Tag Archives: Reviews

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

From my TBR pile.  This novel was long-listed for the 2006 Orange Prize.

A novel of World War 11 written so that it takes the reader back in time from 1947 to 1941.   Waters gives us the stories of five characters living through that war in London.  The characters connect and intertwine with each other in many ways, some of which are unknown to each of them.

The four women and one man struggle with personal choices, family pressure and society.  Three of the women are entangled in a love-affair, one is helped through a life-changing event by sheer accident and the young man, imprisoned for a crime the reader can only guess at, is connected by blood and history to the others.

Sarah Waters’ writing brings the thoughts and emotions of her characters to life.   Dialogue tells the stories, descriptive language creates the atmosphere.  Sometimes not muchseems to be happening but inner dialogue builds up personal histories, some  filled with happiness, some with regret and a  sense of longing.  Longing for the past, for different choices and always there is the war.

     He lost his footing, then righted himself and went on without speaking.  Partridge was coughing because of the dust.  Mickey was rubbing grit from her eyes.  The chaos was extraordinary.  Every time Kay put down her feet, things cracked beneath them, or wrapped themselves around her ankles: broken window-glass mixed up with broken mirrors, crockery, chairs and tables, curtains, carpets,  feathers from a cushion or a bed, great splinters of wood. The wood surprised Kay, even now: in the days before the war she’d imagined houses were made more or less solidly, of stone – like the last Little Pig’s, in the fairy tale.  What amazed her, too, was the smallness of the piles of dirt and rubble to which even large buildings were reduced.  This house had three intact floors to it, and hour before;  the heaps of debris its front had were no more than six or seven feet high.  She supposed that houses, after all – like the lives that were lived in them – were mostly made of space.  It was the spaces, in fact, that counted, rather than the bricks.  From page 172.

These characters live in a time when their choices, how they live their lives, who they love, put them in danger.  Waters’ sensitivity and attention to detail brings the fullness of their  lives to the reader without being overly dramatic.  This is a brave and beautiful book.

16 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, OrangePrize, Review

Welcome 2012 and my favorite books of 2011

Welcome to 2012 and a good Sunday to you all!

I am grateful for what I have, for the company of Mr. G and the lovely Cassandra, for friends and family and for those who visit Page247.  I am also grateful for the wonderful community of book lovers out there who share their thoughts, start important conversations about books and literature , and introduce me to new authors and new books.

I managed to read 128 books in 2011 and reviewed 77 of them.  There were fewer 5-star reads in 2011.   I’m not sure why that happened.  Maybe I’m becoming pickier as I age.

Plans for 2012 include the TBR Double Dare Orange January/July  and the 2012 Speculative Fiction Challenge, along with some read-alongs and seasonal events.  I’d like to read some Dickens and read and write about poetry.   We’ll see if that happens.

Here are reviews of my favorite books  from 2011.  Thanks for stopping by!

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk

Kamchatka by Marcelo Figueras

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin

The Anthologist by Nicolas Baker

The Birthday Boys by Meryl Bainbridge

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda

And to make it and baker’s  dozen I finally read the whole of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  The translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is brilliant, dense and rich.  I loved it.

38 Comments

Filed under Best Of, Sunday Salon

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2010

From my TBR pile.  The only other  work I’ve read by Baker is a nonfiction book,  Human Smoke.

Paul Chowder, an  occasionally published poet, is trying to write an introduction to a poetry anthology entitled Only Rhyme.  He’s having trouble.

But every time I actually tried to start writing the introduction, as opposed to just writing notes, I felt straightjacketed.  So I went out and bought a big presentation easel, and a big pad of presentation paper, and a green Sharpie pen, and a red Sharpie pen, and a blue Sharpie pen.  What I thought was that I could practice talking through the introduction as if I were teaching a class.

And in order to be relaxed at the easel, I drank a Newcastle.  Also coffee, so that I would be sharp.  And still I wasn’t sufficiently relaxed, so I drank some Yukon Gold that I found in the liquor cabinet.  No, not Yukon Gold, that’s a potato, Yukon Jack, a kind of Canadian liqueur.  It was delicious.  It added a slight Gaussian blur.  And then some more coffee, so I’d still be sharp.  Blurred, smeared, but sharp.  from page 29.

Paul is adrift, his girlfriend has left him,  at times he is heartsick, at times full of piss and vinegar, and his editor is getting nervous.  Always, his head is filled with poetry, with language, and he talks about it.  A lot.  It made me laugh.  He also talks about the formation of language, stuff I had to spend many hours learning about before working with students with dyslexia.  Just brilliant.

Baby talk, which is full of rhyme, is really the way you learn to figure out what’s like and what’s not like, and what is a discrete word , or an utterence, and what is just a transition between two words.

How does it happen?  Well, it happens gradually, and it happens by matching.  Matching within and matching without.  First you have to learn that a certain feeling in one part of your body, your tongue, matches with a certain feeling in your brain, which is a sound.  A slightly different feeling in your tongue matches with a different sound coming out of your mouth and a different sensation of muscular control registering in your brain.  Each subtle difference of sound feels different.  And this is all very difficult and takes a lot of trial and error and babbling and drooling and lip popping and laughing.  from page 107.

I like poetry.  It is obvious that Nicholson Baker likes poetry.  He has written one of the best books about poetry I have read.  Fiction or nonfiction.  Maybe the best.  He talks about rhythm and meter in ways that are easy to understand, ways that are fun, like a pop song with a great hook.  I don’t think you even have to like poetry to enjoy this novel.  If you don’t, The Anthologist might open up a whole new world for you.

Now I want to go out and read all the fiction the Nicholson Baker has written, maybe even his newest.  His new book is getting lots and lots of press.  I wonder why?

Other reviews:

A Work in Progress

Fizzy Thoughts

Jenny’s Books

Olduvai Reads

Tales from the Reading Room

13 Comments

Filed under LiteraryFiction, Notable Books, Review

Two Graphic Novels

Local by Brian Wood.

Art by Ryan Kelly

Oni Press, Portland, 2008

From the library.  This one is for high school and up.

Megan McKeenan is stuck in a very bad relationship.  Her boyfriend has her trying to pass off stolen scripts at local pharmacies and she knows she is going to get caught.  Taking matters into her own hands she decides to leave Portland and hit the road.  Thus begins a journey of inter-linked stories through 12 North American cities. from Portland to Minniapolis, Richmond, Virgina to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The drawings are in black and white, highly detailed and the artwork and stories fit together beautifully.  This is an intense road trip.

Ghostopolis By Doug Tennapel

Graphix, Scholastic Publishing, New York 2010

From the library.  Perfect for middle school readers.

Garth Hale has been diagnised with a fatele disease.  Imagine his confusion when he is suddenly transported into the spirit world and finds he has powers that even ghosts do not have.  Chased by an evil ruler who wants to use Garth’s powers all seems lost until Garth meets up with Cecil, his grandfather’s ghost and they solve this spooky problem together.  There is a great mix of monsters including a lovely skeletal horse and some “mad” scientist who travel in and out of Ghostopolis.  Beautiful art and a lovely story.  I want to read more of Doug Tennapel’s work.

11 Comments

Filed under Graphic Novels, Review, Young Adult

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

William Morrow, New York, 2010

I borrowed this one from the library.  This is the second book to knock me off the TBR Dare,  it was worth it.

This is a  novel I could not stop reading.  It is a mystery, but so much more than that.

Silas “32” Jones has returned to the tiny town of  Chabot, Mississippi and is the town constable.  Larry Ott, an auto mechanic has been ostracized by the community ever since he was suspected in the disappearance of a high school acquaintance.  Now another girl has disappeared and Larry is the prime suspect.

It is a great story, a fine mystery, and the issue of friendship tinged by racism make it even stronger.  But it is Franklin’s writing that held me and has me wanting to read more of his work.  The narration moves back and forth in time and the depth of feeling Franklin shows between Larry and Silas as boys, and the distance that has come between them as men, is the main theme of this story, even as the mystery is built up around them.

They rolled the push mower out of the barn and into the sunlight and Larry showed him how to check the oil and the gas and how to prime the pump, how to pull the cord to crank it.  Then, yelling over the noise, Larry showed him how to adjust the motor speed and push the mower in rows, narrowing towards a center.  Silas snatched the handle and said okay, his turn.  He loved it, the buzz of the motor, hot fresh cut grass in the air, between his bare toes, wild onion sizzling on the frame, the bar vibrating in his fists and the occasional mangled stick flung from the vent.  When he was a kid one time, Larry yelled, walking alongside Silas, Larry’s daddy was cutting grass and Larry watching and his daddy ran over a rock that shot like a bullet and bounced off Larry’s bare stomach and left a red imprint of itself.  Larry’s daddy had laughed real hard.  Even took a Polaroid and laughed every time he looked at it.  You had to be careful of where you let the vent aim, was Larry’s point.  You didn’t want to spray any rocks out towards any cars or towards people, see?   Silas turned and left Larry standing and mowed rows and rows and kept mowing, loving the design he was making.  It felt good, like combing his hair..From page 151.

There is innocence here, mixed with the struggles of growing up, and the pressure from adults to copy beliefs and prejudices.  It is a beautifully drawn story and will be one of my favorites of the year.

Have you read and reviewed this novel?  Leave a comment and I will add your link.

Other reviews:

Caribousmom Fizzy Thoughts,   Mysteries in Paradise The Book Lady’s Blog, The Literate Housewife,

11 Comments

Filed under ContemporaryFiction, Mystery, Review

Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell


Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell

McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, 1998

I own this one.

I learned about this classic Canadian novel that by reading other Canadian novels.

First published in 1947, this is a story about a boy growing up in a small town on the Saskatchewan prairie during the 1930’s.

Brian O’Connal lives on the edge of the prairie with his Mother, Father, Grandmother and younger brother.  He is surrounded by odd characters, his Uncle Sean, Old Ben and Saint Sammy who lives in a piano crate.

When we first meet Brian he is angry over all the attention his sick baby brother is getting. His mother and father ignore him, his Grandmother shoos him out of the house.  Brian’s thoughts and feelings, expressed in internal dialogue,  are so like a four-year old child’s.  This is one of Mitchell’s gifts.  He had an ability to let us into his characters thoughts.

As Brian grows up, sharing the town with his friends and his dog Jappy, we meet many of the people who live around him. He learns about life, faith and human failings from his experiences and the adults he interacts with.  He is always drawn to the Prairie and to a wild boy who lives there.

And all about him was the wind now, a pervasive sighing trough great emptiness, as though the prairie itself was breathing in long gusting breaths, unhampered by the buildings of town, warm and living against his face and in his hair.  From page 13.

But it is not just Brian that we follow in this novel.  We follow other characters, particularly the teachers and principle of the local school.  Mitchell give us this small community with all its strengths and weaknesses.  Small town prejudice and hypocrisy, the class system of  the ” right” and “wrong” side of the tracks, the devastation of the dust bowl years.  All placed in a landscape that holds it all together as if in a golden bowl.

W.O. Michell paints this place with words.  The language is pure and lyrical.  I kept seeing each scene as if I were standing in the middle of  the prairie.  It is magnificent, every color, every sound, every scent.  I can understand why Canadians love this novel, how it has become a classic.  It is a part of that vast and beautiful country.

The following poem by Christina Rossetti inspired the title of this book.  Several boys actually quote a few lines in the text.

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

2 Comments

Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Historical Fiction, Review, TBR