany, Canada, Norway, Iran, Trinidad, Saudi Arabia, England, France, India, Mexico and Ireland.

Thanks for a terrific challenge, Bethany!

Persepolis 2: The Story of A Return – Book Review

Persep2Persepolis 2: The Story of A Return is the sequel to Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood – the graphic memoir of Marjane Satrapi (read my review of Persepolis). Satrapi picks up her story with her arrival as a fourteen year old girl in Austria…meant to be a safe haven for her. The year is 1984, and in Iran the violence has escalated during the Isalmic Revolution. While Satrapi’s parents remained in Iran, they sent their only child to Europe for an education and to escape the war and violence occurring in their home country.

Persepolis 2 follows the adolescent Satrapi into adulthood and through the confusing maze of uncovering her identity. She is an immigrant in Austria who feels displaced from her culture. There she struggles to fit in with her peers and hides her identity as an Iranian because of the biases and prejudices against Iranian people. Eventually she finds herself suicidal and homeless at age eighteen, and decides to return to her parent’s home in Iran. Despite her desire to “go home,” she discovers that her assimilation there is complicated by her Western experiences and different view of the world.

Satrapi once again uses graphic art to explore the experience of growing up as an Iranian citizen during the Islamic Revolution. Shocking at times, her art is a powerful exploration of freedom (or the lack of it) and women’s rights under a deeply restrictive and fundamentalist government.


*Click on image to enlarge

I found Persepolis 2 to be a more vibrant and engaging read (although perhaps by the time I got to the sequel I had gotten so engrossed in Satrapi’s story that my interest was piqued). Satrapi’s look at what it is like to be a woman living in a paternalistic culture is fascinating and disturbing. Her desire to cling to her culture despite the restrictions it imposed is, I think, understandable because her culture was not the government…it was her family – their traditions, their foods, their sense of humor.

Powerful and concise, Persepolis 2 is an important book which will appeal to people interested in individual freedoms vs. government control, and those who want to learn more about women’s rights in fundamentalist cultures.

Highly recommended.


Persepolis: The Story of A Childhood – Book Review

persepolis_cover_bigPersepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi was born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran…but grew up in Tehran. Her comic book illustrations in Persepolis represent her life from about the age of six through the age of fourteen and ends when she leaves to attend school in Austria (where her parents sent her to escape the escalating violence in Iran).

Satrapi’s illustrations and accompanying text examine daily life (through the eyes of a young girl) under a suffocating and restrictive government – first under the Shah, and later under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Satrapi’s parents were non-traditionalists and Westernized, and as such raised a child who was outspoken and not afraid to question things. This personality trait put Satrapi at risk for arrest despite her young age. Her parent’s decision to move her out of Iran to Austria had a huge influence on Satrapi – which is revealed in the sequel to this book: Persepolis 2 (read my review of Persepolis 2).

The vivid and sometimes disturbing images in the book reveals an Iranian culture which is largely unexplored…that of the liberal faction which rebelled against a culture of imprisonment and discrimination against women. Although religious, Satrapi’s family was not extremist or fundamentalist and were representative of  those who resisted governmental intrusion. They protested against the war and resisted hero worship of martyrs. Many of Satrapi’s family members and friends were imprisoned or executed in the years building up to the revolution.


*Click on graphic to enlarge

I cannot say I “enjoyed” this book as it explores some difficult subject matter – but I did find it compelling and informative. Sartrapi’s images are simple, clear and direct. The format of a graphic novel was the perfect medium for a memoir such as this…and I think it made the subject matter that more powerful.

For those readers who are interested in the Islamic Revolution and its impact on the people of Iran, and for those readers who enjoy graphic novels, Persepolis is one which is worth reading.

NPR has a wonderful interview with Satrapi where she talks about her book and about her life as a child growing up in Iran.


Read more book blog reviews (of both Persepolis and Persepolis 2):

Have you read and reviewed this book? If so, drop me a link to your review in the comments and I’ll add it to the list above.

Mailbox Monday – December 28, 2009

mailboxMonday1Welcome to another edition of Mailbox Monday hosted weekly by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.

Visit Marcia today to leave a link to YOUR mailbox, or to see other readers’ acquisitions.

I found only one book in my mailbox this week, but it’s a goodie:

OneAmazingThingOne Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni arrived from Hyperion Voice through a Shelf Awareness offer. Due for release in February, One Amazing Thing takes place in an Indian visa and passport office in an unnamed U.S. city and involves nine disparate people trapped together after an earthquake. Faced with their own mortality and ability to survive, they begin sharing one amazing thing from their lives.  “In disaster they will discover truth. In each other they will find hope.” Divakaruni is an award-winning bestselling novelist and poet. Her themes include women, immigration, the South Asian experience, history, myth, magic and celebrating diversity. To read more about her and her work, visit the author’s website.