Friday, January 09, 2015

Better late than never.. What I read in December 2014

First, let me say how hard it was to choose "the best" this month! Too many great books that left me with lasting "book hangovers." I love to cook and enjoy good food and having TWO excellent food - cooking stories--well! How to decide which was better than the other? You see the problem, I'm sure. Then there were the other excellent reads. 

 The Best of December

Loved it! "Toothsome" does have synonyms, however. And, we don't all know French...translations would be great, but that is a minor point. Happily lacking in cloying  earnestness and no hint of an "I discovered French food" attitude that spoils much of the writing and blogging on the subject.  Plus, having had the goal of entering the Foreign Service, that aspect of her story strongly appealed to me as well. Win-win for both sides of the story. In a word? Delightful. Highly recommended. Mastering the Art of French Eating.... by Ann Mah.

 A foodie book that is part memoir, part immigrant saga, part odyssey of self-discovery--this book is a delight in every way. It could easily have been in my freshman literature course on self-discovery along with the Awakening by Kate Chopin and the French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles and the rest of the books in that course. The author's story is about so much more than delicious Persian food. It helped a good bit that the author and I are close contemporaries in age--I too came of age with the Iranian Hostage Crisis numbered in days each night by Walter Cronkite, but without the emotional pull of being Iranian. I admire her courage in enduring a college dorm at that time. Everything about this book embraced me like a close friend. This is the type memoir that more women need to read. Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan.

This story, of sisters Rose and Pearl, two Hasidic Jewish girls growing up in New York in the 1950s, is as illustrative of life today for extreme right-wing Christian ("Patriarchal" or "Quiverfull") girls as it is for the ultra-Conservative Jewish girls in the story. Parents and religion control everything. But the ties that bind start to strangle and Rose must act. To say more would be to spoil the story. This is an amazing story, the characters are full-blooded and so real you end the book feeling you've gone along on a real journey--another journey of self-discovery. The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Regaan.

When is a child an adult? At age 17 and some months? On the 18th birthday? Who decides when a child this age must have medical treatment? Does this child "believe" or has he been taught to believe and mouth that beliefs of his parents? Jehovah's Witness parents, their soon-to-be-legally-of-age son, a life-long-higher-achiever of a judge and British law all collide in this excellent story of maturity and how it is defined. Add to this an act of indecent selfishness by an otherwise beloved and decent husband of many years and you have a very compelling novel. I found Fiona ridiculously guilt ridden over one stupid, impulsive act that would never have troubled anyone outside the pages of a novel. Did she cross a line? Yes, but not in the way she thought. She  did not stay detached and on her high bench as judge. When that occurred she should have recused herself and had the case completed by another judge. In spite of this I do recommend it very highly. It IS very compelling reading and as more and more of the religious right divorce themselves from contemporary "chemical" medicine and seek cures with herbs and so-called "essential oils" we will hear more of this sort of case. The Children Act by Ian McEwan

I discovered this gem of a novel in a search for books on the "empty nest" to help prepare myself for what's coming up very soon. Nina Bell's story of the various families who have forged a "family of friends" over the years of the children's schooling rings true in every way. Yes, the characters are a bit stereotyped--the using single mom [Ouch! I hope I haven't been so awful!], the perfect stay at home Mom, the two professional family etc, etc. But these characters were very real to me. Their stories are well-known to anyone in middle and upper middle class suburbia anywhere in the developed world. The struggles to get the kids thru school and into prestigious colleges and high-paying careers, the necessity for ongoingself discovery and marriage reinvention, the taking stock of life--it is all right where I am today. The crisis that come out of nowhere, the bizarre but thrilling interlude [not one I would choose!!] are all so HUMAN, so real. I plan to read more from this author. I also hope there is a sequel to this book--it lends itself to it very well. The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell.

Back in my very dim past I was married outside of my own culture. It is very, very difficult. Not only do you miss out on the rites of passage of one or the other culture, but you must renegotiate everything you took for granted almost daily--at least in the beginning. My admiration for the G.I. brides of World War II (and later of the occupation and the Korean War) known no bounds. At a time when other parts of the world were still truly strange an unknown, they put their faith in men they barely knew and went to a country they couldn't really imagine fully knowing they might never see their own country and their own family ever again. This book tells the story of four such brides--and tells it very well. The joys, confusion, struggles and bewilderment are all here. There are successes and failures. The legacy of these women is their determination, their grit, and their perseverance. G.I. Brides... by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

The Rest of December

Is there a mother alive today who hasn't wanted to scream at the thought of reading Goodnight Moon AGAIN? I picked this audio book while simultaneously giving thanks that my children were never THAT enthralled with the book and that "too the moon" is not really a saying we use. Still, in the buzzword of the year (my choice for most overused word of 2014) this ICONIC "classic," is given a new spin in Goodnight June. The story of its creation alone is cute and compelling. Its the rest of the story that dumbs it down. A great love story that is nothing but marital infidelity and another great love that just happens by chance? Oh, please! Then the neat tidy wrap-up of the loose ends? Probably not. It was all pleasant, just not plausible. I wish the author had focused on the letters and the scavenger hunt and left the love stories out of it--it would have gone done much better and would have made Bill Gates appearance more appropriate. As an adoptive mother I got my back up at the constant references to the birth mother as "MOTHER" in verbal capitals and the absurd fantasy that someone given up for adoption would want to rush bailout the mother who gave him up. So, read this one for the wonderful story of how Goodnight Moon could have come about and ignore the rest. Goodnight June by Sarah Jio.

I also enjoyed two more books in Anne Perry's William Monk series and the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series as well as a few very forgettable free Christmas-themed Kindle "shorts."

1 comment:

Susan said...

Ha -- yeah, "to the moon" does get old after a while :) I am intrigued by the GI brides book. Our old neighbors were a former Navy man and the Japanese woman he married. I loved them both before they died a few years back. You're right; it would be so huge for those women to move to a totally new world and lifestyle. Enjoyed these reviews ...