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.