Saturday, September 29, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a haunting novel. Originally published in 2006, Half of a Yellow Sun won the 2007 Orange Broadband Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. My paperback copy has 544 pages.

From Amazon:
"Publishers Weekly Starred Review. When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie (Purple Hibiscus). Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family. Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing, particularly passages depicting the savage butchering of Olanna and Kainene's relatives. But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush and sultry side as well: rebellious Olanna is the mistress of Odenigbo, a university professor brimming with anticolonial zeal; business-minded Kainene takes as her lover fair-haired, blue-eyed Richard, a British expatriate come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art—and whose relationship with Kainene nearly ruptures when he spends one drunken night with Olanna. This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs, most notably its depiction of the impact of war's brutalities on peasants and intellectuals alike. It's a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing. Copyright © Reed Business Information"

This novel will grip you, especially since it is based on a real historical event in African history - the civil war between Biafra and Nigeria during the 1960s. Although the novel started out a bit slowly, it soon grabs you and will keep you up way too late at night trying to find out what happens to the characters next. Adichie tells the story by alternating between the voices and point of view of the characters Alonna, Ugwu, and Richard. It works well for the story. Half of a Yellow Sun is highly recommended.

"But he understood even as a young boy that it was not that they did not love him, rather it was that they often forgot they did because they loved each other too much."

[T]he sun was intense, a piercing white hotness that made him imagine his body fluids evaporating, drying out, and he was relieved to get inside the cool building."

"...waving his Biafran flag: swaths of red, black, and green, and, at the center, a luminous half of a yellow sun."

" 'Don't see it as forgiving him. See it as allowing yourself to be happy. What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?'
Olanna looked at the crucifix above the windows, at the face of Christ serene in agony, and said nothing."

"Grandpa used to say, about difficulties he had gone through, 'It did not kill me, it made me knowledgeable.' "

Friday, September 28, 2007


I find it rather disturbing that our water bill in KS is 3 times higher than the bill in NV. Oh, I'm not complaining about the price of water here as I fully expected this. What I would like to point out is the obvious: NV is a desert climate. They are constantly fighting over water rights and yet they can sell water for much less than they do here in KS, where it actually rains. They also waste more water in NV than in KS. I tried to tell people in NV about the cost of water and water conservation in other parts of the country, but water is a hot topic there. People feel they have a right to use all the water they want, as they please, for an inexpensive price. Perhaps if they had to pay more for that right they would hold it more dear.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The latest book I've read is We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and translated from the Russian by Mirra Ginsburg. My paperback copy of We is 232 pages long. I enjoyed We, but believe that another translation might have been more enjoyable. There were sections where I'm assuming the translation made sentences feel a bit disjointed and it distracted from the actual storyline. My copy was from 1980 and there are new translations available now.

From Amazon:
“[Zamyatin’s] intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism– human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself–makes [We] superior to Huxley’s [Brave New World].”
–George Orwell

An inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984 and a precursor to the work of Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem, We is a classic of dystopian science fiction ripe for rediscovery. Written in 1921 by the Russian revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin, this story of the thirtieth century is set in the One State, a society where all live for the collective good and individual freedom does not exist. The novel takes the form of the diary of state mathematician D-503, who, to his shock, experiences the most disruptive emotion imaginable: love for another human being.
At once satirical and sobering...We speaks to all who have suffered under repression of their personal and artistic freedom."

"The underlying themes of conformity vs. freedom and 'the state' vs. the individual still have great contemporary significance."

Friday, September 21, 2007

pink Dyson

Check out 5 Minutes for Mom for the chance to win a pink Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Dyson is helping to find a cure for Breast Cancer.
They have created a Pink vacuum and they are donating $40 from each sale to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. These vacuums are sold exclusively at Target.
Dyson has also offered to donate the full retail value of a second DC07 Pink vacuum ($400) to the BCRF in honor of the 5 Minutes for Mom giveaway.

A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr.was originally published in 1959. My paperback copy is 320 pages. This is considered a classic science fiction novel by many and was one of the original dystopian novels. In the end, the morale of A Canticle for Leibowitz seems to be that mankind is doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

A Canticle for Leibowitz follows a cloister of monks in their Utah abbey after a nuclear exchange, through three ages of advancement over the course of 1800 years. A working knowledge of Latin and Catholicism would be helpful to fully appreciate A Canticle for Leibowitz, but it's not entirely necessary. The book is divided into three sections: Fiat Homo (Let There Be Man), Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light), and Fiat Voluntas Tua (Thy Will Be Done). The middle part of Miller's novel is not as compelling as the first and third sections, but serves as a transitional section. Fiat Homo begins with the excavation of a holy artifact: a creased, brittle memo scrawled by the hand of the blessed Saint Leibowitz, that reads: "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma."

From Amazon reviewer D. Cloyce Smith
"Walter Miller's only major novel is not simply a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel but also a multi-layered meditation on the conflict between knowledge and morality. Six hundred years after a nuclear holocaust, an abbey of Catholic monks survives during a new Dark Ages and preserves the little that remains of the world's scientific knowledge. The monks also seek evidence concerning the existence of Leibowitz, their alleged founder (who, the reader soon realizes, is a Jewish scientist who appears to have been part of the nuclear industrial complex of the 1960s). The second part fast-forwards another six hundred years, to the onset of a new Renaissance; a final section again skips yet another six hundred years, to the dawn of a second Space Age--complete, once again, with nuclear weapons.

The only character who appears in all three sections is the Wandering Jew--borrowed from the anti-Semitic legend of a man who mocked Jesus on the way to the crucifixion and who was condemned to a vagrant life on earth until Judgment Day. Miller resurrects this European slander and sanitizes him as a curmudgeonly hermit, a voice of reason in a desert wilderness, an observer to humankind's repeated stupidities, a friend to the monks and abbots, the ghost of Leibowitz (perhaps)..."
(I thought the note about the Wandering Jew was quite interesting.)

If you are interested in dystopian novels and want to read an early post-apocalyptic work, then I would recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz. It's not as fast paced as other more recent novels of this genre, but it is certainly thought provoking. While some parts reflect the time in which it was written, other questions raised are timeless.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

birth date

From Pattie:

The rules are to go to Wikipedia and type in the day and month of your birth, excluding the year, and hit search. Then you are to list three events, two births, and one holiday that occurred on your birthday.

May 2

3 events

1568 - Mary I of Scotland escapes from Loch Leven Castle, where she had been imprisoned by Sir William Douglas.

1863 - American Civil War: Stonewall Jackson is wounded by friendly fire while returning to camp after reconnoitering for the Battle of Chancellorsville. He succumbs to pneumonia 8 days later.

1946 - "Battle of Alcatraz" - Alcatraz Federal prison, San Francisco is taken over by six inmates following failed escape attempt

2 births

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

Bing Crosby, American singer and actor

1 holiday

Poland - Flag Day, an official holiday to honour the Flag of Poland

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Deeper by Jeff Long is s sequel to The Descent. If you haven't read The Descent, then you will want to read it before Deeper. Long takes us back to Hell which located right below our feet. Deeper just came out in August 2007. My hardcover copy has 420 pages.

From Amazon:
Fans who hoped for a sequel to Long's 1999 bestseller The Descent may be sorry to have their wish granted, as this fumbling thriller fails to expand on the tantalizing concepts explored in its predecessor. Set 10 years after spelunkers stumbled into a literal Hell and later led a supposedly successful expedition to kill Satan, this story opens on Halloween, when underground creatures abduct dozens of children and slay any adults trying to stop them. Grieving mother and widow Rebecca Coltrane, the media-anointed public face of the disaster, makes clever political use of the publicity to launch a major military expedition underneath the Earth in search of her daughter and the other missing children. As war brews underground between the explorers and the quasi-human hadals, aboveground tensions increase between China and the U.S..... Copyright © Reed Business Information"

is not as good as The Descent. It's certainly by no means a bad book and I did stay up way too late reading just one more chapter in order to finish it, but The Descent was overall a more enjoyable read. Supposedly Long is writing a trilogy, so one can hope that the third and final book is back up to the quality of The Descent.

Personally, at this point, my favorite novel by Jeff Long would probably be Year Zero. I did enjoy The Descent and the twist at the end of The Wall totally took me by surprise. I would recommend Deeper but only after you have read The Descent.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Squirrels are scary. Just Me has blogged about a recent squirrel attack. I think most of us can relate.
According to Just Me, "There is just something about those beady little eyes that makes you uneasy."
My squirrel attack story happened in the early 80's. I was in my last year of college and sharing a house with friends off campus. One day, while walking home from classes, out of the blue, a squirrel came barreling right at me. It's hard little head slammed into my foot, and then, with it's mission accomplished, it scurried off and ran up a tree. I had a witness, some guy about 1/2 a block behind me. We both commented on how weird the attack was and then I limped on home.
Make no mistake in thinking they are cute little fuzz balls. Squirrels are dangerous. You have been warned.

The Wheel of Darkness

The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child was released at the end of August 2007. The hardcover edition is 385 pages long. The Wheel of Darkness continues the adventures of Aloysius Pendergast and Constance Green.

From Amazon:
Publishers Weekly - In the exciting eighth supernatural thriller from bestsellers Preston and Child (after 2006's The Book of the Dead), FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, seek peace of mind at a remote Tibetan monastery, only to fall into yet another perilous, potentially earthshaking assignment. The monastery's abbot asks them to recover a stolen relic, the cryptic Agozyen, which could, in the wrong hands, wipe out humanity. The pair follow the trail to a luxury cruise ship, where a series of brutal murders suggests the relic's evil spirit might already have been invoked.... While not as frightening as others in the series, this entry still shows why the authors stand head and shoulders above their rivals in this subgenre. (Aug. 28) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This offering from Preston and Child is not quite as good as their previous books, but still well worth the time. The sheer suspense is not as evident in The Wheel of Darkness as in earlier novels and I can't help but think that previous characters, other than Constance, have interacted with Pendergast in a more enjoyable way. I still recommend The Wheel of Darkness, especially for those who have been reading Preston and Child's books.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is hysterically funny in parts. All in all I enjoyed this book. My paperback copy has 272 pages and was originally published in 2000. This is a nice book to pick up if you know you will only have short spurts in which to read.

I have heard David Sedaris on NPR before sharing one of the stories in this book. I vividly recalled laughing until there were tears in my eyes while listening to him. In some ways these stories beg to be told by Sedaris in order for you to fully appreciate them. (Sedaris is openly gay so if that is going to offend you, be forewarned.)

From Amazon:
"...Sedaris's caustic gift has not deserted him in his fourth book, which mines poignant comedy from his peculiar childhood in North Carolina, his bizarre career path, and his move with his lover to France. Though his anarchic inclination to digress is his glory, Sedaris does have a theme in these reminiscences: the inability of humans to communicate. The title is his rendition in transliterated English of how he and his fellow students of French in Paris mangle the Gallic language. In the essay "Jesus Shaves," he and his classmates from many nations try to convey the concept of Easter to a Moroccan Muslim. "It is a party for the little boy of God," says one. "Then he be die one day on two... morsels of... lumber," says another. Sedaris muses on the disputes between his Protestant mother and his father, a Greek Orthodox guy whose Easter fell on a different day. Other essays explicate his deep kinship with his eccentric mom and absurd alienation from his IBM-exec dad: "To me, the greatest mystery of science continues to be that a man could father six children who shared absolutely none of his interests."

Every glimpse we get of Sedaris's family and acquaintances delivers laughs and insights. He thwarts his North Carolina speech therapist ("for whom the word pen had two syllables") by cleverly avoiding all words with s sounds, which reveal the lisp she sought to correct... As a remarkably unqualified teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago, Sedaris had his class watch soap operas and assign "guessays" on what would happen in the next day's episode.

It all adds up to the most distinctively skewed autobiography since Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia. The only possible reason not to read this book is if you'd rather hear the author's intrinsically funny speaking voice narrating his story. In that case, get Me Talk Pretty One Day on audio. --Tim Appelo"

"They themselves listened only to Greek music, an oxymoron as far as the rest of the world is concerned. Slam its tail in the door of the milk truck, and a stray cat could easily yowl out a single certain to top the charts back in Sparta or Thessaloniki."

"You could tell Gretchen anything in strict confidence, knowing that five minutes later she would recall nothing but the play of shadows on your face. It was like having a foreign exchange student living in our house. Nothing we said or did made any sense to her, as she seemed to follow the rules and customs of some exotic, faraway nation..."

"Visiting Americans will find more warmth in Tehran than they will in New York, a city founded on the principle of Us versus Them. I don't speak Latin but have always assumed that the city motto translates to either Go Home or We Don't Like You, Either."

(From a conversation in a French class)
" 'And who brings the chocolate?' the teacher asked.
I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, 'The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.' "

"On Easter, having learned that The Greatest Story Ever Told was sold out, I just crossed the street and saw Superfly, the second-greatest story ever told."

"'s just that a lot of people are as lazy as I am, and together we've agreed to lower the bar."

"It turns out that I'm really stupid, practically an idiot. There are cats that weigh more than my IQ score. Were my number translated into dollars, it would buy you about three buckets of fried chicken. The fact that this surprises me only bespeaks the depths of my ignorance."

"Often I never made it to bed. I'd squat down to pet the cat and wake up on the floor eight hours later, having lost a perfectly good excuse to change my clothes. I'm now told that this is not called 'going to sleep' but rather 'passing out,' a phrase that carries a distinct hint of judgement."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I'm a Stranger Here Myself

Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself was originally published in 1999. My hardcover copy is 288 pages long.

From Amazon:
"Ex-expatriate Bryson, who chronicled one effort at American reentry in his bestselling A Walk in the Woods, collects another: the whimsical columns on America he wrote weekly, while living in New Hampshire in the mid-to-late 1990s, for a British Sunday newspaper. Although he happily describes himself as dazzled by American ease, friendliness and abundance, Bryson has no trouble finding comic targets, among them fast food, computer efficiency and, ironically, American friendliness and putative convenience. As he edges into Dave Barry-style hyperbole, Bryson sometimes strains for yuks, but he's deft when he compares the two cultures, as in their different treatment of Christmas, pointing out how the British "pack all their festive excesses" into that single holiday. Bryson also nudges into domestic territory with regular references to his own British wife, the resolutely sensible Mrs. B. In a few columns, Bryson adopts a sentimental tone, writing about his family and his new hometown of Hanover. In others, he's more sober, criticizing anti-immigration activists, environmental depredation and drug laws (though he draws out the humor in these as well). Not all the columns hit their mark, and they are best read in small groupings, but this collection should sell well enough, although not likely to the heights of A Walk in the Woods. Agent, Jed Mattes. Author tour; BDD audio.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. "

I'm a Stranger Here Myself was ok. Parts were very funny; parts were so-so. It is a book that could easily be read and enjoyed one short chapter (or column) at a time. It is a good choice if you want to read a book to pass the time because it is a collection of columns originally written for a British paper.

"I've got an idea. Let's drive for three hours to the ocean, take off most of our clothes, and sit on some sand for the whole day."
"What for?" I will sat warily
"It will be fun," she will insist.
"I don't think so," I will reply. "People find it disturbing when I take off my shirt in public. I find it disturbing."

"We have become so attached to the idea of convenience that we will put up with almost any inconvenience to achieve it.... The things that are suppose to speed up and simplify our lives more often than not actually have the opposite effect..."

"Is it actually possible that there are people who can eat I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and not believe it's not butter?"

"...[W]hy would anyone in a free society choose to become a dentist?"

Monday, September 3, 2007

We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is one of those books that I will remember for a very long time. Originally published in 2003, Shriver won the 2005 Orange. My hardcover copy has 400 pages.

From Amazon:
"A number of fictional attempts have been made to portray what might lead a teenager to kill a number of schoolmates or teachers, Columbine style, but Shriver's is the most triumphantly accomplished by far. A gifted journalist as well as the author of seven novels, she brings to her story a keen understanding of the intricacies of marital and parental relationships as well as a narrative pace that is both compelling and thoughtful. Eva Khatchadourian is a smart, skeptical New Yorker whose impulsive marriage to Franklin, a much more conventional person, bears fruit, to her surprise and confessed disquiet, in baby Kevin. From the start Eva is ambivalent about him, never sure if she really wanted a child, and he is balefully hostile toward her; only good-old-boy Franklin, hoping for the best, manages to overlook his son's faults as he grows older, a largely silent, cynical, often malevolent child. The later birth of a sister who is his opposite in every way, deeply affectionate and fragile, does nothing to help, and Eva always suspects his role in an accident that befalls little Celia. The narrative, which leads with quickening and horrifying inevitability to the moment when Kevin massacres seven of his schoolmates and a teacher at his upstate New York high school, is told as a series of letters from Eva to an apparently estranged Franklin, after Kevin has been put in a prison for juvenile offenders. This seems a gimmicky way to tell the story, but is in fact surprisingly effective in its picture of an affectionate couple who are poles apart, and enables Shriver to pull off a huge and crushing shock far into her tale. It's a harrowing, psychologically astute, sometimes even darkly humorous novel, with a clear-eyed, hard-won ending and a tough-minded sense of the difficult, often painful human enterprise.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc."

At first I wasn't completely sure about Shriver's using letters written by Eva to her husband to tell the story, but it soon became a very compelling way to look back at what may have gone wrong in their family. I was quickly completely engulfed by the enormity and pain in Eva's written recollections of her family. Since I absolutely had to finish it, I read the end in the car while my husband was driving us out of town for the weekend. This is a heart wrenching novel. The subject matter alone is disturbing.

Shriver has a very good vocabulary. I noticed that several reviews at Amazon mentioned her large vocabulary and claimed that they had to read this book with a dictionary at hand. Although I didn't find her mastery of the English language overwhelming, I did notice that Shriver had a gift of using the right word in the right place, and sometimes it was a big word. Don't let the vocabulary stop you from reading this book.

"What possessed us? We were so happy! Why, then, did we take the stake of all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? Of course you consider putting that very question profane. Although the infertile are entitled to sour grapes, it's against the rules, isn't it, to actually have a baby and spend any time at all on that banished parallel life in which you didn't. But a Pandoran perversity draws me to prize open what is forbidden."

"But any woman who passes a clump of testosterone-drunk punks without picking up the pace, without avoiding the eye contact that might connote challenge or invitation, without sighing inwardly with relief by the following block, is a zoological fool. A boy is a dangerous animal."

"[I]f I extracted one lesson from my tenth birthday party it was that expectations are dangerous when they are both high and unformed."

"I didn't care about anything. And there's a freedom in apathy, a wild, dizzying liberation on which you can almost get drunk. You can do anything."

"Yet in my experience, when left to their own devices people will get up to one of two things: nothing much and no good."

Very highly recommended.

reread and reviewed again on July 31, 2009: