Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fighting with your Demons

'Dragon House'
By John Shors

Format: Paperback
Published: NAL Trade; 2009
Pages: 384

Synopsis: After promising her dying father, a Vietnam War veteran, to take care of his shelter for street children in Ho Chi Minh City, American writer Iris agrees to take along her childhood friend Noah, now a depressed veteran who lost his leg in Iraq. In Vietnam, they find the shelter has drawn an appealing cast of Americans and Vietnamese, all seeking escape and salvation, including two children exploited by a brutal drug addict, and an impoverished old woman whose granddaughter is dying of cancer.

My Take: I've been hesitating on how to write this review for a long time because I loved John Shors' second novel, 'Beneath a Marble Sky', which was historic fiction, and I think maybe that colored my experience of this book for me. It shouldn't have but I am human. I think I was hoping for another great and fabulous historic fiction book and instead I got a raw and gritty look at modern day Vietnam with a large cast of characters dealing with some serious demons. I wasn't prepared. It's not to say the book wasn't good because it was, Mr. Shors writes beautifully, it's more to say that it's not the type of book that I normally pick up which sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't.

There was the large cast of characters. Those from the US, Iris - daughter of the man whose death sent her to Vietnam to finish opening the center for street children he had started; and Noah - the wounded Iraqi War veteran who didn't want to go, really, but he didn't want to live under his mother's sad eyes anymore either. And then there were the street children. These poor sad kids whose lives are torturous for no good reason. Their stories are heartbreaking to read.

Iris and Noah arrive in Vietnam and we meet this huge cast of characters and I got lost in the names and sites and sounds of Vietnam as do they. Modern Vietnam is a bustling, messy, crazy place but their Center is an oasis in the center in all of this. Here is where redemption and love is to be found.

Here's the thing, not every book connects with every person and I just wouldn't feel right if I wasn't being honest with you, dear readers. I wanted to love this one and other's did more than me so read their reviews:

(I received a signed copy from the author. Thank you so much for the opportunity to review your book.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

First - Timer

Last year I was a brand new book blogger when Dewey's October 24-Hour Read-a-Thon rolled around and I thought I better sit this one out and see how it all works. Not this time! No siree! I am going to join in the fun. I am sure a lot of people are scratching their heads right now going, reading for 24 hours is fun? What? But it sure sounded like it!

I've never read a book straight though since college so I am intigued to see how I many I can get through in this time frame. The date is Saturday April 10th. The start time is based on your timezone and since I am in PST, my start time is 5am. Ouch! Something tells me I may sleep past that and then make up for it later!

Apparently very few people make it through the whole 24 hours so it's ok if I don't but I will try my best to make it until midnight. Reading makes me feel nappish so I'll have to change my scenery a lot and of course I'll be checking in with you all often on my progress!

If you'd like to sign up too, all the scoop is here: Dewey's Read-a-Thon

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Mar. 22-27, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Hosted by Marcia over at the Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

I hit the PBS motherload this week! Here's what I got:

1. 'Juliet, Naked' by Nick Hornby

2. 'City of Thieves' by David Benioff

3. 'Two Guys Read Jane Austen' by Steve Chandler and Terrence N. Hill

4. 'A Hopeless Romantic' by Harriet Evans

5. 'The Love of Her Life' by Harriet Evans

6. 'Thanks for the Memories' by Cecilia Ahern

What did you get?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Something I Used to Do

About 3 or 4 years ago, believe it or not, I got really into making quilts. I'm not really sure why. I think it was similar to when I started this blog - I just needed a creative outlet. I used to sew when I was a kid and I have two very crafty grandmas. I have a sewing machine and I was seeing classes around town so I thought, well I'll take a class and see where it takes me.

For about a year I loved it. I made two baby quilts and I probably would
have continued if it weren't for the fact that living in San Francisco is not conducive to leaving a sewing machine out all of the time. Maybe if I didn't have roommates or never wanted to eat at my dining room table but taking the sewing machine and setting it up and taking it down every time I wanted to use it really made me consider whether or not I really wanted to sew. Also when you quilt it involves lots of ironing boards and believe it or not those are big space hogs too. :)

At any rate, the point of this blog is the books that I found incredibly useful through my quilting journey (no matter how short lived). The first was the most basic but the most useful. When out of class but having a basic question (as I always did) this book would always answer it!: 'Learn to Machine Quilt' by Sharon Chambers

After awhile you want some inspiration beyond the standard quilt and this book was great for it's wonderful, modern ideas of what else to make: 'Denyse Schmidt Quilts: 30 Colorful Quilt and Patchwork Projects'

Finally, you will inevitebly have some scraps lying around and want to make some gifts for people that don't take a week/months of time to throw together. This book was great at offering beautiful and fun ideas: 'Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts' by Joelle Hoverson

I always enjoyed making these quilts and think that I will again pick this up once again when I have a really big house but that day is far off. So for now, I had to leave this hobby behind, but not forgotten.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

Do you take breaks while reading a book? Or read it straight through? (And, by breaks, I don’t mean sleeping, eating and going to work; I mean putting it aside for a time while you read something else.

Heck yeah! I am not a power reader by any means. Also, my two favorite places to read books are in bed or on the couch on a quiet Sunday afternoon. If those aren't nap inducing I don't know what is! It usually takes me a few days to get through a book anyway based on my busy life of work and play so if I can find more than an hour to an hour and a half to read on a week night I'm golden but that does not a novel make.

They also ask if I put it aside while I read something else. I only do that if it's a book I not really that into. I'll move onto another book and read that through hoping that by having not forced myself to read the book that I wasn't all that into I won't give up on it completely outright and I'll go back to it and see if my thoughts are any different. But if I did that with every book I think I would get too many stories confused. I think I am too Type A to switch around too much!

Do you read book straight through?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sugar and Spice

By Bernice L. McFadden

Format: Paperback
Published: Plume; 2001
Pages: 240

Synopsis: Bernice L. McFadden's first novel begins with the brief, poetic description of a crime so startling that the reader is helplessly drawn in, as if a bright red door stood ajar on a bleak and forbidding house. Pearl Taylor's daughter, Jude, has been found murdered and mutilated near a field at the edge of town. "The murder had white man written all over it," writes McFadden. "But no one would say it above a whisper. It was 1940. It was Bigelow, Arkansas. It was a black child. Need any more be said?" In the years that follow, Pearl catches sight of Jude in so many strangers that when Sugar Lacey comes to town and sets up her unwholesome "business" in the house next door, she doesn't know whether to believe what she sees in Sugar's face: a striking similarity to Jude, dead 15 years. In her sedate but supple prose--rising at times to a light, unforced lyricism in the description of landscape or character--the author perfectly renders the closed and protective society of a small Southern town, the superstitions, gossip, and prying. Although the men of Bigelow are happy enough to have Sugar around, the women do their best to drive her off. Only Pearl is drawn to Sugar, managing to look beyond the rumors surrounding her new neighbor, whose dismal life, she tells Pearl, "had no crossroads."

My Take: This is one of those books that I think will take some time to really sink in for me but I am so glad I read it. I won it from Gerbera Daisy Diaries and had I not it is probably one of those great stories that would have passed me by. Thank goodness it didn't! Even though it is pretty short at less than 250 pages, it packs such a punch.

Within it you have the heartwrenching loss of a mother, Pearl Taylor, where the story opens with the brutal murder of her daughter. Being that it was the South in 1940 and the crime was committed by a white man, justice was never brought for this family and it was never really expected that it would be, even though they find out who did it. Can you even imagine living with that?

Pearl is broken when Sugar comes to town. Sugar looks like her daughter Jude but is like her in no other way because of her "business" (wink wink). The town wants to get rid of her but Pearl and her husband treat her kindly and really show a message of not judging a book by its cover and Sugar helps to heal Pearl and Pearl helps to heal Sugar. It's a really beautiful story even though its often covered with such brutal, dark overtones.

I also thought it was interesting that Ms. McFadden named Sugar, Sugar. I mean she is a prostitute. I don't know if I am reading too much into it but for a lot of the book she was anything but sweet. She was raised without a mother and she said that she had no reason to know not to do what she'd been doing for a living and was never apologetic for her life. Yes, she was nice to Pearl but for the majority of her life, mmm, not so much. Just thought it was an interesting name choice and I'm thinking it was deliberate.

I guess since I don't normally read books that verge on these kinds of darker storylines I found it really interesting and it's always good to get me out of my comfort zone in the reading world! I wanted to root for Sugar so much. It was one of those books you really want to read with other people so you can discuss it with them!

(I won a copy of this book)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

4 College Friends, 2 Moms, and 1 Great Author

Last week the fabulous author Kelly Corrigan of 'The Middle Place' and her new book 'Lift' came to an East Bay bookstore: A Great Good Place for Books and my girlfriends coerced me into leaving work early on a sunny afternoon to head over a bridge to go meet them. It didn't take much coercing as my love for Ms. Corrigan is no secret!

Kelly is a local Bay Area author and she lives near this bookstore so she came in tow with her two daughters Claire and Georgia and then soon her husband Edward showed up and then one of her best friends and her little daughter so it was an incredibly heartwarming talk.

The little store was full of women of all ages and a couple of men who you could tell just loved Kelly and her story of survival and were so excited to read her new book about a mother's love. Kelly asked us if we were tired of hearing "The Middle Place Story" as she called it and she was recieved with a resounding 'no!' So she told the story of how that book came to be and how she battled breast cancer and her father's cancer and how she thought that life was linear and you grew up and you had children and then cancer changed all of that for her. She told us how she drove around the country thanking all of those who supported her during her battle and how she sold her book and how the idea for 'Lift' came about.

'Lift' is a collection of letters to her children because before they get too old to remember she wants them to know that at one point they did have an incredibly simbiotic relationship and it was wonderful and she loves them so much and would do anything for them. Kelly honestly belives that the most wonderful thing she has done is have children and this book appears to be an expression of that.

There were of course questions from the audience and book signings. She was funny throughout and very gracious. I was so glad I went.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mailbox Monday - Mar. 15-20, 2010

It's Mailbox Monday time! Hosted by Marcia over at the Printed Page, Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

This week I only got one book which is great for my toppling bookshelf!

From LibraryThing Early Reviewers:

1. 'The Man from Saigon' by Marti Leimbach

What did you get?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Non-Fiction Five Challenge

It's become clear to me now that if there is a challenge out there that asks me to read books that I am already going to read anyway that I can't resist signing up! It will make me feel like a big success and I like make lists and then checking things off so when I came across the Non-Fiction Five Challenge I thought I better sign up for this one too!

I actually read more non-fiction in a year than I realize because I kind of forget that memoirs are non-fiction for some reason so this should be pretty each for me to handle. The rules are that between May and September of 2010, read 5 non-fiction books, making sure that at least one book is outside from your norm (i.e. 4 memoirs and 1 self-help).

Here's what I have on my shelf that I would like to pull from that are my non-fiction books but this is not a final read list! It is just to help me look back on if I get stuck toward the end of the challenge wondering what I should read to finish it up!

1. 'Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex' by Mary Roach
2. 'The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World' by Michael Pollan
3. 'The Female Brain' by Louann Brizendine
4. 'My Life in France' by Julia Child
5. 'The Mother Tongue' by Bill Bryson
6. 'Shakespeare: The World as a Stage' by Bill Bryson
7. 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' by Bill Bryson
8. 'A Walk in the Woods' by Bill Bryson

So yeah, I should be able to read 5 in that time!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


This week's Booking Through Thursday asks:

Which do you prefer? Lurid, fruity prose, awash in imagery and sensuous textures and colors? Or straight-forward, clean, simple prose?

(You thought I was going to ask something else, didn’t you? Admit it!)

My gut instinct was, oh descriptive, long and flowy of course! Thinking mainly of historical fiction those usually paint the best scenes. And then I really thought about it and I know for a fact that I get annoyed when authors go on and on about something that they only need a few sentences to describe.

So maybe the real question for me is, if you are a great author, then yes, take the time you need to set the scene with beautiful details and lush descriptions, otherwise just cut to the chase, maybe you're better at witty banter instead.

Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Slices of Orange

The Orange Prize for Fiction Longlist was released today (this morning at like midnight since it’s a UK prize but I’m sleeping and then working) but I thought you all might be just as interested to see what was on the list as I was. I love these lists, not just for my shear love of lists (of which it is vast) but because usually when I can get my hands on these books I tend to really like them. The list is varied – there are first time novelists as well as established novelists. Heck there is even a book on here I’ve read and two I have on my shelf and haven’t gotten around to reading yet (Mom, be proud to know that the 3 books you gave me for Christmas made this list - nice work, you!).

So without further ado, here you go: (the hyperlinks are to amazon when it is available in the US).

· The Very Thought of You’ by Rosie Alison

· The Rehearsal’ by Eleanor Catton

· Savage Lands’ by Clare Clark

· Hearts and Minds’ by Amanda Craig

· 'The Way Things Look to Me' by Roopka Farooki

· The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers

· This is How by M. J. Hyland

· Small Wars’ by Sadie Jones

· 'The Lacuna' By Barbara Kingslover - link is to my review!

· Secret Son’ by Laila Lalami

· 'The Long Song'
by Andrea Levy

· Black Water Rising’ by Attica Locke

· The Wilding’ by Maria McCann

· Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel

· Black Mamba Boy
by Nadifa Mohamed

· A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore

· The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
by Monique Roffey

· 'The Still Point' by Amy Sackville

· The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

· The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters

Which ones have you read that you recommend? Which ones do you want to read?

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