Saturday, April 28, 2012

Saturday Snapshot April 28, 2012

Alyce of At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot and asks participants to post any photo (just no random photos you found online). Stop by and see what others have posted!

 In the fall, some friends and I took a walking tour of Greenwich Village and, although I had seen much of what was on the tour over the years I have lived here, Grove Court was a surprise.  This cul-de-sac has a line of federal style homes set back from the street and behind a gate.  You can read more about the history of the spot at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Audiobook Review: Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok offers a heartbreaking look at the immigrant experience through the eyes of 11 year old Kim Chang and her mother. Kim and her mother leave Hong Kong and arrive in Brooklyn, NY where they live in an unheated, roach infested apartment and work long, grueling hours in a factory (sweatshop) making skirts. As the book progresses, Kim comes of age, assimilates to her new land and makes her way through some grim circumstances. She does it all, however, with a grace and resilience which is well beyond her years.

Kim and her mother arrive in New York thanks to the “charity” of Kim’s aunt and mother’s older sister. She sponsors her sister and niece but totes up what they owe her for the cost of their flights, visas, etc and takes it from the meager salary paid to Kim’s mom at the factory - including interest. After working long days in the factory, Kim’s mother returns home to their apartment and tries to keep herself and Kim warm in the apartment without heat. Despite the literally cold welcome from her sister, Mrs. Chang respects her sister and refuses to challenge her or express dissatisfaction with the conditions of the apartment or the her work at the factory. Young Kim feels differently but stays quiet at the behest of her mother. Even this early, Kim’s toughness shines through and it is obvious she knows she and her mom have a place in this world and deserve to be treated better.

Kim’s mother knows that education will allow Kim to take advantage of all America offers and she does what she can to prioritize school for Kim. My heart nearly broke as Kim, 11 years old and only in the US for a few days, parted ways with her mom at the subway as she headed off to her first day of school all by herself. Still speaking broken English, she navigated to her classroom where she endured the disdain of her teacher and the taunts of her classmates. After the ordeal of her first day at school was over, she got back on the subway and headed to the factory to help her mother. Because payment is made by the piece, they need Kim’s contributions after school to make enough to survive. Some nights they get home well past 10pm and Kim still needs to do homework for school the next day. The single comfort is that Kim and her mom sustain each other through these long, often demoralizing days.

Always a good student, Kim struggles initially in the US as she tries to learn the language. But soon she is excelling and is offered the chance to attend an elite private school thanks to a scholarship. Again, my heart broke, as Kim traveled to the school alone for her interview because her mother had to work in the factory due to a shipment going out that night. Faced with this opportunity, Kim worries about things most children never have to consider - how will she and her mother afford the clothes required to meet the dress code? Perhaps having to concern herself with these basics allowed her to weather the larger concerns like fitting in with an affluent student body and navigating the offers from classmates to go to their homes after school when she knew she could never let them see her apartment without heat and crawling with roaches.

Despite these obvious obstacles, Kim develops into a young woman with a strong sense of self and rises above tough circumstances. She is an endearing character with a strength that emanates from the page (or in my case, through the headphones). Girl in Translation is a reminder of what so many endure when they come to a new land and the focus with which they work to make their lives better. Seen through the eyes of a child, the immigrant experience is often heartbreaking but also laced with such hope for all that is to come as they reap the benefits of the sacrifice made by their families.

I listened to this on audio and it is excellent. The book is read by Gracye Wey and her touch of an Asian accent is perfect for the now adult Kim relating her story. It was an easy story to follow on audio and the narrator brought scenes with dialogue to life.

Books in the City
This is a selection for my challenge Immigrant Stories. JoV at Book Pyramid also reviewed this book for the challenge - you can see her review here. I especially like what she calls “the skirt metric” - it is heartbreaking but very apt.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins

In Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins, we meet Parker Welles who is a single mom to Nicky and an author of popular children’s books. She donates the profits from her book to charity because she is very well supported by her Dad’s fortune and lives comfortably in the mansion in which she was raised. Despite her financial security, Parker is down to earth and unaffected by the trappings of her family’s wealth. Everything changes dramatically when Parker’s father loses the family fortune and his assets are seized. Parker has to promptly vacate the mansion and is at a loss for what to do next to provide a home for her son Nicky. Fortunately, her Dad informs her that her Aunt Julia had left her a home in Maine which is not subject to the seizure of assets so she heads there with the intention of putting it on the market and taking the profits to purchase a place in the town near the mansion so Nicky can stay in his school. She only has the summer to pull it off.

When she arrives at the house, she sees this is not going to be as easy as planned - the house is more of a dilapidated shack. Parker quickly realizes that she is going to have to do ALOT of work if she is going to be able to sell this house before the summer is over. Parker’s Dad has sent his “second in command” to help Parker - James is attractive, intelligent and fortunately knows his way around a toolbox. But Parker isn’t thrilled to see him - they have a history and she resents this help from her father. As she warms up to his being there, however, sparks between to fly between James and Parker and the summer gets a lot more interesting.

My Thoughts
This is the second book by Kristan Higgins (review of My One and Only) which I have read and once again I am impressed by the female protagonists she writes. Parker is complex - she appears very composed and secure but slowly her vulnerability and the events that have shaped her are revealed and you realize that her composure is somewhat of a facade. Of course, the crumbling of this facade needs to happen for her romance with James to take root so as you see more of who Parker really is you also follow the twists and turns of her dance with James. This is definitely a fun, quick read that I recommend for your summer beach bag!

I have one copy of this book to give away - please leave a comment below with a way to contact you.  I will select the winner via  on Monday April 30th.  US only, please

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Salon: April 22, 2012

The Sunday

Greetings from a rainy New York City - it has been steadily raining since late last night (I got caught out in the downpour last night) and I have not ventured outside all day. It has been a great day of catching up on laundry, cooking and reading since I was traveling for most of this week.

 I was in Denver for three days for a business trip - the meeting was quite good and I had fun with my colleagues. But the best part of my visit was the trip to Tattered Cover Bookstore in downtown Denver. As soon as I heard about this trip to Denver, I knew I wanted to see the bookstore. It can sometimes be hard to fit any downtime in around meetings, catching up on work and required "social" activities. However, two things worked in my favor - the Tattered Cover location in LoDo opens at 6:30 AM and I was on NY time so getting up early was a cinch. I was able to make the 25 minute walk to the store from my hotel before the day started. What a store! It has beautiful wood floors and displays of books dotted amongst the shelves of books spread over two floors. They also have a great cafe with a big assortment of snacks and items for breakfast and lunch, including many gluten-free items. I was able to get a gluten-free breakfast burrito and latte which I took to one of the many tables in the store and enjoyed while I perused some books. I, of course, picked up three books. They are pictured below along with two others I picked up on a second trip I made to the store before going home! This book thing is an addiction . . . .

 In Case You Missed It
 Here are a couple of the posts since my last Sunday Salon . . .

Review of Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green
First installment of Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie) read a long

Finally, a winner!
The winner of a copy of Jane Green's Another Piece of My Heart is Debbie from A Library of Our Own! Congratulations Debbie, look out for an email from me!

Stop by this coming week for a review and chance to win Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins  
Hope you all have a great week!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Book 1)

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is a two time winner of the Booker Prize and just a little intimidating (to me at least).  I started the book last year and, although captivated by it, I also found it tough going at times.  So, when I heard about a read-a-long hosted by Arti of Ripple Effects and Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza I thought this would be a great way to break the book down into small parts and finish it. The novel is broken into three "books" which divides nicely for a read-a-long.  First up,  

Book One:
In book one, we meet our narrator Saleem Sinai who tells of his birth on August 15, 1947  - the day India gained its independence from Britain. The novel parallels the history of India and many pivotal moments in the book, such as Saleem's birth, coincide with great moments in world or Indian history.  After recounting the story of his birth, Saleem takes us back to the story of his grandfather, Aadam in Kashmir.  Aadam falls in love with Naseem and their bizarre courtship takes place through a hole in a sheet (this, of course, has symbolic meaning). Saleem continues with the story, at the urging of his wife Padma, and fast forwards to 1942 when his grandparents are living in Agra with their five children.   Three of the five children are girls and are pursued by suitors.  Ahmed Sinai marries Aadam's daughter Mumtaz and she will ultimately give birth to Saleem on the birthday of modern India.

I have significantly skimmed the storyline in the summary above essentially only providing a sketch. The book is multilayered and the stories so fantastic it is impossible to get into too much of the plot without making a summary confusing.  Suffice it to say, there is a lot going on in Book One.  Saleem tells his story in an unedited style and it seems rushed at times - almost as if he needs to get the story out.  This style lends itself to a lot of detail and jumps forward and backward in time.  It does take some getting used to but by the end of Book One I have adjusted to it.

Overall, I am impressed by the many threads Rushdie has weaved together in the story so far and am looking forward to seeing what happens to those threads as we move into Book Two.  The image below of an Indian wall hanging reminds me of this novel - rich with detail and deeply layered.

 You can read more recaps of Book One from the read a long participants at Arti's or Bellezza's blogs.  Book Two will be covered on April 30th.

Have you read Midnight's Children or anything by Rushdie?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: April 14, 2012

Alyce of At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot and asks participants to post any photo (just no random photos you found online).  Stop by and see what others have posted!

Orchids - NY Botanical Gardens Orchid Show, 2011
 Each year, the New York Botanical Gardens hosts an orchid show and there is literally a riot of all variety of orchids in a green house.  If you are in the area, the orchid show is going on now - for more info check out their website.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Interview and Giveaway: Author Jane Green

Yesterday I reviewed Jane Green's latest (#13) novel Another Piece of My Heart. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to participate in a Q&A with the author and some other bloggers - Jane Green offered some great insights into the novel, her writing and what she enjoys to read. Read on for an excerpt from the interview:

Question: You wrote Andi's chapters in third person, and then you wrote Emily's in first person. And I enjoyed it and I appreciate it, but I wonder as an author how you came about deciding to do it that way.

Answer: Actually, it wasn’t my decision at all. I’d reached a point in the book where I think Emily was just so deeply irritating and Andi was a bit whiny . . . I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t think of myself as somebody who can write teenagers well. The dialogue, everything is different. And I have a lot of friends who write YA. It’s something that I couldn’t even contemplate. I can’t imagine writing anything that a 16 or 17 year old would actually want to read. But, as soon as I started writing from Emily’s point of view, I just felt that I knew her. I absolutely knew who she was and what she was about. And I felt enormous amounts of empathy for her.

Question: Which of your book characters do you think is most similar to you?

Answer: I think there’s probably a little bit of me in all of them. I don’t have any one character where I think, yes, that absolutely is me. But I certainly see myself in so many of them. Different books over the years have captured different parts of my life. Jemima J was about my own struggles with food and body image. In Second Chance, there were aspects of me in Holly definitely. I was married at the time and not terribly happy although not quite realizing it then . . .
Even in this book, in Another Piece of My Heart where it is so divided, I would say there are parts of me in Andi and possibly even more of me in Emily, actually. As soon as I started writing Emily, it felt like I was writing about my teenage self. I didn’t have a stepmother but feelings of just not fitting in, of not being good enough, of being different somehow.

Question: I wonder if you notice a difference in the book community or how readers respond to you specifically between the US and England?

Answer: I do very little touring in England. I haven’t done it for years. I’m doing a very big tour this summer in England. But, that’s really the first one I have done in a long time . . . Book communities are so different everywhere you go, and you never quite know what you’re going to get. One of the things that I love doing more than anything are events at libraries and events at independent bookstores, not that I am not a huge fan of the chains. But, when you go to a really wonderful independent bookstore that’s been there for a long time, they know their clientele, they love books, they’re doing this not because they want to make money but because they just love books. And they love people, and they’re bringing the two together.

Finally, here are some book/author recommendations from Jane Green:

Room by Emma Donoghue

Hooked by Catherine Greenman

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Reading My Father by Alexandra Styron

Slow Love by Dominique Browning

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Jonathan Tropper: “I think he is a wonderful author. And he’s one of the few where I know that I’m going to love pretty much anything and everything he writes” - A woman after my own heart!

You can hear more from Jane Green on her website or her Facebook page or by following her on twitter (@janegreen).  You can also see Jane on the Today Show yesterday talking about Another Piece of My Heart and blended families.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press, I have one copy of Another Piece of My Heart to give away. Please leave a comment with the question you would most like to ask this or any other author. Please also leave a way to contact you. The winner will be selected on Thursday April 19 at noon EST. US only please.  Good Luck!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green

Another Piece of My Heart by Jane Green chronicles the patchwork family created by Andi and Ethan and his two daughters from his first marriage.  Blending a family is never easy but this family seems to have it especially hard -  Ethan’s older daughter Emily resents Andi and is determined to make sure Andi knows at every opportunity how much Emily dislikes her. Meanwhile, Ethan grapples with guilt over his divorce from the girls’ mother and is unwilling to challenge Emily’s behavior asking Andi to be more tolerant of the teenage Emily.  As Emily’s behavior escalates, Andi reaches her limit and this patchwork family is about to tear apart.

Andi thought she had found her dream guy when she met Ethan and the fact that he had two daughters from a first marriage didn’t give her pause - Andi loved kids and hoped to have one of her own.  Perhaps a little naively, Andi approached step-motherhood with optimism and expected she would have a loving relationship with both girls.  She got her wish with the younger Sophia - she attaches herself to Andi and accepts the mothering she often doesn’t get from her alcoholic mother.  Emily, however, is in the throes of adolescence and is spewing her vitriol over the whole family with Andi as her main target. As Emily’s behavior escalates, she pulls further away from the family and her life begins to get off track.  Ethan desperately wants to get Emily back on track and begins to feel Andi is an obstacle to that - all her fighting with Emily is driving her further away.  In much the same way, Andi wants her marriage and family back and can’t see that happening with Emily still in the house.  The family is at a crossroads and in crisis.  

Jane Green writes excellent women’s fiction and her novels have grown along with her - she has moved from the single girl in the city seen in Jemima J to a woman approaching middle age and trying to manage her blended family in Another Piece of My Heart. I was engrossed in the story of this family and found myself reading more and more to see what would unravel next - the family seemed to be in a downward spiral.  Interestingly, the book is told from two perspectives - Andi’s in some chapters and Emily’s in others.  At first, I couldn’t relate to Emily at all and really felt for Andi and all Emily was putting her through. But as I read more of Emily’s chapters I began to at least understand that there was girl under there facing emotions that she didn’t know how to handle.  On the whole however, I felt Andi handled the situation the best she could and her demands were not unreasonable.  The Andi versus Emily debate seems to have sparked strong feelings among readers - they seem to either really like or dislike one of the two characters which is a testament to how well these characters are drawn.

Another Piece of My Heart takes us on the journey of a family that was pieced together, unraveled and knitted back together.  Their journey isn’t perfect but I was happy to be along for the ride!

Want to hear more from Jane Green?  Come back tomorrow (Thursday, April 12)  for an interview with the author and a chance to win your own copy of Another Piece of My Heart!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: April 7, 2012

Alyce of At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot and asks participants to post any photo (just no random photos you found online).  Stop by and see what others have posted!

I am visiting my parents for Easter on the west coast of Florida and caught this sunset over the lake last night