This second novel by Joanne Rendell, Crossing Washington Square, was such an enjoyable and smart read. I flew through the book, and it truly remindedThis second novel by Joanne Rendell, Crossing Washington Square, was such an enjoyable and smart read. I flew through the book, and it truly reminded me of why I love contemporary women's fiction so much! It did this not just because I loved this book itself but also because of the interesting discussions about contemporary fiction that take place within the story.
The two main characters are each female literature professors, at the fictitious Manhattan U, who are on opposite ends of the literary spectrum. Rachel Grey is a young, animated professor still working towards tenure. Her recently published book explored the relationship between the work of Jane Austen and contemporary women's fiction. Diana Monroe, on the other hand, is more serious, already tenured, and studies the works of Sylvia Plath. She and Rachel immediately dislike each other and maintain a tense relationship. The tension is further heightened when a charming and attractive visiting professor from Harvard arrives and gives both Rachel and Diana flattering attention. Then, without realizing the other is going, Rachel and Diana each volunteer to chaperone a study abroad trip to London. While there they are confronted with a situation with one of their students in which they have to work together and end up learning a lot more about the other.
My thoughts on this book can be described perfectly by the quote by Nicole Kraus on the cover of the book: "A charming, witty, and cerebral novel." This novel was fun, engaging, and smart. Each of the characters, despite their differences, was easily relatable. They each experience some of their own struggles, but they were great examples of strong, confident women and left me feeling empowered as a woman as well. I love when, while reading, I feel like I am cheering on the characters. These are some of the wonderful things about women’s literature and are also discussed in the book; Rachel and Diana get into heated debates about the merits of popular women’s fiction and these are some of the arguments Rachel gives. These discussions also piqued my interest in the subject and reinforced my desire to take a class in literature.
For those who enjoy popular women’s fiction, Jane Austen, books about colleges or professors, or even just discussions about books in general, this novel is a gem. The plot was well paced and continuously moved forward, engaging the reader throughout. The setting is the same as in Rendell’s first novel, The Professor’s Wives’ Club, and a couple characters from that book are mentioned in passing, but this is a stand-alone novel....more
NurtureShock was a great read and a fascinating and important addition to the field of child psychology and parenting. Despite the gravity of the subjNurtureShock was a great read and a fascinating and important addition to the field of child psychology and parenting. Despite the gravity of the subjects, the book was also an easy read and is fairly short too! I almost passed this book up for a blog tour and am SO glad I didn't because this is a book I will keep on my shelf and will recommend to others.
NurtureShock takes some common myths about parenting and/or child development and explains how current methods may actually have the opposite or, at least, unintended effects, (and also explains what methods research shows should be done). The book is broken up into 10 chapters, each as enthralling as the next.
1. The Inverse Power of Praise 2. The Lost Hour 3. Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race 4. Why Kids Lie 5. The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten 6. The Sibling Effect 7. The Science of Teen Rebellion 8. Can Self-Control Be Taught 9. Plays Well with Others 10. Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't
The book also includes an introduction and a conclusion that are equally as interesting as the chapters themselves. Even the different studies that were done for each of these topics were fascinating to read about. Being written by science journalists, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (as opposed to the scientists behind the research) the writing was easy to relate to and fun, rather than steeped in only numbers and scientific terms.
The things discussed in NurtureShock are those that should be applied at home as well as in schools. The chapters can each be read separately as they, for the most part, don't necessarily relate to the other. I don't even think I could pick a favorite chapter because I enjoyed, and learned from, each one. I am not usually a non-fiction reader. (I tend to get bored halfway through most non-fiction books). That was not the case at all with NurtureShock. The only thing I would have changed in my reading of the book was to read just one chapter at a time and let it digest for a day or two before moving on. I could have done this had I started earlier, but I waited and then had to finish the book in a couple days (for my blog tour).
I think that anyone who is a parent, a teacher, works with kids, etc. should own a copy of this book (and have read it). The science is very interesting and has real effects when utilized....more
Half the Sky is an intense and powerful book written by pulitzer prize winning journalists (and married couple) Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. ThHalf the Sky is an intense and powerful book written by pulitzer prize winning journalists (and married couple) Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They researched the plight of women all over the world, but specifically those in the countries that are especially oppressive to their women. Oppression towards women is found in many different manners -- human trafficking, sex slavery, maternal mortality, and all types of misogyny in general. Each chapter describes a different manner of oppression and outlines the life of a specific person in that situation. The second part of each chapter then describes some type of grassroots effort that has been made toward that effort and the results of it.
With equal parts sadness and inspiration, I read this book and felt proud to be a woman. But I also felt extremely lucky to be a woman who was born and raised in the United States; one who has never had to worry abut even a slight fraction of what these women deal with on a daily basis. The women profiled in this book possess unbelievable strength and resiliency. There were times all throughout the reading of this book that I realized the things I complain about on a regular basis are so trivial. These women are so courageous and ambitious. Even with everything they go through, when they are given an opportunity they take advantage of it to its full potential. A woman given the chance for an education doesn't just hope for a high school education (which is years more than the average woman in her area is educated) but aims, additionally, for a bachelor's, master's, AND a PhD. And here I am complaining about working 10 extra hours a week and then coming home to my nice, cozy home. I could learn a thing or two from these women.
Despite the sadness I found in these stories, and frustration in limited ability to help, I found myself gravitating toward the stories of these women and wanting to be more involved. The journalists who covered these stories are role models as well. Their passion in telling the truth of these women is admirable, especially considering all that they risked and put themselves through in finding these truths. In a video aired on Oprah, Nicholas Kristof showed an afternoon he spent with a warlord (in what country, I can't remember) talking about women's rights. What I found interesting in that video was how when the warlord asked Mr. Kristof to stay for dinner, there was fear and he tried to get out of it, saying it would be dark soon. This only exemplified to me that danger that he was in. I wouldn't be anywhere near as brave as he in searching out his information.
What I also found fascinating about this book was the look into how the women in these countries have been best helped. Rather than changing laws, getting the UN involved, etc., some of the most effective methods have been those at the grassroots level. The cultures of these countries are so different that it takes a bottom-up approach to teach and help the women. What the authors found regarding this was invaluable. The book ends with a chapter on what you can specifically do to help.
This is an important read for all women, but moreso for anyone who is interested in human rights. As the authors stated, an old Chinese proverb says that "women hold up half the sky"; more than being about women's rights, it is HUMAN rights that are at stake....more
Don't you just love the cover for this? This is what initially peaked my interest, especially since itTaken from my blog at www.takemeawayreading.com.
Don't you just love the cover for this? This is what initially peaked my interest, especially since it's clearly New York City! And then I read that it was about a wealthy New York family and a financial scandal and I was hooked. Last year I was fascinated when I read Tangled Webs, a non-fiction book about perjury which included the story about the Madoff ponzi scheme scandal. The Darlings definitely paralleled this scandal in many ways.
The Darlings is centered around the Darling family comprised of dad Carter, mom Ines, and their daughters Lily and Merrill. Adrian and Paul, married to Lily and Merrill, respectively, both work for Carter at his financial company, Delphic. For Paul, especially, the job as general counsel for Delphic is sort of a godsend, as his last place of business, Howary, was closed down during the financial crisis of 2008 after being investigated by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). But then admidst the financial difficulties, when a close family friend and CEO of one of Delphic's fund management companies (ack, I do NOT know these terms accurately even after reading this) commits suicide, things start to quickly unravel and a financial scandal of epic proportions is revealed. Paul figures things out and has to decide if whether to risk his marriage by separating himself from the Darlings to save himself or to stick with the family he's grown so close to, potentially going down with them.
This story was actually a lot less about just Paul than I expected and more about all the various people related to the scandal. The chapters are narrated from the viewpoints of various people including Paul, Lily, Merrill, Carter, Ines, Carter's lawyer, Sol, Sol's secretary, Yvonne, journalist and friend of the family, Duncan, and his assistant, Marina. I really liked that it was narrated this way for a couple reasons. First, for me it provided the symbolism of this overarching scandal falling upon all these people. I liked this following description about how fragile everything had become.
"'What are you going to do?' Paul asked. He spoke as quietly as he could, as if they were inside a china teacup. The world felt so fragile that the very reverberations of his voice might crack it." 'What are we going to do?'" (p.247)
While they weren't all affected financially (for instance, the assistants didn't have, I don't think, money invested with Delphic) they all had a part in perpetuating and/or revealing the scandal while others were affected on a more personal level. Each chapter was also titled with the day and time (most of the book taking place over Thanksgiving week), and this maintained a feel of immediacy in the story. There was also a subtle tension that kept me hooked to the story, not wanting to be away from it for long.
But second, this book also briefly told the stories of each of these individuals and how they came to be New Yorkers and what that meant for them. I thought this was a great way to incorporate the essence of New York City into a story about high society New York's financial scandal. And the thoughts about the city were told from both angles. For instance:
"One thing he loved about New York was the sharpness of the seasons. There was something electric about winter coming to the city. It was gritty and cold but also wondrously beautiful. The dark army of trees on Park Avenue came alive with lights at night; the store displays on Fifth Avenue were gaudy and gorgeous, as were the throngs of holiday shoppers that clogged the sidewalks. Snow in New York turned quickly into a blackened slush along the curbs, but for the first brief moment, it would dust the sidewalks like confectioners' sugar and transform the city's skyline into a perfect, tiered wedding cake." (p. 32)
Overall, I thought The Darlings was the perfect amalgamation of white collar suspense and homage to life in New York City. (Clearly, this will be added to my New York Shelf)! ...more
This book was on many "best of" lists in 2012... I loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the PoeOriginally published at www.takemeawayreading.com
This book was on many "best of" lists in 2012... I loved Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, so that drew me to this as well. But with a fairly vague synopsis and it being so different than Financial Lives, I kept putting it off. But I should have known better! I hate to say the same thing so many other bloggers said, but it really IS so hard to explain, and it really IS about so many things, but I'll do my best.
The main storyline, if you can narrow it down, follows a young man, Pasquale, in 1962 Porto Vergogna, Italy, as he tries to turn his family's hotel, The Hotel Adequate View, into a tourist destination. Then there's the American actress who turns up to stay at his hotel while filming a movie (Cleopatra with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, yes the real one) in Rome. There's the American man who goes to Italy every year in an attempt to get away and write a book. Then present day, there's a famous movie producer, Michael Deane and his frustrated assistant, Claire. There's Shane, a spoiled script writer trying to pitch his movie. There's a middle aged man whose life has gone pretty much nowhere after being in various bands who then starts a comedy music show. Each of these characters is all connected, and you don't have to wait until the end to find out how. Within the first third of the book at least you know how most are connected. You may not like all the characters, but they are all so interesting and in some instances, scandalous.
It's not just the characters and their stories that illuminate Beautiful Ruins though. Not only is the writing intelligent (and infused with subtle humor), but the storytelling methods were so clever. Though there's mostly traditional narration, there's also a chapter from a book, part of a memoir, a pitched movie script, a play, and I could be forgetting something. Each of these was interesting, moved the story forward, and added so much. Then there's also the themes running through the book of people living their lives trying to accomplish their dreams and not always quite getting there - but maybe finding themselves along the way. It's also about how the people in our lives affect us. I loved the following quotes.
"This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life." -pg 218
All we have is the story we tell. Everything we do, every decision we make, our strength, weakness, motivation, history, and character -- what we believe -- none of it is real; it's all part of the story we tell. But here's the thing: it's our goddamned story!" -pg 266
Another interesting thing was the way Walters incorporated the real life scandals that took place during the filming of the movie, Cleopatra. He even made Richard Burton a character in the book!
Anyway, loved Beautiful Ruins! It's still in my head after several days, and now I can't wait to read more of Walter's books!...more
This is one of those books I that I really enjoyed, yet I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what to say about it!
I felt like, in a way, it was perThis is one of those books I that I really enjoyed, yet I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what to say about it!
I felt like, in a way, it was perfect. I loved the author's writing -- the way he put his thoughts into words. I loved his wit... his insight... his view of the world. I loved the way the book was organized... the pacing. The characters were real, crazy, likeable. And how the author managed to balance a topic that was so tender, and sometimes sad, yet also made it hilarious I don't know, but he sure did! The humor was, at times, subtle and, at other times, simply laugh-out-loud.
So now you're wondering, "but what is it about??" (at least those of you who haven't already read a ton of wonderful reviews for this). Judd Foxman is the narrator and main character. We learn at the beginning that his father has passed away and his last dying wish was that his family would sit shiva for him. For those who don't know, like I didn't, shiva is, in Judaism, the seven day period of mourning that the immediate family/first degree relatives spend together. It was sort of neat to learn about this tradition during which the family sits in low-to-the-ground mourning chairs and accepts visitors throughout the week. BUT, the problem is that Judd Foxman has quite the dysfunctional family. And he just recently caught his wife in bed with his boss. And apparently it's been going on for a while. And now she's pregnant. Oh yes, and each member of Judd's family has their respective dysfunctions that when put together makes this book so hilarious.
The book is written through the seven days the family is together. In that seven days they manage to learn more about each other (since prior to this they really hadn't spent much time together). This book sort of reminded me of the National Lampoon vacation movies -- but more dysfunctional and funnier.
There were two quotes I wanted to include that were observations I could relate to.
If they're letting her cry anyway, I don't really see the point of the baby monitor, but that's one of those questions I've learned not to ask, because I'll just get that condescending look all parents reserve for non-parents, to remind you that you're not yet a complete person. p.42
No offense to parents, really, but I was able to relate to that quote quite a bit and so I thought it was hilarious. (But if you didn't find that funny, no worries, Tropper really does add quite a bit of more obvious hilarity!) Here's another I thought was fairly insightful but not one of the funny ones:
"It would be a terrible mistake to go through life thinking that people are the sum total of what you see." p.69
The only thing I would warn readers of is the large amount of talk and reference to sex. This didn't bother me, but I do remember reading this in other reviews and there was certainly a focus on it. I wouldn't necessarily lend this to anyone very conservative.
But I definitely loved this book and am looking forward to catching up on the author's backlist!
Though I had been intrigued by this book for some time, I admit I was was in the consensus of some other readers and bloggers who were hesitant for feThough I had been intrigued by this book for some time, I admit I was was in the consensus of some other readers and bloggers who were hesitant for fears of what it would contain. First of all, it took me a good minute, before deciding if I wanted to read it, to figure out if it was fiction or non-fiction (it's non-fiction, but narrative in style). I was afraid it would be too heart wrenching or distressing for me to read about the tragedy that befell the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And I was also afraid it would be fraught with too much anti-establishmentarianism and that it would be too preachy in this manner that I would be turned off.
I wish I would have listened to the scores of bloggers who said it was none of this and to READ it because it was really good.... because they were right, of course! I didn't feel that it was any of those things that I mentioned. Zeitoun was a straightforward story, engagingly told, about the Zeitoun family and the events that took place following Hurricane Katrina. Sure, there were some parts that I felt sad, frustrated, or upset, but that's a given with the topic. But never once did I feel distressed, like I was being manipulated by the author in any way. I thought this was an authentic telling of what happened.
Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun and their four children are a Muslim American family who resided in New Orleans in August of 2005. They were fairly well off family with a succesful painting and contracting business, Zeitoun A. Painting Contractors, LLC. They were well-known and respected in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Abdulrahman (typically referred to by just his last name, Zeitoun), stayed behind to keep an eye on their home, their clients' homes, and their properties. Zeitoun is famous for riding around in his canoe in the water after the storm helping out stranded people and animals. But this book isn't so much about the actual storm itself but other events that took place that were connected to the storm occurring but weren't directly related. These other, horrid, acts against human rights somehow managed to elude my knowledge at the time. Maybe it's because around August of 2005 I didn't watch as much news as I do now. Who knows. But I am a little horrified that I was ignorant of these events. For those who aren't aware I don't want to "spoil" the story for you, but for those of you who do know, it had to do with the acts at "Camp Greyhound" and Hunt Correctional Center.
Combined with the the story of these specific events is woven in the story of Zeitoun's family and what it's like living as a Muslim in America. His wife, Kathy, is a Caucasian American and also has stories of discrimination she has endured. Though not preachy in any way, I managed to learn a lot about Islam through reading this book and feel I have even a better understanding of their religion (or it may just show how ignorant I've been of it until now).
The Zeitoun family is one I came to know and love through reading their story. They represent wonderful people who deserve the love around them, who do what they can to help others around them, and who also represent a great work ethic that is inspirational. They're a family I would love to know in real life and who will stay with me for a while. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has the slightest interest in it as well as those who aren't interested at all... ;) The writing is engaging, and despite some more difficult parts, it didn't stress me out the way I feared it would, but ultimately warmed my heart because of the people at the center of the story.
Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain is the 3rd book in a thrilling series about a female serial killer and her sick and twisted relationship with the formerEvil at Heart by Chelsea Cain is the 3rd book in a thrilling series about a female serial killer and her sick and twisted relationship with the former lead detective investigating her killings. In this book, Gretchen is still on the loose and she has turned into a celebrity of sorts. Magazines and newspapers write about her and show her picture every day. The city provides tours of the locations where her murder victims have been found, Gretchen Lowell souvenirs (and manicure) are sold, and fan clubs of the serial killer have sprouted up. Archie, in the meantime, is residing voluntarily in an inpatient psychiatric hospital partially due to the mental health issues he’s suffered at the hands of Gretchen’s torture and masochism and partially to remain safe. Then more murder victims are found that point to Gretchen, the Beauty Killer, as a possibility, and the craziness and sickness that is the Archie/Gretchen series continues!
I loved this book and have to say it was the best one yet! It was seriously a thriller in that I almost didn’t turn off the lights for bed the first night I read this, and books don’t usually scare me! The action is non-stop and of course, with short chapters it’s so easy to read just one more chapter, and just one more, and on and on until you’ve read half the book. The convoluted dynamics between the characters is what makes this book and series so interesting. Gretchen reminds me in so many ways of Hannibal Lector (and I thought this BEFORE I read anything online about others thinking this) and I think that this series would actually make a great movie. This book is not for the squeamish as there are parts that are gory and parts that are just gross. There are also some sexual parts that might be offensive to some people. But Gretchen is a sick and twisted character. I will say I wonder how much more can happen in the series at this point, but if there is a plan for more I will gladly keep reading!...more
Wow! What an amazing book!! I don't know where my interest and fascination for North Korea has come from lately. It may be that I'm half-Korean (SouthWow! What an amazing book!! I don't know where my interest and fascination for North Korea has come from lately. It may be that I'm half-Korean (South) but I think it's more just that I'm horribly fascinated by the real-life dystopian society that North Korea is. It's so mind boggling to know that there is a part of our world that is so oppressed, so like what we can only read about in the most outlandish novels (or see at the movies) that we can't fathom there actually being any truth to it, that people in this world are actually forced to live in that way. A real life 1984 (which terrified me, by the way).
Despite being told in a narrative fashion, this book is actually non-fiction. But you would be surprised to realize how fictional it all seems and how many elements of a great story can be found in this book. I found it to be such a morally ambiguous dichotomy -- on the one hand, I was so enthralled in the stories of the people that I found myself thinking about the book when I wasn't reading it and itching to get back to it as soon as I could. But then I'd remember that these were real people I was reading about who truly had these experiences in their lives, and then I'd feel a sort of guilt for finding any level of "entertainment" in the reading. But in reality, I became so engaged in the people this book was about and their stories.
Demick spent years visiting the country and interviewing defectors -- those who have illegally escaped from North Korea. She told about the history of North Korea from the 50's, around the Korean War, to the present through the life stories of six North Korean defectors. The basis is told chronologically and we check in with each of these characters at different times as the time moves along. We're first introduced to Mi-Ran who depicts teen love in a society where public affection is unheard, much less teen love in itself. We meet "the true believer" Mrs. Song who is so ultimately dedicated to her country and its leader, Kim Il-Sung, and would never even fathom doing anything against her country because it is the best in the world. She never would have expected to have a daughter like Oak-Hee, a rebellious child with her own mind and her own thoughts about the government. We meet Dr. Kim who is an independent thinker but who owes her free medical education to the government. But also along with these characters and others, we learn how in their communist regime, they're made to go to work even when salaries aren't available. We learn about the rules they have to follow in daily life and about how they survived during the famine that could have easily been prevented had the country passed on the humanitarian aid provided by other countries. We read and see all this from a place of such privilege and freedom. The difference is absurd!
As I said earlier, the six defectors whose lives are followed are just that: defectors. So there was a suspense, of sorts, to learn what happened to lead each of these individuals (some, very patriotic) to leave their countries. And then the experiences and realizations they had once they did leave the country were both poignant and hopeful. Despite the differences in culture and understanding of the world, the citizens of North Korea are people just like us who share wants, desires, and plain human nature. This is a must read!!
Holy cow... I had no clue what I was getting into when I started this book!! Dismantled was such an enthralling and utterly absorbing read! I absoluteHoly cow... I had no clue what I was getting into when I started this book!! Dismantled was such an enthralling and utterly absorbing read! I absolutely loved this book and spent every free moment I could find reading more. Despite its 422 pages, it's likely one that could be read in a sitting (or a day) because of the way the story hooks the reader; (unfortunately, I literally don't have the time right now to read that much in one go so it still took me a couple days.)
Dismantled is a superbly written and well-plotted story about a 9-year-old girl, Emma, her parents, Henry and Tess, and a big secret from their past. More so, it's about Emma's childhood innocence, her efforts to keep her parents together, a chain of events seemingly started with a suicide, about family, guilt, fear, and a little bit of a ghost story too. Without giving anything away (won't tell more than what's on the back cover), Henry and Tess were once part of a group of 4 in college called The Compassionate Dismantlers. Initiated and led by their friend, Suz, the radical group embarked on missions to "stick it to the man" (my words, not in the book) -- to "dismantle" things because per their motto, "To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart." Their acts of vandalism and other pranks transitioned from innocent to dangerous and, ultimately, Suz dies. Her death is hidden by the other members of the group and they all drift apart.
Ten years later, the story focuses on Henry, Tess, and their daughter, Emma. Something happens which I won't reveal, a former acquaintance commits suicide, and it sets off the events and tension that continue for the rest of the novel.
There were so many things I loved about this book! First, I wasn't quite sure how I'd like the ghost story aspect since I'm not all that into supernatural things. But the author did a spectacular job of including this element but leaving it subtle; she managed to simultaneously add it to the story while keeping the reader guessing about it which was fun and spooky at the same time! There were moments when I was a bit scared to go to sleep after reading... I used it as an excuse to continue on to the next chapter even though it was past time for bed just in case I could reach a good stopping point when I wasn't so spooked. ;)
The character development was also fantastic. The author excelled at showing the character, allowing the reader to learn about the characters through their actions, rather than telling the reader what to think. In that sense, Suz, the leader of the Compassionate Dismantlers, could be considered the main character. Though she's deceased, the memories of her are a large part of this book because of the long-lasting effects she has on the remaining group members. And although I despised her character, it's possible that others may see a different side of her because, again, the author doesn't tell the reader what to think. And seriously, what a strong, intense character she is.
Ironies of all kind consumed the book, increasing the tension. And the pacing was perfect. Though the story continued to progress, I had the opportunities to savor the writing and characters too. I can't fail to mention how significant the character of the daughter, Emma, was to the story. Her innocence and desire to be liked by her cool friend, Mel, play a large part in the craziness of the story! And she plays a part in the ironies I mentioned!
The ending surprised and gripped me, and suspense filled the last 50 or so pages of the book. I laughed at myself when my jaw dropped during one of the revelations near the end because of the sheer unexpected and cunning qualities that moment possessed. I'll admit the last couple pages just slightly disappointed me, but then making up for it, the last paragraph was the perfect ending and answered the one question I feared would go unanswered. And I loved the answer.
In many ways, Dismantled, was a portrait of a family, their struggles, and the child's efforts to keep it together. As you can tell, this book completely enraptured me! On a somewhat different note, I was able to have a copy of this book signed by the author, Jennifer McMahan, at BEA (after I had already signed on for this blog tour) and I wish I had read this book before that so I could have let her know in person how much I enjoyed this book!
That is what I have to say after reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorite books and this booWow.
That is what I have to say after reading Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorite books and this book was right up there with that one! Shanghai Girls is, first and foremost, a story about two sisters and their bond, their history, their resentments, and their love for each other. But there are so many other themes too -- family, traditions, values, freedom, culture, government... this is also historical fiction chronicling the history of the Chinese including the war against Japan (the Second Sino-Japanese War), the Angel Island Immigration Station (at which those immigrating to the states often had to stay for months at a time before being permitted to enter), China's transition to Communism, and the Confession Program.
In quick summary, Pearl and May are the two sisters in the book who are living the good and modern life afforded to them in Shanghai, China in the 1930's. They enjoy life and spend their time as "beautiful girls" modeling for artists. Then their father unexpectedly announces he has arranged their marriages to brothers looking to move to the United States -- unexpected because in their modern way of life, Pearl and May had planned on marrying for love rather than in the arranged marriages of the past. The lives of Pearl and May change forever at this point, but not just because of the marriages. China is attacked by Japan and the lives of all the Chinese changes. Later, in the United States, the Chinese who have escaped the war in China face discrimination and risk deportation. In the meantime, they live their lives and still struggle with other issues within their family. Pearl and May also share secrets (together and individually) from their past that simultaneously strengthens their bond and builds their resentments.
This novel elicited so many emotions from me. And I was so engaged in the story that I didn't realize it was over. I turned the page and realized the rest of the pages were the acknowledgments! The ending did catch me by surprise but when I thought about it, it made sense... BUT turns out there will be a sequel! This book also made me want to read more about the historical events -- not just the events in this novel but other historical events in general. It made me want to know more about the history of our countries and governments -- I think it's amazing when a book can give you that desire. As you can tell, this was a wonderful novel for many different reasons and I highly recommend it!!
I have See's previous novel, Peony in Love, on my TBR pile and I will definitely be bumping it up now! ...more
The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been lauded throughout the blogosphere and bookstores as one of the best books of 2009. It has been on the best selliThe Help by Kathryn Stockett has been lauded throughout the blogosphere and bookstores as one of the best books of 2009. It has been on the best selling list since its release in February of this year. In fact, it was slated to come out in paperback, but this date was pushed back due to the generous sales in hardcover that have yet to slow down.
I am sometimes hard on books, especially when I hear such rave reviews and am less than crazy impressed. But I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Help and agree with it being one of the best of 2009.
A quick summary for those of you who haven't read it a million times already (hehe)... The book takes place in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights era. Minny and Aibileen are two African American maids that work for yuppy/junior league society women. One of the women, "Skeeter" Phelan, is more forward thinking than the other women and takes the injustices of the civil rights into her own hands by deciding to write a book about it. She enlists the help of Aiblieen and Minny to gather stories from many different maids in the community. Meanwhile, she writes the book anonymously without deluging the town because of the unrest and controversy she would start.
The Help is told from three narrative points of view; Minny, Aibileen, and Skeeter. The characters are immediately engaging and maintained my interest throughout the book. The storyline was well paced and put together as well. Seeing as how I wasn't alive in the 1960's, and even if I were, my family was not the kind that had maids of any race or ethnicity, I was appalled at the way in which these women were treated. What makes it worse is that the white women actually believed they were being nice and/or were doing their maids a favor by treating them what they thought was kindly. As I said in my Sunday Salon post after I finished this, " it [definitely:] roused some passionate feelings in me about race, prejudice, ignorance, and hypocrisy." This is a book that has stayed with me and that I will share with others and read again. It makes you think a little about social injustices, how far we've come, and yet how far we have to go.
I do have to mention that I didn't care for the ending. It wasn't awful but I would have liked it better if some certain things had been different. Also, I'm unsure how I feel about the fact that this story is very similar to the author's upbringing. I truly disliked the majority of the "employers" in this book and wonder how much of this story was true to the author's own life experiences. But regardless, the author did do a good job in both the writing of this book and in telling the story....more
Bond Girl is being touted as the Wall Street version of The Devil Wears Prada. It definitely had its similarities, and those who liked the latter willBond Girl is being touted as the Wall Street version of The Devil Wears Prada. It definitely had its similarities, and those who liked the latter will probably like this. I can't really compare since I've only seen the movie version of the second, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a young college graduate who starts a job in finance on Wall Street and realizes it's not as glamorous as she expected it to be. That's pretty much the whole gist of this book. She deals with some crazy things to impossibly work her way up the ranks.
So far I've made it sound mostly like "chick-lit". While it has those qualities, I thought it was more substantial than some others in that genre. It also had memoir-like elements which may have been a combination of first person narrative and the knowledge that the author has her own experience working on "the Street"; and it contained elements of an exposé, revealing the greed, back-stabbing, superfluousness, and worst, the rampant sexism in the industry. It was like Mad Men up in there, although it may be worse (I haven’t seen enough Mad Men to make a true comparison).
I loved reading about Alex and the craziness she endured at her new job, the things her boss put her up to. I laughed at various parts. But along with the humor, I found myself becoming angry as well. Although this is fiction, I believe it’s based on some of the author’s experiences so I took some parts to be truisms. Any time a money amount was mentioned I felt sick. I have a master’s degree and work to exhaustion every day, yet my annual salary is a fraction of the main character’s Christmas bonus. The other thing that angered me was the way men treated the females in the book. It was so primitive and ignorant that it enraged me. It’s so hard to believe that kind of sexism exists. (But then, I work in a female dominated field of work so I have little experience with that!) Combining the ridiculously extravagant lifestyle and the sexist a-holes really made parts of this get to me. But despite all that, truly, I found Bond Girl highly entertaining. It’s a quick and fun read. You’ll probably find yourself cheering on Alex and shouting at her to make certain decisions throughout the course of the book.
There was a statement Alex makes at the very end of the book that was vague and that was never followed up with. It’s super minor but I’m curious what she meant, and I guess it’s supposed to not be a big deal. Oh, lest I forget! Bond Girl takes place in Manhattan (well, duh, it's on Wall Street) which was a fun addition for me as well. I loved my literary trip to NYC! I will happily be adding Bond Girl to my New York Shelf!
I haven't read many war books so I can't compare this to any, though critics and readers alike have madTaken from my blog at www.takemeawayreading.com
I haven't read many war books so I can't compare this to any, though critics and readers alike have made comparisons to Tim O'Brien's classic, The Things They Carried. I can say, though, that I could easily see this becoming a modern classic in its own right. Kevin Powers, an Iraqi veteran, deployed to Al Tarf in 2004, describes the experience of being at war through the eyes of 21-year-old Private Bartle.
"I hadn't given a lot of thought to actually going to war, but it was happening now, and I was still struggling to find a sense of urgency that seemed proportional to the events unfolding in my life. I remember feeling relief in basic while everyone else was frantic with fear. It had dawned on me that I'd never have to make a decision again. That seemed freeing, but it gnawed at some part of me even then. Eventually, I had to learn that freedom is not the same thing as the absence of accountability" (nook pg. 24)
The Yellow Birds jumps back and forth in time starting with a scene from in Al Tafar in 2004, returning to 2003 just before deploying, and then moving forward to the after effects in 2005 and beyond. I was afraid this would confuse me, but it was always clear what was happening and when. After reading this, I truly feel like I gained some insight into what it's like being at war. Private Bartle reflects on the attitude he has to take on war, such as emotionally distancing yourself from feelings related to death, since the death of people around you is expected.
Bartle meets 18-year-old Daniel Murphy at training prior to deployment and makes a promise to Murphy's mother that he'll protect Murphy and bring him back home. We learn early on that Murphy doesn't, in fact, make it home (this is not a spoiler); this is a situation for which Bartle feels extreme grief and guilt, especially at how it all happens. We don't find out until later on what exactly happened out there, so in a way the story takes on a mystery element as we figure it out in bits and pieces. Bartle also reflects, though, on the differences between how he and others take on the war, and how this affects their ability to survive physically and emotionally.
The Yellow Birds expertly depicts the thoughts and feelings of those soldiers in the war without overstating anything. Surprisingly, I thought there was pretty minimal detail related to gore or killing or anything you'd think you might find in a novel about war. It says and shows what it needs to and leaves it at that. It's no wonder this book was a finalist for the National Book Award. The passages were beautiful; I bookmarked my way through my reading. This is the kind of book I can definitely see myself returning to for a re-read. This was one of my favorite reads this year!
With that, I'll leave you with another quote I liked:
"Maybe if things had happened a little differenty in Al Tafar it could have been like that. But things happened the way they happened without regard to our desire for them to have happened another way. Despite an age-old instinct to provide an explanation more complex than that, something with a level of profundity and depth which would seem commensurate wtih the confusion I felt, it really was that simple." (nook pg. 41)....more
Somehow this book has been out for about three years now and I only recently really started hearing aboTaken from my blog at www.takemeawayreading.com
Somehow this book has been out for about three years now and I only recently really started hearing about it. But what I was hearing about it were great things and a lot of "it was my favorite read of the year" type things. So, despite it's length which is longer than what I usually read, I decided to read this with my sister who read it around the same time.
And I am so very glad I did. This book was epic, yes, and absolutely gorgeous. The writing was beautiful; the setting and atmosphere so beautifully evoked, and the characters (while not all as likeable) were so well brought to life. There were so many things I loved about this book (not to mention the shiny cover is gorgeous as well).
The majority of Cutting for Stone takes place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It starts before the birth of our main characters with their mother, (a nun!) Sister Mary Joseph Praise and their father, a British surgeon, Thomas Stone. No one even realizes Sister Mary Joseph Praise is pregnant, and their discovery is followed shortly thereafter by the birth of twin boys, Marion and Shiva Stone. But abandoned at birth, the boys are raised by others in the community and continue to be exposed to the lifestyle of medical practice that their biological parents both led.
It's hard to say exactly what this book is about because it encompasses so much. It's a lot about the practice of medicine, specifically how it was in Ethiopia from the 80's to current time and how this contrasts with the advanced practice of medicine in America. It's about the boys growing up without their biological parents but with such amazing "adoptive" parents and nannies. It's about the boys' life experiences and betrayals that drive a good portion of the plot. It's about the significant differences in their personalities despite their shared love and pursuit of medical practice. It's about their experiences during the Eritrean coup in Ethiopia during Eritrea's war for independence which they're further affected by due to their Eritrean nanny and her daughter. It's about the actions that lead to one of the brothers leaving for New York, his learning about the cultural divide in America, and another series of events that takes place there.
It's sort of long, and I do think it could have been cut shorter in some places, but overall this is the type of book that makes me enjoy being a reader. I was so immersed in the lives of the characters. I've read that some people were bored or uninterested in some of the medical aspects of the book. There were definitely a lot (the author is himself a practicing doctor), but I loved following along and learning about the characters' passions. It almost made me want to be a surgeon myself. (Almost, haha). Verghese's writing was gorgeous. The characters (even the ones that weren't the most likable) found their ways into my heart. There were amusing moments that made me laugh, and other moments that triggered exclamations or made me cry. Beautifully, beautifully done. ...more
This memoir is written about the days that author, Suki Kim, taught English to boys at a university in North Korea where she posed as a Christian missThis memoir is written about the days that author, Suki Kim, taught English to boys at a university in North Korea where she posed as a Christian missionary. (These missionaries were allowed to teach there because the funding for the school itself had been largely from Christian organizations). In doing so, and in being a teacher, Kim was able to provide a look into the minds of the young people who live there.
We already know, (at least if you've done any reading on the topic at all), the ways in which people there are "brainwashed" to believe the things they do and about the ways in which they are cut off from the rest of the world in an almost alternate reality. Interacting with these kids absolutely depicted this exact thing. Kim's goals were to learn and report about this but to also instill in the boys some concept of thinking for themselves and the realization that things weren't as they were raised to believe.
The boys Kim taught were of the "elite" so had better lives and opportunities than the average North Korean which is crazy considering how they were still treated and controlled. Reading this gave me that same tense and anxious feeling I had when reading Orwell's 1984... nightmarish. The things these boys (men, really) believed about their country were ridiculous... basically believing they are the best in so many different ways and how the rest of the world envies them. But the ways they were controlled also was nightmarish. For instance, when construction needed to be done, the government took the kids from the school and forced them to do labor... But even scarier is that the kids would respond with the attitude that they didn't at all mind, as it was for their Dear Leader.
This was a fascinating look at the ways the environment can shape a person. They were all human and had curiosities (to the degree they were permitted, of course) and reading about everything they wanted to know, were learning, and the concepts their life experiences prevented them from grasping was disheartening and heartwarming at the same time. Ugh, there were frustrating feelings while reading this. Sometimes I just wanted to scream or shake people in the book!
I could see some people having issue with the deception that took place as part of Kim doing research for the book. In a way, I did feel for the boys who I did feel were exploited to a degree, as they may never know the truth of their interactions with Kim. Though I do feel Kim's reporting was well done and that she genuinely cared for these kids. It was interesting to see the ways she creatively responded to their questions both to keep herself out of trouble but also to try to enlighten them a little.
I wish there had been more to the ending. But I guess there isn't really more to tell considering the memoir goes through 2011 and nothing has changed in the way things are there. I would be interested, though maybe not possible, to see where these boys are years later.
I do highly recommend this book, especially along with Nothing To Envy by Barbara Demick if you haven't read that. Both will teach you a lot about life in North Korea and both are fascinating reads.
This was one of those books I hadn't necessarily planned on reading right away, but I thought I would read a few pages and then I became totally absorThis was one of those books I hadn't necessarily planned on reading right away, but I thought I would read a few pages and then I became totally absorbed in the unique story. When She Woke is inspired by The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read The Scarlet Letter in high school and actually liked it, but I really don't remember it enough to make many comparisons between that and this. However, I do feel that despite being inspired by it, When She Woke is definitely something different and unique in its own right.
I don't recall it specifying when, but this book takes place sometime in the future. The U.S. has created a system where only the worst of the worst criminals stay in jail. Instead, others are sentenced to "melachroming" for a certain amount of time in which their entire bodies are turned an entirely different color. The different colors represent different crimes - killers are red, misdemeanor type crimes are blue, drug related offenses yellow, more serious drug related crimes orange, and child molesters are purple. (It's been a little bit since I read this so I could be slightly off). However, the government is also theocratic so crimes are also judged from a religious perspective. Hence, Hannah Payne is sentenced to melachroming (red) for 13 years after she has an abortion. Not only does she have an abortion, but she refuses to name the father of the child. As you might imagine, melachromed individuals, although free, have to deal with a prejudice so intense that they'd probably be better off in jail anyway.
Hannah first spends 30 days in a sort of jail that also doubles as a reality show for the public. That's part of the punishment, although the book doesn't really go into any background information about that. Afterwards, Hannah ends up in a very scary home run by hypocritically religious zealots. She's treated like a prisoner there and has to attend daily sessions of "enlightenment". This part was incredibly creepy and offensive. My thought while reading this was that I would NOT recommend this book to someone who did have an abortion; I imagine that the things purported by some of the characters in the book, specifically during "enlightenment", would be difficult for someone who had this experience to read; it was awful! Whenever Hannah has a reason to think she might be free, something else happens to teach her more about being prejudiced against. She faces constant stares and rebukes by the general population, is refused services at various stores and restaurants, faces physical and sexual attack by others, and is pursued by a violent vigilante group who seeks out melachromed individuals to kill.
The plot continuously moved forward and I was fascinated in learning more about this world so those two things kept me turning the pages. I am not typically into the dystopian genre and I thought this one had the right amount of dystopia mixed with the right amount of contemporary storyline to keep a reader of more mainstream fiction interested. The main draw, I think, with When She Woke was the discussions that could be generated from various aspects of the story. For instance, not only is the government theocratic in nature, but Hannah comes from a type of evangelical religious family. Her mother disowns her for having the abortion, and her sister's husband refuses to allow the two contact. So various issues about religion were brought up. Also, should people who have been committed crimes (I'm NOT talking Hannah but the other actual criminals) be allowed to be free as long as they are very clearly identified as such? And if you do have strong beliefs about any specific morals, what is the best way to teach others about them? And, of course, for those willing to go there, what constitutes a crime in the first place? Just some very interesting things to talk about. Real dystopian lovers might be disappointed at the lack of explanation beneath much of the world building (just based on what I've read other people say in their reviews of dystopians). For me, this book was more about the world itself and the philosophical questions it generated. Race and religion, prejudice and government... it's all there!