I discovered this book when Nadia Bolz-Weber (author of Pastrix) recommended it on her Facebook page. It's a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40 (it's part of a series by young female spiritual leaders). The title immediately caught my attention. These women, many pastors and teachers, share their thoughts on a variety of topics that have been off limits in Christianity.
Some of the essays by more conservative women wrestle with the teachings of men as the head of the household, women speaking in church or preaching, women as professionals, the decision to live with a partner before marriage, leaving an abusive marriage and being cast out by her church, choosing not to follow in parents' footsteps as a Christian missionary caring for the poor, choosing celibacy, being called to work with refugees, tattoos, freedom without makeup, recovery, dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s marriage, etc. Many of these are even greater taboo topics in conservative Christian circles. We all have our own taboos.
The following essays struck particular notes with me:
"The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children. She has found that her most contemplative time is when her mind is fuzzy and she has no book before her…when she was breastfeeding, for example. She takes her cue from Christ’s own mother, who twice is described as “pondering” at the work of God in her son. “Why else would such a prayer be mentioned in the Gospels unless to call us to such deep work?”
"Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on without disrupting their friendship (or his marriage). “I am beginning to realize how little the churches of which I have been a part have taught me about the beauty of boundaries and the reality of fine lines.” I admired Okoro's honesty on such a difficult topic.
"Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church. We tend to be heavily focused on family and children in our churches.
"High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism. That last one is a particularly strong pet peeve of mine!
"Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality. Perry writes, "Imagine if ALL women were validated for their potential to create life as evident in their monthly cycle…I am seeking ways that we can strengthen and reinvigorate women through the common bonds of blood…I’d like to see our society embrace women’s rituals and reconcile our disconnection with creation.” Have you ever heard menstruation or women's reproductive organs mentioned in church?
"The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. When Stone's friend was in cancer treatment, she acknowledged that profanity had a purpose: “In the midst of my frigid and tedious winter, I needed some good profanity to adequately describe how much it all sucked. Sometimes an f-bomb is the exact, right word.” After seeing several close friends through deep, dark times and experiencing them myself, I can relate. Our God is a God of shit times.
"Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. Tesfamarian writes, "The image of my Maker as a ‘soft, still voice’ or ‘gentle whisper’ found in 1 Kings 19 was comforting and reassuring…I have done the hard work of unpacking God for myself. But that responsibility should not fall solely on me as an individual. The church also has a lot of work to do. Will more churches rise to this occasion, commit to being cutting-edge on matters of gender equality, and go where women of faith dare to take them? IS the church ready for a generation of women who are determined to define God on their own terms?” I went through a similar journey myself when I studied feminist theology in college and discovered that God was so much bigger than one gender alone.
“The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims. Instead the church condemns homosexuality while ignoring sexual assault and domestic violence. She raises the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that instead of addressing the issue of rape in the story, this story is used as a weapon against homosexuality. “Will we continue to read the Scriptures according to our taboos around homosexuality and domestic violence, accepting interpretations that maximize violence?”
"No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church. Messina-Dysert finds a way to identify as Catholic by realizing she is her own agent and will not allow anyone to tell her what her religious status is based on her refusal to accept discrimination. She is also raising a daughter who will fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic church. This essay is important to me because I am married to a Catholic and belong to a Lutheran-Catholic community.
"The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church. This essay made me think about what the unique journey female pastors must take and how the standards can be very different for them. When I was breastfeeding my children, I did so in church during worship. I'm grateful no one ever questioned this. As a pastor, I no doubt would have been under a microscope and judged for doing this.
"Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure. She asks, ”What would the world look like if every girl and woman knew exactly how her body worked? If it was respected and her enjoyment of sexual behaviors was as important as that of her partner…that would be the world God intended…God created us to experience pleasure for the sake of knowing and loving ourselves better, so that we can know and love others better, including God.” What a wonderful way to look at our bodies and sexuality...and a wake-up call for the church.
"Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church. She also writes about her own loss conducting a baptism right after experiencing her own miscarriage and how she shared her own grief with strangers. I received some support from church friends when I experienced several miscarriages, but it wasn't something I felt comfortable talking about.
"What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt had to ask for a salary raise at her first church and experienced condescension from church members about her husband being the stay-at-home dad. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.
"My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing. She also wrote about how she is feeling more comfortable with her female pastor body now that she is older and her body attracts less attention.
I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally.(less)
As a long-time Sujata Massey fan, I was anxious to get my hands on her latest novel, and it did not disappoint!!
Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany (just like my friend Nandita), and she grew up mostly in Minnesota. After working as a reporter, she spent several years in Japan where she taught, studied, and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife. That first novel grew into a detective series with smart, industrious, and savvy Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer who lives in Japan and solves mysteries on the side. I read every single one of the Rei Shimura novels as soon as they came out and have widely recommended them to friends. In fact, the Rei Shimura series is the only detective series I've devoured in its entirety outside of the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky (my first introduction to detective novels). I'm not naturally drawn to mysteries, so I'm highly selective. Authors (e.g., Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell) lose my attention if their books are not well written or if I get tired of the main character. Of course, Rei Shimura held my attention completely because of the series' setting in Japan (mostly). Loved them!
So onto The Sleeping Dictionary. This book took six years for Massey to research and write, because it involved so much in-depth research into Indian history, culture, and language. Massey's family comes from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and she spent time there as a child (read her wonderful diary entries here!), so it was a natural choice for setting this novel.
It's the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea. Her family is very poor, but she feels secure and well loved until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. When she befriends a wealthier Indian girl, Bidushi, who she had known as a child, she comes to discover her own intelligence and talents. Although she hopes to become Bidushi's ayah and always stay together, these dreams are soon dashed by tragedy.
Still very young, she next finds herself in the city of Kharagpur, lured into prostitution at a high-class brothel. As an Indian girl without a family, she has few options for survival. She desperately tries to cling to her dignity in the midst of her despair at being forced to sell her body, and she continues to nurture dreams of becoming a teacher. (The title of the book comes from the term for young Indian women who slept with British men and taught them the ways and language of India.)
I hesitate to give away too much of the plot and adventure in the novel, but I will say that she moves to Calcutta where she renames herself as Kamala, begins to work for an English man, and gets involved in the Indian independence movement.
So here are some of the reasons why I loved this book:
--Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately and throughout her story. Faced with desperately difficult choices in her life, she does the best she can with what is given to her. While she is certainly a victim many times in her life, she has no privilege to wallow in misery and self-pity, but time after time she finds ways to rise above her difficult circumstances.
--I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I've traveled only in the north of India (we concentrated our time there in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan), but I found myself intrigued by the City of Palaces and sad to read about its devastation during the pre-Independence riots and violence.
--I have read great quantities of Indian fiction (and a bit of nonfiction, too), but this book taught me things I did not know...for example, about the massive famine in Bengal caused by the British Empire hoarding India's rice (millions died), India's amazing female freedom fighters and independence activists, Japan bombing India during the war, some members of the Indian resistance movement joining the Japanese led by Subhash Chandra Bose, to name a few...it also gives the Anglo-Indian perspective on what was happening during that time.
--Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Hindus, Muslims, and British, and even some of the women who are sucked into prostitution. Kamala herself makes some unfortunate decisions and lies to people because she feels she has no choice. She's a complex character who is far from perfect. Both Kamala and Simon evolve through the story. There's even a Scottish clergyman who is open minded, fair, and compassionate...imagine that!
--As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. From the moment "Sarah" borrows books from a kind teacher at the British boarding school and her gradual collection of the great masters, to Kamala landing a wonderful job as a librarian for Mr. Lewes...books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life.
I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, AND that Rei Shimura will be making a reappearance! The Sleeping Dictionary will be near the top of my "Top Reads of 2013" list! If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! (less)
Sarah Thebarge survived grueling breast cancer, and a recurrence within a year, before moving west to Portland, Oregon, my hometown. While on the MAX light rail train, she meets a Somali immigrant and her five young daughters, and a friendship begins.
Thebarge alternates her story between getting to know and helping Hadhi and the girls and her travails enduring breast cancer treatment. She was raised in a strict evangelical religion, but went onto earn a degree at Yale and was in the middle of earning a journalism degree at Columbia when cancer struck. She also had a serious boyfriend and was close to becoming engaged. Ian, the boyfriend, was too weak to stick it out and abandoned her. Her church community apparently also abandoned her. She felt alone and bereft, her faith severely tested, when she picked up stakes to move to the west coast. Given the fact that I've had several friends endure and survive Stage 3 breast cancer similar to Thebarge's, I most appreciated reading about her experience and her feelings about having cancer. I also always like reading books set in my hometown!
When she got to know and began to help Hadhi, who didn't speak much English, she seemed to relate to the "invisible girls" because of what she had endured. She too felt like a stranger in a strange land.
This book has been accused of the "white savior complex." At times I wondered whether she could teach Hadhi how to fend for herself and survive rather than just rescuing her (do they have a sustainable life in the U.S.?). I was touched that Thebarge went out of her way to make this family feel welcome in the United States...a feeling they had not experienced before they met her. So much of their lives was difficult, but Thebarge brought joy to their poor, struggling family.
I felt that she could have delved a bit more into how she broke away from her traditional religious upbringing, and her feelings of betrayal when very few were there for her through cancer. And during one of the last chapters of the book she mentions some kind of identity theft or fraud but never explains what happened. (It felt like a big loose end was not tied up...perhaps an editorial oversight?)
The final chapter made me squirm a bit, as Thebarge and her friend reach out to a prostitute and do some proselytizing...mostly because, as a Christian, I'd rather that people learn about Christianity through the way we live our lives and not because we hit them over their heads with it. So even though she felt completely oppressed growing up in such a strict Christian denomination--in which women were not allowed to hold any leadership roles in the church whatsoever--she seems to move back to it at the end. That was a bit confusing.
But Thebarge did help this family in dire straits. She brought delight into their lives and she helped them muddle through, and she too was enriched by the experience. She decided to write this book so she could raise money for the girls to go to college. I hope she is successful in her goal.
I love this tidbit I found on Thebarge's blog, which is the ultimate takeaway from this book:
"And I realized this morning that solving the problem of invisibility doesn’t require legislation or institutional intervention. It’s simple, and it’s easy, and it’s free. It just takes all of us walking through life with open eyes and softened hearts, taking the risk and the time to tell someone else, 'You’re not invisible any more. I care that you exist. I see that you’re suffering. It matters that you’re here.'
How would our world change if every day, each of us told one person — just one —'I see you. So you’re not invisible any more.'”(less)
Wow. This book brought me to tears so many times. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a recovering alcoholic and fundamentalist (she was raised in the ultraconservative Church of Christ), and she is now an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor, wife, and mother. She founded and leads a church called the House for All Sinners and Saints, or HFASS (pronounced Half-Ass) for short. In this book, Bolz-Weber shares deeply and honestly about her own personal trials and how she found her way to the Lutheran church: in one word, grace.
I had forgotten this, but when we were at Holden Village several years ago, Bolz-Weber was also there. A few in our group found her to be standoffish and not very warm. She admits this herself and calls herself a "misanthrope." Her grumpiness comes out full bore in her memoir, but that's what I like so much about it: her deep honesty. She's like Anne Lamott as an ELCA pastor.
I heavily dog-eared my copy of this book, and this is what spoke most clearly to me:
--God's aunt: When she spent some time with Wiccan friends (before finding a home in the ELCA), she said "the goddess we spoke of never felt to me like a substitute for God, but simply another aspect of the divine. Just like God's aunt." She goes on..."I can't imagine that the God of the universe is limited to our ideas of God. I can't imagine that God doesn't reveal God's self in countless ways outside of the symbol system of Christianity. In a way, I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine."
--What you were called to be: When she hesitantly shared with her pastor dad and mom about her decision to become a pastor (after being raised in a church where women could not even teach Sunday school to boys over 12, much less preach), her father responded in a way she didn't expect: "At that moment, my father silently stood up, walked to the bookshelf and took down his worn, leather-bound Bible. Here we go, I thought, he's going to beat me with the scripture stick...He opened it up and read. I could tell from where he was turning that it wasn't one of Paul's letters at the end of the book, but something closer to the middle. My father did not read the 1st Timothy passage about women being silent in church. He read from Esther.
From my father I heard only these words: "But you were born for such a day as this." He closed the book and my mother joined him in embracing me. They prayed over me and they gave me a blessing. And some blessings, like the one my conservative Christian parents gave to their soon-to-be Lutheran pastor daughter who had put them through hell, are the kind of blessings that stay with you for the rest of your life. The kind you can't speak of without crying all over again." Oh, did I ever cry when I read this story!
--I am baptized, so fuck off: Apparently Martin Luther had a bit of an anger issue. "Luther was known to not only throw the occasional inkpot at whatever was tormenting him and causing him to doubt God's promises, but also while doing so he could be heard throughout the castle grounds shouting, 'I am baptized!'" And this is what baptism means to a Lutheran--to be claimed by God and touched by God's grace, no matter what we do or who we are. It's not up to us; it's up to God. This is what she shared with a young transgender man named Asher, who was also raised in a conservative Christian church and who she blessed in a name changing ceremony. She met him a few years later after he returned home from seminary. He said, "I never told you about the dream I had the night after my naming rite"..."It was like so many other nights--a voice accusing me, damning me, scaring me. But this time I talked back," he said proudly. "I said, 'I am baptized, so fuck off,' and when I woke up I was giddy. I called a friend, and we went to City Park and made snow angels." I plan to use this next time my own personal demons threaten my spirit.
--No fakery: Bolz-Weber is not a fan of praise music or liturgical dance and can barely keep herself of showing her dislike on her face. "Pretending to feel a way other than how I actually feel is not a gift God gave me. I can pull it off for short periods of time when needed, but the effort is exhausting." I can relate! This is why it would be very difficult for me to be a pastor!
--Radical hospitality does not sell: She addresses the fact that "churches that try to live into the beauty of radical hospitality and the destabilizing idea that Jesus is experienced in welcoming strangers don't tend to be described as 'sprawling.' Jesus wants you to be rich and beautiful is doing great as a message, though. There are shiny millionaire preachers and full attended parking lots every Sunday morning in America to prove it."
--Strangers sometimes look like our parents: But she also struggled big time with the growing attention her church has received. When they started attracting a lot of white, middle-class suburbanites, she didn't like it. "I wanted the 'us' to be bigger. What I wasn't prepared for was the 'us' to be different." She found it increasingly difficult, as the numbers grew, to maintain a welcoming attitude to some of these newcomers...those who didn't fit her definition of "all sinners and saints" (alcoholics, tattoo-wearers, drug addicts, hippies). "My precious little indie boutique of a church was being treated like a 7-Eleven, and I was terrified that the edgy, marginalized people whom we had always attracted would now come and see a bunch of people who looked like their parents and think, 'This isn't for me.' And if that started to happen, I would basically lose my shit." Then a friend of hers pointed out that her church was really good at welcoming young transgendered people..."but sometimes the stranger looks like your mom and dad." And then young Asher, the transgendered young person, expressed gratitude for those who didn't look like him. "I just want to say that I'm really glad there are people at church now who look like my mom and dad. Because I have a relationship with them that I just can't with my own mom and dad." More tears.
--What would Jesus do? When a con man becomes a member of her church, her first instinct was to "try to get rid of him. You know, like Jesus would do...Ugh, Jesus. He always seems to be showing up when I want him to politely just keep out of my business." And when this con man, Rick, becomes part of her community and works at a food distribution center at the Occupy Denver outpost, he enthusiastically shares, "Distributing food at Occupy Denver is awesome!"..."Everyone is fed. It doesn't matter if you are a homeless guy who is scamming and doesn't even care about Occupy or a lawyer on a lunch break."..."The only place I've ever really seen that is at communion." Then she hangs up, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. And again, I dropped tears. That's what communion means to me as a Lutheran--everyone is welcome and everyone gets fed.
This book, while it might not appeal to everyone (especially if you are sensitive to salty language), made me glad to be an ELCA Lutheran. I'm so glad that we have tattooed, alcoholic pastors like Bolz-Weber, and that she is spreading the word about God's grace to everyone. I encourage you to watch this long interview with Bolz-Weber by Krista Tippett: http://vimeo.com/73913123 It's worth it.(less)
My book group chose this book for October, mostly based on the fact that two members had read De Rosnay's earlier bestselling book, Sarah's Key.
It's the story of Rose Bazelet, a widow who lives in an old house in Paris in the 1860s, an era when hundreds of houses are being demolished to rebuild Paris. She refuses to leave her home, and the book consists of her reminiscences of her life in the house.
I found Rose to be a bit difficult to like, especially because of her neglect and dislike of her daughter, who clearly needed more love. She poured all of her love and affection into her son instead. And to stay in a house and put others' lives at risk all for the sake of principle? I found her to be reckless at best.
It was somewhat interesting to learn about this era in Paris' history, but I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone.(less)
I loved this book, and it was especially delightful to finish such a fun, well-written, and entertaining book on the evening of a wonderful birthday.
One reviewer calls this book "Babette's Feast meets Pirates of the Caribbean." If you like historical fiction, cooking, eating, or pirates, you'll enjoy it too.
England, 1819...after pirate captain "Mad Hannah Mabbott" kills Lord Ramsey (big wig of the Pendleton Trading Company, new name for the East India Trading Company), she kidnaps Owen Wedgwood, Ramsey's talented chef. She informs him that he can stay alive if he cooks a sumptuous dinner for her every Sunday evening.
“Dear Mr. Wedgwood,
Welcome to the Flying Rose. I hope you have settled to sea comfortably. Your lot may improve in direct proportion to your willingness. I do look forward to more of your fare. Let me lay out my proposal: You will, of a Sunday, cook for me, and me alone, the finest supper. You will neither repeat a dish nor serve foods that are in the slightest degree mundane. In return I will continue to keep you alive and well, and we may discuss an improvement of your quarters after a time. Should you balk in any fashion you will find yourself swimming home, whole or in pieces, depending upon the severity of my disappointment. How does this strike you?
In anticipation, Capt. Hannah Mabbot”
Wedgwood, a widower, is a bit of a milksop at first...but he makes delectable food out of the crudest ingredients. Meanwhile, Abbot is on the hunt for the elusive Brass Fox, while she's on the run from the British Navy and a Frenchman named Larouche and trying to rout out the saboteur on her ship. Wedgwood makes a few escape attempts but eventually he comes to appreciate the enormous Mr. Apples, fierce Chinese twins, and deaf-mute Joshua, who he teaches to cook and read. Author Eli Brown will make you want to cook and eat, and you will appreciate the fresh and plentiful ingredients in your kitchen and wish you could cook like Wedgwood.
“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.”
He discovers the root of Abbot's passions for justice and becomes taken with her love for fine food, quick wit, and extreme bravery. This book sent me to the Internet to look up the opium trade. It also brought back memories of our two visits to Macau, as I read about the pirate era on that island. A wild pirate adventure, love story, and culinary tale all rolled into one!(less)
Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you'll know that this is the latest book, a debut mystery, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Gal...moreUnless you've been sleeping under a rock, you'll know that this is the latest book, a debut mystery, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. Its protagonist is Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who lost his leg while a soldier in Afghanistan. A bit of a tragic figure, he has just broken up with his manipulative, cruel, but beautiful girlfriend. He owes tons of money and is living in his office.
Cormoran is hired to figure out whether supermodel Lula Landry really killed herself, or if she was murdered. He, along with his temporary secretary Robin, dabble in the world of fashion designers, druggies, and movie producers, most wealthy and competitive. Editor David Shelley apparently first read the novel without knowing of its true author and expressed surprise that a woman had written the novel...she writes from a man's (and a soldier's) perspective that well.
I was reading out examples of classically British English to my British husband all through this book. So glad they didn't try to edit it to suit American audiences. I suspect that some American readers might not understand every single word or phrase without looking things up...just fine with me. It's truly a London novel, too.(less)
This book took a bit of time for me to grow into, but I liked it in the end. It's about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witn...moreThis book took a bit of time for me to grow into, but I liked it in the end. It's about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witness to an armed robbery and shooting in a diner. She feels completely responsible when the gunman is shot and killed by the police.
It took awhile before Skilton revealed why Imogen blamed herself for this violent man's death...and until then I had a hard time understanding why she was reacting the way she was. Yes, she had a black belt...but that's no match for a gun.
She becomes self-destructive and nothing really moves her except for Ricky, the boy who was also there in the diner that night. She has an intact, loving family, but has some issues there as well. Imogen is just flat out angry at life, and after the diner incident occurs, this feeling intensifies.
When Imogen finds herself attracted to Ricky, she enters a huge internal battle about love and strength. Can someone love you and want to protect you? Can she allow herself to feel vulnerable? Can Ricky allow Imogen to be just as strong as he is?
This was the second young adult book I read during my surgery recovery, and it was worth the effort. Excellent first novel by Skilton, also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.(less)
As I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. Pain...moreAs I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. Pain meds combined with pain and fatigue after surgery tend to make it difficult for me to spend much time reading.
I picked up The Chosen One by pulling it off the shelf at the library and reading the book jacket. It's the story of Kyra, who is the second-oldest daughter of her father, who has three wives. She is a member of The Chosen Ones, a fundamentalist Mormon, polygamist compound, which is tightly run by the dictator, "Prophet" Childs.
The prophet has decreed that Kyra, at age 13, will marry her Uncle Hyrum, older brother to her own father (in his 60s, with three wives), in four weeks. Although her father is against it, the family has no choice. He's too scared to resist. The prophet rules the compound with an iron, violent hand, forbidding anyone from reading or disobeying his orders. He threatens Kyra's father that he will take his entire family away from him if he cannot get Kyra to marry Uncle Hyrum. I couldn't help but think of the slimy, evil prophet in the polygamous compound in the TV show "Big Love."
Kyra has her own love interest: a boy her own age, named Joshua, who wants to marry Kyra. She also sneaks away to take books out from the bookmobile that goes past the compound each week. Kyra must decide if she will leave her own family forever to be free. Either choice has enormously heavy consequences, not just for her but for the people who help her.(less)
My first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a g...moreMy first memory of Cyndi Lauper was when I was a junior in college, and "Money Changes Everything" was a big hit. In the video, Cyndi Lauper kicks a garbage can...and my roommate and I would blast the music and pretend to kick things. You know...the silly things one does in college!
Then when I was in Japan in the late 1980s, both Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were all the rage. I bought her "True Colors" cassette tape (yes, that's right--that's how old I am) and I loved her unique sense of style, which was appealing to this woman whose mom once told her, "Marie--you have a style all your own!" In that era I had short, spiky hair with a tail (wish I had a photo) and I've always been drawn to colorful clothing. Lauper was a true pioneer in the 1980s, inspiring many of today's edgy artists such as Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, and Pink.
Then a few summers ago we went to see Cyndi Lauper perform at the Oregon Zoo after she'd made her blues album, "Memphis Blues." She was a dynamic, compelling, and talented performer, who had essentially reinvented herself as a blues singer. She even had blues legend Charlie Musselwhite on tour with her. When she sang "True Colors," I cried along with most of the audience.
Cyndi Lauper's memoir is very much like her personality--all over the place. Writer Jancee Dunn manages to capture Lauper's voice and style in her writing. The narrative jumps around a bit, and she digresses, just as Lauper does...you can practically hear her distinctive voice jumping off the page.
She seemed to have a reasonably happy childhood and she was loved by her mom and siblings, but she never really fit in. She ran away when she was in high school because of a lecherous stepfather. What I admire the most about her is her crazy sense of self-confidence and self-assurance, even at a young age. She took herself off camping in Canada completely alone as a young woman--the only companion she had was her dog Sparkles. She has always been passionately committed to her ideals of justice, and she's also been committed to making great art--both musically and visually.
When she started to get successful and make records (after some awful experiences with some of her initial bands, including once when she was raped by her former bandmates), she was screwed over by record company executives, who wanted to make her into someone else--more marketable and less assertive.
At times, the book digressed into the details of each record production, and I began scanning...but I enjoyed reading about how she met her husband David and had her son, Declyn, after struggling with bad endiometriosis.
She has become a passionate advocate for LGBT justice, beginning with her friendship with Gregory, or "Boy Blue," who died of AIDS in the 1980s. Her beloved sister Elen also is a lesbian. I also learned that she has a strong connection to Japan, and she landed in Japan right after the big earthquake and tsunami and stayed there to give back to the Japanese people, who were mourning the devastation in their country.
I have a much bigger appreciation for Cyndi Lauper's music now...and I'm glad I read this book. Steer clear if you don't like salty language!(less)
This is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. If you can't handle this kind of story, stop right here.
Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the boo...moreThis is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. If you can't handle this kind of story, stop right here.
Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the book in Yala, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, where she was vacationing with her husband, two sons, and parents over the Christmas holidays of 2004. Within a few moments, the massive tsunami took away the lives of everyone she loved most dearly, and she nearly died herself. Can you imagine what this would be like? Savoring the post-holiday pleasures with your children, who were playing with their Christmas gifts, and your husband is sitting on the toilet reading? Suddenly you see a wave rising up way too high and approaching your hotel and you tell everyone to run. They ran so fast that they didn't even have time to warn her parents, whose room was next door. Not that it would have mattered.
Sri Lankan-born Deraniyagala lost her beloved sons Vik and Malli and her English husband Steve. And parents who she loved dearly. Of course she wished she were dead too.
Over the next several years, she passes through the many stages of grief...total depression and devastation, anger, bitterness, alcoholism, you name it. She seemed well cared for by her friends and family, but we don't really get to know any of them well in this book.
It's clear that she had money, as the family did not sell her parents' home in Colombo (where she grew up). After initially renting it out to a Dutch family (who Deraniyagala tormented during one of her manic phases of grief), they left it standing empty so they could return to it. She did the same with their house in London--it was kept as a sort of monument to her family, with the boys' things untouched as they left them. In fact, she didn't even return to the London house until nearly 4 years after they had died. Not everyone would have the resources to do this. Most people would have their grief compounded by having to give up those memories far more quickly than they were ready to.
I remember when my friend Laurie lost her son Zacary at age four, devastating enough as it is, but then she and her husband had to sell the house where Zacary lived (because of money problems) ...shedding those precious memories of him in that house. That is what Deraniyagala clings to, still.
At first she doesn't want to face her memories, but gradually she starts recollecting the wonderful details of her children...athletic, intelligent Vikram who was interested in the natural world, and the younger son, Malli, who was expressive, sensitive, and liked to dress up in a tutu. She looks back on her husband's childhood in inner-city London, growing up in a council flat, and how she met him at Cambridge. I loved how Steve would drive through Europe with his father on his lorry runs, sampling the cuisine along the way...and later he would become the chef in their family. They loved to go to the London fish markets early in the morning to purchase the freshest catch. He adopted Sri Lanka as his own, and they spent as much time there as possible.
My only quibble with this book is that she sometimes uses run-on sentences divided only by commas. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate stylistic choice but I'm guessing it must have been, I found that to be distracting. (See what I mean??)
Deraniyagala doesn't address the rest of the 230,000 people who died in that tsunami. As she returns to Yala over and over again, she paces the destruction left behind...but she doesn't talk about the way the wave affected the community. She doesn't talk about all the people whose loved ones died and who didn't have the resources or support she did.
That's not what this book was about. It's about grief, pure and simple, and how one woman finds her way through it. It's searingly honest and candid...and brave.
A few days after the tsunami hit in Japan, Deraniyagala took a trip out deep into the Indian Ocean, south of the southern tip of Sri Lanka...the sea that divides Sri Lanka from Antarctica. She went on a whale-watching trip and saw great blue whales breaching. Her son Vikram had always wanted to see a blue whale, and at first she felt that it was unfair that she should be able to do so without him...but then she let herself savor the magical moment on his behalf.
Some reviewers have wanted more hope or resolution in this book, but that was not the purpose. Grief never resolves. It can fade away gradually, but it endures.(less)
I feel ambivalent about this book, which I finished several days ago. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC)...moreI feel ambivalent about this book, which I finished several days ago. Lauren Drain's family moved to Kansas to join the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) after her father, an atheist libertarian, was making a documentary about the group. He soon become absorbed and went full bore. They were one of the few families who were not part of the Fred Phelps dynasty.
Lauren became an enthusiastic picketer, truly believing that WBC had a straight line to heaven...even though they apparently believe in predestination. A couple of things about the WBC surprised me: they highly value education and encourage all members to pursue careers...even women, although in many other ways, women are treated as second-class citizens. Conversely, the second in command at WBC is Shirley Phelps-Roper, one of Fred Phelps' daughters. Another thing I learned is that WBC pickets and protests not to convert or save people from hell, but only to proclaim what they believe.
Some reviewers have commented that Lauren should have waited a few more years to write her memoir--she comes across as a teenager, even though she's now a young woman. I don't think she would have left the church on her own volition--she seemed to love it too much, even though she was beginning to chafe against the favoritism shown to the Phelps family. She did not leave because she disagreed with the church's teachings. Essentially, she was kicked out because she was asking lots of challenging questions and she was drawn to have relationships with men. The WBC rules forbid any contact with people outside the church, and Drain had only one marital prospect within the church. She says now that she stayed in the church because she couldn't bear to leave her family.
In the epilogue, Drain apologizes to gay people for being so hateful, saying the classic "some of my friends are gay" (can't believe her cowriter actually included this staple of prejudice!). But it didn't feel completely genuine to me...I think I might have felt more convinced had the writing been stronger. When I finished the book, I had the impression that if Lauren's family wanted her back in the church...and she could still have freedom to have a relationship with a man outside the WBC...she would be back in a heartbeat. It just didn't ring true to me. She seemed to get such a high level of enjoyment out of the picketing and didn't seem to realize, even later, the depth of hatred she espoused.
However, when I watched an interview with her, I felt more convinced that she was glad she was out. Drain describes the WBC as like a gang. When you are part of it, you feel a sense of belonging. But if you leave, they pray for your doom and destruction.
Drain was treated horribly by her family and the rest of the church...and she is still scarred from that treatment. She hasn't seen her parents or siblings for 5 years.
I did find it interesting to get inside of the WBC and try to understand their hate and evil...but the book itself could have been better.(less)
Wow--this is the 11th book I've read by Jodi Picoult. Some are definitely better than others. The only two I've given five stars to have been Keeping...moreWow--this is the 11th book I've read by Jodi Picoult. Some are definitely better than others. The only two I've given five stars to have been Keeping Faith and Sing You Home. This one I would put in the "average" category.
I like Picoult's books because she always poses ethical dilemmas and creates complex characters, many of whom have deep flaws but good intentions. They often have courtroom drama and surprising twists at the end.
The main character, Delia Hopkins, raised by her widowed father in New England, is now a mother and is engaged to her daughter's father, Andrew. Then she discovers that she was kidnapped by her own father when she was just four...and her mother is still alive. Andrew is an alcoholic and just happens to also be a lawyer, so she asks him to represent her father, even though he doesn't have much experience with trials...and is not licensed to practice in Arizona, where the case goes to court.
As usual, Picoult's books are highly readable and accessible...but this one will not stand out in my memory. The plot seemed to meander. The characters frustrated me at times. The "surprise" wasn't really much of a surprise. I found it hard to understand why Delia made the decisions she did, and I didn't like what happened to the most intriguing character in the book. The prison scenes were awful and implausible...her dad is supposed to be this great guy, yet he helps manufacture meth and shoots a staple into someone's eye??? And I know prison can be awful, but is it typically this brutal? And are alcoholics never allowed to have happy endings?
In summary, this book was okay...but Jodi Picoult has done so much better. (less)
This is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). Wh...moreThis is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). While The Kite Runner was a wonderful, heart-breaking story of boys' friendship, I found A Thousand Splendid Suns to be even more poignant and beautiful because it was about two women who were thrown together in marriage to the same men, but eventually forged a strong bond and sisterhood.
Hosseini's new novel steps away from the classic form and ambitiously takes on multiple perspectives and stories about family, both biological and chosen, and how one choice can change several people's lives.
It starts out in the 1950s as a story about a 10-year-old boy, Abdullah, and his 3-year-old sister, Pari, who are closely intertwined to each other. Their mother died giving birth to Pari, so Abdullah had the primary responsibility of raising his sister. Their father remarried a woman, Parwana, who didn't have much love for the children, as she was nursing a dark secret of her own. Living in a small Afghani village, their father struggled to put food on the table and the previous winter one of their younger children died from the cold. When given a chance to change this situation, he sold Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul, his brother-in-law's employers. Abdullah and Pari were torn apart tragically.
Hosseni is a brilliant writer--he paints a vivid landscape on the page and his characters are complex, multilayered, and interesting. I wanted to know more about Abdullah and Pari, but when Pari grows into an older child, her mother takes her off to Paris and we don't hear anything about her until she is older. Her mother is a narcissistic woman, and Pari doesn't learn the real truth about her origins or her adopted father until many years after her mother dies. Pari's adopted father is a cold, aloof man, who has his own secret reason for his unhappiness, but found joy in Pari as a young child.
And this is my only fault with this book...it's like a series of loosely interwoven stories, each chapter starting with a different perspective and setting. I am not a fan of short stories for this reason...I want to sink my teeth into a story, and short stories are just not long enough for me to get immersed. The plot jumped around from the Afghani village to Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to Greece, and some of the characters I preferred to others. Many I just wanted more of...especially Pari and Abdullah.
Each character lacked love or experienced pain in relationships, much of them with their family members. But love is also found in unusual and subtle ways.
This novel is not nearly as tragic as Hosseini's first two, and some of the characters find redemption and reconciliation in the end. Beyond the colorful storytelling and wonderful stories of families and friendship, And the Mountains Echoed opens the world to Afghanistan, not just as a war-torn country of tragedy, but one of real relationships, heartbreak, and love.(less)
This was another "scan the library bookshelves" find, a quirky story about a thirtysomething man (Milo Slade) who has an unususal form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It manifests itself in making strange demands on his brain and taking over his life until he satisfies them. For example, a word will pop into his head and his obsession will not go away until someone spontaneously says this word. Or he will suddenly have the need to pop the seals on grape jelly jars, bowl a strike, see a movie he's watched several times before, let all the air out of his tires, or sing a karaoke version of "99 Luftballons" in German (remember that song from the '80s?) in front of an audience. And he keeps all this a secret from everyone.
As you can imagine, his marriage was not terribly successful. When the novel begins, he and his wife Christine have separated, although it seems that neither of them are convinced that's what they really want. Milo is a home health care nurse and seems to have a stronger relationship with his patients than he does with his wife (who of course knows nothing of his disorder but probably just thinks he's weird).
One day Milo finds a video camera with a bag of tapes under a park bench. He returns the next day to find them still there, so he takes them home and begins watching the videos. They're made by a grieving young woman he initially coins "Freckles," and she has a lot of secrets, too. Milo is determined to help this woman feel better by solving one of her problems. He takes off on a road trip to North Carolina to find a friend of hers, who had vanished 20+ years earlier.
This journey makes Milo realize that he's not the only one who is a bit odd and he's also not the only one hiding secrets. He begins to reveal more of himself and understand what he really wants and doesn't want out of his life.
After awhile, the demands did get a bit annoying to read about...I suppose Milo felt far worse. I wonder if this is a real type of OCD, or if it's something the author made up. I had a hard time understanding why Milo didn't want to get help for this problem of his--it would have driven me crazy! I didn't feel particularly sympathetic to Milo because of the way he detached himself from others through his secrets. My favorite part of the novel was when he met with one of his elderly clients, who were all far more honest and genuine than Milo himself. (less)
A Tale for the Time Being is the first full-price hardcover book I remember purchasing for myself, ever. Ozeki has long been one of my favorite author...moreA Tale for the Time Being is the first full-price hardcover book I remember purchasing for myself, ever. Ozeki has long been one of my favorite authors, and I was thrilled when I read that she had finally published her third novel. I went to see/hear Ozeki read from this book at Powell's, and I was enchanted. In the intervening time since she published All Over Creation, she became a Zen Buddhist priest. Clearly, this experience informs this novel.
She explained that she has always wanted to do the audio recordings of her books, but publishers prefer not to have authors read their own books. She realized that if she put enough Japanese words in the book, they would let her do her own reading. After listening to her read, I think I might like to listen to the audio book too. This is a highly unusual reaction for me, as I don't often read books twice--at least not until many years have passed.
I found myself reading this book very slowly--it took me most of April to read, in fact. Ozeki is a poetic, lyrical writer. I am often drawn to her books because they are set in Japan or the United States (or both) and feature Japanese or Japanese-American characters. This was no different.
It's the story of 16-year-old Nao, who is living in Tokyo but spent much of her childhood in Sunnyvale, California. She is mercilessly bullied by her classmates and even her teachers. Some might find it difficult to believe, but bullying is an extreme problem in Japan, and it's even tolerated and sometimes encouraged by the adults in charge. Her father, who lost his job in California and has become unemployable back in Japan, keeps attempting suicide, which is considered an honorable out in Japan. The only bright spot in Nao's life is her 104-year-old great-grandmother, who is an anarchist, feminist, novelist Buddhist nun, who she calls Old Jiko. She decides that she's going to commit suicide, but first she wants to tell the story of Old Jiko's life in her diary.
Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist living on an island in British Columbia, finds Nao's diary washed up on the beach. The resemblance between Ruth the character and Ruth the novelist is more than just their name, ancestry, and location. Ozeki has actually put herself, and her husband Oliver, into the novel.
As Ruth begins reading the book, she becomes captivated by Nao's life and begins to care very deeply about what happens to her. Not too long after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, initially Ruth believes that this is what has caused the diary to come into her hands.
I loved so many things about this novel...the way that Nao finds such deep solace and healing in writing down her pain, the wisdom of old Jiko and the way she connects with her young great-granddaughter, the connections between Japan and North America--present in each of Ozeki's novels, the way Ozeki describes the sparsely populated island on which she and Oliver live, the poignant reflections of Nao's great-uncle's time in the Japanese army and Nao's connections with him, and the spiritual, symbolic activities of the crow, cat, and the sea. So many things have changed since I left Japan, and so many things remain the same.
As Nao goes to visit Old Jiko up on the mountaintop, I envisioned the monastery to look something like Koya-san, where I visited while I lived in Japan. I could picture Nao riding the bus up that mountain and communing with the trees and spirits while she visited there.
So many things about this story were deeply sad, but ultimately, the novel had great redemptive power and spiritual meaning. I highly recommend it--A Tale for the Time Being will definitely be at the top of my book list for the year. It was worth the full price, as the story will stick with me for a long time.(less)
Somehow, I'm not sure why, I was late to the Bruce Springsteen train. I knew his more popular songs and liked them, but it wasn't until I went to my first Springsteen concert with my teenage son last November that I became a convert.
Peter Ames Carlin, a writer for the Oregonian and author of several musician bios, interviewed Bruce and his colleagues and pored over the albums, articles, and interviews to create this exhaustive (and some say, exhausting) biography. At times Carlin uses sentence fragments, which I'm not crazy about, and he does tend to go on at times...perhaps a more diehard Springsteen fan would have gotten more out of the long stories about various concert tours and people who helped him along the way. It was interesting to read about how Bruce made it big, gradually and with a lot of hard work and a loyal fan base in New Jersey.
One reviewer (and local New Jerseyite) wrote about how this book was book-ended by death...starting out with the childhood death of Bruce's aunt, which affected his whole family forevermore, and ending with the death of his beloved friends and bandmates Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. Reading about Clarence's death (and Bruce bringing his guitar into the hospital room to sing Clarence out during the last 3 hours of his life) brought me to tears, as did the poignant description of how Bruce's dad asked him to sit on his lap one night (as an adult) after a lifetime of conflict and tense silence between the two of them.
I'm still amazed that I'm a Springsteen newbie. He stands for so much of what I believe in. From representing the common American working person to singing a song for the movie "Philadelphia," before most of Hollywood became gay friendly, from engaging with and advocating for Vietnam vets and Amnesty International, to continuing to sing about the underprivileged even after he hit it big, and for showcasing a local charity at each of his concerts...he is a strong voice of social justice.
Carlin's book does not paint him as a perfect man...he can be narcissistic, demanding and selfish. He hurt the members of his band when he cut them off for several years to pursue his solo work. He has exacting standards for everyone who works with him.
But he is clearly a musical genius, prolific in his song writing and creative in his musical arrangements, and a true poet of the people.
The one thing the book was lacking was more about his family. Carlin writes about the birth of Bruce and Patti's first son, but doesn't go beyond that. I'm guessing that Bruce asked Carlin to keep his family out of the book...but it would have made this bio much more comprehensive. We hear about his initial relationship with Patti, but in later years not much.
Now I'm going to go listen to the albums painstakingly described in the book, and they will mean much more to me.(less)
I read Jane Casey's first novel, The Missing, and was not as nearly taken with it as her second, The Burning, which felt similar to BBC's "Prime Suspect" (with Helen Mirren), but with a young Irish detective named Maeve.
One reason why I didn't like her first novel was that I didn't find her main character, Sarah Finch, to be very likable. She ended up being a teacher after she hated school, and she didn't seem to get any enjoyment out of her job. I cannot relate to this, but my husband tells me that he thinks it sounds British...he thinks that more people in the UK go into teaching without really being called to do so. That might be true.
At any rate, I prefer Maeve. She has to put up with her English colleagues' misogyny and crap about her Irish ancestry, but she is a strong and complex character. She's working on a case to catch a London serial killer who likes to beat his female victims to a pulp and then set their bodies ablaze. It's more of a police procedural (hence the Prime Suspect comparison) than a mystery book, but I liked it.
The other thing I appreciated about this book was the publisher didn't dumb it down for Americans...as in, they didn't change the British terms and language (like they did in Harry Potter, for example). Most Americans will not know what a bacon buttie is...but that's okay! They can look it up if they want to know.
I will keep reading Casey's books (she has three more Maeve Kerrigan books published with another one on the way), and I'm so glad she redeemed herself after the first one.(less)
Last year my husband and I watched a short British made-for-TV movie called "Good Night, Mister Tom," and I became interested in the history of English children evacuated to the country during World War II...so this book intrigued me.
It's the story, in part, of Anna, an eight-year-old girl who is evacuated from London and sent to a stately home in Yorkshire in 1939. Wise beyond her years, she soon becomes aware of the adult secrets around her. Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, who have opened up their home, are deeply unhappy with each other. Soon they each start affairs. In the meantime, Anna's mother (whose husband is fighting in Africa) starts up her own affairs in London, for no particular reason except that the war is on. Every adult in this book is unhappy and unfaithful....even Anna herself when she grows up.
Unfortunately, none of the characters are sympathetic with perhaps the exception of Thomas. Anna was more likable as a child, but when she grew up I found myself getting irritated with her choices and the way she let her life fall to ruin. This book, unfortunately, does a great deal of telling rather than showing. In fact there's little dialogue. The writer is a documentary film maker, and in many ways that shows.
I felt this book had promise--the setting in Yorkshire, the time it happened, the idea of children being sent away from home, the war--but I feel let down. I think I will have to read Good Night, Mister Tom (also a book) instead. (less)
This is the first book I've read since I had surgery in December that has really compelled me. Any story about or by sisters always interests me, and this one--about Asia--did in particular.
As you might recall, Laura Ling was captured with her colleague, Euna Lee, and imprisoned in North Korea from March to August 2009. They worked for Current TV (cofounded by Al Gore) and were making a documentary about North Korean defectors who escaped into China, some of whom ended up in forced marriages or sex trafficking. They traveled into China on tourist visas instead of admitting they were journalists because they were not going to be portraying either China or North Korea in glowing terms. They hired a guide to take them to the Chinese-North Korean border, and one morning the guide encouraged them to go onto the frozen river that serves as the boundary between the countries. They followed him, and they came to regret it. Although they went back into China, guards from North Korea pursued them and captured them.
For five months, they were interrogated about their intentions and actions and kept isolated from one another. At the same time, Laura's sister Lisa (who works for Oprah and used to appear on "The View") took advantage of her media and government connections and did everything she could to get her sister out of North Korea. She was in contact with Al Gore, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Oprah Winfrey, the U.S. State Department, and media and entertainment celebrities. At one point, Michael Jackson even offered to perform for Kim Jong Il (if it would help), right before he died so suddenly.
It's clear that Laura Ling had powerful people working for her, trying to get her out. If her sister hadn't used all her connections and if she hadn't been working for Al Gore's company, who knows whether they would have been able get former president Bill Clinton to make a visit to Pyongyang to retrieve her and Euna Lee (who had left a 5-year-old daughter at home in the U.S.).
Clearly, they made an error in judgment by taking the risk to cross into North Korea...whether they were persuaded to take the risk by their guide or not. But that doesn't detract from this story.
I was touched by the very close relationship between the sisters, who are best friends. I cried several times, as I did again when watching the video of Laura Ling's speech as she got off the airplane in Burbank, California. I'm always deeply affected by stories of sisters being separated or reunited.
I also found it touching to read about the relationships she developed with some of her guards, translators, and even her primary interrogator. Even though she was being held in captivity, she was treated well for the most part. Even though the North Koreans felt angry at the United States, most of them did not treat her unkindly.
It's clear, as is mentioned in the epilogue, that many political prisoners do not have the resources Laura Ling and Euna Lee had...working incessantly to free them. But evident in the book, too, is Laura Ling's keen intelligence and political and media savvy. She handled the imprisonment professionally, wisely, and diplomatically, in spite of her own health problems and severe stress.
Check out my blog (at the top of this review) for links to a book trailer and interviews.(less)
I picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessa...moreI picked this one up at random at the library...I had never heard of Stacy Pershall...little did I know she was an Internet sensation (and not necessarily in a good way).
Pershall grew up in the small town of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and she never really fit in there. Pershall's mom pours all of her attention on her brother. She refers to her father's anger, but we don't get much detail on that.
Fast forward to adolescence, when she develops anorexia and bulimia, followed by (or concurrent with) bipolar and borderline personality disorder. She becomes highly self-destructive and somehow, amazingly successful given the self-destructive behavior (she lands a job as adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts after earning her M.A., somehow!).
Each time she seemed to pull her life together, her mental illness struck again. (She even got married for awhile.) As one of the Internet's first "camgirls," Pershall broadcast one of the first online suicide attempts (and only one of many of hers) before shutting down her site. She found comfort by making tattoos of the things that scared or saddened her.
This book shed a lot of light for me on mental illness, particularly bipolar and borderline diseases. I would have liked to have learned more about her childhood and any thoughts she had about what led her to these illnesses. (Was it genetic? Environment?) She seems to have a tenuous relationship with her parents now, but what happened to her brother?
This was a raw, terribly honest memoir about all the mistakes Pershall has made in her life. I'd expect nothing less from someone who bared her soul (and clothing) for the Internet.
Most of the book is about her illness, and only an epilogue provides some closure. She seems to have it together now...but I felt that we were missing something in the journey to success. Maybe there's a Part 2 in progress?
A friend recommended I try out Maisie Dobbs for my post-surgery recovery because I find I lack mental energy when I'm in pain and on pain meds. (My brain just doesn't work right!) After my Joanna Trollope waste of time, I finally dove into Maisie Dobbs. I was beginning to worry that I'd lost my passion for reading from the brain surgery I had, but I'm happy to report that I'm getting back into the swing of things. Maisie Dobbs was just the ticket, although it took a little getting into in the beginning.
Maisie Dobbs is the daughter of a costermonger (a street seller of fruits and vegetables) and after her mother dies, she's taken into service because her dad cannot afford to take care of her. Soon Lady Rowan (lady of the house) takes her on as a project after noting Maisie's keen intelligence. She's tutored by Rowan's friend Maurice, who helps her prepare for Cambridge entrance exams. However, after a year of studying at Cambridge's women's college (in those days they didn't actually bestow degrees on women, but they were allowed to study), she decides her country needs her. She signs up as a nurse and is sent to France. After returning from France, she sets up her own business as a private investigator.
Much of this first book in the series is used to set up the character of Maisie. She takes on a case that requires her to delve into her own sad history in the war and her one true love. The book starts in the present (well, 1929), but then flashes back to her childhood, life in service, and time during the war. I found those pieces the most interesting because I wanted to get to know more about Maisie. Winspear slowly unravels the secrets of Maisie's past and her own tragic life.
Like Downton Abbey, it tackles themes of British class mores and the impact that World War I had on its participants. For example, both the show and the book feature stories about soldiers who deserted in cowardice and were shot.
I'm not sure how realistic this series is...how likely is it for the aristocracy to actually invest in one of their young housemaids to help them better themselves? She seems to fit in well at Cambridge, but all we really see about that part of her life is her close friendship with her roommate. How did she do with her studies? Not sure.
I really enjoyed this novel but it wasn't perfect. I found some details lacking, but I will keep reading in the hopes that it will only improve! I'm curious to learn more about Maisie--she's an interesting character. (less)
I picked this book up at the library because I was stocking up on some lighter fiction to read after my brain/ear surgery. I've read a few Joanna Trol...moreI picked this book up at the library because I was stocking up on some lighter fiction to read after my brain/ear surgery. I've read a few Joanna Trollope books in the past (my mother-in-law likes her), but I hadn't read her for a number of years. I should have known better...I gave the last two books I read only two stars. This was definitely light, but it was not interesting. I wish I'd given up halfway in, but I finished it.
It's about a couple (Anthony and Rachel) who have three sons. Rachel struggles in her relationships with her daughter-in-laws. Her son Luke's wife Charlotte challenges her authority and their conflict spreads throughout the family. When Charlotte announces that she is pregnant, Rachel reacts in a rude, critical way.
I asked my husband what he thinks about the British view of apologies. Luke calls his father Anthony to see if he will get his mother to apologize, and Anthony is horrified that Luke would suggest that, even though they all agree that Rachel was in the wrong. This seemed preposterous to me.
The characters were shallow and unmemorable, and very little happens in the plot. Trollope is known for writing about relationships, but the relationships in this book are shallow and weak. The brothers cannot be distinguished from each other, and Rachel rarely interacts with her daughters-in-law in the book.
Trollope said she wanted to write about the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law because she believes they are more difficult than relationships with sons-in-law. But this book missed the mark.
Some light reads are enjoyable or memorable, but this book is neither. It was a waste of time.(less)
I read this book because my book group chose it for this month. We didn't have much time between book group meetings, because they very kindly moved up the meeting by one week so I could attend. (Otherwise I would have missed it because of my impending surgery.) What I didn't know until I read the reviews was that this was the third in a series!
I'm one of those people who really, really likes to start with the first book in a series. So after I got over my unsettled feelings I finally settled into the book. I put down The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver to read this, and it was much, much more readable than that tome. I usually love Kingsolver but it's taking me forever to slog through The Lacuna.
I don't read much young adult (YA), but from what I understand from my middle-grade writer husband, YA is often full of a lot of angst and dysfunctional relationships. Ruby Oliver, the protagonist, struggles with making and keeping friends and has a lot of stress around relationships with boys. In the book preceding this one, Ruby's boyfriend Jackson takes up with one of her friends, and she becomes what she believes is a social pariah. (It's not really as bad as she makes it out to be, though.) In this book, Jackson is back in the picture again, possibly. Reading this book made me SO GLAD I do not ever have to do high school or junior high ever again.
Ruby's parents are well-meaning hippies, and she actually does have some friends worth keeping. The stories about her teachers and baking were amusing...also her time working in the Birkenstocks store at Pike Place Market. (After reading about her adventures fitting bare feet into Birkenstocks, of all sizes, shapes, and smells, I realized that I could NEVER do that!)
But who goes to the Pike Place Market to buy supplies for a bake sale? That seemed completely unrealistic for local Seattle high schoolers! Ruby is a smart, well-meaning girl, and she really doesn't want to screw up her friendships, but somehow she has a knack for that.
After I said that I don't read much YA, I now realize that this is actually the fourth or fifth YA book I've read all year...and it was fine but it's my least favorite. The others--Wonder, Marcelo in the Real World, and Shine--focused on much more serious issues, and this was like marshmallow fluff in comparison. It was a good distraction from the current stress in my life...a cute read...but not sure I will be reading any more of the series. There's just not enough here to draw me back in.
Now I'm back into The Lacuna for awhile...but when I go into the hospital I'm planning to wade into something much lighter! (less)
Everyone Is Beautiful is a sweet, easy read, about a Texan woman of Colombian origin who's transplanted to Boston because of her husband's job. She has three young boys who are extremely close together and full of mischief. She feels bereft at leaving behind her supportive parents in Houston. She hardly ever has any alone time with her husband, and she has no romance in her life.
When a stranger at the park supposes her to be pregnant, she decides she must make a change. She begins going to the gym every day and she also takes up photography. As expected, soon her marriage is in jeopardy.
I appreciated the fact that this was a story about a stay-at-home mom with a brain and a mission to bring meaning to her life. She has a true friend who supports her and accepts her for all her faults. Her husband loves her and although we do not see it at the beginning, he adores her. She comes to peace with her body and appreciates the beauty in women of all shapes and features around her.
It's a simple message and a simple story, and I actually cried at the end...as she realizes how much she loves her husband and how lucky she is.(less)
Dahlia Finger, a selfish, shallow, foul-mouthed, and stoner Jewish American princess who was conceived on a kibbutz, has been diagnosed with an inoper...moreDahlia Finger, a selfish, shallow, foul-mouthed, and stoner Jewish American princess who was conceived on a kibbutz, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the young age of 29.
In search of answers, she finds a self-help guide in an effort to help her grapple with her cancer and impending demise. And she begins looking back on her shambles of a life.
Dahlia is not particularly likable, but as her childhood memories come forth, it's clear why she got to be the way she is. When her flaky Israeli mother and American father break up, her previously loving and adoring older brother Dan turns on her. He becomes her worst tormentor, treating her horribly and humiliating her constantly, while she only wants his approval and love. She feels abandoned and confused, and along with the absence of her mother during her formative years, this abandonment and cruelty shapes her life and personality.
There's no question where the story is headed, and if you're looking for an upbeat, happy story, this isn't it. I wouldn't even say it has much redemption in it. But it does make you think about your own life and where it's headed. Are you making the most of each hour you have?(less)
My husband asked me how I had heard about this book, and I can't remember. I had it out of the library for awhile before I finally picked it up.
Audition is the story of a documentary film maker, Aoyama, who was widowed seven years before. His teenage son Shige suggests that he think about remarrying, so he decides to do just that.
He hatches a plan with his friend, Yoshikawa, to hold auditions for a movie so that he can screen dozens of women in the hopes of finding someone suitable for a wife. Through these fake film auditions, he meets Yamasaki Asami, and he becomes completely obsessed with lust. All he knows about her is that she had a difficult childhood. Of course, being Japan, the search for a wife means that he must find a docile, beautiful, elegant, obedient, and submissive woman. On the surface, Yamasaki Asami appears to fit the bill, but of course she turns out to be a sadistic murderer. This book was made into a cult film in Japan, which apparently was highly regarded as a great, creepy horror film (gets four stars on Amazon).
I was not impressed, for several reasons:
•Shige seemed to be way too mature for a 16-year-old, in fact more mature than his father!
•The first 3/4 of the book moves along very slowly, with seemingly unimportant details. In fact, it was boring. All of the action happens in the last two chapters, and of course you know what's going to happen. No suspense whatsoever.
•The two male characters are completely shallow and misogynistic, which might have been part of Murakami's point...or they were just written as typical Japanese men with no irony whatsoever.
•Yamasaki Asami compares having to give up ballet (because of an injury) to experiencing a death, and Aoyama finds this touching. I can't imagine that someone who has experienced the death of a loved one would find this comparison to be touching. On the contrary, it's heartless and clueless, like comparing the death of an animal to a death of a human child--to the grieving parent's face.
•None of the characters were sympathetic. I didn't care what happened to any of them.
•Aoyama was naive and disregarded all weird signs that something wasn't right. He was single-minded in his pursuit and no one could convince him to be suspicious. It just didn't seem realistic.
Ryu Murakami is called "Japan's master of the psycho-thriller," but I don't buy that. I've been disappointed in the Japanese fiction I've read recently, but even Out by Natsuo Kirino or Naoko by Keigo Higashino were stronger books than this one. Perhaps I'd prefer Murakami's other books, but I'm not rushing out to try them!(less)
I'd heard of Vita Sackville-West but didn't know much about her before my book group chose this for October's selection. Sackville-West was married to Sir Harold Nicholson and spent most of her life at their estate at Sissinghurst Castle. She and Nicholson had an open marriage, and both of them carried on extensive same-sex relationships. Sackville-West's most famous lover was Virginia Woolf. Some describe this novel as the fictional version of A Room of One's Own.
The story begins with the death of Lady Slane's husband, who had been prime minister and Viceroy of India during his prime. Suddenly, Lady Slane is presented with freedom for the first time in her life...at the ripe age of 88. Her scheming children devise a plan by which she would be passed around from family to family, but she has other ideas. She retires to a modest cottage in Hampstead and directs them that she is to live on her own, and she doesn't want her grandchildren or grandchildren to visit her (no one under 60)...and doesn't much want her children around either.
Lady Slane reflects back on her life and her regrets, chief among them the fact that she was never able to pursue her artistic ambitions. She is quite happy with her little circle--her French maid, Genoux; her landlord, Mr. Bucktrout; and Mr. FitzGeorge, a reclusive, wealthy collector who fell in love with her in India, in another time, and saw immediately what she had given up.
She revels in the precious time she has left, finding pleasure in sitting outside in her back garden, going for brisk winter walks, and quietly reflecting back on her life, mistakes, and relationships. It's a beautiful, feminist story about what women in those days (and still, now) give up to pursue marriage and family. Lady Slane never really enjoyed motherhood, being a wife, or being a grandmother. She just wanted time to reflect and paint, and she never got it. She comes to peace with her realization that she did not really love her husband and she had given up everything to be with him.
And she realizes that she doesn't, really, want to be completely alone. She just wants to carefully choose her companions and how she will spend the remainder of her time.
I enjoyed this book very much and plan to view the BBC miniseries about Vita Sackville-West's relationship with her husband, "Portrait of a Marriage," based on their son Nigel's book of the same name.
To hear Vita's own voice, listen to this recording of her talking about Virginia Woolf and Orlando.(less)
As I joke in my house, I'm not easily amused. My nine-year-old son rented "The Three Stooges" recently, and I knew that I would not find it funny in the least. Even when watch something I do find funny (like "Downton Abbey" or "Lost in Austen"), my husband is rolling on the floor laughing while I might just smile to myself.
About the only people who regularly make me laugh are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Ellen Degeneres, and Jane Lynch. When I've read humorous memoirs, I often start out thinking they are light and interesting, and then they grow tiresome.
That's Ali in Wonderland for me. My husband had checked it out of the library for humor research (for his writing). I picked it up because it looked interesting--Wentworth is married to George Stephanopolous. She's exactly my age, so many of her childhood and teenage memories rang true for me (like when her sister who had just had scoliosis surgery and ran away in a full body cast because she was fed up, and Ali had to follow her, but the only thing she cared about was getting home for The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and Love American Style, and her sister said she would only return home if Ali could make her laugh, so Ali took off her clothes and rubbed mud all over herself and did some weird kind of dance, only to be seen by people driving by). Some of the anecotes were indeed funny.
But midway through I started to get bored. I think the last straw was the chapter talking about how her mother believed that the cure for anything was to go to the Four Seasons. Wentworth was raised in privilege and lives in privilege now. Another chapter was about family-friendly resorts and how inconvenient it can be to slip on a dirty diaper by the poolside. Although I assume she's a good liberal in the Kennedy style, I just couldn't relate to her problems and complaints. She also jumped around tons in her storytelling, so it was hard to keep track of which part of her life she was describing.
I ended up scanning the second half of the book to the end when she talked about meeting and marrying George. The descriptions of her big fat Greek wedding and family were funny...but I found myself ready to move onto something else.(less)