Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thrity Thursdays or The Space Between Us Readalong

At last we come to the end of our readalong of Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us. It would be more accurate for me to say "Sadly" rather than "At last," to be honest. This was one of those books that you just don't want to reach the end of--and one that will stay with me.

Chapters 21-25
Well, I'd like to tell you about these final chapters but I can't without revealing too much and I so want you to read this book. It will have to suffice to say that "spaces" become so much more apparent and that certain truths are finally revealed.

A minor but important character, an Afghani balloon man that used to work on Chowpatty Beach, comes back in the final chapter. Umrigar previously wrote that he symbolized to Bhima how to live with loneliness. Here, his memory shows her how to live with strength:

"Bhima marvels at the paradox: A solitary man, an exile, a man without a country or a family, had still succeeded in creating dreamworlds for hundreds of children, had entered the homes of strangers with his creations of color and fantasy and magic. A man who would never again touch or kiss the sweet faces of his own children brought smiles to the faces of other people's children. Like a musician, the Pathan had learned how to make a song out of his loneliness. Like a magician, he had learned how to use sheer air to contort limp pieces of rubber into objects of happiness. Empty-handed, he had built a world."

My Thoughts:
Umrigar writes some of the most incredible characters. At the back of this book, she reveals why it was possible in this one - there really was a Bhima. She worked in the house that Umrigar grew up in "cleaning furniture she was not allowed to sit on, cooking food she was not allowed to share at the family dining table." Dinaz is a reflection of Umrigar herself--a young person who "sensed [Bhima's] essential goodness and dignity and stoic heroism." And Sera was born of watching her own aunts interact with Bhima.

Umrigar doesn't explore any new ground in this book. She is not the first person to write about class distinctions, poverty, and despair. Umrigar just does it better than most. She pulls you into the story and brings you down to a personal level that really makes you care about the characters and the story she is trying to tell.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha - Guest Review

Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha
390 pages
Published June 2010 by Simon Schuster Adult
Source: the publisher and FSB Associates

When Julie, from FSB Associates, contacted me about the possibility of reviewing Shadow of the Swords, my initial reaction was to decline. I've got so many books that I need to get to and this one didn't necessarily sound like something that might trip my trigger. But then I got to thinking that I do know someone who is very much interested in the Crusades. So I asked Julie if she would mind getting the opinion of a very bright 18 year old. She was game and when the book arrived and I saw the cover, which looks so much like something out of the video games Mini-me is so fond of, he was eager to get started.

Synopsis from the publisher:
The epic story of the Crusades from the Muslim point of view.

Okay--that doesn't give you much to go on, does it?! So here's a synopsis from Publisher's Weekly:
The bloodshed of the Third Crusade is vividly portrayed in Pasha’s second novel (Mother of All Believers), an excellent swords and sandals saga that takes in the action from an early Islamic perspective. Richard the Lionheart leads the armies of the European Crusaders, while Saladin commands the Muslim forces in Palestine. Both men are cunning and ruthless, and both are victims of the wiles of a beautiful young Jewish woman’s plotting—one man as her lover, the other as an enemy. Miriam is the niece of Maimonides, Saladin’s trusted physician, and she has the power and will to thwart one man’s plans and save the kingdom of the other.

I asked Mini-me to jot down his thoughts on the book and imagined that we would sit down together and work them into a review. But I liked what he did so much, that I'm going to give you his thoughts, largely unaltered other than to add a few of his thoughts that he shared with me along the way.

- I enjoyed the vivid imagery created by the author.
- The characterization was in-depth and gave me a sense of connection to each character.
- The character development was very [central] in this novel. Each character changed vastly from the beginning to the end as they learned and gained new experiences.
- I liked that Pasha showed the story from multiple religious points of view.

- Sometimes I felt as thought the descriptions were overly wordy, making the reading process a bit slower.
- I felt that certain characteristics were repeated when it was not entirely needed such as writing again and again about Miriam's eyes and hair or Saladin's honorable nature.
- Occasionally I felt the book read a little like a romance. [Mama's comment--bear in mind, here, that this is the opinion of a young man who's primarily focused on the action.]

Writing Style:
- I felt that for a novel set in the location that this book takes place in and for the time period involved, this writing style worked very effectively. Pasha made sure that the reader was aware of the setting in which each particular chapter was taking place.
[It's interesting that this is his view now. Early on he was telling me that he thought the book was, perhaps, overwritten. But evidently it began to work for him.]

Favorite Character:
- Maimondes was probably my favorite character. He was a character who faced many conflicts relating to his religious views, his morals and his family and friends. He was able to overcome these conflicts and learn from them even into his old age.

From the Prologue:
"They were supposed to have been safe. The coastline of Sinai was guarded by the Sultan's men. The handsome new Sultan who had swept into Cairo and overthrown its ailing king, ending the Shiite dynasty of the Fatimids and restoring Egypt to the fold of Sunni Islam. She should have been too young to understand these complex matters of state, but her father had always insisted that Jewish children should be well versed in the politics of the day. For it was the curse of her people that the changing winds of nations inevitably brought with them storms of tragedy and exile.

There had been many who had feared that the new Sultan would persecute the Jews for supporting the heretic kings who had ruled Egypt in defiance of the Caliph of Baghdad. But he had proven to be a wise man, and had reached out in friendship to the People of the Book. The Jews had found in the Sultan a patron and a protector, and her own uncle had been welcomed into the court as the ruler's personal physician.

How she wished her uncle had been with them today. Perhaps he could have saved them from the warriors of Christ who had descended on their caravan like locusts. Stanched the flow of blood from amputated limbs. Applied his special salves on the burns inflicted by flaming arrows. Maybe if he had been with them, the others would have lived. "

Thanks, Mini-me, for reading "Shadow of the Swords" and reviewing it!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends: Alan Furst

The Rhodies have, once again, come through with a recommendation that doesn't include just a single book but a whole catalog. So if you find you love the author, you will be at no loss for more titles to read!

"Mama Shepp take note, as well as other readers. We have from the first been adoring fans of Alan Furst who writes spy novels set in Eastern Europe in the period from WWI to WWII."

" We just finished his most recent ("Spies of the Balkans") and think it may be our favorite of the lot. Ten titles so far, and we hope he will be good for ten more. I can only think to compare him with Graham Greene in style and mood. His characters are inevitably interesting and his plots, while intricate, are easily followed.These are not who dunnits; not cozys, not loaded with silliness like the James Bond books or charming eccentrics like the John LeCarre novel. "

"People fall in love, betray, kill and die, survive the grim life of their times or fail to do so. He does a wonderful job of conveying the look and feel of places and historic Do begin with "Night Soldiers" because there is occasionally some carry-over of one or another character. However, each book will stand on its merits."

Patrick Anderson, book reviewer for the Washington Post, has this to say about Furst and his latest:
"I read my first Alan Furst novel nine years ago and urged Book World's readers to do themselves a favor and seek out everything this talented writer had in print. Now, having read Furst's 11th and latest novel, Spies of the Balkans, I find that my advice holds. About all that has changed since 2001 is that Furst was relatively unknown then, and today he is widely recognized as one of the finest spy novelists active."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thrity Thursdays or The Space Between Us Readalong (Friday Version!)

Welcome to the Friday edition of Thrity Thursday! This is what happens when you agree to a review date without checking your calendar. At least my fellow readers were on top of things:

Ti at Book Chatter
Dar at Peeking Between The Pages
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy's Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View
Amy at The House of Seven Tails

Chapters 16-20
In these chapters, we find that Maya and Bhima have taken to walking down to the beach every evening and it's reviving Maya and softening Bhima. It's also giving Bhima time to reflect on the past.
"They say that when something is very beautiful, the Gods of Jealousy notice it. Then, they must destroy it. Even if it's their own creation, it's beauty begins to make them jealous and they are afraid it will overshadow them. So they destroy the very temples that they have built."
We learn the story of how Bhima's once wonderful marriage was torn apart after Gopal suffered an accident at work and began drinking heavily.
" was then that she knew the gods had played a trick--they had kept Gopal alive, but they had taken away that essential something that makes a man want to keep on living. Gopal was like an empty shell of a clock whose insides had been removed. There was nothing to keep him ticking anymore."

Sera also reflects back on Feroz's last days. Sera is shocked when Viraf calls Feroz a "king" immediately after his death and realizes that as soon as someone dies we begin to forget their faults.

My Thoughts
It was so difficult to watch Bhima's life crumble around her. Umrigar touches on the issues of business versus workers, illiteracy, and classism. When Gopal is injured at work, he is taken to the government hospital and develops an infection. The hospital is not really treating the infection until Bhima asks for Feroz and Sera to step in and help. Bhima, who is by now acutely aware of how much she suffers because of her illiteracy, at first believes that Feroz is able to wield power because of his education. But when she sees a doctor cowered by him, she is forced to confront the fact that it may have happened because Feroz is Parsi, since the doctor is also educated. I couldn't imagine how hard it must have been for her to realize that there was a chance that even with an education, her son might never be able to rise to the top, something she had pinned her hopes for the future on.

Next week: the final chapters. I'm so grateful that so many of you encouraged me to read this book--it is every bit as good as you said it was! If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you do.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook

Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook
256 pages
Published June 2010 by Hyperion
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Book Promotions

Meet Jill, single mother of ten-year-old Anastasia, who teaches a cooking class one day a week at a senior center, does consulting work, and also works for "Great Girlfriend Getaways" as the webmaster and eight-hour-a-day phone answerer (yes, I know that's not a word!). Jill's been on her own since Anastasia's father disappeared to join the Peace Corp, leaving Jill destitute. It's not so much that she likes things they way they are now but Jill's gotten used to them. Then one day, at the end of her cooking class, Seth, Anastasia's father, appears in the doorway. Seven years later.

"There are seven types of intelligence and seven habits for highly effective people. Hollywood has Seventh Heaven and The Seven Year Itch. There's even a New Age notion that every seven years you shed your skin and become a completely new person, sort of a seven year switch."

Jill wants nothing to do with him but knows that Anastasia, or Asia as her father calls her, has more and more been wanting a father. So Jill allows Seth back into their lives and Seth and Asia hit it off so well that soon both of them are imagining what life might be like if they were all a family again. But Jill isn't so wild about the idea. She knows that if Seth were even five minutes late getting home, she'd be worried that he had left them again. And there's the matter of Billy, a guy she's doing some consulting work for who she also happens to have just started dating.

When the chance to be the group leader for a trip to Costa Rica comes along, Jill jumps at the chance to get away from it all and that may be just what she needs. Meanwhile, Seth is left behind to care for his daughter--and that may be just what he needs as well.

Claire Cook is also the author of "Must Love Dogs." I admit I haven't read that but I love the movie starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. I figured that anyone who wrote the book for that must write books that I would enjoy so I jumped at the chance to read this. And it was just the thing to get me back on track. It's fun, light, and a quick read with the predictable love triangle, quirky friend and struggle to balance it all. But Cook made it all work for me. The characters are fun and, for the most part, believable and you can't help but cheer for Jill even though you aren't really sure which way you're hoping things will turn out.

Here's what other authors are saying about the book:

With wit and tenderness, Claire Cook sweeps us into the life of Jill Murray, a feisty single mom trying to stitch together a future after being abandoned by her husband. This is a delightful story of love, loss, and the surprising events that healed her heart. I cheered for Jill the entire way. (Beth Hoffman, author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt)

A perfect beach read. Claire Cook once again demonstrates that she's a master in creating funny, warm, relatable characters you root for from the very first page. (Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of The One That I Want and Time of My Life)

Thanks to Dorothy and Pump Up Your Book Promotions for including me on this tour!

**Be sure to check out this giveaway on Claire's site!**

Go to to win a beach bag filled with all 7 of my novels, plus a beach towel!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hearts On A String: A Novel by Kris Radish

Hearts On a String by Kris Radish
336 pages
Published May 2010 by Bantam
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Five women meet in the bathroom of the airport in Tampa when they all pitch in to try to save one woman's cell phone that's become jammed in a toilet. Two of them women have just discovered that one knows the others husband but otherwise they are all complete strangers. While they're in the midst of the rescue, an announcement comes over the airport intercom stating that all outgoing flights have been canceled due to a storm which seems to be effecting enough major airports to shut down all air travel. One of the women suggests that they all return to the suite she just vacated, which she knows for a fact is still empty and ride out the wait there. Things only go from bad to worse--the storm suddenly shifts and hits Tampa; it turns out that Cathy, who knew Nan's husband, was actually having an affair with him; and an attendee at a Para-Psychic Professional conference taking place in the hotel seems to know more about the youngest woman, Holly, than she is comfortable with. And Cathy's not the only one hiding a secret. Let the bonding--or cat fighting--begin.

I really wanted to like this book. But almost from the beginning, my eyes started rolling in disbelief and they never stopped. The whole set up to put these women together seemed so contrived, I didn't buy that one storm was going to cause such a massive shutdown of airports in the U.S., and I found it even harder to believe that the storm suddenly hit Florida with such fury. More than once I tagged a passage with a sticky note that simply said "really???" For example:
"...they all took a ridiculous chance to help a stranger by willingly participating in this Airside A restroom event."
A ridiculous chance? Really???

I didn't find it hard to believe that a group of women would decide to group together to share a hotel room to ride out a storm--even a group of total strangers. Women do that. But these women weren't even really getting along in the bathroom so why they would choose to spend a couple of days together? And that's the question each of them kept asking themselves again...and again...and again. And for some reason Radish keeps suggesting that staying together was a dangerous decision.

Occasionally I found a passage that made me really think that Radish could do better. The very idea that all women are connected by a string:

"It allows women to lean into one another and find a sister when they need one. The string can never be broken. You can use it to pull yourself up, to pull yourself forward, or to steady the place where you must remain."
Or this description of friendship:
"Women who have someone who understands the pace of their moods, their list of regrets and longings, the reasons why they let go of some things and cling to others. Women who know that the call will always be answered without hesitation. Women who can at any given moment fill the hollow pit of loneliness that sometimes cripples them."
And I could completely relate to this passage about motherhood:
"That absolutely lovely feeling when everyone is home and safe and the doors are locked and the house is clean and for just a few hours there is the scent of calm happiness everywhere she turns."

Radish is also the author of "Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral" and I remember reading reviews of that book. If you read that one, what did you think of it.

Connect with Radish, check out her website, follow her on Twitter or Facebook or follow her blog.

For other opinions of "Hearts On A String" check out this list of blogs.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Travels With The Shepps - Part 2

Since this was a working holiday for The Big Guy, the kids and I spent a lot of time around the hotel--with an XBox and laptop it wasn't always easy to get them out of the room but the pool and patio with its waterfall were great draws and great places for me to read.

Of course, no visit to the Black Hills would be complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore and we made sure to get there in time to hike, visit the museum, and be awed by the lighting ceremony.

While we were in near Custer, we kept seeing signs in the parks that said "Buffaloes Are Dangerous Do Not Approach." But until the last day we were there, the only buffalo we had seen were the art pieces we had seen all over Custer. Then, on our way out of the area, we finally came across a small herd of the real thing. I was in heaven!

Last stop on the trip (well, except for the required gas station and bathroom breaks) was in Alliance, Nebraska, home of Carhenge. Yes, those are all real cars--the ones in the foreground are arranged to resemble England's Stonehenge. Sadly, I was in "let's just get home now" mode and didn't have much of an appreciation for Carhenge.

And now you are released from having to look at any more vacation pictures--even though The Big Guy thinks there are a lot of other things worth sharing. Luckily for you, he has no idea how to add a post to this blog!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Travels With The Shepps - Part 1

I'll be the first to admit that travel through the central part of Nebraska, along Interstate 80 is dull. It is flat, flat, flat. Hence the reason it was the path that the pioneers chose when they traveled across the territory 160 years ago. So we were no less excited when we first started seeing giant rock formations jutting out of the land in western Nebraska, particularly Chimney Rock.

Since our trip was a working vacation for The Big Guy, the kids and I took advantage of a stop in Scottsbluff to actually go to the top of Scottsbluff where, as you can see, the view is amazing. I think Mini-Me and Miss H might have stayed up there for several hours. It was so quiet and incredible.

Next stop on the tour was Fort Robinson, near Chadron. Fort Robinson was an active military post from 1874 to 1948. It started as an Indian Agency protective post, was the last great gathering place of the Sioux Nation and served as a prisoner of war camp during World War II.

Our final stop before arriving in Custer, South Dakota was an unscheduled one. The Big Guy got pulled over for speeding in a national park. While we were waiting for the very nice officer to discover that my husband was not a wanted felon, we noticed these prairie dogs grooming each other. I wonder how often the officer has seen someone he's pulled over snapping pictures?

The evening saw us heading into Custer State Park and started with a stop at Sylvan Lake. It's not a big lake but is truly beautiful. So beautiful that there was a bride out on some of the rocks having pictures taken.

We followed The Needles highway on through the park. The Big Guy and Mini-me spent a lot of time perched on outcroppings trying to get the perfect shot of the needle rock formations in the park. We couldn't believe how long it took us to work our way back down the highway. We were beginning to think we might just be driving around and around in circles. It was not just a little ironic that when we were finally able to pick up a radio station again, the song that was playing was The Beatles' "Long And Winding Road!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thrity Thursdays or The Space Between Us Readalong

Welcome to Week 3 of our The Space Between Us readalong! It's pretty much official now--I love Thrity Umrigar!

To see what everyone else is thinking about this books, check out these posts:

Ti at Book Chatter
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy's Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View
Amy at The House of the Seven Tails

Chapters 12-15
Two months have passed since Maya had the abortion and Bhima observes that she "won't come to life."
"Rather, she sits stone-faced, as if the abortion doctor has killed more than her baby, as if he has also cleaned out her insides, has scooped out her beating heart just as Bhima scoops the fibrous innards of the red pumpkin that Serabai puts in her dall. Whatever it is that makes human beings laugh and dance and hope and love and pray, whatever it is that separates youth from old age, life from death, Maya has lost that."
In order to help her break out of her sadness, Bhima decides to take Maya to the beach. While there Maya does brighten up, Bhima begins to soften and forgive her and they talk some about the past. Maya reveals that she knows that her parents died of AIDS but Bhima is not ready to discuss that with her.

We do get to learn about it though--how Bhima was summoned to Delhi via telegram that just said that her daughter, Pooja, and son-in-law, Raju, were very sick. Bhima is shocked to find how very sick they are but doesn't realize, until she befriends a Muslim man, Hyder, that they are dying. Despite her frailty, Pooja is determined to be with Raju when he dies but Hyder and Bhima are the ones that accompany his body to the funeral pyre behind the hospital. When Pooja also dies, and Bhima has to accompany her body also, she wants nothing more than to throw herself on the pyre as well. She is almost resently of Maya because the need to care for Maya means that she can't do that.

Sera attends a dinner party in the home where she first met Feroz and being there causes her to reflect on the first time he beat her and she really realized what she had gotten into. Four years after that first beating, Sera and Dinaz go to visit her parents one day and Sera realizes that she has actually just left Feroz. After two weeks, though, Sera's mother tells her that her place is with her husband and after five weeks, Freddy shows up with a proposal. He has agreed to buy a flat for Feroz, Sera and Dinaz to at least get Sera away from Banu, the Monster and Sera agrees that she will return to Feroz.

My Thoughts
What really struck me in these chapters was Bhima's sense that everything bad that happens to her is somehow a curse or a result of something she had done wrong in her life. She carries a tremendous amount of guilt but is resigned that her life is only about making Maya's life better.

Because Sera married later, she had a taste of what life might have been for her if she had not married and had a child. She also had to resign herself to her life because of her sense that she had a duty to Dinaz to give her the best life possible. Both Bhima and Sera find themselves where they are in life in no small part because of the men they married--not much of a recommendation for marriage!

Umrigar's writing continues to amaze me.
"The secret of loneliness. How to live with it, how to wrap it around your body and still be able to make beautiful, colorful things, like he did with those balloons."
"It was hate. Hate that lodged like a bone in her throat. Hate that made her feel sick, that gave her mouth a bitter, dry taste. Hate that entered her heart like a fever, that made her lips curve downward like a bent spoon."
I can't wait to read on! Please join us in welcoming Amy, of The House of the Seven Tails, to the readalong!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wuthering Heights Wednesday - Final Post - Finally!

I started late...and finished late. But I finally got through Wuthering Heights! It's the third time I've read it now and I'm still not sure I wonder why it's so universally lauded.

Here's what happened since my last post--the quickie wrap up.

Chapters 16 - 18

Catherine, Edgar and Linton's daughter is born and Cathy dies in childbirth. Both Edgar and Heathcliff are devastated. Isabella finally escapes from Heathcliff af. She goes on to London where she has Heathcliff's son, Linton, "an ailing, peevish creature." Hindley ends up drinking himself to death and then it comes out that he had mortgaged everything he owned to Heathcliff. Twelve years pass (it really is just like a soap opera--Bronte had to skip ahead to get the children grown up enough to make them interesting). Young Catherine is spoiled and confined on the grounds of The Grange. Isabella becomes ill and while Edgar is away tending to her last days, Catherine finally escapes the grounds, comes across Wuthering Heights and meets Hareton. She's appalled to find out he's her cousin.

Chapters 19-21

Edgar returns with a frail Linton. Word gets to Heathcliff immediately and he demands his son be brought to him so the next day Nelly takes him to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff says he'll take good care of Linton because he want his heir to rule Thrushcross Grange. But Nelly soon learns that a lack of sympathy has made Linton selfish & disagreeable. On Catherine's 16th birthday she finally meets Heathcliff and he brings her to Wuthering Heights where she's excited to be reacquainted with Linton. Despite her father's protests, Catherine and Linton start sending each other love letters...until Nelly finds out and burns the letters.

Chapters 22-24

Edgar and Nelly both get sick so Catherine takes advantage of no one watching her and sneaks off to see Linton every day. When Nelly finds out (again!) she tells Edgar and he forbids (again!) any more visits.

Chapters 25-27

Edgar writes to Linton who convinces Edgar that he and Catherine should be allowed to meet each other outdoors on the outer edges of the grounds of The Grange. But on the second visit Linton and Heathcliff trick Nelly and Catherine into entering Wuthering Heights where they are held hostage and Catherine is forced to marry Linton.

Chapters 28-30

Edgar dies, Heathcliff continues to hold Catherine at Wuthering Heights and he begins seeing visions of Cathy. Mrs. Dean (Nelly) finishes the story she's been telling Mr. Lockwood by telling him what she's learned of Catherine's life.

Chapters 31-34

Mr. Lockwood visits Wuthering Heights and sees that Catherine treats Hareton terribly. The next week he returns to London and doesn't return to the area for eight months. When he returns, he's startled to see that Catherine and Hareton are now very fond of each other and he's been much civilized. Nelly is now working at Wuthering Heights and tells Mr. Lockwood that two weeks after he left, she was called to the Heights and once there Catherine's demeanor improved and she began being nice to Hareton. They will soon be married. Just a few month earlier, Heathcliff also died after he became more and more obsessed with Catherine, ventured out on the moors in the rain, not sleeping and not eating. Good riddance.

Oh, yeah, and, obviously somewhere in those last few chapters Linton died but for some reason I didn't make a note of it. Probably because he was so worthless.

My thoughts

Yep--still don't get it. Not that it isn't well written. Except for the characters with the same or similar names. Or those whose names entirely change. You do get a visceral feeling for the characters but if you read this and end up liking any of them, I'll be very surprised. It really isn't as much a love story as a story of revenge. I never did grow to understand what made Heathcliff tick--talk about holding a grudge!

So I suffered through this, again, as part of Wuthering Heights Wednesday, hosted by Softdrink at Fizzy Thoughts and also for the Gilmore Girls Challenge and the Brontes Challenge. Now on to see if I don't like Anne Bronte better than Emily.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Sunday Salon - Again

Spent the weekend working like crazy to try to get caught up on things--most particularly laundry--as we are heading out of town as soon as I get home from work on Tuesday for a trip to the Black Hills. Along the way, we'll be stopping to see pioneer landmarks Chimney Rock and Scottsbluff and Fort Robinson in northwest Nebraska. All of these places are places my children should long ago have seen, as close as we live to them. I've seen them--I wonder if anyone would mind if I sat in the car reading while everyone else goes off sightseeing?

I've added two sites to my list of favorites (tab at the bottom of my header). Elle magazine's website has a blog titled "Lit Life: A Blog for Fiction Readers With Great Tastes." The picture above comes from it. This is a bookshelf in Chernobyl 24 years after the nuclear accident in 1986. I've also added "The Millions." How in the world did I not know about this site before? Emily St. John Mandel ("Last Night in Montreal" and "The Singer's Gun") has an article posted there about her favorite apocalyptic novels.

In doing some research for an article, I came across an article on titled "Why Women Read More Than Men." This article contends that under the circumstances, Ernest Hemingway might well be considered "chick lit" given that women are really the primary readers of fiction. The theory there is that women are just hardwired to be more empathetic than men and possess a greater emotional range making fiction more appealing to women than men. Any thoughts on that?

Coming up next week is my review of Claire Cook's "Seven Year Switch." Here's a little teaser on that one for you.

Now the big packing question for the trip: what books and how many to take? For some strange reason, my husband seems to think that five it too many. I, respectfully, disagree. How many books do you like to take when you travel and what kind do you prefer to read on vacation?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

All Things In Common

On of my favorite books last year was Jamie Ford's "Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet" which, in large part dealt with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It was certainly not the first time I had heard of the internment but it definitely opened my eyes as to the way the movement of these people was handled. And it was the first time I recalled reading a book that talked about this part of American history.

Then, just a few months later, I picked up Jean Davies Okimoto's "The Love Ceiling." The mother of the lead character, Anna, was Japanese and her family had been sent with other Seattle area Japanese Americans to an internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho, the same camp that the characters in "Bitter and Sweet" were sent to.

This is that camp. Can you even imagine what it felt like to come from verdant, wet Seattle to this? To say nothing of having to give up nearly everything that you owned, never to get it back? To be honest, given the fact that Russian spies were just found to have been living deep undercover in the U.S., I can somewhat understand why Americans would have been concerned that there might be some spies amongst the Japanese in America. But it is almost beyond comprehension that an entire population, nearly all innocent of any wrongdoing, would be stripped of nearly everything they own, sent hundreds of miles away from their homes and put into camps that were not nearly sufficient to handle the number of people they had to handle nor the climate in which they were located. Shameful.

Thanks to both of these authors for bringing this part of our history into the light.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
341 pages
Published January 2009 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: the publicist, Newman Communications

Before she was even born, Truly Plaice was the town curiousity; the townspeople placed bets on how big she would be when she was born. When her mother died in childbirth, she left behind poor homely Truly, but her sister Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection, and a grieving husband who had no idea how to care for his daughters. They're soon left in the care of two different households during the days. Serena Jane spends her days at the home of the minister, where his wife showers her with beautiful clothes and spoils her. Truly is sent to spend her time on the farm of the town outcast, August Dyerson, and his wife and speechless daughter. When Truly's father also passes away, these become the girls' permanent homes.

Although Truly grows up being ridiculed by all of the children and despised by the one-room school's teacher, she has a couple of good friends. Amelia Dyerson, who begins to speak, but only when Truly is around, and Marcus, undersized and a genius the teacher doesn't know what to do with. Serena Jane is at the center of everything. Unfortunately, that also brings her to the attention of Bob Bob Morgan, son of the town's doctor. Bob Bob becomes obsessed with Serena Jane until one day he does the unthinkable to capture Serena Jane as his bride.

When Serena Jane flees town, leaving behind an unhappy marriage and an eight-year-0ld son, Truly is called in to help around Bob Morgan's household and to care for her nephew.
"The morning my sister left him, Bob Bob woke up and knew it without opening his eyes. It was the absence of the usual odors in the house - the cottony scent of her breath captured in the hollow of the pillow next to him, the slightly acrid aroma of coffee wafting up the stairs, followed by the grease of bacon frying. He lay perfectly still in the bed, his nose twitching, but there was nothing."
Truly and Serena Jane's son, Bobbie, are never allowed to grieve for her when it is discovered that she has died and it takes it's toll on their relationship. And Bob Morgan takes up right where he left off when he left town to become a doctor, never missing an opportunity to be mean to Truly. While in the Morgan house, though, Truly discovers the secret of a quilt that has been in the Morgan family for years, a quilt made by the wife of the first Dr. Robert Morgan, a woman rumored to be a witch. Truly begins to use the secrets found on the quilt for healing purposes but finds that there are just some things that can't be healed.

Baker has crafted a unique story, filled with interesting, well-developed characters. I really became attached to poor Truly, not only for what she has lost but also for the fact that she doesn't always seem to realize how lucky she is. Even as she is being teased as a child, she is developing friendships that will last a lifetime, something that is hard to have in real life. You really can't help but cheer for Truly and hope that, somehow, her condition will right itself and that she'll be able to lead a normal life and find some happiness.

I did think the book dragged in some places and was, occasionally, a bit repetitive. And while some of the writing is beautiful, sometimes it can be overwrought and cliched. But, overall, the story rescues the book from any flaws. And Baker has done something here that's difficult to do. She's written a book that deals with death, grief, rape, suicide, and homosexuality in a small town, without allowing the story to be weighed down by these things. Despite all of it, I was always filled with hope for Truly.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thrity Thursdays or The Space Between Us Readalong

Welcome to Thrity Thursdays or our The Space Between Us readalong! This week takes us through Part 1. Also joining me are:

Ti at Book Chatter
Dar at Peeking Between The Pages
Staci at Life In The Thumb
Kathy at Mommy's Reading
Booksync at Book In The City
Bailey at The Window Seat Reader
Mari at Bookworm With A View

Chapters 7-12 
Much of these chapters focused on two things: Maya's pregnancy and flashbacks to Sera's past. Sera's family seems to be every bit as interested in Maya's need for an abortion as Bhima; Sera even seems to think that it is overshadowing Dinaz's ability to rejoice in her own pregnancy. Maya has asked Sera to go with her when she has the abortion and Viraf finds a doctor in a good clinic that is willing to perform the abortion. Maya is very conflicted about being forced to abort her baby but goes through with it. Sera, who is actually trying to be helpful, is surprised when Maya doesn't appear grateful.

In flashbacks we see how Feroz & Sera's marriage started to fall apart almost as soon as they returned from their honeymoon, in no small part due to the craziness of his mother, Banu. Her husband, Freddy, shows Sera kindness, but that only serves to anger Banu. Freddy even apologizes for not warning Sera before she married Feroz--not just about Banu but also about Feroz's temper, something Sera hadn't seen yet. But soon he is beating her regularly, finally so severely that he leaves to avoid having to watch her deal with her pain. Bhima comes to her rescue using homeopathic remedies, massage and soothing words. But when Bhima comes down with typhoid fever and Sera feels like she needs to nurse her back to health, the best she can do for Bhima is to move her out of the slums and onto a slim mattress on Sera's balcony.

My Thoughts:
"Space" begins to become more and more a prominent part of the book in these chapters. Sera takes about giving Viraf and Dinaz "space" to live their own lives under her roof but there is also a space between Dinaz and Sera because of their wildly different views on social issues. In one scene Viraf is driving Bhima to the market and Umrigar points out the space between them in the car but, of course, that space, while easy enough to cross physically, can't be crossed because of the social barriers. When Sera goes to Bhima's home because Bhima is ill, she becomes acutely aware of the space between her and the residents of the slums, a space that is made all the more obvious by the residents of the slum and Bhima herself. And when Sera decides she must bring Bhima home to nurse her but can't really stand to be any where around Bhima because Bhima reminds her too much of the slum she has just seen, the space is glaringly obvious. Again the scenes in the slum are wrenching. The classism is heartbreaking.

Passages I enjoyed:
"But now," she continued, "now, I love the deep sound of the cello. Somehow, it sounds most like life - sad and sweet and lost. Lonely. I always think that if the heart could sing, it would sound like a cello."
"...perhaps each long-ago blow lives on into eternity in some different permutation and shape; perhaps the body is this hypersensitive, revengeful entity, a ledger book, a warehouse of remembered slights and cruelties.

But if this is true, surely the body also remembers each kindness, each kiss, each act of compassion? Surely this is our salvation, our only hope - that joy and love are also woven into the fabric of the body, into each sinewy muscle, into the core of each pulsating cell?"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

BBAW Registration Post

There sits that lovely little BBAW button off in my sidebar to remind everyone about BBAW. I've posted about the pertinent dates for BBAW. And, yet, this afternoon I was completely stunned to realize that TODAY is the last day to register for BBAW! Without further ado, here are the five posts that I've submitted for Best Literary Fiction Blog consideration, by way of getting registered:

"The Man Who Loved Books Too Much" by Alison Hoover Bartlett
(book review)

"this one is MINE" by Maria Semple (book review)

All Things In Common - June 15, 2010 (feature)

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver (book review)

Mama Shepp's Family Recommends..."Anything Goes" by Madison Smartt Bell (feature)

Bird In Hand by Christine Baker Kline

Bird in Hand by Christine Baker Kline
288 pages
Published June 2010 by Harper Paperbacks
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Claire and Ben, Alison and Charlies. Two best friends who have known each other since first grade. Two couple who have been all but inseparable since Claire and Ben first met Charlie in college then introduced him to Alison. Claire and Ben, living in the city--Ben a successful architect, Claire has just published a work of fiction that more closely resembles a memoir. Charlie and Alison, living in the suburbs--struggling to make ends meet on Charlie's salary so that Alison can stay at home to raise their two small children. When Claire begins to pull away, Alison believes it is because of her thinly disguised portrayal of Alison in the book. Deep down, though, she fears it is more.

Then one terrible night an accident occurs, the ramifications of which will expose all of the problems within both marriages and cause all four of them to examine the choices they have made in their lives to see where their futures lie.

"For Alison, these things will always be connected: the moment that cleaved her life into two sections and the dawning realization that even before the accident her life was not what it seemed. In the instant it took the accident to happen, and in the slow-motion moments afterward, she still believed that there was order in the universe - that she'd be able to put things right. But with one random error, built on dozens of tiny mistakes of judgment, she stepped into a different story that seemed, for a long time, to have nothing to do with her. She watched as if behind one-way glass, as the only life she recognized slipped from her grasp."

That first paragraph of the book pulled me in. The second paragraph had me hooked. In truth, the book turned out to be far less about what happened in that second paragraph than what happened in the first. Kline writes beautifully as she exposes the underbelly of marriage--the routines we fall into, the choices we make, the way we treat each other, the way we communicate--or don't.

"Marriage was hard enough-preposterous enough-in the best of circumstances. Two people, from different backgrounds, whose eating habits and tastes and educations and ambitions might be vastly dissimilar, choose to live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, eat the same foods. They have to agree on everything from where to live to how many children to have. It was sheer lunacy, when you thought about it."

Kline gives us each person's perspective of the current situation as well as filling us in on the events that lead to these moments. She makes us care about each of them, knowing their backgrounds, knowing why they made the choices they made, even if we don't agree with those choices. Every few chapters, she delves further back--into the time when the couples were first meeting each other and becoming couples. The typeset in these chapters is different which avoids that jarring feeling that can happen when books travel back and forth in time. The book did drag about for me in the final pages as things wound down but these parts were necessary to give some kind of closure.

In a "All Things In Common" moment for me, I picked this book up just after my book club had discussed how it's a bad idea to choose a mate when you're in college, that waiting a few more years to look for the person you will spend your life with is a better idea. I can't say that I disagree, despite having met my husband when I was in college and having now been married to him for almost 28 years. But in "Bird In Hand," the characters all seemed to settle for what they thought they needed, not what they knew they wanted. I couldn't help but wonder what decisions they might have made had they met a few years later in life.

To learn more about Kline, you can follow her on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Her website
Twitter: @bakerkline
To read more opinions about this book, please visit the other tour hosts. The full schedule can be found at:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy July 4th to my readers in the U.S.A.!

It's going to be a rainy one here but we will soldier on and shoot off fireworks as the weather permits. Sadly, the breakfast we were planning on going to had to be canceled but there will be no stopping Mini-me and his Grandpa from looking for things to blow up with their firecrackers!

For those of you not from the U.S. and as a reminder for those of you who are, here's an excerpt to remind us all of what we are celebrating this day--any why we really should have been celebrating it two days ago!
In today's encore excerpt, America formally declares its independence from England. The long-standing British occupation had turned into war, and Americans had already fought the British well at Bunker Hill, Dorchester Heights, and Fort Ticonderoga, and in July of 1776, were days away from a demoralising loss at the Battle of Brooklyn. But America had not yet formally declared its independence:

"Congress adopted independence on July 2, 1776. It issued the Declaration on the fourth...It was only after it was on parchment and brought back to Congress on August 2 that they formally signed the document...Congress didn't actually circulate a copy of the document with signatures until January 1777. Why? Well, this was a confession of treason. You were putting your head in the noose. And the war was going very, very poorly in 1776. Only after Trenton and Princeton made it possible (in December) to believe that Americans might win this war did they circulate the document with their signatures."

Pauline Maier, from Brian Lamb's Booknotes, Penguin, 2001, p. 13

"In Philadelphia, the same day as the British landing on Staten Island, July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress, in a momentous decision, voted to 'dissolve the connection' with Great Britain. The news reached New York four days later, on July 6th, and at once spontaneous celebrations broke out...On Tuesday, July 9th, at six in the evening, on (Washington's) orders, the several brigades in the city were marched onto the Commons and other parade grounds to hear the Declaration read aloud."

"The formal readings concluded, a great mob of cheering, shouting soldiers and townspeople stormed down Broadway to Bowling Green, where, with ropes and bars, they pulled down the gilded lead statue of George III on his colossal horse. In their fury the crowd hacked off the sovereign's head, severed the nose, clipped the laurels that wreathed his head, and mounted what remained of the head on a spike outside the tavern."

Author: David McCullough
Title: 1776
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: Copyright 2005 by David McCullough
Pages: 135-137
This came to my email from, a site that my dad steered me to. Sign up for their daily email and you'll get all kinds of excerpts from all kinds of written works. So far I've read about teaching, ugly Japanese stereotypes, ultrarunners, and drug gangs. I highly recommend it as a starting point to look into new things you might not have known about before.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Versatile Blogger Award

Reagan, of Miss Remmer's Review, kindly passed along The Versatile Blogger award to me. Thanks, Reagan! Have you got any great ideas for books high school freshmen should read? Reagan is going to be a freshman teacher this fall. It's great to see how passionate she is about what she's going to be doing!

This award requires me to tell you seven things about myself. Hmm...are there even seven things about myself that I haven't already told you? Let's give this a shot:

1. In 1976 my parents invited a few neighbors over for breakfast on the Fourth of July to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States. Tomorrow we'll be joining a much larger group of their neighbors as they celebrate not only the Fourth of July but the 35th year of the breakfast.

2. I have extremely eclectic musical tastes--my two favorite stations on the radio are the classical music station and the alternative rock station.

3. I love old children's books.

4. I'm a control freak. It's why none of my kids know how to do the laundry yet.

5. I refuse to answer the phone if I don't know who's calling. Thank you caller i.d.!

6. My boys used to have toads for pets. I had to drive 8 miles to buy them crickets to eat after it got too cold for crickets to be in my yard. Is that when you know you might be spoiling your kids?

7. I used to work for Hallmark but I'm terrible about remembering to send cards on special occasions.

I'm passing this along to

Veens of Giving...Reading A -Chance!!!

Deb at Book Magic

Aths at Reading On A Rainy Day