Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Fishing Fleet and Finding Meaning in Life--Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun"

Wow what a weekend! And it's only half over! I've been indulging in my other passion this weekend--baking--making a baby shower cake with my buddy Eileen. I didn't realize piping icing could be such hard work! But it was well worth it! I think tomorrow I'm going to give myself a break and focus on reading, which I'm woefully behind on here at the end of June.

But for now, a book that I think would make a pretty fun summer read, Julia Gregson's "East of The Sun". I find that I'm often drawn to books set in the far east, and I really liked the angle in this book--British expats, looking for meaning in their lives in India as the empire begins to unwind. Check out my review below!

Julia Gregson's "East of the Sun" follows three young English women to India in 1928. Rose is set to be married to Jack, a young army officer. Tor, is hoping to find a husband to escape her awful mother. And Viva is returning to the country where she spent her youth, looking for adventure and hoping to quiet the ghosts of her family members who died in India long ago. Over nearly 600 pages these women find love, danger, excitement but most of all friendship, as they transition from young women into adults, all as Britain's imperial power begins to wind down in a bittersweet way. This book is really a page turner, and pulls you in right from the first chapter. Although the book captures the stories of all three women, it is mostly about Viva, who's complicated life makes for fascinating reading as she fights her instincts and emotions to make peace with herself in India. The whole novel is richly drawn, and I felt like I could see all of the different settings as the women move around the Indian subcontinent. Gregson also does a wonderful job of mixing in the larger societal context of the time--you get a sense of the poverty and political unrest in India, and how it effects the British expats running the country. If you're interested in India, or in the experience of British expats, I would recommend this book to you. Or if you're just looking for an interesting story of women's lives, this is a good one!
Add Video

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iran in the 1970s--Pre Revolution (How Appropriate!) "Rooftops in Tehran"

I've been in a little bit of a reading rut recently. I don't know if it's the busy-ness of summer, my baking explosion last weekend (a boston cream pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, and an apple hand pie all in one weekend was probably too much), or the fact that time just seems to be getting away from me recently. Like now, I just looked down at my clock and said "what?! it can't be that late already!" It certainly can't be because I'm watching more tv, since we LOST HALF OUR CHANNELS AFTER THE DTV SWITCH! BAH!

But here's a review of something I did manage to finish in the last week. Hopefully I'll finish more before the fourth and our big trip to the beach!

I did think it was interesting that my reading of this book coincided with the recent political turmoil and voting irregularities in Iran. I couldn't help thinking about the injustices described in this book as I was hearing about fresh injustices in the news.

"Rooftops in Tehran" follows Pasha, a 17 year old boy living in Tehran through one summer that will forever change his life. Pasha lives in a middle class alleyway in Tehran, and is surrounded by friends. When he falls for Zari, the fiance of his idol, Doctor, Pasha begins to question some of the traditions of the Persian people. After Doctor is arrested and killed for subversive activities, Pasha and Zari become closer, until one fateful day when Zari makes a decision that will change their lives forever. Will Pasha recover enought to pursue his longtime dreams in America? Or will the Iranian state drag him down too?

"Rooftops in Tehran" is a hearwrenching story, different from some other novels about Iranian oppression because it is set during the rein of the Shah, rather than after the Iranian revolution. The novel is vehemently anit-American at points, which is historically accurate, but still interesting and brave in a novel marketed in the US. Although overall I enjoyed the book, I did have a couple of major problems, including the ending (which I found extremely unrealistic) and the narrative voice, which was simply too choppy for me to get really comfortable with. There is a lot of time jumping in the first part of the novel which really threw me off, as well as the very stacatto voice of our first person narrator Pasha.

I would recommend this book to others who are interested in Iran during the period before the revolution. The book does not shy away from some of the more brutal parts of the regime, so it really does provide an interesting look.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a New York Themed Day!

So, as you all know, we took a little trip to NYC at the end of May. Before we went, I made a list of things I wanted to see that related to my two favorite things, reading and baking! Sadly, as always happens, this trip ended up going a bit too fast and I ran out of time before I ran out of things to do on my list! But good for you readers, I managed to do a few more things on the
reading sights list than I did on the baking list. But then, there's always the next trip :-)

First up, the famous NY Public Library in beautiful Bryant Park:

I loved how they had little book kiosks in the park:

And of course, no book lovers visit to New York is done without a visit to the famous Strand bookstore (18 miles of books!):

So I came home loving New York, and needed something to extend the feeling. I chose a book set in revolutionary New York, a period which I'm always interested in:

Christine Blevins' "The Tory Widow" opens 10 years before the revolution when Anne, a young woman, is getting married to a much older, and meaner, man. After her wedding, Jack Hampton a young printer kisses her spontaneously, causing Anne to fantasize about what her life could have been if she had been allowed to marry someone like Jack. Ten years later and Anne is a widow when she meets Jack again when he torments her for being a Tory. Anne soon becomes a Patriot, and along with the help of Jack and others, carries out espionage against the British during the occupation of New York. Will Anne and Jack be able to evade the British, or will their Patriot actions be foiled?

Overall, I enjoyed reading "The Tory Widow" although I will admit that the book was uneven, and there were parts that I enjoyed more than others. I wish Blevins had stuck with telling the story from Anne's perspective, instead of switching between Anne and Jack. Blevins had a stronger voice and seemed like a better writer when writing from Anne's perspective. I got a little bored during Jack's sections, since I read the book because I wanted a woman's perspective, not a mans. I think Blevins did a lot of research, and her portrayal of the period feels accurate. I just would have preferred if she had stuck with a single perspective.

If you are interested in the Revolutionary period, especially in New York City, I would recommend this book. It's a fun romance romp through the revolutionary period, just be warned if you don't like shifting narrators.

So what do you think, Lower Manhattan looks a little different than in Anne's time, no?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Just a Quick Update...

...To let you all know that Katherine Howe has a guest post on Devourer of Books today! I really enjoyed "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" and it's interesting to see a little bit of Howe's story about writing the book!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Trip to the Far East, The West Coast, and Through Sisterly Trials in Lisa See's "Shanghai Girls

Update on NYC pictures: I promise they're still coming, I'm just having a few technical difficulties with Picasa (really, I'm just out of space) so they've been delayed.

But to tide you over, a review of one of the most talked about books this summer season, from the wildly successful author of "The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan."

Lisa See's latest novel "Shanghai Girls" opens in Shanghai in the late 1930s. Pearl and May Chin are beautiful girls who pose for calendars. One day, their lives changes suddenly when they discover their father has sold them as brides to brothers from America, all to cover his gambling debts. The girls eventually make it to America, only after narrowly escaping the Japanese invasion and the US Immigration Station at Angel Island. The girls enter America with a terrible secret, one that will pull them apart and push them together over the next 20 years of their lives.

This was the first Lisa See book that I've read, and I thought the plot was interesting, along with the perspective of the sisters of their life in America and the discrimination they faced. However, I thought the story was lacking in some of the richness I've come to expect from authors with as much buzz around them as See. The novel felt sparse in places, and would have benefited from some description of the people and places surrounding the women. I also disliked the pacing of the novel in places--it seemed to move much to slowly in the first half, and too quickly in the second half. And the story ended with a real cliff hanger, which left me feeling frustrated as a reader. I enjoyed the time I spent with these characters, so I hope See does a sequel, but it was a let down at end.

If you are a fan of See, I would recommend this book. I would also recommend this if you are a fan of Asian Gothic stories, or if you are looking for a good summer read. There are serious topics in this book, but it shouldn't be too heavy for a summer read.