Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar - Part 2

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Review Part 2

Publisher's Summary:
An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients. But when she agrees to treat a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store, Lakshmi is desperately lonely.

Moved by Lakshmi’s plight, Maggie offers to see her as an outpatient for free. In the course of their first sessions in Maggie’s home office, she quickly realizes that what Lakshmi really needs is not a shrink but a friend. Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient become close. Even though they seemingly have nothing in common, both women are haunted by loss and truths that they are afraid to reveal.

However, crossing professional boundaries has its price. As Maggie and Lakshmi’s relationship deepens, long-buried secrets come to light that shake their faith in each other and force them to confront painful choices in their own lives.

My Thoughts:
Okay, so I talked before about the speech thing and how it made the book harder to read and I wasn't sure it was necessary? Yeah, that's about the only thing I didn't like about this book.

Umrigar just never disappoints me, always taking me out of my little white suburban bubble to look at the world in a bigger way. Umrigar takes on a lot in The Story Hour but never loses control, exploring Indian culture, the immigrant experience, prejudice, guilt, identity, love, friendship, and marriage. Perhaps one of my favorite things about Umrigar is that she never give readers a tidy ending and The Story Hour is no exception.

The publisher's summary says that Maggie and Lakshmi are two women with nothing in common but that's not entirely true. Both women are married to Indian men, the bond that initially allows Lakshmi to open up to Maggie; both women lost their mothers at a young age, changing the trajectory of their lives; and both women are hiding a toxic secret. They also both come with prejudices that might have been a barrier to a friendship - Lakshmi harbors some of her husband's racism (Maggie is African-American) and Maggie initially considers Lakshmi to be beneath her friendship, something she is ashamed to discover at a dinner party.

Through Lakshmi's weekly visits, her story hours, the two become friends. Lakshmi brings a warmth into Maggie's life and a deeper appreciation for her husband and helps her find the strength to turn away from a harmful situation. Maggie's friendship give Laksmi the strength to stand up for herself and to grow into the person she might have been had she not gotten married. But sometimes it's hard not to judge. When Lakshmi's secret is revealed, Maggie's unable to provide the forgiveness and sympathy that Lakshmi needs from her friend, setting in motion events that end a friendship and a marriage. But can a story save both? Umrigar leaves her readers to decide that for themselves.


For other opinions about The Story Hour, check out the full TLC Book Tour. Presumably these folks have managed to get the book read on time!

Thrity Umrigar is the author of five other novels—The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and Bombay Time—and the memoir First Darling of the Morning. An award-winning journalist, she has been a contributor to the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Huffington Post, among other publications. She is the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, the 2009 Cleveland Arts Prize, and the Seth Rosenberg Prize. A professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, she lives in Cleveland, Ohio.





Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Published January 2010 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: I bought my audiobook at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Psychiatrist Andrew Marlowe, devoted to his profession and the painting hobby he loves, has a solitary but ordered life. When renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes his patient, Marlow finds that order destroyed. Desperate to understand the secret that torments the genius, he embarks on a journey that leads him into the lives of the women closest to Oliver and a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

My Thoughts:
To put it bluntly...that's it??? I listened to over 500 pages of book waiting, waiting for something to happen. After all, Kostova had taken readers all over Europe, chasing Dracula in an action-packed tale in The Historian. I went into The Swan Thieves expecting something along that same vein, perhaps something otherworldly, certainly some action. I even thought, at one point, that I had figured out "the twist." Because surely there was a twist, right. Nope. Nothing, Nada. Well, sort of, but no "big" twist, rather something quiet, a mystery solved. You've been warned - do not expect The Historian. If you don't, you're far more likely to enjoy this book. Reviews on the Barnes and Noble web site are highly favorable.

Even so, The Swan Thieves is much. Too. Long. Kostova does love her descriptions and her details. In her defense, she's really great at writing them. But when you're already tying together two tales of obsession with all that's entailed in working through those, it's not necessarily important that readers know exactly how each character is dressed.

I liked the story,  even though it doesn't sound like it. I just wish it hadn't gotten lost in so much detail and so many unnecessary side trips.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Published August 2014 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
An experienced psychologist, Maggie carefully maintains emotional distance from her patients. But when she agrees to treat a young Indian woman who tried to kill herself, her professional detachment disintegrates. Cut off from her family in India, and trapped in a loveless marriage to a domineering man who limits her world to their small restaurant and grocery store, Lakshmi is desperately lonely. Moved by Lakshmi’s plight, Maggie offers to see her as an outpatient for free. In the course of their first sessions in Maggie’s home office, she quickly realizes that what Lakshmi really needs is not a shrink but a friend. Determined to empower Lakshmi as a woman who feels valued in her own right, Maggie abandons protocol, and soon doctor and patient become close. Even though they seemingly have nothing in common, both women are haunted by loss and truths that they are afraid to reveal.

However, crossing professional boundaries has its price. As Maggie and Lakshmi’s relationship deepens, long-buried secrets come to light that shake their faith in each other and force them to confront painful choices in their own lives.


My Thoughts:
I'll be back again tomorrow with my final thoughts on this book - I'm still finishing it up. What with the busy week I had last week, some problems with reading malaise, and the difficulty I had reading this book, I'm not quite finished.

Ms. Umrigar shifts narrative between a third person narrative for Maggie's parts of the book and a first person narrative for Lakshmi's narrative. The difficulty lies in the fact that Lakshmi's narrative is all written in the voice of an Indian immigrant first learning to speak English. It takes considerably more concentration to read and I'm not sure it was necessary. After all, wouldn't Lakshmi's narrative to us be in her native tongue as it would either be her thoughts or her telling us her story in her most natural way. It does serve to show how she changes as the book progresses but it slows the reading. And I'm prone to read Umrigar's books slowly as it is, loving her stories and not wanting to be done with them too quickly!

More tomorrow!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life: It Goes On - August 24

I'm not sure how I thought I was going to find enough time to get a lot of reading done for Bout of Books this week, other than The Big Guy being gone and less television distraction. Apparently I hadn't looked at my calendar at all! It's been a busy week, full of fun things (mom/daughter evening, book club, book event, dinner with friends, anniversary party) but not nearly as much reading time as I had anticipated.

I signed up for the A More Diverse Universe event (hosted by Aarti of Book Lust) which calls on readers to read one book written by a person of color in the last two weeks of September. Silly me, I initially misread the details and thought it was for the last two weeks of August which would have fit in perfectly with my reading of Thrity Umrigar's latest, The Story Hour. Ah well, I know I have plenty of other choices when the time comes.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm on the last disc of M. C. Beaton's Death of a Cad. Embarrassingly, I realized, about disc 2, that I've listened to this one before. I knew I should have bought the other Hamish McBeth audiobook they had at the library sale instead!

Watching:  It was another "Orange Is The New Black" evening for Miss H and I the other night.

Reading: I'll finish The Story Hour today then I'll start Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover In The Civil War by Karen Abbott for an upcoming TLC Book Tours review. I also got almost 70 pages read in Rainbow Rowell's Landline while I was waiting for her book event to start and later while I waiting more than an hour in line to have it signed. More later this week about what she had to say about writing, reading, and what she's got coming up.

Making: Homemade salsa that was hot enough it impressed the boys, blackberry banana bread, peach crisp, white bean dip, and caprese salad twice (one of my favorite summer foods!). I've enjoyed creating in the kitchen this week.

Planning: The menu for our football season kickoff party next week. Stuffed banana peppers have been requested but that's the only definite at this point. If you do football parties, what do you like to serve?

Grateful for: Friends I can be with "as is," who make me laugh so hard the worries of the world drop away, who care about me and my family as though they were their own. Our dinner Friday night was just the thing I needed.

Enjoying: We went to an anniversary party last night at a "cabin." What a lovely way to spend an evening, out on their deck, looking out over their part of the lake as the sun began to set. On the way home, we stopped for ice cream in a town where my grandparents used to live. When my siblings and I stayed with them, they often put us in their 1963 Mercury and took us for ice cream at Zesto. They still have the same sign!

Feeling: Excited about both football and volleyball seasons starting. I'm thinking some high school football is on the agenda for Friday night.

Looking forward to: Getting to be Mama Shepp again Saturday. I miss having a house full of "my" kids!





































Thursday, August 21, 2014

Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene

Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene
Published May 2002 by HarperCollins Publisher
Source: purchased this book for my Nook to read with the Omaha Bookworms

Publisher's Summary:
During World War II, American soldiers from every city and walk of life rolled through North Platte, Nebraska, on troop trains en route to their ultimate destinations in Europe and the Pacific. The tiny town, wanting to offer the servicemen warmth and support, transformed its modest railroad depot into the North Platte Canteen.

Every day of the year, every day of the war, the Canteen—staffed and funded entirely by local volunteers—was open from five a.m. until the last troop train of the day pulled away after midnight. Astonishingly, this remote plains community of only 12,000 people provided welcoming words, friendship, and baskets of food and treats to more than six million GIs by the time the war ended.

In this poignant and heartwarming eyewitness history, based on interviews with North Platte residents and the soldiers who once passed through, Bob Greene tells a classic, lost-in-the-mists-of-time American story of a grateful country honoring its brave and dedicated sons.

My Thoughts:
Every year Nebraska chooses (as I suspect many, if not most, other states do as well) one book to read as a state by an author with Nebraska ties or about the state. This year that book is Once Upon A Town. My book club decided to join in the fun although I don't know that any of us will actually make it to any of the planned events to discuss the book with anyone but each other. It would have been fun to see if those events included anyone who remembered the Canteen.

As for the book, I wanted, as we bloggers so often do, to love this book. It's about a wonderful thing that happened in my beloved state and is written by an award-winning author. I'm never sure if that means I go into books with an unrealistically high expectation or if I'm more prone to forgive shortcomings because I want to overlook them. Here I think it was something of the former. I was really looking to hear the story about the canteen - how it started, how they managed to keep it running for so long with such a small group of people to draw from, and how they managed to organize all of those people.

I suppose I thought it went without saying that the young men who made their way through North Platte during the war appreciated the town's generosity. I was surprised to read that almost without exception, the men Greene spoke with about their experience cried as they recalled the ten-minute sign of love they found in North Platte. It was interesting to learn how the word got out about what a treat the men (boys, really) were in for and how they carried that time with them as they battled in Europe and the Pacific theater.

It wasn't just North Platte that manned the Canteen; 125 communities within a 100 mile radius helped to feed and entertain the troops as they made their way across the country. Thousands of people who donated time and precious food to give each of those men something bright in their long journey. They made sandwiches, cookies, and cakes; donated magazines, cigarettes, Coca-cola, apples. They made long trips in often bad weather on rural highways using up their rations for gasoline and food to give to others. As a book club, we could hardly imagine a time when so many would pull together to do so much. As a person who has organized PTO's and swim teams, I couldn't imagine the work that went into making sure there were people to work and food to give for every single train. And that's where I felt like this book fell short. How ever in the world did they accomplish that? I would have liked less detail about what has become of North Platte since the war and the demise of passenger trains and more detail about the organizers managed to do this. Because you know it fell to a few women.

Although the book sometimes dragged for me and I wanted more about that time in history and less about North Platte now, I'm glad I read this book. It's a wonderful reminder about how much people can accomplish if they really have the desire and about how much something as small as a sandwich and a cup of coffee can mean to someone.