Sunday Salon ~ January 25th, 2009

Where did last week go?  It was a four day work week for Hubby and I stayed up till 3am on Wednesday morning watching President Obama’s Inauguration but I still don’t know where the week went.  I finished reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife and reviewed it HERE the other day.  Earlier this week I received a brand new copy of Alyson Noel’s upcoming release, Evermore, from her publicist and am enjoying it so far.  (Thanks Alyson & Katy!!)  It’s YA Fiction and will probably be enjoyed by fans of the Twilight series.  Though I don’t think it’s vampires (I haven’t discovered the secret of some characters yet) it does deal with psychic powers, reading auras and teen crushes/lust/love. 

I finally recieved my Amazon book order yesterday and will be reading Janice Y. K. Lee’s new book, The Piano Teacher, as soon as I finish Evermore.  I had also ordered a copy of The Wizard of Oz for a dear young friend of mine here in Okinawa.  M is a huge reader and had been wanting to read The Wizard of Oz since before Christmas so I ordered the Illustrated Junior Edition of the book and gave it to her yesterday.  It filled me with so much joy when I saw the smile spread across her face and when she gave me a huge hug.  I love this kid and she really is wonderful.  I hope you love The Wizard of Oz and remember, “there’s no place like home” M!

Did you have a quick week too? What did you read?  Do you have any books that you know will be coming out soon that you are really interested in reading?  What are some of your favorite books for ten/eleven year olds? 

Book Review ~ American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Summary ~ American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld:

On what might become one of the most significant days in her husband’s presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led her to the White House–and the repercussions of a life lived, as she puts it, “almost in opposition to itself.”

A kind, bookish only child born in the 1940s, Alice learned the virtues of politeness early on from her stolid parents and small Wisconsin hometown. But a tragic accident when she was seventeen shattered her identity and made her understand the fragility of life and the tenuousness of luck. So more than a decade later, when she met boisterous, charismatic Charlie Blackwell, she hardly gave him a second look: She was serious and thoughtful, and he would rather crack a joke than offer a real insight; he was the wealthy son of a bastion family of the Republican party, and she was a school librarian and registered Democrat. Comfortable in her quiet and unassuming life, she felt inured to his charms. And then, much to her surprise, Alice fell for Charlie.

As Alice learns to make her way amid the clannish energy and smug confidence of the Blackwell family, navigating the strange rituals of their country club and summer estate, she remains uneasy with her newfound good fortune. And when Charlie eventually becomes President, Alice is thrust into a position she did not seek–one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility. As Charlie’s tumultuous and controversial second term in the White House wears on, Alice must face contradictions years in the making: How can she both love and fundamentally disagree with her husband? How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life? What should she do when her private beliefs run against her public persona?

In Alice Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld has created her most dynamic and complex heroine yet. American Wife is a gorgeously written novel that weaves class, wealth, race, and the exigencies of fate into a brilliant tapestry–a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.

Are we living the life we are meant to live?  That is a big question to ask yourself when you are the First Lady of the United States of America.  A story of a fictional woman with so many realistic characteristics, feelings, expressions and faults, Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife  invites you in and doesn’t let you go, even when the last word has been read.  It’s easy to notice some similarities between Sittenfeld’s fictional character, Alice Blackwell, and our now former First lady, Laura Bush, but if you can just read American Wife without researching the real thing, you will be entertained, provoked and you’ll get to know a wonderful and likable character in modern day American fiction.  It is also these similarities between fact and fiction that makes me glad I read American Wife when I did.  I have completed reading this book in the wake of the true life former First Family’s departure from the Washington, national and global spotlight.

American Wife looks at its main character, Alice Blackwell, over her first sixty-one years.  We meet her where the end of the book leaves off, as the wife of The President of the United States but then Alice takes us back with her as she re-evaluates her life and remembers all of the colorful characters that have helped mold her into what she is today.  Alice experiences sadness that some never face in their whole lifetime during the vulnerable and forming years of high school.    It is these events that cause her to question whether she really is deserving of the great pleasures and successes she experiences later in life.

American Wife consists of four parts which are titled with the addresses she lives her life at.  First is her parent’s house followed a few years later by the apartment where she resides when she first meets her future husband, Charlie Blackwell.  Her third home is the beautiful, cozy and sometimes too big but not quite big enough McMansion where Charlie and Alice start to raise their daughter Ella (who at times reminded me of what I know about Chelsea Clinton) and begin to learn about each other in a way that changes them for good but also for better.  Of course the fourth part is titled 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the address of The White House.  At first I wished that Sittenfeld wasn’t leaving such big gaps of time between these sections but throughout she did keep things fresh and do we really need to read all the little, everyday details that fill up the Blackwell’s days? 

American Wife is a wonderful work of fiction, reportedly inspired by Laura Bush and the biographies, Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady by Ronald Kessler and The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush by Ann Gerhart.  The detail in the characters, plots and events are so rich that I felt like I was sitting down with a woman who had experienced more than most and she was willingly sharing stories about all of it.  My only regret is reading a newspaper review of this book at some point before reading it.  The critic pointed out Sittenfeld may have used Part 4 of American Wife to portray her own negative opinion of our 43rd President.  This became distracting as I read this last segment of a book that I was really enjoying.  Sometimes fiction is just fiction and you have to read it as it is and not look for hidden meanings left by the author. 

I have been reading the reviews and articles linked on Curits Sittenfeld’s website since finishing American Wife and was struck with one reviewers observation.  In her Article in The New York Times, Maureen Dowd says, “It’s the sort of novel Laura Bush might curl up with in the White House solarium if it were not about Laura Bush.  It would be interesting to hear how that lover of fiction feels about being the subject of fiction.” 

{ Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

For more about Curtis Sittenfeld and American Wife, be sure to check out http://curtissittenfeld.com/.

Sunday Salon ~ January 18, 2009

The winter blues have hit me full force here in sunny but chilly Okinawa.  2009 will present many changes for my husband, our dog and me.  We are supposed to move back to the states this year; we are planning to purchase our first house and a second car when we get there; and we probably will be living in the same area as our parents for the first time as a married couple.  It’s these pending events, though they won’t happen for a few months yet, that have me reading a lot more.  Call it hiding in a book or avoiding responsibilities like starting the on-line house hunt that is causing me to distract myself with other things.  I am not feeling ready for these big changes even though we are both looking forward to living back in the U.S.

To add to my “cranky pants” attitude, (that’s what Hubby says to me when I’m in a bad mood.  “Oh, you have your cranky pants on again, don’t you.”  It always makes me smile when he says that.), I am wishing we were back in our hometown of the D.C. Metro area this weekend for one of the most historic moments in our nation’s history which will occur on the National Mall this Tuesday.  I know we’ve been hearing about it on all the news channels for weeks now and talk of the events seems to be in high gear as we near the big day, but I am so jealous of all those people who will be freezing their asses off without me.  AFN (Armed Forces Network television) will be airing the coverage live starting at 12:00am Wednesday morning and you can bet I’ll be up watching as much as I can. 

I am still reading American Wife this week/weekend and actually find it fitting to be reading a book that is said to be loosely based on Laura Bush, President Bush and some family members and friends of theirs as The President wraps up his days as the 43rd President of The United States of America. 

I also started to listen to the audio-download of Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope this week on my iPod while I am in the car.  The President-Elect narrates and it is interesting and ironic to listen to Obama share about his experiences as a U.S. Senator and talk about visiting the White House and how big, old and “probably drafty in the winter” it is. 

Are you reading anything that can be related to the Innauguration this weekend?  Are you going to be in D.C. as a present witness to history or will you be watching the festivities from the warmth of your family room and your favorite seat? 

Sunday Salon ~ January 11th, 2009

I am already onto my second read of 2009.  Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife is proving to be as good as the critics have been claiming over the last few months.  I know that the main characters are supposed to be loosely modeled after Laura Bush, President George W. Bush and members of his administration, but so far American Wife is reading like a great novel should.  There are OMG! moments and wonderful character development.  I’m pretty pleased so far, but I’ll let you know what I think in the end.

A Novel

In addition to reading American Wife this weekend, I also caught up on some of my magazine reading.  I have a subscription to Elle Magazine and in the January issue there is an ARTICLE about Janice Lee and her debut novel, The Piano Teacher, which hits shelves on January 13th.  I have been interested in reading this book since I started hearing about it over the last few months on-line.  Bloggers, book review sites and on-line book stores have been singing Lee’s praises and the story itself has caught my interest.  The Piano Teacher takes place during and after WWII in Hong Kong during the Japanese Occupation. 

A Novel

I vacationed in Hong Kong for five days during the summer of 2007 with a girlfriend of mine who had a business trip there.  I loved it so much I am hoping that Hubby and I will get to go before moving back to the States from Okinawa this summer.  I am especially hoping to read The Piano Teacher before hand so I can gather some new information about places I was not aware of first time around in Hong Kong.  The Elle article claims “If you can’t actually get to Hong Kong, reading The Piano Teacher is the perfect vicarious voyage. If you can, it serves as a wonderful travel guide.”  What an exciting way to enjoy both book and city, by personally seeing places written about in the book with my very own eyes!