Sunday, October 31, 2010

Madame Chiang Kai-Shek

I prefer one temperature for cooking: High.

The gas stove gives a satisfying pop before spitting out a nasty flame that engulfs the pan in an inferno of heat.

In the interesting biography, Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady, by Laura Tyson Li,  Madame Chiang Kai-shek lived her life like my stove, cranked up to full power and scorching a path through history. She was vain, spoiled, brilliant and tragic. Her actions showed that she would make moral compromises, underhanded deals, and turn a blind eye to basic human rights if it interfered with putting her husband back in power. She saw him as the Savior to China and would stop at nothing to make him the most powerful leader in China.

Madame Chiang Kai-shek was one of the first female ambassadors to the West and the author shows that she was a master charmer and manipulator of men in U.S. politics. Her husband, Chiang Kai-shek,  is portrayed in this book as a brutal warlord who rose to power under Sun Yat-sen's leadership. Chiang Kai-shek murdered or jailed those who opposed him and was a tyrant who only listened to his wife and later, his son.

The rise and fall of their regime and the years spent in Taiwan makes for a fascinating read. Some parts were very detailed and slow. Others read quickly. 

I turn off my stove and watch the flame slowly fade away to nothing. I wonder if over time the memory of the Chiang Kai-sheks will fade in the same way.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Try Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Dear Reader,

I discovered a marvelous machine in the lockerroom that spins water out of your swimsuit. It's brilliant! It looks like an oversized salad spinner.

I also read a wonderful book called, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I know. I know. The title sounds like they threw a bunch of words in a salad spinner. This entire book is written in letter format! Inspired, I decided to write a letter to you about the book. The  goofy book name came about when a group of people on an island in the English Channel called, Guernsey, formed a club as a way to avoid jail time when they broke curfew during the Nazi occupation. I found the letter format discombobulating in the beginning. It was hard figuring out where the story was going. I didn't find the plot absorbing until page 40.

The story follows Juliet Ashton, a journalist and published author who wrote funny, light articles during World War II. Now that the war is over, Juliet wants to write a novel. She follows a story lead in Guernsey and along the way falls in and out of love, makes friends, and discovers the story she wants for a novel as residents describe the horrors and ways they survived during the Nazi occupation.

The letter format allows for many points of view and the minor characters come alive with unique voices and wit. For instance, Susan writes a funny letter to Juliet about her new assistant.

Dear Juliet,

You know Sidney does not keep your letters clasped next to his heart; he leaves them open on his desk for anyone to see, so of course I read them. I am writing to reassure you about Billie Bee's errand-running. Sidney doesn't ask her. She begs to perform any little service she can for him, or you, or "that dear child." She all but coos at him and I all but gag at her. She wears a little angora cap with a chin bow - the kind that Sonja Henie skates in. Need I say more?

Also contrary to what Sidney things, she isn't an angel straight from heaven, she's from an employment agency. Meant to be temporary, she has dug herself in - and is now indispensable and permanent. Can't you think of some living creature Kit would like to have from the Galapagos? Billie Bee would sail on the next tide for it - and be gone for months. Possibly forever, if some animal there would just eat her.

All my best to you and Kit,

Susan (p. 225)

I really liked how this book portrayed Juliet's struggle with finding and creating a story. I could also relate to the author in the Afterword, where Annie Barrows explains how "...Mary Ann could no more endure a day without reading than she could grow feathers..." (p.284).

Okay Reader. Back to the swimsuit salad spinner. Is there anything else miraculous in the swimworld in terms of swim caps? My current rubberized piece of comfort ripped out a chunk of bangs when I whipped it off and I had a burn line slashed across my forehead after swimming in the hot sun for a few hours. And don't get me started on the goggles! Those fogged-up, eyeball sucking plastic circles are like tentacles that latch onto my skin so tightly that after I am done swimming I have deep circular indentations hours later. Yes, they keep the water out, but is there something less torturous?

Your googly-eyed friend,


:-) :-) :-)  3.5 Smileys

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kitchen Chinese

Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself, by Ann Mah, did NOT pass the grilled cheese test.

If I'm completely riveted by an awesome book, I burn the grilled cheese.

Either the smoke sneaking out the kitchen door or the smell of burning bread snaps my head out of my dreamy alternate world into reality.

I didn't burn the bread.

While Kitchen Chinese was a pleasant read, the plot was predictable and parts unbelievable. Isabelle, an American born Chinese is from New York and gets fired from her magazine job. She goes to live with her sister, Claire, in Beijing. I liked the author's description of China, the food and living as an expat.I found myself shaking my head in agreement at some of her observations and I learned about some Chinese medicine techniques that no one has been able to translate for me such as moxibustion. When I workout I see women in the locker room with perfectly round, ugly looking bruises all over their backs. This form of Chinese medicine, Mah explains in her book,  is when toxins are sucked out of the body using hot glass cups.

I also liked the descriptions of food and the city: "I continue down the street until I reach a small street that's lined with ramshackle storefronts. Here each step brings a different smell, first an acrid wave of cigarette smoke, then the reek of garbage, then the cozy wafting scent of fried dough. It's a reminder of how closely packed life is here, where generations share bedrooms, neighborhoods share bathrooms and stacks of Napa cabbage are stored next to trash heaps." p. 62

Isabelle is single and dating and has several men interested in her. She's working for an expat magazine and is a food columnist. Everything goes right for Isabelle. She gets a huge scoop, attracts a pop-star, freelances an article for a famous newspaper, always seems to write "amazing" articles and doesn't struggle with writing except for the occasional writer's block.

Yeah right.

It doesn't work that way in journalism. As a freelance writer it is a guarantee the writer will get rejection notices. I would have liked to see Isabelle struggle with this part of freelance writing because it is very difficult and hurtful to get rejection letters. All writers get them. And all have to deal with them in their own way.

Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times.

A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times.

This book is more of a fantasy for a writer. No rejections, little criticism, only success. I preferred how the authors, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, portrayed the struggle of creating a story in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The title of the book suggests it is like Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert but there isn't enough reflection or humor compared to Gilbert's book.

I would describe this book as a light romance novel that captures the foods and sights of China.

Don't expect to burn your grilled cheese.

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Monday, October 25, 2010

Out of my Mind

When I read a really good book I want to savor it like a hot fudge sundae. Take small, bitty bites and swirl it around my mouth until the vanilla and hot fudge sauce blends together in one delicious chocolaty flavor.

The book, Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper tastes to me like a hot fudge sundae. I slowed down so I could really savor the words, plot and rhythmn of the story. While I associate food with reading, Melody associates music with colors and feelings throughout the book. Her Mom loves classical music while Dad enjoys Jazz. "Those pieces seem to be bright blue as I listen, and they smell like fresh paint. Dad is partial to jazz... Jazz to me sounds brown and tan, and it smells like wet dirt." (p. 6)  Happy feelings are yellow and smell like lemons. Sad feelings are gray with no smell.

This powerful story revolves around Melody who has a photographic memory and cerebral palsy which means she cannot talk or move. Confined to a wheelchair she can only utter a few "uh" type words. Her Mom usually figures out what she wants but most don't.  Most think she is an idiot. She gets a computer board that allows her to "talk" and her world is radically changed as she communicates with the people around her. People discover that Melody is very, very bright. Melody begins to make friends,  enters a Whiz Team competition with classmates, and has to deal with many unique issues that revolve around her disability. 

When Melody's sister Penny is born, Melody has to deal with her feelings of having a sister who is "normal." Penny offers some comedic relief in the story. Melody describes her: "Penny zoomed around like a windup toy" and she has a stuffed animal she lugs around called, Doodle, but when she says the word it sounds like "Doo-Doo" which makes Dad "crack up."

In a dramatic climax that involves Penny and the Whiz Team, Melody has to decide what is important in life and what defines a friend. 

I really liked that the Mom and Dad are portrayed as caring parents who work really hard to give their daughter with a disability a life that is "normal." In real life, the author has a child with a disability and it comes through with her compassionate portrayal of Melody's family.

Sit down with this book and savor it.

Reading Level 4.7

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys

If you liked this book try Rules, by Cynthia Lord or

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

A parked light blue Mercury car.

My bike found its bumper because I was reading a book and biking at the same time.


Some mistakes really, really hurt.

In the book, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Zoe's Dad makes all sorts of mistakes such as buying 432 rolls of toilet paper, or buying an organ instead of a piano, or signing Zoe up for piano lessons where they use a pretend piano on paper versus the real thing.

Zoe's sense of humor comes through right from page one:

How It Was Supposed to Be

I was supposed to play the piano.
The piano is a beautiful instrument.
People wear ball gowns and tuxedos to hear the piano.

With the piano, you could play Carnegie hall. You could wear a tiara. You could come out on stage wearing gloves up to your elbows. You could pull them off, one finger at a time.

Everybody is quiet when you are about to play the piano. They don’t even breathe. They wait for the first notes.

They wait.
They wait.

And then you lift your hands high above your head and slam them down on the keys and the first notes come crashing out and your fingers fly up and down and your foot –in its tiny slipper with rubies at the toe- your foot peeks out from under your gown to press lightly on the pedals.

A piano is glamorous. Sophisticated. Worldly.
It is a wonderful thing to play the piano.

How it is

 I play the organ.
A wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ.
The Perfectone D-60.

The beginning of the story hints that Zoe's father has some sort of problem. I wasn't sure if Dad was dumb or mentally ill. I was leaning toward dumb after reading the chapter titled, Float like  a Butterfly. He was almost cartoonish in terms of all the online classes he was taking. The author was being funny but it didn't work for me until later in the story when she portrays him as caring, sensitive and crazy fun.  Dad likes to dance "...he's bouncing and spinning around the room [to a Polka she's playing on the organ] and using some kind of accent saying "vun day' and 'dis vellow'" (p33). On the other hand, Mom is a numbers crunching machine. At the competition "she has written down the names of all the competitors and drawn columns next to them with little slash marks for each mistake. She writes down the judges comments, too, in code with plus signs and minus signs and stars. This is how Mom has fun." (p. 180)

Zoe loses friends and gain friends. She enters the Perfecto-rama competition and learns that it is okay to make mistakes and the important thing in life, whether it is a competition or overcoming personal issues like her Dad, is to keep going and never give up.

Reading Level 6.3

Scholastic book trailer video

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 Smileys

Reading Rumpus

"Let the wild rumpus begin!"

This is one of my favorite lines in the book, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

Our library is so busy that at times it is like a rumpus. And the rumpus is over reading! How great!

This is my attempt to blog the books I read on a weekly basis.