Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone

The dimly lit room smelled of sage and mint and boiled cotton. ~ Opening of Lazaretto

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Harper, 2016
Fiction (Historical); 352 pgs

The novel, Lazaretto, is named after the first American quarantine hospital, built in 1799, where immigrants and cargo entering Philadelphia stopped over to ensure they were not bringing in any illnesses or plagues. The Yellow Fever had run rampant in Philadelphia a few years before and city officials did not want that to happen again. Lazaretto was located on an island where the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers meet. The name comes from Lazarus, the patron saint of lepers.

Surprisingly, Lazaretto is not introduced into the novel until close to the halfway mark. The description of the novel on Goodreads and other sites makes it sound like the majority of the novel takes place there. The novel is less about the place than it is about the characters we meet in the novel. The book opens with Meda, a black servant, giving birth to the child of her wealthy white employer Sylvia, a fourteen year old nurse in training, performs the birth under not so ideal circumstances. As Meda receives news that her baby did not survive, she also learns that her hero Abraham Lincoln has been assassinated. She is devastated. Sylvia, meanwhile, struggles with the lie she just told the young mother. Her child, in fact, did not die, but was handed over  to the father and the child's fate was unknown.

The novel follows the story of Meda and Sylvia, the two young white boys that Meda takes under her wing while assigned by her employer at a local orphanage, and Sylvia's own family, including the niece she raises. The reader sees the characters falter and fall as well as grow and blossom.

All her life, Sylvia has wanted to be a nurse. Her parents had a successful catering business and are doing well for themselves. Sylvia grew up with a certain amount of privilege within the black community as a result, but that meant very little outside it because of the color of her skin. She finds it difficult to get too close to others, haunted by a secret she holds close. Her best friend Nevada and her niece Vergie are the only two she really lets in. Nevada has a reputation of being wild and loose, but what she really is is smart and resourceful. She and Sylvia grew up on opposite sides of the track, but their friendship grows quite strong. I loved both Sylvia and Nevada.

My heart went out to Meda from the start. She hid how far along she was in her pregnancy from her employer, and while he was expecting her to abort the baby, by the time he got her to the clinic, she was ready to give birth. I cannot even imagine having your child taken from you, in death or otherwise. She shows an amazing amount of strength and resiliency, however. Which, I suppose shouldn't be a surprise. What else could she do? At first it seemed cruel when her employer sent her to spend a few days working in an orphanage given what she had just been through. It is hard for her, especially when she comes across two infant boys who have recently been abandoned. She names them Lincoln and Abraham, after her hero. Her heart opens up and she lets them in, and they love her right back. For Linc and Bram, life in the orphanage is not easy, and it only gets worse as they get older and the orphanage changes hands. The two boys may not be blood related, but all they have is each other.

I do wish the author had expanded on Amy and Meda's story. Amy, who was initially overseeing the orphanage when Meda first met Linc and Bram, plays an important part in Meda's life, and yet I feel she got short-changed. At a time when same-sex relationships was forbidden, more depth into the two women's exploration of their feelings for each other would have only made the novel stronger, I think. I also felt the ending was too abrupt. Maybe I just wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters. Ultimately though, it seemed like everything happened so quickly in the end and then, bam! It was done, and I was left re-reading the ending to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Some people might be put off by the many characters and the time jumps in the novel, but I thought it was an effective way to tell the story given its scope. I do wish I could have spent more time with the characters. It speaks volumes of an author who can create characters that I don't want to let go of.

Lazaretto provides  a window into an interesting time in American history, taking the reader to a time and place where the color of your skin determined your standing in society. An accurate portrait of this time in history would not be complete without describing the rampant classism and racism. But, also in this novel, you will find love and the strength of friends and family. Lazaretto is a character driven novel, rich in history. The author really brings that time period to the present. My heart broke several times over, I got angry, and my heart swelled with love right alongside the characters.

To learn more about Diane McKinney-Whetstone and her work, please visit the author's website or visit her on Twitter.

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Where Is Your Bookmark? (& Books I Plan to Give As Gifts This Year)

Today I thought I would share the opening of my November TBR List Winner, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, which I finished reading last week and will be reviewing soon.

Goodreads Summary:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
The chapters are not numbered in The Sun Is Also a Star, but they are labeled by various characters' names. The first section, which I am not going to share here (because it's only two paragraphs long) is the prologue. I thought I would start with the first chapter after the prologue, jumping right into the story.

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a book they are reading or thinking about reading soon. It is also where I share my first impressions about the book I am sharing.

Local Teen Accepts Destiny. Agrees to Become Doctor, Stereotype
It's Charlie's fault that my summer (and now fall) has been one absurd headline after another. Charles Jae Won Bae, aka Charlie, my older brother, firstborn son of a firstborn son, surprised my parents (and all their friends, and the entire gossiping Korean community of Flushing, New York) by getting kicked out of Harvard University (Best School, my mother said, when his acceptance letter arrived.) Now he's been kicked out of Best School, and all summer my mom frowns and doesn't quite believe and doesn't quite understand.  
Every Tuesday, Jenn from Books And A Beat hosts Teaser Tuesdays at which time participants grab their current read, open to a random page, and share two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page while avoiding any spoilers.

Teaser from page 75 of The Sun is Also a Star under the heading "Natasha":
I don't tell Red Tie the complete truth about what I would do with a time machine if I had one. I would  travel back in time and make it so the greatest day of my father's life never happened at all. It is completely selfish, but it's what I would do so my future wouldn't have to be erased.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?  

What are you reading at the moment?  Is it anything you would recommend?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at Broke and Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a Holiday Gift Guide freebie. I knew reading books that support and represent cultural diversity is important, but recent events in my own country have motivated me to make sure I extend that into the books I give as gifts this year too. As Jeann from Happy Indulgence once said, "Literature is such a powerful way to send a message of understanding, awareness and acceptance." Here are just a few of the books on my gift giving list this year. I would love to hear from you as well. Maybe something you recommend will make it into the hands of one of my gift recipients!

1. In the time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Goodreads Summary:  
It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters—Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé—speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Goodreads Summary: 

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, 
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

3. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Goodreads Summary:  
Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis- Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars. From a much-heralded new writer, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.

4. Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Goodreads Summary:  
 Anju is the daughter of an upper-caste Calcutta family; her cousin Sudha is the daughter of the black sheep of the family. Sudha is as beautiful, tenderhearted, and serious as Anju is plain, whip-smart, and defiant. yet since the day they were born, Sudha and Anju have been bonded in ways even their mothers cannot comprehend.

The cousins' bond is shattered, however, when Sudha learns a dark family secret. Urged into arranged marriages, their lives take sudden, opposite turns: Sudha becomes the dutiful daughter-in-law of a rigid small-town household, while Anju goes to America with her new husband and learns to live her own life of secrets. Then tragedy strikes them both, and the women discover that, despite the distance that has grown between them, they have only each other to turn to. Set in the two worlds of India and America, this is an exceptionally moving novel of love, friendship, and compelling courage.

5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Goodreads Summary:  
The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indelibly drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.
Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

6. When the Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashima
Goodreads Summary:  
Mahmoud's passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.

Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister's family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives.

7. The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
Goodreads Summary:  
In this omnibus edition of N.K. Jemisin's brilliantly original award-winning fantasy series, a young woman becomes entangled in a power struggle of mythic proportions. 
Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle. 
The Inheritance Trilogy omnibus includes the novels: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods.

8. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Goodreads Summary:  
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970's small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

9. China Dolls by Lisa See
Goodreads Summary:  
In 1938, Ruby, Helen and Grace, three girls from very different backgrounds, find themselves competing at the same audition for showgirl roles at San Francisco's exclusive "Oriental" nightclub, the Forbidden City. Grace, an American-born Chinese girl has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen is from a Chinese family who have deep roots in San Francisco's Chinatown. And, as both her friends know, Ruby is Japanese passing as Chinese. At times their differences are pronounced, but the girls grow to depend on one another in order to fulfill their individual dreams. Then, everything changes in a heartbeat with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the government is sending innocent Japanese to internment camps under suspicion, and Ruby is one of them. But which of her friends betrayed her? 

10. Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Goodreads Summary:  
Nineteen-year-old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the United States to find work. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn't the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village--they've all gone north. While watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men--her own "Siete Magníficos"--to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.

Filled with unforgettable characters and prose as radiant as the Sinaloan sun, Into the Beautiful North is the story of an irresistible young woman's quest to find herself on both sides of the fence.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What books representing cultural diversity will you be giving as gifts this year, if any?

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: The Madness of Mercury by Connie Di Marco

There are those among us who prey, who hunt under the guise of trust. The Madness of Mercury by Connie DiMarco

The Madness of Mercury by Connie Di Marco
Midnight Ink, 2016
Crime Fiction (Cozy); 312 pgs
Source: I received a copy of this book  from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review.

The Madness of Mercury received the least amount of votes in my October TBR List Poll, but it was one I really wanted to read around this time of year, and I am glad I was able to. Set in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco, Connie Di Marco's novel is the first in a cozy mystery series featuring astrologer Julia Bonatti. This book was a lot of fun to read. Her advice column has drawn the unwanted attention of a well-respected religious figure. On the surface he may appear on the up and up--mostly thanks to his money and powerful connections--but underneath it all is something much darker.

Julia's client is the niece of two elderly women, one of whom is under the spell of Reverend Roy and the other who believes her own life is in danger. Could it be the niece is out to get her aunts, under the guise of trying to help them? Or what of the long lost nephew that suddenly has shown up on their doorstep? And what about the death of the gardener? Was it really an accident?

For a cozy, this was a bit darker than I had expected, but not at all in a bad way. The fear for the aunts is palpable the more the story unfolds, not to mention the tension building as the protests and violence of the followers of the Prophet's Tabernacle grows with each turning page. Not only is Julia's livelihood on the line, but so is her apartment, and her friends are being threatened. It is for these reasons Julia sticks her nose in deeper than is probably wise when her client's family. Unfortunately, I didn't completely buy it. Julia seems a little too nosy for her own good, even with her good intentions. Not to mention her TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) moment(s). At least she notified her friends where she was going when she headed out of town to take on the bad guys. It made for suspenseful reading, but I really have to question Julia's common sense. She seems like someone who doesn't always think things out fully before acting, which comes with both its advantages and disadvantages. Still, it was hard not to like her and she meant always meant well.

The author's background in astrology shines through in her descriptions throughout the book. It is much more complex than the definitions of the Zodiac signs most of us are familiar with and the horoscopes you find in the paper. I admit to being a tad bit skeptical, but I find astrology fascinating, and have always been curious about it. As a result, The Madness of Mercury appealed to me for more than just one reason.

Overall, I enjoyed The Madness of Mercury and am interested to see what Julia gets up to next. If you like your cozy mysteries with a dash of paranormal, ghostly sightings, a bit on the darker side, and lots of tension, I think you might enjoy this one.

To learn more about Connie Di Marco and her work, please visit the author's website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sunday Post: A Book Worth Fighting For & Pajama Fun

I hope you all have had a great week. To those who celebrated Thanksgiving, are you still feeling full after all that food? I know I am!

Here's what I have been up to . . .

New to My Shelves: I know you are supposed to avoid buying anything for yourself the closer to Christmas you get, but I couldn't help but splurge on two books from my wish list recently Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Parris.

I was curious when publisher Simon & Schuster sent me an e-mail offering me a free book if I took part in a survey through Jellybooks. I wasn't going to participate, but then I saw the cover for The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, and I couldn't resist.

And then from Penguin Random House's First to Read Program, I won a copy of Elan Mastai's All the Wrong Todays, which I don't remember requesting, but then I saw the word time travel and realized that was probably why. I am looking forward to reading this one soon.

What I Am Reading: For much of the week, I was in the middle of several books at once, which is unusual for me. It had everything to do with which book I had handy when. I finished Lazaretto by Diane McKinney Whetstone and Nicola Yoon's The Sun Is Also a Star. I got back into The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist and am in the middle of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (that second chapter is a heart crusher, But I am so in love with this book so far), and I am reading First, Break All the Rules: What The World's Greatest Managers Do Differently from Gallup which is assigned reading for work (my daughter is quite fond of my "work" book--she calls it her book of Edgar Allan Poe Magic and carries it around everywhere when I'm not reading it--it doesn't even have pictures or mention Poe).

What I Am Listening To: I did not get a chance to listen to my audiobook, Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn at all this past week, but I am looking forward to doing so this coming week.

What I Am Watching: A lot of My Little Pony. Ugh. Oh! And we did get to see the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I want to see it again. It was amazing and wonderful, and I am glad I got a chance to see it.

What's Going On Off the Blog: This past week was a nice one. I had the week off, and Mouse and I enjoyed three Mommy and Daughter days in a row. She would wake up every morning and ask, "Is it a Mommy and [Mouse] day?" Her smile got so big when I said yes. I wish I could say we did something extraordinary in our time together, but it was relatively low key. Monday we dropped by my office to pick up the book I need to read for work. Mouse loves visiting my office, and especially likes walking around saying hello to everyone. Tuesday we attended a memorial service in support of a friend whose mother recently died. It was a beautiful service. I had only planned to stay an hour at the most, but nearly two hours in, Mouse showed the first signs of restlessness and asked if we could go soon. We ended up staying until the end (2 1/2 hours). I was really proud of her. She spent much of the time coloring and drawing. Wednesday was a pajama day. We spent some time outdoors playing in her sandbox and having a tea party. She thought it was funny that we were still in our pajamas. Anjin was able to come home early that day, which was a nice treat.

I let everyone sleep in on Thursday, while I addressed Christmas card envelopes and watched the 90th Macy's parade. We enjoyed a Thanksgiving Dinner out and had a nice day together, just the three of us. Friday was more of the same, although we did step up the house cleaning. Time to decorate for Christmas!

What I Am Enjoying: Time off from work with my family, and getting ready for Christmas.

How I Am Feeling: Sad to see my vacation come to an end. A little nervous about Mouse's upcoming parent/teacher conference. Frustrated with my daughter's dentist who keeps cancelling her dental appointments and rescheduling them (this is the third time for the same appointment). But overall, I am feeling rested and am in good spirits.

Last Week In Reading Mews:

Tell me about what you have been up to! What are you reading, listening to and watching? How was your week? Do you have anything planned for this coming week?


Every Friday Coffee Addicted Writer from Coffee Addicted Writer poses a question which participants respond on their own blogs within the week (Friday through Thursday). They then share their links at the main site and visit other participants blogs.

Name one book that you would fight for on Black Friday!
Oh, goodness! This is a tough question. I do Black Friday online and try to avoid going to actual stores if I can. As much as I would like that big screen television for $1, I don't have the energy or motivation to fight the crowds. That aside, for the sake of this week's question, I would have to say the next book in the Others series by Anne Bishop. I would pull hair for that one. Well, not really. Maybe? No, no. Of course not. But if it really was the last copy and there was no other copy available anywhere . . .

What about you? Is there a book you would fight over on Black Friday? If it was the last copy on earth?

I hope you all have a great week! Happy Reading!

The Sunday Post is hosted by the wonderful Kimba, the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and gives us all a chance to recap our week, talk about what we are reading, share any new books that have come our way, and whatever else we want to talk about. 

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

To my American friends I wanted to take time out today to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours. To those outside the U.S., Happy Thursday! It has been quite a year, hasn't it? I am thankful for so many things, and my family is at the top of the list. I am also thankful for all of you.

I know some of you are going through difficult times right now. Please know that you are in my hearts and I am thinking of you. 

Mouse & Gracie (and Anjin's feet)

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.