Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "As university students in late 1970s Bombay, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta were inseparable. Spirited and unconventional, they challenged authority and fought for a better world. But much has changed over the past thirty years. Following different paths, the quartet drifted apart, the day-to-day demands of work and family tempering the revolutionary fervor they once shared.

Then comes devastating news: Armaiti, who moved to America, is gravely ill and wants to see the old friends she left behind. For Laleh, reunion is a bittersweet reminder of unfulfilled dreams and unspoken guilt. For Kavita, it is an admission of forbidden passion. For Nishta, it is the promise of freedom from a bitter fundamentalist husband. And for Armaiti, it is an act of acceptance, of letting go on her own terms even if her ex-husband and daughter do not understand her choices.

In the course of their journey to reconnect, Armaiti, Laleh, Kavita, and Nishta must confront the truths of their lives—acknowledge long-held regrets, face painful secrets and hidden desires, and reconcile their idealistic past and their compromised present. And they will have to decide what matters most, a choice that may just help them reclaim the extraordinary world they once found."

Review:  As my first Thrity Umrigar read, I was well aware of the number of novels she had already written, and I don't think this will be my last.  In short, the writing was robust and touching, but often in such subtle ways that the story snuck up on me.  

The story follows the story of four friends, three who live in India and one in America who is dying of a brain tumor.  The three in India want to travel to America to see her before it is too late, but one of their friends has married and converted into Islam.  Her husband, bitter from a number of circumstances both personal and political, has become a fundamentalist and has isolated his wife from her friends, and thus isolates her from us as readers as well.  It's an interesting thing to do with a character over the course of the novel, but serves to create a secondary problem that keeps us reading.

I thought the modern story set mainly in India very interesting.  Having read novels surrounding the partition of India, it's interesting to now look at how modern issues surrounding terrorism and racism reveals itself in a more modern India.  Obviously, fear is fear, but so is discrimination, anger, and bitterness, regardless of where you are in the world.  It's interesting though when you consider that country's history.  You have to feel for the Muslim husband, who has been discriminated against and been mistreated.  He really just fears for his family and wants to protect his wife and family, even if it comes out all wrong most of the time.  In the novel, we get to see a bit of both sides of the coin, even if in the end we do feel a bit more for the wife than we do for the husband.

Overall, I loved the subtle yet generous ways that Umrigar told the story.  While I don't often like stories that move from character to character in each chapter, this was one case where I didn't mind and got too caught up in the lives of these women to see the shifting story lines.  Umrigar is a beautiful writer and I will definitely be diving in to some of her other novels in the future.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on an advanced review copy provided by Amazon Vine.

Monday, August 19, 2013

First Day of School--Book Talk Day!

Tomorrow is the first day of school and I'm doing something I've never really done before--I'm pretty much doing "Book Talk" in two of my three courses.  I thought long and hard about it, and decided that I'm going to come out of the gates swinging.  I've been teaching now for 14 years (*silent scream*--No, I can't believe it!), and the kids know what I'm about and I don't often have to set the stage.  Why spend the first day reading my disclosure document, handing out rule books, and explaining school policies?  I want to get them excited about reading and use that to set the stage for our year.  I hope it works!

One of the things I've noticed that gets my students interested in reading is a continued enthusiasm on my part for all things book related.  The more often I can share what I'm reading, let them share what they're reading, or share what they could be reading--the better!  So, tomorrow I'm going to do this cool little book talk activity to introduce two of my classes.  (AP Lit. gets to dive in on a discussion of Frankenstein, so it's a different type of "Book Talk," I suppose.)

We'll see how it goes, but I have a feeling that it's going to be a lot better than some of my normal methods.  Besides, it's all about books.  How can you go wrong with awesome books?!?  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: Emma: A Latter-Day Tale by Rebecca H. Jamison

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Emma's her name and matchmaking is her game! Quirky life coach Emma wants to help her first-ever client, a lonely nanny named Harriet. But all of her attempts at matchmaking result only in embarrassing miscues and blunders, leaving the pair disheartened and confused. This modern take on the Jane Austen classic shows that sometimes the greatest match is the one we make for ourselves."

Review:  First off, let me say that Emma is one of those characters from Austen's repertoire of female leads that you either take to right away or find slightly off-putting with her need to "help" other people.  I always seemed to find myself in that second category, but liked to see the development of her character over time and enjoyed seeing her taken down a peg by Mr. Knightley as she learned that maybe her ways are not always the best or seemingly correct all of the time.  (We all learn that, right?)  It's that humility moment though that makes me learn to like her, so I always stick with her.

Well, as an avid "Janeite," I've read or watched a lot of different variations of Austen's novels.  I thought this Emma was cute and endearing, although slightly pushy at times in her desire to coach others--especially Harriet, or Harri as they call her.  What I wasn't expecting was the strong Latter-day Saint cultural reference points for the novel.  Okay, so the title states it pretty explicitly, but I somehow naively thought it would just be part of the cultural backdrop of the story.  It actually played a pretty cultural forefont in the novel with single adult activities, missionaries, and a conversion and baptism in the story that I didn't see coming.  I won't lie; it felt odd in an Austen tale.  I was just thinking romantic tale, not religion.

The real highlight in the story had to be Justin, or our Mr. Knightley.  He was SPOT ON in my book.  I loved him from the get go and found myself scanning pages to find him.  (Is that bad?)  He was so well paired with Jamison's character Emma that I knew she'd written him just right, but you couldn't help but wish you could interview him and say, "What in the world do you see in her right at the beginning that we're not?!?"  Over time, you start to see it and understand that he is just a little older than she is and sees the world differently--thank goodness.  In short, I thought Justin was a cutey.  Emma just had to grow up a bit.

I can't say that Emma still ranks up there on my chart of favorite characters, but I like that Austen gives us a character with some gumption to speak up!  This Emma is no different, so good for her as well.  If you're up for a more religious, squeaky clean sort of read, this is a version you might wander into. 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on an advanced review copy provided through Netgalley by Cedar Fort Inc.

Don't forget to stop by my last post for a giveaway of Emma!  The giveaway ends this Wednesday, so stop by today!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blog Tour Stop & Giveaway: Emma: A Latter-Day Tale by Rebecca H. Jamison

I'm so excited today to have the opportunity to have Rebecca H. Jamison here today on my blog to introduce her new book Emma: A Latter-Day Tale, which is a fun retelling of Jane Austen's novel Emma, but from an LDS perspective (which fits with a lot of students here in my area).  When I was approached to read this novel, I was pretty intrigued with this retelling, so I thought I'd give it a try, so thank you to Rebecca Jamison and Cedar Fort for this fun opportunity!  Also, don't forget to check out the giveaway at the end.

Jane Austen's No Excuse Approach to Writing

Jane Austen had plenty of excuses to stop writing. She lived in a time when it wasn’t completely acceptable for a woman to write novels, let alone publish them. In fact, she kept her writing secret for years, hiding her manuscripts away whenever guests arrived. She wrote multiple novels before any of her writing was published. When she finally did publish her work, she had to rely on her brother to negotiate with the publisher, and she published under a pen name. Her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published fifteen years after she started writing it.

Writing itself was difficult for Jane. By her own admission, she was a bad speller. Her writing desk was tiny. Just imagine what she’d say to you if you complained that your computer crashed. At least we have ballpoint pens! Even on her deathbed, with nothing more than pen, ink, and paper, Jane Austen managed to write Persuasion and revise Northanger Abbey.

Yet there was a time when Jane didn’t write much. During the years she lived in Bath, perhaps because of poverty or discouragement, she wrote very little. Later, when she went to live with her brother, she could have told herself that she hadn’t written in years and that it would be silly to go back to it. Thankfully, she chose to write.

Those of us who write have many of the same excuses. Though it’s now acceptable for women to publish novels, it’s not really acceptable for anyone other than a published author to admit she’s writing a novel. We’re luckier than Jane, in that we have word processors, laptops, and other technology to help us write. What we don’t have is time. It takes ingenuity and sacrifice to fit writing into a busy schedule. And, like Jane, we writers can easily fall victim to discouragement. One day of not writing can easily turn into years. The moral of Jane Austen’s story for me is this: Write anyway.

Rebecca H. Jamison Biography

Looking for love? Rebecca H. Jamison would love to set you up with that special someone, but you’re better off reading her books. She has a terrible track record as a matchmaker.

Rebecca grew up in Virginia. She attended Brigham Young University, where she earned a BA and MA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In between college and graduate school, she served a mission to Portugal and Cape Verde.

Book Summary for Emma: A Latter-day Tale

Title: Emma: A Latter-day Tale
Author: Rebecca H. Jamison
ISBN: 978-1-4621-1260-9
Price: $16.99/$19.99
256 pages

Short Blurb: Emma's her name and matchmaking is her game! Quirky life coach Emma wants to help her first-ever client, a lonely nanny named Harriet. But all of her attempts at matchmaking result only in embarrassing miscues and blunders, leaving the pair disheartened and confused. This modern take on the Jane Austen classic shows that sometimes the greatest match is the one we make for ourselves.

Cover Blurb:

NOT Looking for Love: Single woman (23) seeks best friend to chat on the phone, shop the clearance racks, watch chick flicks, try out messy cooking projects, and eat Dove dark chocolates.

Emma isn’t so good at the whole life-coaching thing. Her first client ended up with a broken heart and is threatening to relapse in her bad habits. Now Emma has problems of her own to deal with, and all those problems start with one name: Justin.

Justin is her best friend, so it’s hard for Emma not to feel betrayed when she suspects he is falling for her childhood rival. And she knows she’s losing him despite her best efforts. No matter how much she tries, she keeps running up against obstacles. How is she supposed to help other people when she’s drowning in her own failures?

Fans of Jane Austen’s Emma will love this modern retelling of the classic romance novel. Fall in love with Emma’s latter-day tale of redemption, forgiveness, and the quest for true love.



To buy:


It was amazing how much more snow Phil could pick up with his shovel than I could with mine. He cleared three feet of the driveway before I was done with one.
“When we’re done, if you have time, you should come in and meet Harri. I think you two will get along.”
Phil stopped and looked at his watch. “I’m planning to do a couple more driveways before it gets dark.”
“I’ll go get Harri now if you’re in a hurry. She wants to meet you.”
Phil leaned on his shovel. “Harry is a she?”
 “Her real name is Harriet. She moved here a couple months ago and she’s hardly met anybody. I think you’ll like her.”
Phil threw his head back, laughed, and started shoveling again. “I thought you were trying to introduce me to your new boyfriend.”
“You think I would be out here shoveling snow while my new boyfriend stays inside?” I grabbed a handful of snow and threw it at him. I didn’t mean to hit him in the face, but that’s where it landed.
Phil wiped the snow off his face and grinned. “I wondered why you were dating such a loser.” I expected him to throw a snowball at me, but he just stood there. “So you don’t have a boyfriend?”
I giggled a little at his awkwardness. “Nope. Harri doesn’t either.”
Phil threw another shovelful of snow away from the driveway. “So you . . . I mean, you and your friend are . . . available?” Phil didn’t open his mouth enough when he talked. That was the one thing about him that always distracted me. I couldn’t help staring at his mouth.
I had to force myself to look into his eyes. “Why is that a shock, Phil? Every woman in that house right now is available. You can take your pick—Harri, me, or Barbara. You’re surrounded by single women.” It was safe to assume Phil wouldn’t pick me. I was at least three inches taller than he was, and it was a rare man who dated a taller woman.

Giveaway:  For the giveaway, Cedar Fort has one e-book version in Nook, Kindle, or PDF to award.  To be considered, leave a comment telling me what you are going to try not to give yourself any excuses with during the last half of the year.

Because the giveaway is digital format, as long as you can accept via these formats, you can enter!  :) Please leave a comment by next Wednesday, 8/14 by midnight and include your email address. 

Thank you again to Rebecca Jamison for stopping in today on her Blog Tour!  Don't forget to check out her other stops. You can check them out right here.  Also, stop back by later on this week for my review of her book!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Let's just say that I can't believe I let a day sit between me and writing a review of this great read.  I actually tore through this one back during the school year, but my lapse in review writing made me forget to stop back in to write about it.  Since the next book is about to come out, I wanted to hurry and get a review written so I could then share this one!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines."

Review:  Just One Day is one of those reads that you think you know what is going to happen, and then you feel a total bait and switch coming, and then you go, "Oh shoot, what in the heck just happened and when is that other book coming out?!?"  

Allyson is that American high school tourist who has had a great trip, but wants to make a real memory.  What does she do?  She sneaks off with this cute Dutch actor to Paris.  

WAIT.  The high school teacher in me literally started screaming, "What in the world are you thinking?!?" I started panicking right away and couldn't relax.  Literally.  Is this Willem some creeper who is going to steal her money and run off, leaving her in Paris to "learn how cool and independent she is there in Paris?  Is Willem going to be kind and take her around Paris to show her a nice time and deliver her safely back to London?  What was going to happen?!?  I panicked!  That, on it's own, kept me on my toes.

Listen.  It's London.  It's Paris.  How wrong can you really go with those locations?  Once you relax (or I relaxed into the story), I thought it was an amazing tale, but things go in a remarkably different direction than you initially imagine.  The story is surprising, and shocking, and stunning all at the same time.  I think that I read the last 3/4 of the book in one sitting and even choked a little tear near the end.  The trip to Europe actually only takes up the first 1/3 of the book, and then the last portion is dealing with what happens.  

For anyone that has reviewed this book, there is a huge reveal in the book that is spoiled if you say too much.  Needless to say, Allyson and Willem do part ways after Paris and you want to know what happens.  That is the crux of this book, and that is what propels the next book coming up.  There is a lot more to the story, but it is such an emotional read that you are stunned by the range that it reaches.  All I can say is GO read it.  This has been one of my favorite reads thus far this year.  I like to be surprised in good ways, and this one kept me on my toes.

Disclaimer:  There is one adult scene in Paris that some teens might be sensitive to.  I do think that the rest of the book handles it in a very adult way and does not brush it under the table.  I wanted to FYI it though for sensitive readers.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

The next book, Just One Year, which will be Willem's story, comes out October 15th.  Let's just say that I can hardly wait!