Monday, June 28, 2010

review revisit: The Lovers by Vendela Vida

This review originally appeared on this blog in April 2010. I'm reposting it because I haven't had a chance to recap ALA (I'm still here, and it's wonderful!), the novel was published last Tuesday, and it's still one of my favorite reads of the year. I've made a few changes to reflect my current thoughts on the novel and how it has stayed with me.
The Lovers: A Novel
The back story: I am a huge fan of Vendela Vida, and when I first heard about her new novel, the advance praise alone had me longing for it. Thankfully, I got a copy from the publisher via Book Browse.

The basics: Yvonne is a middle-aged widow with two grown children who decides to travel alone to Datca, Turkey. 

Overall: I savored every word of the novel's 240 pages. Vida does a masterful job of showing the reader how even an intelligent, self-aware and honest character, does not really see what is going on around her. Yvonne's slow admissions of her back story made me realize the better I knew her, the less well she understood herself. I loved  Yvonne, and I loved the descriptions of marriage, parenting, teaching and travel. It's a beautiful character study of Yvonne.

Verdict: It's one of my favorite reads of 2010, and I sincerely hope it makes an appearance on next year's Orange Prize longlist. 

New thoughts: One of my other favorite reads of 2010 is Monique Roffey's White Woman on the Green Bicycle. There are some similarities to these two novels below the surface. Both are lyrical, character driven novels of women in a foreign land. If time allowed, I could have read both novels in a single sitting. Although they're among my favorite reads of 2010, these are not novels with universal appeal. For the right reader, however, they are magical.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Pages: 240
Publication date: June 22, 2010 

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm ALA bound!

I'm on a train bound for Washington, D.C. to attend my first American Library Association Annual Conference. I've been impatiently saving Justin Cronin's The Passage to read on the train, and I cannot wait to start it. I'm really looking forward to the conference too, of course. I'm less excited about the forecast of hot, humid weather for D.C., which means I likely won't be doing too much exploring in my free time.

If you'll be at ALA this week, you can stop by and see me in the Networking Uncommons or email or tweet me about meeting for lunch, dinner, coffee or cocktails. I hope to provide periodic recaps here over the weekend, but at the very least I'll recap the entire event next week.

If I do have spare time and the desire to leave air-conditioning, what would you suggest I do in D.C.?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

book review: Good Things I Wish You by A. Manette Ansay

Good Things I Wish You: A Novel
The backstory: I've been meaning to read the novels of A. Manette Ansay since Vinegar Hill was named an Oprah book club pick years ago. When the chance to review her latest novel, Good Things I Wish You for a TLC Tour, I jumped at the chance to finally read one of her novels.

The basics: The heroine of this story is Jeanette, a recently divorced professor in Miami. Jeanette is writing a novel of Clara Schumann, and Good Things I Wish You is metafiction where Jeannette's life intersects with the novel she's writing.

My thoughts: I loved it. I instantly related to Jeanette and found myself rooting for her. I found the details about Clara Schumann's life fascinating. Metafiction may not be universally appealing, but I think Ansay used it beautifully here. For me, the overarching theme of the novel was significance. As a writer, the character of Jeannette was searching for the significance in Clara and her choices that other novelists and biographers may have missed. As a character, she wondered about the significant things in her own life.
"Mostly I think it's just a matter of paying attention. Everything is significant, but when you take note of something in a particular way, it winds up changing how you react, how you feel. Maybe just a little, but there it is. Over time, it starts to make a difference." (page 23, hardback)
Jeanette engages in discussions about significance, rationality and relationships:
"Who can say why we make the choices that come to be seen as significant, ordained?" (page 55) 
"Infatuation is the inciting incident. Maybe it goes somewhere, maybe it doesn't, but you can't have a story without it." (page 209)
The novel did not begin as metafiction, or if it did, it was subtle enough I didn't identify it immediately. As Jeanette begins to think and speak more frankly about the novel she is writing, the metafiction elements emerge:
"A really great novel gets at the truth the way nonfiction can't." (page 136)
Ansay is first and foremost a gifted wordsmith. I found myself amazed by her use of language to evoke pain, beauty, significance, coincidence and complicated ideas about humanity, history and sexism. I cannot wait to read more of A. Manette Ansay's novels.

The verdict: Good Things I Wish You may not wow all readers, but fans of literary fiction, those fascinated by the construction of fiction and those who adore historical fiction mixed with modern fiction will delight in this deep, beautiful, short novel.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: The paperback will be out July 1, 2010
Source: I was supposed to receive this book for review from the publisher for this TLC Book Tour, but it hasn't come yet, so I got the book from my local library.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Waiting on Wednesday: Farishta

Jill at Breaking the Spine hosts Waiting on Wednesday to highlight a not yet published book you can't wait to read.

My pick this week is Farishta by Patricia McArdle. It recently won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for General Fiction. 

Here's the book's description via Amazon:
Patricia McArdle, a resident of Arlington, Va., is a retired American diplomat whose postings have taken her around the world, including northern Afghanistan. Her novel, Farishta, centers around a female American diplomat who, transferred to a volatile, remote outpost in northern Afghanistan, provides aid to refugee women fleeing the violence. She becomes their farishta, or "angel," in the local Dari language. Julie Barer of Barer Literary, LLC, one of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award’s expert panelists, described McArdle’s Farishta as "a moving and fascinating story of one woman’s work in a place that few Americans have experienced beyond newspaper headlines and CNN stories. Both the originality of the setting and the quality of the writing make this debut stand out in the crowd." 
Farishta will be released June 2, 2011. Pre-order it now in hardback or Kindle version.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Friday, June 18, 2010

movie review: City Island

City Island
The backstory: City Island won the Audience Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, and it has a wonderful cast. It's also refreshing to see an independent comedy, as so many films deal with more serious subject matters.

The basics: The Rizzo family is full of secrets. Everyone has one. Some are bigger than others, but the audience is in on all of them. Watch the trailer here.

My thoughts: I really wanted to like City Island. The acting was superb. The idea of the film was wonderful. The cascade of secrets, of course, all come out in one, long, awkward, unfunny scene. The film is certainly an homage to and a twist on a tragedy, but it ends up falling short of its aim despite the great acting. The problem for me is silly storylines are given as much dramatic heft as the serious ones. The juxtaposition of exposing these secrets at the same time made them all pale in comparison. As the audience knew all of the secrets from early in the film, by the time the resolution came, I was bored. There wasn't anything worth waiting for. The ending seemed predictable because I had ninety minutes of processing all of these secrets, while the characters were suddenly faced with secrets large and small. I had a difficult time emotionally connecting with the characters (and understanding their actions) because I knew more than they did. I'm not sure if creating this rift was Raymond De Felitta's intention, but it didn't work for me.

The verdict: Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies make this film worth seeing. The comedic elements were mostly lost on me in the mix of deep human emotion and silly lies, but comedy is an incredibly personal reaction.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Length: 104 minutes
Release date: It's in theaters now, and the dvd releases August 24, 2010.
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum Theatres.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

book review: The Truth About Delilah Blue by Tish Cohen

The Truth About Delilah Blue: A Novel (P.S.)
The backstory: Tish Cohen's first novel, Town House, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book for the Canada/Caribbean region. I haven't read Town House, but when I heard about her newest novel, The Truth About Delilah Blue, I was intrigued enough to read it.

The basics: Lila Mack, born Delilah Blue, moved from Toronto to Los Angeles when she was eight. She hasn't seen her mother since she was eight, and although she loves her father fiercely, she feels abandoned. Her mother chose her art over her daughter, and Lila longs to be an artist too. Her sensible, salesman father, however, will only finance business school. Lila decides to work as a nude model for an art school so she can absorb the lessons of the instructors while getting paid rather going into debt. As the titles indicates, however, there are secrets lurking and the novel explores Lila's coming of age and coming to terms with her childhood.

My thoughts: It would be simple to sum up my thoughts on this book with a single word: meh. While I didn't develop an emotional attachment to the book, I enjoyed it while I was reading it. The writing was good, and good writing goes a long with me. The story was fine too, but it had no surprises for me. Every event seemed telegraphed to me. I still can't decide if Lila's (realistic and justifiable) naiveté kept me from relating to her. Sometimes having the reader more aware of the situation and storyline can be compelling and provide suspense, but the opposite happened in this case. It all felt familiar. It wasn't great because it didn't pack any punch, but it wasn't bad because the idea of the story was nice and the writing was good.

The verdict: It could be a wonderful beach book for a casual reader and a delightful book for older teens, but for lovers of literary fiction, there's not quite enough heft of plot, story and wisdom to match Cohen's strong writing.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Length: 412 pages
Publication date: June 1, 2010
Source: Review copy from the publisher via Around the World Tours.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

guest post: Eyes on the (Orange) Prize

I haven't quite quit talking about the Orange Prize, friends. This week I guest blogged for Florinda while she's on vacation. Writing about the Orange Prize for a more general audience was wonderful, and I pontificate on why reading the shortlist was important to me as a reader and a woman. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

dinner and a movie: Babies

The backstory:
As soon as I saw the trailer, I wanted to see this movie.

The basics: The documentary cameras follow the four babies through the early stages of development. It's an insight into life and raising children in San Francisco; Tokyo; Opuwo, Namibia; and Bayanchandmani, Mongolia.

My thoughts: Babies was quite a bit like spending time with actual babies. It was sometimes boring and monotonous, but then a baby would do something so adorable or hilarious it made it all worthwhile. There was no narrative arc, and some scenes lasted longer than others. I found myself enjoying the Namibian baby the least because I know so little about their culture. There are no subtitles for the stories, so I was left lost (like a baby) with the other languages. I was hoping for more insight into the other cultures. I'm fascinated by differing gender roles and social customs around the world, and while I could infer some of these, I would have loved a little explanation. There were also times I could have used less explanation, such as the scene where we learn what happens to baby poop when they don't wear diapers (as they don't in Namibia). The film felt long at 79 minutes. It was certainly interesting, but the execution fell short for me. Ultimately, I wish there more, be it storyline, representation of themes, or having insight to the cultures and traditions beyond their surface.

The verdict: With another classic case of the trailer being more compelling of the film, it's interesting enough to see, but this documentary is perfect for renting.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 79 minutes
Release date: It's in theaters now, but there's no date for a dvd release yet.
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum 8 Theatres.

After the film, I strolled down to my favorite restaurant, New World Bistro Bar, for dinner. I started with the martini special, which was fresh, Bing cherries muddled with lime juice and a dash of simple syrup then shaken with vodka. It was fresh and delicious!

For my appetizer, I had an oyster and monkfish stew. It was rich, creamy, balanced, delicious and surprisingly not too heavy. The stew also had potatoes, bacon and cilantro. In every bite, I tasted the seafood. The stew was divine. I was glad I ordered a light entree to pair with it.

For dinner, I stuck with an old favorite: the arugula salad with grilled chimichurri salmon. I had another cherry martini too, but I asked for the second one with gin instead of vodka. It was slightly more delicious, but I also tend to find gin more delicious than vodka.

Sound delicious? Check out the picture of the cherry martini and oyster monkfish stew:

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

book review: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna: A Novel
The backstory: I wanted to read The Lacuna when it first came out. I loved the subject matter, as I have long been an admirer of Diego Rivera and Frido Kahlo. Although I have never read Barbara Kingsolver, which always surprises people, as she is my kind of writer (and at one point owned all of her books, which was, sadly, a quick way to ensure they were never my top reading priority.) When The Lacuna made the shortlist for the 2010 Orange Prize, I finally found the impetus to read this behemoth of a novel, which won the 2010 Orange Prize yesterday.

The basics: The Lacuna is the story of Harrison Sheperd, a fictional character whose life crosses paths with notable figures and appears in historic places throughout his life in Mexico and the United States. The story is told through letters, diaries and newspaper articles. There are notes from Sheperd's archivist sprinkled throughout to guide the reader and provide clues as to why this portion of the story was in the form.

My thoughts: I wanted to love this book. I love the idea of this book. I was inspired and intrigued by the author's opening  notes on sources. All articles from The New York Times in the novel were real, but all other newspaper articles were invented. It's a wonderful tool to let even your readers not familiar with the events help separate the real from the imagined. I studied art history in college, and I learned a lot about Rivera and Kahlo. I've always been fascinated by eccentric liberal artists, so I was well-versed in their association with the Communist party. I spent a semester in high school studying HUAC and McCarthyism, and it seemed obvious to me this novel was leading to the second Red Scare. It was intentionally self-reverential, as the reader knew our hero must do something important with his life if we're reading his childhood diaries, but Kingsolver sometimes beats that point home with sly humor:

“A drastic home life, sir. Something like a novel.” “Well, then. One can only hope you are writing it all down.” “No, sir, only some of it. On the interesting days. On most of the days it’s along the lines of a bad novel with no character learning any moral.”
But fiction is nonsense, the war is real.
The story’s droll assertion: heroes may be less than heroic, while the common man saves the day.
The novel’s tender theme is a longing for home. 
This book has it all: blood-curdling treachery, and even heart interest. The female pulse will race for handsome Indian prince Cuautla. With the speed of a locomotive the story hurtles to its epic conclusion. 
Harrison Shepherd is a novelist and a seemingly ordinary man in the midst of twentieth century icons.

Overall, the pace of this novel was off for me. I knew the seemingly boring details were important and leading to something, but it was so slow. I wonder if my familiarity with the subjects of this book and my own leftist political leanings left me unsurprised and rather uninspired. There was no great revelation for me in this novel, but there were certainly moments of brilliance:
“I see. And are you trustworthy?” “It’s a hard question to answer, sir. Saying ‘yes’ could prove either case.” He seemed to like that answer, smiling a little.
But others, like the Times, speak the truth on all inconsequential occasions, so they can deceive the public with the requisite authority when it becomes necessary.”
“I don’t mean to offend the journalists; they aren’t any different from other people. They’re merely the megaphones of the other people.”
But the task has no freedom in it. A record meant for another’s eyes is not recording, but spying. 
 People love to read about sins and errors, but not their own.
There were a lot of passages and moments I enjoyed in this novel, but there were many, many more I found superfluous and un-engaging.

The verdict: I would have rather read about Kingsolver's research process. The idea of this novel is award-worthy, but this novel mostly fell flat and made fascinating subjects quite dull.

Orange thoughts: It's no secret I was pulling for The White Woman on the Green Bicycle or Black Water Rising to win. They're better novels than The Lacuna, and the Prize would mean so much more to relatively unknown writers. Daisy Goodwin, chair of the Orange Prize Committee, said they chose The Lacuna because "it is a book of a breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy." My bias leads me to think her statement better reflects both Black Water Rising and The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, but I do agree there are shattering moments of poignancy, as there were in all of the shortlist books. Here are a few of my favorite poignant moments from The Lacuna:
But the task has no freedom in it. A record meant for another’s eyes is not recording, but spying.
Unthinkable. All of this is unthinkable, however much Lev and Natalya did think of it, anticipating death with each day’s dawn. To think is not always to see. 
They view the future as a house they can build with hammers and planks, rather than a ripening fruit that might go rotten due to unexpected natural forces. 
I'm curious if this tale resonated more with the Orange judges because they're not Americans. As The Lacuna itself mentions, "people love to read about sins and errors, but not their own."

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 528 pages
Publication date: November 1, 2009; the paperback will be out August 24, 2010
Source: I bought it for my Kindle.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Orange Prize!

The winner:
The Lacuna: A Novel

My reaction: Hmm. I did finally finish it last night (review coming tomorrow), and I'm disappointed it won. I'll share my full thoughts with my review tomorrow.

The Mock Orange Prize results: Sunday, I posted a poll for readers of this blog to vote. The only thing clear from the results are how different our tastes are!

  • There was an even split on who we WANT to win between four novels: Black Water Rising, A Gate at the Stairs, The Lacuna and White Woman on the Green Bicycle
  • There was a clear winner on we THINK will win: The Lacuna. (I have smart readers!) Wolf Hall and White Woman on the Green Bicycle also got votes.
  • As for books left off the shortlist (that were on the longlist): The Help, The Rehearsal, and This Is How. I wish I would have asked what books on the shortlist weren't deserving, but I'll remember next year!
  • There was only one vote for a book left off the longlist: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.

What's next?
Reading the longlist! I ordered the other four books not available in the U.S., and they arrived this week. Once I devour Wolf Hall, I'll get started on the longlist. I also plan to read the three titles nominated for the Orange Award for New Writers.

Next year: Yes, I am seriously considering a trip to London for the Orange Prize readings and announcement. I've been hankering to travel to England again, and I adore the Orange Prize. I would love to take it all in in person. I'll start saving my money and hope the long and shortlists are as inspiring next year as it is this year.

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

book review: Based Upon Availability by Alix Strauss

Based upon Availability: A Novel
The backstory: I jumped at the chance to read this book because the summary sounded so amazing. Here's part of the publisher's description:
Based Upon Availability is the story of eight women, each exploring the basic need for human connection while seeking to understand themselves better. They are lonely, strong and driven women who, when pushed to the edge, must fight for their lives as they struggle to become the women they wish to be...The hotel offers sanctuary to each—for an hour, for several days—and while some find solace, others find only despair. Strauss portrays nuanced portraits of these seemingly ordinary women to create an utterly original read, filled with dark themes and light prose.
It sounds fantastic right? Eight women whose lives intertwine at the Manhattan Four Seasons? I'm always fascinated by the stories of people I meet and see in passing each day.

The basics: Yes, technically it is the story of eight women. Mostly, however, it's the story of Morgan, a manager at the Four Seasons who is still reeling over the death of her sister. The first half of the novel is about Morgan. It's broken up into chapters with locations. In the second half of the novel, the same events are revisited from the point of view of the other character.

My thoughts: I've had trouble evaluating this novel as a whole. I really disliked the main character, Morgan. It felt as though her story was going on forever. She was a caricature; she was so self-absorbed and had zero self-awareness. Sometimes characters can be a successful satire, but I didn't sense satire from Strauss; I sensed sadness. Her descriptions of characters fell flat for me:
"Anne is shifting from one foot to the other, antsy and fidgety. She looks like a librarian-in-training. She's what my grandmother would have called "dowdy mousy." For some reason I have a soft spot for her. It makes me want to apply some blush to her cheeks, paint her lips a tawny red. Add some life to her face. Help her become the person I think she aches to be." (page 27)
Yes, I bristled a little at the librarian stereotype, but when it appeared again five pages later, it was hard to ignore:
"She has on her librarian expression now. Everything is stoic and she's speaking matter-of-factly, like a robot trying to get humanized." (page 32)
Seriously? I hope I'm disliking these passages because I think they're weak, silly descriptions void of nuance. These descriptions do, however, provide insight into how Morgan sees the world and help explain why she's so difficult to relate to.

Once the novel veered out of Morgan's voice, I actually began to love it. Anne, our dull librarian described above, is the first voice to take over narration. Her story would work brilliantly as a short story. She's nuanced, dynamic and interesting. She is the antithesis of Morgan, and I hope that was the intent of Strauss. Ironically, Anne's description of why she loves her job at the Four Seasons so much reads like the role of a reference librarian:
"Once she was asked to locate a miniature dachshund for Madonna. She spent all day tracking down the pedigree and finally unearthed a breeder in Vermont who had just one pup left." (page 137)
Librarians serve customers, but we call them patrons. We answer their questions, find information and help them the same way hotel concierge would.

I understand I thought I was reading literary fiction and this novel would probably do better with a chick lit cover, but if you're using pop culture to make points and seem cool, spell the names right:
"She laughs, thinking this is like a badly written Harlequin Romance novel or sappy movie of the week starring Shannon Doherty." (page 145)
Throughout the book, the similes fell flat for me, even when I enjoyed their intent:
"My sister is a terrific liar. It's a gift, like knitting or cooking." (page 207)
This book was uneven for me. There were parts I enjoyed, parts I despised and parts I read without emotional attachment. I admire what Strauss attempted, but there wasn't enough depth to the characters, writing or stories to make it work as a whole. I appreciate the unique literary structure, but with half of the novel telling Morgan's story, it fell somewhere between short stories and a novel. Some of the stories are wonderful, and part of their wonder comes from knowledge gleaned through Morgan's stories. Overall, the characters and the novel are caught somewhere between genres. The cover and description led me to believe it was literary fiction, and it is at times. It also attempts to be chick lit and fresh with pop culture. The ending, which could so easily have brought the chaotic reading experience together, was frustrating, vague and forced.

There were some odd mentions of time as well. I'm not entirely sure when the novel was set, as there are several mentions of personal CD players and mp3 players seem new. Morgan is 33 and graduated from college in 1993. There were a few moments it felt as though references had been updated. Perhaps I was reading too carefully, but this seemingly modern novel appears to be set in the early 2000s. The time doesn't change the story, but it was interesting to note.

The verdict: There are some wonderful bright spots, but there are far more flaws in this work. This book will appeal greatly to some and not at all to others.

Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 340
Publication date: June 8, 2010 
Source: publisher, via TLC Book Tours

For more thoughts on this novel, check out the rest of the tour schedule. Booklist gave it a starred review and Publisher's Weekly called it "stellar."

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Monday, June 7, 2010

book review: White Woman on the Green Bicycle

White Woman on th Green Bicycle
The backstory: If you don't know the Orange Prize is my recent obsession, then you must be new here (WELCOME!). The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is on this year's shortlist, and the wonderful folks at interlibrary loan were able to procure a copy for me so I could read it even though it hasn't been published in the U.S. yet. Although I was not familiar with Monique Roffey before this year's Orange Prize, I was looking forward to reading this one because the cover plays with color gorgeously.

The basics: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is the story of Sabine and George Harwood, a young couple who moved from England to Trinidad fifty years ago, near the end of the island's colonial history. The novel opens in 2006, and George and Sabine are unhappily married. Trinidad is rampant with political corruption and reckless cops who seemingly don't face consequences for their actions.

My thoughts: The first half of this novel occurs in 2006. Then, the narrative jumps back fifty years to Sabine and George's first days in Trinidad. The shift is dramatic, both in language and character, and it adds layers of meaning. The themes of temporary and permanent decisions resound through this book, as do the themes of similarities and differences. The modern part of the novel features an abundance of the Creole dialect, and it required me to read it more slowly until I got used to it. I realized I was used to it when the narrative jumped backward and the language became structured, traditional British English. Roffey used language wonderfully to emphasize the assimilation of George and Sabine. George adores Trinidad; Sabine despises it. George and Sabine have two children. As we learn in the first part of the novel, their daughter married and settles on Trinidad, while their son resides in England. It's a bold move to begin your story at the end, but it works; I cannot imagine this novel being told in traditional narrative order. All parts of this novel paint a vivid portrait of Trinidad, and seeing it through a tumultuous political transition was fascinating. I knew little of Trinidad, its people or customs, but passages such as this one tell its story beautifully:
"Jennifer never liked it when Sabine talked around things, what she called English talk. Even though she knew the Harwoods well, she disapproved of any vagueness; she saw it as cowardice, somehow even as lying. Trinidadians had the tendency to be explicitly honest about everything." (p. 41)
"A love that was still taboo in Europe was unavoidable in Trinidad." (p. 337) 
This novel is simultaneously a story of Trinidad and a story of humanity:
"Why do expect people in power to be different? We treat politicians like parents, it's the same relationship. We never forgive them if they fuck up." (p. 61) 
Ultimately, this novel is the story of George of Sabine and the disintegration of their marriage.
'In England I'd have been as unhappy as you are here.' He moaned. 'I'm selfish.' 
"I loved George but our marriage was always under threat. Other men wanted me and other women wanted George. This was both thrilling and worrying." (p. 337) 
The novel's biggest joy is that Roffey manages to give it suspense even though the ending comes first. After pondering, I wonder if Sabine would consider the novel's end the end of her story. I confess, when I first read the last page of this novel I was unsure what I thought of this novel. As I was reading it, it moved from what I would be a four-star novel to a five-star one, but I had to ponder the implications of the ending. It seemed unsatisfying at the time, but after a few days of contemplation, it seems absolutely perfect, and I'm proud to call The White Women on the Green Bicycle not only one of my favorite books of the year but a truly original, captivating tale of a couple and a place.

The verdict: It's a book I will reread many times over my life.

Orange thoughts: I love this book, and I will be thrilled if it wins. Black Water Rising would edge it out and get my vote, but discovering two wonderful novels on this shortlist was a joy, and if I were a betting woman, I'd bet on this one winning.

Rating: 5 stars
Length: 448 pages
Publication date: Sadly, there's no word on a U.S. release date yet, but Penguin USA has purchased the rights! It is available from Amazon UK and the Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Source: my beloved friends in interlibrary loan who allow me to be well-read for the Orange Prize

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Salon: Orange Prize week

Folks, we are mere days away from learning the winner of this year's Orange Prize. I know I've been following the action more closely than most, but I cannot wait to learn the victor. I've been trying to read all six shortlist books. I've fared pretty well, but I doubt I will be able to read Wolf Hall before Wednesday. I've discovered a fellow fanatic at Farm Lane Books, and it's been wonderful talking about the books, even when we don't agree on them! Here's the shortlist:
Black Water Rising: A NovelWhite Woman on th Green BicycleThe Very Thought of YouThe Lacuna: A NovelA Gate at the StairsWolf Hall: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)

If you've been following this blog, you know how I feel about these books. I adored Black Water Rising and The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (review coming tomorrow). I enjoyed The Very Thought of You. I wasn't wild about A Gate at the Stairs. I'm close to finishing The Lacuna, but it has been a laborious read for me. I hope to finish this week. Sadly, I've yet to crack open Wolf Hall, and although I hope to at least start it, it seems unlikely I will finish it before the announcement June 9, 2010. 

My picks:

If I were voting, I'd vote for Black Water Rising by Attica Locke.

If I were betting, I'd put my money on The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (and its odds are currently 8:1!

Wolf Hall
 might win, but it would be huge. The same book has never won the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize.

I don't think The Very Thought of You has a real chance of winning.

I hope The Lacuna and A Gate at the Stairs don't win. 

Have you read any of these books?  Have an opinion without reading?  

I posted the responses with my recap of the official announcement Wednesday.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

movie review: Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare's Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love
The backstory: While chick flicks aren't normally my first choice of films, I thought the trailer for this film was fantastic. Seriously, I cried all of the four times I saw it. It's set in Verona, a city I happen to love, and it stars Amanda Seyfried, whom I have adored since Mamma Mia! 

The basics: The trailer is pretty awesome in its own right, but Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, a fact-checker for The New Yorker who dreams of writing for it instead. She's engaged to Victor, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, a restaurateur who doesn't really prioritize their relationship. The two set off on a pre-honeymoon a few weeks before their wedding to Verona. Victor is more interested in meeting vendors and going to a wine auction than spending time with the delightful Sophie, who soon makes friends with the women who answer the letters to Juliet.  Sophie happens to find a very, very old letter and writes back.

My thoughts: Most of this film is cute and fun to watch. Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave shine. Verona and Tuscany almost deserve primary billing, as they are the true stars of this film. Watching the characters journey through Tuscany made me feel like I was back there. As expected in romantic films, the last ten minutes were almost unbearable for me. It was so over the top I was laughing out loud (there was a painfully awkward balcony scene involved). While it didn't ruin the movie for me, it did keep it from being great. Also, I found Christopher Egan (the male lead) to be rather uncompelling. He belonged as the male lead in a Mary Kate and Ashley movie, not alongside Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave. As one friend noted, the male characters would have been better off trading characters. It's still worth seeing, but I recommend waiting for dvd so you can have a glass bottle of wine with the characters and feel like you're on vacation too.

The verdict: Wait for dvd and enjoy it with a glass bottle of Montepulciano (Tuscany's best!) with you.

Rating: 3.75 stars
Publication date: It's in theaters now.
Source: I paid to see it at the Spectrum

Here I am, circa December 2006, in the very courtyard featured so prominently in the film rubbing Juliet's boob for good luck.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

graphic novel review: Wilson by Daniel Clowes

The backstory: I've started paying attention to the Amazon picks of the month. They're usually spot on with fiction (which I'm most familiar with), and they often feature a graphic novel, young adult and children's book too. Genre picks don't appear every month, but when they do, they're certainly worth noting. Wilson popped up in April, and I promptly requested it from the library. I haven't read Daniel Clowes before, but I did see the GhostWorld movie in the theater.

The basics: Wilson is the story of Wilson. Unlike any other graphic novel I've read, each page is a different short story or chapter. Clowers uses a variety of drawing and color styles. As the book begins, the chapters seemed more like loosely connected stories about Wilson; they were episodes in his life. As the novel moves on, the story began to seem more linear.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. It was laugh-out loud funny at times, although some of his humor (intentionally, it seems) borders on the inappropriate. There were a few jokes I found unnecessary, but I imagine that was part of the author's point. Ultimately, what Clowes achieves is truly a novel told in a fascinating way. A lot happens over the course of the novel, and although Wilson himself is not terribly likable, the book is, which is a testament to its author and artist.

The verdict: It's definitely worth reading if you're interested in graphic novels or enjoy quirky stories.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 77 pages
Publication date: April 27, 2010 - order it from Amazon today
Source: my local public library

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!