April 26, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun - Orbis Terrarum Challenge

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the second book I have completed as part of the Orbis Terrarum Challenge and a very different book from my first book read for this challenge - This Charming Man - Marian Keyes.

Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the 1960's in the time of the Nigeria - Biafra war and the book won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007. I have had this book on my "to read" list for a while.

The novel tells the story of a group of characters all interlinked in some way. Olanna and her twin sister Kainene - different in character and looks, Olanna's partner Odenigbo, an intellectual university lecturer, Odenigbo's house boy, Ugwu and a British writer, Richard who becomes Kainene's partner.

The personalities, desires, fears and purposes of each of these characters are drawn out and written beautifully - I was hooked into caring about these characters and what their ultimate fate would be right from the beginning of the story - even though I didn't always like the characters and the choices they made - I cared about them. Their relationships are challenged throughout the novel - Olanna is not seen as a prefect partner choice for Odenigbo by his mother and serious consequences arise from this, alternatively the unattractive Odenigbo is looked down upon as a partner for the beautiful Olanna by her family and close friends. Kainene and Richard's relationship is also frowned upon - particularly by the white European characters in the novel.

The story starts before the war has begun and yet there is still tension evident within and between the characters - something is brewing right from the beginning both from the characters themselves and the landscape and country where the story is set.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in an interview that she wrote this novel because she wanted to "write about love and war". Although this can sound like quite a simple premise I think it is actually far from simple and I think Half of a Yellow Sun is an amazing achievement. I am ashamed to say that I knew very little (if anything) about the Nigeria - Biafra war before reading this story but I now feel like I have been able to read a very personal account of how this conflict may have impacted on the lives of the people involved in it.

I think the ending of the story is a beautiful (and for me, unexpected) testament to what the author was trying to convey through writing the novel about African story telling. I highly recommend this novel.

April 25, 2008

Non Fiction Five Challenge

Thanks to Joy for setting up this challenge - I'm on board! The challenge is to read 5 non fiction books from May to September. My book selections are:

Holiday Reading

My boy and I have just come back from a wonderful week away. We travelled to gorgeous Kiama on the NSW South Coast and had a very relaxing time walking, talking, eating, drinking and (of course) reading.

I managed to get through a few books in our time away, This Charming Man - Marian Keyes, Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier and Daphne - Justine Picardie were the main ones.

I am a huge Marian Keyes fan and I was really looking forward to reading This Charming Man (I had bought it as soon as it was released but had hidden it at home so that I couldn't delve into it before my holiday!). I must say though, I was a little disappointed with this novel. The story is told from the perspective of 4 different women - Lola, stylist to the rich and obnoxious but currently taking a break from her career, Grace, journo with a heart for the real life stories, Marnie, Grace's sister and wife and mother and Alicia, fiance of the "charming man" in question.

I really enjoy this narrative style that Marian has used for a few of her books - you get the chance to pick up the individual voices of the characters and see the story from different points of view. The only problem was that I didn't really connect with any of these characters to the point that I have in past Keyes novels. This leaves the story. While I certainly support discussion and exploration of the main issue the author brings to light in this novel (domestic violence) I'm left feeling a little empty regarding the outcome of the story. The novel is certainly a lot heavier and more emotionally draining than most Marian Keyes other books - even though she has written about "heavy" issues before - alcholism and drug addiction, death etc... I just got the feeling that in order to do the issue justice in "This Charming Man" Marian might have left some of her humour and character development behind. I feel a little tough in my review - domestic violence is certainly an issue that we should be discussing and addressing in the community - I'm just wondering if a Marian Keyes book is the best way of doing this?? Having said this - I'm still a huge fan and will no doubt be on board when her next book comes along.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was a book I wanted to read before I read Justine Picardie's Daphne. I remember studying Rebecca in an English Literature class during my first year of university quite a few years ago now but I honestly can't remember now if I had to actually read the book or just watch Hitchcock's film - or both! I was engrossed by the novel and the journey of the second Mrs de Winter - even though she made me want to scream with frustration at times! I had to keep reminding myself of the time in which the novel was set and the behaviours and appearances that would have been appropriate for a young woman of that time. I think the character of the landscape and the house interested me more than the actual humans - this is very unusual for me - I'm definitely more of a character than setting reader normally. Having now done some further reading into du Maurier I realise how important this landscape was to her life and how it was a driving force and inspiration for her writing - I certainly picked up on this as her reader and I am very interested in now reading more of her work.

Daphne by Justine Picardie was another beautiful looking book that I was saving for my holiday. When I first saw the book I was enchanted by it's cover (would anyone think less of me for my confession that this is often why I buy books??). But it was the description of the book that really made me buy it:

It is 1957. The author Daphne du Maurier, beautiful, famous, despairing as her marriage falls apart, finds herself haunted by Rebecca, the heroine of her most famous novel, written twenty years earlier. Resolving to write herself out of her misery, Daphne becomes passionately interested in Branwell Bronte, the reprobate brother of the Bronte sisters, and begins a correspondence with Alex Symington, an enigmatic Bronte scholar and bibliophile, as she researches a biography. But behind Symington's respectable scholarly surface is a slippery character with much to hide, and Daphne becomes embroiled in a literary mystery where truth and fiction become indistinguishable. The last untold Bronte story, Daphne is a story of obsession and possession; of stolen manuscripts and forged signatures; of love lost, and love found.

The third main character in this novel, who the above description fails to mention, is a young woman starting her PhD thesis on du Maurier and the Brontes. I am a newly enrolled PhD student myself and while the content of this novel interested me greatly I think I also wanted to connect with another student struggling to juggle thoughts, ideas and theories into a researchable topic - even if that student was fictional!

This book was beautiful, haunting, lovely and engrossing - one of those books you can't put down but at the same time you don't want the end to come. It is written in alternate chapters or sections by each of the three main characters, Daphne, Symington and the nameless PhD student. The similarities to the constructs of "Rebecca" are obviously present - but the author is not attempting to hide or disguise these in any way - it is clear that Rebecca - both character and book - is a fourth character in Daphne. Each of the characters are compelling and true - you feel connected to their lives and their choices. In the acknowledgements at the end of the book Justine Picardie talks about becoming "utterly possessed by the story" involving the Bronte manuscripts - I can see why! It is a wonderful mystery that is gorgeously told by Picardie. It has inspired me to read further in the du Maurier and Bronte world.

April 14, 2008

Finding Style

I had a new book purchase arrive today (always an exciting event). This book is a little different, a non-fiction "self help" sort of book called Style Statement: Live By Your Own Design I first read about this book and the concept a few months ago in a magazine and it caught my interest. The idea being that through a series of self exploration and questioning you can find two words that help define your life, who you are and where you are heading.

I often use exercises similar to this with my clients in counselling - not necessarily around issues of style of course but definitely in relation to life direction, purpose and goals. I'm interested in any concept that explores this area of personal development and the idea of "knowing yourself" and setting a course for your life - I love that control!!

The book looks beautiful and I think I will add it to the "going on holiday" pile for Thursday.

April 10, 2008


I have been inspired by Danielle at "A Work in Progress" to pick up a copy of "Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier to read before I delve into "Daphne" by Justine Picardie. I can't remember ever having actually read the book before - although I did watch and study the movie for a first year university english course I took and remember being mesmerised by the story through that medium.

Another book I have just picked up is "The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement" By Virginia Lloyd.

An outline of the book from the author's website:

Single at 32, married at 33, and widowed at 34.
A young professional woman finally meets the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, only to discover that he is terminally ill. After her beloved John's death from cancer, Virginia was faced with addressing the chronic rising damp problem in the house they had shared and, over her first year as a young widow, her house had to dry from the inside out – and so did Virginia. The Young Widow's Book of Home Improvement is a wry and touching love story that plays with the parallels between our homes and ourselves.

I think the premise of this book, although clearly very sad, also sounds very hopeful...

April 08, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is my first book in the Orbis Terrarum Challenge Have only just started but am already loving the style and narrative of the book.

April 06, 2008

Just Finished and Reading...

I have just finished "Change of Heart" the latest release from Jodi Picoult. I was a huge fan of Jodi's early books, "The Pact" was a particular fave and one of the first Jodi books I read and I remember absolutely devouring it before passing it on to friends. I must say that apart from "Nineteen Minutes" I have not been enjoying Jodi's latest books. I'm starting to feel like I am reading a formula rather than a story with characters that ring true. I felt like I should have been able to relate to some of the characters in "Change of Heart" - especially Maggie the unlucky in love, overweight lawyer, but I just felt like these characters were stereotypes or cardboard cutouts - and they ALL had redeeming qualities somewhere along the line that were meant (I think) to make us feel like everything balanced out nicely in the end. The ending itself was very disappointing - what do others think? Am I being too harsh/expecting too much?

A book I am just starting to get into at the moment is "La Vie Parisienne: Looking for Love and the Perfect Lingerie" By Janelle McCulloch I am a complete sucker for these sorts of books (as was the girl who sold it to me in my independent, local bookshop). So far beautiful writing and descriptions of Paris (a place I have only dreamt about but never visited - yet...) and an honest story about looking for the life that belongs to her - as opposed to the life she has been told she should aspire too (one of my favourite themes in life and literature!).

April 03, 2008


As I have mentioned I do belong to a bookclub in the non-blogging world. We've been meeting for about 4 years now - a group of friends who love to catch up and have a glass of wine together as well as talking about our latest reads. The latest book we have all been reading is "Those Faraday Girls" By Monica McInerney. I'm eager to see what the rest of the group thought of this one (I must admit it was a while ago that I finished it so my memory has faded a little!). I do remember really enjoying the book when I first started and was looking at finishing it in record time but somewhere in the middle I got a bit bogged down and the second half of the book didn't move as quickly for me. Having said that I did go out and buy another book from this author so I must have been hooked in somewhere.