50 in 2013: Book Three

The Care and Handling of Roses with ThornsThe Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A literary and metaphoric exploration of roses. Outwardly delicate, the intricate petals of a rose vary by breed, genetics, and their ability to adapt to various climates. One must first brave a rose’s thorny armor in order to truly see its overall beauty. The same could be said about Galilee Garner.

Having suffered from medical challenges her entire life, and having spent the last eight years undergoing dialysis treatments every other day, Gal no longer has time or energy in her life to mince words. She has fought her entire life, survived torturous medical procedures, surely her students can step up and survive her science exams.

Her sister, on the other hand, was born healthy. Gal was often jealous of her sister’s normalcy. When her sister leaves for a long-term job overseas, Gal finds herself watching after her niece. A shock to her very regimented, quiet existence. Her life revolving around her teaching, her dialysis, and her roses.

Priding herself on her ability to breed roses versus merely raising roses others have perfected, Gal spends much of her life caring for her seedlings and very little time nurturing relationships with others. It isn’t until others start to de-thorn her callous exterior that she begins to truly bloom and see that there is life outside her greenhouse walls. Her niece, Riley, a burden at first, and a true obstinate teenager slowly lets down her own guard to see that her Aunt is more than harsh words and roses. Together, this unlikely pair make discoveries that ultimately change both their lives.


50 in 2013: Book Two

Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While a great deal of poetic language is lost in translation and there is difficulty adjusting to a storyline written in second person, there is something tragically stunning about this novel.

Somewhere amongst the crowded, bustling chaos that is the Seoul subway, sixty-nine year old So-Nyo is separated from her husband. He boards the train assuming she is behind him. She is not. Before he can board another train and return to the station, she vanishes.

The family immediately begins a search. As the children search, they unveil hidden truths, secrets, and dreams sheltered by a woman they barely know. How well do children really know their parents?

The depths to which So-Nyo sacrifices and loses herself for her children is startling and difficult to read. Even more so when coupled with the admissions of her children and husband, none of whom realize her presence in their lives until she is missing. She devoted her whole being, her entire life to looking after everyone. In the end, who was looking out for her?

A true testament to the intricate woven tapestries that make up our family’s story and a reminder to cherish the hands that sacrificed something to place each stitch and write each story.

50 in 2013: Book One

A Land More Kind Than HomeA Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The tale of two brothers, Jess and Christopher “Stump” Hall, and the various repercussions that come with seeing things that are meant to be seen. Curiosity can lead to answers and adventure, but also danger. Some questions aren’t meant to be answered, especially by the naive investigation of children. One stolen peek into a window changes the paths of the Hall boys’ lives forever…

The eccentric and slightly mysterious Carson Chambliss immediately takes over the church in the small town of Asheville following the prior pastor’s death. He takes down signs, covers the windows with newspaper, and pens a simple verse in black paint on a small sign outside. Those drawn in, stay. Those who question or remain skeptical, stay far away.

Ben and Julie Hall’s marriage changed the day Stump was born. He never cried. He was quiet. Too quiet. Time would soon reveal he was mute. Ben understood Stump’s quiet ways, often relating, while Julie believed she could bring the words out of him. She also believed in Pastor Chambliss.

Adelaide Lyle had called Asheville home long enough to know all there was to know about the small town’s inhabitants. She knew Ben Hall as a child. She knew the church before it was overhauled by Carson Chambliss. She helped bring Stump Hall into this world. And she knew her town well enough to know when trouble was in the air.

On a hot September night, the life stories of Jess, Stump, Pastor Chambliss, Ben, Julie, and Adelaide all intersect with an ending that ultimately teaches two of the small town’s residents that “it’s a good thing to see that people can heal after they’ve been broken, that they can change and become something different from what they were before.”

Slow moving in parts, I found many of the story lines to be incredibly poignant: the repercussions of a child’s curiosity and how it can change his life in unforeseen ways, the resonating effect of a parent’s decision, the power of restoration, and the gripping control of revenge. The first book this year to keep and hold my attention the whole way through.

50 in 2012: Book Forty Three

Blackberry WinterBlackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Romance, mystery, murder, scandal…this book had it all.

Seattle 1933: a hardworking, single mother is forced to kiss her son goodnight, secure him inside their humble apartment, and leave for work. Daniel, three years old, is the light of Vera Ray’s life and it breaks her heart to leave him behind. Alone. But she has no choice. Enter a fluke mid-May snow storm and Vera’s life is forever changed as she returns home to find Daniel gone.

Modern day Seattle: Claire Aldridge finds herself stumbling through life in a grief driven fog. A car accident changed her life in unimaginably tragic ways. She feels lost and struggles to find the motivation needed to repair her marriage that teeters on the verge of disrepair. Until a fluke mid-May snowstorm inspires a new’s article that will help her find answers and clarity she didn’t know she needed.

Two strangers, two mothers, two lives forever altered by tragic loss. Ultimately, the power of love, on various levels, proves to be the catalyst for forgiveness, strength, and the courage to move on.

Amazing read. LOVED.

50 in 2012: Book Forty Two

Skipping a BeatSkipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“When my husband, Michael, died for the first time, I was walking across a freshly waxed marble floor in three-inch Stuart Weitzman heels, balancing a tray of cupcakes in my shaking hands.”

A husband and wife: involved in successful careers, gorgeous house, fashionable clothes, high school sweethearts…all is seemingly perfect, except that nothing really is.

Michael’s financial success has brought them a lifestyle neither of them ever imagined they’d have: lavish parties, expensive clothes, and huge house. Julia never thought she wanted all of that, never thought she’d depend on all of that, never thought in a million years that it would all disappear.

Michael suffers a massive heart attack, medically “dead” for minutes before he is revived. When he comes to, he is not the Michael Julia fell in love with. He is not the driven man she once knew. Instead, he insists that he no longer cares about money, no longer wants to live the life he was living, no longer wants any of his money. He proceeds to quit his job and give away his millions of dollars in savings.

As Michael and Julia both struggle to come to terms with their new reality, past indiscretions come to head and they both must decide what they truly want. Neither of them have been perfect, both have made mistakes but are some mistakes unforgivable? What are they willing to do to uphold promises made?

Meh book, amazing ending. One that still makes me shudder..

50 in 2012: Book Forty One

These GirlsThese Girls by Sarah Pekkanen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A tale of the ways secrets can envelope all aspects of your life just as you think you’ve got them all covered up. You can’t escape them. They are engrained in your being and manage to escape when you least expect them…

Three women living together in New York City. Three women harboring secrets that they think they’ve hidden in the deepest crevices of their being; however, the secrets affect their daily actions, thoughts, and choices more than they know.

Cate: successful, driven, and independent. Yet, she maintains a wall and distance from her roommates. She wants more but doesn’t know how to go about it. She ran away from something life altering, escaping to New York City. No one knows why. She desperately longs to tell her story but fears the repercussions.

Renee: loyal and hardworking, she struggles to fit in a career built upon perfection. She wouldn’t call herself fat by any means, but she certainly isn’t the industry standard size four. As she pursues a job opening as a beauty editor, she finds herself secretly attempting to lose weight at all costs.

Abby: caring, nurturing, and mysterious, she comes to the roommates as the sister of a friend in need of a place to stay. Clearly disheveled and troubled, the women try to figure out what happened to Abby to cause her to drop everything and run…to New York City.

Bound by secrets they don’t know exist, each woman longs for love and acceptance in her own way. The women open up and expose secrets that reveal tragedy, heartache, and raw honesty. I thought this book would be a light, chick lit read but the struggles and challenges each woman faced were so poignantly real that I still think about each of them and wonder what they are doing today. The ways in which each woman’s secrets are so firmly entangled in the lives of those around them is incredibly thought provoking and makes me wonder what the secrets are of those I see as strangers on the street…you never know the battles another is facing or the burdens they carry.

50 in 2012: Book Forty

Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The exploration of interracial relationships during the height of wartime chaos sparked my interest. After reading the book’s synopsis, I quickly dove in. Having loved Letters From Home, I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, something just didn’t connect for me…

Maddie Kern and Lane Moritomo had succeeded in hiding their budding relationship from Maddie’s older brother, TJ. However, Lane no longer wanted to hide their love. Maddie was not yet ready to explain their situation to her brother who had assumed a fatherly role following their parent’s tragic accident. Hopelessly in love and destined to be together, Lane and Maddie take matters into their own hands and elope. Enveloped in the thrill of their little secret and overcome with love, they celebrate their new marriage in their own little world. A world that is quickly shattered as they awake the next morning to news that Pearl Harbor has been bombed.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese American relationships become strained: one’s nationality no longer matters. Instead, ethnicity and skin color quickly divide those who were once close friends. All Japanese Americans are immediately considered suspect.

As Lane’s family is torn apart, Maddie struggles to decide whether she should pursue her Juilliard dreams or stand by her husband as he is interned in a Japanese interment camp.

Love, war, tragedy, the courage of two intensely strong women…a little bit of everything. I feel as though there were tangents discussed in great detail that detracted from the overall poignancy of this novel. Perhaps too verbose in some areas, particularly TJ’s college baseball experience, and not detailed enough in others: the aftermath of war and how life is resumed following the intense fractionalization of Japanese American relationships.

Many of the words in this book could have been my family’s own story. My grandmother was interned in Manzanar and my parents faced scrutiny for their Japanese American interracial relationship. It is hard to imagine the sacrifices and fear faced by families like the Moritomo’s. One day, a mere family next door, the next, a potential war enemy. In the blink of an eye…

Disappointing read, poignant plot idea.

50 in 2012: Book Thirty Nine

Promise Me ThisPromise Me This by Cathy Gohlke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An evil oppressive Aunt, the tragic demise of the Titanic, World War I…and a harrowing love story.

Annie Allen is determined to escape the oppressive confines set forth by her vile Aunt Eleanor. Fearing no other option, Owen Allen courageously decides to pursue a better life in America, promising to send for his sister Annie as soon as he manages the funds to do so. Shortly before he is to set sail, he runs into a peculiar young man who is clearly homeless and in need of assistance. He takes this young man under his wing. Owen had no idea that doing so would forever change his life’s path. Michael Dunnagan admires his new mentor, longing for the familial bond he sees between Owen and his sister.

The day Owen is to begin his journey to America finally arrives and Annie sneaks out of school to bid her brother farewell and watch the magical Titanic set out to sea. Aboard the Titanic, Michael and Owen admire the beauty and opulence of the ship. Their bond strengthens as they discuss the gardening business they are to attend upon their arrival. Owen keeps meticulous notes in his journal while teaching Michael all he knows. A curious bump in the night begins a nightmare that will leave one young man heroically dead and the other plagued with survivor’s guilt for the rest of his life. Haunted by Owen’s last words, Michael devotes the remainder of his days to bringing Annie over to America and fulfilling a promise that means everything to him.

Michael follows the path set forth by Owen and works to bring Annie over. Meanwhile, Annie is living a troubled, difficult life in England. Her Aunt Eleanor striving to make each day more miserable than the last. Just as Michael believes all is ready to send for Annie, Eleanor and World War I promise to overthrow his best laid plans…

Annie Allen is a truly courageous, tenacious heroine. Her story spans heartache and tragedy not often known to one person. Surviving lifetimes of misfortune and loss, she never gives up. An undying tale of love and good conquering evil.

50 in 2012: Book Thirty Eight

Alice BlissAlice Bliss by Laura Harrington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story of courage, strength and the coming of age of one Alice Bliss. Already struggling through the tumultuous waves of teenage angst, Alice must learn to navigate the confusing roads of life without her father who has been deployed to Iraq. Her biggest fan, her closest ally: gone in body but there in spirit and letters. Their closeness multiplied in his absence. Her entire family braces for his year long deployment, each of them struggling to find their new place in a temporary family of three.

At fifteen Alice is beginning to experience the complication of relationships while wishing every moment that her father was there to afford his sage advice. The pain and sacrifice of a family left behind is beautifully illustrated. My heart broke for Alice and Ellie as they longed for their father, and Angie who simply wanted to hold her husband. The constant state of unknown causes a range of emotions in all three of Matt Bliss’ girls: anger, fear, sadness, anxiety.

Their world is shattered as they see two uniformed officers approach their door. Missing. Matt Bliss is MIA. They are told to go about their everyday business as they await more news. Alice is stunned and fails to understand how anyone can go about any sort of business with such turmoil brewing over their heads. Yet, she does. And each day brings new strength and courage.

A heartbreaking yet inspiring story. I desperately long to know what Alice is up to now. How she is coping. What she is doing. Whom she loves: Henry? A heroine who will firmly entrench herself among your heartstrings and stick with you long after her written story ends…absorbing, amazing read.


50 in 2012: Book Thirty Seven

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French ParentingBringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I failed to appreciate much of what this book had to offer based on many poorly backed assumptions and one substantial thought flaw. The author mentions that she believes the French public services don’t explain the differences in parenting that she sees. One could easily argue that if many American parents didn’t have to worry about child care costs, preschool, college tuition or health insurance their parenting styles would be vastly different.

There are far too many references to one extreme example of American parenting gone wrong and far too many examples of a few observations of French parenting gone right.

I do think there is a generational phenomenon of helicopter parenting and Mommy martyrdom; however, I don’t think that defines America’s parenting practice as a whole. While I appreciate the mentioned French notion of fostering autonomy, I don’t believe it was an earth shattering new parenting philosophy or approach. I laughed through the explanation of fostering autonomy by allowing children one swear word, one that has been used and said by many generations: “caca boudin” (translated to caca sausage). Apparently, if I let my boys run around the house saying “shit”, as it is only to be done in private, they are gaining important lessons in self-worth and autonomy. Ummmmm, ok.

There does seem to be a cultural difference in the construction of parenting guilt. Likely fueled by a judgmental and competitive American society where moms are judged on every decision or choice: natural birth or epidural, breastfeed or bottle. The author argues that the judgement comes from having multiple different parenting philosophies and attempting to validate your choices. French parenting is made easier by one cultural approach. Americans believe faster development is a sign of better parenting, while the French all believe in exposure and joy. No rush. Again, yes, there are parents who over-schedule, over indulge, over parent, but I fail to see that as an entire American phenomenon.

The discussion about body image maddened me. American women feel the need to sacrifice their body for their children, unable to resist the temptation to overindulge. While French women, adhere to their strict diets, pop out the kid, and bounce back immediately. Blah blah blah.

Many of the women work, as it made much easier by state preschools and child care. The teachers are well-trained and schooled, parents often resume their pre-baby lives but do so with a new member. Again, I fail to see how the author can say this doesn’t affect the difference in parenting.

I think the book as a whole sparks interesting conversation, I just wish it hadn’t been written in unfounded blanket statements.