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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Bookish Tragedy!

I just arrived back on Monday from a trip to Zimbabwe! It is an absolutely stunning place and if you ever get the chance to go, go!

Lovely, no? But I had a very sad thing happen while I was there. Let me first take you to the scene of the crime:

See that big, beautiful tub in my hotel room! That big, beautiful tub drowned my Kindle (or perhaps I dropped my Kindle). The details don't matter but what matters is that my Kindle is now in Kindle heaven by way of drowning. RIP, dear friend!

I do have an iPad but I don't really like reading anything longer than an article on it as the backlight really bothers my eyes! Desperate times call for desperate measures and I did do a lot of reading on my iPad. I am so happy to be back to the land where all of my physical books are! Now I definitely know what I'm asking Santa for for Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane 
Author: Lisa See
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Scribner
Publish Date: March 21, 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations."

My Two Cents:

"The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane" is yet another good one by Lisa See. I loved this book so much! See has a great way of making people and situations that may seem unfamiliar to readers accessible to them. Li-yan's family has been in the tea business for ages and it is what they dedicate so much of their time towards. Li-yan dreams of breaking away but isn't sure how to do it until she finds herself pregnant out of wedlock. This will open many new doors and close many others for Li-yan, a character that you will fall in love with.

As with Lisa See's other books, the detail in this book is great. Aside from the characters and their drama, See introduces us to the tea making and drinking business. Li-yan's family is beholden to the businessman that comes to get tea specifically from their mountain. He can provide them with riches but must always be obeyed. I learned so much about the tea business and while I love drinking tea, I can't say that I had ever given much thought to the business before.

I loved the characters in this book, especially our main character Li-Yan. Smart and resourceful, she never gives up. I loved following her through this book through all of her triumphs and tribulations. I don't want to give anything away but this book also had one of the most moving endings that I have read in awhile.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Review: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

Title: Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
Author: Portia de Rossi
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atria Books
Publish Date: November 1, 2010
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn't enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder."

My Two Cents:

"Unbearable Lightness" is a memoir by the actress Portia de Rossi, well known for her roles on "Arrested Development" (one of my personal favorites!) and "Ally McBeal." It chronicles her struggle with anorexia and how she finally got help. While it was hard to read sometimes because the subject matter was so difficult, I appreciated how honest and real this memoir is!

Having known a lot of people that have struggled with eating disorders, I think books like this are terribly important. Hollywood actresses are supposed to be thin and lithe but they are never supposed to cop to the lengths they go through to get to that picture-perfect image. Portia de Rossi is gorgeous but got pressure throughout the book to look a certain way and to lose more weight. Having struggled with tendencies like that throughout her life, she quickly spirals out of control. She is honest throughout the book, even when her behavior gets frightening. The chapter where she is diagnosed with anorexia (and a host of other maladies all at one time - side effects from the eating disorder) is so effective!

I felt so bad for her throughout the book. I wanted to hug her and tell her she's beautiful and hoped that eventually she'd see that herself. If you have followed de Rossi's career and life, you know this story has a happy ending but as the book shows, de Rossi went through sooooo much to get to the point she's at now. This was a great memoir!


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Review: Owls are good at keeping secrets: an unusual alphabet by Sara O'Leary

Title: Owls are good at keeping secrets: an unusual alphabet
Author: Sara O'Leary
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: December 4, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Did you know that chipmunks love to stay up past their bedtime? Or that dragons cry at happy endings? I bet you’d never have guessed that iguanas sometimes get homesick at sleepovers.

Sara O’Leary pulls back the curtain on the animal world and gives us an absolutely charming little one-line “fact” about one animal for each letter of the alphabet. Kids will love to see their own quirks reflected in these adorably rendered creatures, and perhaps will be comforted to know that—just like them—narwhals can be perfectly happy all on their own and quail also get tired of being told to be quiet."

My Two Cents:

"Owls are Good at Keeping Secrets" is an adorable book, perfect for kids who are learning their letters and spelling. My girls are three so we spend a lot of time on recognizing letters and talking about what words start with which letters. This book is filled with funny phrases that had my girls laughing. I love books that are a good blend of fun and learning and this is definitely one of those!

I also have to mention the art in the book. The illustrations are gorgeous with adorable animals and nice vivid colors. My girls spent a lot of time looking at the pictures!

This was a very enjoyable book!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: The Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America by Allison Pataki

Title: The Traitor's Wife: The Woman Behind Benedict Arnold and the Plan to Betray America
Author: Allison Pataki
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Howard Books
Publish Date: January 1, 2014
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold's age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride's beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John Andre. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold."

My Two Cents:

"The Traitor's Wife" is the story of Clara, a maid to Peggy Shippen, who becomes Peggy Arnold, wife of Benedict Arnold, quite possibly the United States' greatest traitor. I hardly knew anything about Peggy Arnold and was intrigued about reading about what the wife of such an infamous man was like. Turns out, while she's fascinating, she is one of the "bad guys," too.

Peggy is pretty terrible but she's a character that you love to hate and this makes the book really entertaining. When we first meet her, Peggy isn't worried about the American Revolution. She really doesn't care about it but just hopes that it doesn't ruin all of the parties that she wants to go to. She's obsessed with minor things like the latest fashions and what handsome man she is going to sidle up to next. It was amazing how little she cared about the world around her, which makes it easy to see why she was so easily swayed to help Benedict do what he did.

The writing of the book was okay. I liked how it was written and I liked how the author foreshadowed the traitorous behavior to come later on in the book. I did have a bit of an issue with Clara, Peggy's maid. I understand the choice to tell the story through the eyes of Clara instead of perhaps the eyes of Peggy or Benedict. Clara is an innocuous character. She's nice enough but is a little bit flat throughout the book, which made it difficult to connect to her and care about her story outside of how it related to the Arnolds. She feels very much like only a conduit to telling the story rather than a stand alone character.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review: American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

Title: American Wolf
Author: Nate Blakeslee
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Crown
Publish Date: October 17, 2017
Source: Owned

What's the Story?:

From "Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West."

My Two Cents:

"American Wolf" is the history of the removal and eventual reintroduction of the wolf from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana. Yellowstone has the remarkable denotation of being one of my favorite places that I have ever been. It is a vast wilderness with acres and acres of untouched land. It has plains and mountains, hot springs and geysers. It is a beautiful place filled with animals.

Although Yellowstone is a park, national parks are not cut off from the surrounding land and so those that live and work close to the park must coexist with the park. As this book shows, that can often be a tall order. Almost immediately after the park was given its designation as a national park, those that lived around it began to see the effects both good and bad of this protective status. One effect came from the conservation of wolves. Wolves are an important part of Yellowstone's ecosystem but also present a problem, particularly one having to do with the killing and maiming of livestock on farms outside the park.

This book details the different points of view of those that love the wolves and believe they have a place in Yellowstone and those that are utterly frustrated with the park's porous borders that allow wolves to roam their land and harm their livelihoods. The book follows several people in great detail in order to illustrate this great divide.

The author does a good job of showing the various sides of the argument. This is a man vs. nature story and a man trying to coexist with nature story. It was fascinating and well-written. I know this issue is one that I will be mulling over for a long time.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Review: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen

Title: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman
Author: Anne Helen Petersen
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Plume Books
Publish Date: June 20, 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "You know the type: the woman who won't shut up, who's too brazen, too opinionated--too much. It's not that she's an outcast (she might even be your friend or your wife, or your mother) so much as she's a social variable. Sometimes, she's the life of the party; others, she's the center of gossip. She's the unruly woman, and she's one of the most provocative, powerful forms of womanhood today.

There have been unruly women for as long as there have been boundaries of what constitutes acceptable "feminine" behavior, but there's evidence that she's on the rise--more visible and less easily dismissed--than ever before. In Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, Anne Helen Petersen uses the lens of "unruliness" to explore the ascension of eleven contemporary powerhouses: Serena Williams, Melissa McCarthy, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer, Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton, Caitlyn Jenner, Jennifer Weiner, and Lena Dunham."

My Two Cents:

"Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud" is a book about famous women that have been criticized as being too "something." And what woman hasn't been told that they are too "something" and that they should be more this way or that way? Unfortunately, it seems to be our lots in life as women and even if you fit some sort of publicly condoned model of woman, people are still going to find something to criticize about you.

In this book, the author dedicates each chapter to a woman in the public eye and what they have been often criticized of being too much of. This book explores how the public (and this is so not limited to men, women are just as guilty of these unfair criticisms too as this book points out) tears people in the public eye down with constant criticisms. These criticisms almost take on a life of their own (Hillary Clinton being too shrill, Nicki Minaj being too slutty, Kim Kardashian being too pregnant).

I loved that this book brought together two things that I love that often seem out of sync with each other. I love celebrity gossip. It's so silly but I still love whiling away time in the bath with the latest People Magazine or US. I am also super interested in the more academic side of things like messaging, marketing, and feminism. This book is such a perfect combination of both interests. By being a woman, it seems that you invite criticism. By being a woman in the spotlight, you invite that about 100 fold. As the author points out, there is so much hidden messaging in these criticisms and hidden messaging.

This is a book that I'm going to be thinking about for a long time and want to take further. Now that we know these things are here, what do we do with them (oh, and you know that we knew these things existed before this book but it does put a nice bow on it)? How do we make things better?

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