Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Salon ~ Slow, Sultry Days of Summer ~ Good for Reading and Blogging!

Another Sunday! It's amazing how quickly the weeks go by. I was amazed when I read in a couple of blogger's Sunday Salon posts last week their children start school in less than a month...for the school year! I'm still feeling that summer has barely begun! I love Autumn, though...true Autumn with the leaves changing color and the cool days with a slight breeze, the air feels different. Still, there are things I want to do this summer...see a few of the night time movies on the big screen being held outdoors in several spots around Brooklyn and Manhattan and get to a Cyclones Game at the Coney Island Stadium on the water. Better get planning!

I'm still working on I'm Amy and I'm Disabled! I spent a lot of the week reading websites for different disability-related organizations as well as articles about McCune-Albright's Syndrome, medical research, disabilities and advocacy work. I have found quite a few disabled organizations websites as well as blogs for organizations and individuals abandoned or that haven't been updated for a year or more which is kind of sad and a little discouraging. But there are plenty of orgs. still active. The MAGIC Foundation is an organization I belonged to several years ago that offers support and information to the families of children affected by diseases and disorders related to growth issues...MAS falls under this topic. Although MAGIC is geared towards families with children, they have some great information and connections. Every summer they sponsor a convention in Chicago for members with MAS and Fibrous Dysplasia. I'm going to re-instate my membership with them and "friended" their FB page. I've also signed up with The Fibrous Dysplasia Foundation which has a great website. I'm still trying to figure out how to let people on-line know about my blog. I'm thinking about linking to Twitter. I have an account now but it's mostly book-related. I think talking about myself and, more specifically, my diability and issues related to disabilities and the disabled generally, might make some people uncomfortable. I don't want to lose people from my book blog or Twitter account. But, on the other hand... So you see, I'm still thinking and figuring what to do, how to go about this!

I really felt like reading this week ~ Yay! My problem is that I wanted to read so many, too many, of the books I plan to read in the next few months right now! I managed to rein myself in, though. I have a few pages left in Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas and the same with The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisi Haji. I unexpectedly received Cleaning Nabokov's House By Leslie Daniels this week. I signed up to review it for Crazy Book Tours months ago but wasn't sure when it was coming. It's light and funny but also sad and a bunch of other things so I'm enjoying it. I also started Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman, which, so far, is funny, slightly sardonic, intriguing, fantastic! And, of course, The Foreigners by Maxine Swann is going along very well. It's a unique and unusual book and I'm loving that!

What are you reading and enjoying this Sunday?
Enjoy, Stay cool, Read something great!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

~ ~ Wondrous Words Wednesday ~ ~

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion's Weblog where we share words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun (please do!) Be sure to leave a link to your post over at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

The words below are from Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather:

"Father Martinez continued at the head of. his schismatic church until, after his short illness, he died and was buried in schism, by Father Lucero.".

1. Schism
: is a division between people, usually belonging to an organization or movement religious denomination. The word is most frequently applied to a break of communion between two sections of Christianity that were previously a single body, or to a division within some other religion

2. Schismatic
: pertaining to a schism or schisms, or to those ideas, policies, etc. that are thought to lead towards or promote schism
: a person who creates or incites schism in an organization or who is a member of a splinter group

"Below them in the midst of that wavy ocean of sand, was a green thread of verdure and a running stream."

3. Verdure
: green vegetation, especially grass or herbage; greenness, especially of fresh, flourishing vegetation
: freshness in general; flourishing condition; vigor

"Running water, clover fields, cottonwoods, acacias, little adobe houses with brilliant gardens, a boy driving a flock of white goats toward the stream, - that was what the young Bishop saw."

4. Acacia
: a small tree or shrub belonging to the genus Acacia, of the mimosa family having clusters of small yellow flowers; any of several other plants such as the locust tree

"He felt as if he were celebrating Mass at the bottom of the sea, for antediluvian creatures; for types of life so old, so hardened, so shut within their shells, that the sacrifice on Calvary could hardly reach back so far."
5. Antediluvian
: of or belonging to the period before the Flood. Gen. 7, 8.
: very old, old-fashioned, or out of date; antiquated; primitive

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teaser: The Foreigners by Maxine Swann!

Teaser Tuesdays is an interesting and fun book-related meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Be prepared to add several new books to your TBR list! I do every week!

My Teaser:

" I couldn't believe that I'd just met someone who was studying to be a doctor and was working as a gigolo at the same time. Then I thought about what he'd said about "that horrible state of yearning".

from The Foreigners by Maxine Swann (p.30)

Anyone can play along! If you'd like to participate, Just do the following:
*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. (I sometimes use a few more!)
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

*And, finally, don't forget to link your post to MizB's at Should Be Reading. If you don't have a blog, simply share your "teasers" in a comment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

ISBN: 978-159051444-3
Pages: 368
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Summary: On an early spring morning in Richmond, Virginia, in the year 1885, a young pregnant woman is found floating in the city reservoir. It appears that she has committed suicide, but there are curious clues at the scene that suggest foul play. The case attracts local attention, and an eccentric group of men collaborate to solve the crime. Detective Jack Wren lurks in the shadows, weaseling his way into the investigation and intimidating witnesses. Policeman Daniel Cincinnatus Richardson, on the brink of retirement, catches the case and relentlessly pursues it to its sorrowful conclusion. As the identity of the girl, Lillie, is revealed, her dark family history comes to light, and the investigation focuses on her tumultuous affair with Tommie Cluverius.

Tommie, an ambitious young lawyer, is the pride and joy of his family and the polar opposite of his brother Willie, a quiet, humble farmer. Though both men loved Lillie, it’s Tommie’s reckless affair that thrusts his family into the spotlight. With Lillie dead, Willie must decide how far to trust Tommie, and whether he ever understood him at all. Told through accumulating revelations, Tommie’s story finally ends in a riveting courtroom climax.

Based on a true story, The Reservoir centers on a guilty and passionate love triangle composed of two very different brothers and one young, naive girl hiding an unspeakable secret. A novel of lust, betrayal, justice, and revenge, The Reservoir ultimately probes the question of whether we can really know the hearts and minds of others, even of those closest to

My Thoughts: I have always been fascinated by court rooms, criminal cases and trials in particular. In some respects, jury trials aren't that different from writing a story. A trial offers the prosecutor and the defense attorney the opportunity to weave a story for the jury, to put the facts presented in the best light possible for their side and then relay their story to the jury in order to influence them to deliver the verdict the prosecutor or defense attorney fervently hopes to hear. I decided to go to law school, for better or worse, when I was young but it wasn't until law school, when I took a Trial Advocacy class that I understood how trials really worked and what fun, albeit nerve-wracking at first, it was to go in front of a jury. Those career aspirations may have ended early for me, but I'm still and always will be an avid fan of books of criminal cases particularly when they are brought before a jury and a trial ensues. When I read the premise of The Reservoir on Devourer of Books blog I was thrilled that it was the next Book Club pick and eagerly signed up to receive a copy.

The Reservoir is based on a real criminal case John Milliken Thompson read about while doing some research. Fortunately for us it caught his attention and, while writing and researching further, he realized the case would make a riveting fictional story. Hence, The Reservoir, an absorbing story about two brothers, the woman they both loved and the investigation into her disturbing death. Themes of lust, betrayal, jealousy and deceit are explored as the relationships between the brothers and between each brother and the deceased young woman are examined. The story is set in and around Richmond, VA and a map of the area is included but I found it unnecessary to refer to it because Mr. Thompson describes the landscape, the towns and the city of Richmond beautifully including gothic elements in scenes involving the reservoir. Although this isn't really a mystery, at times it has that same delicious creepy atmosphere.

The book opens with the discovery on March 14, 1885 of the dead, pregnant, young woman, Lillie, but within a few pages the narrative moves to the actual night of her death, moments after it happens. The story is relayed by a third-person narrator and is so effectively detailed I had chills and felt like I was standing in the shadows watching Tommie. Yes, we meet Tommie in the first few pages because he's in the area of the reservoir in compromising circumstances. It quickly becomes apparent Tommie's an intriguing, puzzling and beguiling character. Whether or not he's likable is questionable. The same goes for whether or not he can be trusted. Sometimes I was convinced he was absolutely trustworthy but then he would do something despicable and underhanded. He's slick, quite a charmer and can sweet-talk anyone. Of course he's an attorney and for part of the narrative he's in law school where he learns a lot more than the law. It was clear to me that Tommie displayed a facade of the smart, well-mannered, proper young man to the world but he has a much darker side that very few people are aware of. Mr. Thompson created a fascinating character in Tommie. The more I read about him the more I wanted to know until I started to recognize in him a few of the guys I knew in law school but didn't really care for.

Thompson's writing flows smoothly and the pages almost turn by themselves in this captivating story, especially when the trial begins. I read a few reviews that found the beginning of the book slow. That wasn't my experience. Before the investigation gets underway and the trial begins, we get to know Tommie, his brother Willie, their cousin, Lillie and some of the other characters like Tommie's fiance, Nola Bray. The chapters jump around from the various characters and their lives and relationships to the investigation of the dead young woman. I liked the way Thompson did this because I thought it made Lillie's death feel very real and quite shocking. One minute we're reading about her life, her conversations, her behavior and the next she's lying on a cement slab while people pass by viewing her body. The chapters about Tommie, Willie and Lillie and others also felt like preparation for the trial: we're learning about the various people in the deceased's life as well as who she spent time with and how she spent her days. One thing that becomes abundantly clear as the novel progresses is how little we really know and understand some of the people in our life, those we're closest to. Willie really struggles with this more and more, reluctantly realizing he doesn't really know Tommie and, what's more, he's not sure he can trust him.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Reservoir although, ultimately, it's a sad and poignant tale. I'm not going to give away the ending but, for what it's worth, I completely agreed with the trial's outcome. I think that Tommie's a very troubled soul and deceived many people including himself. Mr. Thompson has written a compelling and thoroughly satisfying story of a criminal case. Anyone who enjoys detective fiction and criminal investigations doesn't want to pass up The Reservoir.

Don't miss John Milliken Thompson's website about the book which includes the real story behind the book!

Monday Movies ~ Summertime!

Feature Presentation... MONDAY MOVIE MEME

Today's movie theme is all about Summer! It's the last week in July and Back-to-School commercials are already airing but there's still several weeks of summer left! The Bumbles listed some great examples of movies set in the summer! I've listed some of my own exampled below. Share on your blog movies set in the summertime and link back to The Bumbles Blog so that others can find you. Be sure to visit your fellow participants, too!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Salon ~ A new blog and Keeping Cool!

I hope anyone whose experiencing this terrible heat is doing okay and managing to stay cool! It seems much of the country is dealing with ludicrously high temps.! We might get a break in the north east tomorrow. I'm hoping so!

Ever since I cracked a bone in my hip, which still isn't fully healed, I've also been having some other health problems, mostly related to my lungs & breathing. That and some family drama has found me thinking a lot about things like life and the past lately. I happened to see an episode of that TV show where people build a new home for a family in some kind of crisis. The only reason I watched it was because the little 9-year old boy in the family has brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis imperfecta). This disease has some similarities to mine but can be much more severe. I thought about my life growing up, what this little boy's life might be like, the obstacles he might encounter and the help he'll hopefully find. I also thought about other children with disabilities growing up with the same thoughts and dreams as kids who aren't disabled. So I started a blog, I'm Amy and  I'm Disabled. It doesn't have a shape or real purpose to it, yet! For now I'm posting about things that come to mind. If anyone has any ideas about how to let people know I've started this blog I'd appreciate your help!

I haven't been reading that much with my focus being elsewhere. I have several books that I've just finished or I'm just about to finish as well as several review I still haven't written! Ack! I am finishing up Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. I always wanted to read this and Molly's The Classic Bribe gave me the reason I needed! I'm in the middle of The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisi Haji and I just finished The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson. Finally, I plan to start Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman.

What are you reading and enjoying this Sunday?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Snapshot: Coping with the Heat!

This is how the kitties deal with the sweltering heat!

Alyce of At Home with Books hosts Saturday Snapshot. To participate simply post a picture you've taken or one taken by a friend or family member and add your link on Alyce’s site.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review ~ A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

Date Published: July 7, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59420-292-6
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Publisher’s Summary: Crippled by lupus at twenty-five, celebrated author Flannery O'Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home to Andalusia, her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Years later, as Flannery is finishing a novel and tending to her menagerie of peacocks, her mother drags her to the wedding of a family friend.

Cookie Himmel embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that Flannery lacks: she is revered for her beauty and grace; she is at the helm of every ladies' organization in town; and she has returned from her time in Manhattan with a rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but it is not until he meets Flannery that he starts to take a good hard look at the choices he has made. Despite the limitations of her disease, Flannery seems to be more alive than other people, and Melvin is drawn to her like a moth to a candle flame.

Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who starts to feel that life is passing him by. Lona Waters, the dutiful wife of a local policeman, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home. As Lona spends her days sewing curtains, she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.

Heartbreakingly beautiful and inescapably human, these ordinary and extraordinary people chart their own courses through life. In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, they are all forced to look at themselves and face up to Flannery's observation that "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

My Thoughts: I read a short story by Flannery O'Connor years ago. It was beautifully written although dark and grim with very real, flawed characters. I always wanted and meant to read more of her work but never managed to. When I read about A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano featuring Flannery O'Connor as one of the main characters I knew I had to read it. And I'm glad I did. A Good Hard Look is a riveting story about several troubled and flawed characters who don't fully understand or feel understood by their loved ones and who are feeling stifled by life. In an attempt to feel better, some of them make some very poor decisions and the outcome is shocking and devastating.

Milledgeville, GA is the small southern town where Flannery O'Connor grew up and where A Good Hard Look is set. Everyone in Milledgeville knows everyone else and there's not a lot of privacy. Life in this small town is stifling for some of the characters and they find it hard to be themselves but for others, like Cookie Himmel, Milledgeville offers the chance to shine. Ann Napolitano has an amazing talent for creating very real and flawed characters who help to make her book extremely readable and difficult to put down. My favorite characters were Cookie Himmel and Flannery O'Connor along with Melvin Whiteson, the man caught in the middle. There are several other interesting characters in this book without whom A Good Hard Look would not be the fascinating read it is, but I found Flannery, Cookie and Melvin absorbing and endlessly captivating.

Flannery O'Connor was only 26-years old with her entire life ahead of her, when she was diagnosed with lupus, the same disease that resulted in her father's death when Flannery was just 15. Flannery has to return to live at the family farm in Milledgeville, GA, a place she planned to visit very infrequently once she settled in NYC. In her book Ms. Napolitano effectively contrasts Flannery with Cookie Himmel, a woman completely different from Flannery O'Connor in appearance and personality. Cookie and Flannery know each other very well having spent a lot of time together while growing up since their mothers were friends. Flannery is a few years older than Cookie but there's was never a relationship where the younger Cookie aspired to be anything like Flannery. Rather, from a young age, Cookie wanted to excise Flannery from her life and get as far away from her as possible. Ms. Napolitano doesn't reveal the source of Cookie's strong feelings until well into the novel but Cookie's attitude towards Flannery reveals quite a bit about the woman she is. Life for Flannery is all about honesty and saying what you think. She didn't wear masks which for Cookie were a necessary part of life. Everything about Cookie was manufactured and created by her. Ms. Napolitano gives us two very different characters but she makes it possible for us to relate to both women at different times throughout the book and to understand them. Although I sometimes sympathized with one woman more than the other, I never disliked either one of the characters. Both frustrated me occasionally, brought tears to my eyes at other times and I often simply wished they were friends but Cookie wasn't ready for real friendship with any woman, not in the first half of the book anyway.

Appearances and people's opinions matter too much to Cookie. She's used to being the most beautiful, the best at everything, the "bell of the ball", all affectations she wears easily. When Flannery's around Cookie feels completely insecure and vulnerable. Most of us can identify with feeling this way at some point in our lives but the difficulty here was figuring out why Cookie felt this way around Flannery. Still, we're able to sympathize with Cookie, at least until her insecurity brings out a cruel, nasty side. This is where Ms. Napolitano's talent really shines, these subtle moments and behaviors that tell us so much about a person. Flannery's no saint, she has her flaws, too, but it's her blunt, honest, "cut-to-the-chase" personality that Cookie's takes such objection too. Flannery's very presence seems to put Cookie on edge, possibly because she cannot face the woman she truly is unlike Flannery in whose life artifice has no place. Cookie doesn't understand Flannery at all and cannot relate to her but she also doesn't try. Cookie even acts fearful of Flannery at times! She's convinced when Flannery looks at her she's mocking everything that matters to Cookie. Maybe the problem is that Cookie cannot face the reality of life which Flannery meets head on and resents Flannery for this?

Early in A Good Hard Look we learn everything in Cookie's world has to be perfect and planned out because "...she was a young woman who lived by plans." Cookie gets carried away with plans after she and Melvin are married. She's convinced that if she makes herself and Melvin, a solid part of Milledgeville, Melvin won't miss his hometown, NYC, and won't want to go back there. While getting involved in every committee the town has available, Cookie doesn't notice that Melvin isn't nearly so enthusiastic and fails to take into account what he wants from life. Cookie is so intent on impressing the mayor and the other committee members as well as making her house look perfect she has no idea what Melvin's doing when he's not at work. Melvin and Cookie's failure to really communicate with each other is a problem faced by other characters in this riveting story. Melvin and Cookie are so concerned about making each other happy they forget to discover what would truly make them each happy. In trying to live a perfect, blissful life they both begin to feel suffocated and look elsewhere for relief. Nothing good can come of this kind of living and Cookie and Melvin aren't the only characters in A Good Hard Look who learn this in a most difficult way.

Ms. Napolitano applies the themes of love, deceit, identity, forgiveness and redemption in a story in which her characters are forced to look at the mess they've made of their lives and confront their true self. The unforeseen consequences of bad decisions on the part of several characters is jarring and quickly snaps them back to a reality they refused to face before tragedy struck. Now the only choice is to face the harsh, brutal truth and hope forgiveness will come. A Good Hard Look forces us to look at life from the perspective of the people we love and to think about what's most important in life and how best to secure that before we end up making some poor decisions that run our lives completely off track and into the disaster zone. Ms. Napolitano's beautifully written book is one you don't want to miss. I highly recommend it.

Ann Napolitano's website and blog

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book and to The Penguin Press for a copy of A Good Hard Look.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Teaser Tuesday ~ The Reservoir!

Teaser Tuesdays is an interesting and fun book-related meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Be prepared to add several new books to your TBR list! I do every week!

My Teaser:

" The Sunday paper is there and Tommie helps himself to it. The article is on the front page. He had hoped there would be nothing but it's right there, staring at him, "Woman's Watery Grave". He gulps it in. "

from The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson (p.76)

Anyone can play along! If you'd like to participate, Just do the following:
*Grab your current read
*Open to a random page
*Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. (I sometimes use a few more!)
*BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
*Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their
TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

*And, finally, don't forget to link your post to MizB's at Should Be Reading. If you don't have a blog, simply share your "teasers" in a comment.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
ISBN: 978-0-8129-9271-7
Pages: 304
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Literary Fiction
Rating: 5.0 out of 5

Publisher's Summary: A story of love, war, loss, and the scars they leave, Next to Love follows the lives of three young women and their men during the years of World War II and its aftermath, beginning with the men going off to war and ending a generation later, when their children are on the cusp of their own adulthood.

Set in a small town in Massachusetts, the novel follows three childhood friends, Babe, Millie, and Grace, whose lives are unmoored when their men are called to duty. And yet the changes that are thrust upon them move them in directions they never dreamed possible—while their husbands and boyfriends are enduring their own transformations. In the decades that follow, the three friends lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America—from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which feminism, the Civil Rights movement, and
technological innovations present new possibilities—and uncertainties. And yet Babe, Millie, and Grace remain bonded by their past, even as their children grow up and away and a new society rises from the ashes of the war.

Beautifully crafted and unforgettable, Next to Love depicts the enduring power of love and friendship, and illuminates a transformational moment in American history.

My review: Historical fiction isn't a genre I read until I discovered the book blogging community and the plethora of books and subject matter available in that genre. I realized that I liked reading books having something to do with World War II. Many of the books I've read are set over-seas in Europe somewhere and focus on Hitler's reign of terror, the Nazis or the plight and rescue of Jews. In that respect, Next to Love is a very different book since it's set in America and focuses primarily on the years following WW II.

I was immediately hooked on this book once I read the premise. I knew I wanted to read Next to Love and I expected to like it but I had no idea the impact it would have on me. Ellen Feldman opened my eyes to the painful and reverberating effects of war on the families whose husbands, fathers, sons and brothers leave home to fight. Babe, Grace and Millie's lives are forever changed the day the men they love leave to fight for our country in WW II. They don't know when or if they will see them again and there's little they can do but wait, hope and pray. The impact of the war on their lives isn't over when the war comes to an end, in some ways it's just beginning. In fact, Babe, Grace and Millie experience unexpected and fundamental changes to their beliefs, ideas and life perspectives because of the war. Whether their men return or not, they are no longer young, innocent and carefree. Next to Love impressed upon me how devastating and surprising the impact of war is on those involved even tangentially. Babe, Grace and Millie must reach deep inside themselves to find reserves of strength they didn't know they had in order to cope. As the years pass, we are privileged to see how Babe, Grace and Millie build new lives for themselves and their families of which they can be proud.

Babe, Grace and Millie, close friends for years, are very different women. Babe is outspoken, intelligent, a little brash; Grace is well-mannered and quiet; and Millie is calm, upbeat and cheerful. None of them are celebrating the night before their men, Claude, Charlie and Pete respectively, leave for the war. Babe watches in the movies as newly drafted men celebrate going off to war but, secretly, she wishes Claude was one of the men turned down, deemed unable to fight. Babe sees the hypocrisy of it all: men going off to possible death with a big smile on their face, leaving behind the ones they love. They all feel the same fear and grim dismay at what's happening. But they all put on a brave face, pretending to enjoy the dinner Grace cooked for them. The women don't know when they'll see these men they love again. Ms. Feldman does an excellent job of portraying a mood of forced cheerfulness. We easily feel the women's fear, the men's unease in their stilted conversation at the dinner table marked by awkward, uncomfortably long pauses. If we didn't no better, we'd think Babe and Claude, Grace and Charlie and Pete and Millie didn't know or like each other very well.

Ms. Feldman has created three wonderfully real and flawed women in Babe, Grace and Millie. She astutely portrays how each one embodies the personality and characteristics of women from the 1940s making them recognizable to us in a myriad of ways. Grace isn't a snob but she grew up with money and is used to having it. She wants to be a wife and mother while Babe is always thinking and observing what's going on in the world around her. She's restless and not content to just stay at home, she always wants to be doing something. Millie, after losing her parents when she was little, just wants to feel safe and loved. Each woman copes in their own way, with the help of her friends and sometimes, family, during the war, and in its aftermath with the results that are handed to her. Babe, Grace and Millie watch out for each other and they are available to each other at any time, for anything. Although they are the best of friends there's a tension and distance between them born of the suffering they've each endured but not completely shared. Over the years, their closeness and the need to confide take precedence over the fear of being vulnerable. Their refreshing honesty with each other confirms their support and love for one another. Although Babe, Grace and Millie are very different from one another, they know and understand each other and their friendship easily withstands the test of time and tragedy.

I found all three women likable and, although I didn't always identify with Babe, Grace and Millie, I understood why they did the things they did. There were times when I didn't agree with their actions since they all made some questionable decisions but I still found it easy to sympathize with them. There were times I wanted to shake some sense into ach of them and say "Don't you see what you're doing to your child?!" but more often I wished I could reach out and hug them. Ms. Feldman shows us clearly how each woman agonizes over their decisions and actions about how best to care for her family. It was clear they were simply trying to do their best in unexpected, sometimes unfavorable circumstances. I don't want to give away specifics about what happens in the lives of Babe, Grace and Millie when the war ends because it's the impact and effect of the war on the rest of their lives that Ms. Feldman portrays so realistically and beautifully.

As the years pass, we watch as Babe, Grace and Millie's change and grow while continuing to cope with the hurt, loss and pain of the past, tackle the various problems families encounter and celebrate the flourishing love and friendship that also continues to be a part of their lives. The passing years are marked by changes in society and new ideas and beliefs enter into the women's lives that impact Babe in particular. Ms. Feldman effectively portrays the impact of racism, the feminist movement and other events in the lives of Babe, Grace and Maggie whose actions are always influenced in small and sometimes larger ways by their experience with WW II. As the end of the novel approaches, we see Babe shed any inhibitions she's been carrying and become the woman she's been fighting to be for most of the book. She's my favorite character in Next to Love and it was wonderful to read as she came to understand who she is and what she wanted from this life and then claim it with the support of Claude.

Ellen Feldman has written a fascinating and riveting story of how WW II impacted and changed the lives of three young woman in a small Massachusetts town. In doing so, Ms. Feldman shows us that although the physical battles may end when the war is over, it's impact and the lessons it teaches are only just beginning and will be felt into the next generation. Through three amazing women we come to understand how war touches even those people not directly involved and alters their perspective on life in good and bad ways. Next to Love made me realize the sacrifices made by families whose loved ones fight for our country and the impact that will be felt for generations to come. Ms. Feldman has written a beautiful, poignant and universal story that I highly recommend.

Ellen Feldman's website

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Next to Love and to Spiegel & Grau for an ARC copy of Next to Love.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

ISBN: 978-0-06-166148-8
Pages: 416
Release Date: July 5, 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5

Publisher: Rebecca is young, lost, and beautiful. A gifted artist, she seeks solace and inspiration in the Mediterranean heat of Athens—trying to understand who she is and how she can love without fear.
George has come to Athens to learn ancient languages after growing up in New England boarding schools and Ivy League colleges. He has no close relationships with anyone and spends his days hunched over books or wandering the city in a drunken stupor.
Henry is in Athens to dig. An accomplished young archaeologist, he devotedly uncovers the city’s past as a way to escape his own, which holds a secret that not even his doting parents can talk about.

...And then, with a series of chance meetings, Rebecca, George, and Henry are suddenly in flight, their lives brighter and clearer than ever, as they fall headlong into a summer that will forever define them in the decades to come.

My review: Everything Beautiful Began After is a story filled with intense emotion: the characters experience the greatest happiness and the utmost .despair as well as everything in between. Rebecca, George and Henry are foreigners living alone in Athens until they find each other. They are each struggling with deep pain from a past occurrence or conflict they have not yet resolved within themselves. They recognize the well of sadness and pain in each other. Its impact on their lives, rather than separate them, it bonds Rebecca, Henry and George to one another. This is even more remarkable considering George and Henry are both in love with Rebecca who's only in love with Henry. The friendship of Rebecca and Henry is more important to George, a sweet man who has spent much of his life alone, than a romantic relationship with Rebecca. And in George, Henry feels he's found a brother. This connection is of vital importance to Henry as the story progresses. In the first of three books, Rebecca, Henry and George take full advantage of all that Athens has to offer, reveling in their friendship and love, happy to be together.

I rarely include passages from the book in my review but I wanted to share an example of Mr. Van Booy's beautiful prose. Shortly after George, Henry and Rebecca first spend some time together:

George looked out into a drowning world. In the reflection of the glass he could see the outline of a man, a few lines, a specter suspended by light and dark, by falling rain. A life that was yet to be decided, despite everything that had already happened, every moment is yet to be decided and connected to the one before it by illusions.

I don't want to go into any more detail about the plot because I think Mr. Van Booy's book has a greater impact if you don't know the plot beforehand. I didn't and at one point I gasped out loud! What I will gladly tell you is how beautiful i found Mr. Van Booy's writing. His prose took my breath away. When I first started reading the book, it didn't matter to me what the story was about, I just wanted to continue experiencing the way Mr. Van Booy combines words. His sentences flow smoothly with elegance and grace whether he's describing Rebecca's day at the Monastiraki flea market in Athens or Professor Peterson, Henry's teacher, clipping George with the fender of his Renault while driving. Mr. Van Booy's descriptions are so detailed and distinct I felt I was in Rebecca's apartment with her and at the beach in Piraeus with Rebecca, Henry and George. Mr. Van Booy doesn't describe them so much as let us come to know and understand them through their actions, thoughts and dialogue. This had the affect of making me feel like I'd met them.

Mr. Van Booy has a remarkable ability to combine the past with the present and show us how one influences the other. In the same way, our past experiences impact who we are now. Our connections to others, our love for them and theirs for us enables us to see clearly and to make sense of the chaos of life. As Rebecca, George and Henry discover, pain, loss and grief can get in the way and block our view. Mr. Van Booy shows us how these emotions and experiences make us stronger, give us hope for the future and help us to appreciate all that is good about life. I highly recommend Everything Beautiful Began After. I'm already looking forward to re-reading this book as well as reading Mr. Van Booy's other books. You don't want to miss it.

Simon Van Booy's website.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review Everything Beautiful Began After and thank you to Harper Perennial for a copy of the book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Miss Timmins' School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

Title: Miss Timmins' School for Girls
Author: Nayana Currimbhoy
ISBN: 978-0-06-199774-7
Pages: 512
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Book Summary: A murder at a British boarding school in the hills of western India launches a young teacher on the journey of a lifetime.

In 1974, three weeks before her twenty-first birthday, Charulata Apte arrives at Miss Timmins’ School for Girls in Panchgani. Shy, sheltered, and running from a scandal that disgraced her Brahmin family, Charu finds herself teaching Shakespeare to rich Indian girls in a boarding school still run like an outpost of the British Empire. In this small, foreign universe, Charu is drawn to the charismatic teacher Moira Prince, who introduces her to pot-smoking hippies, rock ‘n’ roll, and freedoms she never knew existed.
Then one monsoon night, a body is found at the bottom of a cliff, and the ordered worlds of school and town are thrown into chaos. When Charu is implicated in the murder—a case three intrepid schoolgirls take it upon themselves to solve—Charu’s real education begins. A love story and a murder mystery, Miss Timmins’ School for Girls is, ultimately, a coming-of-age tale set against the turbulence of the 1970s as it played out in one small corner of India.

My Thoughts: I was one of those girls that liked school even as a teenager in high school. I didn't mind classes or the work but what I enjoyed the most was the social aspects of school. I loved spending time with friends, was always involved in extra-curricular activities and never wanted to miss a day! It seems fitting that I'm always attracted to books set in schools and with characters who are students or teachers. I also enjoy reading author debuts so Miss Timmins' School for Girls was an easy choice for me. Nayana Currimbhoy's writing is accessible and flows smoothly and her main character is terrific but an excess of characters and too many ideas and themes weighed this book down and reading it became a bit of a chore.

On arrival, Charulata Apte, a young Indian woman and inexperienced, new teacher at Miss Timmins' School for Girls is shy and reserved. It's the first time she's been away from home and her parents. As expected, Charu is nervous and a little anxious although leaving home to teach was her own idea. She wanted to go to Bombay, to be a 'Bombay girl', but her strict middle-class parents wouldn't permit it as they had no relatives living in Bombay. Panchgani, the site of Miss Timmins' Shool, is an 8-hour drive from Bombay and the closest Charu could get. And it’s preferable to continuing to live at home for Charu. By the end of the first chapter it's apparent there's more to Ms. Currimbhoy's main character than the good manners and quiet responses her strict upbringing instilled in her.

Charu is a very effective first-person narrator of her story. As I read, I felt like we were having a conversation, during which she relayed the story of her time at Miss Timmins. Like a conversation, topics jump around a bit and some issues come up but aren't totally fleshed out until several pages later but it worked for me. Charu is likeable and easy to identify with because, like most of us, she's a mixed bag of emotions and personality traits. If you cannot relate to her insecurity, you may understand the boredom she felt living with her mother and father for the first 20 years, and her desire to experience the world. In fact, Charu reminded me of some of the people I befriended my first year of college. Coming from strict homes and rigid upbringings, the freedom at school was exciting, shocking and frightening. For some it proved to be too much. Others went a little crazy and now have stories they may or may not tell their grandkids. Charu is smart and takes her time acclimating to Miss Timmins' School and the village of Panchgani, fighting occasional homesickness.

Ms. Currimbhoy has also made it easy for us to sympathize with her main character. Charu's father got himself into a bad situation in his job with the Navy when she was seven. This resulted in a scandal that brought shame on her family. Charu lost her best friend shortly before her family left Bombay for the anonymity of Indore. Her parents were tense, her mother cried but nobody ever talked about what happened. That's when Charu's "blot" appeared. "The family gash was closed up, unlicked, unmourned. And so it seeped into my face, red and angry.". Her blot became the size of an onion. Sometimes it was red and itchy, other times it was more subdued but it’s always present. As a result, Charu’s not only awkward and uncomfortable with new people but extremely vulnerable to kindness and friendship.

There are several teachers and staff happy to chat with and advise Charu about school policies and rules as well as Panchgani. The younger teachers, most of whom stay in Sunbeam, invite Charu for dinner one Friday night. The night goes so well the teachers decide to make it a weekly event. Then Charu meets Moira Prince, a young British teacher in the care of the principal, Miss Nelson. Moira lives in Sunbeam but doesn’t regularly socialize with the other teachers. Moira defends Charu when an obnoxious, self-righteous student tries to flout the detention Charu gave her. Soon Charu and Moira are spending most of their free time together. Moira is considered by many to be difficult and improper. In short, she is trouble but Charu can’t stay away.

Ms. Currimbhoy astutely conveys the struggle Charu experiences as she attempts to talk herself out of spending time with Moira. She knows what she should do, what her upbringing dictates The tension in the book is enhanced by the atmosphere surrounding the school. For example, Panchgani is known for its monsoon season and the intense rains and dark skies cause a bleak, foreboding feeling.

You might expect the book would continue to explore Charu, her relationship with Moira and where her life goes which sounds captivating to me. But that's not what happens, and I expect you'll probably be surprised when I tell you that at this point, part of the story is just getting started! One of the major themes in the book is introduced when Moira Prince is murdered not far from the grounds of Miss Timmins' School at a place called tableland. It sends the school into a state of chaos and shock despite Moira Prince not being at all popular.

Miss Timmins' School for Girls is divided into three books. Book One ends soon after the teacher's murder with Charu leaving the school because her mother is sick. In Book Two several new characters are introduced as four students set about investigating the murder. Book Two felt extraneous to me and unnecessary. I found the extra characters, the various theories about the crime and a few additional tangents about the lives of these characters confusing at times and tedious. I also kept wondering if we would see Charu again as well as what was the purpose of Book Two. I still haven’t figured that out to my satisfaction.

Charu reappears in Book Three. She’s at her mother’s family home because her mother is ill. Unfortunately, Book Three introduces several more new characters, members of Charu’s family and, inexplicably, many chapters are spent discussing them. By the time Charu returns to Miss Timmins’ School, I'd lost my steam and interest.

I wish Ms. Currimbhoy had written two books, maybe with the second book as a sequel. I liked her writing and some of her characters, including Charu were intriguing. There was just too much going on in this book. Charu’s growing into a woman, learning who she is and wants to be, coming to understand her parents and their relationship while exploring her own sexuality is a book I think I would have enjoyed very much. A book about a murder at Miss Timmins’ School for Girls and the subsequent investigation, by several different parties sounds intriguing, too. Unfortunately, although Miss Timmins’ School for Girls has some good aspects there were too many problems and the book just didn’t work for me.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book and to the publisher for a copy of Miss Timmins’ School for Girls.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Movies ~ We're Havin' a Heat Wave...!

Feature Presentation...

We're havin' a heat-wave! Seriously! I think we really are here in NYC according to the heat advisory announced on the news 2 minutes ago! And, apparently temps in the 90's with accompanying humidity are hitting states up and down the East Coast. Blah! The Bumbles Blog reader and Monday Movie Meme participant Nicole of The Madlab Post suggested today's theme: movies containing a heat wave or extreme summer heat, it doesn't have to be central to the plot just a part of the movie. I've had my experiences with heat and humidity. I don't like it! lol My mother hated the heat & humidity. But she also hated air conditioning! Mom refused to put in central air as her sister did despite my aunt telling her, repeatedly, how great it was to have on those hot, humid, hideous days of summer and despite two whiney, pleading children (my sister & me!). Two rooms in our house had air conditioning: my parents bedroom and my dad's den/office. On the worst days my sister and I camped out on my parents bedroom floor! We thought it was great fun when we were little. As teenagers, not so much...we idiotically opted to sweat and whined about it (of course!)! lolol Fortunately, I smartened up! I don't like air conditioning much myself but it's way better than heat! Molly's got a great movie listed for today so be sure to visit her blog, The Bumbles Blog. And remember to share on your blog movies that turned the heat on their characters and link back to The Bumbles Blog so that others can find you. Be sure to visit your fellow participants, too!

Crimes of the Heart (1986) ~ a comedy/drama starring Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange as the three Magrath sisters who reunite at their childhood home in Hazlehurst, Mississippi after Babe (Sissy Spacek) shoots her abusive husband. This is just one in a long line of bizzarre, shocking events that surround this dysfunctional family. The sisters were raised by Old Grandaddy (Hurd Hatfield) after their mother died and have always been eccentric. Part of the movie takes place during the hazy, lazy days of summer

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) a comedy/drama starring Kathy Bates as bored housewife Evelyn Couch who befriends Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) while visiting her crabby mother-in-law in a Birmingham, Alabama nursing home. Ninny tells Evelyn over the course of numerous visits Evelyn makes to see Ninny about the abandoned town of Whistle Stop, Alabama and the people who lived there. Ninny tells many stories about many people in this southern town and, as you can imagine, summers in Whistle Stop were very hot and we see many scenes that evidence this! It's obvious that Ninny loved the town and its inhabitants and she deeply touches Evelyn, enthralls and inspires her. They become good friends and there are several great surprises in stor for those of you who haven't seen this movie yet!

The Man in the Moon (1991) in Louisiana 14-year old Dani (Reese Witherspoon) and her older sister, Maureen (Emily Warfield) fall for the same guy. It's Dani's first kiss during her very brief summer romance but is Maureen's age so when he meets her, he's smitten. Uh-oh! Much of the movie occurs during the hot summer months. There's some great photography that shows off the landscape including a beautiful pond great for cooling off, fishing and fun! There's more to this movie than teenage romance mostly about the importance of family.

Passion Fish (1992) this drama directed by John Sayles is about a soap opera star, May-Alice Culhane (Mary McDonnell) who becomes paralyzed when she's struck by a taxi on her way to get her legs waxed. When it comes time for her to be discharged from the hospital she doesn't know what to do so she retreats to her family home in Louisiana. There, filled with fear, lonely sad, immensely angry and more, she turns to alcohol and has an extended pity party. She abuses the live-in nurses and all leave within 2, 3 days of arriving. But then Chantelle (Alfre Woodard) arrives. She has her own problems and needs this job. She's also unwilling to put up with any crap. This makes for some entertaining scenes! Little by little the two women connect, become friends and help each other. Many of the scenes in this movie occur outside on the land surrounding the home which includes a large pond with dock. And, as it's the south, some days are very hot!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

~ Dreams of Joy by Lisa See ~

Book cover: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Title: Dreams of Joy
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Random House
Published Date: May 31, 2011
ISBN: 978-1400067121
Pages: 368
Genre: Historical Fiction; Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Book Summary: In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent
bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in her most powerful novel yet, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime.
Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love

My Thoughts: I read and reviewed Shanghai Girls by Lisa See many months ago. (see my review) It's a wonderful book about sisters Pearl and May, and the lives they made for themselves in Los Angeles. The book ends shortly after the family suffers a tragedy. As a result, Pearl's daughter Joy learns some stunning family secrets that turn her world upside down. I wondered: what became of Pearl, May and Joy? Since they impacted me so strongly, I hoped they would be important enough to prevail upon Lisa See to write a sequel. To my amazement and delight Ms. See continues the story in Dreams of Joy, a riveting follow up you don't want to miss.

Dreams of Joy, aside from a few pages in the first chapter, takes place in The People's Republic of China, a fascinating country in flux at the time. It is 1957 and China is led by Chairman Mao Tse-tung, celebrated for, among other things, his assistance in repelling the invasion of the Japanese. Early in Shanghai Girls, Pearl and May, barely out of their teens, flee the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, eventually landing in California. The sisters hear reports from relatives still there of Chairman Mao's reign and the programs he institutes, including the introduction of communism. Pearl and May are well aware of the unfavorable impact of many of Mao's changes. Their family has been fervent in their criticisms, though no one explains in any detail to Joy what's so terrible. Lisa See does a terrific job throughout Dreams of Joy giving us insight into a traditional Chinese family.

Joy has just finished her freshman year of college at the University of Chicago where she joined the group Chinese Students Democratic Christian Association. They support Chairman Mao's changes, including land reform. Joy, like many of the people in China, believes in Mao and his plans. She has talked incessantly about traveling there to help build a country the Chinese can be proud of and criticized her family for what she saw as backward thinking. When the FBI, targeting Joy's family as part of their rounding up Chinese people who favor Communism and Chairman Mao, encourages neighbors to inform on each other, Joy's family suffers betrayal and a terrible tragedy.

Secrets woven into the family structure for generations are revealed and Joy's world is shattered. Sam, the man she always believed to be her father, is not her biological father. Joy learns some other truths which I won't reveal but they shake her to her core. Overnight, her life is altered considerably. Joy, confused, hurt and angry, feels she has nowhere to turn and no one to trust, including her aunt and mother. She makes the impetuous decision to go to China, alone, to search for her real father, as well as to help the country. Struggling under the burden of these intense, complex emotions, Joy flees Los Angeles and her family. She feels guilty but, at the same time, believes she will be welcomed in China as a worker and daughter. When Pearl realizes Joy has run away, her only thought is to bring her home.

Dreams of Joy is narrated by Joy and Pearl. Each tells her story, from their own perspective, in respective chapters. Here we have two women of different ages and personalities whom we can understand, most of the time. When we can't, Lisa See makes sure we're still able to relate to them. She gives us detailed accounts of their behavior, believable and understandable because they follow from the moral foundation she's given them. And at the core is the universal human condition they find themselves in. Because Lisa See created such well developed, genuine characters, she's able to provide, through them, a detailed and comprehensive picture of China during this time.

Returning to China is an overwhelming experience for Pearl. As she finds her way to her childhood home, Lisa See treats us to Pearl's vivid memories of the Shanghai she once knew and loved. She finds a very different city now. We experience first hand Pearl's discovery that the same boarders her family had to take in to pay her father's debts all those years ago, still live in her ancestral home! There's a lot of tension between the boarders. Everyone is supposed to work together in the house and, although everything is divided equally, there's a lot of bickering and nobody gets along.

Though her bedroom looks exactly the same: "It's just as May and I left it..."., little else in Shanghai is the same. Pearl is dismayed when told " must follow the rules of the home and the street, or I will report you to the higher-ups." by the man who used to be the family cook. Back then, Pearl was one of his favorites, now she barely recognizes him.

This is the least of Pearl's problems. She desperately wants to find Joy and make sure she's safe. Pearl is considered sinful and corrupt because she's from the West. Chinese people have been told people like Pearl cannot be trusted. She has to meet monthly with Superintendent Third Class Wu Bayou and answer all his questions honestly. Pearl's told she'll have to endure many "struggle sessions in an effort to cast off your bourgeois individualism". She has to attend "thought-reform" sessions like all Chinese. Pearl also wants to work because the right job will help her blend in and provide her anonymity. A job requires registering with the government but since they already know about her, working makes her look obedient. One of the boarders in her family home, Dun-ao, used to be Daniel and was once a student and now a professor suggests Pearl become a paper collector. This was an honored profession when Pearl was a young girl in Shanghai but now it's similar to being a garbage man. But it's a very beneficial job for Pearl. It allows her to blend in, gives her access all over the city, something to do and coupons for food.

As she gets herself settled in, Pearl begins to realize that, just as the Shanghai of old exists only in her memories, she, too, may be living too much in the past. Through Pearl, we are privy to the extensive changes happening in China as a result of Mao's leadership. Shanghai's became a bland, colorless, lifeless place. The buildings are stripped of their beauty and individuality down to their names, themselves bland and unremarkable. The clubs, bars and restaurants are all gone and with them the musicians, waiters, bartenders and prostitutes. Pearl cannot believe she misses the prostitutes but that's how bad it is in Shanghai. Things reach a nadir the day she realizes the "once-grand Western-style buildings" have hanging nets in order to catch anybody trying to commit suicide.

Shanghai serves as a metaphor for Pearl's life. She always feels frightened although her calm, quiet facade belies the varied emotions churning beneath the surface where she feels sadness, despair and now grief over Sam. It's as if the life's gone out of her. Pearl may be close to middle-aged but she still has much to learn about life in general and herself in particular. Understanding that her home, the place she belongs and wants to be now is America. Not China. This is only the beginning. The growth and change Pearl experiences and the truths she uncovers about herself and life as the novel progresses is one of the most enjoyable and interesting aspects of Dreams of Joy.

Joy's metamorphosis from a naive, young woman into an adult is the other wonderful part of LisaSee's sequel. Joy is stubborn, confused and guilty. She's also angry at Pearl and May for deceiving her and wants to get away from them. Believing she understands the situation in China better than her mother and aunt sets her on a dangerous path. As with many young arrogant people, Joy doesn't know nearly as much as she thinks she does and doesn't understands the reality of the situation in China. Even when she observes hypocrisy in the society she believes is built on fairness and equality, she simply rationalizes until she's satisfied with the story she tells herself. It's difficult, sad, disheartening and even, at times painful to read Joy's story. There are times we either know or sense what's going to happen before she does and wish we could save her from a harrowing experience. But, like so many others, Joy has to make her own mistakes before she realizes how much she needs to learn and listen to the people who love her.

Lisa See provides vivid images of China under the reign of Chairman Mao. We get a clear view of what Pearl and Joy see and their very different opinions about the situation in China. Unfortunately, Lisa See's description of the atmosphere in China under Mao and where things went so wrong is somewhat vague and confusing. At times, it's frightening and menacing for Pearl and Joy but, other times, they aren't bothered by anything more than harassment. It's as if the men enacting Mao's laws didn't always know what they were doing. For instance, when Pearl is told she has to meet with a superintendent in his office monthly and answer all his questions truthfully, she does so with trepidation. But as the months go by, Pearl realizes it's not what she says that matters, rather, it's how she answers and how she treats him that counts. She discovers she can obtain a pass to travel to the countryside or anything else she wants if she does and says what the official wants to hear. There's quite a bit of corruption of and manipulation by officials, particularly in the countryside, which is where Joy spends most of her time. But it's unclear and confusing where things went wrong and why people behaved as they did. Maybe they believed in Mao and the men enacting his plans that strongly, maybe they were afraid to think for themselves or maybe they were utterly confused because their lives had changed so much from what they once were. Whatever the reason, things became very grim and bleak in China.

I was hoping I would read about life in China from the perspective of Z.G. Li. He didn't leave Shanghai like Pearl and May twenty years ago, so he's always been there. Joy latches on to Z.G. shortly after arriving in China and Pearl searches for him, hoping she'll find him with Joy. Z.G. was an artist years ago and painted Pearl and May's portraits when they were girls. When Mao came to power, Z. G. did whatever he had to to become an artist under the communist regime, so he could have given us a clear and accurate understanding of the situation and atmosphere. As a top artist, he was close to Mao and could even influence him. Sadly, we aren't made privy to Z.G.'s perspective.

Apart from missing these elements which could have provided more clarity via a very different perspective, this book was everything I'd hoped it would be. Lisa See brings the story to a satisfying conclusion, providing a chance to travel to another place and time that I would otherwise never have the opportunity to do. If you are looking to broaden your horizons about the world, China's recent history and how it's shaped how we live today, this book is a must read. And all the while Lisa See, through Pearl, Joy and the rest, keeps their humanity and the overall human condition at the forefront, making it identifiable no matter where you are when you read it. Dreams of Joy is a book well worth reading.

See Darlene's Review of Dreams of Joy at her blog Peeking Between the Pages

Lisa See has a wonderful website, be sure to check it out!

Thank you to Random House for sending me an ARC copy of Dreams of Joy to read and review!

Literary Blog Hop Winners!!

The Literary Blog Hop was hosted by Leeswammes' Blog and was a terrific, fun event!

I am a little bit delayed posting the winners of the books I gave away but, after a few weeks away from the computer and blogging, I'm back ~ hopefully with no more absences (for a long while anyway!) I wanted to post the winners of the books I entered in the Literary Blog Hop before posting anything else!

Congratulations!! to:

kiss a cloud for winning March by Geraldine Brooks

Sam Still Reading for winning Felicia's Journey by William Trevor