Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's been a tough week here. We lost our sweet Daisy dog on Wednesday and I just haven't been terribly motivated to read or review anything since. It just doesn't feel right not to have my fur baby in my lap while I'm curled up with a book. :-( This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

My Chinese-American by Allen Gee
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrick Backman
Find the Good by Heather Lende

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Reviews posted this week:

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy
Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

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

The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen
Married to a Perfect Stranger by Jane Ashford
Between You and Me by Mary Norris
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
My Chinese-American by Allen Gee
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrick Backman
Find the Good by Heather Lende

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson came from Other Press.

A story about who you are that weaves in IVF and absence and family and loss, this sounds really interesting.

The Nurses Alexandra Robbins came from Workman.

I have a lot of friends who are or have been nurses and I'm fascinated by the culture they face at work so this book plays right into that for me.

Find the Good by Heather Lende came from Algonquin.

An obituary writer from small town Alaska giving advice on how to live? Sign me right up!

Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland came from William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

How could you not want to read a book where a woman puts down her smart phone and starts living life offline?

The Surfacing by Cormac James came from Bellevue Literary Press.

Searching for Franklin's lost expedition, a crew trapped in Arctic ice, and a stowaway who will give birth to the Captain's baby in this forbidding landscape, this one really appeals to me.

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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

Many years ago when I finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, I wanted to find someone to talk to about the book and about Iran. Aside from what we have heard on the news about the conflicts in the Middle East for so long, there weren't many people who had any knowledge of what had gone on there. Luckily (or unluckily for her), there was a mom whose little guy was on my little guy's soccer team who told me she and her husband were Persian and had come to this country in the 80s. Voila! Someone to talk to about Iran and the events that so fascinated me. Except she wasn't so interested in talking to me about it. And I didn't understand her reluctance. But after reading more, including Sahar Delijani's debut novel Children of the Jacaranda Tree, I can begin to understand why she was so polite but vague to one enthusiastic but ignorant person interested in hearing about an event that changed the lives of so many people, destroying families, making certain beliefs punishable by sharia law, driving people into exile, and altering the landscape of the region forever.

Azar is in labor and about to give birth. She is also a political prisoner in Evin Prison in Tehran in 1983, as is her husband, of whom she has had no news for months. Although it is clear that Azar has been tortured and abused in prison, she cannot focus on anything but the imperative of her body as she strains to bring her baby into the world, not even on the relentless questioning she is forced to endure before she is taken to delivery in hopes that the combination of natural physical pain and ruthless disregard for her situation will cause her to break. Baby Neda is born into the prison, a small ray of light in the cell where Azar and many fellow female dissidents are being held, until the day a guard takes the baby away to live with her grandparents. Azar is just one of the many political dissidents jailed in Evin Prison for their activism inspired by the failure of the promise of the Islamic Revolution and her story is just one of many here.

Ordinary people wanting the best for Iran are arrested and detained, changing not only their lives but the lives of their families. Grandparents and aunts are suddenly raising grandchildren, sacrificing plans and dreams for their loved ones. Wives are widowed with no warning, left with fatherless children. Unexplained executions shatter the lives of the citizenry as religious conservatives offer no quarter to those who do not believe in the exact same Allah that they do. There's a large cast of characters here, prisoners, their estranged families, and their children and each and every one of them suffers as a result of the Revolution. Ranging from 1983 through 2011, the novel examines the shame, the fear, the brutality, and the torture that are the lasting effects of the stringent and unyielding ruling party even for those who become part of the diaspora.

The stories come across as vignettes rather than a unified novel with an overarching and unifying plot because the connections between the characters are sometimes a bit tenuous, requiring the reader to flip back to the front of the book to consult the list of characters again in order to place them. The jumping back and forth in time, often from character to character, can be disconcerting and feels a little choppy but Delijani manages to keep the tension high over the ultimate fates of her characters, emphasizing the arbitrariness of life in Tehran, post-Revolution. The language is poetic and often times beautiful in this tale of three generations forever impacted by prison and the aftermath of dissidence. Delijani's novel, culled from her parents' experiences and her own birth in Evin prison, bears telling as a means of bearing witness to the long reaching wrongs done in the name of extremism.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy



School children learn about John Brown and the raid on Harper's Ferry in history class. Who he was, who his family was, and the whole of the life that he sacrificed for a cause greater than himself is rarely covered. And yet he left behind family, including his daughter Sarah, who loved him and believed in the abolitionist movement too. In The Mapmaker's Children, Sarah McCoy imagines the life and purpose of Sarah Brown, beginning just before her father's capture and on into her adult life, weaving this historical story with a modern day tale of a woman facing her own personal fight and living in a historic house in New Charlestown, WV.

After Sarah Brown overhears the devastating news that she will never be able to bear children, she devotes herself to the cause that is so dear to her father: abolition and the Underground Railroad. Sarah is an artist and she finds her purpose in drawing maps to aid escaped slaves on their flight to freedom. She is wholeheartedly invested in her role when her father is captured. Traveling to New Charlestown with her mother and sister to be near her father when he is executed, the small family stays with Brown's friends, the Hills. Although the Hills might believe in different methods of fighting slavery, they are kind and congenial people with whom Sarah forms a close bond that will last forever, through her father's hanging, her continued schooling, the Civil War, and beyond.

In present day New Charlestown, Eden and her husband Jack have moved into an historic home, hoping that moving from the bustle of the city to a small community will help them finally overcome the infertility that is destroying them. Their marriage is collapsing under the strain of disappointment, anger, and helplessness. When Eden finds the strangely painted porcelain head of a doll in the root cellar of their home, she hopes that either the doll or getting the house placed on the registry of historic homes so she can sell it will bring in enough money for her to flee her marriage and all of the unhappiness tied up in their lack of a baby. What she doesn't expect is to become invested in the people and the community and to uncover long lost information about her house and a friend.

Each of the story lines is interesting and well drawn. Initially, the ties between Sarah and Eden seem to be primarily based on their infertility and the way each, in turn, comes to an acceptance of her life but those ties broaden and expand as the women's stories move forward. Each of the main characters is realistic and flawed, clinging to her notion of the future and how to get there, but in the end, each of them learns to let go allowing them to grow in far different ways than they ever expected. The connection between the past (in Sarah) and the present (in Eden) is not a hard one to figure out but McCoy does a good job making those connections actually come together. In the beginning, the stories seem so very disparate that the reader does wonder how the story lines can ever come to compliment each other beyond the most tenuous of associations, that they do is to McCoy's credit. The historical detail is beautifully done and although not much is known about the real Sarah Brown, this story easily feels like it could be true and faithful to what little we do know about her. This is an enjoyable read that not only fleshes out American history, but connects it to the present and reminds us that the past very much underlays everything. It reminds us that the paths we travel might not be the ones we would have chosen but that we can never go wrong by investing in our hearts, our friends, and our communities.

For more information about Sarah McCoy and the book, take a look at her website, like her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or check out the book's Goodreads page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

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 Year of the Dunk by Asher Price. The book is being released by Crown on May 12, 2015.

Amazon says this about the book: By embarking on a quest to dunk a basketball at the age of 34, journalist Asher Price investigates the limits of human potential—starting with his own.

We all like to think that (with a little practice) we could run faster, learn another language, or whip up a perfect soufflĂ©. But few of us ever put those hopes to the test. In Year of the Dunk, Asher Price does, and he seizes on basketball’s slam dunk--a feat richly freighted with distinctly American themes of culture, race, and upward mobility--as a gauge to determine his own hidden potential. The showmanship of the dunk mesmerized Asher as a child, but even with his height (six foot plus) and impressive wingspan, he never pushed himself to try it. Now, approaching middle age, Asher decides to spend a year remaking his body and testing his mind as he wonders, like most adults, what untapped talent he still possesses.

In this humorous and often poignant journey into the pleasures and perils of exertion, Asher introduces us to a memorable cast of characters who help him understand the complexity of the human body and the individual drama at the heart of sports. Along the way he dives into the history and science of one of sports' most exuberant acts, examining everything from our genetic predisposition towards jumping to the cultural role of the slam dunk. The year-long effort forces him to ask some fundamental questions about human ability and the degree to which we can actually improve ourselves, even with great determination.

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Between You and Me by Mary Norris
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

My Chinese-American by Allen Gee

Reviews posted this week:

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham
About a Girl by Lindsey Kelk

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

Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani
The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen
Married to a Perfect Stranger by Jane Ashford
Between You and Me by Mary Norris
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

Monday Mailbox

This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy came from Crown and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

An historical tale of John Brown's artist, mapmaker daughter is interwoven with the story of a woman from the present day who uncovers a porcelain doll head dating back to the days of the Underground Railroad in her root cellar and I am intensely curious to see how these two tales will come together.

Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman came from Prospect Park Books and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The story of a woman who is exiled from her childhood Chasidic community examining her family history which ultimately leads her to the Jewish tradition of washing the dead, this sounds fascinating to me.

Famous Baby by Karen Rizzo came from Prospect Park Books.

The adult daughter of a woman who blogged about her daughter's entire life growing up worries that her mother has a new target for her blog: grandma. So the granddaughter kidnaps her grandmother to save her from this fate. This sounds hilarious.

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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