Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Second Unread Authors Challenge

Behold! The Second Unread Authors Challenge is upon us!

Last year I ran this challenge from September to February, and the premise was this: almost all of us have authors who we have long meant to read, but somehow never gotten around to. Perhaps you have always been intrigued but intimidated by their work. Perhaps "required reading" and your favorite authors have taken up most of your time. Perhaps they have been sitting on your shelves for years, continually trumped by new fascinations. Well, now is their time.

The rules:
  1. The challenge will run from August 1, 2008 to January 31, 2009. You may join at any time before or during those six months.
  2. During those six months, read at least SIX books by an author whose work you have never read before.
  3. You may choose six different "unread" authors to introduce yourself to, or you may choose just one or two and explore their work in greater depth.
  4. Authors may be drawn from any genre of literature. The only requirement is that they be authors whose work you substantially regret not having read yet.
  5. Your choices may overlap with other challenges you have underway.
To join the challenge:
  1. Make your list of at least six unread authors or works.
  2. Write a comment in response to this post expressing your immense, irrepressible desire to join the Unread Authors Challenge. If you have a blog, include a link to the entry in which you lay out your challenge goals. (Be sure to link to the specific entry, rather than to the blog as a whole, for the ease of those who want to view your choices.) If you don't have a blog, type out your list in the comment.
  3. If you would like to join the Unread Authors Blog (which will allow you to post copies of your list and any reviews you write directly to the blog), and you are not already a member, include an email address. I suggest using the format "email AT email DOT com" to avoid evil bots who seek out your email address for their own nefarious purposes. I will then send an invitation to join the blog's authorship to that email address.
Feel free to browse the entries below from last year's challenge participants for inspiration. Enjoy your flirtations with the new and long-ignored!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book #5!

Jonathan Stroud. The Amulet of Samarkand
Date read: 1/30/2009
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Fantasy

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this fantasy featuring the djinii Bartimaeus. I liked his footnote asides and his trying to fulfill his missions without getting caught. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Golem's Eye.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson - Wendy's Review

We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July. Three years earlier the Germans had left, but I can’t remember that we talked about them any longer. At least my father did not. He never said anything about the war. - from Out Stealing Horses, page 15 -

In his sixty-seventh year, Trond Sander purchases a house in the Norwegian countryside and seeks the solitude and silence for which he longs.

All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. - from Out Stealing Horses, page 5 -

Trond’s only company is a dog named Lyra and an older man who lives in a cabin near the river not too far from Trond’s home. There in the desolate and beautiful wilderness and as he gets to know his neighbor, Trond begins to remember the summer of 1948 when he was fifteen years old and on the cusp of becoming a man. It is these memories which drive the novel forward - a slow unraveling of one fateful summer where everything changed. As Trond reveals the multiple layers of his past, he comes to grips with his present and begins to gain an understanding of the man he has become.

Out Stealing Horses is in part about a boy’s relationship with his father which is both touching and compelling. Trond’s father is a complex man with a mysterious past - a man who worked for the Norwegian underground during the Nazi occupation, and who has formed connections which the young Trond is just beginning to understand.

Of course I had my father, but it was not the same. He was a grown man with a secret life behind the one that I knew about, and maybe even one behind that, and I no longer knew I could trust him. - from Out Stealing Horses, page 174 -

Petterson seamlessly moves between the past and present, gradually revealing each character and putting together the pieces of Trond’s life. This is a novel rich with emotion, one that explores pain, betrayal, identity, and loss. The language of the novel is evocative, simple and luminous.

I was mesmerized by this book. Seemingly a simple tale, it later reveals itself to be a complex study of grief and loss. This is not a book to be read quickly, but one which should be savored.

Highly recommended.


Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain - Wendy's Review

He remembers now how his dreams for Frederiksborg preoccupied him. He remembers how, in a single night, he understood that the architecture must strive for order and unity, and proceed in a gradual way, like a piece of music, across the linked islands, towards a climactic structure, and how, at dawn, he woke his Dutch architect, Hans Steenwinckel, and showed him a flurry of drawings. “Hans,” he said, “we must respect what the land is telling us. The logical axis, the logical progression of the buildings, is towards the north, and so this is where the climax must arrive. This is the place that the King must occupy. Beyond it, there must be nothing else; only the light on the water, the diminuendo and then silence…” -From Music and Silence, page 259-

King Christian IV was the King of both Denmark and Norway from 1588 until his death in 1648. Known as a reformer, King Christian IV implemented a series of domestic reforms, built new fortresses, and initiated a policy of overseas trade during his nearly 60 years as Monarch. The year 1629 ushered in a period of financial distress, and domestic unhappiness when the King discovered his second wife - Kirsten Munk - was sustaining an extramarital affair with a German officer. King Christian IV ultimately expelled Kirsten from Copenhagen to live out her days in Jutland - the western, continental part of Denmark which separates the North Sea from the Kattegat and Baltic Sea.

It is this part of King Christian IV’s reign (1629 - 1630) which serves as the backdrop to Rose Tremain’s Whitbread/Costa Award winning novel Music and Silence. This lush story is told from multiple points of view. The manipulative and seductive Kirsten Munk is introduced through her journal entries.

Well, for my thirtieth birthday I have been given a new Looking glass which I thought I would adore. I thought I would dote upon this new Glass of mine. But there is an error in it, an undoubted fault in its silvering, so that the wicked object makes me look fat. I have sent for a hammer. -From Music and Silence, page 7-

Her self-centered musings create a character who is perhaps one of the most intriguing villains in literature…one who is blackly humorous, yet ultimately sad.

The reader also meets Peter Claire - an English lutenist who arrives in Denmark to become part of the royal orchestra - only to become smitten with Kirsten’s female companion Emilia. Throughout the narrative, Tremain intersperses the life of the King in his youth (and his friendship with Bror Brorson which haunts him), with his dreams, turmoils and fears of adulthood.

In Tremain’s competent hands, this historical novel becomes a symphony of romantic twists and turns, and a saga which encompasses all the excesses and political intrigue of royal life in seventeenth century Europe. Tremain explores such complex themes as order vs. chaos, love vs. hate, dreams vs. reality, and betrayal vs. loyalty - all through the metaphor of music and silence. The novel’s thematic elements are connected beautifully to setting, as when King Christian journeys to Norway to spearhead the development of a silver mine during the harsh winter months. He gazes at a waterfall - the Isfoss - which has frozen solid, and imagines the tiny crystals of ice forming in the roaring water.

They acquire thickness, length and weight. The water is transparent clay, moulding them, layer upon layer, and as the layers accumulate, the roar of the river has become muffled. The human ear has to strain to hear it. And then, in the space of a single night, it falls silent. -From Music and Silence, page 107-

It is the beauty of these kinds of images which transform Tremain’s novel from an historical piece of fiction into an extraordinary work of literature. Music and Silence is exceptionally wrought - a delicious tale which I highly recommend.

Wendy's PART II Challenge List and Wrap Up Post


Many thanks to Ariel for hosting this fun challenge. I ended up reading a total of 9 books from 6 different authors. By far, my favorite authors from this challenge are Per Petterson, Kate Grenville, Rose Tremain, and Daphne du Maurier…all authors I will visit again in my reading!


Here are the authors I read:

  1. Per Petterson (COMPLETED Out Stealing Horses January 6, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review)
  2. Pat Barker (COMPLETED the WWI Trilogy consisting of Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road - December 25, 2008. Click on the titles to read my reviews and see my ratings)
  3. Kate Grenville (COMPLETED The Secret River October 13, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  4. Rose Tremain (COMPLETED The Colour August 25, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review; COMPLETED Music and Silence October 10, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. Daphne Du Maurier (COMPLETED Rebecca November 7, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review)
  6. Alice Munro (COMPLETED The View From Castle Rock September 26, 2008; rated 4/5; read my review)

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker - Wendy's Review

Hallet was lying on his back, hands clasped behind his head, nothing much visible from Prior’s angle except his chin. How appallingly random it all was. If Hallet’s father had got a gleam in his eye two years later than he did, Hallet wouldn’t be here. he might even have missed the war altogether, perhaps spent the rest of his life goaded by the irrational shame of having escaped. ‘Cowed subjection to the ghosts of friends who died.’ That was it exactly, couldn’t be better put. Ghosts everywhere. Even the living were only ghosts in the making. - From The Ghost Road, page 46 -

The Ghost Road is the third and final book in Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy - and it is by far the best of the series. The novel takes place in the waning months of the war and continues the story of Billy Prior who has returned to the front lines in France along with Wilfrid Owen (who previously spent time with Prior at Craiglockhart recovering from a breakdown). Neither man believes in the war, but are there out of duty to fight side by side with their comrades in arms. Psychiatrist Dr. Rivers continues to play a prominent role in this novel, seemingly safe from the war at his post in a London hospital. Dr. River’s memories of a time spent studying headhunters in the South Pacific run parallel to Billy’s story.

Barker weaves these two story lines together, deftly showing a culture of death and war amongst the South Pacific tribe linked to the mentality of modern society which supports the war in France.

Head-hunting had to be banned, and yet the effects of banning it were everywhere apparent in the listlessness and lethargy of the people’s lives. Head-hunting was what they had lived for. Though it might seem callous or frivolous to say so, head-hunting had been the most tremendous fun and without it life lost almost all its zest. This was a people perishing from the absence of war. - from The Ghost Road, page 207 -

Barker’s prose is harsh yet poetic - a ying and yang style which draws the reader into the lives of the characters.

The roar of the approaching train startled the birds. They rose as one, streaming out from under the glass roof in a great flapping and beating of wings, wheeling, banking, swooping, turning, a black wave against the smoke-filled sky. Prior and Sarah watched, open-mouthd, drunk on the sight of so much freedom, their linked hands slackening, able, finally, to think of nothing, as the train steamed in. -from The Ghost Road, page 85 -

Billy Prior is a largely unlikeable character with his gritty, sardonic view of life - and yet he becomes a sympathetic symbol of all that is wrong with war. And as the reader turns the final pages, it is with the conviction that war is not worth it.

The Ghost Road is a simply wrought, yet beautifully constructed anti-war novel which is graphic and disturbing. Barker spares her reader nothing and shows the violent nature of human beings in the depiction of loveless sex and ruthless battles. This novel - which won the 1995 Booker Prize - should be read as part of the larger trilogy to gain its full impact.

Highly recommended with a caution that some readers may be offended by violence, graphic sexual scenes and realistic language.


The Eye in the Door, by Pat Barker - Wendy's Review

It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognize the thoroug and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both…

- from The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by R.L. Stevenson -

The second novel in Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy - The Eye in the Door - is all about duality. Set in the spring of 1918 with Britain fearing defeat at the hands of Germany, the book centers around the British government’s effort to find scapegoats to blame in the guise of pacifists and homosexuals. Barker uses the historic trial of Maud Allan vs. Pemberton Billing as the central event around which the plot weaves. The trial was a sham of sorts - with the lead Justice losing control over the court and the star defense witness for Billing being Harold Spencer - a lunatic who was obsessed with ‘women who had hypertrophied and diseased clitorises, and therefore could be satisfied only by bull elephants.

Do you know we actually sat in dug-outs in France and talked about that trial? The papers were full of it, I think it was the one thing that could have made me glad I was out there, I mean, for God’s sake, the Germans on the Marne, five thousand prisoners taken and all you read in the papers is who’s going to bed with whom and are they being blackmailed? God. - from The Eye in the Door, page 221-

In this second novel, Barker brings back Billy Prior who is working for the Ministry of Munitions (having been unable to return to the fighting in France due to uncontrolled asthma). Billy’s role of government “spy” to uncover pacifists and homosexuals conflicts with his own confused identity - he has a girlfriend, but engages in homosexual relationships. In addition to Billy, Siegfried Sassoon (a poet and war hero) and Dr. Rivers (noted psychiatrist) also make a return to the pages of this sequel.

Thematically, Barker focuses on the paranoia rampant in British society during this time in history. The notion of duality is played out for each character - with Billy having unexplained blackouts where his alter ego carries on without his input; as well as the disassociation of Sassoon’s personality (pacifist vs. military officer).

Siegfried had always coped with the war by being two people: the anti-war poet and pacifist; the bloodthirsty, efficient company commander. - from The Eye in the Door, page 233 -

Even Dr. Rivers suffers from a conflict with the two sides of his personality and begins to question whether the integration of self is advisable.

Perhaps, contrary to what was usually supposed, duality was the stable state; the attempt at integration, dangerous. - from The Eye in the Door, page 235 -

The Eye in the Door is a complex, psychological novel about the impact of war on the minds of soldiers. But it also goes deeper to explore the idea of the dual nature of an individual. This is a dark novel which can be dry and difficult to read at times. Barker’s writing is good, her characters are complicated…and yet I felt myself drifting at times.

For those readers who enjoy historical fiction which is also deeply philosophical, this is a novel worth reading. I should also add a cautionary note that there is some graphic sex described in the novel which may be offensive to some readers.


Regeneration, Pat Barker - Wendy's Review

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. - from A Soldier’s Declaration by S. Sassoon, July 1917 -

Regeneration is the first book in Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy. Siegfried Sasson was an historical figure, a noted poet and decorated war hero who penned the Soldier’s Declaration - a refusal to continue serving as a British officer based on the moral grounds that the war was a misguided effort contributing to the senseless slaughter of men. Spared a court martial, Sassoon was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland where the famous psychiatrist Dr. William Rivers was assigned the task of “curing” him from insanity in order to send him back to France and the front line.

The novel, however, is less about Sassoon and more about the psychological effects of war. Barker shows us the shell-shocked and mentally damaged patients through the eyes (mostly) of Dr. Rivers. Billy Prior arrives at the hospital unable to speak. A young soldier by the name of Burns is so traumatized by his experiences he is unable to eat without vomiting. The reader meets yet another soldier who is “paralyzed” even though his spinal cord is physically undamaged. In sensitively revealing the psychic injuries of the characters, Barker asks the essential question: Is war worth the toll it takes on those who sacrifice for it? Even Rivers, who is tasked with restoring men to duty, begins to question the morality of war.

His body felt like a stone. Rivers got hold of him and held him, coaxing, rocking. He looked up at the tower that loomed squat and menacing above them, and thought, Nothing justifies this. Nothing nothing nothing. - from Regeneration, page 180 -

Pat Barker’s strength is in revealing the emotions of her characters without being maudlin. Often she employs dialogue between doctor and patient to reveal the the horror of war and its impact.

‘You wait, you try to calm down anybody who’s obviously shitting himself or on the verge of throwing up. you hope you won’t do either of those things yourself. Then you start the count down: ten, nine, eight…so on. You blow the whistle. You climb the ladder. Then you double through a gap in the wire, lie flat, wait for everybody else to get out - those that are left, there’s already quite a heavy toll - and then you stand up. And you start walking. Not at the double. Normal walking speed. ‘ Prior started to smile. ‘In a straight line. Across open country. In broad daylight. Towards a line of machine guns.’ - from Regeneration, page 78 -

Regeneration is a war novel which is set not on the battlefield, but inside the minds of its characters - many of whom are historical figures. I found it to be a slow start - it is a drama that slowly reels the reader into the story. Regeneration is written with compassion and a subtle tension which reveals a sometimes barbaric and disturbing period in the history of psychiatry. Barker writes with honesty and has created a novel which pricks at the conscience.

Regeneration was long-listed for the Booker Prize in 1991.

Recommended for those readers interested in historical fiction, particularly during World War I. Those interested in psychology will also find this novel a fascinating character study.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book #4!

C. J. Westwick. Emerald Enigma
Date read: 10/19/2008
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Thriller

My thoughts:

This book was an engaging thriller with lots of twists and turns. I liked the sense of being in the thick of adventure with Bret and his friends, especially the scenes on the boat in Colombia.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rebecca - Wendy's Review

The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection. When I thought of Manderly in my waking hours I would not be bitter. I should think of it as it might have been, could I have lived there without fear. I should remember the rose-garden in summer, and the birds that sang at dawn. Tea under the chestnut tree, and the murmur of the sea coming up to us from the lawns below. -From Rebecca, page 4-

She was in the house still as Mrs. Danvers had said, she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall. Even in the little flower-room, where her mackintosh still hung. And in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage on the beach. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs. The servants obeyed her orders still, the food we ate was the food she liked. Her favourite flowers filled the rooms. Her clothes were in the wardrobes in her room, her brushes were on the table, her shoes beneath the chair, her nightdress on her bed. Rebecca was still the mistress of Manderley. -From Rebecca, page 237-

Dapne du Maurier published her gothic novel Rebecca in 1938 to wide popularity. Set on the English coast of Cornwell sometime in the 1920s, the novel centers around the isolated estate of Manderley. A young woman meets and quickly marries Maxim de Winter, a recent widower who is apparently struggling to get over the unexpected drowning death of his first wife, Rebecca. The second Mrs. de Winter (who is never identified by her Christian name) narrates the story. When she arrives at Manderley she is confronted by the mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death. She meets Mrs. Danvers - the weird and frightening housekeeper of Manderley:

Something, in the expression of her face, gave me a feeling of unrest, and even when she had stepped back, and taken her place amongst the rest, I could see that black figure standing out alone, individual and apart, and for all her silence I knew her eye to be upon me. -From Rebecca, page 68-

As the novel progresses, the secrets of the house and its former mistress are uncovered. Moody, beautifully atmospheric and filled with tension, du Maurier’s magnificent writing immerses the reader in a dark tale of love and hatred. Rebecca’s ghost hides in the shadows and hovers in the minds of all the characters, entwined in the corridors of Manderley.

Rebecca is the definitive gothic novel where the house becomes just as much a character as Max de Winter, Mrs. Danvers, the shifty Favell, and the servants who populate its many rooms. Spooky and convincingly rendered, it is a book which enchants from beginning to end.

Harper Collins has re-published this classic novel in a 2006 volume which includes a note from the Author, an essay by du Maurier whereby she describes the real Manderley, and the original Rebecca Epilogue…all of which add insight and interest into the writing of the book.

Rebecca is one of those novels which everyone should read at some point in his or her life. Highly recommended, especially for readers who love Gothic Fiction and classic literature.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Secret River, by Kate Grenville - Wendy's Review

They call this Broken Bay, Blackwood said. River comes in yonder. He pointed ahead, where Thornhill could see only confusing stretches of water and thickly forested headlands. Best hidden river in the world, Blackwood said with satisfaction. Never find your way in nor you’d been shown like I’m showing you.

Looking inland, where gusts of wind scraped at the water, Thornhill strained to find that secret river. -From The Secret River, page 100-

Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River was short listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Commonwealth Prize. Once you’ve read this harrowing and gorgeously constructed story, you will understand why.

Set in the early part of the nineteenth century, the novel tells the story of William Thornhill - a boy born into poverty along London’s Thames River who learns to steal early on to ensure his survival. Illiterate and quick to anger, William must learn to sustain himself in the face of hunger and cold. He finds his strength as a waterman, paddling hard against the unforgiving waters of the Thames, and turns away from towering spaces of Christ Church.

It was a place with no charity in its grey stones for a boy with the seat out of his britches.

He could not understand any of it, knew only that God was as foreign as a fish. -From The Secret River, page 10-

Then one day, Will gets caught stealing lumber. After a short trial, he is found guilty and sent to a penal colony (along with his young wife Sal and their infant son) in New South Wales. This new land is as beautiful as it is foreign.

For every one of the years of his life, this bay had been here, filling its shape in the land. He had laboured like a mole, head down, in the darkness and dirt of London, and all the time this tree shifting its leathery leaves above him had been quietly breathing, quietly growing. -From The Secret River, page 80-

For William, the vast and unsettled landscape of New South Wales becomes a place where he believes his dreams may grow.

A chaos opened up inside of him, a confusion of wanting. No one had ever spoken to him of how a man might fall in love with a piece of ground. No one had ever spoken of how there could be this teasing sparkle and dance of light among the trees, this calm clean space that invited feet to enter it. -From The Secret River, page 106-

As Will and his ever increasing family begin to scrape out a space of their own along the secret river, there seems to be only one thing standing between Will and his dreams: the native people.

Grenville shows the wide gap between English and Aboriginal cultures…and the tremendous misunderstanding fueled by an inability to adequately communicate. Her prose is magnificent as she describes the land of Australia and gradually builds the tension between the characters, before bringing the novel to its inevitable and devastating conclusion. I was completely absorbed by this historical piece of work which is evocative, poetic and pulsing with the life of a time far in the past. It is a novel which explores the moral wilderness of a man in parallel with the physical wilderness of a new country. It is a story about choices, dreams and sacrifice. A pioneer tale which translates well in today’s environment of cultural divides and racial differences, The Secret River is a must read.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Book #3!

Jennifer Traig. Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood
Date read: 8/30/2008
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Memoir

My thoughts:

Funny and poignant, this honest book about obsession, family and overdoing religious ritual made me both laugh and think.

Friday, October 3, 2008

2nd book!

A. A. Attanasio. Wyvern
Date read: 8/29/2008
Rating: 4*/5 = great
Genre: Adventure

My thoughts:

This was a beautifully written epic story about life, death, love and self-discovery as Jaki Gefjon struggles to unite the teachings of both the jungle and the sea. I especially liked Jaki's interactions with his mentors Jabalwan and later Captain Pym.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The View From Castle Rock, by Alice Munro - Wendy's Review

These are stories. You could say that such stories pay more attention to the truth of a life than fiction usually does. But not enough to swear on. And the part of this book that might be called family history has expanded into fiction, but always within the outline of a true narrative. With these developments the two streams came close enough together that they seemed to me meant to flow in one channel, as they do in this book. -From The View From Castle Rock, Introduction-

We can’t resist this rifling around in the past, sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking stray names and questionable dates and anecdotes together, hanging on to threads, insisting on being joined to dead people and therefore to life. -From The View From Castle Rock, Epilogue-

The View From Castle Rock is an interesting combination of fiction and truth - Alice Munro delves into her family background, digging up her ancestors and her childhood to create a series of linked stories which explore family connections, poverty, adversity and understanding of ordinary lives as part of a bigger history.

The collection begins deep in the Ettrick Valley, just south of Edinburgh Scotland. Munro visits a cemetery on a cold, rainy day and locates the headstones of her relatives.

Also, among various Laidlaws, a stone bearing the name of Robert Laidlaw, who died at Hopehouse January 29th 1800 aged seventy-two years. Son of Will, brother of Margaret, uncle of James, who probably never knew that he would be remembered by his link to these others, any more than he would know the date of his own death. My great-great-great-great-grandfather. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 6-

In this first story, the reader is introduced posthumously to the characters who will make up future stories in the collection. Each new story moves the reader further into the present. In the title story: ‘The View From Castle Rock‘…Munro gives the reader a glimpse into what prompted the emmigration of her family from Scotland to Canada. A young boy follows his intoxicated father up the steep, uneven stone steps of an ancient castle and onto a roofless tower.

The sun was out now, shining on the stone heap of houses and streets below them, and the churches whose spires did not reach to this height, and some little trees and fields, then a wide silvery stretch of water. And beyond that a pale green and grayish-blue land, part in the sunlight and part in the shadow, a land as light as mist, sucked into the sky.

“So did I not tell you?” Andrew’s father said. “America. It is only a little bit of it, though, only the shore. There is where every man is sitting in the midst of his own properties, and even the beggars is riding around in carriages.” -From The View From Castle Rock, page 30-

Munro’s strength in these early stories is her ability to set place and time for the reader. She writes lush descriptions and peoples her prose with complex characters. When Walter, a young boy aboard a ship bound for America, writes in his journal ‘And this night in the year 1818 we lost sight of Scotland‘ the reader feels the anticipation as well as the sadness of saying good-bye to one’s homeland in search of a better life. Munro uses real documents (such as Walter’s journal) to help piece together the history of her family and there are times when it is difficult to ascertain what is fact and what is fiction.

And I am surely one of the liars the old man talks about, in what I have written about the voyage. Except for Walter’s journal, and the letters, the story is full of my invention.

The sighting of Fife from Castle Rock is related by Hogg, so it must be true. -From The View from Castle Rock, page 84-

Munro completes part I of her collection with the story ‘Working For A Living‘ which recollects of her father’s boyhood in the town of Blyth. Part II introduces Munro herself to the collection in the story ‘Fathers‘ - a painful look at the fine line between discipline and abuse and a girl’s relationship with her father.

Lying Under the Apple Tree‘ is about the coming of age of a young girl…the innocence of youth vanquished. The ideas of God, church values (morality) and sin weave themselves through this story. Munro also skillfully introduces nature into her theme of growing up and the recognition of one’s sexuality. Her use of dirt as a symbol is effective in introducing the concept of sex vs. a girl’s fantasies vs. the realities of love.

“Dirt,” my sister whispered to me when I got home. “Dirt on the back of your blouse.”

She watched me take it off in the bathroom, and scrub at it with a hard bar of soap. We didn’t have running hot water except in the winter, so she offered to get me some from the kettle. She didn’t ask me how the dirt had got there, she was only hoping to get rid of the evidence, keep me out of trouble. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 203-

In ‘Hired Girl‘ Munro continues to explore the idea of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. In addition she builds on the idea of place - physical place vs. one’s place in society. This concept of there being barriers between classes, is one of the main themes of Munro’s collection and in ‘Hired Girl‘ she emphasizes this idea.

I did not yet understand that maids didn’t have to find their way anywhere. They stayed put, where the work was. It was the people who made the work who could come and go. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 231-

The final stories of Munro’s collection are dedicated to her early marriage (’The Ticket‘), and her maturation into a woman who is capable of looking at her history and life in the harsh light of reality (’Home‘ and ‘What Do You Want to Know For?‘). Munro’s recollections of her father in his later years and the home where she grew up being modernized, are touching exposes on what it means to finally be an adult and no longer be protected by the innocence of childhood. Munro writes:

The past needs to be approached from a distance. -From The View From Castle Rock, page 332-

The View From Castle Rock does that - in exploring her roots, Munro has succeeded in creating a unique blend of stories which look at one family’s history in the context of a bigger picture of what it means to live on the edge of poverty, connect to family, and create a life with meaning and understanding.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

First book finished!

Eleanor Mathews. Ambassador to the Penguins: A Naturalist's Year Aboard a Yankee Whaleship
Date read: 8/24/2008
Rating: 3*/5 = good
Genre: Nonfiction

My thoughts:

This book combined many of my interests - ships, Antarctica, the naturalist's wonder and interest in the animal world. I liked following Murphy's voyages both literal as he learned about the ways of whaling on the brig Daisy and emotional as he wished to get home to his new wife, Grace.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Colour, by Rose Tremain - Wendy's Review

For a few moments, the sun disappeared behind a cloud, and in the shadow, nothing of it was visible, only the shingly mud and the herringbone imprints of the ducks’ feet. But Joseph knew that he’d seen something. He stood without moving, waiting for the sun to come out again. It returned and sparkled on the water, dazzling him. He had to close his eyes for a second, and when he opened them again, he’d forgotten the precise spot where the colour had revealed itself. Then he saw it once more, a minute patch of shining yellow dust. -From The Colour, page 57-

In 1864, a newly married couple - Joseph and Harriet Blackstone - travel with Joseph’s mother Lilian from England to New Zealand to begin their lives together. For Harriet, it is the beginning of a future, a dream about her own home in the beautiful wilderness of New Zealand, a chance to have a garden and animals and to create something out of her life. For Lilian, the move represents failure and loneliness where she must give up her comfortable existence in England, be forced to piece back together the shattered remains of her china, and live on dirt floors in a cob house which leaks. For Joseph, the move to New Zealand is an escape from his past - a past he has buried and hidden from everyone - and a chance to heal his guilt and make his mother (finally) be proud of him.

Joseph Blackstone longed to do something that would please his mother. Something definitive. Something which would undo all that he’d done wrongly or inadequately in the past. He thought that if he could achieve this, then he would rest. -From The Colour, page 55-

The inhospitable and breathtaking land of New Zealand seems pitted against these people almost from the very first when Joseph mistakenly builds his home on an exposed hill instead of the protected flats. Then one day Joseph discovers gold dust in the creek near his home and keeps it a secret from both Harriet and Lilian. It becomes an obsession which promises his redemption and one which will finally drive him to the other side of the Southern Alps where a Gold Rush is underway.

Rose Tremain writes extraordinary prose which thrusts her reader into the midst of a stark and unforgiving environment. She develops her characters flawlessly - uncovering Joseph’s motivations, desires and finally his devastating secret as he struggles to find gold among desperate men. Joseph’s loss of love and morality is heartbreaking.

He felt that contentment was present in every other creature and every other thing - in the waterbirds which drank from the river, in the rats which scurried around his claim, looking for food, and in the songs the Glaswegian miners sang in the evenings. He alone lacked it. -From The Colour, page 223-

Harriet Blackstone is a raw character who grows before the reader’s eyes from an uncertain individual to a woman of courage and fortitude. In Tremain’s hands, Harriet is fully realized.

Better that we never know (she wrote to her father) what lies beyond the next hill. For the answer might come back “nothing.” And I confess that, having travelled across the world, I do not feel I would be content with that “nothing.” My habit of looking at the mountains has not gone away. They are so fine. I wish that I could paint a picture of them for you. And they Contain a mystery: that is what I feel. And I ask myself: Is the mystery they contain the mystery of my life? -From The Colour, page 168-

Lilian, too, grows from a difficult woman into one the reader comes to respect. Faced with the loss of everything she knows, she eventually puts aside the broken pieces of her life and strives to make something of what she has been given.

Thematically The Colour revolves around the power of nature, love and desire, materialism vs. inner contentment, and the connection between cultures. Tremain introduces a Chinese man who has left his family in China to join the Rush - not as a seeker of gold, but as a gardener providing sustenance for the miners. There is also Pare - a Maori woman who develops a mystical relationship with a small boy whom she once cared for. Despite the wide scope of theme and character in this novel, it never feels scattered. Tremain connects all the threads for her readers, giving them a book which is illuminating and satisfying. Tremain is a gifted storyteller, and in The Colour she combines all her talents and creates a novel which resonates with the reader.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sycorax Pine's Second Challenge List

Last year I failed spectacularly in my goals (amidst, in my own defense, the madness the surrounded the completion of my dissertation), so I will address my list this year with new found zeal. Many parts of my lists make look familiar from last year, although I was spurred on (during at after the period of the challenge) to read a number of authors from my list.

I list six authors on the primary list below with (in parentheses) ideas about which book I might start with). After that I have listed a number of "extra credit" or alternate authors/works.

  • Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy)
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt (The Physicians or The Visit)
  • Orhan Pamuk (My Name is Red)
  • Richard Powers (The Gold Bug Variations)
  • China Mieville (Perdido Street Station)
  • Doris Lessing (The Golden Notebook)

Alternates/Extra Credit:

  • John Fowles (The Magus)
  • Joyce Carol Oates (Bellefleur)
  • Stendhal (The Red and the Black)
  • Iris Murdoch (The Black Prince)
  • Nadine Gordimer (Burger's Children)
  • Tim Winton (Cloudstreet or Dirt Music)
  • Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda or True History of the Kelly Gang)
  • Marilynne Robinson (Gilead)
  • Caryl Phillips (Crossing the River)
  • J.M. Coetzee (Disgrace)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jan (in Edmonds) Unread Authors from 9/1/07 - 2/29/08

Thanks so much Ariel for the invitation to officially join this group. I'm so excited because, for one thing, the acceptance of your invitation puts Unread Authors on my dash board which answers the question I had about how do I get a group listed on my blog site. Here's what I've read for Unread Authors during the time of the challenge:

Unread Authors (6) 9/1/07 - 2/29/08)

1. Gulliver’s Travels - Jonathan Swift (9/07)
2. Vanity Fair - W. M. Thackeray (10/07)
3. The Audacity of Hope - Barack Obama (9/07)
4. A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah (10/07)
5. The Secret - Rhonda Byrne (9/07)
6. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (9/07)
7. Margaret Ayer Barnes - Lloyd C. Taylor (9/07)
8. Last Orders - Graham Swift (12/07)
9. True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey (12/07)
10. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje (12/07)
11. Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai (12/07)
12. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan - Lisa See (1/08)
13. The Sea - John Banville (1/08)
14. Atonement - Ian McEwan (1/08)
15. The Master - Colm Toibin (1/08)
16. Black + Blue - Kamau Brathwaite (2/08)
17. Thresholds/Umbrales - Claibel Alegria (2/08)
18. The Inflammation Syndrome - Jack Challem (2/08)
19. The Wisdom of Yo Meow Ma - Joanna Sandsmark (2/08)

Jan (in Edmonds)
check out my blogspot for reviews of these books

Friday, February 29, 2008

The Unread Authors Blog

Welcome to the Unread Authors Blog, a group blog designed for participants in the Unread Authors Challenge to post their reviews and thoughts, and for anyone to read and comment on them!

The challenge asks its participants to read at least six books in six months (September 2007 to February 2008) by authors whose work they have never previously read. New members are welcome at any time.

For the full rules and guidelines, go here; to join the challenge, follow the directions in the "rules" post.

For an updated list of participants in the challenge, with links to their blogs, click here.

A few guidelines for using the blog:
  • Participation in the blog is NOT REQUIRED from challenge participants. If you have a review or thoughts about the books you are reading for the challenge, feel free to post them here, or cross-post them from your other blog. Polling indicated that the majority of participants would like a challenge blog, but if you would just like to lurk, read, and leave comments, that is MORE than fine.
  • To become a co-author of this blog (and gain the ability to post), leave a comment below this post that contains your name, blog, and email address (to avoid acquiring spammer friends, I suggest writing out the punctuation marks. Example: myemailaddress AT gmail DOT com.). You should receive an email soon inviting you to join the blog.
  • Please label all your posts with your name and any other relevant labels (for instance, your challenge "To do" lists should be labeled "lists"). Reviews should always be labeled by the name of the unread author, as well as your own.

I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on their authors, many of whom are as new to me as they are to you!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alentejo Blue - Wendy's Review

She wore her black slingbacks and a white cotton dress with blue flowers that matched the paint that framed the door. Alentejo blue. here she was, in a picture, in a moment, setting out for the rest of her life. -From Alentejo Blue, page 131-

Monica Ali's novella - Alentejo Blue - is a collection of moments lived by its vast array of characters. The Alentejo region of Portugal -located in south-central Portugal and known for its tiny, medieval villages - is the perfect setting for Ali's book, which seems to be a collection of interconnected, short stories. Ali is adept at exploring her characters' inner lives. The reader is gradually introduced to the inhabitants of the fictional town of Mamarrosa: Joao, an old timer who has seen the days of Communism and remembers the revolution of the peasants; Vasco, the baker whose obesity and compulsion with eating hides his painful losses; Teresa, a young woman who longs to break away from the village of her birth; Sophie and Huw, an engaged couple whose holiday to Portugal uncovers the deeper issues of their relationship; Elaine, a middle-aged English woman seeking meaning in her tired marriage; Stanton, the alcoholic writer living a shallow existence; and the Potts family, living a dysfunctional existence far from their home in England. As the novella unwinds, the reader glimpses the connections between characters and the main themes evolve.

There is a theme of "old" world vs. "new" - highlighted by the elderly, traditional members of the village vs. the youth and tourists. Change is in the air, but it is unclear whether it will be for the best, or will simply disrupt the flow of village life.

So we stay as we are and watch the shadows lengthen and smell the evening loaves being baked and fell the sun slipping low, blushing over our necks like the first taste of wine. -From Alentejo Blue, page 94-

Ali's lyrical prose transports the reader into the countryside of Portugal.

The plains spread out on either side. Here and there a cork oak stood grieving. The land rose and fell in modest dimensions. Now and again a gleam of machinery, glittering drops of water on an acacia, a giant eucalyptus shedding its splintery scrolls. Field upon field upon field, wheat and grass and fallow, on and on and on, and in this flat composition there was a depth, both sadness and tremulous joy. -From Alentejo Blue, page 163-

This novel was listed as a 2006 New York Times Most Notable book - and I think it is deserving of that honor. Ali is a gifted writer with great understanding and sensitivity to her characters - picking up Alentejo Blue was like relaxing into small town life, chatting with the neighbors and observing the ebb and flow of the days beneath a Portugal sun. I will be reading more of Ali's novels in the future.

Highly recommended; rated 4.5/5