Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A note to my Blogger followers

Hey guys,

I'm slowly moving my favorite bits from this page over to my new Tumblr page, as well as plenty of new content. Blogger is just getting too glitchy for me. So come enjoy all the new stuff @ the new blog page, Hush It, I'm Reading. Thanks for reading my posts -- I look forward to hashing out a ton more books to come! :-)

Angie, a forever Rebel Reader

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hope & Heartache -- Strife in Japan, China & Cambodia

Right now I'm hoping I can get this post typed! What is it that makes pets want to lean against your arms when you're trying to type?! N E WAYZ... I actually have three short reads to discuss today -- similar themes of strife, but different locations.

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd -- Mary MacKenzie is 20 years old and recently engaged to a military man in Peking, China. She endures a somewhat arduous sea trip to meet her fella in China (I hesitate calling him her love because the marriage seemed to be of the arranged sort, they didn't seem to know much of anything about each other). Mary marries, sets up house but later on finds herself in an affair with a Japanese man. The affair leads to pregnancy and social ostracization. Think The Scarlett Letter, but in China.

I typically really enjoy epistolary novels but something about this one just seemed to drag too much for me. I was all for it at the start but the entries just started sounding so dry after awhile. I got about halfway in and thought, Why don't I care more about all these people? Have you ever gotten to that point and then find yourself getting mad that you're just now realizing how you feel and you just wasted time that could have gone to a book you'd really love (but then, how do you know it's a book you love until you're all up in it?). I also thought it was odd and just a little creepy that Richard would tell his fiancee, shortly after meeting, that "in China, nothing is as it seems" and she would be good to remember that. WTH is that suppose to mean? I'd be asking what kind of hell I was walking into, with a comment like that! 

I never saw it, but a tv mini-series adaptation of the book was made in 1989.

Silk by Alessandro Baricco takes place between the years of 1861-1866, telling the tale of Herve Joncour, a French silk merchant who, over the course of these years, takes many trips to Japan, to arrange the purchase of silkworm eggs with one particular nobleman. Things get complicated when a young woman close to the nobleman, I got the impression she was a favored concubine, starts making secret passes at Herve (though neither speak the other's language). Herve, married btw, gets entangled in this mysterious infatuation, even encouraging it, though he doesn't fare too well in that dept. Meanwhile, Herve's wife, Helene, holds down the fort in France, enjoys her husband's growing fortune and pretends she doesn't know what's going on... at least not until the very end. And then Baricco throws in the heartbreaker letter.

author Alessandro Baricco

I picked up this book last year, thinking the title sounded familiar but not being able to remember past that. Turns out I hadn't read this book but was, in fact, thinking of The Lover by Marguerite Duras, which I did read years ago but didn't get all that excited over. Not sure why I connected the two in my brain since they have very little in common other than the Asian element and actual physical length of story. Both are easy, super short reads. But for whatever reason, The Lover just didn't pull me in the way Silk did. Baricco has the brilliant skill of being able to say a lot while virtually writing nothing. There are no big, showy "why yes, I did attend an Ivy League" words clogging up the story here He uses only the words you need as a reader to be right there with Herve. This book is less than 100 pages long, but I could vividly imagine every environment, feel the snow and fire, smell the flowers in the garden, you know how those kind of books feel :-) I also liked the history lessons slipped in -- 1869: the Suez Canal opens, making a trip to Japan about 20 days rather than months on end, while the return trip was often less than 20 days. Also, 1884: artificial silk was patented by Frenchman Hilaire Chardonnet. This is why I love historical fiction! You can learn the stuff without it being dry!

From a distance his wife Helene saw the carriage coming up the tree-lined driveway of the property. She told herself that she was not to cry and not to run away. She went down to the front door, opened it and stopped on the threshold. When Herve Joncour reached her, she smiled. He embraced her and quietly said to her: "Stay with me, please." That night they stayed up till late, seated beside each other on the lawn in front of their house. Helene told him... about all those ghastly months spent waiting, and those ghastly final days. "You were dead," she said. "And in the whole world there was nothing beautiful left."

I also got an inside chuckle when, upon reading the first few pages, I realized I knew this story from somewhere. I sat there thinking Had I read this before? Then it dawned on me -- I had actually seen the movie years ago without knowing anything about this novel. I think it was a movie channel freebie that came on one day. I don't remember a whole lot about the movie except the gorgeous cinematography, the woman Herve hires to read the letter from his admirer, and Keira Knightly playing long-suffering Helene (perfectly cast there, btw). Even the book had great cinematography -- I picture all my favorite books as if they're shot like Ang Lee movies lol.

Hold Fast 

Hold Fast by Lang Tang & Nicole Donoho -- This is a Kindle freebie I stumbled upon the other day. I just got a Kindle recently so I've been perusing the freebies pretty regularly to see what comes up. This one sounded like it could be a good educational read. This is Lang Tang's memoir about surviving life under the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I was never taught much about the Khmer Rouge in school so I figured what better way to fill in the gaps than read a first person account, right? Tang has a pretty riveting story here. The writing is very simple and direct (but keep in mind he's an ESL student) but what he has to say pulled me in right away. I knew enough to know the Khmer Rouge were bad news, but I had no idea it went so far to where they had no qualms about killing their own followers without batting an eye. Tang survived by working for them, running errands mostly. Even being on their good side, as much as you can be I guess, he still spent most of his time under their rule half starved (the KR stole food from their followers / prisoners constantly) and nearly dead. It broke my heart that it took him years to get up the means and courage to travel to America, facing possible execution by the Khmer Rouge if caught escaping, but when he and his family got here, they had a whole new struggle with battling racism, xenophobia, red tape and Tang being color-blind, making finding work difficult. He persevered though. He was granted American citizenship in 1989 and went on to become a successful vitamin / dietary supplement distributor. By the end of this book, I realized that whatever excuse I have for not getting where I want to be is pretty invalid! You can visit Tang's Facebook page here to learn more about him.

**Just read on Tang's page that apparently the free price was just a promotional thing, ending on the 23rd (today) ... sorry readers!**

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Warm Fuzzies Day!!

Happy Valentine's Day, my book peeps! I have a few love inspired reads for y'all, including one for those who tend to cringe at the whole hearts & roses parade going by { God knows I was one myself for a good many years -- I'm still not super sappy but I did get married so I do indulge in cuddly, smooshy feelings from time to time ;-) }. My house has been a sort of sick house here lately with cold bugs & seasonal funk going through. Poor mister has quite the hack going on now, but he's hoping to be feeling well enough to have us out and about for a bit this afternoon. So, I'm getting this out now, leaving the day free to indulge in some rare couple-y time with my fella :-) Here's a few to check out:

 There's an Italian expression, not an expression, really, just a way of saying something, a  useful phrase, probably universal: Non vale la pena, "It's not worth the trouble." But in Italian if you get the gender wrong and say Non vale il peneyou're in trouble. "It's not worth the penis" is what you're saying.... I never quite understood the violent reactions I got, but it didn't matter. I was speaking Italian; I'd broken out of the prison of English. Finally, Signor Cipriani, the English teacher, took me aside and set me straight, but by that time the phrase had become fixed in my head, or on my tongue... It wasn't easy to change. I always had to stop and think: Not il pene but la pena. But you know, sometimes I think it doesn't make much difference, and sometimes I think my way is better. Every woman will know what I mean. ~~ The 16 Pleasures  (funny that this passage was written by a man!)

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga -- short read, but gorgeous writing. Story of Margot Harrington, an American who goes to Italy in the 1960s to work as a "Mud Angel". Great book to curl up with if you want to spend the night in with no one to bug ya. Lots of talk of religion, classical art, Italian food and a young woman having the classic international romance with the older, "experienced"  Italian lover -- the kind of character that likes to call himself experienced when really it's typically just a euphemism for booty-call connoisseur. Also, I love how Margot talks about "settling" for a career as an antique book restorer. LOL. I thought I settled once when I spent a summer as a barista... hmm, think I could buckle down and "deal" with being a book restorer -- only one of my dream occupations :-P But if you're a hardcore bibliophile like me (and unapologetic about it) who loves not only stories but the paper they're written on and the binding they're captured in, there's lots of those little details given in this story so you should have a lot of fun with this one. The only thing that confused me was why the book flip-flopped between 1st and 3rd person narrative without explanation. Or maybe I missed the explanation in there somewhere.

How To Live With A Man (And Love It!) by Jennifer Worick  -- this is sort of a tongue-in-cheek manual for women on how to make co-habitation with your fella more enjoyable, how to be the perfect woman for him, how to get him to lock it down, etc. It features lots of vintage-y 1950s-60s photos and plays off of all those guides that were so popular back in our parents' day. There's lots of common sense & good advice for relationships here, but delivered in a comically vintage way. The talk of using positive reinforcement on your man reminded me of the Doris Day / Bobby Darin movie When A Man Answers (I think that's the one) where she trains her husband to behave better secretly using tips from a dog training manual. Worick suggests such ideas as "schedule a time to be spontaneous, as contrary as that may sound"; or when designing the baby nursery theme you may consider an outer space theme because "aliens are always nifty". :-)  But one tip she gives I know to be undeniably false in our house -- "Make baked beans and leave out the bacon. He will never miss that smoky pork product." LOL, well I figure if my fella is bringing home the bacon, least I can do is cook it for him! Judging from the grins he gets when he smells me making it, I can guarantee he'd miss it if I said nope, never again. So there's some fun tips and whatnot here, but my favorite part was just all the cool art & funny (but seriously, these are handy!) charts -- a few examples below:

I gotta give him favors every time he gets the oil changed?
Uh-oh... just remembered one of the cars is due! :-S

"A good cover does more than just help sell the work. It's important for the reader, because the image acts as an introduction and an epilogue to the story. It's what you ponder before diving into the first sentence, and what you stare at while the last line reverberates in your head. I have to say though, I think the person the cover of Girls In Trucks affected the most was me. This photograph finished my book for me. Before I saw it, Sarah Walters was just an idea. Now I know what she looks like. She's a girl both walking away and moving toward something. Scared but brave. Curious but hesitant. She's someone I feel I can talk to. And she's wearing a truly beautiful dress."  ~~ Katie Crouch

Girls In Trucks by Katie Crouch -- this is the anti-Valentine's Day (sort of) romance I mentioned at the top of this post. Sarah Walters (our heroine of sorts) is Southern born and bred, raised in the members only Camellias club, a debutante trainee circle where girls are trained in etiquette, classic dances, how to walk pretty and speak like a lady and how to catch a husband. And Sarah couldn't be more bored. But she goes through it all because it makes mamma happy. Well, Sarah grows up and finds what a sheltered existence the Camellias held her under. She leaves the South to find her sister in a bi-racial, bi-cultural relationship (something definitely not endorsed by the Camellias), and Sarah herself goes on to have a long-term, toxic relationship. But through all this, she has an honesty and a sense of humor that had me tearing through this book in one night. I was bummed at how she treats the one guy who seems to want to do right by her but she also admits she's screwed up and probably not a healthy choice for him to date. I loved how honest this girl was about herself, even if it wasn't pretty. At times she gets really dark. But that's the way life goes. I have some seriously dark days myself where it would be a pretty big suckfest of gloom for anyone to be around me. Then other days I laugh and say "Damn, life is crazy!" I guess that's why Sarah's darker parts didn't bother me. I've been there. If you check out this book on Amazon, it's gotten some pretty unfavorable reviews but I say give it a shot and decide for yourself. It's not that long a read and you're bound to find something you can relate to here. 

He looks up and smiles, and yup, there it is again, that pure-ray-of-sun smile. The kind God makes just to remind us of what He can do...Onstage, the ladies from the black church are singing like they are just positive God is right here, listening. And before yesterday, I'd wonder, How can you be so sure, ladies, how do you know? But I've got the best arm in the world draped around my shoulder, and I get it now. Seriously. So thank you, God. Thanks. 

Well, I'll let you get back to your loves, as I get back to mine now. Here's hoping it's a day of chocolate and great books for you all! :-)


 image from How To Live With A Man by Jennifer Worick