August 29, 2014

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I was raised the Chinese way: I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery, to eat my own bitterness. / And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.
-from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
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I have always heard of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club but I had never read it or even known what it was about, which is why I put it on my TBR Pile List Challenge. The Joy Luck Club is ultimately a story about the relationships of mothers and daughters, especially in Chinese culture and relating to the immigrant experience. The novel examines the lives of four women who emigrated from China and compares their life experiences to their respective first-generation Chinese-American daughters. The women are tied together through The Joy Luck Club where the four spend time playing mahjong together and their friendships are cultivated.

The structure of the novel is interesting and important being split into four parts and told by seven different narrators. The first component is narrated by each of the three immigrant mothers (one of the four having died before the novel begins); these chapters give the reader an understanding of what 1920s China was like for each woman individually. The second section is told from the perspective of each of the four daughters giving the reader their varied perspectives of growing up in America as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother. The third section is also told by the daughters and fleshes out each girl's development into adulthood and how they have grown to relate (or not be able to relate) to their respective mothers. Finally, in the fourth section the mothers bring their narratives full circle and the reader begins to emotionally understand the cultural behavior of the mothers toward their daughters.

At first the structure of the novel was the part I liked least about this book. While symmetrically it sounds great, it was really difficult to follow the stories when they were broken up amongst each other. I could barely follow whose mother belonged to whom (fortunately there is a list at the beginning of the book) and had to keep notes as I read. I really thought I might have preferred if each mother-daughter pair was its own section of the four-part series instead of mixing up all the stories. It was difficult for me to really get into this book because of that. But after reading some reviews about the book from others, I came to understand that the book is actually set up similar to a mahjong game. I am not familiar with mahjong so I was not able to distinguish this, but I don't doubt that the pieces of the story were strategically placed to reflect something so symbolic of the relationships in the book and the culture. Perhaps if you are familiar with mahjong you will be further impressed by this story's structure.

Even though the story was more difficult to follow than I would have liked, the actual content is stunning. The comparisons Tan draws between the cultures and the power of the background each stoic Chinese mother undergoes is not only fascinating but beautifully written. There are some lines that made me have to stop and appreciate them rather than continue reading. I loved the explication of the cultural disconnect between the immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters and the lessons each mother tries to instill in her daughter but is lost in translation. I felt Tan really captivated how isolating it is for immigrants, even amongst their own families, along with how much American-born citizens take so much for granted.

While this wasn't necessarily an "easy" book to read, it was very fulfilling and I think any mother or daughter should read it, whether their mother is an immigrant or not. I think if you don't get along with your mother it might help you see her in a new light, and if you do get along with your mother it will only magnify your love to read the stories of The Joy Luck Club.

Bottom Line: A must read for any mother and/or daughter. It's not an "easy" book to read and I recommend keeping notes of the characters to simplify the abundance of character information for four sets of women. But in the end it's very fulfilling and I think it would also make a great installment for any book club! 4/5 Stars.

August 27, 2014

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.
-from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

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I'm not going to lie to you, I picked up this book last year after I learned that Mindy Kaling named her character on The Mindy Project Mindy Lahiri after her favorite author, Jhumpa Lahiri (I am so excited for season 3!!!). Since Mindy Kaling is one of my favorite people ever, I had to read this. Of course, it was no real surprise to me that some of the stories in this Pulitzer Prize winning book I had already read in college. I was happy to reconnect with Lahiri's stories and read them with older, more mature eyes.

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories focusing on various themes relating to Indians and Indian-Americans. Each story focuses on seemingly ordinary characters but elevates the mundane into a thought provoking anecdote on identity, tradition and the roles that are played in every day life. It's really difficult to narrow down favorite stories among this compilation, but I narrowed mine down to "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" and "Mrs. Sen's"; both center on Indians living in America, experiencing a homesickness for their families and traditions in India. In both stories, American children witness both Mr. Pirzada and Mrs. Sen respectively, and similar to the experience of the reader, these children come to better understand the experience of the displaced immigrant, separated from the people and traditions of their home.

I was so impressed by Jhumpa Lahiri's ability to take every day situations and heighten the reader's awareness, taking the ordinary to the extraordinary. Reading these stories encouraged me to see the stories and messages in everything around me, especially what other people might be going through. In the final story, "The Third and Final Continent", the main character rents a room from a woman who is 103-years old and becomes invested in her life, a life he would have otherwise overlooked if he hadn't rented a room and learned about her. This encourages the reader to look at other people's stories that cross over into their own lives.

After reading the collection of stories in Interpreter of Maladies, I completely understand Mindy Kaling's love for Jhumpa Lahiri. Her poignant prose and ability to tell a story powerfully yet succinctly has made me a big fan of Lahiri's work very quickly myself. I can't wait to pick up The Namesake next!

Bottom Line: A must read for any lover of great literature. Read these stories one at a time in between other books, or all at once within a day or two, like I did! 5/5 Stars.

This post was not sponsored by The Mindy Project, although I wish it was.

August 25, 2014

Bout of Books & Monday's Reading Recap


There's a first time for everything and this is the first time I haven't met my Bout of Books Read-a-Thon Goal. Boooo! I really tried, but last week was a pretty crazy week in every regard (from wedding prep to 5k prep and everything in between!). I only finished one book but at least it was on my TBR Pile Challenge List. I think I've learned from this round of Bout of Books that I can't force myself to read specific books. I'm an emotional reader and there's nothing wrong with that. If I could have just picked up any 3 books I might have been more successful. I love knocking out books I've always wanted to read, such as The Joy Luck Club, but maybe I should have waited until I felt like reading it.

Bout of Books

I'm not letting last week deter me from moving forward. I picked up another book from my TBR Pile Challenge in hopes I don't fail that one at the end of the year! ;)

Last Week I Finished Reading
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
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  This Week I Plan on Reading: 

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

What books did you recently discover? 

August 22, 2014

Getting the Pretty Back by Molly Ringwald

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Molly Ringwald's 2010 book, Getting the Pretty Back: Friendships, Family and Finding the Perfect Lipstick, is part beauty book, part autobiography about America's favorite 80's teenager. Ringwald breaks down wardrobe, makeup and fitness tips with anecdotes about growing from perpetual teen to mother and every stage in between.

I think I expected more of an autobiography out of this book, not content so heavy on beauty. Once I was able to view this as a beauty book I became a little more comfortable, but it still didn't sit right with me. With all the emphasis Ringwald gives on loving yourself and choosing your own style, her voice is incredibly pretentious with a focus on expensive products and treatments. Living near Los Angeles I don't think I was too taken aback by her insistence on owning a $300+ Hermes scarf (not that I would buy one), but for the average reader, her suggestions seemed so superficial and ostentatious that I could not relate to her. When she began suggestion acceptable plastic surgery options after talking about inner-beauty, I really lost any attachment I had to Molly Ringwald and saw this as just another bland celebrity non-fiction piece.

What I did enjoy were the cooking tips from her mom and Ringwald's mother (who is a chef), Ringwald's personal favorite lipstick colors (by name and brand), and her development as a mother.
There were enough cute anecdotes sprinkled in with the superficiality that I was able to stomach this book enough to somewhat enjoy it. Because it was only a few hours long (via audio book) and read by the author, that also helped to keep my interest. It wasn't a bad book, but it just didn't really line up with my expectations, especially when it comes to expecting celebrities to influence people in a more positive way.

Bottom Line: Read this is if you're really into fashion and beauty. Or if you're a huge Molly Ringwald fan. I would consider myself average in both instances and, as a result, I thought this book was pretty average in the celebrity book department. 3/5 Hearts.

August 21, 2014

Summer TBR List Checkpoint #2

I'm halfway through my TBR list and I have Isla and Code Name Verity on deck to read SOON! I might give up on Panic and Tease and I forgot to pick up Since You've Been Gone from the library (since I moved and the library was super inconvenient to go to). Soooooo, here's what I have left:
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So far I've finished: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Pandemonium and Requiem by Lauren Oliver, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -- along with many other books/audio books!

August 20, 2014

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon Update

Bout of Books

Eeeek, don't ask me about my Bout of Books progress.... seriously. I'm so on edge with the guilt of knowing I have a thousand wedding-related things to do (my wedding is two months from yesterday), that when I settle in to read a book, my mind can't focus. Not to mention, reading from my TBR list isn't giving me anything I want to read emotionally. Honestly, I don't know why I pick the books I do! The older I get the more I realize it's okay if I haven't read the classics if I'm not going to love them.

Right now I'm reading The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and, while it is beautifully written and I am enjoying it, I'm only on page 67. Of my first book of this challenge. On Facebook I'm participating in a 5 day Positive Challenge and I specifically mentioned last night that I need to remain positive regarding this challenge, so that's what I am going to choose to do!

How are you doing on your reading goals? Are you participating?

August 18, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap


So I kind of took a week off reading. Weird, right? I got into wedding panic mode and scrambled to get all my invitations addressed (inside envelopes and outside envelopes), packaged and stamped (RSVPs and outside envelopes)... and then I realized I was 2 weeks early. What can I say? It's just in my nature to panic.

This week begins the Bout of Books Read-a-Thon and I'm gearing up with some books from my TBR Pile List! Wish me luck, I'm going to need it! ;)

Last Week I Finished Reading

 The Training by Tara Sue Me and maybe Landline by Rainbow Rowel
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  This Week I Plan on Reading: 

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

What books did you recently discover? 

August 15, 2014

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

But I have learned that you make your own happiness, that part of going for what you want means losing something else. And when the stakes are high, the losses can be that much greater.
-from Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

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In Emily Giffin's popular chick lit novel, Something Borrowed, we follow protagonist Rachel's plight to be the woman she always envisioned herself to be: a lawyer in New York City, married with children; the only thing she missing is the marriage and children. Rachel's 30th birthday only magnifies her unhappiness, especially because she's the maid-of-honor in her best friend Darcy's wedding; a wedding to Dex, one of Rachel's closest friends from law school. After her birthday party, Rachel and Dex end up sleeping together which kick starts an affair that Rachel never expected. What she and Dex have seems so real that Rachel can't help but want him to call off the wedding. She knows she will lose either Dex or Darcy because of her clandestine relationship, but she has to work out which will be the greater loss.

In so many ways I can relate to this book because, like Rachel, when I was in elementary school turning 30 meant I'd be married with 2.5 kids and own a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs. Even though I'm engaged, I can still very closely relate to Rachel's feelings of inadequacy as her life is not as on point as she had envisioned, especially with everyone around her progressing with marriages and babies. But what I could not get past is the glorification of having an affair and how this book tries to make it sound like it's okay because everyone is doing it. Maybe I'm too sheltered or prudish to appreciate the drama of this book, but I would rather maintain the value of an exclusive relationship than buy into the horrible morals and ethics this book parades around as the status quo.

When I began this book and saw the direction it was heading I strongly felt that it had to turn the train around, that there was going to be some redeeming quality which was the marker for its commercial success. Afterall, Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson found it to be a good enough story for their 2011 movie. But instead this book tried to justify Rachel and Dex's affair by villainizing Darcy and trying to make Rachel into this stronger person. Don't get me wrong because Darcy is clearly a painfully selfish person that you couldn't pay me to be friends with; but no matter how long they have been friends, by age 30 Rachel should have separated herself from that type of person and become responsible for her own actions. Instead she scapegoats Darcy for sabotaging every major part of her life and has become one of the most embarrassing excuses for a woman in a novel I've seen in a long time.

I was so irritated by how Rachel suddenly throughout this affair decides that she needs to stop putting her friends' needs above her own. Oh yeah, real convenient when you're having a sexual relationship with your best friend's fiance!! Rachel and Darcy are both separately what is wrong with women in society today and why so many women tear each other apart rather than build each other up. Despite always being there for Darcy, Rachel has never helped her but only perpetuated Darcy's bad actions by passivity. Honestly, I don't know how I finished the book, and if I hadn't listened on audio book there's no way I would have finished.

There was one point toward the end where I thought the book was going to redeem itself and I was so excited. But nope. I really can't understand how this book is so successful. Ordinarily when I write a negative review I'm happy for others who can enjoy it, but this one I just can't wrap my head around. If you enjoyed this book, let me know how you were able to get around the whole cheating aspect. I just feel like if Dex had any class he would have broken it off with Darcy and if Rachel had any class she would have waited for that to happen after their first drunken sexcapade before continuing to be just as selfish as the best friend she villainizes out of convenience. UGHH.

Bottom Line: Sorry for all the ranting, but I really just cannot recommend this book. Watch the movie instead if you really need to. 2/5 hearts because the writing is fine but the story is atrocious. Even if you don't mind the cheating, try to get over Rachel's whining and never-ending analysis of how lame she knows she is.

August 8, 2014

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I just told my mother I want a bra. Please help me grow, God. You know where.
-from Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

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Judy Blume's classic YA novel Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is a coming of age story chronicling the 8th grade school year of Margaret Simon after she moves from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs. This book was first published in 1970, so it has a nostalgic quality of that time period where private things were kept a little more private and subjects like body image and sexuality were not front page news. Margaret's school year consists of making new friends, maintaining familial relationships, and most notably, which religion she fits into. Throughout the novel Margaret sends prayers off to God asking for guidance in everything from religion to growing into her new bra.

I honestly cannot remember if I had already read this book before, but whether I had or not, I do remember anecdotes from the book being a staple in growing up. From the simple prayer introduction, "Are you there God? It's me, (insert your own name)", to the exercise cadence, "We must, we must, we must increase our bust!", this novel was the original Guide to Growing Up Girl. I'm sure other books preceded it that took on the responsibility of educating girls through fiction, but none stand out to me as much as this one.

This story focus a lot on being comfortable with the changing female body which, from an adult perspective, is hilarious. But Blume is able to step down from the dramatic irony of being an adult into the sock-less shoes of a preteen girl, stripping us down to Margaret's vulnerability in an honest way. My favorite story was that of Margaret's friend lying about starting her period because she wanted to grow up so badly; it mostly reminded me of how ignorant I was as a preteen girl and how I wish that period would have never come at all (Am I right, ladies?)! Similarly, buying pads at the drugstore was such a terrifying yet exhilaratingly taboo experience at age 12 and it was fun for Blume to remind me of such a time in my own life.

In addition to physical changes, Blume also articulates the emotional struggle of a preteen. Margaret maneuvers through familial relationships with ignorance to the complications made by adults. For instance, through Margaret's narrative it's suspected that her parents have a strained relationship with her grandmother, but Margaret maintains her relationship with her grandmother nonetheless. This brings attention to all the ways we as adults can complicate relationships instead of simply just loving someone. It's so much easier said than done to view things through the eyes of a child, but Blume gives us the vehicle necessary to try.

The most heavy subject of this book is religion. Margaret's father was born Jewish and her mother was born Christian, but neither of them practice any religion and have given Margaret the opportunity to make the decision on her own. Despite her daily, easy prayers, Margaret struggles to find God in the temple or the church where she experiments by worshiping with various friends and family. The irony is that she becomes so frustrated with being unable to find God when she's known him all along. I think there is a lot of dialogue here for what Blume is saying about religion versus faith.

Overall, this book touches on everything that can affect a preteen girl's life physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Seeing these things through the refreshing eyes of a preteen girl in the 1960s-1970s gives the reader a new outlook on the experience of growing up. I guarantee this book will remind you of what it felt like to go through this most vulnerable stage of life while giving you insight on the simplicity of life.

Bottom Line: A must read for any girl or woman, although chances are you've already read it! 5/5 Stars.

August 4, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap


Can I just say how much I want to burrow into Rainbow Rowell's writing and never come out? Attachments really hit the mark for me, I needed something smart but easy to read last week and I just adore Rowell's writing so much. I didn't want to jump on her bandwagon, but it's totally worth it. I bet everyone else who has read her work can agree!

Last Week I Finished Reading: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, The Great Gatsby (re-read) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Submissive and The Dominant by Tara Sue Me
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  This Week I Plan on Reading: The Training by Tara Sue Me and maybe Landline by Rainbow Rowel and/or Farewell to Manzanar by Jeannette Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Are you There God It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

What books did you recently discover? 

August 1, 2014

Priceless by Nicole Richie

At first, the thought of performing with Jackson had made her nervous, but now she recognized the feeling as exhilaration. She knew her voice was good, and she'd loved the music he'd taught her, and why not go for it? Besides, she was encouraged by Jackson's faith in her. He was right- she was tougher than everyone thought. 
-from Priceless by Nicole Richie

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Yes, Nicole Richie wrote a novel! In fact, she's written two! I found this book on clearance and was more curious than anything else. The synopsis itself isn't anything too intriguing, especially coming from Richie: after her millionaire father is arrested for fraud, spoiled little rich girl Charlotte Williams must navigate the scandal without any of her financial assets to back her up. Between victims of the fraud harassing her, anonymous death threats, and her own supposed friends selling gossip to get on the news, Charlotte fleas to the New Orleans home of her childhood nanny to find solace and, surprisingly, a place for her talent for singing to shine. 

Overall this story was predictable and somewhat bland at times albeit well constructed with a better arc than I suspected. I was actually really impressed by Richie's writing; supposedly she did not use a ghost writer (although why would she admit if she did?). Initially the writing felt overly sanitized with splashes of Richie's personality that came seemingly out of nowhere. However, I feel Richie came into her own voice as the story progresses and I found myself enjoying the book more the more I read.

My favorite character is Kat Karraby, a friend Charlotte makes in New Orleans. Her personality jumps off the pages, especially through her colorful dialogue, self-confidence and heart. Between Charlotte and Kat, there is a lot of discussion about fashion. As someone not very well-versed in fashion, I was afraid I would feel isolated out of the story from these references. But that wasn't the case: I actually enjoyed both characters excitement over fashion and found myself googling designers as I read.

I don't think this book is for everybody, but it exceeds the expectations implied by the general reaction, "Nicole Richie wrote a novel?" The characters are likable and the story is well developed with a nice message about identity and money not buying you everything. While the story may sound really shallow at first glance, it's a story of redemption that might make you think twice about judging a book by its cover.

Bottom Line: If you like Nicole Richie and the storyline appeals to you, you will probably enjoy the book. Definitely exceeded my expectations! 3/5 stars.