Monday, September 24, 2012

Book # 49 - The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger

A little girl encounters a naked man in the meadow.  Creepy to begin with, but over time, Henry De Tamble, the time traveler,  endears himself to Clare Abshire.  Henry meets Clare in different time periods of his life, while she ages chronologically.  Eventually, they meet at the appointed time build a life together as husband and wife.  His time travel often disrupts their relationship, but Clare persists.  A story of love.  Confusing at times and somewhat vague in the end.

Book # 48 - Tender at the Bone

Tender at the Bone
Growing up at the Table
Ruth Reichl

Although I don't like to cook anything fancy or anything that has more than five ingredients, I loved this book! Part memoir, part cookbook, it is funny and touching. I could smell and taste the buttery warmth in every chapter.

Book # 47 - A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying
Ernest Gaines

A young black man, Jefferson, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Convicted for the murder of a man in a robbery gone awry, he listened to the defense attorney call him "so simple that he was a hog, not a man."  His godmother, who was at the sentencing, appealed to the Grant Wiggins, local schoolteacher, to grant him one wish - to make Jefferson a man before he went to the gallows.

Set in the Civil Rights era in Bayonne, Louisiana.

Book # 46 - Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar
William Shakespeare

When my son was having difficulty with the burden of homework, my husband and I reassured him that Mommy and Daddy were there for him.

"How could I help?"

I was totally unprepared for the answer, "Could you start reading Julius Caesar?"

So, one hot summer day, when I was supposed to be training for the 3-Day Walk for the Cure, I sought the refuge of the air-conditioned library to find tools to tackle this task.

With the help of Cliff's Notes, Shakespeare for Dummies and some simplified children's books, I read Julius Caesar!  Another great tool was No Fear Shakespeare, an online comparison of Shakespeare's English and modern English.  I was very happy to be able to help my son with his essay.   Finally, it wasn't Greek to me.

Happy to say, I caught the Shakespeare bug, and went on to borrow books on tape.  So much easier listening to the play than reading the verse.

Book # 45 - The Sisters Antipodes

The Sisters Antipodes

Jane Alison

277 pages

Dysfunctional family x 2.

Two families meet in  Australia.  The fathers are diplomats.  The mothers are both young and beautiful. The children, two sets of sisters, are practically alike.  Within a year, the parents swap partners, and each family gets reconfigured.

Major consequences for the girls who never felt loved by their fathers.

Painful and poignant memoir. Written with honesty. Soul searching without psychobabble. Every little girl needs her daddy, and when this basic need is not fulfilled, the ramifications into adulthood may prove tragic.

Book # 44 - The Diary of Ma Yan

Diary of Ma Yan
The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl
167 pages

I borrowed this book in the hopes that my daughter would read at least one book during the summer vacation.  A Chinese girl in a poor village anguishes at her parents' decision to stop her schooling.  This is something my daughter could not relate to, so I ended up reading the book because it resonated with some  difficulty in my own childhood.

This is a story of how a little girl values education.  Her diary, though simple and rudimentary, becomes a tool to help her family and her village.

Book # 43 - How to be an American Housewife

How to be an American Housewife
Margaret Dilloway
276 pages

A Japanese mother and an American daughter come together to resolve the past.  Shoko seeks the help of her daughter to help her reconcile with her brother Taro who was still in Japan.  She was too ill to travel to Japan, so she asks her daughter Sue to intercede for her.  Sue brings her own daughter Helena, and together, they begin their journey into Shoko's past.

Masterful weaving in and out of the present.  Graceful transition to memories and back to the present.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book # 42 - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Lisa See
269 pages
Finished 7/24/2012

Beautiful story about the friendship of two girls sworn to each other as soul-sisters.  They expressed their thoughts and love though the secret women's writing of nu shu.

Trick: With Lisa See's books, read the notes first.  Usually the last chapter, Lisa would describe the writing of the book.  Given the historical perspective, I enjoyed the book much better than her previous one, Peony in Love.

I was surprised with some bad reviews about this book, mostly criticizing it for the topic of footbinding and the absence of women's rights.  It was the same everywhere in the world at that time, although the manifestation was different.  For example, In America, women were denied the right to vote.  In China, women's feet were bound.  It's like refusing to read a book about slavery or the Holocaust because it is morally wrong.

Book # 41 - The Help

The Help
Kathryn Stockett
Audiorecording, 15 CD's
Finished 7/26/2012

All the hype about the Help is true!  I loved it!  The audiorecording gave a good feel for the characters.

Skeeter graduated from Ole Miss and went home to her parents' house in Jackson, Mississippi.  She applied for work everywhere, and got rejected everywhere, except for the local town newspaper.  She was hired to write housekeeping tips, a topic she knew nothing about. An editor at Harper and Row wrote her and gives sage advice, "Write about things that disturb you, especially if they don't bother anyone else."

So the stories about the help began.  Risking life and limb, Skeeter interviewed all the black maids working for the white families, including her own.  Not an easy task for the 1960's where the Jim Crow laws haunted everyone's movement.

Well-written.  The characters were carefully developed and I got to to care for them and root for them.  I can't wait to watch the movie.

Book # 40 - The Lemon Tree

The Lemon Tree
an Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East
Sandy Tolan
9 CDs' Audiorecording

True story of Bashir Khairi (the Arab) and Dalia Eshkanazi (the Jew) who shared a common childhood home.  Bashir and his family were driven from their home by the invading Israeli army. Dalia's family moved into the beautiful home with the lemon tree.  She always wondered about the people who abandoned their home.  An answer came knocking on their door when Bashir visited after decades of expelled from Palestine.  An unlikely friendship unfolds.

Book # 39 - The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher
Janice Y. K. Lee
326 pages

I was on the road when I started reading this book.  At first I thought that was why I had a hard time focusing.  I love anything piano, and that is why I picked up this book.  This story is about a woman who happened to be a piano teacher (the piano had nothing to do with the book). The chapters alternate between 1941 and 1953 in Hong Kong, and attempted to recreate the life of British expats in Hong Kong during and after World War II.

This is the most boring book ever!  I thought that the story tried to pick up by page 60, and I kept trying to plod on and see where the story turned.  The characters are bland and the story is not compelling.

Book # 38 - Lipstick Jihad

Lipstick Jihad
Azadeh Moaveni
246 pages

A California girl struggled with her Iranian heritage, clashing too often with her strict parents and their strange culture.  She grows up, becomes a journalist and decides to move to Iran.  There,  she struggled with being too American in Iran.

Azadeh Moaveni's journeys to find herself and accept both her identities is interesting because the two countries she belongs to hate each other.

Book # 37 - A Pearl in the Storm

A Pearl in the Storm
How I found my heart in the middle of the ocean
Tori Murden McClure
292 pages
Finished 7/1/2012

I finished this book in two sittings.  What an amazing story of strength and perseverance.

I loved how Tori interweaved her childhood stories with her quest to become the first person to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

She was also the first woman to ski to the South Pole.

Movie # 5 - Brave

Loved this animated story of Princess Merida.  Watched it with the whole family.  Commented to my daughter that this is a fairy tale I loved, where the princess is strong and has no need for a prince charming to save her and her family. Makes me want to take up archery!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Movie # 4 - Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

There didn't seem to be a good selection of movies at the theaters last week, and my husband suggested Moonrise Kingdom.

I read the blurb earlier, and asked my husband, "What kind of father are you to let your daughter watch two twelve-year old kids run away and get married?"

"Frances McDormand is in it," he answered.

I was hooked.  It turned out to be a wonderful family movie!  Very well written and I loved the musical bonus at the very end after you think all the credits have rolled.

Book # 36 - The Glass Castle: A Memoir

The Glass Castle: A Memoir
Jeannette Walls
288 pages

Jeannette Walls, a contributor for MSNBC, unburdens her past in this heartwarming memoir. She recalled her childhood with an alcoholic father who dreamt of finding gold so that they could build a glass castle and live happily ever after.  Her mother, an erratic artist, enforced no rules and let the kids fend for themselves against other children who ridiculed their living conditions.  As far as Jeannette could remember, they had been running away, usually in the middle of the night.  Eventually, they settle in Welch, West Virginia.  Despite the hunger and neglect, Jeannette and her siblings stick together and rise above their circumstances.

I was telling someone about this book, and with a puzzled look, he asked, "And that is a good book?"

Yes it is.  I love books where even though the situation is depressing, there is a redeeming quality in the end.  Except in this case, it is not just a story but someone's life.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book # 35 - If You Knew Suzy

If you Knew Suzy
A Mother, A Daughter, A Reporter's Notebook
Katherine Rosman
307 pages

A daughter tried to come to terms with the way her mother faced her terminal cancer. Katie Rosman used her investigative skills as a reporter to dig into her mother's address book and explore the relationships with the people with whom she associated.  She talked to her mother's Pilates students, eBay broker, and her caddie, among others.  She discovered a woman who loved life and refused to acknowledge its end.  She also found that there are questions that will never be answered.

Funny, poignant and entertaining.

Book # 34 - Zoo Story

Zoo Story
Life in the Garden of Captivity
Thomas French
288 pages

Fascinating story about the eleven elephants who traveled by air from Swaziland to the zoos in Tampa, FL and San Diego, CA.  This book explores the life of the the elephants and other animals and their relationships with their keepers.  This book focuses on Lowry Park in Tampa, FL from its decrepit beginnings to its high point of being rated "the best zoo in America" by a children's magazine.

San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park were mentioned a couple of times.   I wonder if there is  book is written about these zoos closer to home.

Book # 33 - Peony in Love

Peony in Love
Lisa See
11 CD's Audiorecording

The opera Peony in Love inspired and entertained many people in the history of China.  For some women who were physically bound by their tiny feet, listening to the opera became a way to escape.  Some went as far as to yearn for love that their obsession spawned a pattern of physical disease such as melancholy or anorexia.

Peony, the young lady who became lovesick after obsessing about the opera, died young before she married her fiance.  Her ghost traveled on in the lives of the two women who married her intended husband.  Her spirit manifested itself in her sister-wives writing commentaries on the Peony Pavilion.  Their husband, a renowned poet, at first gets credit for these writings.  But eventually, the three wives' combined commentary got published and achieved fame of its own.

Strangely enough, these events are based on actual events.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Book # 32 - Polio

David M. Oshinsky
342 pages, thankfully 54 of them are notes

Traces the history of polio research. Interesting insight into the life of the polio-stricken president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Conquering polio captured the hearts of the American people. They poured enormous amount of support into the March of Dimes, setting the bar for charity giving.

This book covers the careers of many key players in the fight, the top ones being Jonas Salk with his killed virus vaccine and Albert Sabin with his live virus version. Many other scientists and policy makers fit into the puzzle with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, changing polio from a dreaded thing to a disease that was conquered.

Took me a long time to read it, but I finally did. Interesting bit about Jonas Salk moving to La Jolla. I work near the Salk Institute and want to tour it soon. Also, Salk's second wife, the artist Francoise Gilot, has a sculpture in the lobby of the hospital where I work. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book # 31 - The Hummingbird's Daughter

The Hummingbird's Daughter
Luis Alberto Urrea
499 pages

This is the real story of the author's relative, who rose from her illegitimate beginnings to become the Saint of Cabora in Mexico.  Teresita Urrea, a young girl abandoned by her mother, sought out Huila, the local medicine woman.  Huila could sense that even at an early age, the young Teresita possessed certain gifts.  Only time will teach her to use them wisely and only for good.

Luis Alberto Urrea has a very engaging style.  He builds his character very slowly so that I get to know, love and care for his characters.   Halfway through the book, the action picks up and I was able to finish the story in no time.

Book # 30 - Silent Spring

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
Audiorecording, 9 CD's

Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring launched the movement to protect the environment from unnecessary toxins.  Published in 1962, she talked about the chemical warfare against weeds, insects and bugs that resulted in poisoning the environment.  Thus, many silent springs ensued, where no bird sang because they ate the poisoned earthworms who ate the poisoned earth.

What I found most interesting in this book were the explanations on how the human and insect bodies react to the toxins released in the environment.  She also discussed diseases that were caused by the exposure to the chemicals.

Reading Silent Spring left me with a sense of awe and a new respect for our environment.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book # 29 - English

Wang Gang
9 CD's, Audiorecording

A young boy's love affair with the English language, his friendship with his teacher and coming of age against the backdrop of China's repression under Mao Tse Tung.

Book # 28 - The Next Thing on My List

by Jill Smolinski
7 CDs, Audiorecording

June Parker meets Marissa Jones at a Weight Watcher's meeting. She offers a ride when she saw Marissa waiting at the bus stop.  In the car, Marissa momentarily unbuckles her seat belt to reach into her purse.  She wanted to share a recipe with June.  In that horrible instant, June swerves to avoid a dresser falling out of the truck in front of her.  Her car rolls over, and the next thing she know, the paramedics on the scene say, "Don't bother with that one, she's gone."

When June cleaned out Marissa's purse, she finds a list of "things to do before my twenty-fifth birthday." Guilt-ridden, she vows to finish the remaining eighteen items.  Only two were crossed out - Lose a hundred pounds, and wear sexy shoes.

This is a charming story and it got me thinking about the things on my bucket list.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book # 27 - Consider this, Señora

Consider this, Señora
Harriet Doerr
finished reading 5/3/2012

Recommended by Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North.  This is a book about Americans and Europeans choosing to live in Mexico.  This book reminds me of my mom's hometown in the Philippines, where life is slow and everybody knew everyone.  The beauty of this book is its slowness, its pace forces the reader to appreciate country life.

Book # 26 - The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic
Julie Otsuka
finished reading April 20, 2012

This is a story about Japanese picture brides as they forge new lives for themselves in other lands.

Abstract, anonymous and poetic. Julie Otsuka writes beautifully but I cannot seem to connect to her characters. She continues in the tradition of When the Emperor was Divine, where the people in her novel could be anyone, but not someone I would feel so connected to that I would care about her book.

Book # 24 - Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
Rhoda Janzen

Finished Reading 4/18/2012

A woman deals with a botched surgery, a bad accident and a divorce. Her foul-mouthed, bipolar and atheist husband left her for a guy he met on Down and out, she had no choice but to go back to the loving arms of her Mennonite family.

That about sums up the story. What the author should do is write a book about her mom. She is the funniest person in this book

Book # 25 - When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine Julie Otsuka 3 CDs, audiorecording
Abstract. The main characters in the book are never named, in contrast with every other character. In each book, I find a person to connect with, and it was difficult in this book. This is a story about Japanese family's exile to the internment camps in Utah during World War II. To anyone who wants a more involved story of the internment camps, I would recommend Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata. The audiobook's saving grace = it's only 3 CD's and 3.5 hours long.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book # 23 - Honolulu

Alan Brennert
Audiorecording - 14 CD's

A young Korean girl named Regret sought a new future by traveling to Hawaii as a picture bride. She found out that the streets of Hawaii were not paved with gold as she had heard it described back home. In Hawaii, she lived a hard life on the plantation with her husband Mr. Noh, and eventually suffers at his brutal hands. She ran away, taking the train to Honolulu, where the train took her farthest from her husband. There, she forges a new life and a new identity as Jin. She eventually finds love, and a renewed friendship with her fellow picture brides.

This is a colorful and wonderful story. Alan Brennert is a master of telling stories about people overcoming the most dire circumstances of life.

The story rambled a little bit, at some point diverting from Jin's life to the history of discrimation of native Hawaiians by the white people who have claimed the land as their own.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book # 22 - This Burns my Heart

This Burns my Heart
Samuel Park
Finished 4/5/2012

Soo-Ja Choi, a beautiful young Korean woman, dreamt to be a diplomat one day. Her parents dreamt of finding her a good husband. What seemed to be a compromise changed the course of her life. She lived her life with determination and a strong will to overcome all the suffering. She became a dutiful wife, an obedient daughter-in-law, a loving mother. She felt an emptiness in her heart, which can be filled only by her one true love.

Set in 1960's Korea, the changes in Soo-ja's life reflected the changes in her country's history.

Book # 21 - Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen
finished 4/2/2012

Jacob Jankowski looks back on his early life in the circus. As he sat in the nursing home, he reminisced on how he joined the circus when his life fell apart with the data of his parents. Set in the depression and prohibition, this story depicts the difficulties of the circus traveling across the country to give levity to the country's otherwise dreary existence. Jacob made friends and enemies as he performed his duties as the circus animal doctor.

My favorite character in the book was Rosie the Elephant.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Book # 20 - Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls
Lisa See

I love any story that involves sisters. These two girls, Pearl and May, find themselves in good times and bad times, from Shanghai to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The author Lisa See calls this book a historical novel. Some of the characters were true-to-life people. The rest were based on actual people. The book is well-researched, based on actual transcripts of people who had gone through the pains of being quarantined at the Angel Island center for immigration and who had experienced Chinatown in Los Angeles in the early to mid 1900's.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book # 19 - the Book Thief

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
11 CD's Audiorecording

Just finished the book and I thought that this was very clever. Death narrates the life and times in Nazi Germany. The idea at first seemed morbid and depressing but if one persists with this book, one gets to appreciate Death's uncanny sense of humor. For example, he narrated a scene about two people playing cards - tempers flew and one ended up dying. Death said, "It kills me sometimes how people die."

The main character, Liesel Meminger, was a young girl adopted into the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Their family sheltered a Jew named Max, hiding him in their basement. Liesel promised never to reveal their secret, even to her best friend Rudy Steiner. She and Rudy spend their days in one thieving escapade to another, indulging in Liesel's passion for books. They become lovable even in their required Hitler Youth activities.

An excerpt:
Hitler Youth leader: "When was the Fuhrer born?"
Rudy Steiner: "April 20th, 1889, in the year of the Lord, in Bethlehem."

I think that if time and place had allowed it, Liesel and Rudy would have made very good friends with Anne Frank.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book # 18 - Dalai Lama, My Son

Dalai Lama, My Son
A Mother's Sotry
Diki Tsering

The Dalai Lama's nephew continues the work of his sister in writing about their grandmother. Their grandmother provided the strength for their family. This book, gleaned from notes taken by her grandchildren, cover her life from peasant origins in Tibet to the escape and exile to India after the Chinese Communist takeover in 1959. The Dalai Lama does not take center stage in this book, thus leading me to think that the title of this book is all wrong. The subtitle A Mother's Autobiogaphy should have sufficed. Or, how about Mother Lama? Or The Dalai Lama's Mother?

The Dalai Lama's mother described herself as a simple woman in a simple world, and the beauty of this book is truly is its simplicity and honesty.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book # 17 - Above the Clouds

Above the Clouds
Anatoli Boukreev
collected and edited by Linda Wylie

Returning to the Everest region always brings me a feeling of relief, for I love the mountains...Such majesty is humbling, and one is reminded of how small humans are in the scheme of things.

This book inspires me for its honesty and its passion. Anatoli Boukreev shared his life as a world-class high-altitude mountaineer. He grappled with the loss of national identity as the USSR collapses in the late 1980's. His love for mountaineering continued, and in his notes and journals, he longed for the "peaks that prop the Tibetan sky." This was especially true after the controversy surrounding the disastrous climb to Mount Everest in 1996, which claimed the life of his American friend Scott Fischer. In these pages, Anatoli searched his soul, and instead of seeing the evil Russian villain presented in Jon Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, we witness a gentle giant who literally died for the mountains that he loved.

Book # 16 - The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2

Jane Poynter
Finished 3/17/2012

We were in Tucson last month, and toured the Biosphere 2. Being a scientist myself, I was intrigued with the science involved in this endeavor. Upon returning home, I borrowed this book from the library. I found the story fascinating, and it especially helped, having toured the grounds, to envision the life of eight Biospherians as they worked in the hermetically sealed environment for two years. Two years and twenty minutes, counting the closing ceremony speeches by Jane Goodall.

The book however, is intended to explore all the machinations that brought Biosphere 2 possible. It was indeed a feat of architecture and science, but it was also riddled with politics, intrigue, bad management, and poor support of the mental well-being of the people who sacrificed two years of their lives.

Jane Poynter wrote her story ten years after leaving Biosphere 2. The first part of the book was confusing because she did not let the story develop by itself, breaking every good writer's rule, "Show, don't tell." She mixed her experiences preparing for life inside with their later ramifications.

All in all, it was good to learn about the Biosphere 2, and to know that the love of science continues to abound.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I love Goodreads!

A friend introduced me to Goodreads. Love seeing what other people read!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book # 15 - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
by Ishmael Beah
audiorecording, 7 CDs
finished 3/7/2012

A boy survived the terrors of war in Sierra Leone in the early 1990's. Only thirteen years old at that time, he was separated from his family. He and his friends form a little band, protecting each other as they ran from every fearful thing. They could not seek help in the villages, as people mistook them for a band of killer boys. They finally stopped running when the Sierra Leone Army recruited them who them to hate, kill and fight the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). As a soldier, he survived by the only power of his weapon. He took drugs like everyone else.

Ishmael's like turned upside down when his commander gave him up to a group which he later learned was the United Nations. The UN stepped in to rehabilitate boy soldiers, to varying degrees of success. Told with no detail spared, this story gripped me from beginning to its end.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book # 14 - Song of the Silk Road

Song of the Silk Road
Mingmei Yip
Finished 2/23/2012

Sexy and provocative! A young lady in New York gets a mysterious offer for millions of dollars if she fulfilled the wishes of a mysterious aunt. Her aunt wanted her to retrace her own travels along the Silk Road. Lily travels to China, where she complies with her aunt's bizarre and cryptic requests. Her adventures in the desert, remote mountains and villages makes her search her soul, find love, and understand the meaning of family.

Book #13 - If You Ask Me (And You Won't)

If You Ask Me (And You Won't)
Betty White

89 years old.
63 years in show business.
She still loves it!

Her advice to young actresses applies to the younger generation as well:
Treat your profession with respect.
Come in prepared.
Walk into every situation with a positive, open mind.
Allow yourself to experience a situation before forming an opinion.

Movie # 3 - Race to Nowhere

Race to Nowhere

A grassroots film about the evils of pushing America's children into overachievement, robbing them of their childhoods and causing anxiety, depression and the ultimate horror of suicide. Many valid points about the long-term effects of George Bush's No Child Left Behind policy. Kids are over-burdened with homework, demands of applying for college and keeping up with academic Joneses. The viewer needs to discern what applies to their family and strive for a balance.

Movie # 2 - A Joyful Noise

A Joyful Noise

A small town's choir wants to make it big in a national competition. Love watching actors who can sing and singers who can act. Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer and the surprising new arrival, Jeremy Jordan. It's the feel-good movie of the year!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book # 12 - Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea
Greg Mortenson with David Oliver Relin
One Book, One San Diego selection for 2011
audio recording finished 2/202012

Greg Mortenson climbed Kilimanjaro when he was a child. Climbing K2 in the Himalayan range, the second highest mountain in the world, became a dream. He wanted to honor his sister with this climb. However, he failed to climb K2 and he returned to the base, where the villagers of Korphe nurtured his broken body and spirit. At that moment, he knew that serving the villagers by building schools especially for girls would be his new direction in life.

Greg Mortenson dedicates his life to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, even after the events of 9/11, when sympathy to anyone Muslin was frowned on. Since the success of his book and the Central Asia Institute (CAI), Mortenson has been criticized for embellishing his story and for not accounting for every penny donated to the CAI.

I believe that it is still better to do good that to criticize someone who is doing good.

Book # 11 - Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North
Luis Alberto Urrea
Finished reading 2/20/2012

I admit that when I first read the synopsis of this novel, I was not sure if I would like the book. As a legal immigrant to the United States, I knew firsthand how the process for my family took so long that when the petition took effect, three of my older siblings were over twenty-one and were not eligible to immigrate.

As I started reading the book and understanding the characters, I felt my reservations go away. Nayeli and her gang of teenagers travel from Sinaloa, Mexico to the US (Los Yunaites) to find men to bring back to their town beleaguered by bandits. All their adult men have left for the greener pastures of the north. I felt that the author fully developed his characters in the first half of the book, then when the momentum built up, the plot unraveled so quickly that I was startled to finish the book so soon.

I saw Luis Alberto Urrea at last week's One Book, One San Diego even. He is quite hilarious! He said that all the characters of his book were inspired by people and places in his town. I love Atomiko, Tacho, and Missionary Matt. I loved that the places mentioned in California were places I am familiar with. The book is real and palpable. I can't wait to read his other books!

Book # 10 - A Secret Kept

A Secret Kept
Tatiana de Rosnay (author or Sarah's Key)
Finished reading 2/18/2012

A brother and a sister try to deal with their mid-life crises by rediscovering the heaven of their childhood. When they visit the place they vacationed with their parents, memories surface, causing them to re-examine the secret of their mother's death. What they find out lead them to re-examine their lives, their relationship with their families, and their future.

Book #9 - A Stolen Life

A Stolen Life
Jaycee Dugard
Finished reading 2/14/2012

Gripping memoir of the eleven-year-old girl who was abducted from a bus stop in South Lake Tahoe. She was taken two hours away from home, where she lived as a prisoner in a lunatic's backyard for the next eighteen years. This is a story of survival in the face of sexual and emotional abuse.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book # 8 - An Ordinary Man

An Ordinary Man
Paul Rusesabagina
7 CD Audiorecording, finished 2/2/2012

Moving autobiography of the man who inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda." He had no weapons, except for his courage and his words. Armed with them, he sheltered the people who came to his hotel, the world-class Hotel de Mille Collines. He saved the lives of 1,268 people, whether they were Tutsi or Hutu. People have called him a hero, but he insisted that he was just a hotel manager doing his job. 800,000 other Rwandans were not as lucky in the fastest genocide in the world, one hundred days of massacre.

The author grounded this book in the history of Rwanda, telling the stories of years of antagonism between the Hutus and the Tutsis. He imparted wisdom from the elders, "If you do not talk to your father, you will never know what your grandfather said."

Book # 7 - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future
Michael J. Fox
2 CD Audiorecording, finished 1/25/2012

Michael J. Fox talks about being a high school drop-out, dealing with early-onset Parkinson's disease, and living in the present moment.

"I may have skipped my classes, but I did not miss any lessons."

Book # 6 - Moloka'i

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
finished reading 2/2/2012

This is a tribute to those who inhabited the island of Moloka'i, when it was a settlement for those who have been separated from their families because of leprosy. Fr. Damien figures only in the periphery.

Rachel, a seven-year old girl, gets exiled to the island of Kalaupapa in Molokai. With the help of the nuns and her Uncle Pono, who was also exiled, she forges a new life.

This book is well-written and impeccably researched. It is an amazing in its authenticity. I met Alan Brennert in the One Book, One San Diego event. He said that in his research, he came across letters from the 1860's, including one written by Fr. Damien. He spent nine months researching before he even began to write. Alan Brennert has served a great justice to all the inhabitants of Molokai, and to their families from whom they were separated.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book # 5 - Letter to My Daughter

Letter to My Daughter
by Maya Angelou, 2-CD recording
Finished 1/19/2012

There are distinct voices that I love - James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman and Maya Angelou. Maya speaks to all women who take the place of the biological daughter that she never had.

In Letter to My Daughter, she imparts the wisdom of her years. In the chapter entitled "Commencement," I almost felt that she was right there at my college graduation, speaking to me.

Book # 4 - Girl in Translation

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Audiorecording narrated by Grace Wey

This is an amazing love story between a mother and a daughter through their struggles as recent immigrants from Hong Kong. They expected the glamor of Broadway, but instead were thrust into the sweatshops and slums of Brooklyn.

Jean Kwok writes so eloquently that I count her as one of my favorite writers. I experienced the same love for a writer with Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner. He wrote so beautifully that I found myself stopping to re-read entire passages.

Being an immigrant myself, I closely related to this book. Unlike Kimberly and her mother, I spoke English fluently when I immigrated to the United States. However, there are certain immigrant experiences that are unique, the first of which is the culture shock of America's wastefulness and lack of respect to elders. I understood the value of filial piety which demands total love and respect for elders and family.

Book # 3 - The Bookseller of Kabul

The Bookseller of Kabul - by Asne Seierstad
Finished reading 1/19/2012

A western journalist dons a burqa and documents the life of a family in Afghanistan as the Taliban loosens its hold on the country. For an entire year, she lives with the family of Sultan Khan, the bookseller of Kabul. She follows each member of the family, observing the pains and struggles that they encounter.

This is plain journalism, told without any sugarcoating. Truth is indeed ugly, but it does not diminish the value of this book.

I would had enjoyed the book more if the author included her personal interactions with the family members.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book # 2 - Sky of Red Poppies

Sky of Red Poppies, finished 1/6/2012
Zohreh Gharemani
301 pages

This is the first of the three selections for 2012 One Book, One San Diego, a literacy campaign sponsored by San Diego Public Library and the public radio station KPBS.

I read this book with a coworker of Persian descent. She and I read the book in a day. Her first comment to me was, "It is like I wrote the book, except that I wasn't rich." This book tells the story of friendship that crosses the barriers of religion and economic class in the time leading to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Movie # 1 - Iron Lady, watched 1/13/2012

It was my husband and my anniversary, and we make sure that we have a dinner and movie date (my one guaranteed movie date night per year). So sad, but given the prices of movie tickets, we'd rather rent movies when they come out on DVD. I love Meryl Streep, have followed her career most of my life. I loved her as Julia Child in Julie & Julia and as the Mother Superior in Doubt. What a contrast of characters!

I've always admired strong women, regardless of their politics. I own two books about Margaret Thatcher - The Downing Street Years and The Path to Power, so it was natural for me to want to see this movie.

Two thumbs up! I could not believe the amazing transformation. Was truly glad last night that Meryl Streep won the Oscar for Best Actress!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book # 1 - The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, finished 1/3/2012
439 pages

Eleanor lived through very interesting phases of the country's history - World War I, World War II, the suffrage movement, and the Cold War to name a few. She played a significant part of her husband's presidency, being FDR's eyes, ears and legs, so to speak.

I read this book because it was used heavily as a source in Noelle Hancock's "A Year with Eleanor." Hancock was an entertainment blogger who got laid off. One day, she read a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, "Do one thing every day that scares you." She took a year off to deal with her third-life crisis, and Eleanor's inspiration guided her through her "Year of Fear."

Eleanor continues to be on my list of strong women whom I admire. She said, "I am not a gifted person...I had only three assets: I was keenly interested, I accepted every challenge and every opportunity to learn more, and I had great energy and discipline."

Taking on the challenge

I can easily do 50 books, but 50 movies? Someone has to tie me down to the couch!

This happens to be the year that I decided to keep a book journal. I still remember my fifth grade teacher say, "You will never be lonely if you have a book." This year, I am excited to discover other worlds through books. I also love listening to audiobooks. I find that my stress level diminishes, especially in bad traffic, when I am engrossed in a good story.