I was born and raised in Canada, so the Civil War was not something I formally learned about in school. Because I have always been a curious sort, though, I picked up information about the war here and there so I knew the general gist of the conflict; but it wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. that I learned more and realized how big a deal this conflict was then and in many ways still is now.
Liar,Temptress,Soldier,Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War is Karen Abbott’s contribution to the Civil War accounts (Here is a video of Abbott describing the book). She profiles four women — two on the Union side, two on the Confederate’s — who played active roles in the conflict. One woman, Emma Edmonds, went so far as to impersonate a man and join a Union battle regiment, becoming a key member of the corps. The other three – Elizabeth Van Lew (Union), Rose O’Neal Greenhow, and Belle Boyd (both Confederates) – worked on the home front, collecting and transmitting information for their side.
Two things struck me as I was reading this book, which I enjoyed very much. First, I was impressed by the passion of these women to fight for their side, in all instances risking their own lives in the process. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have stepped up in a similar situation – is there anything that I am that passionate about to put everything on the line? The second is despite the fact that it was typical of the time I still can’t get over how white citizens (primarily in the South, but I’m sure elsewhere) treated black people with such little respect. The two Confederate women profiled in this book both were imprisoned for a time and raised a ruckus when told they would be together with Negro prisoners. Even though it is historical fact, it still makes me quite uncomfortable to read about.
If you are a Civil War buff, you will definitely enjoy this different perspective of the conflict; but even if you are just vaguely familiar like me I think this book will still prove worth a read.
Be sure to visit the other stops on this book’s tour.
Well, what do you know, I got a BINGO!!
The book that got me to the bingo was Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley (book with only words on the cover). It was a nice short (142 pages) read about a travelling bookstore that I enjoyed more than I expected.
I did manage to fill two other squares on my card in August:
- Biography or memoir: Year of No Sugar: A Memoir by Eve O. Schaub. As the title suggests, this book is about the author and her family going for a year without sugar. I enjoyed reading this and it has inspired me to pay closer attention to the amount of hidden sugar in what I am eating.
- With a one-word title: Landline by Rainbow Rowell. In an exception to the general rule, I think this would make a better movie than it did a novel. It is a story about a woman who stays home in L.A. at Christmas while her husband and daughters go to Nebraska and in a parallel to a key point in the couple’s relationship she communicates with her then-boyfriend via a yellow telephone in her bedroom at her mother’s home. Unfortunately I didn’t find the plot engaging and despite the fact that the main character is a comedy writer, I didn’t find it funny either.
Did you play Summer Reading Bingo? How did you do?
I know this will sound strange, but Thrity Umrigar is an author whose work I love yet I often forget about her. On the on hand, I am ashamed of this, but on the other it makes me that much more excited when I hear she has a new novel! I was therefore thrilled to be given the opportunity to participate in the tour for Umrigar’s newest release, The Story Hour.
The novel is set in an unnamed American college town and is about the relationship between Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant who has attempted suicide, and Maggie, the psychologist charged with her care in the hospital. As Lakshmi is released and continues treatment with Maggie in her private practice, the lines between their professional and personal relationships begin to blur. And as they do, secrets that each woman keeps hold a deeper significance to the state of their relationship.
I really enjoyed reading this novel, and I especially enjoyed the evolution of Lakshmi’s character as the story progressed. She tells her side of the story in alternating chapters, and makes very honest observations on how she sees things (in describing the activities of an older woman for whom she cleans house, Lakshmi says “All white hair but she swim and go jog, which means to run for no reason.” Ain’t that the truth? :-) ).
I still can’t decide how I feel about Maggie, though; she certainly helped Lakshmi through a difficult time, but without spoiling the plot I can’t explain any further.
For other opinions about The Story Hour, make sure to visit the other stops on this tour.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is an interesting novel set in a world few in the West are familiar with. Set in 1893 in the Malaysian port city of Malacca, it is a story about Chinese traditions both in the earthly world and in the afterlife.
Li Lan is the daughter of a once-prosperous businessman. To settle his many outstanding debts, Li Lan has been offered in marriage to the deceased son of the Lim family- a ghost bride. Li Lan does not agree to the match, but she is attracted to the new Lim heir, Tian Bai. The son comes to Li Lan in her dreams, however, pressuring her to marry him; and in the attempt to rid herself of these dreams Li Lan inadvertently enters the spirit world, where she tries to uncover the mysteries of the Lin family and of her own, and to decide how she wants to continue her life in the earth-bound world.
I found this novel fascinating for its descriptions of Chinese culture and spiritual traditions. I lived in Malaysia for six months after university and remember being amazed with the shrines just about everywhere that always seemed to have fresh food offerings. I only spent a few days in Malacca, but this novel took me back to wandering the old and (to me) quaintly narrow streets and to the Chinese cemetery on a hill (perhaps the one mentioned in the novel?).
I had a problem with the way the novel ended, (which says more about me than the book) but otherwise I enjoyed the story and it brought back some nice personal memories.
For more thoughts about The Ghost Bride, please be sure to visit the other stops on the tour.
The Readers’ Workouts meme is hosted at Joy’s Book Blog. This is a place to share exercise successes and challenges.
This is how I felt after my workout with the Marine last night:
I felt like I was back at day one. Of course I’m getting stronger and the workouts need to reflect that, but oh my lord was it tough. Even the Marine commented that I was sweating more than usual.
(He also said that I’m looking much different – in a good way! – since we’ve been working together. He knows how to make an old lady’s day just as he is trying to kill me.)
But it didn’t kill me, so I press on, though I am moving a bit slower than normal today – I had to do a lot of squats.
I managed to fill three more squares on my bingo card in July:
Middle Grade Book: Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which was amazing and which I reviewed here.
By an author of a different gender: The Assault by Harry Mulisch. I enjoyed this book a lot. It is about a boy whose family was murdered in WWII under confusing circumstances and how he deals with this into adulthood and learns piece by piece what happened and why.
Historical Fiction: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, set in 1893 Malaysia. I will be reviewing this later this week for a blog tour, and coincidentally the book group I just joined at the library will also be discussing this book this week. Another book I enjoyed.
So it looks like I only need a book with only words on the cover to get at least one bingo for the summer. I pulled two books off my shelf — one short, one long — so I have options.
August is one of my favorite months, not only because it includes my birthday but because it is back to school season. All of the school supplies are in the stores and even though I don’t need any of it I still find myself wandering through the aisles of pens and notebooks with a wistful longing.
I picked up A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki based on recommendations of a few bookish friends with whom I generally share reading tastes, but honestly I wasn’t sure about how I’d like it. I’m don’t know why I had that feeling, but I am glad I disregarded my intuition, because I enjoyed this book a lot.
The novel is told in alternating narratives, sort of. Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of the British Columbian island where she lives with her husband. In the lunchbox are a collection of letters and a diary of a young Japanese girl, Naoko (Nao), and as Ruth begins reading the diary we read along with her.
Nao begins the diary out of a desire to tell the story of her 104 year-old great-grandmother Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun, but it becomes a heartbreaking account of her struggles with being bullied at school and with her suicidal father. As Ruth reads further along in the diary, and as she uncovers the meaning of the other items found in the lunchbox, she is taken over by Nao’s unknown fate. As the lunchbox washed ashore about a year after the horrible tsunami hit Japan, she needs to know if she is still alive and if she can be rescued.
Frankly, I didn’t see much in Ruth’s story but I loved reading Nao’s diary. I had obviously wrong preconceived notions about Japanese schoolgirls being nice and obedient, and reading about what Nao had to endure at the hands of her classmates was awful. I had some other preconceived notions of Japanese culture as well that were negated after reading this book, but they are minor spoilers so I will not go into those.
The ending gets into some quantum physics which went way over my head but it didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the novel. I’m glad I read it.