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Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

More than a follow-up to Shanghai Girls (my review), Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is about sisterly love, loyalty, and adolescence.  Readers will see in Joy, Pearl’s daughter, the headstrong young woman that many parents see in their daughters — they know everything and cannot be told anything they don’t already know and understand.  However, what do young adults do when the times get rough in many cases?  They run.  Joy is no exception, but in her case, she not only runs from home when family secrets are revealed, but she runs to a nation she has never lived in and that is under the iron fist of communism and at the whims of Chairman Mao.  Pearl heads to China after her daughter, in a country that tortured her and abandoned her when her family needed help most.

“Yes, I’ve escaped the blaming eyes of my mother and the reproachful eyes of my aunt, but I can’t escape myself.  The only things I can do to save myself are pull the weeds in the fields, let my emotions for Tao envelop me, and obey what Z.G. tells me to do with a paintbrush, pencil, charcoal, or pastel.”  (page 87)

Set in late 1950s to early 1960s China, Joy brings us on a journey through China in her quest to rediscover herself and find her biological father, while her mother searches for her and evades deportation, imprisonment, and other punishments for her capitalist ties and bourgeois thoughts and actions.  See has taken these characters from China to America, shown us how Pearl and her sister May adapted and became American in Shanghai Girls, and in Dreams of Joy she has expanded their world and struggles, demonstrating how returning to the homeland is fraught with danger and has essentially left Pearl and Joy country-less.  To enter China, they must renounce their U.S. ties, which were hard to win and maintain when Pearl and May arrived as immigrants.

“Four months later, I’m on the deck watching Shanghai come into view.  A week ago, I stepped off a plane in Hong Kong and was enveloped by odors I hadn’t smelled in that particular combination in years.  Now, as I wait to disembark, I breathe in the scents of home — the oil- and sewage-infused water, rice being cooked on a passing sampan, rotting fish moldering on the dock, vegetables grown upriver wilting in the heat and humidity.”  (page 56)

While much of the story is focused on Joy and her first experiences with her biological father Z.G. and homeland China, Pearl’s arrival complicates the story as she and Z.G. are presented as Joy’s parents but are not married and do not share a bed. For Pearl, her journey is not only to reclaim her daughter, but also one of reconciliation with the past, which ultimately leads to the redemption she has longed for.  She returns to Shanghai to find the city in shambles and less vibrant than when she left it, but her home remains and she begins anew as she patiently waits for her daughter’s return to Shanghai from the countryside and to her open arms.

“The village, the fields, and the canteen begin to look like movie sets — just facades.  The people around me seem fake too, putting on their smiling face and shouting slogans about things they don’t believe.  Everyone still pretends to be open, welcoming, and enthusiastic about the Great Leap Forward, but there’s a furtiveness to them that reminds me of rats slinking along the edges of walls.”  (page 260)

What’s fantastic about this novel is not only the deep examination of what love is in its many forms, but what strong bonds a mother and daughter have regardless if the mother is biological or not.  There is a lot to discuss in this novel for book clubs and the like, particularly as See shows the deeply hypocritical slogans and actions of the Maoist regime and its campaigns to “out produce” imperialist nations like Britain and the United States in the Great Leap Forward, while at the same time maintaining its ties with capitalist nations through Hong Kong (which during this time was owned by Britain) and several fairs in Canton.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See is one of the best books of 2011, and readers will be dragged kicking and screaming into a dark past filled with hypocrisy, corruption, and famine that makes the journey even harder for Pearl, Joy, and their family.  There are moments of joy, resolution, and sadness that will touch readers deeply.  A cultural melting pot of characters that delves deep below the surface of political beliefs and preconceptions to the core of what happiness and reunification with family really means.  Although many Chinese see their homeland and culture as tied to Mao’s liberation, it is clear that deep down their ties to family are at the core of their decisions and actions.  The circle closes around Pearl, May, Z.G., and Joy to make the dreams of bliss a reality for them all.

About the Author:

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.  She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Please check out her Website and my interviewed Lisa See, here.  Please also check out the discussion guide for Dreams of Joy.

The Giveaway for my ARC of Dreams of Joy (international):

1.  Leave a comment about which Lisa See novel is your favorite or why you want to read Dreams of Joy.

2.  Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave a link in the comments for a second entry.

Deadline is June 22, 2011, at 11:59PM EST

 

This is my 14th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.   I’ve wanted to read this since I finished Shanghai Girls last year.

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins, published in 2011 by Random House, is broken into four sections and includes a quote at the beginning from Alan Bennett‘s The Uncommon Reader, “It was the kind of library he had only read about in books.”

Collins’ mater-of-fact tone in these poems treats death and loss as an inevitability, which it is, but at the same time there is a reverence for the dead, dying, and living.  In terms of Bennett’s quote at the beginning, Collins’ phenomenal library is the library of life — the spinning of the dog as it lays down and its movement from one spot to another or the moments in marriage or shopping for a mattress.

From Thieves (page 16-7), “for I was a fellow thief/having stolen for myself this hour, lifting the wedge of it from my daily clock/so I could walk up a wooded hillside/and sit for a while on a rock the size of a car.//” or from Simple Arithmetic (page 32-3), “and gone are my notebook and my pencil/and there I go, too,/erased by my own eraser and blown like shavings off the page.//”, Collins demonstrates the fleeting nature of our time here, how it is borrowed, and how we must make the best of it before it is gone.

Collins’ poetry is accessible as he creates stories and narrations to engage the reader and teach them what he sees.  Like a horoscope, each poem sketches a future, but like horoscopes, the power to make them true or to change them lies in the person meant to live them.  In The Chairs That No One Sits In (page 49-50), “You see them on porches and on lawns/down by the lakeside/usually arranged in pairs implying a couple// . . . It may not be any of my business,/but let us suppose one day/that everyone who placed those vacant chairs//on a veranda or a dock sat down in them/if only for the sake of remembering/what it was they thought deserved//to be viewed from two chairs,/side by side with a table in between./The clouds are high and massive on that day.//”.

The Straightener (page 5-6)

Even as a boy I was a straightener.
On a long table near my window
I kept a lantern, a spyglass, and my tomahawk.

Never tomahawk, lantern, and spyglass.
Always lantern, spyglass, tomahawk.

You could never tell when you would need them,
but that was the order you would need them in.

On my desk: pencils at attention in a cup,
foreign coins stacked by size,

a photograph of my parents,
and under the heavy green blotter,
a note from a girl I was fond of.

These days I like to stack in pyramids
the cans of soup in the pantry
and I keep the white candles in rows like logs of wax.

And if I can avoid doing my taxes
or phoning my talkative aunt
on her eighty-something birthday,

I will use a ruler to measure the space
between the comb and brush on the dresser,
the distance between shakers of salt and pepper.

Today, for example, I will devote my time
to lining up my shoes in the closet,
pair by pair in chronological order

and lining up my shirts on the rack by color
to put off having to tell you, dear,
what I really think and what I now am bound to do.

There are quite a few references to Dante’s The Divine Comedy in these poems, reflecting the journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise.  There are slivers of light from paradise and there are moments of fiery hell, but most of these poems live in the present or the past, examining with understanding, reverence, and sometimes regret that the actions we take in this life cannot be undone.  But Collins also touches upon the tightrope we must walk in relationships with our loved ones.

Overall, Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins is a collection of reflections and predictions for the future, but beyond the attention paid to larger concerns of life, Collins reflects on the smaller moments in time and the joys, frustration, and satisfaction they bring.  A fascinating look at everyday life that makes each moment extraordinary, and a collection that should be added to every library.

 

This is my 14th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 13th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I learned Collins would have a new book this year.

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella has become a chicklit icon with her shopaholic series, but after five books what could be left to hold readers’ interest?  Rebecca Brandon (nee Bloomwood) is back in Mini Shopaholic, credit cards in hand, and white lies streaming from her lips.  However, instead of simply facing rising debt, she must learn to deal with her two-year-old daughter Minnie and her penchant for shopping and acting out.  She also bites off more than she can chew as her and her husband, Luke, try to find the perfect home and navigate an economic meltdown.

“‘My darling, we’re not quite that penurious.’  Luke kisses me on the forehead.  ‘The easiest way we could save money, if you ask me, would be if you wore some of your clothes more than once.'” (page 100)

Kinsella takes a real-life situation and makes it wildly funny, but there are times in the novel where Becky seems to have learned absolutely nothing over the course of six books.  She still shops for brands, barely uses or wears the brand items she buys, and lies to her husband about the purchases she makes.  The one main difference in this novel is that Becky is not just shopping for herself.

“Minnie definitely scores top marks for her outfit.  (Dress:  one-off Danny Kovitz; coat:  Rachel Riley; shoes:  Baby Dior.)  And I’ve got her safely strapped into her toddler reins (Bill Amberg, leather, really cool; they were in Vogue).  But instead of smiling angelically like the little girl in the photo shoot, she’s straining against them like a bull waiting to dash into the ring.  Her eyebrows are knitted with fury, her cheeks are bright pink, and she’s drawing breath to shriek again.”  (page 8 )

Readers who love the previous books will enjoy the latest in the series, but some readers may find Becky’s lack of growth disappointing.  Readers looking for the focus to be on Minnie will find that the daughter plays more of a subordinate role, though Becky continuously deals with keeping her under control.  Kinsella does provide a bit more depth to the character in that she clearly loves her daughter, refuses to believe that she needs a boot camp, and would rather run off with her daughter than send her away.  Overall, Mini Shopaholic is a fun read that pokes fun at addiction and the lengths people go to to hide those addictions.  What will happen next in this series is anyone’s guess.

About the Author:

Sophie Kinsella raced into the UK bestseller lists in September 2000 with her first novel in the Shopaholic series – The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (also published as Confessions of a Shopaholic). The book’s heroine, Becky Bloomwood – a fun and feisty financial journalist who loves shopping but is hopeless with money – captured the hearts of readers worldwide and she has since featured in five further adventures in Shopaholic Abroad (also published as Shopaholic Takes Manhattan), Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Shopaholic & Sister and Shopaholic & Baby. Becky Bloomwood came to the big screen in 2009 with the hit Disney movie Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Other Kinsella Books Reviewed:

Can You Keep a Secret?
The Undomestic Goddess
Remember Me?

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning is the second book in the MacKayla Lane fantasy/paranormal series. Like book one, Darkfever (click for my review), Mac is still learning about her skills as a sidhe-seer and attempting to navigate the world she’s familiar with and the world of the Faery.

“If I’ve been guilty of anything, it’s having the blithely sunny disposition of someone who enjoyed a happy childhood, loving parents, and long summers of lazy-paddling ceiling fans and small-town drama in the Deep South which–while it’s great–it doesn’t do a thing to prepare you for life beyond that.”  (page 17)

She’s since discovered who murdered her sister, learned about her unknown heritage, and allied herself with an enigma Jericho Barrons, who oozes male sexuality and danger.  On the flip side, Mac remains cautiously intrigued by the Fae prince, V’Lane, who can bend reality to suit his needs and that of humans giving them what they desire most, but at a price.  Mac often wonders where the normalcy in her life has gone, but she attempts to make her life as normal by day as she could from cleaning the bookshelves to servicing customers.

“The Fae prince raised his brow but said nothing.

I raised a brow back.  He was Pan, Bacchus, and Lucifer, painted a thousand shades of to-die-for.  Literally.”  (page 38)

Mac and Jericho continue to search for the tools that will improve their chances against the Fae, while still searching for the darkest book, the Sinsar Dubh — a book that makes her feel dreadfully ill when it is near and pass out unconscious if it is near for too long.  Assassins and sinister Fae are at every turn, but Mac has discovered she is not as alone as she believed.

Bloodfever is a natural progression from the first book in the series, and readers will enjoy the fast-paced plot provided.  Moning is developing Mac in a slow and natural progression, allowing readers to uncover her hidden strengths as she discovers them and cheering her on when she asserts herself, even against the darkest Fae and criminals in Ireland and Wales.

About the Author:

Karen Marie Moning was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, one of four children. She graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Society and Law. After a decade of working with insurance litigation and arbitration, she quit her job to pursue her dream of a writing career. Four manuscripts and countless part-time jobs later, Beyond the Highland Mist was published by Bantam Dell and nominated for two prestigious RITA awards. Author of the beloved HIGHLANDER series and the thrilling new FEVER series, featuring MacKayla Lane, a sidhe seer. Her novels have appeared on The New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers lists, and have received many industry awards, including the RITA.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Karen Marie Moning, and Random House for sending me a review copy of this book.

Please check out the rest of the Karen Marie Moning blog tour.

This is my 15th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning is the first in the MacKayla Lane fantasy/paranormal series and is a wild ride into the unseen aspects of our own world where the Fae live among us behind masks. Mackayla has a pretty carefree life in Georgia as a bartender and part-time college student living at home with her parents.  Her sister Alina lives in Ireland where she attends college full-time, but the sisters remain close and talk on the phone almost daily.

Unfortunately, this charmed life comes to an end when her sister is murdered in a foreign country, and it seems like the police simply give up on the case.  Haunted by the images of her sister’s mangled body and the deterioration of her family, Mac decides its time to go to Ireland and track down a killer.  Once there, she’s faced with startling images and a realization that she’s not as normal as she thought she was.

“It was gray and leprous from head to toe, covered with oozing open sores.  It was sort of human, by that I mean it had the basic parts:  arms, legs, head.  But that was where the resemblance ended.  It’s face was twice as tall as a human head and squished thin, no wider than my palm.  Its eyes were black with no irises or whites.”  (Page 94)

Moning’s writing is vivid, and MacKayla is a strong female lead in this suspenseful book that incorporates the paranormal.  Once in Ireland, Mac’s world is flung in many different directions and she has to determine which end is up and what the best route to take is.  She’s feisty — even when she’s in denial — particularly when faced with beings more powerful than herself and one’s that attempt to impose their will on her.  With additional characters, including some Fae and the imposing Jericho Barrons, there are plenty of twists and turns in this novel.

Readers will enjoy their introduction to the Fae world and to Mac.  Moning is a wonderful writer.  As a first introduction to this paranormal world, readers will find they can still be grounded in reality.  Darkfever provides just a taste of Mac’s new world and will leave readers wanting more.

About the Author:

Karen Marie Moning was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, one of four children. She graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Society and Law. After a decade of working with insurance litigation and arbitration, she quit her job to pursue her dream of a writing career. Four manuscripts and countless part-time jobs later, Beyond the Highland Mist was published by Bantam Dell and nominated for two prestigious RITA awards. Author of the beloved HIGHLANDER series and the thrilling new FEVER series, featuring MacKayla Lane, a sidhe seer. Her novels have appeared on The New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers lists, and have received many industry awards, including the RITA.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Random House, and Karen Marie Moning for sending me a copy of Darkfever for review.

Giveaway for US/Canada only:

1 copy of Shadowfever, the newest book in the series that hits stores in December.

1.  Leave a comment about if you’ve read about the Fae or what you would like to know about the Fae.

2.  Tweet, Blog, Facebook, etc. and leave a link for a second entry.

Deadline:  Sept. 10, 2010, 11:59PM EST

Giveaway for International (outside US/Canada only):

1 copy of Darkfever, the first book in the series, gently used.

1.  Leave a comment about what part of my review intrigues you most.

2.  Tweet, Blog, Facebook, Etc. the giveaway and leave a link for a second entry.

Deadline is Sept. 10, 2010, 11:59PM EST

PLEASE BE SURE TO TELL ME WHICH BOOK YOU ARE ENTERING FOR.

See the rest of the MacKayla Lane tour stops.

This is my 42nd book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 14th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

C.W. Gortner‘s third book, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, has all the best elements of historical, royal fiction from political strife to women sold in marriage to keep the peace.  Like his previous book, The Last Queen which I reviewed, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is chock full of drama as Catherine is taken from her home shortly after surviving an angry mob in Florence and betrothed to Henri, one of the sons in line for the throne of France.

“How little they know me.  How little anyone knows me.  Perhaps it was ever my fate to dwell alone in the myth of my own life, to bear witness to the legend that has sprung around me like some venomous bloom.  I have been called murderess and opportunist, savior and victim.  And along the way, become far more than was ever expected of me, even if loneliness was always present, like a faithful hound at my heels.

The truth is, not one of us is innocent.

We all have sins to confess.”  (Page 3)

Catherine learns of her gift at a very young age but is frightened by what her visions mean for her and her future.  Despite her misgivings about her gift, she relies on seers and fortunetellers to guide her path and that of her blossoming family.  Her marriage is in name only as her husband favors his mistress blatantly in court, and she is forced to endure the shame of it.  Catherine is a strong woman determined to maintain her pride and courtly manner even though it is constantly tested by Henri’s mistress Diane de Poitiers and the thorny politics of her new nation.

Enter, Nostradamus — yes, THE Nostradamus — to issue cryptic predictions and advice to Catherine as she and her adopted nation of France teeter on the brink of religious war.  His advice is invaluable to her as she navigates the political and religious turmoil of France, though his appearances are brief, almost as if he were an apparition.

“As I passed the alcove, I sensed a presence.  I whirled about.  I couldn’t contain my gasp when I saw Nostradamus materialize as if from nowhere.  ‘You scared me to death! How did you get in here?’

‘Through the door,’ he said, ‘No one noticed.'”  (Page 182)

The novel reads like a set of confessions from Catherine herself as she analyzes her past, her faults, and her passions.  Gortner crafts very strong, royal women that draw from historical fact and weaves in a captivating narrative that will leave readers struggling to adjust to their own lives once they’ve finished the last page.  The Confessions of Catherine de Medici will round out the character of the woman thought to be one of the most ruthless leaders of France as she acted as regent for her young sons, highlighting the motivations of her decisions at a time when there were no right answers.  One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Check out the Q&A about Confessions of Catherine de Medici.

About the Author:

C.W. Gortner‘s fascination with history is a lifetime pursuit. He holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California and often travels to research his books. He has experienced life in a medieval Spanish castle and danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall; dug through library archives all over Europe; and tried to see and touch — or, at least, gaze at through impenetrable museum glass — as many artifacts of the era as he can find.

The Giveaway:

I have 1 reader’s copy up for grabs.  The giveaway is international.

***added bonus for the winner, a Catherine de Medici medallion***

1.  Leave a comment about what confession you hope to read about in Gortner’s book.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link in the comments.

Deadline is July 4, 2010 at 11:59PM EST

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

What do you do when your world spins out of control and changes so drastically that you begin to feel adrift?  Colum McCann‘s Let the Great World Spin examines these issues, while at the same time demonstrating how individuals can be connected to one another without even realizing it.

“But it struck me, as I sketched, that all I wanted to do was to walk out into a clean elsewhere.” (page 153)

“No newspapers big enough to paste him back together in Saigon.” (page 81)

McCann focuses his story in 1974, mostly in New York City, where a tenuous thread is stretched between a series of characters from an Irish monk and a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War to a young artistic couple and a black prostitute. That thread is the a tightrope walker, Philippe Petit who traversed the still under construction World Trade Center towers.

“It was the dilemma of the watchers:  they didn’t want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn’t want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.” (page 3)

In a way, the tightrope walker is all of us, teetering on the edge of every decision we make, but what we often do not have is the courage to enjoy the moment or revel in the thrill of each step we take in our lives.  McCann is a gifted storyteller, but some readers may find the shifts between story lines hamper their ability to become emotionally tethered to the characters.  There are some moments where the prose takes on a list making quality, which is a bit overdone and jambs up the narrative.

The Vietnam War plays a significant role in the novel, touching lives in immediate ways and peripherally.   In many ways the tightrope walker symbolizes the perceived precariousness of the world at large in the 1970s, with the threat of communism and the deteriorating situation in Vietnam.  Overall, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a satisfying examination of the 1970s, the Vietnam War, and modern society, and would be a good selection for book club discussions.

About the Author:

Colum McCann, a Dublin born writer, is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire’s “Best and Brightest,” and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Check out the other tour stops.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours and Random House for sending me a free copy of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann for review.


This is my 5th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 31st book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd and final book for the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge.

Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop Jr.

George Bishop Jr.’s Letter to My Daughter is narrated by a Louisiana mother whose daughter has just run away from home after a typical fight with her parents.  To cope with the anxiety, the mother writes a demonstrative history of her own teenage angst to provide them some common ground from which to begin anew.

“But believe it or not, I was your age once, and I had the same ugly fights with my parents.  And I promised myself that if I ever had a daughter, I would be a better parent to her than mine were to me.  My daughter, I told myself, would never have to endure the same inept upbringing that I did.”  (Page 4 of ARC)

Laura Jenkins takes her daughter back in time to when she is a young high school girl during the 1970s and the Vietnam War.  She falls in love with a young man, Tim Prejean, but he’s the wrong kind of man in her parent’s eyes.  How can she make them see that he’s exactly the man they should want her to be with and love.  But it all hits the fan one night and she’s sent away to Catholic school even though her family is Baptist.  Charity runs deep at Sacred Heart Academy, but Laura’s love still burns for her sweetheart, Tim.

Bishop’s prose is conversational as Laura continues to write her letter to Elizabeth, whom she named after the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese #43 says, “I shall but love thee better after death,” and her poems would complement this novel well.  There is a great sadness and love in this letter.  Laura wants to make amends to her daughter and to generate the closeness she always dreamed would be between them.

“Up until that day I had known her only as a pale older nun who seemed unnaturally preoccupied with grammar; she smelled musty, like a library, and she rustled when she walked, like her very insides were made of parchment.”  (page 35 of ARC)

“And then there was silence:  black silence, that in the moments as I gripped the phone seemed to grow deeper and deeper until it was black as the dark spaces between the stars.” (page 59 of ARC)

Bishop’s prose is poetic and easily absorbing, transporting readers to a tumultuous time in U.S. history when the country was divided about war.  But as young men and women engaged one another in high school, how would these larger issues have impacted them?  Letter to My Daughter answers these questions in a way that will tear into the hearts of readers, generate a profound sympathy and confusion about what motivates humans to make war, and how teens handle not only the typical struggles they face of which boy to date and which dress to wear, but also the larger issues that permeate their lives.

About the Author:

George Bishop, Jr. graduated with degrees in English Literature and Communications from Loyola University in New Orleans before moving to Los Angeles to become an actor. He later traveled overseas as an English teacher to Czechoslovakia, Turkey and Indonesia before returning to the States to earn his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he studied under Clyde Edgerton, Wendy Brenner, and Rebecca Lee.

Giveaway; I have one copy of the book for U.S./Canada only:

1.  Leave a comment about whether you think a male can do justice to the mother-daughter relationship.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline is May 11, 2010, 11:59 PM EST.

Check the other stops on the tour.


This is my 4th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 30th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See examines the relationship between sisters, May and Pearl, their immigration story from Shanghai, China, to Los Angeles, Calif., and the political changes between the 1930s and 1950s.  Pearl was born under the sign of the Dragon, and May was born under the sign of the Sheep.  Do these signs define who they are?  Will they guide their fate?

“Mama insists May and I couldn’t change who we are even if we tried.  May is supposed to be as complacent and content as the Sheep in whose year she was born.  The Sheep is the most feminine of the signs, Mama says.  It’s fashionable, artistic, and compassionate.  The Sheep needs someone to take care of her. . . I have a Dragon’s striving desire, which can never be properly filled.  ‘There’s nowhere you can’t go with your big flapping feet,’ Mama frequently tells me.  However, a Dragon, the most powerful of the signs also has its drawbacks.  ‘A Dragon is loyal, demanding, responsible, a tamer of fates,’ Mama told me. . . ”  (Page 9 of the hardcover)

Considering themselves modern Chinese ladies in Shanghai and shunning the old ways of their ancestors, Pearl and May become painted, beauties on calendars that sell products ranging from tobacco to other household goods.  Pearl has a crush on the painter who makes the calendars, and despite being the older sister, often loses sight of her sister’s actions and whereabouts.  Soon, their world is blown apart when the secrets of their father’s gambling are revealed and they are sold into arranged marriages with Chinese-Americans.  Still, these young sisters dream of escape and willfully defy their parents’ wishes, only for the fates to step in and force them to honor their original plans to meet their husbands in America.

The ravages of war hit home in Shanghai as the Japanese invade China, and the Communists flee to the hills of China.  Lisa See deftly interweaves the political backdrop of China and the world at large behind the more present plight of the Chin sisters.  Through a series of twists and turns that mirror the rise and fall of political powers across the globe, Pearl and May face adversity together, but both emerge vastly changed.  Reminiscent of Amy Tan‘s writing about mothers and daughters, particularly the clashes of old and new cultures, See grabs hold of the sisterly relationship to shed light the joys, sorrows, painful moments, and sacrifices that only sisters can share and feel deep down to their core.  Larger issues of discrimination and political dissension also are prevalent themes.

Overall, Shanghai Girls is a deep novel that will lend itself to animated discussion among book clubs.  Readers will enjoy unraveling the family secrets of the Chin women and their new families, and be exposed to the intricate and complex political and social dynamics of some of the most turbulent times in world history.  Not only have these women grown through adversity and sacrifice, but they are sent on a journey to discover what it means to be family.

How I’ve missed reading Lisa See before, I have no idea.  But she’s an author I hope to read more of in the future.

To Enter to win 2 copies of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (U.S./Canada only):

1.  Leave a comment on this review about what intrigues you about this novel.
2.  Leave a comment on my interview with Lisa See.
3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, etc. the giveaway.

Deadline is Jan. 26, 2010, at 11:59PM EST

About the Author:

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the critically acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.  She lives in Los Angeles, California.  Please check out her Website.  Read an excerpt of Shanghai Girls, here, and for book clubs, there are discussion questions.

I also interviewed Lisa See, here.

This is my 4th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

If you are interested in the rest of the tour stops for Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, I encourage you to check out the TLC Book Tour site.

FTC Disclosure:  I received my free copy of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See from Random House and TLC Book Tours for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though I appreciated.

FU, Penguin by Matthew Gasteier

FU, Penguin by Matthew Gasteier is not a book for those without a quirky sense of humor. FU, Penguin is a spinoff of the blog, which has about 900,000 unique visitors per day, and the brainchild of Watertown, Mass., resident Matthew Gasteier who views the attempts of animals to look cute as antithetical to their nature.

Chock full of photos of cute fuzzy animals in adorable poses accompanied by sarcasm, ridicule, and disdain, Gasteier has created what some would call a pop culture phenomenon. Some readers will chuckle at the accompanying essays, while others may shake their heads.

In some cases, readers could find that the photos stand on their own as ridiculous without the essays. Gasteier’s harsh language choices for the captions could put some readers off, but the captions are some of the funniest bits in this book. If calling moose the “biggest dorks ever” or stating “Is it me, or are baby animals really being dicks lately” are your thing, FU Penguin is for you. Gasteier has started the conversation, but the question is how will you finish it?

In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I’m offering one lucky reader anywhere in the world my gently used copy of this book, which I received from Random House. This giveaway is international.

1. Leave a comment on this post about why you want to read this or tell me if you’ve ever been to Gasteier’s Website prior to this review.
2. If you purchase any of the books, using my Amazon affiliate links this week (Sept. 15-19), that’s 5 extra entries (just send me an order #/invoice).
3. Tweet, blog, Facebook, etc. this post and get an extra entry, just come back and leave a comment.

Deadline for entries is Sept. 19, 2009, at 11:59 PM.

As an aside, all BBAW 2009 posts are easily accessible on my navigation bar. So never fear, all the BBAW 2009 contests will be at your fingertips!