Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Thankfully Reading 2012 Wrap-Up

The Sunday

I hope everyone that celebrated had a lovely Thanksgiving - I love this opportunity to pause as the year comes to an end before the craziness of the holidays. Especially in the aftermath of Sandy, there is much to be thankful of this year and many reminders of how fortunate my family has been this year.  I spent the weekend at my parents house and enjoyed a lot of quality time with them catching up and planning for Christmas.

 Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelves and Jennifer from Literate Housewife hosted Thankfully Reading 2012 - an event where participants enjoy an unstructured read a thon and read as they can throughout the long weekend. Despite having very few plans, I got far less reading done than I would have liked. As a child, I read constantly but this weekend I wondered how I ever got any reading done in my house with the constant distractions. My parents feel the need to be in perpetual motion (the cleanliness and efficiency of their house is evidence of that) so there a few opportunities to just sit and read. I have concluded that I read a lot while waiting or in transit- as a passenger in the car while my parents drove, waiting for them during doctor's appointments or other errands or on the city bus to and from school. This weekend was no exception - I did the bulk of my reading/listening on the bus to and from the city, on my daily neighborhood walks and just before sleeping each night.

Despite the limited reading time, I finished The Bungalow by Sarah Jio and made a lot of progress on The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith. The Bungalow is a delightful story and I was glad to escape into it for the weekend. So many bloggers have raved about this and other of the author's novels - I can see why. With The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, I have discovered a new favorite audio narrator - Davina Porter. The book is set in Edinburgh and Porter does a beautiful job with the Scottish accents - I feel like I am listening to my grandmother speak. Another delight.

I also had the chance to sneak in some Small Business Saturday shopping at Booktowne in downtown Manasquan, NJ.  Manasquan had a lot of storm damage so I was encouraged to see so many people out shopping on Main Street on Sunday and the bookstore was packed. I got some great books for a little one in my life and it felt good to patronize a small business - especially one that lost weeks of sales thanks to the storm.  Please consider shopping locally this holiday when you can.

Ahh - the weekend is coming to an end but I know these good memories and reading delights will carry me through the week!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: November 24, 2012

Alyce of At Home With Books hosts Saturday Snapshot where participants share a photo they have taken (please don't post photos you find online). Stop by her blog and see what others have posted!

I hope all my US readers had a lovely Thanksgiving!  Yesterday was a beautiful day and on the way home the sky was gorgeous as the sun was setting.  I could have done without the powerlines in this shot but I was pulled over on the side of the road trying to capture this.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave: Little Bee is a sixteen year old Nigerian girl who is in a UK immigrant detention center when the book opens. She has sought asylum in the UK after witnessing atrocities in her war torn Nigeria where everyone is fighting for control of the country's lucrative oil fields. She and three of her fellow detainees are released from the detention center unexpectedly and are suddenly outside the detention center with all their critical documents in a plastic baggie. From the beginning, Little Bee is a precocious leader and she tries to guide the other girls. She has worked hard to learn "the Queens English" while detained and it serves her well when she needs to navigate on the outside. Eventually, she heads to Surrey and arrives at the home of Sarah O'Rourke whom Little Bee met in Nigeria while Sarah and her husband vacationed at a beach resort. On that beach, Sarah and Little Bee were cleaved together by a horrific event and Little Bee has sought Sarah out now that she is in England.

The story alternates between Sarah's perspective and Little Bee's as the book progresses creating an interesting contrast between first world and third world, privileged and wanting, secure and threatened. As is often the case, Little Bee brings a clarity to her observations that eludes Sarah who complicates things that might otherwise be straightforward. For example, Little Bee observes of horror films, "Horror in your country is a something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it".  Little Bee, having witnessed family members murdered before her eyes does not have the luxury of horror films - she has experienced horror in her own life. She carries those scars with her - one of the most disturbing scenes in the book is watching as Little Bee assesses every place she goes to - a church, a nursery, Sarah's home - and figures out what she will do "if the men come". The men in Nigeria visited violence on her village and family and that insecurity cannot easily be shaken. Bee is always looking for her way out. It is a horrible way to live but evidence that Little Bee is a survivor.  

My Thoughts
I have deliberately not given many details in this review because the book is best enjoyed when the story is allowed to unfold with little bits offered by Little Bee and then Sarah. Interestingly I felt this way even before I read the following on the back cover:
We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day and one of them as to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, the meet again - the story starts there . . .Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.
I saw some reviews where people did not like the fact that the reader is kept in the dark from the outset. That didn't bother me - I often don't like when all the key plot points are revealed in a jacket summary and I find myself reading to get to the next big moment that I already know is coming up. Little Bee certainly endeared herself to me as a character. She has a quiet strength and insight much greater than the adults around her. As for the adults, they are largely disappointing. Sarah, her husband and especially her lover, Lawrence, are self-absorbed and mindlessly complicating their lives. They provide a counterpoint to Little Bee who doesn't have the luxury of such complications.

Is this book without problems? No. I wonder about the likelihood that traumatized Little Bee would make her way to Sarah's home and just stay or what happened to some characters that were being developed but then seemingly abandoned. But it is still an excellent read with well crafted sentences and a wonderful main character. Definitely recommend!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Salon: November 18, 2012: Shredding, Sign-Ups and Reading

The Sunday

Hope you all have had a nice weekend! Mine has been a mix of getting together with family and friends and chores. Actually chore (singular) - I have been a shredding ninja all day today. My shredder gave out a few years ago and I got into the bad habit of stockpiling items to be shredded in bags that I would strategically stash throughout my apartment with grand plans of bringing them somewhere to be securely shredded. Now that I purchased a new shredder, I paid penance today for that habit. The shredder has overheated a number of times and the pic below just shows a small product of my work (there were tons more bags!)

It really makes me think about the waste created with junk mail - I have done a lot to take myself off lists and to go paperless with a lot of billing - I cannot imagine if I did not do that. Corporate America - quit it with the paper! Anyhow - I have opened up lots of storage in my apartment and am free of the paper! I vow to stay on top of it from now on . . . .
 There are some great events around the book blogging world this time of year. One of my favorites is Virtual Advent. As a kid, I loved those advent calendars and this event is a slightly grown-up version of that. Each day between Dec 1st and Dec 24th, a blogger posts about some part of their holiday tradition - recipes, crafts, stories, etc. Last year I posted about my ornament collection and still need to figure out what I will post about this year.

Trish from Love, Laughter and Insanity has been hosting a Pin It and Do It challenge for a few months now to prompt people to actually do some of the things they obsessively pin on Pinterest (says obsessive pinner). I am about as far from crafty as one can get and have a slew of half-finished or poorly executed craft projects in my past but I am hosting the family for Christmas this year and would love to include a few of the great ideas I see on Pinterest. So I am joining the Holiday Pin It and Do It at the "Timid Pinner" level which means I will pin and do 1-3 items (I am ambitious but not masochistic).

 I am excited to see that Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves and Jennifer from Literate Housewife are hosting Thankfully Reading this year! It's a relaxed celebration of reading on Thanksgiving weekend where participants check-in throughout the weekend and read as they can amidst the cooking, celebrating and eating! I am coming close to the finish line on my 2012 challenges and will, as per usual, use this weekend to try to make a dent in what is left!  

This week I finished the audiobook of The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani. I am late to this one - it's been popular with the bloggers all year - but I loved, loved loved it! I was sorry to say goodbye to the characters when the book ended. I also hosted a book club meeting for Little Bee. On the whole, everyone praised the writing and liked the story although some had problems with violence that makes up the backdrop of the novel. The group is reading The Walnut Tree for their next meeting. Have any of you read it or others by the author?

Hope you all have a great (and thankfully short!) week!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Audiobook Review: Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch has achieved fame recently with her role as Sue Sylvester in the popular series "Glee" but her success was hard won and the result of a lot of hard work and soul searching . . . and just the right amount of luck. In Happy Accidents, the author recounts her early life, her decision to make a go of acting and her journey to embracing her sexuality and coming out to her family. Her story, told with her signature wit, is inspiring in its reminder to relentlessly pursue your dreams until you happen upon the happy accident that turns your hard work into success. It is also a reminder of the joy found in living confidently and comfortably in your own skin.

 Jane Lynch grew up in a middle class home in Dolton, IL with her parents and two siblings. From a young age, she knew she wanted to be an actor and even wrote to all the heads of the studios to introduce herself and ask for big break. Although she knew she wanted to act, Jane was not as sure about much else in her life as she entered adolescence. She felt she didn't fit in but couldn't put her finger on what made her different and that pervasive feeling of not fitting in chipped away at her confidence and made her uncomfortable in her own skin. As Jane entered adulthood, she tried to avoid these unpleasant emotions by drinking. At first Jane's drinking was social and not unlike her parents' nightly cocktail ritual which began with the toast "First today, badly needed".  But over time, Jane recognized her drinking as an attempt to self-medicate and did not like the person she became when she drank. Rather matter of factly, she got herself to an AA meeting and got on the road to sobriety. Around the same time, she came out to her family and actively pursued happiness in her personal life. As tends to happen, one good thing begets another and as her personal life blossomed, she also began to get traction in her professional life and roles started to come in and they got better. Her personal life culminated with meeting her wife and her wife's young daughter while her professional career culminates in the book with her landing the role of Sue Sylvester in Glee.  

My Thoughts
I loved this memoir from beginning to end. I was listening while on a business trip and on more than one night I was parked in the parking lot of the hotel unable to pull myself away from the story. Knowing Jane Lynch as a "funny girl", I expected her memoir to be one laugh after another. Although her signature wit is weaved all throughout the book, the story is less about her as the center of attention and more about revealing the lesser known sides to her personality and recounting her journey from a struggling actress terribly uncomfortable in own skin to a wildly successful actress with tremendous satisfaction in her personal life. Jane's authenticity oozes from this audiobook and it won me over completely. Even if you are not a Glee fan (I am not), I recommend this one!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: When Summer's In the Meadow by Niall Williams and Christine Breen

When Summer's In the Meadow by Niall Williams and Christine Breen picks up where their first book O Come Ye Back to Ireland (my review) leaves off at the conclusion of their first full year living in rural Ireland.  In this latest installment, Niall and Christine learn they cannot have a child and start on the journey to adoption.  When they bring baby Deirdre home, she adds another dimension to their chosen life on the farm and they discover their chosen home of West Clare all over again.

The couple's first year on the farm after moving from bustling NYC to rural West of Ireland was filled with struggles as they battled the elements to eke out a living on their farm and tried to adjust to a new culture. As they head into their second year, however, the couple has hit their stride.  They revel in their small farm and their new found skills as farmers. They have come to rely on their neighbors in the village and learned the idiosyncrasies of rural life.  This shift from being more comfortable on the busy streets of NYC to being more comfortable in the fields of their farm in Kiltumper is evidenced when they return to Manhattan for a short visit after their first book is accepted for publication.  Niall describes their first day in the city:

Outside on the streets again we were like leaves in the wind. We've both lost the NY attitude and betray ourselves terribly by looking at things. New Yorkers don't look but seem to stride, gliding fast forward between offices and apartments with the certain knowledge that all around them and over them is a city so extraordinarily various that nothing it throws up in front of you is surprising anymore....Windows of dazzling jewels and expensive clothes don't necessarily stun you, for why should they, New Yorkers seem to say . . . tenaciously holding to a belief in the possibility of all things. This, more than anything, marks the foreignness of the city for both of us now. It is the thing we are most unused to, this attitude of confidence in the future, of certainty in attaining a goal.
 While they are settled in on the farm and comfortable in their decision to leave NY and live in Ireland, Niall and Christine struggle with coming to terms with the fact that they cannot have a baby and anxiously begin the adoption process in Ireland.  They are  thrilled when they bring baby Deirdre home and they rediscover the joy of rural living as they watch their new baby discover the joys of the farm for the first time. They are plagued by anxiety, however, as they wait for the adoption to become final - they cannot imagine baby Deirdre being taken back from them.

My Thoughts
Co. Mayo, Ireland
Yet another delightful installment from Kiltumper! I enjoyed continuing to read about Christine and Niall's adventures in rural Ireland and the shift in focus to their personal struggle with infertility. I would, however, still recommend starting with  O Come Ye Back to Ireland - it best captures the disorientation experienced when one moves to a new country and it is fascinating to watch the couple discover things about their new life in West Clare. When Summer's In the Meadow is more reflective as Niall and Christine consider how far they have come since first moving to Ireland.  The discoveries in this book are seen more through the eyes of their daughter - as Deirdre grows, explores and discovers during her first year of life on the farm, Christine and Niall see the farm and the life they have chosen in new ways and reap different benefits from their rural idyll. I definitely look forward to reading the next installment and seeing what else is in store for this family and especially for the peeks into the rural West of Ireland. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Salon: November 4, 2012

The Sunday

Thank you all for you concern and support over the past week as the city and the surrounding areas have dealt with Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.  I escaped with no damage and only lost power briefly on Monday but I have been saddened to see the city and so many people coping with total devastation.  Please keep these families in your thoughts as they grieve their losses and move on to rebuilding.

Social Media in a Crisis
In many ways, this week in the city resembled the days after 9/11 to me - like then, the city was at a standstill and isolation set in as they "sealed" the city by closing all the bridges and tunnels.  Unlike 9/11, however, both because of the rise of social media and the fact that cellular networks remained largely intact, there was a community to tap into online.

I was home alone on Monday as Sandy bore down on the city and at first wasn't concerned about riding  the storm out alone at home (I was not in evacuation zone).  But as things got worse - power loss, windows shaking mightily from the wind and trees snapping right at their roots outside I started to crave contact with the outside world, information and reassurance.  And I found it in my social media outlets - Twitter and Facebook.  From each, I got invaluable information and felt connected though alone in my apartment.  Twitter provided up to date reports of critical info  -status of the mass transit system, recommendations to stay away from windows in case of breakage due to wind, and information on what to expect next with the storm.  On Facebook, I checked in with friends across the city and tri-state area and had friends near and far reach out to me to make sure I was OK.  One writer referred to social media during the storm as a "virtual campfire" and I think that captures it perfectly.  In the week following the storm, social media has continued to provide critical information about recovery efforts, fundraising and good collections.  And, of course, some humor and the all important "human" connection.  Thank you again to everyone for reaching out during the storm.

On the Blog
In other news, I am trying to finish (or least plot out a path to complete) my 2012 reading challenges.  I think I may come closest this year - finally! Reviews posted in October:

Gilded Age by Clarie McMillan
Bella Fortuna by Rosanna Chiofalo (plus author guest post)
Gold by Chris Cleave
Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn
Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney
Dune Road by Jane Green

I hope everyone has a great week!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Snapshot: November 3, 2012

Alyce of At Home With Books hosts Saturday Snapshot where participants share a photo they have taken (please don't post photos you find online). Stop by her blog and see what others have posted!
If you follow me on Twitter (@booksnyc) you will likely have noticed a plethora of #Sandy tweets - it has been a tough week here in NYC in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I am very fortunate in that I only lost power briefly (hence all the tweeting) but it is overwhelming to see the dire circumstances others have been left in by the storm. I was excited to see that 2 locations in Manhattan were collecting donations of goods for devastated Breezy Point. and I was happy to pull together a bag of warm clothes and some toiletries to donate. It's not much but it feels good to do something.  Please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers.