Posts Tagged ‘Mothers and Daughters’

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

October 13, 2014

The Valley of AmazementAmy Tan has written another sweeping historical novel about Chinese relationships and culture. In The Valley of Amazement, Tan invites us into a world of courtesan life from early years to retirement during a politically charged China in the early twentieth century. With lyrical beauty and harsh reality, Tan traces the lives of American-born mother, Lulu Minturn, and her half Chinese daughter, Violet. And, because it is Amy Tan, it is really a story of the mother daughter relationships and their struggle to understand each other.

The book tells its tale through the many voices of its strong women characters. In the beginning we are introduced to young Violet, our main protagonist, as she watches her mother’s life, being the owner of a respectable courtesan establishment, implode. With unforeseen circumstances, she leaves Violet standing at the boat docks as she disappears from Violet’s life, presumably on her way to the United States without her, as Violet sees it. Violet is alone and must make her way using only her wits and her mother’s teachings, and unfortunately her body, to live. Courtesan Violet falls in love, has a child, and just as her mother was ripped from her life, her daughter is ripped away when Violet’s lover dies and his vindictive family kidnaps the baby girl. Everything now is taken from her: her baby, her money, her house, her freedom. So when she finds love again she believes that this man will save her and care for her. After all, he wants to make her his wife. He isn’t truthful, and probably crazy, and she finds herself in a remote village, tortured by the man’s number one wife. In this second part of the book, Violet tries to escape so she can find her daughter and eventually, her mother.

It is a journey of pain, murder, jealousy, misunderstandings, friendship, family, but finally love, the love of mothers and daughters.

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Best New Books of 2013: Pam W’s Picks

December 11, 2013

My reading tastes are kind of all over the map, but I especially enjoy mysteries and historical fiction.  This year my list is full of lots of new authors.  I’ve read and really liked many of the books that are at the top of the best seller’s lists, but here are five of my favorites that might be less well known.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Conkin’s novel alternates between the story of Josephine, a slave in Virginia during the 1850’s at a failing plantation; and Lina, a first year associate of a large corporate law firm in present day New York who is working on what her boss calls a history making case. Lina’s case requires her to find a descendant of a slave who would like to be a plaintiff in a case over who painted a series of famous paintings that have long been attributed to Lu Ann Bell, but now are believed to have been painted by her slave.  As Lina investigates the case, the novel switches back to tell Josephine’s story.  Josephine’s was the more riveting tale, but the modern story was interesting as well. I look forward to more by this author.

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee
Bay of Fires, a wonderful debut novel by Poppy Gee, is set in a remote holiday town on the east coast of Tasmania. Sarah Avery has lost her job and is spending some time with her parents in the cabin they visit every summer.  Sarah is fishing when she finds the body of a young woman on her favorite beach.   Suddenly, Sarah’s family and friends become murder suspects.  I loved the unusual setting and the spooky atmosphere of this book.  The author does a wonderful job of describing the wild nature of Tasmania’s east coast, and the insular nature of a small, isolated community. Check out my full-length post here.

Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda’s novel starts off with two bored young girls on a slow, hot evening in Brooklyn.  The girls want to do exciting, something that will make their lives more interesting and prove they are more grown up.  Later that evening, one girl is found on the shore unconscious and the other is missing.  What happened, and who is responsible?  Is it the teacher who found the unconscious Val?  The young man who was known to be the last to speak to the girls? Pochoda’s focus is less on the police investigation than on the description of the neighborhood and its residents.  But this is the beauty of her book.  By the time I finished, I felt like had visited Red Hook, Brooklyn, and that her characters had become my neighbors.  I hated to leave them when the book ended.

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Amity and Sorrow is a moving tale of a woman trying to undo a terrible mistake she made when she was young.  After losing her family, she took up with a charismatic man who took her to live in a remote area.  Years later, she is fleeing from him and the cult he has created. Amaranth is terrified that her husband will follow her to force her and her two daughters to return.  The girls are unable to imagine what their lives will be like outside of the family.  The older daughter, Sorrow, has no intention of leaving the only life she has ever known and is fighting her mother every step of the way.  The younger daughter, Amity, is caught between her mother and her sister.  Riley’s writing is spare but she is able to paint a vivid picture.  You will find yourself hoping for redemption for Amaranth and her family, no matter what she has done in the past. See my full-length post here.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Honor Bright is from a Quaker community in England.  Jilted by her fiance, she decides to go with her sister to Ohio for her sister’s wedding.  Tragedy strikes, though, and when her sister dies, Honor doesn’t know what to do except finish the journey and bring the news to the man who was to be her brother-in-law.  Along the way, she is introduced to the issue of slavery and the return of escaped slaves in a frightening incident.  As a Quaker, Honor is firmly against slavery.  But the small community she has come to is in a difficult situation.  If they are seen to help the runaways, they risk losing their own lively hoods or more.  This dilemma is what Honor has to navigate in her new unexpected situation. She is dependent on the kindness of people she is not related to, and cannot upset them.  But she also wants to live according to her morals. Chevalier’s take on the issue of slavery is unique, and Honor was an engaging character.  Fans of historical fiction will really enjoy this one.

sMothering by Wendy French

September 13, 2013

What do you call it when you are suffocating because of criticism and meddling at the hands of your mother? It is called sMothering and it is a funny novel by Wendy French.

Our heroine, Claire, lives a peaceful and monotonously boring life. She wakes up, goes to work at her job as a telephone surveyor, goes home to an empty apartment, falls asleep and wakes up to repeat each day in similar fashion. One day her routine comes to a grinding halt when her mother shows up unannounced.

Claire’s mother lives in the middle of the United States and Claire is on the West Coast, so this can’t possibly be a short visit. Claire’s sister, Stephanie, lives nearby but has a strained relationship with their mother because Stephanie is gay. Claire is now left with the task of bridging the gap between Stephanie and their mom, juggling a new position at work, trying to get a cute guy to notice her, and finding out why her mom and dad are not talking. Not to mention, her ex-boyfriend has suddenly reentered her life in the midst of all this craziness.

What’s a girl to do to keep from going insane at her mother’s hands? How does she stop her mom from leaving embarrassing phone messages about feminine hygiene at Claire’s office? Will Claire’s mom ever leave or will Claire be sMothered to death? Most importantly, could the reason Claire and her mother do not get along be because they are more alike than they realize? Come check out sMothering and have a good laugh finding out.

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Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

September 12, 2013

I stayed up until 3 a.m. reading this book. I couldn’t help it. Part mystery. . . part supernatural. . . Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton entranced me from the first page. This book delivered so many twists; I was shocked at the end. Ultimately, it’s the story of the power of maternal love.

Grace and her daughter were injured in a fire at a private school in Great Britain. It was field day when the school went up in smoke. Grace’s teen-aged daughter, Jenny was the school nurse inside the building that day. Her son, Adam was in the school getting matches for his birthday cake. Within minutes smoke was bellowing from the school. Grace sprinted to the school. While trying to rescue her children, Grace and her daughter were seriously injured in the blaze.

In the hospital, they have out of body experiences through which their relationship grows. They seek understanding of how the fire started. When Adam is blamed for the fire, they are determined to find the true arsonist.

I wish I could tell you more about the vast array of characters, but I don’t want to spoil the beauty of discovering each one’s strengths and foibles.

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Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

October 23, 2012

I am back with another blog about Tayari Jones’s latest book. My last first blog was about her debut novel, Leaving AtlantaSilver Sparrow is told through the eyes of half sisters, Dana Yarboro and Chaurisse Witherspoon. The first line in the book reads, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” Who can resist an opening sentence like this?

Dana’s mother, Gwendolyn and father, James married in Alabama after she was born, but they are a well-kept secret. James’s friend, Raleigh is the only one who is aware of their existence. Dana and her mother know about Chaurisse and Laverne, yet they have no clue that they exist. Dana and her mother live a modest life and manage to get by without James being a permanent fixture in their household. Wednesday is James’ “poker night” and he and Raleigh always have dinner with Dana and Gwendolyn. James does his best to make sure Gwendolyn and Dana avoid Laverne and Chaurisse. Because of this, Dana is often told she cannot participate in the same activities or attend a particular school because Chaurisse will be doing so.

Chaurisse’s mother, Laverne married James when they were in high school. Laverne runs a hair salon and James owns a small limo service. Laverne is under the impression that her life is close to perfect, yet does she know her husband has another family on the other side of town.

This intriguing story follows sisters, Dana and Chaurisse, from kindergarten through high school. Even though the same blood flows through their veins, the girls lead very different lives, eventually their paths cross and they form a friendship. The anticipation of wondering if or when the cat will be let out of the bag will keep you engrossed to the very end.

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Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

November 21, 2011

I am always attracted to stories about immigrants moving to a new country and trying to fit in, so I am surprised that I somehow missed this book when it was first released.  I was really intrigued when a friend recommended it and it did not disappoint!

When Kimberly Chang and her mother arrive in New York City after the death of her father, they are grateful for the help given to them by her mother’s sister. Kim’s aunt and uncle paid for the trip from Hong Kong and gave them money to pay Kim’s mother’s medical bills. They had also promised to help them find an apartment and give her mother a job.  What happened when they arrived was shocking, however.  The apartment they were given was in a building that had been condemned.  It was full of roaches, mice, and had no working heat.  Her mother was put to work in her sister’s sewing factory, but was paid only pennies for each piece of work completed.  Money was taken out to pay back her sister for their trip out of Hong Kong and for rent.  Kim had to help her work after school and evenings every day just so her mother would make her quota and have a little money left for them to eat on.

At the same time, Kim was working very hard to make it through school.  In Hong Kong she had always been top of her class. Now she struggled to understand enough English to pass.  Over the next few years, Kim managed to not only pass, but to get accepted at an exclusive Prep school in the city. Every day she is amazed at the privileged lives of her classmates and struggles to hide her living conditions from her teachers and her friends.

Kwok’s description of a modern day sweatshop is both shocking and familiar.  The hard part is realizing that she is talking about modern day, not 100 years ago.  The author does a wonderful job of conveying Kimberly’s initial struggles to understand the language by writing what Kimberly thinks she hears, instead of what the person actually says.  As the book goes on, the translations become less frequent because her English has improved.   The book also gives an accurate portrayal of what many immigrant children go through, living a duel life between school and home, and frequently being responsible for all of the paperwork necessary for life.   It is hard on the child to be the only person who speaks English. In this book, it sometimes feels like Kim is protecting her mother, while other times she seems to manipulate her. In spite of all that, the book is not depressing.  It is a wonderful story about a little girl of amazing personal strength.

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