Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #28: LibraryLove May 24, 2010

Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Taylor Kidd

Book description~ Between 1998 and 2000, Sue and Ann traveled together to sacred sites throughout Greece and France. Sue, feeling her years and longing to reconnect with her daughter, struggles to find the wherewithal to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel, that will become her bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees. Ann, just graduated from college, heartbroken and facing her future, grapples with a painful depression.

I’ve recently read a number of novels that flip back and forth from one character, in first person, to the next. It’s an interesting literary choice done EXTREMELY well by authors like Jodi Picoult (think My Sister’s Keeper, House Rules) and Jennifer Weiner (think Little Earthquakes). This book is the first memoir I’ve read where, as the reader, we hear both first-hand accounts of the two main characters. Usually, authors select to write one character in first-person narrative and the rest in third-person.
This memoir tells the story of a very tumultuous time for mother and daughter, Sue & Ann. Both ladies allow us direct access into the eye of their most vulnerable storms. The mother and daughter pair venture on a fantastic trip to Greece and through Europe after Ann’s graduation. We are introduced to Sue who is struggling with getting older and finding purpose, now that her daughter is graduating. Sue feels all alone. Then we are introduced to her daughter, Ann, who is struggling with getting older and finding purpose now that she is graduating and moving on in her life. Dramatic irony- most certainly! 😉 In the beginning, Ann is very silent about her depression. She doesn’t get accepted to the Graduate school she wanted to and is sent into a tailspin to figure out what direction her life should go in.

She eventually decides she has such a passion for writing that she cannot deny. Sue struggles to find the inspiration she needs for her idea to write a novel about bees. I was initially drawn to this book because of my enjoyment of her bestselling novel, The Secret Life of Bees. I saw this was a memoir and was curious to learn about Sue’s impetus behind writing that novel, which was written as a result of this life-changing and inspiring trip Sue took with Ann back in 1998. The parts of this book that I enjoyed the most were about how Sue’s creative process grew so organically, to form one of my all time favorite pieces of southern fiction.

Along their journey through Greece and Europe, Sue and Ann discover a new found appreciation for each other. They confide in each other and draw strength from the other’s struggle.

“At times it seemed beyond weird that we’d lived in the same house during those years- I’d known so little about what she’d struggled with inside. There had been hints- bits of conversation, or the piles of feminist theology books that were suddenly in the house. But mostly I knew her as my mother- the one who stayed up to decorate my Raggedy Ann birthday cake, who helped me pick out my cotillion dress, who taught me how to parallel park. I glimpsed her, for the first time, as a woman, like one of those beautiful Caryatids she’s standing with now,”~ Ann, speaking of her mother, Sue.

“For one elongated minute we sit there and listen to rain pelt the roof. The closeness we discovered in Greece seemed to solidify during the fall. We talked endlessly about the experiences we’d had, pored over our trip photographs, and picked up the conversations we started over there,”~ Sue, speaking of her daughter, Ann.

Unfortunately, I found myself wanting to rush through many of Sue’s chapters because she insisted upon including numerous Greek mythological tangents. I found the self-indulgence unnecessary to the story, lecture-ish and along the lines of a historical textbook, not a memoir. Sue’s writing style in this particular selection didn’t keep my interest as much. It was harder for me to relate to a menopausal woman’s struggles, something I’ve yet to experience, whereas Ann’s story I really enjoyed, as she is closer to my age.  I enjoyed the beautiful imagery of Greece and to hear the development of The Secret Life of Bees’ plotline. It’s also a nice reminder that we should be kinder, sweeter, and more understanding of the silent struggles we, our friends, and our mothers face on a daily basis. It is a good reminder to maybe check in with the women in your life in a different way- refocus conversations to real matters of the heart rather than just getting caught up in the minutiae of daily life. For Ann especially, their trip to Europe was a gift- the opportunity to re-acquaint herself with the person who baked her birthday cakes and sewed her buttons back on…

3/5 stars

28 down, 24 to go!




Book #20: LibraryLove April 1, 2010

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

De Rosnay’s U.S. debut fictionalizes the 1942 Paris roundups and deportations, in which thousands of Jewish families were arrested, held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz. Forty-five-year-old Julia Jarmond, American by birth, moved to Paris when she was 20 and is married to the arrogant, unfaithful Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an 11-year-old daughter. Julia writes for an American magazine and her editor assigns her to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vél’ d’Hiv’ roundups. Julia soon learns that the apartment she and Bertrand plan to move into was acquired by Bertrand’s family when its Jewish occupants were dispossessed and deported 60 years before. She resolves to find out what happened to the former occupants: Wladyslaw and Rywka Starzynski, parents of 10-year-old Sarah and four-year-old Michel. The more Julia discovers—especially about Sarah, the only member of the Starzynski family to survive—the more she uncovers about Bertrand’s family, about France and, finally, herself. Already translated into 15 languages, the novel is De Rosnay’s 10th (but her first written in English, her first language). It beautifully conveys Julia’s conflicting loyalties, and makes Sarah’s trials so riveting and her innocence so absorbing.

What countries come to mind when you think of the heinous events of the Holocaust and extermination of thousands of Jews during World War II?

I’d bet you a cookie that Paris France wasn’t on your short list. If you’re like me, I was not previously aware before reading this book, of the Paris roundups of 1942. Thousands of Jewish families (children and all) were arrested from their homes, held at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Vel’ d’hiv for short) outside the city, then transported to Auschwitz internment camps for extermination. I knew France was involved in underground events along with Germany. Now I realize how large a roll French police played in the mass extermination of innocent Jews during the occupation- the black moment in France’s history. Immediately, I thought of the New Orlean’s SuperDome during Hurricane Katrina and how awful those conditions were. Newspaper articles compared the SuperDome to a ‘lawless concentration camp’ and I’ll never forget the headlines. Consider it a dramatically ironic parallel to the Holocaust. Dirty, fearful and exhausted. The stench of human feces, the close quarters, no access to the outside world; simply awful. Magnify your worst ideas exponentially; only then can you begin to grasp the atrocities that ensued for the folks trapped against their will at the Vel’ d’hiv. The difference- many of the folks who were temporarily displaced due to Katrina, which was an awful natural disaster, were provided aid and eventually survived. The same cannot be said for the innocent Jews of Paris, France who were held captive, then gassed, in the Vel’ d’hiv just for being Jewish. In Sarah’s Key, de Rosnay does a fabulous job weaving past (early 1942 WWII) and present (2002) together through her artful work. The book is paced just perfectly, switching between fictionalized 1942 (Sarah’s story) and 2002 (Julia’s story). I was glued to the pages and could NOT turn away. In Julia’s story, we follow an American-born journalist living in Paris with her family. In researching the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’hiv roundups for a work assignment, Julia learns through records that the apartment she and her husband plan to move into was once lived in by The Starzynski family. The Starzynski family along with thousands of others, were ripped from their apartments and exterminated after being held in the Vel’ d’hiv and shipped off to internment camps. The homes of these innocent families were then made available for whoever wanted to rent them immediately. Julia becomes fascinated by this idea and begins her quest to find information on Sarah Starzynski, the one family member whose name did not have additional information. Did Sarah escape the Vel’ d’Hiv alive? What happened to her? Was she still alive?

In Sarah’s story, we follow the 10-year-old as she escapes the Vel’ d’hiv. We don’t even know her name until almost halfway through the book. She’s “the girl” until she tells the kind farmers her name after they offer her refuge. This was strategically appropriate considering the topic. I felt de Rosnay kept Sarah “nameless” as a tool. It conveyed the pain of being ‘just another Jew’ carted off for extermination and the idea that you weren’t an individual with a name or with feelings because you were a Jew.

Sarah’s got an important reason to get back to her apartment, and fast! You won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough as Sarah and Julia’s lives intersect and Julia learns more secrets about her family, and herself as she deals with her own personal struggle. Probably the turning points for me were:  when Julia felt her moment of clarity- when everything clicked. I absolutely loved the scene when she gets the heck out of that clinic and felt the momentum pick up even more, and then the first scene with William in the cafe.  One criticism- I wish we would have continued to hear from Sarah periodically in the last third of the book. I know, I know. We’re not supposed to. But I really wanted to hear more 😦

I don’t want to give too much away because I know if you pick up this book, you will not put it down. But Sarah’s strength, Zoe’s maturity, and Julia’s drive to uncover the story are just three of the many reasons I loved this book and think you will too. Although painful to read at times, I recommend everyone read this book. Sarah’s Key brings the atrocities from the Vel’ d’Hiv to light so we ensure they NEVER happen again.

I can’t wait to check out other novels by Tatiana de Rosnay. Special thanks to two of my girlfriends, CCP and GFCB, for recommending this book.

4.5/5 stars

20 down, 32 to go!

In progress- House Rules and Atonement (audiobook)




Book #1: LibraryLove January 26, 2010

Hungry Woman in Paris, by Josefina Lopez

Book description: A journalist and activist, Canela believes passion is essential to life; but lately passion seems to be in short supply. It has disappeared from her relationship with her fiancé, who is more interested in controlling her than encouraging her. It’s absent from her work, where censorship and politics keep important stories from being published. And while her family is full of outspoken individuals, the only one Canela can truly call passionate is her cousin and best friend Luna, who just took her own life. Canela can’t recover from Luna’s death. She is haunted by her ghost and feels acute pain for the dreams that went unrealized. Canela breaks off her engagement and uses her now un-necessary honeymoon ticket, to escape to Paris. Impulsively, she sublets a small apartment and enrolls at Le Coq Rouge, Paris’s most prestigious culinary institute. Cooking school is a sensual and spiritual reawakening that brings back Canela’s hunger for life. With a series of new friends and lovers, she learns to once again savor the world around her. Finally able to cope with Luna’s death, Canela returns home to her family, and to the kind of life she thought she had lost forever.

Being sick is NOT how I preferred to spend the first full week of 2010. However, it did facilitate me starting out this challenge ahead of the game. Forcing myself to stay in bed meant I got a lot of reading done over the last three days. Although an enjoyable and quick read, Hungry Woman in Paris left me feeling downright disjointed. At times I felt like I was right there with Canela, navigating the undiscovered streets and patisseries of Paris, making new friends (and foes) in culinary school, seeing the sights and learning the language. But then Lopez abruptly left me feeling confused. A little too much time spent showcasing Canela’s ‘sexcapades’ and not enough time focused on the impetus for going to Le Coq Rouge, and more about her dynamics with the Parisians. Would have liked Lopez to stay focused a bit more and concentrate on Canela’s life in Paris, not just an appetizer about her dating life, an appetizer about her family life, and a morsel of the “what next”. We’re given bits and pieces of the dynamic between she and her sister Luna, Canela’s experience in France that fuels her to return to Los Angeles to continue fighting for what she believes in based on what she discovered/rediscovered while in Paris to enable her to do this, but the book fails to truly give the reader enough. At the end, Lopez tries to tie up loose ends by sending her back into the arms of her fiance, only to disappoint the reader yet again. Pick a plot line and stick with it! Sorry, but I think we’re still hungry…I’ d recommend Julie & Julia over HWIP any day for the boeuf bourguignon scene alone!

3 stars

One down, 51 to go. On deck, The Help by Kathryn Stockett…