Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Review of The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 2014
Dates Read: September 5-9, 2015

Addie Baum tells her 22 year old granddaughter, Ava, her story growing up in the North End of Boston to Jewish-Russian immigrant parents who had a distrust for the changing American values. Reflecting on her 85 years when Ava asked her how she got to be the woman she is today, she starts her story in 1915 when she was just figuring out her own voice and view on life. Because of her parents distrust and their suspected affects on their three daughters, a lot of tension arose between them trying to maintain tradition and the ways of the old world and the girls trying to take advantage of the new opportunities for women during the time.

Addie's intelligence and curiosity gets the best of her as she explores the new culture her parents don't understand - movies or "moving pictures," short skirts, the celebrity culture, and eventually the right for women to vote. At a time when women are expected to marry right out of high school, she's determined to go to college. She also wants a career of her own and like any 15 year old, she wants to find true love. Addie explains that's the year she found her voice and made new friends who would have a profound affect on the course of her life.

Goodreads description explains, "from the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, Addie recalls her adventures with compassion for the naïve girl she was and a wicked sense of humor."

In true Anita Diamant fashion, The Boston Girl is a detailed historical fiction account of a young woman's struggle and resilience in an ever changing twentieth-century America. We get a glimpse through Addie's eyes of a generation of women figuring out what it means to be a woman in the new landscape of America, and the world.
I enjoyed reading this book for book club, not only because it's historical fiction, but because it reminded me of the conversation I had with my own grandmother, at about the same age, when she told me about growing up in New York City in the 1920's and early 1930's as the daughter of Italian immigrants.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini


Audiobook published 2007 by Simon and Schuster Audio
Paperback, 372 pages, published by Riverhead Books
Dates listened: December 10-30, 2016

I enjoyed reading The Kite Runner so much that I read A Thousand Splendid Suns not too long afterwards - it was in fact a year later, but for me that's a quick turnaround to read another book by the same author that I love so much unless it's Jodi Picoult.

If I had actually read the book rather than listening to it, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. I felt like I kept zoning out and couldn't focus so I kept missing important details. That may have had to do a lot with the actors voices being hard for me to listen to as well. As a result, I had to refer to the description on Goodreads and some other reviews to jog my memory.

The description of A Thousand Splendid suns on Goodreads is, "Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation."

Mariam grew up isolated and verbally abused by her mother. She was an illegitimate child and her mother never let her forget it, always calling her a harami. She longed for more attention from her father whom she only saw occasionally, and begged him to take her in - yearning for the attention and things that come with being a member of a real family. Then, at the age of 15 she is married off to Rasheed, a shoemaker old enough to be her grandfather and described so horrifically she might as well have been marrying an ogre. Soon Mariam is subject to Rasheed's violent and abusive behaviors - only this time it wasn't limited only to verbal abuse like her mother. Rasheed took advantage of the patriarchal culture, subconsciously or not, and physically, verbally, and sexually abused Mariam. When he wanted sex and she didn't, he'd guilt her into sex by telling her "There is no shame in this Mariam...it's what married people do. It's what the prophet himself and his wives did," and would then force himself onto her.

When Mariam is around 30-40 years old, Rasheed marries 14-year old Laila. Laila's childhood was similar to Mariam's, having suffered abuse in the patriarchal society of Aghanistan only to be married off at a young age to a man just as abusive if not worse than what she endured as a young child. While Mariam feels sorry for Leila because she knows what it's like be in her shoes, she is also relieved that Rasheed has someone else to beat.

The women bond over their shared experiences and try to navigate their unforeseen relationship that is a combination of mother-daughter and sisters. They do try to use their relationship to their advantage to not only take care of themselves, but also prioritize their children's lives. In an attempt to run away, Rasheed discovers their plans and beats both of them while also verbally berading them. One threatening and powerful thing he says to Leila is, "You try this again and I will find you. I swear on the prophet's name that I will find you. And, when I do, there isn't a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do. To Mariam first, then to her, and you last. I'll make you watch. You understand me? I'll make you watch." This signifies just how much he thinks of them as property and not as humans or partners.

These are just a couple examples of the abuse Mariam and Laila suffer at the hands of their husband. This is a difficult book to get through, yet it's also captivating and keeps a reader wanting more. I kept asking myself why they didn't just leave, but that's the point of the book in many ways. It's hard enough to leave an abusive relationship in the U.S. where women have rights, let alone in a country like Afghanistan where the women have very few right if any.

As Melissa Firman writes in her review, "A Thousand Splendid Suns is that rare book that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. It is an emotional journey through decades and with women who may be worlds away, but who are similar to so many of us in so many ways."

Rating: 4 out of 5. Enjoyed it, not quite loved it. Recommend, even though I did prefer The Kite Runner and felt that A Thousand Splendid Suns didn't live up to the same expectations and quality. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Hardcover, 233 pages
Published 1990 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Dates read: March 10-May 7, 2017

When I first started reading this book, I downloaded a copy on Amazon Kindle and read it on my phone, then because it was a small screen I couldn't handle it so listened to part of it as an audio book. That still didn't do it for me so I was able to get my hands on a hardcover book from the library! I prefer the physical copy for this book because it was so riveting and attention grabbing that I wanted more of it and the sooner the better (I tend to get through books faster reading the paperback/hardcover over Kindle or audio).

Through this compilation of award winning short stories, O'Brien recounts the experiences the members of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, O'Brien. First published in 1990, The Things They Carried has become an American classic and testament to the trials and tribulations the men endured during the Vietnam war.

Some stories made me sit in disbelief, while others made me cry, and most broke my heart that these young men experienced such horrors only to come home to a country full of hate and anger towards them. The first short story (chapter), aptly titled the same as the book, contained many quotes that made my heart ache, such as "They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." Then later in the same chapter, this quote summed up the entirety of the book for me before it was even finished, "They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak."

Although there were many scenes full of intense gory violence, there are plenty more that are funny, humane, and relatable. Even decades after the war, O'Brien still carries things with him (hence the title), something that many people don't understand unless they went through it too. It's evidenced through the few times he shares that his daughter makes comments about why he lingers on the past. It's clear that he is bothered by her comments but doesn't know how to explain it to her or if he even wants to or can.

As Writer's Relief wrote in their review on Goodreads, "There are moments in the book when you wonder if what he remembers actually happened or if he’s rewriting his memories as a coping mechanism. His vivid storytelling abilities will have you suffering alongside the soldiers; so much so that, when you finish the book, you also carry a bit of the burden of war."

While reading these stories I couldn't help but wonder if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or whether or not he is getting help. It's something that he didn't touch on, nor would I have expected him to address in this book given the purpose of the stories being more about sharing his stories than about the follow-up care. After reading the descriptions of his other books on Goodreads, it doesn't seem like he addresses PTSD directly head on - it's definitely addressed at least indirectly through showing the aftermath of coming home from a war.

Rating: 4 out of 5 - Enjoyed it, not quite loved it because while it gave some insight into his experience, I didn't like the disconnectedness of a compilation of short stories. At the same time, I think the format was necessary because his memories and the events were disconnected.

Highly Recommend.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Wrap-Up and June Forecast

I lost momentum and motivation to blog after I participated in RESOLVE's Blogger Challenge as part of National Infertility Awareness Week last month. It was a combination of nicer weather so I'm outside more, and the fact that I needed a break from blogging because I started to suffer from burnout. Infertility is such a tough subject already, and then blogging about it took a lot of emotionally energy. Although sharing my story was a relief and big weight off my shoulders, it was still emotionally draining writing all of those posts and worrying about having my story out there in the public Internet world.

That said, I wanted to share a recap of what has happened this month.

Posts for Books Read in May

  1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (audiobook, memoir) - 5 out of 5 rating
  2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (audiobook, fiction) - 4 out of 5 rating
  3. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - review to come!

Posts for Books Read Before May

  1. Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious and Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants by Ellen Brown (cookbook)  - no rating
  2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (historical fiction) - 5 out of 5 rating
  3. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (audiobook, fiction) - 5 out of 5 rating

Reading Challenge

I decided to commit to a new challenge for the year by joining the Audiobook Challenge 2017, which has different levels and lasts all year long. In May, I finished 2 audiobooks for a total of 5 so far in 2017, which means I completed the Newbie level. I am looking forward to listening to more audiobooks this year, in June especially with lots of road trips to get some listening in!

Top Five

  1. Favorite Book: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult - not only is she one of my favorite authors, I really noticed and enjoyed how well developed the characters were on their own and in their relationships with each other.
  2. Least Favorite Book: None this month. I didn't read nearly as much as I had hoped so I have less of a pool to draw from. 
  3. Most Exciting Moment: getting a new phone so that I can do more with it, including downloading more audio-books to listen to and get closer to meeting the Audiobook Challenge.
  4. Least Exciting Moment: When I realized that I was losing my momentum and self-encouragement for blogging. I hit a slump and didn't know how to get out of it until earlier this week and noticed what other bloggers were posting at the end of the month and got the idea for this post. I've been able to learn something from this experience and still create something!
  5. Favorite Part of May: Seeing a few old friends I haven't seen much of in the last few years. Getting together and catching up with old friends is usually a good time for me and encouraging. 

June Forecast

I'm going to be driving or a passenger for about 42 hours this month so I hope to get a lot of reading and/or listening done! Since I'll be on vacation for a bit in June, I plan to get a lot of my posts written and posted or scheduled ahead of time. 
  1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - currently reading
  2. Rokitasnky by Alice Darwin - currently reading
  3. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon - currently reading
  4. Home Front by Kristin Hannah - currently reading
  5. Check-in about the Audiobook Challenge 2017
  6. Top 10 Favorite Jodi Picoult Books
  7. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - published June 6
  8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  9. The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
  10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  11. The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel by Diana Gabaldon
  12. The Diviners by Libba Bray
  13. Bag Balm & Duct Tape: Tales of a Vermont Doctor by Beach Conger, MD
  14. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Which June post should I do first?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Leaving Time
by Jodi Picoult, author
Audiobook, Published October 14th 2014 by Random House Audio
Read by: Rebecca Lowman, Abigail Revasch, Käthe Mazur, Mark Deakins
Dates listened: April 16 - May 12, 2017

Jenna Metcalf is a 13-year-old girl searching for her mother who mysteriously disappeared after a tragic accident 10 years earlier. She can't imagine that her mother would intentionally leave her behind and feels the urge to find out why she left without saying goodbye or even taking her only daughter with her. She reads and re-reads her mother's journals to learn more about her and feel closer to the woman she barely remembers and longs to know and love in real-time.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis By J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By J.D. Vance (Author and Narrator)
Audiobook published June 2016 by HarperAudio

Narrated by J.D. Vance himself, I found this book refreshing to hear a personal account of growing up in Appalachia explaining his first hand experience that they have their own mentality.  There seems to be a general cultural consensus in this lower middle class that the rich people and corporations are to blame for their circumstances. Vance proceeds to explain throughout the rest of the book his own experiences growing up in the culture, from the parade of boyfriends his mother had masquerading as father figures to his older sister playing surrogate mother as a teenager to him when their mother wouldn't be able to function due to her addictions.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paperback, 214 pages
Published: 2011 by Ballantine Books
Audiobook by Random House Audio

The Paris Wife is beautifully written by Paula McLain from the perspective of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. I felt like I was right there in the story, which took place in a very different time period nearly 90 years ago. Coincidentally, I read A Farewell to Arms at the same time for book club and now want to read The Sun Also Rises even more.

McLain writes in such a way that can make the reader feel like they're the main character, or perhaps is her best friend or reading her diary. She is a pro at character development as I felt like I knew Hadley and Ernest Hemingway intimately and felt for both of them as they toiled through life together and the later years.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Reading Challenge: Audiobook Challenge 2017


Earlier this year, I participated in the March Take Control TBR Challenge with Caffeinated Book Reviewer, which was not very successful on my part. It was my first monthly reading challenge on my own as a blogger and not directly related to Goodreads and so I lost momentum. Then, today I came across the fifth annual Audiobook Challenge 2017 that Caffeinated Book Reviewer is co-hosting with Hot Listens. I've already listened to four audiobooks this year, and am on my fifth so I am already at the Newbie level and very close to Weekend Warrior status so I thought, hey why not join? The challenge started earlier this year and runs through December 31 to either find a new love for audios or outdo yourself by listening to more audiobooks this year than in 2016. There are two updates the hosts will be doing - one on June 30 and one on December 15, 2017, which is when I plan on doing a progress update of my own of which books I've listened to so far and which level I've reached for the challenge.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Published 2003 by Riverhead Books
Paperback, 391 pages
Dates read: September 23 - December 25, 2015

Set primarily in a changing Afghanistan over the course of 30 years, The Kite Runner tells the story of an unlikely friendship, love, and family.

Amir, a Pashtun, is the son of a wealthy merchant, and never wants for anything other than the affection of his father, Baba. While Baba clearly and openly loves both boys, he often turns a critical eye on Amir, causing him to feel resentful, jealous, and live with a growing sense of uncertainty. His friendship with his family's servant, Hassan, is even more unusual as he is a Hazara. The boys grow up playing in the field across the street from the house, flying kites, and participating in a number of different boyhood games. But as Amir's desire to appease his father intensifies amid the country's tensions increasing across ethnic, religious, and political lines, their friendship is torn beyond repair when Amir's actions come between him and his friend in one of his greatest times of need. They barely speak, unless necessary, for some time until Hassan and his father move on to other opportunities, or perhaps it's away from Amir's heartbreaking choice, despite the lifelong friendship between Baba and Hassan's father.

Hosseini's debut novel is a powerful account of love, life, family, and the turmoils of an improbable friendship amidst difficult circumstances. Highly recommend.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cookbook Review: Soup of the Day: 150 Delicious and Comforting Recipes from Our Favorite Restaurants by Ellen Brown

After a week of posts about infertility, some comfort food is in order. Some of my favorite comfort foods are soups and chili, no matter the time of year and most especially when I'm sick. Not only are there so many options to choose from, soup is also easily freezable to save for a rainy day or that craving that randomly kicks in for no apparent reason.

Soup of the Day is a wonderful reference any time of the year when your soup craving kicks in, whether it's a hearty chicken soup when you're feeling under the weather or a light gazpacho to keep you cool in the summer.