Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Midwife

I've been a moody reader lately. It all started with something I read in Adam Roberts' The Amateur Gourmet. Roberts' had lunch with Ruth Reichl, and he worried out loud about what he 'should' wear, and what he 'should' order. Reichl set him straight. She told him (and I'm paraphrasing here) that it's his meal, his experience. He should wear what he wants and what he's comfortable in, and he should order what he wants to eat. Not what the restaurant's necessarily known for, not what will impress your date or Ruth Reichl, but what you want.

That got me thinking about what I want to read. Not necessarily what books people want me to review, or what the readers of this blog might be most interested in, or what looks impressive out in public. What I Want. And What I Want to read lately is this:

Food Memoirs.
Other books about food.
First person. (isn't that a strange one?)
Historical Fiction.
Women's stories.
Strong women.
Hard times.

That is what I've been in the mood for. Not mysteries, or books set in Asia. So, I guess what I'm saying is that these are the sorts of books I'll be reviewing here in the coming week or two. Because that's what I want to read. And you know what? I'm sure that will change.

Lesley wrote about The Midwife last month and as sometimes happens to me, I knew I needed to have that book right away. So I literally went and bought it the next day. And then it sat on the big stack and said 'read me. read me!' for a while, and then finally, because I am reading What I Want, I picked it up and I can tell you, it was perfect.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times is Jennifer Worth's memoir of her experience as a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950's. Times were different then when most women gave birth at home, and midwives were most involved in their pre and post natal care. Boy, does Worth have some amazing stories! Worth lived in London with a group of Nuns who were experienced midwives themselves - this provided some interesting stories without even delivering babies! Worth's patients were working class people, living in differing levels of poverty, some better off than others, and to think people still lived in homes with communal bathrooms and water that must be carried upstairs in the 1950s is really something.

The Midwife contains the stories of the woman who has given birth to 25 babies, the differing response to babies whose skin color does not match their parents, young mother's who seems unsuited to the job, and prostitutes who fell on hard times. The stories are sometimes difficult and heart-breaking, but are also life-affirming. Worth writes with just the right amount of compassion and mater-of-factness. Worth is at her best when she writes about the women whose lives she entered, though there are more personal essays as well.

If you're interesting in the subject, I couldn't recommend this more. I will tell you that it's quite graphic in terms of childbirth - all aspects of it. The good news is that Worth has written 2 follow up books to this; as yet unpublished in the US, so I'm thanking my lucky stars for The Book Depository.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Farmers' Market - June 28

The food wasn't the most interesting thing to come of this week's trip.

Though the food looks great! Not much different from last week. They are saying corn might be available next week - whee! And I am eagerly anticipating green beans. Would you believe I paid $2 for that lettuce?

So, the girl went with me to the market today. She remarked on and was curious about something that's fairly obvious at our market - the majority of the vegetable farmers are Hmong. So I asked her to wait until we got into the car where we discussed in a highly simplified manner:

* The Vietnam war and why the Hmong came to the US, particularly Minnesota.
* Why people have traditionally come to the US - freedom from oppression.

This led into:

* Freedom for women's rights and a book we read about "Elizabeth" who worked for women's right to vote and make laws.
* Another book she read about people coming to America on a boat and selling their jewelery so they could do so, and celebrating Thanksgiving when they arrived. (Not sure if this was all the same book.)

It was more than I bargained for, but was a really good chat. I think she 'got' it. And naturally I was impressed what she remembers from her reading. Good stuff.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Catch Up

So, Laurie Halse Anderson. An author I hadn't heard of until I began reading blogs and suddenly her name and books were popping up everywhere. I decided to check out her work and was most interested in her 2000 novel, Fever 1973, which was sitting on the shelf at the library just waiting for me. Fever 1793 is historical fiction, set during the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in, you guessed it, 1793. We experience the outbreak from the perspective of adolescent Matilda who helps her widowed mother run a coffee shop. By the end of the first chapter, the outbreak has already hit too close to home for this family.

From that point, things go from bad to worse. An attempt to escape from the city doesn't go as planned, and everything that could go wrong, does. Matilda shows gumption and compassion beyond her years. She is a fantastic heroine who finds strength within and despite adversity and is a great role model.

I enjoyed this book, it was fast paced, and full of twists and turns, perfect for the young adult audience this book is meant for. Did it feel like a young adult book? To me, yes. But the plot, excellent characterization and historical details made this a compelling read. I especially enjoyed the appendix at the end of the book where Anderson provides lots of fascinating historical information.

Any Laurie Halse Anderson fans out there? What is your favorite of her books?


The Blue Notebook was a difficult but important book to read. This novel comes from an unlikely author, Dr James Levine from the Mayo Clinic. According to the publisher, Dr Levine was doing research in India when he was inspired to write this story of a child prostitute. Not only is Levine publicizing the plight of these disadvantaged children, he's also donating US proceeds from the novel to charity.

The Blue Notebook is the Story of Batuk. Sold into slavery by her father at 9 years of age, she is now living on the Common Street, a street of prostitution, in what sounds like some sort of cage where she services men. She owns a blue notebook and a small pencil with which she tells her story. Hardened yet still childlike, Batuk at age 15 tells her story, past and present. We see how these children are exploited and how it seems there is no place else for them. Which is often times sadly the case, it seems.

About midway through, the novel takes a dramatic turn and it quickly becomes apparent to Batuk that she was better off on the streets than where she has been brought. The ending is rather shocking and if anyone cares to discuss it please comment or email me. Sometimes things that may seem obvious to others need to be spelled out to me so I want to be certain I understood what happened.

I was terribly impressed by the voice Levine gave to Batuk. It felt authentic to me in terms of the age of the character, as well as her Indian origins. This is the sort of book you cannot really say you 'enjoyed' for who enjoys a story about human suffering? But at the same time, Levine is doing what he can to make others aware of this all-too-real situation and I thank him for that. Since Dr Levine is from Minnesota it is my hope that he will make an appearance nearby and perhaps I will get to hear him speak.

The Blue Notebook will be published in July by Random House. Many thanks to them for this review copy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Beach Trip - Author Interview

Beach Trip by Cathy Holton is the story of four women who might never have been friends. Fate brought them together as roommates in college and now in their 40s, they come together again for a reunion at the beach. Lola, who organizes the trip, is the most enigmatic of the four women. She is unhappily married, seems drugged much of the time and exhibits childlike behavior. Mel is the strong one, an author, she lives the single life in the city and says what she thinks. Annie struggles with secrets in her past, and keeps her life orderly in contrast to the inner turmoil she feels. Sara is happily married, mother of two children, one of them who struggles. She was the most relatable character I felt, but she struggles with her past as well.

This is pure women's fiction. It's the sort of book that deals with heavy subjects and secrets with a light hand; there is sadness and regret but also humor and hangovers. The narrative goes back and forth in time as the reader gets to know the women in the present, and how their pasts shaped their lives.

This was a really good read for me. I enjoyed the writing style and the subject matter and whenever I saw the book on my nightstand, I looked forward to getting back to it, always a good sign. There was a plot twist that I picked up on right away - Holton waited until towards the end to confirm my feeling. I thought that would be the only plot twist but boy was I wrong! The ending contains a huge twist that I thought was well done and believable - it made the book for me.

Cathy Holton was kinds enough to answer a few questions from me. Her answers are fun and witty, and her next book sounds fantastic. Check it out:

What inspired you to create the four women Beach Trip centers around?

A friend of mine told me about a trip she was getting ready to take with some college friends; just six women alone in the Bahamas aboard a yacht with a Captain and crew (one of the women had married well). I said it sounded like fun and she said it was, just lots of drinking and lying in the sun and reminiscing. But then she qualified that by saying that the trip usually got kind of tense toward the end because there was something between two of the women, something that had happened in college and never been resolved and only surfaced at the end of the week when the sun and the close quarters and the martinis got to be too much. That got me interested.

Did you already have the idea for the ending in your mind when you started writing? (I wasn't expecting what happened at all - which I love.)

I knew something dramatic would happen and I knew it would involve Lola, but I wasn’t sure until the middle of the novel what it would be.

Would you talk a bit about your physical writing process? Where, when, on a computer or by hand, is it quiet or noisy, is there food involved?

There’s always food involved. And caffeine. Although I try to keep the food to a minimum; usually just a little something sweet around mid-afternoon when my brain begins to fog and I need that carb rush. When I’m working I try to stick to a structured routine; up at 8:00 and in front of my computer by 9:00. By noon I break for lunch, take the dog for a walk in the woods, and then get back to work by 1:00 or 1:30. I break for the day around 4:00. I try to average ten double-spaced pages a day. I write in a corner of my bedroom, near a pair of long windows, in front of a fireplace and a wall of bookshelves. It’s very cozy and very quiet.

Who are your favorite authors - for inspiration or just reading pleasure? What's on your nightstand right now?

I read constantly; I’m an eclectic reader. My list of favorite writers is long and changes daily but I always come back to Flannery O’Connor, George Singleton, Lewis Nordan, Alice Hoffman, Peter Carey, Hilary Mantel, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwan, and Doris Lessing.

I love to read short stories, especially those written by John Cheever, Shelby Foote, Ellen Gilchrist and Isabelle Allende.

On my nightstand right now is Alice Munro’s “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You,” and Brock Clarke’s “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.”

Besides books, I also write about cooking on my blog. I loved the fact that in Beach Trip you wrote about what the women were eating and drinking. Does that mean you enjoy cooking? What would you serve your girlfriends if they were coming over - feel free to include a cocktail!

Eating, yes. Drinking, yes. Cooking, not so much. I’m lucky though. My husband has a degree in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management and, get this – he likes to cook. (Which helps explain why I’ve kept him around for thirty years.)

If my girlfriends were coming for dinner, I’d have him wear his apron that reads, Kitchen Bitch, and then serve something like Goat Cheese Salad on Field Greens with Toasted Pecans, Pan-Seared Tuna with White Bean Puree and Asparagus in a Crawfish Bernaise, followed by Strawberry Creme Brulee. And, of course, that delectable creation, the Mother of All Martinis – The Breathless.

(I hope he never reads this. If he does, it’s Beans & Weanies for me for a month.)

Finally, what are you working on now in terms of your writing?

I’m working on a novel tentatively called “Old Money”, about a Chicago girl, Ava Dabrowski, who marries into an aristocratic Southern family. While working on her first novel, a legal thriller, she agrees to spend a summer in her new husband, Will’s, hometown of Woodburn, Tennessee. Ensconced in the family’s crumbling mansion with Will and his two great aunts, Fanny and Josephine, Ava finds herself a stranger in a strange land, caught up in the dramas and intrigues of the characters inhabiting this small Southern town. Gradually drawn into tales of the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Fanny’s first husband, Ava stumbles upon a decades old family secret, a discovery that causes an increasing rift in her marriage as she puts aside her legal thriller and begins instead to write about the enigmatic Woodburn family.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read Beach Trip and contact Cathy Holton!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Whew! It's hot out there! A week ago we didn't need air conditioning, now it's in the 90s. Crazy.

My book club met last night to discuss The Gravedigger's Daughter by JCO. The response was not surprising. Two members didn't get much past 100 pages and no one that finished it was very impressed. Or impressed at all, really. We have mutually agreed to NOT read JCO again. Relief.

So, here are a few books that I've finished lately...

Spiced is Dalia Jurgensen's memoir of her life as a pastry chef. While I read a fair amount about food, I haven't read much in the chef-memoir vein, so this was new ground for me. Dissatisfied with working in an office, Jurgensen took a chance and went to cooking school and scored a great first-time-in-the-kitchen gig at Nobu in NYC. I loved reading about what fine restaurants are really like behind the scenes. It's pretty scathing back there - the saying 'if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen' proves true in the restaurant setting. It sounded crazy stressful having to deal with the hierarchy in the kitchen, the blatant sexism, the filthy bathrooms, and the long hours on your feet. Spiced also made me more aware of the business that goes on in terms of restaurant openings and closings and why chefs move around as much as they sometimes seem to. I enjoyed Spiced most when Jurgensen was writing about the actual food, the desserts that she prepared and how she came up with a menu for a particular restaurant. I was less interested in Jurgensen's personal/intimate life, and by the last chapters I had had enough stories of sexist men in the kitchen to last me a lifetime. Despite this, I would definitely recommend this book; Jurgensen has a chatty and personal writing style that really grabbed me and of course I loved the topic. One thing I realized is that as much as I enjoy cooking, cooking at a restaurant would not have been for me. Stressful, yes, but I enjoy trying new recipes and techniques, not preparing the same dishes all the time. Many thanks to Putnam for this review copy.

I was going to write about Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever 1793, but it's getting late and I'll leave it for another day...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Farmers' Market - June 21

Today the girl and I bought:

lettuces, snow peas, sugar snap peas, fresh onions, red new potatoes, strawberries, grass fed beef, and garlic. Garlic! This is amazing garlic. It has separated into cloves but hasn't dried and become papery on the outside yet. Oh! And flowers for Daddy. And honey sticks for everyone. Also available was broccoli, beets, bok choy, lots of greens and someone had hot-house tomatoes. It's getting good!

Happy Father's Day!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Some Comfort Reading

Adele Geras' books have become another form of comfort reading for me. Thick, long stories spanning many years, somewhat melodramatic, with romance and hidden secrets. Yep, that's what I like in a comfort read.

Hester's Story is the third of Geras' books that I have read. The story goes back and forth from Hester's youth to her life as a middle aged woman. Hester had an unhappy childhood, losing her mother at a young age and then being shuttled off to live with relatives in England. She never felt that she fit in anywhere until Madame Olga came to town and Hester discovered a passion for ballet. Hester is gifted and spends time in London becoming a prima ballerina until an affair with the wrong man changes the course of her life.

As a middle aged woman, Hester lives in an estate called Wychwood and supervises a special ballet performance that occurs there annually. As the story opens, the dancers and choreographers descend on Wychwood and of course they all have their own personal issues and dramas going on. Ultimately, Hester's past and present come together in a way that she never expected.

This was a good read for me. There is an awful lot of talk about ballet in this novel, so if you have absolutely no interest at all in ballet, I wouldn't recommend this. I did find the ending a little disappointing. I had a feeling about what was going to happen (and I was mostly right) but I was expecting more emotions from the characters when all was revealed. Instead, things wrapped up a little bit too quickly and neatly for me.

All in all though, I enjoyed this and would recommend it. I still think I liked Geras' first adult novel, Facing the Light best, and I also enjoyed Made in Heaven.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's a good day for chocolate cake....

Because today is My Birthday!

I woke up to a homemade card that reads: I love you so,so,so,so,so,so,so,so,so,so MUCH! Fabulous.

I received some new earring to replace the ones that were stolen in November (house was broken into). Nothing fancy, just costume jewelery.

I am going out to dinner and then I am going to eat Chocolate Mousse Cake from Buttercream Bakery. They make wedding cakes and use all natural ingredients. Yum!

I am going to treat myself to some new Persephone books thanks to their 3 for 2 anniversary offer; it seems we share a birthday.

Finally, it seems like a good time to share some books that have creeped into my house lately.

Here we have some books I ordered from The Book Depository when they were having a sale.

Persephone's Miss Buncle's Book. The Cranks Bible which is a vegetarian cookbook with a Middle Eastern twist. Singled Out which I've had my eye on for ages. The Blackest Streets - subtitle is The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum - just my thing, and another Barbara Ewing novel - loved The Trespass a few years back.

Here are new advance copies that have arrived.

This Lovely Life: a memoir of premature motherhood - I've skimmed this one a bit - it looks heartbreaking, devastating, and wonderfully written.

Sarah Dunant's new book Sacred Hearts about a 16 year old sent to a convent against her will in the 16th century.

Gifts of War - a love story set against the backdrop of WW2.

Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine and the End of France - food, wine, France? Sounds good to me.

Here are the books I've purchased, new and used.

The Moonflower Vine - 'A timeless American classic rediscovered, An unforgettable saga of a heartland family' This was a bestseller in the 1960s.

Ruth Rendell. Of course.

Laurie Colwins's cooking memoirs - I got tired of seeing these all over the place and not having read them. I'm on a bit of a food memoir binge, anyway.

The Silent Raga - the story of two sisters in India - the cover is gorgeous - I couldn't resist.

American Cookery - A family saga complete with recipes. I kept picking this up and putting it back until finally I found a used copy and brought it home. Has anyone read this or anything by author Laura Kalpakian?

Finally, here are some books that I've won or mooched, or scored from paperbackswap.

Highlights here include What the Butler Saw:Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem and Barbara Vine's latest, The Birthday Present which is of course worth mentioning today.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Joyce Carol Oates - An Acquired Taste?

Thanks so much for all your kinds words, thoughts, and vibes last week. I had a totally blissed out time with the girl last week. Camp started this morning. My stomach was churning and she was fine until we arrived. That small hand clutched mine and whispered 'I want to stay with you mama.' But. Soon her best friend arrived and all was well, kiss and out the door. Can't wait to hear all about it.

My introduction to Joyce Carol Oates was her novel We Were the Mulvaneys which I read with my book club in 2002. I didn't keep records then so I cannot remember my specific response to the book but I remember that while it was readable we all felt awfully lukewarm about it. It's somewhat surprising then that we chose to read The Gravedigger's Daughter this year. I think we were all drawn in by the description of the book.

The Jewish Schwart family has immigrated to the US from Nazi Germany. Typically, these sorts of characters would be written in a sympathetic light, but not by JCO. Father Jacob is authoritarian and crazy. The only job he's been able to procure is that of the town gravedigger. Ma is passive, doesn't speak English or frankly much of anything. Youngest daughter Rachel is smart and inquisitive, but thwarted by poverty and her family situation.

Jacob commits a crime that leaves Rebecca on her own. Without any positive male role models in her life Rebecca naturally becomes involved with the Wrong sort of man and bears him a child. A series of circumstances lead Rebecca to relocate and change the names of her son and herself. Suddenly the girl who had been dumpy is beautiful and desirable to men. They want to get to know her better while she wishes to keep them at arm's length. Some more things happen to Rebecca, none of them good. There is a somewhat funny and strange series of letters at the end of the book. And then it just ends.

If you couldn't tell already I wasn't crazy about this book, and sadly it was quite long at nearly 600 pages of small print. JCO has a unique narrative style. As a reader I felt quite distant from all the characters. There seemed to be an excessive amount of exclamation points. Exclamation points! Like that! The story is just entirely depressing, crass at times, horrific in others, and towards the end I just didn't care to be introduced to new characters that frankly didn't seem to add much to the story. I'm glad I read it since it sounded good to me, but I don't think I'll be returning to this author.

So, I'm curious to know if there are any JCO fans out there. I'm wondering if she's sort of like Margaret Atwood - you have to sort of 'get' her to enjoy her books. It'll be interesting to see what my bookclub thinks. Or if they even finish it.

I wanted to mention our last meeting when we 'discussed' Emma. It was a disappointing meeting in terms of the bookishness. Only 3 out of 7 members finished the book. There were so many negative comments! It was hard to follow, too many characters, couldn't get into the language, on and on. I was actually pretty surprised at the reaction. I guess we won't be dipping into Austen again as a group.

I guess it sounds like I've been reading a lot of books which I did not enjoy - but I've actually read a few good ones too! I'll share those soon.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sigh of Relief

what I haven't been doing:

* worrying about next week
* spending more than 1/2 hour per day on the computer
* blogging

(photo taken last summer)

what I have been doing:

* enjoying the girl being home with me, just us
* wondering at when she became such a young lady
* and so tall
* letting her lead me on a 2 hour walk
* eating ice cream in the middle of the afternoon
* going to the playground
* trips to target where I get talked into stuff I never buy
* feeling sad that she's starting daycamp next week
* reading lots
* loving her

see you next week

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Out of Sorts

I'm feeling all out of sorts today. It's been a strange stretch of days here. Late last week when I was taking both members of my family to the doctor I was feeling all smug and healthy when suddenly my stomach started hurting. Ugh! So most of my weekend was spent in pain in the hopes that it wouldn't move to my right side (appendix) - it didn't. Whew. What else? It's freezing here! I actually broke down and turned on the heat last night after pulling out my down comforter and fuzzy socks on Friday night. Brrr! And today is the Last Day of First Grade. I can't believe it! I get stressed during change and next week my girl is starting a new camp with new people And I'm not sure how it's going to go And I work weird hours so our schedule is kind of wacky And I'm trying not to be annoying, I really do not want to be annoying but I want to make sure everything goes well next week And that the people don't think we're crazy because of our crazy schedule. Whew. Not to mention, that the place where the camp is is a place where we might want the girl to go to school someday so I want to make a good impression. Yep, I'm stressed.

So, should we talk about books now? Okay.

Well, after I finished Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life, I naturally did a little google searching looking for interviews and such. I came across the blog of Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet and realized he had a book. Something about him sparked my interest as well as the fact that there was apparently a chapter in his book in which he dines with foodie extraordinaire Ruch Reichl, so I picked up his book, aptly named The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop and Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost) at the library.

Roberts comes from a family where reservations are made instead of dinner and he did not begin cooking for himself until adulthood, though he's quite able now. Besides the dinner with Reichl (which I loved), highlights of the book include how to shop at the grocery store or farmers' market and a trip to a famous knife sharpener. This is a good book for beginning cooks - Roberts aims to take the fear out of cooking, or for cooks like myself who are interested in the inner food world. The book is a short quick read (less than two hours, I'd say), and Roberts has a fun and easygoing voice. I recommend it - especially if you get it from your library.


I won Shoot the Moon by Billie Letts - I think it was practically impossible not to win a copy there were so many giveaways a while back. I was looking forward to this book since I'd heard good things about the author (Oprah-approved) and the premise sounded interesting.

In 1972, windswept DeClare, Oklahoma, was consumed by the murder of a young mother, Gaylene Harjo, and the disappearance of her baby, Nicky Jack. When the child's pajama bottoms were discovered on the banks of Willow Creek, everyone feared that he, too, had been killed, although his body was never found.

Nearly thirty years later, Nicky Jack mysteriously returns to DeClare, shocking the town and stirring up long-buried memories. But what he discovers about the night he vanished is more astonishing than he or anyone could have imagine. Piece by piece, what emerges is a story of dashed hopes, desperate love, and a secret that still cries out for justice...and redemption.

See, sounds good, right? To be honest, I don't have much to say about this, that is good anyway. I found the writing style very simplistic, thought the overabundance of characters with odd names were underdeveloped, and the romance was implausible. The word that keeps coming to my mind is pedestrian. Read something else.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

An Incomplete Revenge

I won the fifth book in the Maisie Dobbs series, An Incomplete Revenge, from Iliana, ages ago and I've just finally read it. The only reason I put it off is because I wanted to save it for just the moment and I finally found the right one.

I really, really liked this episode in the story of Maisie, in fact, I think this might be my second favorite after the original, Maisie Dobbs. It feels like going back to the basics in many ways. The romantic story lines from the recent books are completely absent here and Maisie is forced to come to terms with issues in her past that go back to the first back. We as readers also get to know Maisie better through this tale, making this a really great read.

So what is it about? Well, Billy Beale is off on vacation, a rather sad vacation actually, that involves traveling with the family out to the countryside to live in huts and pick hops. I suppose this was the only way the working class could afford a little time outside the city. Maisie has been hired by an old friend to seek out information about some property he wants to purchase and learn about some oddities in the town where it is situated. Naturally this town happens to be located just where Billy is. Gypsies have come to pick hops as well; the townspeople are suspicious of them while Maisie gains their trust and we learn about their unique ways. As is often the case, the secrets this town protects go back to the War and Maisie finds herself investigating suspicious yearly fires, crimes of theft, and a deadly Zeppelin raid that killed an entire family. It is truly a tale of tragedy, but as always, Maisie wraps up the case nicely and all secrets are revealed.

Naturally, I recommend this book and the entire series. I can hardly keep my hands off the sixth book, but I am going to make myself wait. It will be interesting to see if Winspear brings the element of romance back (do you think people didn't like it?) as well as the fate of Billy. It seems eventually he will move on - it won't be easy to find someone to take his place as Maisie's right hand man.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shanghai Girls

I was a huge fan of Lisa See's novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to get an advance copy of her latest release, Shanghai Girls!

Pearl and May are sisters living what they considered to be a fabulous life in Shanghai in the 1930s. Beautiful and without worries, they partied, slept late, and generally enjoyed life. A financial situation their father is embroiled in changes everything. The sisters are married off to men living in Los Angeles but before reaching America find themselves on the run from the Japanese who have invaded Shanghai. Their lives in America are not what they were led to believe, and the sisters bring to their new home a secret that must not be revealed. Time passes, the sisters adjust to their new life, but as always seems to happen, fate intervenes again and changes everything.

If you're looking for an uplifting book - this isn't it! That's not to say I didn't enjoy it since I tend to like depressing books, but really, there is not much good that happens to these sisters. And even when things aren't going terribly bad, there is still a sense of melancholy that surrounds these women. It was interesting to learn about the point of view of Chinese immigrants and the particular challenges they faced coming to America. I tend to read more of the Jewish/European immigrant story so this was educational for me.

I couldn't help but compare Shanghai Girls to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. In that respect, Shanghai Girls just didn't resonate with me in the same way the previous book did but I still found it to be a satisfying read. The ending of this book is rather unexpected and open ended. Things were really left hanging; on the plus side we may have another book about these characters, on the other hand, I think some readers will be put off by such a cliffhanger of an ending.


In other news, the girl has her first piano recital this evening. How cute is that! She will be playing piece called Pillow Fight which her teacher thought suited her personality - and she is right!