Monthly Archives: May 2009

Sunday Salon – May 31, 2009

Sunday Salon

May 31, 2009

Good morning, fellow readers. Summer has really arrived here in Northern California with triple digits and bright blue skies. It makes me want to break out the books for summertime reading.

Since last Sunday, I’ve managed to slog through Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (read my review). It was a lot of work, and definitely not enjoyable. I know this is a favorite of many readers – and it won the Booker Prize in 1981 – but I have to admit I mostly did not “get it.” I think I should steer clear of magical realism in my reading … I never seem to enjoy those kinds of books.

Luckily, I also read a wonderful book this week. The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks (read my review and a guest post by the author) was a perfect summer read in every way: great characters, beautiful setting, and a plot that kept me interested. Have you read anything by this author? This was my first book by her, but it certainly will not be my last.

Yesterday I finished a book which has been on my shelf for a few months. It came to me as a review book from the lovely Lisa Roe. The Scent of Oranges by Joan Zawatzky (read my review) is set in South Africa and features a character named Linda who returns to the farm she grew up on after her father dies. Waiting for her are shadowy memories of her brother’s murder and a letter from her father asking her to investigate the crime as he is convinced the wrong men were convicted. This is a slowly unfolding book which appealed to me more for its historical content than for the mystery.

My current read is Last Night In Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel (watch for my tour of this book in the next week). This novel explores the themes of love, amnesia, obsession, and family bonds. I am almost 75 pages into it, and am appreciating Mandel’s gorgeous writing. Here’s a teaser from Eli’s point of view when he realizes Lilia has left him:

He was hunting just then, hot on the trail of something obscure, tracking a rare butterfly-like quotation as it fluttered through thickets of dense tropical paragraphs. The chase seemed to require the utmost concentration; still, he couldn’t help but think later on that if he’d only glanced up from the work, he might’ve seen something: a look in her eyes, a foreshadowing of doom, perhaps a train ticket in her hand or the words I’m Leaving You Forever stitched on the front of her coat. – from Last Night In Montreal, page 3 –

I have a number of books on my bedside table for June, and I hope I can get to them all before the end of the month. They include:

  • The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale
  • Beach Trip by Cathy Holton (look for my tour of this book on June 15th)
  • A Thousand Veils by D.J. Murphy
  • What The Dead Know by Laura Lippman
  • Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
  • Between Here and April by Deborah Kogan
  • The Lost Hours by Karen White

I’m also planning on dipping into some short stories in June – specifically those written by Willa Cather and Simon Van Booy.

What about you? What’s on your June reading schedule?

I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, and whatever you have planned, I hope it involves a great book!

The Scent of Oranges – Book Review

scentoforanges Even if I had the key to Pa’s request, I had no idea how to tackle a murder investigation. All I could do was to remain vigilant – an early morning sparrow, picking up tidbits of information, hungrily following any leads that presented themselves. – from The Scent of Oranges, page 81 –

When a young woman named Linda returns to South Africa for the funeral of her father, she is drawn back in time to her childhood growing up on their farm amid the orange groves. Although it was she who discovered her murdered brother’s body, she has no recollection of the crime. But when she is given a letter from her father asking her to re-investigate the details of the murder, Linda finds herself once again embroiled in the mystery of her brother’s death which includes dark, family secrets.

Joan Zawatzky’s novel The Scent of Oranges is part mystery, part historical fiction. Zawatzky paints an unflattering picture of post-apartheid South Africa – a country of poverty, violence and inadequate medical care where TB and AIDS take their toll. Despite this bleak portrayal, Zawatzky also reveals the beauty of the countryside where belief in ancestral spirits are interwoven with ghosts of the past.

Rain had brought flowers, leafy tendrils and a mass of weeds to the brittle veld. I picked wet jacaranda blossoms, popping them as I once had and sniffing their faint perfume on my fingers Blue borage was flowering and I followed its trails as it crept along hedges, over trunks and boulders. – from The Scent of Oranges, page 211 –

I was back in the orange groves on a crisp golden morning when I saw them for the first time. Beneath the trees, I noticed a ripple in the leaves hugging the ground. Was it a mouse or small animal? I lay in a furrow holding my breath. I had dug welts into my thighs by the time I saw them, three shimmering creatures darting between the trees and only as tall as one of Pa’s beer bottles. Their pointed brown faces were too small and their features far too fine to discern details. I watched fascinated until a breeze swept them away. – from The Scent of Oranges, page 186 –

The book is narrated through Linda’s point of view and its strengths are the descriptions of South Africa and its people. I did not find the mystery itself that compelling – perhaps because the pace of the story is slow and early in the book Linda is often met with silence to her inquiries about the murder. Zawatzky takes a long time to build tension and resolve the conflicts which are introduced between the characters. This meandering pace is frustrating at times. I also found the dialogue to be the weakest element of the novel – stilted and unconvincing, all the characters began to sound the same to me after awhile. Because of this, I found myself feeling distanced from the characters as though I was observing their story, but not part of it.

Despite these flaws, Zawatzky does an adequate job in revealing the cultural divide between the native people and the western, often affluent population of South Africa. The magical elements of the book – visits from spirits and the belief in voodoo – were well written and compelling.

The Scent of Oranges is not a dynamic read, but readers who wish to learn more about the culture of post-Apartheid South Africa will find this novel enlightening.


Read more reviews of this book:

Marcia at The Printed Page

Dar at Peeking Between the Pages

Rachel at Old Musty Books

Sunny at That Book Addiction

Midnight’s Children – Book Review

midnightschildren1 I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more…On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clockhands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. – from Midnight’s Children, page 3 –

Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel Midnight’s Children is the story of a nation narrated by Saleem Sinai who embodies the history of India by being born at the exact moment of India’s independence (August 15, 1947). Other children, also born between midnight and one o’clock on this day, discover they are able to telepathically communicate with each other.

In fact, all over the new India, the dream we all shared, children were being born who were only partially the offspring of their parents – the children of midnight were also the children of the time: fathered, you understand, by history. It can happen. Especially in a country which is itself a sort of dream. – from Midnight’s Children, page 132 –

The novel is allegorical, narrated in the first person, and spans more than sixty years from before Saleem is born until he is thirty years old. Saleem’s voice is arrogant, satirical and tangential.

Family history, of course, has its proper dietary laws. One is supposed to swallow and digest only the permitted parts of it, the halal portions of the past, drained of their redness, their blood. Unfortunately this makes the stories less juicy; so I am about to become the first and only member of my family to flout the laws of halal. Letting no blood escape from the body of the tale, I arrive at the unspeakable part; and, undaunted press on.from Midnight’s Children, page 62 –

Although difficult to follow at times, Rushdie’s sense of humor was one of the aspects of the novel I enjoyed.

Poor Padma. Things are getting her goat. Perhaps even her name: understandably enough, since her mother told her, when she was small, that she had been named after the lotus goddess, whose most common appellation amojngst village folk is “The One Who Possesses Dung.” – from Midnight’s Children, page 20 –

Despite these light moments, Midnight’s Children is not a light read. I really struggled to finish this book – and my feelings about it are mixed. Rushdie’s prose is full of symbolism, analogies, magical realism and the complex history of India. The book has multiple themes (the individual vs. the masses and destruction vs. creation to name two). It is also full of numerous characters – some minor, some major and everything in between. I often found myself scratching my head trying to understand it all.

Important to concentrate on good hard facts. But which facts? One week before my eighteenth birthday, on August 8th, did Pakistani troops in civilian clothing cross the cease-fire line in Kashmir and infiltrate the Indian sector, or did they not? In Delhi, Prime Minister Shastri announced “massive infiltration…to subvert the state”; but here is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, with his riposte: “We categorically deny any involvement in the rising against tyranny by the indigenous people of Kashmir.” – from Midnight’s Children, page 387 –

Rushdie is obviously brilliant. He knows how to tell a story. And yet I did not really enjoy reading this book and there are very few people to whom I could recommend it. If you are a person with some understanding of Indian culture and history and who loves symbolic stories filled with elements of magical realism, you might want to give Midnight’s Children a try. I am told it is one of his more accessible novels. If that is true, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more Rushdie in the near future.


BookAwards II Challenge

August 1, 2008 – June 1, 2009


I read 10 award winners from the following prize lists:

  1. Pulitzer Special Awards
  2. Anthony Award
  3. Orange Prize for Fiction
  4. Booker Prize
  5. Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
  6. IMPAC Dublin Award
  7. Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature
  8. Whitbread/Costa Award
  9. Commonwealth Writers Prize

My favorite reads of the bunch included: Maus I & II, Rebecca, Out Stealing Horses, The Road Home, The Secret River, and Music and Silence – all of which I rated 5/5.

Thank you to Michelle for hosting this fun challenge!


Michelle from 1MoreChapter is hosting part 2 of the BookAwards Challenge. I completed (and exceeded) the first one (reading 17 award winning books!) and can’t wait to continue reading award winning literature into 2009. I’m creating a list here, but don’t be surprised if it changes! The goal is 10 books representing a minimum of 5 different awards.

My preliminary list:

  1. Maus I and Maus II, by Art Spiegelman (1992 Pulitzer in Special Awards and Citations – Letters) – COMPLETED August 31, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  2. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century) – COMPLETED November 7, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  3. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson (Winner of the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2003 Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, AND 2007 IMPAC Dublin Award) – COMPLETED January 6, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review.
  4. The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (Winner of the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction) – COMPLETED January 16, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald (Winner of the 1979 Booker Prize) – COMPLETED March 27, 2009; rated 3.5/5; read my review.
  6. The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize) – COMPLETED October 13, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  7. Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain (1999 Whitbread/Costa Award) – COMPLETED October 9, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  8. The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker (1995 Booker Award) – COMPLETED December 25, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review.
  9. The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (2008 Booker Award) – COMPLETED January 3, 2009; rated 4/5; read my review.
  10. Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (1981 Booker Award) – COMPLETED May 30, 2009; rated 3/5; read my review.

Author Judith Ryan Hendricks: TLC Book Tour

judihendricks lawsofharmony

The Laws of Harmony by Judith Ryan Hendricks
Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition – February 10, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0061687365
496 pages

I recently read The Laws of Harmony – the latest novel by Judi Ryan Hendricks – and loved it (read my review). Hendricks has a way of drawing her reader into the story, of making them feel like they know the characters. I asked Hendricks if she would write a guest post for Caribousmom and she readily agreed. When I read this post it resonated with me as a writer and as a reader…I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Of Bread and Books

by Judith Ryan Hendricks

Bread, as any baker will testify, is a process—slow, arduous, messy, unpredictable.  The French, of course, have a saying about it:  To be a boulanger, they say, you must be big, strong and dumb—big to carry sacks of flour, strong to knead the dough, and dumb to work so hard.

As with most French sayings, there’s a germ of truth at its heart.  You don’t make bread because you want to get rich.  You don’t make bread for prestige or fame or even respect—although those things may come collaterally.  But the real and only reason you make bread is because you have to.  You make bread because you can’t not make it.

By changing a few words here and there, you can say the same about writing.  Writers don’t have to be big or strong, I suppose, although it helps if you can carry a six-pound manuscript in one hand and heft your computer bag into the overhead bins on airplanes with the other.

But you could definitely make a case for being dumb.  Why else would you sit alone in a small office all day, everyday for four years—missing dentist appointments, letting your mother leave messages on voice mail, forgetting to eat lunch, ignoring the dog while she nibbles the Tibetan rug?  Why else would you subject your book to the slings and arrows of hostile reviewers, drag yourself around the country to signings where you sometimes find yourself reading to the bookstore staff and a couple of transients who just came for the refreshments?

Why?  See above.  The only reason you write is because you have to.  You write because you can’t not write.

My career as a novelist began in a bakery.  Appropriately so, I’ve decided, because the longer I go at both baking and writing, the more similarities I see between them.

Bread is basically the fusion of four of the earth’s most elemental ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt.  In the kneading there’s an exchange of energy between baker and bread—and you learn to know by touch the exact moment when the dough comes alive.

A book also has some pretty basic ingredients—character, setting, plot.  You manipulate them, work them together until they fuse and the story takes on a life of its own.  And you know when that happens, too.

To bake bread is to understand that yeast is a living entity, and it may or may not always do what you expect or want it to do.  If you persist at the craft long enough, you learn to let go of your expectations, forget about the outcome and let the bread direct you.

Likewise, there comes a time in the writing process—usually just when you think you know exactly where the story should go next—that you find yourself writing something—and suddenly the character seems to be glaring at you off the page.  You can almost hear a voice saying, That’s ridiculous.  I’d never do that.

You learn very quickly that the process works best if you let your characters take you by the hand and lead you into the story.  This is where the messy part comes in, and sometimes you end up in a game of dominoes.  Changing one thing, and finding that it alters everything down the line.  Or having to backtrack to rearrange all the events leading up to it.

Creation—whether of bread, or of a book—is an imperfect, spontaneous, organic and on-going process.  We aren’t the originators and we don’t have ultimate control, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to be present.  We’re able to tap into the process, to assist at the birth.

And that’s enough.


To read more about Judi Hendricks and her work, visit the author’s website.

Read Judi Hendricks’ blog: The Kitchen Table

Visit other blogs touring this book and read their reviews.


The Laws of Harmony – Book Review

lawsofharmony People are forever asking me what it was like to grow up in a commune, and it’s a question that has no easy answer. Northern New Mexico was Commune Central in those days, and each of the twenty-odd settlements had its own vision, its own quirky dynamics, its own culture. And, of course, no two children ever grow up in the same family, so if you asked both me and my brother, Hart, what it was like, you’d get two completely different perspectives. I think he was pretty happy. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 2 –

Judith Ryan Hendricks’ fourth novel, The Laws of Harmony, opens in New Mexico and is narrated by Sunny Cooper – a 32 year old woman whose life is suddenly wrenched out from under her. When detectives arrive at Sunny’s door to inform her that her fiance Michael has been killed in a fiery car crash, Sunny’s grief is quickly replaced by confusion and then anger when she discovers Michael was keeping secrets from her.

There was an aura about him – daring, adventurous, carefree, almost joyful – but with a darkness just under the surface. Like you could scratch him with a fingernail and find something you might not really want to see. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 68 –

The tragedy opens a floodgate of memories from Sunny’s childhood growing up in a commune – the drugs, sex and rock n’ roll; her close relationship with a brother who has since disappeared from her life; the sister she lost to a freak accident; and the strained connection she still has with her mother. On an impulse, Sunny sells nearly all her possessions and quits her job, heading west to a new future in the tiny town of Harmony on San Miguel Island south of Vancouver Island off the Washington coast.

I’ve entered a different world, and my heart suddenly lifts. It seems I’ve finally slipped the gravitational pull of New Mexico, and the past is dropping away behind me like a spent booster rocket. – from The Laws of Harmony, page 146 –

The Laws of Harmony is a novel about personal growth, the impact of the past on our future, and the delicate connections we make with other people. Sunny’s journey is not just a physical  one from New Mexico to Harmony. Her memories do not simply stop the moment she leaves the desert and arrives on the fog enshrouded island of San Miguel. Sunny’s journey from despair to hope and her gradual understanding that she cannot walk through life alone is what drives the narrative…and it is a compelling and satisfying story.

Hendricks is a capable and talented writer whose prose is filled with warmth, humor and a deep understanding of what it means to be human. Half way through the novel, I found myself immersed in Sunny’s world, comforted by the rich descriptions of food, and not wanting the novel to end. Although there is a bit of a mystery in the book, it is not the mystery which kept me turning the pages. Hendricks’ ability to create character is her strength, and it is the characters who engaged me.

The best novels are those which leave the reader with a more acute awareness of what motivates a character – and a better understanding of  how a character’s life might parallel our own. The Laws of Harmony does both those things. The writing is accessible and honest. Judith Ryan Hendricks has written a novel which women especially will love. If you are looking for a comfortable and gratifying summer read, look no further.

Highly recommended.


Read more reviews of this book.

Watch the book trailer:

Mr. Linky Not Feeling Well


Mr. Linky is having growing pains – he has been “down” more than “up” this last month. To read more, visit the Mr. Linky Blog.

Until he is feeling better, please leave links to reviews and wrap ups for my sponsored challenges in the COMMENTS section of each post. I will upload your links when Mr. Linky is back up and running.

Thanks for your patience!

Friday Finds – May 29, 2009


May 29, 2009

I am publishing this a day early this week – tomorrow I have a couple of book tour posts and I thought I would spread out the posting joy!

The book groups, publisher newsletters and book bloggers keep adding to my wish list – not that I am complaining, mind you…I love getting tempted by books and Jenn at Should Be Reading encourages us to share our finds with other readers each Friday. Here is what tempted me recently (clicking on the book title takes you to Amazon; clicking on the featured book blog takes you to their review of the book):

My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerly as featured on C.B.’s blog Ready When You Are, C.B. caught my eye for the obvious reason – there is a large German Shepherd on the cover. But when I read C.B.’s review of this classic book, I knew I would be looking to add it to my TBR stack. C.B. writes: ‘Tulip is devoted to Mr. Ackerley as only a dog can be. It’s not at all like a human to human bond. It’s a human to dog bond. It’s different. And it’s nice to see it celebrated for the wonderful thing it is in My Dog Tulip.‘ Doesn’t that sound great?

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey as featured on Jackie’s blog Farm Lane Books Blog was short listed for the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction. I know very little about any of the short listed books this year, but this one was one of Jackie’s favorites (she has read them all now). She writes: ‘[…] in the end the power of this book cannot be ignored. I couldn’t find any faults with it. It gripped me from beginning to end, and left me a changed person.

The Sharper the Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn as featured on Lesley’s blog Lesley’s Book Nook is a culinary memoir. Lesley shared my enjoyment of  The School of Essential Ingredients, and so I trust her her recommendation for excellent books centered on food. Lesley writes: ‘Flinn’s experience as a journalist is quite apparent. Her memoir is not only a joy to read, but quite informative.‘ Lesley includes some fantastic quotes in her review which had me smiling by the time I was done reading it. If you like all things food related, you might like this one.

Blackman’s Coffin by Mark De Castrique as featured on Cathy’s blog Kittling Books is the first book in the Blackman Mystery Series. Lately I’ve been enjoying reading mysteries and this one sounds great. Cathy writes: ‘I just plain flat out had a marvelous time reading this book. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. My brain always seemed a half step behind Sam’s as we both tried to solve the mystery.’ The second book in the series is set for release in August.

Hello Goodbye by Emily Chenoweth as featured on Swapna’s blog S. Krisna’s Books is set in New Hampshire and centers around a woman battling brain cancer. Swapna writes: ‘Though Hello Goodbye deals with death, the novel is never heavy or depressing.  Instead, it is a beautiful portrayal of life.‘ She recommends the book to those readers who enjoy literary AND women’s fiction – that sounds like me! This novel was just released in May.

What did you discover this week?

Winner of No One You Know…


My apologies for not posting this yesterday – I had a crazy day with work and the temperatures in Redding were in the triple digits…so my excuse is that my brain was fried!

There were nearly 60 entries to win a signed edition of No One You Know by Michelle Richmond. I used the fabulous and the winner is…

Comment #41 Jake at Jake Lsewhere

For those of you who entered but didn’t win this book, I hope you’ll consider purchasing it at Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble…or anywhere great books are sold!

Jake: I will be emailing you – please respond to the email within five days so we can get your book out to you as soon as possible.

Need a Smile?

…then watch this wonderful video where a couple married 62 years (he is 90 years old) put on an impromptu piano recital in the lobby of the Mayo clinic: