Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blog Tour and Review: Too Jewish by Patty Friedmann

First of all I would like to thank Dorothy from Pump Up Your Book tours for allowing me to be a part of this tour and experience this wonderful book!

Here is a summary of the book:

When young, brainy Bernie Cooper escapes the Nazis and ends up in New Orleans, he thinks at first that he’s landed softly, almost immediately finding love with Letty, not only a nice Jewish girl, but fifth-generation Southern upper crust. But suddenly, snobberies he couldn’t even have guessed at are set in motion. It seems Letty’s prominent Jewish parents hate him for being…too Jewish!  The book is divided into 3 novellas.

Word on the streets of Stuttgart and around the hilfsverein is that this is the last possible time for Jews to leave Germany. It is late August of 1939, and Bernie Kuper’s mother still refuses to leave with him. Given no choice, with deep pain he tells her goodbye. In America, the Army takes Bernie through New Orleans, where he meets Letty Adler, a wealthy Jewish girl with all the privileges and education the Nazis stripped from him in Germany. It does not take long for Letty’s parents to show their contempt for this young man who carries with him his observant religious practices, thick accent.

Letty’s parents sabotage their new son-in-law’s effort to create a business in New Orleans. So their lives are filled with financial hardship, with pulling against each other, of Bernie wanting to move to New York, of Letty wanting to stay in New Orleans to prove her parents wrong. They have a daughter, Darby, and life gets more complicated. When Darby has to be taken to Charity Hospital, the Adlers’ shame opens their pocketbook if not their hearts. When his mother-in-law offers Darby a trip to Europe, Bernie says, No Germany.

Mrs. Adler has lied. A stop that is not on the written itinerary is Bergen-Belsen. The slip of paper on which the fate of Bernie’s mother is written–”Oswiecim” (Auschwitz) is still in Darby’s suitcase when they return. Bernie finds it, and he finally, finally explodes.
When Darby’s non-Jewish best friend leaves for boarding school, her life is defined by loneliness at school and a schism at home. She excels academically, and when the popular Jewish girls befriend her to study with her, Mrs. Adler is delighted. But jealousy and meanness build to a tragic pitch, and in the end lead to the destruction of all Bernie and Letty have tried to hold together.

My Review:
This was such a wonderful story that draws on the events of WWII for one young man and blends it with his new life in New Orleans.  We follow Bernie's emotional journey after he narrowly escapes Nazi Germany for a better life, only to leave his mother behind to a destiny he could hardly fathom.  We see how the Holocaust effects Bernie and those that will become his support system in the United States.

Friedmann did a great job of breaking this story up into different sections of family members but still sharing the emotions of all that are involved.  As the story opens we see what life was like for Bernie in Nazi Germany as he struggles with the decision to leave the only place he has known as a home.  His mother is set in her ways and instructs Bernie to leave if that is what he desires, but she will stay behind because this phase of the war would certainly pass quickly.  She was confident that things would return to normal before too long.  When Bernie arrives in the United States he meets a friend living in New York and they embark on a business venture together.  Since it is a new business and Bernie needs to find a way to make money he decides to join the armed services.  He figures that he will eventually be able to help his mother by joining the Army.

The Army is what leads Bernie to New Orleans and to Letty.  Bernie seemed to me to be a pretty Orthodox Jew as he recited Hebrew in the Temple, tried to follow a kosher diet (not always easy in the army), and always followed the rituals of the Sabbath Day.  Meeting Letty and some other Jewish folks in New Orleans was quite a rude awakening as to how these people were living.  I mean what Jewish mother in her right mind would serve pork for dinner?

Letty is a sweet girl that seems to be fully controlled by her parents.  Bernie definitely throws off the entire plan that they have for her by winning her heart.  As Bernie gives Letty a desire to live her life for herself rather than depending upon them for every need.  When Bernie and Letty decide to start a life together they decide to stay in New Orleans, which happens to keep them under her parents umbrella.  This is very frustrating for the young family as Letty's parents seem to find ways to keep them dependent on the finances they have available.

Letty's parents do not seem to realize how deeply the Holocaust has effected Bernie.  As their lives go, on all Letty can do is watch his health decline as he inwardly punishes himself for not being able to do more for his loved ones that he left in Germany.  She is in a continuous battle with her parents to try to prove that Bernie is a good man that will take care of their needs sufficiently.

When Letty gives birth to Darby that just seems to be the final anchor that her parents need to be able to control their lives.  We see Darby's own struggles as her father tries to instill his Jewish traditions within her while Letty's parents are just trying to forget all of the rituals that go with their religion.  They do have a very special father/daughter relationship as Bernie seems to be able to relate to Darby in such an honest way.

This was such a sad story as we watch what is like for Bernie to adapt to life in the United States while knowing what is happening to his loved ones in Germany.  It would have been nice if his new in-laws understood Bernie's pain and accepted him lovingly into their family.  This made for a tremendous amount of familial controversy, which was really hard for me to comprehend how people can be so selfish.  With themes of the Holocaust, family, honor, and traditions, I found this to be an enjoyable but yet heart-wrenching book.  I urge you to check out this trailer to see exactly what drove Patty Friedmann to write this book.  After watching the trailer I feel like this story is even more significant to me.  I believe that this book was written for the enjoyment of the Young Adult audience, but really any age group can learn from these pages.

My Rating:  4/5

Disclosure:  This e-book was provided to me by Dorothy from Pump Up Your Book Tours. in exchange for an honest review.

You can check out more great book reviews over at Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Winner of the Blood Trust Giveaway!

First of all I would like to apologize for posting this winner so late...I know I should have done it two weeks ago!  Life just has a tendency to get in the way for me a lot lately!

Anyway, without further delay, the winner of both Blood Trust and First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader is........
Congratulations!  I will be emailing you shortly to get your mailing information so these books can get out to you as soon as possible!  Thanks to everyone for stopping by and entering the contest and stay tuned as there is another one I will be posting within the next week!

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Are You Reading?

Sheila over at Book Journey hosts this meme that gives you the opportunity to share the books that you have been losing yourself in lately and also the ones that you are looking forward to picking up next.

Here is what I recently finished.
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson was a very strange book.  I have been hesitating on writing the review as it has been difficult for me to gather my thoughts with this novel.  I did enjoy Bryson's writing though!

I am currently reading on my Kindle:
I'm really enjoying Too Jewish by Patty Friedmann and that's all I'm going to say about this book for now as I will be posting my review for a blog tour on Wednesday!  So stop back and check out what my thoughts are on this novel.

And what's next?  Well since I really meant to read Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore last time but had to fit in Too Jewish for the blog tour, I think I will get this one read next.
So how about you?  What has been keeping you busy during your down time...if you have down time that is!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday-June22

Bermudaonion asks you to share new words that you have learned during your reading adventures in the last week. Feel free to join in the fun!

About the only time I have had to read lately is during my lunchhour, so my words are again from the Advanced Readers Edition of The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson:

Predilections: a tendency to think favorably of something in particular; partiality.

Here is how predilections was used on page 82:
But his friends had already abandoned him for other exhibits, one examining the comely portrait of the Prince of Wales's mistress, Mary Darcy Robinson, that hung along the wall, the other leafing through a copy of her novel, Vancenza, the Dangers of Credulity, a gothic romance full of references to the prince's sexual predilections.

Peregrines: foreign; alien; coming from abroad.
wandering, traveling, or migrating.
Here is how peregrines was used on pages 102-103:
He stood six feet tall, his shaved skull covered in tattoos of vultures and flying peregrines.

Truculence:  defiantly aggressive, sullen, or obstreperous.
Here is how truculence was used on page 164:
Alley answered their questions with his usual truculence, and when asked to show his hands, opened his palms upward as passively as everyone else, but the younger of the two cops, broad across the shoulders and bowlegged, didn't seem to like his answers.

I finished up with this book last week but I still wanted to post these words today.  I must admit that I have conflicted feelings about this book.  I'm trying to figure out my best approach for a review as I loved the writing but the story was a bit odd to me.  Any new words for you this week?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Post: Confessions of a Serial Plant Killer by Wendy Wax

I would like to give a warm welcome to Wendy Wax today, the author of Ten Beach Road as she shares with all of us her personal struggles with gardening!  I can't help but love this guest post as I join her in what I call having a 'brown thumb' rather than a 'green thumb'.

Confessions of a Serial Plant Killer
Wendy Wax

One day I want to ‘garden.’ I will have a green thumb. In the sort of magical realism that’s so popular now, flowers will bloom as I walk by. Perennials will be…perennial. Nothing will wilt or die.

I’d like for ‘one day’ to come soon, because at the moment my yard is a place where only the strong survive. This forces me to choose plants and flowers with a will to live. The kind that can handle erratic to nonexistent watering without throwing in the towel. I’m on the lookout for the ‘peasant’ sort of plants that can drop a pod or a seed and reproduce on the spot, without relying on me to feed and fertilize it.

It seems unfair that someone who loves fresh flowers and a rainbow hued garden as much as I do was born with such a brown thumb. Nothing makes me happier than a bouquet or vase of fresh flowers. An arrangement or centerpiece delivered to the door is a total day-brightener. The time I won ‘yard of the month’ in our neighborhood was thrilling, and I did my best to ignore the fact that the honor had already been bestowed on every other lawn in the neighborhood multiple times.

I’ve tried to overcome my lack of green-thumbness, but I remain a serial plant killer. Each time something dies in my yard or in the house, I vow to do better. But I can’t seem to stop the slaughter.

I tell you all of this so that you’ll understand the thread of panic I felt when I realized that Ten Beach Road, my new novel about three strangers who lose their life savings in a Ponzi scheme and are left with only co-ownership in a dilapidated beachfront mansion, was going to require some knowledge of gardening. In my story, the once fabulous home that characters Madeline Singer, Avery Lawford and Nicole Grant spend a sweat soaked summer nursing back to life, is a Mediterranean Revival style mansion named Bella Flora (Yes! It means ‘beautiful flower!’) This meant I was going to have to have at least some idea of what might be planted on its grounds, not to mention the ability to describe it.

As I often do when in search of information, I threw myself on the mercy of my gardening friends as well as the kindness of strangers. One friend, to whom I will be forever grateful, came with me to view the piece of land where I planned to place the fictional Bella Flora. Together, we mentally moved the condo building that stands there (it was heavy!) to make way for the very special house that had already taken shape in my imagination.

We studied Bella Flora’s situation between the Gulf of Mexico and the bay (it commands a very real and spectacular view) and she patiently explained to me what might have been planted at the time the house was built in the 1920s and what would look good where. We talked about the walls that might surround the front garden, its fountain, how it would lead to the front steps and the home’s columned arcade. I wanted the garden just as derelict and dilapidated as the house it surrounded—a jungle that would make Nicole wish for a machete the first time she saw it.

I sketched out where things would go and over the next weeks my friend sent long emails describing the grounds as she envisioned them and referring me to photos when I was unable to picture the plants, trees and flowers she suggested.

As a result of her input, a Reclinada Palm in the backyard features prominently in the story and Bella Flora’s grounds boast triple hibiscus, birds of paradise, frangiapani, bougainvillea and confederate jasmine. I was so grateful that I not only thanked her in the acknowledgments, I gave the fictional head of the fictional local garden club her name.

Each book presents a host of things that need to be researched and understood. The garden and grounds at Ten Beach Road weren’t quite as hard to understand as the countless details necessary to make the renovation of Bella Flora believable (another challenging bit of research for someone who belongs to a family that can’t use tools without requiring medical attention) but in the end, I learned what I needed to know.

Although I don’t expect to be winning yard of the month again anytime soon, I’m really pleased with Bella Flora and the gardens and grounds that were brought back to life along with her. The next best thing to having a green thumb is having a good friend who does.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today Wendy!   I would also love to have a green thumb, but my plants never come out good in the end.  Since we have such a short growing season here in Northern Wisconsin I really don't have much time to practice either!  I am finding it easier to just put flowers in pots as I just need to water them for them to survive...and hope that the deer won't eat them also! 

If you are interested in other books that Wendy has available or are just interested in finding out more information about this author you can view her website here.

Audiobook Review: When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

Here is a summary of the book from Kate Atkinson's website:

In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison.

In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried.

Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend -- Jackson Brodie -- himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

My Review:
This was an audiobook that started out with a punch as it details a crime that is witnessed by young Joanna.  After the unfortunate incident the book fast forwards to the life of an adult Dr. Joanna Hunter, who for some reason appears to be missing.  But is she really missing, or is she just visiting a sick aunt as this is what her husband is telling people.

As indicated in the summary, Reggie is a 16 year old girl that works for Dr. Hunter.  I must admit that I really was under the impression that Reggie was much younger than this as I was listening to the book.  I was thinking that she was maybe 11 or 12 years old, just from the odd jobs that Dr. Hunter hired her to do and from how she came up with her conclusions.  She didn't seem to get along with or trust Dr. Hunter's husband, so she finds it curious when he tells her that Dr. Hunter went to visit her aunt.  After a little bit of investigating she decides that Dr. Hunter never would have left town in the manner that it appears she did.

Jackson Brody is an interesting character that has found himself involved in various police investigations throughout his career.  He is intrigued although a bit skeptical when young Reggie decides to report Dr. Hunter as a missing person.  Why would a babysitter be reporting her as missing rather than her husband?

All events seem to come full circle in this novel.  Is someone trying to finish off the job of Joanna Hunter that was left incomplete from years ago, or is her disappearance revolving around a new set of circumstances?  She possibly could have just went to visit a sick aunt.  This book does leave you wondering, stringing you along until the very end.  Ellen Archer is the narrator of this novel and for some reason I just did not find myself immersed in her voice and the story.  This was an interesting story, but as an audiobook it did fall a bit short for me.

My Rating:  3/5

Disclosure:  I borrowed this book from my local library and listened to it for my own entertainment.

You can check out more great reviews over at Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blog Tour and Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Thanks again to Trish from TLC Book Tours for introducing this novel to me that has a dark secret that I think will resonate with all of us as human beings.  Here is a summary of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter from the Harper Collins website:

The Edgar Award-winning author returns with his most accomplished and resonant novel so far—an atmospheric drama set in rural Mississippi. In the late 1970s, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town. 

More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they've buried and ignored for decades.

My Review:
When I first heard about this book I kind of pushed the thought of it to the back of my mind thinking that it just wasn't the type of book that I usually read, let alone enjoy.  I can't tell you how pleased I am that I took a chance on this one as it was such a thought provoking novel that will leave you questioning your own decisions and actions that you have made throughout your life.

Silas Jones is now the constable in the small Mississippi town where he was raised by his mother twenty years ago.  The first summer after his arrival in Mississippi he was befriended by young Larry Ott.  Since Silas was an African American he couldn't figure out  why a nice white boy would want anything to do with him.  After the school year begins and Silas starts to participate in various school activities and meet new kids, he realizes that Larry is a social outcast within the school crowd.  Silas makes decisions that will separate him from Larry so he will be able to fit in without any problems.

As a young boy Larry was very quiet and kept to himself.  He enjoyed reading his comic books and trying to duplicate them with paper and pen.  His mother prayed every night that Larry would find a friend to keep him company so he finally thinks that her prayers were answered when Silas comes into his life.  When his mother forbids him to play with Silas he just finds excuses to sneak out of the house and play with him anyway.

By the time Silas and Larry are in high school they are both living in different social circles.  Silas has a bright future ahead of him and is being watched by college baseball scouts, while anyone caught with Larry would be committing social suicide.  Things will only get worse for Larry as events unfold.

Cindy is a beautiful neighbor that Larry has been infatuated with his whole life.  When Cindy suddenly disappears and it becomes known that Larry is the last one to be seen with her, all suspicions are cast on him.  Although they were never able to charge Larry with a crime, he lives the remainder of his life as an outcast as the society basically judged and convicted him with their actions.  Larry always claimed his innocence, but was never believed by his neighbors.

As girls start to go missing once again, all eyes are cast on Larry, thinking that he was back to his old tricks.  Silas finds himself helping to solve this case as he is the constable.  He remembers the Larry that befriended him all those years ago and knows that the Larry he knows could never do such a thing.  As he searches for clues to find the real killer, little does he know that he will uncover secrets that will link him to Larry for the rest of their lives.

This really was a great story with themes of friendship, secrets, and absolution.  I couldn't help but think of when I was a young gal trying to fit in and shunning other people in the school that obviously needed a friend.  I think that many of us have done this at one time or another and it really is a humbling experience to admit that.  I think this book would be great to read for personal fulfillment or even as a book club selection as it would have some great discussion points.

My Rating:  5/5

Disclosure:  This book was provided to me by the publisher to participate in this blog tour and share an honest review.

What Are You Reading?

Sheila over at Book Journey hosts this meme that gives you the opportunity to share the books that you have been losing yourself in lately and also the ones that you are looking forward to picking up next.

Here is what I finished reading last week:
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein was our last book club selection and although I won't be posting my review for a few weeks, I can tell you that this book was loved by my entire group.  Who couldn't help but fall in love with Enzo?

 What I'm reading now:

Since I got caught up on my reading for the blog tour I was able to get back to The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno.  This a very interesting book that I've been enjoying so far.

What's next?
I'm not positive about this one, but I'm leaning towards Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore.  I'm going to try to leave my summer open to allow more time for leisure reading so this selection may change!

How about you?  What has been keeping you busy lately?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair

Here is a summary of the book from the Hachette website:

The redemptive journey of a young woman unsure of her engagement, who revisits in memory the events of one scorching childhood summer when her beautiful yet troubled mother spirits her away from her home to an Indian village untouched by time, where she discovers in the jungle behind her ancestral house a spellbinding garden that harbors a terrifying secret. 

My Review:
If you have read any of my reviews in the past you must know by now that I absolutely love books that give me a taste of another culture...throw a young gal into the mix who is in the midst of life changes and I am hooked!  We learn about Rakhee's life changing summer in India as she reflects upon that time before making a very important decision that will impact the rest of her life.

As a young girl Rakhee is an only child living with her parents in Plainfield, Minnesota.  Both of her parents moved to the U.S. from India at a very young age and seemed to have established a comfortable life for their young family.  Amma (Rakhee's mother) immerses herself in creating the most beautiful garden in the area, while her father, Aba, spends most of his time at the scientific lab where he is employed.  Amma has had her problems with depression in the past, but she seems to be falling deeper into that realm once again when envelopes start arriving in the mail that are addressed from India.  After Amma receives a few of these envelopes she decides that she will take Rakhee to her family home in India for the summer.

It is a new world and culture that Rakhee discovers in India and she embraces the family that she has never met before.  Her mother's sisters and brother all live under one roof in a very large estate.  She learns that her family is both respected and apparently well-off since her grandfather started a hospital in the area that specialized in ayurvedic treatments.  Although her grandfather is no longer alive, family members have continued his work in the hospital.

I really believe that we as women take so much for granted in this wonderful country that we live in.  Rakhee is shown the some of these differences in the everyday life that is led in India.   From women not having choices in arranged marriages to not being able to step into the holy temples, things are very different, and Rakhee finds herself yearning for her father and her life back in Minnesota.

Rakhee does embrace her new cousins though, as they spend time together every day, they come to be the sisters that she never had.  When her cousins must study in the afternoons Rakhee has spare time on her hands and decides to venture out into the forbidden woods to see what is so scary.  What she finds isn't scary at all, but one of the most beautiful places she has ever seen.  Little does she know that this beautiful place will change her life forever.

I don't want to give away any more of this book but I can tell you that I really enjoyed it.  With themes of family secrets, loyalty, and Indian culture, this is a great book to read for either personal leisure or as a book club selection.  I don't hesitate in recommending this book.

My Rating:  4/5

Disclosure:  This e-book was provided to me from the publisher through the Net Galley program.

About Author

Kamala Nair was born in London and grew up in the United States. A graduate of Wellesley College, she studied literature at Oxford University and received an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2005. She currently lives in New York City, where she has worked at ELLE DECOR.

Audio and Video

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday-June 1

Bermudaonion asks you to share new words that you have learned during your reading adventures in the last week. Feel free to join in the fun!

I've been able to get back to reading The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson and here is the new word that I learned while reading it:

Erudite:  characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly.

Here is how erudite was used on page 30 of the Advanced Reader's Edition:
When I'd first come to the Museum, my act was a bit more erudite.

So did you learn any new words this last week?