Monday, April 30, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Not much to report on the reading or reviewing front. The books continue to pile up though so I'd better get on with it! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Alice Bliss by Laura Bliss

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
Triangles by Ellen Hopkins
The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

Reviews posted this week:

This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

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

The Might-Have-Been by Joseph Schuster
Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott
Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee
Gossip by Beth Gutcheon
A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Monday Mailbox

Another fantastic week for me with a cascade of great looking books that winged their ways through the USPS to my house. I'm so lucky! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

I, Iago by Nicole Galland came from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for a blog tour.
Iago is such a perfect Shakespeare baddie that I am curious to see how Galland posits he became such a reprehensible character.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin came from Harper.
A solitary orchardist who opens his heart to two wild girls who steal apples from his trees, this sounds like an expansive and different kind of western.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey came from Harper.
An homage to Jane Eyre set in Scotland and Ireland in the 50's and 60's? Be still my beating heart!

The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere came from St. Martin's Press.
An old maid discovers and cares for a feral boy sneaking into her garden in order to eat, this sounds similar to another one I got this week but I suspect they will be wildly different stories.

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer came from TLC Book Tours and Harper for a blog tour.
A novel about saving others and ultimately saving yourself, this sounds great to me.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff came from TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for a blog tour.
An account of a plane crash deep in the Dutch New Guinean jungle during WWII, this promises to be a completely gripping read.

Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld came from Unbridled Books.
About three generations of very different women, this novel of the love and caring that makes family, even between unrelated women, sounds fantastic.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Cindy's Love of Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

We have a cottage that has been in my family for almost 100 years now. It has only had modern conveniences for fewer than 20 years. So when we spent time there when I was a child, we had no electricity and no phone. It was a throwback to an older time. But I learned a lot, sewing, quilting, basket-making, and so on, spending weeks without all the technology that people have become accustomed to these days both as a crutch and a convenience. The one thing we didn't do, though, was grow our own food. We don't live there year round so there was never any suggestion that we live a self-sustaining life. The upkeep and maintenance on the cottage was constant enough and hard enough. Unlike our summer vacation and its annual but brief, wonderful novelty, Melissa Coleman and her family lived without modern conveniences, working toward self-sustainability, and farming organically all the time as part of the forefront of the back to the land, homesteader movement of the late sixties and early seventies as she recounts in this detailed memoir of their time at Greenwood Farm.

Ranging from her parents' upbringings in regular upper middle class families, how they met, their courtship, and what led them to reject the lifestyles in which they were raised, embracing instead the mantra of the homesteading lifestyle as described by Helen and Scott Nearing in their groundbreaking work: Living the Good Life for the nine years they spent on the coast of Maine working the land and living off the grid as much as possible, Coleman details the rewards and the hardships of the life their family chose to lead. Eliot and Sue Coleman were in the vanguard of the back to the land movement buying sixty acres adjacent to the Nearings and living by the tenets proposed in their book. But this life wasn't easy by any means. And the locals remained suspicious, keeping the tiny homesteading community (several others eventually joined them) separate and essentially isolated from the townsfolk. For a child, the life was both idyllic and lonely. There was not much adult supervision at all given the demands of a working farm but Coleman and her younger sister missed out on a lot of the loving attention that supervision also contains within it.

As the Colemans' dream of creating a self-sustaining farm starts to come together over the years, their marriage frays under the stresses of their work and the compromises that inevitably mar their utopia. Sue "checks out" on her kids and clearly suffers from post-partum depression after all three of her daughters are born. She doesn't like the advent of the residential volunteers, anxious to learn from Eliot, especially given his rising notoriety as an organic food advocate and sustainable farming expert, and their impact on the small, closed society of the farm. Eliot, on the other hand, holds fast to his dream, willing to make certain compromises (a vegetarian who eschews meat for both health and moral reasons willing to kill newborn billy goats because they add nothing to the farm) but not other more vital ones (he believes his diet alone, already lacking in some nutrients, can cure his Graves' disease). He starts to travel more frequently, leaving the burden of the farm on Sue's less capable shoulders.

Coleman doesn't shy away from acknowledging the flaws in her parents' dream but she doesn't go into detail about the small things that contributed to the tension and the stress and the disillusionment that were slowly rending their family apart even before the tragedy that finally shattered their dream forever. She foreshadows the tragedy right from the beginning of the book and so its eventual advent is not a surprise but a culmination of the tension that has been slowly rising throughout the book. She is most adept at the descriptions of nature and of her own childhood experiences here. Although she has done research and conducted interviews with others to fill in the gaps of what she wouldn't or couldn't know at the time, including her parents' early years, the way that these portions are presented as if she was actually present is a bit jarring on the reader and certainly come off as idealized. In addition, the ending of the book is quite abrupt with an epilogue that admits to the book as her way to try and make sense of her early years and especially the accident but it doesn't answer any questions about how her life then really affects her life now and what she may have taken away from the lessons she learned.

Coleman has woven a loose history of the beginnings of the organic food movement, the drive to eat locally (although how local avocados, common to her school lunches, are to the Maine coast is rather questionable), homesteading, and living gently on the land in with her family's story. And sometimes the details of the history overwhelm the sadder but more engaging family story. A tale of a dream and a family that couldn't be sustained despite the best of intentions, this is nevertheless an interesting story. Living a lifestyle that most of us would never consider, even as we incorporate certain of its tenets into our life now more and more, the compromises and the failures and the ultimate, terrible price the Coleman family paid, Melissa Coleman has afforded readers an intimate glimpse into a hoped for paradise that never quite achieved its name.

For more information about Melissa Coleman and the book visit her website or like her page on Facebook. 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 this book to review.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Mailbox

If I keep hitting the jackpot in my mailbox, I'm going to have to buy a lottery ticket too and see if I am equally as lucky there! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez came from Algonquin Books.
Alvarez is a lovely writer and this examination of family and promises and the poverty plaguing Haiti, even before the earthquake devastated it, has already proven to be a wonderful read.

The Innocents by Francesca Segal came from Voice.
Practically anything inspired by Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence is sure to have my vote of approval and I'm looking forward to this tale of a tightly knit Jewish community and the love triangle that could change everything.

You Came Back by Christopher Coake came from Grand Central Publishing.
I don't know how you ever get past the death of a child but as a parent, if someone tells you that their home, your old home, is haunted by the ghost of your child, do you believe? And how much does all of this impact your future life? This book sounds completely engrossing.

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair came from Grand Central Publishing.
I do love books set in India and this one about a young woman on the verge of marriage who uncovers her mother's past sounds completely delicious.

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason came from Knopf.
A novel about a young tutor who has a gift for seeking and finding pleasure and the impact he has on the lives around him, I am intrigued by the whole concept of hedonism.

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje came from Knopf.
Centered on a young boy traveling alone on a ship who eats at the table farthest from the captain's, this tale of his life and some of his fellow "cat's table" inhabitants looks amazing.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones came from Algonquin Books.
One father, two daughters, two marriages, only one acknowledged, only one aware of the other. Quite appealing, no?

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron came from Algonquin Books.
A gifted runner, a Rwandan boy runs for his life both literally and figuratively as he keeps his eye on the Olympics while his country devolves into a terrible bloodbath between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Personal and political both, this won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction.

Goodbye For Now by Laurie Frankel came from Doubleday.
A tale of love and loss and computer programs, this looks sweet and fun and I can't wait to see how the cold logic of computers meshes with the never objective domain of the heart.

The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure came from Riverhead Books.
How many little girls grew up with Laura Ingalls Wilder's books? How appealing is to to hear about a book where the author is trying to live a Laura life, searching out all the places and experiences from the books? Can't wait!

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Cindy's Love of Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A slow reading kind of week but my to be reviewed pile didn't grow any either, which is a very good thing! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
Triangles by Ellen Hopkins
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht

Reviews posted this week:

George and Hilly by George Gurley
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

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

The Might-Have-Been by Joseph Schuster
Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott
Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee
Gossip by Beth Gutcheon
A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez
This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

By now we are all quite familiar with the strictures placed on women by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The news has bombarded us with images of the burqua-clad women trailing their male chaperones, women who had no choice but to follow the rules of one of the most repressive and highly moralistic regimes around. But what happened to the women who no longer had the protection of a male family member or of only a young boy? How on earth were they to survive in the unbending and dangerous to women world of the Taliban?

Kamila Sidiqi is one of five sisters who were still at home when the Taliban took over Kabul. She had just received her teaching degree despite the dangers posed by the civil war raging through the country when the Taliban took Kabul, trapping women in their homes and rendering Sidiqi's valuable degree useless. Worse yet for her family, her father had served under several previous governments, putting him at extreme risk and he eventually fled to some semblence of safety, leaving his family behind. Sidiqi's older brother also leaves Afghanistan for Iran in hopes of being able to find work and to avoid any reprisals against his family for his father's prior loyalties. This leaves the women of the family with only their young, school-aged brother as a chaperone and no visible means of support.

But Kamila Sidiqi is an incredibly driven and resourceful woman and she hatches the idea of creating a dressmaking business that will stave off their impending poverty. Learning to sew from an older sister, she and her sisters carefully created a viable home industry right under the noses of the Taliban. And not only did their business provide the support of their own family, but they also taught other women from the neighborhood to sew as well in order to support their families as well. Over the five year span of the Taliban's oppressive rule, Sidiqi, with only her young brother to chaperone her as she negotiated with the male shopkeepers at their local market, created a grass roots business that saved many families from starvation, especially those like her own where the older men had had no choice but to flee the country leaving their wives and daughters unprotected and without a male presence.

Lemmon traveled to and from Afghanistan for many years, through the escalating tensions, war in the street, and US bombings in order to chronicle the perseverence, determination, and entreprenurial spirit in women like Kamila Sidiqi that the Taliban had been unable to contain. Lemmon tells the story as if it was a novel, creating dialogue for her subjects despite clearly writing this years after the events she's chronicling. Lemmon's background as a journalist is very evident here as well with the writing coming across as very journalistic, simplistic, and oddly enough, given the content of the story, emotionally distant. She also periodically thrusts herself and the present day into the story she's reporting which comes off as mildly distracting. What must have been the overwhelming tension of day to day living interpsersed with moments of heart pounding terror is not all that well conveyed; instead it is reported but muffled, muted. And there seem to be some rather big omissions in Lemmon's writing about these brave Sidiqi girls. Why did the girls' mother stay in the north of Afghanistan after her husband left for Iran instead of going back to Kabul to help her daughters? How did the young women learn to sew so well so quickly that they could create a thriving cottage industry? Why was there still a market for clothing when people couldn't even find enough to eat? How did the economics of this venture work out? Why did these shopkeepers, who were also acting contrary to the Taliban's restrictions and therefore in danger, cooperate with Kamila Sidiqi and her incredibly young mahram (chaperone)?

The story itself is impressive and inspiring, putting a face on the suffering and devastation first of a militant, oppressive, and misogynistic regime and then of a terrible, destructive war but it is also the moving chronicle of unbroken spirit, the will to live, and the sort of woman who can move mountains and change the world. For those interested in another facet of the reality of Afghanistan under the Taliban, this will fill in some of the picture. That these women persevered and succeeded even in the face of threats of beatings, imprisonment, or death is incredibly awe-inspiring and humbling.

For more information about Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and the book visit her website, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. 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 this book to review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

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.

Gold by Chris Cleave. The book is being released by Simon and Schuster on July 10, 2012.

Amazon says this about the book: Building on the tradition of Little Bee, Chris Cleave again writes with elegance, humor, and passion about friendship, marriage, parenthood, tragedy, and redemption.Gold is the story of Zoe and Kate, world-class athletes who have been friends and rivals since their first day of Elite training. They’ve loved, fought, betrayed, forgiven, consoled, gloried, and grown up together. Now on the eve of London 2012, their last Olympics, both women will be tested to their physical and emotional limits. They must confront each other and their own mortality to decide, when lives are at stake: What would you sacrifice for the people you love, if it meant giving up the thing that was most important to you in the world?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: George & Hilly by George Gurley

Take one marriage-averse man. Add a longtime girlfriend who wants some sort of statement of commitment. Send through 6 years of couples therapy. Chronicle the ups and downs for the entire world. In a nutshell, that's the premise of the memoir George & Hilly by George Gurley. This is definitely a no-holds barred, no punches pulled description of the six years of therapy George and Hilly pursued in the hopes of making their relationship strong enough for George to be willing to propose without breaking into a cold sweat or finding yet another excuse not to take that step.

George was a hard-partying, heavy drinking, nightlife reporter when he met Hilly. Hilly quickly became an early-to-bed spendthrift working in the fashion world soon into their realtionship. Two more different people could hardly be imagined. And as they work through their issues as a couple, their differences start to become more and more glaringly obvious. But they also uncover co-dependencies and similarities that the reader would never have initially guessed at as well. As they focus on their strengths and weaknesses as a couple, Gurley discusses his own view of relationships and the life that he has (willingly) given up because he loves Hilly, even if he is almost incapable of saying the word.

Written with the help of extensive notes and recorded coversations from their therapy sessions, Gurley details all the petty squabbling, misunderstandings, and personal foibles that define a relationship. Both are incredibly open with their therapist and Gurley, at least in retrospect, is very above board about his goals in telling Dr. Selman things, both pertinent to their relationship and not.

I wanted very badly to like this book. I love the premise and thought it would have many relatable, laugh-out-loud moments in it. Sadly, for me, it just did not. And I have to admit that I didn't much like either George or Hilly as Gurley presented them here, terrible as this is to admit given that they are in fact real people and not fictional characters. They often times come off as juvenile and unwilling to face or address some of the issues that are causing strife in their relationship despite paying a therapist to help them do just that. I suppose they've made progress by the end of the book but I was still left shaking my head and thinking it's good that there's someone out there for everyone.

I seem to be the minority view on this (totally alone out on my branch, in fact) as you'll see if you check the amazon reviews. In an effort to fit in, I'll say that I did really love the cover of this book. It's absolutely adorable and what drew me to the book in the first place. And the idea behind the story is fantastic. Not sympathizing with George or Hilly certainly caused me a problem though and made for a less than pleasurable reading experience.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm feeling very proud of myself for all the reviewing I managed to accomplish this week. I didn't read as much as usual but I devoted rather a lot of time to running, including a 10K on Saturday, and some to tennis. This week ends the season for one of my tennis teams so I'll get two reading days back from the court after this and then maybe my reading will increase again. This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed these few past weeks are:

A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez
This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
Triangles by Ellen Hopkins
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek

Reviews posted this week:

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
Butterfly's Child by Angela Davis-Gardner
When All That's Left of Me Is Love by Linda Campanella
Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge
One Night in London by Caroline Linden

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

One Night in London by Caroline Linden
The Might-Have-Been by Joseph Schuster
Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott
Diary of a Mad Fat Girl by Stephanie McAfee
George and Hilly by George Gurley
Gossip by Beth Gutcheon
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez
This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

Monday Mailbox

A several completely delicious looking books arrived on my doorstep this week and I am looking forward to diving into them as soon as possible. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman came from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
A dying old woman tells the story of the land to the young man whom she intends to leave the family estate. I love multigenerational tales and this one seems to have a very inventive way of telling that tale.

The Time In Between by Maria Duenas came from Atria Books.
A WWII story about a young women who uses her skills as a dressmaker to become an Allied spy, this sounds fantastic.

Equal of the Shore by Anita Amirrezvani came from Scribner.
Centered on a sixteenth century Iranian woman who is a party to the politics and manuevering of her nation after her father, the Shah's death, I can't wait to get to this one.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman came from Scribner.
Based on the historical event where two Jewish women and five children survived a roman siege on Mount Masada, Hoffman's work is always gripping and this one promises to be as well.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Cindy's Love of Books as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: One Night in London by Caroline Linden

Publishers really like trilogies. If a reader is hooked by the first book, they are all but guaranteed to go on to books two and three, a winning scenario for the publisher and the author. I freely admit I enjoy books in series but I have the odd stipulation that I want them to be complete in and of themselves. I don't want to be compelled to go on to have closure in a story, although I fully intend to keep reading if I enjoy the first book enough. Romances not only lend themselves nicely to giving me the happy ending I sometimes require, but they also tend to have series where each story is complete within a larger framework. While this historical romance by Linden is the first in a series and tells the love story of Edward, the pragmatic middle son of the Duke of Durham and the widowed Lady Francesca Gordon, it has a larger tale to it that doesn't conclude within its pages, leaving the reader with a cliffhanger which ostensibly won't be tied up until the third book. This makes me crabby and it is no exception here but I will forgive it because I enjoyed the love story enough to keep me willing to read the second installment.

The Duke of Durham is on his deathbed as the novel opens and he is terribly agitated, needing to tell his heir something incredibly important. But his heir is a rake and a bit of a gadfly and it falls to pragmatic, clinical, middle brother Edward to find out what is so bothering their father. What he learns, that his father was married before he married their mother and was never officially divorced, could not only ruin the de Lacey brothers in society but strip them of their inheritance and legitimacy. And so Edward hires the best soliciter money can buy to help come up with a legal defense and protect their interests in case it becomes necessary.

But Edward's hiring of this legal top gun means that Lady Francesca Gordon, who had all but secured the man's services herself, will have to find someone else to help her win custody of her orphaned niece. She's so furious with Edward de Lacey that she vows she will force him to help her himself. And so starts their association with each other. Edward, as an honorable man, cannot turn the lady down, especially when he sees how heartfelt she is in her desire and love for this little girl and her fear for the child when Georgina's stepmother disappears with her. It doesn't hurt that she also holds the power to make the tabloid writer who printed the news about the possible loss of the de Lacey's inheritance retract or at least soften his story.

As Edward and Francesca work together to find Georgina and to come up with the best possible case to grant the impetuous Francesca custody, they find they are incredibly attracted to each other. Their chemistry is quite believable and grows organically rather than being forced simply to fit the story's need. This is very much a story of opposites attracting, each lending balance to the other until a misunderstanding rooted in their very different personalities could drive them apart.

The question of the de Lacey brothers' legitimacy is completely unresolved here and doesn't promise to be resolved in the next book: youngest son, the hotheaded Gerard's story either. While the novel ends with the ending romance readers expect and require, other sub-plot threads are resolved in completely unexpected and yet wholly appropriate ways. The other two de Lacey brothers are intriguing, which bodes well as they both have their own novels following this one. And the other secondary characters are mostly appealing and make worthwhile additions to the story. Historical romance readers will be quite satisfied with this start to Linden's trilogy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge

Set over one 24 hour period on the last day of 1999 and filled with family, dysfunctional, estranged, and tragic, eccentric and endearing characters, and a kooky, appealing premise, this novel is as fun and entertaining as the whole Texas outdoors. Faith Bass Darling, of the founding Bass' of Bass, Texas, hears God instruct her to have a garage sale of all her belongs (many of which are beyond priceless) because this is her last day on Earth. Faith is the richest woman in town, estranged from her only surviving child, she hasn't left her home in years and, as only she and her doctor know, is suffering from Alzheimer's. And a garage sale of the family heirloom antiques she has guarded so carefully during her lifetime is just not in Faith's usual character.

Local antiques dealer Bobbie Ann, who, while coveting all of the things that Faith is giving away, vaguely telling people to pay what they can for each priceless antique, knows that something isn't right and she calls her old friend Claudia Jean, Faith's daughter, who blew out of town long ago and never looked back. Claudia comes home to save the only thing she cared about but she may be too late. As the sale goes on and Faith slides in and out of reality, flashbacks and the appearance of other characters flesh out the back story of how Faith came to be a lonely old lady who doesn't leave her antique-filled house.

Rutledge has told this completely charming tale with a deft and light touch. The surface is chatty and thoroughly enjoyable but there is also a depth here and a more than passing acquaintance with the darker realities of life: racism, classism, aging, and a family at the mercy of a hateful person. Much like Faith's dragging all her possessions out of the house to be displayed on her formerly immaculate, perfect lawn, the tale of the darker undercurrents is slowly exposed to the view of the reader, showing that Faith's maintaining of appearances throughout the whole of her life was just that, a maintaining that masked harder truths.

Told from multiple perpectives, the story reveals itself slowly, creating a perfect narrative tension. Both addled but still strong and imposing Faith and self-focused for her own emotional protection Claudia Jean are sympathetic characters and the reader roots for them both even when they seem to be at cross-purposes. There is a Texas-sized load of humor here so readers can still smile through outrage and sadness. Each chapter starts with the provenance of one of the antiques that reflects the action in the coming chapter. These provenances are fascinating as they don't always match the story of the piece as Faith knows it, just as life under the surface has been so different than proper pearls and gloves would have suggested.

A wonderful, pleasing read that caused more than its share of grins from me, this has hidden depths to it and will stay with the reader long after the covers are closed.

Thanks to Megan at Amy Einhorn Books for sening me a copy of this book to review.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: When All That's Left of Me Is Love by Linda Campanella

A terminal cancer diagnosis. A beloved mother. Just one more year. How does anyone face such a thing? With grief certainly but in Linda Campanella and her family's case, they also faced it with overwhelming love and the desire to help her mother continue living to the fullest for the time she had left. This memoir of loss is really a celebration of Nancy Sachsse's life, her place in her family's hearts, and the resilience she faced during her last year.

When 73 year old Nancy Sachsse was told that she had terminal cancer and that her care was going to be mostly palliative, she didn't rage against the fates but with her grieving family at her side, set out to be present in everything and every way she could for the time she had left. Daughter Linda writes of her last year with the mother both to cope with her loss but also to provide others with a different way to look at such a diagnosis. Determined to help her mother spend the time living rather than dying, Campanella tells of the decisions they made both in actual practice and emotionally. Her mother was given a calendar to help her continue to plan outings that would give her the sense of having a future. Impromptu happy hours on the deck became standard and tangible small ways to celebrate each day. They didn't talk about death and dying but about life and living. And the whole family made it a practice to share with each other and specifically with Nan the love that they all had/have for each other.

Told through her recollections of the time and reinforced by the inclusion of e-mails from Campanella and her mother, this is a sad but positive offering. It is very emotional and very, very personal. Everyone who walks the path of losing a loved one, especially when that loved one declines slowly, walks it differently and so this can't be prescriptive but it might help others view the coming end differently.

The book jumps forward and backwards in time around the themes of Loving, Living, Believing, and Letting Go. There is, of course, no doubt at the outset of the memoir that Campanella loses her mother. But the chapters jump from early on after the diagnosis to the time immediately following her death and back again which can be a bit disconcerting to the reader. The inclusion of her mother's own e-mails to Campanella and to her grandsons helps to bring Sachsse's distinct voice into the narrative. The other e-mails detail Campanella's research and her hope and her ultimate decisions about what would be best for her mother. There are hints of disagreements between family members but those have mostly been suppressed and so the memoir remains ultimately uplifting. While there is some sense of the nitty gritty day to day living here, much of the reality of a person dying of cancer has been glossed over. It is impressive that they all found a way to be so positive and focused on living in the midst of this long leaving and the memoir is much more about the emotional toll of such a diagnosis and death and the ways in which the family strove to take the weight of that from Nan's shoulders than it is about the physical. If all that's left of Nancy Sachsse is love, her daughter has certainly channeled that love into her account of losing her beloved mother.

For more information about Linda Campanella and the book visit her website or like her page on Facebook. 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 this book to review.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Butterfly's Child by Angela Davis-Gardner

When you read a marvelous book and you close that last page, have you ever had the characters continue to live on in your head, going beyond the end of the tale the author told, living lives no one else has ever imagined? This certainly happens to me although not as much as it used to when I was younger. And it clearly happens for people who write fan fiction and sequels. Obviously the same thing happened for Angela Davis-Gardner and as a result of her inability to leave Cio-Cio and Pinkerton's small child tragically orphaned on the stage at the end of the opera Madame Butterfly, we have her marvelous and engrossing novel Butterfly's Child.

As in the opera, the novel opens with Cio-Cio waiting for Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton's return to Japan, convinced that he will in fact come back to her and the son he never knew he had. But when he does return, it is with an American wife. Butterfly commits hairi-kiri out of love and desperation and Pinkerton and his devout wife Kate are left to decide young biracial Benji's fate. They choose to take him back to Illinois with them to their farm but instead of Pinkerton's claiming paternity, they say that Benji is an orphan whom they've adopted as is their Christian duty.

Life is not easy on the farm. Pinkerton never planned to work on it, Kate wasn't raised as a farm wife, and Benji is desperately afloat in a culture he doesn't trust with people he doesn't know and who are having a hard time caring for him emotionally given the way he remains a constant reminder of Butterfly for both Pinkertons. Without the love and caring at home to build his sense of worth, the petty racism he encounters daily in the small town is terribly isolating. Only a few people treat him as a full, intelligent human being. And so he never stops dreaming of leaving Illinois and going back to Japan to find his mother's family. When the secret of his paternity leaks out in this provincial and small-minded town, the repercussions tear the Pinkerton family apart and Benji runs away to make his long desired journey back to Japan.

The historical detail and accuracy of attitudes and beliefs are fantastic here. Davis-Gardner really captures the difficulty of being bi-racial at the turn of the 20th century, not only in the US but also in Japan. The hardship of working on a farm over tough years is realistically depicted. The Japanese areas of larger American cities are carefully detailed and brought to life. The casual racism of the time threads through Benji's everyday life just exactly as it would have, touching and soiling so much.

In Benji, Davis-Gardner has created a sad, woeful character whose search for identity and acceptance is all external until he realizes that only by finding himself within will he finally be at ease in a world not amenable to people like him. Pinkerton is a fairly loathesome character and just as in the opera, the reader wonders what both Cio-Cio and then Kate could ever have seen in the man. Kate is very buttoned-up and constrained and she tries her hardest but she ultimately finds herself unable to rise above the prejudices of the day and her eventual succumbing to deep depression is a not unexpected fate for her. Pinkerton's mother, while gruff, is one of the more sympathetic characters as is Keast, the veterinarian who takes a real and heartfelt interest in Benji.

The plot, starting with the end of the opera and growing from there, has a desultory feel to it, unspooling slowly toward a series of surprising climaxes. Benji's life in American with his father and stepmother draws out far longer than his adult life in Japan although the latter is equally as, or even more, interesting than his farm years. Just as Benji left them behind, Frank and Kate's stories are wrapped up tidily and fairly quickly in the end, the more interesting secondary characters are briefly mentioned, and the focus is solely on Benji again and the losses he's chosen to accept by only being one half of his heritage. A thoughtful and appealing tale that not only takes inspiration from the opera but also cleverly incorporates it into the tale itself, this search for self was a delight to read.

For more information about Angela Davis-Gardner and the book visit her website. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

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

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 Little Red Guard by Wenguang Huang. The book is being released by Riverhead Heardcover on April 26, 2012.

Amazon says this about the book: When Wenguang Huang was nine years old, his grandmother became obsessed with her own death. Fearing cremation, she extracted from her family the promise to bury her after she died. This was in Xi’an, a city in central China, in the 1970s, when a national ban on all traditional Chinese practices, including burials, was strictly enforced. But Huang’s grandmother was persistent, and two years later, his father built her a coffin. He also appointed his older son, Wenguang, as coffin keeper, a distinction that meant, among other things, sleeping next to the coffin at night.

Over the next fifteen years, the whole family was consumed with planning Grandma’s burial, a regular source of friction and contention, with the constant risk of being caught by the authorities. Many years after her death, the family’s memories of her coffin still loom large. Huang, now living and working in America, has come to realize how much the concern over the coffin has affected his upbringing and shaped the lives of everyone in the family. Lyrical and poignant, funny and heartrending, The Little Red Guard is the powerful tale of an ordinary family finding their way through turbulence and transition.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

My family's always maintained that you are either a lake person or an ocean person (assuming you like the water, I guess). I've always been a lake person. I don't particularly like the taste of salt water and I loathe sand. I grew up paddling around in fresh water and yet when I learned to scuba dive last year, it was like coming home for me. Like Josie Henderson in Martha Southgate's The Taste of Salt, I was not raised in close proximity with the ocean but I have always felt the pull of water. And although it took me a long time to come to feel the salt water running through my veins, I ache to get back under the ocean again.

Josie Henderson is a well respected marine biologist working at the acclaimed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. As if being a woman wasn't rare enough in her field, she is also a black woman and she delights in her uniqueness. Her husband Daniel is an icthyologist at Woods Hole. He is a gentle, milquetoast sort of man, native to the area, and interested in starting a family that Josie is fairly certain she doesn't want. He is also white , making Josie suspect that he cannot possibly understand her or where she has come from.

Where she has come from is a suburb of Cleveland, far from the ocean, where her father spent her entire childhood sunk deep into a bottle and her mother worked as a nurse to support Josie and her charismatic younger brother Tick after she kicked their father out. Josie doesn't like to share her dysfunctional family situation with anyone and would prefer to keep them in her past but when her mother asks her to come home and collect Tick from his latest stint at rehab, she can't say no. And when Tick subsequently shows up at her door with no where else to go, she takes him in, despite knowing that he is still in the clutches of his own alcoholism.

Although she has worked hard to distance herself from her family, Josie is clearly damaged by her childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic. She sabotages her relationships and never lets anyone too close to her. Her best and favorite coping strategy is avoidance. While Josie is the catalyst around whom the story unfolds, each of her family members also narrates portions of their own tale as well, showing the all around damage that an addiction inflicts on not only the alcoholic but on the alcoholic's loved ones as well.

The novel takes place in the present but also has flashbacks to Josie's parents' meeting and courtship, her father's migration from the South to the North, echoing many working class blacks of the time, and his gradual descent into alcoholism when Josie and Tick were small. Southgate also confronts the continued realities of racism in this day and age through both the successful Josie's eyes and through down and out Tick's eyes.

The multiple narrators help to move the story along and to fill in the blanks where other characters couldn't possibly know the truth but the characters' individual voices aren't quite different enough to make them easy for the reader to immediately differentiate between. Josie as a character isn't terribly likable. She is so self-centered and selfish that it is hard to sympathize with her character. She treads all over her nice and unassuming husband without explaining her feelings to him at all and giving him a chance to be who she needs him to be. Brother Tick is a fairly stereotypical addict and there's never any doubt where his storyline is going. But despite these flaws, there's a grace and a beauty in the ending that ultimately helps to make the book more hopeful than dysfunctional. An interesting perspective on the casualties of addiction, the roles of family, and of race, this would provide a lot of fodder for book clubs to dicuss.

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

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Mailbox

Great looking books have been practically pouring into my house and I've done nothing but stack them up and stroke them lovingly (okay, and read a few already). In order to remedy the oversight of me not crowing about the bounty, I am lumping them all into this post even thought this is far more than one week's worth. This past couple of weeks' mailbox arrivals:

Butterfly's Child by Angela Davis-Gardner came from Dial Press for a blog tour through TLC Book Tours.
Ever wonder what happened to Butterfly and Pinkerton's child after the opera Madame Butterfly ends? This imagining sounds wonderful and heartbreaking.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond came from William Morrow Cookbooks.
I have played around with Drummond's recipes on her website and they are always tasty so I am thrilled to have this cookbook to play around with.

The Greatest Love Story of All Time by Lucy Robinson came from Penguin UK.
How a woman's friends force her to go on after her perfect life is in shambles, this sounds like a completely and totally fun read. I mean, eight dates aren't exactly my own introverted idea of a way to fix things but I can't wait to see how they lead to the Greatest Love Story of All Time!

The Red House by Mark Haddon came from Doubleday.
I thoroughly enjoyed Haddon's first book and I'm looking forward to this tricky read about estranged siblings and their difficult families staying together in a vacation home.

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek came from Riverhead Hardcover for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Fishermen lead a dangerous life and this novel centered on king crab fishing and the family dynamics that surround this way of life sounds like a fantastic tale.

The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead came from Algonquin Books.
A war story and a love story both, this should be riveting in Olmstead's hands.

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon came from Ballantine Books.
A woman who is finding her life a little dull starts answering questions for a survey, becoming Wife 22 in her responses. I can only imagine where this is going to get her and I'm going to thoroughly enjoy being along for the ride!

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland came from Random House Trade Paperbacks for a blog tour through TLC Book Tours.
One of my very best friends has a great grandparent who worked for Tiffany and her connection has always meant I've been intrigued by tales of the man himself, especially in relation to the women who worked for him.

An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi came from Little, Brown and Company.
This one sounds like a Mrs. Dalloway for today. My interest is definitely picqued.

The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman came from Algonquin Books.
A true life detective story about a Bible that disappeared and then reappeared incomplete? Gives you shivers, doesn't it? Well, it does for nerdy, bookish me.

Make It Stay by Joan Frank came from The Permanent Press for a blog tour through TLC Book Tours.
A story told at a dinner party has unexpected consequences for the guests. Definitely intriguing material here.

This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman came from Harper Perennial for a blog tour through TLC Book Tours.
A memoir about a family who helped to pioneer the back to the land farming movement before abandoning their life in the wake of a tragic accident, this promises to be a marvelous read.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock came from Bloomsbury USA for a blog tour through TLC Book Tours.
Poet Molly Peacock weaves her own life together with the elderly widow who created beautiful paper-cut, mixed media collages of flowers in the late 1700's. Delectable, no?

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward came from Bloomsbury USA.
The 2011 National Book Award Winner, this grim look at grinding poverty and family looks to be amazing.

Keepsake by Kristina Riggle came from William Morrow Paperbacks for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A novel about sisters, hoarding, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I imagine there will be some familiar reflections in here. Plus I adore the cover.

The Mercury Fountain by Eliza Factor came from Akashic Books.
What happens when the founder of a Utopian movement has to compromise some principles but his idealistic daughter refuses to do so as well? This one could well be deep and involved.

Gathering of Waters by Bernice McFadden came from Akashic Books.
I've not read McFadden before but I am interested to see how she writes about Emmett Till and his murder and all the time spiralling out and away from this seminal event.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker came from Other Press.
This has been getting rave reviews and the fact that it's centered on Burma and a long forgotten love letter makes it just that much more appealing to me.

The Absolutist by John Boyne came from Other Press.
A WWI novel, this looks to be a wrenching but important novel.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Cindy's Love of Books as she is hosting this month's 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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