Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top Ten Winter Themed Book Covers

As we faced freezing temps here in the Northeast over the past week, I found myself to drawn to books - what is better than curling up with a good book on a cold day (preferably with a fire)? As I looked through my books, I saw a winter theme in the covers.  Below are the Top Ten Winter Themed Covers on my shelves (or TBR):

What are your favorite winter themed covers?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni

Hedge Fund Wives tells the story of newly minted HFW, Marcy Emerson, and her adjustment to life among the super wealthy and the NYC social scene. Marcy and her hedge fund manager, John, have recently arrived to Manhattan from Chicago; John's star is rising in the world of finance and he expects Marcy to help it ascend by playing the role of society wife perfectly. Meanwhile, Marcy feels out of place among the catty wives and the unrelenting focus on extravagant dinners, private jets and expensive clothes. She comes from much more humble beginnings and had a career of her own before moving to NY - she finds it difficult to eschew all that for lunch at Bergdorf's and charity events. Will Marcy learn to navigate the world of hedge fund wives or will those wives get the best of Marcy?

As Marcy walks into the baby shower honoring the wife of one on John's colleagues, she is distinctly out of place in her pink puffer jacket as she breezes past a rack of fur coats in the expansive lobby of one of the wives. When she is given a chilly reception by some of the wives, Marcy feels even more out of place. Fortunately, she sits next to one of the more down to earth wives, Jill, who has her own career as a magazine  publicist. Jill introduces Marcy to Gigi and the three become fast friends with Jill and Gigi showing Marcy the ropes of the HFW role and community.

And Marcy needs her friends - despite her best efforts to be the perfect hedge fund wife, Marcy can't seem to please John. His own insecurities become evident as he feels the need to have the perfect apartment decor (he has decided the Emerson's "design niche" is eco-conscious), serve the perfect wine and food and move in only the most exclusive social circles. Jill and Gigi provide much needed relief from John's constant demands - in those friends, Marcy also gains perspective. Despite how wonderful their lives may appear on the outside, Gigi and Jill both struggle with their marriages and confirm that money doesn't buy happiness.

My Thoughts
This is a fun, entertaining book. It is always interesting to peer through the glass at the lives of the rich - watch as they shop, dine and celebrate. In that respect the book delivers - we dip in and out of the chic NYC department stores and restaurants such as Bergdorf's and Lever House and see the inside of palatial NY apartments. At the same time, it is also gratifying to see that those with money have their own challenges and chief among them is often the money.

This book in not unique - there are a lot of women's fiction books which give you glimpses into society life in NYC.  In fact, this book reminds me a lot of The Recessionistas which I read a number of years ago.  Both books cover the social lives of the NYC finance sector in the post 2008 economic collapse.  Unlike The Recessionistas, however, Hedge Fund Wives has a likable protagonist - Marcy is smart with good values in a shark tank of beautiful but vapid wives.  If you are looking for a quick read and like to peek into the NYC social scene, I recommend this book.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Salon: January 20, 2013

The Sunday Salon.com

Ahh, 3 day weekend! I am so glad that I can watch Downton Abbey tonight without the Sunday night blues hanging over my head. Why can't all weekends be three days?

Yesterday, a friend and I decided to try to see a show by getting tickets at TKTS. TKTS is a discount ticket booth in Times Square (there is also one a South Street Seaport and in Downtown Brooklyn) where each day tickets for same day performances are sold at a discount.  If you are flexible about what you want to see and not necessarily looking for the hottest shows (i.e. Book of Mormon is not available), it is a great option for tickets.  My friend and I decided on Annie when we saw that it was available.  Unfortunately, the ticket line was crowded yesterday since a lot of tourists are in town for the three day weekend and by the time I got to the front of the line, they only had single seats available for the show and the other available shows were ones we had already seen.  Lesson learned - get there early on the weekend!

Plan B went into effect - we had dinner at the nearby Aspen Social Club which has a great cozy theme on a cold day and saw Promised Land. The movie stars Matt Damon and is the story of a global natural gas company which goes into rural towns and convinces land owners to lease their land to the company so they can drill for natural gas.  Fracking is a controversial issue that I know very little about - the movie definitely had me thinking and wanting to know more about the topic.

This week I posted two reviews - one of a YA book, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson which was fun and entertaining.  The second was for The Tell by Hester Kaplan which is darker and more of a psychological study.

I have been listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen and loving it - I can tell it will be a book I gift for birthdays - I already have some recipients in mind!  I am reading a light book on this holiday weekend - Hedge Fund Wives by Tatiana Boncompagni.

Is this a 3 day weekend for you?  How are you spending the weekend?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: The Tell by Hester Kaplan

The Tell: Owen and Mira are a married couple living in the large house left to Mira by her parents after they were both killed in an accident. A former TV actor, Wilton Deere, moves into their Rhode Island town and purchases the house next door to the couple. Wilton and Mira seem immediately, inexplicably drawn to each other and very quickly Wilton becomes a fixture in Mira and Owen's life - much to Owen's frustration. Unlike his wife, Owen does not see Wilton's appeal and he finds Wilton and Mira's quickly made friendship unsettling. When Mira and Wilton begin spending time together at a casino and Wilton's long estranged daughter returns, Owen watches as both his neighbor and his marriage begin to unravel. Owen and Mira have been married for six years when Wilton arrives in Providence, RI and inserts himself into their lives. Wilton seems to be an unsettled person who is desperate for connection - he eats multiple times per week with the couple, shows up unannounced at the school at which Owen teaches and visits Mira often in the art studio she runs. He is easily flattered by the fact that people recognize him from a sitcom long ago off the air.

It is easy, of course, to insert into Owen and Mira's life - the cracks in their marriage provide the perfect opening. Owen is still coming to terms with a tragedy from his past but is unwilling or unable to be particularly open with Mira about his real feelings about the event. Mira, still living in the large home filled with art she once shared with her parents, seems stunted by the lack of progression in her environment. Nothing in the house is hers or chosen by her - it is all what was important to her parents. Owen's inability to open up about the tragedy and Mira's oppression by her parent's home serve to envelop them both in cocoons. They live together and clearly share passion but move through life with a very interior perspective. That interior perspective inhibits their ability to truly connect with each other. When Owen sees how easily Mira connects with Wilton, he is angry and feels betrayed by his wife.

Wilton is a study all his own - there is a pathology that drives him to seek this connection with the younger Mira. Estranged from his daughter after abandoning her when she was a young child, Wilton has reconnected with Anya and moved to Providence to be close to her since she is studying at med school nearby. As Mira and Wilton's relationship deepens, Owen begins to turn to Anya who shares Owen's distrust of her father. Bit by bit, each player's life unravels and the unraveling is quickened by the involvement of the other players.

My thoughts
The Tell is a very well weaved story of these four adults and how their personal undoing hastens the undoing of the others. Each character is deeply explored and developed.  Because Mira and Owen spend so much time inward, the reader learns a lot about the interiors of their minds - what drives them, how they react to stimuli, what they are hiding.

There is a darkness to this novel - from Mira and Owen's musty house to the secrets each is keeping and the shadows of addiction which can make it challenging to read at times. On the other hand, the psychology of the characters is interesting and how that dictates their interactions with each other is fascinating.

I do want to make one comment about the writing - it is exquisite. Author Antonya Nelson calls Hester Kaplan "a sentence-maker of the highest order" and I couldn't agree more. I often paused to consider sentences and passages and how expertly she had crafted them.  Some examples:

"Owen had the feeling that Wilton had seen the gap open up between Mira and him, measured it, and then manuevered himself in between."

"Maybe it was that particular brand of love that had made Owen feel so suffocated in a place where there was plenty of everything but never enough air. It was the essential problem of two - one would always leave first.  That inevitability had hung over them from the beginning."

I found myself torn as reading this - the characters are well developed and intriguing and the writing is excellent but the darkness of the story diminished the book somewhat for me. You can see what others thought by checking out other stops on the TLC tour:

Tuesday, January 8th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, January 10th: Excellent Library
Tuesday, January 15th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, January 16th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Thursday, January 17th: Books in the City
Monday, January 21st: Between the Covers
Wednesday, January 23rd: Speaking of Books
Monday, January 28th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, January 29th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, January 30th: Bibliophiliac

I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the tour.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson: Ginny Blackstone is a teenager living an average life in New Jersey. Her Aunt Peg, always a free spirit and the antithesis of Ginny's straight-laced parents, ran off to Europe a few years ago.  She and Ginny had a special connection and a letter arrives for Ginny after her aunt's death.  The letter (in a little blue envelope) includes $1000 and instructions for Ginny to travel to Europe with only what she can fit in a backpack - no guidebooks and technology crutches like her laptop and phone. She will pick up the remainder of the letters when she gets to Europe and, through those letters, her Aunt will take her across Europe and teach her valuable lessons along the way. Ginny is shy so this adventure to Europe is definitely out of her comfort zone but her love and respect for her Aunt propels her forward.  On arriving in the UK, she navigates from Heathrow to the first destination named in her Aunt's letter and gets direction to her next stop.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book - there were a few things in particular that struck me.
  1. Travel - I love to travel and think it is a wonderful gift for anyone but especially a young adult - it forces us to think differently and look at the world through a new lens. Aunt Peg knew it would push Ginny out of her self and open her eyes in a way that a summer at home could not. 
  2. No Technology Crutches - We all have become so dependent on our phones, laptops, ipads and it is easy to hide behind those devices.  As much as I have appreciated these devices on certain trips when they helped me out of a jam, they do diminish that real adventure spirit because everything is served up to you - you don't need to figure anything out.  They also keep you from being present which is important when there is so much to see and learn on a trip.  Aunt Peg knew what she was doing when she instructed Ginny to leave the devices at home.
This book is charming and I think Ginny is a great protagonist for young women - she is not perfect and is struggling with some insecurity but she takes risks and gets a fabulous experience (and of course love) in return.  I am definitely looking forward to seeing what is in The Last Little Blue Envelope!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Salon - January 13, 2013 - 2013 challenges

The Sunday Salon.com

Happy Sunday! I hope you all had a good weekend. This was a rough week at work - I kept wondering how we were only 8 days into the new year  - so I was happy to have two days of down time. I spent some time working on the blog and planning my 2013 challenges and here are my sign-ups:

7 Continents, 7 Billion People 7 Books - I love to travel and when I can't do it in person, I like to do it in my books so this challenge grabbed my attention.  The purpose of this challenge is to explore the world by reading 7 books each from a different angle:

The challenge: to select and read seven books, each belonging to one of the following categories:
- the 7 countries with the most population
- the 7 highest countries in the world
- the 7 oldest countries of the world
- one of the 7 megacities of the world
- the 7 countries with the most immigrants
- the 7 richest (or poorest) countries
- the 7 most rainy (or dry) countries

The Ireland Challenge - This will be my third year participating in this one and it is one of my favorites.  I love Ireland and its authors so this challenge is perfect for me!  This year I will be participating at the Kiss The Blarney Stone level (8 books).  Some picks: The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright,  A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy, City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan, Empty Family by Colm Toibin

British Books Challenge I am an anglophile and really enjoy books set in the UK and by British authors.  This challenge requires 12 books (which I failed at last year) so I will need to be more intentional about reading British authors rather than just reading along and figuring I will hit the target. Some titles to consider this year  - Family Pictures by Jane Green, The Line Of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks, Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard

What's In a Name 6  - this is another repeat challenge for me but I finally finished it last year so I am encouraged to try again!  I love how the categories really get me thinking about books that could qualify.  The challenge is to read one book in each of the following categories:

  1. A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title: TBD
  2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelson
  3. A book with a party or celebration in the title: TBD
  4. A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title: TBD
  5. A book with an emotion in the title: Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton
  6. A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title: And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry

Southern Literature Challenge - this will be my second year participating in this challenge too.  Last year I read three books but this year I am going to try for four at the "Y'all come back now" level.  A few choices for this challenge are Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter by Lisa Patton, Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman, The Help by Kathryn Stockett (I might be the only person left not to have read this book!)

Off the Shelf - my shelves are overflowing so anything that motivates me to read what I already have sounds like a good idea! This is the first time I have joined this challenge but I am looking forward to thinning the unread books in my collection.  In my effort to get off to a good start, some of the books I have identified  for the challenges above are currently on my shelf and soon to be off the shelf. I am joining at the "trying" level (15 books)

Immigrant Stories Challenge - I am hosting this challenge again this year and am looking forward to seeing what the participants read and also featuring some great new immigrant stories and their authors.  Some that I have in my sights for this year are American Dervish by Ayad Aktar, Fresh Off The Boat by Eddie Huang

Are you joining any reading challenges this year?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: January 12, 2013

Alyce of At Home With Books hosts Saturday Snapshot where participants share a photo they have taken (please don't post photos you find online). Stop by her blog and see what others have posted!

To Market, To Market

As I was writing my review for The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, I was reminded of my trip to Vietnam a few years ago.  Shortly after we arrived, our tuk-tuk got stuck behind this moped carting pork.  It is an image I won't soon forget!  We knew we weren't at home anymore!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan

In The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, Aimee Phan presents two arms of a large Vietnamese family who left Vietnam after the Communists left nothing behind in their homeland. The Vo's and the Truong's, connected by marriage, part ways in Vietnam - the Vo's head to France while the Truong's head to the US and end up in Southern California.  Each branch of the family, however, is marred by what they saw in Vietnam, the journey away from their home and loved ones, and the betrayal that happened just before they left. When Cherry's brother leaves Southern California to go live in Vietnam after having lived in the US for more than fifteen years, Cherry follows him and discovers secrets about her family and understands how those secrets have chipped away at every member of the family.

Cherry has a close, but difficult, relationship with her large Vietnamese family in Southern California. With the family's matriarch, Cherry's grandmother at its center, the extended family all work in businesses together and come together often for family "celebrations" although there seems to be little celebrating being done. Instead, they spend a lot of time snapping at each other and fueling their resentments.

Cherry finds it hard to appreciate her family when they seem so plagued by unhappiness.  In addition, she struggles to fit in to US with parents with values which are often very different from those of her friends.  She is constantly reminded of all that her family sacrificed for the life she now enjoys in the US and as a result much is expected of her. In this quote, the difficult relationship Cherry has with her mother is evident:
Improve: her mother's favorite word when they were growing up, because in America, you get anything you want. So the only problem her mother could see was that Cherry didn't want it enough. What as it? . . . It could be a stellar report card, a tidier bedroom, better manners . . . Once the complaining started, Cherry had long since learned to stop listening
When Cherry travels to Vietnam, however, she learns things about her family, including her mother, which shed a new light on what drives her mother and why their relationships with each other are so fraught. Her reeducation begins and is furthered when she goes to France to see the other arm of the family.  Although her family in California often reference how much they suffered and sacrificed, Cherry reads letters while visiting Vietnam and France which reveal pain and a history never articulated by her family at home.

My thoughts
This novel spans through three generations and three countries - US, Vietnam and France.  It moves back and forward in time and among these countries and the stories of the Vo and Truong families. Once I learned the characters and how they connected, I moved easily between the families' stories and the different time periods and locations (I highly recommended leveraging the family tree in the front of the book to help with the navigation!)  As a result, I felt as if I was discovering family history alongside Cherry and was moved by each revelation.

This is an excellent immigrant story and those themes abound in the book - from the parents worrying that their children are moving too far from the values of the "old country" to this first generation who want their parents to be just like their friends' American parents.  The author expertly explores those common themes but not in a trite or cliche way. The pain felt in both generations and that tension between old and new was palpable.

The Reeducation of Cherry Truong has much to offer - an immigrant story, historical fiction set in post war Vietnam but also France and the US - but above all, it is a well-written, compelling family drama.  Highly recommend.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Salon: January 6, 2013

The Sunday Salon.com

Happy New Year! (yes, I know it is the 6th already but this is the first TSS since we welcomed 2013). I hope you all had a nice holiday season and New Year and are settling into 2013. My family was here until Wednesday this week and it was great to spend so much time with them. I went back to work on Wednesday and, although I first wondered why I hadn't just taken vacation until Monday the 7th, now I am glad to have three days under my belt and not walking into a firestorm at the office tomorrow. The short week definitely helped ease me back into work!

Looking back, I did pretty well with challenges in 2012 - a first for me. I think it was because I was measured in my sign-ups and the levels to which I committed for each challenge so I am planning to do that again this year. In the meantime, I want to wrap up the challenges I took part in for 2012. I wrapped up successful completion of the Ireland Challenge and The South Asian Reading challenge in an earlier TSS post, but here is the read-out on the others:

 What's In a Name 5: Finally, I finished this one! I love how the categories really make me think and hunt for books that fit. What I read (links for my reviews):
Topographical Feature: Dune Road by Jane Green
Something You Would See In the Sky: The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith
Creepy Crawly: Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Type of House: The Bungalow by Sarah Jio
Something You Can Carry in a Pocket, Purse: Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty
Something You Find on a Calendar: The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

British Books Challenge : I signed up for 12 books but only finished 7 - there is always next year!
I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green
Dune Road by Jane Green
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Gold by Chris Cleave
The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith
The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey

Southern Literature : I definitely want to do this one again - I had some other books picked out for this year but reached my commitment level with others so I have a pile all ready to go for 2013!
The Good Father by Diane Chamberlain
Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain
Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews (review not posted yet)

Mount TBR: This is a much needed challenge for me and I am ashamed to admit I did not succeed - I will try harder in 2013 (running out of places to put the books).  I cleared 7 books off the shelves - goal was 12.

I will post about my selected challenges for 2013 next week.  For those of you still considering challenges, I will be hosting my Immigrant Stories Challenge again this year.  I hope you will considering participating or helping to spread the word about the challenge!


Downton Abbey is back, Downton Abbey is back!  I am counting down the minutes till 9 tonight when I can settle in with the Granthams! Right before the holidays, I hosted a giveaway for the newest Downton book - The Chronicles of Downton Abbey.

Selected by Random.org, the winner is Carrie from Fitness and Frozen Grapes!  Enjoy!

Have a great week!

Immigrant Stories Challenge 2013: Review Link-Up

Please link to your reviews for the challenge. Enter you name/blog name with the book title in parentheses. For example, Colleen@Books in the City (When We Were Strangers)

Announcing Immigrant Stories Challenge 2013

For the third year, I am proud to host the Immigrant Stories Challenge. As I said in the post announcing the inaugural Immigrant Stories Challenge in 2011, I am the child of immigrants and have always been drawn to immigrant stories in my reading. As I started to pay attention to the theme, I realized it is actually very prevalent in literature. Across many genres, books features immigrants from and to many nations in addition to the stories of their children as they try to fit in.

 The Challenge
 The only requirement of the challenge is that the books read for it include an immigrant story. The immigrants can be coming to or from any country - expand your horizons!

 How Many Books Do I Need to Read?
 There are three levels for the challenge:
 Just off the boat: 1-3 books
 This land is my land?: 4-6 books
 Fully assimilated: 6+ books

 What types of books are eligible? Only fiction? How about audiobooks?
All types of books are eligible - fiction, non-fiction, short stories, audiobooks, e-books. Other details? Re-reads are acceptable as are cross-overs with other challenges. Last year, I tried to post a monthly feature that covered a topic relevant to immigration (and often books) - guest posts from authors of books featuring an immigrant story and or who were immigrants themselves (Rosanna Chiofalo, Kate Kerrigan, Aine Greaney, and Pamela Schoenewaldt, Jyotsna Sreenivasan). I will be doing the same this year and hope to be a bit more consistent with it than last year! If you are an author of a book with an immigrant theme or are interested in posting about the immigrant experience, please contact me.

 Any book suggestions? You can find recommendations for books that cover the immigrant experience here - this is in no way comprehensive but will give you a start. The link includes titles that have been suggested for the challenge and links to reviews of immigrant stories by past participants.

 What are the dates for the challenge? January 1, 2013 - December 31, 2013. You can sign up anytime. If you are "at capacity" for challenges this year (I know the feeling), I hope you will consider helping to spread the word about the challenge.

 How Do I Sign Up? 
Go here to sign up and post one of these buttons on your blog or in your sign-up post:

Immigrant Stories 2013 Sign Up

Sign up below for the Immigrant Stories 2013 Challenge. For more info about the challenge, click here

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Audiobook Review: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The Shoemaker's Wife (17 hours, 51 minutes; narrated by Orlagh Cassidy) by Adriana Trigiani is the sweeping tale of Ciro and Enza and their journey from first love amid the Alps of Italy to the beginning of their lives together in the streets of Little Italy in New York City to the establishment of their own businesses a mining town in Minnesota. The book, loosely based on the author's grandparents' lives is a love story, an immigrant story and the story of dreaming big and making those dreams happens step by small step.

 Ciro Lazari lives in a small Italian village with his widowed mother and brother. When their mother can no longer care for them, she turns the boys over to the care of nuns in a nearby convent. The boys are well cared for and learn important life skills but they sorely miss their parents. Ciro meets Enza Raveneli from a nearby village and their young love is sparked - it is obviously not a mother's love but there is a sense that Enza fills a hole for Ciro and that, in part, fuels his attraction to her. Enza, the oldest in a large family, feels tremendous obligation to her family and despite her fears she knows her family's best chance for survival is for her to go to the US with her father and earn money. And so begins the first of a number of separations (and reunions) between Ciro and Enza.

 Ultimately Enza and Ciro meet again on the streets of NYC and reignite their romance. They both struggle to fit into their new country and work hard to earn a living but they share their sacrifice and are better able to weather the hardships of their immigrant experience and celebrate each success together. When an opportunity becomes available in Minnesota, the family heads West and truly lives the immigrant dream when they establish their own business there. This historical saga covers more than just a broad geography - it spans an entire generation - we travel with Enza and Ciro from their young adulthood through to the young adulthood of their own son.

  My Thoughts
Simply stated, I loved this book. I was completely captivated - by the setting of the Italian Alps and NYC, by the characters and by their story. The author's descriptions are rich and detailed which allow the reader to become immersed in the world she has created.  Even after 17 hours of audio, I did not want the book to end.  It is expertly narrated by Orlagh Cassidy who brings the characters to life.  Adriana Trigiani has raised the immigrant story to an art form with The Shoemaker's Wife.