Monthly Archives: February 2009

Orbis Terrarum Challenge – 2009


March 1 – December 31, 2009

Bethany of B&B Ex Libris is hosting the Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2009. Here are the guidelines:

  1. Choose 10 books (for the 10 months).
  2. Each book must from a different country (defined as the country of origin of the author, or the country he/she lives in)
  3. No list is required, which means you can change your mind at any time. As long as there are 10 from 10 different countries, written by 10 different authors: Anything goes

Bethany is also including mini-challenges as part of the overall challenge (these are optional). I am considering doing the Short Story mini challenge over the summer.

I will be making my list as I go for this challenge, but have listed some possibilities below:

  1. The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, by C.M. Mayo (COMPLETED May 1, 2009; rated 3.5/5; read my review) – MEXICO
  2. Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black (COMPLETED May 6, 2009; rated 4.5/5; read my review) – IRELAND
  3. Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (COMPLETED May 30, 2009; rated 3/5; read my review) – INDIA
  4. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale (COMPLETED June 7, 2009; rated 4.5/5; read my review) – ENGLAND
  5. The Elegance of a Hedgehog, by Muriel Barberry (COMPLETED July 18, 2009; rated 4.5/5; read my review) – FRANCE
  6. Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferraris (COMPLETED July 24, 2009; rated 4/5; read my review) – SAUDI ARABIA
  7. A Disobedient Girl, by Ru Freeman (COMPLETED September 28, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review) – SRI LANKA
  8. A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul – (COMPLETED October 3, 2009; rated 1/5; read my review) – TRINIDAD
  9. Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill (COMPLETED August 12, 2009; rated 4.5/5; read my review) – CANADA
  10. The Passport, by Herta Muller (COMPLETED November 24, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review) – GERMANY
  11. Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset (COMPLETED December 20, 2009; rated 4.5/5; read my review of The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross) – NORWAY
  12. Persepolis AND Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi (COMPLETED December 28, 2009; rated 4/5 and 4.5/5; read my review of Persepolis, and Persepolis 2) – IRAN

1% Well Read Challenge: 2009/2010


March 1, 2009 – March 31, 2010

Michelle from 1 More Chapter is hosting this popular challenge again for 2009-2010.  Here are the guidelines:

There are three options from which to choose:

  1. Read 10 titles from the original list from March 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.
  2. Read 10 titles from the new list from March 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.
  3. Read 13 titles from the combined list (of almost 1300 titles) from March 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010. In other words, “What were they thinking dropping titles from Dostoevsky and Jane Austen?”

For all options, overlaps with other challenges are allowed, and you may change your list at any time.

I’m choosing option #3  and I am going to choose books which I already own. Here is a list which shows all the books.

Books read with ratings and links to my reviews:

  1. (#219) Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (Completed May 30, 2009; rated 3/5; read my review)
  2. (#297) A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul (Completed October 3, 2009; rated 1/5; read my review)
  3. (#770) The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (Completed January 26, 2010; rated 4/5; read my review)

I will choose my books from those listed below (which already reside on my TBR Mountain):

From the New List:

  • The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Small Island, by Andrea Levy
  • The Line of Beauty, by Alan Holinghurst
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewychka
  • Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

From the Old List:

  • (#3) On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
  • (#8) The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
  • (#18) What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt
  • (#19) The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
  • (#31) In the Forest, by Edna O’Brien
  • (#43) The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
  • (#50) The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargos
  • (#52) The Devil and Miss Prym, by Paulo Coelho
  • ($62) The Human Stain, by Philip Roth
  • (#82) Cloudsplitter, by Russell Banks
  • (#93) Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
  • (#99) American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
  • (#104) Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels
  • (#117) A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
  • (#125) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
  • (#135) Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks
  • (#141) A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
  • (#205) Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey
  • (#219) Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
  • (#223) Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • (#236) Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • (#297) A Bend in the River, by V.S. Naipaul
  • (#365) The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  • (#381) Them, by Joyce Carol Oates
  • (#387) Cancer Ward, by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn
  • (#399) One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • (#440) The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing
  • (#538) The Grass is Singing, by Doris Lessing
  • (#588) Native Son, by Richard Wright
  • (#609) Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  • (#689) The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
  • (#717) Siddharth, by Herman Hesse
  • (#741) Of Human Bondage, by William Somerset Maughan
  • (#770) House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
  • (#788) The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  • (#810) The Kruetzer Sonata, by Leo Tolstoy
  • (#837) The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostovsky
  • (#880) The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
  • (#890) Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
  • (#925) The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  • (#933) Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  • (#936) Emma, by Jane Austen
  • (#937) Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
  • (#940) Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Chocolat – Book Review

chocolat “Are we staying? Are we, maman?” She tugs at my arm, insistently. “I like it, I like it here. Are we staying?”

I catch her up in my arms and kiss the top of her head. She smells of smoke and frying pancakes and warm bedclothes on a winter’s morning. Why not? It’s as good a place as any.

“Yes, of course,” I tell her, my mouth in her hair. “Of course we are.” Not quite a lie. This time it may even be true. – from Chocolat, page 5 –

Vianne Rocher and her adorable six year old daughter Anouk arrive in the small French town of Lansquenet during a carnival and decide to stay and make it their home. Vianne immediately opens a chocolaterie and begins to minister to the town’s quirky and sometimes troubled inhabitants – including the misunderstood Josephine, the river gypsy Roux, the elderly and sympathetic Armande Voizin, and the dog-loving Guillaume. Vianne has an uncanny ability to know what each of these people need and her lavish chocolates and candies appeal to their desire to feed temptation and deny themselves nothing. But there is a dark shadow lurking in the village in the guise of a priest by the name of Pere Reynaud. Certain that Vianne and her daughter are witches who put his church in peril, the priest plans to bring them down on the eve of Easter as the town prepares to celebrate by participating in a huge chocolate festival.

Joanne Harris writes with rich, evocative language. Her descriptions of place and the people who inhabit the town of Lansquenet are luscious. When she writes of cooking, I found myself slipping between her words and sensing the joy of this experience.

There is a kind of sorcery in all cooking; in the choosing of the ingredients, the process of mixing, grating, melting, infusing, and flavoring, the recipes taken from ancient books, the traditional utensils – the pestle and mortar with which my mother made her incense turned to a more homely purpose, her spices and aromatics giving up their subtleties to a baser, more sensual magic. And it is partly the transience of it that delights me; so much loving preparation, so much art and experience, put into a pleasure that can last only a moment, and which only a few will ever fully appreciate. – from Chocolat, page 51 –

So I was a bit baffled when I found myself not loving this book. I wanted to love it. I had looked forward to reading it. I had read glowing reviews of it. But, something was missing.

The plot is a bit thin. There are many unanswered questions about Vianne and her mother…who she remembers throughout the story and who has impacted her life greatly. I was never sure why Vianne never stayed in one place for long and who she was running from. And although I enjoyed the quirky village characters, Harris made the good ones too good and the evil ones too evil.

For five minutes I stand alone in the square with my arms held out, feeling the wind in my hair. I have forgotten to bring a coat, and my red skirt billows out around me. I am a kite, feeling the wind, rising in an instant above the church tower, rising above myself. For a moment I am disoriented, seeing the scarlet figure below in the square, at once here and there. Falling back into myself, breathless, I see Reynaud’s face staring out from a high window, his eyes dark with resentment. he looks pale, the bright sunlight barely grazing his skin with color. His hands are clenched on the sill before him, and his knuckles are the bleached whiteness of his face. – from Chocolat, page 135 –

I had trouble rating this book. On the one hand, Harris writes with a fluidity and beauty that I appreciated and would rate a 4.5. On the other hand, I was disappointed in a plot that seemed to fall short and would only garner a 2.5 or 3. The allure of language kept me turning the pages – and certainly there are plenty of readers who found this to be enough to give Chocolat sumptous reviews.  Perhaps it was all those great reviews which raised my expectations. In the end, I closed the book and felt a bit disappointed. Despite this, I will give Harris another try, if only to enjoy her rich descriptions.


Other reviews of this book:

Melissa at BookNut
Kim at Page After Page
Margaret at BooksPlease
Petunia at Educating Petunia
Chris at Book-a-Rama
Jill at The Magic Lasso
Bookfool at Bookfoolery and Babble
Alison at So Many Books, So Little Time

Have you read and reviewed this book? Give me your link and I’ll add it to the list above!

Friday Finds – March 6, 2009


March 6, 2009

It has been a couple of weeks since I last participated in this weekly event…but, I have been blog-hopping and reading emails from my book groups and there have been plenty of books which have caught my attention. Below is a sampling (click on titles to read more about the book or purchase it from Amazon; click on the featured blog to read that blogger’s review of the book):

Sonata for Miriam by Linda Olsson as featured on S. Krisna’s Books. You might recognize Olsson’s name connected to her previous novel Astrid and Veronika (which I have not yet read, but plan to). In the recently released (February 24th through Penguin Books) Sonata for Miriam Olsson writes about the fictional composer Adam Anker who makes a journey to uncover his family’s past. The novel moves from New Zealand to Poland, and finally to Sweden. In her review S. Krishna writes: “It’s a beautifully written and moving book with a mystery that really drives the novel forward and keeps the reader hooked.” It sounds like just the kind of novel I would enjoy.

The Color of Lightening by Paulette Jiles as featured on Wisteria’s blog Bookworm’s Diner. This novel is due for release by William Morrow/Harper Collins in April. Set in Northern Texas during the post-Civil War era, The Color of Lightening is an historical novel which examines the Indian conflict and how it touches the lives of a freed slave and his family, and a Quaker who is an agent for the Office of Indian Affairs. Wisteria writes: “…Paulette Jiles told this story as if she was recapturing the travels of Lewis and Clark. With a palette of colorful prose, a prism of grandness is picturesquely painted. This period of history presents hope and despair, promise and disappointment, good times and bad. As Americans move west, after the Civil War, settlers, black men and women are now free.” I’ve added this one to my wish list!

Serena by Ron Nash as featured on Jessica’s Both Eyes Book Blog. Set in 1929 in the North Carolina mountains, this novel is love and betrayal. Jessica writes: “Serena probably won’t be the female lead you admire most.  But she is likely to be the female lead you remember best at the end of the year.The description on Amazon also made this books sound fantastic. On to my wish list it goes!

So Long A Letter by Mariama Ba as featured on Michelle’s blog 1 More Chapter. This novel won the first Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. It is written in the form of a letter and tells the story of the widow Ramatoulaye. Michelle provides wonderful passages from the book and writes: “I highly recommend this book to all, but especially those interested in women’s issues or in African fiction.” Sounds like the type of book I love to read.

Click over to Jenn’s Friday Finds post for today to get links to other reader’s finds or to link your own post.

Books for the Heart – WRAP UP Post


Well, I am very, very late in posting this – my only excuse is that I have been overwhelmed and not feeling terribly motivated of late. But without further ado…here is what I read between February 1 and February 14:

littlegiant inhoveringflight matrimony redleatherdiary

To see my ratings of these books, and to get links to my reviews, visit this page. My favorite read for this event was In Hovering Flight, by Joyce Hinnefeld. It was a gorgeously written book which spoke to my heart…rather appropriate for this challenge, wouldn’t you say?

To see how other readers did, visit Michelle’s blog and check out the links on Mr. Linky.

I have donated $50 to The American Heart Association for this event – a very worthy cause.

THANK YOU, Michelle, for raising awareness of heart disease and for hosting such a wonderful event!!

Mailbox Monday – February 23, 2009

mailboxmonday Have you stopped by Marcia’s weekly Mailbox Monday today?  Each week readers share what arrived at their homes…here are the goodies I received:

laurarider Laura Rider’s Masterpiece, by Jane Hamilton came to me through Miriam at Little Brown & Company. It is “a funny, sexy, and provocative satire about marriage.” Hamilton is the author of several novels…I read A Map of the World several years ago and really liked it, so I am looking forward to this latest book. Laura Rider’s Masterpiece is slated for release in April.

followme Follow Me, by Joanna Scott also was sent to me by Miriam at Little Brown & Co. I have yet to read a Scott novel, but her books have been on my wish list for quite awhile, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to receive this latest novel. Follow Me is “an epic and unforgettable novel of a young woman’s search for herself in America.” The back of the book says: ‘In Follow Me, Joanna Scott has crafted a paean to the American tradition of reinvention, a sweeping saga of timeless and tender storytelling, boldly rendered and beautifully told…‘ I am really looking forward to this one which is due to be released in April.

mechanicoffalling The Mechanics of Falling and other Stories, by Catherine Brady is a gorgeous hardcover which arrived from The University of Nevada Press. I will be touring this book April 6th through TLC Book Tours (see the full schedule here). It is a collection of short stories which is getting high praise.  Michelle Richmond (The Year of Fog) wrote: “This book is full of sentences so wise and surprising, one wants to commit them to memory.” And Christopher Coake (We’re in Trouble: Stories) compares Brady’s writing to that of Alice Munro and Andrea Barrett. Brady teaches in the MFA program at the University of San Francisco and has had her stories published in literary journals and anthologized in Best American Short Stories. Her first published collection was a finalist for the 1999 Western States Book Award for Fiction, while her second was co-winner of the 2002 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. This looks like a wonderful book and I am eager to read it. Watch my blog in April for a review.

So what about you? Did you find any treasures in your mailbox or waiting on your front step this week?

Winners – The Red Leather Diary


There was a terrific response to this give-away with more than 70 entrants! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the living history and unexpected discoveries which you shared with me. If you are reading this post and have not done so yet, I strongly encourage you to check out the comments on the give-away post – they are fascinating.

I used the true number generator to pick the five lucky winners. I’ve listed them below with their comments:

comment #56: Amanda from Life in a Suitcase

I’ve found pieces of history in a couple of ways. First off, I was an archaeology major. On my first dig in England, all I managed to find were some nails and a bit of friable grey pottery. My advice for everyone is not to dig up the ditches of Roman forts. It’s just not terribly exciting. However, I learned all the basics, which were helpful when I was in Greece – amongst a great deal of pottery and other things, we found some burials. It was incredibly cool to be involved in unearthing a part of history.

Closer to home, I helped my Nana clean out her basement when she moved about ten years ago. Beyond finding my uncle’s old hash pipe, I also came across a Dear John letter written to my grandfather from a woman he had been involved with in England, during the war. It was fascinating.

comment #14: Lexie from The Reader, Dreamer, Reclusive Seer

Whenever I go to the Goodwill I find items that make me think ‘Who owned this? Why?’. Especially clothing and shoes. I can’t imagine someone wearing blue sequined stiletto boots so many times that the soles were scuffed and the edges of the shoe were frayed! More recently we found my paternal grandmother’s diary from the time when she first married granddad until about twenty years ago when he died. Grandma’s handwriting was ever small and neat and hard to write and her diary was no different. This made me want to learn more about what life had been like for her during the years after WW2 and the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Raising five kids, a stay-at-home mom who hid her meat-aversion and had few hobbies…I wondered what it was like.

comment #37: Lauren from Shooting Stars Mag

I’ve never really found anything from the past, but I do love going through all photos and keepsakes of my mom’s. I think it’s a lot of fun to see who she was then.

I’d love to read this book! Thanks for the contest.

comment #60: S. Krishna from S. Krishna’s Books

Living history: I’ve always been interested in my father’s history. He grew up incredibly poor in a village in India (he didn’t have enough money for shoes) and now runs an extremely successful computer company. Hearing about his past is so interesting – I’ve considered writing a book about his life!

comment #22: Jennifer

Eight years after my great-grandfather passed and three years after moving all my belongings as well as my great-grandfathers to my new house, I came across a box of “stuff”. I found letters and pictures to my great-grandmother when my great-grandfather was in WWII. What a quite moment. I would love to read this book because of the history, but I love diaries as well. Thanks Wendy!

I will be sending you each an email – please respond to that email in the next five (5) days with your snail mail address so I can get your book out to you!


Unaccustomed Earth – Book Review

unaccustomedearth It was like the painting they’d first looked at together in London, the small mirror at the back revealing more than the room at first appeared to contain. – from Only Goodness, page 157 –

Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of short stories – Unaccustomed Earth – reveals more about the relationships between its multi-faceted characters than  first appears.  Each story seems initially simple and then evolves into a wonderful look at how relationships between husband/wife, brother/sister, girlfriend/boyfriend, and parent/child evolve over time.

In the title story, a young Bengali woman named Ruma relocates to Seattle with her American husband and son as they look forward to the birth of their second child. A visit from Ruma’s father stirs memories of her deceased mother, and forces her to consider her duty as daughter to invite her father to live with her.

Ruma feared that her father would become a responsibility, an added demand, continuously present in a way she was no longer used to. It would mean an end to the family she’d created on her own: herself and Adam and Akash, and the second child that would come in January, conceived just before the move. – from Unaccustomed Earth, page 7 –

But Ruma is unaware that her father has begun to move forward after the loss of his wife, and treasures his new found independence.

He stared out the window at a shelf of clouds that was like miles and miles of densely packed snow one could walk across. The sight filled him with peace; this was his life now, the ability to do as he pleased, the responsibility of his family absent just as all else was absent from the unmolested vision of the clouds. – from Unaccustomed Earth, page 8 –

During his visit, Ruma’s father connects unexpectedly with his grandson, and plants a garden for Ruma. The visit unfolds in an unpredictable way, bringing a deeper understanding of both father and daughter; and opening a door to a new relationship.

This simple first story, rich in detail and expertly crafted, introduces the stories to come with the 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. In some stories, the characters are drawn back to India; in others they find a place for themselves in America; in still others, they are drawn to seek their future far from either place. The stories are also about loss – the loss of innocence, or intimacy, or love, or even life itself.

But death too, had the power to awe, she knew this now – that a human being could be alive for years and years, thinking and breathing, full of a million worries and feelings and thoughts, taking up space in the world, and then, in an instant, become absent, invisible. – from Unaccustomed Earth, page 46 –

The final three stories of the collection – interconnected by character – are actually more of a novella. In Once in a Lifetime, Hema recollects her childhood in Massachusetts when she meets Kaushik, the son of her parent’s close friends. Hema speaks directly to Kaushik in the narration, a technique which while unsettling, serves to bind the two characters together. The second story titled Year’s End, picks up the narration years later from Kaushik’s point of view as he deals with his father’s second marriage after the untimely death of Kaushik’s mother. In the final story titled Coming Ashore, Hema and Kaushik meet unexpectedly in Rome only weeks before Hema is to become married via an arranged marriage in India. These stories once again emphasize the growth of the characters and how this growth impacts and changes their relationship to each other. Lahiri also examines the cultural conflict between America and India as it reflects on the characters’ decisions.

Lahiri is a gifted storyteller, one who writes effortlessly and ties together complex themes with ease. Her writing is often simple, yet beautifully constructed with rich detail and in-depth characterizations. Readers who might shy away from short stories will find themselves delighted with Lahiri’s ability to make them feel connected to her characters. She compacts their lives in such a way that the reader feels as though they have spent a longer time with them – feeling their joys, sadness, regrets and hopes in rare depth.

Highly recommended.


WINNER of Matrimony…


Congratulations to commentor number 11: Vicki Wurgler who is the winner of a signed copy of Matrimony, by Josh Henkin.

Vicki, I have sent you an email…please respond to it by sending me your snail mail in the next five days so that Josh may send your book to you!

Thank you to all who entered!

Noteworthy News – February 18, 2009


February 18, 2009

reader FINALLY, someone who agrees with me about this story. Ron Rosenbaum from Slate writes about the unworthiness of the film for an Oscar…he writes (in part):

What, exactly, was the Kate Winslet character’s “personal triumph”? While in prison for participation in an act of mass murder that was particularly gruesome and personal, given the generally impersonal extermination process—as a death camp guard, she helped ensure 300 Jewish women locked in a burning church would die in the fire—she taught herself to read! What a heartwarming fable about the wonders of literacy and its ability to improve the life of an Auschwitz mass murderer!

That was pretty much my opinion on the book (read my review). Not to mention the fact that it glorifies pedophilia.  Do we really think a 15 year old boy should be having sex with a woman old enough to be his mother? And then Schlink wants us to think it is love…um, I don’t think so. I have not gone to see the movie – and I will not – reading the book was more than enough.

margaret-atwood-002 Go get ’em, Margaret. You know, I love Atwood’s novels…and now I have even more reason to respect this talented author. The organizers of the inauguraul Emirates Airline international festival of literature planned to launch Geraldine Bedell’s  novel The Gulf Between Us … but then reversed themselves and blacklisted it instead ‘citing its Gulf setting, its discussion of Islam and its focus on the Iraq war, as well as the fact that a minor character is a gay sheikh with an English boyfriend.’ Atwood, who was slated to appear at the festival had this response: “I was greatly looking forward to the festival, and to the chance to meet readers there; but, as an international vice president of Pen – an organisation concerned with the censorship of writers – I cannot be part of the festival this year.” Want to read more? Check out this article published by The Guardian.