Dec 1, 2013

Book Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon!  I want to discuss this intriguing book I've just finished reading. 

Title: The Valley of Amazement: A Novel by Amy Tan
Published November 5, 2013; Ecco
Genre: historical novel

Comments: Finishing this novel has led me to read more of Tan's books and I have started The Kitchen's God's Wife, her second book after the popular Joy Luck Club. I seem better able to put myself into the cultural context of those first two books, more than I was able to the first time I tried reading them. The emphasis on superstition and ghosts and women who lived in a feudal environment was not something I understood very well or could relate to, as an example.

The Valley of Amazement is a novel about courtesans in early 19th century Shanghai, and revolves around a tense and tenuous mother-daughter relationship, as well as the lives of courtesans in China, their customs, formalities, behavior and norms. As I read along, I was reminded of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, then Puccini's Madame Butterfly without the tragic ending, and later on of the Chinese film Raise the Red Lantern, which is about women in a household with multiple wives. These themes are all in Tan's new book.

The second half of the book had its own drama and some excitement for a reader who loves a chase. There are themes of sisterhood among the "flower sisters" or courtesans who bond and help each other in difficult situations. There are themes of different kinds of love in men-women relationships, themes of reunion and forgiveness.  I can't get into specifics without revealing plot!

This was an enlightening as well as entertaining and informative book. It took me effortlessly into another time and place and culture through its characters' ups and downs during a dangerous and daring time in Chinese history.

Publisher's book description:
"Moving between the dazzling world of courtesans in turn of the century Shanghai, a remote Chinese mountain village, and the rough-hewn streets of nineteenth-century San Francisco, Amy Tan's new novel maps the lives of three generations of women connected by the mystery of an evocative painting known as "The Valley of Amazement."

Violet is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Shanghai.  Half-Chinese and half-American, she struggles to understand who she really is. Abandoned by her mother, Lucia, Violet's quest to truly love and be loved will set her on a path of danger and complexity.

Lucia, a willful American woman who was once herself the proprietress of Shanghai's most exclusive courtesan house, nurses her own secret wounds, which began when, as a teenager, she fell in love with a Chinese painter and followed him from San Francisco to Shanghai. Her search for redemption will bring her to a startling reunion.

Spanning fifty years and two continents, The Valley of Amazement is a narrative of family secrets, the legacy of trauma, and the profound connections between mothers and daughters, that returns readers to the compelling territory Amy Tan so expertly mapped in The Joy Luck Club."

The book is set between 1905 to around 1937-38, just before the war broke out with the Japanese. The book ends there, but as a reader I wondered what could have happened had the novel continued. That's how real the characters became for me.

Thanks to Ecco for an ARE of this novel for review.

Nov 29, 2013

Book Beginning: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Friday 56 Rules: *Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you. *Post it. *Add your (url) post in Linky at Freda's Voice.

Also Book Beginnings by Rose City Reader.

Book beginning:
It was just the two of us, my mother and me, after my father left. He said I should count the new baby he had with his new wife, Marjorie, as part of my family too, plus Richard, Marjorie' son, who was six months younger than me though he was good at all the sports I messed up in. But my family was my mother, Adele, and me, period. I would have counted the hamster, Joe, before including that baby, Chloe. 
Page 56: 
"How long since the last time you rotated your tires, Adele? he asked.
She just looked at him. 
Book description:
"With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry--lonely, friendless, not too good at sports--spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele--a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily.

As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect pie crust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others--especially those we love--above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for."

Title: Labor Day: A Novel by Joyce Maynard
To be published December 3, 2013; William Morrow paperback

What book is next on your list to read?

Nov 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving/Hanukkah!

Turkey Honeycomb Centerpiece

Saw this colorful Turkey Honeycomb Centerpiece and thought it was right for today! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! And Happy Hanukkah!

Reading for today:

Finishing up Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement and may even have time to start
Ann Patchett's This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I also want to get into Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith.

Do you have time for reading today?

Foreign Gods Inc. by Okey Ndibe

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted weekly by Jill @ Breaking the Spine. Let us know what new releases you are eagerly awaiting. Link your post to Breaking the Spine

Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe, to be released January 14, 2014 by Soho Press.

Publisher description:
"This tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery. Ike's plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world.

Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes. And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity.

 A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the "exotic," including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods  illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other."

What new book release are you waiting for?

Nov 26, 2013

Book Teaser: The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Teaser Tuesdays  is hosted by MizB; choose sentences from your current read and identify author and title for readers. First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea.

Title: Queen's Gambit: A Novel by Elizabeth Fremantle
Published August 6, 2013; Simon and Schuster
Genre: historical fiction
Source: publisher

page 56/teaser:
"Kit," he says, eventually, "you can trust me." His voice has a supplicant's tone.
"How can I?"
"I didn't know you then...I know you now."
First chapter:
The notary smells of dust and ink. How is it, Larymer wonders, that when one sense blunt another sharpens. He can pick up the scent of everything, the reek of ale on the man's breath, the yeasty whiff of bread baking in the kitchens below, the wet-dog stink of the spaniel curled up in the hearth. But he can see little, the room swims and the man is a vague dark shape leaning over the bed with a grimace of a smile.
Publisher description:
"Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives, two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth, Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen. 

Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine's survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor's edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love."

Katherine Parr was Henry VIII's last queen, one who survived his reign and married again. I am eager to read this one.

Nov 23, 2013

Sunday Salon: Too Cold for Comfort

The Sunday Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also visit The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated Bookreviewer, and It's Monday: What Are You Reading? at Book Journey. Also, Mailbox Monday at i totally paused.

I went out today only because I had to - a trip to the grocery store and pharmacy was included. It was bitterly cold - bitter in comparison to the past few weeks, that is. And Sunday this day, will be the coldest yet this year.  My DH is down with a bad cold and flu and I'm trying hard to stay healthy, aches and pains aside. We are looking at pictures of beaches and desert, where we'd probably be much happier right now!

My reading slowed down a bit the past few days. I am in the middle of Amy Tan's intriguing new historical novel about courtesans in the early 1900s in Shanghai - The Valley of Amazement.  Since I often read more than one book at a time, I started an ARC: Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen, a love story.

This ARC has a solid red cover with titles in white and yellow; it doesn't have the more attractive cover with birds and blossoms that will appear on the hardcover release in February. But the story should basically be the same. A story of unexpected love - sounds like a book to curl up with in the cold of a winter day, doesn't it?

What are you reading/doing today?

Nov 22, 2013

The Sister Season: a Novel by Jennifer Scott

Friday 56 Rules: *Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you. *Post it. *Add your (url) post in Linky at Freda's Voice.

Also Book Beginnings by Rose City Reader.

Title: The Sister Season: A Novel by Jennifer Scott
Published November 5, 2013; NAL Trade
Genre: fiction, women's fiction

Book beginning:
Claire was the first to arrive.
Not really a surprise to Elise, as Claire was the most...unattached. No children, no home to button up for a few days, not even a goldfish to find a sitter for.
To Elise, her youngest daughter seemed to be hopelessly and perpetually fearful of making a commitment. The first sign of anything permanent, be it a kitten or a car loan, and the girl oozed Panic Attack and ran for the hills.
Page 56:
Oh, not that Tai didn't care. Of course he did. But Eli was Tai's stepson, not his real son. He couldn't claim Eli's brown eyes or the way he walked on the outer edges of his feet or his natural propensity for algebra.
Book description: 
"A women’s fiction debut featuring three sisters who discover that coming home for the holidays isn’t as easy as it seems… It’s December 21, and the Yancey sisters have been called home. As the years unfolded, the three sisters had scattered and settled into separate lives. Until now.

The Yancey sisters are coming to spend the holidays with their mother. They’re also coming to bury their father. Claire, the youngest, a free spirit who journeyed to California, returns first. Then comes Julia, the eldest, a college professor with a teenage son of her own. And finally there’s Maya, the middle child, who works so hard to be the perfect mother and wife.

 During the sisters’ week together, old conflicts surface, new secrets emerge, and the limits and definitions of family are tested. And as the longest night of the year slips by and brightening days beckon, the sisters will have to answer one question: When you’re a sister, aren’t you a sister forever?"

What's your choice for Friday 56 and Book Beginnings? 

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