Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

I liked this book well enough but it definitely had its flaws. It was an excellent book club book though, and we had one of our longest discussions in a long time.

Claire is a vapid blank and a young woman who marries an equally (if not more so) milquetoast of a man, mostly simply because he asked, and because she wanted to escape her parents. And he was leaving for Hong Kong and she wanted to go. He was helping to rebuild the infrastructure after the war (this was 1952). Claire meets Will, the chauffeur for the Chens, where she teaches piano to their daughter Locket. Will is exciting and doesn't care what other think. He does as he pleases and the Chen even seem a little scared of him. Claire immediately falls into bed with him, as she is utterly bored and he seems to give her a tiny bit of personality. Through flashbacks we see Will's experiences in 1942, when at first he is squired around by the wild and exotic Trudy, but eventually the Japanese come and he is sent to a POW camp and things get quite terrible.

So why is the book called The Piano Teacher? Will is really the main character, not Claire (although Claire is the mirror through which we see everyone else so she's the main character in that regard, although personally I like my main characters to have a tad more character.) Why is Claire sleeping with him? Why do all the British ex-pats in town feel the urge to unburden their secrets to Claire? Why are so many (perhaps all) of the characters pretty irredeemably bad? Why is no one sympathetic? Will Claire become pregnant? Will her affair be revealed? Who gave away the secret of the Crown Treasures? What became of Trudy?

It was fascinating to read about an occupied territory during the war, particularly one where all our characters are British but it's on the other side of the world. In that regard, it did remind me a little bit of A Town Like Alice, but that book is far superior.

This book made for a fast, easy read, there are a lot of interesting topics to discuss, and it was neat to learn about this different culture I was unfamiliar with. I'd describe this book as literary lite. It won't hurt, it's a good palate cleanser, and you learn a bit along the way, but don't expect too much.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Up next:
The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Of all the Little House books, this is the only one I have never reread. And I didn't want to. Until I read Shelf Discovery last year, which piqued my interest. Plus it's weird that I have reread a series dozens of times, except for one volume. So I resolved to reread it this year. And as usual I am glad I did.

I have no recollection of this book at all it turns out. While reading it, it felt all unfamiliar and new, not like a reread in the slightest. (I was probably six when my parents first read it to me and likely that's the only time I read it.) I have been within 20 miles of Malone, New York, and I kick myself for not having gone to the Wilder farm. The Wilders were quite well off. They had three enormous barns, sheep, cows, horses, goats, chickens, and more. They had a pond for cutting ice (and a place to store it) and woods for cutting logs and they planted multiple crops (potatoes, wheat, corn). This is not like the Ingalls who only have one crop (and the garden) and who have only 1-2 horses and cows at any time. The Wilders have dozens of each. It's probably good, since Almanzo did not turn out as prosperous as his father, that he had a wife who'd grown up with less.

It's interesting that the Wilder's oldest sister was just eliminated. Perhaps because her name was also Laura which would be confusing, perhaps because Laura Ingalls never met her, I don't know, but instead of five siblings, Almanzo has 4 (after the events of this book he had another brother born.) Eliza Jane is stuffy and always does the right thing, Royal isn't around much, but Alice is fun and hardworking. Almanzo really hates school (interesting he later married a schoolteacher) and takes every opportunity to work instead. He helps Father a lot on the farm. I liked the authenticity of how Laura's language changed from the Ingalls books to this one. The children called their father, Father, not Pa, and they occasionally used overly formal language such as "They are younger than I be." You can tell Laura really quizzed Almanzo before writing this book to get small details like that correct.

Another interesting scene to me was when the parents went away for a week, leaving the four children to themselves. The Ingalls did this as well when taking Mary to the blind school. The Wilders ate all the sugar, made ice cream, ate cakes, and generally were gluttonous and poorly behaved, until the last day when they scrambled to clean everything up. That's a stark contrast to the Ingalls who spent the entire time doing all the spring cleaning so it would be done when Ma got home. While the Wilders did certainly work hard, I think less was expected of them, and all the missing sugar was much less of a hardship for them than it would have been for the Ingalls. The Ingalls girls were living closer to the edge of poverty and they knew everyone had to pitch in or they might tumble over. Whereas the Wilders mostly behaved because otherwise they'd get a whipping from Father (with an actual whip, yikes!)

There were some fun stories, such as how the teacher dealt with the big boys who wanted to beat him, what happened when Almanzo asked Father for a nickel, how he got the better of everyone at the sheep shearing, and Almanzo's giant pumpkin. This book I think would appeal to many young boys, although some of the old-fashioned terminology would need to be explained. Almanzo is a real boy, getting into fights and going fishing and wanting to ride horses. It was a sweet book that I'm very glad I finally reread. But it just doesn't have the same emotional resonance for me that the Laura Ingalls books do.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book (the box set actually) through my previous workplace, at a discount from the publisher's price.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Crescent

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber

"The sky is white.
The sky shouldn't be white because it's after midnight and the moon has not yet appeared and nothing is as black and as ancient as the night in Baghdad."

Do you fear as I do that the whiteness is due to an explosion? After all, it's Baghdad, so sadly that's a pretty reasonable assumption any time in the last 30 years.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Blue Nights

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

synopsis from GoodReads:
In her first book since The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion has now written with stunning frankness about her daughter, Quintana Roo, as well as thoughts and fears about having children and about growing old.

Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood—in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were missed or perhaps displaced. Seamlessly woven in are incidents Didion sees as underscoring her own age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.

Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that follow the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—is a book that is not only haunting but profoundly moving.

Publishing November 1st 2011 by Knopf.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: Stumbling on Happiness

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert p. 70

"And yet, we have seen that when we say with moderate precision what we mean by words such as happiness, we still can't be sure that two people who claim to be happy are having the same experience, or that our current experience of happiness is really different from our past experience of happiness, or that we are having an experience of happiness at all. If the goal of science is to make us feel awkward and ignorant in the presence of things we once understood perfectly well, then psychology has succeeded above all others."

This book is good, but much more academic and dense than I anticipated. Luckily the author does throw in some humor here and there.

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Up next:
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir by Noelle Hancock
For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

Mrs.Fisby, a widow (and a mouse), is living with her four young children snug in their winter home in the farmer's garden. Then her youngest boy becomes terribly ill, and spring arrives unexpectedly warm and early. If they don't move quickly to their summer home, their home will be plowed and they will all be killed. But if her sick boy is moved before he is well, he will die. Mrs. Frisby is desperate for a solution and thanks to some unlikely helpers, she is introduced to the rats of NIMH, and these rats are unlike any other rats. How will they solve Mrs. Frisby's dilemma? Why do they know her late husband? And how will she ever repay them?

I remembered that this book was very exciting, and that the ending was a little bit scary (I think I also saw the movie where the end was a little more scary than it is in the book because parts of the scary bits at the end are told, not shown, in the book. Which is appropriate for its age level so it's not too scary.) The debate of experimenting on lab rats and mice is still a hot topic, as is how and why we learn. Are animals as smart as people? Do rats serve a larger purpose in the world beyond spreading diseases? Can drugs make someone - or some rat - incredibly smart, and if so, is that necessarily a good thing? There are a lot of debatable topics in this book but aside from that, it's also just a good story, well-plotted with a sense of urgency from the start, and aside from a few necessary longish bits in the explanation of who the rats are, how they got that way, and how they came to be here on the farm, the book is pretty much action-packed throughout. I think it would be excellent for a reluctant middle reader, especially boys. Even though the main character is female, almost all of the rest of the characters are male, and there is a lot of excitement and action. A couple of times I wasn't even sure how they were going to get out of a particular predicament or around a tough obstacle. This book is just as fun a read now as when I was a kid!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: Stumbling on Happiness

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

"Priests vow to remain celibate, physicians vow to do no harm, and letter carriers vow to swiftly complete their appointed rounds despite snow, sleet, and split infinitives. Few people realize that psychologists also take a vow, promising that at some point in their professional lives they will publish a book, a chapter, or at least an article that contains this sentence: 'The human being is the only animal that....'"

Sorry, one sentence just didn't work here. It's promising, I think, that the book starts off with a joke. And it's good that the author has a lack of reverence for his profession. I like people who can have a sense of humor about themselves.

National Reading Group Month! Part V

I am all out of lists you think, so what else am I going to post about for NRGM? Well, I am not out of lists! The National WNBA every years has a challenging task of getting members to commit to reading 25 books in a few months, and reviewing and rating them. From these books, the Great Group Reads are picked. And here's the list:

2011 Selections

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Dance Lessons by Áine Greaney
Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo
The Good Sister by Drusilla Campbell
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
If You Knew Then What I Know Now by Ryan Van Meter
The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartók
My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away by Christie Watson
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Wingshooters by Nina Revoyr
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

And next month I am leading a WNBA event which is both a book club discussion (we are reading Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber) and also a discussion of book clubs. Here are some of the discussion points I've written up, and I'd love your feedback. Do you have questions I don't address here? Do you disagree with any of my answers? Do you have additional answers to these potential problems?

  • Why start a book club?
    When you finish an amazing book, do you want to tell someone all about it? Or when you read a frustrating book, do you want to rehash the annoyances and see if others agree with you, or can point out good points that you missed? A Reading Group is the ideal setting for these discussions.

  • How do we get members?
    If you know 2-3 people who’d like to start a group with you, that is fairly small. If everyone can bring just one friend, 6-8 is a great number for discussion. You can also list your club on Goodreads, Meetup, or with your local library if you are open to strangers. And tell your local bookstore.

  • Many members don’t finish the books
    Is your book club assigning many very long books? And are you giving members enough prior notice to read them? It’s best to pick 2-3 books ahead, if you don’t do your whole calendar at once. If so, ask if it’s okay to spoil the ending, don’t just assume you can’t discuss it. Some people are okay with spoilers and some know they will never get around to finishing. Then try some novellas or short stories. You don’t have to choose—and read—an entire short story collection. You can pick just 2-3 stories to discuss. If the same culprits can’t manage the short stories and continue to not finish the books, then just spoil away! It’s not fair for them to hold you hostage.

  • No one has much to discuss.
    Try picking books with Discussion Questions included to start the conversation. Some books have the questions online instead of printed in them.

  • I hate the books some members pick.
    Having each member responsible for picking one book selection may seem like a good idea, but picking good discussable books is not everyone’s strong suit. Instead, having members make suggestions and then voting on the books, is much more egalitarian. Plus, you don’t have to always like the books! See my post about how to turn complaints into discussion questions.

  • It’s too expensive for me.
    Is your book club meeting over dinner at nice restaurants? Not everyone can afford that. Consider hosting in members’ homes and either serving snack foods or going potluck. If you’d prefer to meet elsewhere, try instead a coffee shop, tea shop, or bakery, or your local library or bookstore. Also most book clubs try to stick to paperback books. If you get your list together early, then the library is also a good option, or sharing copies.

  • Frequently only a couple of members show up.
    Maybe the date and time you’ve originally chosen just doesn’t work anymore. Have members vote and see if a different time would improve attendance. Also keep in mind it is a big commitment, and it can help to give members a few months’ off, such as around the holidays or in the summer. Those times when you have 2 months or more between meetings are a great time to pick a larger book.

  • We get off topic so easily!
    It’s good to have a leader to corral people back around but the only true solution to this problem is commitment by the members to stick to the book. You can start off the meeting with more personal discussions and then state when the book discussion is going to begin, which can help.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

National Reading Group Month! Part IV

This is the 4th and final list of book club recommendations by the officers of the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association for National Reading Group Month for this year. If you want to see last year's lists, click here, here, here, and here.

As this list suggests, themes don't have to be centered around a genre, age level, or format. Those are the themes that spring most readily to mind, but if you like the idea of a theme, but don't like being tied down to the above parameters, it's easy enough to pick a theme with a lot of flexibility. I've heard of book clubs reading all food books or animal books, or picking a decade (the 1930s) and as you can see our secretary has a bit of a fetish with water. If in a bookstore I hand her a book with water on the jacket, she will buy it, every time.

A theme doesn't have to be restrictive, and if your book cub sees it as so, you probably should reconsider doing a theme. But for some people it can be freeing to have the list of potential reads whittled down so substantially from the millions of options without any boundaries.

Reading Underwater
Are you missing your summer by the ocean or lake? We have some watery suggestions to remind you of wet and wonderful times. No mermaids.

Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye $14.95
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker $23.95
Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel $14.95
Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger $15.00
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey $14.99
The Secret River by Kate Grenville $14.00
Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer $14.00
River House: A Memoir by Sarahlee Lawrence $16.95
The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning $15.00
The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield $17.95
The Marriage of the Sea by Jane Alison $15.00
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson $7.99
The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch $8.99
Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney $14.99

List by: Kristen Knox, chapter Secretary

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Midnight Rising

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz

synopsis from Goodreads:

Bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the electrifying tale of the daring insurrection that put America on the path to bloody war. Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South. Now, Midnight Rising portrays Brown's uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.

Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America's founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in 1859 he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy. On October 17, the raiders seized Harpers Ferry, stunning the nation and prompting a counterattack led by Robert E. Lee. After Brown's capture, his defiant eloquence galvanized the North and appalled the South, which considered Brown a terrorist. The raid also helped elect Abraham Lincoln, who later began to fulfill Brown's dream with the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure he called "a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale."

Tony Horwitz's riveting book travels antebellum America to deliver both a taut historical drama and a telling portrait of a nation divided - a time that still resonates in ours.

publishing October 25th 2011 by Henry Holt & Co.

National Reading Group Month! Part III

Continuing my posts of the lists of recommended books by the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association for National Reading Group Month, I think this list in particular is quite interesting. I know many people do not consider "Graphic novels" to be reading, but I suspect many of those people haven't read the modern ones, particularly not the ones that have nothing to do with superheros. I first delved into them two years ago with The Imposter's Daughter, and I have since read 4 others and have another one on my TBR shelf. Oddly, the ones I have read have all been memoirs, and I must admit to being uncomfortable calling them graphic novels when these definitely aren't novels, but that's become the name of the genre, even if it's not 100% accurate, so I sigh and move on.

This list and the list of short stories from yesterday are perfect if your book club members have a history of not finishing the books. Most graphic novels (memoirs) that I've read took me no more than 2 hours from beginning to end, some were even shorter. With short stories the trick is to only really assign 2-3 stories from the collection (otherwise the collection can be just as long as a novel). Obviously this wouldn't work as well with series of linked short stories like Olive Kitteridge or Let The Great World Spin, but it can still work. One thing you'd need to do though to make this work is get on person (the book club leader? The person who recommended the book?) to commit to reading the book a month ahead of time in order to select the 2-3 most discussable stories.

Graphic Novels and Memoirs
Are you more of a visual person? Do you like the idea of mixing art and words? Have you been interested to try this burgeoning genre? It’s not just for kids, we promise!

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman $15.95
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi $24.95
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel $13.95
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small $15.95
Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons $19.99
Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware $19.95
Ghost World by Daniel Clause $11.95
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller $14.99
The Greatest of Marlys by Lynda Barry $15.95
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang $8.99
The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire $29.95
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan, Niko Henrichon (illustrator) $14.99

List by: Jenni Franz, chapter Treasurer

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

National Reading Group Month! Part II

As I promised yesterday, today we continue with the lists of recommended book club books that the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association compiled this year for National Reading Group Month. To be sure these were good for book clubs we made sure that the books are readily available (some might have to be ordered if they're a few years old but all are available from the wholesalers and none are out of print), mostly paperback (which keeps the prices down), and discussable.

This is a tricky thing of course - what makes a book discussable? Obvious themes and symbolism, philosophical questions, tricky situations -moral or otherwise, and often (oddly), things you dislike. Here's a trick I sometimes use when trying to come up with discussion questions. I'll go to GoodReads or Amazon, and sort by the number of stars and read the 1 and 2 star reviews. Someone will have said something like "I hated the way the book ended." I turn that into a question: "Why do you think the author ended the book the way she did?" If a critique is that a particular character was unbelievable, the simple question is "how so?" If readers complain that two parts of a story don't seem to fit well and are jarring, you can ask how the book would be different if the author had simply stuck to one of the story lines? Does the secondary story line bring anything to the narrative? What do you think the author was trying to achieve with that plot? If someone complains that a character is unlikable, a more general discussion could be, why do we feel compelled to like characters we read about in books? Is that a dealbreaker? Can you think of other books with unlikeable main characters that you did like in the end (the book, not the character)?

Therefore, books that everyone universally likes are rarely good for discussion, unless they're chock full of themes, symbolism, and philosophy. But in my book club, some of the best discussions we've had have been when fully half the participants have hated the book that month. Just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean there's anything to discuss - quite the opposite! I am often intrigued in these discussions to find out what on earth the people who liked it liked, how they overlooked what I considered to be egregious flaws, and what in the world appealed to them. We don't attack each other personally by any means - but we are honest about what we don't like, and we do expect people to defend their opinions. So don't worry when selecting books if everyone will like them all - it's often best if they don't.

Short Stories
Do some members of your book club have trouble finishing the book? Or do you need a break from too many chunksters? Short stories, essays, and novellas may be the answer!

It Looked Different On the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy by Laurie Notaro $15.00
Delicate Edible Birds: And Other Stories by Lauren Groff $23.95
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell $15.00
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories by Haruki Murakami $15.00
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout $14.00
How to Breathe Underwater: Stories by Julie Orringer $14.00
In the Garden of North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff $13.95
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley $15.00
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro $15.00
Poachers: Stories by Tom Franklin $12.99
Eating Mammals: Three Novellas by John Barlow $12.99

List by Stephanie Ripperton, chapter Vice-President

Teaser Tuesdays: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee p. 58

"In the following weeks, the war encroaches - wives and children, the ones who had ignored the previous evacuation, leave on ships bound for Australia, Singapore. Trudy is obliged to make an appearance at the hospitals to prove she is a nurse."

Just when I think I've seen WWII from all the angles, there's a new one. This book is set half in 1952 and half in 1941, in Hong Kong, so we see it in the beginning of the war and also many years after it is over. It's strange to think of this part of China as being British - colonies seem like a pre-20th century phenomenon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Up next:
The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone
You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

National Reading Group Month!

I'm sorry it's halfway through the month before I posted about it but once again, October is upon us therefore it must be National Reading Group Month!

As in past years, the officers of my chapter of the Women's National Book Association have come up with lists of recommended books that would be appropriate for book clubs. We've always done themed lists and someone recently asked me why. It's not because we assume everyone's book club is themed or think that it should be - it's simply in order to have some semblance of organization. Not to mention that some books clubs might be like mine which is definitely not themed, but we do like to hit certain genres and categories throughout the year, so we might be looking for a YA book or a sci fi/fantasy, in which case themed lists would be a good resource.

So this week I will post this year's lists from the Charlotte chapter, starting with the president:

Sojourns in Europe
Traveling and living in another country offer the enticement and challenge of new experiences in a place different from one’s own. The lure is eternal! And if you can’t get there yourself, the (almost) next best thing is to read about other people’s journeys.

1. The Innocents Abroad or the New Pilgrim's Progress by Mark Twain $7.95
2. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough $37.50
3. Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach $15.00
4. Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon by M.F.K. Fisher $13.95
5. My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme $7.99
6. Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull $15.00
7. Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas by John Baxter $13.95
8. On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Herrmann Loomis $14.95
9. Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes $15.00
10. Dinner with Persephone: Travels in Greece by Patricia Storace $15.95
11. Greece: A Traveler’s Literary Companion edited by Artemis Leontis $14.95

List by: Susan Walker, chapter President

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery

I think this may be my favorite Anne book, although it didn't start out that way. As usual, everything goes perfectly in Anne's life. She and Gilbert get married, he has an uncle who is a doctor in another town on Price Edward Island and wants to turn over his practice to him so no job worry and also no worry about having to leave PEI, and then he finds an adorable, charming house for them to rent, and Anne immediately makes steadfast friends. I want to vomit. I mean, I do like Anne, but her life is so idyllic that I can't identify with her at all. She also doesn't really have personality flaws and everything always works out for her. (She has one pseudo-flaw which is that she talks too much EXCEPT that in every book, Ms. Montgomery makes a point of saying that she's a chatterbox, except for when she appreciates being quiet, so even her one flaw isn't actually a flaw at all as she can just turn it off.)

Well this book is different in two ways. One of her fast friends, Leslie, is actually a pretty tough nut to crack. She doesn't especially want to be friends with Anne at first, and even when she does, Anne occasionally spots Leslie briefly shooting her dirty looks and Anne is convinced that deep down, Leslie kind of hates her. It's true in fact, although of course eventually worked out. And Anne in her infinite wisdom doesn't judge or question Leslie, instead shows patience and wisdom beyond her years to let Leslie work things out at her own pace. I just don't like my heroines to be so flawless.

But then a Very Bad Thing happens to Anne. I don't want to spoil it, but it's quite tragic and it isn't fixed in any way, and Anne will never be the same again. She will always have a pain in her heart that will never be assuaged. And for that, I like her. I'm sad that this horrible thing had to happen to her, but it makes her so much easier to empathize with. I think these books would have been better as a teen because even though at that time I also didn't know anyone with a perfect life, I aspired to that. I wanted to believe I could fall into wonderful jobs, meet interesting friends everywhere I turned, fall in love with a wonderful man and not have a single argument until after we'd been married for 2 years, and so on. Now though, I know that not only will those things not happen but that this kind of idealistic life with only sitcom-problems that can be solved in 24 minutes is beyond unrealistic, and perhaps isn't even wanted at all. After all, would we appreciate beautiful sunny days if we never had any rain? And finally, Anne has some rain.

I like how this book isn't a series of short stories but instead has a few through-plots. The best one is Leslie's unfortunately family predicament, and I must admit that Ms. Montgomery's solution to that problem was unique and creative! I really didn't see it coming, and it resolved things in a satisfactory way without any negative repercussions (whereas all the potential solutions I predicted had a negative side to them.) Captain Jim was a sweet character, and I also liked Owen and Cornelia a lot (although why name her Cornelia when in the very beginning of the book we find out that Diana's daughter is named Anne Cordelia? It was confusing at first.) I was a bit bummed that Marilla has only a bit part in this book and Diana barely appears at all (and I fear for the last), but in life we all do move on. In the end, Anne has a baby, and is most definitely growing up. I look forward to the next book!

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Piano Teacher

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

"It started as an accident. The small Herend rabbit had fallen into Claire's purse."

I wasn't sure about this book (it's for book club) but I am really liking it so far! Starting out with a theft, even if accidental, is certainly a way to draw readers in.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things about Me by Jenny Slate, Dean Fleischer-Camp

synopsis from GoodReads:
Millions of people have fallen in love with Marcel. Now the tiny shell with shoes and a big heart is transitioning from online sensation to classic picture book character, and readers can learn more about this adorable creature and his wonderfully peculiar world.

From wearing a lentil as a hat to hang-gliding on a Dorito, Marcel is able to find magic in the everyday. He may be small, but he knows he has a lot of good qualities. He may not be able to lift anything by himself, but when he needs help he calls upon his family. He may never be able own a real dog . . .but he has a pretty awesome imagination.

Publishing November 1st 2011 by Penguin Group.

Book Review: The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan, read by Dick Hill

I had never heard of the big circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut in 1944, but once I heard about this book, I was intrigued. In particular, I had heard the audio book was good which is what I decided to try, and boy am I glad I did! This was a fantastic audio, and I would sometimes find myself looking forward to even a short car trip or walk, because I could listen to just a little more!

The author moved to Hartford and heard about the fire, and wanted to find out more. But his local library had nothing. Neither did the entire library system. In fact he couldn't find any book that told the story of the fire at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on July 6, 1944. He didn't set out to write a book - he only wanted to understand his newly adopted city better (and besides, Stewart O'Nan is a fiction writer - he REALLY didn't think he was going to write this book.) But as he researched the tragedy, a story came to life, and he felt fictionalizing it would be disrespectful. I think Mr. O'Nan should write nonfiction more often.

At the beginning, he tells the story of a fire in Cleveland, Ohio just a few years earlier in the menagerie where many animals were burned and died, and I was almost sick with the vivid, grotesque details. At least the people had a fighting chance, but the big cats in cages had no way out, nothing they could do but lay down and die. It broke my heart.

But that fire did not compare to the one in Hartford that took 167 lives, injuring 487, mostly women and children. Mr. O'Nan tells the story of dozens of families who went to the circus that day jubilant, some celebrating birthdays, others just thrilled to have an escape from the daily reminders of war and hardships that was life in 1944. Luckily when the fire broke out, the cats act was just exiting the big top,and the Flying Wallendas were just starting their show, so there were not animals in danger, nor were there a large number of circus employees in harm's way (no circus employees were killed), but unluckily, not everyone was able to get out. Some panicked. Some were trampled. Some were pregnant or otherwise impaired. But amidst the heart-wrenching horror, there were stories of luck and heroism. Children were dropped down from the top of the bleachers to outside and strange men caught them. Strangers helped strangers that day. People gave children rides to distant towns. People opened their homes and gave out water and first aid. Even local businesses, trained what to do in case of Axis bombing, rushed into action with department store delivery trucks outfitted for ambulances. Hundreds of volunteered manned switchboards, hospitals, and the makeshift morgue.

Mr. O'Nan truly did a great deal of research. At the end, he tried valiantly to piece together answers to questions that remain to this day: who started the fire? Was it deliberate? Who were the identities of the six unclaimed bodies? But the stories of the people involved were ultimately more compelling than the longstanding questions. I couldn't stop listening. The narrator had just the right amount of gravitas without sounding ponderous. This book is not for the faint-of-heart, and even the most stalwart will at times have their heart broken, but it was a fascinating, gripping read, and I'd venture to say it's a must read for anyone living in or from Hartford.

Mr. O'Nan did mention photos taken many times in the narrative. I am not sure if the print book had a photo section but if it does, this is another example of a publisher not doing right by the audio listeners.

I bought this book from Audible.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teaser Tuesdays: My Korean Deli

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe p. 35

"If the North Korean deli was dismal, at least it had the potential to be fixed up; the space was reasonable large, and the building itself didn't seem structurally unsound. Salim's deli isn't just hopelessly tiny -- I count seventeen paces from the front to back and less than seven across -- but it appears to be rapidly falling apart, as if a passing truck could make the whole thing crumble."

So do you think they end up buying the North Korean deli or Salim's deli? Here's a hint: everything about their deli ends up being much mroe difficult than it probably had to be.

Book Review: My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

Ben's wife Gab feels indebted to her parents for their sacrifices, especially her mother who gave up a successful bakery in Korea to immigrate to America, and she thinks they should buy her mother a business - specifically a deli - to repay her. But being a young couple in their early 30s, they don't have the kind of money to just purchase a business for her outright without putting in a lot of sweat labor themselves. Which is how Ben (and Gab and Kay) become deli owner-managers.

In his day job, Ben is an editor for The Paris Review, run by the famous dilettante, George Plimpton, who conveniently doesn't care much if his employees show up or not, so Ben works the night shift at the deli while Gab and Kay cover the day (Gab, a lawyer also does the books and financials and legal issues). They keep on an interesting employee from the previous owner, Dwayne, who has a knack for knowing when the NYC cops are running a sting to be sure you're not selling alcohol to minors, that sort of thing. Otherwise they have trouble hiring good employees so they really have to do all of the work.

Personally, I related to this book even more because it took place during the years I lived in New York, from immediately after September 11, 2001, through the terrible snowstorms that next winter and the blackout the summer after that (Ben walked from the Upper East Side to Brooklyn to make sure the deli was okay, to find Gab and Kay selling everything in the store hand over fist.) Also because I believe - like Ben says at the end - that everyone should do their time behind a cash register. It's truly amazing when you're out with the general public each day, to see how incredibly crazy people can be (one day Ben had not one but TWO people come into the deli and strip naked.)

The challenges of just trying to break even - forget making a profit - and not run afoul of the government (I remember the crackdown on street vendors that he mentions) or the locals or the crazies are very compelling. Ben writes smoothly and with humor. He sees the ridiculousness in their situation and is very open about it. One unexpected part of the book was that Ben tries to understand his in laws, even doing some research about Korea. Kay's generation has had a very unusual experience since Korea went from a more or less medieval country to being more technologically advanced that America, in the course of her lifetime. Her work ethic is astonishing, the lack of boundaries in their house (oh yeah, Gab and Ben are living in Kay and Edward's basement in Staten Island) is unusual, and the resourcefulness is impressive. But in the end, I don't think I could have done it. I very much enjoyed watching it from outside, but running a deli is not for the faint of heart.

The day after I finished this book I went into a gas station store to buy a water and a candy bar, and I definitely took note of the placement of the aisles, the stocking area behind the coolers, the lotto machines, and I looked the cashier in the face for the first time perhaps. It was a noble experiment they undertook. And you'll have to read it to find out if it was successful or not.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe
The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan, Dick Hill (Reader) (Audio)
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Up next:

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids by Julie Salamon
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Book Review: The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

I read this book for a WNBA event tonight where I'll be meeting the author,and like with my last novel, I was a tad worried about the general feel being too similar as I have a tendency to get books mixed up - at least after a little while if not right away - which is why I mix up my genres so much and why I don't read books by the same author back to back. And with this one, I'm afraid I will get it mixed up but the timing couldn't be helped. But I was really looking forward to it.

Mr. Parker follows two different storylines. First, in 1813 Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr, is shipwrecked after pirates cause her boat to run ashore off of Nag's Head, North Carolina, as she is travelling from Charleston to New York. In order to protect herself, she acts crazy, as no one will touch a woman who has been "touched". She eventually meets Whaley, a local eccentric who takes her in and they eventually become more than roommates avoiding the local pirate overlord.

Second, in 1970 on the island of Yaupon in North Carolina, two elderly sisters, Maggie and Theo Whaley (Theo is called Whaley), and an African American man, Woodrow, are the last living residents of the island. Maggie, the romantic free spirit and Whaley, the hard-nosed proud spinster, are both cantankerous and stubborn and Woodrow is the buffer between them, as well as their only link to the outside world besides the two academics who come over annually to interview them and record their eccentric lives.

The bare facts of the above are in fact true, about Theodosia Burr Alston disappearing and the three last residents of Yaupon Island, but the links between them are wholly invented. The book shifts back and forth in time, not only between the two sets of characters, but back to Maggie's younger days when she fell disastrously in love, and to a time when Yaupon Island had many residents and an active town.

Personally, I liked the historical sections better with Theodosia, but I admit to being more historically inclined when it comes to novels. While the more recent sections could also be historical in a way (1970 was before I was born!) the parts from that era didn't feel like the 1970s. They could have been happening today or in the 1950s. Because the island and naturally its residents are so cut off from the outside world, so this isn't a fault of the author but it doesn't lend itself to very much of a 1970s feel. Maggie and Whaley and Woodrow are all well-drawn, three-dimensional characters, and while the night Woodrow's wife died was exciting and sad and fascinating to read, I wasn't as interested in Whaley's obsession with always being right, and Maggie's sad tales of love lost and excessive drinking. I wish there had been more of the story of Theodosia. But it's a neat story about a couple of intriguing random facts (more trivia for me!) and I enjoyed it very much.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday: The Watery Part of the World

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Katy from A Few More Pages. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

"The day Whaley came for her she had spent among the live oaks, huddling and shivering in the squalls of frigid rain."

Really paints a picture!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Just My Type

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Just My Type: A Book about Fonts by Simon Garfield

synopsis from GoodReads:
What's your type? Suddenly everyone's obsessed with fonts. Whether you're enraged by Ikea's Verdanagate, want to know what the Beach Boys have in common with easy Jet or why it's okay to like Comic Sans, "Just My Type" will have the answer. Learn why using upper case got a New Zealand health worker sacked. Refer to Prince in the Tafkap years as a Dingbat (that works on many levels). Spot where movies get their time periods wrong and don't be duped by fake posters on eBay. Simon Garfield meets the people behind the typefaces and along the way learns why some fonts - like men - are from Mars and some are from Venus. From type on the high street and album covers, to the print in our homes and offices, Garfield is the font of all types of knowledge.

Publishing October 14th 2010 by Profile Books.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

I read this book because I am going to an event where the author will be next Monday (Bibliofeast! If you are in the Charlotte, NC area, please join us!) I was worried that it would be too similar to my last novel, Little Bird Of Heaven, as it seemed like an atmospheric story of a murder and its aftermath without being a mystery, but it was actually different enough. Largely because (and I'm not sure why but I didn't know this before I picked it up) it's set in the 1880s, and also because it had large elements of a legal novel.

The body of a pregnant young woman is pulled out of the Richmond reservoir one chilly morning, and once it is identified as Lillie from King and Queen County, her cousin and sometimes lover Tommie, is suspect pretty quickly. He's a lawyer, does travel to Richmond frequently, and was acting suspiciously. Through flashbacks we discover that it is definitely Lillie and Tommie was with her that nights, but we don't know exactly how or why. Tommie is arrested, and there is an extended trial, with appeals and other technical details.

To me The Reservoir read like an 1880s Scott Turow. In other words, a think reader's legal book. Thriller isn't the right word - it's much too languidly paced and meanders through the flashbacks too much to be considered anything like edge-of-the-seat writing, but like Turow, the legal intricacies and maneuverings felt very realistic and practical, and it was fascinating to see some of the differences in the last 130 years (for instance, Tommie is not allowed to testify in his own defense.) The background stuff was interesting, particularly as it related to Tommie and Willie's baby brother who died when they were all small children, but it didn't feel crucial. Personally, and this is an odd thing for me to say, I'd have rather have had more courtroom, and fewer flashbacks, but I didn't mind them.

I liked reading about an era that doesn't get much attention these days. The Civil War isn't too distant in the past, many of the older participants are veterans, and the locale being the former Confederate capitol, led to a bit of tension. But it was also interesting to see how much was the same. Women today can't hide a pregnancy until the 8th month under voluminous skirts (although some of the dingbats on I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant demonstrate it's not always so hard to hide a pregnancy even today!) but they do get into scrapes that can be hard to tell their parents and hard to resolve with their lovers, although hopefully they don't end in tragedy like Lillie's did.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Watery Part of the World

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker p. 38

"'You worry that I'll tell them you're not so crazy,' he said.
She looked up at him, terrified suddenly that her every thought was obvious, transparent."

Theodosia Burr Alston's ship was captured by pirates off the coast of North Carolina en route to New England from Charleston. In order to protect herself from would-be attackers, she's been pretending to be insane. She's been taken in by Whaley, who knows she's only faking, and he's fine with that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.

Books completed last week:
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan (audio)

Up next:
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Growing up Amish by Ira Wagler
Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Book Review: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

I picked up this Newbery Award winner at a Border's Going out of Business sale for my BF's tutoree. I wasn't 100% sure he'd like a book set in Korea and written by a woman, but my BF thought it sounded interesting and of the stack of books, it was the one he wanted to read first! As he read it, he told me bits about what was going on, he was upset when something bad happened, and at the end, he actually teared up. I already was planning to read it but that made it definite!

Tree-Ear is an orphan living with Crane-Man under a bridge. He is fascinated by the pottery made by Min. Min is actually the only potter he can watch because Min is the only potter so secure and certain about his skills that he will throw pots outside. After accidentally breaking one of Min's pots, Tree-Ear works for him for two weeks to pay off the damage. He learns to chop wood and stack it neatly and carry it back to the kiln without it falling over. And when that's over, he asks to continue to work, to learn from Min, and now he learns to gather clay and to rinse it until it is perfect. One day, an emissary from the Palace comes to the village to see the potters' wares, and decide if any is worthy of a royal commission.

I don't want to tell too much more, but it's a great book. I wasn't surprised when I read in the author's note that she was partly inspired by her son's request that he write a book like Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. Although it's ironic that by choosing this book I had thought I was picking something very different from Hatchet, but it reassures me that the tutoree is all the more likely to like it.

Tree-Ear is hardworking, eager to please, and just wants to find a place in the world. Crane-man has been a wonderful mentor to him over the years. He is perhaps not able to provide him food, but he feeds Tree-Ear's mind. Min is stubborn and set in his ways, but Tree-Ear wins him over, and he shows him the patience and high standards that make him the best potter in the village, and perhaps in all of Korea. It was refreshing to read about such a different time and place, and I enjoyed it immensely.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.