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
<div align="center"><a href="" title="Books in the City"><img src="" alt="Books in the City" style="border:none;" /></a></div>
Books in the City
<div align="center"><a href="" title="Books in the City"><img src="" alt="Books in the City" style="border:none;" /></a></div>
Books in the City
<div align="center"><a href="" title="Books in the City"><img src="" alt="Books in the City" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

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