Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Giveaway: One Day Prize Pack

Earlier this year I read One Day by David Nicholls (Review here) - I enjoyed this story of romance and friendship so I was excited to hear that the book has been made into a movie by the same name.  The movie debuts in theatres in the US on August 19th and stars Anne Hathaway as Em and Jim Sturgess as Dex.  Here is a peek at the movie:

Through the generosity of Focus Features, I have a great giveaway to offer to 2 winners:

 Each prize pack includes:
  • Autographed copy of One Day (paperback movie tie-in version)
  • Clear cosmetic case
  • Necklace
  • One Day Moleskine journal
Just complete the form below to enter.  US Entrants Only
I will select winners on Wednesday, July 27 via  Good Luck!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Guest Post: Kate Kerrigan, author of Ellis Island

I am pleased to welcome author Kate Kerrigan to Books in the City.  Kate is the author of Ellis Island: A Novel (my review here).  She graciously agreed to write this guest post on immigration and what it has meant in her life.  

Growing up Irish in London, England in the 1970’s was a cultural identity minefield.
My parents were both school teachers, educated and bookish with Irish republican sensibilities. I remember my sister coming home from school one day and innocently asking my mother; “Mum – are we posh or are we common?”
My mother replied; “If anyone should be rude enough to ask - you can tell them we are ‘Educated Irish.’”
Ballina, Co. Mayo (credit: Belleek Park)
Looking back now, it was equally as snobbish a distinction, but even as a young child I grabbed onto the notion. I was already confused about my true national identity.
Because my parents were teachers we enjoyed two-month holidays in Ireland every year. In my mother’s home-town of Ballina, County Mayo we stayed with our grandmother and hung out with the neighbours’ children. We went to discos’ and ceilidhs – I had my first kiss on the bridge crossing the Rover Moy with a heartbreakingly handsome young man called Eammon Rooney. But still, we were “the English kids” with our hee-haw accents and our strangely fashionable clothes. We hung out with the local kids, but were never quite accepted as local ourselves. My parents and grandparents were Irish born and bred, their brogue was intact – their history, but we, their children, bore the stigma of their having abandoned ship. They left Ireland – not for the glamour and affluence of our friends in America – but for the traitorous advantages on offer from our oppressors, the English.
The 70’s and 80’s was a bad time to be Irish in Britain with republican paramilitary groups – the IRA and terrorist offshoots – blowing up nightclubs and department stores. “If an Irish person who seems to have a lot of cash moves into your area,” signs on the London underground warned, “call this number,” with a hotline to the special police unit set up for people to report on their Irish neighbours. My politically motivated teenage years were spent keeping my mouth shut about my strong opinions on what I saw as the continued occupation of my parents’ homeland by the English. I did not agree on the planting of bombs in London. As a young woman I narrowly missed being inside Harrods of Knightsbridge when it was attacked and the blast blew in the windows of the hairdressing salon where I was working, but at the same time I knew more about the history and ongoing social injustice and politics that were leading this illegal call to arms.
Eventually, I moved to Ireland. Other people went abroad on holidays – we always went ‘home’. As a young adult, I spent all of my vacation time in my mother’s home in Ballina, County Mayo.   I always said I moved to Ireland so I could start holidaying abroad!
The truth was far more complicated. I always felt more Irish than English and had always harboured a desire to live in the place my parents left. One of my sisters feels the same and followed me over here with her family, the other sister and our brother (who died, in London two years ago, God Rest His Soul) are Londoners through and through, and mystified by my desire to live here. They see themselves as Londoners, with Irish parents – which, in effect, is what we all were bought up to be. But it was never enough for me. I wanted to be properly Irish – somehow the English angle never computed in my soul.
Ellis Island: A NovelI have been living in Ireland for twenty years now. I married a Dubliner, and we have two Irish boys with soft, sing-song accents. We live a few miles from my mother’s native Ballina in a fishing village called Killala in a house overlooking the sea. We burn bog-turf and bake soda-bread and have the radio tuned to R.T.E. For all that, I still speak with the North London accent I grew up with and am still, for all my family history in this area – if not a ‘blow-in’ (the name given to foreign residents) at least a “Plastic Paddy”.  However, I am generally considered a wholly Irish writer and I won’t bend on that point.  My latest offering, Ellis Island, is the first of a trilogy and deals with the question of identity and moral values that I find myself constantly drawn to as a writer.
So for all my efforts to fit in do I feel truly Irish now? The answer is – yes and no and either way it doesn’t matter to me any more. The greatest thing my emigrant identity has given me is enough interest to question and explore the influences of my parent’s background on my life and, in turn, the political and social circumstances that influenced their lives.  Had they stayed in Ireland, and I had been born and educated here, perhaps I would not have had the questioning spirit that led me to become a writer? Would I have had the ‘outsiders’ view of the savage beauty of the landscape– the fresh ear for the odd vernacular, the curiosity to ask questions? Maybe. More importantly through living and writing in Ireland as the “pretender” to an Irish identity – I have learned that the personal path of the second generation emigrant carves it’s own peculiar place in a country’s history that is no less important that the people who were born there. 

Thank you Kate for sharing your unique experience and perspective.  We too always went "home" to Ireland each summer and I still get a little thrill when I visit now and a friend or family member says "You are welcome home".  If you like Immigrant Stories, you won't be disappointed by Ellis Island: A Novel!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Sunday Salon: July 17 2011

It has been over a month since I last wrote a Sunday Salon post - with the warm summer weather and weekend activities, my blogging has been flagging.  I am trying to remedy that by getting a little ahead this weekend.   Perhaps because I feel overwhelmed as it is, I am loathe to sign up for another social media site (although I am loving Twitter) so I have resisted the draw to Tumblr and Google +.  I have decided that these outlets will need to replace one of my existing social media options before I sign-up.  I am, however on the verge of setting up a Facebook page for Books in the City.  Do you have a FB page for your blog?  Do you find it difficult to keep up with the many social media options? 

In case you missed it,  I have posted some reviews lately (click on book title to see review):

Ellis Island: A Novel Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan: This immigrant story about a young woman from Ireland who leaves her love behind when she emigrates to NY to earn the family some much needed money is an inspiring story about determination and independence.  The author, Kate Kerrigan, will be guest posting here tomorrow.  She writes about her experience living as the daughter of immigrants in England.  Stop by tomorrow!

Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth

Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth by Mika Brzezinski: This relatively short (4 hours) audiobook by the co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe offers sage advice for women on how to understand their worth in the workplace and ensure their pay is equal to their male counterparts.  She has esteemed women and men in business, entertainment and politics (including Valerie Jarret, Donald Trump and Nora Ephron) share their personal stories about lessons they learned about getting what they were worth in the workplace.

The Very Thought of You: A NovelThe Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison is a quiet, moving story centered around the experience of a young girl evacuated from London during WWII.  It is really a story about love in all its forms - parental love, romantic love and the love between a husband and wife.  The characters in this book will haunt me for some time. 

The Girl in the Garden
The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair.  This beautiful story about a young girl who returns to India for a summer with mother unravels a family mystery bit by bit and kept me anxiously reading for more.  There is an echo of  The Secret Garden in this captivating novel. 

What have you been reading recently?  Have a great week!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Ellis Island: A Novel                          In Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan, we are introduced to Ellie Hogan, a young woman raised in rural Ireland, who leaves her homeland and husband to emigrate to the United States where she hopes to earn money to pay for an operation needed by her husband.  Headstrong, plucky Ellie faces many challenges when she arrives in NY but soon finds herself settling into her new life.  But she also misses her husband, John, and has to decide how she can have all her new life promises and the man she has loved since she was a young girl.

As neighbors, Ellie and John Hogan are playmates- they run through the fields and climb trees in their rural Ireland until eventually their friendship grows into something more serious.  Against Ellie's parents' wishes, they elope when Ellie is just eighteen.  When John is injured while fighting in Ireland's civil war, Ellie takes matters into her own hands and decided to move to the US for a year to make money to pay for John's operation. Once there, she overcomes her initial challenges fitting into a new world and begins to flourish.  Suddenly, she is pulled between two worlds - one in which she is self-sufficient and allowed some luxuries in life and one in which living is difficult without any modern conveniences but where she is with the man she loves.

I enjoy books with a theme of immigration and on that front this novel obviously delivers (the title really gives that away!) but there is much more to the book than an immigrant's story.  In fact, the novel is really about the immigrant herself - it is Ellie's story.  We see her as a headstrong young girl who chafes against her humorless, conservative parents and then as a young wife to a man committed to fighting for his country's freedom.  When she heads to NY, her headstrong ways hold her in good stead as she plucks up the courage to challenge the head of servants at the home in which she works as maid.  Unlike many immigrants, she is not easily taken advantage of and she is able to assert herself and get what she deserves.  We really only see the softer side of Ellie when she writes to and thinks of John - she is torn between her love for him and the independent life she has made for herself in NY.  Although set in the early 1900's, Ellie faces a dilemma faced by many modern women - she tries to find the balance between the independence wrought by hard work and self sufficiency with the comfort of a domestic life with the man she loves.

This novel was so enjoyable to read - it is very rich in detail so that we truly get a peek into Ellie's world.  In addition to Ellie and John's stories, there are so many characters that surround them from John's parents, Paud and Maidy to Ellie's friends in NY,  Sheila and Emilie.  A little bit is told of each of their stories so that you become immersed in Ellie's life.  In addition, the rugged beauty of rural Ireland is well sketched as is the glamour of NY at the turn of the century.  If you enjoy historical fiction or stories about strong women, this book is for you!  The best news is that there is more Ellie to come - this book is the first in a trilogy.

Author Kate Kerrigan was born and raised in London by Irish parents.  After living and working in England as a magazine journalist, Kate returned to Ireland and ultimately settled in the West of Ireland (up Mayo!) near her mother's hometown.  Kate will be guest posting on my blog on Monday and will talk about her own experience of being first generation and the child of immigrants.  Please come back then!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Immigrant Stories ala Europa Editions

Have you heard of the Europa Challenge?  This unique challenge asks participants to commit to reading books from Europa Editions   - a publisher of literary fiction.   In fact, 2/3 of their titles are works of literature in translation.  With this international influence, it is not surprising that many of their titles also include the theme of immigration/emigration.  In keeping with my interest in Immigrant Stories ,  my focus for the Europa Challenge will be their books with an immigrant theme which include:

 Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio: A small culturally mixed community living an apartment building in the center of Rome is thrown into disarray when one of the neighbors is murdered. An investigation ensues and as each of the victim’s neighbors is questioned, the reader is offered an all-access pass into the most colorful neighborhood in contemporary Rome. Each character takes his or her turn center-stage, “giving evidence,” recounting his or her story—the dramas of emigration, the daily equivocations of immigration, the fears and misunderstandings of a life spent on society’s margins, abused by mainstream culture’s fears and indifference, preconceptions and insensitivity. What emerges is a touching story that is common to us all, whether we live in Rome or in Los Angeles.

The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris:   This exhilarating novel about tradition and modernity, obligation and emancipation, also speaks to what it means to live in a heterogeneous society where cultures and ideologies often clash. With this portrait of a man balanced between two cultures—liberated and successful but nonetheless conditioned by religion, family, and an overbearing mother—Le├»la Marouane establishes herself as an original and talented chronicler of modern man’s inhibitions and taboos.

Between Two Seas: With the exuberance of innocence and childlike urgency, the story of Heumann’s fame and Bellusci’s obsession is told through the eyes of Florian—the two men’s grandson, a child of two countries and two cultures that are often at odds, and the unlikely heir to his Italian grandfather’s obsession.

Broken Glass Park :
The heroine of this engrossing and thoroughly contemporary novel is seventeen-year-old Sascha Naimann. Sascha was born in Moscow, but now lives in Berlin with her two younger siblings and, until recently, her mother. She is precocious, independent, street-wise, and, since her stepfather murdered her mother several months ago, an orphan. . . . Germany’s Freundin Magazine called Broken Glass Park “a gripping portrayal of life on the margins of society.” But Sascha’s story does not remain on the margins; it goes straight to the heart of what it means to be young, alive, and conscious in these first decades of the new century.

Bone China: A beautifully crafted story of hope and survival set in Sri Lanka and England that will appeal to all readers of White Teeth and The Inheritance of Loss.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine: Rosa is quick to broker a deal that will guarantee all three women a passage out of the Soviet Union. But as soon as they are settled in the West, the uproariously dysfunctional ties that bind mother, daughter and grandmother begin to fray.

Told with sly humor and an anthropologist’s eye for detail, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the story of three unforgettable women whose destinies are tangled up in a family dynamic that is at turns hilarious and tragic. In her new novel, Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives readers a moving portrait of the devious limits of the will to survive.

I like the fact that these books cover emigration to countries other than the US which is a change from many of the other books I have read for the challenge. So, if you are a participant in the Immigrant Stories Challenge, consider Europa Editions for some of your selections and join in the Europa Challenge!

If immigrant stories are not your thing, never fear - there are over 100 books in the Europa catalog covering a variety of topics - I am sure there is one in there for you!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Audiobook Review: Knowing Your Value by Mika Brzezinski

Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're WorthKnowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth by Mika Brzezinski; read by Coleen Marlo. This book is an interesting combination of memoir, sociological study and manifesto; Mika Brezezinski, co-host of Morning Joe, shares her struggles for equal pay, explores the data regarding pay discrepancies between men and women, and has successful women and men from a variety of fields offer their anecdotes and advice.  The result is an engaging audiobook which gives you something to consider regarding your place in the workforce and the value others, but most importantly you, place on it.

Mika Brzenzinski opens her book by revealing that, despite a successful career in TV news, she struggled to make ends meet each month and was grossly underpaid in many of the jobs she held.  As she joined Joe Scarborough on the new show, Morning Joe, she found her niche and was energized by her work.  However, the work was never ending as she spent many hours off camera trying to secure guests and preparing for the next day's show.  She wasn't bothered by this extra work until she learned her co-host was earning 14 times her salary!  It was then that she started to examine where she had gone wrong in the salary negotiation game throughout her career and she amassed advice and data on how to navigate a workforce with entrenched inequities between men and women.  Below are a few lessons I learned from the author and her famous guests including Nora Ephron, Donnie Deutsch, Cheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Valerie Jarrett (Senior Advisor to President Obama):

  1. Saying you have been "lucky" diminishes your value: Many women - and I count myself among them - will say they have been "lucky" when asked about success in their career.  By attributing success to luck as opposed to your skills, you devalue you own worth.
  2. Never be apologetic when asking for a raise: You must negotiate from a place of strength and a true understanding of your value to the organization or team.  If you apologize for asking for a raise, you give your boss an "out" and they immediately question if you deserve the raise when you feel the need to apologize for the imposition. Also, you don't "need" the raise because of extraneous issues in your personal life (children or elderly parents to care for) but you deserve the raise because of the value you bring to the team.
  3. Behave authentically: Although some of the pay discrepancies between men and women can be attributed to their different styles and approaches, you must still conduct yourself in a way in which you are comfortable and "fits"  you.  Adopting the brash, outspoken style of a male colleague may not be successful for you -especially if you are visibly uncomfortable.
  4. Do your research: Understand how much people are paid in your role at your own company but also at competitors.  You can't negotiate if you don't know how much the market will bear. Men are often very comfortable discussing salaries and therefore have the inside track on how much they should be paid.  By being reticent to discuss money, women often hurt themselves in the salary department.
  5. Hard work is not enough:  Women often diligently assume tasks men would not and think this will be recognized but without self-promotion it goes unnoticed.  Women may not be comfortable with self-promotion but it is necessary in order to get what you deserve.  I have seen this first hand and have finally accepted that hard work and results won't always speak for themselves.
This audiobook, at just over 4 hours, is the perfect length for this topic - it allowed for the inclusion of varied anecdotes from contributors and a smattering of research and data on pay inequity.  A more in-depth examination of the research would have been tedious while the amount the author did include provided the right context for the points she made.  I recommend listening to this (or reading the book) before you go into your boss's office to ask for your next raise!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

The Very Thought of You: A NovelThe Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison is set in England during the Second World War.  Anna Sands, a young girl living in London, is evacuated from the city along with other children and moved to the countryside where it is hoped the children will be safe from the bombings taking place in the city.  Anna is relocated to the Ashton Estate in the Yorkshire countryside; Elizabeth and Thomas Ashton, a childless couple, have opened their estate to the evacuees where they educate and care for the youngsters.  This haunting war time novel chronicles the suffering during the war but also the impact of the war time experience for years to come.

There is an obvious theme of separation in The Very Thought of You as the children live away from their parents and homes but separation pervades this novel and taints almost all relationships between the characters; in fact, the quote below very accurately sums up the novel:  
"one long story of separation, just as Wordsworth had said.  From people, from places, from the past you could never quite reach even as you lived it"
Many characters have been shattered by loss and and are separated both literally and metaphorically from those they love.  It is as if they are outsiders observing their lives and desperately wanting to participate but they are held back by their inability to express love freely - an emotional stunting arising from pasts filled with too much loneliness and tragedy.  Thomas suffered the loss of siblings to disease and WWI and the following is said about its effect upon him:
Thomas felt he had been cut off at the roots.  In the months that followed, he grew oddly estranged from himself. A profound detachment separated him from hope, and his heart was numbed, leaving him distanced from the quick of his feelings.
And this quote referring to the children - the evacuees:
Yet none of these consolations could staunch the Christmas-night tears in the dormitories. The remembrance of home, of mothers, of fathers. The emotional wasteland of their lives without them.  It would take years for many of them to dare to love again.
The characters experience different losses and are changed in different ways by loss but all suffer from this chronic detachment.

My thoughts
I have seen this book referred to as a love story but I prefer to call it a story about love.  It covers marital love, parental love and romantic love but is less about the love story itself and more about the characters' difficulty with love.  There are glimpses of the redemptive power of love but they are only glimpses - the theme of unrequited love is much more dominant which lends a melancholy tone to the book.  For that reason, I felt the book was the perfect length - long enough to appreciate the history that frames the novel and long enough for some therapeutic wallowing in the sadness that defines the novel but not so long as to plunge you into a depression over the aching loss experienced by the characters.  Furthermore, the writing is excellent (hence all the quotes in this review) and I thought the author beautifully captured the emotions and at times, lack thereof, experienced by her characters.  I will not soon forget the characters or their haunting stories.