Watermark: TLC Blog Tour and Book Review

Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran
Avon Publishing
The following review is from the uncorrected proof.

Love, betrayal, fear and suspicion are some of the themes that populate this historical novel, a superb debut for Vanitha Sankaran. Set in early 14th century France, Watermark begins with the birth of Auda, the novel’s protagonist. Her mother, Elena, sacrifices herself so that her infant may live. But it’s obvious from the beginning that Auda will face many challenges:

Onors, the healer’s apprentice, dropped her muddy clump of roots and leaves and rushed to Elena’s side. Seeing a child kick beside its mother’s eviscerated body, she crossed herself…She looked more closely at the infant and gasped. This thing was no child at all but a sickly creature, ivory-colored in skin and hair, white as bone. Even its eyes were so light, the translucent pink of a worm.

It had come too soon, undercooked, with no color yet baked into its skin and hair, so silent that she wondered for a moment if it still lived. But then it blinked.

“Demon,” she said in a whisper and crossed herself again. (page 6)

In a time and place when anyone out of the ordinary is suspected of being a heretic or of the devil, a mute albino girl - sometimes called the White Witch – might be blamed for the weather, for crop failures or livestock deaths. Auda has the protection of her father, Martin, a paper maker, but he is not invincible. Her older sister Poncia is a pious, fearful woman and thinks Auda would be safe if she were married to the old miller, so she makes the arrangements. However, Auda wants no part of it and prefers to stay with her father to help him with the paper making business. She has dreams of becoming a scribe – unheard of for a woman – and even more extraordinary, contemplates writing her own books.

Sakaran does an admirable job of keeping the story moving. Several times I thought I knew what was going to happen and was pleasantly surprised at the turns the story took. I was fascinated to learn about the paper making process: fermenting old rags into a pulp and pressing the pulp into paper. The title of the book, Watermark, refers to the technique invented in the 13th century to identify paper by pressing a unique symbol into the paper as it’s made. In this story, the watermark was also used to indicate a secret religious sect.

I’m always interested in stories involving witch hunts and the Inquisition. Medieval Europe is not a place I’d like to visit in reality, but I enjoy reading good historical fiction based on the time period. While reading Watermark, I was aware of the similarities to some of today's extreme religious fanatacism, resulting in polarities within our own culture, and I was reminded how dangerous intolerance can become.

Sankaran has written a compelling novel with interesting characters and has done some good research of the era. She even includes a glossary, a bibliography and a chronology of papermaking and other pertinent events of the time. I'm looking forward to reading her next book about printmaking in Italy.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving met the opportunity to read and review this book.

Vanitha Sankaran holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. In addition, her short stories have been published in numerous journals, such as Mindprints, Futures, Prose Ax, and The Midnight Mind. She is at work on her second novel, which is about printmaking in Italy during the High Renaissance.

Visit Vanitha's website here.

FTC Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the publisher for review on my blog. Read More!

Teaser Tuesday and Where Are You? 04-27-10: Watermark

Should Be Reading - Miz B - hosts this weekly event. We throw out a couple of sentences from our current read (without spoilers, of course) to entice you to read the book.

This week's teaser is from Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran, page 16*:

Auda quelled a shiver of excitement and tried not to dream, as she often did, that the first original book Martin made would be written by her. Surely that was his dream, too--why else would he go through such effort to bring books home to share with her? She could picture it, a leather-bound volume containing pages and pages of her writing, maybe even decorated with bright illuminations. If Poncia knew of her ambitions, she would scoff at them both, asking what kind of woman wanted to write books? Few could even read.

It's Tuesday, Where Are You? is hosted by an adventure in reading.

I'm in 14th century France in the small village of Narbonne. I'm a young albino woman who helps her father in his paper making business.

I'll be touring this book on Thursday for TLC Book Tours. Be sure to check back then for my review and other information about Watermark.

*This is an Advanced Reader Edition; page numbers may differ. Read More!

French Milk - Book review

French Milk by Lucy Knisley - graphic memoir

I've fallen in love with graphic novels and memoirs the last two years and looked forward to this one that came highly recommended by...someone, I don't remember who. Unfortunately, I found this one to be boring, repetitive and sloppy.

Lucy travels to Paris with her mother to celebrate their birthdays - Lucy's 22nd and her mother's 50th (though she failed to mention anything about her mother's birthday in the story). They rent an apartment for a month and see the sights and eat. And eat. And eat. And every meal is drawn and written about in detail on just about every other page. It was like reading someone's food journal combined with the angst of a narcissistic young adult, which sometimes can be interesting and insightful, but not here.

In addition to the illustrations, which are fairly good, there are some not so good photos every few pages. I don't think they added anything to the book - most of them are of Lucy posing in front of a building or in a cemetary [sic] or of - that's right - food.

Fortunately, this only took a couple of hours to read. And I just can't recommend it.

Read More!

Teaser Tuesday and Where Are You? 04-06-10: Moral Disorder

Should Be Reading - Miz B - hosts this weekly event. We throw out a couple of sentences from our current read (without spoilers, of course) to entice you to read the book.

This week's teaser is from a collection of short stories, Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood, page 170:
It couldn't be toilet trained, however. It peed whenever it felt the urge, and left piles of shiny brown raisin-sized pellets on the linoleum. Nell made it a diaper out of a green plastic garbage bag, cutting holes for the back legs and the tail, but that was worse than useless.

It's Tuesday, Where Are You? is hosted by an adventure in reading.

I'm in cities, suburbs, farms and forests of Ontario. Read More!

The Sunday Salon- 04-04-10: 1st Quarter Wrapup

Good morning Sunday Saloners and other readers! How can you tell if it's spring in Portland? The weather changes every 5 minutes. It's been cold, blustery, rainy, sunny, warm, cloudy - even a little hail mixed in. Good reading and blogging weather. And you can tell it's April by all the first quarter wrapup posts that pop up in the book blog world, including this one.

Here are the 20 books I've read in 2010:


The Bone People by Keri Hulme
The Mammoth Cheese by Sheri Holman
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer


The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett
Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson


The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

And now, the awards.

Favorite book: by far - Cutting for Stone
Least favorite book: The Girl with No Shadow
Biggest surprise: The Lotus Eaters (because I didn't expect to like a book about Vietnam so much)
Biggest disappointment: Possession
Most astonishing: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Favorite re-read: (OK, the only re-read) Housekeeping

My average rating for these 20 books: 3.95 of 5. Not bad.

And ask me how I'm doing on those reviews. "Terri, how are you doing on those reviews?" Yes, I'm behind a bit, I have four yet to write. They're on my list. Next week I'll catch you up on my challenges.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and the coming week. Happy reading!
. Read More!

Housekeeping: Book Review

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

This is a re-read for me. I first read this book ~15 years ago and was struck by the lyricism. I didn't remember much about the story. On this re-read, I'm still struck by the lyricism - I feel as though I've read an extended poem. The story is almost incidental to the language. But the story, largely character driven, is wonderful, too.

Ruthie and Lucille are sisters raised by their grandmother after their mother leaves them with her and drives into the lake. When one morning their grandmother "eschewed awakening," Lily and Nona, two spinster great aunts, attempt to step in but are not up to the task of raising two adolescents. Finally, their aunt Sylvie appears after having been missing for years. She is a drifter, and returning to Fingerbone, Idaho, to her old family home proves to be hugely challenging for her. She is eccentric and a little bit crazy, but her heart is in the right place.

Lucille rebels against Sylvie's nonconformity, but Ruth, the narrator of the book, becomes more and more like her as time goes on. Eventually Sylvie must prove her competence as a guardian to the sheriff and townspeople, who become alarmed at Sylvie's behavior and perceived neglect of the girls.

I found myself reading passages multiple times just for the beauty of the language. For instance:

For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it?


The sky above Fingerbone was a floral yellow. A few spindled clouds smoldered and glowed a most unfiery pink. And then the sun flung a long shaft over the mountain, and another, like a long-legged insect bracing itself out of its chrysalis, and then it showed above the black crest, bristly and red and improbable. In an hour it would be the ordinary sun, spreading modest and impersonal light on an ordinary world, and that thought relieved me.
There are passages like this on almost every page. It's a book to sink down into and float effortlessly, letting the prose wash over you like soothing waves. Highly recommended.

Read More!