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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Updates...

Wow haven't posted for 3 weeks... work is still keeping me busy so I just don't feel like writing (but I'm still reading.) or using the computer when I get home... Plus I'd been watching some DVDs (Hoarders: Season 1 and LOST: Season 6 (finally!)) so that cut into my reading time.



Read (yet to do reviews):

Fiction

  • The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee
  • Still Life by Joy Fielding
  • The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Non-Fiction
  • The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  • Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself by Rachel Lloyd


Did Not Finish:

Non-Fiction
  • In with the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption by James Keene
  • Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott



Currently Reading:
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  • Lost in Shangri-La: The Epic True Story of a Plane Crash into the Stone Age by Mitchell Zuckoff


Reading Goals:
  • One of my reading goals was to read about 50-50 fiction and non-fiction. I think so far I have read 14 fiction and 11 non-fiction, so not too bad.

  • Another goal was for me to read out loud with the Husband (I like print, he likes audio). I am aiming for 5 books. We completed one! It was Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. We both enjoyed the experience and it was great that we could discuss the book together. Our second book together is Lost in Shangri-La: The Epic True Story of a Plane Crash into the Stone Age by Mitchell Zuckoff and we both enjoyed it so far. I guess we actually started this reading together last year when we took Dave Ramsey's class - part of the homework was to read some chapters of his Peace University book, and I read aloud to him then. When the class finished, I thought it'd be a good idea for us to keep going!
  • Oh in March received our look list to pick our selection for our local book club! I was so excited to receive the list (yeah I'm a nerd :p) We'll return our vote in April, and will find out in May what we'd be reading from August 2011-July 2012. Can't wait to find out, there were some good ones there (okay I confessed I suggested quite a few titles, but I didn't vote for all my suggestions, even though we got to pick 15-20 titles! So I am glad I found some new authors!)

  • I forgot to mention, I won a copy of Table of Contents: From Breakfast with Anita Diamant to Dessert with James Patterson - a Generous Helping of Recipes, Writings and Insights from Today's Bestselling Authors by Gelman Judy from Kristen Book Club Classics recently. To my surprise, Kristen included a very pretty note card with the book with the book wishing that I'd enjoy it as much as she did. What a nice touch! I haven't read it yet but took a quick look - it included many authors, and each of them answered a few questions such as Inspiration, Readers Should Know, Readers Frequently Ask and Authors Who Have Influenced My Writing, and then of course their favorite recipes. Some of the authors (whose books I'd read) included Lisa Genova, Sara Gruen, Janice Lee, Laura Lippman and James Patterson. I can't wait to read more about the other authors I hadn't read before to see if I'd discover some new (to me) authors! Thanks Kristen!

  • I kept meaning to write more personal posts, or have more discussions posts (been "collecting" some questions). Guess I need to be more discipline about blogging... or rather, have better work/life balance... so much to do (and read) and so little time... Any tips on how to do that better? And to think that we don't even have kids... what would life be like if we do?

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Updates...

    • Work is keeping me busy once again. I still manage to read about 2 books a week, but was behind with blogging (finally caught up with reviews today). Thus having much time to visit your blogs either, and I am hopelessly behind on replying on comments (THANKS for commenting on my posts by the way! It's exciting to see comments!)
    • Also meant to do a Book Vs Movie post, will do that later... (watched My Sister's Keeper and The Girl Who Played with Fire).
    • Haven't much luck with fiction this year... only one stood out so far (Matched), and others were just okay or worse (see what fiction and non-fiction I'd read so far this year here)
    • Want to read 50-50 fiction and non-fiction this year, but looks like I'm doing 2:1 so far. Perhaps reading more non-fiction will help with my dissatisfaction with fiction. But with work being easy, it's easier to read fiction as I don't have to think as much...
    • Sometimes I wonder if my expectations with fiction is set too high? I suppose this year I am trying to read genre I am generally not into, and there's probably a reason I wasn't into the in the first place... but I won't know for sure till I try.
    • One of my goals this year is to have a read-along with my husband - since he prefers audio books and I prefer print, we'd choose 5 books together and I'd read to him instead. We started with Unbroken, which is very interesting so far. But we won't be able to finish it before the due date (we don't get to read every night due to my work). It also takes longer to read the book this way - it took me an hour to read 20 pages aloud (it is about 400 pages, with quite a lot of lines on each page... unlike some books with more white space). So will have to return it to the library and borrow it again later. Meanwhile, will choose something else to read - probably something not so new and popular so we can renew it! Thinking of My Life in France by Julia Child. Then after that maybe The Lost City of Z. Want to choose some fiction too - thinking of Shantaram and Cutting for Stone, but both are long books! 
    • Sometimes, Sesame (youngest kitty) just doesn't want me to read! He'd curl up at the crook of my arm, and push my book away with his paws, so I could pay full attention to holding him instead... it wasn't so difficult before to hold him and read at the same time as he was just 3.5 lb and I could hardly feel him, now he is probably close to 7lb if not more! Maybe I am just a wuss and need to lift weight :) He also loves to push the stacks of books I borrow from the library off from the top of my cabinet or desk to the floor... maybe I need to read fairy tales to him instead.
    • I can't wait till spring gets here... I know other parts of the country are enjoying spring break. Definitely not us. 

    Book Review - Christmas, Present by Jacquelyn Mitchard














    Title: Christmas, Present
    Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard 
    Year: 2003
    Page: 114
    Genre: Fiction - Family

    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library


    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    A fourteenth wedding anniversary is nothing to sneeze at, Elliott Banner knows, but it's not exactly a landmark year—like fifteen, or twenty, when he plans to take his wife, Laura, to Paris. But when a headache on the drive home from their anniversary date—two days before Christmas—turns out to be more than a migraine, he wishes he had celebrated every year as though it were their last.

    In this poignant, touching, uplifting story, a woman calmly gathers her family around her during the Christmas holiday to celebrate their lives together—both past and future—and to truly count their blessings.

    A family history unfolds in a single night in this deeply affecting story that speaks volumes about love, trust, and letting go—a perfect holiday read that underscores the true meaning of the season.


    First Sentence:
    For weeks, he'd pestered himself over the fact that he couldn't remember whether this anniversary was the fourteenth or fifteenth.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • I was reading about book recommendations on a forum - a thread on "what is the saddest book you have read". Someone suggested this book. I tend to prefer sad to happy books, so added this to my TBR list.
    First thought:
    • Even though this is a VERY SMALL book (114 pages, and about half the size of a normal hardcover book - even though it IS a hard cover book), I still wanted my 2 hours back after I finish it!
    Cover Art:
    • Quite pretty, for a Christmas story
    Title:
    • Clever! 
    Writing:
    • Urgh. It was a fast read, I'd give it that, and because it's such a small book I decided to finish it to find out if it got better... it probably did not take me 2 hours to read (I read it in 2 settings in the same night, but I didn't time it)
    Plot:
    • It is supposed to be a sad book - it's about a dying mother for crying out loud. Instead of feeling sad, I felt irritated instead - the pace of the story was rushed, and there really wasn't much of a plot, and for the things that happened, it seemed unrealistic. Here I was prepared to feel all emotional about the story, I ended up questioning whether I have some personality problems instead because I couldn't stand the book. Don't tell me to feel sad because it is a sad story, make me feel sad instead!
    Characters:
    • None of them memorable really... there were kids in the story, and when you couldn't even stand the kids in a sad situation... I think there's a problem.
    • There were no character development - even for someone who usually don't like character-driven novels! Their dialogue seemed very forced
    Ending:
    • Predictable. 
    Emotion:
    • Didn't stir up the right emotion!
    What I Learned:
    • Just because others felt sad reading this book, didn't mean I would too (but that could be just me being picky)
    PS:
    • I read that there were some 1-2 stars reviews of this books - but mostly because people thought this book was too depressing! And here I was, thinking it wasn't depressing enough - don't get me wrong, the premise IS depressing, but the author just didn't deliver. (and this is from someone who cry while reading and watching movies, so I am not as coldhearted as you might think I am...)
    Read this Author again?
    • No, sorry

    Quote: 
    Children are never afraid, you know,. It's their parents who instill the fear. (p128)

    Overall Rating:
    0.5 Stars. Wasted my time (note, 0 stars are reserved for books I couldn't finish for one reason or another...)




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

    Book Review - Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure in Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Reinventing Myself in Beijing by Alan Paul















    Title: Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure in Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Reinventing Myself in Beijing
    Author: Alan Paul
    Year: 2011
    Page: 256
    Genre: Non-Fiction - Memoir

    FTC Disclosure: Given a ARC from publisher HarperCollins

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    Expanded from Paul's award-winning The Expat Life columns for WSJ.com, "Big In China" traces Alan's three and a half years in China - a time of life-changing experiences during which he reinvented himself, most prominently as the leader of a Chinese blues band called Woodie Alan. The band quickly achieved great success, and Paul soon found himself and his bandmates touring China, being named Beijing Band of the Year, and recording a CD that has earned praise from American musical luminaries from the Allman Brothers Band to ZZ Top. However, as exhilarating as the band's success was, it was only one part of the expat experience that was invigorating for Paul's entire family. Paul also reveals the challenges he and his family faced living in a foreign land, including trying not to become stuck inside the expat bubble so many construct around themselves when living abroad. "Big In China" is a book for anyone who wants to go on a journey, or who merely wants to come along on one.

    First Sentence:
    Xiamen, China -- I stood in the spotlight at the center of the broad stage, feeling exposed and alone.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • When HarperCollins contacted me to see which books I'd like to review for March, this book caught my eye. I like reading memoir, and since I am Chinese, it'd be interesting to read what expat life is like in China (I'd been to few smaller cities in China, but not Beijing)
    First thought:
    • Quite entertaining!
    Cover Art:
    • Not sure if I like it... I understand the different elements on the cover, but just didn't seem very attractive
    Title:
    • The title made me pause and think - "Big in China" sounded quite arrogant, especially from a Chinese perspective (we are "supposedly" humble) but then again the author is an American where things are usually "the bigger the better" so I guess the title does make sense (I know I am stereotyping... my husband is American so you can't say I'm picking on Americans :) 
    Writing:
    • Very easy to read and engaging. 
    • I liked that when he used Mandarin words or phrases in the book, he'd translate it. While I can read/write Chinese Cantonese, I don't know a lot about Mandarin so I appreciate that - though I wish the Chinese characters could actually be included, I am still trying to figure out what mao bi is (p120)!
    Plot:
    • The book talked about the 3.5 years the author and his family spent in China - it included many different topics such as the expat lifestyle, his music, his children, the decision whether to extend their stay or not, their families back in the State etc. There really was no "plot" so to speak as the book read more like different snippets of their lives.
    • Probably because of the author's optimism and tried to make the best of their adventure in China, most of the books talked only about positive experiences. I wish it would talk a bit more about the difficulties too - maybe they really did not experience any? Just hard to imagine everything went so smoothly without much frustration or disappointments
    Characters:
    • Everyone in the book was likable (well those with names anyway... ) The author's English teacher was an intriguing character and made you wonder how he is now.
    • I also envied the author and his band's ability to "jam" - I started learning the piano (and took violin and drum lessons for a brief period of time), but I am not one who could just improvise... I wish I could just be creative and go with the flow... but the way we were taught was to practice, practice, practice... to the way the music was written. Changing any of it meant you played it wrong. 
    Ending:
    • The ending was in a way predictable, but also provided closure.
    Emotion:
    • My husband's cousin is an expat in Beijing. We don't see her family very much, and while reading this book made me think of them, especially the children. The author talked about the "fake rich" lifestyle they had in China (with drivers and multiple nannies), and how the children would assimilate back in the US upon their return. An aspect I haven't thought of before. I guess since I have moved from Hong Kong, then to Australia, then to the US, you just learned to adopt the new culture. It also makes me wonder, if I ever get asked to work in China, would that make me an expat or not? 
    What I Learned:
    • Third Culture Kids (TCK) - "these children come from one culture, move with their parents to another, and end up feeling like they don't quite belong to either." Instead, they create a "Third Culture" and can most closely relate to others growing up in similar situations" (p161). I can identify with that... though I don't know if I should be 4th, 5th, or 6th culture kids lol.
    PS:
    • Upon finish this book, I thought I'd give it 4 Stars. After thinking about it, I wish it has gone into a bit more depth. I know this is book about the author's own experience, and does not represent all expat's experience, but it seemed it'd paint an unrealistic picture for others who are considering working in China because everything seemed too easy
    • After the book, I went to youtube to look for audio clips of the author's band, as it made me curious what their music was like! 
    Read this Author again?
    •  Yes, but it'd depend on the topic, as I am typically not interested in his type of music or basketball (his expertise areas)

    Quote:

    Home was wherever they were (wife and children) -- wherever we were -- and I understood that with a new clarity. (p77)

    "Everyone is concerned about being cheated by someone else, but it doesn't matter." This was a radial statement, which got to the heart of something I saw all the time in China; everyone lived in constant fear that they were being ripped off. (p128)

    "But the language is a bridge to the culture," he continued. "And the culture can stay with you forever." (p129)

    Overall Rating:
    3.5 Stars. Enjoyable and interesting read. Just wish it had a bit more depth. It just didn't inspire me as much as other memoir I had read.


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

    Book Review - People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks














    Title: People of the Book
    Author: Geraldine Brooks
    Year: 2008
    Page: 372
    Genre: Fiction - Historical

    FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated prayer book through centuries of war, destruction, theft, loss, and love.

    First Sentence:
    I might as well say, right from the jump: it wasn't my usual kind of job.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • My coworker recommended it, when another coworker and I were talking about books and she wanted some recommendations. I have heard of it before (positive) and thought it sounded intriguing - a bit of an adventure and solving puzzles. I have never read The DaVinci Code, but had watched the movie and like the genre. So thought this book might be similar.
    First thought:
    • Argh. 
    Cover Art:
    • Couldn't figure out what it was at first. Was it a butterfly? Was it a fish? Thought it could have been better.
    Title:
    • The title definitely sounded interesting, especially appealing to a reader!
    Writing:                          
    •   The beginning was engaging. But then it slowed and dragged on...
    • I found that I liked it better when the parts of the story were written first person. The parts written in third person... I ended up skimping parts of the book because those parts bored me. 

    Plot:
    • The book alternated between past and present. The parts about the past had different setting and time frame. They were supposed to provide the background of the book throughout its history at different point in time. Because of that, those parts also read like short stories, which I don't like reading. Thus the book seemed disjoint.
    Characters:
    • Felt indifferent about them... the part I liked best was probably the slang the main protagonist used - she was Australian, so every so often you saw Aussie slang like Woop Woop and Bloody. I lived in Australia for 13 years so I liked the familiarity (and made me miss my friends back home - though since I have lived in 3 countries, I am not quite sure where home is anymore).
    Ending:
    • Okay... almost uneventful for me. 
    Emotion:
    • Didn't feel much really... 
    What I Learned:
    • The most interesting part was probably about book conservation. I wished the story devoted a bit more to it
    PS:
    • I almost abandoned this book... but wanted to find out what happened so ended up skimping parts of it instead. Maybe if this was a movie I'd have liked it better.
    Read this Author again?
    • Maybe not... March, about the father of "Little Women" sounded kinda interesting, but I don't know if I'd get bored or not...

    Quote: 
    N/A

    Overall Rating:
    2 Stars. Not for me. Historical fiction is 50-50 for me. I am usually glad to learn something from history, but since it's usually a genre I am interested in, it has to be done in a very entertaining way to capture my attention.




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

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Book Review - Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt


     











    Title: Pictures of You 
    Author: Caroline Leavitt
    Year: 2011
    Page: 320
    Genre: Fiction

    FTC Disclosure: Free copy from the publisher Algonquin

    Summary (from goodreads.com):
    Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but also must go back and deal with the devastated husband and fragile, asthmatic son the other woman left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. By turns riveting and unsettling, Pictures of You looks at the choices women make-the roads they choose-to be loved.

    First Sentence:
    There's a hornet in the car.

    My Thoughts:

    Why this book?
    • I first heard about this book from a blog (where else? and sorry I forgot to mark down whose blog it was). I borrowed it from the library, but had to return it as someone else had reserved it before I had a chance to read. So when Gayle from Everyday I Write The Book chose this book as her February book club and that all participant would receive a free book from the publisher, I decided to join. I was drawn to this book because I am a photographer and one of the protagonists was a photographer. Jodi Picoult also gave a blurb, "magically written, heartbreakingly honest... Caroline Leavitt is one of those fabulous incisive writers you read and then ask yourself, Where has she been all my life?"  Now, I had only read 2 Picoult books - liked one a lot, and disliked the other one. But I thought I would still give it a try as I read lots of good reviews on blogsphere.
    First thought:
    • Disappointed. Definitely a character-driven novel, and not plot driven.
    Cover Art:
    • I didn't like it. I thought the wings on the camera looked cheesy. I understood why the camera and wings were chosen, but I just did not like the execution. Not a book I would've picked off the shelf based on its cover. 
    Title:
    • Better than the cover art
    Writing:
    • I finished this book in two (work) days, so the writing did draw me in and it was a fast read. 
    Plot:
    • Too much coincidences... but I guess sometimes even in real life there are some amazing coincidences that you just don't know how to explain other than "it's meant to be"... so they didn't me bother me too much. I guess in a fictional story they just seemed too convenient
    • There was a bit of a twist to the story (where April was driving to) but it wasn't overly shocking
    • I did like the ending because it could have gone into a different direction and I would dislike the book more if I did
    • Overall, I thought there wasn't enough of a plot for me, since it's a plot you could summarize in a few sentences... 
    Characters:
    • Felt indifferent about the characters, even the child, Sam... The best part I thought was that Sam thought Isabelle was an angel (kinda bittersweet)
    • Some of the characters weren't developed well or their stories were not explained fully... e.g. what happened when Sam found out the truth about Isabelle? How about Teddy - his sub-stories weren't finished... 
    • Charles were too selfish for me... April's behavior weren't well explained... and Isabelle the photographer... well I guess if I have to choose one character I liked the best it probably was her since she seemed to be the most developed, compared to others. I was disappointed about her photography though (a bit too cliche) 
    • I still don't understand why authors would choose the same name for different characters in a book when there are absolutely no reasons too (e.g. isn't a twist or have some hidden meaning etc.): one of the main protagonists was Charles, another protagonist's boss was Chuck.  The investigator was named Hank, as was someone Charles worked with...
      Ending:
      • I couldn't quite decide if the last chapter (almost like an epilogue) was necessary or not... in a way I liked things to feel "finish" (or have a resolution of sort) but on the other hand it was a bit abrupt.
      Emotion:
      • Unlike Picoult, I didn't find it that heartbreaking. Yes the premise is sad, but my heartstrings weren't pulled 
      What I Learned:
      • Once again it confirms my dislike to character-driven novels... 
      PS:
      • If you want to read what Galye's online book club readers thought of this book (I have to say mostly positive, which does not surprise me since I am usually in the minority), read the comments here

      Read this Author again?
      • Not sure if I would...
      Quote:
      "Sometimes you think you see things that aren't there," Charlie said quietly. "Sometimes you wish for them to be there so much, you believe that they are." (p232)

      Overall Rating:
      2 Stars. Not for me, but I know others would enjoy it (if you like character-driven stories.)



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