Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Before I Go To Slee[Before I Go To Sleep, or as Hubby said, “50 First Dates meets Memento” was a thrilling and gripping book.  (Thank to Lisa from Books On The Brain and TLC Book Tours for “telling” me to read it NOW.) It’s also the first book I have finished since last spring.  It was just what I needed!

Before I Go To Sleep is the tragic but somehow realistic story about Christine, a woman suffering from extreme amnesia.  Watson is clever with her storytelling and introduction to her main character.  Christine has suffered from a debilitating amnesia that wipes her short-term memory clean every night when she goes into a deep sleep.  This has been going on for twenty years!  She wakes not knowing who she is, who the man is in the bed next to her, not even how old she is.  She wakes some mornings thinking she is still a child and sometimes no older than her mid-twenties.  It’s a shocking moment, repeated every morning in the bathroom mirror’s reflection, when she sees a forty-seven year old woman, wrinkles, cellulite and all when she expects to see someone at the beginning of life.

The cleverness I mentioned is how Christine starts keeping a journal to document her daily discoveries.  At the suggestion of a doctor who wants to help her, but also study her and write a medical paper about her situation, Christine is able to wake, receive a phone call from this doctor who reminds her where she keeps her journal, and then read her own words and learn about what her life has become and what it was.  She is told she loves her husband but is also warned of things that scare her.

Before I Go To Sleep had me fearful for Christine and second guessing things in her journal.  Unfortunately I started having a hunch of what the twist could be early on in the book, but I continued to second guess myself which was fun.  I don’t like predictability in books.  I want to be surprised, learn something new and be thoroughly entertained.  This book brought all three of these things to me for the most part.

I learned that a film adaptation of the book is in pre-production.  I hope it makes it to the big screen because, if done well, it could be a hit.  Nicole Kidman is slated to play the role of Christine.  Okay, well Nicole, let’s see what you could do with this character.  It could be great!

{5 out of 5 stars (4 stars for the twist at the end alone)}

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Summary ~ Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: An awe-inspiring, often hilarious, and unerringly honest story of one mother’s exercise in extreme parenting, revealing the rewards-and the costs-of raising her children the Chinese way.

 

After reading The Glass Castle for my book club’s March selection I felt the intense need to read a book from the opposite end of the parenting spectrum.  I found what I needed ten fold in Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The following quote is what I wrote in my Goodreads.com status update about half way through the book. 

  “I’m liking this book so far. Some of it parallels my upbringing and makes me think that not all Western parents are as easy going as she thinks. At least mine weren’t when it came to some things. Piano lessons, practicing, voice lessons, grades and strict parenting were all a way of life in the Brandt house. Though we were “spoiled” on some levels rules were always enforced and fights ensued as in this book.”

For the most part I related to aspects of daughters Sophia and Lulu as well as Amy and her husband Jed.  Amy comes from Chinese immigrant parents (I do not) who raised their daughters with iron fists and did not give in to their Western surroundings and ideas.  Amy strived to do the same for her and Jed’s daughters but soon discovered that it wasn’t going to go as smoothly as things seemed to have gone for her parents.  (I have to say that I find it curious that a woman who aimed to be the quintessential “Tiger Mother” and raise her daughters in the “Chinese-way” married a white, Jewish American.  Just sayin’.)

I did not find myself gasping as I read about the rules, punishments and screaming Amy parented her daughters with.  This book came out in late January 2011 and I found it amusing that Amy Chua got so much negative press in the news for her book.  I was raised in a strict household and remember many times where I “hated” my parents because they prohibited me from doing what I wanted but in hindsight I was spoiled rotten and the things they did not allow me to do were in my best interest.  Due to my observations as a non-parent of parents I think that I probably had it better than those parents children because of the rules upheld in my home that I don’t see followed or even placed in theirs.  Now I’m sounding a bit like Amy.  Sorry.

I felt that the writing in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was good.  It wasn’t as narrative as The Glass Castle which read so smoothly and unbelievably that I felt I was reading fiction most of the time.  It was however very much a memoir and made me feel like I was watching home movies of this family.  The fighting described by Amy to get her youngest and most rebellious daughter to practice her violin were very uncomfortable to read yet brought me back to my youth as a piano student.  I took piano lessons for six years starting in first grade.  I had a natural ear when it came to singing and the piano and at age four I plucked out the tune of “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”.  As soon as I did my mom announced to my dad that she would be starting me in piano lessons in first grade.  I did well and progressed quickly but soon it wasn’t fun anymore.  I remember my mom yelling from the kitchen, “That’s not your lesson piece!  You have to practice your lessons before you can play for fun.”  She knew the difference in songs because she sat in the waiting room outside my classroom every week and listened to my teacher instruct me on the pieces I was working on at the time.  Mom even went so far as to turn off the grandfather clock in the living room where our piano was so I couldn’t tell who long I had been practicing.  I’m pretty sure I only had to practice for thirty minutes a night where Sophia and Lulu practiced three hours a day including weekends and even on vacation but to me those were a long and torturous thirty minutes as the years went on.  (Amy would call ahead to the hotels the family would be staying in around the world and request time with the hotel piano for Sophia and they would bring Lulu’s violin with them as carry-on baggage.)  Eventually I chose to quit piano in junior high and my parents let me.  My sister continued on with her lessons for a few more years and to this day play much better than I do.  We both have pianos in our homes now, which I admittedly don’t play much at all but I do turn on the auto-play and enjoy that.  It’s a digital upright piano that my parents bought for me.  I don’t know how often my sister plays hers but I do know that our parent’s piano continues to be played often by my dad.  He loves piano and has always strived to master specific pieces throughout his life.  When I was little he had a big black book of classical pieces and as he learned a piece and got fairly good at it he would check it off in the table of contents.  There were a lot of checks!

For the most part I didn’t have a problem with Amy’s parenting tactics because of the level of success she and the girls were trying to achieve in piano and violin.  I did wish for more peace and quiet for the family as the girls got older though.  Like I said, having a peep-hole view of their lives during tumultuous times was uncomfortable.  Amy’s writing drew me in and held my attention throughout though and that doesn’t always happen for me in non-fiction/memoirs.  I think that from a social study view this is a great book to read if you are a parent or a child of a parent.  I think that it will open up discussions in book clubs, on social networks and around the water cooler. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Below is a pic of my little sister, our Cocker Spaniel Maxwell and me.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Summary ~ The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is a novel of cruelty, poverty, and hope. Liesel Meminger is a young girl who has been placed in foster care by her mother. Liesel’s brother dies en route to their new home and this leaves Liesel traumatized, causing her to have terrible nightmares in the middle of the night. Liesel’s foster father begins teaching her to read on these nights to distract her from her pain. Liesel learns to turn to books for comfort. When the war begins, comfort becomes a rare state of mind, so Liesel finds ways to seek it out. Liesel begins to steal books in her efforts to deal with the cruelty of the world around her. The Book Thief is a complicated story of survival that will encourage its readers to think and to be amazed at how resilient the human spirit really is.

Breathless.  That is how I felt when I finished Markus Zusak’s engrossing, sad, yet beautiful novel The Book Thief.  It was just last night that I clicked through the last page of this book on my Kindle.  The tears wouldn’t stop and I was blubbering and gasping for breath.  Hubby woke up concerned about what I was so upset about and he couldn’t believe it was the book I was reading.  I haven’t had such a strong, ugly cry reaction to a book since I read Marley & Me a few years ago. 

The Book Thief takes place in Molching, Germany and focuses on a little girl named Liesel Meminger.  She must leave the custody of her mother and go live with a new set of parents.  Foster parents who love her in their own unique ways.  One openly and one in sometimes hurtful and curious ways.  Zusak’s story takes care with his story telling and as the book progresses the reader really gets to know the characters, tone of the times, the town of Molching and Himmel Street, the world of The Book Thief. 

I love this book!  For some reason I am drawn to novels set in WWII.  I don’t know why since it’s such a horribly depressing and evil chapter in the world’s history but the stories of human triumph, tolerance, hatred, risk and strength really draws me in.  I was especially taken with The Book Thief because of the lovely twists that make this story stand out against the previous WWII historical fiction books I’ve read over the years.  Liesel’s birth parents were Communists.  I thought that was such a fresh idea!  Silly as it sounds I really loved the moment when I figured it out and even mentioned it to Hubby.  The life that she gains when she leaves the care of her mother and joins the Hubermann household is full of love, friendship, adventure, common thievery and the magic that occurs when one learns to read and can be removed from the present and taken into a world apart.

I have discovered that a film is being made of this book.  I beg you (yes BEG YOU!) to read the book first.  Let the words create the characters, their appearances and the world they live in first.  Your imagination will take care of the rest. 

I had this book on my Kindle for a while now and I would like to thank Beastmomma for choosing it for our book club’s selection this month.  I think I would have read it eventually but now that I have I can’t imagine that I didn’t read it as soon as I downloaded it!

{Rating ~ 5 (billion) out of 5}

Book Review ~ Glee The Beginning by

Summary ~ Calling all Gleeks!
Get more of your favorite characters in this official Glee prequel!
All great performances deserve a warm-up! Enroll early at McKinley High–before New Directions was even a glimmer in Mr. Schuester’s eye. When did Rachel first decide Finn was more than just a jock? When did Puck and Quinn start their secret romance? And how did the fledgling Glee Club function without a fearless leader? Hint: It wasn’t exactly a perfect melody.
Break out the gold stars and refill the slushies: It’s time to find out what happened to all your favorite characters before the show-mance began.

OMG!!  I was tickled when I learned about this book.  Glee The Beginning by Sophia Lowell is just that, the beginning of the Glee kids story.  If you aren’t familiar with the Fox hit Glee than I don’t know what’s wrong with you (seriously, it’s a fabulous, fun and dramatic thrill for the senses!) and you have a few short weeks to catch up with the rest of the Gleeks out there and Netflix/buy/download on iTunes Season 1 of Glee before the new season starts in mid-September. 

This book was a fun, imformative (for the Gleek that I am) and entertaining read that was a perfect way to end the summer with (school started in some counties here yesterday and the rest of the students out there will start Monday.)  I know I like to read whatever all year round but it was fun to read Glee The Beginning at the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year.  Does our muscle memory of the beginning of school ever really leave us?  Glee The Beginning covers all the core Glee kids; Rachel, Tina, Mercedes, Kurt, Finn and Quinn and gives the fan/reader a good look into what the characters were up to before we met them in Season 1 Episode 1 on television.  Quinn was torn between who she thought she should be and who she wished she could be and Rachel was always all about being the star performer in her school.  Glee Club was flailing until Kurt had the stroke of genius to invite Rachel to join Glee for a rehersal and see what she thought.  Why does Tina stutter?  What is Mercedes home life like?  All these questions and more are answered in Glee The Beginning.

If you are looking for a quick read that will get you excited all over again for the upcoming fall season then Glee The Beginning is for you.  My secret for really diving in each time I turned on my Kindle to read was turning on my iPod and playing the Glee soundtracks.  I own ALL of them.  “Hi!  My name is Karen and I’m a Gleek!”

{Rating 4 out of 5} 

 

 

 

TLC Book Tours Event ~ Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Summary from TLC Book Tours

Here is the story that started it all, introducing two remarkable characters, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, in a spellbinding novel of passion and history that combines exhilarating adventure with a love story for the ages….

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon — when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach — an “outlander” — in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord … 1743.

Who hasn’t heard of this series?  I had!  Who hadn’t read at least the first book in the series?  I hadn’t.  And then I received an e-mail from Lisa of TLC Book Tours inviting me to read/review Outlander: A Novel for the August/September book blog tour.  Of course I accepted!  While waiting for my review copy to arrive in the mail I realized I already owned it… on my Kindle.  Which is a good thing because even the smaller sized review copy that arrived in the mail a few days later proved to be bulky and cumbersome. 

The story focuses on Claire Beauchamp Randall.  A modern woman in 1945 post-war England.  She is on her honeymoon, for a second blissful time, in Scotland with her beloved husband Frank.  One evening, while in search for a specific plant one evening, she unknowingly steps through a standing of stones (not unlike Stonehenge) and finds herself in curious place.  She has traveled back in time to 1743 and a Scotland very alien to the one she had been visiting moments before.  Hijinks and adventure ensue for Claire and she is taken in (taken being the operative word) by a clan of Scotsmen who soon learn that her knowledge of medicinal treatments make Claire a special find.  Difficulties and challenges arise for our heroine and the most curious one is having to marry (for traditional reasons, a woman just can’t not be married in those times) a young Scotsman, Jamie Fraser.  Torn between the reality in her “regular life” of being married to her dear Frank and having to marry Jamie, a man Claire finds herself having feelings for, Claire must figure out how to live in this old world.  There is so much to the story of Outlander!  So much has been said about it over the last two decades so I will end my little summary of the story of Claire and Jamie here. 

Galbadon’s writing is wonderful.  It’s no wonder there are seven novels in the Outlander series so far it’s one of the most popular book series out there.  Outlander won the RITA Award for “Best romance novel” of 1991 and that was just the beginning of the praise Galbadon’s books would receive.  You don’t have to wonder why it won when you read it.  Her characters are vivid and interesting.  The plots are fun and thrilling.  I may read more of the books in this series but I haven’t even read the rest of the books in the Twilight series and I own all of them.  There are just so many good books out there to read and not enough time to get to them all.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Thanks to Lisa & TLC Book Tours for the invitation to read/review Outlander!  I look forward to reading what other book bloggers on the August/September tour have to say about Outlander and the newest book in the series, An Echo In The Bone. 

Diana Gabaldon’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, August 2nd:  Jenn’s Bookshelves (An Echo in the Bone)
Wednesday, August 4th:  The Literate Housewife Review (Voyager)
Monday, August 9th:  Musings of an All Purpose Monkey (Outlander)
Thursday, August 12th:  Under the Boardwalk (An Echo in the Bone)
Friday, August 13th:  Starting Fresh (An Echo in the Bone)
Monday, August 16th:  Planet Books (Outlander)
Thursday, August 19th:  Rundpinne (An Echo in the Bone)
Wednesday, August 25th:  MoonCat Farms Meanderings (An Echo in the Bone)
Monday, August 30th:  Hey, Lady!  Whatcha Readin’? (Outlander)
Tuesday, August 31st:  The Brain Lair (Outlander)
Wednesday, September 1st:  My Two Blessings (Outlander)
Thursday, September 2nd:  Life in the Thumb (An Echo in the Bone)
Tuesday, September 7th:  That’s What She Read (Dragonfly in Amber)
Monday, September 13th:  Suko’s Notebook (Outlander)
Tuesday, September 14th:  Luxury Reading (Outlander)
Wednesday, September 15th:  The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (An Echo in the Bone)
Thursday, September 16th:  Pop Culture Junkie (Outlander)
Friday, September 17th:  Devourer of Books (Outlander)

Book Review ~ The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of SilenceSummary ~ It happens quietly one August morning. As dawn’s shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.
Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.
Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice.
Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.
Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.

The Weight of Silence can be very heavy indeed.  It can make you feel slow, lost, helpless and scared.  When reading the book titled The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf one can feel slow, lost, helpless, scared and annoyed.  For the most part Gudenkauf’s novel about an alchoholic father, spineless mother and the children that suffer in their wake could be called suspenseful and mysterious.  The story focuses on the hours of confusion and fear that derive from two missing girls and one of the girl’s alchoholic father.  They all are in the expansive woods that line the community in Iowa where the story takes place.  Most of the time I second guessed the evidence provided throughout the story but then I was side-swiped by the “real” story of what happened in those woods.  But the side-swipe came from so far past left field that I was very put out. 

Gudenkauf’s writing style is clear and crisp and each chapter is told from different character’s points of view.  Some characters views are told through third person  and others are told from first person but the flow was good.  Sometimes this way of storytelling can be distracting in a book but it worked here.  All in all the writing was very good but the story seemed to drag and then speed up, drag and then speed up throughout.  I was happiest when reading the faster paced segments of course.  The Weight of Silence is the August pick for my book club.  I was thrilled with the beginning of the book when I started it but as the book progressed I started to feel a bit bored.  I just think the flashbacks took so much time, though some of them were pertinent to the present story in a way.  The Weight of Silence unfortunately could read as a non-fiction re-telling of a story out of the newspapers but thankfully this one was pure fiction.

 {Rating 3 out of 5}

Book Review ~ How To Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

How to Be an American Housewife

Summary ~ How to Be an American Housewife is a novel about mothers and daughters, and the pull of tradition. It tells the story of Shoko, a Japanese woman who married an American GI, and her grown daughter, Sue, a divorced mother whose life as an American housewife hasn’t been what she’d expected. When illness prevents Shoko from traveling to Japan, she asks Sue to go in her place. The trip reveals family secrets that change their lives in dramatic and unforeseen ways. Offering an entertaining glimpse into American and Japanese family lives and their potent aspirations, this is a warm and engaging novel full of unexpected insight.

Since leaving Okinawa, Japan in May 2009 I hadn’t really missed it more than the expected pang for a friend or a certain food that I just can’t seem to find in the D.C. area even though I could probably make it myself.  That was until I read How To Be An American HousewifeMargaret Dilloway has written a novel that is very special, interesting and could even be used in a social study of a Japanese/American marriage and the adjustments needed in order to make it through the day-to-day. 

Shoko-chan (“-chan” confused me because I was only familiar with the more formal/respectful “-san. Turns out “-chan” is attached to a name as a term of endearment like when calling a child “Yoko-chan! Dinner’s ready! You learn something new everyday!) survived the atomic bombing on Nagasaki, Japan in 1946.  Though the radiation probably affected her heart she continued to lead a full, at times drama enriched life as an “American housewife” after meeting an American G.I. while working the gift shop counter at a hotel near a U.S. military base.

The first part of Dilloway’s debut novel is told from Shoko’s point of view.  That included reading her spoken thoughts in broken English as a way to get across her lack of knowledge of the English language.  Usually writing dialogue this way with an accent comes across as distracting and annoying to me but because my ear is used to hearing the Japanese/Okinawan voice speaking this way in person it made it more realistic and easier to understand and imagine hearing Shoko-chan’s voice in my head. 

Part 2 is where we get to know Shoko’s daughter Sue and see Shoko through her eyes.  We also get to experience rural Japan through Sue and her daughter Helena’s “American” eyes as a first time visitors to the country and not being all that familiar with conversational Japanese.  Turns out Shoko didn’t speak Japanese very much as she was raising Sue. 

How To Be An American Housewife is a very good novel about a cross cultural family.  I enjoyed the social experimentation that this book can be viewed as and the quotes before every chapter from an imagined handbook titled “How To Be An American Housewife” cracked me up and had my jaw dropping to the floor.

{Rating ~ 4.5 out of 5}

I would like to thank Victoria Comella for sending me a review copy of How To Be An American Housewife!!  You’ve been great Victoria!  Thank You!!