Friday, May 31, 2013

WE ALL FALL DOWN (ERIC WALTERS)


Story Description:
 
Doubleday Canada|January 23, 2007|Mass Market Paperbound|ISBN: 978-0-7704-2992-8

A novel from one of the country’s most prolific and popular YA authors, this book, set in New York City on September 11th , shows us how the experiences of that day profoundly changed one teen’s life and relationships. 

Today is September 10, 2001, and Will a grade nine student, is spending the day at his father’s workplace tomorrow.  As part of a school assignment, all the students in his class will be going to their parents work tomorrow, but Will isn’t excited about it – he’d rather sleep in and do nothing with his friends.  His father doesn’t even have an exciting job like his best friend James’s father who is a fireman.  Will’s Dad works for an international trading company and has to wake up early every morning to commute to his office on the eighty-fifth floor in the south building of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.  Will doesn’t see his father very often because of the hours he puts in at the office.  He doubts that his dad will bother making time for him tomorrow even when they are supposed to be spending the day together. 

In this fast-paced and dramatic new novel by bestselling author Eric Walters, Will discovers a new side of his father during an event that continues to affect the world.  As Will’s new teacher says, tomorrow “might be an experience that changes your entire life.”

My Review:

Will Fuller and James Bennett played in a band together with a couple of other guys and they were trying to come up with a name.  When Mrs. Phelps their history teacher mentioned the bubonic plague or Black Death, they thought that might be a fitting name.  Then they decided they weren’t black and seriously hoped nobody would die, so back to the drawing board.  Will played bass and saxophone and James played the guitar. 

The following day the students would be working at their co-op placements and everyone was excited about going to work with parents and other relatives.  One girl was spending the day in the emergency department as her Mom was a doctor.  Another student was spending the day in court as their father was a judge.  James would be spending the day at the fire department with his Dad.  Poor Will thought he had the most boring and uninteresting placement of all.  Spending the day with his father at his office in Manhattan where he worked for an international trading company.  He didn’t have much interest in money markets and stocks. 

September 11, 2001 – John, Will’s father had worked in the World Trade Center for the past twelve years.  Standing at 1360 feet each, each tower was 110 stories, had 21, 180 windows, 104 passenger elevators and cost over 1.5 billion dollars.  Around 20,000 people worked in each of the two towers.  John worked on the 85th floor of the South Tower.  Once in John’s office, he had to take a phone call so asked his secretary, Suzie to show Will around the place. 

Everyone that Will met in the office praised his father up to the roof, telling Will what a great guy he was and that they were all very proud of him.  Will thought to himself: “Proud wasn’t usually a word that came to mind when I thought about my father.”  You see, John was rarely home and never had been, he was always at the office and in all of Will’s school years thus far, John had maybe made it to four of his sports games.  Will was disappointed in his father. 

When Suzie finished her tour they headed into John’s office and stood waiting until he finished with his call.  He finally hung up and the three of them were chatting when suddenly there was a thunderous explosion and a brilliant flash of light burst outside the windows.  Will jumped backwards, bumping into Suzie, almost knocking her off her feet.  John sprang from his chair and jumped away from the windows.  They all looked at each other and, Suzie asked: “What was that…what happened?” 

“There was an explosion of some kind and it’s snowing”, Will said, pointing out the window.  Unbelievably, it was snowing!  Will just stared at the big, gigantic flakes but couldn’t understand why some of them were glowing red.  They looked out the window and there, just above them, the entire side of the North Tower, was a gaping hole!  Everyone realized then that there had been an explosion in the North Tower, almost at the top at the 90th floor.  Just as they were all trying to figure out what had happened someone yelled from across the room: “It was an airplane that hit the building, it’s on CNN!”  People left the windows and ran to stand in front of the big screen t.v. to watch CNN.  The time the plane hit was 8:46 a.m.  John, immediately ordered an evacuation from their office even though the plane had not hit their building.  Quickly people packed up their desks and headed for the stairwell. 

Little did John and Will know that the explosions weren’t yet over and that they would conduct an act of bravery that day while almost losing their own lives.

I don’t think any of us will ever forget September 11th.  It is one of those moments in time where you’ll always remember exactly what you were doing at the exact time that happened.  We All Fall Down was beautifully written and was fast-paced.  I read it in one sitting, you simply won’t be able to put it down, your eyes will be glued to the page.  Thank you Mr. Walters for writing such an entertaining book.

WOUNDED (ERIC WALTERS)


Story Description:

Penguin Group Canada|April 20, 2010|Mass Market Paperbound|ISBN: 978-0-14-317178-2

Marcus and his sister are counting down the days until their father comes home from Afghanistan.  When the big day arrives, the family is overcome by happiness and relief that he is safe, but as the days pass Marcus begins to feel that there is something different about his father.  Barely sleeping, obsessed with news from Afghanistan, and overly aggressive, his dad refuses to seek counselling.  Marcus knows post-traumatic stress disorder affects many soldiers, and he needs to get his dad some help before it is too late. 

My Review:

Fifteen-year-old, Marcus’s father is stationed in Afghanistan serving as part of the Special Forces team.  His mother, Carol and younger sister, Megan live on the base which Marcus prefers.  He feels more comfortable living there and feels “how could anybody who didn’t have a parent serving overseas know what it felt like for us?”  Marcus feels he is more with his kind than he would be living outside the base. 

Megan has a lot of trouble sleeping due to worry about her Dad and begins having night terrors.  That is somewhat rectified by sleeping with her Mom in her bed, and she has a pillow with a picture of her Dad’s face on it.  Each night before she goes to bed she would spritz the pillow with her Dad’s after shave lotion which calmed her down a great deal. 

To keep herself busy and as free from worry as possible, Carol works at Wal-Mart a few hours a week.  When she is home she cleans every surface in the house.  Marcus often jokes that they have the cleanest home on the base. 

Waiting for this tour of duty to be over is very difficult on the family.  They have made a calendar that hangs on the kitchen wall which counts down the days until his return.  Each day, Megan crosses off one day and announces to Carol and Marcus how many days are left. 

Each day the family waits for an e-mail or phone call from Afghanistan and they are worried sick because it has been 3 weeks since they’d last heard anything.  This is unusual and the longest their father has ever gone without communicating with them.  Then one day on the news they heard that a Canadian soldier has been killed by an IED and several others were wounded.  The family is heart-stricken thinking it could be their father and that is why they haven’t heard from him in such a long time.  Fortunately for them, it wasn’t him, but it was Marcus’s girlfriends father instead and Marcus had to deal with that whole situation for the girls’ sake.

When Dad finally returns home he is a changed man and is clearly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but fails to see that in himself.  It is a very difficult period of time for the rest of the family as they try to convince him that he needs counselling. 

Wounded was written for a Grade 8 class and was penned with honesty and tempered with consideration for the audience for which it was written.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in a couple of hours at a short 224 pages.  Eric Walters is a patient and kind writer who always keeps in mind the audience his book is geared for. 

Wounded reminds us all to be very thankful to the brave men and women who risk their lives every day for our country.  Next time you see a soldier, remember to shake their hand and say thank you. 

 

MONARCH BEACH (ANITA HUGHES)


Story Description:

St. Martin’s Press|June 19, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-312-64304-1

Anita Hughes’ Monarch Beach is an absorbing debut novel about one woman’s journey back to happiness after an affair splinters her perfect marriage and life – what it means to be loved, betrayed and to love again. 

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kind-hearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuilt it.  The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach.  With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life and escaping the drama.  But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention…and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple.  This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turn upside down.

My Review:

Amanda Blick finished yoga class and headed to her husband, Andre’s restaurant to get a strawberry muffin.  What she found wasn’t a muffin but instead Andre making love to his new sous chef, Ursula!  This was a Tuesday that Amanda would never forget.  She hopped into her car, drove to the post office and parked, then walked to the lake.  She was still in her yoga clothes so didn’t look out of place. 

Sitting on the bench, Amanda just sobbed.  She and Andre had been married for ten years and had an eight-year-old son, Max.  Now Amanda understood what Andre was really doing on Tuesdays when he told her he was going to the restaurant to “do the books” and she felt so let down.  She thought back to just a few nights ago when she was happily ensconced on his arm as they headed into the restaurant for their date night.  She couldn’t even blame, Ursula for this, the blame belonged to Andre. 

Amanda had met Andre in July just after she graduated from Berkley and they were engaged by the end of the summer.  She couldn’t believe she was going to marry a sexy Frenchman who’d only been in American for ten months.  Amanda was twenty-two-years-old and Andre was twenty-four. 

Stephanie was one of Amanda’s best friends and partner with Andre in their own French restaurant, La Petite Maison.  She headed over to Stephanie’s house for a chat.  Talking with Stephanie, Amanda hoped to gain some insight into what was going on with Andre.  Amanda didn’t expect Stephanie to confess to her that, Ursula was NOT the first woman he had been unfaithful with over the past eight years.  After a few shots of tequila, a borrowed dress, shoes, and her make-up and hair done, Stephanie shoved Amanda out her front door to go home and confront Andre. 

After the confrontation with Andre and his apologies and promises to Amanda that he’d never do it again, she left and went to see her mother.  Mom called the family lawyer to arrange a meeting so Amanda could begin divorce proceedings.  However, Andre was adamant that they were not going to divorce. 

Amanda’s Mom, Grace talked Amanda into spending the summer at Laguna Beach in California.  They would stay the St. Regis Resort in the Presidential Suite!  Grace was rich beyond rich and could afford a 5-star hotel for the summer.  When Amanda told Max where they were going to spend their summer and that he could swim, learn how to surf and then surf every day, he was ecstatic. 

The St. Regis was simply gorgeous and Amanda began to think this was perhaps the best way for her to get over and forget Andre.  There was so much to do at St. Regis that you could literally keep yourself busy and entertained twenty-four-hours-a-day and still not run out of things to do.  But even having money and living in a 5-star hotel can’t always buy you happiness. 

When Amanda meets Edward, an older man who has been divorced for five years, she thinks she’s finally found someone she can rely on and trust but sometimes we don’t always know people the way we think we do. 

Monarch Beach was a fast-paced, racy, roller-coaster ride of a read.  It’s a book about love, divorce, hope, loss, and finding ones way back to some sort of normal that you can live with.  I was so glued that I read it in one sitting.  I can’t wait to read ‘Market Street.’

 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

LOOKING FOR ME (BETH HOFFMAN)


Story Description:

Viking USA|May 28, 2013|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-670-02583-1

A Southern novel of family and antiques from the bestselling author of the beloved Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. 

Beth Hoffman’s bestselling debut, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, won admirers and acclaim with its heartwarming story and cast of unforgettable characters.  Now her unique flair for evocative settings and richly drawn Southern personalities shines in her compelling new novel, Looking for Me.

Teddi Overman found her life’ passion for furniture in a broken-down chair left on the side of the road in rural Kentucky.  She learns to turn other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques, and eventually finds a way to open her own shop in Charleston.  There, Teddi builds a life for herself as unexpected and quirky as the customers who visit her shop.  Though Teddi is surrounded by remarkable friends and finds love in the most surprising way, nothing can alleviate the haunting uncertainty she’s felt in the years since her brother Josh’s mysterious disappearance.  When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi is drawn home to Kentucky.  It’s a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family and to find herself at last.  But first she must decide what to let go of and what to keep. 

Looking for Me brilliantly melds together themes of family, hope, loss, and a mature once-in-a-lifetime kind of love.  The result is a tremendously moving story that is destined to make bestselling author Beth Hoffman a novelist to whom readers will return again and again as they have with  Adriana Trigiani, Fannie Flagg, and Joshilyn Jackson. 

My Review:

Thirty-six-year-old, Teddi Overman lives in a nineteenth-century carriage house and owns her own antique shop.  She labels herself “an antiques dealer and faux-finishing specialist.”  Teddi takes other peoples old, decrepit, broken-down furniture and turns them into the most beautiful pieces of antiques.  In each piece she discovers “endless possibilities…and a history.” 

Teddi believed her penchant for restoring old furniture began way back in the summer of 1964 when she found an old antique chair in an overgrown ditch.  She loved that chair so much that she imagined the kind of life it might of had.  She supposed it was a dining chair of some kind and wondered if it had sat in a “fine home and seen lots of fancy dinner parties, birthday celebrations and holiday feasts.”  The arms of the chair were curved and the back was shaped “like an urn.”  Teddi so loved that chair that she claimed it as hers right then and there and dragged it all the way home. 

The relationship between Teddi and her mother was somewhat strained.  Always nit-picking at each other and Mom never understood Teddi’s desire and passion for restoring furniture.  The bond she had with her father was much different, he understood Teddi’s desire for antiquing and always took an interest in anything she did. 

Teddi and her brother, Josh, had always had a good relationship.  When younger, Josh was very into hanging out at the Ranger’s Station and took seriously poachers who came and killed animals illegally.  He loved learning about survival in the woods and collected every manner of bird feather he could find.  Teddi often said he knew more than the Ranger did but when he mysteriously disappeared, Teddi was beside herself with grief.   

After graduating high school, Teddi’s parents gave her an old car she could drive around in.  Dad also gave her an envelope and said that was just between the two of them.  When Teddi opened the envelope in the privacy of her bedroom she found twenty brand new fifty-dollar bills, a map, and a note that said: “This will help you find your way.  Love, Dad.”  Teddi thought back to a conversation she’d previously had with her Dad where he spoke to her about freedom and how the car he’d given her was her “red, white and blue.”  She realized Daddy wanted her to be happy and find her way in this world doing something she truly loved.  He wanted her to have HER American dream.  Teddi then made plans to drive to Charleston to visit Mr. Palmer’s antique shop.  She’d met him two years earlier when he’d stopped by the side of the road to purchase a piece of furniture she had restored.  Before leaving he gave her his card and told her to visit if she was even in the area. 

Two days later, Teddi was planning her trip and shortly thereafter set out for Charleston.  Finding Mr. Palmer’s shop was easy but she was appalled at the filth and disarray the shop was in.  Over lunch, Mr. Palmer hired Teddi to work in his shop and she was on her way to fulfilling her dream. 

Looking for Me is filled with beautiful characters and descriptions so vivid I could picture in my eye, Teddi’s shop and the antiques that lay within.  It’s a beautiful story of love, loss, hope, and fulfilling ones dreams even when you think the odds are stacked against you.  Beth Hoffman has outdone herself and I’ll certainly be recommending Looking for Me to everyone.  This is one of those books that you want to read again and again.

 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

PORCH LIGHTS: A NOVEL (DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK)


Story Description:

HarperCollins|April 15, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-06-221176-7

When fireman Jimmy McMullen is killed in the line of duty, his wife, Jackie, and ten-year-old son, Charlie, are devastated.  Trusting the healing power of family, Jackie decides to return to her childhood home on Sullivans Island – a place of lush green grasslands, the heady pungency of Lowcountry Pluff mud, and palmetto fronds swaying in gentle ocean winds. 

Thrilled to have her family back, matriarch Annie Britt promises to make their visit perfect.  Over the years, Jackie and Annie, like all mothers and daughters, have had differences of opinion.  But her estranged and wise husband, Buster, and her best friend, Deb, are sure to keep Annie in line.  She’s also got the flirtatious widowed physician next door to keep her distracted.  Captivated by the island’s natural charms, mother, daughter, and grandson will share a memorable, illuminating summer. 

My Review:

Jackie McMullen was an army nurse stationed in Afghanistan for a seven-month tour when her husband, Jimmy was killed.  He was fireman for the city of New York and fell through the floor when it collapsed in a filthy, rat-infested tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Jackie swore that Jimmy couldn’t be too far away because she could “feel him, watching over me, over us.”  They were very much in love and Jackie was devastated. 

Their 10-year-old son, Charlie, was depressed and had idolized his Dad.  Jimmy took Charlie everywhere on his days off, they spent a lot of quality time together and losing his father was like losing a part of himself.  Charlie’s despair was a huge concern for Jackie, no matter what she said or did, didn’t seem to bring him around.  Charlie was truly traumatized. 

It was Jimmy’s Aunt Maureen who made Jackie realize that something had to be done.  Aunt Maureen was unmarried and in her sixties, and she was Charlie’s secondary caregiver when Jackie went overseas. 

Jackie’s Mom and Dad were living apart and had been for eleven years.  Jackie’s Mom, Annie, came and stayed for a couple of weeks to help out and then returned home.  Once she was gone, Buster, Jackie’s Dad came.  He worked his “grandfatherly magic on Charlie,” and for a little while it seemed he was perking up.  Buster took him to Museum of Natural History one day and on another to the Yogi Berra Museum, where Yogi Berra himself happened to be that afternoon.  “He signed a ball for Charlie that he carried around with him wherever he went.” 

After Buster returned home, Charlie’s depression returned.  Jackie felt so sad and helpless, there was so little she could do for him.  So, right after the Fourth of July, Jackie decided to head south to Sullivans Island where her parents and other family and friends lived.  Jackie was putting her trust in the healing power of family.  However, it won’t be an easy visit for Jackie as she and her mother have had differences of opinion for years.  She is hoping that her Dad and her Mom’s best friend, Deb will help keep Annie in line and she’s got the flirtatious widowed physician next door to keep her distracted as well. 

Porch Lights celebrates the joys and boundaries of families and storytelling.  I’ll definitely be recommending this one.

 

Monday, May 27, 2013

AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED (KHALED HOSSEINI)


Story Description:

Penguin Group Canada|May 21, 2013|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-690-06751-0

Khaled Hosseini is one of the most widely read and beloved novelists in the world. 

His novels have sold more than 38 million copies worldwide.  Now, six years after A Thousand Splendid Suns debuted at #1, spending fourteen consecutive weeks at #1 and nearly a full year on the hardcover list, Hosseini returns with a book that is broader in scope and setting than anything he’s ever written before. 

A multigenerational-family story revolving around brothers and sisters, it is an emotional, provocative, and unforgettable novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.  With profound wisdom, insight and compassion, Hosseini demonstrates once again his deeply felt understanding of the bonds that define us and shape our lives – and of what it means to be human. 

My Review:

In 1952, Pari, 3-years-old and Abdullah, 10-years-old were told a story at bedtime about how divs and jinns and giants used to roam the earth.  A farmer named Baba Ayub lived in a village called Maidan Sabz and every day he toiled hard to feed and care for his family of 5 children: 3 sons and 2 daughters and his wife.  His favourite child was his 3-year-old, Quais.  Quais was a little boy with blue eyes and charmed anyone who met him while he worked his devlish laughter.  One day a div came to their village from the direction of the mountains and the earth shook with each of his footfalls.  The villagers dropped everything and ran.  Whichever home the din tapped his fingers on the roof of meant that family had to give up one of their children to him.  If they didn’t decide by the following morning, then the din would take all the children in the house and return to his moutaintop home.  Baba Ayub was beside himself with grief on how to decide which of his children to give away in order to save the other four.  He finally wrote their 5 names on stones, deposited them into a bag, reached in and pulled out one stone.  It bore the name of his beloved Quais.  He cried, shook, and bellowed at the sadness and injustice, but the din took, Quais away to his mountaintop home never to be seen again.   

Father had never hit Abdullah before so when he did, tears of surprise came to his eyes.  They were walking across the desert from their village of Shadbagh to Kabul.  Abdullah had lost his mother 3 years ago while she was giving birth to Pari.  Now they had their stepmother, Parwana and Abdullah wished he could love her the same way he loved his mother.  We learn they are taking this trek across the desert so father can sell Pari to a childless couple who were wealthy.  The deal was brokered by his own brother.  Abdullah took this especially hard for Pari was the very essence of his soul. 

Parwana had a sad life too, she has a 1-year-old son, Iqbal, but her second baby, Omar had died of the cold winter before last.  He was only 2-weeks-old.  Parwana and Abdullah’s father had barely named him.  He was one of three babies that brutal winter had taken in Shadbagh.  He knew Parwana loved her own children better than she loved Abdullah and Pari, but most parents loved their own children first, and he didn’t blame her for that, as to her, Abdullah and Pari were another woman’s leftovers. 

Father was getting tired of pulling the wagon across the desert sand so Abdullah took over for a while.  They were going to Kabul too, so father could work.  Uncle Nabi, who was Parwana’s older brother, was a cook and a chauffeur in Kabul.  Once a month he drove from Kabul to visit them in Shadbagh, his arrival announced by the honks of the big blue car he drove.  It was on his last visit that Uncle Nabi told Father about the job.  The rich people he worked for were building an addition to their home – a small guesthouse in the backyard, complete with a bathroom, separate from the main building – and Uncle Nabi had suggested they hire father, who knew his way around a construction site.  He said the job would pay well and take a month to complete. 

Abdullah new baby Omar’s death bothered him constantly.  If he’d had more money then he would have been able to buy the baby warmer clothing and keep the house heated.  He poured everything he had in him into every job he got as if this would help atone for his lack of being able to properly provide for his family.

Pari, settles into her new family with the wealthy couple, Nila and her rather strange husband, Suleiman Wahdati.  Nila is a wild and provocative woman and Suleiman is quite introverted never having much to do with Pari.  Suleiman eventually suffers a stroke and Nila picks up Pari and escapes to France where her mother was born and leaves Nabi the chauffeur behind to care for him. 

There are other characters we meet in this story and each one is has a broken bond with someone.  It is a story of family and what families can do to each other and how those disasters can reverberate down through the generation to come.  And the Mountains Echoed gracefully unravels how tradition, culture, and sense of place affect the human heart, it celebrates the joys and boundaries of storytelling. 

Khaled Hosseini is one of the most joyful and expansive writers around!  I’ll be keeping this novel as part of my permanent collection.

 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

BELOW STAIRS:THE BESTSELLING MAMOIRS OF A 1920'S KITCHEN MAID (MARGARET POWELL)


Story Description:

As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and even bootlaces to be ironed.  Work started at 5:30 a.m. and went on until after dark.  It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but love and laughter never were. 

Yet, from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaid’s curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlourmaid, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation.  Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants, Below Stairs is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman, who, though her position was lowly, never stopped aiming high. 

My Review:

Margaret Powell was born in 1907 in Hove, and left school at the age of 13 to start working.  At 14, she got a job in a hotel laundry room, and year later went into service as a kitchen maid, eventually progressing to the position of cook, before marrying a milkman named Albert.  She and Albert had 3 sons together.

Poor all of her life, Margaret always made the best of a bad situation.  Women in service as cooks and parlourmaids in those days were considered the lowliest of the low and often referred to as “skivvy’s.”  Margaret was a hard worker and when she became a cook, she had the right to “order” the under kitchen cook to do chores but poor Margaret didn’t have it in her and would find herself  doing the job on her own.  She just didn’t like to order people around although she’d been ordered around her entire life. 

Being in service was an extremely difficult job that came with very low pay, few days off, and long working hours.  What these women did for these people with a higher up status was unappreciated as far as I was concerned.  Most of them weren’t treated any better than a lot of animals.  Their lodgings were often atrocious but they didn’t have much choice and were forced to make do with what they had.

A very interesting look into this world of service back in the 1920’s.  I know today’s nannies and housekeepers are treated a whole lot better than these poor women were and the working conditions have certainly improved for the better. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

THE COOKED SEED (ANCHEE MIN)


Story Description:

Bloomsbury USA|May 7, 2013|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-59691-698-2

In 1994, Anchee Min made her literary debut with a memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution.  “Red Azalea” became an international bestseller and propelled her career as a successful critically acclaimed author.  Twenty years later, Min returns to the story of her own life to give us the next chapter, an immigrant story that takes her from the shocking deprivations of her homeland to the sudden bounty of the promised land of America, without language, money, or a clear path.  It is a hard and lonely road.  She teaches herself English by watching Sesame Street, keeps herself afloat working five jobs at once, lives in unheated rooms, suffers rape, collapses from exhaustion, marries poorly and divorces.  But she also gives birth to her daughter, Lauryann, who will inspire her and finally root her in her new country.  Min’s eventual successes  - her writing career, a daughter at Stanford, a second husband she loves – are remarkable, but it is her struggle throughout toward genuine selfhood that elevates this dramatic, classic immigrant story to something powerfully universal. 

My Review:

The Cooked Seed picks up 20 years after Min wrote “The Red Azalea”, her memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution.  The story left off as she fled her homeland, but a whole new life was just beginning. 

Speaking no English, Anchee comes to American, she has no money, and no plan as to what she is going to do.  She teaches herself English by watching, of all things, ‘Sesame Street.’ 

On August 31, 1984, Anchee landed in Chicago with $500 of borrowed money in her wallet, she was 27 years old.  Prior to leaving Shanghai she worked at the Shanghai Film Studio.  She was considered a “cooked seed” – no chance to sprout. 

Anchee’s cousin, whom she’d never met before, picked her up at the airport in Chicago.  They were unable to communicate with each other as Anchee spoke Mandarin and he spoke Cantonese.  However, he was kind enough to allow her to temporarily stay at his student apartment until she was able to find her own accommodations. 

Anchee had come to Chicago to study at the School of Art Institute.  The foreign-student adviser was upset with her because she had indicated on her application that her English was excellent.  Anchee confessed she was guilty of lying and was willing to accept any punishment the Art Institute might want to met out.  She was sent to the intensive tutorial class held at the University of Illinois.  The program cost $500 which she had to borrow from an Aunt she’d never met. 

The Art Institute asked Anchee what type of roommate she’d prefer.  She told them that anyone who spoke English, and wouldn’t mind her silence.  That was when she met and made her first friend, Takisha, in America.  Anchee found the dorm room to be very luxurious considering where she had come from.  She found the fact that hot water was available 24 hours a day to be incredible considering she’d never grown up with that luxury.  She said she “felt like a princess” because for the first time in her life she would get to sleep on a mattress. 

Next, Anchee began looking for a job.  The first day she spent hours walking and walking downtown Chicago visiting every single Chinese restaurant she could find but was turned away at every single one.  She finally ended up visiting the school’s job placement office.  Unfortunately, the majority of the jobs posted required English which Anchee had not yet mastered.  Then she saw a job listing for a model with the school’s fashion design department.  A little old lady received her in the office and hired her on the spot.  She was so excited and the job paid $7.00 per hour which was more than Anchee’s “monthly” salary in China!  She then moved all her courses to the evenings so she’d be able to apply for more jobs.  Soon her schedule was full.  She became an attendant for the student gallery and a helper at the admissions office.  These jobs would not be Anchee’s last, there were many more to come.

The Cooked Seed is a powerful look at what we humans can achieve when our heart is in the right place.  I would highly recommend this to anyone and would actually like to read this again.

 

THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS (TAN TWAN ENG)


Weinstein Publishing|September 4, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1602860180-0

Malaya, 1951, Yun Ling Teah, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands.  There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan.  Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in camp.  Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice “until the monsoon comes.”  Then she can design a garden for herself. 

As months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages.  But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery.  Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan?  And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

Very good read!  Enthralling.

THE GARDEN OF BURNING SAND (CORBAN ADDISON)


Story Description:

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd|March 18, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1-44341-969-7

Zoe Fleming is an American attorney working with an NGO devoted to combating child sexual assault in Lusaka, Zambia.  When an adolescent girl is raped in the dark of the night and delivered by strangers to the hospital, Zoe’s organization is called in to help.

Working alongside Zambian police officer Joseph Kabuta, Zoe learns that the girl’s assailant was not a street kid or a pedophile but the son of a powerful industrialist with deep ties to the Zambian government.  As the prosecution against him grinds forward, hampered by systemic corruption and bureaucratic inertia, Zoe and Joseph’s search for the truth takes them from Lusaka’s roughest neighborhoods to the wild waters of Victoria Falls, to the AIDS-ridden streets of Johannesburg and the splendour of Cape Town. 

As the rape trial builds to a climax and sends shockwaves through Zambian society, Zoe must radically reshape her assumptions above love, loyalty, family, and especially, the meaning of justice. 

My Review:

The above description does the story justice and there isn’t much more that I can add other than to say this is a must-read as well.  Very, very good.

FIESTA OF SMOKE (SUZAN STILL)


Story Description:

 

Fiction Studio Books|March 5, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-193655855-1

 Against a backdrop of rebellion and intrigue, love between Javier Cartena, commander of insurgent Mexican forces, and Calypso Searcy, an American novelist at the pinnacle of her career, sizzles with passion across a broad sweep of history.  Encompassing time from the Conquest of the 1550s to the present, the story races across space as well, from the forests of Chiapas to the city of Paris.  There, an international investigative reporter named Hill picks up the swiftly vanishing trail of Calypso’s disappearance, and unwittingly becomes involved in one of the great dramas of the twentieth century and one of the great love stories of any age.

 My Review:

Fiesta of Smoke reads like a history book with a deeply passionate love story interwoven throughout the story.  From Paris to California to Mexico with great learning potential, the book powerfully unravels how tradition, culture, and sense of place affect the human heart.  It brings to life the power of the story and at the same time challenges us to discover all there is to know about Mexico and the Conquest of the 1500s to the present. 

 

Steeped in the history of Mexico, you will come to realize that to fully understand this story is a profound discovery and it’s the very exact opportunity offered to us, the readers. 

Aside from the Mexican history and its gleaming landscape, is the most beautiful and most powerful love story between the two main protagonists: Calypso Searcy and Javier Cartena.  Calypso is an American author at the height of her career who writes under the pen name, David Rockland.  Javier is commander of insurgent Mexican forces.  Their love is one that women the world over wish they had and strive to find. 

Fiesta of Smoke was a beautiful piece of narrative that looks into the mysteries of days gone-by and the joys of the human heart.  Ms. Still has penned a rare must-read treat!  I will definitely be keeping this as part of my permanent collection as it is the type of book that I want to experience again and again and again.  Well-done!!

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

THE ARTIST'S DAUGHTER (ALEXANDRA KUYKENDALL)


Story Description:

 

Baker Publishing Group|April 15, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-8007-2205-0

 
When Alexandra Kuykendall became a mother it was the beginning of a soul-searching journey that took her into her past and made her question everything she’d experienced – and a lot of what she hadn’t.  The only daughter of a single, world-traveling mother and an absent artist father, Alexandra shares her unique quest to answer universal questions.  Am I lovable?  Am I loved?  Am I loving?

 

In short, moving episodes, Alexandra transports readers into a life that included a childhood in Europe, a spiritual conversion marked more by questions than answers, a courtship in the midst of a call to be with troubled teens, marriage and motherhood – and always, always, the questions of identity.  Through her personal journey, women will discover their own path to understanding the shape of their lives and a deeper sense of God’s intimate presence within it.

 

My Review:

Alexandra Kuykendall remembers being in Barcelona, Spain in the hot July heat when she was just nine-years-old.  She wanted to know who she was and where she came from.  Alex was good at holding things in, so she willed herself to push her nerves and excitement down, piling them onto the mountain of questions and unease she’d been holding in all her short life.  She was hoping that today would be a new beginning as she was in a cab with her Mom on her way to meet her father for the very first time. 

 

Alex wondered why she’d never been told that her father lived here before she and her mother arrived for their vacation.  And, what had prompted her mother to look him up in the phone book just yesterday?  Why had she arranged this meeting? 

 
Alex and her mom were on the back end of a yearlong journey.  They had left the United States the summer before to move to Italy, where her mom found a job teaching English in a small factory town.  For an entire year they lived abroad but Alex missed the United States, especially Saturday morning cartoons and french fries and she was tired of being an outsider in a small town.  Finally, mom and Alex moved back to Seattle. 

 

When they finally arrived at the cafĂ©, Alex was sorely disappointed in the man who was supposed to be her father.  She thought all dads were in their mid-30’s who wore business suits, had clean-cut hair and looked like models in the JC Penny catalogue.  This was not the man she met. 

 

He was her father alright, but not at all what she longed for, hoped for, nor was expecting.  Alex felt he wasn’t enough.  She also felt it terribly unfair that she should end up with a second hand model. 

 

What it was time to leave her father stood up and hugged her from the side.  Alex felt uncomfortable and the hug felt forced.  She expected to feel a familiarity with the man, but she didn’t.  But, she was still hopeful that when the awkwardness passed, when he knew her, she would know what it was to have a father’s love.  That huge, gaping hole would be filled in.

 

In her teenage years, Alex was introduced to God and began to explore her religious beliefs which eventually became a big part of her.  The relationship with her father remained sporadic over the years and did she ever truly feel loved and wanted by him?  Did she feel lovable?  The author does a wonderful job at getting these points across to the reader. 

 

The Artist’s Daughter gracefully unravels one woman’s life story in ways that the reader will be able to relate too. Alexandra Kuykendall explores the joys and boundaries of families and storytelling. 

 I would like to thank Graf-Martin for the reader’s copy of this book.