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Review: The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Amy Tan

Ruth Young is a professional ghostwriter, proud of her flourishing career but a bit tired of the constant demands of her aging mother and her busy boyfriend.  Sometimes she even struggles to get along with her boyfriend’s daughters, two girls who used to adore her.  As her mother’s condition worsens, Ruth finds herself much more interested in her mother’s history and tries to discover the roots of who she is and why they are both the way they are.  With the help of her mother’s handwritten life story, Ruth may be able to find peace and resolve the many conflicts that are straining her life.

This was an “eh” book for me, but I don’t think it necessarily would be for everyone.  I have a habit of ignoring book summaries in favor of just reading them straight, and this is often both a good idea and a bad idea.  It’s a good idea because I really hate spoilers and I find most books are best read without any previous knowledge of anything.  It’s a bad idea because if I have no idea what a book’s about, I can’t really tell if it’s something I’m not going to like, especially if I think it’s something different.  And that happened here.  I knew there was some modern day component, but I didn’t expect it to be two thirds of the book.

The story of Ruth’s mother is sandwiched between two halves of Ruth’s modern day life.  While I really enjoyed the middle section, especially because I’ve developed a practically insatiable craving for historical fiction about China, I just didn’t like the parts about Ruth.  I don’t think this is the book’s fault.  I don’t like most books set in the present unless they have a little something extra to them, like fantasy or horror, or if they’re about an experience I’m completely unfamiliar with.  I’m just not really interested in emotional family relationships, especially not when they’re set in a world I live in.  So when I realized the whole book was mostly about Ruth’s adjustment of her modern day life, trying to fit her Chinese mother in more harmoniously with her American life, I was disappointed and I got through those parts as fast as possible.

Of course, I loved the middle section, and I really wish the whole book had just been historical fiction about Ruth’s mother.  LuLing’s life and voice are powerful and moving.  I was truly fascinated by her story of Precious Auntie, her nursemaid with a past to be mourned, and her own life’s progression when she realizes the truth.  I was so disappointed when this section ended!  I could have happily continued reading for much longer, but unfortunately the book switches back to Ruth about when LuLing is ready to leave for the United States.

I’m not going to avoid further books by Amy Tan, but I probably won’t actively seek them out if they have that central focus on modern day women.  If, however, you enjoy women’s fiction AND historical fiction, I think The Bonesetter’s Daughter would be a great fit for you.

I am an Amazon Associate. I purchased this book.

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Guest Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman

When this book was very kindly sent to me for review, I knew my mom would love it.  When I didn’t have a chance to review it for the blog tour myself, she generously stepped in to write a review for me.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a novel about a twelve year old girl who goes to live with her great Aunt Tootie Caldwell when her mother dies. After a terrible start to her childhood, Ceecee definitely needs saving.  Is her aunt up to the task?

Most of all, this book reminded me of The Secret Life of Bees, which was also a book about a troubled girl who goes to live with middle aged women in the south.  The beginning of the book when CeeCee is living with her mentally ill mother and her father was very troubling to me because of how negative her home life was. Instead of CeeCee’s father trying to help the situation, he chooses to spend most of his time out of the house at work.  His work included traveling, so he was not home very often.  Rather than helping his daughter he leaves her to take care of herself and her mentally ill mother.  As a mother myself I was so angry at her father. How could he not want to protect his daughter? I wanted to jump in the book and try to help CeeCee.

After CeeCee’s mother is killed, CeeCee goes to live with her great Aunt Tootie in Savannah.  I was glad that now CeeCee might be able to have a normal life.  Aunt CeeCee is a wealthy middle aged woman with a housekeeper, Oletta. CeeCee meets other women in the neighborhood, Miz Hobbs and Miz Goodpepper.  This is a very different life for CeeCee instead of having to take care of herself, she has someone to take care of her. I really liked the eccentricity of the women in the book.  I think it added a lot to the story.

The part in the book about discrimination I thought was very important.   This was part of life at that time and I am glad it was included since it’s something we must never forget.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.  It is an emotional and touching story.  My only criticism of this book was the predictability of the story; the plot could have done with some twists.  Still, I think Saving CeeCee Honeycutt would appeal to women of all ages; I think we would all be able to relate to this story.

I am an Amazon Associate. This book was sent to us by the publisher for free.

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Review: The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Sarah Addison Allen

After Emily Benedict’s mother dies, she goes to live in Mullaby, North Carolina, the hometown that Dulcie Benedict left behind and never discussed, with the grandfather she never knew she had.  Emily wants to learn more about her mother’s past, but in the process she finds a house where the wallpaper changes, where lights dash through the forest behind her house, and where some people have a “sweet sense” and can see cakes being baked.  Emily’s neighbor, Julia, a former outcast, does her part to help Emily adjust to the knowledge of her mother’s past, but she has to face some demons of her own.

While I found Allen’s last offering, The Sugar Queen, to be a little too sweet, I thought this book found the perfect balance.  I loved all the characters, even if they’d made mistakes in their past.  Julia’s story in particular I found to be heart-wrenching, but she had me cheering for her throughout the entire book.  She has a more mature story, knowing all the town’s secrets, while Emily has a lot to learn.  There are two separate love stories in the book, but neither is really given much preference and both are wonderful.

I also really enjoyed the doses of magic spread throughout.  They never seem out of place, but fit beautifully within the story and add to it, not at all taking away from the feelings or personalities of the characters.  The Girl Who Chased the Moon never feels unrealistic or absurd.  It is fairly light fiction but I loved it and I’m very much looking forward to further books from Sarah Addison Allen.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the Amazon Vine program.

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Review: Roses, Leila Meacham

Mary Toliver DuMont knows she is dying.  When she looks back on her life and reflects on all the mistakes she’s made, she chooses to sell her family’s huge farm rather than leave it to her great-niece as Rachel is expecting.  In this multi-generational saga, the characters take us back through their lives to the beginning of many of their problems so that the conclusion becomes understandable.  This family has experienced it all, and their mistakes may prevent the happiness of the newest generation.

I often love sagas of this variety and Roses was not really an exception.  There’s little better than investing yourself in several hundred pages of a fictional family’s complicated and generally tragic life.  Here the central tragedy is that Mary Toliver and Percy Warwick don’t marry, even though they are clearly the loves of each other’s lives, due to misunderstandings and mistakes.  Those resonate throughout the book and influence decisions made by all the characters throughout.

These families are descended through Lancastrian and Yorkist immigrants to the United States and as a result use a system of roses to signal forgiveness (and unforgiveness) to one another.  I have to admit I rolled my eyes a little at this, as it just seems way too sentimental for real life, but it works really well as a device within the story, so I got used to it very quickly and appreciated how the author wove it in, making the title perfectly appropriate for the book.  I also really liked the characters for the most part, especially Percy; Mary and Rachel were slightly too abrasive for me to love them, but I still liked them.

Despite the fact that I was swept up in the story and really enjoyed it, I have to say I had an issue with the central reason for frustration.  Everyone blames everything on Somerset, and it seemed to me what really happened was that the characters made bad decisions.  Getting rid of the land would not have solved their problems, talking would.  I could definitely understand the issue an early twentieth century southern magnate would have had with his wife out in the fields all day, but I do think there’s such a thing as compromise.  Mary and Percy are just too stubborn to have things their own way.

Roses is a saga in a great tradition, but it’s not a perfect one.  Still, if you enjoy reading about strong characters and don’t mind a little bit of tragedy and suspending belief, this would be a wonderful choice.  I’d also suggest it to people who enjoyed Dallas on TV – the Texas feel is so similar here.

I am an Amazon Associate, so if you purchase books through my links I will earn a tiny percentage of the profit at no cost to you. Thanks! I received this book for free from the publisher.

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Review: Saffron Dreams, Shaila Abdullah

Words cannot describe Arissa Illahi’s grief when her husband dies in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  The videotape sitting on her dresser doesn’t cease to remind her that they were due to have their baby’s first ultrasound, and she never imagined raising her child alone.  Arissa also finds her husband’s unfinished novel, a project that powered her husband through his life and now must help propel Arissa through her grief.

Saffron Dreams is such a moving book.  Arissa’s grief is portrayed beautifully and is extremely touching.  I could almost feel how much pain she was suffering, certainly enough to hope that nothing of its like ever touches me.  Married only two years and left pregnant, Arissa has to rely on her in-laws, people she didn’t really know until her husband died, but who left their own lives to help her fix her own.  Her slow recognition of what matters in life is admirable and her journey constituted an emotional but worthwhile read.

Abdullah’s writing is smooth and beautiful, too:

The brush fell from my guilty hands, landing on the floor with a tired thud.  I stepped back as if struck and looked at the picture in mad fixation.  Staring back at me from the canvas, behind the dull last strokes that failed to hide the subject, were entwined towers engulfed in reddish blue smoke.  And in the midst of the smoldering slivers was the face of a forlorn and lost child.  – p. 6

So much of the book is conveyed right there.  We know what Arissa is feeling and what she’s trying to tell us.

I also found the book pinpointed many important and significant issues that followed the attacks.  Arissa is a Muslim, but she can’t understand why other Muslims would do such a thing, when it’s not really a part of her faith; she hates that news reporters lump them in together and ask her how she feels about being betrayed by one of her own kind; she experiences religious hatred when she wears her headscarf after the attacks and finally removes it to give her son a better chance at a normal life.  She not only has to adjust to her changing life but a changing world and fit in a place for herself when she’s faced with so much discrimination.  I felt that the author here built a strong and understandable character, flawed and human but someone the reader can still root for, with a journey to self-discovery that was still compelling and touching.

I really enjoyed Saffron Dreams. In its pages I found a character to care about, a story to enjoy, and issues to think about.  Highly recommended.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the author for review.

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Review: Very Valentine, Adriana Trigiani

Valentine Roncalli loves her work with her grandmother, making handmade bridal shoes.  The Angelini shoe company has been in business since Valentine’s great-grandfather came over from Italy, but now it’s in trouble.  Valentine’s family is putting pressure on her Gram to retire, and Valentine realizes at her sister’s wedding that without the shoe company, her life is at a stalemate.  She has ambitions to design shoes, not just use her great-grandfather’s patterns, but without a company, she would have nowhere to go, and she is alone.  Valentine meets handsome restaurant owner Roman Falconi in an embarrassing, accidental way, but soon their romance takes off.  The only trouble is, how is she to maintain a relationship with a busy man while trying to save her family’s shoe company at the same time?

I will admit that I initially found this book a challenge to get into.  The lush descriptions of the wedding, of Valentine’s work, and her laments about her state in life were all well-written, but to be honest isn’t really what I look for when I read.  And her descriptions of her huge Italian family reminded me all too much of mine, who started nagging me about boyfriends when I was in my teens, and didn’t stop until I actually had a man to show them, despite my relative youth.  Then Valentine met Roman, things perked up, and I got involved in the story and became a champion of her cause.

What I appreciated most about this book was that Valentine is a very independent woman.  She starts off worrying about her situation and unsure of how to fix it, but as the book goes on, she grows and learns from her experiences.  She figures out what she has to do and relies on her strengths, not those of anyone else, to accomplish everything she needs to do.  Her worldview is totally changed, and she emerges an even more interesting person than before.  She is definitely a woman to emulate.  While I didn’t always like where the story went, I loved Valentine’s approach to her life as well as her determination and her passion.

The romance is a fairly decent portion of the book and, I felt, was appropriate to Valentine’s situation.  She has to make choices in regard to Roman and her working life and I felt that it was very appropriate to what a woman so absorbed in her job would struggle with.  I wouldn’t really describe this book as a love story, but the romance is a fairly nice and real complement to Valentine’s struggle with the shoe company.

While I liked this book, it still didn’t really feel like my type of book.  I enjoyed it, but the constant focus on shoes and designers wore on me by the end.  Yes, I am aware that this is the premise, but I was far more interested in the characters.  I almost wanted pictures so I could at least envision what the heck she was doing in her workshop.  The many descriptions were nicely written, but bogged the book down for me.  I didn’t ever really feel compelled to go back to it after I’d put it down.  I think, perhaps, that this genre is just not for me, and while I can see the appeal for others in the reality, sweetness, and laughter contained in Very Valentine, it didn’t tick all the boxes for me.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from the library.

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Review: The Lace Makers of Glenmara, Heather Barbieri

Kate Robinson’s life is in tatters.  Her long-term boyfriend has dumped her, her fashion career is failing thanks to an incompetent advisor, and her mother has died.  Determined to renew herself, Kate departs on a long trip to Ireland, where she and her mother had planned to go before the cancer took away all plans.  Inadvertently, she stumbles upon Glenmara and a group of five women who have carried on the hereditary tradition of making lace while their own lives are uncertain and unhappy.  Together, Kate and the lace makers of Glenmara strive to not only rediscover their own lives, but to give their fading town a fresh start on the world stage.

I think the key word when it comes to this book is simply “not enough”.  The Lace Makers of Glenmara is meant to be inspiring and heart-warming with a simple story about the friendships between women, with one in particular as a focal point.  As always, Ireland itself is enchanting, and Glenmara and its generally aging residents are a product of a society long gone.  There is a mystical touch on Kate’s journey to Glenmara with William the Traveller.  Kate’s need for a new outlook on life is completely understandable.  Yet so much of this book rang false for me.  It seemed incredibly unlikely that Bernie would offer to let a stranger live with her when they had only met five minutes ago, against the advice of her best friend.  The romance was incredibly quick and not at all fleshed out.  Kate and Sullivan basically fall into bed together and are immediately serious after that with no real development of the initial relationship, so his panic shortly afterwards just seems strange.  This is especially so given that we’re told he sleeps around quite frequently and is never serious about anyone.  Kate seems different just because she reminds him of someone else, but that’s an incredibly shaky base for a relationship.  Lace making itself is undoubtedly fascinating, but again, few details are really given in the book.  The events within could also have been incredibly moving, and the book tries hard to accomplish that, but we haven’t spent enough time with the characters to feel grief on their behalf.

At its core, the story is still a good one.  I love how the lace could renew a community by giving it new strength and new visitors.  Its effect on the women’s lives is itself slightly magical, which adds to the overall mystical feel of the book.   It isn’t that I disliked the book, it is just that I put it down wishing for more story, more detail, more characters, more everything.  The Lace Makers of Glenmara is well conceived but poorly executed.

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