December 21st, 2010

  • krinek

19. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

Title: Five Quarters of the Orange
Author: Joanne Harris
Year: 2001
# of pages: 307
Date read: 3/5/2010
Rating: 3*/5 = good


"The novels of Joanne Harris are a literary feast for the senses. Five Quarters of the Orange represents Harris's most complex and sophisticated work yet -- a novel in which darkness and fierce joy come together to create an unforgettable story.When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous Mirabelle Dartigen -- the woman they still hold responsible for a terrible tragedy that, look place during the German occupation decades before. Although Framboise hopes for a new beginning, she quickly discovers that past and present are inextricably intertwined. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in the scrapbook of recipes site has inherited from her dead mother.
With this book, Framboise re-creates her mother's dishes, which she serves in her small creperie. And yet as she studies the scrapbook -- searching for clues to unlock the contradiction between her mother's sensuous love of food and often cruel demeanor -- she begins to recognize a deeper meaning behind Mirabelle's cryptic scribbles. Within the journal's tattered pages lies the key to what actually transpired the summer Framboise was nine years old.
Rich and dark. Fire Quarters of the Orange is a novel of mothers and daughters of the past and the present, of resisting, and succumbing, and an extraordinary work by a masterful writer." -- from the inside flap

My thoughts:

This was a good book about family and secrets. I liked how Framboise learned about her mother through the diary/recipe book and how she and others came to understand what happened years ago.


I have read through some more books during this holiday period. Book 63 was Witi Ihimaera's Nights in the Gardens of Spain which I picked up in a rush from the library. I figured that I'd read The Whale Rider and a book of short stories by the same author, and so it would involve issues around being Maori in New Zealand, culture and perhaps something about Spain, but no. It was about a gay man, who although he was New Zealander, he was Pakeha, or European origin. He struggled with his marriage, his sexuality and his love for his daughters. Aspects made me remember parts of my life.One surprising and intriguing issue was that his wife was disgusted by the physical relationship the protagonist had with men. Surely that cannot be too surprising; after all gay men do not just shop for clothes and decorate houses tastefully.

Book 64 was Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail; inside the battle to save Wall Street about the collapse of the American banking sector and insurance sector in 2008. There were a lot of characters and complicated issues, but it was pretty well done.

Book 65 was another by Witi Ihimaera; The Uncle's Story. This time the protagonist is gay and comes out, to discover that actually there had been an uncle who was also gay but in Maori culture his homosexuality had been denied. The uncle had otherwise been an exemplary Maori, serving in the New Zealand forces in Vietnam, and those parts were well described. In this novel there was a great deal more of Maori culture.
So so far this year I have managed 65 books and 19,028 pages.
  • cat63

Book 71 for 2010

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. 151 pages

Another classic that neither Rob not I had read before. We were surprised at how rapidly Baum launches into the story, compared to the film version - the cyclone arrives on page three or so - and at how much more morally grey the story was - Dorothy throws the water on the Wicked Witch of the West in what's basically a fit of pique (an understandable one, but still) and the Woodman rescues a mouse by chopping off the head of a wildcat....

On passage especially caught my attention though :- "Now the Wicked Witch of the West had but one eye, yet that was as powerful as a telescope, and could see everywhere." Sound familiar at all? I'm not suggesting it was lifted intentionally, but I can't help wondering whether a copy of this book ever found its way to Professor Tolkien :-)

We rather liked it though and I'll be hunting up the sequel at some point.
El Corazon

245. I Married a Dead Man; 246. All's Well That Ends Well

I Married a Dead Man
by Cornell Woolrich

Started: December 12, 2010
Finished: December 21, 2010

An overly-complicated noir novel with mostly unlikable characters. Still, it did have a couple of twists and turns that I wasn't really expecting. I guess it was reasonably enjoyable for the most part. 187 pages. Grade: B-
All's Well That Ends Well
by William Shakespeare

Started: November 30, 2010
Finished: December 21, 2010

The whole premise behind this play was horse(poop). Why in the world would Helena want anything to do with Bertram after the way he treated her? 29 pages. Grade: D
Total # of Books Read in 2010: 246
Total # of Pages Read in 2010: 61,269

Book 137: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

Book 137: The Tenderness of Wolves.
Author: Stef Penney, 2006.
Genre: Historical Fiction Canada 19th century. Western. Murder Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 466 pages.

Set in 1867, the novel opens in Dove River, a small isolated community on the shore of Georgian Bay, Ontario, and the discovery of the body of French trapper Laurent Jammet by his neighbour Mrs. Ross, a Scottish pioneer. A request is sent to Fort Edgar, the closest Hudson Bay Company trading post, and a party of Company officials arrive to investigate the murder. Suspicion begins to grow within the community and Mrs Ross is concerned that her teenage son Francis, who had been friends with Jammet, will be suspected of being involved especially since he seems to be missing.

Still the Company men focus their investigation on William Parker, a half-native trapper who was also friends with Jammet. Mrs. Ross husband seems indifferent to the whereabouts of their adopted son as they have an uneasy relationship at best and the boy often spends periods of time alone in the wilderness. Thus, Mrs. Ross accompanied by Parker as her guide, sets off to seek him. They are soon followed by a party of the Hudson Bay men seeking to interview Francis and also to locate the missing Mrs. Ross.

There are a number of journeys in this novel as various characters criss-cross the winter landscape in search of various other characters. Penney uses the device of telling parts of the story from the first person perspective of Mrs. Ross and other sections as a universal narrator. As a main protagonist Mrs Ross is superb; resourceful and strong as one would expect from a woman living in such a frontier environment and fierce in her determination to find her son even though it means confronting her deep fear of open spaces.

I was a little disappointed to read that Stef Penney had not visited Canada. The reason for this was that like Mrs. Ross, she battles with agoraphobic and so conducted her research at the British Library using the accounts of Hudson Bay employees and other resources. A number of Canadian readers have pointed out that the distances covered by her characters are vast and her timings for the journeys are not realistic. This had crossed my mind as well though it didn't detract from my appreciation of the story. I thought she did a wonderful job of capturing the the beauty and haunting desolation of the winter setting as well as handling a large cast of characters and certainly making me care about their outcomes.

The title is quite enigmatic though there are wolves in the story and they are sensitively depicted. This début novel won the UK's Costa Award in 2006 for both First Novel and Book of the Year. It is easy to see why it impressed the judges and literary critics and has proved so popular with readers. While there is a murder mystery at its heart with plenty of suspects, there are also fairly subtle themes linked to the role of women in a frontier society, forms of prejudice whether linked to class, race, sexual orientation or mental health.

This was a book that certainly grew on me. It was a library reading group selection and generated a good deal of discussion, which is always welcome. For most of us its themes of love and duty, while fairly understated, came to the fore much more than the central mystery. I also felt a strong relationship to the setting as I had grown up in Canada and spent many summers in the Georgian Bay area. I also appreciated aspects of Canadian social history depicted, such as the Hudson Bay Company's grip over the settlers and the relationship between the white settlers, the Company and the native peoples.

Leave Me Alone - a post-award interview with Stef Penney in The Guardian in which she discusses the background to the novel and her battle with acrophobia.


I was intrigued enough by Newt Gingrich and Thomas Forstchen's Pearl Harbor to pick up their Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War, Grant Comes East, and Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory (the last adding Albert S. Hanser and a surfeit of colons). It's alternative history and I'll avoid spoilers, although readers familiar with If the South Won Gettysburg might get the idea how things start. The ending will be different, however. Sic semper Book Reviews 36, 37, 38. My title refers to one postwar development that will have to turn out differently. The construction of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Hoosac Tunnel will also follow a different course. The Rockville Bridge and Thomas Viaduct still stand, and as far as I can see, the strategic threat to Horseshoe Curve will have to wait for Hitler. The railroads played a major role in the campaign as it unfolded. Genl Lee comes off as the bull-headed Suvorov.    The structure of the titles remind me of some of Bruce Catton's works, in which the events as they actually happened provide material enough.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)