Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bookish Nerd is Moving

There is still some formatting to be done, some pages to import, and some links to revamp, but

has officially relocated. 
Thanks to all of you who are following my reviews and other bookish ramblings. 
I hope you will continue to do so at the new pad...accessible at the link above.

Happy reading...and writing about reading.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Audio CD, 11 disks (13.5 hours)
Published May 26th 2009 by Random House Audio 
ISBN:  0739359339 
4.5 stars overall / 5 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.

My Thoughts:
The last paragraph above is a perfect description of Lisa See's wonderful novel Shanghai Girls.  At its heart, this book is a story of the intense and unbreakable bond between Pearl & May that lasts through a lifetime.  The story begins in Shanghai...Pearl & May are young women, footloose & fancy free, extravagant, disrespectful, rebellious, jealous, and woefully ignorant (or perhaps purposefully so?) of current events and their family's loss of status & descent into poverty.  As they are faced with the fact that their father has lost everything - including what they thought was theirs - they slowly come to grips with the new realities that face them.

What comes as a surprise to them is the strength their mother demonstrates in the face of terrible danger as the green gang tightens the noose around their family, and as the Japanese their invasion of China.  She has saved money, unbeknownst to the rest of her family, and she is able to use it (along with a few other personal treasures) to facilitate their escape from Shanghai.  As traditional a Chinese wife as she is, she shows herself to be a woman of great strength and foresight, and she ultimately sacrifices herself to save her daughters...something that they will not fully appreciate until many years later.  They do not realize how very much like their mother they both are, because in the wake of her death, both Pearl & May demonstrate their own loyalty to each other, and strength in the face of seemingly indomitable circumstances.  This scenario of loyalty & strength repeats itself again and again over the course of their lives, and becomes the defining characteristic not only of their relationship with each other, but also the relationships they forge with their paper family in the US.

I thought Lisa See  did a masterful job of balancing Pearl's and May's personal life experiences against the backdrop of the second World War.  I was swept into the story in such a way that I felt like I was experiencing it along with them...fearful for their lives as they made their escape from Shanghai, anxious that they pass the inquiry at Angel Island, thankful that they made it safely to Los Angeles, wishing that they could find contentment, and happy when they reconcile their relationships with their new family.  They were thrown together by necessity and circumstance, and they (all of them) found a way to respect and love each other in spite of the circumstances that brought them to this point.  I grew to love each of them as they grew to love each other, and ultimately felt that Ms. See created a story that was realistic, and that showed a perspective of WWII life that gives a more well-rounded picture of what the Chinese ex-patriots truly experienced.

In the end, I felt the same frustration and fear over Joy (their daughter) that Pearl, May, Sam & Vern feel.  It's so difficult to understand how she can be sympathetic to China's new communist regime when she has family who escaped dire circumstances to pursue a life (of freedom) in the US.  Granted, their US life was far from ideal, but Joy was so entrenched in her own misguided beliefs, and so embarrassed by her family's "fresh off the boat" lack of assimilation that she would not listen to reason or wisdom.  I loved that Ms. See brought Pearl's story full circle, and allowed for her to tap into the courage that brought her to the US in the first place, so that she could return to China in search of her daughter.  What a beautiful love story!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

No Time to Wave Goodbye by Jacqueline Mitchard

Audio CD, 7 disks (9 hours)
Published September 15th 2009 by Random House Audio Publishing Group (first published August 19th 2009) 
ISBN:  0307701786 (ISBN13: 9780307701787)
original title:  No Time to Wave Goodbye
4 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration
Goodreads Synopsis:
New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard captured the heart of a nation with The Deep End of the Ocean, her celebrated debut novel about mother Beth Cappadora, a child kidnapped, a family in crisis. Now, in No Time to Wave Goodbye, the unforgettable Cappadoras are in peril once again, forced to confront an unimaginable evil.
It has been twenty-two years since Beth Cappadora’s three-year-old son Ben was abducted. By some miracle, he returned nine years later, and the family began to pick up the pieces of their lives. But their peace has always been fragile: Ben returned from the deep end as another child and has never felt entirely at ease with the family he was born into. Now the Cappadora children are grown: Ben is married with a baby girl, Kerry is studying to be an opera singer, and Vincent has emerged from his troubled adolescence as a fledgling filmmaker.

The subject of Vincent’s new documentary, “No Time to Wave Goodbye,” shakes Vincent’s unsuspecting family to the core; it focuses on five families caught in the tortuous web of never knowing the fate of their abducted children. Though Beth tries to stave off the torrent of buried emotions, she is left wondering if she and her family are fated to relive the past forever.

The film earns tremendous acclaim, but just as the Cappadoras are about to celebrate the culmination of Vincent’s artistic success, what Beth fears the most occurs, and the Cappadoras are cast back into the past, revisiting the worst moment of their lives–with only hours to find the truth that can save a life. High in a rugged California mountain range, their rescue becomes a desperate struggle for survival.

No Time to Wave Goodbye
is Jacquelyn Mitchard at her best, a spellbinding novel about family loyalty, and love pushed to the limits of endurance.

My Thoughts:
** spoiler alert **
Though I have never read The Deep End of the Ocean, I am familiar with the story, and even watched the movie based on the book some years ago. As such, I felt like I was (somewhat) picking up where I left off, which of course is what Mitchard had in mind.

I really enjoyed this book, especially as I thought it was an interesting perspective on what is such a heartwrenching and devastating tragedy for so many families. Contrary to some reviews I read, I thought the story was very well crafted, and though some of the details were farfetched (cottage in the wooods in the middle of winter, inexperienced hikers climbing snow covered mountain in the dark, etc.), I did think the premise was eerily plausible. It is not out of the realm of possibility that someone could be so unhinged that they would try to exact revenge for their own family's heartache, even if they were the perpetrator of their family's loss. Not common, certainly, but not impossible. Strange things happen all the time.

I was gratified that Mitchard wrapped the story with the ending that we needed, because to do otherwise would have been too awful to imagine. As such, the two books together make a powerful story of loss and pain and ultimately, justice and reconciliation.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Paperback, 306 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Ballantine Books (first published June 17th 2008) 
ISBN:  0345502833 (ISBN13: 9780345502834)
primary language:  English
original title:  The Wednesday Sisters
4 stars
Goodreads Synopsis:
Friendship, loyalty, and love lie at the heart of Meg Waite Clayton’s beautifully written, poignant, and sweeping novel of five women who, over the course of four decades, come to redefine what it means to be family.

For thirty-five years, Frankie, Linda, Kath, Brett, and Ally have met every Wednesday at the park near their homes in Palo Alto, California. Defined when they first meet by what their husbands do, the young homemakers and mothers are far removed from the Summer of Love that has enveloped most of the Bay Area in 1967. These “Wednesday Sisters” seem to have little in common: Frankie is a timid transplant from Chicago, brutally blunt Linda is a remarkable athlete, Kath is a Kentucky debutante, quiet Ally has a secret, and quirky, ultra-intelligent Brett wears little white gloves with her miniskirts. But they are bonded by a shared love of both literature–Fitzgerald, Eliot, Austen, du Maurier, Plath, and Dickens–and the Miss America Pageant, which they watch together every year.

As the years roll on and their children grow, the quintet forms a writers circle to express their hopes and dreams through poems, stories, and, eventually, books. Along the way, they experience history in the making: Vietnam, the race for the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they have ever thought about themselves, while at the same time supporting one another through changes in their personal lives brought on by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

Humorous and moving, The Wednesday Sisters is a literary feast for book lovers that earns a place among those popular works that honor the joyful, mysterious, unbreakable bonds between friends.

My Thoughts:
This may be one of my favorite light reads of the year. I am a sucker for stories that center around a reading or writing group (or whatever common interest it may be), particularly when a group of women are gathering initially because of their common interest, and become friends, confidantes and sources of strength & support as the years progress. I would love to be a part of a group like this...and perhaps I am in some sense. These are satisfying, friendship-affirming stories that explore the layers of women's relationships with each other. This book in particular appealed to me, not only because of these factors, but because the women gathered specifically to write...corporately, regularly, critique realistically & constructively, and to become better writers because of their relationship with each other. I loved that their relationships deepened, their candor as both writers & critics becaame more refined, and in the end, their support for each other withstood many setbacks (some serious) without breaking. There's a little bit of everything in this story, it is delivered with skill, and it is ultimately satisfying.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Audio CD, 8 disks (10 hours)
Published January 12th 2010 by Penguin Audiobooks (first published January 1st 2010) 
ISBN:  0143145541 (ISBN13: 9780143145547)
primary language:  English
original title:  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
4 stars overall / 4 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old CeeCee is in trouble. For years she’s been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille— the crown-wearing, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town. Though it’s 1967 and they live in Ohio, Camille believes it’s 1951 and she’s just been crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen of Georgia.

The day CeeCee discovers Camille in the front yard wearing a tattered prom dress and tiara as she blows kisses to passing motorists, she knows her mother has completely flipped. When tragedy strikes, Tootie Caldwell, a previously unknown great-aunt comes to CeeCee’s rescue and whisks her away to Savannah. Within hours of her arrival, CeeCee is catapulted into a perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricities—a world that appears to be run entirely by women.

While Tootie is busy saving Savannah’s endangered historic homes from the wrecking ball, CeeCee encounters a cast of unforgettable, eccentric characters. From the mysterious Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in an outdoor tub under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic peacock, to Oletta Jones, the all-knowing household cook, to Violene Hobbs, the loud-mouthed widow who entertains a local police officer in her yellow see-through peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

But CeeCee’s view of the world is challenged in ways she could have never imagined: there are secrets to keep, injustices to face, and loyalties to uphold. Just as she begins to find her ballast and experiences a sense of belonging, her newfound joy collides with the long-held fear that her mother’s legacy has left her destined for destruction.

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.

My Thoughts:
This was a sweet story, full of Southern charm and the obligatory dose of drama, and complete with happy ending. I loved it, especially since it painted a picture of what true Southern friendship, hospitality & loyalty are all about. Although it was a somewhat sugar-coated story, Hoffman didn't leave out the complexities of Southern life during the Civil Rights movement, but she did temper the tone in keeping with the light timbre of her novel. This is a quick read, perfect for summer vacation, and it leaves you with the happy feeling of a story that worked out just right.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A New Idea (ok, Challenge)...Starting...NOW!

I've been steadily reading through several challenges during the past nine months, and it has been hugely satisfying to track my progress and see some of the books I have wanted to read forever move over into the completed column.


As will so many things, after concentrating on such specific reading goals, I've become bogged down with some to the point that I am ready to abandon them to another year and start with a new idea.  I ran across Susan Hill's book, Howards End is on the Landing, and was instantly intrigued with her accomplishment.  I love the idea of taking a hiatus from book buying (the logistics of which will involve phenomenal restraint) and concentrate on what I have already purchased.  Each and every time I buy a book, I am absolutely convinced that it will be the very next thing I read...because it sounds so good...but inevitably it languishes on the bookshelf amongst all the other "must reads" because I have been captivated by something else completely.  It's time for a new plan.

So here begins my journey...into my own library.  It's the perfect time for it.  This is my birthday month - as good a time as any to begin with a new resolution, perhaps without the pressures of the New Year attached to it.  And having recently moved, I have completely unpacked all my books, reorganized, purged the duds, duplicates and already reads, and become reacquainted with my small collection.

I love them...all of them.  And through the course of the next twelve months, I hope I will find a few gems that I feel compelled to press into the hands of every reader I know.  I hope I will not find too many duds.  I hope I will read more than I've ever read before.  I really hope I can break up the log jam in my brain and get the reviews flowing once again. 

So...let the adventure