July & August in Review

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

July and August in Review

I'm combining these summer months since I never got a chance to review July by itself. So, I've finally been able to get some more reading done but it's nowhere near where it was before. I am working only one full time job now but, ironically, this one job is keeping me insanely busier than when I had a different full time job combined with graduate school combined with this job part-time as an internship. How is that possible??? But there are other perks to this job so I guess it's just a trade-off that I'm willing to accept.

As for my blogging, I reviewed four books in July:
And five in August:
This month I also caught a really bad cover copy, and I welcomed author Margaret Dilloway to Take Me Away to guest post. The giveaway winner for How to be an American Housewife is Megan D!!

In July, my husband and I traveled to Washington, D.C. with my parents for a little vacation originated from plans to go see Manchester United vs. Barcelona play at Fed Ex Field in Landover, MD, as my mother is somewhat of a soccer hooligan! (okay, slight exaggeration!) The trip was incredibly fun and a nice escape from what has been a stressful time at work. August brought my 29th birthday (one more year of being young, heheh... actually I'm looking forward to my 30's). However, we also got bad news medically about my mother, as she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She just recently underwent surgery and we are hoping she will be good after that, as they call it a "favorable" cancer. But it's still scary and she has some recuperating to do and some minor treatment (relatively speaking) to still undergo.

In other blogging news, I've been feeling sort of discouraged about blogging lately. It's ridiculous how something meant to be fun, to be an outlet, an escape, can often turn into pressure and create other negative feelings. I won't go too much into it, but I'm finding that I often have to remind myself that I just plain like to read and that's what I should do. And there shouldn't be such things as pressure and even "belonging" necessarily in merely enjoying a hobby. It's complicated. The last thing I need to do is stress over the lack of time I have to devote to blogging! I'm thinking other book bloggers will likely understand, and if any of you reading this are not bloggers you're probably thinking I don't have enough to worry about, haha!

Anyway, I actually have some EXCITING news... okay, really it's nothing big or life changing necessarily, but after five years of living in our home and not doing anything to our second bedroom but using it as a storage room (reminiscent of a beginning hoarder) and overcoming severe disappointment that it will likely never be a nursery, we decided to clean it out and turn it into a READING ROOM!! Only a book nerd would be excited about that, I suppose. We covered the one wall with wall-to-wall bookshelves. We do have a computer desk in there but we simplified from the huge desk we had to a little IKEA desk. The desk actually came with a nice-sized sturdy shelf where we have stored our "educational" books (ie. textbooks, my trusty DSM IV-TR, etc.), we covered the door-less closet with a curtain, and we bought two reading chairs (super comfortable even though it may not look it)! We need to finish it off with a couple matching foot stools (that were out of stock when we IKEA'd) and maybe a rug. We also put up those two fabulous reading art pictures by Pamela Miller that I bought at the UCF Book Festival. No pictures of the room yet because I want to finish it up for real. But the room has transformed from something I rarely even went in or looked at to the most relaxing, peaceful room in the house!

So now that I'm settling in to this "new" job and the recent craziness, I'm hoping to have more time to enjoy what I want to do. But then, these next few months usually get crazy don't they?

Cover Copies

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I haven't posted about one of these in a while, but this one was so blatantly THE SAME. Maybe they thought because there were three years between the publication dates no one would notice??? Well, I had the first one recommended to me a while ago so it's sitting unread on my shelf and I noticed this one right away!

Cover copies like this really discourage me for some reason. How about we get away from the mentality of even keeping stock pictures, and we utilize designers to create consistently original covers! Is this a reflection of the bad economy? I feel confused about the reason for this.

The Third Option

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Title: The Third Option
Series: Mitch Rapp #2
Author: Vince Flynn
Genre: Fiction; Political Thriller
Pages: 402
Publisher: Atria (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date:
November 28, 2000

This might sound really silly, but I kept thinking I wouldn't be able to really connect to this book. Sure there's the whole really liking the first in the series and thinking this wouldn't live up to it. But it was mostly the fact that the title has the word third in it when it's the second book in the series. It seemed very counterintuitive. But see, that's before I realized what "the third option" was. And when I figured it out, I became horrifyingly intrigued. You see, here's how it's described on the back of the book: "when diplomacy has failed and military intervention is deemed inappropriate, our leaders sometimes take the third option."

Essentially, the second in the series refers to the inner turmoil and corruption within our own government. Mitch Rapp (remember, super CIA bad boy) is sent to Germany on a mission to kill a German count who is secretly cooperating with terrorists. But Mitch soon finds out he's been set up. Meanwhile, in Washington, the director of the CIA is dying and not everyone is happy at the potential of Irene Kennedy, director of the counterterrorism center, potentially being named as the replacement. Enter the corruption and the extreme lengths the crooked politicians will go to get their way and boost their own careers. Mitch doesn't know who he can trust and will go after anyone he suspects, especially when his girlfriend is pulled into the fray.

I had so much fun with this one. It was different from the first in that, even though that one had some corruption too (as I'm sure they all probably will) it was still focused more on a singular attack from a foreign source. In this one, the "attack" is from within and it's more permeated in that it's from everywhere with lots of players. The reader knows who almost all the players so the suspense is more in wanting Mitch to figure out who they are. I really like the president in this and the first book and anticipate sadness when the president character changes later in the series as I think it does. While this book does have a certain ending, it was different from the first in that it still leaves this one aspect hanging so that you want to move right into the next one to pick right back up!

Now, if I had to say anything negative, there is probably a total of about one entire paragraph if I pulled from everything in the book that bothered... but I have to say there were a couple times when the narrative style became sort of cheesy or cliche. For instance, a couple times when a new character was introduced the reader was told what color her hair was and what she was wearing. I found the information unnecessary. I didn't care that her shirt was short or any of that nonsense. There was one other thing along those same lines, but considering my mind has blanked on it I guess it's not important. But like I said, that happened infrequently.

So, I can't decide if I liked this the same or better than the first in the series, but I know I want to read more!

Domestic Violets

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Title: Domestic Violets
Author: Matthew Norman
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: August 9, 2011

The reviews that I'd read up until I recommended this to my husband glowed with enthusiasm. I'd also heard it was featured at this year's Book Expo America. It's potential for comedic relatability (even so far as the dog with acute anxiety, yes we have one of those) seemed like something my husband might really enjoy so I recommended it to him. And since I just happened to have a review copy, he began reading it right away. He started laughing within seconds of starting it and continuously for the rest of his reading experience. It was one of those where we'd both be sitting on the couch and I'd look over at him like "really?... let me turn down the volume on my show so it doesn't interfere with your laughing"... hehe. But really, he enjoyed it from the very beginning. So it wasn't long before I picked it up as well in between his readings, and we both ended up finishing it the same day (which just so happens to be the same day I started reading it).

Tom Violet is the lead character. He has the anxious dog, a wife with whom he is trying unsuccessfully to conceive a second child (makes for a funny opening scene), and a father who has overshadowed him in the biggest way - by winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Tom, meanwhile, is wasting away in corporate dullness and hopes for his secretly written manuscript to one day be published. Tom's life seems to be quickly spiraling downward when he unexpectedly takes back control in a spur-of-the moment way we all wish we could. But really Domestic Violets isn't about that one thing. It's about that mid-life drama that makes you question everything about your life. But it was done in a fun, witty way.

Now, I will say I found this book to be fairly standard "guy-lit" but it was solid and incredibly engaging. After all, I read it in a day. But I'm finding that some people think that label minimizes it, so maybe it's just that all the "guy-lit" I've read has been really good. I found this book surprisingly hopeful. Although it deals with parental issues, trying to live up to the outrageous success of one parent, issues with adultery, what we're meant to do in life, and the drudgery of the daily lives we often end up in, Domestic Violets was still fun and, ultimately, uplifting. I sort of got from it that things happen and we can't necessarily predict it all. We have to more go with the flow and let things play out. And not take things too seriously.

I think other big readers will enjoy the focus on the literary world. Tom's dad, Curtis Violet, wins the Pulitzer Prize and is a celebrity. I wonder if that's how it is in real life, where everywhere the author goes people recognize him. Maybe I'm just in an area with few readers because I have trouble seeing that happen here, but maybe it does, and it was fun to read about anyway. Overall, the characters felt truly genuine, as did the flaws Norman painted onto each character.

Domestic Violets was a thoroughly enjoyable read and one that both my husband and I (with our varying tastes) read quickly and have shared good conversation about already. I had a smile on my face as I read and that's always a good sign!

The Rules of the Tunnel

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Title: The Rules of the Tunnel
Subtitle: My Brief Period of Madness
Author: Ned Zeman
Publisher: Gotham Books (Penguin)
Pub. Date: August 4, 2011

The Rules of the Tunnel is a uniquely told memoir by a journalist who suffered from depression for years and eventually underwent ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and lost two years of his memory. I sort of have two minds about this book because I didn't really feel it was for me, but I could see where some people would really enjoy the style.

I've gotten better with the non-traditional type of books. One of my favorite books of the year so far would be considered non-traditional. But it's still rocky territory for me. So as soon as I realized this book was written in second person, I'll admit I felt disappointed. And, of course, I got used to it but it's just not my favorite form of narration for sure. The author has a wittiness that I enjoyed at times, but it's subtle. I snickered now and then but didn't think the book, overall, was hilarious. I also found myself getting slightly bored with the stories I read about other people that Zeman, as a journalist, was writing about. There is a purpose to his including those stories, but I would have still rather focused solely on the author's experiences. And despite, at times, finding the book engaging, I found other parts sort of strange, and there was an overall self-deprecating, sad (well, duh, but still) sort of air to it that left me able to put it down and not pick it back up right away again.

So I went back and forth with it. And admittedly, I wasn't as attentive to the second half of the book because these peeves I had in the first half. Now all that being said.... I feel others might like this because truly, it is a memoir about the author's experiences with mental health problems and treatment and many will find that interesting. And second, the book does have a modern, fresh kind of style to it that many would find engaging. So take from this what you will. I do think the book was well done and put together well, but if you're typically into more traditional kinds of reads this may not be for you. Oh, and the cover, I like. It freaked me out, however, when I realized that the pile of puzzle pieces is more than just puzzle pieces.... take a look and tell me it's not just a little creepy!

Follow the tour here:

Monday, August 1st: Rundpinne
Tuesday, August 2nd: The Broke and the Bookish
Wednesday, August 3rd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, August 4th: Chaotic Compendiums
Monday, August 8th: Acting Balanced
Tuesday, August 9th: Book Dilettante
Wednesday, August 10th: BookNAroun
Thursday, August 11th: In the Next Room
Monday, August 15th: A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, August 16th: Brain Candy Book Reviews
Wednesday, August 17th: Take Me Away
Thursday, August 18th: Bookshipper
Monday, August 22nd: Luxury Reading
Wednesday, August 24th: Melody & Words
Monday, August 29th: Life in Review
Tuesday, August 30th: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, August 31st: My Book Retreat

Silver Sparrow

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Title: Silver Sparrow
Author: Tayari Jones
Pages: 340
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Algonquin (Workman Publishing)
Pub. Date: May 24, 2011

I read and enjoyed Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones earlier this year and adored the characters in that book. I was fortunate enough to meet Tayari, who was super wonderful, at this year's UCF Book Festival and had her sign my book (the first Silver Sparrow book she had signed!) I truly anticipated this book but worried that my high hopes would lessen my enjoyment of the story when it came down to it. Fortunately, I thoroughly enjoyed Silver Sparrow. I was enraptured by yet another wonderful story of how life circumstances affect the children whose lives it is intertwined in.

Silver Sparrow starts out with the line, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist". And so begins the stories of Dana Lynn Yarboro and Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon, half-sisters, though unbeknownst to "Chaurisse" and her mother. For their whole lives, Dana and her mother have lived a secret life - one in which they can't reveal who their father/husband is because Mr. Witherspoon has another wife and daughter nearby who don't know they exist. In fact, no one but his brother, Raleigh, is aware that James married another woman and fathered another child. Dana grows up in this secret life where "surveillance" of Chaurisse and her mother are regular activities for her and her mother. We first meet Dana as a young child and watch as she turns into an adolescent, all along wondering why she isn't good enough to have her father full-time, why she has to be hidden, whereas Chaurisse can live openly. And as she gets older, it becomes more difficult for Dana to stay away from Chaurisse, especially since they run in some of the same circles. But in doing so, she becomes dangerously close to exposing the truth to the other family. Halfway through the book, we switch to Chaurisse's point of view, though I liked how chronologically the story continued moving along. While Dana is clearly the unfairly treated daughter, we are then exposed to the injustices Chaurisse has to deal with as well.

Just as in Leaving Atlanta, Jones did a magnificent job of bringing these characters to life and making them authentic. It was so easy to relate to both girls and to really feel like I could understand where each of them was coming from. Ultimately, they both had a bum deal despite their differences that each girl envied of the other. I was riveted by the charade their father put on, and the build up of tension as the two families came close to collision was palpable. And in staying true to its authenticity, the book did not end in the glittery, perfect way I hoped it might. But that made it more real and gave me something more to think about. Silver Sparrow is one I would definitely recommend! (And I just wanted to mention that also liked the title and thought it was clever!)

Transfer of Power

Friday, August 5, 2011

Title: Transfer of Power
Series: Mitch Rapp #1
Author: Vince Flynn
Pages: 549
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Political Thriller; Fiction
Pub. Date: July 28, 1999

It was a long time coming, but I finally forayed into the renowned (at least in my family) Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn. I figured I might like it because second to books that take place in NYC, I really enjoy reading books that take place in Washington, D.C. There's just something so significant and powerful about stories that take place in our nation's capital, even if they're fiction. But the renowned issue... Mitch Rapp (well, okay, the series in general and of course, author Vince Flynn) are an absolute favorite in my family. Both my parents have read the entire series to date and my husband just finished the seventh (of eleven). And they all RAVE about them. In fact, the four of us just recently returned from a vacation to Washington, D.C. and can I tell you how many times Mitch Rapp came up into conversation? LOL! Flynn's books are an absolute must read for them so I knew I eventually needed to try it out.

The first book in the series is Transfer of Power (not to be confused with Term Limits, Flynn's first book that is a stand alone). In it we are introduced to Mitch Rapp (as well as some ancillary characters who I assume may reappear in later books??) who is essentially a CIA counterterrorism bad ass. A well known terrorist, whom Rapp has been pursuing, physically takes over the White House, while taking over a hundred hostages. His men lace the White House with bombs and began making demands of the United States. President Hayes is evacuated to his bunker in time, leaving the Vice President to take over as Commander in Chief. But bureaucracies are everlasting, even during a time of crisis when on-the-spot decision making is most needed, and the vital decision makers cannot agree on whether they should take the White House by force or negotiate with the terrorists. Either way, they put the hostages and/or the President at risk. Mitch Rapp manages to enter the White House to spy on the terrorists and gain intelligence that can help the Vice President decide what to do next. But with the Vice President worried more about how to appeal to the American public so he can win the next election, Rapp and his cohorts take some matters into their own hands.

Transfer of Power was an absolutely addicting and thrilling read. It was, however, scary considering the experiences our country has had in the last decade which made the fictional scenario seem more real. Besides that, though, the political drama, the tension, all of it was so thrilling. I imagine that to enjoy this book, you'd have to have some interest in the government (or at least the drama of it) because of course it's flooded with governmental terms and titles. In the beginning it seemed to switch from one scene to another fairly quickly in an effort to set the scene regarding all the players. But I caught on quickly and it was fascinating from there. Definitely one of those books that constantly calls to you until you're done reading it. Only problem is the series itself has the same effect. I have so many other books to read but I'm dying to read the next one already! (Good thing I have all 11 books in the series so far waiting on my TBR). If you enjoy the show 24 (at least one season of which the author actually co-wrote) then you are sure to enjoy Transfer of Power.

Guest Post: Margaret Dilloway (and giveaway!!)

Monday, August 1, 2011

One of the books I was most excited about last year was Margaret Dilloway's How to Be an American Housewife (click the link for my review). In it she tells the story of a Japanese mother and her American daughter, their relationship, and the mother's past. How to Be an American Housewife is out TODAY in paperback!! I'm so happy and honored to have Author Margaret Dilloway here today with a guest post about growing up half-Japanese/half-American in the 60's and 70's. For those of you who have read my blog for a while and/or know me in person, you know this is a topic I am always interested in since I am half-Asian as well. So here is her post. Also, the publisher has offered a giveaway to one lucky reader of this blog (U.S. entries only please) so make sure you sign up for that as well, as I definitely recommend this book!

Usually, having a Japanese mother was great. It made me feel different and special. I was the only kid I knew who had lots of exotic Japanese items, like geta (wooden shoes), a kimono, and Japanese dolls with real hair, that I could bring in for show and tell. Nobody else had a mother who could speak another language, who looked different.

But sometimes it could be confusing or memorable, and those moments made their way into the book. For example, my family sometimes used solely Japanese words for certain things, so I had no idea what the English words were. For going to the bathroom, where English speakers would use “potty” or “poop,” my parents used Japanese baby words, “shi-shi” and (I’m not even sure how to spell this, and Google wasn’t a help) and “oo-oon.” “Shi-shi” is onomatopoeia for the sound it makes; and “oo-oon” is the sound a person makes, I guess, when doing that other action.

When I started kindergarten (no preschool for me) and the other kids raised their hands and said, “I have to go potty,” I had no idea what they meant. All I knew was that I had to go “shi-shi,” and I didn’t think they’d understand my words. In a bit, I learned that I could just ask to use the “restroom,” and figured out what the American slang for bodily functions was later.

I also had this problem when I was playing with a little kindergartner friend of mine. I remember we were lying on the sidewalk outside her house. She must have blown her nose (or, let’s face it, probably just picked it) and showed me a, “big, gross booger.” I looked at what she was pointing at. “That’s not a booger. That’s hanakuso-tare.” My friend got confused. “What’s that? This is a booger.” “No, it’s hanakuso-tare.” She laughed. “What are you saying?”

I finally realized what she meant, that “booger” was the English word. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I looked up hanakuso-tare. It’s the possibly impolite saying of never-ending snot. When my mother said it, it sounded like, “hanaxso-ta-day,” said very quickly, and she used it for anything that came out of the nose.

It’s also interesting to me that because I used these words in a family setting outside of Japan, I have no idea if these words are used in regular Japanese conversations in Japan. I suspect not. I think if I used these words to ask Japanese strangers for a tissue, say, or for a restroom, they would be horrified or amused. I don’t even know if the way my mother pronounced the words was standard or her southern dialect.

My mother also had a few traditions different from other families. Once I borrowed an egg from a neighbor for my mother to complete a recipe. In the U.S., when you “borrow” an ingredient, you usually don’t mean you’re going to return it; it’s just a neighborly thing to do, and one day the neighbor might request the same kind of help from you. But my mother didn’t subscribe to this point of view.

The next day, after we bought more eggs, my mother sent me over to the neighbor’s house with two eggs. “Tell her it’s how Japanese do it,” she instructed. She did not want to be beholden to anyone, for anything. The neighbor tried to wave me off, saying it was fine, she didn’t need the egg back, but I had to insist that she take both.

When I was growing up, I never thought of myself as particularly Asian. If I got teased, it was for having a crooked mouth or being painfully shy. I didn’t look particularly Japanese, and we never hung out with other Asians.

Most of the children we knew in those days didn’t bat an eye when they had to remove their shoes at the door before entering the house. “It’s a Japanese tradition,” I’d say, and the kid would just do it without comment. Kids know every house has different rules (and toys and food). The neighborhood kids, having known my mother since they were tiny, simply accepted it as the way of life. The kids I met at school were not the sort who would pipe up un-politely about another culture’s traditions —and honestly, I had only a couple of close friends growing up anyway.

The shoes-off tradition got more amusing when my brother turned into a teen. Teenage boys (surprise!) are kind of stinky. So to have six pairs of athletic shoes lying by the door was not particularly pleasant. Our cat loved it, though. The cat would wait by the door for the boys to take off their shoes and then stick her head in them, rubbing and rolling, until she’d had her fill. I remember this mainly because my mother got so much entertainment out of it; it was rare to hear her laugh, but this did it every time.

There’s a part in the book where another mother can’t understand Shoko’s accent, and there’s a big mix-up over popcorn balls. As a kid, I was never aware of anyone not understanding my mother. But my husband’s mother, who never met mine, told me a story about a Japanese mom she knew when her kids were little. It was difficult to have a conversation with this lady, she said, and she expressed how badly she felt that she hadn’t tried harder to include her. I included a similar scenario in the novel, for Shoko.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Margaret!! Thank you, too, for sharing your experiences. =)

For those who would like to enter the giveaway, just fill out the form below! OR head out to your local bookstore and pick up the paperback today!