7.20.2018

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (NetGalley Review)

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (July 10, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city. 
One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a treasured ivory bracelet has gone missing. This incident sets off a wave of unease that ripples throughout the Zhen household. Wei, a marketing strategist, bows under the guilt of not having engaged in nobler work. Meanwhile, Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker taitai-a housewife who does no housework at all. She is haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Sunny, the family's housekeeper, is a keen but silent observer of these tensions. An unmarried woman trying to carve a place for herself in society, she understands the power of well-kept secrets. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past and its indelible mark on their futures.
From a silk-producing village in rural China, up the corporate ladder in suburban America, and back again to the post-Maoist nouveaux riches of modern Shanghai, What We Were Promised explores the question of what we owe to our country, our families, and ourselves.

This was a slow burn of a novel, that centered mostly on each character's internal life and struggles. The missing bracelet at the beginning of the novel had me intrigued. Was it truly missing? Was it an attempt to replace the maid, or does it have value? What kind of value? The hint of a secret between Lina and her brother in law Qiang is also hinted at in the very first pages. Then the bulk of the book delves into the past and the lives led by each of the characters up until the present day, full of immersive detail while examining contrasting themes of those with money and power, and those without. Who has more freedom or happiness, really? 
The narrative lingered a bit longer than I would have liked with expats Lina and Wei's history, ostensibly the main characters. I found Sunny the maid's story much more interesting, and would have liked to spend more time with her and Little Cao, the Zhen's surprisingly multifaceted driver. Perhaps because she was the working class observer, the more relatable character in the beginning. Though, overall, I was impressed with Tan's ability to create an entire cast of characters that I was rooting for, major flaws and all. The various relationship dynamics were very compelling, even some of the briefest interactions were the most impactful, as with the tenuous father daughter connection between Karen and Wei.
"Why do our minds fixate on the kinds of love we're not getting instead of the kinds of love we are? We expect it to be the thing we want it to be. And we're blind to every other form of it."
In the end, the secrets and realizations that are made gave it a highly satisfying ending with a lot of food for thought about family, loyalty, freedom and finding a place in the world. I would highly recommend this as a read alike for another summer debut, A Place for Us with very similar themes on family, choices and culture. 
Many thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the complimentary digital review copy!




7.10.2018

Books I Read in June

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A melancholy, hypnotic and lovely family saga. Full review here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Yes, I am a sucker for a multigenerational family saga, and Pachinko delivers. I was immediately drawn to the characters and felt so invested in their fates. Lee's writing is full of detail and sense of place. Being on this journey with Sunja, from her birth until old age, will stay with me for a long time. Learning about the plight of Koreans in Japan leading up to, and after, WWII was equally saddening and enlightening. The subject matter feels so relevant today, with the plight of immigrants trying to give their families a better life. What is home? Your ancestors country you've never set foot in? Where you were born? As with the game of Pachinko, the theme of how our lives are shaped by chance is a brilliantly executed.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
True crime is not a go-to genre for me, but I couldn't resist the hype surrounding McNamara's posthumous book about the Golden State Killer. I listened to this on audio, and maybe I should have sat down to read it, but I felt kind of glazed over by the umpteenth description of another horrifying murder. To her credit, it was not gratuitous in the gory details, it was more nuanced in trying to figure out the patterns and mindset of the killer. What I found compelling was Michelle talking about her own life, how she became interested in true crime and the fascinating beginnings of DNA testing and prosecuting criminals. 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
My kids and I adore Telgemeier's books, and somehow I hadn't got 'round to reading Drama. My daughter has been enjoying her graphic novels of The Baby-Sitters Club , so I got her Drama and promptly stole it after she was done. It's another adorable, relatable coming of age story with an LGBTQ character and it was done really well, even if it felt a little predictable.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Talk about a page turner! I burned through this in two days, staying up into the wee hours because I HAD to know how this crazy story story would end. The setup, a story of a teenage girl on a reality tv show with her holier than thou conservative religious family gets pregnant, reeled me in with delicious schadenfreude. Full disclosure, I am not a religious person. (I can see how it can be a force for good, but seems to do more of the opposite.) To quote one of the characters:
"They've infected the country with a special brand of intolerance that masquerades as religion."
This book absolutely addresses the current hypocrisy of some christian religions head on and I found it a very satisfying read, one that makes you think about consumerism, race, misogyny, and religious freedom. Essie and Liberty are heroes you will root for until the bitter end. It was pretty easy to guess Essie's terrible secret, and it ended pretty much how I thought it would. But it was a fun ride and I highly recommend it for an un-put-downable summer read!

How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran
Absolutely loved this, even more than How to Build a Girl. Full review here.

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit! Check out all the book reviews here: https://modernmrsdarcy.com/quick-lit-july-2018/

7.03.2018

How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran (ARC Review)


How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran
Publisher: Harper Books (July 2, 2018)
Description from the publisher: 
You can’t have your best friend be famous if you’re not famous. It doesn’t work. You’re emotional pen-friends. You can send each other letters—but you’re not doing anything together. You live in different countries.
Johanna Morrigan (AKA Dolly Wilde) has it all: at eighteen, she lives in her own flat in London and writes for the coolest music magazine in Britain. But Johanna is miserable. Her best friend and man of her dreams John Kite has just made it big in 1994’s hot new BritPop scene. Suddenly John exists on another plane of reality: that of the Famouses.
Never one to sit on the sidelines, Johanna hatches a plan: she will Saint Paul his Corinthians, she will Jimmy his Pinocchio—she will write a monthly column, by way of a manual to the famous, analyzing fame, its power, its dangers, and its amusing aspects. In stories, girls never win the girl—they are won. Well, Johanna will re-write the stories, and win John, through her writing.
But as Johanna’s own star rises, an unpleasant one-night stand she had with a stand-up comedian, Jerry Sharp, comes back to haunt in her in a series of unfortunate consequences. How can a girl deal with public sexual shaming? Especially when her new friend, the up-and-coming feminist rock icon Suzanne Banks, is Jimmy Cricketing her?
For anyone who has been a girl or known one, who has admired fame or judged it, and above all anyone who loves to laugh till their sides ache, How to Be Famous is a big-hearted, hilarious tale of fame and fortune-and all they entail.

I ADORED How to Build a Girl, and when I learned that there would be a sequel, I jumped at the chance to read it! Expectations for sequels are high, and rife with the possibility of disappointment. Rest assured that Caitlin Moran still writes with amazing heart, humor...

"He was drunk, and there was nothing on TV - that is how 80 percent of kissing starts in Britain."

 and searing hot takes on feminism.

"The idea that women carry the shame for shameful things that have been done to them is Bible old, and Bible black."

As with her previous novel, How to be Famous also feels hyper realistic: full of crazy situations, over the top characters and dialogue that suits the business of rock n' roll, which delighted me to no end. Her brother and father reappear in this novel, and the way these siblings deal with dad's midlife crisis like a hot potato had me guffawing. I also loved the introduction of Johanna's new larger than life musician friend Suzanne Banks who, according to Johanna,

 "...she's so f*cking fizzy and delicious, I want to swim around in her innards, like a dolphin." 

There's no shortage of f-bombs, crass talk and sex scenes, fair warning. But they absolutely serve a purpose in the broader feminist message that Moran delivers with such unrestrained wit. There is indeed an engaging plot that moves at a good pace, as we buckle up for another ride along with Johanna's rollicking highs, and terrible lows as she makes questionable decisions and deals with a bad situation. 
The story is a perfect vehicle for such important messages for women and girls to take to heart about being comfortable in our skin, in our hopes, in our desires, that girl culture is COOL, owning our sexual pleasure, and the importance of being in a relationship that lifts us up, that does not tear us down. There are so many books with a feminist slant being published lately, many with a terrifying Handmaid's Tale tone. These works are important and needed, for sure. (If you haven't read Margaret Atwood, now is definitely the time.) But Moran's work is equally significant while being so very refreshing with uplifting, galvanizing and hopeful feminism.
I marked up How to Build a Girl, but I pretty much wanted to take a highlighter to the entirety of How to be Famous. If (WHEN) you read it, I'd take note of: Dolly's letter to John about how teen girls run the world, when John's fans line up to meet him she writes about the intimacy of art and meeting our heroes, and the last five or so pages about love and a relationship being two people invested in building 'the very best you' just made me swoon with love and light. 
Run, don't walk, to get your hands on this brilliant book. Thank you SO, SO MUCH to the lovely people at Harper Books for a free review copy in exchange for my honest review!

P.S. - My husband and I talked about Peggy Orenstein's Girls & Sex a while ago and, upon reading How to be Famous, I hastily moved it further up in the to be read queue. I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter the year after I gave birth to my daughter and highly recommend it!




6.28.2018

Summer Bucket List 2018

We've been pretty busy this first week of summer break, already putting a dent in our annual summer bucket list! We've hit up the pool, the Y for some indoor games and rock climbing and a trip to a local farm/amusement park. And even though the list only varies slightly from year to year, I thoroughly enjoy writing it all down and aspiring to check off as many items as we can in between the inordinate amount of time we spend at the beach or pool. Without further ado:
Blueberry picking (The photo above was from some raspberry picking we did this week, but we'll be back at it when the blueberries are in season soon!)
Mini Golf
Go to the Movies
Bowling 
Point Defiance Zoo (We're Woodland Park Zoo members and love it, but every summer we take a trip to Point Defiance as it's MY FAVORITE.)
Visit Paradise at Mount Rainier (We bought a national park pass when we did our summer road trip last year and are headed back to Crystal Mountain this summer! I'm hoping we can do a separate trip to the Paradise entrance to Rainier and get the most bang for our buck.)
Hike Big Four Ice Caves trail and Wallace Falls 
Go to an Outdoor Concert 
Annual Car Show
Art Project (I bought origami papers from Michael's before school got out, so I'm hoping to do a little origami. Perhaps a tie dye party if I'm feeling brave...)
New to us Museum (The kids have been to a few on field trips that my husband and I have yet to visit, so I'd love to finally see MOHAI, MoPOP or the Museum of Flight.)
Deep Clean/Purge and Rearrange Kid's Rooms (Not necessarily a fun task, but while we have the time...)
Complete Library Summer Reading Challenge and Read Harry Potter Books (My eight year old is ready for The Prisoner of Azkaban and my eleven year old is on to The Order of the Phoenix. I'll likely read with the younger, and this might be the first year that my older will read on his own. Although, I might butt in and read to him or have him read to me from time to time, because I enjoy the experience so much!)
Visit Wild Waves (This has never really been on my list because uggghhh, CHAOTIC water parks are not high on my list. However, we get free tickets doing the summer reading challenge, so... Also, I'm pretty pumped to have my own adult challenge sheet!)
Yoga Breaks (My daughter loved her after school yoga class, and she's been doing some Cosmic Kids Yoga on her own. I'm thinking I might get my older guy on board with the Minecraft or Star Wars yoga sessions...)
Have Each Kiddo Pick a Meal to Make for the Family (This will be with our help, of course - and I'm referencing this helpful post from Shutterbean.) 
Theo Chocolate Tour (This has been on my list for awhile, as I've never been and both kids are old enough now!)
Redmond Night Bazaar (I'm usually dead tired by nighttime in the summer, after long days in the sun at the beach or pool, but this sounds so fun.)
Ferry to Bainbridge (Like the aforementioned museums, we have shamefully never visited Bainbridge! Perhaps something to remedy this summer.)
Try a New Cocktail Recipe (I'm already eyeballing this one using the fresh raspberries we just picked...)
Try a New Restaurant for Dinner (Lots of new restaurants have opened in our neck of the woods on the Eastside of Seattle and the bucket list is a perfect impetus to check them out!)

Do you have a summer bucket list? Any suggestions or feedback? Happy summer y'all!


6.22.2018

Healthyish by Lindsay Maitland Hunt (A new favorite cookbook, and recent eats!)

If I make at least one recipe from a cookbook, I consider it a success. So far I've made two dinners and one breakfast from Healthyish and we're still going strong. First up, remember those Trader Joe's Bahn Mi Bowls that I'm addicted to? Well Hunt has a DELICIOUS Bahn Mi dinner recipe!
We used ground chicken in the recipe for Bahn Mi Rice Bowls with Spicy Pork and Sriracha Mayo and it turned out fantastic. Also, I'm not a huge fan of cucumber, so I subbed half with julienned red pepper. Definitely going into regular rotation.
The Brown Rice and Adzuki Bean Bowl was also a success, and I subbed tofu for the beans. I love both of these recipes for the summer because the veggies are no-cook and I always use Trader Joe's microwaveable brown rice, not the stovetop.
Lastly, I tried the 'Why Didn't I Think of That' breakfast bowl with brown rice, almond milk, diced apple, peanut butter, honey and a sprinkling of hemp hearts. 
The flavors are super tasty, but my brain is confused about my savory dinner staple in my breakfast, so I may try the combo with another grain like bulgur.
My dependence on the Trader Joe's microwaveable brown rice factored heavily in our menu planning with this book. It just makes the weekday crazy so much easier! I do plan to try a few more recipes, for sure.
We also tried Pinch of Yum's Summer Chipotle Chicken Cobb Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette last month and subbed cherry tomatoes for the strawberries. 
I'd definitely recommend!
And lastly, I had a Starbucks reward to try one of their new Mercato lunch items for 50% off and the Za'atar Chicken Salad was SO GOOD!
There was so much going on in this salad (grains, tzatziki, cauliflower, golden raisins) and it all comes together really well, and I love a tahini dressing. It's a little pricey for Starbucks, around $10, but it's comparable to something I'd get at a sit down restaurant. At the very least it'll be well worth a free reward redemption!

6.12.2018

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (NetGalley Review)

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Publisher: SJP for Hogharth Books (the new Sarah Jessica Parker imprint) June 12, 2018 
Description from the publisher:
As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best? 
A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children—each in their own way—tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home. 

Family sagas are definitely my jam, and this novel was no exception. I enjoyed the structure of the book, working backwards from the arrival of estranged son Amar at the daughter Hadia's wedding. Immediately we know that something is amiss and are not given the answers as Mirza quickly brings us back in time to the beginnings of their family, their parents marriage, and examines the childhood of the three siblings. I felt invested in the characters right away, as they struggled with universal experiences of childhood - most notably: first love. Learning about different cultures also makes a novel compelling for me, especially in the ways it affects the family dynamic. There is a lot to unpack about gender roles, religion, habit and individuality. 

"Maybe it was the exceptions that we made for one another that brought God more pride than we we stood firm, maybe His heart opened when His creations opened their hearts to one another..."

The second part of the book brings us back to the wedding when all of the family secrets come out and it plays out in excruciatingly dramatic fashion. I turned the pages furiously, hoping the characters I had become invested in had some closure or perchance a happy ending or two. 

"And remember that any time you point your finger to accuse someone, there are three fingers beneath it, curled to point right back at you."

In the last section, we are given the Rafiq's, the father's, story as he reflects on the entire history of his family from his devastating point of view.  Mirza's writing is simple and beautiful, evocative of first loves, unrequited love, familial and, in the end, excruciating parental love. If you enjoyed Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, I would HIGHLY recommend this book. There are so many similarities, and the common thread of a minority family struggling with the love they have for each other, their culture, and trying to do right by one another. Sometimes their actions end in happiness, and other times it ends in tragedy, as in life.
Many thanks to Hogharth books and NetGalley for the free advance digital copy for my review!

6.05.2018

Books I Read in May


Lots of books this month! I listened to more than half of Educated back in April, and I chose a number of slim novels just over 200 or so pages - Whiskey and Ribbons, The Gunners and Piecing Me Together.

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
You can read my review HERE!

The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
I was so glad to have a seasonal reason to read another Inspector Gamache novel! The latest crime in Three Pines involves a woman that dies during a seance the over the Easter holidays. The way Penny delves into the human psyche in this one was really compelling, especially with the idea of the 'near enemy.' That there are emotions that look the same but are in fact opposites, one healthy, the other twisted. The 'enemy' being attachment masquerading as love; pity as compassion; and indifference as equanimity. Another great mystery executed brilliantly with multiple plot lines that mirrored each other and gave the story depth. I just discovered that the next book, A Rule Against Murder, is set in the summer! Might have to queue another one up soon...

Educated by Tara Westover
I'm certainly not the first person to make the observation that this was SO similar to The Glass Castle (which I read last June). And my thoughts are also very similar! I was blown away by Tara's story of overcoming her abusive, neglectful upbringing to achieve educational success that is hard to attain no matter how well we are raised. Like Wall's memoir, I wish that it was heavier on the time she spent AFTER leaving her family behind. Although, the details of her upbringing were appallingly fascinating. The amount of viscerally uncomfortable scenes of accidents and injuries that happened to her family, who reject modern medicine, were many. I felt as if she meandered a bit, recalling all these childhood 'stranger than fiction' accounts. But her observations by the end of the book were searing: about gaslighting, what we know to be true, what is history and who writes it? There's a line there at the end, when she acknowledges that SHE writes history that made me tear up. It's a powerful read. Also, in general, it's another work that gives some pretty solid evidence that misogyny is the root of all evil.

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
This was basically The Big Chill in book form, but with grittier characters that had absent, neglectful parents growing up. When the adults reconvene for the funeral of their childhood friend, each has a secret about his or her relationship with the deceased and why they think she left their tight circle as a teen. I was drawn in, I found myself curious about all. the. secrets. And the characters are memorable and unique, but just didn't feel real to me for some reason. Maybe it's because I don't have a similar group of friends, mine are... different to say the least. Overall, I was impressed at how much Kauffman was able to convey in just over 200 pages. If you're looking for something short, with some heft, I would recommend The Gunners. 

Piecing Me Together by RenĂ©e  Watson
If The Hate You Give is a blinding light that we all are drawn in by (which you should be, it's a must read), then this novel is like a soft glow that is equally compelling with many similar themes delivered in a more nuanced way. Both are the stories of a young black girl who goes across town to a private school of mostly white kids (see also: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian). In this case there's not a jarring death of a young black man to propel the story, but rather the type of 'death by a thousand cuts' or micro aggressions that comprise the life a black person. Which is just as compelling, and perhaps more important to read these stories. I also was glad that it addressed the plight of black women and girls specifically. A friend on Instagram said that her kiddo's high school was giving families THUG for summer reading, which is AWESOME, and I would strongly suggest adding this one to the pile.

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Yes, I am late to the party on this one. I have found that memoirs read by the author are to my taste in audiobooks, I downloaded this one from the library on Sarah's recommendation as part of her Mother's Day roundup. It is definitely one of those 'right book at the right time' and I can't imagine reading this before becoming a mother. This memoir of Kelly's experience nannying for a widow, while on her post college trip to Australia hit me on many levels: as a mom, as a GenX-er, and, like her small charge Mille, someone who lost a parent at seven years of age. Not that I wouldn't recommend this for anyone that doesn't fit into these categories: Corrigan gives such amazing insight to anyone who has a mother or mother figure in their lives. LOVED.  "And it occurs to me that maybe the reason my mom was so exhausted all the time wasn't because she was doing so much, but because she was feeling so much."

Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
This was a slow burn of a novel that examines the relationship between two people after the most important person in their lives is killed in the line of duty. The trajectory of how Eamon's brother Dalton and his wife Evangeline will move forward after his death seems pretty evident from the get go. There are some family secrets uncovered, but I also felt as if these were evident to the reader and the tension came from wondering how the characters would learn the truth and deal with the fallout. It's a lovely and melancholy examination of love and loss. "Brian was with Eamon when he took his last breaths, so I think some of Eamon is with Brian still. Maybe some of his breath got inside of him and Brain carries that around and that's why we're quiet so often when we're together or when we're on the phone. So we can hear Eamon."

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
After reading a melancholy and introspective book, I really wanted something I could smile about and just devour. Fate brought me back to Moyes when I saw Still Me sitting on the Lucky Day shelf at the library, and oh, how I missed Louisa Clark! I loved this so much, getting reacquainted with this singular character and her family, as well as another fabulously unique and lovable supporting cast. I actually thought After You was enjoyable, even though I felt that it hardly had the same indelible feel and heft as Me Before You. Now that expectations for a reboot have subsided, I think Still Me is able to shine on the merits of Moyes' ability to make her audiences laugh, cry and swoon. RECOMMEND.