The Mountains Sing [Book Review]

July 10, 2020

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Family Life, Vietnamese

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

The Mountains Sing is a multi-generational story of the Tran family told in dual timelines and points of view. We learn about the 20th Century history of Viet Nam as events are integrated into the personal family story. Present-day events are told by the granddaughter and the family’s backstory is told by the grandmother. The story is filled with rich historical details, vivid descriptions, and lyrical writing. We experience the history of Viet Nam from the viewpoint of the Vietnamese people and specifically from the viewpoint of the Tran family. A compelling story of ordinary, beautiful people and a country torn apart by war.

My Thoughts:

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#throwbackthursday Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng [Book Review]

April 30, 2020

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
#throwbackthursday

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for #throwbackthursday.

This year as part of Blog Audit Challenge 2020 I’m going back to update older review posts. On Thursdays, I’ll be re-sharing a few of these great reads, and today I’m sharing my review of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

Little Fires Everywhere is now a movie adaptation on Hulu. Have you seen it?

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (cover) I/mage: birdseye view of a pristine upper class neighborhood

Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction

My Summary:

Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio (yes, it’s a real place), strives to be a perfect planned community. In the words of the author there is a “propensity to over achieve and a deep intolerance for flaws…a utopia.” Every winding road is thoughtfully laid out, the list of house colors is a strict, guideline, trash pickup is conducted in the alleys and all trash cans are out of sight, and tradition is revered and informs the future. Generations of Elena Richardson’s family have lived in Shaker Heights, and she ensures that her family follows the rules and lives up to expectations. All through her life she has followed the rules and this is wholeheartedly embraced as her highest value. Part of her personal code of following the rules is giving back to those that are less fortunate whenever she can, and she’s the type who keeps a mental list of her good deeds. Elena especially wants to use her inherited rental property near her home to benefit others. She earnestly seeks out renters that could gain from the advantage of living in her perfect neighborhood in Shaker Heights. Mia Warren, a free-spirited artistic non-rule follower, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, are the most recent beneficiaries of Mrs. Richardson’s benevolence. Although when Mia is less than grateful for Mrs. Richardson’s offer to buy one of Mia’s photographs, Elena Richardson makes a mental note and this slight continues to bother her and becomes motivation for her future relationship with Mia:

“That’s very generous of you,” Mia’s eyes slid toward the window briefly and Mrs. Richardson felt a twinge of irritation at this lukewarm response to her philanthropy.

As the story unfolds, the two families become more involved with each other rather than simply remaining tenant and landlord. Soon the children become friends, Pearl spends her afternoons at the Richardson home, and Mia accepts a part-time position as a light house keeper and cook for the Richardson family.  Izzy Richardson, a teenage child who shares Mia’s artistic interests and temperament, and Mia develop a close relationship while Izzy learns photography skills in Mia’s darkroom. When one of Mrs. Richardson’s best friends is in the process of adopting a Chinese-American child,  the community is divided on the ethical issues and Elena Richardson and Mia Warren find themselves on opposite sides of the custody battle between the birth mother and adoptive mother. This conflict triggers Mrs. Richardson to find out about Mia’s motivations, her secrets, and her mysterious past. All of this has devastating consequences for the two families.

Are you a rule follower or a free spirit? Do you believe that following all the rules will lead to a happy and successful life?

Continue reading my review of Little Fires Everywhere….

QOTD: Have you read Little Fires Everywhere or is it on your TBR?

American Dirt [Book Review]

April 10, 2020

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (cover)

Genre/Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Suspense, Family Drama, Migrant, Mother/Child, Hispanic

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

Lydia, her journalist husband, and their young son live a comfortable, middle-class life in Acapulco, Mexico. Lydia and her husband are following their dreams: Lydia owns a bookshop while her husband writes investigative pieces that expose gang crime in the area. One day Lydia unknowingly befriends a charming bookshop customer who turns out to be the head of the newest drug cartel that has taken over the city. Her friendship with Javier sets in motion a tragic sequence of events that force Lydia and her eight-year-old son to flee for their lives.

My Thoughts:

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The Last Train to London: A Review

March 13, 2020

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton (cover)

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, WW11, Jewish, Nazi-Occupied Europe

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

Rescuing children, her life’s work…

The Last Train to London shares the story of real-life hero Truus Wijsmuller, a member of the Dutch resistance who risked her life smuggling Jewish children out of Nazi Germany. (She was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. )

The mission known as Kindertransport carried thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied Europe. In addition to hearing about Tante Truus as she was known, the author imagines the lives of children such as Stephan (budding playwright), his younger brother. and Zofie-Helene (mathematics protegee).

Auntie Truus (headshot)

Tante Truus: Image Source: Wikipedia

 

Auntie Truus statue in Amsterdam

Tante Truus statue in Amsterdam: Image Source: Wikipedia

My Thoughts:

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In Pieces: A Review

February 18, 2019  

In Pieces by Sally Field

In Pieces coverGenre/Categories: Non Fiction, Memoir, Biography, Family Relationships, Motherhood

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Summary:

Beloved actor Sally Field tells her story for the first time. Her earliest years were lived as a shy, vulnerable, insecure, and anxious little girl in social situations, and she reveals that she did not feel safe at home. In middle school she discovered acting and it became a refuge for her. As she reached her later teens and landed her first professional acting job, she felt responsible to help her mom and younger sister in financial and practical ways. Even when she married for the first time, she felt the burden of providing financially for her young family. From her early years as Gidget and The Flying Nun, Sally Field went on to captivate movie lovers with riveting and emotional performances in her portrayal of characters such as Sybil, Norma Rae, and Mary Todd Lincoln. Of course, we also loved her in Forest Gump and Mrs. Doubtfire. Most recently, she played a leading role in the TV drama series, Brothers & Sisters. Through Sally Field’s personal story, readers see her behind-the-scenes reality and also follow her unstable and codependent relationship with her mother in which she ultimately finds healing and reconciliation.

Amazon Ratings (February): 4.4 Stars

My Thoughts:

Content. Although Sally Field’s story, In Pieces, is a bit sadder and more tragic than I expected, she writes in the same authentic, transparent, upbeat, and vulnerable style we’ve come to expect from her. Sally Fields shares her behind-the-scenes experiences and her complicated family relationships. Especially poignant is the relationship with her mother and eventual reconciliation. I appreciate Sally’s struggle to understand her choices and those of others. She is determined to chase her dream and demonstrates grit in dealing with life’s disappointments and circumstances. Through her life experiences, we learn what it was like for her to follow her heart and pursue her ambition in a male dominated world. She shares the good and bad, her ups and downs, her fears and her success, her doubts and passion. Her memorable story is honest and authentic, powerful and inspiring. The story doesn’t come across as written by a celebrity (except for mentions of the movie industry)….it’s a story from someone we might sit across the table from working though difficult life issues.

Personal Connection. Stories in which readers can make personal connections become the best reading experiences! I grew up in around the same area of Southern California as Sally Field; in fact, as it turns out we lived in the same city during our childhoods. I grew up fangirling Sally, watching her first in Gidget and then The Flying Nun. I’ve admired her work in later years and cheered for her on award shows, so it was incredibly interesting to hear the behind-the-scenes stories for movies that I’ve seen (not on DVD or TV but as they were released).

Cover. I don’t often mention covers in my reviews, but I love the cover of In Pieces. Her picture reflects the vulnerable and transparent person we read about in the story.

Recommended. Sally Field’s accomplishments despite the obstacles she faced are remarkable. I love hearing how the profession of acting and the portrayal of certain characters helped her work out the emotions and desperate circumstances in her own life. She is a survivor, and it’s an engaging and well written story. I’m awarding this five stars because of the emotions I felt while reading her story and because it was engaging (read it in two days). In Pieces is recommended for readers who love memoir, for fans of Sally Field the actor, and for those who desire to read about the movie industry. ***Trigger warnings for child abuse and for attention given to women without their consent.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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In Pieces

In Pieces

Meet the Author, Sally Field

Sally Field

Sally Field is a two-time Academy Award and three-time Emmy Award winning actor who has portrayed dozens of iconic roles on both the large and small screens. In 2012, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2015 she was honored by President Obama with the National Medal of Arts. She has served on the Board of Directors of Vital Voices since 2002 and also served on the Board of The Sundance Institute from 1994 to 2010. She has three sons and five grandchildren.



Let’s Discuss!

Are you a Sally Field fan?! Which of her roles is your favorite?



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Looking Ahead:

Come back Friday for a review of Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly.



Links

Check out The Secret Library Book Blog and her great weekly links!

I’ll be updating my Winter TBR as I read and review selections. So check back often!



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.

 

Eden

April 6, 2018

Eden
by Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

Eden 2

Genre/categories: Fiction, Family Life, Family Saga

*linking up with Words on Wednesday

 

Summary:

Generations of Becca Meister’s family have traditionally spent memorable summers at the family’s estate affectionately known as “Eden” in Long Harbor, Rhode Island (fictionalized setting). This year as the family gathers for the 4th of July holiday, Becca (the family’s 70 year old matriarch) plans to admit to the family that she can no longer afford the upkeep on the estate because her late husband mismanaged their retirement funds. Suddenly, the family is faced with the reality that this might be their last summer at Eden. Because of other personal events happening in Becca’s life, she also concludes that this is the time she must reveal a family secret. In addition to the present day timeline, the story introduces readers to Becca’s childhood and family, we learn the history of Eden (including the hurricane of ’38), and readers come to appreciate what Eden means to the family.

Amazon Rating (April): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

Historical fiction: Although this book isn’t categorized as historical fiction, there are historical elements that some readers may find fascinating.  For instance, life in the 1920s (particularly for women), the stock market crash, the hurricane along the east coast in 1938, lifestyle of the east coast elite and their summer resorts, and the experiences of women in one family over eight decades.

Family saga: I love a multigenerational family saga! Readers follow this family for eight decades and experience their joys, sorrows, challenges, achievements, trials, hopes, dreams, relationships, values, and connectedness (or disconnects)…..in other words, this is a normal family much like our own. Readers will find a myriad of opportunities to relate. In particular, I liked how getting to know the grandparents helped explain Becca’s actions and decisions. I found the focus on mother/daughter relationships throughout the story especially interesting.

Child birth and adoption:  The story’s most fascinating and interesting themes for me were the unwed girls and their unplanned pregnancies story lines. Over the course of eighty years, the author includes stories of three unwed girls: one in the early 1900s, one in the mid 1900s, and one in present day. It was fascinating to trace how each of their pregnancies were handled in the time periods. Early in the century, an unwed girl’s unplanned pregnancy was generally hidden (even from the baby’s father), and the girl was whisked away to deliver the baby and place him/her for adoption. Upon returning home to resume her normal life, no mention was made of the baby and the girl was expected to live with the secret for her entire life. To disclose the situation would have caused the family and the girl a great deal of shame. In the middle of the century, an unwed girl experiencing an unplanned pregnancy was strongly encouraged to marry the father quickly even if  the couple hadn’t planned on a marriage. This attempt to “legitimatize” the baby often resulted in making two mistakes as the marriage arrangements were often made out of necessity and coercion and not out of thoughtful commitments and promises. Finally, unwed girls facing unplanned pregnancies at the end of the century experience having many options and not hiding their pregnancies. While some girls opt to place the baby for adoption, others choose to marry and keep the baby, or choose not to marry and raise the child as a single parent with the help of the extended family. There is no shame and the child is welcomed with love and celebrated. This theme touched me as our family has been blessed by adoption. My aunt who was born in the ’20s was a girl that was whisked away until her baby was born and placed for adoption. My husband was placed for adoption as a baby (at a time when adoptions were not as openly discussed as they are now), and although his adoptive parents weren’t forthcoming with him about the adoption during his early childhood, he was able to meet his birth mother and his biological sister as an older adult a few years ago. When my husband was eventually told about his adoption, his parents cautioned him not to tell anyone that he was adopted…that it was their secret. This caused him to believe that there was something wrong with the process that brought him into the family. In more current times, my nephew was adopted through an open adoption process and had the opportunity to meet his birth mother as soon as he became an adult. Open adoption is probably the scariest for the adoptive mom but I think it’s probably healthiest for the first mom and for the child. I know mothers and adopted children from all three perspectives and these personal connections greatly enrich the story for me.

The title: The first concept that comes to my mind with the title Eden is a paradise….and Eden in this story is a type of paradise, but it’s also a symbol for traditions (locations or experiences) that hold families together for generations. Perhaps we all have that place in mind that evokes warm childhood memories of families gathered, feelings of being loved, and of belonging. For me, it’s visiting the family farms of my childhood in South Dakota.

Themes: If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I love stories with substantial themes. A few themes that I feel would merit some discussion are themes of mother/daughter relationships and expectations, unwed girls facing pregnancies, adoption, privilege, women’s voice and power (or lack of), and family traditions.

The cover: I passed over this book time and time again on my TBR shelf because the gray toned, muted cover wasn’t calling out to me. This is obviously a subjective statement with which others may completely disagree. After reading the story, I can make guesses about why the author chose the cover; however, it wasn’t one that appealed to me. Look beyond the cover!

Lots of characters and jumping between timelines: Thankfully, the author provides a family tree at the beginning of the story because I really needed it! Readers listening on audible might want to jot down names and relationships along the reading journey. Many stories today have alternating timelines and it’s more challenging in some books than others. I felt like I worked hard throughout the story to be fully present in the timeline hops. Frequently, I found that I needed to stop and think about the characters and the situations when jumping to the alternate timeline.

Recommended? Yes! The more I reflect on this story, the richer it becomes. Recommended for readers who enjoy well told family sagas, thought provoking themes, or who might have some familiarity with Rhode Island (or summer beach resort living!).

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Eden

Buy Here

Meet the Author,
Jeanne Blasberg

jeanne blasbergAlways hunting for writerly detail, I’ve been known to stare or eavesdrop on the table next to me.  Call it research or maybe an over-developed sense of empathy; I’m fascinated by human nature.  At heart, I’m really still that only child who played for hours with imaginary friends.  Now my imaginary friends are characters on the page, flawed but honest, people worth spending time with.  My stories may echo timeless struggles, but they are spun with my own peculiar slant.

Jeanne Blasberg is a voracious observer of human nature and has kept a journal since childhood. She has been known to stare at strangers on more than one occasion to the embarrassment of her three children. (Mom, stop staring!)  After graduating from Smith College, she surprised everyone who knew her by embarking on a career in finance, making stops on Wall Street, Macy’s and Harvard Business School, where she worked alongside the preeminent professor of retail and wrote case studies and business articles on all sorts of topics on everything that has to do with…shopping.

A firm believer that you are never too old to change course or topics (in truth, she’s not a big shopper), Jeanne enrolled at Grub Street, one of the country’s great creative writing centers, where she turned her attention to memoir and later fiction, inspired by her childhood journal. Eden is her debut novel.

Now deep into her second novel, Jeanne and her husband split their time between Boston and Westerly, RI. When not writing, Jeanne can be found playing squash, skiing, or taking in the sunset over Little Narragansett Bay, and sometimes simply staring at interesting characters doing uninteresting things.

Jeanne’s writing has appeared in The Sun Literary Magazine’s Reader’s Write, Squash Magazine, Interfaith Family.comDead Darlings.comBreakingMatzo.comThe Huffington Post,  Women Writers Women’s Books, and Adoptimist.com.

jeanneblasberg.com



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Looking Ahead

I’m on very long library wait lists for The Force of Nature and The Music Shop….meanwhile I’m waiting for kindle prices to fall and reading other selections. Consequently, next Friday I’ll read and review From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon (a  histfic title from my Goodreads TBR shelf with an average Goodreads rating of 4.41 stars and Amazon rating of 4.7 stars).

From Sand and Ash

Amazon Information Here

What are you reading this week?


Extra:
Reading Recommendation For Middle Grade Readers!

(And for all readers looking for a thought provoking story!)

Crenshaw

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is a beautifully and creatively written middle grade story exploring poverty, homelessness, and imaginary friends. Because the content of this book builds compassion and the topic of homelessness might worry some readers, I’m recommending it as an excellent “read together” book.

The first reason I loved this story is because of the personal connections I made as a teacher at a Title 1 school where the student population often experienced poverty and homelessness. I could share many stories of how their personal experiences impacted my life and our classroom.

I believe this is a thoughtful story for students who are not in this situation to build empathy, but I wonder how children who are experiencing poverty and homelessness would react to the story without having someone with which to process.

In the story, the main character, Jackson, has an imaginary friend (Crenshaw, as seen on the cover) and I appreciate the author’s subtle message that the imaginary friend appears to help Jackson deal with his stress. In fact, when Jackson questions why Crenshaw is larger than he was when Jackson was little, Crenshaw explains that Jackson needs a bigger imaginary friend now that his problems are different.

I thought a great deal while reading the story about how children process stress. It is interesting that Jackson appears fine to his parents (mom thanks him for being positive and helpful), yet he experiences stress because of not knowing what is going to happen. In addition, he also feels tremendous responsibility for his sister (even giving up his plan to run away in order to take care of her).

“What bothered me most, though, is that I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t control anything. It was like driving a bumper car without a steering wheel. I kept getting slammed, and I just had to sit there and hold on tight. Bam! Were we going to have enough to eat tomorrow? Bam! Were we going to have enough to pay the rent? Bam! Would I go to the same school in the fall? Bam!”

This thought impacted me while reading: Children can adapt easily because they desire/need stability, togetherness, love, predictability, family….but adults sometimes don’t realize the stress the child is feeling because they “appear” to be adapting.

Crenshaw is an interesting, creative, thought provoking, and worthwhile read. I’ve heard it described that books can be a door or a mirror. This book is both: a door through which children can build compassion and a mirror for children facing similar situations.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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Amazon Summary and Purchase Information Here



Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear all about what you’re reading!

How has adoption touched your life?

Do you enjoy hearing about middle grade recommendations? Do you think great literature and wonderful stories can be enjoyed by all ages?

Little Fires Everywhere [Book Review]

October 13, 2017

Are you a rule follower? Do you believe that following all the rules will lead to a successful and happy life?

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (cover) I/mage: birdseye view of a pristine upper class neighborhood

Genre/Categories: literary fiction, family life, mothers and children, transracial adoption

***This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, strives to be a perfect planned community. In the words of the author, there is a “propensity to overachieve and a deep intolerance for flaws…a utopia.” Every winding road is thoughtfully laid out, the list of house colors is a strict, guideline, trash pickup is conducted in the alleys and all trash cans are out of sight, and tradition is revered and informs the future. Generations of Elena Richardson’s family have lived in Shaker Heights, and she ensures that her family follows the rules and lives up to expectations. All through her life, she has followed the rules and this is wholeheartedly embraced as her highest value. Part of her personal code of following the rules is giving back to those that are less fortunate whenever she can, and she’s the type who keeps a mental list of her good deeds. Elena especially wants to use her inherited rental property near her home to benefit others. She earnestly seeks out renters that could gain from the advantage of living in her perfect neighborhood in Shaker Heights. Mia Warren, a free-spirited artistic non-rule follower, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, are the most recent beneficiaries of Mrs. Richardson’s benevolence. Although when Mia is less than grateful for Mrs. Richardson’s offer to buy one of Mia’s photographs, Elena Richardson makes a mental note and this slight continues to bother her and becomes a motivation for her future relationship with Mia:

“That’s very generous of you,” Mia’s eyes slid toward the window briefly and Mrs. Richardson felt a twinge of irritation at this lukewarm response to her philanthropy.

As the story unfolds, the two families become more involved with each other rather than simply remaining tenant and landlord. Soon the children become friends, Pearl spends her afternoons at the Richardson home, and Mia accepts a part-time position as a light housekeeper and cook for the Richardson family.  Izzy Richardson, a teenage child who shares Mia’s artistic interests and temperament, and Mia develop a close relationship while Izzy learns photography skills in Mia’s darkroom. When one of Mrs. Richardson’s best friends is in the process of adopting a Chinese-American child,  the community is divided on the ethical issues and Elena Richardson and Mia Warren find themselves on opposite sides of the custody battle between the birth mother and adoptive mother. This conflict triggers Mrs. Richardson to find out about Mia’s motivations, her secrets, and her mysterious past. All of this has devastating consequences for the two families.

Amazon Rating (October): 4.4 Stars

My Thoughts:

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