Posts Tagged ‘India’

book stack christmas tree

Happy New Year, friends. I hope your holidays were wonderful. Mine involved our usual Texas tour: lots of family time, Tex-Mex food and twinkliness. (Then a quiet New Year’s weekend to recover.)

Here are the books I read in the second half of December – mostly on our vacation:

Ghosts of Greenglass House, Kate Milford
Milo Pine is looking forward to a quiet Christmas with his parents. But for the second year in a row, that’s not happening: the titular hotel where they live is invaded by a pair of thieves and a mysterious group of carolers (the Waits). I enjoyed this sequel to Greenglass House, though the magic got a little muddled at times.

You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins
Spanning four decades (1970s to present day), this YA novel unfolds the saga of the Das family as they move between India and the U.S., through the voices of five women. A great story of sisterhood and the push and pull between tradition, family and making your own way. I read it in one sitting on a flight.

A Casualty of War, Charles Todd
The Great War is nearly over, but for nurse Bess Crawford, there’s still much to be done for the soldiers in her care. The plight of one such soldier, a Captain Travis, sends Bess and her friend Simon Brandon to Suffolk to investigate his family history. I’ve enjoyed this series, but the previous few books have stalled a bit. This one, however, was excellent.

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery, Jenny Colgan
As Christmas approaches, baker Polly Waterford is struggling: she’s exhausted at work, ambivalent about her boyfriend’s marriage proposal and worried about her pregnant best friend. I like Colgan’s cheery chick lit; this one wasn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed seeing these characters again.

The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
I’d never read this fantasy novel, but picked it up when Robert Macfarlane (whose nonfiction I adore) announced a readalong on Twitter. I loved the story: full of beautiful lines, ancient magic and bravery, as 11-year-old Will Stanton discovers he’s part of a mysterious circle that must hold back the Dark. It’s set at midwinter/Christmastime, which felt so apt. Now I want to read the rest of the series.

Leopard at the Door, Jennifer McVeigh
I grabbed this at the (rather uninspiring) DFW airport bookstore, and spent my flight home wholly absorbed in it. Rachel Fullsmith returns home to Kenya after six miserable years in an English boarding school. Her widowed father has taken up with a cold, manipulative woman, and there is increasing unrest among the Kenyan laborers. Vivid images, gorgeous writing and a heart-wrenching story of those caught up in the Mau Mau uprising. (I also enjoyed McVeigh’s debut, The Fever Tree.)

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading in this brand-new year?


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hopefuls book stack books

We are all drawing a few deep breaths after Commencement, and I’m diving into summer reading – woohoo! Here’s the latest roundup:

The Hopefuls, Jennifer Close
After Obama wins the presidency in 2008, Beth moves with her husband (a campaign staffer) to D.C. As Beth struggles to find her place in a new city, she and Matt meet a charismatic couple, Jimmy and Ash, who quickly become their best friends. But like so many friendships, this one is complicated, and Close expertly explores the shifting loyalties and the fault lines in both marriages. So well done. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 19).

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek, Erin Dionne
Elsie Wyatt is a top-notch French horn player, determined to get into a prestigious summer music program. But this means she has to (gasp!) join marching band. Elsie is a brat at first, but I loved watching her fall in love with band. (I’m a proud band geek from way back.) Super fun.

Girl in the Blue Coat, Monica Hesse
Hanneke spends her days finding and distributing black-market goods in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. But when a customer asks for her help in finding a missing Jewish girl, Hanneke is drawn into a web of Resistance activities. A compelling evocation of bravery, cowardice and betrayal during wartime – tense and well crafted.

Gone Crazy in Alabama, Rita Williams-Garcia
Sisters Delphine, Vonetta and Fern travel from Brooklyn to Alabama to spend the summer with relatives. Being black in both places carries a particular challenge in 1969, and the girls struggle to adjust while listening to the (warring) family stories from their great-grandmother and her sister. Delphine’s voice is smart and so engaging.

Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
I’d never read this classic but picked it up after it featured prominently in Mother-Daughter Book Camp. Elizabeth Ann, sheltered and timid, is sent to Vermont to stay with cousins she’s never met. To everyone’s surprise – including her own – she blossoms there. A sweet, gentle story.

Before We Visit the Goddess, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This is one of the picks for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s online Summer Reading Club. It’s a bittersweet story of mothers and daughters, spanning three generations and shifting in time, place and point of view: India to California to Texas, mother to daughter to granddaughter. Lovely and melancholy, though I wanted more resolution at the end.

Graveyard of the Hesperides, Lindsey Davis
Davis’ fourth novel featuring Flavia Albia, a private informer in ancient Rome, finds Albia approaching wedded bliss with her beloved, Manlius Faustus. But they get sidetracked when the remains of six bodies turn up in the garden of a bar he’s renovating. The plot meanders, but Albia is a sharp-tongued, engaging narrator. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

Nine Women, One Dress, Jane L. Rosen
Everyone is desperate to get their hands on the little black dress of the season – and it changes the fortunes of nine women, including a runway model, two saleswomen at Bloomingdale’s, an aging Broadway diva and more. Light and frothy and highly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 12).

The Seafront Tea Rooms, Vanessa Greene
A journalist researching tea rooms, a young mother at the end of her rope, and a French au pair bond over tea and struggles in Scarborough. Light, refreshing and lovely. Fun for Anglophiles.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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the bookstore lenox ma

The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar
Therapist Maggie is good at maintaining professional distance from her clients. But when she meets Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant who attempted suicide, Maggie’s boundaries dissolve. The two women become friends after a fashion, but each has secrets that will jeopardize their relationship and both their marriages. Umrigar tells a good story, though I found Lakshmi’s speech (a primitive pidgin English) jarring. (I’m married to a therapist, so I found the main plot distressing.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 19).

The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley
Roger Mifflin (of Parnassus on Wheels fame) has settled down in his Brooklyn bookstore, with his wife Helen, dog Bock, and a new apprentice. Sinister forces are at work, though, and Roger uncovers a nefarious plot with the help of a young advertising man. Dragged a bit in the middle, but still bookish and fun. Recommended for bibliophiles.

Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
Tita, the youngest daughter of a domineering Mexican mother, is forbidden to marry, so she channels her passions into her cooking. I normally love foodie novels and magical realism (see: Chocolat), but this one felt melodramatic, and I didn’t like the ending.

When Audrey Met Alice, Rebecca Behrens
First Daughter Audrey Rhodes is bored and lonely in the White House – till she unearths a diary written by Alice Roosevelt. Inspired by Alice’s antics (keeping a pet snake, smoking on the roof), Audrey tries a few of her own, with amusing, sometimes disastrous results. Lighthearted and fun.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family, Kathleen Flinn
This foodie memoir (Flinn’s third) chronicles her family’s history, with simple, hearty Midwestern recipes. It’s a typical American story in many ways, but full of heart – I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 14).

Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, Dorothy Gilman
After her recent adventure in China, Mrs. Pollifax is called back to Hong Kong, where she meets a psychic and runs into an old friend. Twisty and entertaining, as always, though the psychic stuff was a little weird.

Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate to the U.S. from Hong Kong, Kim struggles to stay afloat at school while helping her mother at a Chinatown factory (read: sweatshop) in the evenings. Kim’s voice is sharp and clear, and I was absorbed by this tale of hard work, tough conditions, deep love and difficult choices. Highly recommended.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
I’d never read this book and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I did not like it. I found Holden as phony as all the people he castigates for being such fakes.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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books by color portsmouth nh

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob
A sweeping family story that bounces from India to Seattle to New Mexico. Beautifully written and quite moving, though I found the main character (Amina) strangely passive. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 1).

The Awakening of Miss Prim, Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Prudencia Prim, a librarian (who lives up to both her names), takes a position in a French village. The townspeople’s unconventional views on education and love challenge Miss Prim’s preconceived notions. A lovely fable about being willing to open your mind and heart. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 8).

Emeralds Included, Betsy Woodman
A gently humorous tale of a Scotswoman living in an Indian hill town in the 1960s, with her talking parrot and an eccentric cast of family and friends. Third in the Jana Bibi series; I haven’t read the others, but this one was entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 8).

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gilman
Mrs. Pollifax, that unlikely but resourceful spy, goes undercover at a Swiss convalescent clinic to search for missing plutonium. Several creepy scenes and assorted quirky characters made this a winning entry in the series.

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
Lydia Lee, the apple of her parents’ eye, is found drowned in the lake in her small Ohio town. As her parents and siblings grapple with her death, their fragile family life begins to unravel. A haunting, gorgeously written novel about mixed-race families, identity, buried dreams and the things we leave unsaid. (I received an ARC; it comes out June 26.)

Pioneer Girl, Bich Minh Nguyen
Adrift after earning her Ph.D., Lee Lien begins researching a family legend, trying to determine if Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose, really did visit her grandfather’s Saigon cafe back in 1965. I’m a longtime Little House fan and I wanted to love this book, but I found Lee disappointingly flat and passive, and the story lacked resolution. Elegantly written, but unsatisfying.

Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins
Against her will, Anna is packed off to boarding school in Paris – but once she begins to embrace it (hello, it’s Paris!), she makes friends, learns a bit of French and falls in love with a handsome boy. Swoony, witty and so much fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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the bookstore lenox ma

Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
I read Lahiri’s debut collection Interpreter of Maladies in college and was blown away. I did not love her novel, The Namesake, but I do love her writing – elegant, understated, evocative. These stories, like her other work, feature Indian immigrants to the U.S. and their children, all caught between differing cultures and expectations of family and love. Some stories felt satisfying, others less so. Beautifully written and at times intensely sad.

The Little Lady Agency, Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones is tired of office jobs – and of getting laid off from them. When she’s sacked yet again, she founds an agency (and a blonde alter ego) offering social advice and fashion help to London’s hapless bachelors. But her work soon begins spilling over into her personal life. Fun and witty, though it took Melissa long enough to stand up for herself.

Applewhites at Wit’s End, Stephanie S. Tolan
The zany Applewhites are back – this time running a summer camp for creative kids on their ramshackle property in the North Carolina woods. The campers, though, are just as eccentric as the Applewhites, and then threatening letters start appearing in the mailbox. Fun and kooky, like the first book.

Little Lady, Big Apple, Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones (see above) heads to New York for a holiday with her American boyfriend (a former client). While there, she can’t resist a chance to help out a fellow Brit – but she quickly ends up in the tabloids. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is pressuring her to choose between him and her business. (I really wanted her to dump him.) Entertaining, but not as good as the first one.

The Little Lady Agency and the Prince, Hester Browne
Melissa’s grandmother asks her to work her makeover magic on a playboy prince. It’s a fun assignment, but Melissa is also trying to plan her own wedding, make some decisions about her agency and deal with her family’s never-ending stream of crises. After a few late-night sob sessions, Melissa ends up with the right man (finally!) and gets to keep her business. Clever and charming.

Astor Place Vintage, Stephanie Lehmann
Amanda, owner of the titular NYC vintage shop, finds a journal from 1907 sewn into a fur muff. Olive, the journal’s author, struggles to build a career after her father dies and she is left penniless. Meanwhile, Amanda is facing eviction and having a depressing affair with a married man. The book alternates between Olive’s and Amanda’s voices – I found Olive much more interesting and less whiny. The ending wrapped up too quickly for me, but I did love the glimpses of 1907 New York.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
I’ve been reading this book since January and finally finished it. It’s a big, sprawling, rambling, heartbreaking story – similar in outline to the popular musical (which I love) but much more layered and complex. (It also involves several long philosophical digressions.) This one deserves its own post, so look for it soon.

Me, My Goat, and My Sister’s Wedding, Stella Pevsner
Doug and his friends are goat-sitting – but Doug’s sister is getting married and it isn’t long before chaos ensues. I read this book years ago and it was such fun to pick it up again.

The House Girl, Tara Conklin
I loved this novel, which alternates between two women: Josephine, the titular house slave, who tends to her mistress in 1850s Virginia and is also a talented artist, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer anxious to prove herself in New York, 2004. When Lina gets assigned to a case involving the artwork of Josephine’s mistress, she finds herself researching Josephine’s life, trying to discover which woman was the real artist. I found both stories absorbing (Josephine’s even more so than Lina’s), and the writing evocative. Lovely.

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

What are you reading?

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I grew up taking my education for granted.

Well, not entirely for granted – I always loved school, especially English class, and it was absolutely expected that I’d do well in high school (I did) and then go to college (I did, and loved that too). Thanks to my parents (and my status as a white, middle-class American), I managed all of the above with no financial sacrifice and certainly no social risk on my part. I went on to earn a master’s degree, with a little financial sacrifice – but nobody ever told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t get more education because I am a woman.

However – as you certainly know – there are millions of girls in the developing world who struggle for every single scrap of education they can get. Most of them are expected to marry young, or drop out of school to help their families. Many are at risk for sex trafficking, HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. And all of them would benefit immensely from education.

The good news: there are many programs out there that work with young girls to keep them healthy, safe, unmarried and in school for as long as possible – ideally, until they’re adults who can decide for themselves when to marry and have children, and/or whether to have a career (and what kind). I’m writing this post as part of the 2011 Girl Effect blogging campaign, and the Girl Effect website has linked up with various programs supporting education for girls – but I’d also like to highlight two organizations close to my heart, because they are run by friends of mine: Eternal Threads and Sanctuary Home for Children.

Eternal Threads, founded by Linda Egle, works with women in developing countries, who use their handicraft skills to generate income for themselves, their children and their villages. Their partner in Nepal works with girls rescued from or at risk for sex trafficking, teaching them to knit and sew, and their partner in Thailand works with rescued girls and refugees, teaching them to make jewelry, so they can make a better life for themselves. They also work with women in India, Madagascar and Afghanistan – and they are starting new projects all the time. In just a decade, these projects have made an enormous difference for hundreds of women in the developing world. (And their products are beautiful – check out their online store.)

I’ve written before about my friend Amanda’s project, Sanctuary Home for Children – an orphanage in Tenali, India, which started in 2006 with 30 children and now houses nearly 100. Many of the children are orphans, and others have family members who can’t care for them. All of them are in dire straits financially, and in danger of having to live on the street when they come to SH. About half of them are girls who gain several years of safety, education and good health by living at SH. Several of the girls have now completed their secondary education, or received vocational training in sewing, and all of them have learned to read and had a safe place to live and enjoy their childhood – a rare thing for many girls in the developing world.

I may have taken my education for granted – but I can guarantee you that the girls helped by Sanctuary Home, Eternal Threads, and other like-minded organizations will never do so. Whether you buy products from Eternal Threads, donate to support the work of Sanctuary Home, or simply spread the word about supporting the education of girls, you will be making a real, tangible difference in these girls’ lives.

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I am a semi-seasonal knitter. Contradiction in terms, I know – but I don’t stop knitting altogether in the summertime. I like to have a project on the needles, so I can pick it up if I find myself with a seat on the T (a rare boon), or restless while I’m watching Mary Tyler Moore, or simply with twitchy hands in need of distraction. But, I admit, my knitting slows waaaay down in the summer.

That being said, when my friend Amanda sent out a call for knitting help this spring, I knew I’d be knitting up a storm this summer.

Amanda is the founder and stateside director of Sanctuary Home for Children in Tenali, India, an orphanage that now houses about 100 kids. (They started in 2006 with 30 children.) When Amanda and some other SH board members and sponsors visited Tenali last December, they noticed people wrapping up in hats and scarves – though the weather (in the 60s and 70s) felt balmy to them. The orphanage’s operating funds cover basic clothing for the children, but extras can be hard to come by, especially multiplied by 100. So when Isaac, the on-site director, asked if we (the sponsors and board members of SH) could knit some hats for the children and staff members, we all dove into our stashes and pattern books.

Some of the hats I've knitted for SH

I love knitting for SH for all the same reasons I love knitting for Nest Maine and the Innocent Big Knit – it feels good to help people in a  tangible way, and it’s fun to get creative with my stash at the same time. With SH, there’s an added bonus: I feel a personal connection to these kids, especially the two I sponsor, and to Amanda. (I wrote a piece about SH for Halogen TV a while back.)

I’m up to seven hats so far, with an eighth on the needles and a couple more in the queue. My stash bin is lighter, my needles are busy, and I love imagining the SH kiddos wearing our handknits this winter. (P.S.: if you’d like to help support the work of SH, donations are always welcome.)

What craftiness are you engaging in these days?

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