Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #43: LibraryLove October 24, 2010

Strangers At The Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes

Book description~  On Thanksgiving Day 2007, as the country teeters on the brink of a recession, three generations of the Olson family gather. Eleanor and Gavin worry about their daughter, a single academic, and her newly adopted Indian child, and about their son, who has been caught in the imploding real-estate bubble. While the Olsons navigate the tensions and secrets that mark their relationships, seventeen-year-old Kijo Jackson and his best friend Spider set out from the nearby housing projects on a mysterious job. A series of tragic events bring these two worlds ever closer, exposing the dangerously thin line between suburban privilege and urban poverty, and culminating in a crime that will change everyone’s life.

I must first thank Alexis Gargagliano and Wendy Sheanin at Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of Strangers at the Feast to read and review. From the moment I read the inside book jacket, I couldn’t wait to read this novel, as the autumn weather rolls in and the season of giving thanks draws near.

Race, class, and family are three of the big ideas at the heart of Strangers as the Olson family members observe and learn things about each other around the Thanksgiving Day table they would never have expected….

Through the use of multiple narrators, Strangers is told in what is becoming the most popular writing-style.  The story unfolds on Thanksgiving Day in 2007, through each of the Olson family member’s eyes, both in past and present. We are led inside the hearts and minds of both Eleanor and Gavin’s characters, as the Matriarch and Patriarch of the family, but also inside their children’s and spouses hearts and minds. Instead of the typical construction of a novel,  where the rising action develops in a ‘steady-little-tug-boat’ type way, in Strangers, as the reader, we are strung along until the very last possible moment and then foiled completely and utterly.   I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and could never have predicted the way the story would unfold.  Normally, I would criticize this; instead, Vanderbes does the artful job of burying little ‘Easter Eggs’ for the reader to discover, piquing curiosity enough to keep turning the page along the way.

“At worst, he thought Ginny would overcook the turkey. He’d been prepared, out of sibling loyalty, to drench slices of Ginny’s holiday char in his mother’s gravy and give a heartfelt yum.  But he’d counted on stuffing, vegetables, dessert. Was this her plan? Deprive them of football and food and teach them some kind of history lesson? See! This is what Thanksgiving was like for indentured servants in seventeenth- century Virginia!”

If one hadn’t read the book jacket to know there was a catastrophic twist coming, you’d simply read this book thinking this was a nice multigenerational story, written with excellent characterization, about enjoying Thanksgiving and learning about each other’s struggles, many of which are buried quietly and deep under the surface…until you read the bombshell on page 149 ending the chapter with this:

“Denise opened the door, through it would be hard later for Ginny to remember if Denise used her keys. Everyone was talking and carrying things. It would be difficult to say with certainty if the door had been locked.”

Chills ran up and down my spine. I wondered what on earth would happen next. Yet it took another 100+ pages to finally work us up to the peak of the rising action, which was indeed worth the wait!

“As the detective expected, the case got the entire city talking. Diana Velasquez was the reporter who finally realized that five white adults plus two dead, unarmed black kids equaled one major story. Having worked at the paper for a decade, she knew to double-check the police blotter every night in the hopes that the cub reporters missed something. She knew that a shooting in the North End would sell papers. When word got out about the stone knife in Kijo Jackson’s pockets, a Siwanoy Indain relic, Diana dubbed the incident the Thanksgiving Day Massacre. “

Tragedy strikes the Olson Family at a most unlikely time- their Thanksgiving meal, as a result of a previous business decision that rocks the family, neighborhood, and city for years to come.

Intrigued? Pick up Strangers at the Feast; you won’t want to put it down.

This Thanksgiving, what will you be thankful for?

4/5 stars

43 down, 9 left!!!!!!!! In the homestretch. Zzzz

In progress- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (audiobook) and Burnt Toast




Book #25 LibraryLove May 10, 2010

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Book description~ On the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter’s life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son.  Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband, Krishnan, see a photo of the baby with the gold-flecked eyes from a Mumbai orphanage, they are overwhelmed with emotion. Somer knows life will change with the adoption but is convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles. Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and the child that binds both of their destinies, “Secret Daughter” poignantly explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love, as witnessed through the lives of two families – one Indian, one American – and the child that indelibly connects them.

Gowda’s debut novel, Secret Daughter, follows both The Merchants, Indian family in Bombay and The Thakkars, a blended Indian-American family in California, spanning 25 years of global struggle. Both families’ struggles are so different yet as I read on, became so intertwined they paralleled one another. The shear THOUGHT of Kavita Merchant having to give up her daughter, Usha, because the poverty-stricken India in the 80s favored sons, made me sick to my stomach yet intrigued me at the same time. The bond a woman shares with her unborn child she nurtures in her body for almost an entire year is an intense one unlike anything else. I can’t imagine what Kavita went through. Then, Kavita struggled through the ‘unspeakable’ with her first baby girl, before Usha, and a tough first trimester with her third pregnancy waiting to find out the gender ultimately learning she was carrying a boy she could keep. We also follow Somer Thakkar, an American doctor who is married to an Indian man. They try and try but cannot have children. They decide to adopt and, as you can guess, end up adopting Kavita’s daughter, Usha, unbeknownst to Kavita.  The older Usha gets, the more and more she seeks answers and acceptance. Usha never quite felt bonded to Somer- she longed to know about her biological family and never felt like Somer embraced the Indian side of their culture. Usha found it easier to assimilate with her Indian classmates because they taught her more about her own culture than her parents did. It made her seek out an opportunity to go overseas even more as she grew up and matured. The turning point in the book happened when Usha earns a journalism fellowship in India for an academic year. Usha is excited for the possibility of finding her birth parents but finds much more along the way. Somer realizes the err of her ways and hopes to patch things up with Usha before it’s too late… I won’t give away the details of what happens next so you’ll have to pick up this book and find out.  Gowda does such a great job artfully developing the rising action, wrapping things up with a fantastic ending.

Secret Daughter is a thought-provoking and emotional read spanning decades, cultural identity, redemption, and women’s roles. Having read this book the week of Mother’s Day, I felt for Somer who so desperately wanted a connection with Asha, but it just wasn’t time yet. It made me think about how tough the “teenage years” were on our parents, how tough it was for them to see us growing up and changing before their eyes while struggling for independence and acceptance to make a life for ourselves as young adults, and how tough it was for us to carve our own place in this world. This book made me appreciate my mom and the new friendship we’ve cultivated over my adult years.

I enjoyed learning about the Indian culture and family ideologies. It makes me realize how much the American culture lacks.  My one criticism and a big roadblock that prevented me from truly committing to the characters and plotline– Gowda overused Gujarati words, terms and slang phrases without defining them in English. I could only interrupt my reading so many times to grab my phone and google the foreign words before it became too laborious and disruptive. I felt like an outsider at times, whereas the reader should be let into the curious worlds of each character as their story is told. I often feel a bit removed when I read books written in third person narrative but hoped for more out of this book. Only when I finished the book did I come across the Gujarati glossary of terms on the last page…ok, seriously? I’m not rereading this book! I felt like Gowda could have annotated the first page, or given us a forward to share the glossary’s location. What good is the glossary at the end when I don’t know it’s there?! I bet if Gowda had bloggers to read this book before it went to print, she would have gotten similar feedback to either put the glossary first or at least let us know it exists! All in all, I definitely recommend you read this book, and when you do, please be aware of the glossary BEFORE you begin your reading so you’re not in dark like I was 🙂 I finished this book feeling satisfied with a contented grin.

4.5/5 stars

25 down, 27 to go!

In progress, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt




Book #16: LibraryLove March 15, 2010

Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein

Waiting for Daisy is about loss, love, anger and redemption. It’s about doing all the things you swore you’d never do to get something you hadn’t even been sure you wanted. It’s about being a woman in a confusing, contradictory time. It’s about testing the limits of a loving marriage. And it’s about trying (and trying and trying) to have a baby. Orenstein’s story begins when she tells her new husband that she’s not sure she ever wants to be a mother; it ends six years later after she’s done almost everything humanly possible to achieve that goal, from “fertility sex” to escalating infertility treatments to New Age remedies to forays into international adoption. Her saga unfolds just as professional women are warned by the media to heed the ticking of their biological clocks, and just as fertility clinics have become a boom industry, with over two million women a year seeking them out. Buffeted by one jaw-dropping obstacle after another, Orenstein seeks answers both medical and spiritual in America and Asia, along the way visiting an old flame who’s now the father of fifteen, and discovering in Japan a ritual of surprising solace. All the while she tries to hold onto a marriage threatened by cycles, appointments, procedures and disappointments. Waiting for Daisy is an honest, wryly funny report from the front, an intimate page-turner that illuminates the ambivalence, obsession, and sacrifice that characterize so many modern women’s lives.

What does it mean to be a mother? To what lengths would you go to be one? Would you sacrifice your health? Life? Marriage? Your own sense of self? And more interestingly, what are the impacts on your husband through the process of being treated for infertility? My husband and I plan to have children some day. But a couple’s personal time line is so not public information. And conversely, I wish more people would be sensitive towards couples that decide they DON’T want to raise children, whether they biologically can or not. It’s so frustrating to see and hear how ostracized a couple can be if they decide children are not part of their plans. But what if children WERE part of your plans but you waited beyond the point of healthy conception?

My knowledge and understanding of fertility/infertility are so minute. So, in my typical fashion, what better time to expand my personal horizons than during this, The Year of The Bookwormz? This year’s reading challenge is a personal goal to learn more about topics I don’t know about, through books. I also had some extra time to read as I traveled to visit my family out-of-town over the weekend. My sister’s cat especially enjoyed “helping” me read. 🙂

I also appreciated the intellectual conversation on this topic with my sister and brother-in-law, both medical doctors, who had interesting insights from a medical and scientific perspective. The topic intrigued me after reading Baby Proof by Emily Giffin over the summer (who by the way I cannot WAIT to meet during her 2010 book tour)!

Baby Proof‘s premise challenges the idea of a married couple deciding not to have children.  It begs an interesting question, are children all a woman wants?? And discusses whether some couples have kids because they genuinely want to invest in raising children, or because they feel pressure from mothers, grandmothers, and female friends because it’s just “what you do after you get married”.  I couldn’t wait to learn about the topic by reading Waiting for Daisy and was amazed at just how far one woman would go for a baby.

In Waiting For Daisy, Peggy so candidly, shares her six-year struggle toward motherhood. Peggy and her supportive husband Steven, try every medical possibility to conceive a child.   As a woman over 35, she experiences major difficulty every step of the way. Despite her struggles, I loved this book and felt like I was watching Peggy and Steven’s life as a fly on the wall, traveling between two continents. Peggy, a well-known journalist so  forthcoming with her heart wrenching experiences, had me in awe. I cannot image wanting a baby so badly that I’d have gone to the great lengths Peggy goes through. She puts her health, well-being, mental stability, financial stability, marriage, and career on the line.

I have some very strong opinions on the topic of fertility treatments. As this is a public forum, won’t do it here, because those feelings and views belong to my husband and I in privacy. What saddened me the most in reading this book, was how unregulated the cash cow fertility industry is!! I was horrified to read how things went from bad to worse for Peggy and Steven. Below is a brief excerpt from Peggy’s book that I felt extremely apropos:

“I felt like the high roller whose new friends disappeared when his stake was gone. The caring brochures, the chummy smiles, the warm affect of the clinic “team” seemed abruptly stripped away, revealing nothing more than a cold-blooded business. We had wanted so desperately to believe that we had ignored the sales pitch in the compassion, the coercion in the photographs of babies and sunflowers. But I finally got it- these guys may have been doctors, but they were also salesmen. I may have been a patient, but I was also a consumer. I was undergoing a procedure, but I was also making a deal- and they were making a buck”. ~ Peggy Orenstein

I give Peggy so much credit for writing this book. What a strong woman for enduring those most difficult 6 years and basically throwing away the second half of her 30s. I don’t want to give away too much, but this book will be a testament to Peggy’s strength. This book will be a truly amazing gift for Daisy to look back and reflect upon, as her earliest scrapbook.

Such a thought-provoking topic. I wish more people took the time to learn about the political, societal, and social impacts of the fertility industry, even if it doesn’t apply to them!

~5/5 stars~

16 down, 36 to go!

In progress: The Opposite of Me and Testimony (Audiobook)




Book #12: LibraryLove February 24, 2010

Forever Lily:  An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China by Beth Nonte Russell

Book description~

When Beth Nonte Russell travels to China to help her friend Alex adopt a baby girl from an orphanage there, she thinks it will be an adventure, a chance to see the world. But her friend, who had prepared for the adoption for many months, panics soon after being presented with the frail baby, and the situation develops into one of the greatest challenges of Russell’s life. Russell, watching in disbelief as Alex distances herself from the child, cares for the baby — clothing, bathing, and feeding her — and makes her feel secure in the unfamiliar surroundings. Russell is overwhelmed and disoriented by the unfolding drama and all that she sees in China, and yet amid the emotional turmoil finds herself deeply bonding with the child. She begins to have dreams of an ancient past — dreams of a young woman who is plucked from the countryside and chosen to be empress, and of the child who is ultimately taken from her. As it becomes clear that her friend — whose indecisiveness about the adoption has become a torment — won’t be bringing the baby home, Russell is amazed to realize that she cannot leave the baby behind and that her dreams have been telling her something significant, giving her the courage to open her heart and bring the child home against all odds.

“Will you take her?” is not a question you’d expect to hear your best friend ask, who you’ve accompanied to China, to help her adopt a baby…

That’s the basic storyline here. Alex realizes once she gets to China, and actually comes face to face with her brand new adoptive baby that it’s too much for her to manage. The book then vaguely discusses the legalities of their options. About 1/3 of this book was enjoyable. Another 1/3 was filler dream sequences, and the other 1/3 was flashback scenes.

The lack of continuity in this book fell flat for me pretty early on. Maybe because I’m soaking books up this year like a sponge, I had high hopes and expect a book to grip me immediately. There are SO many amazing books on my ‘to be read’ (TBR) list, I don’t want to spend time reading mediocre books. Sure, I was roped back in when the twist showed up, but it was short lived. I wanted to like it. I really did.  I am so intrigued by the international adoption process and was hoping to learn more about a topic I previously knew nothing about. I love challenging myself to learn about foreign topics.  Reading is a great way to do this. But alas, I’m still on the hunt. Unfortunately, when page 2 began a string of hokey dream sequences that reared their ugly head what seemed like every other page, all momentum was lost.  Any hope of rising action was lost. I don’t recommend this book and I feel bad for saying that.  I expected to learn more about the impetus behind the couple deciding to actually adopt, and the mechanics of the adoption process because it would have given the reader a better insight as to just how in the world Alex could have changed her mind at the drop of a hat.

Have you read a great book on international adoption? If so, please drop me a comment below, I’d love to give this topic a second chance!

2/5 stars

12 down, 40 to go!

In progress: Memoirs of a Geisha (audiobook),  The Girl’s Guide to Being the Boss Without Being a Bitch