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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Review - Oxygen by Carol Cassella













Title: Oxygen 
Author: Carol Cassella
Year: 2008
Page: 288
Genre: Fiction - Medical

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
With the compassion of Jodi Picoult and the medical realism of Atul Gawande, Oxygen is a riveting new novel by a real-life anesthesiologist, an intimate story of relationships and family that collides with a high-stakes medical drama.

Dr. Marie Heaton is an anesthesiologist at the height of her profession. She has worked, lived and breathed her career since medical school, and she now practices at a top Seattle hospital. Marie has carefully constructed and constricted her life according to empirical truths, to the science and art of medicine. But when her tried-and-true formula suddenly deserts her during a routine surgery, she must explain the nightmarish operating room disaster and face the resulting malpractice suit. Marie's best friend, colleague and former lover, Dr. Joe Hillary, becomes her closest confidante as she twists through depositions, accusations and a remorseful preoccupation with the mother of the patient in question. As she struggles to salvage her career and reputation, Marie must face hard truths about the path she's chosen, the bridges she's burned and the colleagues and superiors she's mistaken for friends.

A quieter crisis is simultaneously unfolding within Marie's family. Her aging father is losing his sight and approaching an awkward dependency on Marie and her sister, Lori. But Lori has taken a more traditional path than Marie and is busy raising a family. Although Marie has been estranged from her Texas roots for decades, the ultimate responsibility for their father's care is falling on her.

As her carefully structured life begins to collapse, Marie confronts questions of love and betrayal, family bonds and the price of her own choices. Set against the natural splendor of Seattle, and inside the closed vaults of hospital operating rooms, Oxygen climaxes in a final twist that is as heartrending as it is redeeming.


First Sentence:
People feel so strong, so durable.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I read a blog review on the author's second book, and her first book (this one, Oxygen) was mentioned in the review. I was more interested in Oxygen as I liked reading medical-related fiction since I work in health care. Suppose to have a big twist too so right up my alley!
First thought:
  • Didn't quite live up to expectation...
Cover Art:
  • Related to the story, but I wish it had a bit more to do with oxygen or anesthesiology since it played such an important role in the story too. But the white-on-white design is quite eye catching
Title:
  • Made sense and catchy (I prefer short and to the point title to overly frilly title... The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, anyone? I can never recall the whole title)
Writing:
  • While not a difficult read, it was slow at times. I thought it'd be more engaging. 
  • Probably being a bit picky, but in the beginning, one of the surgeons was referred to by his last name, then in a chapter later on, he was referred to by his first name instead and I had no idea who that was since his first name was never mentioned before, and I figured it out by deduction.
Plot:
  • There were some side-stories that didn't really contribute to the main story so it dragged down the pace
  • The big family secret (about the main protagonist and her father) seemed forced and didn't really quite fit into the story
  • Not sure if it was because I worked in health care (not direct patient care though), I could guess the big twist early on... so that took the surprise out 

Characters:

  • Felt indifferent about the characters. None of them really jumped out - good or bad
  • What I liked best about this story was the main portraitist's perspective on being an anesthesiologist. I haven't worked with anesthesiologists yet so it helped me understand their role a bit better.   
Ending:
  • The twist was predictable, but the actual ending about one of the characters seemed a bit unrealistic? 
Emotion:


  • Even though I was supposed to feel sad when the sad event happened, I didn't feel particularly sad...
  • But I do feel for doctors in general - their crazy schedules, the office politics, the fear of losing the patients, and the possibility of facing malpractice lawsuits... 


What I Learned:
  • What goes inside an anesthesiologist's mind
PS:
  • I wondered when the story was set? It seemed like the protagonist worked in a modern hospital, and yet documentation was all on paper instead of electronically 
Read this Author again?
  • Depends... 

Quote:

With the right preparation I look forward to cases like this -- calming a challenging patient in my preoperative interview. I'm playing psychiatrist as well as medicinal artist, a chemical hypnotist beckoning the frightened and the uninitiated into a secure and painless realm of trust. It's a private world I build with my patient, a world the surgeon never sees, a secret pact that never makes it into the hospital record or onto an insurance billing form. I like to think it is where I can make the most difference -- spinning the first layer of the anesthetic cocoon with language instead of drugs. (p14)

Overall Rating:
3 Stars. It's okay, could be better.



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.+-

Book Review - Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan














Title: Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal 
Author: Conor Grennan
Year: 2011
Page: 304
Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
One Person Can Make a Difference


In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan traded his day job for a year-long trip around the globe, a journey that began with a three-month stint volunteering at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in war-torn Nepal.

Conor was initially reluctant to volunteer, unsure whether he had the proper skill, or enough passion, to get involved in a developing country in the middle of a civil war. But he was soon overcome by the herd of rambunctious, resilient children who would challenge and reward him in a way that he had never imagined. When Conor learned the unthinkable truth about their situation, he was stunned: The children were not orphans at all. Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children from the civil war—for a huge fee—by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

For Conor, what began as a footloose adventure becomes a commitment to reunite the children he had grown to love with their families, but this would be no small task. He would risk his life on a journey through the legendary mountains of Nepal, facing the dangers of a bloody civil war and a debilitating injury. Waiting for Conor back in Kathmandu, and hopeful he would make it out before being trapped in by snow, was the woman who would eventually become his wife and share his life’s work.

Little Princes is a true story of families and children, and what one person is capable of when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. At turns tragic, joyful, and hilarious, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability of love to carry us beyond our wildest expectations. 


First Sentence:
It was well after nightfall when I realized we had gone the wrong way. 

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I first read about this on Bookworm's Dinner (see review). This is probably one of my favorite type of memoir to read (inspirational), so despite having many books piling up already, I reserved this straight away from the library. 
First thought:
  • Read it! Definitely will be in my Top 10 in 2011! And one I'd be recommending to others!
Cover Art:
  • LOVE it. The kid, the colors... 
Title:
  • Fitting. When I first heard it, I thought of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry (one of my favorite books, and one that I'd re-read!), and wouldn't you know it that there is a connection.
Writing:
  • Very easy and engaging to read. The content of this book reminded me of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson and Khaled Hosseini. I'd say that this book is easier to read than Mortenson's books as the latter sometimes were a bit slow.
  • It was very hard to put down - even though it is non-fiction which typically scares people off, this will be a good "introduction" to non-fiction because it's not tedious. It talked a little bit of Nepalese history and explained why there were so many orphans, but it was written in an easy-to-understand and non-boring manner, that someone like me who usually isn't really into history understood it. 
Plot:
  • Well paced. Definitely made me want to know what happened next!
  • The author talked a little bit about his personal life, but it is related to his story of the Nepalese children so it just added on to the story
Characters:
  • Even though it is a memoir, the stars in the book really were the children. You just want to meet and help them when you read about them
  • The children could do so much with so little! (see first quote below)
  • Of course all the volunteers and local people who helped these children were remarkable also. I couldn't imagine walking for hours and hours and hours while wearing heavy packs, while the tracks (or lack of) were dangerous at times (right by the cliff!) and that it wasn't very safe (security wise) due to the civil war and its aftermath
  • The author was very honest and you could tell he life had been changed forever by these children  
  • My favorite child was probably Jagrit - the author described him so well that you could just hear him. He was mature and wise beyond his years
Ending:
  • Hopeful!
  • I wish there were more pictures, especially pictures of each children
  • Would be nice if there is some follow up on what the children are up to now.
Emotion:
  • Got teary at certain parts. You wondered if the parents did the right thing, and not being a parent, I couldn't tell especially since I don't live in their environment. You could say though that no matter where you live, parents (generally speaking) just want the best for their children, giving them what the parents couldn't have 
What I Learned:
  • I didn't know a lot about children trafficking in Nepal, so this book opened my eyes to that far corner of the world
PS:
  • If you do not want spoilers, DO NOT look at the photos in the book until after you have read the story!
  • Did I say, READ IT? :) 
Read this Author again?
  • Yes!

Quote: 
Though they would never admit it, the kids had far more fun with the toys they made themselves. one boy, usually Santosh, would take a plastic bottle from the trash discarded throughout the village. To this bottle he strapped two short pieces of wood, binding them with some old string. He collected four plastic bottle caps and some rusty nails and pounded them into the wood with a flat rock. And viola! he had built a toy car. When it wobbled too much going down the hill, he discovered that he could stabilize it by filling the bottle with water. Soon it was racing down shallow hills and crashing into trees. Because he had constructed it, he was able to fix it. (p38)

The kids spoke little English, but as I had learned long ago, language isn't always necessary when interacting with kids. (p229)

Overall Rating:
4.5 Stars. READ IT! (Didn't get 5 Stars only because I probably won't re-read. I hardly ever re-read) 



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Review - Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein













Title: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Author: Peggy Orenstein 
Year: 2011
Page: 288
Genre: Non-Fiction- Family

FTC Disclosure: ARC from HarperCollins

Summary (from goodreads.com):

The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.

Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source—the source—of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway—especially given girls' successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization—or prime them for it? Could today's little princess become tomorrow's sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality—or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she—or we—ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable—yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters' lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.

First Sentence:
Here is my dirty little secret: as a journalist, I have spent nearly two decades writing about girls, thinking about girls, talking about how girls should be raised.

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • We're still deciding whether to have children. I thought reading this book would help provide some insights if we ever have a daughter (or I'd be facing if we do decide to have a kid)
First thought:
  • I think I'd get more out of this book if I do have a daughter.
Cover Art:
  • Definitely pink and princessy! Fitted the book.
Title:
  • Catchy!
Writing:
  • Pretty fast read. The book was actually around 200 pages (instead of 288), as it included a lot of references
Plot:
  • it was more than just Disney princesses and pink. It talked about pop culture, Hollywood stars, children's TV programs, Facebook, Dolls and other young girl-related topics. The one I was most interested in was Beauty Pageant - I really didn't quite understand why parents would want their 6 years old dressed up like 40 years old in 80's style with the big hair and heavy makeup, so I found this chapter quite fascinating, though since it was just a chapter, it wasn't quite in depth as I'd have liked.
  • I think in some areas the author would have gone a bit deeper. For example, her daughter really wanted this girl, or this toy gun, or that... but the author never really asked why the daughter wanted it
  • Another chapter I found quite interesting was female role models (or lack of) in fairy tales, and the differences between the original version and the Disney's modified version. I had only read the famous fairy tales (Snow White, Cinderella, Little Mermaid etc) in Chinese in very simplified version for children so I know the gist of these stories, but I never knew some of the details of the original versions or what Disney had changed (I had only watched Beauty and the Beast... can't think of other Disney movies I'd watched...). I guess I had never given it much thought about the role of female (waiting to be rescued, pretty princess vs ugly sisters, would do anything to be noticed by the prince etc) but it definitely made me think about that. Should little girls not read fairy tales then? I don't know... I can't remember I ever thought princesses were real (well okay we still have some royal families around, but they aren't exactly like the princesses and princes in the fairy tales). 
Characters:
  • I wish the author included more of her daughter's thoughts (I think she's about 5 years old)
  • I did like that the author included conversations between her friends and other mothers she interviewed
Ending:
  • Each chapter read almost like a magazine article, so the end of the book wasn't a big finale. 
Emotion:
  • As I was reading, I kept thinking I am so out of date with today's children's preference of toys, fashion etc! I had no idea what some of the dolls were and had to google. Did make me feel a bit overwhelmed on how I'd be as a mother if we had a daughter! 
What I Learned:
  • A new acronym! KGOY = Kids Getting Older Younger
PS:
  • I had always liked less feminine or less frilly names for girls (Ha! And I ended up naming our only female cat Tallulah, couldn't get more girly than that!). But this book did make me think of something - is being feminine or frilly necessarily negative? I am definitely NOT girly. Sure, I like nicely designed stuff and appreciate beauty, but I prefer simplicity. I am a wash-and-go girl and can't understand why others would wake up 2 hours early to do their hair and make up everyday (I'd rather get more sleep!) but is that really a bad thing? Would I not want my daughter to do that because I don't? I don't know if I'd have an answer until (if) I had a daughter
Read this Author again?
  • Depends on the topic

Quote:
I thought back to our conversation several years before in the grocery store, when I tried to explain my aversion to Cinderella. Had my worst fears during that episode come to pass? Rather than becoming more conscious of manipulation, had she instead learned that the things associated with girls -- and by extension being a girl itself -- were bad? (p154)


That involves staying close but not crowding them, standing firm in one's values while remaining flexible. (p194)

Overall Rating:
3 Stars. I think those with daughters (particularly from 3-15 years old) would appreciate it more than I do 
 



All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - Matched (Matched #1) by Ally Condie



















Title: Matched (Matched #1) 
Author: Ally Condie 
Year: 2010
Page: 366
Genre: Fiction - Young Adult, Dystopian

FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads.com):
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.


First Sentence:
Now that I have found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?

My Thoughts:

Why this book?
  • I first heard about this from DeRaps Reads (see review here), wow that was almost 6 months ago, and my library finally has it! Since I really enjoyed The Hunger Games, I thought this would be a good dystopian to try after that series.
First thought:
  • Can't wait till Book 2!
Cover Art:
  • Perfect. One of the better book covers I think - suited the book wonderfully, the bubble, the green dress... and it is just refreshing and eye-catching.
Title:
  • Catchy and also fitted the story well.
Writing:
  • As a YA, pretty easy to read. I started reading it Friday night and finish it yesterday
Plot:
  • While the plot didn't have as many twists and turns as The Hunger Game, it was quite engaging. Some commented that it was slow but I didn't think it was too slow (and we all know I couldn't finish slow books...) 
Characters:
  • While this has another 1 girl-2 boys as main characters book, I didn't mind it so much. I liked Cassia fine, liked Ky fine, liked Xander fine... in fact, there weren't any characters I couldn't really stand.
  • I do wish there were more developments between Cassia and Ky because at times it seemed just too convenient 
  • Cassia's job as a sorter sounded interesting, since it is a little bit related to my job
  • Also enjoyed reading about the relationship between Cassia's parents and how they protected and loved their families in their own way
  • Wished we got to know Cassia's grandfather a little bit better
  • The relationship between Cassia and her best friend Em was a little lacking though
Ending:
  • I think it helped that I knew it was a trilogy ahead of time. For once I didn't mind too much that this is a trilogy (maybe last year I just needed a break, but it seemed like 99% of YA books became a trilogy!)
Emotion:
  • As I read, I couldn't help but think what it'd be like to live in such a "perfect" world, and it's scary to think I don't want to live in such a world. While everything seems perfect, orderly, fair, "equal", it really isn't... would you choose it if equality means you loose individuality?  
  • I think what I liked most about this book, is that it made me think.
    What I Learned:
    • What IS a perfect world? Someone's idea of perfect probably isn't another's
    PS:
    • After I finished the book, I read some other reviews, and the negative reviews mostly had to do with the fact that the concept of the story was very similar to The Giver. I haven't read the Giver, but it's on my TBR. Now I can't wait to read it to see if I'd still like Matched as much. Sometimes, the concepts might be similar, but how the story is delivered makes a difference. I mean, look at Disney princesses story (I must have that in mind because I just finished Cinderella Ate My Daughter) - most of them were about these girls suffering some type of hardship, but they were all pretty and with some good fortune or magic or something else, the prince fell in love with them and they lived happily ever after.
    • I was debating whether to give it 4 or 4.5 Stars. The Hunger Games (Book 1 and 2) I gave 4.5. After deliberating for a bit, I think I still like The Hunger Games better because it had more action, plus I felt more emotionally attached and cared about the characters more
    Read this Author again?
    • Yep! Hopefully book 2, Crossed, won't disappoint! Might check out her other books too, and whether I'd read them will depend on the premise.
    Quote:


    It is strange how we hold onto the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures. (p11)

    Is falling in love with someone's story the same thing as falling in love with the person himself? (p196)

    "The Government has decided that artifacts promote inequality among members of Society," (p204)

    Overall Rating:
    4 Stars. If you like The Hunger Games, you'd probably like this too!
     



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

    Book Review - A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith














    Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 
    Author: Betty Smith
    Year: 1943
    Page: 493
    Genre: Fiction - Classics

    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    The beloved American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age at the turn of the century, Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a poignant and moving tale filled with compassion and cruelty, laughter and heartache, crowded with life and people and incident. The story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg has enchanted and inspired millions of readers for more than sixty years. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the daily experiences of the unforgettable Nolans are raw with honesty and tenderly threaded with family connectedness -- in a work of literary art that brilliantly captures a unique time and place as well as incredibly rich moments of universal experience. 

    First Sentence:
    Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • Book club read for Feb. However, I did suggest this book (we can all make suggestions, then once a year, we'll each pick our favorite12-15 I think. Then we'll choose the ones with the highest votes to read). I was going to do a Classic read along in blogsphere last year, and this was one of the selections. However, I didn't end up doing the read along, but still want to read one classic (I hardly ever read this genre)
    First thought:
    • Definitely character driven, but heart-warming
    Cover Art:
    • Seems like there are many different versions. The one I posted was the one I had borrowed. She didn't quite looked like the Francie I had in mind, though I understand the significance of the red roses.
    Title:
    • Symbolic. 
    Writing:
    • This book was first published in 1943. 99.9% of what I read is contemporary, so the writing style is a bit different
    • Some parts of the book definitely got too descriptive for me (bear in mind I prefer plot-driven novels over character-driven ones, if I must choose)
    Plot:
    • To be honest, there really was not a lot going on... most of it focused on Francie's childhood. It evolved around her family. The story did paint a portrait of what life was like back then (from 1900's onwards)
    • The story was more of a snapshot of what happened in different phrases of Franice's and her family's life
    Characters:
    • Francie was a likable character. You couldn't help but feel for her. What made the most impression on me though was her relationship with her younger brother (by 1 year) Neeley. It was touching when they reminisced about the "olden" days (which might only be 2 years ago, and they were 13yo and 14yo). The part I liked the best was what Francie told the doctor after he gave her vaccination with a dirty arm.
    • I have a love-dislike relationship with Francie's parents, Katie and John. They each had admirable characteristics, but then they also had some qualities I couldn't quite stand. But I suppose the imperfection made them more real
    • I liked that Francie's maternal grandmother offered little pieces of wisdom (to her best knowledge anyway)
    • Francie's aunts Sissy and Evie also played an important role in her life, and they were good supporting characters
    • The characters that were the weakest I think were Lee and Ben. They just didn't have the same dept as the other characters, probably because not as much were written about them, and yet they were both significant to Francie. Oh and I didn't like her new English teacher too! Though I thought she was really doing her best...
    Ending:
    • Rather predictable... I had to remind myself that this is not a mystery thriller with twits and turns.
    Emotion:
    • Francie was a reader, so as a book lover you couldn't help but cheered her on and felt her heartache. She definitely was mature for her age. Sometimes her parents might not make the fairest decisions, but she soldiered on, and never took it out of anyone. She'd rationalized it. The most touching moments were between Francie and brother Neeley later on in the book
    What I Learned:
    • I am glad I didn't live in that era!
    PS:
    • Since I prefer plot-driver over character-driven novels, I wish more happened in this book. While the characters were well developed, and you get a sense of life back then, I just wish there was a bit more action and suspense to make it more engaging. I don't regret reading it, so now at least I know what others are talking about. I could see others loving it, but this is just not my genre.
    Read this Author again?
    • Not sure... 

    Quote:
    "Francie is entitled to one cup each meal like the rest. If it makes her feel better to throw it way rather than to drink it, all right. I think it's good that people like us can waste something once in a while and get the feeling of how it would be to have lots of money and not have to worry about scrounging." (p16)




    The difference was that Flossie Gaddis was starved about men and Sissy was healthily hungry about them. And what a difference that made. (p30)






    "the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that tshe believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination."
    "The child will grow up and find out things for herself. She will know that I lied. She will be disappointed."
    "That is what is called learning the truth. It is a good thing to learn the truth one's self. To first believe with all your heart, and the not to believe, is good too. It fattens the emotions and makes them stretch. When as a woman life and people disappoint her, she will have had practice in disappointment and it will not come so hard. In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character." (p77)


    "Maybe," thought Francie, "she doesn't love me as much as she loves Neeley. But she needs me more than she needs him and I guess being needed is almost as good as being loved. Maybe better." (p294)

    What had granma Mary Rommely said? "To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory." (p415)




    Overall Rating: 
    3.5 Stars. Not my genre, but not bad.
     



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Book Review - Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family by Tamara Chalabi













    Title: Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family
    Author: Tamara Chalabi 
    Year: 2011
    Page: 448
    Genre: Non-Fiction - History

    FTC Disclosure: HarperCollins gave me an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    A lyrical, haunting, multi-generational memoir of one family’s tempestuous century in Iraq from 1900 to the present.

    The Chalabis are one of the oldest and most prominent families in Iraq. For centuries they have occupied positions of honour and responsibility, loyally serving first the Ottoman Empire and, later, the national government.

    In ‘Late for Tea at the Deer Palace’, Tamara Chalabi explores the dramatic story of her extraordinary family’s history in this beautiful, passionate and troubled land. From the grand opulence of her great-grandfather’s house and the birth of the modern state, through to the elegant Iraq of her grandmother Bibi, who lived the life of a queen in Baghdad, and finally to her own story, that of the ex-pat daughter of a family in exile, Chalabi takes us on an unforgettable and eye-opening journey.

    This is the story of a lost homeland, whose turbulent transformations over the twentieth century left gaping wounds at the hearts not only of the family it exiled, but also of the elegant, sophisticated world it once represented. When Tamara visited her once-beautiful ancestral land for the first time in 2003, she found a country she didn’t recognize – and a nation on the brink of a terrifying and uncertain new beginning.

    Lyrical and unique, this exquisite multi-generational memoir brings together east and west, the poetic and the political as it brings to life a land of beauty and grace that has been all but lost behind recent headlines.


    First Sentence:
    The kitchen was bare, an abandoned room.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • I didn't know a lot about Iraq or its culture, apart from what you hear in the media in recent years... even then I didn't pay a lot of attention (yes I'd admit I'm ignorant!). Since I like memoir, I thought this book would be a good introduction to the Iraqi history and culture, as I am not particularly fond of reading history books
    First thought:
    • This is more of a history book (of Iraqi, and the Chalabi family), rather than a memoir!
    Cover Art:
    • The colors are quite eye catching! It fits the book. Quite pretty!
    Title:
    • A symbolic title
    Writing:
    • While the sentences were not overly complicated and the vocabularies were not difficult, it was not a fast read. Only because you had to pay attention and could not really skimp (as I sometimes do with fiction). It also took extra effort to remember the Iraqi names (even though I am Chinese, I have trouble remember characters with Chinese names in books written in English... so it has nothing to do with Iraqi names per se.)
    • The beginning was a little slow... it didn't pick up for me until about p30 when it talked about how the author's grandparents met
    Plot:
    • I mistakenly thought this was a memoir. The author's own story was maybe about 5% of the whole book. So I was a bit disappointed about that
    • I really enjoyed the parts when the author talked about her family history - the food, the wedding, the relationships, the culture. I could visually see it happening in my head
    • The parts about Iraqi history was a bit slow for me and my brain tended to not absorb these parts very well, and I found myself having to re-read them. Now I understand why the author had to talked about Iraqi history as it greatly affected her family's history, but I wish they could be a bit more integrated and more personal. At first I thought they author did a pretty good job integrating the two elements, as typically the parts about Iraqi history were not very long passages. However, in retrospect, if they were more intertwined, my brain wouldn't have automatically tuned out when the family story was not directly involved. It seemed like the straight history part, it was more "tell" rather than "show", whereas the family story was more "show" than "tell"
    Characters:
    • Even though the book subtitle was "The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family", the book focused more on the author's grandparents, and both of them, especially grandmother Bibi, were vividly described. Some aunts / uncles were also mentioned more than others.
    • It talked about the author's father a bit, but the mother was hardly ever mentioned (granted, she was not Iraqi, but it would have been nice to know if she supported her husband's efforts?)
    • I wish the author talked more about her story, as she also experienced her own exile and it would have been interesting to know what went through her and her siblings' minds as it was such a traumatic experience and they were so young.
    • It was nice that a family tree was included! Or I seriously would have been lost with all the extended family members!
    • Actually some more memorable characters for me were the family's slaves / servants. Their loyalty to the family were stronger than some family members' own loyalty
    Ending:
    • While the author began the story by saying this was her story, and not her father's story (I didn't know who her father was until I read this book... see I told you I was ignorant. If you googled Ahmad Chalabi, you could read more about her father and why his story might have played a bigger role in this overall family history), I felt that this was more about her grandparents' story
    Emotion:
    • As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but thought of what is happening in Egypt today? Egypt was mentioned a bit in the book (the past, not current politicians)
    What I Learned:
    • There were quite a lot of similarities between Iraqi and Chinese culture and traditions! The food, the wedding traditions, the networking and relationships, the family value, the fact that multigenerational family lived under one roof, and the devotion to their own country (typically speaking)... 
    PS:
    • I tried to read this book without any political bias, which wasn't overly difficult since I did not know a whole lot about Iraqi history, and did not know who the author's father was (and what he had supposedly done since) or that he and his brothers were big bankers. My only biased was "Saddam Hussein was a bad guy" to put it simply. So I guess my ignorant made me unbiased when I read this book. But as each story has two (or rather, multiple) sides, it would be good to hear from the other sides too to have a more complete picture - the Chalabi was a rich family, how about from the poor? From Saddam Hussein's followers? From the people who banked with the Chalabi's banks? Or even just from the author's numerous uncles / aunts / cousins who experienced the same events but might feel differently about what happened.
    Read this Author again?
    • Possibly, depends on the topic. I think it was quite ambitious of the author to tackle the subject that she did (the book covered 1913 - 2009!) The back blurb compared this book to Wild Swan: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I read that probably 18 years old and do not remember much (plus my English was not as good back then so probably did not quite get everything written in the book), but I remember I learned quite a bit about Chinese History and was shocked about some of the events (which I also did not know a lot of... at that time I only had 2 years of Chinese History in school but it was about way, way back, not recent history at that time). But I can see why the two books are compared.

    Quote:
    The darkness and dampness of London seeped into the children's bones from the moment they arrived. The city seemed a forlorn place to them. It had not yet recovered fully from the hardships of the Second World War, although rationing had ended seven years earlier. They could not help comparing grey London to golden Baghdad, which for them represented space, safety, warmth and plenty. They knew why they were there, but somehow they could not square the circle. The leap from the palm-lined roads of Baghdad to the grey streets of London was too big. Food was another sore point. Used to crates full of fresh fruits and vegetables, they found the idea of buying a single apple or banana from a shop depressing (p297).


    Overall Rating:
    4 Stars. Not perfect, but wortwhile. Learned something new!
     



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

    Saturday, February 5, 2011

    Book Review - Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters #1) by Michelle Zink













    Title: Prophecy of the Sisters (Prophecy of the Sisters #1) 
    Author: Michelle Zink
    Year: 2009
    Page: 343
    Genre: Fiction - Young Adult, Paranormal

    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    In Michelle Zink's debut novel, orphaned twin sister Lia and Alice Milthorpe are yoked together in an ancient prophecy that makes them enemies and could destroy them both. If Lia can break this familial curse, she can not only save her relationship with her beloved boyfriend; she can finally resolve the mystery behind her parents' death. A teen author to watch.

    First Sentence:
    Perhaps because it seems so appropriate, I don't notice the rain.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    •  Paranormal isn't really my genre (used to like vampires stuff before it got popular... we're talking years ago though so I'm ahead of my time lol). I remember Tea Time with Marce mentioning this book when I was in a reading rut last year (here's her review). Now I don't remember why I wanted to read this right now, perhaps just for something different!
    First thought:
    • I wish I'd read it when I was younger (well the book wouldn't have been published then!) because I think I'd have enjoyed it more then
    Cover Art:
    • I quite like it! A bit mysterious. There is another cover with a close up of two girls. I like this one with the statues better. A bit more Gothic.
    Title:
    • Fitting. Since I have two younger sisters, sisters-related books do attract my attention
    Writing:
    • Written in first person, which I do prefer
    • Since it's young adult, it's pretty easy to read
    • Although I have to say for some parts it rambles a bit and I found myself skimping... perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention as I was busy at work, I got a bit confused about the prophecy lol, since this is what the whole book is based on!
    Plot:
    • Engage me enough to keep reading but wasn't a page turner for me...
    Characters:
    • They were okay, didn't really feel attached to any of them though
    Ending:
    • Since this is a series, it didn't answer all the questions... I finished this about a week ago and honesty I didn't even quite remember what happened!
    Emotion:
    • Wasn't emotionally invested... while I was curious to find out what happened next, I didn't feel for the characters
    What I Learned:
    • I think, I need to be in the right mood for this this genre (paranormal) 
    PS:
    • Am I too rational for paranormal books? :) I need to go read The Juniper Game by Sherryl Jordan to see if I still love that book! I read it when I was a teenager, it's about telepathy. After I read it, I bought my own copy. In fact, I bought two, because I forgot I already bought one previously! Needlessly to say, I hadn't re-read it since... I really should since it was one of my favorite books back then! In fact, I thought if I ever had a daughter, I should name her Juniper :)
    Read this Author again?
    • Maybe. Depends on the story. Not sure if I'd read the rest of the series. I'd probably just google to read the spoilers :) 


    Overall Rating: 
    3 Stars. Just okay for me. Wasn't in the right mood.
     



    All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.