What I’ve been reading……

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a novel that tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ nearly a century ago.  In eight sections, the collective first-person narrator traces their extraordinary lives, from their difficult journey by boat, where they exchange photographs of their husbands, imagining uncertain futures in an unknown land; to their arrival in San Francisco and their first nights as new wives; to their backbreaking work picking fruit in the fields and scrubbing the floors of white women; to their struggles to master a new language and a new culture; to their experiences in childbirth, and then as mothers, raising children who will ultimately reject their heritage and their history; to the arrival of war.  This story makes a good companion read to Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, telling a similar story from the Japanese, rather than Chinese point of view. 


The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern

From the opening words “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not” I was hooked.  Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.  But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood for this purpose by their mentors.  Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for them to do battle with their powerful, but complimentary magic. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco fall headfirst into a deep, magical love but will they be able to overcome the curse that surrounds them? 

Thanksgiving: Recipes for a Holiday Meal by Lou Pappas

When I’m not reading fiction I turn to cookbooks!  With the holidays fast approaching I couldn’t resist a new Thanksgiving cookbook.  This book explores more than fifty favorite holiday recipes, offering both traditional and contemporary dishes.  Each chapter explores a different part of the Thanksgiving feast, from starters to desserts and everything in between. None of the recipes caught my interest though despite being beautifully illustrated.  Tips for staying organized; selecting, preparing, and carving the turkey; putting together a menu—complete with a work plan will help the novice cook get through the holiday with a little less stress. 

Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen–the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, insists on selling  their parents’ house despite Ginny’s reluctance.  It turns out she’s gone undiagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome just like her father, a successful surgeon. The story is a little slow-moving but I stuck it out just see if the sisters could resolve their differences   As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets and the more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead.  There’s only one way to get answers she seeks: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.  Hand-written recipes are included in the beginning of some chapters.

Published in: on October 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading…..

I know it has been a long time since I have posted any books.  Just in case you thought I haven’t been reading, well here’s a short list of some of the titles that I thought were particularly good…..

Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

Silver Boat by Luanne Rice

Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan 

Before Ever After by Samantha Soto

Things have been so busy the past few months that it was difficult to post in more detail for each title.  I hope to get back on track in the next few weeks but in the meantime….Happy Reading to all!

Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading……..

In this novel Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee, Emily and her husband Sandy Portman live a charmed life (at least on the surface) in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in the famous Dakota building.  But one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident.  As Emily tries to deal with the death of her husband she discovers some secret journals hidden in her husband’s rooms.  It turns out that Sandy has been cheating on Emily and as she reads through the terrible details she realizes her marriage was a lie.

Now Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was.  Yet somehow she feels he isn’t really gone.   That’s because he is reincarnated in the scruffy dog from the shelter she names Einstein.  Sandy/Einstein turns out to be not so lovable, in fact I found him to be entirely selfish.  If he wasn’t hopeful of returning as a human, I’m not sure he would have helped Emily at all.  I stuck with the story because I did care for Emily and felt that she really got a bad deal in marrying Sandy.  Have no fear though, the author wraps everything up nicely for a happy ending.

In anticipation of the July release of the movie I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.   The story begins with Lily as she is haunted by memories of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence.  She has reached the advanced age of eighty and has nothing but time to think back. 

In nineteenth-century China, wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion.  The cruelty and hardships that women faced were heartbreaking.  The ordeal of foot-binding is almost too difficult to read.  A bright spot for some girls happened when they were paired with laotongs in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become “old sames” at the tender age of seven. They share many major life events, marriage, the birth of children, and death.  Ultimately it is Lily who fails Snow Flower with her lack of understanding and compassion.  In the end it is guilt that becomes Lily’s constant companion.

Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading…..

  Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

 In her sixth novel Vreeland tells the story of the life behind a famous artistic creation–in this case    the Tiffany leaded-glass lamp.  Clara Driscoll was a major creative force at Louis Tiffany’s Glass and Decorating Company.  This was separate from the jewelry company, run by his father Charles.  Some art historians now believe that it was Clara, unacknowledged in her lifetime, who conceived the lampshades.  From 1892 to 1908, she oversaw the Women’s Department, where  many of her workers were from poor immigrant families and still in their teens.  Poor living conditions in the lower East Side, abusive relationships, and no respect in the workplace from most of the male workers made for a harsh life.  Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the challenges that she faces as a professional woman.   She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted to Tiffany, who enforces a strict policy: he does not hire married women, and any who do marry while under his employ must resign immediately. Eventually you come to realize that Clara is merely the woman-behind-the-man and Tiffany certainly doesn’t deserve her devotion.  In the end he sides with the male workforce, showing his weak character.  Eventually, like many women, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading…..

In Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, we read the story of a young couple who seems to have it all….great jobs, a nice home in an affluent suburb of Boston, three kids who need to be shuttled to various activities, the vacation home in the mountains.  And yet Sarah and her husband Bob have only time in the morning for a good-bye peck as their day hurtles off into overdrive.  Fortunately, or not, Sarah is an overachieving multitasker which ultimately is her undoing.  As she attempts to recover from a terrible car accident which results in a brain injury called left neglect, we see deeper into Sarah as a person.  She comes to realize what really is important in her life, like the relationship with her mother, quality time spent with her children and husband, taking a job for less money but doing something that matters.  It’s a good lesson for anyone who chooses to slow down long enough to pay attention.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading………

Who knew when I picked up A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor in early December that it would be a prediction of our weather to come. This is a tale of two Chicago yuppies James and Joyce Sparrow who are living the good life.  James hates Christmas and can think of nothing better than spending the holiday at their Hawaiian home but Joyce is laid up with the “flu.”  James decides to travel anyway but he ends up traveling to Looseleaf, N. Dakota to see his dying uncle.  He braves a deadly blizzard and the equally deadly small town eccentrics he meets along the way. The simple and well-written story does contain surrealistic elements when the storm strands him in an isolated fishing shack. There he meets a wolf, a lady with big hair, and a Chinese wise man. The three teach him the great secret of life, much like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. 

In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma.  But Jack is different in a big way–he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and a nasty nighttime visitor known as Old Nick in Room by Emma Donoghue.

For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to carry on a normal life for her son.  This was a fantastic story, imaginative, creative, unique and beautifully written. It was never tiring to read from Jack’s perspective.  I was reminded of what the world could look like from the perspective of a small child. It makes a parent want to be more kind with their words, more respectful of what their child’s needs are, and more understanding when things seem confusing.  An original novel of survival in captivity and just when you think that escaping is the best thing for the two of them, imagine what it feels like to a boy who has only known Room.  

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger is based on the real Lady Duff Gordon’s journey to Egypt during Victorian England.  She is forced to leave her family, friends, and country because of debilitating tuberculosis.  Her lady’s maid, Sally Naldrett jumps at the opportunity to travel with her.  Sally, at the ripe old age of 30 is a paragon of virtue and rebuffs any man’s advances.  But as the two women get farther from their homeland, Sally feels a freedom she has never known, including the freedom to love.  Of course you know things are not going to end well when she falls in love with her Lady’s dragoman, Omar, who is already married and a father.  After a close relationship of over ten years with Lady Duff Gordon, she is turned out without a reference, money, or the support of her Egyptian “husband” after delivering a baby boy.  Pullinger is at her best describing the politics and customs of the period, along with the complexities of power, race, class, and love.

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading………

Bitter In the Mouth by Monique Truong is the story of one woman’s search for identity and family, as she uncovers the secrets of her past and of her history.  For as long as she can remember, Linda has experienced a secret sense—she can “taste” words, which have the power to disrupt, dismay, or delight.  Depending on the speaker, listening, for Linda, can be delicious or distasteful since she suffers from auditory-gustatory synesthesia. Truong inserts these “tastes” as characters are speaking— which can be annoying at times.  They are italicized so the reader has to sift through to find what is actually being said.  Linda keeps this secret from her family as they keep their own secrets from her. But when a personal tragedy compels Linda to return to her hometown of Boiling Springs, she gets to know a mother she never knew and uncovers a startling story of a life, a family.  Linda is not the most likable character but in the end you see how this condition really shaped her life.  Too bad she kept it from her mother all that time. 

 “You know what you have to do now,” my mother tells me.  “You have to put up soup.”Put up soup: that’s what my family says when times get tough.  And so begins the story of Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colón who was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008.  She needed to cut her budget way, way back, and her mother suggested she look throughher nana’s recipe folder.  Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes—she had found the key to her family’s survival through hard times.  This is a real little gem of a book full of original recipes which make you stop and think back to your own family’s stories of hard times.  Be prepared to finish it in one sitting and then perhaps pull out some old family recipe for dinner that night.

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading….

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin is a page-turning love story along with an adventure story with a “twist” that makes it well worth reading.  On a stormy winter night, two strangers wait for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport.  Ashley Knox is an attractive, successful writer, who is flying East for her wedding.  Dr. Ben Payne has just wrapped up a medical conference and is heading back East for a busy day of surgeries he has scheduled.  The unthinkable happens as the small plane crashes when the pilot suffers a heart attack.  Out in the middle of nowhere, as the days on the mountains become weeks, their survival becomes increasingly perilous. The characters are believable and you find yourself rooting for them.  It seems like they are made to end up together but there’s the problem of a wife and waiting bridegroom back home!  How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever?

 A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay is the author of ten novels, including the New York Times bestselling novel Sarah’s Key.  Antoine Rey thought he had the perfect surprise for his sister Mélanie’s birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island.  Instead Antoine Rey will learn the truth about his family and himself the hard way. Melanie crashes their car on the way home just as she was about to share something startling that she remembered the day before.  Antoine meets a very sexy mortician at the small-town hospital where Melanie is admitted that I found to be the most interesting character of the book.   The “secret” turns out to be not such a big secret after all which is usually the case anyway.   Although it was a good read it doesn’t hold up to Sarah’s Key. 

It is 1903. Dr. Ravell is a young Harvard-educated obstetrician with a growing reputation for helping couples conceive. He has treated women from all walks of Boston society, but when Ravell meets Erika-an opera singer whose beauty is surpassed only by her spellbinding voice-he knows their doctor-patient relationship will be like none he has ever had in The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell. That first image of Erika singing in the cemetery is very moving, especially when you find out that she has been struggling for years to become pregnant. Erika believes there is no hope. Her husband is very determined to have a family and of course it’s not his fault they can’t have children. Her mind is made up: she will leave her prominent Bostonian husband to pursue her career in Italy, a plan both unconventional and risky.  The author shares some family history, apparently something similar happened in real life which makes the story even more fascinating.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading……

Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason in Mary Balogh’s A Matter of Class. An opportunity for social advancement arises in the person of Lady Annabelle Ashton, daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family.  Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal and her father is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.  By Balogh’s standards this is a quick read but it has all the elements found in her lengthier novels.  I can always count on her to deliver a story full of dark secrets, deception, and the trials of love, all with a happy ending.

The Cookbook Collector,  Allegra Goodman’s fourth novel, centers on two radically different sisters: the older, 28-year-old Emily Bach, is more practical, the CEO of a major Silicon Valley startup company.  She keeps delaying her marriage to hyper-ambitious and competitive Jonathan Tilghman, who has his own firm on the East Coast.  At twenty-three, her sister Jess is an optimistic, open-minded  philosophy student who values knowledge over money and “would rather be well than do well.” She is drawn to unpromising relationships and passionate causes like Save the Trees, and works part-time in an antiquarian bookstore. 

The story interweaves multiple plotlines that unfold simultaneously in California and Boston over the course of three years.  The first half of the book moved too slowly for me with lots of details about Emily’s business.  Things picked up when the focus became the acquisition of the cookbook collection by Jess’s boss, owner of the bookstore.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

What I’ve been reading…..

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard captures the essence of small-town America—its heartfelt intimacy and its darkest secrets—where through struggle and hardship people still dare to hope for a better future.  When she was just three years old, Jody Linder lost both parents in one night, when her father, Hugh Jay—eldest son of the wealthiest rancher in the small town of Rose, Kansas—was killed and her mother, Laurie, vanished. Jody was raised by her grandparents, Hugh Senior and Annabelle Linder, and with loving support from three uncles.  Pickard writes vividly of ranch life and includes lots of details, possibly meant to distract one from quickly solving the “mystery” part of the story.  I really didn’t see the ending coming but by then I didn’t particularly care.  For me, Jody was not a very sympathetic character and the best part of the book was the title.

Acclaimed novelist and nationally recognized family expert Lynne Griffin returns with Sea Escape—a story inspired by the author’s family letters about the ties that bind mothers and daughters.  Laura Martinez is wedged in the middle place as so many of us are these days.  She is grappling with her busy life as a nurse, wife, and devoted mom to her two young children when her estranged mother, Helen, suffers a devastating stroke.  Secrets from long ago threaten to keep the women apart until Laura finds the love letters her father wrote to her mother while he was serving in Vietnam.  It turns out that the women weren’t the only ones with a secret.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment