Thursday, December 29, 2011

Audiobook Review: An Irish Country Christmas

An Irish Country Christmas gives us a glimpse into the town of Ballybucklebo in Ireland as its residents prepare for Christmas. Drs. Barry Laverty and Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly treat the various ailments of the townspeople by doling out traditional medicine alongside a healthy serving of common sense advice and counseling. Of course there are a few dramas with the arrival of a new doctor in town and trouble in the romance department for the two doctors but overall this is a happy, feel good holiday story.

In this installment, favorite characters from the Irish Country series are back - Dr. Barry Laverty has settled into country life in Ballybucklebo and is constantly learning from his mentor, Fingal O’Reilly. Barry has the medical expertise down but he learns how to listen to and speak to his patients which is a much more subtle, but essential, skill in primary care. Curmudgeonly Dr. Fingal O’Reilly is still rough around the edges but we see him soften as he shows respect for his younger colleague, Dr. Laverty. He also shows his softer side as he organizes a scheme to provide money to a young single mother without the resources to buy Christmas gifts for her children. Kinky Kincaid, Barry and Fingal’s housekeeper, is steady as ever and she does more than just clean house - she really mothers the two bachelors and tells them some hard truths when necessary. If Barry and Fingal ever needed advice, it is this year as they each struggle with the women in their lives. Barry anxiously awaits Patricia’s return from England for Christmas but fears she has found someone else while at Cambridge. Fingal has reignited a relationship with Kitty and hopes he doesn’t lose her as he did many years ago.

This audiobook is narrated by John Keating whose Northern Ireland accent for the book is spot-on even thought it took a little while to get used to it. He does an excellent job of switching tone and pacing for the different characters so it was easy to differentiate between them. He even does a great job with Kinky Kincaid’s Cork accent.

An Irish Country Christmas perfectly fit the bill for me for a holiday read - it is cozy, heartwarming and light. The stars of the story are the townspeople - these diverse personalities add real color to the village and certainly make it a place I would love to spend a Christmas! If only life were as easy and pleasant as it is in Ballybucklebo!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Holiday Book Blogger Swap Edition

It has been a little while since I have done a Mailbox Monday post and much has come in the mail since then (I went a little crazy on the Better World Books website) but I wanted to focus today's post on my Book Blogger Holiday Swap gifts. 

This beautifully wrapped box arrived - I love the red wrapping paper - the gift looked beautiful placed on my sideboard amongst some special ornaments and next to Frosty.
Secret Santa remains anonymous . . . .
In addition to the box, I received two books - The Violets of March by Sarah Jio and The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper.  I have been waiting to read these two for awhile and can't wait to dive into them. 
I eventually broke down and opened the big red box to reveal . . . .
A delightful box of Ghirardelli treats! I am proud to say they have remained under wraps but I make no promises when Christmas rolls around next week!
I still have not figured out who my Secret Santa is so if you are reading this post, please reveal! I want to thank you for bringing a little holiday cheer into my home this season!
Mailbox Monday is being hosted this month by Let Them Read Books  - check out her blog to link to other participants this week. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Immigrant Stories 2012 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)

Looking to sign-up for the challenge? Sign up here

Immigrant Stories Challenge 2012: Sign-Ups

Sign up below for the Immigrant Stories 2012 Challenge. For more info about the challenge, click here

Announcing Immigrant Stories Challenge 2012

 For the second year, I am proud to host the Immigrant Stories Challenge. As I said in the post announcing the inaugural Immigrant Stories Challenge last year, 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 (Kate Kerrigan, Aine Greaney, and Pamela Schoenewaldt). 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. I will keep the link updated with titles suggested by all the participants. You can also check out the reviews posted by last year's participants - there are some great options here.  

What are the dates for the challenge? January 1, 2012 - December 31, 2012. 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:
Books in the City
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I look forward to sharing immigrant stories with you this year!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blogoversary and a Giveaway

This week marks the 2nd anniversary of my blog. I waded tentatively into the world of blogging in December of 2009 and held my breath as I hit publish on my first post. As the post winged it's way out into the ether, I wondered if anyone would read it. I checked the post compulsively to see if anyone had commented. Two years later, I am gratified by the wonderful readers of my blog and appreciate everyone's comments on my posts; my posting this year has been marked more by its inconsistency than anything else but still my readers have stuck with me - thank you!  

A Few Highlights  
Boof at Book Whisperer is also celebrating her blog's 2nd anniversary this week - I really like her blogoversary post and decided to use the same format here. The credit is all hers!

My first review was for The Anglofiles: A Field Guide to the British

By far, my most visited post and how most random people seem to find my blog is 10 Great Places to Read in NYC , a post I wrote for Jill at Fizzy Thoughts's NYC Challenge. I have no idea if those that find the post stick around to read anything but, hey, at least they get here. I had an extra thrill in February this year when the New Yorker blog, Bookbench, linked to the post. I never anticipated that this post would generate so much interest.

The book review post that gets the most hits is Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - this is a favorite book of mine so I like to see it getting so many views. Although many of them show up via google searches that include search terms such as "plot summary of Inheritance of Loss" or "main characters in Inheritance of Loss" which leads me to believe someone may to using the review for a book report. Hope they get an "A"!

This year, I hosted my first challenge - The Immigrant Stories Challenge. It was great to see so many readers sharing my passion for immigrant stories and the diversity in books read for the challenge really opened my mind to how the immigrant story can be told. I am hosting again in 2012 - the sign-up page will be up soon. I hope you will consider joining!
 To thank my readers, I am giving away one copy of any of the books I have reviewed since starting the blog. Just leave a comment below with the name of the book you would like and a way to contact you - I will choose a winner next Wednesday 12/21.

Thank you all again and good luck!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal tells the story of Isha Tilak, a young woman living in India with her husband and daughter. As the book opens the Tilaks discover they are expecting a second daughter. Although the news of another daughter brings happiness to Isha and her husband Nikhil, it dismays Nikhil's parents who see another daughter as a burden since the family will ultimately need to pay a dowry to marry the daughter off and they anxiously await a male heir. Along with the Tilak's doctor (yes, you read that right), Nikhil's parents urge the couple to abort their unborn daughter. Isha and Nikhil vehemently refuse and Nikhil is found brutally murdered shortly after the refusal to abort. At this point, Isha's story really begins - she is forced to face her in-laws and life without her husband alone.

Sex selective abortion, although illegal in India, is actually quite prevalent. Long assumed to be more of a problem among the poor, a study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, reveals that sex-selective abortions are rising in the educated, more affluent Indian classes. The Tilaks fit that profile perfectly - they are affluent and educated. After Nikhil's death, Isha really fears for her unborn daughter and knows Nikhil's parents will only treat her as indifferently as they have their first daughter. She is forced to make difficult decisions and face life on her own for the first time in her life. She develops strength she didn't know she had, becomes independent and makes protecting her daughters her ultimate priority.

Isha's story is compelling and I certainly found myself wanting to read more to see how she would overcome all the obstacles placed in her path. In parallel to Isha's growth into an independent woman, the novel also explores the mystery of Nikhil's death. The mystery element also kept me reading. The book is a quick relatively uncomplicated read but tells an important story. Although the issue of sex-selective abortion is the backdrop of the novel, the author does not preach but rather raises awareness about this issue by telling Isha's story and drawing the reader in with interesting characters and a plot that moves. I will definitely be looking for other books by this author

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Virtual Advent: Ornaments from Around The World

My fascination with Christmas ornaments started young - I remember walking around the tree and fingering my favorite ornaments each year. As I grew older and started to decorate my own trees, I had ornaments but few had any special meaning. At that point in my life, I was also traveling extensively for work - I was fortunate enough to visit the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain and many places across the US. I was often tempted to bring home a memento from these countries but was loathe to clutter my small apartment with trinkets. On one visit to Amsterdam just before Christmas, I saw beautiful delft ornaments and an idea was born. I bought those ornaments and then began to buy an ornament in each country or city I visited. The tradition has continued now for more than 10 years and I have amassed quite a collection which reminds me every year of the wonderful places I have been fortunate to visit. Each year I virtually travel as I decorate the tree and the ornaments are often conversation pieces as people inspect my tree and I get to share my travels with them. Unfortunately I will not be putting up a tree this year because I will be out of town over the holidays but I did pull out a small sample of my ornaments to share here.
I am not a fan of Lladro generally but while in Spain I found these porcelain Lladro ornaments that are issued each year and because I went back there over a couple of years, I collected one for each year - some are balls like this one and others are bells.
As I have said here before, Ireland holds a special place in my heart so I had to have an ornament from there - I actually have quite a few but this delicate bell is one of my favorite. It made on bone china from Galway and I think it just looks like traditional Christmas and not at all kitschy.
I found this delicate leaf on a ski trip to Vail. I certainly have ornaments which just have the place name plastered across it but I also like to get ornaments which represent the place and where you have to ask where it is from. This one really sparkles on the tree with lights behind it.
This one from my alma mater was picked up on a visit to campus for my reunion. Williamsburg marks the beginning of the holidays with Grand Illumination which includes fireworks and other colonial holiday traditions. It always coincided with finals so we often missed it but my friends and I went back at Christastime a couple of years ago and enjoyed it without the stress of studying!

These two ornaments are less traditional but represent where I found them. The silk elephant on the left is from Cambodia and I found it in a handicraft shop run by a NGO to benefit and offer jobs to the disabled of Cambodia. Th ornament on the right was picked up in St. Petersburg and is reminiscent of the handmade traditional ornaments of Russia.

I am a bit disappointed that I am not decorating a tree this year but writing this post has given me the chance to enjoy them nonetheless! Thank you to the Virtual Advent crew! Check out their website or all the Virtual Advent posts. Do you have themes for your trees or ornaments with special meaning?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: Where's My Wand? by Eric Poole

Where's My Wand? by Eric Poole is the author's memoir about growing up in the 70's as a young boy who knows he feels different from his peers but hasn't yet realized he is gay - the content of the memoir is nicely summed up in the subtitle "One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting". He (and the rest of the family) live in fear of their neurotic mother who requires that carpet be raked after walking on it to remove any evidence of footprints and who Eric refers to as "General Patton in pedal pushers".  The scenes with his mother are laugh out loud funny and they nicely balance the more poignant moments as Eric faces bullying in school, fear about why he is so different from his peers and anxiety about his parents' constant fighting.

As a young boy, Eric is obsessed with the TV show "Bewitched" (I can relate - I named my baby doll Tabitha after the baby on the show) and especially likes the grandmother Endora; he fashions a cape out of an old bedspread and seeks comfort in the cape whenever things are going awry.  He begins to believe the cape imbues him with magic powers after a few experiences where he makes a wish while in the cape which comes true.  The cape is really a security blanket for Eric and he runs to the basement to secretly wrap himself in it whenever things get tough.  And things do get tough . . .

The entire household is on pins and needles around Eric's mother who has an obsessive need for order and cleanliness (see raking of carpet above) and demands that the family comply with her demands.   Here Eric describes his and his sister's trepidation as they awaited their mother's arrival home from work:
Val and I prepared for the theatrics that often accompanied Mother's nightly return.  Our afternoon attempts to render the house unlived in, free of all traces of human habitation, usually failed on a scale that could not be measured by existing devices, as her screams of frustration, -"GOD IN HEAVENNNN!!" - pierced the evening sky. "WHY, GOD, WHY IS THERE WATER IN THIS SINK?"
These tense scenes send Eric to the basement to wrap himself in the bedspread and try to conjure up the lovely family on "Bewitched" who, although they share his family's fascination with shag carpeting, are free of screaming and fighting.

School offers little refuge  - Eric is an outsider and bullied by the other children and even the teacher doesn't provide much protection.  After a particularly bad day, Eric heads to the basement:

Back in the basement, I visualized that moment, contemplating as much of the humiliation as I could bear. Then - with a dramatic wave of my bedspread-laden arms, I disappeared  . . . to return  to the beginning of the school year.

Transported to the beginning of the year, Eric envisions a teacher who is kind and attentive to him and the absence of Tim, his school bully.  The scenes are described with the author's trademark wit but there is something very sad about a young boy who feels so ostracized at school.

Eric was a boy with a lot on his little shoulders but like every child finding their way to young adulthood he triumphs over so many of his burdens.  And despite his parents' constant fighting and "General Patton's" crazy obsession with cleanliness, Eric is clearly loved and supported by his family.  This memoir is thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly mixes witty humor with poignancy that is so much a part of coming of age.  And it has, perhaps, one of the best titles ever - I think my new mantra may be "Where's My Wand"!

I received a copy of this book to review from Anna at FSB Associates

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ireland Reading Challenge - Completed

Hard to imagine another year has gone by (I feel old every time I say that!) but it has and so has the Ireland Reading Challenge hosted by Carrie at Books and Movies. Ireland holds a special place in my heart - my Mom is from there and I spend a lot of time there with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins when I was growing up.
Kissing the Blarney Stone (credit: Blarney Castle)

So, I love to read a good book (fiction or non) set in the Emerald Isle. I signed up for the challenge at the Kiss the Blarney Stone level (6 books) and read:

  Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney (click for review): This book is set in the rugged West and explores the transgressions against a mother and how those are passed to her son.

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan (click for review): This book chronicles the story of Ellie who leaves Ireland to work in the US at the turn of the century - it follows her adventures and her heartbreak at leaving her love back in Ireland. This is the first in a trilogy and I am anxiously awaiting the next book.

Shannon by Frank Delaney (review to come): I listened to this on audiobook and I think I will listen to all future books by the author on audio - he has a great narration voice and a lilting Irish accent - the perfect companion in the car or while out and about.

An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor (review to come): Another audiobook selection. The accent in this book is a little different because it is from the North but also nice to listen to. The adventures of the crew of Ballybucklebo are heartwarming and the Christmas setting makes it even more so.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy by Elisa Juska (review to come): This author is not Irish but her character does flee to Ireland when she has marital problems. It is a fun story, easy read and uncelebrated find.

O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Christine Breen and Niall Williams (review to come): Christine Breen and her husband Niall Williams leave the bustle of NYC to settle in Christine's great-uncle's homestead in the rural West Clare countryside. The book chronicles their first year in Clare - this book completely charmed me and so much of what they experienced reminds me of my grandparents' home and what we would find when we went "home" for the summer. There are sequels to this book and I cannot wait to get to them!

I already have another pile of books ready for the 2012 Challenge - Carrie will have the sign-up post up soon so drop by and sign up!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2011

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! I spent a lovely day with my parents enjoying Thanksgiving yesterday and even experimented with some gluten-free holiday fare for my first holiday season on a GF diet. There were some things I missed but all in all, I was happy with what I was able to cobble together. I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving treats and spending the day with loved ones!

It is great to have a 5 day weekend - no work and lots of time to read! Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves is hosting the Thankfully Reading weekend which offers a little community for those of reading with the extra spare time this weekend. I love this idea! Like last year, I am using the time to read some books that will help me finish my challenges for the year (help being the operative word because once again there will be some challenges I don't finish - when will I learn?) I made a nice dent today in O Come Ye Back to Ireland by Niall Williams and Christine Breen - I am really enjoying reading about this couple's first year living in rural Ireland after leaving NYC behind for the quiet, country life of the West of Ireland. The book is one of my selections for the Ireland Reading Challenge.

I have a few other books on the docket and hope to get to at least one more - I am also listening to an audiobook which I really enjoyed at the gym today (I usually am a music-only exerciser). A good friend is getting married in Annapolis tomorrow so I am heading down on the train in the morning. It will be good to see my college friends and help the bride and groom celebrate! The train will also afford me some uninterrupted reading time - "uninterrupted" is not guaranteed at home!

Do you have reading planned for the weeekend? What was your favorite part of Thanksgiving Day?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Exposure by Therese Fowler

Exposure by Therese Fowler is centered around the very current topic of "sexting". A young high school couple, Amelia Wilkes and Anthony Winter, are smart, popular and in love. Carefully exploring the physical side of their relationship, they take some naked photos of each other on their phones and share them with each other via text and email. When Amelia's wealthy, over protective father discovers the photos and involves an ambitious DA hoping to make an example of the young adults, things quickly spiral out of control. This book is fast-paced and engaging.

Fowler depicts a community - including the wealthy Wilkes's and the comfortable but struggling to keep up with their wealthier neighbors Winter's - to which many can relate. Both families are raising young adults by trying to give them privileges like a private education in an effort to give them the best start in life. Amelia's father is, in particular, very anxious for his daughter to succeed. The son of an alcoholic mother, Mr. Wilkes had a rough childhood and he became successful as the owner of car dealerships in spite of his lack of education.  Despite this success, he always felt inferior for not having an education and the polish of privilege and he is determined that Amelia will have every advantage.  Meanwhile, Ms. Winter is a single mother who has raised her son Anthony with the support of her parents.  Anthony is able to attend private school because his mother is a teacher at the school.  Amelia and Anthony come from different economic backgrounds but are both essentially "good kids" exploring young love.  As young kids are wont to do, they made some bad choices which had drastic consequences that threaten their futures.

This book is fast-paced and engaging.  As things spiral out of control for Amelia and Anthony, there are unexpected twists and turns which make for good reading.  I did, however, find my patience with the couple beginning to wane at one point.  The first few mistakes they made were understandable and the consequences seemed disproportionate to their intent but after a while I just wanted to shake them both!  I couldn't believe they were willing to completely jeopardize their futures to stay together - I guess I am little too far away from young love to relate!  Despite that quibble, I enjoyed the book and would recommend.

Interestingly, the book was inspired by an event in the author's son's life.  In an interview with the author,  Fowler did not detail the specifics of the event but did say her heretofore well-behaved son came to her one day and admitted he had made a mistake and was going to be arrested.  This personal experience is likely what lent the realism to the "ripped from the headlines" novel - this realism makes the book a success because you can imagine easily being caught in a similar situation

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Audiobook Review: 40 Love by Madeline Wickham

40 Love by Madeleine Wickham (aka Sophie Kinsella)
Unabridged; Macmillan Audio
Released: August 30, 2011
Length: 7 hours, 19 minutes
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

40 Love is a light comedy which exposes four couples and what drives them to succeed in the climb up the social ladder. They all gather for a weekend at the country home of Caroline and Patrick Chance and the feature event of the weekend is a tennis tournament - how very English! Each couple is at a different place on the social ladder - Patrick and Caroline are quite well-off thanks to Patrick's healthy salary in investment banking; Don and his daughter Valerie are also comfortable but Valerie still works hard for a living to the point that she has ignored her personal life; Charles and Cressida are at the zenith of the social ladder thanks to Cressida's inheritance which Charles has happily lived off since they were married; Stephen and Annie are the most down to earth of the group - Stephen is pursuing his doctorate and the couple live modestly while he is only on a stipend. As the couples compete on the tennis court, they also compete in terms of who has more and how they can try to surpass each other. As the weekend progresses, each person reveals a little of themselves and it is clear these couples are not completely honest with their spouses or the group about their finances. Everyone is so desperate to reach the next rung on the ladder that they make ill-advised decisions and get into petty squabbles with each other. When Charles's ex arrives, things really get interesting - and the ill-advised decisions continue. In a story like this, there is a risk that the characters would be very unlikeable but Wickham reveals the humanity in each character which makes them likable despite their foibles. My favorite couple is Stephen and Annie - they lack pretension and although they desire more money, they want it for the right reason and are not merely trying to best their friends.

The story is one big romp which keep things light and funny. Wickham's trademark humor and pacing definitely works in this book. Katherine Kellgren does an excellent job of narrating this book - she changes her inflection just enough with each character so that the listener can differentiate them. I just love a British accent so I found her easy to listen to. If you are looking for a lighthearted, amusing listen, 40 Love is for you!

I received a copy of the audiobook from Audiobook Jukebox.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Mailbox: November 14, 2011

After touring different blogs for the past few months, Mailbox Monday is hosted this month at the dedicated blog for the meme. Here's what came into my house since I last posted a Mailbox Monday:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett for book club this month. I have started reading it and it is as good as everyone has said!

Swim Back To Me by Ann Packer from a good friend. We were in a book club together and read Dive From Clausen's Pier so she thought I would like this short story collection from the same author.

London Under by Peter Ackroyd was a twitter win from Doubleday Publishers

From Netgalley:
Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Lee - this collection of stories will let me meet the "jewel" category of the What's In A Name 4 challenge - yahoo!

E-book from #earlyread sponsored by Random House: Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie. At 656 pages, this has me a bit intimidated!  

 What came into your home this week?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross

The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross tells the story of Clementine, one sister of a triplet set of girls. She, however, is the odd one out because her sisters are fraternal twins and always seem much more connected to each other than either is to Clementine. With a scandal involving her father brewing in the background, Clementine explores her "otherness" and tries to figure out not only where she fits in the world but also in her own family.

The book opens with the revelation that Clementine's father is mysteriously missing; Clementine and her twin sisters, Odette and Olivia, alternate between imagining worst case scenarios like their Dad is dead in the street somewhere and suspicion of him and where he might be. It is clear the women - even Odette and Olivia who seem closer to their father and are certainly fulfilling his expectation that they follow in his footsteps with a career in medicine - distrust their father. The family crisis of their father's disappearance instigates an examination by Clementine of her life as an outsider within her own family. Although the three girls are close and can sometimes read each other's minds in the way multiples often report, Olivia and Odette are much more in sync than either sister is with Clementine. Here, Clementine remembers this special connection even present in childhood:
Twins-and triplets, for that matter- understand each other in ways other people can't . . . When we were little and played duck-duck-goose, three of us enough to make games fun -no need for schoolmates, we were a class all by ourselves - Odette and Olivia knew whom they would goose, when even I didn't know which sister I'd pick to chase me in the circle, to put me in the pot. In a way, my own secret language with my sisters was to see their couplehood in a way no one else could. It didn't seem fair that my gift was related to their relationship, when their gifts were related to each other. No one was my doppelganger.
The lack of a doppelganger and what it means to Clementine's sense of self pervades other areas of her life. She struggles in her relationship with her father. She wants to step out of the mold her father has cast for all three girls. Unlike her two sisters who attended Harvard, Clementine shuns the Ivy League and attends Oberlin. She doesn't want to pursue medicine - Olivia and Odette become doctors- but decides to apply to vet school. Her refusal to conform to her father's expectations despite his attempts to control her with his money creates a tension in their relationship and further separates Clementine from her family. Clementine also struggles in her romantic relationships. She is haunted by the memory of her relationship with her college boyfriend and no one can seem to measure up. She is very close to her friend Eli and their relationship has potential to become romantic but that also is not easy for Clementine. By contrast, her two sisters are married and both expecting their first child. Again, their is a "differentness" in Clementine and she just doesn't seem to navigate the world as easily as her sisters.

This book is very rich - the characters are well drawn and their relationships with each other are thoroughly explored. In addition, the thread of the missing father adds intrigue to the story and I found myself wanting to know what had happened and what family secrets would be revealed. I was fascinated by Clementine's relationship with her family - especially her father; the family dynamic scenes were definitely my favorite. I had more difficulty relating to her romantic challenges and wanted to tell her "to get on with it". If you enjoy a book that centers on family dynamics and how they shape its members as their head out into the world, The Orphan Sister is for you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger

A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger tells the story of Lucy, a young professor in her thirties who has recently lost her friend, Harlan, to cancer. Before dying, he set up a series of emails to arrive in her inbox in the months following his death - in these emails he delivers advice to his friend and speaks things previously unsaid between the two. When he tells Lucy she would make a wonderful mother, Lucy begins exploring adoption and begins her journey to motherhood. This beautiful story is a about Lucy's loss of Harlan and the insight be delivers in these emails and about her experience trying to adopt and bond with a young boy; but more than all that it is about Lucy's self-discovery and how both the loss of Harlan and the process of getting her son drive that self-discovery.

Lucy's relationship with Harlan is interesting in that it is told almost completely in reflection - Harlan dies right at the beginning of the book so his character and relationship with Lucy is told as she looks back on their time together and feels the loss of his death. Their relationship is firmly in the "friend" category but it veers at times towards a more romantic place which helps to explain why their relationship - and therefore his postmortem advice- has such a powerful impact on Lucy. It is almost as if this tremendous loss and the advice from her trusted friends propels her life forward at time when she is otherwise "stuck". Her desire to become a mother is crystallized when Harlan emails that he feels she is destined for motherhood and so she begins the adoption process.

The book really has two main threads - Lucy's relationship with Harlan and then her road to adopt and the relationship with her adoptive son. They are obviously linked in that Harlan essentially prompts her move to adopt. In facing the challenges of a foreign adoption, Lucy relies on much of what she has learned about herself from facing Harlan's illness and loss. Of course, motherhood brings a host of new realizations. For example, after the difficult trip home from Russia with her newly adopted son, Lucy leaves her carry-on unattended in the airport when she suddenly realizes she has lost sight of her son in the chaos of the baggage claim area. When she has found her son, a woman comments to Lucy that she shouldn't leave her bag unattended:
 Lucy had almost nothing left, just a shallow well of shame to berate herself for losing track of the one thing she would always-always - have to remember.
Clearly, leaving her bag unattended was the least of her problems and the enormity of being someone's mother hit her.

A Watershed Year is beautifully written and moves very quickly. Even though Lucy is reflecting and discovering, the story is not necessarily told from inside Lucy's head but instead in dialogue and action. In addition to being so well written and to moving quickly with a likable main character, this book is thought provoking (which makes it an excellent choice for bookclubs). I found myself considering a number of things after finishing this novel - what would it take to spur me to take action on certain areas of my life? Would it take the loss of someone close to make me consider what I really wanted and what I was willing to do to get it? What messages would l leave for someone close to me?  

How might you answer some of these questions?

You can read other reviews of this book by checking out the blogs on the TLC Book Tour and also read more about the author (including what sparked the idea for the novel) on Susan Schoenberger's website.  

Thank you to Trish from TLC Book Tours for including me on the tour and for providing a review copy of this book.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Salon: November 6, 2011

The Sunday

Today was a great day in the city - it's Marathon Sunday! The New York City Marathon took place today and spectators were out in force to cheer the more than 40,000 runners. I am lucky enough to have friends with an apartment right across from the 59th Street Bridge - they hosted a party and we had a great view of the runners as they crossed the bridge from Queens to Manhattan (about Mile 16). We enjoyed mimosas, bloody mary's and assorted brunch items while cheering the runners. I did head out onto 1st avenue so I could cheer for them from beside the course - I know how much cheering means to the runners! Here are some pics from the day:
59th Street Bridge
View of Runners From Party Location
Some bunnies (um, runners) hamming it up
Rounding the corner of 1st Avenue (catch the guy on left all in yellow)
In Case You Missed It

The Next 15 Minutes by Kim Kircher  This memoir chronicles the author's experience waiting for a liver transplant.  Kim Kircher is a ski patroller who uses her experience from the slopes to help her cope with the rollercoaster of her husband's health crisis.  The memoir is remarkably well written and will appeal to outdoor enthusiasts but also to those that just enjoy an inspiring, realistic read.

Falling for Me by Anna David Anna David spends a year following the advice of the iconic Helen Gurley Brown as she tries to find love (or least a sustained relationship) in the city.  This memoir hit close to home in many places but the author's wit kept things light enough for an enjoyable read. She discovers the secret to finding a man is not learning to roast a chicken or the right clothes but loving herself first.  Simple enough advice but not always so easy to do. 

I have been on a memoir kick recently but I want to give it a rest since I am a  voting member in the Biography/Memoir category of the  Indie Lit Awards.  Have you voted for your favorite books published in 2011 in this or any of the other categories?  There is still time - nominations are open until December 31st - but why not stop by today and nominate some of your favorites?

The giveaway for Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire ends tomorrow.  Enter for a chance to win!

Hope you all had a great weekend!