Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Romance of World War II


There isn’t a more romantic era than that of the Second World War. Sarah Jio captures the intoxicating aura of the tropics and the passion of star crossed lovers in her second novel “The Bungalow”. I loved her first novel “The Violets of March” which takes place in the present but also has a hidden mystery from 1943. Many of the stories told by veterans of that time will be gone soon so it is nice to see writers frame them for us so wonderfully. Sarah doesn’t gloss over the horror and loss of war but somehow the people from that time always seemed more noble.

It is 1942 and Anne Calloway is engaged to be married to a wealthy, handsome man she has known most of her life. She feels restless and unsure  of her feelings for her fiance. She decides to put off the decision of a wedding by travelling to Bora Bora with her best friend to work as a military nurse. Here she discovers (of course) her true love. They fall in love after discovering an abandoned bungalow that is cursed. There is sinister intrigue,  a murder, some twists and turns and a surprise ending. This author writes in a very simple style that is hopelessly sentimental. A true romantic spirit lives in this author’s heart and some times for a woman that is all we want, a good old fashioned love story.

Are there relatives that have told you stories from World War ll and why do you think that we look back at this war differently?

“Far From Here”


I know it’s trite to say “I adore this author”. So what if she’s a local writer who lives in my town and uses our library? I can’t help it!  Do you know how exciting it is to see local talent make it to the big time?  At least I didn’t grow up around her or go to school with her. I’m not biased. Every book that Nicole has written gets better and better. The true sign of a really good writer.

“Far From Here” touched me on so many levels. The complexity of a marriage ending in widowhood and finding out secrets you can’t confront, the frustrations of annoying sisters, a vampy mom in a small town (in Iowa none the less) and a curmudgeon for a surrogate mother-in-law, not to mention a paralyzing fear of flying while being married to a man who is crazy about flying.

Nicole writes about choosing to love in a marriage. I had to choose  to love many times in my long marriage and was crushed when it wasn’t enough to save it. It takes huge commitment and a strong mental mind to choose love when a shiny new marriage grows older and tarnishes. I loved the “opposites attract”,  wounded personalities of Danica and Etsell. I had to ask myself “who would name someone Etsell ?”  You have to read the book to find out how he gets his name.

This book is about failure but also painfully about redemption. How we rise above our selfishness and if we are lucky and open, get to try again. I loved the hope that was Benjamin. I found myself distracted by the lushness of Nicole’s analogies in the first part of the book. I had to re-read them over to catch every nuance. They evened out further into the story and not so distracting to my inquiring mind. This is such a good book and I feel blessed to have experienced the strong sense of community in this small town.

This is tragic romance  and mystique at it’s very best, with a twist or two to make it perfect. Catch this rising star!

Do you think you have to choose to love sometimes?

“We Are What We Love to Read”


The above quote is one of the many gems I found in “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading” by Nina Sankovitch. This was chock full of wisdom.  She commits to reading a book a day for a year and doing a review/blog on each one. This author picked some of the same books I have chosen and blogged about. That was so cool! Only book obsessed people can get excited about stuff like that. The only thing I love as much as reading books is talking about books. I thought I would make a list of the books she read for my personal reading list but I found it too distracting. She  let’s her moods choose her selections (something I do a lot) and some of the books spoke things to her she couldn’t put a voice to.

Interwoven with her reading marathon choices, Nina talks about her beloved sister who dies of cancer.  She is desolate with grief but her reading experiment lightened what would have been a very heavy story. The process of choosing, reading and critiquing her books softens the edges of her grief, allowing her to truly mourn. This was a lovely book about love, loss and the power of family, but I would have dumped the purple chair.

Quotes abound that I found inspiring. I had to write them down so I’ve I could share some with you. This book reminds you of the impact books have on our thoughts, relationships and very lives. She speaks of books saving her life and I have to admit I have felt that profoundly at times. So, find yourself a comfortable chair and cozy up to this gem.

Here are some of her quotes I found myself writing down:

“A book isn’t just a friend but makes friends for you”

“Sorrow is a violent smashing of reason-in that reason has no power over it”

“I was bathed in pleasure-didn’t need earth moving writing to get hooked on a book”

“Reading became a way for me to absorb my grief rather than rid myself of it”

“Books saved my life”

Other notable quotes from authors:

“A book must be an ax for the frozen sea inside us” Frank Kafka 1904

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” Plato

“When you pass on a book you are enriched threefold” Henry Miller

“Kindness makes life worth living” Adam Phillips, Barbara Taylor

What are some of the books that have had a similar emotional impact on your memories?

Let’s See If I Can Do It


I have finished up four books which is great, but now I have to dish about them “briefly”. I have a problem with briefly. At least verbally. Having read the “Female Brain” I understand why. It’s not my fault…really. It’s the hormones. I always knew it would come down to that. BUT, I also just finished “The Male Brain” which explains beautifully why men can say in five word sentences (or less) what it takes me a paragraph to say. Did you know there is a reason for that stinky boy smell that happens around puberty? Did you know that the pleasure center in the teen boy brain is nearly numb compared to to adults and children?  No wonder they can disappear in a violent video game. They act bored because they are bored! I chuckled at the statement that high-school teachers know that teen boys need to be intensely scared or shocked for it to register.

Environment does have a huge influence on who we become but there are thoughts in our brains that we couldn’t control even if we wanted to. The subconscious brain is a whole other animal. I think these two books should be required reading for every man and woman before dating. She knows her research, 130 of the pages were notes and bibliography. Really entertaining, interesting books that will go a long way towards encouraging more respect and understanding between the sexes.

I read “Unmeasured Strength” by Lauren Manning. Very moving story of a woman severely burned in the World Trade Center on September 11 and her unbelievable journey back to a normal life. Burns are the most excruciating wounds to recover from and her descriptions made me see heroism in a whole new light.

I also read “The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted” by Bridget Asher. Very similar to “Under the Tuscan Sun” only this takes place in France. A widow and her young son travel to Provence to oversee a renovation of a vacation home with many hidden memories. Throw in a hunky next door neighbor, grieving and culture clashes and you have the gist of this story. It was an enjoyable read after having “men on the brain”. Sorry, I really couldn’t help myself.

And last but not least “Conquistadora” by Esmeralda Santiago. In 1844 a young woman leaves Spain to escape  her oppressive, sheltered life. She arrives in Puerto Rico where her new husband (a twin) owns a remote sugar plantation. Plantation is stretching it. This is a lusty, colorful story about slavery, forbidden love and the early history of Puerto rico. The author also wrote the best-selling memoir “When I Was Puerto Rican”. There are many characters but the author does an impressive job of giving you short glimpses without confusing and overwhelming the reader. This was not what I expected but it was a good story and very entertaining. There I did it!  This is short for me.

The Power Of A Harvard Education


I am still processing “My Detachment” by Tracy Kidder.  So many layers in this compact story of Mr. Kidder’s experience as a lieutenant during the Vietnam war. He describes briefly his upper middle-class family and going to Harvard for his college education. Poor Tracy is clueless most of the time and naively immature in his struggles to figure out who he is. He struggles with typical insecurity over a first love and agonizes internally instead of asking.

After he signs up for a tour as an officer in the Vietnam War he discovers he has greatly romanticized his role and hasn’t a clue how to lead his men. Tracy describes humorously and brutally how quickly he is brought to his knees after arriving in Vietnam. I was impressed with Tracy’s unflinching honesty about his shortcomings despite the elite Harvard education. I was also struck by the less dramatic aspects of this war and a lieutenant with too much time on his hands.

I remember a co-worker’s son complaining about bone- crushing boredom while trying to stay alert on his tour in Iraq and also the stark pictures of body bags returning from both wars. Tracy is relieved to be away from the battle zones (and feels guilty) but wants to make a positive contribution all the same. He wants the respect of his men (a scary pack leader called Pancho included) but struggles with “how” to be a leader to his enlisted men. I couldn’t help but be outraged by the hypocrisy of the class system in the military.  Yep, statistics show that the poor and uneducated are much more expendable, so sadly that hasn’t changed. The sly way these enlisted men get around the system made me want to cheer though.

This book reminded me  how difficult it is to find our place in the world after being let loose, it only comes with time and many humiliating mistakes. This was written in 2005 and I was amazed at the recall he had of his tour in Vietnam, I guess the mind of a writer is never at rest. There is a gentleness about Tracy that one  might confuse with “detachment” but this book proves otherwise. Really, really liked this book.

Jenny Otsuka’s book “The Buddha in the Attic” is a compact little book that punches you right between the eyes. Oooo la la! Women  from all walks of life, leave Japan in search of a better life as mail order brides. They were seduced by promises . You KNOW what happens when the grooms describe the “wonderful” life these women will have if they come to America as their wives. Liar! Liar! Liars! The brides become little more than indentured servants.

Otsuka writes as the collective voice of all the women and even though her writing style is very spare, she  bluntly (but poignantly) describes the general despair and oppression these women find in the land of opportunity. You can’t help but notice how we have a history of treating all other races as inferior. These women bear it with quiet dignity and are determined to carve out some kind of life for themselves. It seems that the Japanese were the premier choice in field and domestic labor. They prided themselves on that fact while resenting it bitterly. Really good book!

Still plowing through “The Male Brain” so check back for all sorts of interesting facts about the male species. How many women will read these brain books compared to men do you think? Hmmmmmm.

Who Says?


I don’t like to do this but I stopped reading “Different Sky” by Meira Chand. Three main characters culture’s intersect in 1920’s-1950’s Singapore. This story is well written but I discovered during the Japanese invasion (and the brutality graphically described) that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to finish it. I found it overwhelming and difficult to navigate between the multicultural issues of the characters and the era. I felt guilty and started wondering about that.

Who makes the rules of reading etiquette? I’ve known some readers to be horrified when someone said they frequently read the ending of books before deciding to read them. Another stated her time was much too valuable and books too plentiful to waste on ones she didn’t like. I also know that many a book have I started that meandered from BORING to a pop between the eyes. Doesn’t the power of the written word amaze you? I passed this book on to another reader and I look forward to hearing her thoughts. Think of all the classics that might never have been read from beginning to end if it weren’t for them being someone’s cup of tea?  And cliff notes of course.

I find the older I get the more open I am to reading books that didn’t interest me in high school or college. Ahhh maturity. I also know for me there is an emotional component to reading. The new year is not always a great time for me. My life is not as settled as I’d like it to be so I don’t want to read about people torn from their homes and lives violently ripped apart.

I can acknowledge  this is a female brain thing for me. “The Female Brain” was amazing and I learned so much. She breaks it down into passages (children, teens, pregnancy, menopause and so- forth) that I could identify with and that made sense. I liked the client stories (she’s a neuro-psychiatrist) and humor she interweaves with her data. It truly does come down too much estrogen or testosterone.

So, now that I give myself permission to move to another book, I can explore “Then Again” by Diane Keaton. I have long admired her for adopting children at the age of 50 (crazy but admirable), not having plastic surgery, wearing glasses and dressing to suit herself. Not easy things to do in Hollywood. This was a surprising memoir because of two things. One, she reveals being bulimic and very insecure, and two, she interweaves her story with that of her mother’s many journal entries. She adored her mom and honors her in this special book. Not your typical Hollywood biography but there are relationships with Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino thrown in.  Fortunately this isn’t a “star” driven book. Diane Keaton is no English major but I liked the atypical writing style of this biography.  The only disappointment for me was discovering that like many other women (myself included) she measured her self worth by men. Her family is quirky just like she is but even being a mom can’t keep you from facing your insecurities. What do you do when you don’t like a book…do you finish it?