Friday, December 26, 2008

Laura's Review - Fingersmith

Fingersmith
Sarah Waters
582 pages

Set in the 1860s, Fingersmith is the story of two young women: Sue, raised among thieves in London, and Maud, a privileged lady raised by her uncle in the country. Sue is enlisted as part of a con scheme by Richard Rivers, aka Gentleman, who plans to secure Maud's fortune via marriage, and then have her committed to an asylum. The first part of the book describes Rivers' courtship with Maud, their marriage, and the trip to the asylum -- and suddenly things are not what they seem, and the plot goes topsy-turvy. Then Maud takes over as narrator, recounting the same events from her perspective and filling in blanks as to who knew what, and when they knew it. Not much more can be said about the plot without spoilers, so suffice to say that there are enough surprises to keep the reader on their toes, guessing at identities and truth.

Sarah Waters has written a brilliant tale of two very strong female protagonists, embellished with a number of colorful characters: Maud's uncle, whose life work is a scholarly study of pornographic literature; Mrs. Sucksby, who raised Sue and assists in running a petty thievery operation; and Rivers (Gentleman), who is as convincing as he is smarmy. I enjoyed every minute of this book; it was "un-putdownable". ( )

My original review can be found here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

New Administrator

Thank you to Jill from The Magic Lasso who has agreed to be co-administrator of this blog and challenge. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed keeping up with everything and so am thrilled that Jill will be helping out here! Jill and I will be working together to keep things running smoothly - please don't hesitate to leave us a comment for any questions you may have!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ready for Orange January?!?!?

It is hard to believe that January is right around the corner, especially if you're like me and too preoccupied with getting ready for the holidays.

But keep this in the back of your mind as you shop, bake, wrap, and read: Orange January!

Last summer, I hosted Orange July, which was a personal challenge to read books nominated for or had won the Orange Prize. Many of my fellow readers joined me, and a lot of fantastic books were read. Since that time, Wendy at Caribousmom has started the Yahoo Orange Prize Group, and we've declared that there should be two months in a year dedicated to reading Orange Prize Books - and waa laa, Orange January was born!

The rules are simple: Commit to read at least one book that has been nominated for or won the Orange Prize. Some readers devote the entire month to Orange books while other readers read one or two. It's a personal challenge, so make it work for you. The point is to discover some great fiction by talented female writers.

I hope you will join us on our Orange adventure!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (Jill)

The Night Watch
By Sarah Waters
Completed December 19, 2008


Sarah Waters swept her readers away with a tale of love, war, betrayal and hardship in her historical novel, The Night Watch. Set against a backdrop of bomb-ravaged London during World War II, this novel explored the lives of four young people – Helen, Vivian, Duncan and Kay – plus their lovers, friends and acquaintances – as they coped with their daily lives on the home front.

Waters structured her novel using a backward timeframe, so that as each year unraveled, you learned more about each character and his/her secrets. The first section was from 1947, and admittedly, this was the hardest section for me to get through. The characters were introduced with very little connection to each other, but I got the sense that their secrets and relationships were somehow woven together. As the book progressed, Waters shined a little more light on each character and story, putting each piece of her puzzle carefully together. It was a brilliant story structure – one that only a talented writer like Waters could pull off.

Each character was developed into an unforgettable person – one you worry about, sympathize with and root for. The Night Watch is considered lesbian fiction, which does not make this a book for everyone, but I found the women’s relationships to be compelling and insightful.

This is my first book by Sarah Waters but certainly won’t be my last. Short-listed for both the Booker and Orange Prizes (and understandably so), The Night Watch was a fantastic look at the lives of young people affected by a terrible war – and how they made the best and worst of these times. ( )

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

FleurFisher: Introduction & Reading to Date

I have loved and followed the Orange Prize since the very beginning.

It was heavily criticised in some quarters but I was thrilled when Helen Dunmore won. I had discovered her some time earlier courtesy of a magazine giveaway of "Burning Bright" and she had quickly become one of my favourite authors.

And I was equally delighted when Rose Tremain, an author I have loved for a long time, won this year.

I have discovered many wonderful books from Orange shortlists and longlists over the years through the years and there are many more that look promising that I have yet to get to.

This Blog looks wonderful and I am looking forward to reading more and sharing views.

I have listed the Orange books that I have read so far below.

Suggestions and recommendations for future reading are welcome!

2008
The Road Home, by Rose Tremain
The Outcast, by Sadie Jones
The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas
The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff

2007
The Observations, by Jane Harris
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler
The Girls, by Lori Lansens
What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn

2006
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
House of Orphans, by Helen Dunmore
The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory
Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman

2005
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
The Remedy, by Michele Lovric
The River, by Tricia Wastvedt
The Great Stink, by Clare Clark
26a, by Diana Evans

2004
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Colour, by Rose Tremain
Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler

2003
Property, by Valerie Martin
Unless, by Carol Shields
The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith
The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt
Dot in the Universe, by Lucy Ellmann
War Crimes for the Home, by Liz Jensen
Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh

2002
The Siege, by Helen Dunmore
A Child's Book of True Crime, by Chloe Hooper
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
Pop, by Kitty Aldridge
Five Quarters of an Orange, by Joanne Harris
Niagara Falls All Over Again, by Elizabeth McCracken
La Cucina, by Lily Prior

2001
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
Fred & Edie, by Jill Dawson
The Hiding Place, by Trezza Azzopardi
The Last Samurai, by Helen Dewitt
The Wild, by Esther Freud
From Caucasia, with Love, by Danzy Senna

2000
If I Told You Once, by Judy Budnitz
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
A Dangerous Vine, by Barbara Ewing
Island, by Jane Rogers

1999
A Crime in the Neighborhood, by Suzanne Berne
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Crocodile Soup, by Julia Darling
The Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox
The Most Wanted, by Jacquelyn Mitchard

1998
Larry's Party, by Carol Shield
The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve
Man or Mango? by Lucy Ellmann
Gaglow, by Esther Freud
Ark Baby, by Liz Jensen
Impossible Saints, by Michele Roberts

1997
Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
Hen's Teeth, by Manda Scott
Death Comes for Peter Pan, by Joan Brady
With Child, by Laurie R. King
Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
Red Leaves, by Paulina Simons
Anita and Me, by Meera Syal

1996
A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore
Spinsters, by Pagan Kennedy
Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler
The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker
Keeping Up with Magda, by Isla Dewar
Egg Dancing, by Liz Jensen
Mother of Pearl, by Mary Morrissy
Promised Lands, by Jane Rogers

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (Jackie's Review)


The Monsters of Templeton was short listed for the Orange New Writer's Prize in 2008. It tells the story of a young woman in New York State, as she finds out the secrets of her family tree, in order to discover the truth about her own life.

There were many things I loved about this book. The photos at the start of each chapter made the characters in the historical sections feel much more real, and the continual updating of the family tree throughout the book helped me to understand what was happening, as sometimes the large family became confusing. Unfortunately, some of the historical writing in the book did not seem true to it’s age, and so didn’t come across as very realistic. The letters weren’t as well written as the rest of the book, and I lost interest in a few of the characters further up the family tree.

The modern story in the book was excellent. The main character, Willie, was very well drawn. I loved her, despite her flaws, and really felt for her as she dealt with the problems she was faced with.

I loved the way the discovery of a monster in the lake was made to feel realistic. The scientific analysis of it at the end was particularly clever.

Overall, the way the story was well plotted, and the ending was very satisfying.

Recommended.



Originally reviewed here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Introduction and progress - Jackie

I love prize winning fiction, so this challenge is very appealing to me! I have read a few of them already, but there are a lot more buried in my reading pile. Hopefully, by taking part in this challenge, I will be encouraged to move a few of them to the top of the pile!
The ones I have read so far are:

2008
The Outcast, by Sadie Jones

2006
The Accidental, by Ali Smith

2005
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka

2004
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

2001
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

1996
The Hundred Secret Senses, by Amy Tan

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff is top of my reading pile, so I should finish reading it soon.
I look forward to sharing thoughts on Orange prize winners with you over the coming months.

Jackie

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Purple Hibiscus - 3M's Review

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has really impressed me with her writing abilities. Purple Hibiscus was Adichie’s first novel. I read her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun, last year and it was in my Top 20 for 2007. Although some have stated that Purple Hibiscus was not as good as Half of a Yellow Sun, I disagree. I think it was just as well-written, and in fact I may prefer it.

Kambili and her family are of the wealthy upper class in Nigeria. Her father owns several factories and is a major benefactor of his local church. Kambili is a very compliant child, always wanting to please her parents, while her brother Jaja is much more independent. Their father is very strict regarding his household in every detail. He puts both of them on a schedule everyday and they must not deviate from it. He insists on each child being first in their respective classes.

I felt so much for Kambili. In the beginning she truly looks up to her father and wants to please him. She believes he is perfect. As the story progresses, she sees more and more of his faults and begins to have more questions about his discipline. Kambili’s mother also suffers from his excessive demands. Any missteps he considers as sins to be physically removed from those committing them. Adichie doesn’t totally set him up as a monster, though; somehow she manages to make the reader sympathize (a little) with him as well.

Purple Hibiscus is not just a story of domestic abuse. It is also about the past political conflicts in Nigeria, about how Christianity has affected the region, and also about the strong bonds among family members. Adichie truly is following in Achebe’s footsteps as one of Nigeria’s greatest writers.

Highly recommended.

2003, 307 pp.
Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Road Home (Shana)

The Road Home
By Rose Tremain


Sometimes I read a book that has won a prestigious award and I come away wondering why it won, or I may understand why, but award or no, I just didn't like the book. Not so with The Road Home. It is completely deserving of the Orange Prize and I loved every page of it.

Rose Tremain has given us a poignant, perfectly crafted novel. It is beautifully written. The plot ambles along at a relaxed and steady pace, but never once did I lose interest. I attribute this to two things. First, the compelling characters and Tremain's ability to draw the reader in, to make us emotionally invested in what happens to these rather ordinary people.

Lev ... I really liked this guy. And by the book's end, I knew him so well. Lev's journey to London and the life he lived there made the immigrant experience so real. The competing cacophony of emotions: he was hopeful, overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, sad, at one point blissfully in love. He felt he was betraying those he left behind just by being in London, even though he was there to make life better for them; if he enjoyed life in his temporary city, he felt guilty. I felt Lev's frustration with the language barrier. Reading about how he was treated as somehow inferior just because he dressed differently, had different mannerisms, struggled to understand and make himself understood made my heart break with sympathy.

There were other characters who I grew to care about, and surprisingly most were men. I sometimes find it difficult to warm to adult male characters. But in this case, I quickly came to adore Rudi, Lev's brash and reckless, yet big-hearted old friend and Christy Slane, Lev's sweet, easygoing, down on his luck London flatmate.

The second thing that stands out about this novel are the descriptions of the two central places: London and the unnamed Eastern European country Lev comes from. The richly textured images Tremain so masterfully creates stand alone, but are especially meaningful when viewed in contrast. Lev's home country, struggling to feel hopeful after the fall of communism seemed bleak, faded, gray, sadly downtrodden. London, a frenzied melting pot, at times glamorous and sophisticated, at others gritty and ordinary, but always colorful and alive.

The characters and images in this highly readable, exquisitely written book will remain with me long after I turned the last page.

Note: This review originally posted at my book blog, Literarily.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Laura's 2008 Goals and Progress

I love reading prize winners, so when Wendy (aka Caribousmom) announced this project, there was no question about my participation. I have an aggressive reading plan for 2008 already, so my goal before the year is out is to read at least 4 Orange Prize winners or shortlisted works, including:
  • 2007 - A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo (completed 8/10/08 - review)
  • 2004 - Small Island, by Andrea Levy - WINNER (completed 5/24/08 - review)
  • 2004 - Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (completed 9/10/08 - review)
  • 2002 - Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters (completed 12/26/08 - review)
  • 2001 - The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville - WINNER (completed 10/8/08 - review)

Complete List of Orange Prize Fiction Winners & Shortlists Read (with links to reviews where available):

2007
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - WINNER (review)
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (review)
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo (review)

2006
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith - WINNER
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss

2005
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver - WINNER (review)
Old Filth, by Jane Gardam (review)

2004
Small Island, by Andrea Levy - WINNER (review)
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (review)

2003
Unless, by Carol Shields

2002
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett- WINNER
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters (review)

2001
The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville - WINNER (review)
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

2000
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

1999
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Paradise, by Toni Morrison

1998
The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve

1996
The Hundred Secret Senses, by Amy Tan
Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler

Laura's Review - The Idea of Perfection

The Idea of Perfection
Kate Grenville
400 pages

The Idea of Perfection takes place in the Australian town of Karakarook, NSW, population 1374. Harley Savage, a middle-aged textile artist, travels from Sydney to create a heritage museum. Douglas Cheeseman, an engineer, is sent to demolish an old bridge. From this initial setup I expected intense conflict and community uprising, but that turned out to be secondary to the story of human foibles and relationships. Both Douglas and Harley are unmarried; he is divorced and she is a widow. Both are lonely, but they resist forming relationships with others. Douglas remains on the fringe of the local work crew. Harley feels awkward with others, and stubbornly resists a stray dog's repeated attentions. Both draw gradually to one another.

In fact, the entire book moves in a very gradual manner. Grenville oh-so-slowly reveals details that build a complete picture of the main characters and the town's citizens. At the beginning of the book, Douglas is looking out of an upstairs hotel room window. Only later, after learning he suffers from vertigo, does it become clear that just looking out the window was an accomplishment. Details of Harley's childhood and married life are droppped like a trail of breadcrumbs. Slowly the reader sees these two, their physical imperfections, and their inherent inner goodness. In contrast, Grenville introduces local housewife Felicity Porcelline, who is portrayed -- again, gradually -- as someone obsessed with her appearance, the cleanliness of her home, and her son's academic performance. She appears perfect on the outside, but inside she leads a self-centered, deceptive life.

This book had a surprisingly strong impact on me. I loved the slow reveal of the characters, and their ultimate depth. And while the book moved quickly, Grenville suggests plot in the same way she does her characters. There were many times in this novel where she made a subtle point that connected several other events in a way that literally left me wide-eyed, astonished, and saying "OH ... !!" out loud. The Idea of Perfection is sure to be one of my top reads of 2008. ( )

My original review can be found here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Road Home by Rose Tremain (Jill)

The Road Home
By Rose Tremain
Completed September 27, 2008

The Road Home was the Orange Prize winning novel by Rose Tremain – a story of Lev, a Russian immigrant living in London. Lev immigrated to Britain after the mill in his village closed, leaving him without a means to support his mother and daughter. The decision to leave his family was a hard one, but soon Lev discovered that his journey to survive in London would be even harder.

Lev’s journey led him to a renowned restaurant where he discovered two newfound passions: cooking and Sophie. Lev watched as the chefs prepared their meals, learning every ounce in hopes that he too would become a chef. Sophie worked in the kitchen, and with her, Lev learned that he could feel love and passion again as he dealt with the sudden death of his wife, Marina.

The Road Home superbly discussed the hardships and the making of one’s way in a new country. It also dealt with the themes of home. “Home is where you heart is,” as the saying goes, but it also is where you are at that moment, even if it’s a temporary arrangement.

The most profound aspect of The Road Home for me was the excellent characterization created by Tremain. Lev was so human – fallible one minute, honorable the next. Filled with selfishness and then selflessness, he was the type of guy you could root for, despite his mistakes. Other male characters also livened up the story. Rudi, Lev’s best friend in Russia, was funny, rude and vulnerable, dependent on Lev’s admiration and friendship to help him live a better life. Christy was Lev’s landlord – a high-spirited Irish man, suffering from a divorce and the custodial loss of his daughter. It was a delight to read about such interesting men – they really made this story.

This is my second Tremain book, and while I enjoyed The Colour a little more, The Road Home was smart and provocative with memorable characters. I would highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy a good character-driven story, and I look forward to reading more from this talented storyteller. ( )

Friday, September 26, 2008

Terri - Quarterly Check-in September '08

Just a quick check-in and update on what I've read since the end of June. Orange July was amazing, probably my most favorite reading month ever. I read almost everything on the list I made and added one I hadn't intended. Here's what I've read since June:

  • The Girls
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • The Idea of Perfection
  • The Tenderness of Wolves
  • The Namesake
  • Sorry
  • The History of Love
  • When the Emperor Was Divine
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian
Everything on the list was at least 4 stars out of 5 except The Namesake and Short History of Tractors, which were both 3.5

Now, I'm already looking forward to Orange January!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Laura's Review - Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
307 pages
Kimbali is the 15-year-old daughter of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. Her father, Eugene, is adored by the community for his philanthropy. Their home is spacious, luxuriously furnished, and immaculate. But within his home Eugene rules with an iron hand, guided by his fanatical religious beliefs. He keeps his children on a tight schedule and closely monitors their activities. He is estranged from his own father because of his refusal to convert to Christianity, and his children’s visits with their grandfather are limited to 15 minutes. When Kimbali and her brother Jaja are allowed to visit their Aunty Ifeoma and her children, they experience love and laughter for the first time. Kimbali is intimidated, afraid that she is going against her father’s will, and against God. She is also embarrassed by her lack of basic household skills. Jaja adapts more easily to his cousins’ lifestyle, and finds satisfaction in household chores, tending the garden, and playing sports with local boys. They both return home changed by the experience.

All of this unfolds against a backdrop of Nigerian political unrest which threatens the lives of several characters. But this story is primarily a coming-of-age novel: Kimbali’s process of self-discovery continues, and Jaja begins to resist his father’s authority. Their abusive home environment is increasingly evident. This was Adichie’s debut novel; it was long-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize and made the Orange Prize shortlist the same year. While it was not as compelling as her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun (my review), it is beautifully written and filled with believable characters. I found the symbolism behind the purple hibiscus particularly moving:

Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, do do. (p. 16) ( )
My original review can be found here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Nicole)

Originally posted here on July 16, 2008.

Beautifully written, this book reminded me of reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The "unreality" of it all.  Not meant to be taken literally.   Loved the way the narrator was upfront about what happened later in the story because then our concentration is on how it all unfolds.  Great use of the omniscient point of view.  The narrator puts his spin and interpretation of events as they are unfolding.  People coming together and crossing the artificial boundaries that we put up to separate ourselves.  The characters are able to find themselves as they are being held hostage.  Their needs and wants, and also those of the hostage takers, are reduced yet intensified with their limitations as hostages. (I'm sure there is a better word for hostage takers, but I can't think of one now. Captors?)

It was interesting to hear another friend's perspective on this book.  I had heard before reading it that it was either hated or loved.  After talking with my friend who hated it, I better understand the polarization.  Suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy this book.  Her main reason for not being able to enjoy the book was predicated on her belief that that people in a hostage situation wouldn't behave in this way, and she has a point, they wouldn't. However for me, it wasn't so far from the realms of possibility.  In horrific situations people do amazing things to adapt, and will often identify with their captors.  I was willing to suspend disbelief because I was caught up in the greater beauty of the connections the characters starting making with themselves and with each other.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys beautiful and lyrical prose in a tale that leans heavily on the fantastical.

Nicole's Reading Goals and Progress

Hey Everybody!

I'm finally getting the opportunity to post my progress for the Orange Prize. I have all the books below in my library.  I have read the ones in bold and I will post the reviews here separately. I guess my starting off point will be to read what I have first.  We'll see how it goes!

Award for New Writers - Winners and Short Lists: 2005- Present
2005
Lucky Girls, by Nell Freudenberger

Orange Prize Fiction Winners and Shortlists: 1996 to the Present

2008
The Road Home, by Rose Tremain - WINNER

2007
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - WINNER
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo

2006
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith - WINNER
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters

2005
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver - WINNER
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka


2004
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

2003
Property, by Valerie Martin - WINNER
The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

2002
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett- WINNER

2001
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

2000
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

1999
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

Paradise, by Toni Morrison

1997
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Colour by Rose Tremain (Jill)

The Colour
By Rose Tremain
Completed August 16, 2008


On the surface, The Colour by Rose Tremain was a beautifully written account of English settlers in mid-nineteenth century New Zealand, trying to escape their demons while carving a new life for themselves. However, if you scratch deeper, you saw that it’s also a story about the attainment of happiness, and more importantly, how to be happy with what you’ve already attained in life.

Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, along with Joseph’s mother, Lilian, settled in their cob house in rural New Zealand, and while dredging the creek, Joseph discovered gold dust. New Zealand was at the throes of a gold rush – much like in California – and Joseph immediately was struck with gold fever. He hid his discovery from his wife and mother, until the fever (literally) overtook him, and he voyaged out to strike it rich. Meanwhile, Harriet and Lilian were left to make do on an undeveloped farm in meager shelter.

Joseph was an interesting character. Hard-working but unconfident, he was hell bent to redeem himself from his “mistake” in England, especially in the eyes of his mother. Redemption for Joseph was in the form of money and success, which is why he was so determined to find more gold. Harriet was another interesting character. Strong, smart and practical, she longed for the mountainous life in New Zealand, but became steadily uneasy with the life Joseph wanted for them. For her, a simple but successful farm filled with warmth and love was more important than wealth.

I have never read a book set in New Zealand, and I was fascinated with the inclusions of the native culture, wildlife and customs that Tremain sprinkled in this book. The rigors of farm life and gold camps were blatant and telling, with tragedy poking its head around each corner. You wished the best for each character, even when he didn’t know what was the best thing for him (or her).

This was my first Rose Tremain novel but not my last. Her storytelling, vivid language and fascinating characters left me begging for more. I highly recommend The Colour to readers who enjoy great historical fiction or want to learn more about the settlement of the British in New Zealand. ( )

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Laura's Review - A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers


A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
Xiaolu Guo
283 pages

This is the story of Zhuang, a 23-year-old woman who arrives in London to spend a year learning English. She is never far from her "concise Chinese-English dictionary," looking up words and keeping a diary of her new vocabulary. Early in her stay she meets an older man and quickly moves in with him. Through their intense relationship she learns the language, and much more about "the West," about her sexuality, and about herself.

The book is written in the first person, organized by month. Zhuang's language improved over time, and so did her ability to tell her story. Her feelings of confusion and isolation were most well developed. If there was one aspect i didn't like, it was that Zhuang's world was entirely centered on men. There were very few other women in this story, and all were ancillary characters. I would have liked this book more had Zhuang also grown as an independent woman. ( )

My original review can be found here.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (Jill)

The Amateur Marriage
By Anne Tyler
Completed August 2, 2008

Once again, Anne Tyler takes a poignant look at everyday life in her The Amateur Marriage. In this book, Tyler examined the ups and downs of marriage and family life through main characters, Michael and Pauline. The story opened with the couple meeting during the whirlwind of the attack of Pearl Harbor. They married after a brief courtship – each with their own goals and opposite personalities. Michael was quiet, calculating and withdrawn; Pauline was talkative, extroverted and impulsive.

With some couples, the opposing personalities strengthen their marriage, but Michael and Pauline struggled deeply with communication. I wanted Michael to talk more openly and Pauline to really listen. They faced many hiccups –issues with their children, deaths of their parents and raising a grandchild – but they always missed the mark about being open and honest with each other.

This story was a great primer on what to do and not do with your spouse. Perhaps engaged couples could benefit from the lessons taught in The Amateur Marriage. Despite the many books, counselors and friendly advice, we really are amateurs when we marry.

To me, Tyler is at her best with The Amateur Marriage. Some readers may get frustrated with her narrative style and leaping time frames, but it did not distract me. If you loved Breathing Lessons or The Accidental Tourist, then I would highly recommend this book to you. ( )

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (Jill)

The Inheritance of Loss
By Kiran Desai
Completed July 27, 2008


It’s hard to review The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. Overall, it was a good story – not spectacular but not horrible. It certainly appealed to the critics, but for an average reader like me, I was slightly disappointed with parts of this award-winning novel.

The Inheritance of Loss was the story of a judge living with his granddaughter, Sai, at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. The judge was cold-hearted and demanding, and Sai found more fatherly comfort for their cook. The cook told her stories of grandeur from the judge’s past life (as well as his own). The cook dreamed of the day when his son, Biju, settles successfully into New York City so the cook could live with him. Interwoven with this story were commentaries on colonialism, Indian culture (particularly their caste system), immigration and nationalism.

Where The Inheritance of Loss excelled was in the illumination of Indian culture and the treatment of Indian immigrants in the U.S. I learned tremendously about both themes from this book. I often interact with Indians at work, and I discovered a newfound appreciation for their culture and how hard it is to acculturate into my country.

However, there were parts in this novel that just dragged for me. Perhaps the plot and character development were too subtle for my reading taste. In areas where the story didn’t seem to advance, I found myself skipping pages. I don’t think I missed much by doing so either.

I believe that The Inheritance of Loss is one of those books people either gush over or shrug at. I enjoyed Desai’s writing style, her humor and her subtle touches, and I would read another novel by her. I would recommend this novel to fans of Booker Prize winners with one piece of advice: bring your patience when you read this novel.( )

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oryx and Crake - 3M's Review

I love Margaret Atwood, but Oryx and Crake was just too gritty for my taste. This was compounded by the fact that I listened to it on audio. Hearing the graphic descriptions was even worse than reading it. This was my fifth Atwood, and by far my least favorite.

The narrator is Jimmy, code-named Snowman. Crake is a sort of Dr. Moreau figure, while Oryx is a woman caught between the two. I don’t want to give away too many details for those who still want to read it, but if you’re squeamish about graphic s*xu*l situations (including child p*r*o*raphy), I would advise against it. I didn’t get why it had to have that element to the story. I also wondered why the title of the book was named that way, but in the end, I guess it was because Oryx and Crake were the two most influential figures in Jimmy’s life.

I would recommend reading other Atwoods before this one. The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, and The Penelopiad are my favorites so far.

2003, 378 pp. (2/5)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Do You Yahoo?

I have started a Yahoo group for this challenge.

Readers participating in the challenge do NOT have to join the Yahoo group (likewise, readers may join the Yahoo group while not joining the challenge), but I thought some of you might want to. The Yahoo group format provides an easily accessible, interactive forum for readers to discuss the "Orange" books they are reading. At this time, I have no plans to schedule formal monthly group reads; however "buddy reads", as well as informal discussions of the books is definitely encouraged.

EDITED July 29th to add: We will be honoring one author a month in the Yahoo group (August will be Rose Tremain) where members may post links and thoughts about this author, share reviews of her work, read from her body of work, etc... as they wish (there are no requirements that members must participate!). Additionally, we will keep Jill's fabulous Orange July and add an Orange January as a focus on books which have won or been nominated for the Orange awards.

Sound fun? To join use the button below (or in the side bar of this blog).



Click here to join Orange_Prize_Project
Click to join Orange_Prize_Project

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Keep by Jennifer Egan (Jill)

The Keep
By Jennifer Egan
Completed July 20, 2008

The Keep by Jennifer Egan is a story within a story. First, it’s a story about cousins Howard and Danny, reunited to renovate a European castle – while attempting to heal from a childhood prank that scarred them both. It’s also the story of Ray, a prison inmate who was in a writing class, desperately trying to gain his teacher’s attention. You will have to read The Keep to understand how these stories reconcile, but I thought it melded together creatively.

At first, the narrative style used by Egan was a little jagged and hard to get used to. However, once I did, these characters captivated me. Ray and Danny were screaming for attention. Howard was a wounded soul in search for his life’s meaning. Even the writing teacher, Holly, emerged as a complicated yet realistic character.

While The Keep could be characterized as a Gothic novel with its musty castle, old baroness and family secrets, it’s really a story about imprisonment: how humans can imprison themselves into their daily lives, their pasts and their mistakes. Not only are characters physically imprisoned, they are emotionally “kept” too. They don’t reveal true feelings for each other. They try too hard to do what others think they should do. No one really seemed “free” in this story. It’s one of those books that will linger with me long after I completed it.

The Keep is not a book for everyone. But if you’re looking for refreshing storytelling – something a little unconventional – than I would recommend this novel to you. I look forward to reading more books by Jennifer Egan in the near future. ( )

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fasting, Feasting by Anita Desai (TerriLynn)


Fasting, Feasting is not something I normally would have chosen to read, which is the great thing about this project-- it encourages me to move beyond those stories to which I'd normally gravitate and expands my literary horizons.

Desai's novel, also a finalist for the Booker Prize, explores the lives of a taken-for-granted elder sister, Uma, and a much adored younger brother, Arun, who are both shaped and constrained by the demands of their parents-- in one case a demand not to experience life outside the home and in the other, the demand to be an over-achiever and leave not only home but homeland. The story is skillfully written, with evocative descriptions and even tragic bits of humour however if you're looking for some light, entertaining, summer reading this isn't it. This is more a book for a cold, dreary, January day when you're in an introspective mood and pondering how your family has-- for better or for worse-- helped direct the path your life has taken. I'll leave it to you to judge how Uma and Arun might weigh in on this discussion.

The Remedy by Michelle Lovric (TerriLynn)


Disclaimer: I love Venice-- love, adore, worship, venerate, idolize, cherish, fancy, like-- you get the picture. So any book that is set in Venice, even partially (The Remedy moves between 18th century Venice and London) I'm going to read. And most, unless just horribly written, I'm going to enjoy, especially if the author really knows Venice. And Michelle Lovric really knows Venice. She also knows how to write in the voices of believable intriguing characters and spin an interesting yarn as she proved in the The Floating Book. The Remedy doesn't disappoint. Lately it seems the books I've read are ones in which narration alternates between time and character and this is another one of those novels but done more deftly than most. Valentine and Mimosina tell the stories of their lives and their relationship, and while the reader is privy to the lies they tell each other (sins of commission as well as omission) you keep reading to find out what happens when they each get found out and how the situation is going to be resolved. Will true love, even among thieves, con artists, courtesans and murderers, win in the end? Read this book to find out, and also to find out why you should think twice before taking sweets from a nun . . .

The only criticism I have of the novel are the chapter headings with "recipes" for cures drawn from an early 18th century pharmacology book. As some of the chapters are only a few pages long, the headings became more annoying than enlightening so I ended up skipping them as they interrupted the flow of the story.

The Keep (TerriLynn)



I won't post the publishers description as others have done that. This is one of those books that I don't know if I can say I really enjoyed but I don't necessarily regret reading. A multi-layered story that involves Danny, a wayward glam punk techno addicted slacker who is summoned by his long lost cousin Howie to help him renovate a hotel deep in a remote forest somewhere in Eastern Europe. Indeed, it's the perfect setting for a horror story, however the only ghost that haunts the pages is the memory of a cruel childhood prank that left one cousin traumatized for years and the other wracked with guilt. The novel is also a story within a story and this is where it didn't exactly work for me. I understand what Egan was trying to do but I couldn't help but think it could have been done more smoothly.

The Monsters of Templeton (TerriLynn)


Quick hello first as I'm new to the blog and have eagerly joined the July challenge. While I've been busy reading, I haven't had time to post yet so this morning I'm posting reviews of what I've read over the past couple weeks. Here it goes . . .


From the Orange Prize website:
The Monsters of TempletonWillie Cooper arrives on the doorstep of her ancestral home in Templeton, New York, in the wake of a disastrous affair with her much older, married archaeology professor. That same say, the discovery of a prehistoric monster in the lake brings a media frenzy to the quiet, picture-perfect town her ancestors founded. Smarting from a broken heart, Willie then learns that the story her mother had always told her about her father is a lie. He wasn't the one-night stand Vi had led her to imagine, but someone else entirely. Someone from Templeton.

As Willie puts her archaeological skills to work digging for truth about her lineage, a chorus of voices from the town's past – both sinister and disturbing – rise up around her to tell their sides of the story. Willie discovers the curse of the Temple family runs deep. On the end, dark secrets come to light, past and present blur, old mysteries are finally put to rest, and the surprising truth about more than one monster is revealed.


The Monsters of Templeton is an intriguing tapestry of stories deftly woven together. Willie, the protagonist, returns to her small home town in New York (based upon Cooperstown) in the midst of personal chaos and crisis seeking solace in a place of stability and perceived changlessness. Instead she discovers the "monster" who has reportedly haunted the lake for years has been found dead the morning she arrives, high school characters are changed beyond recognition and her ex-hippe mother, Vi, who she counts on for unwavering predictability has suddenly become a born-again Baptist. As part of her new morality, Vi reveals a family secret that has Willie refocusing some of her self-indulgent angst into solving a mystery about her parentage that uncovers hidden stories of town fathers and mothers (again, loosely based on the lives of the Cooper family including James Fenimore Cooper) while trying to sort out the mess her own life has become. While Willie is whiney, self-indulgent and you just want to smack her and tell her to grow up at times, she is also smart, a smart-ass, and grows on you, especially as she grows during the course of the story. Groff also does a fine job bringing in the voices and stories of the past which can be tricky.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Jill)

Oryx and Crake
By Margaret Atwood
Completed July 17, 2008

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood took her readers on another dystopian journey, but unlike her The Handmaid’s Tale, this book failed to captivate me as a reader.

Oryx and Crake is the story of Snowman, formally called Jimmy, who was living as the last homo sapien on a beachfront filled with genetically mixed animals and genetically created humans. Through flashbacks, we learned about Jimmy’s childhood - how his father worked at a genetics lab, how Jimmy met Glenn (later called Crake) and how the mysterious Oryx entered both boys’ lives.

Glenn/Crake would evolve into a “mad” scientist, of sorts, making a virus that would kill all humans (except Jimmy), and creating a new species of peaceful, plant-eating humans who only bred during certain seasons. Crake tasked Jimmy with being a guardian of his new species, which Jimmy reluctantly did.

Oryx was an interesting character though I didn’t learn a lot about her. She may have been a subject in a child pornography video that Jimmy and Crake watched as teenagers. Crake eventually hired Oryx for sexual favors, and Jimmy became Oryx’s lover. She flitted in and out of the chapters like a little bird. As a reader, I could never get a hold of her.

Oryx and Crake is rich in social commentary and satire. It’s an alternate but futuristic viewpoint on what may happen if we alter the genetic make-ups of humans and animals. It’s also a story of control and love. While I usually enjoy reading Atwood stories and dystopian tales, my lack of character attachment and disinterest in the story’s scientific elements made the entire novel dull to me. Usually, good dystopian fiction are stories of survival or warning signs of what could happen. For me, Oryx and Crake had neither trait. In all, it was more fiction than science. ( )

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (Jill)

Alias Grace
By Margaret Atwood
Completed July 13, 2008


Once again, I am at a loss for words after reading another brilliant fictional work by Margaret Atwood. This time, I was mesmerized by Alias Grace – a complex novel based on the historical figure, Grace Marks, who was convicted of killing her employer and his mistress in 1840’s Canada.

The story of Grace Marks is one of contradiction. While Atwood relied on historical accounts when she could, the many gaps in Grace’s story and her collaborator, James McDermott, was good fodder for a fictional tale. Grace offered many renditions to the story, ultimately maintaining that she experienced amnesia about the murders. McDermott, who hung for the murders, always argued that it was Grace who masterminded the murders. Grace was found guilty, but the judges felt that she was too young, uneducated and na├»ve to be executed for the crime. Instead, she was sentenced to life imprisonment.

This is how we met Grace in this story – as a laborer in the governor’s house during the day and penitentiary inmate at night. A small group, believing in Grace’s innocence, asked psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan to interview Grace, to reach deep beneath her amnesia so the truth could be told about her involvement in the murders. Through these conversations, we learned about Grace’s childhood, career as a servant and eventually the murders.

The story, while predominantly Grace’s, often showed the slow demise of Dr. Jordan, whose life became eerily similar to Grace’s murdered employer. Dr. Jordan was torn between solving Grace’s mysteries and keeping his emotions out of the investigation. Sprinkled in were letters from his mother, which provided great comic relief for me, as she was so passive-aggressive. I probably would want to explore mental asylums in other countries, too, if I had a mother like Mrs. Jordan.

I could never shake the feeling that Grace was smarter than she wanted people to believe. Her calm, collected manner during her arrest, trial and incarceration were interpreted as “guilt,” but I saw it as a woman who was always thinking and calculating her next move. She was a fascinating character study.

I will mention that I was slightly dissatisfied with the ending. Throughout the last half of the novel, I thought the book was heading in a certain direction – but it didn’t. I don’t want to say more in case you haven’t read this book. Despite this, I would highly recommend Alias Grace to Atwood lovers, readers of women’s history and anyone who enjoys a true ‘who done it” story. ( )

Fault Lines

I appreciated the cleverness of the structure of this novel, managing to capture 4 such different stories into four generations of a family (and all still living) was clever.

But "vibrant, richly drawn and captivating"? No.

The central character, Erra, really didn't convince me. Yes, it was a fascinating insight to yet another Nazi atrocity (and of course it is an atrocity, I find the book unconvincing, I am not disputing the historical accuracy), but it was not enough to build a whole novel around.

The ruthless academic grandmother was more convincing but so dislikeable, the great grandson Sol was irritating beyond belief (though what a mother!). Only Randall rang true for me, a whole novel from Randall's point of view I would have found quite enjoyable.

Leaving aside the weaknesses in structure and character, I did find the novel very easy to read and I admired the style that stayed somehow consistent while still reading very definitely as four separate voices.

I would try another Nancy Huston but I am surprised to see this on the shortlist.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Poisonwood Bible - Wendy's Review

Believe this: the mistakes are part of the story. I am born of a man who believed he could tell nothing but the truth, while he set down for all time the Poisonwood Bible. -narrated by Adah in The Poisonwood Bible-

The Poisonwood Bible is a family saga which begins in 1959 when Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist minister, moves from Georgia to the Belgium Congo with his wife and four daughters. His goal, as a missionary, is to bring Christianity to the people living in a tiny village called Kilanga. The novel is narrated alternately by Nathan’s wife Orleanna and her daughters Rachel, Adah, Leah and Ruth May beginning when they arrive in the jungle and continuing through several decades.

This is a novel about a complex region which has struggled with independence, war, starvation, sickness and overzealous interference from other countries. In the midst of this heartbreaking history, the Price family’s struggles are played out in parallel. The family, clearly unprepared for life in the harsh environment of Africa (’We came from Bethlehem, Georgia, bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes…‘) become immersed in a culture rich with spirituality and dependent on community to survive the severe weather conditions and lack of food.

Barbara Kingsolver creates characters whose voices are unique, darkly comic, and compelling. Rachel, a teenager who chooses to save her hand mirror when the village is attacked by a swarm of killer ants, represents the naive and ignorant American attitude toward societies different from our own. Adah, born crippled and mute, sees the world forwards and backwards - a unique vision which allows her to appreciate a new culture. Leah is her father’s little girl - trying desperately to gain his approval…and it is she who changes the most as the novel progresses. Ruth May, the “baby” of the family, is also its ambassador of good will. And finally there is Orleanna, married to a damaged man whose fears and insecurities are turned brutally against his family. It is Orleanna who begins and ends the story.

The Poisonwood Bible is a brilliant work of fiction which encompasses several themes. Kingsolver writes beautifully, and her love of language is played out in Rachel’s comic butchering of phrases and words; and Adah’s tendency towards palidromes and reading backwards.

Nommo, I wrote down on the notebook I had opened out for us at our big table. Nomom ommon NoMmo, I wrote, wishing to learn this wordforward and backward. -as narrated by Adah in The Poisonwood Bible, page 210-

That would be Axelroot all over, to turn up with an extra wife or two claiming that’s how they do it here. Maybe he’s been in Africa so long h has forgotten that we Christians have our own system of marriage, and it is call Monotony. -as narrated by Rachel in The Poisonwood Bible, page 405-

Thematically, the novel examines the ideas of faith, redemption, and forgiveness. More widely, it explores the history of the Congo with all its beauty and terror, the effects of war, and the terrible impact of government when it collides with individuals. Ultimately the novel reveals our humanity when presented with great challenges as each character takes a different path on their way to resolving their own inner turmoil.

This is a novel which begs to be read, if only for its magnificent scope. In The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver demonstrates exactly why she is an author who is lauded and recommended over and over again. It is impossible for me to write a review which will do this book the justice it deserves. I can only say: Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Highly recommended.

Passages from The Poisonwood Bible

About Faith:

My father wears his faith like the bronze breastplate of God’s foot soldiers, while our mother’s is more like a good cloth coat with a secondhand fit. -as narrated by Leah in The Poisonwood Bible, page 68-

About War:

A war leaves holes in so much more than the dams and roads that can be rebuilt. -as narrated by Adah in The Poisonwood Bible, page 523-

About Who We Are:

The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes. -as narrated by Adah in The Poisonwood Bible, page 496-

About Survival:

So what do you do now? You get to find your own way to dig out a heart and shake it off and hold it up to the light again. -as narrated by Leah in The Poisonwood Bible, page 474-

To save my sanity, I learned to pad around hardship in soft slippers and try to remark on its good points. -as narrated by Orleanna in The Poisonwood Bible, page 200-

I can still recite the litany of efforts it took to push a husband and children alive and fed through each day in the Congo. The longest journey always began with sitting up in bed at the rooster’s crow, parting the mosquito curtain, and slipping on shoes - for there were hookworms lying in wait on the floor, itching to burrow into our bare feet. -as narrated by Orleanna in The Poisonwood Bible, page 90-

About Grief:

As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer’s long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn’t touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn’t stop. -as narrated by Orleanna in The Poisonwood Bible, page 381-

About Destiny:

Had I not married a preacher named Nathan Price, my particular children would never have seen the light of this world. I walked through the valley of my fate, is all, and learned to love what I could lose. -as narrated by Orleanna in The Poisonwood Bible, page 381-

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jill)

The Gathering
By Anne Enright
Completed July 7, 2008


In The Gathering, Anne Enright took a disturbing look at family dysfunction. Told from the perspective of Veronica, a 39-year-old homemaker, the readers learned the ups and downs of being part of her large Irish family, made more complicated as the family dealt with the suicide of Veronica’s brother, Liam.

Veronica’s ghosts were a large part of this novel. Veronica was the keeper of Liam’s childhood secret, and as she grieved for her brother, she had to come to terms with the tragedies that plagued him. She also had to deal with her life decisions: hiding Liam’s secret, marrying her husband, mothering her daughters, and coping with her own mother, who Veronica loved and despised simultaneously.

Enright’s writing style was seductively descriptive. I envisioned the deeply depressed Veronica spiraling out of control, frantically typing her family’s life story as she drank and escaped from her obligations. She was not an easy character to like, but Enright’s writing evoked sympathy and sadness for this character.

In addition to the manic narrative, the reader must muddle through the many phallic references and sexual metaphors that sprung up (no pun intended) in each chapter. I can’t say these themes added to the novel, but they did not appall me either. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in Veronica’s train wreck to care.

All in all, The Gathering was a decent story about being a family member and how one woman dealt with her depression in the face of a family tragedy. If you like stories set in Ireland or are a fan of Booker winners, then I would recommend The Gathering to you. ( )

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Jill)

Half of a Yellow Sun
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Completed July 4, 2008

Admittedly, it was with trepidation that I selected Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for my personal challenge to read Orange prizewinners. So many of my reading friends raved about this book. When a book is so highly regarded, I worried that it would be too high up on the reading pedestal – and in the end, it would disappoint. Furthermore, when I finally got this book, I scowled (just slightly) at its length – 541 pages. Chunksters (what I consider books over 350 pages) rarely hold my interest. Indeed, I was worried.

However, once enveloped in this book, my worries quickly ceased. Half of a Yellow Sun was a book worthy of its praise and its long length. Quite simply, it was an astonishing, gut-wrenching read.

Briefly, it’s the story of the effect of Biafra’s (in southeastern Nigeria) quest for independence in the late 1960’s. It’s also the story of family – both biological and assumed – and how those ties know no bounds. Colorful and unforgettable characters filled each page: Ugwu, the houseboy; Odenigbo, the revolutionary-minded professor; Olanna, Odenigbo’s beautiful lover and her twin sister, Kainene; and Richard, who is in love with Kainene. The reader was swept into Nigerian cultures and lifestyles. Without a doubt, it was an illuminating read.

Adichie did not sugarcoat how war affects civilians. People died, family members went missing, homes destroyed, women raped and children became ill. This book is not for the weak of heart. As a reader, I was torn by my need to take a break from the content and my desire to continue reading because I was so caught up in the story.

I highly recommend Half of a Yellow Sun to anyone interested in reading a profound novel about war, family and the effects of nationalism. ( )

(cross-posted from my blog)

Friday, July 4, 2008

When the Emperor Was Divine - Terri's Review

Since I embarked on Orange July two days ago, I've started on my luscious list of Orange Prize winners or listed books.

First up was When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. What an exquisite book. The story is of a Japanese American family's internment during WWII -- I loved the points of view. I was a ways into it before I realized the main characters weren't named - the author used pronouns only, "he" "she" "the girl" "the boy." You'd think this would distance the reader from the characters, but for me, it didn't at all. Later in the story, the POV changes to first person plural quite subtly, the boy and girl telling the story. Finally the father gets his say and it is quite a dramatic shift.

The story begins when the notice is posted in Berkley - all people of Japanese descent must report to a relocation center. "The woman" - the mother in the story - calmly prepares to evacuate. The children are curious but no one is angry or resentful. We learn that the father has already been removed to a camp - immediately after Pearl Harbor he was taken from their home in the middle of the night, wearing his bathrobe and slippers. One of the children is dismayed - their father never left the house without a hat.

I wanted them to be angry and resentful, not to go so willingly and quietly. I wept when the mother destroyed their Japanese belongings. They lost so much - not just material goods but their spirit, especially the father and mother. The author portrayed the family relationships beautifully, they were so dear with each other.

We follow the children and mother to a camp in the desert in Utah. It is a dull and harsh existence, and they remain there for more than three years. When they return after the war, they are able to move back into their house (many internees lost all their property), but their belongings are gone or destroyed and the house is trashed. Father eventually returns, a broken man who never regains his spirit.

So much racism is based on fear of "other." Otsuka made her characters so real and so "American" (I'm not sure how to phrase this without sounding insensitive or ethnocentric), so like their neighbors in many ways. Their rejection, the hatred toward them was so painful to me because I grew so fond of them - and because, of course, this was a monumental error on the part of the US government (relocations also happened in Canada).

We have come close to repeating this history in the US in the last seven years. We have repeated this history in other countries, imprisoning and torturing many innocent people in Guantanamo , Abu Ghraib and other undisclosed locations. There wasn't a backlash from the Japanese Americans after WWII, even though so many of their lives were destroyed. I fear that the damage being done today is exacerbating the anti-American sentiment around the world; illegal torture and imprisonment is not the answer to terrorism. It must stop and those responsible must be held accountable.

Thanks to those who encouraged me to read this lovely book.
Highly recommend. (4.5/5)

The Tenderness of Wolves (tanabata's review)

by Stef Penney

Fiction/Mystery, 2006
Quercus, trade pb, 445 p.
WINNER of the Costa Book of the Year 2006, Longlist - Orange Prize 2007
Interview with the author
1867, Canada.
As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a woman steels herself for the journey of a lifetime. A man has been brutally murdered and her seventeen-year-old son has disappeared. The violence has re-opened old wounds and inflamed deep-running tensions in the frontier township – some want to solve the crime; others seek only to exploit it.
To clear her son’s name, she has no choice but to follow the tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin and head north into the forest and the desolate landscape that lies beyond it…
The quote on the back of my copy that calls it ‘a fascinating, suspense-filled adventure’ pretty much describes my thoughts on it as well. The historical aspects of the fur trade and pioneer life in northern Canada were very interesting. It wasn’t necessarily fast-paced and full of action but the murder mystery and the search for the perpetrator added suspense. And the fact that the search led them through such harsh terrain was certainly an adventure. A nicely told story with a large, varied cast of characters, it was actually the bitterly cold, snowy landscape, so vividly portrayed, that became the strongest element of the story for me. At it’s core, a mystery, but more than that too. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

Stef Penney talks about the novel:


My Rating: 4/5

*originally posted on my blog here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

An Orange July Kick-Off

I am excited to begin my personal challenge to read "Orange" books throughout the month of July. Orange July is my personal commitment to read books that have won or been nominated for the Orange Prize. I will post my reviews here as well as my blog.

Actually, I have already started my first Orange Book - Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A lot of my blog and LT friends have raved about this book, and at only 130 pages in, I can see why. After Half of a Yellow Sun, I will start The Gathering by Anne Enwright.

I hope you will consider joining me for an Orange July. Remember, there are no rules, no minimums and no reviews required. You can commit to read only one book or 20. It's up to you! Please leave me a comment on my blog if you plan on participating so I can check your blog for your reviews.

I think July will shape up to be a great reading month! Have fun!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How I Live Now (tanabata's review)

by Meg Rosoff

Fiction/YA, 2004
Wendy Lamb (Random House), hardback, 193 p.
WINNER Printz Award 2005, Orange Prize for New Writers NOMINEE 2005

“Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen–year–old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

It’s been quite a few days since I finished reading this and I’m still not entirely sure what my final thoughts on it are. Some parts felt unnecessary, others not fleshed out enough. Daisy was a strong character though, and even when her teen-speak and attitude annoyed me slightly, it always felt authentic (I can only assume, not being around any English-speaking teenagers these days). But somehow the war, which affects all their lives so profoundly, didn’t seem realistic, perhaps because the details were so vague or only alluded to. I suppose it really was mainly Daisy’s story of growing up during a difficult time. I did enjoy the book while I was reading it, especially the part with Daisy and Piper, but overall I don’t think it’ll stay with me. Still it was worth reading and I’d certainly try something else by Meg Rosoff sometime.

My Rating: 3/5

*originally posted on my blog here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Terri Makes Orange Progress


I haven't posted here since my introduction in March - which doesn't mean I haven't made any progress in the challenge. I'm just not real big on writing reviews.

I am joining in Jill's Orange July and I gotta say, I am thrilled at the idea of a whole month of reading contemporary women authors!

In addition to what I had listed in my intro, here's what I've read from the lists since:

  • Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Small Island
  • Unless
  • The Blind Assassin
  • The Gathering
My projected list for July is full of amazing-sounding books:

  • The Girls
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • The Idea of Perfection
  • The Tenderness of Wolves
  • The Namesake
  • What I Loved
  • Property
  • The History of Love
  • Amy and Isabelle
  • When the Emperor Was Divine
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian
Come on July!!!!


Sunday, June 15, 2008

An Orange July

Throughout July, several of my LibraryThing friends and I have committed to reading books that have won, or were short- or long-listed for the Orange Prize. If you're like me, several "Orange" books grace my bookshelves, and I have found many of these books to be insightful, provocative and enjoyable reads.

I would like to extend an invitation to my fellow Orange Prize Project participants to join me in an Orange July. This personal challenge is exactly that - you determine the rules, how many books you want to read, whether you want to post reviews - whatever works for you.

For my Orange July, I am not setting a minimum number of books to read. Instead, I plan on reading my Orange books in the following order and see where I end up when July ends:

1) Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007 winner)
2) The Gathering by Anne Enright (2008 Long List)
3) Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1997 Long List)
4) Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2004 Short List)
5) The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2007 Short List)
6) The Keep by Jennifer Egan (2008 Long List)
7) The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (2004 Long List)
8) We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2005 winner)
9) The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (2007 Long List)
10) Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2003 Long List)

Come out and play! Please consider enjoying an Orange July with me!


(cross-posted from my blog)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Property by Valerie Martin (Jill's review)

Property
By Valerie Martin
Completed June 8, 2008


“And how did he earn your enmity?”

“Well, let me think,” I said. “Would the fact that the servant I brought to the marriage has borne him a son, and that this creature is allowed to run loose in the house like a wild animal, would that be, in your view, sufficient cause for a wife to despise her husband?”

He shrugged. “Mrs. Gaudet, there are many such cases. This cannot be unknown to you.”

“That is precisely my grievance,” I explained. “That it is common.” (page 38)


What is property? Is it a tangible thing you own? Or could it be something else – a spirit, a soul, a sense of freedom? In her Orange Prize-winning novel, Property, Valerie Martin explored the essence of property, ownership and freedom, using slavery and antebellum marriage to examine these themes.

Manon Gaudet is a young wife in a loveless marriage to a bankrupt, cruel planter in 1828 Louisiana. As a wedding gift, Manon’s aunt gave her a young slave, Sarah, to accompany Manon to her new plantation home. Because of conventional marriage customs and rights of slavery, both women, in essence, become property to the same man. Sarah soon bore a son to Manon’s husband while Manon never reproduced. As time progressed, Manon’s hatred for her husband only equaled her disdain for her slave. She secretly wished for her husband’s death to free her from this entrapment.

Several things struck me as compelling in this book. First, Martin portrayed a historic look into the slave-holding South. It was not a time of wine and roses; times were harsh, the slavery system was immoral, and white and black Southerners lived in fear of each other. Each page of Property stayed true to these details.

Secondly, the relationship between Manon and Sarah was far from a sisterly one. While they were bound together by the same problem – ownership by the same man – they did not seek comfort from each other against their common plight. Furthermore, they did not see each other as rivals because they did not yearn for the man’s attention. Instead, they hated each other – perhaps because each was a reminder of the life in which each woman was forced to live.

Intelligent, engaging, historical and rivoting - Property kept me at the edge of my seat, and I completed this book in two sittings. Admittedly, if you put a hoop skirt on the main character, it usually captures my attention. However, this book provided so much more than hoop skirts – it was a gritty story about the power and destruction of when one human tries to control another. This is a must-read for readers who enjoy antebellum Southern fiction, women’s studies and stories about slavery. I will certainly be looking for more books by this gifted storyteller. ( )

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

3M's Progress

Wow, I've only read five winners or shortlist titles! I plan on reading the titles in blue in 2009. The books I've read previously are highlighted in orange with links to reviews. I've updated my list to include the 'extra credit' longlist titles, of which I've read only six. I already own the bold titles.

The Orange Prize for Fiction

2008
Winner:
Rose Tremain The Road Home

Shortlist:
Nancy Huston Fault Lines
Sadie Jones The Outcast
Charlotte Mendelson When We Were Bad
Heather O’Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Patricia Wood Lottery

Longlist:
Anita Amirrezvani The Blood of Flowers
Stella Duffy The Room of Lost Things
Jennifer Egan The Keep
Anne Enright The Gathering (rating: 4; review)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Tessa Hadley The Master Bedroom
Gail Jones Sorry
Lauren Liebenberg The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam
Deborah Moggach In The Dark
Anita Nair Mistress
Elif Shafak The Bastard of Istanbul
Dalia Sofer The Septembers of Shiraz
Scarlett Thomas The End of Mr Y
Carol Topolski Monster Love

2007
Winner:
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (rating: 4.5; review)

Shortlist:
Arlington Park, by Rachel Cusk
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (rating: 3; review)
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo
The Observations, by Jane Harris
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler

Longlist:
Poppy Shakespeare, by Clare Allan
Peripheral Vision, by Patricia Ferguson
Over, by Margaret Forster
The Dissident, by Nell Freudenberger
When to Walk, by Rebecca Gowers
Carry Me Down, by MJ Hyland
The Girls, by Lori Lansens
Alligator, by Lisa Moore
What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn
The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney
Careless, by Deborah Robertson
Afterwards, by Rachel Seiffert
Ten Days in the Hills, by Jane Smiley
The Housekeeper, by Melanie Wallace

2006
Winner:
On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

Shortlist:
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel
The Accidental, by Ali Smith
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, by Carrie Tiffany
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters

Longlist:
Minaret, by Leila Aboulela
Harbor, by Lorraine Adams
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
Watch Me Disappear, by Jill Dawson
House of Orphans, by Helen Dunmore
The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory
White Ghost Girls, by Alice Greenway
Dreams of Speaking, by Gail Jones
Lost in the Forest, by Sue Miller
Rape: A Love Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (rating: 5)
Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
Frangipani, by Celestine Hitiura Vaite
The Position, by Meg Wolitzer

2005
Winner:
We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

Shortlist:
Old Filth, by Jane Gardam
The Mammoth Cheese, by Sheri Holman
Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka

Longlist:
Away From You, by Melanie Finn
Black Dirt, by Nell Leyshon
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson (rating: 3.5)
Escape Routes for Beginners, by Kira Cochrane
The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates
It So Happens, by Patricia Ferguson
The Mysteries of Glass, by Sue Gee
Nelson's Daughter, by Miranda Hearn
The Remedy, by Michele Lovric
The River, by Tricia Wastvedt
The Great Stink, by Clare Clark
Tatty, by Christine Dwyer Hickey
The Zigzag Way, by Anita Desai
Ursula, Under, by Ingrid Hill

2004
Winner:
Small Island, by Andrea Levy

Shortlist:
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ice Road, by Gillian Slovo
The Colour, by Rose Tremain

Longlist:
Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
The Sari Shop, by Rupa Bajwa
Kith and Kin, by Stevie Davies
State of Happiness, by Stella Duffy
The Flood, by Maggie Gee
The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah Hall
Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Visit from Voltaire, by Dinah Lee Kung
Gilgamesh, by Joan London
The Internationals, by Sarah May
Love, by Toni Morrison
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger (rating: 4)
The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler (rating: 4)


2003
Winner:
Property, by Valerie Martin

Shortlist:
Buddha Da, by Anne Donovan
Heligoland, by Shena Mackay
Unless, by Carol Shields
The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith
The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

Longlist:
Special, by Bella Bathhurst
Caramelo, by Sandra Cisneros
English Correspondence, by Janet Davey
Dot in the Universe, by Lucy Ellmann
What the Birds See, by Sonya Hartnett
What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt
War Crimes for the Home, by Liz Jensen
The Solace of Leaving Early, by Haven Kimmel
In the Forest, by Edna O'Brien
Fox Girl, by Okja Keller
When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka
Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh
Water Street, by Crystal Wilkinson

2002
Winner:
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

Shortlist:
No Bones, by Anna Burns
The Siege, by Helen Dunmore
The White Family, by Maggie Gee
A Child's Book of True Crime, by Chloe Hooper
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

Longlist:
Pop, by Kitty Aldridge
A True Story Based on Lies, by Jennifer Clement
Now You See Me, by Lesley Glaister
The Element of Water, by Stevie Davies
Five Quarters of an Orange, by Joanne Harris
Niagara Falls All Over Again, by Elizabeth McCracken
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk (rating: 4.5)
Middle Ages, by Joyce Carol Oates
The Story of My Face, by Kathy Page
Crawling at Night, by Nani Power
La Cucina, by Lily Prior
The Hero's Walk, by Anita Rau Badami
Sister Crazy, by Emma Richler
The Dark Room, by Rachel Seiffert

2001
Winner:
The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville

Shortlist:
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood (rating 3.5; review)
Fred & Edie, by Jill Dawson
Hotel World, by Ali Smith
Homestead, by Rosina Lippi
Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley

Longlist:
The Hiding Place, by Trezza Azzopardi
In the Blue House, by Meaghan Delahunt
The Last Samurai, by Helen Dewitt
Fish, Blood & Bone, by Leslie Forbes
The Wild, by Esther Freud
Dog Days, Glenn Miller Nights, by Laurie Graham
Nowhere Else on Earth, by Josephine Humphreys
Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund
From Caucasia, with Love, by Danzy Senna
The Bonesetter's Daughter, by Amy Tan
The PowerBook, by Jeanette Winterson
MotherKind, by Jayne Ann Phillips

2000
Winner:
When I Lived in Modern Times, by Linda Grant

Shortlist:
If I Told You Once, by Judy Budnitz
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
The Dancers Dancing, by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

Longlist:
The Translator, by Leila Aboulela (rating: 4)
Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
Fasting, Feasting, by Anita Desai
A Dangerous Vine, by Barbara Ewing
Danny Boy, by Jo-Ann Goodwin
A Sin of Colour, by Sunetra Gupt
Born Free, by Laura Hird
Everything You Need, by A.L. Kennedy
The Hunter, by Julia Leigh
Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott
Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, by Gina B. Nahai
Island, by Jane Rogers
Last Chance Texaco, by Christine Pountney
What the Body Remembers, by Shauna Singh Baldwin


1999
Winner:
A Crime in the Neighborhood, by Suzanne Berne

Shortlist:
The Short History of a Prince, by Jane Hamilton
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Paradise, by Toni Morrison
The Leper's Companions, by Julia Blackburn
Visible Worlds, by Marilyn Bowering

Longlist:
Master Georgie, by Beryl Bainbridge
The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett
In A Fishbone Church, by Catherine Chidgey
Crocodile Soup, by Julia Darling
Restitution, by Maureen Duffy
Trumpet, by Jackie Kay
Comfort Woman, by Nora Okja Keller
Buxton Spice, by Oonya Kempadoo
The Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox
Marchlands, by Karla Kuban
The Giant O'Brien, by Hilary Mantel
The Most Wanted, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A History of Silence, by Barbara Neil
Evening News, by Marly Swick


1998
Winner:
Larry's Party, by Carol Shield

Shortlist:
Lives of the Monster Dogs, by Kirsten Bakis
The Ventriloquist's Tale, by Pauline Melville
The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett
Love Like Hate Adore, by Deirdre Purcell
The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve

Longlist:
Bitter Grounds, by Sandra Benitez
Man or Mango? by Lucy Ellmann
Gaglow, by Esther Freud
The Aguero Sisters, by Cristina Garcia
The House Gun, by Nadine Gordimer
The Breaking, by Kathryn Heyman
Round Rock, by Michelle Huneven
Ark Baby, by Liz Jensen
Undiscovered Country, by Christina Koning
The Orchard, by Drusilla Modjeska
Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen
Impossible Saints, by Michele Roberts
The Underpainter, by Jane Urquhart
Baby Love, by Louis Young

1997
Winner:
Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels

Shortlist:
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
One by One in the Darkness, by Deirdre Madden
Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx
Hen's Teeth, by Manda Scott
I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn


Longlist:
Every Man For Himself, by Beryl Bainbridge
Death Comes for Peter Pan, by Joan Brady
The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion
The Cast Iron Shore, by Linda Grant
The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, by Siri Hustvedt
The Autobiography of My Mother, by Jamaica Kincaid
With Child, by Laurie R. King
Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
All the Blood is Red, by Leone Ross
Red Leaves, by Paulina Simons
Anita and Me, by Meera Syal
Gut Symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson
The Frequency of Souls, by Mary Kay Zuravleff

1996
Winner:
A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore

Shortlist:
The Book of Colour, by Julia Blackburn
Spinsters, by Pagan Kennedy
The Hundred Secret Senses, by Amy Tan
Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler
Eveless Eden, by Marianne Wiggins

Longlist:
The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker
Official and Doubtful, by Ajay Close
The Rape of Sita, by Lindsey Collen
Keeping Up with Magda, by Isla Dewar
The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Private Parts of Women, by Lesley Glaister
The Passion of Alice, by Stephanie Grant
Egg Dancing, by Liz Jensen
So I Am Glad, by A.L. Kennedy
Never Far From Nowhere, by Andrea Levy
Mother of Pearl, by Mary Morrissy
Promised Lands, by Jane Rogers
River Lines, by Elspeth Sandys

Orange Prize for New Writers

2008
Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna - WINNER
The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg

2007

The Lizard Cage, by Karen Connelly - WINNER
Poppy Shakespeare, by Clare Allan
Bitter Sweets, by Roopa Farooki

2006
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman - WINNER
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyun Li
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin

2005
26a, by Diana Evans - WINNER
Lucky Girls, by Nell Freudenberger
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff