Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #44: LibraryLove October 30, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Book description~  On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother–her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother–tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden–her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a luminous tale about the enormous difficulty of loving someone fully when you know too much about them.

Like me, I’m sure throughout your life at some point, even as a kid, you wondered what it’d be like to hear people’s thoughts or be a fly on the wall. Might not be all it’s cracked up to be…especially not for Rose Adelstein. Rhe blessing is also her curse, as Rose can taste people’s feelings and emotions through the food they cook. The worst part- those feelings, emotions and secrets are of her family, among others.  Discovering her curse through a bite of chocolate lemon cake made by her mother on her 8th birthday, Rose’s life would never be the same. Never again could she ignore the painful secrets or struggle of her mother, who is restless and feels that something is missing from her life though she does not know what, her father,  who never really “got” how to be a Dad, and her older brother Joseph, so intelligent, he is unable to assimilate into the rest of society.

Lemon Cake follows Rose through the years and into young adulthood as she learns how to harness the surreal power she was given and try to keep her family’s inner secrets.

This book was much different than I expected. Chosen by one of my book club babes for November discussion and despite wanting to adore this novel, I couldn’t help but feeling rather ambivalent about it. Bender does a nice job building the rising action but her bizarre lack of conversational punctuation became a bit of a cumbersome distraction, and her subtlety was almost too subtle for my liking.

One of my favorite parts is when Rose learns how to find loopholes in her curse; she’s able to use the school cafeteria vending machine as a “safety” net since the foods are not handmade, but made in a factory by machines. Unfortunately, although I think Bender had a great concept for a book, she doesn’t necessarily tie up all the parts of the story as I would have liked. As the reader, we are invested in each character introduced, not just Rose. For me, the book ended much too soon; I felt as though Bender only wrote the first half of the story. In particular, I would have loved to see where Rose’s life went as a result of the the job at the school working with children.

I think there is a happy medium between being subtle in the way you write, like Diane Setterfield, and being TOO subtle to the point where you may be losing your audience along the attempt. Unfortunately, I think Bender was the latter.

I’m looking forward to hearing what the book club babes think about this one next weekend.

3/5 stars

In progress- Burnt Toast by Teri Hatcher

44 down, 8 to go!

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove


 

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

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove


 

Book #40: LibraryLove September 18, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Book description~ When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny. All children mythologize their birth… So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist. The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune, but kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

This modern-day ‘chunkster’ and piece of literary fiction is written beautifully with a Gothic-style undertone sure to transform you right along with the story AND make your heart pound! Remember how magically transformative movies like The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story were when we first watched them as kids? Remember how halfway through the movie, we’d forget the main character was reading a story? Or as adults, watching The Sixth Sense, when nothing was as it seemed?? This is exactly how I felt while reading The Thirteenth Tale (TTT). The beginning was a bit rocky; I wasn’t sure where the author was going with things. But quickly, after Margaret Lea makes a bone-chilling discovery about her past, she decides to take an offer she can’t refuse.

As the reader, I was transported right along with Margaret to the remote English countryside after accepting the offer to write the sought-after biography of notorious and dying author, Vida Winter. Less than 50 pages in, I was sending fevered texts to some of my book club babes who had already read TTT so I could share in the ride with them. I think if you’re interested in starting your own book club, or just for fun reading a book along with a friend, TTT is a great one to start with; it’s a definite conversation piece, will certainly keep your interest, and spark much conversation.

Biographer Lea couldn’t have predicted the parallels between her life and Miss Winter’s but it is quickly made clear that the adventure she embarked upon will change her on every level. And Miss Winter, although known for her ability to create vivid mockeries when asked to share about her personal life, opens up in such unlikely ways; you have to read to believe it…

“I shall start at the beginning. Though of course the beginning is never where you think it is. Our lives are so important to use that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born…yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs. Impossible to touch one part of it without setting the rest vibrating. Impossible to understand one part without having a sense of the whole.” – Vida Winter

Although I never would have picked up TTT on my own, I’m so glad it was chosen by one of the book club babes as the October selection.

As usual, I don’t like to reveal too much plot information in my reviews. For a synopsis, you can always read the book description up top. But I want to share some of my reactions while whetting your appetite and hopefully intrigue you enough to want to read this book. I don’t want you going into this novel with too many preconceived notions; just know you will not be disappointed!

“As I started to sleepwrite my questions, the margin seemed to expand. The paper throbbed with light. Swelling, it engulfed me, until realized with a mixture of trepidation and wonderment that I was enclosed in the grain of the paper, embedded in the white interior of the story itself. Weightless, I wandered all night long in Miss Winter’s story, plotting its landscape, measuring its contours, and on tiptoe at its borders, peering at the mysteries beyond its bounds.” – Margaret

One criticism- I wish Margaret’s character was as dimensional as Miss Winter’s character. I’m sure Setterfield did this on purpose, to draw the reader closer to Miss Winter, but I still would have liked Margaret’s character developed a bit more.

TTT was such a fantastic palette cleanser of a book. If you’re looking for a quirky, mysterious, dark and enthralling departure from the norm, I highly recommend TTT as a great way to dive into your fall reading. Special thanks to Tiffany for picking this for October.  I look forward to hearing about everyone’s thoughts.

4.5/5 stars

40 down, 12 to go!

In progress- Stash (Advanced Review Copy)

Xo♥xo,

LibraryLove

PS- sidenote….after our bookclub discussion and two of the book club babes couldn’t stop raving about how well done the audiobook was, I simply HAD to get it from the library. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I now look forward to sitting in traffic getting to re-read this amazing book again knowing what I now know! 🙂


 

Book #35: LibraryLove July 9, 2010

The Blue Notebook by James Levine

Book description~ A haunting yet hopeful story of a young Indian prostitute who uses writing and imagination to transcend her reality. An unforgettable, deeply affecting tribute to the powers of imagination and the resilience of childhood, The Blue Notebook tells the story of Batuk, a precocious 15-year-old girl from rural India who was sold into sexual slavery by her father when she was nine. As she navigates the grim realities of the Common Street–a street of prostitution in Mumbai where children are kept in cages as they wait for customers to pay for sex–Batuk manages to put pen to paper, recording her private thoughts and stories in a diary. The novel is powerfully told in Batuk’s voice, through the words she writes in her journal, where she finds hope and beauty in the bleakest circumstances. Beautifully crafted and deeply human, The Blue Notebook explores how people, in the most difficult of situations, can use storytelling to make sense of and give meaning to their lives.

So I did it. Yep. What’s done is done. I broke my book buying ban. BUT with good reason, I promise. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Fabookulous and I get our books for this challenge from the library, Paperbackswap or from friends on loan. The only time we buy new books (with a coupon I assure you) is for author friends of ours who come to our area for book signings. Even then, many of those books are gifted to our friends or family.  The Blue Notebook was just released in paperback on July 6th and I read it in preparation for my book club’s July discussion. What made me more than happy to buy this book, was knowing the author’s royalties from U.S. book sales are all being donated to the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The beauty of this challenge is in books like The Blue Notebook. This book captivated me, saddened me,  and hooked me from the first sentence. I’ve been so sleep deprived, preoccupied, in the midst of catching up with family and friends, being out-of-town two weekends straight, trying to get things ready to entertain the entire month of July preparing for our guests. Are you exhausted yet?? Great- now you can understand that by the time my head hit the pillow, I’d read a page or two and my eyelids closed. I actually think I’ve mastered the art of sleeping w/ my eyes open. Yes, I have many quirks! I digress…

I picked up two “light reads” that I’d been waiting for from the library and I just couldn’t get into them. I have a rule that if by 50 pages in, I’m not invested in the story or the characters, I simply move on. This year is flying by and there’s no time to waste on mediocre books.  I jumped into reading this month’s book club selection as soon as it hit bookstores in paperback and I was glad to have gotten into a GOOD, albeit sad book!

“When clay dries in an oven, it is changed from a soft, malleable form to a solid, defined one; once baked, the hardened clay can never be molded again, only broken. A few hours earlier I had entered Gahil’s house as a soft glob of warm clay. I would leave there a hardened, useful vessel.”~ Batuk

I’m very much looking forward to our book club get together in a few weeks to hear what my fellow book babes think of Batuk’s story. It’s pretty impossible not to feel changed and with a new perspective on your own life after reading about Batuk’s daily struggles. She somehow maintains an optimistic outlook and generally happy existence. How on earth she does this is definitely worth reading. You will not be able to put this book down. This quick read shares the power of the written word and crosses culture, race and geography. Using pencil or pen, her blue notebook (or whatever blank paper is accessible) as her diary, and her vivid imagination, Batuk finds escapism in using her gift of imagination. The artistry, imagery and metaphors used to describe Batuk’s circumstances are amazing. They also become her coping mechanism in putting her mind elsewhere than feel the pain inflicted by men like Uncle Nir and Master Iftikar.  The author’s ability to evoke naiveté yet worldliness at the same time, as if we were truly inside the head of a 15-year-old , is breathtaking, captivating and emotional. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha, I think you will understand how socially important this novel is.

“True regret is a veil, and like all human emotions it serves to soften the impact of reality. It is a failed belief that we cannot experience the true brilliance to the light, but it is through fear that we veil ourselves from that brilliance. We cloak ourselves in layers upon layers of regret, dishonesty, cruelty, and pride.”~ Batuk

In reading The Blue Notebook, my eyes are open wider to a topic that is near to me already. This novel is based on a real girl, who doctor-turned-author James Levine encountered in Mumbai.  Batuk’s story is a testament to human strength. We simply cannot close our minds, or ignore the inadequacies in our society and abroad.  One of my best friends is affiliated with Made By Survivors, an organization part of the Emancipation Network. The Network is managed by a woman who advocates against human trafficking. They give survivors of human trafficking an outlet for making their own income so they can escape the persecution and poverty they once knew. Their mission is to “improve the lives of slavery survivors through empowerment and education, to assist rescue shelters by offering job programs and funding, to improve rehabilitation and reintegration, and to prevent trafficking in high risk communities”. Made By Survivors programs are supported not only by donations, but also by the efforts of survivors themselves, who design and create unique fair trade jewelry, bags and gifts. 100% of profits are donated to survivors and shelters.

I hope you will buy this book and read Batuk’s story in The Blue Notebook. I hope it raises your awareness about the horrors of human trafficking. I hope you will re-evaluate the minutiae you complain about on a regular basis because let’s face it- if you’re reading this blog, you’ll agree we have it pretty damn good here!!

For more information on this book, please visit www. BatukFoundation.org.

5/5 stars

35 down, 17 to go!

xo♥xo,

LibraryLove