Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pin It And Do It - Bring On The Sugar

I've been making buttercream frosting for years, it's my go-to frosting for most cakes. But it's always a guessing game. A little more butter? A bit more vanilla? With all of the baking I was doing for last weekend, I knew I didn't have the time or the desire to play that guessing game so I turned to Pinterest to find an actual recipe. This recipe for Classic Buttercream Frosting was just the thing I was looking for - an tinted bright blue it not only tasted delicious on the chocolate cupcakes but fit right in with the pinks, greens and purples we already had.

And that's it for the Pin It And Do It Challenge - for now. Everyone's had so much fun with it that Trish is planning on hosting it again in the fall. I'm looking forward to that - so many great gift and holiday ideas to explore come fall!



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pin It And Do It Challenge - More Cupcakes!


What a great asset Pinterest was for getting ready for graduation! Want to find a new recipe? Just search for it and you'll get all kinds of options. Oh sure, you can do that any where on the net but I never have been good about keeping my bookmarks in order and you don't have the pictures. After we made the pink champagne cupcakes, Miss H decided we would abandon the idea that all of the cupcakes had to be pink when she got the notion that Key Lime cupcakes would really be great. If only there were a recipe!

Well, of course there is! It does mean that you'll have to buy a bottle of key lime juice which will set you back twice what a bottle of regular lime juice. Because we made the cupcakes a couple of days before the party and then were cranking out the frosting of all 200 cupcakes in one afternoon, we had to forgo the glaze that the recipe calls for. I knew that was going to mean we were losing some of the key lime flavor so some of the liquid I used in the frosting was key lime juice instead which worked just fine. We also added a few drops of bright green food coloring as well. These were a big hit at the party!

What other new flavors could we discover? Hmm, since the Key Lime cupcakes called for lime gelatin and I had orange gelatin in my pantry I wondered if there was also a recipe that called for that ingredient. A search for Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes brought up a lot of choices. I didn't want to start from scratch - I had too much going on - so I looked for one with a cake mix as a start. To get something that worked for me, I pulled the cake recipe from here and the frosting recipe from here.

Our cupcake plates looked so pretty with so many different colors and flavors of cupcakes - pink, orange, green, purple and even bright blue. We are going to be having a lot of fun looking for other cupcakes recipes on Pinterest this summer. Any volunteers to eat all of those cupcakes we can't possibly eat?!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pin It And Do It Challenge - Steel Cut Oats






I've tried this one before - I got it from Trish of Love, Laughter & A Touch of Insanity - but for some reason I haven't been able to get it to pull up in a while. Then I found it again on Pinterest when I was looking for another recipe to try. It's still my favorite - it's a great base and can be easily adapted. This time I once again skipped the apple and instead used a blend of dried fruit. I also substituted agave nectar for the brown sugar.

I've yet to try making steel cut oats on the stove. I have a notion that would require a lot more attention than the crockpot variety. I've also never let this cook all night - I've found that it only takes about four to five hours to cook to perfection and I don't want to overcook it. But I'd really like to wake up to my breakfast already warm! I wish my crockpot had a lower than low temperature setting!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday Salon - Monday Edition

I'm coming to you this week with something of a post-graduation party hangover. No, I'm not literally hungover; but you know the feeling of exhaustion and let down you have after you've been planning for something and looking forward to it for a long time.

Amy asked about the party's color theme (zebra print and hot pink). I will have some pictures shortly but they are on my brother's camera and he isn't home yet to post them. We had a wonderful party; Miss H had so much family and so many friends to help her celebrate. I can't believe my baby has graduated from high school! I'm so proud of her - she's worked so hard to push through high school in only three years and has become a wonderful and compassionate young woman.


And now that that's done - I can get back to reading! Huzzah! I've got quite a lot of books coming up for scheduled reviews this summer and I want to get back on track with my challenges. This next couple of days I'm going to work on finishing up a couple of books I've been working on for a while. I've enjoyed both of them but I'm tired of having them hanging over my head and I want to get back to only reading one book at a time!

How are you enjoying this holiday weekend?

Memorial Day


The first commemorations to honor those who have served and died in war were held following the U.S. Civil War. By the 20th century, the memorials had extended to honor all Americans who have died in any war. In the early 20th century, these commemorations had become a way to remember not only those who had served but family members as well.

On this weekend when we celebrate graduations, the opening of swimming pools, the kick off of summer and the annual Indianapolis 500, let us not forget those who have gone before us, particularly those who have served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Bleak House Readalong - We're Done!

We're done, we're done, we're done! I think my final opinion of Bleak House is going to evolve over time. Right now, I'm honestly a little disappointed. I can't help but think that Dickens thought he was throwing in some great twists at the end but the big things that happened weren't all that surprising. Dickens always leave me with the feeling "and they all lived happily ever after ... except the people that didn't ... live that is."

What I Liked This Week:
Well, being done for one thing. Seriously - I can't believe I've been reading this book for more than two months. You can't help but be happy that Esther found love but you always knew that she would find happiness no matter where she ended up. I was happy that George reconciled with his brother and finally found his place in life.
Not that our little group didn't already hold John Jarndyce in high esteem already but these last chapters have really cemented my impression that he was one of the kindest, most thoughtful characters in literature. Is it terrible to say that I liked that Dickens killed off some of his characters? Well, I did - so much more realistic that way. And once you've read a Dickens' book, you know going in that some of the major players will die so it makes it interesting to guess which ones he'll kill off.

What I Didn't Like This Week:
I know, I know - I just got done saying that I like the fact that Dickens kills off some of his major characters. But Lady Dedlock before Esther and she have any chance to have one last moment together? That's just mean, Charles!

And why did the only characters that died have to be ones that we like? Why couldn't Harold Skimpole (the leech and liar) have been run over by a truck? Okay, I know there weren't trucks yet but you get the picture. Or Mr. Vholes? There's a guy that deserved to be dragged down the street behind a team of runaway horses. Nothing even remotely bad happened to either one of these louses.

It's been tough going, pushing my way through this one even when I really didn't have time to read. But I'm glad to be able to say that I've read Bleak House and I'm thankful to Wallace (The Unputdownables) for being so strict with us so I felt like I had to keep up for fear of being dropped from the group. Now I just need to find a group that wants to tackle Little Dorrit!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pin It And Do It - Pink Champagne Cupcakes


Number five on the Pin It And Do It challenge for me was Pink Champagne Cupcakes. Miss H is having a hot pink and zebra print graduation (never mind that her school colors are forest green and black) so we've been looking for ways to bring pink into the menu and Miss H loves cupcakes. Pink Champagne Cupcakes seemed to be perfect and look how pretty they looked in the pin.

Of course, ours aren't going to look this pretty. We didn't have adorable little cupcakes papers and I wasn't going to bother to add those pretty little pink edible pearls. But we were looking primarily for a yummy cupcake that happened to be pink. The recipe makes 24 regular-sized cupcakes; we were making mini-cupcakes and got 48 out of the batch. For batter lickers like us, that champagne makes for an unusual aftertaste but the finished product loses the alcohol bite while retaining the champagne flavor. The frosting was a hit with my taste testers so we are a go with this recipe for graduation. Now to crank out another four dozen of these little beauties and move on to the next cake recipe. Miss H is thinking Key Lime cupcakes even if they aren't pink.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray

Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
Published May 2012 by Crown Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher

When you've been married a while, when you've been a mother a while, when you've been in the same place in your life for a long time, sometimes you begin to feel that you've become invisible to those around you.

For Clover Hobart, one day it becomes much more than just a feeling. Clover actually discovers that she has physically become invisible. As shocked as she is to discover that she can't see herself, she is even more shocked to discover that her son and husband don't notice. Almost no one, in fact, notices that there's no body there as long as a pair of pants, some shoes and a hat are making their way around. Sure being invisible comes in handy when it's time to stop her son from getting a tattoo. Otherwise, it's a sad and lonely life. Then one day, Clover answers an ad in the local paper that reads, "Calling Invisible Women." Clover discovers an entire group of women her age who are in the same predicament and these women have the answer Clover's been looking for - the reason she became invisible. Knowing who to blame gives Clover a strength she didn't know she had and a cause for which to fight.

Jeanne Ray is Ann Patchett's mother. That, in and of itself, was a selling point for me. Patchett's Bel Canto is one of my all-time favorite books and I was eager to see if Patchett had inherited her talent. Ray certainly has her own style; Calling Invisible Women is satirical, funny, and touching. Much like her daughter, Ray writes a smart book with strong female characters.

The other selling point for me was the idea of a middle-aged wife and mother not only feeling invisible but truly becoming invisible. Have you ever thought that the things you're doing around the house, for example, won't even be noticed? That your family will only notice the things that don't get done? I certainly have so I knew I could relate to Clover on that level. I liked the way Ray played with the idea that not only are these women so overlooked that they feel invisible but when they truly are invisible no one even notices. I had wondered how the idea was going to play out - would there be an actual cause or would the cause be more mystical. While I found the cause interesting and it was nice to see Clover become more visible even when she wasn't visible, I'm still not sure whether or not I liked how the plot played out. While the ending was certainly upbeat, I was glad that Ray hadn't given the book a Disney ending.

Ray is the author of several other books, including Julie and Romeo which many of you may recall. I will definitely be picking up another of them soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Published in paperback May 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

When co-worker and friend Anders Eckman dies in the Amazon jungle of Brazil, Marina Singh is sent by the company to finish the mission he was sent on - a mission she is reluctant to taken on. The sense of an obligation to Anders widow convinces Marina to journey to the equator in search of her former mentor who has disappeared while researching and developing a new drug for Marina's company.

As with Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Patchett has dropped her lead character into an unforgiving setting for which she is utterly unprepared. If you had given me that comparison before I read the book, I might well have run screaming even though Patchett is one of my favorite authors. Thirty years after I studied Heart of Darkness in college, I still can't forget how much I disliked that book. Fortunately, Annick Swenson is no Kurtz, although she is equally idolized by the natives she lives among. Swenson is certainly a force to be reckoned with, a doctor who wishes that she had never revealed that fact to the tribe, a woman who brooks no nonsense and who deeply resents the company who pays for everything she does and has.

Throughout her journey, Marina learns that poisonous snakes, insect bites and unknown infections are not the only dangers she faces. Along the way, she must come to terms with events in her past that she has been pushing into the dark recesses of her mind and discover the things that are really important in her life.

"The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world."

Patchett has a marvelous way of making the smallest details come alive. From a Minnesota winter to the stifling heat and humidity of the jungle, she makes her settings come alive. Seriously, the deeper into Brazil Marina went, the more I wanted to jump into a swimming pool! Patchett's writing blends both a lyricism and starkness and her characters are wonderfully realized. Are they characters readers will relate to or like? Maybe not, but I knew these characters by the end of the book and Patchett kept me interested in the book because I wanted to know what would happen to these people. As much as the book is character driven, the story is, at heart, a look at ethics - just what are we willing to do in the name of scientific discovery and business? Patchett never fails to deliver a book with amazing depth.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pin It And Do It - Cake Batter Truffles


Miss H's graduation was the perfect incentive to shoot for the stars on the Pin It And Do It challenge. I started to wonder if I was actually going to be able to get through eight pins in one month as I began to realize that quite a lot of the great ideas I had pinned were completely infeasible given the size of the crowd we're expecting (I mean, am I really going to want to make 150 fruit skewers between the ceremony and the party?). So I may not make that lofty goal, but at least, after this weekend, I've gotten five done already!

Yesterday I made these little beauties - Cake Batter Truffles. There are actually two recipes that I've pinned but this one was so quick and easy, I'm not sure I'll try the other one. Five ingredients and only about fifteen minutes of work to make, they are easy although I will warn you that they are really sweet. The recipe said it would make 20 - 30 truffles but I only got 22 and they were quite small. The recipe calls for dipping chocolate which I bought for the first two batches. It's not cheap nor is it particularly delicious so I played around until I came up with my own version. I made some truffles dipped in milk chocolate and some dipped in white chocolate. Now I just have to hope that it's not 100 degrees on Saturday and I end up with a plate of desserts that are so melted no one can pick them up!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Salon - May 20



Books? What are books? Last week was almost entirely about getting the house ready for Miss H's graduation party and this week will be mostly the same. I did finally finish So Much For That for this week's meeting with the Omaha Bookworms and my Bleak House reading but I'm going to have to race through State of Wonder for a review this week. Thank heavens for my lunch time reading!

I didn't even manage to get my Friday post done for the Bleak House readalong so I'll do a quick recap here:

What I Liked:
Mr. Bucket - I'm not really sure what this officer's territory is, he seems to be able to go all over London and well out into the surrounding countryside to pursue his case. He was relentless in trying to locate the missing Lady Dedlock. I'm still a little iffy about the way he treated our poor little Jo since he sent him off on his own, in theory to protect himself, but gave him very little help in doing that. Still, he took no time at all to figure the weasely Mr. Skimpole out.

 What I Didn't Like:
I'm sorry to say, but I was more than a little annoyed with Lady Dedlock. Granted, she was willing to sacrifice her happiness with her daughter to protect her husband and she left, in theory, to protect him. But was she really being that thoughtful? The fact that she left was bound to stir up gossip (which it did and which Dickens wrote about masterfully) and it was bound to cause Esther great pain. Apparently she was not even aware of the pain it would cause her husband (shame on her for not realizing the depth of his feeling and causing him to have a stroke). It felt more like she couldn't bear the thought of falling from her own high perch.

We'll be finishing the book this week, only about fifty more pages to go and I must say that I really have enjoyed these last two hundred pages. All of that slogging through seemingly unrelated characters has come together marvelously.


Miss H's graduation has gotten me moving on some projects around the house that I've been meaning to get to but just haven't. When we moved into this house 16 years ago, we put in the usual shiny brass for most of the light fixtures and hardware. I have been wanting to get rid of all of it for a long time but where to start? It would cost hundreds to switch everything out and if you started one room, you'd have to do the whole room. Thanks to Pinterest, I discovered how easy it is to spray paint light fixtures and I had two in mind that were just the place to start.

The Big Guy wasn't too thrilled about having to play with electricity but it turns out that it's really not that difficult, you just have to pay attention to what the wiring looked like before you take the fixture down. Unfortunately, the cord to connect my camera to my computer has disappeared  so I don't have pictures of my finished projects. But I'm absolutely delighted with my "new" black metal kitchen light fixture and "new" nickel fixture in the powder room. Both blend so much better with their surroundings and really do look like new fixtures.  I had thought I would get new glass for both of the fixture but even those look so much nicer with the new finish.  I highly recommend this if you have fixtures you're tired of the finish on but you still like the shape. This summer is bound to mean the rest of the fixtures will get the same treatment. And all of those shiny brass door knobs? Turns out you can do the same thing with those! Rust-o-leum and Krylon are now my new best friends!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab
Published April 2012 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

""I was welcomed into this world with gunshots."

In Afghanistan, when a son is born, tradition dictates that the father rushes into the street with his pistol and fires a few rounds into the air to celebrate. My father did this for Khalid, my older brother, his firstborn, as was the Pashtun custom. A little over a year later, minutes after I was born, my father rushed outside with his weapon and did the same..."I promise that my daughter will prove that she is better than many Pashtun sons, and will do more for her people than on hundred sons combined.""

Five years later, Saima Wahab's father was taken from his home by the Russians who were infiltrating the country. Saima never saw him again. Fearful, the family fled Kabul, eventually reuniting in Pakistan. But even there, Wahab's mother feared for her children's safety and sent them to live with uncles in Portland, Oregon. Saima, who had long rebelled against the treatment of women in her country, was surprised to find herself unable to fully integrate into American culture but also unable to live up to her uncle's standards. After fleeing her uncle's homes, she was estranged from her family for many years and fell into a deep depression as she struggled to find a way to blend her Afghan roots and her love of America. One day she received a call that would change her life. The United States was looking for Pashtun translators to assist the troops in Afghanistan. It would offer Wahab the opportunity to revisit the land of her father and try to come to terms with her heritage.
"On that long flight to my motherland, I made two promises to myself: one, that if ever I saw that Afghanistan had become a country my father would be ashamed of, I would leave that same day. The second was inspired by my paranoia...I would guard my American passport with my life. I feared that the men of Afghanistan would suck me back into a life with no rights, a life that I thought I had escaped - the shackles that so many Afghan women accept as their fate."
I always jump at the chance to read books from this part of the world, both fiction and nonfiction.  I am so intrigued by the culture, heritage and struggles of the country and never fail to learn from these books. In My Father's Country was no exception. Having just read The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, I was concerned that there would be little more for me to glean about Afghanistan from this book. I could not have been more wrong. While Dressmaker did deal extensively with the plight of women in the country, it was only while reading In My Father's Country that I began to understand why women, even those who are opposed to their treatment, have a hard time fighting against it.
"In Pashtun culture, women are the protectors of family shame. A woman's behavior can ruin the status a family holds in the community. This strong link between women, pride, and shame is one of the primary reasons why women are so furiously protected and controlled."
Wahab also is able to give the reader a look at the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan at ground level. She must find her place amongst the U.S. forces, help to bring about a greater understanding between the U.S. and the Afghan locals. and find a way to balance her modern ways with the Afghan culture. After the six months that she had initially committed to were up, Wahab signed on for an extended stay, convinced she had not done enough. She was determined to fulfill what had been foretold by her father, who he didn't know at the time but in whom he had faith.
"I vowed then to spend the rest of my years on earth making his [her father's] words come true."
The story of Wahab's journey to do just that is an eye-opening look at her heritage and an inspiration. I can't imagine having the incredible courage Wahab had as she risked her life day after day, venturing into remote areas of her homeland in her capacity as a translator, knowing the very thing that made her such a valuable asset for the Americans also made her a huge target with the insurgency. Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!



Happy Mother's Day

For everyone who has touched the life of a child

Bleak House - Week Eleven

By golly, I do believe ol' Charles has finally decided to get to the point and stick to it this week. No fluff, no filler, just plenty of action and a good heaping of humor. Nearly all of the tremendous cast of characters that we've been trying to keep track of for the past ten weeks appeared in this week's reading making me glad that I'd made a point to keep track of all of them. We had an elopement, a funeral, a reunion, and a surprising arrest this week - it was great fun! This week I'm switching things up a little and getting the thing I didn't like this week out of the way first.

 What I Didn't Like This Week: I'm not always sure what to make of Dicken's opinion of women but he certainly didn't think much of most of them. Ada is little more than a child, Mrs. Snagsby is a shrew, and even our beloved Esther is nothing more than a martyr. Even Mrs. Bagnet, who is clearly the brains in her family, is only allowed to voice her opinion because her husband believes she is giving voice to his own opinion. On the other hand, Dicken's women are very often the heart of the story, as they are in Bleak House.

What I Liked This Week:  Mr. Bucket. Previously I haven't cared much for him, being under the impression that he was a brute. He did, after all, take poor Jo away from Bleak House and then leave him on his own. But in these chapters his way of solving a crime, of working his way into the trust of people, was such fun to read. He's quite a wily guy!


 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cat Thursday


Oh, yeah - another reason I don't have pets! Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Movies That Inspire Me To Read

When a new movie is released based on a book I've been wanting to read, I'm always struggling to figure out if I want to quickly read the book first or watch the movie first. I'm so often disappointed by the movie version that I've lately found that I enjoy reading the book after even if some of the surprise is taken out of it. Sometimes, though, the decision is taken out of my hands. Sometimes I don't even know a movie I'm watching is based on a book (The Descendants is the most recent example of that) and sometimes I find a movie on television based on a book I've thought about reading but just never picked up. Those are the movies that truly inspire me to go out and buy the books sooner rather than later. Today that movie was the 1995 adaptation of Alan Paton's Cry, The Beloved Country starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. Certainly I have heard a lot about the book and have known it to be one of the books I "should" read. But, for some reason, I've just never picked it up.

Cry, The Beloved Country is the story of Stephen Kumalo, an Anglican priest in
South Africa struggling to hold his family together, and his neighbor, wealthy landowner, James Jarvis. Kumalo journeys from his village to Johannesburg to help his sister and find his son who went in search of her previously. He is dismayed to find that his sister has turned to prostitution but his heart is broken when his son, Absalom is arrested for killing Jarvis' son, Arther, a white man working for racial justice. The story, as seen in the movie, is as much about the relationship between the two fathers as it is about the racial situation in South Africa.

For a movie that was made as recently as 1995 and which stars two such powerful actors, I suppose this movie is a bit of a disappointment. In some ways, it had the feeling of a made-for-t.v. adaptation or a 1970's movie. Yet the story is so moving and Jones and Harris such powerful actors, that I was drawn into this intimate story about the damage human cruelty can inflict. A trip to Half-Price Books is in my very near future and I will definitely be looking to bring Cry, The Beloved Country home with me.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Salon - May 6


I'm feeling more than a little stressed lately as I'm thinking about everything I need (well, that I want) to get done before Miss H's graduation party. Am I the only person that needs a big event to get around to doing all of those things around the house that I've been wanting to do for a long time? It's certainly been cutting in on my reading time!
 

I was watching YouTube videos yesterday about home organizing and decluttering and was surprised by how many of the people who've posted videos don't know that rule of writing - show, don't tell. What is the point of a video about organizing or decluttering if I'm watching you sitting talking to me for nine minutes and never leaving your desk? Show people, show!

Every time I open Pinterest to see what I want to try next for the Pin It And Do It challenge, I get completely distracted. Last night I found this great collection of pipe bookshelves. They wouldn't work in my house but I think they are so cool!

I have four books I'm working on right now. I am not enjoying it, trying to balance all of them. I really need to hide in my room a couple of nights this week and read long enough to finish a couple of them. House of Mirth, I'm looking at you - you're getting finished this week.

Another book I've got going right now is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo which I started in March. I did something the other night I never thought I would do. I took my daughter to get her first tattoo. There's a long story behind it but let's just say that my middle-aged, suburban mom self had to look ridiculously out of place in a tattoo parlor on a Friday night. But...at least I had the right book in my purse to read while we were waiting!

What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bleak House Readalong - Week Ten

Wow, wow, wow - this what quite a week for the readalongers! We've got a guy who's really losing his mind, a new baby, a secret about to be revealed, and two deaths. I think I'm going to go straight to my reading for the coming week instead of putting it off for a change!

What I Liked This Week: 
Mr. George and our beloved Jo were back. Tragically, just as Jo was finding people to care for him, he succumbs to illness. In true Dickensian manner, the reader is left with mixed feelings about the people's motives. True they cleaned him up, found him a place to stay, protected him, and fed him but...many of them seemed to be as happy to be doing it because they associated Jo with Esther and love her so as much as by a desire to make Jo's life better.

"Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead. Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day."


What I Really Liked This Week:
 Mr. Tulkinghorn was shot dead. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Seriously, if this were a movie, when he got shot, the audience would have cheered! Poor Mr. George was arrested already but I think we can be pretty sure it wasn't him. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lulu In The Sky by Loung Ung

Lulu In The Sky by Loung Ung
Published April 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

When Loung Ung was just five years old, the Khmer Rouge marched in Phonm Pehn where Loung lived with her parents and six siblings. Along with millions of other Cambodians, the family was driven into the country to work in the fields. Three of her siblings were separated from the family and one day her father was led away in a blindfold and handcuffs never to be seen again. After years of back-breaking work, starvation and relenting terror, the Khmer Rouge was overthrown by the Vietnamese and Loung escaped the Vermont with her brother and his wife.This third memoir in Ung's trilogy, chronicles her life from her years as an undergraduate student to her years working with abused women and as an activist against land mines.

Growing up in her brother and sister-in-law's house, the strict rules included "no dating." It  was not until she was in college that Ung began to secretly date. While the idea of dating was exciting, it brought to the forefront many of the fears and anxieties that Ung had long kept buried. Did she want a man who simply because he would take care of her? Would she every be able to allow a man to touch her intimately? Would she ever be able to believe that loved ones might not be snatched away from her? Most importantly would she be able to find a purpose for her life and forgiveness for those who had caused her so much pain?

Although the writing was a little uneven, ultimately Ung's story is one of survival in the face of terrible tragedy that makes for a compelling read. It almost feels like there are three stories in this book: the love story, the story of Ung finding her place in the world, and a history of Cambodia. The circling dance between Ung and Priemer sometimes felt overly detailed, yet reading about the internal struggle Ung went through as she tried to allow herself to fully love was constantly interesting. Sometimes the little girl who was nearly raped by a Vietnamese soldier caused Lulu to push Priemer away with amazing anger. Other times, it was fascinating to watch the young woman studying feminism fight for her right to happiness.  Bit by bit, the walls began to crumble, eventually allowing Lulu to forgive the mother who had sent her half way around the world as a young girl.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for introducing me to Loung Ung and her incredible life story. I'll certainly be adding her first two books, "First They Killed My Father" and "Lucky Child" to my wish list. I don't know that readers need to read the books in order, but I do think that readers would better understand grown up Lulu if they knew exactly what happened to the young Lulu. The full TLC tour includes reviews of all three books. To learn more about Loung Ung, visit her website.