Monday, April 11, 2016

What Secret Asian Girl is Reading

Circling the Sun by Paula McClain

  I used to play the soundtrack to the film Out of 
  Africa to relax Tristan and to get him to fall asleep.
  The sweeping, expansive theme kept running  
  through my mind as I read Circling the Sun. Paula 
  McClain's novel is the story of real-life Beryl 
  Markham, a remarkable woman best known for  
  flying solo across the Atlantic from Europe the U.S.  
  and for training race horses while she lived in 
  Kenya. At a time when women were expected to 
  wear white linen and fan themselves on the
  veranda, Beryl was forced to marry at 14 when 
  her father's horse farm failed and he moved away. 
  She had two choices: come with him and a step 
  mother who disliked her and stay in Africa and 
  marry someone she barely knew. The marriage 
  was doomed from the start but it gave Beryl a     
  chance to start her own horse training facility and  
  figure out who she was. Meanwhile, she met, and    

socialized with, many of the well-to-do white settlers who viewed Kenya as a way to make money and escape the confines of European society. It was here that she befriended famed author Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, whose autobiographical novel Out of Africa would come to define life of an expatriate in Nairobi. Blixen's affair with hunter Denis Finch Hatton fascinated Beryl and she began her own affair with Hatton, a love triangle which would continue off and on for the rest of his life. 

The novel is beautifully written, redolent of the wildness and beauty of Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. The author makes you feel the blinding heat and heartbeat of the nearby tribes, smell the frangipani and wild lilies. McClain's ability to capture the indomitable spirit of Beryl as she went through the heartbreaking loss of her farm, saying goodbye to family and a love for a man who would never really love her back drew me in, experiencing with her the choices she was forced to make. It's important to keep in mind the timeframe the characters are in; women didn't have many choices, especially without a man by your side. In some ways, the story was a Downton Abbey in Africa, where reputation was everything and it took incredible courage to step outside of convention in order to survive. This novel made me interested in reading Ms Markham's autobiography, West With the Night. Listen to John Barry's amazing soundtrack as you read this. You'll imagine yourself flying over the African plain feeling like you can do anything.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What secret asian girl is Reading

On Lone Star Trail by Amanda Cabot

On Lone Star Trail is the first book I've ever read that is a self-described "Contemporary Christian Romance" so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Of course, I had preconceived ideas about what I thought it would be like, and...I was pretty much on target. Books like these are for a very specific audience, none of which applies to me. In spite of that, I will say that this novel was fairly well-written, without too many overtly religious references and didn't make me 
roll my eyes too much.

We meet the main character, Gillian Hodge, while she is recovering, more mentally than physically, from a auto/motorcycle accident that has ended her career as a concert pianist. She blames motorcycles, fate, her dad and herself for boxing herself into a job that can be so easily taken from her. She has decided to visit her pregnant best friend in Blytheville to get her mind off her troubles and figure out what to do next. Since this is also a romance, this is where the "meet cute" occurs. A handsome man on a motorcycle loses control of his bike in front of her and she is forced to help him by taking him with her to visit her friend's vacation lodge. Ah, the irony! While there, she promises herself she won't fall in love, won't ever play the piano again and won't feel sorry for herself, all of which (of course) happens during her brief stay. Other than choosing which perfect man to choose and counseling some wayward teens, there isn't much conflict. Money is not a problem, finding a relationship is not a problem, there are no moral or ethical conundrums, no crime, no strife. There is also no diversity in the town itself.

The problem I have with this type of book is that they depict a privileged character with mild problems in a Mayberry town with other people exactly like her. Every storefront is cute and homey, everyone's business seems to be thriving and everyone knows everyone else and they all like each other. Basically, a white, upper-middle class girl with not a lot to worry about except to look at her many options and choose which one makes her happiest. While it seems glaringly unrealistic, I've heard there are places like this - I've just never met anyone who's ever lived there, under the age of 70 at least. This must be the "great" part of America that certain politicians are saying we need to get back to. Trouble is, there's no place for me there and I doubt I'd be welcome anyway, which is probably what makes everyone want to return there.

I'm not saying that every novel has to be culturally diverse and realistic either. By definition, this genre is escapism. Not everyone wants to be slugged in the face with real life problems when they sit down to read a book. In that case, I applaud Ms Cabot's novel for being a great getaway from reality. As to the religious aspect of the book, I was glad to see it wasn't an overriding theme throughout the story. I am not a religious person so I don't understand how it helps but I do know that for some people it is comforting and reassuring. I also know that a crisis of faith can be as devastating for some as a crisis of self-esteem or confidence. The characters face all of these as they struggle to recover from great personal loss. The most "risqué" part of the story involves (gasp!) pre-marital sex, in this case with underage minors. Since nothing really happens, there is, again, no actual conflict although the bullet is dodged close enough to require a rescue and a lot of praying. The lack of sexual tension in the story, for a romance novel, is, quite honestly, a relief. Ground-shaking kissing is about as racy as it gets, which is way better than the clumsy, sexist, soft porn found in a lot of romance novels.

If you long for the simplicity of life in the 1950's, a Gidget-style romance with "gosh golly I think I'm in love with him" moments, this novel is for you. It's sweet and wholesome, clean and vanilla. The people in it have little to no character flaws, kids respect their elders and babies are born with no complications. I can't remember if there's any profanity but nothing stands out. I'm sure there's an audience out there for it but unfortunately, it wasn't me.


Check out these other great blog stops on the tour!
2/11 My Book Fix Blog – Author Interview
2/12  The Crazy Booksellers – Promo
2/13  Missus Gonzo – Review
2/14  All for the Love of the Word – Promo
2/15  Hall Ways Blog – Promo
2/16  Books and Broomsticks – Promo
2/17  Because This is My Life Y’all – Review
2/19  The Page Unbound – Promo
2/20  Book Crazy Gals – Promo
2/21  It’s a Jenn World – Review
2/22  Belle Whittington on Tumblr – Promo
2/23  A Novel Reality – Promo
2/24  The Librarian Talks — Review
2/25  Secret Asian Girl – Review*

*A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 19, 2016

What secret asian girl is Reading

Mourner's Bench by Sanderia Faye

    February is Black History Month, so it seemed 
   appropriate that I picked up Mourner's Bench to   
   read when I was just finishing a display at work of    
   notable African-American novelists. This novel  
   takes place in a town I've never heard of, Maeby, 
   Arkansas in 1964, a year I was alive in. I have 
   very vague memories of school integration, 
   having attended public school in the 1960's and  
   70's but I do remember the people involved. My 
   elementary school was 99% white, and the only 
   Asians were my family: me, my sister and a 
   cousin. It was a time when we knew it was too 
   late to say "Negroes or colored people," and too
   early to say, "African-American" so "Black" 
   seemed to stick, although hesitantly. We were not          
   unaware of the great social changes going on 
   around us, even if we didn't wholly understand 
   them. There was   one black girl at my school,
 Janice, the daughter of the school cafeteria lunch lady, and she was in my class. I saw how my white friends stayed a few steps away from her, even while seemingly accepting of me, despite my obvious differences. I was not yet "Asian" but "Oriental," the political incorrectness of which, I only recently had to explain to my now 87 year old mother. (I believe I am still a "Pacific Islander" on some government documents but that's another story). Anyhow, Janice and I got along easily, two odd birds finding comfort in our shared discomfort, but I had family and always wondered how isolated she must have felt. Middle School ended up being an urban mix of blacks and Mexicans, with a minority of White kids, and Orientals were (again!) mostly my family with a few probably distant relations. Interestedly, Janice gravitated away from the friends she'd made (or pretended to make) in elementary school and found commonality with black kids who were part of the desegregation busing experiment of the early 1970's here in the South. I completely understood Janice's need to be with people who shared her experience. After we changed schools we never spoke again, which saddened me.

In Mourner's Bench, while the story's background is the early school integration of black children into white schools, much of the conflict is within the main character, 8-year old Sarah, who is torn between the comfort of what she knows and the prospect, and danger, of the unknown. Like my mother's generation, Sarah's grandmother, Muhdea, is hesitant and fearful of change. Granny, Muhdea's mother, is also afraid for Sarah but it's a concern based on past experience, some of which was steeped in deep violence and hatred. Racism and intolerance are obviously not new problems and not likely to go away soon (if today's political climate is any indication) but the concept of "separate but equal" and "integration" were new back then. Sarah's idealistic, fair-weather mother, Esther, is a product of the new courage of the era but her elders have seen what happens to trail-blazers with no support and they are fearful. Most books that deal with this subject emphasize the strength and moral conviction of the characters. I was gratified to see that while there is that, there is also a side seldom seen: the grappling with reality, the courage but also the dread of repercussions. It was still a white person's world at the time and they were not the only group resistant to change. At some point, someone says, "The colored school is good enough," which is not so much statement of resignation but one of protection of their loved ones when the odds are not exactly in your favor. Esther has the confidence of the truly untested and is like a bulldozer when it comes to pushing her idealism on her family, leaving Sarah unsure which side to take. Change, especially the hard-won kind, comes neither easily nor without risk.

Norman Rockwell "The Problem We All Live With" 1963

I really enjoyed reading Mourner's Bench. I wasn't sure what a "mourner's bench" was exactly, so I had to look it up. I think Sarah was so anxious to sit on the bench not just to own her own sins but also to lay claim to her own life, not Esther's and not her family's. I loved the way the author described life in poverty stricken Arkansas, from the deeply religious devotion of the community, to collard greens and fat back smells to the crunchy gravel roads and the rare ice cream treats at the diner back door. 

As I read, I couldn't help but picture Norman Rockwell's famous 1963 painting of 6-year old Ruby Bridges, as she walks, head held high, into the newly desegregated school in Mississippi, flanked by U.S. marshals, graffiti and thrown tomatoes staining the wall behind her. She's an icon, and a national symbol but I'm sure all she was worried about was making friends that day or keeping her dress nice, or trying to fit in. The innocent concerns of little girls everywhere. Girls like Sarah and...I suppose, like Janice, too. 

Check out these other great blog stops on the tour!
2/1 All for the Love of the Word – Promo 2/3 Missus Gonzo – Promo 2/5 My Book Fix Blog – Promo 2/8 Books and Broomsticks  -- Promo 2/10 Blogging for the Love of Authors and Their Books – Promo 2/12 Because This is My Life Y'all -- Review 2/15 The Page Unbound -- Promo 2/17 Texas Book-aholic -- Review 2/19 Secret Asian Girl -- Review 2/22 Hall Ways – Promo

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What secret asian girl is Reading

Pennies From Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay

Pennies from Burger Heaven by Marcy McKay is the story of a young girl whose circumstances lead to her and her mother living on the grounds of a city cemetery. Copper Daniels is street-smart and savvy to the ways of the homeless world so when she wakes up one morning and finds her mother gone with no explanation, she gets to work finding her. Most people would call the police, but Copper's reaction is one of self-reliance, perhaps the only gift from her mother, so she sets out to unravel the secrets kept from her and uncovers some of her own. 

The fact that the premise of a family living in a cemetery does not raise eyebrows is social commentary in and of itself.  The problem  of homelessness in this country has escalated to terrible proportions and Copper's story is symptomatic of this. A story like this one would have believability issues 30 years ago. But today, a young girl living on the streets among crazed murderers and evil rapists (and evangelical preachers) is just exposition. Oh, I forgot to add that there's a Street Killer on the loose in the area, but for Copper, the threat of being murdered is just one more obstacle to finding her mom. Suffice it to say, the odds are against her but since she doesn't have a stone sword like the Warrior Angel, a statue she lives near, wields, she must use the only weapon she has to solve the daunting task in front of her: her wits. As the story progresses it becomes less of finding her mother and more of navigating a world that ignores her kind. "The Street Killer's message reminds us all," she observes, "God hates the poor."

I thought this novel was constructed very well. The language is a bit rough, especially the use of some slang, but reflective of the setting and the world in which the characters live. As testament to which groups are most affected by homelessness, there's pretty much every minority included with some stereotyping, which bothered me a little. I tend to throw up a reader block whenever Asians are named "Mai" or some variation of that: May Ling, Pearl, Suzie Wong, etc. Why can't they be "Jennifer"? Anyway, that may be a personal prejudice of mine and less objective commentary. I liked the descriptions of the different parts of the cemetery, as in life, people divided into the "Somebodies" of the world versus the "Nobodies" and culminating in the anonymous "Unknown Negro." Whether young Copper absorbs the metaphor or not is unknown but it reads loud and clear even to the casually observant reader.

Although I'm not fond of the title (the Burger thing was off-putting to me) I do recommend this book as a young adult or "new adult" offering. This is a story about overcoming odds, digging deep to survive, girl power, parental love, the power of friendship, sacrifice and life changing on a dime...or, this case, a penny as it turns out.

Check out these other great blog stops on the tour!

1/18       My Book Fix Blog  -- Review
1/19       Hall Ways  -- Promo
1/20       The Page Unbound  -- Author Interview
1/21       bookishjessp  -- Guest Post
1/22       Because This is My Life Y'all  -- Review
1/23       The Crazy Booksellers -- Promo
1/24       All for the Love of the Word -- Author Interview
1/25       Books and Broomsticks -- Guest Post
1/27       Missus Gonzo -- Review
1/28       The Librarian Talks -- Guest Post          
1/29       Belle Whittington on Tumblr  -- Author Interview
1/30       Book Crazy Gals -- Promo
1/31       Secret Asian Girl  -- Review
2/1         Texas Book-aholic -- Review

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What secret asian girl is Reading

Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist's Bedtime Tales by Tom Hutton, M.D.

I'm old enough to remember watching Marcus Welby, M.D. on television with my family and being riveted by the personal stories and doctor/patient relationships highlighted in this popular drama. Dr. Welby was always so insightful and wise. As soon as he arrived, carrying that black leather bag full of magical cures, you knew the patient was going to get the best care possible and all would be well. But what was most interesting was finding out that doctors possessed the same doubts and frailties that we, regular humans have and their "super powers" are really just a best guess gleaned from a long road of education and hit and miss experience. I thought Carrying the Black Bag was a good example of the doctor memoir genre. We get to see Dr. Hutton's early days as a novice resident who is also trying to make ends meet at home. We don't often think about doctor's personal lives and the financial and personal struggles with new marriages, new families, while still maintaining rigorous schedules at work. I thought it was fascinating to catch a glimpse of a young doctor's first realization of the weight of his new responsibility, symbolized by the shiny, new leather bag as it is finally placed into his hands. There are few professions where life and death are the results of work decisions and the full impact of it all on a young doctor is fascinating reading.

I thought the book was well-written, medically technical without being overly so, and maintained a folksy, home-grown quality about it, reminiscent of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small. In fact, one of the best chapters in the book was about his beloved dog, Dice, whose goofiness and lovable personality reminds us that respect for life extends beyond humans. I loved the parade of colorful patient characters, vividly drawn by Dr. Hutton while still maintaining their dignity and the seriousness of their maladies. Funny, stubborn, and often familiar personalities are the heart of this memoir where the people, not the diseases, take center stage. Many of the vignettes cover years of patient history, beginning with the vague symptoms, following through to triumphant recovery or tragic finales. The narrative is clinical but sympathetic and deeply personal.

Carrying the Black Bag is a wonderful peek into the long career of a successful doctor whose resume is not so much filled with files of diseases he's cured as much as people who affected his life; whose humanity superseded the afflictions that changed their lives and whose courage gave hope, and a kind of peace, to those who came after them.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

What secret asian girl is Reading

House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke

  First, a confession. I had trouble reading this book. I've 
  never read anything by this author and I really didn't 
  know what to expect but the premise sounding promising so
  in I plunged. As you might have surmised from previous
  postings, I don't have a lot of patience for novels that 
  appear misogynistic, macho, demeaning or condescending. I 
  realize (increasingly more so) that some people enjoy this 
  type of story. I make no apologies that I do not.

   So apparently, James Lee Burke is one of those writers. 
   From the very beginning, there are racially-inspired murders, a whorehouse,  complete with an iconic madam with a heart of gold, alcohol-fueled violence, LOTS of detailed descriptions of firearms told with a reverence usually reserved for saints, and crude language focused on sexual exploits toward women who are usually described based on how her skirt clings to her thighs. Oh...and the Holy Grail. The legendary Cup of Christ in this story was the main reason I was interested since I read a lot of historical novels, some with religious lore as the subject. This book does not in any way fall into that category.

I found myself skimming through most of the book, although there were a few passages with beautiful descriptions of life in the early 20th century West and Trinidad. "The peaks of the mountains disappeared into the clouds, their slopes so immense that the forests in the ravines resembled clusters of emerald-green lichen on gray stone." Unfortunately, these brief, colorful respites were interrupted by tired, clichéd lines like, "I've been rode hard and put away wet, Padré." Ack. 

The protagonist, Hackberry Holland (wow), is an alcoholic, sometime-Texas Ranger with a propensity towards violent solutions, a combination that seems to be almost shrugged off by the author. There's lots of holes put in heads, and bullying or killing but all of that is okay, I supposed, because it's the old west where Man is Man and that's what they do. He's married to Maggie but has a child named Ishmael with a prostitute named Ruby. He spends a lot of time figuring out which one he wants, and of course, both want him. When he gets upset, he rides his horse, which he likes, so hard that the horse collapses. Hack gets off, steps over the animal and looks out over the mesa, contemplating who he will kill next.

There's more where Hackberry chases down his son and there is forgiveness and redemption but I had long lost empathy for the characters so I was pretty much skimming at this point. I never got the part where the Holy Grail came into play although I'm pretty sure that Hackberry shot it in an alcoholic rage.

I've seen this book described as a "classic novel of the West." I don't think so, because I've read some really good western novels that depict life in that era as more than just whiskey and women, although I'll admit, the main female characters here were fairly independent, given the time. Not all books should have modern viewpoints thrust upon them; historical accuracy should take precedence. But just as flagrant use of the "N" word doesn't seem fitting in works written today (another criticism I have of this book) neither does outdated stereotypes of any kind fit into the description of "classic" any more. Perhaps new definitions are needed for all modern genres that no longer fit the tiresome mold.

Order today from 

Friday, November 27, 2015

What secret asian girl is Reading

Wyoming Rugged by Diana Palmer

Let me start by saying that I am not a reader of romance books as a genre. This is not to say that I have never picked one up and read it; in fact, I have, but it was when I was very young and then later as an exercise at the library where I work. It's not that I don't enjoy a book with romance in it, if it's done well and integrates cleverly into a larger plot but generally, I try to stay away from the genre. However, I was hoping that since this author is very popular and I was unfamiliar with her writing, the book would not be a stereotypical example of what I've grown to avoid.

I was wrong.

Keep in mind that I am not the target audience so my perspective, while honest, is without prejudice to fans who do enjoy the genre. Unfortunately, I don't know how else to write a review except from my own particular viewpoint, so the following is only an opinion, with neither pretense nor apology.

Assuming that most of Diana Palmer's readers are women, I can see where a story like this one is escapism in its purest form. I wish women weren't so hung up on a "Daddy Complex" where they fantasize about a man who takes care of them like a porcelain doll, where every need is taken care until their dad is replaced by a younger (but not much) and hotter version of Daddy. He then steps in to take care of their every need leaving them with, well, not much to do except bask in their adoration and decide which swimsuit makes their ridiculously firm bodies, the appearance of which is always a total surprise to them, look sexier.

Money, is of course, never a problem. Either Daddy is independently wealthy and gives his daughter everything she could possible wish for, or as in this story, she quickly develops a thing for his business associate, who cannot possibly contain his attraction for his co-worker's much younger daughter. Is Dad concerned? Nope. Please, take my daughter and do with her as you will. The "meet cute" of the story is in the form of an attempted rape, which, in my opinion, should only rarely be used as a plot device but is apparently, commonly used in many romance novels. In this case, being saved from an attempted sexual assault is attractive to Niki, the main character, and who (of course) is a virgin. At this point, the word "bodice" was used so I bookmarked it. She never forgets Blair's (of course that's his name) chivalry and vows to save herself for the only man who could ever take the place in her life from her devoted father. Blair was the "reason Niki had never dated." As a parent, this would have concerned me a bit but a health issue was thrown in to explain away the reason a teenage girl had no interest in boys her own age. Blair is described as "chiseled," wearing "designer slacks that clung to his broad, muscular thighs." I bookmarked this as well but was laughing too hard to keep track of all of the similarly written clichés.

Sex. I read an article recently about where a library's copies of Fifty Shades of Grey were tested for herpes and came back positive for most copies. While this book contained far less gratuitous scenes than Fifty Shades, I'm pretty sure that  an alcohol wipe wouldn't hurt. Clearly, this is sex as only a kind of woman would imagine it: A giving, self-less man who is concerned only about the pleasure of the woman. A meek and trusting woman who is ignorant about her own body and her own needs who lets the man take charge with no need to ask for anything because all will be provided. This is fiction not of the real world, at least I hope not. At this point, my eyes were hurting from rolling so much.

More sex. Of course, a woman only lives to please her man and then provide babies for him. Unprotected sex is not only romantic but completely without worry that the man would be anything but over the moon to hear the news. Of course, throughout the pregnancy your fifteen pound (more like fifty, in my case) weight gain would barely dent your rockin' hot bod and would then return to "normal" in a few weeks and your pert little pink nippled breasts will not change at all. Stretch marks and bubble butt...what's that?

I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. Like I said, these books are clearly not meant for me. I don't want to be put on a pedestal and, as a popular presidential candidate says, "cherished." Collectible figurines are cherished because they are breakable. I don't want to be on a pedestal or in a "binder." I worry about a fantasy where women are voiceless, powerless and ignorant. And breakable. In my opinion, women should be respected because we are so hard to break. Or at least we should be.

But these books were never meant for women like me.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

What secret asian girl is Reading

North Beach by Miles Arceneaux

For me, reading this historical novel was like trying to walk through the knee-high waters of the Gulf of Mexico on a hot day. You trudge for what seems like hours until your calves ache but the shore seems to get hazier and further away the more you walk and you can't see your feet for all the murky, brown water. I'm not saying I disliked it but  this was the longest 268 pages I've read in a long time. 

Okay, the good stuff: the writing is rich with local color and redolent of the sights and aromas of Texas culture in 1962. I didn't get here until 1964 but I'm pretty sure not much changed (or has changed, in some cases). The author, "Miles Arceneaux," aka John T. Davis, Brent Douglass and James R. Dennis, infuses the story with historical markers like Karankawa Indian sites, Teddy Roosevelt's infamous javelina hunt in 1892 or the devastation of Hurricane Carla the year before. All fairly obscure references, unless one is a local or long-time resident of the area. Many of the descriptions of the area exist only in the memories of folks familiar with the nuances of the Gulf Coast circa early 1960's. The atmosphere jibes with my own memories of going to Galveston in the 1960's, driving onto the beach (you could do that back then) hanging a sheet over the open door of our 1968 Oldsmobile and spending the day in the fine sand and clear waters, searching for shells and sand dollars. Reading this book brought me back to those days but they are definitely gone. I loved the memory of Coke floats and crushed shell roads, though. 

Inter-racial prejudices also are reflected in the relationships of the characters, as does the tension between the US and Cuba at the time. I thought the authors did a good job of expressing the fear and suspicion of the time accompanied by the frustration of citizens of both countries as they tried to support their families and earn a living while their governments duked it out on the world stage. The use of Spanish phrases and colloquialisms also lend a dose of reality to the story. The boxing subplot was predictable and of no interest to me so I felt like I had to wade around that to get to the murder story.

Pace-wise, the book reads like a Hardy Boys Mystery with Encyclopedia Brown dialogue, juvenile and often clumsy with that "Hey, let's go visit the girls," lack of sophistication. Not a terrible thing, if it wasn't also followed with some pretty rough language, derogatory racial epithets and sexual situations. In that sense, I'm not sure who the target readers are, hopefully young adult but even YA readers are used to more sophisticated writing. Even the personalities seem pulled from a bag that reads "Scooby-Doo Characters." Naive, impressionable Charlie and his older brother Johnny, charismatic with the gift of diplomacy. Uncle Flavio, aka "Riptide," who "coulda been a contender," the troubled, mentally challenged friend - gee, will he get blamed? - the Bad Guy, who couldn't be more obvious if he'd worn a tee-shirt proclaiming "Bad Guy" on the front and who, I half expected to say at the end, "And I would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for these pesky kids!!" Maybe my cynical perspective comes from too much plot exposure but I found it difficult to get into the story with so much cliché overload. Also, I realize the story takes place in the 1960's but I guess I could do without the female condescension of the era. The rape description, I thought, was gratuitously violent, not just for the target audience but unnecessary for the plot progression.

I started by saying that I didn't dislike the book (wow, what does she write about the books she hates?) because I did enjoy the memories of a bygone era and the historical references. I wish it had been better crafted with more faceted, more layered characters. Perhaps it's the result of three male authors collaborating on a macho-infused crime novel but I wish Carmen had been more than just the object of his first conquest. And I wish her mother was more than just a barrier to that goal. What's it like to live and work in a country where you are always the outsider and blamed first? Do you keep at it or just give up and go home? I guess I'll have to ask my relatives that because it wasn't addressed in this book, but maybe that's a different kind of book.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What secret asian girl is Reading

 Mysteries of Love and Grief
Sandra Scofield

"Frieda is one of a legion: women who have stood at graves and at the doors of empty houses and seen a sea of empty prospects." Not exactly a cheery description to entice readers. Nevertheless, an honest and forthright start to this author's often confusing relationship with her grandmother and the woman who stood between them. It is a stormy relationship; a triumvirate of three generations of headstrong women. Frieda, born in 1906 in Oklahoma, her daughter Edith, and her granddaughter, Sandra, the author. Much of each of their personas are shaped by their circumstances, either by the depression, war, men, poverty, abandonment and sometimes ambivalent pregnancies. But the true parallels in these women's lives are too similar to blame it on just genetics. The anger at each other for irresponsible and often irrepressible behavior is bounced back off their own tendencies and much of the book is a diary-like examination of trying to understand why they don't get along. I'm not certain if the author ever understood that history tends to repeat itself if the cause is never reckoned with. And children mimic parents. Self-respect, it seems, is a learned behavior.

Frieda, a child of abandonment, grows up in a time where women didn't have many choices. She survives, although not without the scars of bad decisions and  buckled by the ghosts of her past. Bad choices, bad husbands and domestic abuse all contribute to her having to pick herself up over and over. It also toughens her resolve to give a better life to her children: Edith, Eula May and Sonny. It also affects her attitudes toward men. "Why kill a man? Let God take care of them. Let them burn in hell." Not exactly the words of a woman in a loving relationship. Her daughter, Edith, fares no better in the marriage department, but her dream-like appearance attracts plenty of suitors which she cannot bring herself to truly love. The author realizes that she is the result of one of these dalliances and begins to doubt her confidence in her mother's ability to care for her, and more importantly, herself. Edith is self-centered. "If there was one orange, Edith would eat it." Sandra goes to live with Frieda but never seems to be able to figure out the hostility between the two older women. She connects to her grandmother as she never could with her mother. Frieda's promises, "I will never complain, I will never ask, "Why me?," I will take care of those I love," become meaningful. As Sandra grows into womanhood herself, she experiences some of the same strife her mother and grandmother did. Like her mother and grandmother before her, she feels the stirrings of rebellion and the need to break away from her family and figure herself out.

The copy of this book that I read was an unedited, advanced reader copy. I hope that the final version is more organized and edited because I found myself lost many times in the timeline. I made a copy of the family tree so I wouldn't get lost but the narrative jumps back and forth, especially regarding Frieda's death in 1983. There's a lot of confusion in the storytelling but there are also pockets of brilliant wisdom and great writing. The description of Frieda's final days was a perfect, ordered way to end a life: in your own home, with all your good-byes said, no loose ends. She wanted no visitors and no mourners. Frieda eventually stopped eating, Sandra says. "Nothing in her needed feeding." I can't think of a better way to come to an end.

If you're a mother, a daughter or a granddaughter you will immediately recognize the coarse strings that hold these women together. They bind us even while we do our best to cut them, stretch them to their limits and even gnaw at them with our teeth to escape. It is only after one of them inexplicably falls free that we feel the terrifying vacuum of their absence, the slackness of the support that once held us up. At least, that is, until we recognize their all too familiar presence lurking within ourselves.


B&N -
Texas Tech Press -

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What secret asian girl is Reading

The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski.

I don't know if you have to have lived through the 1970's to fully appreciate this book or not but given the detail the author put in, it certainly felt like the time period. From the music to the character's use of Yardley lip gloss, Love's Baby Soft or even the description of sanitary napkin belts, it was clear to me - having used those products myself - that I was in the 70's. When the story takes place is crucial to the plot. Two girls, 17 and 14, Grace and Jory respectively, live with their evangelical elder father and psychologically hindered mother, along with younger sister Frances in Arco, Idaho. The feminist movement had not set foot in this strict but not overly restrictive home, but readers who are used to living in less structured times might be shocked at what these girls have never experienced. Dad, Oren Quanbeck, is also a professor of astronomy at the local college, which, one would think would serve to create conflict but instead validates Oren's already devout belief system. "Science and religion don't have to be mutually exclusive," he insists. While Oren's world is explainable and makes sense to him, Jory is not so sure. Her sister, Grace, has returned from a missionary trip to Mexico pregnant, and convinced she has been chosen to give birth to a divine child of God. The mystery of her conception, whether divine or not, is mostly inconsequential. Here's where religion and the practical world collide, as dealing with the stigma of an unwed teen, the daughter, no less, of a church elder and school professor and doing right by your own child can lead to making unwise choices. 

Pregnant Grace, along with her younger sister Jory, are sent off to live in a nearby town alone with only an elderly neighbor to watch over them. To complicate matters, 14-year old Jory is feeling the teen urges to break rules, push limits and experiment. Cue Grip, a 25-ish loner who drives the creepiest of vehicles, an ice cream truck, and seems to provide friendship and solace to Jory now beset with the trauma of moving to a new school and living with her zealot sister, who refuses to explain her behavior. Jory becomes increasingly disillusioned with her family's religion (Mom is nowhere to be seen, usually off lying down with a headache), her sister's crazy situation, and her dad's inability to see that things are not going to be "all right." Grip provides sanity for her and more importantly, friendship as she navigates her way through a secular school for which she has no proper clothes and feels like she's been living under a rock for the past 10 years. Now she's exposed to situations all teens eventually seem to face: drinking, drugs, betrayal and sex. Can she ever go back to the protected ways of her family or will she choose a life outside of her father's protection? 

Personally, I found this book so engrossing because, while I never experienced the extremes Jory did, there were some parallels to my own life, from the 1969 sea green Chevy Malibu (my sister had one) to the hospital in the book, Good Samaritan, the same name of the hospital where I was born. I like that the story asked hard questions about religious rhetoric, especially when there seems to be an uptick today toward conservatism's least favorable aspects. Feminism sacrificed much to give women a voice and much of traditional patriarchal religion threatens to silence that if we go back. Jory represents the chasm between those two worlds, back in the 1970's. The desire to express yourself pitted against what is or isn't acceptable, according to others. I've been there and have no desire to go back. Regardless of your age, I think you'll find this debut novel an often uncomfortable examination of your own beliefs, or at least open your mind to critical pause, which is what I think every good story should do.