Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Finds: April 29, 2011

Friday Finds is hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading and gives readers a chance to highlight books they have discovered during the week.  Here are mine:

Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (The Toni Morrison Lecture Series)Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat
I found this one courtesy of the Shelf Unbound Magazine and thought it sounded like a good option for the Immigrant Stories Challenge.  Here is an excerpt from the Publisher's Weekly:

Danticat reminds us that, in a cruel twist of fate, her native Haiti, earthquake-and-poverty-torn, gained independence, in a bloody slave uprising, not long after the U.S. did: our ties, usually unexamined, run painfully deep. Whether eulogizing her family, writing on leading journalist Jean Dominique' s assassination and exiled author Marie Vieux-Chauvet, or discussing Madison Avenue Primitive Jean-Michel Basquiat, Danticat documents what it means for an immigrant writer to create dangerously for immigrant readers who read dangerously, awakened and no longer participants in a culture of historical amnesia. 
And then at the other end of the spectrum entirely . . . .

If You Were Here If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster was brought to my attention by fellow blogger Poof Books on Twitter yesterday.  Jen Lancaster's earlier books have all been memoirs and have literally made me laugh out loud.  This is her first novel and here is a short summary from Amazon:
Told in the uproariously entertaining voice readers have come to expect from Jen Lancaster, If You Were Here follows Amish-zombie-teen- romance author Mia and her husband Mac (and their pets) through the alternately frustrating, exciting, terrifying-but always funny-process of buying and renovating their first home in the Chicago suburbs that John hughes's movies made famous. Along their harrowing renovation journey, Mia and Mac get caught up in various wars with the homeowners' association, meet some less-than-friendly neighbors, and are joined by a hilarious cast of supporting characters, including a celebutard ex- landlady. As they struggle to adapt to their new surroundings- with Mac taking on the renovations himself- Mia and Mac will discover if their marriage is strong enough to survive months of DIY renovations. 
What did you find this week?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei

A Thread of SkyA Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei is a complex family drama that touches on a number of key themes including feminism, immigration,  mother/daughter relationships and the power of family legacy.  The story centers on a family of six strong-willed women: Irene and her daughters Nora, Kay and Sophie; Irene's sister, Susan; and the matriarch, Irene and Susan's mother Lin Yulan.  Irene and Susan immigrated from Taiwan (after leaving China as young girls) to the US as young women and Lin followed a number of years later after deciding to leave her philandering husband.  Lin is a force to be reckoned with and hardly maternal - she expects a lot of her daughters and rarely shows them much empathy.  As a result, her relationship with her adult girls and grandchildren is estranged and she rarely sees Irene, Susan or her granddaughters.  Until Irene decides, after the sudden death of her husband, that all six women should take a trip to China - a pilgrimage of sorts to their homeland.  The other women, knowing their relationships are all strained, are reluctant to go but eventually give in to Irene and take the trip to China to take in all the "Must See" sights on a package tour. 

Irene made a conscious decision to be a completely different mother to her girls than her mother was to her -  she takes pride in settling into a home and centering her world around her daughters and their needs even giving up her work as an Alzheimer's researcher so she could focus on her children.  Her mother ridicules her for these sacrifices and feels her work and fulfilling her own potential should have been the priority - the children would raise themselves. She ignores her mother's objections and dedicates herself to her girls and is rewarded with three successful but fairly ungrateful daughters who seem to lack respect for their mother.  Her sister Susan describes the girls, her nieces:
Irene had raised such obviously outstanding daughters - sharp, ambitious, good-looking to boot.  She bequeathed them Ma's self-righteousness, perhaps not realizing they would be finished with American exceptionalism, historical ignorance and entitlement.  They were in the vanguard; others were laggards.  They set out to better the world and held themselves above it.
 The girls, however, do each pay a price for their success and their need to hold themselves above others.  Nora, the eldest, is a hard-driving Wall Street wonderkid who cannot commit to her boyfriend Jesse and completely lacks the ability to admit dependence on him emotionally. Kay, living in China for one year on a fellowship, also fails to connect emotionally with men and bounces from relationship to relationship knowing something critical is missing.  Sophie, the baby of the family, suffers from bulimia as she tries to impose control on emotions that she feels are out of control.  Of course, each girl's struggle is a secret they fiercely guard from the other women in the family and those secrets are taken along on the trip to China.
Historical Village, Anhui Province; Credit: Deanna Fei

Irene, Susan and Lin also each have secrets - with everyone so committed to keeping their secrets from each other, it is little wonder there is so much distance between them all.  Piling them all into hotel rooms together and onto a tour bus all day, every day for two weeks does little to bridge that distance and, in fact, adds to the conflict as they are forced to interact and to face things about each other and themselves that they would sooner forget.  As the trip progresses however, the women do begin to understand a little more about each other and the history that has shaped each woman - they start to understand the events and experiences that drove some of the behaviors that has frustrated them with each other.  Although the trip doesn't bring the type of closeness Irene seeks with her daughters and her Mom and sister, it does bring about revelations which permit them to all the be much more tolerant of each other and not so rigid.

My Thoughts
There is so much to say about this book it is hard to know where to begin.  The book is beautifully written with an attention to detail that is impressive.  The result is a very rich novel with many, many layers which makes it difficult to sum up in a single post.  As I said at the start of the review, there are many themes in this book and each one is deserving of a separate post (I will be writing a separate post about the theme of immigration  - look for it on April 30th).  The author has created a group of strong-willed women who are driven, often to their detriment, by a history each only barely understands.  As the trip to China begins to remedy some of that lack of understanding, vulnerabilities are  revealed in each woman which humanizes them.  The many themes, the interweaving of the history of China and exploration of the must-see sights in the country all add much to this novel but what impacted me the most was the subtle revelation and even slight transformation of each character.  That coupled with the message that family ties really do bind and it is difficult, if not impossible, to completely shrug off the legacy which made you makes this an excellent read - I highly recommend it!

I read this book as part of the TLC Book Tour for the novel although I did read my own copy which I purchased last year.  Thanks to Trish from TLC for the opportunity to review this book and the inspiration to pull it off my shelves!

This book makes an excellent selection for the Immigrant Stories Challenge.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sunday Salon: April 24, 2011

Daffodil Walk, New York Botanic Gardens
The Sunday
Happy Easter, Happy Passover and Happy Spring!  I hope you have all had a pleasant weekend.  I have been taking in the warm and sunny weather in Florida while visiting my parents for Easter weekend - I could definitely get used to days spent at the pool and beach (too bad I will be headed back to NYC and work tomorrow evening).

Post Read a Thon Note
During the Read a Thon two weeks ago, I pledged to raise money for the Colon Cancer Alliance by donating per page read and per comment left on my RAT post.  Kay from My Random Acts of Reading commented on my post and generously offered to also donate to CCA for every page I read!  I think this comraderie is exactly what the RAT tries to inspire and its great that a charity can benefit from it.  Kay - thank you SO much for your generosity!

On the Reading Front
A Thread of Sky: A NovelI am currently reading A Thread of Sky by Deanna Fei - I have wanted to read this since it came out in hardcover last year but didn't get around to it but I am finally reading it now (the paperback published on Mar 29, 2011) and I wonder why I waited.  A Chinese immigrant returns to China with her three daughers (all born in the US), her mother and her sister.  The complicated family dynamics definitely have me hooked even though I am fairly sure I could not survive such a trip if my family related to each in the way this one does!  Ideally, I will finish this before Tuesday - BookTrib is hosting an e-vent with the author on Tuesday afternoon and if work permits, I hope to get online for it.  You can read more about it here 

This week I posted two reviews:

Secret Daughter: A Novel Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (review here) - this author's debut novel could easily be in my top ten for 2011.

My One and Only (Hqn) My One and Only by Kristan Higgans (review here) - this is a fun beach read and the first novel by this author for me - I will definitely be looking for some of her other titles to fill out my summer reading list!

Hope you all have a great week!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

My One and Only (Hqn)My One and Only by Kristan Higgins tells the story of Harper - a successful divorce attorney with a healthy skepticism about the permanence of marriage.  In addition to her own parents' divorce and the clients she helps daily as they try to dissolve their marriages, Harper also has her own divorce in the rearview mirror  - all these experiences with the end of marriages keeps her cautious about marraige, if not love.  But she is not impervious to romance and as the novel progresses we see that Harper is actually quite vulernable.

Harper, living on Martha's Vineyard and dating laid back Dennis, is invited to her sister's hastily planned wedding in Montana.  She has reservations about her carefree sister's third wedding but is even less thrilled about going to Montana when she learns her sister is marrying her ex-husband's brother. Harper does not relish seeing her ex again.  She is surprised upon seeing him again to realize she still has feelings for him regardless of her hurt from their divorce.  From Montana back home to Martha's Vineyard, she is on an emotional roller coaster and we are along for the ride. 

My Thoughts
This was a fun book with an engaging storyline.  I especially liked Harper as a character  -  she is strong and smart but with a softer side. The book would make a perfect beach read and I will definitely be looking for more books by Kristan Higgins for my poolside reading!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret Daughter: A NovelSecret Daughter is the debut novel of author Shilpi Somaya Gowda and is a powerful story about the ties, biological and otherwise, which bind a family together.  Although the novel covers themes such as poverty and the subjugation of women which feature often in novels set in India, these topics are treated with a depth and skill which allow this book to stand out among its peers.

The novel alternately tells the story of Kavita, a woman from a village in India and Somer, a woman in San Francisco who is married to an Indian ex-pat, Krishnan.  They are bound together by Asha - Kavita's biological daughter who she gives up at birth because she is not a son and Somer's adopted daughter who Krishnan and Somer adopted from a orphanage in Mumbai.  Of course, things are not as simple as that summary - Kavita mourns the loss of her daughter every day and Somer struggles with feeling alienated from her husband and daughter who share a heritage if not blood.  As the novel progresses, we witness the Kavita and her family's attempts at a better life with a move to Mumbai and Asha's development into a young woman who increasingly wants to know more about her Indian heritage and her birth parents.

Amidst Indian customs, exploration of the poverty of the Mumbai slums and the effect of the dowry system on the treatment of infant girls, Gowda presents a story about motherhood and the extents to which mothers will go to protect and provide for their children.  There are the obvious mother figures in Kavita and Somer but there are many others weaved throughout the novel including each of the women with their own mothers and women in the Mumbai slums. These stories of motherhood is what I found so moving about the book - the relationship of mother and child with all its joys and hurts is the great equalizer and lends humanity to each and every character.

I know this novel and the characters it introduced me to will stay with me for some time - I didn't want the book to end! The writing was excellent so I hope that Gowda will soon write another novel.  In the meantime, take time to treasure this one and consider it as a Mother Day's gift for all those special mothers in your life. 

Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review to this novel.   I received my copy from Library Thing.  


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Salon: April 17, 2011

The Sunday

Spring Has Arrived!
 After torrential rain last night, today turned out to be a beautiful day with clear blue skies and sun shining. I was happy to see it since I planned to go to the New York Botanic Gardens  - we were going to the Orchid Show which is indoors so all would not be lost in the event of rain but I am so glad the weather was nice and we were able to take in the grounds.  It is truly beautiful and a great place to read a book - I plan to try to get up there on a Summer Friday for lunch and some reading.  Here are a few shots from the day:

Read a Thon Wrap Up
Last weekend was the Read a Thon - I am a weekend late with my wrap up - I was just too tired on Sunday to write my wrap-up post!  For the first time, I was up for the entire 24 hours but I didn't get as much reading done because I was signed up to cheer and host.  It was so much fun to take part in the organizing since I have always enjoyed taking part as a reader in the past and thought it would be good to lend a hand in the organizing.  A few lessons - the read a thon takes ALOT of hard work and planning to execute and my hats go off to those that plan it each time.  Lesson 2 - I can read or cheer or host but not all three - my day was totally chaotic!  For this Read a Thon, I decided to read for charity again - I pledged $ per page read and per comment on my RAT post.  Anyway, here is the summary:

Read - about 4 hours
Pages read: 295
Comments on RAT post: 27
$$ raised for Colon Cancer Alliance =  41.75 (I will round this to $50 and also add in my company's match)

Did you do the Read A Thon?  How was the day for you?

Dance LessonsStill a little slow on the posting front but I am reading a lot so there will be lots of material . .  . as soon as I get back into blogging more regularly!  I did post a review this week of a book that I thought was wonderful  - Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney.  The book is set in the West of Ireland and has two strong women characters caught in a family drama - the novel is very well done and I truly enjoyed it. 

Hope you all have a great week!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney

Dance Lessons: A NovelDance Lessons: A Novel by Aine Greaney is a story about the power of family legacy and how the marks of old hurts can be indelible.  Beginning in Boston and then moving to the rugged beauty of the West of Ireland, this wonderful novel introduces us to plucky but also damaged characters who perpetrate their hurt on those they love the most. 

Fintan Dowd moves to Boston from Ireland in the 80's and meets American born Ellen. Fintan tells Ellen his mother has died and that there is no one left behind in Ireland so they never visit during their 15 year marriage.  When Fintan dies suddenly in an accident,  Ellen discovers he had lied to her - his mother is alive (if not well) in Gowna, Co Mayo.  Ellen travels to her husband's birthplace, delivers the sad news to Fintan's mother and endeavors to understand this complicated woman and the childhood that shaped her, at times, difficult husband. 

Fintan's mother, Jo, is dying of lung cancer but her cantankerous personality is still alive and well.  As Ellen graciously offers to care for her, Jo begins to reveal her own history and that which shaped her son.  This quote perfectly sums up what drives Jo:
"Or while he's [Fintan] been away living that city life, has he somehow forgotten who he is?  No, who they are? Has he somehow forgotten the sufferance, the bitter sacrifice that forms the core, the credo of Jo Dowd's very existence?"
Jo visited this bitterness upon her son taking out her frustration on the child she loved so much - "Jo slaps her child simply because he's there - just there between her and the rest of the world".  It would be easy to make a villain of Jo but Aine Greaney skillfully creates a sympathetic and, at times, likeable character.  

In addition to learning about her mother-in-law, Ellen also learns some well buried secrets about her late husband, Fintan.  The trip to Ireland is really an excavation - Jo's past is explored as are the transgressions against her son and the impact they had upon him. 

I LOVED this novel - the setting is beautiful and charming but the characters are really what captivated me.  They are well drawn with a depth that includes their faults but also what they could not help - the legacy forced upon them.  I highly recommend this book!

Don't miss the author's guest post entitled "The Ever Present Past" in which she talks about her immigrant experience. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Read A Thon: Starting Line and Updates

I will update this post throughout the Read A Thon!

I have been hopping around cheering so I am a little late with my starting line post - but here it is:

1)Where are you reading from today?
Sunny (finally) NYC.  I will mostly be on my couch but I do plan to get a pedicure so some of the day I will be reading from a comfy spa chair!

2)Three random facts about me…  I have lived in NY my entire life except when I  was in college in Virginia (go Tribe!);  I have been skydiving once and loved it but don't see the need to do it again;  I NEED coffee

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? 7.5 - I will never finish them all but like to have some variety to select from

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? First and foremost to stay awake - I am hosting starting at midnight so I am in for the long haul!  Second, I am raising money for the Colon Cancer Alliance by donating .10 cents per page read and .10 cents per comment left on my RAT posts (so get commenting!).  The lovely Kay from My Random Acts of Reading graciously offered to also donate .05 cents for every page I read.  So, my goal is to read lots so that we can support a great cause!

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time? Have fun, take breaks, MOVE

Where In The World Mini-Challenge

Hosted by I Heart Monster, Where in the World Mini-challenge asks you to go to the Where in the World google map and put a marker on where you are reading from (done - NYC) and select a participant from somewhere you would like to visit or have visited and stop by to leave a comment.  I chose The Crooked Bookshelf who is reading from India because I was fascinated by the country when I visited last year.  She did her intro meme all in images - stop by and check it out!

Last part of mini-challenge - Did 5 jumping jacks (I Heart Monster - my trainer will thank you!)

Hour 10 Update

ok -  how did we get to hour 10 already?  I will be taking about a 5 hour break to head to Hotel Griffou for a belated bday dinner with friends - I plan to finish the meal with an espresso (or 2) since I am on-duty hosting at midnight EDT.

Here are my stats so far:
Hours Cheering 6
Hours Reading: 2
Pages Read: 275
Books Finished: 0 (note to self - pick smaller books next year!)

BookClub Recommendations Challenge:

I stopped by Sheila at Book Journey and offered two book club suggestions - both are books I read last year and liked  - and they would spur conversation for sure:
The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel (P.S.)This Is Where I Leave You: A Novel

Hour 20 Update
After a 5 hour break for dinner with friends (and drinks - perhaps not my best idea considering this is an all-nighter event!), I came home to discover my wifi was out just as I was about to take over hosting duties.  But Vasilly stepped in and kept things going until I could get back online.  Hosting was fun but a little manic - watching twitter, email, blog and trying to draft the next hourly post had me a little schizophrenic in the beginning.  Nonetheless, I had fun!

With all these goings-on, my reading has suffered by I have these last 4 hours to catch up!  Will post more soon . . .