Sunday, March 30, 2008

Seachanges - my lists and progress

This post is cross posted at 51 stories

I always have my eye on Orange Prize Winners and lists and so being part of The Orange Prize Project is an absolute pleasure. There is no ‘must’, I just read the books anyway. The project officially starts this week, on 1 April. So far we have only had a long list for 2008 and I am reading some on this list, but I won’t comment any further as suggested until the short list has been made public. Apart from a few included in the long list and not to be revealed as yet, I have read a good few of the winners and shortlisted ones over the years, at least one in each year except for 1999 (what was I doing?), including:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007, winner), reviewed.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2007), reviewed here.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler (2007), reviewed here.
The Accidental by Ali Smith (2006)
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006), reviewed here.
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2005, winner)
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (2005) reviewed here
Small Island by Andrew Levy (2004, winner)
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2004)
Unless by Carol Shields (2003)
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (2003)
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002) reviewed
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2001)
White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
Larry’s Party by Carol Shield (1998, winner)
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve (1998)
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (1997, winner)
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1997)
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler (1996)

What am I going to read in 2008 that I have not read yet? On my list are:
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (shortlisted 2004)
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (shortlisted) 2006)
The Colour by Rose Tremain

In addition, I am reading or am planning to read some that so far are only on the longlist, but who knows?
When we were bad by Charlotte Mendelson
The Gathering by Anne Enright

And maybe some more…

Friday, March 28, 2008

Terri - intro and progress

Hello all - my name is Terri and I live in Portland Oregon. I know quite a few of you from other places - Library Thing mostly. Thanks, Wendy, for inviting me to participate. Challenges are new to me and my reading has expanded so much because of them. Though my biggest challenge is not to get stressed out about the challenges!

I hadn't even heard of the Orange Prize before LT, but I'm so drawn to contemporary women writers, so this seems like a natural for me. Here's what I've read to date of the winners and from the short lists:

Fiction prize:
  • Fingersmith
  • The Poisonwood Bible
  • The Weight of Water
  • Alias Grace
  • Accordion Crimes
  • The Hundred Secret Senses
  • Digging to America (which I detested!)
New writers:
  • The Lizard Cage
I have a number of the winners and short list books very high on my TBR pile already:
  • Half of a Yellow Sun
  • The Inheritance of Loss
  • A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
  • The Night Watch
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin
  • Old Filth
  • Small Island
  • Unless
  • The Blind Assassin (top of the heap)
  • The Magician's Assistant
There are also about a dozen on the longlists that I've read but won't list them just now. I haven't quite decided how I want to tackle this -- I think reading all the winners is a must for me; and then perhaps adding at least one from each short list. I'll keep you posted!

(Later, edit) Ok, I've decided to read all the winners (both categories), at least one from each short list and at least one from each long list. This is in addition to those I've already read. Whew. Glad that's settled.

We seem to have some date issues - the front page of this blog shows it's Tuesday April 1st. I hope that's wrong, 'cause if it's right, I'm supposed to be at work!! And it shows the date of my post as yesterday's date. Puzzling.

I'm looking forward to sharing progress and thoughts with you all!

Marg's review: The Tenderness of Wolves

Originally posted on my blog in December 2006
As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Canada’s Dove River in 1867, a man is brutally murdered and a 17-year-old boy disappears. Tracks leaving the dead man’s cabin head north toward the forest and the tundra beyond.

In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the township—journalists, Hudson Bay Company men, trappers, traders—but do they want to solve the crime or exploit it? One-by-one the assembled searchers set out from Dove River, pursuing the tracks across a desolate landscape home only to wild animals, madmen, and fugitives, variously seeking a murderer, a son, two missing sisters, a forgotten Native culture, and a fortune in stolen furs.

In an astonishingly assured debut, Stef Penney weaves adventure, suspense, revelation, and humour into a gripping historical tale, an exhilarating thriller, a keen murder mystery, and ultimately, with the sheer scope and quality of her storytelling, one of the best books of the year.

This book is being sold in the bookstores here with a "Good Reading Guarantee", and that if you didn't enjoy it you could get your money back. If I had of bought it, for the first couple of hundred pages I would have been seriously considered taking advantage of that guarantee. It's not that it wasn't a good read, because it was...eventually. Maybe it was just the way that I was feeling, but every time I opened this book and read a few pages I just wanted to go to sleep. Once I got past a couple of hundred pages it was okay, and I no longer felt the need to sleep through the book but it did take me a very long time to get to that point.

Part of the issue for me was the sheer number of characters there were and how the action followed so many of them. We started out with the people who lived in the town of Dove River, particularly those who were directly affected by the murder of a French trapper. Then, the chief investigators enter the story - a couple of the upstanding gentlemen from the next town over, plus several men from the Hudson Bay Trading Company. Then a couple of other people vaguely connected to the case come into town as well. And then, everyone starts leaving again, in groups of ones and twos, ostensibly to try and track down the young boy who may or may not have killed the trapper. No one knows why he would do this, but still he has disappeared and that would make him appear guilty.

As many of the characters leave Dove River, they enter the wilderness in the middle of winter making travelling hazardous and drawing unlikely travelling companions closer together. Eventually the travellers arrive at a small religious settlement, where yet more characters and subplots are introduced to the book, and then again when they travel on to a small company outpost a little further on.

With the narrative following all the different characters as they arrive in Dove River and then leave in groups of two or three, the story switched too many times even within single chapters.

In the end this was an okay read. I think that there were probably a couple too many strands of the story than there really needed to be and therefore it was difficult to draw them all back into a cohesive finish, but there was certainly a good story to be told in there, and definitely signs of a good writer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Originally posted on my blog in April 2006. You might be able to tell that this review was written as a comparison to The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons - one of my favourite books of all time!
Leningrad, September 1941. German forces surround the city, imprisoning those who live there. The besieged city of Leningrad face shells, starvation and the Russian winter.

Interweaving two love affairs in two generations, The Siege draws us deep into the Levin family's struggle to stay alive during this terrible winter. What is it like to be so hungry you simmer your leather manicure case to make soup, so cold you burn first your furniture and then your books? An in spite of everything to resist...

The Siege is a brilliantly imagined novel about war and the wounds it inflicts on ordinary people's lives. It is also a profoundly moving celebration of love, life and survival.
The main characters in this book are the Levins - Mikhail, a writer who is unfortunately out of favour with the Communist authorities, his daughter Anna who is a talented artist who works as a child care worker and 5 year old Kolya, her brother. Her mother having died during childbirth, Anna is both her brother's sister and substitute mother, and provider for the family.

When war is declared Anna is at the family dacha, working in the family vegetable plot, and just beginning a portrait of the mysterious actress Marina Petrovna. As war goes on, the little family grows as Marina comes to join the Levin's in their apartment. What is her connection to Anna's family? Is Anna right to feel the animosity for Marina that she does? Is it right to accept the gifts of food that Marina has brought with her that will in the end help keep them alive? Eventually, Anna's doctor boyfriend Andrei also moves in. She met him when he comes to tell her that her father had been wounded when working out at the defense line against the Germans who have encircled Leningrad, and who are gradually tightening the screws on an increasingly desperate population.

The aspect of this book that Dunmore did excel at were the pictures that she drew of the population as they went through the various phases of The Siege. The initial disbelief that they were at war, the feeling of still having to be careful about what you say even as you are working at the front lines to provide defense against the oncoming Germans, the repatriation of the children of Leningrad only to find them needing to be repatriated back to Leningrad when it turns out that they were in the way of the advancing Germans. As the war and the siege proceeds, the desperation becomes more intense as each person gets meagre rations of what is loosely called bread, and as the winter progresses, means of keeping warm. Eventually the only way for supplies to get in is over the Road of Life, over the frozen ice of Lake Ladoga. When the siege of Leningrad began there were approximately 3 million people living there...a million people died before the siege was lifted!

Where this novel didn't excel in my opinion, is in the relationships. Reading the back cover I was expecting that the relationships would be given a major focus, and yet they weren't. The book was a quarter of the way through before Anna and Andrei even met, and the relationship between Mikhail and Marina was mainly alluded to through the later part of the book. It was really a relationship from the past, as opposed to one that has been rekindled and explored with the reader.

My question to myself is really....if I had read this book before I read The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, would I have liked it more than I did. I'm not sure what the answer is. All I can say is that The Siege pails in comparison to The Bronze Horseman, even despite the fact that the focus is different in the two books. TBH is all about the relationships, against the elaborate background of the siege in Leningrad, whereas The Siege seems to be about conditions in Leningrad with a nod to the relationships between the two couples in the book. TBH also seems to be better at giving some idea of the grandeur of Leningrad (now St Petersburg), the sights and sounds if you will. (I have had a desire to go to St Petersburg ever since reading TBH...for now I content myself with cyber tourism!)

I'm afraid it will be a long time before I attempt a book with a similar setting to TBH because there aren't many that will stack up against it! I should have known better, I really should have!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Key Dates - 2008 Prize

I thought it would be helpful to list these key dates for the 2008 Prize. Following the link in the sidebar to the Official Orange Prize website will give you additional information about the latest news.

Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction longlist

18 March 2008

Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction shortlist

15 April 2008

Orange Broadband Award for New Writers shortlist

8 April 2008

Shortlist readings

2/3 June 2008

Award ceremony

4 June 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Megan's Intro and Progress

Hello, everybody. I'm Megan and I blog at Leafing Through Life. I was so excited to see an Orange Prize Project considering when I first discovered the prize I considered trying to read as many of the winners and short list titles that I could on my own, so it's great to be able to try and accomplish that in community! I've read several already - unfortunately before I started my blog and started to review books seriously, so I haven't got many reviews of the ones I've already finished - but I look forward to reviewing my future Orange Prize reads and sharing them here.

Here are the ones I've read so far (in bold) as well as the ones that I've already got on my shelves (in italics) which will be the ones most likely to be read soonest.



Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley


New Writers

Disobedience by Naomi Alderman (Winner)


The Night Watch by Sarah Waters


The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory
Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld


New Writers

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff


We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Winner)
The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman


The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill



Small Island by Andrea Levy (Winner)
The Colour by Rose Tremain


Brick Lane by Monica Ali
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Love by Toni Morrison
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger



The Little Friend by Donna Tartt


The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold



Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (Winner)
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters


Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd



The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley


The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi
Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund



Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout


Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier



The Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Paradise by Toni Morrison


The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox



The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve


Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen



Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx
I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn


Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald



The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 Longlist Released

I saw that the 2008 Longlist was released for the Orange Prize - check out this list:

Anita Amirrezvani's The Blood of Flowers (Headline Review)
Stella Duffy's The Room of Lost Things (Virago)
Jennifer Egan's The Keep (Abacus)
Anne Enright's The Gathering (Cape)
Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Tessa Hadley's The Master Bedroom (Cape)
Nancy Huston's Fault Lines (Atlantic)
Gail Jones's Sorry (Harvill Secker)
Sadie Jones's The Outcast (Chatto)
Lauren Liebenberg's The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam (Virago)
Charlotte Mendelson's When We Were Bad (Picador)
Deborah Moggach's In The Dark (Chatto)
Anita Nair's Mistress (BlackAmber)
Heather O’Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals (Quercus)
Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul (Viking)
Dalia Sofer's The Septembers of Shiraz (Picador)
Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr Y (Canongate)
Carol Topolski's Monster Love (Fig Tree)
Rose Tremain's The Road Home (Chatto)
Patricia Wood's Lottery (Heinemann)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

This review was originally posted on my blog in June 2006.

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gun-wielding terrorists breaks in through the air-conditioning vents and takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different countries and continents become compatriots.

Without the demands of the world to shape their days, life on the inside becomes more beautiful than anything they had ever known before. At once riveting and impassioned, the narrative becomes a moving exploration of how people communicate when music is the only common language. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion and cannot be stopped.

You know...the blurb on this one tells enough to make it sound interesting. The main characters in this novel are Roxanne Coss (the opera singer), Mister Hosakawa (the opera fan), Gen (his interpreter) and Carmen (one of the terrorists), however there are several other characters that take a turn in the spotlight.

Whilst the pace of this book is ponderous at times, the writing is beautiful, and you can feel the book moving to an inevitably crashing crescendo. The hostage situation has been ongoing for many months, and whilst for the people within the compound that life has settled into a pleasant routine with music and football as part of the life they have become accustomed to, as far as the world outside is concerned the situation cannot continue.

If there was one thing that I didn't like it was the Epilogue, which certainly tied up a couple of loose ends, but in a way that was almost against the flow of the relationships that happened throughout the rest of the book.

If you are looking for a book to meander through, then this could be one for you.

Rating 3.5/5

Updated to add:

Now that I have some distance on reading this book, I think the grade was right, but I probably would have written up the content a little differently (it's a little scary to see how your review style changes over a period of a couple of years), and yet I still remember it quite well. That does sound kind of contradictory I guess, but then again that probably sums up my feelings about this book. I have never really gone out of my way to pick up any other Ann Patchett books since reading this book.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Purple Hibiscus

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja live in a privileged world within Nigeria, where their wealthy father Eugene can provide them with many comforts and luxuries. In stark contrast, Eugene’s sister Ifeoma struggles as a university professor to put food on the table for her children. However, for all their wealth, Kambili’s family has much less joy than her cousins’. While Eugene and Ifeoma were both converted to Catholicism by missionaries, Eugene embraced it to the exclusion of his culture and his former life, while Ifeoma was able to incorporate Catholicism into her life without rejecting her heritage. Eugene sets exacting, impossible standards for his children, who only learn to enjoy life and find out more about their family and their heritage when they are sent to stay with Ifeoma during a school holiday.

One of my favorite books I read last year was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, about the Nigerian war to create the independent state of Biafra, so I approached Purple Hibiscus, her first novel, with a mix of eagerness and dread. I confess to being rather hard on first novels, and I wanted this book to compare favorably to Half of a Yellow Sun. Purple Hibiscus is not nearly as wide in scope as Half of a Yellow Sun–while political unrest in Nigeria informs the work, Adichie’s main focus in Purple Hibiscus is family and religion. Within its narrower confines, and more familiar territory, Adichie still manages to demonstrate her considerable talent as a writer, and while the book doesn’t equal Half of a Yellow Sun, the path to it from this work is clear.

On the surface, Purple Hibiscus reads like a YA novel, and Kambili’s narrative voice at times seems younger than her 15 years. Yet Adichie’s oblique questioning of Catholicism/Christianity as any more valid than polytheism gives the mature reader plenty of food for thought. Eugene’s abuse of his children is at times tough to take, and while I would recommend this book to mature teenagers, their parents should be prepared to discuss this difficult issue.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Bethany's Intro and Progress

Yes, I'm new name is bethany (or b) from B&b ex libris, I have recently found out about this wonderful world of book blogging and am so thankful to now be a part of it! I have been blogging for a while ( at: the good. the bad. the ugly.), but I am new to this idea of book blogging.

I haven't read many of the books on these lists, so I decided to join and to give it a shot. Here it goes.

bold: titles I own
italics: am dying to read, need to get my hands on!
orange: titles I've read
black: titles I will read in 2008 ( I decided on 3 that I already own and if I can I'll do more!)

The Orange Prize for Fiction

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Arlington Park, by Rachel Cusk
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo
The Observations, by Jane Harris
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler

Poppy Shakespeare, by Clare Allan
Peripheral Vision, by Patricia Ferguson
Over, by Margaret Forster
The Dissident, by Nell Freudenberger
When to Walk, by Rebecca Gowers
Carry Me Down, by MJ Hyland
The Girls, by Lori Lansens
Alligator, by Lisa Moore
What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn
The Tenderness of Wolves, by Stef Penney
Careless, by Deborah Robertson
Afterwards, by Rachel Seiffert
Ten Days in the Hills, by Jane Smiley
The Housekeeper, by Melanie Wallace

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss (rated 4.5/5 review here)
Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel
The Accidental, by Ali Smith
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, by Carrie Tiffany
The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters

Minaret, by Leila Aboulela
Harbor, by Lorraine Adams
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
Watch Me Disappear, by Jill Dawson
House of Orphans, by Helen Dunmore
The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory
White Ghost Girls, by Alice Greenway
Dreams of Speaking, by Gail Jones
Lost in the Forest, by Sue Miller
Rape: A Love Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
Frangipani, by Celestine Hitiura Vaite
The Position, by Meg Wolitzer

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

Old Filth, by Jane Gardam
The Mammoth Cheese, by Sheri Holman
Liars and Saints, by Maile Meloy
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka

Away From You, by Melanie Finn
Black Dirt, by Nell Leyshon
Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
Escape Routes for Beginners, by Kira Cochrane
The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates
It So Happens, by Patricia Ferguson
The Mysteries of Glass, by Sue Gee
Nelson's Daughter, by Miranda Hearn
The Remedy, by Michele Lovric
The River, by Tricia Wastvedt
The Great Stink, by Clare Clark
Tatty, by Christine Dwyer Hickey
The Zigzag Way, by Anita Desai
Ursula, Under, by Ingrid Hill

Small Island, by Andrea Levy

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard
Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ice Road, by Gillian Slovo
The Colour, by Rose Tremain

Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
The Sari Shop, by Rupa Bajwa
Kith and Kin, by Stevie Davies
State of Happiness, by Stella Duffy
The Flood, by Maggie Gee
The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah Hall
Notes on a Scandal, by Zoe Heller
The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri (rated 4/5 )
A Visit from Voltaire, by Dinah Lee Kung
Gilgamesh, by Joan London
The Internationals, by Sarah May
Love, by Toni Morrison
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler

Property, by Valerie Martin

Buddha Da, by Anne Donovan
Heligoland, by Shena Mackay
Unless, by Carol Shields
The Autograph Man, by Zadie Smith
The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

Special, by Bella Bathhurst
Caramelo, by Sandra Cisneros
English Correspondence, by Janet Davey
Dot in the Universe, by Lucy Ellmann
What the Birds See, by Sonya Hartnett
What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt
War Crimes for the Home, by Liz Jensen
The Solace of Leaving Early, by Haven Kimmel
In the Forest, by Edna O'Brien
Fox Girl, by Okja Keller
When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka
Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh
Water Street, by Crystal Wilkinson

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

No Bones, by Anna Burns
The Siege, by Helen Dunmore
The White Family, by Maggie Gee
A Child's Book of True Crime, by Chloe Hooper
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

Pop, by Kitty Aldridge
A True Story Based on Lies, by Jennifer Clement
Now You See Me, by Lesley Glaister
The Element of Water, by Stevie Davies
Five Quarters of an Orange, by Joanne Harris
Niagara Falls All Over Again, by Elizabeth McCracken
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk (rated 4.5/5 review here)
Middle Ages, by Joyce Carol Oates
The Story of My Face, by Kathy Page
Crawling at Night, by Nani Power
La Cucina, by Lily Prior
The Hero's Walk, by Anita Rau Badami
Sister Crazy, by Emma Richler
The Dark Room, by Rachel Seiffert

The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
Fred & Edie, by Jill Dawson
Hotel World, by Ali Smith
Homestead, by Rosina Lippi
Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley

The Hiding Place, by Trezza Azzopardi
In the Blue House, by Meaghan Delahunt
The Last Samurai, by Helen Dewitt
Fish, Blood & Bone, by Leslie Forbes
The Wild, by Esther Freud
Dog Days, Glenn Miller Nights, by Laurie Graham
Nowhere Else on Earth, by Josephine Humphreys
Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund
From Caucasia, with Love, by Danzy Senna
The Bonesetter's Daughter, by Amy Tan
The PowerBook, by Jeanette Winterson
MotherKind, by Jayne Ann Phillips

When I Lived in Modern Times, by Linda Grant

If I Told You Once, by Judy Budnitz
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
The Dancers Dancing, by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

The Translator, by Leila Aboulela
Girl With A Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
Fasting, Feasting, by Anita Desai
A Dangerous Vine, by Barbara Ewing
Danny Boy, by Jo-Ann Goodwin
A Sin of Colour, by Sunetra Gupt
Born Free, by Laura Hird
Everything You Need, by A.L. Kennedy
The Hunter, by Julia Leigh
Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott
Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, by Gina B. Nahai
Island, by Jane Rogers
Last Chance Texaco, by Christine Pountney
What the Body Remembers, by Shauna Singh Baldwin

A Crime in the Neighborhood, by Suzanne Berne

The Short History of a Prince, by Jane Hamilton
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
Paradise, by Toni Morrison
The Leper's Companions, by Julia Blackburn
Visible Worlds, by Marilyn Bowering

Master Georgie, by Beryl Bainbridge
The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett
In A Fishbone Church, by Catherine Chidgey
Crocodile Soup, by Julia Darling
Restitution, by Maureen Duffy
Trumpet, by Jackie Kay
Comfort Woman, by Nora Okja Keller
Buxton Spice, by Oonya Kempadoo
The Vintner's Luck, by Elizabeth Knox
Marchlands, by Karla Kuban
The Giant O'Brien, by Hilary Mantel
The Most Wanted, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A History of Silence, by Barbara Neil
Evening News, by Marly Swick

Larry's Party, by Carol Shield

Lives of the Monster Dogs, by Kirsten Bakis
The Ventriloquist's Tale, by Pauline Melville
The Magician's Assistant, by Ann Patchett
Love Like Hate Adore, by Deirdre Purcell
The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve

Bitter Grounds, by Sandra Benitez
Man or Mango? by Lucy Ellmann
Gaglow, by Esther Freud
The Aguero Sisters, by Cristina Garcia
The House Gun, by Nadine Gordimer
The Breaking, by Kathryn Heyman
Round Rock, by Michelle Huneven
Ark Baby, by Liz Jensen
Undiscovered Country, by Christina Koning
The Orchard, by Drusilla Modjeska
Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen
Impossible Saints, by Michele Roberts
The Underpainter, by Jane Urquhart
Baby Love, by Louis Young

Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels

Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
One by One in the Darkness, by Deirdre Madden
Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx
Hen's Teeth, by Manda Scott
I Was Amelia Earhart, by Jane Mendelsohn

Every Man For Himself, by Beryl Bainbridge
Death Comes for Peter Pan, by Joan Brady
The Mistress of Spices, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
The Last Thing He Wanted, by Joan Didion
The Cast Iron Shore, by Linda Grant
The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, by Siri Hustvedt
The Autobiography of My Mother, by Jamaica Kincaid
With Child, by Laurie R. King
Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald
All the Blood is Red, by Leone Ross
Red Leaves, by Paulina Simons
Anita and Me, by Meera Syal
Gut Symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson
The Frequency of Souls, by Mary Kay Zuravleff

A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore

The Book of Colour, by Julia Blackburn
Spinsters, by Pagan Kennedy
The Hundred Secret Senses, by Amy Tan
Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler
Eveless Eden, by Marianne Wiggins

The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker
Official and Doubtful, by Ajay Close
The Rape of Sita, by Lindsey Collen
Keeping Up with Magda, by Isla Dewar
The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Private Parts of Women, by Lesley Glaister
The Passion of Alice, by Stephanie Grant
Egg Dancing, by Liz Jensen
So I Am Glad, by A.L. Kennedy
Never Far From Nowhere, by Andrea Levy
Mother of Pearl, by Mary Morrissy
Promised Lands, by Jane Rogers
River Lines, by Elspeth Sandys

Orange Prize for New Writers

The Lizard Cage, by Karen Connelly - WINNER
Poppy Shakespeare, by Clare Allan
Bitter Sweets, by Roopa Farooki

Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman - WINNER
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyun Li
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin

26a, by Diana Evans - WINNER
Lucky Girls, by Nell Freudenberger
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff

WOW, I have A LOT of work to do!!!

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Observations by Jane Harris

Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley-a wide-eyed and feisty young Irish girl-takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella-the "missus." Bessy lacks the necessary scullery skills for her new position, but as she finds out, it is her ability to read and write that makes her such a desirable property. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her mundane chores and most intimate thoughts. And it seems that the missus has a few secrets of her own, including her near- obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances.

Giving in to her curiosity, Bessy makes an infuriating discovery and, out of jealousy, concocts a childish prank that backfires and threatens to jeopardize all that she has come to hold dear. Yet even when caught up in a tangle of madness, ghosts, sex, and lies, she remains devoted to Arabella. But who is really responsible for what happened to her predecessor Nora? As her past threatens to catch up with her and raise the stakes even further, Bessy begins to realize that she has not quite landed on her feet.

The Observations is a brilliantly original, endlessly intriguing story of one woman's journey from a difficult past into an even more disturbing present, narrated by one of the most vividly imagined heroines in recent fiction. This powerful story of secrets and suspicions, hidden histories and mysterious disappearances is at once compelling and heart-warming, showing the redemptive power of loyalty and friendship. A hugely assured and darkly funny debut, The Observations is certain to establish Jane Harris as a significant new literary talent.

Do you all have those books that you have either borrowed from the library or picked up off the bookshelf quite a few times but you just haven't got to read before you picked up something else, or before you had to return the book to the library! This book is one of those books for me! And I very nearly had to return it unread to the library again, but I managed to read it and, I have to say, I am glad that I did because it was quite original and entertaining.

The main character is Bessie, a young girl who is running away from her unsavoury past. In order to try to escape some unwelcome attention she turns in to the road that leads to Castle Haivers (although there is no castle!) and her life changes. She is employed as a maid by Arabella Reid, even though it is clear to Arabella that Bessie has no experience as a maid, despite what she says! Thus begins a strange journey. Bessie becomes so enamoured of her mistress, willing to go to any lengths to replace Nora (one of Arabella's former maids) in her affections. As Bessie begins to realise that she may never replace Nora, Bessie begins a bit of tomfoolery, not realising the dramatic effects that her actions will have on her beloved mistress. As Arabella's mental state deteriorates and her husband and doctor begins a series of incredibly bizarre treatments, Bessie tries to find out the truth of what happened to Nora, not realising that the truth about her own former life is getting closer and closer to being revealed.

Bessie is incredibly flawed, no polite little Victorian miss. She is mouthy and impertinent, saucy and yet her affection for Arabella is heartfelt and sincere. She is also trying to drag herself out of her previous situation any way she can, a situation that she was basically put into by her mother.

The great thing about this book is that it twists and turns and doesn't end up going in the directions that you think it will go. Every time that I thought that I knew what was going to happen next, something completely different happened.

If you like your books atmospheric and gothicky then this one could be for you.

Rating 4/5

Originally posted at Historical Tapestry October 2007