Books Read July 2009

Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
Written in 1941, the manuscript of Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family and friends when Nemirovsky was sent to her death at Auschwitz. Recently it was found in an archive in France and published. The story is narrated by Silvio, who left his tiny village as a young man, and had a life filled with adventure. Now, older and back where he started, he lives in a hovel in the woods – but he’s perfectly happy. That is until his young cousins wedding and he is drawn into small town scandals and secrets of the past.
Very nice read.

Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies
Gillies left her recurring role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to follow her husband to small-town Oberlin, Ohio, when he got a position in the English department. She was happily caring for their two sons, renovating an old house and teaching drama part-time when one day her husband decided he didn't want to be married anymore. He then turns around and marries the professor he’s been having an affair with. The novel is a much deserved twist of the knife for Gillies -- but somehow it gets winy and not that great to read.

Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale. Or How I Learned About Love & Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper
The world is full of people with good intentions, but author Gwen Cooper is the real deal.
Homer, blind since he was two weeks old, luckily finds a forever home when Cooper takes him in, but it’s Homer who captures Cooper’s heart and teaches her what fearlessness really means. Homer is 100% blind; Cooper’s memoir is 100% pure inspiration. The story is funny, optimistic and heartbreaking. Yes, I cried several times, but mostly tears of joy -- knowing there are people in the world who despite potential hardship, step up and do the right thing. Even if you’re not a cat lover you can’t help but admire Homer. Read it. ♥♥♥

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Panama Hotel, once an elegant hotel in Seattle’s Japan-town has been boarded up for decades. One day, as 50-something Henry Lee walks by, the new owner is out front opening up a Japanese parasol recently discovered in the hotel basement. It is one of thousands of articles stowed away by 37 families as they were rounded up and taken to internment camps during World War II. Henry flashes back to his preteen years when he was forced to attend the exclusive Rainier Elementary, and his only friend was Keiko, a young Japanese American student. The friendship is complicated by Henry’s father’s ill regard for the Japanese. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to sort out his relationship with his Chinese father and the Japanese girl he loved. Is the answer in the basement of the old hotel?

The Cure for Modern Life by Lisa Tucker
Once madly in love, Matthew and Amelia have chosen different sides of the medical coin. Amelia has dedicated her life to medical ethics, while Matthew is a heartless pharmaceutical executive who doesn't care about anything but money. However, one night Matthew comes face-to-face with a homeless boy in need of help. Now this part is far-fetched even by Lisa Tucker standards. Matthew takes the boy and his sister to his expensive apartment and lets them live there while he’s out of the country. Possibly one of the worst books I’ve read this year.

The Foreigner by Francie Lin
Emerson Chang is a San Francisco financial analyst who doesn't speak a word of Chinese, but finds himself in Taiwan searching for his long-lost brother. His mission? Carry out his dead mother’s wishes and find the elusive Little P, hand over the deed to the cheap hotel their mother owned, and then scatter her ashes in her native land. Sounds simple enough, but Little P is involved in some very shady Taiwanese criminal activity. This may come as a complete surprise, but Emerson finds himself mixed up in this world of crime. He loses his job back in California, and the property he's inherited in Taipei turns out to be less than auspicious. There’s nothing really wrong with this book – I just couldn’t get into it.

The Time it Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean
Dolores Gray dreams of becoming an astronaut. Since she’s smart as a whip, lives close to Cape Canaveral, her father works for NASA, and she sees most of the launches in person -- her dream seems attainable. But on the morning of January 28, 1986, seventy-three seconds after liftoff, the space shuttle Challenger explodes, killing all seven astronauts on board. The Time It Takes to Fall is a coming-of-age/historical fiction novel that also weaves the story of a family's drama into the larger picture of a huge event in American history. What sounded like a hokey story line turned out to be a real gem of a book. ♥♥


Books Read June 2009

City of Thieves by David Benioff
Growing up has always had its challenges, but usually that doesn’t include dodging bullets and wondering where your next meal will come from. During the infamous siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov and Kolya meet in prison where it appears they will surely die. Instead, they’re given a single chance to gain their freedom if they can successfully complete a secret mission: find a dozen eggs for the colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. Their adventures through the war-torn city and devastated countryside not only create a bond between the two, but tell the story of how boys become men. A beautifully written novel. ♥ ♥

Dakota by Martha Grimes
Martha Grimes fans have waited something like nine years for the return of Andi Oliver, the amnesiac heroine of Biting Moon. In this latest installment Andi finds herself in North Dakota and hires on with a pig-farm factory. Two mysterious people are on her trail, but of course she has no recollection of who they are or why they want to kill her. The only worthwhile part of this book is the eye opening education about inhumane animal treatment in factory farming, but even that doesn’t save this book. I will gladly wait another ten years to hear from Andi Oliver again.

First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria
by Eve Brown-Waite
Brown-Waite interviews for the Peace Corp after college, and falls in love with her recruiter -- just in time to be shipped off to Ecuador for two years. Eventually, married to said recruiter, Brown-Waite moves with her husband to Uganda, where she not only catches malaria when she was pregnant, but has to deal with rebel bombings. Lucky for readers who want the Peace Corp experience without actually going somewhere, Brown-Waite wrote a memoir that is insightful, inspirational and at times very funny.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
In 1937, Shanghai is the place to be – lots of fun-loving millionaires, gangsters, revolutionaries, and artists. Twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, daughters of a wealthy rickshaw business owner, and part-time models, take full advantage of everything the city has to offer. That is, until they learn their father has sold them to pay off gambling debts. As the Japanese bomb Shanghai, Pearl and May leave for California, and the husbands they’ve met just once. They must struggle to get out of the country and eventually end up in an American detention center, with a mysterious baby. Ultimately they meet the strangers they’ve married, rub shoulders with tinsel town, and try to embrace American life. Pretty darn good historical fiction.

The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
You may recognize the author – she was chosen as is the next Ann Landers, by the Chicago Tribune a few years ago. Her column, "Ask Amy," appears in more than 150 newspapers nationwide, seen by more than 22 million readers. The Mighty Queens of Freeville, is the story the women in her family and how they rallied around Dickinson and her young daughter after her husband does a no-show. Freeville, NY (pop, 458) is a village where Dickinson’s family has lived for over 200 years, and a community not many people get to experience. The insight, love and “dorkitude” that resides there is a testament that bigger is not necessarily better, and a life of great consequence does not automatically equate to leaving your hometown. A nicely written book full of humor, heartbreak and great advice. One line in the book still resonates: “We are not our best intentions. We are what we do.”

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Balram Halwal is a poor, tea pouring villager who dreams of living a rich life. Sounds strangely familiar. Things begin to look up when a rich village landlord hires him as a chauffeur for his son who has returned from the United States. They move to the Indian capital New Delhi and Balram sees his chance to become a self-made man. The plot construction unfolds as a series of emails Balram writes a foreign head-of-state with tips on the make-up of rural and metropolitan India after he has become “The White Tiger.”