Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

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

Xoxo,
LibraryLove

 

Book #6: Fabookulous February 22, 2010

Praying God’s Word by Beth Moore

Book description: How do we practice II Corinthians 10:3-5, “tearing down strongholds by captivating our minds with the knowledge of God”? Beth Moore shows you how in Praying God’s Word.

A topical prayer guide addressing fourteen common strongholds and what Scripture reveals about each of them, Praying God’s Word presents Scriptures in prayer form to be incorporated into your daily prayer life.

God’s Word, through prayer, helps you overcome bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness, setting you free from each and every stronghold which claims your life, and replacing it with the mind of Christ.

As a huge Beth Moore fan, I hope to make my way through all of her books and/or bible studies! She is such an inspirational teacher and  I am always encouraged by her. Her passionate relationship with Christ is contagious!

Praying God’s Word discusses several strongholds that can take control of one’s life and prevent them from living to their full potential. Understanding how you can pray Scripture to overcome them was very eye-opening and comforting. While I could relate to some better than others (as would anyone who reads this book), I got something out of each topic and the Scriptures that pertain to it. Of course the book is not comprehensive, as the Bible is the ultimate resource. I liked that at the end of the book Beth leaves space for the reader to look up their own Scriptures and practice on their own. It’s definitely a habit I hope to continue!

I feel peaceful when I am reading inspirational books and it feels good to return to my favorite genre, Christian non-fiction. I enjoy the teachings of others who are clearly better versed than me. Beth Moore remains one of my favorites. Definitely a must read for anyone struggling with anything…so basically, everyone! 😉

5/5 stars!

Closed the books on #6, 46 to go…

Happy Reading!

Fabookulous

 

Breakout Author’s Spotlight:: Sarah Pekkanen:: February 20, 2010

Are you a fan of authors like Jennifer Weiner and Emily Giffin?

Do you love quick whitted and down to earth authors?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, you will ADORE Sarah Pekkanen! Major congratulations are in order for my friend’s brand new breakout novel, The Opposite of Me, in stores March 9th, 2010.

Please check out Sarah’s Website for more information on her book, tour dates, and to sign up for her hysterical monthly newsletter. Oh, and email Lorne Michels and tell him you want to see Sarah on Saturday Night Live 😉

Sarah Pekkanen’s work has been published in People, The Washington Post, USA Today, The New Republic, The Baltimore Sun, Reader’s Digest, and Washingtonian, among others. She writes a monthly Erma Bombeck type column for Bethesda Magazine, and has been an on-air contributor to NPR and E! Entertainment’s “Gossip Show.” She is the winner of a Dateline award and the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship. Sarah lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and three young sons. ~Simon & Schuster

Other Sarah Pekkanen News:

Publisher’s Weekly Deals, 07/21/08
http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6579803.html?industryid=47146
A first novel by Sarah Pekkanen titled The Opposite of Me; Victoria Sanders sold world English rights. Pekkanen, a monthly columnist for Bethesda magazine, will, tongue in cheek, explore low self-esteem, the hunger to succeed and have it all, and the grueling but rewarding bond of sisterhood. Pekannen’s work has been published in a host of newspapers and magazines. Pub date is early 2010.

Bethesda Magazine

Other clippings

“Rookie reporter scoops the big guys on Collins,” Detroit Journal
http://www.forensic-intelligence.org/corrupt/10rookie14.htm

Xoxo, LibraryLove

PS- Special thanks to my dear friend PlanetBooks for introducing me to

Sarah, who is so whitty, our facebook conversations crack me up everytime!

 

Book #11: LibraryLove February 17, 2010

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez

Book description:  Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills–as doctors, nurses, and therapists–seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. With the help of corporate and international sponsors, the Kabul Beauty School welcomed its first class in 2003. Well meaning but sometimes brazen, Rodriguez stumbled through language barriers, overstepped cultural customs, and constantly juggled the challenges of a postwar nation even as she learned how to empower her students to become their families’ breadwinners by learning the fundamentals of coloring techniques, haircutting, and makeup. Yet within the small haven of the beauty school, the line between teacher and student quickly blurred as these vibrant women shared with Rodriguez their stories and their hearts: the newlywed who faked her virginity on her wedding night, the twelve-year-old bride sold into marriage to pay her family’s debts, the Taliban member’s wife who pursued her training despite her husband’s constant beatings. Through these and other stories, Rodriguez found the strength to leave her own unhealthy marriage and allow herself to love again, Afghan style. Kabul Beauty School is a remarkable tale of an extraordinary community of women who come together and learn the arts of perms, friendship, and freedom.

Beauty Without Borders- what an amazing concept? I love Rodriguez’ entrepreneurial spirit mixed with philanthropy. She was able to get donations/sponsorship from well-known names in beauty, like Paul Mitchell, to donate truckloads of products, getting her Kabul Beauty School up and running. I admire her for giving up the comforts of Westernized life, time with her children and her own safety to give the women of war-torn Kabul opportunities to make a new life for themselves and teach them a skill they can use after attending Rodriguez’ program learning the trade of cosmetology. Rodriguez is not the strongest writer but I appreciate her story and couldn’t put this book down. I wish Rodriguez chose a few of the girls who were just briefly introduced in her memoir and delved deeper into telling their stories, learning their struggles, along with some heartier dialogue between them. I like to give constructive criticism and I felt that although the concept of the book was great- telling her story of struggle and the fight to bring opportunity to these women, it also showcased just how HARD it is to change cultural ideologies and hegemony that’s been in place for hundreds of years. I just didn’t feel that the book was cohesive enough; the chapters were lengthy and could have been divided up in a more effective way possibly by student?  In the beginning, we’re so drawn in by Roshanna’s story and the heartache of her arranged marriage. Yet Roshanna’s story was really not expanded much more. I was disappointed when I invested myself into her character and I’m left wanting more.

I’m a very loyal person, and will do just about anything for those around me. Because I get so deeply invested in people and things, it’s natural that I get equally attached to characters in books I read. I’ve also found that on the surface, when a book is more than 350 pages, I tend to have more positive feedback towards it. The author takes the time necessary to truly develop the characters, plot, and bring the book to its logical dénoument.

I think that with so much to discuss and expand upon, Rodriguez left me wanting more. I could discuss the practice of wearing the burqa for pages and I wish she would have possibly expounded on that. In fact,  I was actually hoping for it. She could have touched on the impact having to be completely covered took on these young woman. Where was their sense of self and confidence was pulled from? Personally, I love getting to “change my look” from day to day- glasses or contacts, straight or curly hair,makeup or none, \feminine dresses, skirts and open-toed shoes, accessories, hats and purses, or pjs and sweats. We’re so fortunate in Westernized cultures to have the freedom to express ourselves with our appearance. It’s something I appreciate more after having read this book.

So it’s understandable that Rodriguez faced some resistance, because as it is obvious, Middle Eastern cultural norms are very difference from Western culture.  But give us more than just surface descriptions. And please don’t introduce new characters on page 235 of 270! Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot? Sigh.

Moving on, I will say it many times over the course of this year– part of this challenge for me is to read books that fall well outside my typical genre or comfort zone, including books from other cultures and countries. Previously my understanding of Middle Eastern Culture was limited only from exposure to Iranian family ideologies through a friendship of over 12 years with one of my dearest. Other than what her family struggles have been, exposure to their food, music, and culture, I know little about that part of the world let alone what living in a war-torn place like Kabul would be like as a young woman wanting to make a life for herself. I take it for granted too often as an assertive modern and free thinking woman, that I have just that– the freedom to be so. If I want to take a class, learn a new trade, expand my horizons- I go for it without having to ask! When I go to my library, I don’t have to wonder if the armed guards will take me prisoner for reading about topics that are dubbed taboo in my culture. So, for all the soldiers who’ve lost their lives, and for everyone who continues to fight whether overseas or from behind a desk, thank you for giving me the freedom and opportunity to even blog about subjects such as these. Let freedom ring!!

3.5 stars for the composition of the book

5 stars for the strength Rodriguez had to bring to this country

11 down, 41 to go…!

In progress: Forever Lily, and Testimony (audiobook)

Xoxo, LibraryLove

 

Book #10: LibraryLove February 11, 2010

Olive Kitteridge: The Unabridged Audiobook by Elizabeth Strout

Book description: At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama — desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.  At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse. As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life — sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty.

I listened to this audio book twice all the way through. I wasn’t expecting the novel “in stories”, or mini vignettes but gave it a chance. Olive, retired schoolteacher, interacts with various people who are showcases in the 13 stories that make up OK, in Crosby, Maine. I was feeling a bit confused and disjointed, as were many of my girlfriends who are also reading OK. Considering this book won the Pulizer Prize, I felt it deserved another go round. With 40” of snow on the ground, much baking, shoveling, housework, and dog grooming afforded me the time to give this a second chance and listen as I went about my daily tasks while being confined to the house due to the white out conditions! And you know what? I found myself growing attached to Olive in all her grumpy glory.  OK offers insights into the human condition — its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires through stories about her fellow Crosby-ians that each include Olive in some form or another. The best illustration of Olive’s endurance is when her husband is confined by an injury and Olive sticks by his side when an unfortunate turn of events occurs. Classic Olive: “We’ve lost weight, not eating our cheese and crackers every night”, she says to her husband.

She’s overbearing, brash, quite outspoken, but she’s tenderhearted too. As the book progressed, so did Olive’s self-awareness. She began to recognize that although we can’t/won’t like everyone, we need to make an effort to understand them and where they’re coming from. Specifically, when she talks about how she always remembers her past students, thinking of them fondly, as they’re now grown, living their lives as she encounters them about town. I enjoyed Strout showcasing her ability to write vibrantly and beautifully about a mediocre character in a mediocre town. Every character is flawed, and the book is meant to showcase these character flaws, more so in Olive than anyone else. Olive, although in some of the 13 stories, is only barely mentioned/included, she’s essential to the story as a whole. I felt luke-warm about this book despite my deep desire to love it. You can’t force it and you also can’t absolutely love every book you read. It’s like eating cupcakes 3 meals a day. Sounds nice but the actual practice would lend itself to boredom. It’s important to recognize what you like and don’t like in different books to grow as a reader and as a person. So I’m glad I gave OK a second listen. I would have preferred the book be written in narrative form.

2/5 stars for the construction and plot line of the book

5/5 stars to Strout for her writing ability

10 down, 42 to go…

In progress- Kabul Beauty School

Xoxo, LibraryLove

Ps- Have a romantic Valentine’s Day weekend! My husband is off this weekend (yay)! We’ll be out and about enjoying our time together. Looking forward to our adventures downtown now that the artic tundra snow is melting, including a romantic dinner at the 5-star restaurant where we had our first date 9.5 years ago, which also happens to have our caricature hanging on their wall!

Love the one your with and please consider donating used books to your library. It’s a tax write off!


 

Book #9: LibraryLove

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book description~ January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb.
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends — and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island — boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

This is the first book, written in epistolary exchange format, I’ve ever read.  For those of you unfamiliar, epistolary means the book is written through an exchange of letters. Typically, a book is written in narrative form. TGLPPPS was such a fun and unique twist. Authors Shaffer and Barrows used the exchange of letters between characters involved in the story, to insert the reader smack dab into the psyche and inner most thoughts of the Guernsey Islanders. I’m sad the book ended because I want more! Especially with Dawsey’s new found outgoing personality which left me so curious to see what their lives together would hold. I laughed, I cried, and I was completely drawn into Juliet’s world. Her quick whit and charm cracked me UP! She’s just the kind of person I’d love to add to my social network and invite to dinner. I give her much credit for taking such initiative to even want to take on the beast of raising Kit as her own, much less leaving London behind, when she just planned to visit the Guernsey Island to get inspired for her second book.  I also loved what a homage to Elizabeth this story became. She was so integral in everyone’s lives~ of course she should be the focus of Juliet’s second work!

My one criticism is that I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get to see more of the Dawsey/Juliet relationship explored after the “big day”. But that’s just me being selfish isn’t it? =) I am looking forward to reading The Recipe Club, as it’s another selection written in epistolary format back and forth between friends who share recipes. I really enjoyed learning about Juliet, Sidney and Isola through their letters to one another and think it to be such a unique way to tell a story and hook the reader. My favorite scene is when Juliet’s boat arrives at the port, she in her red cape, about to embark on the rest of her life’s journey on the Island of Guernsey.

This is my 3rd historical fiction reading in a row. The Help took place in the 60s, Keeping the House took place in the 50s, and TGLPPPS took place in the post-WWII era of the late 40s. I’ve enjoyed going “back in time” and definitely caught the historical fiction bug.

Thanks to a very dear friend for “gently coercing” me to read this immediately. xoxo.

5/5 Stars

9 down, 43 to go…

On deck, Kabul Beauty School

Xoxo, LibraryLove

 

Book #5: Fabookulous February 7, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Book description: Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone. Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken. Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own. Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed. In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women – mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends – view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.

To describe my reaction to this book in one word: WOW. And this is the author’s DEBUT novel! She has such a gift for storytelling. I decided to read this book after seeing LibraryLove’s review of it last month.

My first historical fiction piece in a long time, this book had me so engrossed in every character. I love seeing the story from more than one view and empathized with every woman. I found myself in awe of Aibileen and Minny and their strength and perseverance to continue to put up with what they had to. And Skeeter, well she was very brave and honorable to use her talents to make a difference.

It’s amazing what women can do when they push past stereotypes and what society says and come together for a mutual cause. The Help is a wonderful example of women keeping the faith and fighting together, no matter what. I definitely recommend this book and will be looking forward to seeing what Kathryn Stockett writes next!

5/5 stars.

5 down. 47 more. Steady does it…

~Fabookulous~