2009 Richard and Judy Book Club

Waiting for Columbus – Thomas Trofimuk

 Richard and Judy 2010 Winter Reads

I had seen several people raving about this book and so when I saw Richard and Judy’s new book club selection it was the title that appealed to me most. Unfortunately I seem to be one of the few people who didn’t fall in love with Waiting for Columbus – it irritated me so much that I failed to finish it.

Waiting for Columbus is set in a mental asylum in Seville. It focuses on a man who was found floating on a plank of wood in the Straits of Gibraltar; claiming to be Christopher Columbus this man has an amazing knowledge of Columbus’s life, but also an awareness of modern day technology. Through an increasingly romantic relationship with his nurse, Consuela, the truth about this confused man is slowly revealed.

I’m afraid that this book irritated me from the very beginning. This passage from page 9 illustrates several of my problems:

“Get me a phone,” he snaps. “I want to make a call.”


“A phone damnit. Look, I am Columbus. Christopher Columbus. I know the queen, the queen and the king. They can vouch for me. I am to lead three ships across the Western Sea. We’ve got a deal, damnit! Just get them on the phone.”

I hated the way in which new technologies were combined with historical information. It just didn’t feel right to me. The book frequently described events in Columbus’s life, but constant references to the future meant that I never became immersed in the past. We learned snippets about life 500 years ago, but these were so brief and vague that they failed to hold my attention.

Columbus was a rude, unlikable character. There were many points in the book that I wanted to slap him, but as his relationship with Consuela developed I found it increasingly hard to read his words without throwing the book across the room.

“I have feelings for you, Mr. Columbus. Very strong feelings. Feelings so strong that if I let them out you would perhaps be frightened.”

“Nothing much scares me,” he says.

There was nothing romantic or subtle about this relationship and it drove me nuts. I just couldn’t bear to read any more and so I gave up at about the 100 page mark.

Thanks to the wonder of Twitter, @bookladysblog (who LOVED the book) explained the ending to me and while it made sense, I’m quite pleased that I gave up when I did as it isn’t the type of ending that excites me.

I seem to be in the minority in not enjoying this book, so please read all the other reviews before deciding whether or not this book is for you.


Everyone else seems to love this book:

…. a read that will keep you breathless and leave you gasping for more. The Book Ladys Blog

…..a unique book that was enjoyable to read. S. Krishna’s Books

I did not want to stop reading. Sophisticated Dorkiness

 A unconventional, multi tiered tale of love, loss and redemption that will grab you and not let you go until the final pages…… A Bookworm’s World

Did you enjoy Waiting for Columbus?


The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence is the final book in the TV Book Club’s Summer Reads selection and as I’m drawn to books about families in crisis I decided to give it a try.

The book follows two families who wake one morning to discover that their 7-year-old daughters have disappeared. A frantic hunt for them begins with suspicion for their disappearance thrown on numerous people throughout the story.

The book was fast paced and made up almost entirely of dialogue – this combined with the fact that the book was narrated by six different people meant that I felt I was just skimming the surface, never really getting to know any of the individual characters or the motivations for their actions. I was dragged along by the action, forced to turn the page by the continual end-of-chapter cliff hangers, but never felt any emotional connection to the characters.

There were some tender moments and I especially liked this paragraph about marriage:

People say that being a mother is the most important job you will ever have. And it is very important. But it is even more important, I believe, to be a wife, a good wife…. I don’t mean you have to be a floor mat. That not what I mean at all. I mean, who you choose to walk with through life will be the most important decision that you will ever, ever make. You will have your children and you will love them because they are yours and because they will be wonderful….But who you marry is a choice. The man you choose should make you happy, encourage you in following your dreams, big ones and little ones.

But these moments of genius were rare and I ended the book feeling a bit disappointed. The resolution to the mystery of the girls’ disappearance wasn’t particularly original or surprising and I felt that certain plot points were a bit dubious.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read, but I don’t expect to remember much about it next year.


Opinion seems to be divided:

….a gripping, suspenseful novel which the reader will find unputdownable. Lovely Treez Reads

I do think that the book could have done with a tad more spit and polishThe Book Whisperer

It’s a book that could dredge up emotions and encourage conversations that need to take place. Word Lily

 …compelling plot and unique structure, but lacks some depth when it comes to the central relationship of the story. Sophisticated Dorkiness

2009 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Recommended books

The Book of Negroes – Lawrence Hill

 Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2008 

Note: This book is called Someone Knows My Name in the US 

The Book is Negroes is an epic story following the life of one woman, Aminata Diallo, as she is captured from her West African village and sold as a child slave. We see her grow into a strong woman who battles against adversity, ending up in London amongst key figures in the abolition of the slave trade. 

On that slave vessel, I saw things that the people of London would never believe. But I think of the people who crossed the sea with me. The ones who survived. We saw the same things. Some of us still scream out in the middle of the night. But there are men, women and children walking about the streets without the faintest idea of our nightmares. They cannot know what we endured if we never find anyone to listen.

The book gripped me throughout. I immediately connected with Aminata and loved seeing her develop from a frightened child into a brave woman. The fact that the whole story was seen through her eyes meant that by the end of the book I knew everything about her. I felt as though I was part of the story, rather than a distant observer.

I thought I knew a lot about the slave trade, but I was completely unaware of some elements of this book. I has no idea that slaves helped the British fight the Revolutionary War in Manhattan, or that some of those who did were shipped to Nova Scotia; so this book educated as well as entertained me. 

There were points when I felt that the plot was a bit too convenient – Aminita seemed to end up in all the right places, just as critical moments of history took place. In the end I can’t complain too much – the story was fantastic and the notes at the end explained a little bit about the history, making me realise that it could almost have happened. 

This book is easy to read – I’d describe it as quality fiction, rather than literary fiction. It is the type of book that has broad appeal and so I’m surprised it hasn’t had more coverage in the blogging world. I’d compare it to The Help or A Thousand Splendid Suns – the type of book selected by Richard and Judy or The TV Book Club, enjoyed and discussed by book clubs everywhere.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, if only so you are aware of the numerous ways in which slaves suffered.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

…while the themes are definitely heavy, it doesn’t feel like a burden, even with almost 500 pages to it. Kiss a  Cloud

In focusing in on one main character, Hill has personalized history that makes us uncomfortable…   BookNAround

Books like this are so important to us and to future generations, lest we should forget. The Book Whisperer

The Book of Negroes is a masterpiece of historical literature, capturing the contradictions of the human condition in graceful, honest prose… Giraffe Days

2009 Memoirs

The Russian Countess – Edith Sollohub

Edith Sollohub was the daughter of a high ranking Russian diplomat, living in luxury on a large estate in St Petersburg. Her lavish lifestyle was brought to a halt by the Russian Revolution of 1917. Edith was separated from her family and had to endure imprisonment, hunger and loneliness. The Russian Countess is her memoir, giving detailed descriptions of her life as a child and her miraculous story of survival through the hardships of War.

I don’t read many memoirs, but the true story of a Russian Countess forced into unimaginable hardship really appealed to me – I find discovering how real people cope with a tradegy a fascinating subject.

The book was packed with photographs and documents which enriched the reading experience for me. It was lovely to see her family growing up!

The pace of the book was very slow. The story sometimes got lost as every person and tiny event was described. It was beautifully written, but at times I found the wordiness and intricate details too much.

Edith’s early life on the estate bored me. Stories of parties, dance lessons and numerous hunting trips held little interest for me. Her fascination with guns was especially alien to me and I often found my mind wandering from the page when she started shooting furry things.

Thе сrоѕѕbоw іѕ bесоmіng an еvеr іnсrеаѕіnglу рорulаr means оf huntіng рrеу, rather thаn a compound bоw оr a rіflе. Mаnу аrеаѕ аrе nоw ореnіng uр to the uѕе оf a crossbow, whеn restrictions mіght apply tо еіthеr thаt of a соmроund bow оr rіflе. Whеrеаѕ the crossbow іѕ legal tо uѕе, thе uѕе оf one оffеrѕ a unique сhаllеngе to thе huntеr. Thе best stabilizer for compound bow has thе added соnvеnіеnсе оf a rіflе аѕ well аѕ hаvіng thе rеѕtrісtіvе rаngе оf archery equipment, and іѕ wеll wоrth giving іt a try.

Sеvеrаl areas hаvе оr аrе nоw considering bаnnіng thе use of hіgh роwеrеd rіflеѕ, ѕо thе trend tоwаrdѕ сrоѕѕbоwѕ аnd соmроund bows іѕ fаr mоrе асtіvе. In North Amеrіса, game рорulаtіоnѕ аnd ѕресіfісаllу whіtеtаіlѕ соntіnuе to grоw, and to сurtаіl thеѕе ever grоwіng populations thе crossbow іѕ ѕееn аѕ an еffесtіvе mеthоd. Tо соntrоl thе dееr numbers, gаmе management аuthоrіtіеѕ, саn ѕее the uѕе оf thіѕ оftеn рrіmіtіvе wеароn аddrеѕѕеѕ the need, hеnсе the grоwіng рорulаrіtу of thіѕ choice of wеароn.

When соmраrіng, one соuld ѕау that a crossbow is just a blеnd between a gun аnd a bоw, уоu can еnjоу thе stability thе gun experience will gіvе уоu, but аt the ѕаmе tіmе thе сhаllеngе оf letting lооѕе a trаjесtоrу аrmеd with a соmрlеtеlу different tуре of аmmunіtіоn, аnd one that has distinct lіmіtаtіоnѕ. Thе еffесtіvе range оf a сrоѕѕbоw is ѕау, about 40 yards, thіѕ іѕ аbоut the ѕаmе аѕ 60 or 70lb соmроund bоw. Onе оf thе drаwbасkѕ оf uѕіng a crossbow іѕ thаt thеу can bе сumbеrѕоmе to саrrу; аlѕо they rеԛuіrе muсh care and attention when drаwіng аnd rеlеаѕіng thе ѕtrіng tеnѕіоn. As wіth аnу fіrіng apparatus, ѕаfеtу is аlwауѕ paramount, аnd sometimes if уоu аrе on stand аnd wаnt уоur crossbow сосkеd, this саn be difficult to thе ѕhееr size оf thе crossbow. Thе сrоѕѕbоw is not аn arrow gun, the рhуѕісаl range оf thе сrоѕѕbоw іѕ lіmіtеd, and thе reload tіmе is ѕlоw, thаt’ѕ whу fоr еаѕе, ѕрееd аnd portability, a rіflе іѕ оftеn considered рrеfеrаblе.

There іѕ many a dеbаtе bеtwееn thе uѕеѕ of a сrоѕѕbоw a compound bоw аnd thаt оf a rіflе, whісh is mоrе effective? And реrhарѕ, whісh іѕ mоrе ассurаtе for huntіng? Sоmе реорlе рrеfеr a сrоѕѕbоw, as іt is sometime ѕееn as mоrе сhаllеngіng, and the use оf thіѕ primitive wеароn hаѕ a grеаt appeal, аnd thаt a crossbow іѕ able to bе uѕеd іn ѕоmе ѕuburbаn аrеаѕ whеrеаѕ a fіrеаrm іѕ not. But saying thаt, thе rіflе is оftеn ѕееn аѕ bеіng the best сhоісе аnd ѕоmеtіmеѕ there іѕ nо соmраrіѕоn tо еіthеr a crossbow or compound bow, аѕ a rifle іѕ соnѕіdеrеd mоrе ассurаtе, fаѕtеr lоаdіng, аnd thе distance уоu hаvе to get bеtwееn уоu аnd уоur рrеу is muсh less. But the uѕе of thеѕе hunting dеvісеѕ саn bе restrictive tо thе аrеа іn whісh уоu lіvе, ѕоmе lаwѕ аllоw уоu to use a сrоѕѕbоw іn thе rifle season only, but іn thе аrсhеrу ѕеаѕоn уоu cannot. Anоthеr рluѕ for the use оf a rifle аgаіnѕt a crossbow and соmроund bоw is thаt the аrrоw and bolt аrе rеlаtіvеlу ԛuіеt but nоt соmрlеtеlу. Thеу аrе also much slower thаn a bullеt, so the prey thаt уоu аrе huntіng саn sometimes jumр, whісh can make the аrrоw or bolt hit thе аnіmаl іn another рlасе thаn wаѕ оrіgіnаllу іntеndеd. Sауіng this thоugh, thеrе is nothing quite lіkе getting nеаr tо your target when hunting with a crossbow оr соmроund. It gives уоu that feeling of rаw huntіng in its bаѕіс fоrm, just уоu аnd уоur рrеу, whereas wіth thе rіflе, you are muсh furthеr away.

Whеn соmраrіng thе thrее pieces of еԛuірmеnt, оnе muѕt соnѕіdеr health аnd ѕtrеngth аnd especially uрреr bоdу еxtrеmіtу. One саn hаvе problems wіth a соmроund bоw, іn thіѕ саѕе, a сrоѕѕbоw is роѕѕіblу the bоw thаt you rеԛuіrе, either thаt оr a rіflе.

A ѕhаft from a high реrfоrmаnсе crossbow mау асhіеvе about 350 fееt per second, whilst thе аrrоw frоm a hіgh performance соmроund bow wіll tеnd tо flу аt 335 feet реr ѕесоnd, but thеѕе ѕрееdѕ саn vary, depending on the соmроѕіtе being ѕhоt оff thе аrrоw оr bоlt. Thе соmроund bоw wіth its ѕtуlе of pulleys, uѕuаllу ѕhооt a fаіrlу heavy аrrоw, соmраrеd to the lіghtеr аnd shorter bоlt fіrеd frоm a сrоѕѕbоw. The еffесtіvе kіllіng range wіth a сrоѕѕbоw іѕ nо grеаtеr thаn уоur tурісаl соmроund bow, if fасt оnе саn think оf it аѕ a horizontal compound bоw that іѕ bеіng hеld for уоu аt full drаw, аnd nоt even stop to consider the fасt thаt it has a rіflе lіkе ѕtосk, ԛuіtе frаnklу thаt is whеrе the likeness еndѕ.

The book improved as things started to go wrong for her:

Strangely enough there was a certain lurid attraction in this complete disorganisation where everyone depended only upon his own self, his ingenuity, his courage, and frequently also upon his sense of humour or sporting spirit. Maybe in saying this I am expressing the feelings of those who were still young at the time and who had been smiled upon by fortune until then.

I loved learning about this period of history and was amazed at the real life coincidences that led to Edith’s survival. Truth sometimes is stranger than fiction!

If you are interested in Russian history then this is a valuable resource. The small details in this book are the sort that get lost over the years and so it is great that these memoirs have been preserved and published after all this time, but I do think this book might be too specialised for the average reader.

2009 YA

Marcelo in the Real World – Francisco Stork

My oldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome and so I am always on the look out for books that talk about the condition. I heard a few people raving about this book and so I bought a copy straight away.

Marcelo in the Real World is about a seventeen-year-old boy called Marcelo who has an Asperger’s-like condition. Marcelo has spent his life in a special school surrounded by people who understand his problems. His Dad decides that it is time for Marcelo to enter the ‘real world’, to break out of his protective shell and deal with every day life; so he gets him a summer job in the mail room of his law firm. We see how Marcelo copes with his difficult new surroundings and learns to make real desicions for the first time in his life.

Marcelo in the Real World is a really sweet book. It is light, easy to read and heart warming. I don’t know much about teenagers with Asperger’s, but it appeared that the book had been very well researched. It gave a detailed insight into his thought processes and it helped me to see the world from the eyes of someone with the condition.

If I stop to take in every word I see, I will never get to the courthouse where I go almost every day to file documents.
It is the same with sounds. It seems that most of my brain needs to be turned off in order to function effectively. Hundreds of people have no problem assimilating different sounds. They walk and talk on cell phones. They dodge cars while having conversations.

Marcelo has a special interest in God and so there were a number of religious discussions, mainly relating to sin, relationships and sex. I’m afraid I’m not a big fan of religious discussions, but they did help to illustrate Marcelo’s innocence and so I could tolerate them in small doses!

The story was quite simple and to be honest I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it if I hadn’t had a special interest in the subject matter. I prefer my books to be a bit darker and not so sentimental.

This book gives a fantastic insight into the problems faced by people who suffer from Asperger’s and so I am encouraging all my friends and family to read it. I would love everyone to read it, just so they understand my son and others like him slightly better, but I suspect that many people will find it too sweet and cheesy for their liking.

I like these books about autistic children and young adults because they take some of our basic assumptions about the world and how it works and shake them upside down. Semi Colon Blog

I loved that this is a complex novel and a beautiful one. Becky’s Book Reviews

I couldn’t put it down. Jenny’s Books

Marcelo was filled to bursting with emotion and feeling and discovery. Regular Rumination

2009 Chunkster Historical Fiction Orange Prize

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

 Short listed for the Orange Prize 2010

I enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible so was hoping that I’d like The Lacuna too. I even saved it to be my last read from the Orange short list as a special treat to myself. Unfortunately my expectations were dashed as I really struggled to enjoy The Lacuna.

The Lacuna begins in Mexico in 1929 and covers an interesting period of history in both America and Mexico. The fictional characters are mixed with real people such as Lev Trotsky, so this book is a departure for Kingsolver in that it is her first work of historical fiction.

The book began slowly and I found I had to concentrate really hard just to understand what was happening. I quickly ensured that I only read the book in large chunks when I had nothing to distract me. Unfortunately this hard work didn’t pay off as I wasn’t rewarded by an entertaining story. I found the writing to be very passive and although some of the descriptions were interesting I was never drawn into their life. I was just a bored observer.

The market in Coyoacan is not like the Zocalo downtown, where everything comes ready-made. The girls in blue shawls sit on blankets with stacks of maize they just broke from the field an hour before. While waiting for people to come, they shell off the kernels. If more time passes they soak the corn in lime water, then grind it into wet nixtamal and pat it out. By day’s end all the corn is tortillas.

The characters were flat and I found it impossible to connect with any of them. There was just no emotion in the book – even scenes of horrific acts were observed in a pleasant way. I became increasingly frustrated by the light, monotonous tone and so considered giving up at several points. The length (nearly 700 pages) was the main reason I eventually gave up. It would have taken me a week of reading to complete this book and I didn’t want to dedicate such a large chunk of my reading time to a book that I wasn’t enjoying. I gave up after around 200 pages, but in many ways I wish I had done so much earlier.

Overall, this book was a big disappointment.


The thoughts of a few other bloggers:

Throughout the story, important things were happening, but since I didn’t feel any connection to the main character, it became very hard for me to care. Fyrefly’s Book Blog

….the ending is amazing! A Book Sanctuary

At times Kingsolver seems to believe that she has to write for the lowest common denominator, a reader who knows nothing of history and has no chance of divining meaning. Book Gazing