Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review - A World I Never Made by James LePore

Synopsis from B&N:

Pat Nolan, an American man, is summoned to Paris to claim the body of his estranged daughter Megan, who has committed suicide. The body, however, is not Megan's and it becomes instantly clear to Pat that Megan staged this, that she is in serious trouble, and that she is calling to him for help.

This sends Pat on an odyssey that stretches across France and into the Czech Republic and that makes him the target of both the French police and a band of international terrorists. Joining Pat on his search is Catherine Laurence, a beautiful but tormented Paris detective who sees in Pat something she never thought she'd find-genuine passion and desperate need. As they look for Megan, they come closer to each other's souls and discover love when both had long given up on it.

Juxtaposed against this story is Megan's story. A freelance journalist, Megan is in Morocco to do research when she meets Abdel Lahani, a Saudi businessman. They begin a torrid affair, a game Megan has played often and well in her adult life. But what she discovers about Lahani puts her in the center of a different kind of game, one with rules she can barely comprehend. Because of her relationship with Lahani, Megan has made some considerable enemies. And she has put the lives of many-maybe even millions-at risk.

My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this novel. I was a little reluctant at first - based on the synopsis, it sounded like there was A LOT going on. I wasn't sure an idea that sounded this ambitious would actually pan out. So I was quite pleasantly surprised to find myself engaged with the characters and action of the novel immediately.

This is a thriller, so of course the action drives the story. LePore has packed his novel with serious, nail-biting suspense. Nobody is safe, and I had quite a few nervous moments, hoping my favorite characters would make it. (Sometimes they didn't.) There were a couple of instances where the coincidences seemed a LITTLE too good to be true, but for the most part the action seems very believable.

Sometimes authors have trouble with the two-narrative approach, but LePore does a great job transitioning from Pat's story to Megan's, and back again. Each story builds in intensity, so the reader is drawn in more and more, until eventually they can't wait to read what happens next. The characters and their relationships were somewhat predictable, but not enough to distract from the increasinly gripping storyline.

A World I Never Made is a highly entertaining novel - a great debut. I will certainly read LePore's next work - I can only hope it will be this much fun!

Finished: 3/26/09
Source: Julie at FSB associates
Rating: 7/10

Julie has given me a short excerpt from the book that I will post tomorrow - make sure to stop back and check it out!

Teaser Tuesday


TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
    Let the book fall open to a random page.
    Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

    Please avoid spoilers!

"So what could I possibly do? I had one - and only one - advantage over the experts: the book was fresh to me. I didn't know what I was supposed to know. My goal was simple. I wanted to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based."

(from Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned when I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz, page 4)

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at ShouldBeReading.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

TSS - Review - The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray


Synopsis:

It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds.

The Order—the mysterious group her mother was once part of—is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence's burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

My thoughts:

I've been putting off reading this, the last in the Gemma Doyle series. I do this often when I find a series I really enjoy. I don't want to read the last one, because then it's over. If I still have that last book out there, waiting, then I can imagine the characters I've grown to love are still having adventures, just waiting for me to catch up. Also, because I'm often disappointed in the last of a series, I like to imagine things they way I want them. I don't want to read the last book, and feel like it didn't measure up. Thankfully, that's not how I feel after reading The Sweet Far Thing.

Yep, I love this series. After spending months and month reading, and then hearing people rave on and on about, a series where the heroine essentially obsesses over love, and gets rescued a lot (Yes, Bella, I'm talking about you), it's sure nice to read a trilogy where the heroine, for better or worse, takes a little control of the situation.

Which is not to say that Gemma Doyle is perfect. She is stubborn, and proud, and confused, and lonely - a combination that can, and does, lead to some trouble. Gemma's actions are often impulsive, and she is sometimes easily swayed by her friends. She's also tenacious, and smart, and loyal, and funny. I really fell in love with Gemma in the first book in the series, and she just keeps getting better.

I think the novel does have a few pacing issues - I found myself rolling my eyes a couple of times, wondering WHY we have to back into the Realms to play with Pippa AGAIN, or exactly how many times we had to make social calls with Grandmama. I think it's hard to maintain momentum throughout an 800+ page novel, and there were times when, honestly, this one seemed a little slow. Thankfully, however, Libba Bray is a good enough writer that those periods were not long, or that plentiful, and for the most part I was engaged the entire time.

And the ending - OH, the ending. Captivating and bittersweet. I often take exception to endings, but this one was right on. Not too perfect, because that's not the way the world works, but a fitting end to an engrossing story.

I really like this series. I appreciate that it teaches girls they can, and should, take responsibility for their own lives. I appreciate that it tells them they are strong enough to be bold and courageous. And I appreciate that it shows how bad things can, and will, happen, and we are able to go on. I think it's an extremely entertaining, well-written YA series, and will definitely be rereading it in the future.

Finished: 3/28/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers thought:

Fyrefly's Book Blog

Peeking Between the Pages
Becky's Book Reviews

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Poe Friday (on Saturday)


This week we read the very short (3 pages!) story, The Sphinx. If you are unfamiliar with the story, you can read the full text here.

In this short tale, an unnamed narrator travels to the country to visit a relative in order to escape a cholera outbreak in New York City. The narrator is obsessed with the epidemic, getting news each day that another friend or relative has died from the disease. He quickly becomes paranoid. One day, he looks out the window and sees a gigantic monster. He fears he is going crazy, but when he sees the monster a second time, he feels he has to tell his relative, who then tries to deduce the origin of this horrible monster.

This is another story about an obsession with death. Since it was written shortly before the death of Poe's wife, Virginia, I would have to imagine that many of the feelings of the narrator were mirrors of Poe's own inner turmoil. I noticed a similarity between the narrator in this story and Roderick from "The Fall of the House of Usher" - both had unreasonable fears, and both let their fears practically consume them.

Because this story was SO short, I didn't feel like Poe had as much opportunity to set his mood, as he does so successfully in some other stories. I never quite felt like I was "in" this story, unlike other stories which grabbed me immediately. I get the feeling this was something he wrote quickly and sent off, just so he could get some money to pay the bills - understandable, since making a living as a writer was tenuous at best at this time.

Next week we will be reading The Cask of Amontillado. Poe Friday is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, March 27, 2009

451 Fridays



451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I am thrilled to welcome the lovely and talented Ruth to 451 Fridays. Her blog was one of the first I discovered when I started this blogging thing, and she's always reading something that sounds fabulous. She also hosts a weekly event called Quotable, where she shares old and new quotes that she has enjoyed in her reading. She blogs at Bookish Ruth - if you don't read her blog, you should!

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery. This was my first experience with L.M. Montgomery's writing and to say I was enchante
d by this book is putting it mildly. How I wished for such an imaginative friend as Sara Stanley to tell me stories!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm saving them all because I can't bear to choose between them. While I don't often re-read books, I've read all of the Sherlock Holmes
stories multiple times and never tire of them. Holmes is such a complex and iconic character -- brilliant but flawed, always ready with an astute observation or flippant retort, cold at times but never cruel. And dear Watson, unwaveringly loyal, the perfect foil for Holmes.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This is such an honest, poignant and inspiring story; one of those rare books that changed the way I looked at the world.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I simply can't imagine Christmas without Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley's Ghost, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. This book is timeless. Clever dialogue, dynamic characters, and an outstanding romance. What woman doesn't want her own Mr. Darcy?

Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

It's so hard to choose, but I think I would pick A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because of the impact it had on me the first time I
read it. The header on my blog contains part of a quotation from this book: "The world was hers for the reading." I think that's such an eloquent description of the magic of reading. You can go anywhere, see anything; there really are no limits to what you can discover through reading.

Do you have any favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

"From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood."

"And he asked for her whole life as simply as he'd ask for a date. And she promised away her whole life as simply as she'd offer a hand in greeting or farewell."

"Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere--be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."


Ruth, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved. Next week, Amy from My Friend Amy will be sharing her list. If you would like to participate, send me an email and we will chat!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Relative Reads - So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger (review)

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.




Synopsis:

A stunning successor to his best selling novel Peace Like a River, Leif Enger’s new work is a rugged and nimble story about an aging train robber on a quest to reconcile the claims of love and judgment on his life, and the failed writer who goes with him.

In 1915 Minnesota, novelist Monte Becket has lost his sense of purpose. His only success long behind him, Monte lives simply with his wife and son. But when he befriends outlaw Glendon Hale, a new world of opportunity and experience presents itself. Glendon has spent years in obscurity, but the guilt he harbors for abandoning his wife, Blue, over two decades ago, has lured him from hiding. As the modern age marches swiftly forward, Glendon aims to travel back to his past--heading to California to seek Blue’s forgiveness. Beguiled and inspired, Monte soon finds himself leaving behind his own family to embark for the unruly West with his fugitive guide. As they desperately flee from the relentless Charles Siringo, an ex-Pinkerton who’s been hunting Glendon for years, Monte falls ever further from his family and the law, to be tempered by a fiery adventure from which he may never get home.

My thoughts:

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't terribly excited when my mom gave me this book to read. I didn't really enjoy Enger's first novel (Peace Like a River, one of my mom's all-time favorites), and when I heard the premise of this one, I thought there was no way I was going to like it. One again, MY MOM WAS RIGHT! You'd think I would have this concept figured out by now - my mom is always right.

Here's why this is a great book - it's a WESTERN, and I LIKED it! See, westerns are not my thing. Cowboys, and shootouts, and outlaws - really not that interesting. This book had all of those things, and yet I couldn't put it down. Why, you ask? Because the story itself was so good.

Becket, Glendon, Siringo, the young Hood, Susannah, Redstart - Enger's characters sparkled across the pages, funny and sincere, each trying to do good in their own way. They each had something a little unexpected about them, an edge I didn't see coming, that made me want to read more about their adventures.

And the writing - boy, Enger can sure tell a tale. He knows how to choose words well, and even when I wasn't completely captivated by the narrative, I wanted to keep reading to see what Enger would write next. Here are some of my favorite bits -

"In this way I crossed over. In this way I slid apart from all that was easy and comfortable and lawful; and so tired was my bandit friend that I took the oars myself and rowed facing forward. You just see better, standing up, and I enjoyed the feel and sound of the sweeps, and not until we were miles upriver did I remember my clothes and grip, back at Royal Davies's house, and my unfinished letter to Susannah, abandoned on his dock."

"In the accounting of debts there are few bigger or less compensated than those I owe to young Hood Roberts. There was his work on the Packard, of course, and we all know a good mechanic is worth his weight in precious metals; that aside, Hood was the purest liar I ever knew. He lied for profit as many do but he also lied for joy, which is less common - it may be he even lied for beauty, by some deeply buried rationale."

" 'It's peculiar, to reach your destination,' he told me. 'You think you'll arrive and perform the thing you came for and depart in contentment. Instead you get there and find a distance still to go.' "

I was truly captivated by this novel from page 1. I remember a while back someone was looking for a recommendation for a Western to read for some challenge - pick this one! Even if you don't like the genre, I think you might end up surprised by how much you like this book. I liked it so much I'm going to give Peace Like a River another try - I have a feeling my problems with it the first time through might have been as simple as the wrong book at the wrong time.

Finished: 3/25/09
Source: my mom
Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cover Attraction

Cover Attraction is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. She says, "I’m a very visual person and love beautiful, or interesting, cover art. It entices, and invites, me to stop and take a peek instead of walking right on by."


This week, my Cover Attraction is Jump by Marianne Ackerman.



Synopsis:

Set during the 1995 referendum in Quebec, Jump follows the story of Myra Grant, a free-lance journalist and theatre buff who faces an empty nest and an inner call for change. Dragged down by friends and enemies alike, weary from decades of single motherhood, she breaks loose from an old life and embraces a new.


Why I like this cover:

I love the color palate - it's very impressionistic, like a beautiful Monet, an artist I love. I also like the angel statue - it seems a little gothic, which always intrigues me.

Jump was released in 2000.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Teaser Tuesday


TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
    Let the book fall open to a random page.
    Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
    Please avoid spoilers!

"When first light showed pockets of fog I even imagined it was smoke instead, and ourselves charging pell-mell for danger - an unfussy childhood sensation I'd forgotten all about. It seems strange, looking back, that I ever believed I would soon be home again."

(So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger, page 34)

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizBe at ShouldBeReading.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Award!!

Diane, from the great blog Bibliophile by the Sea, recently gave me this blog award -


"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into the body of their award."

In the spirit of finding new friends, here are some bloggers who have GREAT blogs who you should be reading! Check them out!


Shelly at Chain Reading
Kristen at WeBeReading
Eva at One Swede Read
Alessandra at Out of the Blue
Stephanie at Open Mind, Insert Book
Michele at Only One 'L'
Allison from Allison's Attic
Lisa at Minds Alive on the Shelves
Mary at Just One More Page
Wisteria from Bookworm's Dinner
Ginny from Ginny's Books
Aarti from BOOKLUST
Holly from 2 Kids and Tired


Yeah, it's more than eight, but oh well. As it says above, please give more attention to these writers! =)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TSS - Review - The Ten Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

Synopsis from publisher:

For a group of four New York friends the past decade has been defined largely by marriage and motherhood, but it wasn't always that way. Growing up, they had been told that their generation would be different. And for a while this was true. They went to good colleges, and began high-powered careers. But after marriage and babies, for a variety of reasons, they decided to stay home, temporarily, to raise their children. Now, ten years later, they are still at home, unsure how they came to inhabit lives so different from the ones they expected-until a new series of events begins to change the landscape of their lives yet again, in ways they couldn't have predicted.

My thoughts:

This was a very interesting book for me. It's something I think about quite a lot, and a discussion that comes up among my all-female coworkers fairly frequently. There is the guilt of the mothers who feel like they don't ever get to see their kids because they work all the time. And there is the guilt of the moms who stay home, but feel like they don't do enough to "contribute". It's a sad, sad guilt game, and this book had a lot to say about both sides of this issue.

Amy, Jill, and Roberta all have basically good lives. They have husbands who love them, kids who are well-behaved, and the freedom to do what they want. They also all experience a vague, somewhat distant feeling of dissatisfaction with their lives. Each of them were somewhat ambivalent about their careers before having children, so dropping out of work to take care of their babies was a fairly easy decision. Now, ten-ish years later, each woman is wondering if she made the wrong decision.

It is, at times, difficult to feel sympathetic for these three women. They are, after all, in the place they have arrived at due to decisions they each made. And, really, there are a lot of women who don't have the luxury of not working, who would say that these three don't have a lot to complain about. But Wolitzer manages to allow them to air their feelings of discontent without sounding whiny, and I found I could imagine and relate to the reasons why their lives have taken them someplace they didn't intend to go.

Wolitzer has a fairly obvious opinion on the subject she writes about, and at times it feels like she is whacking the reader over the head with that opinion. But she also infuses the novel with humor, and poignancy, that keep it from becoming to preachy or stern. She also intersperses the modern-day narrative with glimpses from the past, about the decisions each woman's own mother had to face about working or staying home. These short chapters were a nice break from the more somber tone of the rest of the novel.

The "Mommy Wars", as it has sometimes been called, is not an issue that will be resolved overnight. What seems clear is that women are made to feel guilty no matter which choice they make. While we certainly have come a long way, and the ability to choose to work is important, this novel shows that we still have quite a long way to go.

Finished: 3/20/09
Source: FSB Associates
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Poe Friday (on Saturday)


This week's Poe Friday assignment is the poem, Leonore. If you are not familiar with it, you can read the full text here.

In fine Poe tradition, we find another beautiful young women who has died before her time. The stanzas alternate between a mourner, who is chastising Leonore's fiance' for not appearing sad enough, and the fiance', who accuses the mourner of only caring for Leonore because he hoped to get something from her.

In Leonore, Poe once again uses his words to wonderful effect, giving the reader both internal rhyme and end rhyme. I love the cadence his poetry always has - it is literally meant to be read aloud. It seems Poe writes frequently about the idealized young woman, usually meeting her untimely demise. I think this poem was written before Poe's wife died, so it is interesting that he seemed almost to have some sort of premonition about what would happen to his own love.

Next week we will be reading the very short story, The Sphinx. Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Farewell, my friends


"What do you hear, Starbuck?"

"Nothing but the rain."

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

Today, I am thrilled to welcome the lovely and talented Aerin to 451 Fridays. I first met Aerin when I was holding my 100th post contest, which she happened to win. We've also connected on PaperbackSwap, and I always love reading her blog posts. She enjoys fantasy like I do, so there's always something that she's just read that I need to put on my list! She blogs at In Search of Giants.


Aerin, what 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

I'd save these books:


1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I read this book when I was 10 years old, and I think it had the most influence on my development second only to my mother. I knew from an early age I would enter a career that was service-oriented, and wished to be good-hearted like the March girls. We grew up poor, so I empathized with Meg and Amy at the vanity they could not indulge, even as I dreamed of writing amazing stories as Jo did. Through it all, they had each other, just as my three siblings and I have. The four of us are closer than close. In a world where it seems "normal" to fight with your siblings or at least be somewhat distant from them, I cherished the example Little Women provided.

"The girls had never been called angel children before, and thought it very agreeable, especially Jo, who had been considered a "Sancho" ever since she was born. That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get anything of it; and when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning."


2. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (presumably by William Shakespeare, but not definitively.)

It may seem like I'm paying lip service - who actually reads Shakespeare, anyway - but I do, in fact, like Shakespeare. I was privileged to have studied the Bard under a brilliant and funny professor in college, so that I came away not only appreciating Shakespeare, but understanding his works and even enjoying them. They are so much the foundation for our culture (western-centric though it is) that I can't imagine not securing the future of this tome.


3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

Although I didn't read LOTR until my late twenties, I felt a keen sense of recognition as soon as I did. I'm a fantasy/spec-fic nut, and every archetype, every spur to the imagination that can be found in Western European history is here. But what Tolkein did for fantasy was to personalize it. Readers found themselves moved by the friendship between lower-class Sam and his master Frodo; they yearned for the fidelity among eight of the Nine; they lost themselves in the sorrow Aragon bore as king. While I loved the LOTR movies, the language of the books spoke in deep, ancient tones and gave permission to an entire century of people to use their imaginations.

"For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam."

4. The Sleep Book by Dr. Seuss

I love sleep. Sleep is wonderful. Sleep is my favorite thing in the whole world, right after books. This is the book I grew up falling asleep to, and the one I read my children now. I suppose we could just sing children to sleep, but to lose Dr. Seuss would be a severe tragedy of the highest degree.

They're sleeping on steps! And on strings! And on floors!
In mailboxes, ships, and the keyholes of doors!
Every worm on a fishhook is safe for the night.
Every fish in the sea is too sleepy to bite.
Every whale in the ocean had turned off his spout.
Every light between here and Far Foodle is out.
And now, adding things up, we are way beyond billions!
Our Who's-Asleep-Score is now up in the Zillions!

Ninety-nine zillion,
Nine trillion and two
Creatures are sleeping!
So. . .
How about you?

When you put out your light,
Then the number will be
Ninety-nine zillion
Nine trillion and three.

5. St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

This collection shows the power of postmodern feminism in ferocious and magical ways. I think of her as the next Margaret Atwood. You can read my review here. Here are a variety of quotes:


Now the thunder makes the thin window glass ripple like wax paper. Summer rain is still the most comforting sounds I know. I like to pretend that it's our dead mother's fingers, drumming on the ceiling above us.

I shadow the spirit manatees, their backs scored with keloid stars from motorboat propellers. I somersault through stingrays. Bonefish flicker around me like mute banshees.

Somewhere, an Avalanche is about to happen without us. Rangi must know this before I do, and the dead bear in eyes comes racing towards us across old snow.

And sometimes, if she sits long enough, it happens. Beneath the hum of her own blood, beneath the hum of the world itself, she thinks she can hear the faint strains of another song. It's a red spark of sound, just enough to cast acoustic shadows of the older song that she has forgotten.


What book would you become?

I'd become this book because it's fanciful and sparks imagination while keeping alive beautiful, if somewhat archaic, language:

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare (That was tough. Second choice is Merchant of Venice Third is Hamlet.)

Puck:
Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover's fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!


Aerin, thanks so much for taking the time to give us YOUR list of books which must be saved. Next week, Ruth from Bookish Ruth will be sharing the books she is passionate about. If you would like to share your list, leave me a comment and we will chat!


By the Chapter, Day 5 - People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


It's the last day of this week's edition of By the Chapter, hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. Be sure to stop by there today, also, as she will be posting her final thoughts on this week's novel.

This was an interesting book for me, coming on the heels of a story I was totally in love with. I definitely enjoyed People of the Book - it was a good choice for me at the time, because it was so different from what I had just finished. For the most part, I thought it was quite good.

The pacing of the novel was a little slow for me, at first, but by about halfway through I had adjusted to it. My biggest problem was the ending - I seem to quibble with endings quite a lot. This one seemed rushed, and the plot twist didn't seem to fit with the rest of the novel - like the author suddenly decided to turn the book into an espionage thriller. I didn't think she needed it, since she had already written quite a good book.

About 3/4 of the way through, I also got tired of the sections with Hanna. I understand why the author wanted to use Hanna in the plot - she was a device to tie all the disparate sections of the Haggadah's journey together. However, I ended up feeling like her sections of the book probably were not necessary, and just resulted in the ending, which I didn't like at all. I know other authors (I'm thinking Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue) have written a similar type of narrative, but without the modern-day componant, and the books worked well. Ultimately, I don't think she needed those sections.

I especially enjoyed the sections about the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah - it was interesting to see how the author managed to make a woman an integral part of the Haggadah's journey in each different section. I'm not sure how true to the actual history of the book that would be, but I always enjoy it when an author thinks up interesting ways to tell the stories of women who might have lived in a specific time. These were definitely the highlights of the book for me.

All in all, a good book. Thanks so much to Marcia for allowing me to co-host By the Chapter this week with her - I hope to do it again soon!

Finished: 3/17/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 7/10

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cover Attraction

Cover Attraction is a weekly event hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. She says, "I’m a very visual person and love beautiful, or interesting, cover art. It entices, and invites, me to stop and take a peek instead of walking right on by." Each week we will feature a beautiful new cover design that has caught our eye.



This week's cover attraction is What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn.

Synopsis:

A mesmerizing debut novel that reimagines Tolstoy's classic tragedy, Anna Karenina, for our time


Vivacious thirty-seven-year-old Anna K. is comfortably married to Alex, an older, prominent businessman from her tight-knit Russian-Jewish immigrant community in Queens. But a longing for freedom is reignited in this bookish, overly romantic, and imperious woman when she meets her cousin Katia Zavurov's boyfriend, an outsider and aspiring young writer on whom she pins her hopes for escape. As they begin a reckless affair, Anna enters into a tailspin that alienates her from her husband, family, and entire world.

In nearby Rego Park's Bukharian-Jewish community, twenty-seven-year-old pharmacist Lev Gavrilov harbors two secret passions: French movies and the lovely Katia. Lev's restless longing to test the boundaries of his sheltered life powerfully collides with Anna's. But will Lev's quest result in life's affirmation rather than its destruction?

Exploring struggles of identity, fidelity, and community, What Happened to Anna K. is a remarkable retelling of the Anna Karenina story brought vividly to life by an exciting young writer.


Why I like it: I love the drama created by the black and white cover, highlighted by the red in the flowers. The lady in the seductive dress makes me think this will be a book that demands my attention.

What Happened to Anna K. was released in August, 2008.

By the Chapter, Day 4 - People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


Welcome to day 4 of By the Chapter. This week, Marcia and I have been reading and discussing People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. You can catch up by reading my first post about it here, and by reading Marcia's posts here and here. Tomorrow, we will both be posting our final thoughts, so stay tuned!


I am currently just about 100 pages from the end of the novel, and by now I am completely hooked. While I find the sections that deal with Hanna and her work on the Haggadah interesting, by far my favorite parts are the bits of history the author gives us about the book.

The section with the priest and the rabbi in Venice was heartbreaking. Each man was so flawed, and yet trying to do their best to live up to the high standards expected of them. And the section about the Jewish family during the Inquisition was equally sad. Brooks must have done an incredible amount of research to bring such completely different periods of history to life. We almost know the true origins of the Haggadah now, and the trip this small book has taken has been remarkable.

Hanna's story is also interesting, although it doesn't carry the emotional impact, for me, that the other sections do. It is difficult for me to read about her troubled relationship with her mother. I'm lucky enough to have a loving, compassionate woman as my mother, so reading about the neglect Hanna received, the terrible secrets her mother kept, and the damage that both women have done to each other, is hard. I really miss Ozren, and hope he factors back into the story by the end.

I hope you've enjoyed traveling with us through the novel, and are as excited to reach the conclusion as I am!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

By the Chapter, Day 3 - People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


Welcome to day 3 of By the Chapter, hosted this week by Marcia of The Printed Page, and for this edition, ME! We've been reading and discussing People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Today, the discussion continues over at The Printed Page - stop by and see what Marcia thinks so far!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

By the Chapter, Day 2 - People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


Welcome to day 2 of By the Chapter, hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page, and this week, ME!! We are reading and discussing People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Synopsis from publisher:

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siele Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city's rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition- era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah's extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna's investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra- nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.


My thoughts so far:

Hanna Heath is a book conservationist, who is thrilled to start her next job - she has been asked to spend a week repairing the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illustrated Jewish text that dates from the 1400s. At the time of its creation, Jewish texts were not illustrated, due to a Hebrew teaching that equated pictures in books with graven images. Because of this, the illustrated Sarajevo Haggadah is a huge score for a conservationist. Hanna makes a couple of interesting discoveries as she works on the book, which propel her to want to find out the book's history - why it was saved over and over, and why it was created in the first place.

I'm about 1/3 of the way through this novel, and I think it is growing on me. I have to admit, it is always hard for me to read the book AFTER a book I really loved. I've just finished The Hunger Games, which I found completely engrossing, so I knew People of the Book might take a little patience for me. And I was right - this is not a loud, crashing, adrenalin rushing book. It's a little bit quieter, deeper, slower paced. But I feel like I am starting to get into the flow, and I'm genuinely interested in where it will take me next.

I'm enjoying the character of Hanna quite a bit - apparently, unlike Marcia. =) Hanna is not comfortable with people, so doesn't really let them into her life. However, she is drawn to Ozren, the museum curator charged with guarding the Haggadah, and begins to become involved with him. At first, she plans that their relationship will be over quickly, but she finds herself unable to let him go. I am interested to see if she will continue to open herself up, or if her innate defense mechanisms will kick in first. Also, I can't wait to see what he thinks when he finds out how she has been meddling in his life!

I appreciate the humor that Brooks sneaks into the novel - it's pretty heavy subject matter, but she tosses in the occasional light moment that makes me chuckle out loud. For example:

"When you live in Sydney, it's not the simplest thing in the world to get a meter of calf's intestine. Ever since they moved the abattoir out of Homebush and started to spruce the place up for the 2000 Olympics, you have to drive, basically, to woop woop, and then when you finally get there, there's so much security in place because of the animal libbers you can barely get in the gate. It's not that I blame them for thinking I was a bit sketchy. It's hard to grasp right off the bat why someone might need a meter of calf's appendix."

See - sometimes, the book is just funny. For just a minute, and it doesn't distract from the serious tone, but I appreciate that Brooks can lighten the book, just for a bit.

And I loved the first story of the book's history, which involved Lola, a Jewish girl, and the Muslim family who took her in and, ultimately, saved the Haggadah from the Nazis. It was quite beautiful to read about Jews and Muslims NOT hating each other. I anticipate the next part of the book's history will be equally compelling.

So far I am enjoying it. I think it has great potential, and I am very interested to see what happens next! Stop by The Printed Page tomorrow, and then back here on Thursday, and see if Marcia and I still feel the same way by then.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizBe at ShouldBeReading.

  • Grab your current read.
    Let the book fall open to a random page.
    Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

    Please avoid spoilers!
" 'I saw death and I did not like it. What will I feel if I die?
' You will feel nothing. That is precisely the problem. You will never feel anything again. Death has a terrible simplicity.' "

(Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand by Gioconda Belli, page 26.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

By the Chapter, Day 1 - People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks


I'm excited to be sharing hosting duties for this week's edition of By The Chapter. Marcia hosts this fun weekly event at The Printed Page, and this week I get to play along with her! We will be reading and discussing People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Synopsis from publisher:

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book's mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book's journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siele Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city's rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition- era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah's extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna's investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra- nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.


This week's reading schedule:

Monday - Marcia, at The Printed Page

Tuesday - Me! I'll be posting my thoughts about the book so far.

Wednesday - Marcia again, at The Printed Page

Thursday - Me again! More of my thoughts, likes and dislikes.

Friday - Marcia, at The Printed Page, and ME!! We'll both be wrapping up our thoughts on the novel.

Do you think we will both like it? Hate it? Maybe we'll have a flame war!! (HAH!) Stop by The Printed Page today for the beginning of our discussion. If you've read the book, or would like to read along with us, leave a comment! See you back here tomorrow.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

TSS - Review - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Synopsis from publisher:

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win. she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against her love.

My thoughts:

It has been a while since I've had dreams about a book. I read a lot of books that I really enjoy, but it takes something special for one to cross over into my sleep pattern. And it almost always takes a couple of days - I need to have lived with a book for a while, breathed it, mulled it over in my mind, before it starts taking over my unconscious. I started dreaming about The Hunger Games the first night I brought it home from the library - I had read all the way to page 63.

I'm sitting here finding it hard to describe how much I liked this book. Many of the ideas in the novel have been written before - drawing names to see who will be sacrificed, the Big, Evil Government keeping its people enslaved by fear tactics, the priviledge of the rich vs. the struggle of the poor, the plucky, underdog of a heroine who must overcome unfathomable odds....I have read this before, right? But there is just something about THIS PARTICULAR heroine, with her SPECIFIC set of circumstances, that was just genius.

And it wasn't just Katniss, although I can't remember when I have liked a heroine more. Each character in The Hunger Games was so good - multifaceted, rich, completely human. There were some pretty bad people in this book, and yet even they were interesting, and sometimes really funny.

And, of course, there is the nonstop adrenalin rush of a plot that kept me up at night, NEEDING to read just one more chapter. The only thing I don't like is that it's the first in a series, so now I have to wait for (probably) years to find out how the story ends. Man, I HATE falling in love with a series in progess. I hate it, but I love it. Yep, I'm that girl.

Honestly, the best thing I can say is Go Get This Book! I can't imagine that you will be sorry. I am quite sure this is one I will be reading and re-reading for years to come.

Finished: 3/12/09
Source: Franklin Avenue Library
Rating: 9.5/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here is what some other fabulous bloggers thought:

Amy of My Friend Amy
Lenore of Presenting Lenore
Trish of Hey Lady...
Tasses of Random Wonder
Aerin of In Search of Giants

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review - Canvey Island by James Runcie


Synopsis from publisher:

IT IS 1953 IN CANVEY ISLAND AND A STORM SURGE IS flooding the streets. Len and Aunt Violet are out dancing on the mainland, he in polished shoes with slicked hair, she in fur stole and long gloves. Back at home, Len’s wife Lily and their small son Martin fight to stay above the rising waters, waistdeep in a raging black torrent. When Lily’s foot is lodged beneath debris, she begs Martin to get help. This sight of his mother, ghostly in her drenched nightdress, is his last glimpse of her alive. Lily’s death is an unbearable rupture in Martin’s life that lets in a host of unwelcome developments, not least that of his father’s growing closeness to his flashy aunt Violet. When Martin goes off to Cambridge to study water engineering, he breaks all ties to Canvey Island and settles down with the bohemian feminist Claire, a rebellious vicar’s daughter. But when Claire takes her activism too far by taking their daughter to a peace camp rally, Martin drifts back to Canvey Island and into the arms of his teenage love. He finds himself drawn into his old world, its secrets and lies, its wounds and passions, its sacrifices and hopes. Profoundly moving and elegantly written, Canvey Island tells the story of changing times in post-war Britain through one family’s tragedy and loss.

My thoughts:

Canvey Island could have been a real hit for me. It had the potential to be the type of novel I fall in love with. It uses multiple narrators, which is a device I enjoy, when written well. And I liked the writing - there were many passages I thought were beautifully written, expressing feelings and describing situations in ways that gave me chills. I should have really enjoyed this novel - but I really didn't.

Honestly, this is my problem with Canvey Island - I just kept liking the characters less and less as the novel went on. This is a story which has as its major plot point a woman drowning. We follow her son, her husband, and her sister as they try to create lives for themselves in the wake of this tragedy. These are characters who, by their very nature, should tug at our heartstrings. But the longer I kept reading, the less sympathetic I felt. It just seemed like everyone spent so much time WHINING about how hard things were - and because the author used multiple narrators, we got to hear EACH and EVERY character take their turn. Granted, many bad things happened. But, as in real life, many bad things were the cause of their own bad decisions, and by the end of the novel I just didn't care.

So I wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. For me, it was disappointing.

Finished: 3/9/09
Source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Rating: 5.5/10

Don't just take my word for it - here's what another fabulous blogger thought:

Megan at Leafing Through Life

Challenges: New Authors Challenge

Friday, March 13, 2009

Poe Fridays


Today, Friday the 13th, we get to discuss one of my favorite of Poe's stories, The Fall of the House of Usher.

An unnamed narrator travels to the home of his friend, Roderick Usher. As he gazes upon Usher's home, he is filled with a sense of dread he can not fully explain. When he sees his friend for the first time in many years, he cannot help but notice how sick he looks - "Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher." Usher explains that he has been gripped by the family illness, an unusual sensitivity to sensations, and an acuteness of the senses. In addition, he suffers from an irrational terror - "I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR." He also believes that the deterioration of his physical body is somehow connected with the deterioration of his home, The House of Usher.

Roderick reveals that much of the underlying cause for his many ailments can be linked to the near-deadly sickness of his sister, Madeline. When she dies, he will be the last of the House of Usher. Her condition has baffled doctors, and her demise is imminent. As the narrator spends more time with Roderick, he sees the true depth of the madness of his friend. And then, one night, Roderick abruptly announces Madeline's death, and his intention to preserve her body in a vault within the house.

Now, because it is Poe, you should know that all is not as it seems - but I don't want to give away the ending if you haven't read this wonderfully creepy story! You can find the full text here.

One of my favorite literary devices is the doppleganger, or "dark double" - the two people in the story who mirror each other, usually one good and one bad. Poe gives us marvelous examples of this in his story, both with Roderick and Madeline, and Roderick and the house itself. Once again, we have the unexplained noises, which someone is pretending not to hear. Once again, we have the guilt - the overwhelming guilt - that eventually causes the guilty party to confess. Once again the madness is pitch perfect. The Fall of the House of Usher is a true masterpiece.

Next week we will be reading a poem, Lenore. Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?

For the second installment of 451 Fridays, I've enlisted the help of another family member - this time, my sister, Carolynn. As I've mentioned before, I'm lucky to be part of a family of readers,
and also lucky they don't mind being enlisted into service on my blog. =)

Carolynn has taken a whole SERIES of self-portrait photos with our new niece, JoAnna. Here is one of the most recent ones. I also have a very photogenic family, huh?



Now, down to business.

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

anne frank: the diary of a young girl- one of so many stories that should never be forgotten- shining a clear light on the absurdity and horror of all the -isms in the world.

just so stories (kipling)- these exotic fables just mesmerized me as a child- there's just something about them.

the chronicles of narnia (lewis)- i'm going to cheat and save them all. i don't care who you are or what you believe- this is master storytelling.

where the sidewalk ends (silverstein)- i already have half this book memorized as it is! pure imagination.

gone with the wind (mitchell)- this is the first time i ever remember being truly upset when i finished a book, because i wanted MORE (even though it was a 1000+ page book!)


Of those 5, which book would you chose to "become"?

i'd have to become the diary of anne frank. her honesty, and optimism, really changed the way i thought of my own place in the world. i checked this book out so many times from my school library they eventually refused to let me have it again. i completely identified with anne's desires to be smart and pretty and noble and good- and her successes and failures in each of those areas.

Do you have any favorites quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

"I get cross, then sad, and finally end up and turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside, and the good part inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I'd like to be and what I could be if...if only there were no other people in the world."

"It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."


Thanks, Carolynn! If you've missed the previous installments of 451 Fridays, you can catch up here and here. Would you like your list to appear on an upcoming Friday? Send me an email, and we will chat!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review - Convergence by Christopher Turner


Synopsis from author's website:

Convergence combines career advice with commercial fiction in a novel about 4 young scientists striving for academic success. Each journey takes many twists and turns as these researchers make significant discoveries, under impossible conditions, while dealing with unscrupulous colleagues. To keep their careers alive, however, they are in the end forced to consider something that would normally be unthinkable. What directions each of them end up taking may not only define their character but ultimately determine their destiny.

My thoughts:

Boy, this is a hard book to review, for quite a lot of reasons. First, I have to say, Christopher Turner is obviously a brilliant man. He says on his website that he has gone to great lengths to make the science easy for a lay person to understand - I agree he has simplified many of the processes that go into scientific research. I, for one, found those aspects of the novel fascinating. I spent a lot of time in college in science labs, and it brought back a whole bunch of memories. But I know - I KNOW - that many of my friends and family, who are highly intelligent, would have a hard time through much of those sections. It is not easy to simplify neuroscience, and I think that fact will probably limit the audience this book will appeal to.

Also, this book is self-published, and hasn't had the benefit of professional editing. That shows in grammar and punctuation errors, as well as sheer length - over 1000 pages in ebook format. I think, as is the case with a lot of self-published work, the novel could just use a little streamlining in areas.

As for the meat of the novel, it is a unique, engrossing story of 4 young researchers trying to make their way in the cutthroat, dangerous world of biomedical research. Each of the main protagonists are smart and sympathetic, and each is placed in an untenable position. Turner also includes an unnamed Narrator, as the storyteller, and a Reporter, as the "storytell-ee", to connect the intertwining tales together. I spent a lot of the novel thinking of my own friend, Christine, who does cancer research at a university here in Iowa, and hoping her life wasn't as horrible as these girls.

On the book's website, Turner says his book is intended to be read as a novel by the mainstream reader, but also lays out four goals beyond simple reading for pleasure:

- raise awareness of the struggles of career scientists
- raise the level of debate about the true meaning of career support and development
- distinguish between fast-track, slow-track, and no-track careers
- provide a platform for many questions to be raised (and addressed) regarding career advancement in academia

I can't speak for the second goal, but I feel the other three are certainly met in this book. I would say it would certainly be of great interest to someone considering a career in research. I think the problem the book will have is that it will continue to be too scientifically technical to ever appeal to a broad audience. However, the group of people who can understand and relate to the people and ideas it presents will find it an interesting and entertaining read.

Here is the Convergence website for anyone interested in finding out more.

Finished: 3/10/09
Source: ebook from author
Rating: 6.5/10

Challenges: New Authors challenge

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review - The Angel of Grozny


The Angel of Grozny: Orphans of a Forgotten War by Asne Seierstad

Synopsis from the publisher:

In the early hours of New Year’s 1994, Russian troops invaded the Republic of Chechnya, plunging the country into a prolonged and bloody conflict that continues to this day. A foreign correspondent in Moscow at the time, ├ůsne Seierstad traveled regularly to Chechnya to report on the war, describing its affects on those trying to live their daily lives amidst violence.

In the following decade, Seierstad became an internationally renowned reporter and author, traveling to the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other war-torn regions. But she never lost sight of this conflict that had initially inspired her career. Over the course of a decade, she watched as Russia ruthlessly suppressed an Islamic rebellion in two bloody wars and as Chechnya evolved into one of the flashpoints in a world now focused on the threat of international terrorism.

In 2006, Seierstad finally returned to Chechnya, traveling in secret and under the constant threat of danger. In a broken and devastated society she lived with orphans, the wounded, the lost. And she lived with the children of Grozny, those who will shape the country’s future. She asks the question: What happens to a child who grows up surrounded by war and accustomed to violence? A compelling, intimate, and often heartbreaking portrait of Chechnya today, The Angel of Grozny is a vivid account of a land’s violent history and its ongoing battle for freedom.

My thoughts:

This book is much more than just an account of the orphans of Grozny. Seierstad gives readers a concise, accessible history of the conflict that has raged between Russia and Chechnya for the past 100 years. I went into this book completely uninformed about the situation in this part of the world, and honestly believe I learned enough to understand what has taken place. Seierstad does an excellent job of filling in the history without writing a "report" - she is telling the stories of the land, and the people who live there.

The backbone of the book is Hadijat, the woman who cares for the orphans of Grozny. Seierstad lived with her for quite some time, and paints a realistic portrait of this modern-day heroine - brave, strong, resourceful, but also tired, sometime short-tempered, and afraid. Seierstad never romanticises the characters she encounters. Each has their strengths, and often their weaknesses, and she doesn't sugar-coat either. This has gotten her into trouble with some of her past subjects (see all the past uproar about The Bookseller of Kabul), but I found I appreciated that she portrayed the people with warts and all. Noone is perfect - not the politicians, or the housewifes, or the orphans from the street.

Seierstad's writing is excellent, and drew my interest from the very start. In this paragraph, she describes the first time she finds herself being shot at:

"One week later I'm lying in a ditch. Bullets rip twigs from the trees overhead and graze the top of the incline, triggering a cascade of stones and weeds. In the field next to us the shots land within a few metres of each other. When they hit the ground earth spurts up - just like in the moves, I say to myself. Yes, that is in fact what I'm thinking as I lie with my face in the dry turf and prickly thistles. "

She is equally engaging as she describes talking to a woman whose sons have died for the resistance, or a young man who has chosen to murder his sister as an honor killing. This book is full of the real-life LIFE of the people living through years of war, and Seierstad makes you feel like you know, and in an odd way understand, the choices they have made.

I can't say I enjoyed this book - it's not the type of subject matter to be enjoyed. But it was a completely engrossing, worthwhile read, and I'm glad I spent time in Seierstad's world.

Finished: 3/1/09
Source: Franklin Avenue Library
Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Orbis Terrarum

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
    Let the book fall open to a random page.
    Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given
    !
    Please avoid spoilers!

"I imagined the sea expanding and contracting as I breathed, a giant presence from which I could never escape. This was what it was like to live in the shadow of ocean. It was the same as the shadow of loss. It would never rest."

(Canvey Island by James Runcie, page 68)

For more teasers, visit MizB at ShouldBeReading.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sunday, March 8, 2009

TSS - Review - Fatal Light by Richard Currey


Synopsis from the publisher:

A devastating portrait of war in all its horror, brutality, and mindlessness, this extraordinary novel is written in beautifully cadenced prose. A combat medic in Vietnam faces the chaos of war, set against the tranquil scenes of family life back home in small-town America. This young man's rite of passage is traced through jungle combat to malaria-induced fever visions to the purgatory of life in military-occupied Saigon. After returning home from war to stay with his grandfather, he confronts his own shattered personal history and the mysterious human capacity for renewal.


My thoughts:

It's not often that the words "horrifying" and "beautiful" are the two words I think best describe
a novel, but that is how I feel after reading Fatal Light.

Horrifying because this is, after all, a novel about war. The kind of war where men curse, and use drugs, and find prostitutes, and kill people. Lots and lots of people. There is nothing about this war that is romanticized or glossed over. It is harsh, and brutal, and horrifying.

But also beautiful. There were moments while reading that I almost ached at the pictures Currey painted with his words.

"First look: sandbags and fog. And quiet. As if the fog itself were the carrier of silence easing among us, touching us, loving our faces."

"Such things live together here, poetry and shotguns. Alive and well in a single body."

"Once upon a time I had been in love with Mary Meade. Loving her was one of the things that kept me alive in a place where staying alive was hard to do, loving her resonant image, the effigy of our touch."

This isn't an easy novel to read. It is presented as a series of short vignettes, in mostly linear order, about the narrator's life before, during, and shortly after his time in Vietnam. There were times I felt confused, not sure of where we were or what exactly was going on. This is a very internal novel, so while it is about war, there is not a lot of action to move the plot along - mostly we just drift with the narrator's memory, reading what he chooses to remember. At times I almost forgot I was reading a novel - it seemed SO personal, it was like peeking into someone's diary.

Fatal Light is, however, the kind of book that will stay with you. Its insights into the horror and mindlessness of war are powerful. This edition is a 20th anniversary reprint, being issued by Santa Fe Writers Project. This is the third book I have read from this independent publisher, and they have each been unique and engrossing. It's director, Andrew Gifford, is a very cool guy - read more about his story here. His life could probably make quite a fascinating movie. Also, read the new intro to the book written by Richard Currey, specifically for this new edition here. He writes about his novel, "Fatal Light is a novel sheared down to the primary essentials of the story it tells and the spiritual predicament it describes, one that has no resolution, no solution, that joins the texture of a life and, as the unnamed young narrator of Fatal Light says at one point, sticks there "like a photograph on the spine." "


Finished: 3/4/09
Source: Santa Fe Writers Project
Rating: 6.5/10


Don't just take my word for it; here's what another great blogger thought:

Zibilee at Raging Bibliomania

International Women's Day 2009

"Annually on 8 March, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements. A global web of rich and diverse local activity connects women from all around the world ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities and networking events through to local women's craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more." (IWD Website)

The theme for the 2009 International Women's Day is "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls." It seems difficult for me to believe that the world actually has to set aside a day to think about the fact that women and girls should not be abused, but sadly, it's true. The truth is that violence against woman and girls is on the rise - just watch tv. Apparently, even famous people who are constantly in the public eye don't think twice about beating up their girlfriends. It's wrong - just plain wrong. There are very few issues I get worked up enough to be passionate about, but this is one. I've volunteered in domestic abuse shelters for long enough to know that this issue is not going away, and it won't, until everyone in the nation stands up and says "We will not tolerate this any longer."

Today, on International Women's Day, I pray once again for and end to the violence.

“Domestic violence causes far more pain than the visible marks of bruises and scars. It is devastating to be abused by someone that you love and think loves you in return. It is estimated that approximately 3 million incidents of domestic violence are reported each year in the United States.”
-- Dianne Feinstein

“Domestic violence does not only happen to adults. Forty percent of girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend, and approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.”
-- Dianne Feinstein

"If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms, and it would be the lead story on the news every night."
-- Rep. Mark Green

"One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time.”
-- Nicole Kidman

"There can be no better measure of our governance than the way we treat our children, and no greater failing on our part than to allow them to be subjected to violence, abuse or exploitation."
-- Jessica Lange


"Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”
-- Herbert Ward



For more information:

Family Violence Prevention Fund
RAINN
End Violence Against Women
Voices and Faces
VDay
Sisterhood is Global

Blogs of note:

One in Three Women
People Working to End Violence Against Women
The Spotlight