Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky

Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky: Charlotte and Nicole were childhood friends and together they spent summers at Nicole's family's house on Quinnipeague Island, Maine. As adults, they grew apart when Nicole married Julian and fell into a career blogging about the farm to table movement while Charlotte traveled as a successful journalist. They are reuniting on the island for the summer in order to work together on a cookbook about the "Quinnie" specialties and the magic of the island and its locals. As the summer progresses, each woman reveals secrets which has the potential to destroy their recently rediscovered friendship.

 Charlotte was raised by irresponsible parents who practically neglected her; she found comfort in her friendship with Nicole and Nicole's parents became like parents to Charlotte. She spent many summers with them on the island of Quinnipeague in Maine. Charlotte feel in love with the island and the comfort she found there with Nicole's family. Due to her rough childhood, Charlotte always had an edge and was stronger than the more meek Nicole. Nicole is more trusting and less sure of herself and she relies on Charlotte to lead. After the girls grew apart and Charlotte didn't return to Quinnipeague for Nicole's father's funeral, Nicole still felt like the needy friend constantly connecting with Charlotte by email and tracking her career. What she didn't know, however, was that Charlotte desperately wanted to connect again with Nicole and to find comfort again on the island. When Nicole approached her about helping on the cookbook, Charlotte jumped at the chance.

 Through the love of the island and the work on the cookbook, the women begin to repair their relationship. As the summer goes on, however, each reveals secrets to each other than dramatically change their relationship. Nicole begins by revealing that her husband of ten years, Julian, has MS and the progression of the disease threatens his career as a surgeon. More than that, however, it is threatening their marriage as Julian swears Nicole to secrecy about the disease and shuts her out as she tries to help him. Charlotte has a history with Julian which is unknown to Nicole but in light of Julian illness, Charlotte feels compelled to share it with Nicole.

  My Thoughts
The cover of this book drew me in with its beautiful fields of lavender and the shoreline in the distance. In much the same way, the author drew me to Quinnipeague with the descriptions of the island's protective locals and the magic of the herbs which are endemic to the island. The island is a character in the book and it has a power over the two main characters in the book - Nicole and Charlotte. It feels as if their friendship could not be repaired or weather the revelations anywhere else but the island. Their shared history on the island (and maybe that salt air?) keep them committed to working through their issues and trying to recapture a little of what they had on the island as children.

Barbara Delinsky weaves a story with many twists and turns and works in multiple interesting, current topics. Those include progress in the treatment of MS, the farm to table movement, and umbilical cord blood banking. All of this, coupled with wanting to see how things progressed for Julian and whether Nicole and Charlotte could mend their relationship, kept me reading. Definitely a perfect summer read - or maybe a winter read when your mind needs to escape the dreary winter and get to a beautiful island!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines by Shoreh Aghdashloo

The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines by Shoreh Aghdashloo: Shoreh Aghdashloo is a Emmy award-winning Iranian actress and the first Middle Eastern actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. Like many actresses, her road to success was filled with struggles, doubt and tireless focus on her craft. Shoreh, however, has a whole other set of challenges to face - she fled Iran following the revolution when her ability to speak freely and to continue to pursue acting became threatened. In a daring but necessary move, she left her entire family behind and escaped to Europe and ultimately to Los Angeles.

Shoreh Aghdashloo had a relatively privileged upbringing in Tehran. Despite her parents' more practical plans for her, Shoreh was drawn to modeling and then acting at a young age. Although her father felt putting herself on display was not respectable for a young woman, he saw quickly that she would not be deterred. She married Aydin, a painter, at a young age and he agreed that she could follow her passion for acting. When revolution swept Iran in 1979, however, both women and acting came under attack by the Islamist government. In a bold move and with th e help of her husband, Shoreh escaped across the border to Turkey and ultimately settled in London. Aydin, however, would not leave Iran so they parted and, ultimately, ended their marriage when it became clear that Shoreh could not (or would not) return and Aydin would not leave Iran. Shoreh also lived separated from her parents and fearful for their safety back in Iran. Once in London, she pursued and obtained a university degree but acting was never far away. Shoreh acted in a series of plays, many of which were popular with the expatriate Persian communities in London and throughout Europe. She met her second husband in one of those plays and together they continued to act over the coming years. Once in LA, Shoreh was given the chance to act in The House of Sand of Fog and for that role, she was nominated for an Academy Award. After much hard work and and an unusual amount of sacrifice, Shoreh had achieved commercial success and recognition.

My Thoughts
The author's story has all the elements of a moving, lyrical tale - two loves, escape from oppression and a passion for the arts. Unfortunately, the telling of the tale is not particularly lyrical. The text is choppy and the author moves from event to event rather rapidly. There were a number of non sequiturs and I kept wanting some of them to be developed more but then it would be dropped and we would be on to something else. Some of the most powerful, moving moments in the book got lost in its telling  - it felt as if pivotal events would just be mentioned without any reflection.

Despite its shortcomings, however, the book does deliver in immersing the reader in Persian culture and educated me on the political history of modern Iran and its devastating consequences for its citizens. In addition, the author conveyed two key themes very effectively; first, her desire for a free Iran and her commitment to staying out of the country at great personal cost until that is realized. Second is her passion for acting - I was impressed by how diligently she worked at her craft, often in relative obscurity. She didn't seem to be in it for the attention but for the pure satisfaction of acting and bringing plays to audiences, no matter how small. Shoreh Aghdashloo has a powerful story to tell and overcome almost unbelievable odds to pursue both freedom and her craft.

You can read other reviews of this book by checking out the TLC tour here.

Thank you to TLC for providing a ARC of this book. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday Salon: July 7, 2013

The Sunday

In my June 23rd Sunday Salon post, I mentioned that I was soaking up the sunny, low humidity days in the city. Well, it is a good thing I did - since then, it has rained incessantly and now that the rain has stopped, the city humidity has come to visit.


 This takes reading on the roof off the table for a the time being. Now I am just glad to be basking in some air conditioning! I am sure after another week of this weather I will acclimate and be back to outdoor activities.


 In Case You Missed It
 - Despite having a four day weekend (or maybe because of it), I only posted one review this week:
Wedding Night (audio) by Sophie Kinsella. It was an entertaining listen by my favorite chick lit author

 -Last week I posted my review of Kate Kerrigan's sequel to Ellis Island, City of Hope. I loved this continuation of Ellie's story and it is a great immigrant story.  I will have a guest post from the author on the blog this week.

 - I also posted a review of J.Courtney Sullivan's Commencement which had me feeling nostalgic for my own college days

Hope you have a great week and are staying cool where ever you are!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Audiobook Review: Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (read by Jayne Entwhistle, Fiona Hardingham and Mark Bramhall; 13 hours, 13 minutes) introduces us to sisters Fliss and Lottie. Lottie has her heart set on marrying Richard and is convinced he is about to propose when they meet for a extravagant lunch in London. When Richard doesn't propose, Fliss is devastated and, in a fashion very typical of her, she throws herself into the next thing - which happens to be her ex-boyfriend Ben. Meanwhile, Lottie's sister, Fliss, is recovering from her recent divorce and still harbors a lot of resentment towards her ex-husband - in fact, she logs every violation of the custody arrangement for their son Noah on a flash drive she wears tucked away on a necklace around her neck. She is determined to keep Lottie from making the same mistakes of the heart as she has and the antics begin.

Lottie is on the rebound from Richard after he failed to propose when she hears from Ben. She and Ben spent a magical summer on the Greek island of Ikonos when they were eighteen. Coping with the aftermath of her own failed marriage, she doesn't want to see Lottie go through the same pain as a result of a quick decision to marry her old flame. Fliss needs to stop the wedding and, barring that, she needs to stop the couple's wedding night.  If the marriage is not consummated, no divorce is necessary - it can simply be annulled. Fliss's single-minded focus on this mission has her going to great lengths to interrupt the couple's honeymoon.

My Thoughts
Even as I write the summary above, I think, "This is ridiculous!" However, I truly enjoyed this book and even found myself heading out on extra walks just to listen a little more. The secret is the heroines, Fliss and Lottie - you begin to care and root for them which allows you to suspend disbelief in their crazy antics.  As I have said before, Sophie Kinsella does this better than any author in this genre. If you are looking for a fun, enjoyable read (or listen) this summer, I definitely recommend Wedding Night.