Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Title: Waiting
Author: Ha Jin
Genre: Fiction, China

I really don't know why I do it to myself. Chinese novels (and many of their movies) are lovely and breath-taking, but they always leave me feeling mildly morose. On the bright side, I bounce back by realizing just how blessed I am to leave in America, where being positive is practically a national sport. I also remember to be grateful for my many, many freedoms here. This novel, set in 70s and 80s China, provided a stark reminder of just how wonderful freedom is.

Waiting is about a man, Lin Kong, who spends his life -you guessed it- waiting for things to happen. He is passive and allows everything to more or less bowl him over. Once he realizes how good the things he let go of were, it's far too late to recover them. He is a pitiable man, one who doesn't know his own self well enough to help himself in any way.

I was far more interested in the woman of the story: Shuyu, Lin's wife, and Manna, Lin's girlfriend. They are so polarly opposite and yet so very, very strong. They work, and they wait, and they live in a way Lin cannot.

I read this book for my reading challenge's topic "A National Book Award Winner". It was Jin did a lovely job crafting this novel, fleshing his characters well and giving us intriguing landscapes and settings to consider. I recommend this, but it's not a light read. It'll take some time and thought to truly absorb.

The Book of Unknown Americans

Title: The Book of Unknown Americans
Author: Cristina Henríquez
Genre: Fiction, Immigration

Oh. My. Goodness. Can I tell you how much I loved this book? My parents came here from Mexico before I was born. Our story is much different from those of the characters in this book because technically, my dad was an American born in Mexico. However, they settled in a border city because being too far from Mexico just left them both unsettled. Go to a border town-they truly are different worlds. But I digress. This book gave me just a little peek at what my mom (who was a "full-fledged" Mexican until 2001, when she became a naturalized citizen) must have gone through when she arrived here in the States. Even in border towns, where there is more sympathy and acceptance for recent arrivals, people can still be awful to one another.

In this particular book, Henríquez weaves together a tale of many families or people who have come to the U.S. from Latin American countries for a variety of reasons. It's set in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, of all places. Their voices are real, and they're full of life, hope, and pain. I am NOT a cry-baby (though if you ask my older brother, he'd probably bring up all kinds of stories to the contrary), but this book had me crying from laughter and crying from sadness.

Henríquez is a brilliant author, bringing her characters to life with such tenderness and true-to-life experiences. Their voices shine beautifully through their words, and really, I just wanted to give so many of them the hugs they desperately needed.

My recommendation: If books move you, have a box of tissues nearby. Otherwise, you'll have to use your shirt or your bedspread (which was not greatly appreciated by anyone who jumped into mama's bed that night). Definitely a book to add to your reading list for the year.

Four Fish

Title: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
Author: Paul Greenberg
Genre: Non-fiction, awareness

Ah, stories of why we do things and how we can improve. I read this for my book challenge's "Story about an animal" category. Four Fish tells all about how humans came to focus on cod, salmon, bass, and tuna...and how we're depleting our sources by pretending the ocean will never run out of fish.

First, I was fascinated by a concept Greenberg introduced. Humanity, particularly the western peoples, has boiled all the potential meat food sources to four animals from each of the major groups. For fish, see previous paragraph. Land animals: cows, goats, pigs, and sheep. Fowl: chicken, duck, turkey, and...Shucks, I can't remember, and I already returned the book to my library. But still, isn't that crazy? I'd never noticed that about my diet. Moving along.

While my undergrad degree is in oceanography, I'm not particularly keen on fishing. I like to look at fish in aquariums and eat them, but other than that, they don't interest me. I'm more into how the currents affect the way they swim and where they go and all that other dorky stuff. So this book was a bit of a stretch for me, but this year's reading challenge is all about stretching those wings.

Naturally, I was fascinated. Greenberg does an excellent job of engaging his audience and drawing us in. I felt the plight of the poor, overfished tuna and of the salmon who can no longer make their runs because of dams a little too deeply. What I liked best is that Greenberg did NOT spend his book complaining. He explained, he described, and he offered solutions. Thanks to him, I'm going to be trying out a whole bunch of new, sustainable fish (if I can find them). Vote with your dollars and your plates, folks!

This book is for you if you:
a.) need a reference on the plight of overfishing,
b.) care for the environment, particularly that of the ocean and its critters, or
c.) want to learn more about why you eat what you do.

What do you think about this fish tale?

The Mapmaker's Children

Title: The Mapmaker's Children
Author: Sarah McCoy
Genre: Fiction, Historical (Civil War)

I really enjoyed this book, which surprised me. Typically, I'm not a huge fan of Civil War novels: they're bloody, they're heartbreaking, and they fill me with immense national shame. "Slavery is WRONG," I want to yell at everyone. I'm so glad we're done with slavery. Now on to equal rights! We're still working on that, but the fact that we're working is positive, and I pray we can see a day where our children will look at all people and say, "They're people, and we're all different, and it's cool because their moms cook awesome food and their accents are fun to listen to." Or something like that. But before I start on my "everyone is awesome so get over the differences" rant, let's talk about The Mapmaker's Children

Typically, I'm not a fan of John Brown. I admire his pluck and courage, but I do not support the violent actions he took at Harper's Ferry. Talk about the wrong way to start a rebellion. If you're going to do something that drastic, be sure it's going to succeed! Anyhow, our Civil War era protagonist is Sarah Brown, John's daughter. I like her a lot. She is everything you'd want a forward-looking young lady to be: not hung up on love, devoted to a cause, brave, and willing to speak out on her beliefs. She is an active participant in the Underground Railroad, working hard to get concealed maps to conductors and slaves during the turbulent 1850s and 1860s era. Read the book; I'm not going to spoil her story here. 

Since this book shifts between 1859-1864 and 2014, our modern-era protagonist is Eden. I did not care for her at first. She definitely had to grow on me. The supporting ensemble of characters were much more interesting and less whiny. Of course, we have a lot to learn about Eden, so there's plenty of opportunity to figure out why she's whining. Eden's stake in this novel starts with her moving into an historic home and discovering a bizarre doll head in her cellar. It turns out her home was part of the Underground Railroad, and the more Eden learns about her house, the more she learns about herself.

This book was a quick read for me. I hope you'll enjoy it. Post a comment and let me know what you thought!

A publishing company sent me this book for an honest review. All opinions are, quite naturally, my own.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

King Spa

Place: King Spa
Location: Chicago, IL

My husband and I got a Groupon for this AWESOME place when we saw it advertised on Facebook. We'd never realized that it was less than a mile from our home, and we regret it so much! We're getting ready to move (again) in just a few weeks, so we can't take advantage of it too many more times. It's a shame because there are year-long subscriptions, and we would have jumped on that in a heartbeat.

Oh, well. Suffice to say, we LOVED this place. There are eight steam rooms, and the whole point of the place is to relax. We sat and enjoyed letting the hours slip by while breathing the warm, moist air. It worked wonders on my sore throat. I went home almost completely healed. Hooray!

The tubs (separated by gender) were very relaxing. It was a little awkward stripping down to my birthday suit with so many strangers, but I got over it pretty quickly. There were three temperatures of tubs: HOT, warm, and ICY. I jumped from one to the other in intervals and followed it up by sitting in the steam room. Then I showered and did it all over again.

Hydration-wise: There were several water fountains and water coolers. You will not dehydrate unless you don't pay attention to your body.

Food-wise, there was a Korean restaurant inside. We had delicious meals that were light but filling.

King Spa is also located in Dallas. If you're anywhere near one, GO THERE! You'll probably find a Groupon or Living Social coupon somewhere, and it's well worth the experience. Enjoy!

Islam: A Short History

Title: Islam: A Short History
Author: Karen Armstrong
Genre: Non-Fiction, Religion

Karen Armstrong is an excellent author if you want to learn a complicated subject. She breaks things down into simple parts and explains them thoroughly without making the reader feel dumb. She handles the history of Islam in a handful of chapters, going through each major period with minor sub-titular breaks.

Islam has long been a subject I wanted to know more about, but all the books I tried were just a little too involved or a little too dry. Now that I've got this one in my brain, I'll probably be able to handle the more complicated ones. Thanks, Karen Armstrong!


Title: Pygmalion
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Genre: Play

Oh, George Bernard Shaw. I just love reading his plays. They're snappy and witty and fun.

This, of course, is the play on which My Fair Lady is based. It is really fun. Reading Shaw's intended accents for Eliza sort of turned my mind in loops-it's such a strong, harsh language!

And the ending is much different. Shaw wrote it much differently than the movie had it. There will be no spoilers here, so read it and discover Eliza in her true sharp glory.