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.

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Stoner by John Williams

Summary ~ William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.

John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.

What a perfectly dreary day to finish a perfectly dreary book.  It had been a while since I read and loved Revolutionary Road and I was hoping to discover a book of similar depth and sadness that would also garner a satisfying read.  I found it in Stoner by John Williams.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story of William “Bill” Stoner though it wasn’t a happy one most of the time.  Born to Missouri farmers, Stoner discovers while attending college in Columbia, MO for agriculture that his love is literature and so his life takes a turn away from his humble upbringing and moves towards a life of teaching at the university he has grown to love and depend on.

Life is difficult for Stoner though he has chosen a path that he wants to follow.  He meets Edith, a prim and proper young woman visiting family in Columbia and feels sensations and feelings for her that he had never experienced before.  That is not always a good thing to start a marriage with and he soon learns that the woman he married is not a partner in anyway to him.  Edith was down right awful in my opinion and the misery she brought to Stoner’s simple life was challenging to read about at times because I just felt so sorry for him.  After a sudden desire to have a child brings the couple together physically in false passion for the only period their marriage ever knows, she suffers from immense postpartum depression and Stoner takes on the role of “care-giver” for their daughter Grace. 

Life moves on for Stoner though and his professional and paternal roles fulfill him for a while.  Soon though things start to falter.  Problems arise at the university in the form of a wild student who creates such chaos in Stoner’s life that his career never quite recovers.  Edith returns from her depression and turns her husband’s simple life upside down and emotionally separates Grace from him.  One of the few bright lights in Stoner’s life occurs during his middle age and takes the shape of a co-ed student.  They have a torrid love affair and Stoner finally learns about love and passion that is true and meaningful and not twisted in the least. 

John Williams’ writing is vivid and sets the perfect feel for the book.  Published in 1965 I found it interesting to read about an earlier time but told by an author at an earlier time still than the present day I live in.  There were a couple of slow points in the narrative but they moved along and the story came to life once again.  Overall, Stoner gave me just what I was looking for.  A story and character that took me into a familiar yet distant time in America and kept my attention from beginning to end and left me with a memory of emotions, events and ideas that will stay with me.  Reading Stoner was sad at times but isn’t that life?  A roller coaster of emotions, events and ideas that make us the interesting beings we are.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Skipping A Beat by Sarah Pekkanen

 

 

 

 

Summary ~ What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?

 

Dear Sarah,

Brilliant!  Your new novel, Skipping A Beat, is BRILLIANT!  I loved it from beginning to end and not just because I know you and have always rooted for you.  Because your storytelling and writing has grown and your skill in weaving characters, plot(s), scene, and magically wonderful detail is incredible. 

I am sorry I was unable to come up to Maryland for your first book signing on release day last week but it didn’t stop me from downloading Skipping A Beat onto my Kindle that morning and diving in feet first.  Julia and Michael are wonderful characters with so many faults and great aspects to their make up.  The history you created for them as individuals and a couple made them so real!  You were clever but not corny and the images created by your words leapt off the page and into my mind’s eye effortlessly.  Isabelle, Julia’s best friend, was rich in detail as well and her story did not fall to the wayside when the drama between Michael and Julia began to build.  I love that!  Julia needed Isabelle as much as she needed Julia and the affection you created between the two women is a reflection of my best girlfriend relationships which added a believability to even the smallest gesture between the characters.

Of course I must mention  my pleasure in the fact that the book is mainly set in yours and my hometown area of DC/MD/VA.  I continue to enjoy reading books set in an area that I feel I know well and yet learn something new about it through the author’s eye.  Julia finds peace and escape in a place called Great Falls.  I did the same in my late teens and early twenties between classes and theatre rehearsals at Montgomery College.  I could picture the large rock that Julia’s friend Noah could be found sitting on while playing fetch with his best friend and canine companion Bear.  The city became a character in Skipping A Beat that added to the story beautifully. 

Sarah, I am so excited for you and the accolades you have already and will continue to receive!  You’re writing has flourished and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next year (not to rush things). 

Always a friend and fan,

Karen

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

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}

MIA in 2010

2010 turned out to be a very tough reading and blogging year for me.  I don’t know if it was the out of sorts feeling I had while Hubby was deployed for five months or what but I totally sucked at keeping up with things.  At times it seemed as if I had become a slower reader and was easily distracted by everything and anything.  I fell into the habit of only reading before bed and that never is a good thing for me.  I get tired and after only reading a few pages its lights out.  Book club should have helped but it really didn’t.  I only read (if I liked it enough) the selected title and didn’t read other titles in the second half of the year.  

Good news is I’m still in love with my Kindle and 2011 will bring an iPad 1 or 2 into my hands thanks to my folks generous birthday gift on the 1st.  I will download the Kindle App to whichever version of iPad I end up getting (waiting for the MacWorld 2011 conference to see if Steve Jobs introduces the 2.0) and that will allow me to read without the lights on when Hubby goes to sleep.  I don’t really like book lights.  I am off to a good start in 2011 though.  I finished my book club’s selection for Sunday’s brunch just last night.  I’m going to try to read one book of my choice for every book club selection this year.  That is my reading goal for 2011.

There were some fabulous books that I read in 2010 though and I have listed them below.  The scariest ones, all for different reasons, were Room, The Blue Notebook and Born on the 4th of July.  All very realistic stories inspired by true accounts, like Kovic’s retelling of his experience in Vietnam and the aftermath of the war back home, these books still haunt me.

The Postmistress and The Help are books that I will always recommend to the reader looking for a great novel to lose themselves in.  They are simply fantastic.  Others I listed made the list because they were either extremely unusual, Raven Stole The Moon, or made me laugh my ass off, My Fair LazyHow To Be An American Housewife took me back to Japan and made me miss the country, culture and it’s people all over again.  

I have also taken the liberty of listing my 20 favorite tunes of 2010.  I rediscovered Pop music last year and I am so thrilled that it’s laced with hot beats, fun lyrics, melodic melodies and strong construction.  Thank goodness!  Country music didn’t disappoint and the highlight for me was going to the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, TN last June with one of my best friends, Jesse.

What were some of your favorite reads in 2010?  Tunes?  Discoveries?  Please share them with me and any readers I still may have after being MIA in 2010!   

My FAV reads of 2010 (in no particular order)

Room – Emma Donoghue
The Blue Notebook – Dr. James A. Levine
How To Be An American Housewife – Margaret Dilloway
Born on the 4th of July – Ron Kovic
My Fair Lazy – Jen Lancaster
Raven Stole The Moon – Garth Stein
The Postmistress – Sarah Blake
The Help – Kathryn Stocket

 

My FAV 20 Tunes of 2010 (in no particular order)

F You – Cee Lo Green
Club Can’t Handle Me – Flo Rida
Dynamite – Taio Cruz
Teenage Dream – Katy Perry
Just the Way You Are – Bruno Mars
Paris (Ooh La La) – Grace Potter and The Nocturnals
1983 – Neon Trees
Undo It – Carrie Underwood
Lover, Lover – Jerrod Neiman
Put You In A Song – Keith Urban
Smoke A Little Smoke – Eric Church
Empire State of Mind – Jay Z & Alicia Keys
Bullet Proof – La Roux
All About Tonight – Blake Shelton
Raise Your Glass – Pink
Telephone – Lady Gaga & Beyonce
Colder Weather – Zac Brown Band
Crazy Town – Jason Aldean
Roll With It – Easton Corbin
Stuck Like Glue – Sugarland

Due to restrictons on videos from YouTube I am unable to share any of the videos I wanted to here on Planet Books.  Sorry Dude!

Sunday Salon ~ Happy Easter 2010!

Happy Easter Sunday Saloners!  All in all this weekend was a busy one.  Today was family day at my in-laws with my parents and Hubby’s sis-in-law and our niece and nephew.  It was a nice afternoon and thanks to my mom-in-law dinner was delicious.  Yesterday Hubby and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary by catching Clash of the Titans at the movies and enjoying a nice dinner at Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill.  Friday night Hubby and I helped one of my dear friends celebrate her birthday at Maggiano’s, which also happened to be the same Maggiano’s location where Hubby and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner. 

The Grapes of Wrath

Well, believe it or not I did find some time to start a new book on my Kindle!  I decided on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.  It’s a part of American literary history really.  I really enjoyed reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates last year and felt a sense of accomplishment when I finished it so I thought another literary challenge would be good for me.  

As I was reading in bed this Easter morning an interesting thought came to me.  I’m reading one of America’s greatest works of fiction on a futuristic/present day controversial reading device, the Kindle.  The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939 and is set during The Great Depression.  I wonder what Steinbeck would think about where books are going today?  I wonder the same of  Henry Ford and what he would think of my Sangria Red Ford Escape.

It’s an amazing world we live in today and it just continues to evolve.  For example, Apple’s iPad was released yesterday to great pomp and circumstance.  They say it will change laptops forever!  I have to admit that I have been seduced by the iPad and daydream about owning one some day but for now my love affair with my Kindle and red Sony Vaio laptop are both going strong and haven’t faded in the year that I’ve had both.  But, I still hope to have an iPad one day.  What are your thoughts on the iPad and Kindle or other e-Readers?  Have you been seduced by technology?

 

 

Book Review ~ Testimony by Anita Shreve

Summary ~ At a New England boarding school, a sex scandal is about to break. Even more shocking than the sexual acts themselves is the fact that they were caught on videotape. A Pandora’s box of revelations, the tape triggers a chorus of voices–those of the men, women, teenagers, and parents involved in the scandal–that details the ways in which lives can be derailed or destroyed in one foolish moment., the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.innocentsexplores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming

Writing with a pace and intensity surpassing even her own greatest work, Anita Shreve delivers in TESTIMONY a gripping emotional drama with the impact of a thriller. No one more compellingly

Anita Shreve’s Testimony was this months book club read.  I’m torn about what I thought about it.  I was really bored with most of the story but liked the beginning and end.  The book is told from multiple perspectives which got distracting at times.  Some of the characters who told the story from their point of view confused me with their importance and relevance to the story.  Did we really need to know that person’s thoughts to get the gist of the story?  Really? 

The story circles around a stupid night in a dorm room with very drunk teenagers and their crazy sexual escapades.  Being married to someone in law enforcement, the common denominator to most sexual assaults is alcohol.  No surprise then that that is the case in this work of fiction.  Actually that is the problem I had with the book on the whole.  I felt like I was reading an ongoing newspaper story told through multiple articles that drew the story out for too long. 

An interesting point was brought up at our lunch/meeting for Testimony.  “Would you want your teenager to read this book?”  The mutual agreement was yes, it would be an eye opener to teens out there that this type of thing can happen.  Testimony was inspired by the 2006 Duke Lacrosse scandal, proof that fact can be stranger than fiction.  Throughout the discussion I tended to feel out of the loop because I was the only one at the table who had read the book instead of listen to the audiobook.  [Quick question to you book bloggers and readers/listeners out there: Do you think that listening to an audiobook is equivalent to reading the book?]

If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult and other “true life” fiction stories, than Anita Shreve’s Testimony may be the book for you this spring.

{Rating 3 out of 5}