Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Book Review

Yasodara, her younger sister Lanka and the neighbor boy Shiva have an idyllic childhood in the beauty of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the bliss and innocence of childhood is cut short by the violence of the civil war as the Tamil rebels fight against the Sinhala armies. Yasodara's family flees the horrific atrocities by emigrating to America.

Even as they work to assimilate and become at one with their new home, Yasodara and Lanka cannot fight the lure of their homeland and their memories. Adults now, the civil war in Sri Lanka continues to rage--bloody and vicious. Lanka decides to return to teach art to the children left crippled by exploding landmines and begs Yasodara to follow her. They discover that Shiva too has returned to the island. Though Shiva is Tamil and they are Sinhala, their childhood friendship binds them together.

Based on a recommendation from a trusted friend (Julie from Girls Just Reading), I was anxious to read Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. I love learning about other parts of the world and gaining some understanding of the historical events and political histories of these lands. Mostly, I love people and gaining a greater insight into different cultures and traditions. Since in my current state of life I'm not able to travel, I regularly turn to books to inspire, teach and open my mind. I, of course, especially love when novels are able to do this and tell a fascinating story.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera completely shattered me. Munaweera's prose is so elegantly beautiful and deeply emotional--describing a world so lovely, picturesque and delicious then detailing brutal violence and the horrifying acts of people against one another. In my sheltered world, I knew not of this tragedy before reading Munaweera's thoughtful masterpiece and am grateful for her work opening my eyes. My heart aches for those mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who lost loved ones in the fighting that continued to ravage the land and the people for twenty five years.

Munaweera's novel is part of a great work of contemporary literature including Ratner's In the Shadow of the Banyan, De Robertis's Perla and Mara's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that tell the heart wrenching stories of war, hatred for another people, and tragedy, while simultaneously telling stories of hope and redemption. Perhaps these novels speak to me so much because they are the stories of our world's recent history--many of these atrocities occurring within my own lifetime. These novels and others weave a tapestry that tells the world's history of war and yet inspire peace and love.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera is published by St. Martin's Press and released in September 2014. 

**I received a complimentary copy of Island of a Thousand Mirrors. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Us - Book Review

Douglas is a fairly good looking, reserved, scientist. He doesn't do drugs. He doesn't really get art. Somehow, against all odds, he manages to woo and win the heart of Connie, a beautiful, independent artist. Douglas and Connie marry and have a son. Albie is about to leave for college when Connie delivers the fateful news one night--she thinks their marriage is over.

Douglas is madly in love with Connie and decides to use the "Grand Tour" vacation that they've planned to win her back and save their marriage. As the fracturing family travels about Europe, Douglas repeatedly stumbles and bumbles his way with these free-spirited artists in his sincere efforts to salvage his family.

Us by David Nicholls, the author of the popular One Day that I didn't actually read, is the story of Douglas, Connie and their son Albie. It's the history of their family. Douglas has a unique voice in literature. He's mild mannered. He's kind and careful and wary. He's smart and he works hard. He's loyal. He regularly says the wrong thing to the people he loves. I could relate to Douglas.

Nicholls has a beautiful way of telling a story and I was transported across Europe and through the museums. I could literally see the artwork and the cities and the parks through his words. I felt Douglas's desire to save his family and I cheered for him as he clumsily and humorously tries to convince his wife to stay. I was definitely emotionally invested in Doug's plight.

Nicholls's prose is lovely and the story of Douglas, Connie and Albie is at times tender, funny and heart wrenching. Us is the story of a marriage--the highs and lows, the triumphs and the sorrows. I, for one, applauded Douglas's noble efforts.

Us by David Nicholls is published by Harper on October 28, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of Us. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zupa's Introduces a New Salad Menu

I'll admit I'm a soup and sandwich type of girl whenever I lunch at Cafe Zupas. I just love that lobster bisque and the wild mushroom bisque (I sound like that bisque guy from Studio C). Bisque! However, not long ago I was invited to try some of the new salads that will be appearing on the menu at Cafe Zupas this month. I'm pretty sure that I've just become a soup and salad type of girl on my future visits to Zupas.

I love that as consumers have begun to demand a healthier and fresher fare, fast and casual dining restaurants have started to answer that call. Zupas' new salads are offering healthy, made in-house salad choices that are pretty impressive considering the relatively low cost. Introducing ingredients such as kale, goat cheese, baby field greens, edamame and quinoa to their salads adds to the flavor and the nutrition. They're upgrading other ingredients including fire-roasted corn and sliced grape tomatoes.

Eight new house-made dressings will be offered, such as my favorite the cherry balsamic vinaigrette. Care and consideration has been made to the visual appeal of the salads and believe me, when you see them you are going to want to eat them.

The nine new salads will be introduced at Cafe Zupas locations around Utah by the end of October and will be in Arizona and Nevada in early November. I need to go back and decide which one I like most. Right now it's definitely a toss up between the Cherry Balsamic with it's delicious Anjou Pears or the Citrus Berry Spinach salad with the amazing Blood Orange Vinaigrette. But you know, I am a sucker for anything chipotle. Wow! This is going to be tough to decide which of the new salads I love the most.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Silent Sister - Book Review

Riley has returned home to clean out her childhood home and settle her father's will following his recent death. Her angry, older brother lives like a hermit in his trailer nearby but isn't much help. Though Riley remembers her parents fondly, her brother doesn't have such good memories. He was old enough to remember when their older sister Lisa killed herself and their family fell into sorrow and depression.

Riley may not remember Lisa but the knowledge that her sister was depressed enough to take her own life has inspired Riley's career as a high school counselor. Now, as Riley sifts through the paperwork and detritus of her parents' lives she discovers clues that perhaps Lisa didn't take her own life. Perhaps Lisa is still alive.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain is one of the She Reads Book Club fall reads. It's one of those nicely paced mysteries that just begs to be read in one sitting. Riley is a likable character and she was easy to root for as she searched for the truth. I figured out the entirety of the mystery fairly early in the story but I still enjoyed reading the follow-through and the drama. I'm sure my family members have their share of secrets but I can't even imagine being in a family so full of deception. It's no wonder Riley's brother has such a hard time.

Chamberlain has a comfortable style and writes an exciting plot-driven story. While there are some holes and unanswered questions, I enjoyed reading The Silent Sister this week. It was perfect to snuggle up with as I recovered from a head cold.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain is published by St. Martin's Press on October 7, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Silent Sister from the She Reads Book Club. No compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, October 6, 2014

Winner of the Schwan's Gift Card Give-away

And the winner of the $25 gift card to Schwan's Online Grocery is... 


Congratulations! Please contact me by Friday, October 10th to claim your prize.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rocking the To Be Read Shelves in September

The month of September was a very good reading month for me. I read 10 books during the month. It helped that I got a horrible cold that has hung on for weeks and made me not want to leave the house.

I'm also pretty excited that I managed to read off my overflowing To Be Read Shelves.

I bought a copy of Sarah Water's The Little Stranger for myself for my Mother's Day gift. (I know my husband and kids love me and I'm never disappointed when I just get my own gift. Honestly, I'd have bought the book anyway but I just excused it as my Mother's Day gift.) Anyway, as far as my To Be Read Shelves (aka the Black Hole for Books) this book has been on my shelf for a relatively short time.

The Little Stranger is suspenseful and atmospheric. Though it takes place after World War II, the crumbling old manor lends the house at Gothic feeling. Dr. Farraday is called out on a house call to administer to the sick maid but become embroiled in the strange and mysterious happenings at Hundreds Hall as he befriends the family trying to maintain their estate.

I love a good ghost story and I enjoyed The Little Stranger. It's frightening and violent yet lacking gruesome descriptions. It's more of a psychological thrilled a long the lines of Jane Eyre or Rebecca. It's nice and spooky for this time of  year.

I figured out that I can read while on the elliptical if I read an ebook on my phone. My phone is the perfect size to fit in my hand comfortably so that I can still exercise. I get so darn bored on the elliptical so being able to read has definitely encouraged me to work out more. I would have read more ebooks if the cold hadn't curtailed my work out plans.

Anyway, I read Labor Day by Joyce Maynard as an ebook. I had heard good things. It was made into a movie and I rather enjoyed Maynard's After Her. Henry and his mother become the hostages of a man escaping from the hospital of the prison. Over the Labor Day weekend, Frank hides out at their home.

A quick and easy read, I was initially taken in by the characters. The plot was interesting and I was intrigued to read of the budding relationship between Frank and Henry's mother. His mother was a unique character, lost in grief and strangely brought to the surface by her kidnapper. I had expected more action and drama.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story and Henry's preoccupation with sex (normal for his age) is often overwhelming and at the same time integral to the way he observes and interprets the relationship between his mother and Frank. The emotions that Henry feels during this period of his life are confusing and contrasting. Maynard excels at creating the conflicted young boy.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta was the choice of the month for my local book club. Admittedly, it's pretty different from most of the books we read at book club--an interesting change of pace. The Leftovers follows the people who are still left on earth after many people simply disappear in a  Rapture-like experience. 

While I was taken with the writing and was intrigued by the story, overall The Leftovers was dark and cynical. We're going to discuss it next week and I'm curious to see what others thought about it.

Serena by Ron Rash has been on my radar since it was published in 2008 but I didn't get a copy for myself until a few years ago at the Salt Lake City Library Used Book Sale. Ever since then, it is the book I look at longingly whenever I'm in the middle of another book that I'm not loving.

Serena has all the elements that appeal to me. I am a sucker for stories that take place in Appalachia and during the Depression. The characters are strong. It's violent, dark and tragic. (As I'm writing this, I can't explain why these stories appeal, but they do. They really do.)

Serena and her new husband Mr. Pemberton are the owners of a logging operation in North Carolina. They are ruthless and powerful and greedy. Yet, they employ many men who are desperate for a wage. Serena did not disappoint. I was enthralled and disgusted. I've been wanting so much to talk about it with Rand but I don't want to spoil the ending. While he probably won't have a chance to read the book, the movie version is releasing soon. I am very anxious to see it. I love the casting already so I really hope they do the book justice with the movie.

I am still coughing and not in the mood to get out much, so maybe October will be a great reading month too. I'm already planning a spooky stack of books that hopefully I'll get to this month.

What are you planning to read in October?