Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Favorites

It's a two-fer this week on Friday Favorites! In honor of Frank McCourt, who recently passed away, I wanted to talk about "Angela's Ashes," McCourt's Pulitzer-prize winning memoir of his life growing up in Limerick, Ireland. I recently wrote that this is one of my all-time favorites. The McCourts had emigrated to the U.S. but returned to Ireland after Frank's sister died. Things progressively got worse for the family. McCourt's anger with the Catholic church, his father, poverty, and even his mother (Angela, for whom the book is titled) is evident throughout the book. But he writes without sounding bitter and is even able to find forgiveness. The story is written with a lot of humour, despite the bleakness of the family's day-to-day reality.


A book that's much less on the public's radar (but certainly deserves to be better known) is "The Invisible Wall" by Harry Bernstein, who wrote that book (and it's sequel) when he was in his 90's. Bernstein also grew up in abject poverty and was also the son of an alcoholic father. But Harry was Jewish and lived on a street, in an English mining town, with an invisible wall down the center of it. On one side of the street lived the Jewish families and one the other side were the Christian families. Although there were actually things that each side needed the other for, there was as little intermingling as possible. Then Harry's sister did the unthinkable--she fell in love with a Christian boy, sparking both a family and neighborhood crisis. Although Harry does not tell his story with the wit of McCourt, the story is told with eloquence and draws the reader in. Average rating for this one is 4.5/5 stars amongs the reader reviews on Barnes & Noble's web site.

Thanks to Alyce from At Home With Books for introducing me to the idea of My Favorite Reads!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond

Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond
336 pages
Published September 2008 by Harper Collins

For forty-one years, Sam Brown has been caring for Hannah, the lone elephant at the Max L. Biedelman Zoo. Having vowed not to retire until an equally devoted caretaker is found to replace him, Sam rejoices when smart, compassionate Neva Wilson is hired as the assistant elephant keeper. Neva quickly discovers what Sam already knows: Hannah is isolated from other elephants and her feet are nearly ruined from standing on concrete all day. Neva and Sam hatch a plan to send Hannah to an elephant sanctuary—just as the zoo's angry, unhappy director launches an aggressive revitalization campaign that spotlights Hannah as the star attraction, inextricably tying Hannah's future to the fate of the Max L. Biedelman Zoo.

The book is also the story of Maxine (Max) Biedelman,who started the zoo on the grounds of her family's home with animals she rescued from Africa; Sam's wife, Corrine, who has been battling God since her only child died in birth; and Truman, the financial manager at the zoo, who is raising a son and a pot-bellied pig.

The cast of characters is large and writers often have a hard time fleshing so many characters out. Hammond gives all of her characters dimension. Each of them has a back story with some sadness or trauma and that could have gotten schmaltzy. It didn't. Even Hannah has a distinct personality and her relationship with Sam is so touching. The only character I felt could have been developed more was Neva's landlord--or he could have been left out entirely. Barne's and Noble's summary calls the book "charming, poignant, and captivating"--the very three words I would use to describe this book that, though slow moving, is never stagnant. I read this book as part of a book club and, to be honest, it's not a book I would have picked up on my own. Which would have been a shame. This book is one of my favorite books of the year--and I've read 65 books this year so it's no small feat to make that list.

Look here to see my book club's discussion of the book.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Giveaway Winnter of "The Local News"



The winner of a copy of "The Local News" by Miriam Gershow is Mandy. Be sure to check back again in August for the next giveaway. In the meantime, check out Mandy's blogs. She's putting the rest of us to shame--she keeps up three blogs! Her blogs are: Reflections, Simple Serenity, and Literary Life.

Random Reading Challenge

Thanks to Alyce of At Home With Books, I've found another great challenge I can't resist. This one's hosted by Caribousmom and will help me to get through some of the great books I have in Mount TBR. The rules are:

August 1, 2009 – July 31, 2010

Are you stuck in a rut? Do you always find yourself reading from set lists or feeling committed to reading one book while another book screams at you from your TBR mountain? Has your reading become completely scheduled? If so, the Random Reading Challenge may be just the thing to put the spontaneity back into your reading.
For this challenge, readers will be choosing books randomly from their TBR stacks. You may select one of three levels of participation:
Level I:
You are just a tad compulsive about your reading – you love your lists and schedules. Being spontaneous is not something that comes naturally to you. To complete the challenge, force yourself out of your rut and read just six books.
Level II:
You really want to break away from all those lists, but you do still have a responsibility to your reading groups, other challenges and all those review books. Six books is too little, but twelve is too much. Stretch a little and read nine books for the challenge.
Level III:
Throw away the lists, don’t look at your schedule, bring on the joy that comes with the freedom to chose books randomly. Read twelve books for the challenge.
Rules (come on, you didn’t think I would be THAT random did you?!?!?):
  1. NO lists allowed. Books for the challenge are chosen one at a time when the mood strikes.
  2. Sign up at any time during the challenge period using Mr. Linky below. Please give me a direct link to your blog post about the challenge. If you do not have a blog, no worries. Simply enter your name and leave the URL box on Mr. Linky blank.
  3. Book reviews are not required, but if you want to write a review I will be providing a review Mr. Linky after August 1st.
  4. Books are selected one at a time using the following procedure:
  • Randomly select any number of books from either your physical OR your virtual TBR pile (I don’t care how you do this, but it must be random…no “cherry picking” allowed)
  • Assign a number to each book based on how many books you selected (ie: if you selected 14 books, assign each book a number from 1 through 14; if you selected 28 books, assign each book a number from 1 through 28…you get the idea)
  • Go to THIS SITE and use the TRUE RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR located in the upper right hand corner of the page to randomly select the book you will read. NO CHEATING – whatever the random number generator generates is the book you must read!
  • Each time you select a book for the challenge, you will use this procedure. You many select different books each time, choose a different amount of books each time, etc…have fun, mix it up, keep it random.
I have decided to draw names for at least one prize during the challenge period (I may do more, but I haven’t decided yet). I will be drawing names from the sign up Mr. Linky and I will announce it on my blog – so if you don’t have a blog link in Mr. Linky and are not subscribed to my blog and have no interest in checking back here…then leave me a comment with a way to contact you if I draw your name.
Ready to get random!??!? Challenge begins August 1st!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Salon

Some odds and ends this week in Sunday Salon. First of all, thanks to everyone who participated in my first ever giveaway! I announce the winner of "The Local News" by Miriam Gershow tomorrow.

Last week in a comment in my Four Things post, Laura from Gypsea Tree asked what my favorite books were. I know it was a four things post, but I never have been good at following the rules. So here, in no particular order, are what I would say (today anyway) are my favorite books:


1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
3. Ragtime by E. L. Doctrow
4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
5. Chesapeake by James Michener
6. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Today we celebrated my son's 21st birthday! We actually helped him kick off the celebration last night when he let us go along with him to have his first drink in a bar. I was glad to be there, partly because I was able to make sure he didn't imbibe too much, but mostly because I was please that he would want to include us. Today we had a lunch of his favorites: Asian chicken salad, crab rangoon, red velvet cake, and homemade ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce. I can't believe it's been 21 years since I first held him! The photo is my husband and son on Father's Day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Whitcoulls List Challenge

Whitcoulls Challenge - Take 2
November 15, 2008 to November 15, 2009


Maria at Reading My Way Through Life is hosting the Whitcoulls Reading Challenge. This looks like a fun challenge and Maria provides links to several Whitcoulls Lists, so there are lots of great books to choose from.

Here are Maria's rules:


*Pick one of the 4 "Top 100" lists and decide how many books (at least 4) you want to read from that list.
* The initial 4 have to be 'new' reads (new to you, that is).
* Books beyond the initial 4 may be rereads.
* All books may be cross-overs for other challenges.
* Audio-books are A-OK :)
* You may change your list at any time.

I've only just discovered this challenge but I've found I can do it solely with books from my TBR piles so it works great for me. I've selected six books so I have a couple of alternates. My picks are:

1. The Time Traveler's Wife - which I wanted to read any way before the movie comes out.
2. Life of Pi - I borrowed it and really need to get it back.
3. The Book Thief
4. The Red Tent
5. A Thousand Splendid Suns
6. The Memory Keeper's Daughter



Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Favorite

Maybe you've seen the movie version of Pat Conroy's "The Prince of Tides" starring Nick Nolte and Babara Streisand. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn't. I saw it after I read the book. I'm afraid that's generally a bad thing for me to do. While the movie does get in most of the important aspects of the novel, it does not being to capture the emotion of the novel. Conroy's book has it's flaws, to be sure, but it is incredibly gripping and it's descriptions of South Carolina's Low Country are amazingly vivid.
Publisher's Weekly has this summary: Henry Wingo is a shrimper who fishes the seas off the South Carolina coast and regularly squanders what little money he amasses in farcical business schemes; his beautiful wife, Lila, is both his victim and a manipulative and guilt-inflicting mother. The story is narrated by one of the children, Tom Wingo, a former high school teacher and coach, now out of work after a nervous breakdown. Tom alternately recalls his growing-up years on isolated Melrose Island, then switches to the present in Manhattan, where his twin sister and renowned poet, Savannah, is recovering from a suicide attempt. One secret at the heart of this tale is the fate of their older brother Luke; we know he is dead, but the circumstances are slowly revealed. Also kept veiled is ``what happened on the island that day'' a grisly scene of horror, rape and carnage that eventually explains much of the sorrow, pain and emotional alienation endured by the Wingo siblings.

I read this before I had children, when I was still young, and I just could not imagine parents treating their children the way Henry and Lila handle their children. I just had to keep telling myself that it was just a story. I'm old enough now to know that things like this happen to children every day. But I still cannot understand why.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Thanks to Jill at Breaking The Spine for this one!

Which do you prefer?

Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Serious

Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? Paperbacks

Fiction? Or Nonfiction? Fiction

Poetry? Or Prose? Prose

Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Autobiographies

History? Or Historical Fiction? History

Series? Or Stand-alones? Stand-alones

Classics? Or best-sellers? Classics

Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? Straight-forward, basic prose

Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Plots

Long books? Or Short? Long for the most part

Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Non-illustrated

Borrowed? Or Owned? Owned

New? Or Used? New

I'd love to read what you think! Link back here if you do this or post your responses in the comments if you don't have a blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Four Things


Found this on another blog and thought it looked like fun.

Four jobs I've had:
1. receptionist at a salon while in high school
2. teacher's aide while in college
3. merchant accounts department in the credit card division of a bank
4. group insurance auditor

Four movies I can watch over and over:
1. Almost any Rodgers and Hammerstein musical
2. Mister Mom
3. Any Hitchcock movie with Cary Grant and/or Grace Kelly
4. Two Weeks Notice
(okay, that's probably more than one but there are a lot of movies I watch again and again)

Four t.v. shows I love:
1. Top Gear on BBC America
2. Life
3. The Real Housewives of Orange County or New Jersey (I don't care as much for the others)
4. Chuck
(now, you need to realize that if I love a show it will be cancelled soon so if you love any of these, I'm sorry!)

Four places I've vacationed:
1. Toronto
2. Mexico City/Acapulco
3. New York City
4. Seattle

Four dishes I love:
1. linguine with bolagnese sauce
2. homemade vanilla ice cream with homemade fudge sauce
3. cheese manicotti made with homemade shells
4. a great steak

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. on a beach, almost any sandy beach
2. at the Le Bourgeios winery on the bluff overlooking the Missouri River
3. snuggled up in the corner of my couch with a glass of wine and a great book
4. Breckenridge Colorado

Please leave a comment with a link to your post if you choose to do this. If you don't have a blog, pick one of the categories and leave me your four.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Giveaway: The Local News


**GIVEAWAY**

I have one copy of "The Local News" by Miriam Gershow to give away.

HOW TO ENTER:
  • Leave a comment saying why you'd like to read this book for one entry.
  • Tweet about this giveaway and leave another comment letting me know where to find your tweet for another entry.
  • If your email address is not available through your profile or your blog, please include it in your comment.
  • All entries must be post by midnight on July 26th. U.S. entries only. I will select the winner by noon on Monday, July 27th.
I posted my review of "The Local News" here. For more reviews, check out Dar's review at Peeking Between The Pages, Lisa's review at Books On The Brain, and Mari's review at Bookworm With A View.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Salon

What a lazy weekend! It was just so nice outside, it was hard to be inside cleaning. I have managed to get a lot of reading done. I suddenly realized that I have a book that needs to be done in the next couple of days for a book club so I'm racing through that one. Fortunately, I'm really enjoying it.

Yesterday we went to a 90th birthday party for my mom's cousin, one of the sweetest ladies I know and so witty. When I was growing up, we lived in the same town as Margaret and her husband, Chet. His name was one of the first words I said. Sadly, you can imagine how "Chet" came out of the mouth of a toddler. My mom tells me Chet loved to have me say it again and again. I got to meet a cousin at the party that I have never met before. Where have they been hiding him? He is funny and warm and friendly and I'm feeling a little gyped not to have known him sooner.


Added to my TBR list this week:
Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

I'm adding them faster than I'm reading them. Do you have this problem?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"All We Ever Wanted Was Everything"

By Janelle Brown
417 pages
Published May 2009 by Random House

On the day Paul Miller's pharmaceutical company goes public, his wife, Janice, who has spent the day preparing for a celebration, receives a letter from Paul informing her their marriage is over. Meanwhile, their eldest daughter, Margaret, has been dumped by her actor boyfriend and her magazine has gone under leaving her deeply in debt. When Margaret finds out about the pending divorce, she heads home, ostensibly to help her mother and sister deal with the situation. But by the time she arrives her mother has developed a crystal meth addiction and her 14-year-old sister, Lizzie, has become the school slut. The Miller women bunker down in their home as they deal with divorce lawyers, debt collectors, drug addiction and the country club set.

This book is over the top in every way. Everything that can go wrong does, but so much of it is the fault of the Miller women that it was hard to feel sorry for them as they stumbled forward. It was hard for me to empathize with Janice, a woman living in a 5200-sq-foot home, driving a Porsche, and playing tennis at an exclusive country club who envies the neighbors whose fortunes have outpaced the Millers, although I know there are a lot of Janices in the world. Paul, who on top of the divorce and it's very bad timing, was also having an affair with Janice's best friend, was the stereotypical business take-no-prisoners type of guy.
Only Lizzie really captured my sympathy as both her parents, and even her much older sister, were so wrapped up in their own concerns that Lizzie was, more or less, left to her own devices.

Kirkus Reviews calls this a "bitter comedy" but I didn't find much of it very comic. And, as with so many other 400 plus page books, I felt that the story sometimes got repetitive and would have benefited by a reduction of 75-100 pages. Brown does manage to skewer the wealthy suburban lifestyle with great wit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Favorite

Two new favorites this week. I discovered, a few weeks back, Learnoutloud.com while searching for free online books to listen to. This site has links to all of the Librovox books as well a many other sites for classic books and a lot of great links to author speeches. So far I've been listened to Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome," Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer," William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet, and an wonderful speech by Isabel Allende among others.

Since the fall, I've been reading more and more book blogs, hence the inspiration for me to start my own. I've now lost track of the number of blogs I'm following. There are some really great places to get book reviews, learn about new books, read author interviews and even make new friends. Coming in September, there will be a whole week devoted to book bloggers. For more information, check out http://www.bookbloggerappreciationweek.com. Here's some information from the site:

Last year over 400 blogs came together to celebrate the art of book blogging during the first ever Book Blogger Appreciation Week! I am so pleased to announce that the second annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week will be taking place September 14-18.

WHO Anyone who blogs about books is invited to participate. In fact, we want everyone who blogs about books and reading to be a part of this week!
WHAT A week where we come together, celebrate the contribution and hard work of book bloggers in promoting a culture of literacy, connecting readers to books and authors, and recogonizing the best among us with the Second Annual BBAW Awards. There will be special guest posts, daily blogging themes, and giveaways.
WHEN September 14-18, 2009
WHERE Here at the new Book Blogger Appreciation Week Blog! (Please note that this year there are three separate blogs and feeds—one for the main event, one for giveaways, and one for awards.)
WHY Because books matter. In a world full of options, the people talking about books pour hard work, time, energy, and money into creating a community around the written word. I, Amy, the founder of Book Blogger Appreciation Week love this community of bloggers and want to shower my appreciation on you!


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge #3

To paraphrase Eddie Murphy in an old Saturday Night Live skit "t.v. been berry, berry good to me." Already twice in the past couple of weeks, I have been channel surfing late and night and caught the beginning of a movie that fits the Everything Austen Challenge. Last night it happened again. This time I was lucky enough to catch 2007's "Becoming Jane" starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy. The movie purports to tell the story of how Jane Austen became an author and why she never married. Austen experts will tell you that the movie is a work of fiction and I'm okay with that.

Raised in genteel poverty, Jane has, on the surface, few hopes for a good marriage because she has no money to bring to a union. Furthermore, she wants to be a writer. Nevertheless, she does receive a proposal of marriage from a wealthy, but stolid young man. Jane knows that it would be a great advantage to her family if she were to accept that proposal but she cannot bear the idea of marrying someone she is not in love with. Then she mets Thomas LeFroy, a rougish Irishman whom she cannot stand upon first being introduced (read Elizabeth Bennet's first introduction to Mr. Darcy here). LeFroy does not feel the same and pursues Jane until the two enter into a passionate romance. But LeFroy would be penniless without the support of his uncle and that support is necessary for LeFroy to support his parents and siblings.

Throughout the movie, Austen fans will spot the places where "real life" become the stuff of books. It really is irrelevant to me whether or not it's fact; it's fun. The movie is beautifully filmed, the emotions palpable, Hathaway and McAvoy's performances wonderful. A movie I will watch again and again, with or without a challenge.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa
192 pages
Published February 2009 by Picador Books

Synopsis from BN.com:

He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem--ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only eighty minutes of short-term memory.
She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.
And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. Though he cannot hold memories for long (his brain is like a tape that begins to erase itself every eighty minutes), the Professor’s mind is still alive with elegant equations from the past. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Professor is capable of discovering connections between the simplest of quantities--like the Housekeeper’s shoe size--and the universe at large, drawing their lives ever closer and more profoundly together, even as his memory slips away.

My thoughts:
I received this book from Picador so that I could participate in an online book discussion. Almost from the beginning the book starts delving into mathematics and far from being put off by this (I never really cared much for math), I found it fascinating. I kept thinking throughout the book that I might have enjoyed math much more if it had been presented to me by the Professor. The prose here is simple, the cast of characters small, the story charming. Stephen Snyder's translation from Ogawa's Japanese retains both the beauty and the Japanese flavor. I was pulled through this book in a day (okay, it is a relatively short book, but still it's an accomplishment for me). The relationship that developed between the housekeeper and the professor was so touching; the reader will so wish that they could be more to each other. The Washington Post called the book "strangely charming" and I would agree.

Care's Online Book Club (http://bkclubcare.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/review-the-housekeeper-and-the-professor/) says what's good about this book is: "The character development. The tender endearing respect between all the characters. The easy explanations of interesting* mathematical concepts. The layering and weaving together of appreciation for education and children, love of baseball, and how a work situation can foster a unique friendship." On this we agree and I think I can safely speak for both of us when I recommend you read 'The Housekeeper and The Professor." It remains one of my top five for the year.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge #2

At 1:00 Sunday morning, just as my daughter and I were getting ready to finally turn in for the night, the movie "Clueless," starring Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd, started. She had never seen it and really wanted to stay up to watch it; I briefly considered it because of the Everything Austen Challenge. Then I looked at the clock and told her "we can rent this anytime."

So today, right after lunch, she was grabbing movies to go back to Hollywood Video so that we could rent "Clueless," which we watched tonight. Her assessment: "It was pretty good." I really watched it this time with an eye an comparing it to "Emma" by Jane Austen. Like Emma Woodhouse, Cher Horowitz is a wealthy, popular young woman who likes to meddle in other people's business and is being raised by a father is very indulgent. Cher, like Emma, is involved in a bit of matchmaking that results in a marriage. The success of that bit of matchmaking leads Cher/Emma to reach out to a new young lady (Harriet in the book, Tai in the movie) with much less success. Ultimately, in both the book and the movie, the latest bit of meddling does lead our heroine to realize that her true love is actually a young man she knows through a marriage in the family and he is the only person who really holds her up to a higher standard. Both the book and this movie adaptation take a pointed look at social status and the ways in which personal biases or desires blind objective judgment.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


A week or so ago, I posted a guest review from my dad for "The Mascot" and mentioned then that I hoped to be able to pass along other reviews from my parents who are both avid readers. The last time we were together, I passed along "Eating Heaven" by Jennie Shortridge for my mom to read. Today I have received her comments, which I am happy to be able to pass along! She says of the book:

"A good read to help one learn that death does not have to be a dreaded thing.
The book did not need the chef and the bit of romance--it seemed to me to detract from the main theme of the book.
Food was a good catalyst--so often we eat to comfort or like Eleanor, we don't eat because of pain--a theme everyone could understand
I felt as I read the book the theme "oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
The family was torn and lacked the leadership to solve its problems--lack of knowledge being a strong factor.
I am not sure the sisters are united--it all seemed to happen a bit too simplistic.
I liked the idea of the photo albums as the solver of the mystery since we all have virtual and real photos in our relationships in our lives.
A book that for the most part was well-written and one that held my attention. I liked Uncle Benny."

I'm so lucky to have parents that not only instilled a love of reading in me, but who also pass all of the books they read long for me to enjoy as well. I have so many books sitting waiting to be read that I've actually passed some along to them to read before me. As soon as I finally get around to them, I'll be excited to be able to add their comments at the same time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Favorite

I'm really stepping back down memory lane this week with my Friday Favorite, actually favorites. I know I can't be the only person that has fond memories of the Dick and Jane series of books which taught children to read for over forty years. In fact, there are so many people that learned to read with Dick, Jane, their sister Sally, Father, Mother, and their dog Spot, that a number of publishers have republished some of the books.

In 1996, Harper Collins published "Growing up with Dick and Jane: Learning and Living the American Dream." Barnes & Noble's site says: "Here's your chance to step back into the innocent watercolor world of Dick and Jane, where night never comes, knees never scrape, parents never yell and the fun never stops. And side by side with the story of Dick and Jane is an entertaining and informative text that tracks important historical, social and educational events of the "Dick and Jane era." I love the way this book took me back to my childhood when life was almost as carefree as it always was for Dick and Jane.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

The Street of A Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
448 pages
Published August 2008 by St Martin's Press

In 1939 Japan, two orphans are being raised by their grandparents. Hiroshi shows early promise as a sumo wrestler. Kenji has discovered the art of making masks for the Noh theater.
But when Japan draws the U.S. into war, the boys' dreams must be put on hold. Meanwhile, the young daughters of a great sumo teacher are also suffering through the war. After the war, the lives of the girls and the young men become intertwined with the young men's lives when Hiroshi is chosen to begin training as a sumo. The story follows these young people for nearly thirty years as the young men pursue their dreams in very traditional fields as their country moves into the future. Along the way we also get to know their grandparents, Kenji's sensei, and the girls' father.

Although the novel is epic in time span, Tsukiyama tells the tale in small stories. Her prose is simple and she recreates a vivid portrait of Japan as it struggled to recover from World War II. The New York Times called the book tense, but I never really felt that Tsukiyama achieved a sense of tension; I saw pretty much everything coming before it happened. I learned a lot about sumo wrestling and Noh mask making but I felt like Tsukiyama gave a little too much attention to these things at times. None of the sumo matches felt any different from the others and I was never in doubt as to the outcome. Some of the peripheral characters got a lot of attention (Kenji's sensei, for example); this sometimes took away from the main stories. For all that was going on in the book, this was a slow read; and at over 400 pages, I really had to push myself to get through it. Once again, I felt like the book could have been shorter and not lost a thing.

Lisa, at Breaking the Fourth Wall, seemed to feel about the same way as I did on this one. Here's her review:
http://breakingfourth.blogspot.com/2009/03/book-review-street-of-thousand-blossoms.html.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge--Bridget Jones's Diary

Have kicked off the "Everything Austen" challenge rather unexpectedly. Last night I was channel surfing and came across "Bridget Jones's Diary" just as it was beginning. I must admit that my husband was not thrilled to be watching it yet again and I still wasn't exactly clear about how it tied in closely enough to be counted for the challenge, but we watched it anyway.

Now let's be honest--even if it weren't for the challenge, there's a good chance I would have made my husband watch this movie again. It's got Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in it for heaven's sake! And this time, when I was looking for it, I finally got the connection to Pride and Prejudice (aside from the fact that Firth's character is named Darcy). The movie opens with Bridget and Darcy both being at a party where he is plainly bored and finds her foolish while she finds him a bore. Hey, me thinks, this is the first dance in P&P. Then Bridget hooks up with Daniel Cleaver, who, it turns out, has a bit of a bad history with Darcy. Well duh, I think; of course he is Mr. Wickham from P&P. Sure enough, it turns out that Cleaver/Wickham is a total cad who has lied about his history with Darcy and Bridget/Elizabeth Bennet wises up and chooses Darcy, who, come to find out, is quite a nice guy when you really get to know him. One down, five to go!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"What The Dead Know"

By Laura Lippman
400 pages
Published February 2008 by Harper Collins Publishing

Thirty years ago two teenage sisters disappeared from a shopping mall and their bodies were never found. Now a disoriented woman, involved in a car accident, claims to be one of the Bethany sisters. But after that admission she clams up. Where has she been and why hasn't she made contact sooner? And what happened to the other sister? There's no evidence to support her claim and every lead she gives the cop investigating her claim leads to a dead end. Eventually details begin to come out involving a beloved detective, years of sexual abuse and the murder of the other sister. But when the girls' now elderly mother comes to town, a terrible truth is revealed.

This story skips back and forth in time and Lippman does a wonderful job of it, never losing the thread of the current investigation while exploring the background. The Bethanys are an odd family; the parents relationship is strained and the girls' upbringing causes two very different reactions from them resulting in a very believable relationship between them. The disappearance of the girls results in the breakup of the parents marriage, as they each deal with the situation in different ways. There are a lot of characters in the book, including the police detective that originally investigated the disappearance, a social worker who takes in the mysterious woman, and the detective now trying to unravel the mystery. Lippman does a fine job of fleshing out all of these characters. This will keep you guessing until the last chapter but it does take a while to wrap up. More Lippman is definitely in my future.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

On July 4th, 1976, my parents hosted a Fourth of July breakfast for a few of their neighbors to celebrate the bicentennial of our country. It was a small group; my mom made pancakes for everyone on her patio with her electric griddle. For twenty more years they hosted the breakfast. Every year it grew larger, every year it became more festive. When my parents grew tired of hosting it, another neighbor took over hosting the event because it had become such a cherished part of the neighborhood. Several years ago, my brother began hosting a breakfast in his neighborhood. This year, I decided it was time for my family to begin the tradition. We had a mix of family, neighbors, and friends. We had all the necessary brunch food, festive decor, and shooting off of fireworks after breakfast. But for my children, no Fourth of July breakfast would be complete without the talk my father, the former American History teacher, gives every year. This year he reminded us that the founding fathers, determined to break away from England, chose to do it in a way that laid out for the rest of the world the reasons for their decision in Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. On July 2, the brave men of the Second Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. Despite the great risk, these men put their names to a document that ended this way: "...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." My father ended his talk by asking us if the people of this country were still willing to make this pledge, hoping that we all were. I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July but made sure to take some time to remember the reason for the celebration.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Favorite

My Friday Favorite this week is William Styron's "Sophie's Choice," which was made into an equally wonderful movie starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. This is really three stories wrapped into one. It's the story of a young Southern man, Stingo, who moves to New York with aspirations of becoming an auther. He moves into a boarding house where he meets the charismatic Nathan and a Polish immigrant, Sophie. The relationship between Nathan and Sophie is the basis for the second story and Sophie's past is the basis for the third story. I just found the characters in this book to be incredibly well-written and Styron writes about the anguish of the characters in a way that really kept me glued to the book. In chronicling Sophie's past and how it affects her in the present, Stryon has written one of the great Holocaust novels.

Out this week is a meta-list of the Top 100 books of all time compiled by Newsweek after they looked at lists put together from ten other sources including Modern Library and Oprah. Check it out here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/204478/.

Literally just delivered to my door, a box of books I ordered from Barnes and Noble's clearance sale. I got: "Baker Towers" by Jennifer Haigh ("The Condition"), "P.S. I Love You" by Cecelia Ahern, "The Art Thief" by Noah Charney, "Things I Want My Daughters To Know" by Elizabeth Noble and "Heyday" by Kurt Anderson (of NPR fame). So excited to dig into them but must read through my library books first. Discipline is the order of the day!