Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankfully Reading - Kick Off Post

Ahh - a four day weekend - pure bliss!  Although I do have some work to finish this weekend (end of year reviews at work - grrrr), I will largely be unscheduled this weekend - yay!  I am looking forward to settling in with some good books and taking part in the Thankfully Reading Challenge festivities. 

As I mentioned in my Sunday Salon post last week, I am desperately behind on challenges and have a lot of reading to do to finish up my 2010 challenges so I will be dedicating myself to books for challenges for the weekend.  Here is what's on deck:

Midnight's Children: A NovelSaving CeeCee Honeycutt: A NovelThe Piano Teacher: A NovelMagnolia Wednesdays

Now, I just need my parents to leave me alone a bit so that I can READ!  Are you facing any disruptions during your Thankfully Reading Weekend?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Haulidays! Chronicle Books Giveaway

With the approach of Thanksgiving, my anxiety about the "gift list" is starting to build. I like to get my shopping done well in advance of Christmas so that I can enjoy the holiday.  At the Chronicle Books site, I could literally shop for everyone on my list - what an amazing selection of unique books!

Right now, Chronicle is hosting an amazing giveaway - Happy Haulidays - bloggers create a wish list of Chronicle Books valued up to $500 and are entered for a chance to win the entire list!  The best part is that one commenter will also win the entire list if the blogger wins!  Wow wow!

Here is the list I have assembled (organized by recipient):

For the children:

Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee One winter morning, Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee, head out bright and early to learn how to ski. But what begins as a pleasant day in the snow quickly goes downhill when a run-in with a curious moose sends them flying through the air and hanging above an abyss! How will Dee and Magee find their way out of this snowy situation?

Penguins, Penguins Everywhere! A parade of irresistible penguins—from climates warm and cold—swim, slide, and waddle across the pages of Penguins, Penguins, Everywhere!

A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas This is no ordinary Nutcracker! This time, it's Fritz's story. The traditional Nutcracker tale gets turned on its head in this rollicking Christmas adventure, based on the hit musical A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas by the popular family music rock star Ralph Covert and playwright G. Riley Mills. Includes a bonus CD of songs from the musical, featuring a read-aloud track with the music and story woven together.

The Little Books Boxed Set Three adorable characters in three adorable board books! These clever twists on dinnertime, bedtime, and clean-up time will delight all the little mess-makers, picky eaters, and night owls in your life.

What Sisters Do Best/What Brothers Do Best After reading what brothers do best, simply flip the book over and enjoy the story again—from a sister's perspective!

Mini Masters Boxed Set  Four beautiful board books from the best-selling Mini Masters series, all packed in a colorful box. The set includes: Dancing with Degas, A Picnic with Monet, A Magical Day with Matisse, and In the Garden with Van Gogh.

Dinosaurs! Matching Game Bob Barner's colorful paper-collage dinosaurs spring to life in this classic 72-card matching game.


For the Golfers:
The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Golf

Undercover Golf

For Mom:

For the Traveler: (aka me)

City Walks Deck: New York

Travel Yoga

The Smart Traveler's Passport

For the New Year's Resolutions Maker:

1001 Ways To Live In The Moment

Gratitude: A Journal

Everyday Calm


For the Chef:
The Winemaker Cooks

Dinner Parties

Dean and DeLuca: The Food and Wine Cookbook

For a chance to win, please leave a comment below.  Winners will be drawn by Chronicle.  

In the meantime, Chronicle is running a 35% off sale (+ free shipping) until December 5th -  stop by their site and finish off your list!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Audiobook Review: Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Digging to AmericaDigging to America by Anne Tyler; narrated by Blair Brown

Two families, the Donaldson's and the Yazdan's, wait at the Baltimore airport for the arrival of their adopted children from Korea.  Bitsy and Brad Donaldson along with their parents and siblings are all assembled at the gate waiting for their adopted daughter and videotaping the big event.  Sami and Ziba Yazdan and Sami's mother Maryam wait quietly at the gate for their daughter and observe the boisterous Donaldson's. Having shared the experience of their adopted children's arrival, the families are connected and an uneasy friendship is sparked. 

Although they share this seminal event in their lives, they are quite different from each other and likely would not be friends without this event to bond them.  The Donaldson's are open, jocular and easygoing while the Yazdan's are guarded, anxious and, at times, seem to try too hard.  The Donaldson's represent the archetypal all American family while the Yazdan's are Iranian-American who have each assimilated to their home to different degrees.  Maryam, although having lived in the US for thirty-five years, still feels very much an outsider and is painfully aware of how she is different from those that were born and bred in the US while her son Sami was born in the US and has worked hard to be as "American" as possible.  His wife, Ziba, has lived half her life in Iran and half in the US and still struggles to honor her homeland while fitting in to her new home. 

The Yazdan's are forced to confront their "differentness" each year at the "Arrival Party" conceived by Bitsy as a way to celebrate the arrival of their adopted Korean daughters.  At the first arrival party, the differences between Donaldson's and the Yazdan's can be seen in each of their daughters  - the Donaldson's have decided to keep their daughter's Korean name, Jin Ho, and have her decked out in a traditional Korean costume for this first arrival party.  The Yazdan's have named their daughter a typical American name (and also easy for the Iranian relatives to pronounce), Susan, and she arrives to the party in denim overalls.  The Donaldson's can afford to be eccentric and unique while the Yazdan's make every effort to blend in. 

These annual arrival parties become the structure of the novel and each year we learn a little more about the families.  The Yazdan's begin quite in awe of the Donaldson's and, at times, strive to be more like them; the Donaldson's are fascinated by what they perceive to be the Yazdan's exotic traditions.  Over the years, however, the patina of these perceptions is marred and the relationship between the families becomes strained.

My thoughts
Tyler does an excellent job of characterizing the immigrant struggle to belong and the feeling of "otherness" that often plagues immigrant families.  She also explores what it means to be American.  Like most Tyler novels, "Digging to America" is multi-layered and there is much more going on than just the immigrant theme; by the end of the novel, I felt completely immersed in the lives of the Yazdan's and Donaldson's.  Blair Brown narrates the audiobook - I really enjoyed her narration - she did accents for Maryam and some of the other Iranian characters and distinguished well among the other characters as well.   I will seek out other audiobooks narrated by her and will continue to read/listen to Anne Tyler novels. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: November 21, 2010

The Sunday
The week before Thanksgiving - I am comforting myself this Sunday night with the fact that the work week is short this week - I think I can manage to get through 2.5 days next week!  I tried to keep in mind all weekend that this was likely the last relaxing, commitment free weekend before the holidays.  I caught up on some reading and posts (finally!) which should hold me in good stead as things get crazy just before the holidays.

I also spent time this weekend assessing the challenges I signed up for in 2010 and to see if I could ever finish them!  Well . . . it is pretty clear that I won't finish them all but I am closing in on quite a few . . .


Memorable Memoirs - read 4 memoirs.  Here is my wrap-up post if you want to see what I read for this challenge

New York Challenge - only 1 NY book required for this one (gotta love a slam dunk!)  I read and reviewed Brooklyn by Colm Toibin for this one.

Ireland Reading Challenge - I signed up for the "Kiss the Blarney Stone" level which required 6 books - I am finished but haven't done my wrap-up posts yet.  My "Books Reviewed" link has a segment dedicated to books in/about Ireland

Non-Fiction Five -I have finished this one (read 5 non-fiction novels between May 1 and Sep 30) but still need to post one review and my wrap up post. 

Typically British Reading Challenge - Gordon Bennett level (4 books by British authors).  I haven't posted my wrap-up post because I will probably read more books by British authors before the end of the year and want to include them


In Progress (there are many more of these!)
Battle of the Prizes (British Version) - this challenge pits the Booker prize (English) against the Tait Prize (Scottish) - participants read one book that read each prize and one that won both (for a total of 3).  I am reading Rushdie's Midnight's Children (in progress), Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (done) and Life of Pi (not started).

TwentyTen Challenge - I won't go into all the categories for this one (although they are clever) - check out the link for the challenge.  My progress thus far? 10/20

Social Justice Challenge - Each month this challenges focuses on a social justice issue and asks participants to read a book around the theme and/or take action around the theme.  Some of the most impactful books read this year have been done for this challenge (Mountains Beyond Mountains immediately comes to mind)

World Religion Challenge - fortunately I took the "unshepherded path" so I set my own requirements (1 book finished so far)

South Asian Authors Challenge - 3/7 complete.  I started this year on a trip to India and had high hopes for this challenge but I got off track along the way - let's see how much of this I can salvage!

What's In A Name Challenge - 3/6 complete.
Not Started (a miracle will need to occur for me to finish these!)
Gilmore Girls - I love, love, love this show and the books included in the challenge are excellent (and diverse) but I better get a move on if I am to finish 5 books by the end of the year

451 Challenge - this challenge also has some of my all time "must read" books but I need to plan to work in 2 before the end of the year

I am thinking about hosting a challenge in 2011 - any advice from those of you that have hosted them in the past?  For those that participate, how can a host enhance your challenge experience?

I will be working on these challenge books over the Thanksgiving weekend and participating in the reading event Thankfully Reading  (love the button!)  Good thing Mom is cooking  - I have a lot of reading to do!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is a charming novel set on the island of Guernsey post WWII.  The novel is unique in that it is told completely in letters (and the occasional telegram); through the letters, the authors provide insight to the psyche of the islanders as they rebuild their lives following the oppression of the German Occupation.  They cope with loss and try to make sense of the many injuries they and the Island suffered at the hands of the Germans. 

Juliet Ashton is a writer living in London when she receives a letter from Dawsey, a Guernsey native who has received a book she once owned and wants to learn more about its author.  Her exchange with Dawsey piques Juliet's interest in the Island and she makes her way there to write a book about the German occupation of the Island during WWII.  Over the course of her stay on the Island, she learns of the indecencies suffered by the Island residents during Occupation  - with the German soldiers controlling access to food and other basics, some residents befriended soldiers and turned in neighbors in order to gain privileges from the Germans.  They put their young children on boats to England to protect them during the Occupation and then agonized about their whereabouts and wondered when or if they would ever see them again.

Credit: TripAdvisor
The islanders are most affected, however, by the loss of their own Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, mother to Kit and the darling of the Island community, is sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp by the Germans and never returns.  Her absence leaves a gaping hole in the community; Juliet ultimately steps into that hole and endeavors to tell Elizabeth's story.  Each of the islanders reveal part of Elizabeth's story to Juliet and in the process Juliet falls in love with both the Island and its residents.

Credit: TripAdvisor

I was so charmed by this book - it took time to get used to the epistolary style and to keep track of the characters but once I did I enjoyed the quiet stories of each of the islanders.  The authors did an excellent job of mixing the every day with the dark days of the occupation.  Interestingly, I read one review of this book in which a commenter spoke of how much she disliked the book and felt the authors had made light of a very serious time in British history during which many had suffered.  I must say I disagree -  I don't think the authors made light of what Guernsey endured during the War at all- in fact, I found their war stories even more poignant interspersed as they were between the eccentricities of the island's residents.  Most of all, however, I was inspired by the triumph of the human spirit evidenced by each of the residents as they came to terms with what they had endured during the war and moved on with life.  My one regret is that I waited so long to read this favorite!

I read many great reviews of this book but the one that inspired me to take the book off the shelf and read it was this one by Cornflower Books.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

The Financial Lives of the Poets: A Novel (P.S.)                         The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter is a comic novel set against the backdrop of the recent economic collapse in the US - comic and economic collapse seem an odd pair but Walters's talent makes it work.  His story of Matt Prior, middle age father of two whose marriage is beginning to unhinge as he struggles to pay his out of control mortgage while trying to find a job and take care of his aging father, highlights the desperation felt by many Americans who feel overextended.

Matt Prior, father to Teddy and Franklin, is on the brink of losing his home to foreclosure and desperately trying to get a reprieve from his lender so that he doesn't disappoint the wife he is afraid he has already lost or condemn his children to a move from their private school to the local public school which he has termed "Alcatraz Elementary".  When Matt encounters some pot smokers on a nightly milk run to 7/11, he gets a welcome break from his troubles courtesy of his new found "friends".  From a few tokes on the way home from the 7/11, a plan is born and before long Matt is selling pot and being considered for ownership of a weed farm.

Things get even more unbelievable from there but the novel holds the reader's attention with it's witty, smart satire.  Amidst the crumbling of Matt Prior's life and the half-baked (pun intended) plan to raise cash by selling pot to his fellow middle aged professionals, Walter makes wry observations about 21st century American life.  For example:
" . . . and I suppose the devil only needs the tiniest hoofhold because two stops later I'm actually ginning the numbers (ponziing myself!) and I'm up to my ears in that peculiar bastard of American calculus, that ol' bad math, macro-optimistic flawed formula of Keynesian interventionist Mall-of-the-America bliss, endless exponential derivation . . . ."
He mourns the loss of values so strongly held by our parents and longs for the simplicity of times gone by:
"My father did pass on plenty of wisdom, of course, a lot of it incidental, like other men from his generation, hints and clues glimpsed through his unfailing work ethic and his refusal to ever complain about anything.  No matter what happened, the man soldiered on - got up every day and put on that tie and went to a job that he knew was beneath his abilities - and anyone who thinks there is anything more profoundly inspiring than that is fooling himself" 
Walter's ability to skillfully combine these wry observations with sharp dialogue and imperfect characters makes this a book I won't soon forget.

I attended an event at the Center for Fiction entitled "On The Comic Novel" and it featured Sam Lipsyte ("The Ask") and Jess Walter.  Each read from their recent novels and then discussed what made a novel "comic" versus merely humorous.  They also discussed how comic novels often don't get the same respect (think awards) afforded their more serious counterparts.  I have recently discovered the comic novel and realize it is a genre I really enjoy - anyone have recommendations for my next comic novel pick? 

Thank you to Trish at TLC Book Tours
for providing this book for review.  Check out this link 
for other reviews of the book