Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

 From Publishers Weekly

In this enchanting first novel, Dilloway mines her own family's history to produce the story of Japanese war bride Shoko, her American daughter, Sue, and their challenging relationship. Following the end of WWII, Japanese shop girl Shoko realizes that her best chance for a future is with an American husband, a decision that causes a decades-long rift with her only brother, Taro. While Shoko blossoms in America with her Mormon husband, GI Charlie Morgan, and their two children, she's constantly reminded that she's an outsider--reinforced by passages from the fictional handbook How to Be an American Housewife. Shoko's attempts to become the perfect American wife hide a secret regarding her son, Mike, and lead her to impossible expectations for Sue. The strained mother-daughter bond begins to shift, however, when a now-grown Sue and her teenage daughter agree to go to Japan in place of Shoko, recently fallen ill, to reunite with Taro. Dilloway splits her narrative gracefully between mother and daughter (giving Shoko the first half, Sue the second), making a beautifully realized whole.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 My Thoughts....

I really liked this book - this is similar to The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Shanghai Girls.  All these books tell the story of the immigrant experience in America post WWII.  I liked that the story was told from both Shoko's point of view and then through her daughter, Sue.  We follow Shoko from war torn Japan (right after Nagasaki) to America with her GI husband.  Shoko does everything she can to fit in but always seems to fall short.  The second half of the book is told through Sue's experiences as she tries to help her mother find closure with her family in Japan.

(4.5/5 stars)

Friday, November 19, 2010

What My Kids Are Reading.

I want to keep track of what the kids and I are reading each week (and hopefully have them chime in with a review too!)

The triplets and I are continuing Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl.  So far so good, the kids really seem to enjoy funny, silly books, and this book fits the bill.  My goal is to read to them everyday (aside from their own independent reading) but honestly, some days, we just don't make it. 

Robbie and I are reading a variety of books - his two current favorites are:
  • Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
  • Cat the Cat Who's That?
We have read many, many more but I just can't remember at the moment - will try and do better next week of keeping track of what we read and what projects we do with the books.

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Wow it has been a long time.  I have been in a reading rut - starting many, many books but not finishing any.  This book is the exception (sort of - due to time constraints I had to speed read through some of it - but it was not a reflection of the writing).  I was going to see Putnam County's 25th Annual Spelling Bee at the Philadelphia Theater Company and they were having a book discussion prior to the show - and what a book it was. 

I am not sure I would recommend this book because it is so disturbing, so disconcerting.  I was horrified and saddened by much of the family dynamics but I could not stop reading it - I wanted to find out what happened next, how does it all end?  She is a wonderful writer and I liked how she structured the book, weaving each family members story together.

Here's are what some of the reviewers thought:

From Publishers Weekly

An eccentric family falls apart at the seams in an absorbing debut that finds congruencies between the elementary school spelling-bee circuit, Jewish mysticism, Eastern religious cults and compulsive behavior. Nine-year-old Eliza Naumann feels like the dullest resident of a house full of intellectuals--her older brother, Aaron, is an overachiever; her mother, Miriam, is a lawyer; and her father, Saul, is a self-taught scholar and a cantor at the community synagogue. She surprises herself and the rest of the Naumanns when she discovers a rare aptitude for spelling, winning her school and district bees with a surreal surge of mystical insight, in which letters seem to take on a life of their own. Saul shifts his focus from Aaron to Eliza, devoting his afternoons to their practice sessions, while neglected Aaron joins the Hare Krishnas. Seduced by his own inner longings, Saul sees in Eliza the potential to fulfill the teachings of the Kabbalah scholar Abulafia, who taught that enlightenment could be reached through strategic alignments of letters and words. Eliza takes to this new discipline with a desperate, single-minded focus. At the same time, her brilliant but removed mother succumbs to a longtime secret vice and begins a descent into madness. Goldberg's insights into religious devotion, guilt, love, obsessive personalities and family dynamics ring true, and her use of spelling-as-metaphor makes a clever trope in a novel populated by literate scholars and voracious readers. Her quiet wit, balanced by an empathetic understanding of human foibles, animates every page. Although she has a tendency to overexplain, Goldberg's attentive ear makes accounts of fast-paced spelling competitions or descriptions of Miriam's struggles to resist her own compulsions riveting, and her unerring knack for telling details (as when Eliza twitches through a spelling bee in itchy tights) captures a child's perceptions with touching acuity. While coming-of-age stories all bear a certain similarity, Goldberg strikes new ground here, and displays a fresh, distinctive and totally winning voice. (June)

From Booklist

There is so much pain in this powerful first novel about a family's unraveling that it often seems on the edge of unbearable. And yet, as we watch nine-year-old Eliza Naumann transform herself from underachiever to spelling prodigy, we endure the pain out of respect for one girl's courage and all-consuming love. Eliza's family is gradually breaking down in front of her: father Saul, whose self-absorbed passion for Jewish mysticism blinds him to the suffering of those closest to him; mother Myriam, whose quest for perfection leads her into kleptomania; and brother Aaron, who rebels against his faith and turns to Hare Krishna. Eliza attempts to put her family back together by an act of will, spelling her way to harmony, with an assist from her father's Kabbalah masters. Goldberg effectively mixes fascinating detail about spelling bees with metaphorical leaps of imagination, producing a novel that works on many levels. There is something of Holden Caulfield in Eliza, the same crazed determination to save her loved ones from themselves. An impressive debut from a remarkably talented writer. Bill Ott

Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Friday, October 22, 2010

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

"84, Charing Cross Road is a charming record of bibliophilia, cultural difference, and imaginative sympathy. For 20 years, an outspoken New York writer and a rather more restrained London bookseller carried on an increasingly touching correspondence. In her first letter to Marks & Co., Helene Hanff encloses a wish list, but warns, "The phrase 'antiquarian booksellers' scares me somewhat, as I equate 'antique' with expensive." Twenty days later, on October 25, 1949, a correspondent identified only as FPD let Hanff know that works by Hazlitt and Robert Louis Stevenson would be coming under separate cover. When they arrive, Hanff is ecstatic--but unsure she'll ever conquer "bilingual arithmetic." By early December 1949, Hanff is suddenly worried that the six-pound ham she's sent off to augment British rations will arrive in a kosher office. But only when FPD turns out to have an actual name, Frank Doel, does the real fun begin.
Two years later, Hanff is outraged that Marks & Co. has dared to send an abridged Pepys diary. "i enclose two limp singles, i will make do with this thing till you find me a real Pepys. THEN i will rip up this ersatz book, page by page, AND WRAP THINGS IN IT." Nonetheless, her postscript asks whether they want fresh or powdered eggs for Christmas. Soon they're sharing news of Frank's family and Hanff's career. No doubt their letters would have continued, but in 1969, the firm's secretary informed her that Frank Doel had died. In the collection's penultimate entry, Helene Hanff urges a tourist friend, "If you happen to pass by 84, Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me. I owe it so much." (

This is a wonderfully sweet little novel.  I read it in one sitting (while drinking a cup of tea) and smiled all the way through.  For people who love books and love talking about books (and writing about books) this is a wonderful addition to any home library.  Next up is the movie - we'll see how it measures up!

***5/5 stars***

I Remember You by Harriet Evans

"Twelve years in bustling London have left Tess Tennant dumped by her boyfriend, out of work, and miserable. Still, maybe taking a new job as a classics professor at the tiny college in her picture-perfect hometown in the English countryside was a bit drastic. Langford’s stone cottages, quaint shops, and lifelong locals feel even smaller than she remembered, but at least Tess has Adam, her best and oldest friend. On a spontaneous birthday adventure back to the city, though, their painful and heartbreaking past forces them into an angry confrontation.
Tess escapes to Rome on a class trip and falls unexpectedly into the arms of Peter, a charming American journalist . . . until a tragedy cuts her vacation short. Back home and alone, Tess must slowly unravel her feelings about her secretive best friend, the romantic new lover she barely knows, and the independent woman she really wants to be." (

This was just OK.  I found myself disliking the main character, Tess.  She was a tad whiny and I wanted to periodically shake her throughout the story.  That said, it held my interest enough to finish it.  I would definitely take this out of the library but it is not one to purchase as a keeper.

***3/5 stars***

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his 12-year-old son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko’s story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry’s voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal
I was very surprised that the professional reviews of this book were so mediocre.  I absolutely loved it (but I tend to be overly sentimental!)  The book toggles between two time periods - 1942 and the somewhat present 1986.  It tells the story of Henry and Keiko and there unlikely friendship.  It contains all the elements that make a great book (for me anyway) romance, intrigue, drama, loss... I definitely would recommend this book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Distant Land of My Fathers by Bo Caldwell

From Publishers Weekly

Caldwell's memoirlike first novel begins in 1930s Shanghai, a city where enterprising foreign entrepreneurs can quickly become millionaires and just as quickly lose everything as victims of the volatile political climate. Six-year-old narrator Anna Schoene tells the tale of her insurance salesman/smuggler father, Joseph, the son of American missionaries, whose life-long obsession with the city's opportunities gains him great riches, though it ultimately costs him his family and almost his life. Anna worships her father. Her life in Shanghai has been one of privilege, thanks to his shady business dealings. But after a harrowing kidnapping incident, and frightened by the Japanese invasion of China, her mother, Genevieve, flees home to South Pasadena, Calif., taking Anna with her. Joseph is convinced that his connections will keep him safe and refuses to leave. Imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese and subsequently the Chinese Communists, he survives, although he loses everything and is finally deported back to America in 1954. Over the years Anna has distanced herself emotionally from her father, realizing he needed money and power more than he needed his family. But when the physically broken and spiritually reborn Joseph returns to California, he reconciles with the grown Anna and her family. The memoir-style structure lends the characters a certain flatness, but Caldwell's even tone gives the tale a panoramic elegance. Though lacking in narrative vitality, the novel is interesting from a historical perspective and vivid with details of prewar Shanghai and Los Angeles.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

My Take:

I loved, loved, loved this book.  I read this book in three days and had an overwhelming sadness when I read the last page because it was over.  The characters are so likable and believable and beautifully developed, you just can't wait to see how it all plays out.  If you like this book Lisa See's Shanghai Girls is a must read!

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto by Jennifer Lancaster

I don't think I can fully express how much I heart Jennifer Lancaster.  I have never met her but in my mind, she is my bff, seriously.  I read her blog religiously and although I am not a huge twitter fan I do catch some of her posts.  Her latest installment has not let me down.

My Fair Lazy follows Jen's quest, or Jennaissance, to become less of a reality show addict (something that I truly LOVE about her) and become more cultured.  She goes to the theatre, tries new food, *tries* to understand jazz and basically become a more well rounded individual.  Throughout her journey she stumbles and creates laugh out loud situations.  (LOL, or laugh out loud, is a very OVER used term these days but when I use it in this context I truly mean that I laughed out loud, loudly and usually spraining something out of my mouth, tmi???)

I can't say anymore - go out and buy her book NOW, seriously, go now.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Playdate With Death by Ayelet Waldman

I am not sure I have anything new to say about this series.  I liked this latest installment and I have to say the ending was not as predictable as the previous two.  It is a fun, light, cute little mystery. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Big Nap

The second installment in Ayelet Waldman's Mommy Track Mysteries is another fun, *light*, mystery.  Juliet Applebaum is having trouble adjusting to a newborn and a very active two year old.  After breaking down at a Jewish Food Store, she decided to hire a mother's helper, a young Hasidic girl named Fraydle.  Unfortunately the mother's helper is a no show for her second visit and Juliet discovers that she has gone missing.  The books are moderately formulaic but they still managed to keep me entertained to the last page.  So onto the third book!

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Day by David Nichols

I loved, loved, loved this book.  I am not sure if it spoke to me because a) I would be around the same age as the main characters so I could really relate to the setting (except that it was in London and I, ya know, grew up in NY) or b) I have a friendship *similar* to the main characters. 

Apart from that I loved the structure - each chapter is on the same day a year apart.  So when the chapter ends on a cliff hanger you don't find out what immediately happens, you can surmise by where they are a year later but you don't get the full details - love that!  I have described it as a smarter chick lit novel.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nursery Crimes by Ayelet Waldman

After bemoaning to a colleague of mine that I CANNOT FIND ANYTHING TO READ (yes I do work in a library and yes I do have no less than ten books on my end table right now but still nothing was grabbing me.)  She recommended this little gem of a book.  It was just what I was looking for - light, funny, beachy type read (though sadly no beaches were involved.) 

The story involves a stay-at-home mom, Juliet Appelbaum, who sometimes finds herself not so thrilled with the day to day life of staying at home with a small child.  I found this totally relateable because while I love my children I don't know what I would do if I didn't have my part-time job.  I did stay home when the triplets were young and there were days that I wanted to tear my hair out.  Juliet finds herself on the edge of a murder and cannot help but put her detective skills to the test (she was a public defender in her former life) and get to the bottom of the mystery.  And even though I did figure out whodunit two thirds through the book I still loved it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review - Thin Rich Pretty by Beth Harbison

This was one of my summer reading list books.  I had such high expectations - I love stories where the protagonist has some weight issues (gee wonder why.)   I thought it would be a fun light read - and light it was but couple that with bad character development, boring and predictable plot and you have yourself one summer stinker.  It wasn't unreadable but I did find myself speed reading the last fifty or so pages - like I didn't know how it was going to end anyway!  Well onto my next summer read - Jennifer Weiner's newest Fly Away Home.  Oh please Jennifer don't let me down...