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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 371 pgs.
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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which was our April book club selection, is a novel that satirizes the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but it also is a serious examination of identity from the point of view of someone who is a subversive and a mole within the South Vietnamese military at the time of the war. The Captain, who remains unnamed, is in the South Vietnamese military but feeding information to the People’s Army of Vietnam (communists) through his childhood friend, Man. Meanwhile, their third childhood friend, Bon, has been trained as an assassin by the CIA. Balancing his friendship with his duty to the communists becomes a balance that the Captain often loses, but as he has so few real connections with others, it is his friend Bon who pays the highest cost.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.” (pg. 1)

In many ways the opening of the novel will signal to the reader that everything told by the Captain may be untrue or at least partly. But he also seeks to set himself up as a sympathetic character who is torn not only by his heritage — the son of a Vietnamese mother and French priest — but also by his knowledge of America from being abroad at school and his communist leanings. After fleeing Vietnam with the General when the Americans lost the war to the communists, the Captain longs to return, but he is repeatedly told that he must remain a mole among those exiled to America to ensure they are not planning a return. He is forced to swallow more of the bitter pill that his life is not his own, even in America.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen provides a deep look at issues of mixed cultures and races, how they are treated in Vietnam and America during this time period, and how difficult it was to reconcile defeat on either side. It also asks the bigger questions about revolution and the disillusionment of passionate idealists. Corruption of any revolution can occur, and that can be the most devastating for the passionate idealist, but how does it affect those who can see both sides of the equation? And is the real crime to have done nothing or to not have truly chosen a side to be on — right or wrong?

RATING: Cinquain

What the Book Club Thought:

The discussion compared the novel to 1984 and to Catch-22 for its satire, but mostly, we were engrossed in the plight of the Captain and his identity issues. We found it hard for him as a European-Vietnamese man with communist and American-leaning tendencies to reconcile all that he was and commit himself to one cause. Overall, most of the members at the meeting “enjoyed” the book, though one or two members were less than thrilled by the disembodied scenes in the interrogation room, which they felt took them out of the story.

About the Author:

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His next book is a short story collection, The Refugees, forthcoming in February 2017 from Grove Press.

Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 60 pgs.
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Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman is a small book of stories about enigmatic cats and their owners. The introduction talks about how many people fail to understand the behaviors of cats, especially when they act erratically. It talks about creating an environment that appeals to their wild instincts as part of an effort to avoid problems that can occur with cat ownership.

Many of these stories are a testament to the bond between cats and their owners, like Holly who was spooked while on vacation in Florida with her owners and disappeared. After a good Samaritan found the cat and had the ID chip scanned, it was discovered that Holly had walked 190 miles in 62 days, trying to return home from Florida. This collection includes not only stories about cats and their owners, but statistics about perceptions of cats and expert explanations about certain behaviors. In Holly’s case, she used her hunting instincts to find her family, and her tenaciousness kept her going even when she was near starving.

For younger readers, there’s even information on cartoon cats and why and how they became famous, such as Grumpy Cat. Cat Tales: True Stories of Kindness and Companionship with Kitties by Aline Alexander Newman is for ages 8+, but if read together, it can be a good night times story book for kids who love cats and are younger than age 8. My daughter is fascinated with cats, even tough our dog is no friend to cats. This was a perfect book for us to read together.

RATING: Quatrain

National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 112 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues includes some engaging stories about rescued pets from cats and dogs to rabbits and so many more. There is even a section at the end about celebrity rescues. Some celebrity animals have famous parents, while others are famous through social media and charity fundraising ventures.

These stories are engaging for kids between ages 8 and 12. Some of these animals are very talented, with some even learning to surf. My daughter loved the colorful pages and the animal stories we read, and one of her favorites was Kuli who learned to surf in Hawaii, and she’s a cat. She loves surfing so much that she just jumps in her owner’s bag every time they head out to the beach.

There’s also some adoptions of older animals included, which was good to see. Many times shelters have dogs and cats that are in their older years and they are not the ones people come in looking to adopt.

National Geographic Kids: 125 Pet Rescues best feature comes at the end with tips on how to make a difference. Besides adopting animals — especially if you can’t — people should consider donating items that animal shelters may need from food and blankets to toys and leashes. Other options include becoming an advocate for shelter animals or spaying and neutering pets to keep populations on the street low. Volunteering is another big help to shelters, especially those with little funding. Parents should consider reading this book with their child to explain why some animals are left at shelters and how they too can help these animals find the best homes.

RATING: Quatrain

One Good Thing by Wendy Wax

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 360 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

One Good Thing by Wendy Wax is the next installment (#5) in the Ten Beach Road series in which women duped by the Ponzi scheme of Malcolm Dyer find friendship through renovation.  For those who have yet to read this series, what on earth are you waiting for?  I do recommend reading these in order.

Maddie, Avery, and Nikki have grown closer, though Maddie is still viewed as the mother who takes care of everyone, including her ex-husband and their daughter, Kyra.  She’s still finding it hard to let go of her caretaker role and lead her own life, but she’s making some changes, even as Nikki’s time grows near and her nervousness about motherhood strengthens. Meanwhile, their television series Do Over is still in the hands of the network, and they seem to be holding all of the cards, which means the ladies need to find another source of income and fast or they may lose the home, Bella Flora, that brought them together.

As fear creeps in and takes some of them over, it is harder and harder to find just One Good Thing to share at sunset — a tradition that has helped them stay positive and keep things in perspective.  Wax’s ladies are strong, but never too far from their insecurities.  They flourish under pressure, and they must make hard decisions, even if they need a little push from their friends.

One Good Thing by Wendy Wax is another summer read that will make living on the beach sound less than idyllic, but you’ll still want to grab your blended drinks and head down to the beach to catch that sunset with these ladies.

RATING: Quatrain

Also Reviewed:

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

Mailbox Monday #426

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

The Nightlife by Elise Paschen for review from Mary Bisbee-Beek.

In Elise Paschen’s prize-winning poetry collection, Infidelities, Richard Wilbur wrote that the poems “. . . draw upon a dream life which can deeply tincture the waking world.” In her third poetry book, The Nightlife, Paschen once again taps into dream states, creating a narrative which balances between the lived and the imagined life. Probing the tension between “The Elevated” and the “Falls,” she explores troubled love and relationships, the danger of accident and emotional volatility. At the heart of the book is a dream triptych which retells the same encounter from different perspectives, the drama between the narrative described and the sexual tension created there.

The Nightlife demonstrates Paschen’s versatility and formal mastery as she experiments with forms such as the pantoum, the villanelle and the tritina, as well as concrete poems and poems in free verse. Throughout this poetry collection, she interweaves lyric and narrative threads, creating a contrapuntal story-line. The book begins with a dive into deep water and ends with an opening into sky.

Where is North by Alison Jarvis for review from Mary Bisbee-Beek.

Poetry. Winner of the 2015 Gerald Cable Book Award. “In Alison Jarvis’ extraordinary WHERE IS NORTH, a life unfolds between breath-taking love poems. There’s a powerful arc, but it’s a vortex, more visceral than linear. Dramatic moments enclose each other like Russian dolls, ‘the future falling back into itself,’ so that the air between I and Thou becomes charged with the trials of childhood, the rigors of history, the mirror-life of dreams…WHERE IS NORTH is a profoundly necessary book for our strange era.”—D. Nurkse

Library of Small Happiness by Leslie Ullman for review from Mary Bisbee-Beek.

In acclaimed poet Leslie Ullman’s fifth and newest book, she offers a glorious hybrid collection of essays, poems, and writing exercises. Inviting writers and serious readers into the spaces poetry can open up around us and inside us, Library Of Small Happiness focuses on aspects of craft while embracing a holistic approach that makes accessible the unique intelligence of poetry. The essay section of the book addresses subjects such as the interactive role between silence and utterance, finding the center of a poem, and the Golden Spiral as it applies to the structure of a work and the process of its creation. The exercise section offers prompts that can be used by writers, teachers, and students to generate surprising language, fresh imagery, and innovative territories for crafting poems.

Average Neuroses by Marianne Koluda Hansen for review from Mary Bisbee-Beek.

The whole blooming and exasperating world is here in Hansen’s delightfully associative poems, translated from Danish by Michael Goldman with great élan. Hansen’s voice is full of wit, longing, irony (both personal and political), and tender detail about the absurdity of being human. Thrillingly, Hansen has zero interest in presenting herself as an admirable person, which makes me deeply cherish her poems, and helps me to go on being my likewise unadmirable self in this beautiful and impossible world.
Patrick Donnelly, poet and translator, author of The Charge, and Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin

Hansen writes movingly about insecurity and anxiety. Her voice is a solitary one, but she taps into a most universal desire—to be accepted by those around us. At the core of the collection is the poet’s struggle to maintain an emotional balance in the face of the extreme beauty and pain of everyday life. Leah Browning, Editor Apple Valley Review: A Journal of Contemporary Literature

With skillful irony Hansen skewers pretentiousness, including herself as a target. It is liberating to read an author who can be self-deprecating and laugh along with the reader. Then she can turn the mood on a dime, to seriousness so poignant that the laughter or smile stiffens on your face. Highly recommended.
Herdis Møllehave, Aktuelt

Hansen transports the reader to that raw place between tears and laughter. She illuminates the causes of our struggling so that our actions are no longer struggles, but natural and completely understandable.
Eva Bostrup Fischer, Jyllands-Posten

Average Neuroses is a remarkable collection of poetic narratives full of brutal honesty, sardonic wit, and wry humor. Hansen’s insight into the desperation and routine of conventional lives—such as her own, which she characterizes as “too good to throw away / and too boring to keep”—is profound: heartbreaking and hilarious all at once. This Danish poet pulls no punches; I admire her and her poetry, beautifully translated by Michael Goldman.

What did you receive?

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a book about a resistance movement started by young boys and girls after they saw what the Hitler Youth movement was really like and what it was about. The White Rose movement ultimately came to the attention of the Gestapo, and while the Nazi regime looked for them, the student network continued to grow.

Through a series of mimeographed leaflets that were left in doors and other locations, the students were able to call attention to Adolf Hitler’s terrible policies and the deaths of Germany’s citizens. Freedman uses a series of historical documents and photographs to chronicle the journey of the Scholls and how they came to oppose the regime and garner supporters.

We Will Not Be Silent by Russell Freedman is a testament to the power of youthful conviction and social networks in opposing forces that are immoral and policies that are wrong.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Russell Freedman received the Newbery Medal for LINCOLN: A PHOTOBIOGRAPHY. He is also the recipient of three Newbery Honors, a National Humanities Medal, the Sibert Medal, the Orbis Pictus Award, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and was selected to give the 2006 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture.

New Authors Challenge

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 530 pgs.
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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a sweeping tale of World War II from the perspective of a German, Werner, and a French blind girl, Marie-Laure. Werner is a smart, young German boy who lives in an orphanage, while Marie-Laure is a young girl who goes blind and lives with her father in Paris. Both have faced some hardships, but both remain hopeful that life can be beautiful. Told from both perspectives as the war takes hold of Europe, Doerr creates a tale that is carefully woven together and tethered to the myth of the Sea of Flames, a diamond that some say is cursed and others say can provide miracles to those who possess it.

Doerr does an excellent job of not only creating characters on both sides of the war with compelling stories, but also ensuring that there is a light of hope in each story to keep readers going. While the subject of WWII has become fodder for a number of novelists, very few will tell the story from the perspective of a young man swept up into the military because he dreams of a better life and learning that he cannot get in the orphanage. Readers will see a well crafted novel full of dynamic characters and symbolism, but they also will see that men and women on both sides of the war are not that different from each other and that the politics of the time is what drove the violence and indecency.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize and for good reason. It’s a must read for those who love historical fiction and are looking for a detailed take on lives on both sides of the war.

RATING: Quatrain

If you missed our read-a-long in March at War Through the Generations, check it out.

Readalong:

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6

New Authors Challenge

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: Middle South by Maya Nessouli Abboushi

When I heard about this book, I wanted more time to read, but I knew I couldn’t fit it in to my schedule now.  I love books about young women who want to be independent and find their own way in life, and Layla sounds like she has some cultural obstacles to overcome too.  What really intrigued me about the synopsis was how Layla embarks on a “hilarious” journey from the Atlanta suburbs to the Middle East.

Check out the book information below:

Layla has recently moved out of her parents’ home in the Atlanta suburbs and into an apartment in the city to assert her independence. Between her job as a feature writer for a small newspaper and her social life, Layla has little time to think about marriage and children, much to the dismay of her Lebanese parents.

On a hilarious journey that takes Layla from the Southeast to the Middle East and back, she finds out a little more about herself and what she is looking for in life and in love.

Buy the Book:  Amazon  ~  Barnes & Noble ~ BookLogix

Add on Goodreads

I think this sounds like a really interesting book about coming of age and learning how to reconcile a desire for independence with cultural expectations.  See below for the giveaway information.

About the Author:

Maya Nessouli Abboushi is a Lebanese American born and raised in the United States. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.  Connect with the author:  Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Instagram

GIVEAWAY:

Win an ebook copy of Middle South (open internationally)
Ends May 13

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the full tour:

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

Source: TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 392 pgs.
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Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey into the books and with the authors that we all know and love from Shakespeare to Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and so many more. It is clear that Schmidt and Rendon are book lovers like many voracious readers, and it is their love of reading that has propelled them to take a number of journeys with authors and more. Broken down into two parts: the first part focuses on the journeys that can be taken based on places in books and the places that authors lived, went to, and died; the second part focuses on the places between the pages of the books written by some of the most famous authors known.

“Sometimes a book invites a journey, sometimes we invite ourselves.” (pg. VIII)

Readers know the feeling of falling into a book, walking the streets with characters and becoming part of the local color as they read, but to journey to actual places in search of authors’ homes or lives or even just those spots that inspired their work is a journey not to be missed. Readers would be advised not to treat this as a travel guide with an intuitive layout, as the book does not break down the sites and museums by geographical region and does not group the places by author. It can take a bit of work to create a list of places of interest to see based on a particular region or author, but the intention of this book is the journey, retracing the steps of favorite authors or books.

From the libraries that house some of the oldest books to the literary festivals across the United States and Europe, the authors have packed this second edition with a treasure trove of literary treats, including a list of places where places in novels, like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, came alive on the movie screen. There are famous hotels where authors have stayed, as well as restaurants and bars where authors have eaten and indulged when they could.

Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon is a journey in itself and a compendium of literary spots for the book lover in all of us. Indulge by reading about one favorite author and all the places or dip in and out to learn something new about your authors or nearby literary spots.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Shannon McKenna Schmidt is the co-author with Joni Rendon of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads. She has written for Arrive, National Geographic Traveler, Shelf Awareness, Gothamist.com, and other publications and websites. A former Hoboken, New Jersey, resident, she is traveling full-time in the United States and abroad and can be found on the web at EverywhereOnce.com and NovelDestinations.wordpress.com.

Mailbox Monday #425

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Benjamin Franklin You’ve Got Mail by Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel, a second surprise copy I’m donating to the library.

If the Future has any remedy for this situation, do not hesitate to provide it. That is to say, Ike and Claire Wanzandae, HELP! HELP HELP HELP.

I am (perhaps not for long),
Benjamin Franklin

Ike Saturday has seen better days. For one thing, his pen pal, Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin), is the target of an angry mob after Ike’s plan to help the Founding Fathers with some intel from the future seriously backfired. For another, he’s decided to mail himself back in time with the help of his girlfriend, Claire Wanzandae, and it’s not a particularly comfortable way to travel.

Once Ike tracks B-Freezy down in 1776, it becomes clear that his pal is less than impressed with the irritating, modern-day rescuer, partially because Ike has a habit of making things worse for Ben, and partially because Ben is incredibly cranky when not in the presence of numerous meat pies. Which speaks to another issue for the pair: they have no money, no food, and basically no plan for saving the country. But Claire won’t be able to cover for Ike back home in the future forever, and the British are looking pretty impatient, so Ike and B-Freezy will have to come up with something quickly if they want to avoid an epic, history-destroying disaster.

In this hilarious sequel to Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My . . . , Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel take Ike and B-Freezy’s antics to the next level as this ill-paired (and sometimes actually ill) duo hold the future of the world in their not-so-capable hands.

The Beach House Cookbook by Mary Kay Andrews for review.

You don’t have to own a beach house to enjoy Mary Kay Andrews’ recipes. All you need is an appetite for delicious, casual dishes, cooked with the best fresh, local ingredients and presented with the breezy flair that make Mary Kay Andrews’ novels a summertime favorite at the beach.

From an early spring dinner of cherry balsamic-glazed pork medallions and bacon-kissed Brussels sprouts to Fourth of July buttermilk-brined fried chicken, potato salad, and pudding parfaits to her New Year’s Day Open House menu of roast oysters, home-cured gravlax, grits ‘n’ greens casserole, and lemon-cream cheese pound cake, this cookbook will supply ideas for menus and recipes designed to put you in a permanently carefree, coastal state of mind all year long.

Star Trek Psychology: The Mental Frontier by Travis Langley and Chris Gore, an unexpected surprise from the publisher that I will pass on to someone who would enjoy it.

The next entry in Sterling’s Popular Culture Psychology series features 20 chapters and exclusive interviews with cast members and Rod Roddenberry. In a fun and accessible way, Star Trek Psychology delves deep into the psyches of the show’s well-known and beloved characters. The trailblazing franchise spans five TV series, 13 films, and countless novelizations. It celebrated, as no other form of entertainment had before, a world filled with space-traveling dreams and human diversity. In the process, it became one of the oldest and most popular sci-fi franchises of all time. Star Trek Psychology uses academic and scientific theories to analyze and answer such questions as Why do Trek’s aliens look so human? and How can the starship’s holodeck be used for therapy? This compilation examines alien neurobiology, discusses identity formation for shapeshifters, explores the importance of emotion for artificial intelligence, and much more.

What did you receive?