Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2011 Long List Announced!

The Orange Prize committee has announced the 2011 Long List:
  • Lyrics Alley, by Leila Aboulela
  • Jamrach's Menagerie, by Carol Birch
  • Room, by Emma Donoghue
  • The Pleasure Seekers, by Tishani Doshi
  • Whatever You Love, by Louise Doughty
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
  • The Memory of Love, by Aminatta Forna
  • The London Train, by Tessa Hadley
  • Grace Williams Says it Loud, by Emma Henderson
  • The Seas, by Samantha Hunt
  • The Birth of Love, by Joanna Kavenna
  • Great House, by Nicole Krauss
  • The Road to Wanting, by Wendy Law-Yone
  • The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
  • The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer
  • Repeat it Today with Tears, by Anne Peile
  • Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives, by Lola Shoneyin
  • The Swimmer, by Roma Tearne
  • Annabel, by Kathleen Winter
Which ones do you think will make the short list? Announcement for that on 12 April 2011

Nickelini's Review -- The Underpainter

From my Orange July 2010 comments:

Rating: 4/5 stars

Comments:The narrator, Austin Fraser, is a successful painter from New York who is in his old age, reflecting back on his life. He is emotionally stunted and has suppressed commitment and genuine friendship his whole life. I've known selfish artist types like him, and so I had no sympathy for the character. However, the people who's lives he messed with--namely Augusta, George & Sara--were very interesting and likable, and their stories made up most of the book. Their stories traverse from New York to the north shores of Lake Superior and Lake Ontario, and over to the WWI battlefields of France.

A  LibraryThing friend with similar tastes as mine gave up on this book in the first 100 pages, and I can see her point. It got off to a slow start. But Urquhart is a beautiful writer, and I saw glimmers of promise so I persevered, and was rewarded for my patience. Urquhart is one of those poetic, atmospheric writers that are a treat for the senses.

Recommended for: readers of literary fiction who are in the mood for a somewhat chilly, distracted, meandering journey.

Why I Read This Now: Although I loved two other Urquhart novels that I've read, and this book has been in my TBR pile for years, I was just never interested in this one. But it's Orange prize July, and I needed to go on a couple of flights, and this was one of the lighter Orange prize books I own, and the first page grabbed me . . . and there you have it.

Nickelini's Review -- Fault Lines

My comments from Orange July 2010:

Comments: This compelling read is the story of four generations of a family, told in reverse order by the characters as six year olds. The book starts out with the off-the-scales obnoxious Californian, Sol, then jumps back to his father living in 1980s Israel, his grandmother in Toronto and New York City in the early '60s, and finally, his great-grandmother in WWII Germany. I found this book un-put-downable from the first page.

Other reviewers have pointed out its flaws, and there are many. None of the characters actually sounds like a six-year old. Twelve, at the youngest. There is a lot of political agenda crammed into their young minds. And they aren't even every likable, either. The historical detail is pretty sloppy--something that usually drives me crazy. Somehow none of these problems especially bothered me, and I just enjoyed the ride.

Recommended for: readers who are looking for a good read and can forgive its flaws (and handle some politics that rub against US conservatism).

Rating: 4/5 stars

Why I Read This Now: it was the Orange prize book calling loudest from Mnt. TBR.

Nickelini's Review -- The Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

My comments from Orange July 2010:

Comments: I bought this book after hearing so many positive, interesting comments about it. But then I started hearing negative comments--and from people who I usually agreed with. Yikes! But I gave the book a try anyway, and was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the main character Z gets herself into a relationship with a man that no sane woman would touch with a proverbial 10-foot pole. Yes, she is waaaaay too fixated on men and sex, and acts toward this part of her life in what seems to me a very unrealistic manner. But . . .

I really liked how the novel was structured by months, and then by dictionary words and definitions within each month. I liked how you could follow her progress as her English skills developed. I really liked the cultural comparisons between China and the west, and how she showed strengths and weaknesses of both. The other really strong point of this novel was the Z's voice. Not her cutesy mistakes, but her actual Chinese English. Living in Vancouver I've always gone to school and worked with many Chinese people. Most books that attempt to capture the Chinese voice utterly fail, in my opinion. It usually comes off sounding like something out of a bad Hollywood sitcom. In this novel, Z sounded authentically Chinese, and not just like someone playing Chinese.

Rating: Right now, I'm giving it 4 stars for capturing the language right and for the cultural observations. I might decide to knock back half a star if I think about it and the silly storyline irritates me.

Recommended for: readers who are looking for something different and enjoy cultural observations in their fiction reading.

Why I Read This Now: it was the Orange prize book that fell into my lap.

Nickelini's Review - The Girls

 My comments from Orange July 2010

Comments: When this book was published I put it right on to my wish list--the premise of the story of conjoined twins sounded so interesting. I finally got around to reading it and I have to say it really wasn't for me after all. I don't know why I didn't like it--I think maybe it was the two narrator's voices. And there were some annoying elements--like the whole thing to do with the grandmother's ashes. And it was really sad in parts. Still, I managed to get through the whole 455 pages, so it wasn't awful.

Why I Read This Now: It was my last Orange July book.

Recommended for: well, I don't recommend it, but I know a lot of other readers liked it, so don't let me stop you from reading it.

Rating: 3/5

Nickelini's Review - Ghost Road

I read Pat Barker's Ghost Road last November as part of a WWI theme-read. It is the third book in a trilogy, and although the book stands alone, I think it is best when read along with the other books. This novel also won the Booker Prize. Here are the comments I wrote when I finished it.

Rating: 4/5

Comments: I think this one is probably the best-written of the Regeneration trilogy--I think the symbolism was particularly sharp. Interesting story, and I think it would stand on its own, but I'm glad that I read the other two books first. I suspect the Booker Prize was really for the whole series and not just this one book. I know some readers didn't like the sections where Rivers remembers Melanesia, but I didn't mind them--possibly because I've been there and think Barker captured it quite well.

Recommended for: Obviously anyone who has read the earlier two books, but also anyone who likes war stories that are different from the usual.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nickelini's Review -- The Blind Assassin

My second Orange January 2011 was another example of outstanding CanLit: The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. This is a book that I look forward to rereading sometime in the future. After I read it, this is what I had to say:

Rating: 4/5 stars


After an unavoidable distraction, I was able to return to The Blind Assassin. I finished it this morning. I love the nested stories (as someone wrote somewhere, the stories within the story are like a set of Russian dolls). I also liked how Atwood slowly revealed little details that twisted the story.

I just realized that this is my 11th Atwood book, and the final one from the original 1001 list. There are a couple I liked better, but this one was very, very good indeed.

Recommended for: I can see how this book isn't to everyone's tastes, but if you're looking for an interesting and meandering book to get lost in for a while, give this one a try.

Why I Read This Now: There were 6 Atwood books in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and I've been reading one a year. This was the last. I read it this month for Orange January because it was also an Orange finalist. Of course!

Nickelini's Review -- Lullabies for Little Criminals

Here it is, already March 2011, and our Orange January is far behind us. I read two Orange books this year: The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood and Lullabies for Little Criminals, by Heather O'Neill. I'm finally here to post my reviews of these wonderful books. Better late than never?

Last year I stumbled upon a copy of the audiobook of Lullabies for Little Criminals for twenty-five cents. I knew nothing about it--didn't even know it was an Orange book--but at that price, there wasn't any risk. Well! Was I ever in for a treat when I got to it. Here's what I had to say back in January:

Rating: 5 stars!

Comments: I picked this audiobook without knowing anything at all about it, so it was all a surprise to me. Now, a few days later, I have no doubt that this tragicomic book will make my top 5 list for 2011. I listened to this audiobook, and then right out and bought a paper copy. I have ordered copies for a couple of people in my family who I think will also really like it. It’s that good.

The narrator of Lullabies for Little Criminals seems to be an adult retelling the events following her twelfth birthday. Her fifteen year old parents labeled her with the unfortunate name of Baby, which was meant to be ironic and she was told that it meant she was “cool and gorgeous.” Her mom died while she was a baby, and she had been raised by her childlike, dysfunctional heroin addicted father, Jules in a series of seedy hotels in Montreal. For the first part of the book, I found Baby’s voice utterly charming and rather funny. However, as the story progressed and Baby’s life spiraled out of control, I realized that this book was significantly more serious than I had originally expected. Baby’s voice, however, remained constant throughout—poetic, keenly observant, beautifully sad and vivid, both wry and winsome at the same time. Baby is smitten with low-lifes and bohemians, and this book is full of them—guidance from healthy adults is sorely missing.

O’Neill is shrewdly accurate in capturing the dialogue of this culture. The reader of this audiobook, Miriam McDonald, captured the tone perfectly. The author gives us a view of the gritty side of Montreal seen through the eyes of a twelve-year old, full of her innocence and imagination. Beyond that, the writing was a delight to both hear and read. I just didn’t want this book to end, which is unusual for me. Unfortunately for us, thus far Lullabies is O’Neill’s only novel.

Recommended for: While I widely recommend this book, it isn’t for every reader, despite winning the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2007. Readers who are highly sensitive to swearing will quickly be turned off. The bad language, however, is not gratuitous, but an accurate portrayal of the language of her world. Further, the book dives deep into the nasty side of life, including drug addictions and child prostitution. But unless you’re extremely squeamish about these topics, I urge you to give this book a try.

Lullabies for Little Criminals was nominated for the Orange Prize, Governor General's Award, IMPAC Dublin Literary award, and a whole slew of other prizes.