Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

"No coincidence, no story," my a-ma recites, and that seems to settle everything, as it usually does, after First Brother finishes telling us about the dream he had last night. ~ Opening of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Scribner, 2017
Fiction; 384 pgs
Source: I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for using the mobile app JellyBooks a try. No review of the book was requested or required.
Goodreads Summary: 
A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple. 
Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.
Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my all-time favorite novels, and I have to say, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is just as good. Just as powerful. Just as amazing.

This novel introduces readers to the Akha minority in China who live in remote mountain villages, sticking with the old traditions and life, long into the modern era. They are not immune, however, to the growing commercialism and modern technology of the world today. Tradition meets modernization. It is both bitter and sweet. Lisa See captures all of this in her novel as we see the community change through the eyes of Li-yan and her family.

Li-yan's teacher, Zhang, takes an interest in her, as she's proven to have an aptitude for success in school. He is a remnant from the Cultural Revolution years before, forced from the city to a rural area where he has since made his home.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is rich in history as well as culture. Although tea is not something I drink often or know much about, I could not help but become more and more curious, reading about the collection of leaves and the fermenting process of tea produced in the Yunnan Province. The growing popularity in Pu'er' tea, not just in China but world-wide puts the province on the map. Author Lisa See weaves these historical tidbits into the novel in such a way as to make them an essential part of the novel, never boring, and always fascinating.

The first part of the novel takes place during Li-yan's childhood. The reader gets a good feel for her life and family, and also about the Akha culture and beliefs. It was in this early part of the novel I came across a scene that broke my heart into tiny pieces. I had to set the book aside for awhile after that. Whenever we hear or read a story, we always carry with us our own values and personal stories. We can try to set them aside or at least be aware of them when reading about another culture, but there are certain practices and beliefs we may still struggle with or come into direct conflict with our own. I found that to be true reading Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones when it came to the dog fighting. Lisa See's book might have found me in the same place (completely different scenario/no dog fighting), but Li-yan's own struggle with it helped with that. In fact, that one incident is what shapes Li-yan's future choices, for better or worse.

The novel follows Li-yan into her adulthood, as she gives birth to a child, makes the painful choice to abandon the child, and later search out the child. It is a heartbreaking story. Li-yan's culture plays a huge part in the initial choice she makes.

In alternating chapters, readers are introduced to Haley, Li-yan's daughter, who is adopted by a white American family. I liked how Lisa See shares Haley's story alongside her mother's, a chance to see some of the cultural struggles Haley faced, not only as an adopted child but also being raised by parents of a different ethnicity. 

This is a beautiful novel that covers a lot of ground. It is well researched and touches on many issues that would make this one perfect for a book club discussion. Lisa See has a gift for creating such real characters and offering us an intimate view into their lives. It is impossible not to become emotionally invested in these characters' lives. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane has so much heart; it is a story about mothers and daughters and the strong bonds of family. It is about tradition as well as progress. And it is about love and fate, as well as being about our choices and their consequences. I loved this book from beginning to end. I hope you will too if you read it.

You can learn more about Lisa See and her books on the author's website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

© 2017, 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, March 20, 2017

Where Is Your Bookmark? (03/21/2017)

I currently am reading The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, which is about a college student, Joe, who decides to interview a man convicted of rape and murder for a class assignment. The subject of his paper is a war hero, having served in Vietnam. Could he really be a cold blooded murderer too? As Joe digs deeper for his assignment, he also must deal with his own present day drama--an alcoholic mother and an autistic brother who demand his time and energy as well.

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.

I remember being pestered by a sense of dread as I walked to my car that day, pressed down by a wave of foreboding that swirled around my head and broke against the evening in small ripples. There are people in this world who would call that kind of feeling a premonition, a warning from some internal third eye that can see around the curve of time. I've never been one to buy into such things. But I will confess that there have been times when I think back to that day and wonder: if the fates had truly whispered in my ear--if I had known how that drive would change so many things--would I have taken a safer path? Would I turn left where before I had turned right? Or would I still travel the path that led me to Carl Iverson?

Every Tuesday, Ambrosia from The Purple Booker hosts Teaser Teaser at which participants grab their current read, open to a random page, and share two or more sentences from that page while avoiding any spoilers.

Teaser from page 67 of The Life We Bury:
"He didn't do it," Vigil [sic] snapped. "He pointed to the phone number on his card. "You call me. We'll talk."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?  

I could not help but wonder what would cause our main character to doubt his choices in that opening paragraph. It certainly hooked me instantly.

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 Top Ten Books Read In One Sitting Theme. It's rare that I have time to read a book in a day anymore. It's been rare for years now. Not for lack of wanting to, but because, well, life. In the spirit of today's theme, I went with the shortest books I've read in the last four years that certainly could be read in one sitting, even if you lead a busy life.


Monstress, Volume One: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda ~ I haven't posted my review of this one yet, but it was awesome. It is a graphic novel, so perfect for when you have an hour or two to spend reading.


Rebecca Chastain's gargoyle series make perfect bite sized reads if you are short on time. And there are three of them (Magic of the Gargoyles, Curse of the Gargoyles and Secret of the Gargoyles)! I have only read two so far, but I have the third ready to read soon.


While not exactly a quick read, if you want something short, beautiful and sad, I highly recommend The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam.


The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman has a nice mix of mystery, horror and fantasy. It was impossible to put this one down when I started reading it.


Rebecca Walker's Adé: A Love Story is beautifully written and unforgettable.


Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust is a collection of interconnected poems. I not only read this once in one sitting--but twice. It was that good.


Duke City Split by Max Austin is a fun crime fiction novel that is action packed from the start, and doesn't let up until the end.


If I Stay by Gayle Foreman was a surprise hit for me. I didn't except to like it as much as I did.


The Wanderer in Unknown Realms by John Connolly was my first taste of the author's work and what a taste it was! Horror is a genre I can be very picky about and this story won me over instantly.


Royal Enchantment by Lia Davis ~ A romantic fantasy novel that swept me off my feet from the start.

What are some short books that would make perfect one sitting reads?

© 2017, 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, March 19, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: A Death By Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

Coming home after a holiday is almost as enjoyable as the holiday itself, Edith Jackson surveyed the familiar comfort of her bedroom and parlor, her eyes lingering over beloved objects that she had collected over the years. ~ Opening of A Death By Any Other Name 

A Death by Any Other Name (Lady Montfort, #3) by Tessa Arlen
Minotaur Books, 2017
Crime Fiction (Cozy); 336 pgs
Source: E-copy provided by the publisher for review.

Publisher's Summary:
The elegant Lady Montfort and her redoubtable housekeeper Mrs. Jackson's services are called upon after a cook is framed and dismissed for poisoning a guest of the Hyde Rose Society. Promising to help her regain her job and her dignity, the pair trek out to the countryside to investigate a murder of concealed passions and secret desires. There, they are to discover a villain of audacious cunning among a group of mild-mannered, amateur rose-breeders. While they investigate, the rumor mill fills with talk about a conflict over in Prussia where someone quite important was shot. There is talk of war and they must race the clock to solve the mystery as the idyllic English summer days count down to the start of WWI.

While the last two murder investigations Countess Clementine Talbot, better known as Lady Montfort, and her housekeeper Mrs. Jackson got involved in were closer to home--and easy to excuse their involvement in--this time around the two women step way out of the usual circles--right into the middle class. When a former cook from a well to do middle class family approaches Mrs. Jackson about her circumstances, Mrs. Jackson has mixed feelings. The cook claims she was let go because of a death in the household, allegedly the result of accidental food poisoning. Only, the cook isn't so sure it was an accident, and she is hoping Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson can find a way to clear her name. Mrs. Jackson is as reluctant as ever to get involved, but the same cannot be said for Lady Montfort who seems to like sticking her nose into these most serious matters. 

As always, it was a joy to spend time with Mrs. Jackson and Lady Monfort. I love how proper Mrs. Jackson is. She takes her role as head housekeeper very seriously and does not like to meddle where she doesn't belong. And yet the always curious and determined Lady Montfort manages to talk her into it every time.

Using a well-known guest visiting the Montfort estate to gain an invite to the Hyde Rose Society, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson find themselves among an interesting group of people, all aspiring hybrid rose breeders. They all feel very passionately about their roses, the two learn rather quickly. Among the group, is the widow of the dead man. The group arrange for a competition with their well known guest, Ms. Jekyll, as the judge. She's not altogether happy about the idea, not being a fan of hybrid roses, but she goes along with it just the same. Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson do there best to get to know everyone and learn the facts of surrounding the popular member's death. The reader gets a definite flavor of the class differences between the characters, most often through Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson's observations as they talk with the guests, the hostess and the staff.

I admit to not especially caring for many of those in the Hyde Rose Society. They each have their own possible motives for the possible murder.  And the man of the house, especially, is a despicable character. He treats his wife very poorly.

In the background of events at Hyde Castle is the possibility of war. Germany has invaded Poland and set its sights on France. Lady Montfort is worried about all her children, one who is traveling by sea to the Baltics and another who is living in France with her young children and husband. Lady Montfort's son is a pilot, flying for Churchill. All their lives are about to irrevocably change and the tension is high. In each one of her novels, I have appreciated how well Tessa Arlen captures the time period, both in historical detail but also in the more social and psychological aspect.

I wasn't quite as taken with this third addition to the series as the first two, although it was still a very enjoyable read. I felt as if there were some loose ends not tied up in regards to events at Hyde Castle. It was definitely interesting to see Lady Montfort and even Mrs. Jackson out of their elements a bit. They certainly had their work cut out for them! I loved the literary references added into the novel. This continues to be one of my favorite cozy historical mystery series, and I am eager to see what Tessa Arlen has in store for us next!

About the Author:  TESSA ARLEN is the author of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman. She is the daughter of a British diplomat, and had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to be a part of this tour!

© 2017, 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, March 18, 2017

Sunday Post: A Jump Start on Spring

New to My Shelves: The March  My Lit Box came my way this month. It's always a treat to find my subscription box in the mail. This box included a copy of Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give, which has been getting good reviews. The subject matter is very relevant to today.

What I Am Reading: I stayed up Friday night finishing The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel. Those of you voted for it as my March read, have good taste! I am in the middle of Allen Esken's The Life We Bury, which is also very good. I am not reading as much as I had hoped this month, but then, I kind of expected that. I went five days without cracking open a book--not even on my e-reader. How terrible is that?! When I finally did find time to read after that long absence away, I felt such joy and peace when I settled into my book.

What I Am Watching: We went to see the new Beauty and the Beast this weekend after Mouse's soccer class. Oh my gosh, what fun! We all enjoyed it very much. 

What's Going On Off the Blog: While some of you have been buried under more snow, spring has definitely decided to push winter aside early here. The weather has been beautiful. Most days we open our windows now. It did reach over 90 one day this past week, but we decided against starting up the air conditioner just yet. We are expecting more rain this coming week.

One of the trees in my yard

Mouse had a blast at her birthday party last weekend. We hosted it at a local pizza/game restaurant, and it was worth every penny. We had family in from out of town to celebrate as well. Things are just now getting back to normal.

Making birthday cupcakes for her class

 Mouse's family birthday cake

Since we last "talked" there was a Girl Scout meeting, soccer classes, homework, mailing my postcards on the 15th, work meetings, and all the other usual activities. Mouse brought her report card home this past week. Parker isn't feeling too well as of late, and a visit to the veterinarian may be in order soon. That's really about all the news I have right now.

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.

Do you read a lot of diverse or own voices books? Why or why not?
While I enjoy reading books in which I share a similar world view or lifestyle, I also really like to read books featuring diversity or by diverse authors. I love stepping outside my own reality and lifestyle through books and seeing the world a bit differently than what I'm used  to. I confess I do not read as many books of diversity as I would like to, but I am making an effort to do so. It is one of the reasons I subscribe to the  My Lit Box, which focuses on promoting authors of color. I do not have a good excuse for not reading more diversely than I do, other than perhaps the sheer volume of books out there I want to read, many of which don't fall into the diverse category. And frankly, the genres I gravitate most toward could use more diversity. It's there if you look, but not always easy to find.

For a number of years, particularly before I began blogging, it was something I never thought about at all. It wasn't until I started more closely tracking my reading that I began paying more attention to diversity in my reading. I think reading outside one's own "voice" or experience is important, especially in this day and age. Gaining insight and learning about other ways of life, cultures, beliefs, traditions, and ideas only benefits us. Reading diversely challenges me to think differently and more compassionately. Diversity in books empower and normalize those who may feel forgotten, invisible or marginalized by providing voices that are sorely lacking in the majority of mainstream literature. And, most importantly, reading diversely isn't just about acknowledging and celebrating differences, but also in recognizing how alike we are deep down inside. We are all humans, after all. Diversity in books is a good thing, and I am glad to see more of a movement out there to bring diversity in books to the forefront.

What about you? Do you read a lot of diverse books?


Every Sunday, Kendra Allen of Reads and Treats comes up with a theme for a Sunday list  of 5 things (because making lists are fun!) and asks participants to share.

Today's 5 Things on Sunday theme is my favorite songs. Always a tough one because my favorites are always changing. I'm going to go with the current top five songs on my playlist. At least for this week.

1. Demons by Imagine Dragons

2. Anyway by Martina McBride

3. Hello by Adele

4. Piece by Piece by Kelly Clarkson

5. Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys

What songs are you listening to a lot these days?

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. 

© 2017, 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, March 13, 2017

My March TBR List Winner

Thank you for helping me decide what book from my TBR collection I should read next:

My TBR List is a meme hosted by the awesome Michelle at Because Reading. It’s a fun way to choose a book from your TBR pile to read. The 1st Sunday of every month, I will list 3 books I am considering reading and take a poll as to which you think I should read. I will read the winner that month, and my review will follow. While I will attempt to post my review that same month, I make no promises--it may go up the following month. 

Votes were opened a couple days longer than usual this month due to my hectic schedule. I didn't want to delay sharing the winner with your any further, however. Many thanks to all who voted in the poll. All three of these books sound good!

Toured to Death by Hy Conrad and The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio tied for second place, each bringing in six votes a piece (24% each). The winner by a majority 52% with 13 votes is . . . .

The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel stars Charley Carpenter, owner of Old Hat Vintage Fashions, who joins the Agatha's Book Club in an effort to win over customers in the small town she calls home. What she doesn't expect is the murder of two of the club's members in styles eerily like murders fashioned after books on the club's mystery book list.

Thank you again for voting! I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you when I am done reading it!

I hope you all have a great week! I will be back to blogging and blog visiting again next week. Happy Reading!

© 2017, 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.