Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on December 30, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Rosie Project, starring the same extraordinary couple now living in New York and unexpectedly expecting their first child. Get ready to fall in love all over again.

Don Tillman and Rosie Jarman are back. The Wife Project is complete, and Don and Rosie are happily married and living in New York. But they’re about to face a new challenge because— surprise!—Rosie is pregnant.

Don sets about learning the protocols of becoming a father, but his unusual research style gets him into trouble with the law. Fortunately his best friend Gene is on hand to offer advice: he’s left Claudia and moved in with Don and Rosie.

As Don tries to schedule time for pregnancy research, getting Gene and Claudia to reconcile, servicing the industrial refrigeration unit that occupies half his apartment, helping Dave the Baseball Fan save his business, and staying on the right side of Lydia the social worker, he almost misses the biggest problem of all: he might lose Rosie when she needs him the most.

Graeme Simsion first introduced these unforgettable characters in The Rosie Project, which NPR called “sparkling entertainment along the lines of Where’d You Go Bernadette and When Harry Met Sally.” The San Francisco Chronicle said, “sometimes you just need a smart love story that will make anyone, man or woman, laugh out loud.” If you were swept away by the book that’s captivated a million readers worldwide, you will love The Rosie Effect.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj

Sometimes I wonder if there's ever going to be peace in this world. What if we boiled things down to one on one personal interactions? Would that make for more understanding and cooperation, at least on balance? Can a friendship or a marriage between people who come from groups so diametrically opposed to each other ever work or is there too much cultural baggage involved? Will the events of our world allow any sort of cross-cultural happiness and peace or will even the personal be rent apart by the world's intolerance? Claire Hajaj's bittersweet novel Ishmael's Oranges takes on this very topic with an exiled Arab man meeting a Jewish woman, the two falling in love, getting married, and facing a complicated life together.

Salim is just a child when, forced by war, his family must leave their farm in Jaffa, and the orange tree that his father planted upon his birth. This exile splinters his family beyond repair. As he grows up and leaves for school in Britain, he never forgets the orange tree tethering him to Jaffa. Changing his name to Sal, at a party, he meets Jude, a Jewish woman who has had her own experience of religious hatred and intolerance. Not without difficulty, working through deep, longstanding emotions about each other's religious and cultural identity, and despite heavy familial opposition, they fall in love and marry, determined to be together and to make things work. They carve out a life far from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but they cannot remain inured to it forever; they will ultimately have to face their own pasts, prejudices, and deep seated beliefs.  Confronting those bone deep issues may just break the family they've created.

The first half of the book, which offers equally the perspective of Sal and Jude both, is stronger than the second half, where Jude's perspective is often lost. The frame of the opening letter, which only becomes clear in the end, could work but since it takes so long for the reader to understand it in its entirety, it loses a lot of its power and immediacy.  But the writing is clear and unbiased and the characters' emotions are stark, affecting, and very real.  The ending of the story is small and hopeful despite the sadness and horror that precedes it, leaving open the question of whether or not there can ever be true peace between these two groups of people who have hated for so long. There are stories and memories that foster anger long into the future but there are also the memories of happiness and love as well. We just have to choose which memories will triumph.

Hajaj has written a moving and poignant tale of humanity, the marginalizing of the "other,", the issue and importance of identity, and the often overlooked personal cost of the continuing fight between the Israelis and the Palestinians. She doesn't offer any easy answers to the social issues confronting Sal and Jude; in fact, sadly, even love can't always overcome everything and prevent tragedy. The novel, with its love story and themes of racism, obsession, and hunger for justice, provides an interesting perspective on the political being personal, the way that those around us shape our beings and beliefs, and the power of childhood hurts and betrayals.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It was a very busy week here this past week. First, the oldest child got his first college acceptance letter, which was a huge weight off of his shoulders. Here's hoping there are more in his future (but he's comforted enough to know he will be going off to college next year no matter what). I took said kid on another college visit and got in some great conversation in the car (3 hours each way). The youngest child finished his school play and I helped out with the cast party even though I wasn't scheduled to since I am one of those perpetual volunteer types. A friend's husband came over and helped me learn how to switch out the ugly pedestal sink in the powder room for the vanity that's been sitting in my garage for over a month now. And because nothing is ever as easy as it should be, we had to remove baseboards that were sunk a good inch to an inch and a half below the tile floor to make it all work. Glad I had someone who knew what he was doing to guide me! I started thinking about what Thanksgiving is going to look like and planning the menu for our annual after Thanksgiving party. The combination of the two mean I will be in the kitchen for three days straight. Good thing I like to cook for sure. Lots of reading this past week but that all happened as I wound down for bed since I was too busy any other time to pick a book up and definitely too busy to review anything. This, of course, means that the to be reviewed list is appalling. So just skip that horrendous thing and pretend like I'm all on top of things, will you? Because I don't anticipate it getting any better this week either. After all, I can read with a wooden spoon in my hand, but not review anything standing at the stove. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Reviews posted this week:

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Blessings by Elise Juska
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
I'll Take You by Eliza Kennedy
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Gentlemen Prefer Curves by Sugar Jamison
We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof
The Rake's Handbook by Sally Orr

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. The book is being released by Scribner on December 9, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night, comes an unforgettable novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.

Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents who were unprepared for and suspicious of America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love.

Eighty-five-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her “How did you get to be the woman you are today.” She begins in 1915, the year she found her voice and made friends who would help shape the course of her life. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the na├»ve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor.

Written with the same attention to historical detail and emotional resonance that made Anita Diamant’s previous novels bestsellers, The Boston Girl is a moving portrait of one woman’s complicated life in twentieth century America, and a fascinating look at a generation of women finding their places in a changing world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Every day the news tells us that we as a society are getting fatter. Stories about the ways in which American children are failing educationally pop up like mushrooms. Pharmaceutical commercials constantly interrupt our television shows and more of us are medicated against depression and anxiety than ever before in history. There are an abundance of ideas to explain why we are so much fatter, dumber, unhappier, and less engaged than previous generations The fact that we eat and drink so many prepackaged foods, which are chock full of substances created in a lab to try and appeal to our ideas of taste, color, smell, and texture, as well as our desire for convenience, is certainly something we can point to that is very different in our lives than it was for our grandparents and great-grandparents. Could that in fact be the culprit for so many of our woes? Stephan Eirik Clark's debut satirical novel, Sweetness #9, suggests, through one hapless narrator, that it could indeed.

David Leveraux is an apprentice flavorist with an enormous food chemical company in the early 1970s. His company is working on getting FDA approval for a new sugar substitute called Sweetness #9 and David, with his newly minted master's degree, is running clinical trials on rats fed large concentrations of the chemical. His non-communicative lab mate is running similar trials on chimpanzees. David is thrilled to be on the cusp of the introduction of this cutting edge creation until he starts noticing some disturbing trends in his rats and in the chimps next door. The company is unconcerned with results as long as "the Nine" doesn't cause cancer and when David tries to bring his concerns to higher ups, he loses his job, leading to a downward spiral that jeopardizes his marriage and ultimately sees him land in a mental institution.

Fast forward twenty years. It seems as if David has pulled his life together, now the father of two teenagers and a respected food chemist at another food chemical company with whose founder he is incredibly close. But life is not as happy and well adjusted as it seems. Sweetness #9 and red dye #40 have become ubiquitous and David starts to see the same sorts of problems in his wife and children that he once documented in his rats. His wife, Betty, is heavier than she's ever been and is constantly fighting her weight, guzzling diet soda all day long. His daughter, Priscilla, is depressed. She's become a vegan, like her best friend, and is determined to uncover the deceit in the food industry a la Woodward and Bernstein, starting with her father. Son Ernest, named for David's mentor and boss, has stopped speaking using verbs, communicating in single words or short phrases only. He is perpetually hungry, craving frozen, processed, and luridly colored foods by the ton. David himself is alternately afflicted with a fear of exposure for his role in Sweetness #9's FDA approval and with apathy and anxiety.

Written by David as a rough memoir years after the events of the novel, the story is a scathing satire of the food industry and the society that demands a certain smell, taste, and color in it's food but doesn't want the consequences of those demands.  Sugar makes us fat so instead of foregoing it and the sweet flavor it imparts, we must have a non-sugar alternative with the same taste.  The Leveraux family is certainly a mirror of America's growing problem, something the novel calls the "American Condition." But in addition to being an indictment of the way we eat, the way we live, and the drive for progress even at the expense of our health, mental and physical, this is a novel of family and relationship. It is a call for authenticity and honesty in all parts of our lives. David Leveraux is a conflicted character. His misguided attempts to follow his own conscience are bumbling. And if it's hard to understand why he allows his family to continue to ingest so many of the chemicals he himself has long had reservations about, especially in light of their unhappiness, it becomes clear it is because he is a pitiable and ineffective father and husband. As everything is from David's perspective, the other characters are only explored in relation to him and so are less well developed and well-rounded than his own character is.   But he faithfully relates his failures with those he loves and his inability to communicate meaningfully with them.

The timing of the novel starts off slowly but crescendos towards a very quick ending, one that refuses to wrap-up many plot threads, which may frustrate some readers. The jump in time from the 1970s to the late 90s happens with just a quick skim of the less important intervening years. In addition to the main time line, there are brief mentions of David's youth and his mentor, Ernst's, role in feeding Hitler during WWII. The former, sparsely used, sets David up as a man slightly out of step with modern America and the latter becomes a major plot point only late in the novel, giving it an uneven importance. Although there are a few stumbles or rushes here or there, this is a thoroughly engrossing read. The moral conundrum of what David's ethical responsibility is, combined with the sly social commentary is like the subtle chemical combinations that food flavorists use to make that dinner out of a box more palatable, bringing disparate things together to create a completely different perception of the whole on the part of the reader. And although I had already given up diet soda, after reading this, I find myself avidly reading the ingredients list on anything I pull from the grocery store shelves, much more conscious of just what I am putting into my body and into my family's bodies.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Certainty by Victor Bevine
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark
Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes
We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn

Reviews posted this week:

Certainty by Victor Bevine
Angels Make Their Hope Here by Breena Clarke

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Ishmael's Oranges by Claire Hajaj
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
Burial Rights by Hannah Kent
Euphoria by Lily King
The Blessings by Elise Juska
The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki
Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen
We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Mr. Tall by Tony Earley
Gemini by Carol Cassella
The Bride Insists by Jane Ashford
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
A Fork in the Road edited by James Oseland
Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman
Reluctantly Royal by Nichole Chase
The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine
The Wednesday Daughters by Meg Waite Clayton
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight
Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft
Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey
Christmas Brides by Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins, Elizabeth Essex, and Valerie Bowman
'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma
The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison
To Marry a Scottish Laird by Lynsay Sands
The Way North edited by Ron Riekki
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
While the Gods Were Sleeping by Elizabeth Enslin
I'll Take You by Eliza Kennedy
Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsey
The Wedding Guests by Meredith Goldstein
Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark

Monday Mailbox

Just one again and I'm pulling out the Kleenex in prepation. :-) This past week's mailbox arrival:

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde came from Lake Union and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

The story of a troubled girl and the horse her neighbor wants her to stay away from, this sounds like it will be a wonderful, tear-filled novel of healing.

If you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

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