Friday, May 25, 2012

Calico Joe by John Grisham

I am not a baseball afficionado by any stretch of the imagination but I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It is told by Paul Tracey whose father was a pitcher for the Mets back in 1973. Along comes the fictional Calico Joe who is a rookie with the Chicago Cubs and breaks onto the baseball scene in a big way. He breaks records every time he steps up to bat and wins the admiration of baseball fans everywhere, regardless of who their home team is. Warren Tracey, Paul's dad, is a bitter kind of bully whose career is going nowhere. The story is about the sad relationship between this man and his family, the world of baseball, this amazing phenom from Calico Rock, Arkansas, named Joe Castle, and a boy who is caught between his admiration for this incredibly gifted man and loyalty to a father who is less than worthy of it. One fateful day at the ballpark changes the lives of everyone and the world of baseball will never be the same.

4 stars and highly recommended. A story of redemption and forgiveness that is suitable for everyone.

The Expats by Chris Pavone

2 stars. This book took forever to really get started, at least the first 10 chapters were of basically nothing. I'm not entirely sure why I stuck it out with this one, it was a bit of a torture.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I had such a difficult time getting to sleep last night after finishing this book. There were elements of it that were very beautiful, but mostly it was tragic and quite heartbreaking at the end.

The story takes place in the Hunan province of China in the early nineteenth century and goes into a lot of fascinating background about what it was like to be a girl and a woman in that culture. Snow Flower and Lily are joined by a Diviner and a Matchmaker to be "old sames" for life, also called laotong. This is an even more intimate type of relationship for these girls than a marriage as they share all of their feelings, hopes, and dreams together over their lifetimes through the secret writings of women called "nu shu". They send their messages to each other via the fan while they are apart.

I was unaware of the total horror of the practice of footbinding that killed one in ten and crippled countless more for life. I thought they just kind of wrapped the foot in bindings so it didn't become wide, flat, and too large. I didn't know it involved the breaking of bones and total re-forming. Stomach churning stuff.

Life takes very different paths for these women and one is not at all what it should have been, so incredibly sad. I don't want to give too much away in the review but I would highly recommend that you read this book. Aside from what was mostly a difficult and desperate way to live, they had some touching and lovely customs and a strong devotion to family and honor. 5 star rating.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

This is the story of Anna and Trudie, a mother and her daughter living in Weimar during World War II. The story bounces back and forth from 1997 to the 40's and is told from both women's perspectives. Trudie is now a German studies professor in Minnesota and her project is to interview mostly German women and some of the Jewish survivors to find out exactly what life was like for them and what choices they made when war was going on all around them. It's an interesting and different point of view from most Holocaust novels. It is natural to wonder just what you would have done if you were in those exact circumstances. Who is to know for sure? I always believed that I would be a part of the Resistance but maybe if my life and family were brutally threatened, I may have kept my head down and pretended not to notice anything so nobody noticed me. It's so hard to say sitting in our comfy home and not knowing the horror and constant fear that was the Nazi regime. Anna herself would be the ideal interview if Trudie could just get her to open up and speak of things she has spent her whole adult life distancing herself from. (Anna was the mistress of an SS officer). Jenna Blum, the author, works with the Steven Spielberg Holocaust Remembrance project and has conducted numerous interviews similar to those depicted in the book, which I thought helped to bring these stories to life so well. I would give this a rating of four stars. The one thing that really bothered me was the complete lack of quotation marks from all of the dialog. I don't think I have ever read a book that had this peculiar style going on. It was distracting trying to figure out who was speaking or if it was just a thought.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Boy in the Suitcase

by Lene Kaaberbol, narrated byKatherine Kellgren 2 stars After reading so many highly rated positive reviews I gave this book a chance and really didn't care for it at all. I know I am in the minority here but I found very little that was appealing about this novel. I listened to the audio version and it was my least favorite narration ever. The narrator sounded like a very angry Judy Densch and I had to keep turning down the volume because I felt like I was being yelled at. An unpleasant experience.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

A beautiful story and inspirational story about two Italian immigrants and their life in Italy and America in the early 1900's. The tale starts in Italy and the imagery from this fabulous author makes you feel like you are really there, in the mountain villages among these good people. Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravenelli are destined to be together. I love the thread of love of family and making a better life for those that you love that runs through this book. I didn't want this tale to end, I felt like I was an extended part of the family. I could almost smell the tomatoes and garlic simmering on the stove while everyone was gathered around the table. I loved the part describing New York City in the early 19th century. We have been to Ellis Island recently and I could see everything so clearly in my mind when Ciro first arrived. I just can't get over how much Adriana Trigiani depicted everything so perfectly, truly a gifted writer.

These Is My Words by Nancy Turner

I listened to the audio book of this wonderful story, so beautifully narrated by Valerie Leonard. Sarah Prine's diary covers her life journey in the Arizona Territories from 1881 to 1901. I totally fell in love with her and Captain Jack Eliot and their sweet and sometimes sassy love story. What a perfect pair they made for each other. It is incredible to me what it took for these men and women to carve out a life and livelihood in this harsh era and wilderness. Sarah was a tribute to the fierce fighting spirit of the pioneer women who would stop at nothing to make a safe and happy life and home for those that they loved. Her character was so inspirational to me, she made me laugh out loud and cry as well. Loved this book! 5 stars.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Strawberry Yogurt Lemon Cake

I had quite a surplus of strawberries from Costco and stumbled across this yummy recipe via Pinterest. You can find it here at A Spicy Perspective. I really liked it but would change the glaze to a lighter cream cheese drizzle and add a little bit of lemon zest instead of the overwhelming lemon juice glaze in the original recipe. It was way too tangy for me, maybe I overdid it with the juice. Pucker power, baby!

A Thousand Splended Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This remarkable story spans three decades in Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion to more recent post- Taliban days. We get a much closer look and idea of what it is really like to be a woman in this war ravaged country through Mariam and Laila. They form an unbreakable alliance after years of being married to the same brutal man, Rasheed. It is heartrending to see what happened to the women there, with no power to defend or represent themselves for justice and the most basic humanitarian treatment. Often in our own busy lives, we don't give too much thought beyond the quick news blurb or more statistics coming from Afghanistan. This beautiful, yet incredibly sad book shows the hopes, dreams and spirits of these two remarkable women. Their dignity and bravery in the face of such malice and degradation is an inspiration. They care about what women everywhere do- love, protecting their children, and having a purpose and happiness in their lives. 5 stars