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.