Category Archives: New Authors 2010

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

4 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

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

6 Comments

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

KevinfromCanada

Monniblog

My Novel Reviews

nomadreader

7 Comments

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

BookNAround

Caribousmom

Rundpinne

So Many Precious Books

The Book Lady’s Blog

15 Comments

Filed under ContemporaryFiction, New Authors 2010, Review

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

3 Comments

Filed under ContemporaryFiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Animals by Don LePan

Animals by Don LePan

Soft Skull Press, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

Sam is deaf and lives during a time when people with disabilities are being abandoned by society.  There is no effort to help the blind and deaf, no system for children born with a chronic  illness.  No one tries to find out what is wrong, Sam is just different, and he is eventually classified as “mongrel”.  His mother, left in dire financial straits, is forced to abandon him, hoping the family she leaves him with will adopt him as a pet.  A pet?

I am not cute.   I  am not a pet.  I am not a mongrel.  I am a child, that’s all.

Animals is told in two parts.  The first part is a manuscript telling Sam’s story, the story of his birth family and his adoptive family, written by Naomi Okun, the girl whose family does take him in.  The second part is an explanation, with abundant footnotes, by someone named Broderick Clark, of this autobiographical manuscript.  LePan has used an interesting structure to deal with a difficult subject, one many of us would just as soon ignore.

This is speculative fiction, fiction that, given the present circumstances, points towards a possible future.  It reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.

There is no easy way to write about this.  We are in the future.  Due to factory farming and over use of antibiotics there has been a “great extinction”.  All of our domestic animals and pets have died.  There is a lack of protein and people are struggling.  There is a campaign stressing the dangers of soy.  The gap between rich and poor has widened exponentially. The world is edging towards chaos.

As more and more “sub-normal” people are marginalized and de-humanized, some are adopted as  “pets” and some are classified as chattel.  Eventually the chattel are gathered together, their labor is utilized and they become a food source.  Like I said, there is no easy way to write about this.

LaPan claims his main argument is against factory-farming and for the humane treatment of our food animals but I was left with a much broader sense of let’s stop eating meat(and fish), period.  This is a difficult and challenging book.  I feel like I need to put some distance between my first reading and then read it again.

I need to say that over the past few years I have grown closer and closer to becoming a true vegetarian.  There are occasions when I eat chicken or fish, and I am not vegan by any means, but something in me has me turning away from eating flesh.  Maybe it’s my knowledge of factory farms, or my awareness of the growing understanding of animal behavior and animal “consciousness”.  Maybe it’s the Buddhist idea of Ahimsa –  do no harm.  I buy organic when I can.  I eat tofu, legumes and lots of vegetables.  Animals, a deeply disturbing book, only reinforces my thoughts about food, about how we raise and slaughter what we eat.

Now I want to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

9 Comments

Filed under 42SciFiChallenge, Animals, CanadianBookChallenge4, Culture, New Authors 2010, Review, SpeculativeFiction

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

The Singer’s Gun by Hilary St. John Mandel

Unbridled Books, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

I looked forward to this one, both because I had heard great things about St. John Mandel and because it is from Unbridled Books, a small press I admire.

The writing is clean and crisp, the story timely,  but somehow the book never really grabbed me.  It was like looking at something beautiful and realizing that the beauty is fading away right before my eyes.  I never felt much for the characters, even though they are well thought out.

Anton Waker grew up an a family of thieves and, encouraged by his cousin Aria he begins a life of crime at a young age.  When he decides to get out, go straight, have what he considers a real life, he finds it much more difficult than he expected.

The story is very well constructed, told from different points of view and I think St. John Mandel is a fine writer, but there is a chilliness, a edge to this book that just pushed me away, like the same poles of two magnets repelling each other.  Maybe it’s the characters, they seem detached and hollow.  Maybe it’s the times we live in.  Maybe it’s just me, the book left me feeling sad.  I will read The Last Night In Montreal because I want to see if it has a different feel, and I do like this author’s way with words.

Other reviews:

Caribousmom

Musings of a Bookish Kitty

S. Krishna’s Books

She is too fond of books

You Gotta Read This

4 Comments

Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

The Grail Bird By Tim Gallagher

The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

By Tim Gallagher

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2005

Borrowed from the library.

It pains me to think about all of the animals that reach the point of extinction every year.  I am glad that humans have finally come to realize our hand in this destruction.

Tim Gallagher’s book covers much of the history of the search for a bird most believed died out in the 1940’s.  The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilis principalis) lived in the forests of southeastern United States, an area that has been decimated by logging and agriculture since the civil war.  Its last known siting took place in 1944.

Then, in February 2004, a kayaker named Gene Spaulding spotted an unusual bird in a bayou in eastern Arkansas.  Word reached Gallagher, the editor of Cornell’s lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird Magazine, and he was off, traveling to the south, hooking up with his friend Bobby Harrison and beginning a search that continues to this day.

The Grail Bird is an interesting read, mostly about the connections and camaraderie between the searchers, the destruction of Ivory-Billed habitat and the struggle to set up and maintain the search teams.  There are some nice passages about observation, about having to sit still in a swamp.

An hour passed.  Then another hour.  And another.  And another.  And these were not quick hours.  It’s amazing how slowly time can pass when you’re deep in the swamp.  It’s a fluid kind of place;  all of your visual references are gone.  Most of the time you can’t even tell the position of the sun in the sky, so your sole clue to the passage of time is your watch.  The only way to cope is to give in to it.  From page 195.

The existence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has not been confirmed but there are people out there, in different places, sitting and watching.  There are audio recorders and cameras hanging in trees.  There is always hope.

For more information about the Grail Bird and a wonderful resource on birds from all over the world visit the Cornell lab of Ornithology.

6 Comments

Filed under Animals, IYOBChallenge, Nature, New Authors 2010, Science Books 2010

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Delacorte Press, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I saw this on the display shelf at my library and remember reading a blog post about it.  Of course, I can’t remember who’s blog it was.  Thank you, whoever you are.

Angel Tungaraza, a women from Tanzania now living in Kigali, Rwanda, is building a business.  She and her husband are struggling to raise their five grandchildren and her cakes bring in needed income.   They also allow her the opportunity to ask questions of  and listen to her customers.  Angel is kind and open-hearted.  From her customers and her neighbors she hears stories of pain and survival.  There is HIV, there are the memories of terrible slaughter.

Through Angel’s thoughts we learn of  her history, her own losses.  With her intelligence, generosity and kindness she offers help to others and a clear-sighted vision of the world around her.

When I first started reading this lovely book it reminded me of the series by Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  Parkin uses the same light touch with Angel as McCall Smith uses with his heroine,  Precious Ramotswe.  Baking Cakes has much of the same tone, it is gentle and funny at times, but it deals with deep emotions and the struggles of  people recovering from tramua and learning to deal honestly with a frightening disease.  Parkin uses Angel, her family, friends and customers to tell the stories of the deadly spread of AIDS in Africa and the effects of the 1994 genocide on Rwanda’s people.  For such an gentle, pleasing book it offers quite a punch.

For those wishing to learn more about the genocide in Rwanda there is an very well written and intense book , We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, and a movie called Hotel Rwanda which is based on real life events.  The book is difficult reading and the film is very hard to watch.

Other reviews:

BookLust

BookNAround

Rebecca Reads

The Book Nest

2 Comments

Filed under 2010 Global Reading Challenge, Fiction, New Authors 2010

The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

The Lives of Christopher Chant

By Diana Wynne Jones

Greenwillow Books, New York, 2001

Borrowed from the library.

This is the first book by Diana Wynne Jones I have read and it is wonderful.  Christopher Chant live with his Mama and Papa in a place very like Edwardian England.  There is at least one difference.  There is magic.

Christopher has strange dreams.  In his dreams he walks between worlds, some like his own, some very different.  When his Uncle Ralph discovers this talent he asks Christopher to help with some “experiments”, and this becomes the beginning of a great adventure, where Christopher learns many things about himself and about his family.

A fun read, Jones is a marvelous writer who has a deep understanding of her characters, and their flaws.  I think her writing is much better then J.K. Rowling’s, though Rowling hit upon a perfect mix of present day childhood and adolescence mixed with magic.  This is probably why the Harry Potter books have been such a phenomenon.  That and great marketing.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is the second book in the Chrestomanci series.  I’ve been told I should have read Chamed Life first.  Oh well.  I’ll be reading that and Howl’s Moving Castle as quick as I can.

Thanks to Jenny for organizing Diana Wynne Jones Week.  She got me to finally read this great author!

20 Comments

Filed under Events, Fantasy, New Authors 2010, Review