Category Archives: Challenges2010

Corrag by Susan Fletcher

Corrag by Susan Fletcher

Fourth Estate, London, 2010

A US edition published by W.W. Norton and Company was made available on November 15, 2010.

Sent to me by Teresa at Shelf Love ages ago.  Thank you so much, I am glad I finally read it.

The story of Corrag is based on a true event.

On February 13, 1692, in a place called Glencoe, in the Highlands of Scotland, 37 members of the MacDonald clan were killed.  Many others lost their lives when they were forced to hide in the mountains after their homes were destroyed.  It was said they were slain by their guests, soldiers sent by King William.   The MacDonald clan had been feeding and housing them for weeks.  Who committed these murders?  Was it the King’s men?  Was it a rival clan?

Charles Leslie, a supporter of the ousted King James, arrived in the area to find out the truth.  Corrag, a wild young woman, had been arrested and accused of  being a witch.  It had been reported that she had witnessed the massacre and Leslie wishes to interview her.

What did you have, in your head?  Which witch?

I know that all people have a certain creature in their head when they hear it – a women mostly.  Pitch-dark and cruel, crooked with age. Did you think she will be mad, this witch?  I might be.  It’s been said.  I prattle, I play with my hands and bring them up to my face when I speak like this, as a mouse may with its paws as it eats or cleans itself.  My voice is shrill and girlish – this has been called proof, for they say the devil took my lower voice away and ate it up to make his own voice deeper.  Which is a lie, of course.  I am small, so my voice is small, too – that’s all.  From page 32

The novel moves back and forth between these two voices.  Corrag speaking to Charles, telling him her history, and what she witnessed at Glencoe, and Charles writing letters to his wife, Jane,at home in Ireland.

Corrag tells Charles of her early life in a small village, the child of an unmarried woman.  Of  her journey into the north, into a hidden valle,y where she uses skills learned from her mother to heal and to gain entry to the close-knit clan of MacDonald.

The novel is beautifully written.  Fletcher’s characters come alive through her poetic language.  Corrag’s voice, her stories, her thoughts,  bring the land to life.  I found her beautiful and profoundly wise.  She is of the earth and sky,  and even with her harsh life she is able to see beauty in the world around her.

Those winter nights, I’d look out at the huge sides of snowy rocks which grew about me, and I’d see their eerie colours – grey, black, blue. Then I would go inside, where my fire spoke to itself.  But still, I felt them.  In my hut, I was still aware of the mountains looking down on me.  I could feel their height, and darkness.   I thought of their age, of what they had seen, and as I tucked up my fire I thought they glow…Like living things.  Their frost glinted on me, and their breath was icy-cold.  From page 178.

And Charles is an interesting character, too.  What he sees and what he hears changes him over time.

I hope I stay briefly in this town.  It is merely a resting place, before I head north to this ravaged glen.  This witch was there, my love.  She was at the murders, and saw them with her eyes.  I am not keen to visit her, or spend time with such a cankered godless piece – nor do I wish to get her lice.  But I must remember my cause.  If she was at these deaths than she must have her uses.  She will have seen the red-coats – and any word, even a witch’s, is a better word then none. From page 26.

I am a different man to the man who rode into Inverary, shivering and old.  I wrote of my hatred for witch.  I wrote scornful words, and damning ones, and did I not support her coming death?  I am different, now.  The thought of her death troubles me – I can not lie, or pretend otherwise.  Corrag speaks of goodness, largely, and beneath the knots and dirt and blood I see how delicate she is – how frail. From page 181.

This novel is layered in British history, politics and the persecution of woman and yet never feels weighed down by any of it.  It is history that comes alive and it is also a love story.  I found it difficult to put down, will keep it to read again.  Susan Fletcher has written two other novels, Eve Green and Oystercatchers: A Novel.  I hope my library has them.

Other reviews:

Eve’s Alexandria

Farm Lane Books

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Shelf Love

The Book Whisperer


Filed under Historical Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

The Tiger by John Vaillant

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

If I remember correctly,  I first heard about this on NPR.  It sounded chilling and fascinating.  I had read and enjoyed John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce and looked forward to reading his newest book.

The Tiger is a mystery that involves an Amur tiger, known to most as the Siberian tiger,  and the people who live and struggle to survive in a remote forest on the border between Russia and China. It is a mix of regional history and natural history, with lots of cultural anthropology thrown in.

The story takes place in a region so marginal and wild that it defies categorization.  The people that live there are very like the land, struggling to survive the collapse of communism and the impact of open borders.

Because so much of life here is governed by a kind of whimsical rigidity – a combination of leftover Soviet bureaucracy and free market chaos – even simple interactions with officialdom can leave you feeling like you have wondered into an insane asylum.  To this day the Russian Far East is a place were neither political correctness nor eco-speak have penetrated, and patriotism is vigorous and impassioned…from page 22.

In Primorye, the seasons collide with equal intensity: winter can bring blizzards and paralysing cold, and summer will retaliate with typhoons and monsoon rains; three-quarters of the regions rainfall occurs during the summer.  This tendency towards extremes allows for unlikely juxtapositions and may explain why there is no satisfactory name for the region’s particular ecosystem – one that happens to coincide with the northern limit of the tigers pan-hemispheric range.  It could be that this region is not a region at all but a crossroads: many of the aboriginal tool that are now considered quintessentially North American – tipis, totem poles, bows and arrows, birch bark canoes, dog sleds, and kayak-style paddles – all passed through here first.  From page 23.

An Amur tiger is killing men.  A squad of  agents, whose job it is to solve crimes in the forest, especially those involving tigers, is charged with finding this animal and destroying  it.  These attacks do not appear to be random, this tiger is hunting down his victims, waiting patiently for them to appear.  They meet a grisly end.  Why?

Vaillant writes beautifully, weaving the history of the people with the history of the place .  They can not be separated.

When Russians wax eloquent about their homeland, they will often invoke Mother Russia, but Mother Russia is not the nation, ands She is certainly not the leadership; She is the Land.  The deep Russian bond to the earth – specifically, the soil – transcends all other affiliations with the exception, perhaps, of family.  Likewise, the forest and its creatures – plants and animals alike – have a significance that most of us in the West lost touch with generations ago.  From page 79.

Tigers are struggling to survive as a species.  Vaillant includes information on the decimation of tiger populations around the world and the efforts being made to save them.  He also includes many theories on how we humans have evolved right along side these and other large predators and how we may have developed the abilities to avoid being prey.

All of us, whether predator or prey, are opportunistic and creatures of habit.  Thus, if a leopard or a pack of hunting  hyenas failed enough times in its efforts to capture us, or was effectively intimidated, its menu preferences would shift accordingly – perhaps to baboons, where they remain today.  Once this new configuration was stabilized, the offspring of such “reformed” predators would presumably reflect these dietary changes.  There is good reason to suppose that, like the !Kung among lions, and the Udeghe among tigers, early man became an active, if cautious, cohabitant with these animals rather than their chronic victim.  From page 187.

Well-researched and wonderfully written, this is the kind of nonfiction book that I love.  Filled with history and nature,  the narrative form pulled me in like a great mystery.  Vaillant has made every effort to probe the minds of the people living in this remote area and the mind of the tiger who is hunting them.   I couldn’t put it down.

Other reviews:

Amy Reads

An Amur Tiger - Photo by John Goodrich - WCS


Filed under Animals, IYOBChallenge, Nature, Nonfiction, Review

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Chaos Walking: Book Three

Candlewick Press, Somerville, 2010

603 pages. Borrowed from the library.

“War” says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting . “At last.”

That is the opening line of the third book in the Chaos Walking series.   Monsters of Men starts just were The Ask and The Answer left off.  The first pages throw the reader into a violent battle and it is upsetting and exhausting enough that I almost had to put the book down.  It went on and on and on.   Fast and furious.  Thinking about it now, I can only imagine that it is just a hint of what being in war is like.

Patrick Ness has, for me, lived up to the expectations created by The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and The Answer.  He delves into the darkest parts of the human spirit, into the lust for power and control, the desire to annihilate the enemy, never really even bothering to find out who the enemy is.  What is this murderous quality that lives inside our souls?

We find our two main characters, Todd and Viola, separated from each other, almost seeming to be fighting on different sides, but always struggling to make the right choices.  They are bound by their own beliefs, learning as they go, trying to find each other.  Viola’s fellow travelers have reached her, adding multiple layers of intrigue and technology to the battle.  And we are finally introduced to the Spackle. What an amazing culture they turn out to be.  I am amazed at how Ness allows us into each of his characters thoughts.  We are in their heads,  following the stressful and manic thoughts in this violent world of war.

I am afraid to write any more about the story or about the characters for fear of giving too much away, the way I felt about  The Ask and The Answer.   Just know that this is an exceptional series for young adults and that it deals with big issues, terrorism, racism, love, war and the impact of making  choices.  I highly recommend the entire Chaos Walking series.

Patrick Ness has a wonderful website that can be found here.

Other reviews:

Jenny’s Books

Regular Rumination

Stuff As Dreams Is Made On

Things mean a lot


Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, SpeculativeFiction, Young Adult

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

Translated from the Japanese by Meredith Weatherby

Vintage International, New York, 1994

183 pages.

Borrowed from the library.

This is, quite simply, a love story.  Shinji, a young fisherman helping to support his widowed mother and younger brother sees a young women, Hatsue, on the beach.  He is instantly attracted to her and, as the two get to know each other, they fall in love.  She is the daughter of a wealthy merchantman.  The island they live on, Uta-Jima,  is small and insular and, as their relationship becomes public knowledge, they must face the gossip of their neighbors and the jealousy of others.

This is  beautifully written, a lyrical story of first love.  It takes place in a simpler time, one which filled me with nostalgia.  Reading Mishima’s prose is like viewing Japanese brush painting, much is expressed with a few words, like a few brush strokes.    A lot of this has to do with Mishima’s way of depicting the people, the land and the sea that surrounds them.  He had the ability to express human thought and feeling in a way that appears simple and yet hold great depth.

The boy felt a consummate accord between himself and this opulence of nature that surrounded him.  He inhales deeply, and it was as though a part of the unseen something that constitutes nature had permeated the core of his being.  He heard the sounds of the waves striking the shore, and it was as though the surging of his young blood was keeping time with the movement of the sea’s great tides.  It was doubtless because nature itself satisfied his need that Shinji felt no particular lack of music in his everyday life.  From pages 44/45.

In this way the spring had neared its end.  It was still too early for the clusters of crinum lilies that bloomed in the cliffs on the eastern side of the island, but the fields were colored here and there with various other flowers.  The children were back in school again, and some of the women were already diving in the cold water for the seaweed called “soft lace”.  As a consequence there were now more houses that were empty during the daytime, doors unlocked, windows open.  Bees entered these empty houses freely, flew about in them lonesomely, and were often startled upon running headlong into a mirror.  From page 119.

I enjoyed this novel and will be reading more of Mishima’s work in the future.

Other reviews:

Fizzy Thoughts

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On


Filed under Historical Fiction, Japanese Literature Challenge 4, New Authors 2010, Review

February By Lisa Moore

February by Lisa Moore

Black Cat, New York, 2009

This novel was on the long list for the 2010 Man Booker Prize.  I borrowed it from the library.

February is the first book I have read by Lisa Moore and I loved it, was moved by it.  It is the story of Helen O’Mara, her four children and a tragedy, the sinking of an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland.  Helen’s husband, Cal, dies on that rig, leaving Helen to raise her children.  The accident is based based on a true event.

On February 15th, 1982, the oil rig Ocean Ranger sank 165 miles east of Newfoundland, taking the lives of all 84 men on board.  Many years later this event still has an impact on the lives of  the people of Newfoundland.

Moore tells this story in several voices, shifting back and forth in time, and it helps that the heading of each small section includes the year.  Helen’s is the main focus, her devastation at the loss of her husband and her split lives,  one holding the world together for her children, the other drifting, without an anchor, in a place separate from others, barely surviving the grief, the inability to understand, just hanging on by a thread.   She lives in the present and she lives in the past with her husband, going over each tiny piece of their life together as if turning something precious in her hands.  Why did they make the choices they did?

There were men who would kill to have this job: that was the wisdom they worked under.  And: the helicopter was a terror.  But it was impossible to imagine the whole rig capsizing.
If the men did imagine it they did not tell their wives; they did not tell their mothers.  They developed a morbid humor that didn’t translate on land, so they kept it mostly on the rig. From page 97.

Her son John has just learned that he is about to be a father and is returning home for her support.  He is also overwhelmed by memories.

John remembers being in the back seat of the car with his sisters and going down Garrison Hill.  Coming up over Bonaventure, his father would gun it, saying they were going straight for the harbour.  Her and Cathy and Lulu in the back and his mother in her red wet-look hot pants suit.  His stomach would lift when they went over the top of the hill and came down, like being in an elevator.  The little bounce the car made.  The girls screaming.  His mother wore big sunglasses and hoop earrings and she had long legs, his father tended to her hand and foot.  Flying over the Garrison Hill, the east end lost in fog.  The bells of the Basilica.  From page 106.

A novel like February could have been written in ways that are overwrought and maudlin, but Moore side-steps this by using clear, descriptive language to focus the reader on her character’s thoughts and feelings.  At times this feels thin, almost shallow,  but then I felt as if I was walking on a very fine sheet of ice, and below there was all that depth, the cold weight of great loss.   Even though I have not been through anything like Helen’s tragedy, I empathized with her and often found myself right there in that place of fragility, fighting off despair.  Moore writes with words that are beautiful and evocative.  I will read more of her work.

The snow was lifting off the drifts in transparent glittering sheets that twisted and flapped and folded together at the corners and folded again, and she could hear someone’s tires squealing on the road.  The tires were burning and squealing and the engine was growling and it was such a magnificent morning and her knees gave.  The trees were encased in ice and the sun shot sparkles down the length of the branches.  The sun was like an old nickel in the sky, tarnished, dull, behind all the flying snow. Helen’s knees would not hold her.  The whole world floods you, bursts you open; the world is bigger than expected, and brighter.  From page 270.

To read other thoughts about February visit these links:

dovegreyreader scribbles



My Novel Reviews



Filed under Booker, CanadianBookChallenge4, ContemporaryFiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye

Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye

Unbridled Books, Denver, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

I am impressed by the books being published by Unbridled Books.  Every one I have read has been good or excellent, they are taking risks with unknown authors and I have about 4 more of their titles on my TBR list at the library.

Peter Geye has written a wonderful first novel.  Safe from the Sea delves deep into the dynamics of family, what we keep secret, what we think we know and what we finally need to confess.

Noah Torr returns to Minnesota to take care of his ailing father, Olaf.  He has been away and out of contact with his father for a long time.  A great tragedy, the sinking of a ship on Lake Superior in which all but three crew members drowned,  had caused Olaf to turn away from his family, to turn to drinking for solace.  As Noah learns the seriousness of his father’s illness and contemplates his own marriage,  Olaf tells his story.  This is a simple and beautiful novel, its sense of place only adds depth to its emotional impact.

I had read good things from other bloggers about Safe from the Sea but, I admit, quotes from some of my favorite authors including Alyson Hagy, Ron Rash and Joseph  Boyden convinced me to give it a try.  It was definitely worth reading and I look forward to reading more of  Peter Geye’s writing.

For other reviews visit these links:

Amy Reads




So Many Precious Books

The Book Lady’s Blog


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

William Morrow, New York, 2001

Originally published in 1962.  Ray Bradbury has received the National Book Award for distinguished contribution to American Letters.  I own this one.

This is true dark fantasy.  Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway have grown up together.  Each is on the verge of their fourteenth birthday, filled with energy and questions, like all young people they are pushing limits.  Will’s father, Charles is fifty-four and filled with regret, for being “old”, for not being more of a pal for his son.  It is the end of October in Green Town, Illinois, and Halloween is just around the corner.

A strange man, a lightening rod salesman, harbinger of storms and bad news, marches into town, finds the boys. Then, in the middle of the night, at the odd hour of 3 AM, an unusual train arrives.  Jim and Will see it, Charles Halloway hears it. The train carries Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show, come to entertain, to touch the lives of Green Town.  A traveling nightmare, come to steal souls, by answering dreams and wishes.

And there stood Jim, and  there stood this tall man, each examining the other as if he were a reflection in a shop window late at night.  The tall man’s brambled suit, shadowed out now to color Jim’s cheeks and storm over his wide and drinking eyes with a look of rain instead of the sharp cat-green they always were.  Jim stood like a runner who had come a long way with fever in his mouth, hands open to recieve any gift.  And right now it was a gift of pictures twitching in pantomime, as Mr. Dark made his illustrations jerk cold-skinned over his warm-pulsed wrist as stars came out above and Jim stared and Will could not see and a long way off the last of the towns people went away towards town in there warm cars, and Jim said faintly, “Gosh…” and Mr. Dark rolled down his sleeve.  From page 76.

Through writing full of poetry, dream and desire, Bradbury creates a classic story of good and evil, were self-centered wants lead to devastating results and  hope and laughter are the antidote for fear and longing.  It is dark, creepy and delicious.  This is my third reading and I am still amazed at the density of Bradbury’s lyrical style,  his words convey emotion in ways that are not stilted or sugary-sweet. Deep, heartfelt, real.  Reading this novel as a young adult was one of my introductions to the power of words.

And, of course, it’s all about names.  Knowing the true names of things, of people.  In magic, knowing a name is knowing the inner being. Knowing the inner being means having control over that being.  The weapon against such dark magic is love.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair

Book Clutter

Care’s Online Book Club

regular rumination

The Indextrious Reader


Filed under DarkFantasy, Review, RIP V Challenge, Young Adult

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

Free Press, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

The “Madonnas” are a group of mothers and daughters who gather in front of a market that was featured in Madonna’s video “Borderline”.  They gather there to sing and dance.

..There was something magical about it, a place in our neighborhood worthy of being on TV, and not because someone had been shot or killed.  We agreed it would be fun to bring our daughters there.  Aurora wouldn’t come but Ana’s daughter did.  Two mothers became three, then four….Mothers and daughters chatted together on a street corner in what was considered a dangerous part of town day or night, in loud sassy conversations, both groups wearing acid-washed skirts, see-through mesh tank tops, traffic cone orange spandex tights…from page 47.

A collection of linked chapters  following a group of people, this novel takes place in a part of Los Angeles we rarely see, unless you are Mexican growing up in LA.  Three women, the Esperanzas, struggle with their histories, drift apart and reconnect in a story graced with suspense, dream-like images,  and magic.  I am impressed by Skyhorse’s love of his characters, by his ability to give voice to both Mexicans and Americans, and especially his ability to write the lives of these women and girls.  This is an exceptional first novel.

Other reviews:

A Bookworm’s World

Bermudaonion’s Weblog


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Modern Library, New York, 2001

Borrowed from the library.

This is not a review, more a collection of thoughts.  Read for the R.I.P V challenge, this vampire novel brought back memories of my introduction to Count Dracula.  Bela Lugosi’s chilling portrayal gave my sister and myself nightmares, though I have to admit the idea of being able to change into a bat was fascinating. Dracula was not the first but is certainly the most famous vampire story.  I have read that Stoker was inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a novella published is 1872 and available at Project Gutenberg.

Stoker’s novel, written as a series of letters and journal entries and published in 1897, is atmospheric and fast paced in places, overwrought and melodramatic in others. This is my second reading and,  filled with ideas of class and culture of the time and written in odd dialects, I found myself skimming in places that seemed to go on and on.  I am curious about the reactions to Dracula when it was first published, not so much the responses of critics or psychoanalysts, but the general public.

It is interesting,  how this one novel has influenced so much modern popular culture, from movies to books and television.  I must reread my all time favorite vampire novel, just to see how it compares, and then watch “Let The Right One In”.  If you haven’t seen this film I recommend it.  It is frighteningly beautiful.   I would also like to read the  novel the film is based on.


Filed under Classic, Horror, Review, RIP V Challenge

Steampunk Challenge

What is Steampunk?  Here is a basic introduction from Wikipedia.

Organized by Rikki at The Bookkeeper, the Steampunk Challenge runs from October 2010 to October 2011.  There is no obligation other than to have fun, discover a growing area of scifi/slipstream fiction and share your reviews and ideas.  I tend to read and love these books and am always looking for new authors and titles,  this is a great addition to my challenge pages.

A wonderful side-effect of this genre are objects and artifacts created by artists and craftsman. Some can be found here and here.


Filed under Challenges2010