African American History Month – Frederick Douglass


Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Authors.” It’s also in honor African American History Month.

Frederick Douglass was the quintessential voice of his day. Born in the slave state of Maryland, Douglass seized opportunities to learn. He became literate and escaped slavery. Douglass wrote of his experiences , offering a first person account of the atrocities he withstood.

In his work Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, I was moved by his differentiation between “the Christianity of Christ” and  “the Christianity of this land.” Douglass opened doors for many with his writings.

African American History Month – Michele Andrea Bowen


Michele Andrea Bowen Fan Page | Facebook

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Authors.” It’s also in honor African American History Month.

Back in my college days, my mom recommended I read Michele Andrea Bowen’s Church Folk. I heeded her recommendation and finished the book during spring break. Church Folk offered a realistic Christian romance between two African Americans set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. Bowen’s book raised the bar for Christian Fiction in my opinion. I revisited and reviewed it in one of my library school classes. Check out my 2007 review of it by clicking on Well, isn’t that special? The story of Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen.

Bowen has gone on to write more stories, including a sequel to Church Folk. I recommend her writing to anyone seeking historical fiction and/or no-nonsense Christian fiction.

National Hispanic Heritage Month – Julia Alvarez


Julia Alvarez | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

As high school seniors, we had to read Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies. While the guys balked, I finished the book long before it was due. Alvarez’s rendering of the Mirabal Sisters’ cause led me to do research in my spare time. 

Later, I picked up her book How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and took note of her use of reverse chronological order. This is also present in In the Name of Salome. There’s no really unifying story line! 

Wikipedia states:

Many of Alvarez’s works are influenced by her experiences as a Dominican in the United States, and focus heavily on issues of assimilation and identity. Her cultural upbringing as both a Dominican and an American is evident in the combination of personal and political tone in her writing. She is known for works that examine cultural expectations of women both in the Dominican Republic and the United States, and for rigorous investigations of cultural stereotypes. In recent years, Alvarez has expanded her subject matter with works such as In the Name of Salomé (2000), a novel with Cuban rather than solely Dominican characters and fictionalized versions of historical figures.

In addition to her successful writing career, Alvarez is the current writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.

I often recommend Alvarez’s work. She writes everything from historical ficion –  In the Name of Salomé, Alvarez’s telling noted Dominican poet Salomé Ureña and her daughter, Camila Henríquez Ureña to Young Adult – Finding Miracles to poetry. I like how diverse she is in her writing.

For more on Julia Alvarez, check out her site by clicking here.

 

National Hispanic Heritage Month – Alisa Valdes


Alisa Valdes | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

It was a happy accident when I came across an audiobook version of Alisa Valdes (formerly Valdes-Rodriguez) Haters. This book had great characters, good story, and a strong moral. The cover of this book touted her as the author of The Dirty Girls Social ClubOf course, I had to read that one as well!  Again, these characters were so clearly defined by Valdes that I felt they were sitting in the room with me.

Goodreads states:

Alisa Valdes is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction, young adult fiction, and memoir, including The Dirty Girls Social Club. She has a master’s in journalism from Columbia University and spent ten years as a staff writer for the Boston Globe and LA Times before becoming an author. She lives in New Mexico with her family and pets and wishes the calories you ate when no one was watching didn’t count.

Another thing I’d be remiss in not mentioning is how Valdes manages to bring together diverse female characters. This especially comes through in her books about the Dirty Girls (Las Sucias) – six successful Latin American women who met and bonded while students at Boston University. There’s been much talk of getting Las Sucias on film.

For more on Alisa Valdes, check out her website by clicking here.

National Hispanic Heritage Month – Junot Díaz


Junot Díaz | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao changed my perception of something which seemed so scholarly – footnotes. My goodness, I’d never seen anything like it – little contradictions and factoids to add to the story of the woeful ghetto nerd Oscar. Within a page, I got narrative and the Dominican Republic’s volatile history. His work pointed me towards other books about the DR. I felt I had an idea and that’s mostly due to Díaz.

Goodreads states:

Junot Díaz is a contemporary Dominican-American writer. He moved to the USA with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz’s work is the duality of the immigrant experience. He is the first Dominican-born man to become a major author in the United States.

Díaz is creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2008.

In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Díaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was also awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, this book became a staple on my Top Ten Tuesday posts 🙂 … I also pushed through his previous work Drown, a collection of short stories (not my favorite prose) simply because they were written by Díaz. Lucky for me, Yunior, Díaz’s narrator, was there, too.

His latest – This is How You Lose Her – is on my TBR pile. Why? Well, his blend of facts and narrative bring forth a gloriously clear picture of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Thus, I couldn’t celebrate without mentioning Díaz.

National Hispanic Heritage Month – Sandra Cisneros


Sandra Cisneros | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads by Starry Night Elf called “Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.”

Sandra Cisneros holds the distinction of being the author of the first book I reviewed on this blog. To check out this review, click on “Wrapped up in Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.”

Goodreads says:

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954. Internationally acclaimed for her poetry and fiction, she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lannan Literary Award and the American Book Award, and of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. Cisneros is the author of two novels The House on Mango Street and Caramelo; a collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek; two books of poetry, My Wicked Ways and Loose Woman; and a children’s book, Hairs/Pelitos. She is the founder of the Macondo Foundation, an association of writers united to serve underserved communities (www.macondofoundation.org), and is Writer in Residence at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

While Caramelo is the only Cisneros work I’ve read, it’s a stellar one. She wrote a family saga with characters so distinctive that one can’t confuse them. Also, I found myself reminiscing about family road trips my own very different family. I liked the vignettes from the famous people as well.

I’d be remiss leaving to not mention hearing the legendary “Woman Hollering Creek.” I think of it each time I take a road trip from my native Houston to San Antonio. Shiver!

National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – Amy Tan


Amy Tan | LibraryThing

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads called “Celebrating Asian – Pacific American Authors! that Candice P. of WarmCuppaTea and I are doing this May.

I recall going with my mom and her friends to see The Joy Luck Club which was based on Amy Tan’s bestselling novel of the same name. While I heard afterwards that the movie greatly differed from the book which inspired it, I looked forward to reading the book someday. Later on, as I read Tan’s books, I became riveted by these relationships. Tan really shines when it comes to rendering a portrait of the mother-daughter relationship.

As the Literature Resource Center says:

Novelist Amy Tan was born in 1952, in Oakland, California, to Chinese immigrant parents. Her father, John Tan, emigrated to the United States in 1947 and worked as an engineer before he became a Baptist minister. Tan’s mother, Daisy, came to the United States after her first marriage crumbled due to spousal abuse; although she had three children by her former husband, Chinese law at that time would not permit a divorced woman to gain custody of her offspring and Daisy kept her first family a secret from her American-born children for many years. It was only after she lost her oldest son, Peter, and her husband to brain cancer that Daisy would reveal her past. Still a teen at the time of the death of both her father and brother, Tan grew up with her younger brother in her mother’s home, a fact that is reflected in the primacy of mother-daughter relationships within her fiction.

Of course, these elements rise to the surface in Tan’s writings. It’s been a while since I’ve read The Joy Luck Club or The Kitchen God’s  Wife. Still, these characters and situations remain with me. They became the standard in my future reading. Tan’s writing has been rather formative in my reading life.

Please check out:

 

National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – Jhumpa Lahiri


Jhumpa Lahiri | Goodreads

This post is part of a feature at Jorie’s Reads called “Celebrating Asian – Pacific American Authors! that Candice P. of WarmCuppaTea and I are doing this May.

My first memory of Jhumpa Lahiri was of the author talking about her new novel The Namesake with TV hostess Martha Stewart back in 2003. Lahiri’s description of Bengali immigrants having a son in Boston compelled me to request this book at HCPL. When her novel arrived, I could hardly put it down to eat or sleep.

According to the Gale Literary Database, Lahiri:

Born 1967, in London, England; daughter of a librarian and a teacher; married Alberto Vourvoulias (a journalist), January 15, 2001; children: two. Education: Barnard College, B.A.; Boston University, M.A. (English), M.A. (creative writing), M.A. (comparative literature and the arts), Ph.D. Addresses: Home: New York, NY.

As I’m not a big fan of short stories, I held off on reading her other books for years. Nonetheless, I gave in and was pleased with both of these collections. My only complaint was that I wanted to know more about these characters.

So, why am I making such a fuss? These characters, most of them of Bengali descent, are so different from me but I can identify with them. That’s Lahiri’s magic. Just give her a try and you’ll be mesmerized as well.

For Candice’s profile on Tite Kubo, check out her post “National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month – Tite Kubo – Creator of Bleach“.

 

Sarah Dessen’s Infinity


Infinity (Pocket Money Puffin) by Sarah Dessen | LibraryThing

(Written 19 January 2013)

Dessen, S. (2010). Infinity. London: Puffin. 9780141330778

Title and Author(s): Infinity by Sarah Dessen
Release Date:
May 6, 2010
Publisher:
Pocket Money Puffin
ISBN: 0743496728 
Pages: 33
Source: Inter-Library Loan (ILL)

Reasons for Reading: Going through Sarah Dessen withdrawals, I happened to see the title Infinity. When I saw that I could request the book through Inter-Library Loan, I did so.

Summary: A nameless heroine talks of going in circles. She now faces two daunting teen rites of passages. She can now drive. Will she be like her father and take on the town roundabout that long ago scared her mother? Also, Anthony, her boyfriend of six months, wants to make a home run. So, our heroine must decide when she wants to stop and when she wants to go on these endless lines.

One Thing I Learned from reading Sarah Dessen’s Infinity: This book was written in “British English” which made me wonder if Dessen wrote it that way or that the editor(s) added the extra “u” to certain words. 🙂

What I Liked: I liked that Dessen quickly drew me into the story. This sympathetic teenage girl faces these challenges. Also, she loves her mother even if she thinks the woman’s been silly about avoiding the roundabout. She’s sympathetic and likeable.

What I Disliked: This was way too short! I wanted to know more about the narrator. A name would have been most excellent! Come on, the silly boyfriend gets a name but she doesn’t? I also missed the references to characters from other Dessen books.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Make New Friends – YouTube

Setting : Unnamed College Town (Lakeview?)

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For more on Sarah Dessen’s Infinity, check out the following sites:
 

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth


Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri | LibraryThing

Lahiri, J. (2008). Unaccustomed earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9780307265739

Reasons for Reading : I’m not a big fan of short stories. However, as I’ve enjoyed Lahiri’s The Namesake, I pulled Unaccustomed Earth off the shelf at the HCPL branch where I work.

Summary: Lahiri tells eight stories of first generation Bengali Americans.  All these stories deal with the ups and downs of families and relationships.

Unaccustomed Earth is broken into two parts. Part I is comprised of the first five stories. Among them are “Unaccustomed Earth,” “Hell-Heaven,” “A Choice of Accommodations,” “Only Goodness,” and “Nobody’s Business.” The book is the namesake of “Unaccustomed Earth” tells of Ruma, a young mother in Seattle. When Ruma hosts her visiting widower father, she prepares for him to live with them. While her father tends to her garden and bonds with her son, he has his own ideas about what he wants to do. “Hell-Heaven” confronts the topics of social strata in both old and new worlds.  “A Choice of Accommodations” shares the nearly failed attempt of a husband to turn an old high school friend’s wedding into a romantic weekend for his wife. Lahiri tells of a sister who doesn’t know what to do about her alcoholic brother in “Only Goodness.” Part I ends with “Nobody’s Business,” a lovesick grad student watches his lovely Bengali roommate’s life implode.

Part II is called “Hema and Kaushik.” These three stories – “Once in a Lifetime,” “Year’s End,” and “Going Ashore” focus on two characters – Hema and Kaushik. Teenage Kaushik and his family stay with young Hema’s family. While they go on to lead very seperate lives, circumstances reunite them twenty years later.  

What I Liked : Lahiri’s writing style compels me to continue reading her work. I found myself empathizing with the jerkiest of jerks and understanding their plights. Lahiri’s talent shines from within Unaccustomed Earth.

What I Disliked : By the time I’m absorbed and enthralled in the story, it has ended! I especially wanted to read more about Hema and Kaushik.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: Nicola Conte – Dossier Omega – YouTube

Setting: Cambridge Massachusetts, Seattle, India, Italy, Thailand

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For more on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, check out the following sites: