Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review: Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Here is a summary of Dreams of Joy from Lisa See's website:

In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in DREAMS OF JOY, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. 

Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime and the Great Leap Forward. 

Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives. 

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love. 

My Review:
Lisa See continues to amaze me in her novels that are always so rich and honest within the culture and time that she writes about.  Although Dreams of Joy is a sequel to Shanghai Girls, I do not think that you need to read Shanghai Girls to understand and comprehend this beautiful novel.  If you missed my review of Shanghai Girls you can still view it here.

Dreams of Joy opens after family secrets are finally revealed to Joy at the end of Shanghai Girls.  Joy feels that the life she has been living is a lie so she sets out to China to find her true self.  Chairman Mao has just taken over China and is implementing new laws and regulations that will make the country a better place for all to live.  Joy believes in Chairman Mao's politics and is very excited to be able to help with the rebuilding of China.

When Joy gets to China, it doesn't take her long to find Z.G., the artist who long ago painted her mother and aunt for the widely known Beautiful Girls posters.   Z.G. is really unsure as to what Joy expects from him so he decides to take him with her to the countryside where he is to embark on a political campaign to teach artwork to peasants.

While Joy is fullfilling her dream by helping to rebuild China in the countryside, she finds herself falling in love with a young artist who is a resident of the village where she and Z.G. are staying.  As her relationship with Tao grows, Joy has no idea how this young love will affect her future.  Her life changes in a way that she could never imagine.  

Lisa See gives us a vivid picture of what it was like for all involved during the birth of communism in China.  It is sad to think of all of the resources that were wasted during this time when they would perform their Sputniks as a way to prove that they could produce mass quantities of work in short periods of time.  The quality and final outcome were never considered during these projects, only the amount of work completed.  Many crops were left to spoil from the Sputniks, which only helped to increase the famine that would spread throughout the country.  This was a devastating part of the novel for me as I really had limited knowledge of this time period in China.

Pearl has more of an appearance in this novel than May does, as Pearl follows Joy to China to hopefully bring her back home to the United States.  When Pearl discovers a new China that is not very friendly to her she finds her way back to her family home in Shanghai where she is welcomed with open arms.  Although many items in the home are now gone, her bedroom was just as she left it.  It is during this time in Shanghai that Pearl comes to terms with the decisions that she has made in her life.  By letting go of past hurts, Pearl is able to open herself up to a future filled with happiness.

I think you can tell that I absolutely loved this novel that includes themes of communism, love, forgiveness, and sisterly bonds.  I highly recommend this novel as either a book club selection or for personal leisure.

My Rating:  5/5

Disclosure:  This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teaser Tuesday-July 26

Check out Teaser Tuesdays from Should Be Reading.  TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

Grab your current read.

Let the book fall open to a random page.

Share with us two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

This week my teaser is from Lamb Bright Saviors by Robert Vivian:
They don't see the black eyes of the Iraqi girl who looked like my niece Frieda, going into shock after I shot her during a raid.  Don't dream me no American Dream, man, cause you can't have the dream without the nightmare.

pg. 56

Monday, July 25, 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 finished last week:
Dreams of Joy was another fabulous novel by Lisa See!  I would like to post my review of this amazing novel this week, but we will see if I can arrange my thoughts in a way that will only serve justice to this piece of work.

And then I decided to sneak this smaller novel into my schedule:

I was asked to review Lamb Bright Saviors by Robert Vivian over a year ago but just have been unable to squeeze it into my reading schedule.  Since it is a smaller book I decided to delve into this one before I start our summer book club selection.

And next, for our summer book club selection I will be finally reading:

I know that I meant to start reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett last week, but I changed my mind, and I have a right to do that!  I am definitely looking forward to the movie adaptation of this one!

So how about you?  What kind of reading has been keeping you busy lately?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Here is a summary of the book from the Garth Stein's website:

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side.

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human only a dog could tell it.

My Review:
I absolutely loved this book that gives a glimpse into Enzo's world as he reflects upon his life with his family.  Enzo starts his story when his master Denny first picks him out of a litter of pups to go and live with him.  We go through the ups and downs of both Enzo's and Denny's lives as he goes through his personal memories.

Enzo and Denny start out as quite a carefree pair, as Denny is a bachelor that only has Enzo to care for.  Enzo watches things change quickly as Eve enters the picture and he sees the two of them fall in love.  Enzo is a smart dog though, so even though he is a bit jealous, he also sees how happy Denny is with her.  Enzo accepts Eve into their family but doesn't allow himself to get too close to her for quite some time.

Just when Enzo thinks that he is now accustomed to this new life with Eve, they bring home Zoe, an addition to the family!  Zoe's innocence is apparent to Enzo so he easily welcomes her into their home and is eager to become her playmate.

When the family is burdened by a crisis many members of the family turn to Enzo for comfort and strength.  Enzo takes care of his family in the best way that he can.  He watches them all struggle in their own ways and each of them tells him things that they wouldn't tell anyone else.  He really becomes a keeper of secrets and if only he could talk he would share his words of wisdom with them all.

One of my favorite parts of the book was that Enzo really believed that he would come back as a man after he passed away.  After watching a documentary on television he believed this is what happened to exceptional dogs, if they were ready for the challenge.  Of course, since Enzo believed that he already thought like a human it was only obvious that he would become one.

I just discussed this book with my book club a couple of weeks ago and we all absolutely loved it!  It made for a great discussion and it was even an added bonus that we had a new puppy in our household to help us get in the mood for the story!  With themes of love, honor, family, and dogs of course, this book has something to offer for various types of readers.  I highly recommend this novel for leisure reading or a book club discussion.

My Rating:  5/5

Disclosure:  This book was from my personal library and I read it for my own entertainment and as a book club selection.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Current Giveaways!!!

I really haven't had much opportunity to enter many giveaways lately, but these are a few that I didn't want to let sneak by!  Maybe a few of these will interest you also:

Bermudaonion is giving away Outside Wonderland by Lorna Jane Cook--Contest ends 7/24.

So Many Precious Books, So Little Time is giving away The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff--Contest ends 7/29.

A Bookworm's World  is giving away Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens--Contest ends 7/31.

Bookin' With Bingo is giving away the audiobook Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews--Contest ends 8/3.

Take care everyone and good luck!  Don't forget to check out my contest for Night Train by Clyde can check the link out on my sidebar.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mailbox Monday-July 18

Mailbox Monday isa great meme that has us list the books that we receive.  Different bloggers now have the opportunity to host this meme for a month at a time. This month the host is A Sea of Books so head on over there to see what everyone else received or to play along!

I haven't received too much at all in my mailbox lately so I was pleasantly surprised when this arrived:
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

And then our local library runs a used book store called the Book Nook and I picked this up from there:

So those are the new items that came into my home this about you? 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

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

Great literary crime detectives aren’t always born; they’re sometimes discovered, blindfolded and tied up in a dark closet by their nasty older sisters. Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce’s bitter home life and vicious sibling war inspires her solitary diversions and “strange talents” tinkering with the chemistry set in the laboratory of their inherited Victorian house, plotting sleuth-like vengeance on Ophelia (17) and Daphne (13), and delving into the forbidden past of her taciturn, widowed father, Colonel de Luce. It comes as no surprise, then, that the material for her next scientific investigation will be the mysterious corpse that she uncovers in the cucumber patch. 

Fearless and darkly imaginative, Flavia hurries to solve the murder and acquit her father of suspicion. Following the lead of its clever protagonist, Sweetness is entirely inventive, fast-paced, and quick-witted, with tongue-in-cheek humour that derides the macabre seriousness of subject.

Alan Bradley plants the story deep into the setting of 1950s England, with a portrait of an eccentric home life that is all too wickedly familiar. The story’s twists are supported by the time and place as well as the unusual interests of the characters which range from stamp-collecting to making poisons all of which are highly researched and ingeniously incorporated.

My Review:
I have read some very interesting reviews of this book, but it had been so long after reading reviews that I really did not know what to expect with this novel.  It was a quite an enjoyable audiobook and the narration by Jayne Entwistle made it even more enjoyable!  I am glad that I didn't realize that this book is actually the first in a series as I have been trying to stay away from getting caught up in new series.  I will probably follow this one through audiobooks so that should be fun!

Flavia de Luce is a fascinating eleven year old girl who also happens to be our little heroine.  She finds herself fascinated by chemistry, but especially poisons, and you catch glimpses of this obsession throughout the novel as she thinks of ways to experiment on her sisters.

Flavia finds a new way to occupy her time after stumbling upon a dead body in the garden.  She is surprised when she realizes that the dead body is someone that she heard arguing with her father in the study the evening before.  She can't help but launch her own investigation to find out who exactly killed the mysterious man found in the garden.

It is understandable that Flavia would think that her father is the main suspect, considering the argument that she overheard.  After her father explains to her how he knew the man who is now a corpse, she gets to know a side of her father that she has never seen before.  He opens up to her in a way that makes her realize that he could never commit a crime of this magnitude.

This was a delightful mystery that takes us back to 1950's England and gives us a glimpse into a conspiracy that was created revolving around some very rare postage stamps.  I loved this novel that was told from young Flavia's perspective as her life, energy and humor resonated throughout.  I do not hesitate in recommending this novel as an audiobook to listen to.

My Rating:  4/5

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Teaser Tuesday-July 12

Check out Teaser Tuesdays from Should Be Reading.  TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

Grab your current read.

Let the book fall open to a random page.

Share with us two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Since I am still reading Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, that is where my teaser is from again this week:
Tell me where you're from.  I ask because in a few days I'm having the Central Committee issue a new and stricter law-Halting Outfow from the Villages-to keep all peasants from coming to the cities.

pg. 132
***Please note that this is from an Advanced Reading Copy so the final printing may change.

What a fascinating novel this is so far!

Monday, July 11, 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.

So here is what I finished on my Kindle:
 Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore was an interesting novel that through present day events took us back to a dark time in Mississippi as a young lady goes about trying to open and an unsolved murder case.  Watch for my review of this one soon!

Here is what I'm reading now:
I don't hesitate in announcing that Lisa See is one of my favorite authors!  I devoured Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy is so interesting as we get a look at how communism was implemented in China.  I can't wait to share my review of this awesome story!

And what's next?
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is my summer book club pick so I may start this one next...or maybe try to sneak another one in first.  I guess we will see what happens!

Well it is looking to be a beautiful day here in Northern Wisconsin and since I have the day off I plan on doing some errands and then hanging out in my favorite place at home.  Sitting on my deck reading a book!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Giveaway: Night Train by Clyde Edgerton

Thanks to Anna from Hachette I am able to give away up to 3 copies of this book that will be available to purchase on July 25th!  Here is a summary of Night Train from the Hachette website:

In 1963, at the age of 17, Dwayne Hallston discovers James Brown and wants to perform just like him. His band, the Amazing Rumblers, studies and rehearses Brown's Live at the Apollo album in the storage room of his father's shop in their small North Carolina town. Meanwhile, Dwayne's forbidden black friend Larry--aspiring to play piano like Thelonius Monk--apprentices to a jazz musician called the Bleeder. His mother hopes music will allow him to escape the South.

A dancing chicken and a mutual passion for music help Dwayne and Larry as they try to achieve their dreams and maintain their friendship, even while their world says both are impossible. In THE NIGHT TRAIN, Edgerton's trademark humor reminds us of our divided national history and the way music has helped bring us together.

Now for the giveaway!
I will be giving away one book for every 10 entries with a maximum of three books to give away.

Winners will be subject to the one copy per household, which means if you win the same title on another blog you will receive only one copy of the title.

To enter this contest you must be at least 18 and live in the U.S. or Canada. No PO Boxes please.

For one entry leave me a comment including your email address below.

For two additional entries, blog about this contest or add the link to your sidebar.

Please include your email so I will have a way to contact you if you win. Use a spam-thwarting format such as myemail.address AT gmail DOT com or myemail.address [at] gmail [dot] com.

You will have until July 30th to enter and I will draw for winners on or after July 31st.

**This giveaway is closed.**

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti

Here is a summary of They Almost Always Come Home from the Abingdon Press website:

When Libby’s husband Greg fails to return from a two-week canoe trip to the Canadian wilderness, the authorities soon write off his disappearance as an unhappy husband’s escape from an empty marriage and unrewarding career. Their marriage might have survived if their daughter Lacey hadn’t died…and if Greg hadn’t been responsible. Libby enlists the aid of her wilderness savvy father-in-law and her faith-walking best friend to help her search for clues to her husband’s disappearance…if for no other reason than to free her to move on. What the trio discovers in the search upends Libby’s presumptions about her husband and rearranges her faith.

My Review:
This is a book that I know I would not have chosen to read on my own because I had never even heard of it, and I still haven't seen it out there in the land of books when I am scouring bookstores.  This was chosen as a book club selection because one of our members met the author who was staying at a local bed and breakfast, which is actually featured in the novel.  This book received quite an array of mixed opinions from our group but lets see if I can sum up my thoughts of the story.

Greg and Libby are a couple that seem to have grown apart from each other after the death of their daughter.  Greg has always been an outdoor adventurer enjoying camping, fishing, hiking, and boating, and when he doesn't return from his first solo trip in Canada, Libby doesn't know whether to think that he has decided to leave her or maybe he became seriously injured.  After much contemplation and prayer she decides to search for her husband, enlisting the help of her best friend, Jen, and her father-in-law.

Greg's dad knows the route that he was planning on taking so they venture out with a couple of canoes and backpacks filled with the basic necessities.  This was an interesting part of the book for me as I couldn't help but think that I would just die out there in the wilderness.  The weather had such extreme differences from freezing one day and then the next you could be sweating.  Then you also had to make sure that the food your brought along could fit in your packs but still be enough to get you through the time you will be gone.  Oh, my goodness!

As they are searching for Greg, Libby has the opportunity to reflect on her marriage and revisit some of the differences that they have had over the past few years.  Libby wasn't exactly a likeable character but as she re-evaluates her life and marriage I couldn't help but let my heart go out to her.  We watch Libby along her journey as not only her faith in her husband is restored, but also her faith in the Lord as she struggles to continue the search.

I guess I wasn't really sure what I thought of Ruchti's writing style.  Many times throughout the book as Libby was thinking about possible outcomes she would carry on whole conversations in her head that really did not appeal to me.  I understand that this is just human instinct to consider possibilities but I thought that it was a bit extreme within the context of the novel.  There was also something about Libby's friend Jen that came to light later in the novel that made her participation in the search a bit unrealistic to me.

As I mentioned earlier I really did not enjoy Libby's character, but I did appreciate how the second half of the book gave us a chance to learn more about Greg as it introduced his side of the story.  We learn about his hurts and fears over the last couple of years since he lost his daughter, and what prevented him from returning home.  I don't want to give away any more of this story as many of you may find much more enjoyment from it than I did.  I have read Christian fiction in the past that I have found very enjoyable but this one was just ok for me.  If you have a lot of Christian ladies in your book club you may want to consider this novel as many of the gals in my group enjoyed this one immensely and it did make for an interesting discussion.

My Rating:  3/5

Disclosure:  This book was from my personal collection and I read it for my own entertainment as a book club selection.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teaser Tuesday-July 5

Check out Teaser Tuesdays from Should Be Reading.  TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

Grab your current read.

Let the book fall open to a random page.

Share with us two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

This week my teaser is from Dreams of Joy by Lisa See:
He takes half of my dollars and pockets them.  I'm glad I have most of my money in my underwear, but this kind of corruption is not at all what I expected and it's very disappointing.

pg. 17
***Please note that this is from an Advanced Reading Copy so the final printing may change.