The Valley of Amazement

From goodreads

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai, a beautiful and intelligent woman who has honed her ability to become any man's fantasy since her start as a "Virgin Courtesan" at the age of twelve. Half-Chinese and half-American, she moves effortlessly between the East and the West. But her talents belie her private struggle to understand who she really is and her search for a home in the world. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, and uncertain of her father's identity, Violet's quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path fraught with danger and complexity-and the loss of her own daughter.

Lucia, a willful and wild American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai's most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which she first sustained when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for penance and redemption will bring her to a startling reunion with Flora, Violet's daughter, and will shatter all that Violet believed she knew about her mother.

Pages: 589 (hardcover) 

Publisher: Published November 5th 2013 by Ecco (first published October 24th 2013)

Rating: 9 out of 10

Source: Checked out of library

Date Completed: April 2, 2014

I have loved Amy Tan ever since I first read Joy Luck Club in college.  A few years ago, I enjoyed reading her memoir The Opposite of Fate on a trip to India. I was really excited to learn that she had a new book coming out, The Valley of Amazement.  My excitement and anticipation only increased when I read the story of her search for a new editor who ended up working with her on this book.  Since the book was in high demand and I am still on on a book buying budget, I had a lot of breaks in my reading as the book had to be returned and I needed to wait my turn.  

In spite of stopping and starting multiple times, I found myself engrossed in the story. In particular, I liked getting to know Violet and seeing her grow.  Parts of the book were slow, but I felt like there were lots of saucy parts which made for some juicy reading.  As with all of her novels, I appreciated the exploration of mother daughter relationships in a way that honors complexity and conflict.   The lessons on how to be a courtesan were fascinating and the ways in which she fell in love made me feel both hopeful and sad. 

I am counting this book for the following challenge: 2014 Chunkster Reading Challenge: At 589 pages, this is certainly a chunkster.  

Posted on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 at 12:43PM by Registered Commenter[beastmomma] in | CommentsPost a Comment

The Invention of Wings

From goodreads:

Hetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

 
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Pages: 373 (hardcover) 

Publisher: Published January 7th 2014 by Viking Adult

Rating: 10 out of 10

Source: Checked out of library

Date Completed: March 17, 2014

The first book I read by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees, gave me lot to think about while still sweeping me up in a compelling story.  I was excited when the Partners and Professors book club selected the Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd for our February meeting.  As I started reading, I was again swept up in the story and a bit guarded because I feel like lately I have read several books with similar themes.  

In the months between finishing the book and writing the review, the thing which I keep thinking about is the importance of not only believing in yourself, but in having men (aka those with power and investment in the current structure) also believe in you.  There is a powerful scene where Sarah makes a declaration that she wants to become a lawyer and her father public mocks her and basically shuts her down.  After reading and reflecting on that passage and the rest of the book, I felt profoundly lucky that my own father always encouraged and believed in my ability to do great things.  Even now, I have the chance to take the bar exam because he and my mom believe in me enough to provide resources to make it possible for me to try again. 

I also love the intersection between race and gender. As Sarah and her sister Angelina begin working in the abolition movement, they start to give voice and power to the need for women's empowerment.  The conflict this causes and their response to it is one of my favorite parts.  As Handful begins to find ways to connect to the world outside the Grimke farm and figure out how to make her own path, I love the way her power and resources are cultivated to bring her freedom while honoring her past.  The novel is certainly about women finding and asserting their powerful.  It is also about friendship, reaching across race and class lines, but in a way that feels real and complicated. 

Posted on Monday, June 30, 2014 at 5:32PM by Registered Commenter[beastmomma] in | CommentsPost a Comment

We are Water

From goodreads

In middle age, Anna Oh - wife, mother, outsider artist - has shaken her family to its core. After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, Anna has fallen in love with Vivica, the wealthy, cultured, confident Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her professional success.

Anna and Viveca plan to wed in the Oh family's hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut, where gay marriage has recently been legalized. But the impending wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora's Box of toxic secrets--dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs' lives.

Pages: 561 (hardcover) 

Publisher: Published October 22nd 2013 by Harper

Rating: 9 out of 10

Source: Checked out of library

Date Completed: March 7, 2014

I loved Wally Lamb even before I read any of his books.  When I was living in New Orleans, I attended the Tennessee Williams literary festival  and heard him speak; he had a wonderful spark and I liked hearing how the plots for his books developed.  He also did a writing exercise with the group and I wish I could remember his words exactly, but his passion for working with women in prison was inspiring.  He was also a great sport and took a picture with my friend and me.  Since then, I read and enjoyed I Know this Much is True and She's Come Undone

I was very excited to read We are Water even though the premise seemed a little dark. Parts of the story were hard to get through and others were disturbing.  Sometimes, I felt really angry and upset; sometimes, I laughed.  No matter what emotion came out, I always wanted to read more. I thought hard about what makes a marriage work, the importance of career, and family connections.  I wondered what I would do in the position of all the characters.  I was frustrated with what I perceive as a lack of consequences for some terrible behavior.  

The biggest surprise is how well characters who are easy to hate because of things they have done evoked some sympathy from me.  I did not like them, but I did not hate them with as much vengeance as I thought when I reflected on the story.  My favorite characters were all three of the kids and my least favorite were the parents. The complexity of family relationships and the ways childhood shapes adulthood were examined pretty well. 

I am counting this book for the following challenges: 

2014 Chunkster Reading Challenge: At 561 pages, this is certainly a chunkster.  

What's in a Name 2014: for the category of a type or element of weather as water qualifies as an element of rain

Posted on Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 10:11PM by Registered Commenter[beastmomma] in | CommentsPost a Comment

Wonder

From goodreads

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

Pages: 315 (hardback) 

Publisher: Published February 14th 2012 by Knopf

Rating: 10 out of 10

Source: Checked out of library

Date Completed: February 13, 2014

I first heard about Wonder by R.J. Palacio while listening to NPR; it was the September selection for the NPR Backseat book club which is a book club for young readers.  I was immediately taken with the story's premise and then really loved the author interview.  I also really enjoyed the passages of the book being read by fifth graders. Even though we did not select it for our book club, I was excited to read it and LOVED the characters and the story. 

Besides Auggie, my favorite character is Summer. She is warm, funny, and kind.  The book captures the complexity of middle school really well; in particular, the struggle to fit in while doing right by your fellow humans. Many of the scenes made me cry; I was especially moved by the lunch room image of Auggie sitting by himself. I was brought back to the anxiety and worry of having someone to sit with at lunch.   I also keep thinking about the emperor's guard chapter which makes me want to high-five humanity.  I did love Auggie's voice, but I was glad that we got to have the perspective of other characters as well. 

Posted on Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 11:07AM by Registered Commenter[beastmomma] in | CommentsPost a Comment

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

From goodreads

Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential. 

Pages: 217 (hardback) 

Publisher: Published March 11th 2013 by Knopf

Rating: 8 out of 10

Source: Checked out of library and then borrowed from a book club member

Date Completed: January 31, 2014

Even before I read Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, I heard so much about it that I already had the idea that I would generally agree with her points, but have some issue with the nuance. I did appreciate the conversation the book generated and the general premise that more should be done to empower and support women to reach their full potential. 

The biggest surprise for me was how many of her suggestions and approaches I could apply RIGHT NOW.  In particular, I was struck with how much I apologize for things which are not my fault. Even as I strive to be confident, when I feel nervous or anxious (which happens often in a new environment) my default mode is to apologize.  Some of my favorite chapters of the book were about like ability (again could relate to this desire), true partnership (certainly striving for this ALL THE TIME in my marriage), and having it all (love that she emphasized the definition of this varies from person to person and will evolve).  

The most surprising and helpful section to me was on Don't Leave Before You Leave.  I fight the urge to worry constantly about a future where all of my fears have come true becoming a reality.  I also tend to create anxiety about how I will manage in the future.  See worrying about going to law school and not being able to get a job after graduation because of the possibility of a recession. See also being in the first trimester of pregnancy and being concerned with how we were going to pay for our daughter's education.  There are some genuine concerns in there, but giving so much energy to a worst case scenario can as Sandberg suggests create limitations and reduce possibilities. 

I appreciate the criticisms that she has a very privileged life which influences her perspective, but overall I think that there is something in the book which can be applied to everyone.  Plus, I love the work Lean In.Org is doing to create systematic change, including Ban Bossy and changing stock photos to portray women and girls in powerful ways

Posted on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 10:38AM by Registered Commenter[beastmomma] in | CommentsPost a Comment