24. Embroideries

I  couldn’t wait to get my hands on another Marjane Satrapi graphic novel.  So while browsing Amazon.fr looking for EFL books for a class I ran across Embroideries.  I pressed add and in my basket it went.  When I received the book, the quote on the back cover that struck me was “By turns bawdy and heartbreaking…Of all Satrapi’s books, Embroideries most effectively tears down the divide between Iranian and American culture, showing how women everywhere are similar.”  –  The Capital Times (Madison)  I had the same feeling while reading Persepolis.

Initially on the book’s arrival I was disappointed to see how short it was.  I remembered how much I had enjoyed Persepolis and how I didn’t want it to end.  Well, Embroideries is so short that I read it in less than an hour and I was trying to make it last.  I read it the same day it arrived in the mail.  After dinner, I got comfy in my armchair in the living room near the window and read it in 45 minutes.  How did I find it?  The graphic style is the same as Persepolis and the ambiance of the storytelling too.  Marjane Satrapi’s recalcitrant, comical, sarky, tell-it-like-it-is grandmother makes a reappearance.  It definitely wouldn’t be as humorous without her.  Embroideries, is essentially a short story about ladies getting together for afternoon tea to engage in discussion, which leads them to talk about the sexual habits of Iranian women.  “The tea that we prepared at these times had a completely different function.  Everyone gathered around the drink in order to devote themselves to their favorite activity : DISCUSSION.  This discussion had its own purpose:  To speak behind others’ backs is the ventilator of the heart…” (Embroideries)  The samovar or tea is just the opportunity for these women to get together.  This is not any different from any other part of the world.  Women getting together can lead to all kinds of different discussions, including sex, contrary to popular belief.  Each woman tells an awkward tale involving a relationship with a man, about sex, or both.  Some of the stories are really quite funny.  Through these accounts you understand better about the way the women feel about sex, men, and marriage and also how the men don’t seem to be controlling as much as think they are.

I’m giving Embroideries three and a half stars.  I can’t give it more because it seems to have opened Pandora’s box but doesn’t go deep enough.   Although, I’m not disappointed I read it I was hoping for so much more.  In spite of everything, Marjane Satrapi is a brilliant graphic artist and has introduced the culture of Iran and Iranian people’s everyday lives through her works to her readers.  Most importantly, she succeeds at doing this with a universal approach.

23. Silver Sparrow

   “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.  He was already married   ten years when he first clamped eyes on my mother.” (Silver Sparrow, p. 3) Wow! What an incredibly powerful way to start this novel.  This story is set in the 80s in Atlanta in a middle class African-American neighborhood.  James Witherspoon has two wives and two daughters.  They live in different neighborhoods and have no knowledge of each other, until one day Dana becomes aware that she is the secret.  She is her father’s second daughter.  The story develops when a forbidden friendship between the two daughters leads to the truth and unfortunately destruction.

The story is recounted from the first person. Part 1 is Dana Lynn Yarboro’s story and the second part is Bunny Chaurisse Witherspoon’s story.  They were about the same length in pages but I found the voice of Dana more impressionable and endearing.  The writing was delicate, powerful, and at times I felt as if I was eavesdropping on the characters.  The scenes are edifying and depict the emotions and characters deeply.  I enjoyed reading the story and it flowed delicately each page I turned.  Although, I found the ending a little frustrating, I anticipated it and was anxious about it.  Actually, there was something about the writing style that reminded me a little of Toni Morrison.  It ‘s the sentimental way that emotions and situations are described.

I gave this book four stars because it was a very interesting read from an African-American woman writer that many people may have not heard of before.  I happened upon this book while browsing a blog called black girl lost in a book.  You can check out her blog at http://naysue.wordpress.com/.  Silver Sparrow was on her notable release list and I thought I’d give it a go.  I’m glad I did.  Tayari Jones is an intelligent storyteller and has a bright writing future ahead.  She is a native of Atlanta and studied at Spellman College, Arizona State University, and the University of Iowa.  She was also a winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction in 2003. While Silver Sparrow was her third novel, she also wrote Leaving Atlanta her first novel, which tells a fictionalized story of the Atlanta child murders that happened from 1979 to 1981.  Her second novel was called The Untelling and it recounts the story of a woman trying to overcome her difficult past.  I urge you all to take a look at Tayari Jones because we will surely be hearing more about her as well as reading more from her in the future.

2. Summer reading…..

Well summer is here and I’m sure you’re all reading a little bit of your humongous TBR pile.  If you’ve not started yet and are still looking for something different. Check out Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter Samantha Van Leer.  It’s a YA fantasy novel about a teenage girl who loves stories with happy endings.

Check out A Game of Thrones!!  I feel a little behind on this one because it seems as if everybody is so far ahead on this one.  It’s an epic fantasy series – seven books.  This is the first in the series and it’s a whopping 807 pages.  I’m definitely going to crack this big nut to see what everybody is raving about next month.  If you’ve read any of this series please write below and tell me what you think about it.  Does it bring you memories of Lord of the Rings?

Here are just some other books that you may want to read this summer, have already read, or are not interested at all in reading….

Ok I could go on and on…. There are so many good books at the moment that I’m not sure I’ll have enough time this summer to read everything I want to.  I’m going to give it a good try.  Tell me below what you’re reading this summer.  Happy reading…..

22. Persepolis

A while back I watched a snippet of Persepolis with my family.  I immediately stopped when I realized it was written originally as a graphic novel.  I always prefer reading the book before seeing the movie.  This is a first for me reading a graphic novel and I got lucky and picked it up at WH Smith’s in Paris for only 9€.  I don’t usually read manga or comics but I found Persepolis a real pleasure.  So glad I read it!  So much so, I began reading at a slower pace to savor it longer.

This version is the complete version and has two books – The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return.  In essence Persepolis is the story of the Islamic revolution in Iran told by a precocious and free-speaking little Iranian girl.  It’s touching, shocking, humorous, surprising, and melancholy.  This amazing story shows that among all the extraordinary changes that happened during the revolution the Iranians were trying and fighting to live their lives as normally as possible, in spite of all the new laws and oppression.  People were falling in love, trying to study, getting married, working, surviving…….

Satrapi has written what she calls a fictionalized memoir.  She details the difficulties of life under the regime and life as a young Iranian living in Europe and being misunderstood, insulted, and mostly alone.  I think most people have their opinions about Iran but they would need to read this book to comprehend how these changes altered Iranians everyday lives forever; not to mention how their past culture has been thrown away and replaced by repression and fear.  What I took away from this book is, everybody wants to be happy and live life freely.   I give Persepolis 5 golden stars and strongly urge you all to read it.  You just might learn something.

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian born French national.  She is a graphic novelist, illustrator, and animated film director.  She is multilingual and although her maternal language is Persian she additionally speaks German, Spanish, Swedish, French, and Italian.  She won the Jury Prize for Persepolis at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.  Unfortunately, Persepolis was not in contention for the Oscar of Best Foreign film which frankly was an injustice.  It remained in the running for the Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars where it lost to Ratatouille.  She has written other novels such as Chicken with Plums (film released in October 2011) and Embroideries.

1. Summer reading……

YA Literature – for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 18 and all those young at heart adults like me.

Here are a few interesting YA books to check out this summer.  They have been talked about to death everywhere, except Living Violet.  It was a suggestion that I got from a literary blog called welcomewhitefolks.blogspot.fr   Living Violet got four and a quarter stars on Goodreads and the storyline seems appealing.  I’ll definitely be checking out Divergent, Insurgent and Beauty Queens.  Veronica Roth and Libba Bray are constantly mentioned as must read YA novelists.  The others I’ll try to get to them before the end of the year.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is coming out soon as a movie starring Emma Watson and Ezra Miller.  You know I won’t be watching it until I’ve read it.  Last but not least you probably should read The Fault in Our Stars by the quintessential John Green.  Apparently, he is YA literature.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading him yet…….


TBR: Check it out!

Philippa Gregory the queen of historical fiction has published her first YA novel called Changeling in the Order of Darkness series.  It takes place in 15th century Europe.  The main characters are Luca Vero and Isolde.  They are both seventeen and headed for a whirlwind adventure filled with mysterious strangers, witches, dark magic, werewolves, and much more….  Sounds extremely intricate and intriguing to me, even for those of you out there who don’t like reading YA. novels.  This could be the first one you read.  We will have to see if Gregory lives up to her reputation, while writing pure fiction for adolescents.  I’m pretty positive about it and will definitely try to check it out this summer.  So, what do you think?

21. Anna and the French Kiss

I have just started to add reading YA novels to my repertoire because some of them are pretty interesting and secondly it enables me to suggest good books to the French kids I tutor in English.  I’m an English Foreign Language teacher in France and have come to the conclusion that students have difficulty writing  and reading in English.  I figured I’d try to find some books that would entice them into this difficult task of reading in English.  That’s when I fell upon and finally finished the famous Anna and the French Kiss which is being talked about everywhere.  I do feel I’m the last one to climb on this bandwagon, but frankly I’m glad I did.  It’s not yet here in France but I’ll give it another six months to a year to arrive.

It’s the story of Anna, who’s been taken to a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school, so that she can get “cultured”.  Anna is shy, anxious, and doesn’t speak a word of French because she’s been taking Spanish for the past three years at her high school in the States.  Never mind, she soon starts to make the difference between oui and si and adapting to her new school, new friends, and of course Paree Paris.  Amongst all the adaptation, there’s a cute TCK(third culture kid) guy called Etienne St. Clair (everybody calls him St. Clair)  who has not only grasped the attention of Anna but of every other girl in the school.  Etienne is a Franco-American raised in England, henceforth the charming English accent.  He’s the cute boy with the “beautiful” hair.  Like Anna says, “Every American girl is a sucker for a boy with an English accent.  The story is filled with lots of teenage angst, grief, love, and shenanigans.  Makes you want to be seventeen again.

Stephanie Perkins writes with amazing sensitivity.  The voice of Anna is refreshing, amusing, honest and realistic.  There are enough turns and twists to the story to keep you reading right through to the end.  You won’t have a chance to be bored.  It’s hard to put down and speaks to the bit of youth left in the hearts of adults.  I was skeptical when I saw the Eiffel Tower on the front cover and feared a sappy love story for teenagers but that wasn’t the case.  Perkins describes the Paris 5th arrondissement to perfection – independent cinemas, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, French bakeries, sugary voluptuous pastries, etc.  The food descriptions make your mouth water.  It’s all true.  The French love their food and they should because it’s exceptional.  So, Anna and the French Kiss is just under 400 pages but a must read for anyone that likes a good love story, with romantic Paris as the backdrop.

Stephanie Perkins writes on her website, “I write novels for teens (and for adults who aren’t afraid to admit that teen books are awesome).”  That’s Anna and the French Kiss in a nutshell!  Perkins released her second novel Lola and the Boy Next Door in September 2011 which is a companion novel to Anna and the French Kiss.  It’s getting just as much attention too.  Perkins really knows how to maintain the magic in her stories, while totally avoiding cheesy and cliché concepts.  I give Anna and the French Kiss five stars.  It’ll make your day and that’s basically how long it will take you to read it.  Happy reading…..

20. Not A Day Goes By

John “Basil” Henderson is a smooth, fine, chocolate brother who’s turned the head of Yancey Harrington Braxton or is it the other way around.  Needless to say, they both come from dysfunctional families and are looking for love.  Yancey is a beautiful, arrogant, highly competitive Broadway star, who spends money as if it’s water running freely from a faucet.  Their love story seems to be unshakable and passionate until we as readers learn of Basil’s secret love for men.  Basil is a man on the down low.  What does on the down low mean?  On the down low is an African-American expression used to describe men who identify as heterosexuals but that hide the fact that they also enjoy having sex with men.  Could they be described as bisexual? Possibly.  It’s also possible that they are men having difficulty fully accepting  their homosexuality.  As the story goes on, it’s obvious that it is very hard for Basil to squelch his desire for men and he partially uses his relationship with Yancey to do so.  We also realize that Yancey is a perpetual liar and has a perplexing relationship with her mother Eva.

Not having read E. Lynn Harris before, I was pleasantly surprised.  I felt his use of the narrator got to the crux of the ambiguous feelings that Basil was having about his sexuality.  Basil’s narrator voice is very strong and precise.  So much so that  when there was narrating for Yancey, it seemed to be very neutral.  I think this is done on purpose to make Basil a more sympathetic character and to express his feelings in an impressionable way.  Harris’ hopeful writing style is inviting and very African-American culture based.  It flows and is vivid.  Some people may find this slightly isolating, but in essence it’s refreshing.  I enjoyed his clever lines like, “Life is full of required courses; it’s the electives that are a bitch.” (Not A Day Goes By, p. 276) or “You didn’t eat all that, did you?  Honey, you better watch it or your little narrow hips are going to spread faster than a rumor.” (Not A Day Goes By, p. 245)  The characters’ names were maybe a bit over the top – Windsor, Zurich, Yancey… I was thinking who would have these names and do I know any African-Americans with names like these.  All in all it’s a fast paced, light read with frequent plot twists.  I give it three and a half stars.  I can’t give it more because I think it went a little too fast and I would have also prefered a better ending because frankly it was a little predictable.

E. Lynn Harris died in 2009 at the age of 54.  He was really known for portraying fairly affluent African-American gay men often tormented about hiding their homosexuality and leading double lives.  Invisible Life is the trilogy that got him famous.   In the beginning, he found no one who would publish Invisible Life so he published it himself and sold it in African-American owned bookshops, book clubs, and beauty salons.  Finally, Anchor Books discovered him and published Invisible Life in 19994 and Harris’ career soared.  Some of his other known novels are And This Too Shall Pass, A Love of My Own, Any Way the Wind Blows, Just As I Am, If This World Were Mine, I Say A Little Prayer, and many more.  Two of his books were published posthumously – Mama Dearest(2009) and In My Father’s House (2010).  I think the majority of his enthusiastic fans are African-American women, but anybody who likes reading a well-written story with twists, and is a little interested in African-American culture would easily become a fan.  His writing really does transcend all groups of people.  Harris is surely being missed in the literary world because of the fresh honest content of his novels about being gay and African-American.  I’m sure I’ll read something else by Harris surely before the end of the year.  Stay tuned…..  If you’ve read Harris comment below and tell me which novel was your favorite and why?  Happy reading….

19. Unbroken

Well this book was a real surprise for me, but also for my book club!  I didn’t originally vote for it but it passed the cut for the list of books to read for my book club 2011-2012.  Everybody enjoyed the story and said they learned so many things.  Reading the synopsis frightened me.  I thought, “Oh God not another World War II book and on top of that about the Pacific and Japan.”  I was cringing and trying to avoid it because I was dreading the pages about his captivity(about 150 pages), but happily I was wrong and strong. It was that but so much more than that.  This was a fantastic read about a true American hero that I hadn’t heard of, Lieutenant Louie Zamperini.  This biography follows Zamperini’s life from the beginning, turbulent and headstrong, all the way through becoming a bombardier in the Air Corps in world War II, to his capture and internment in POW camps in Japan, and life after the war.  He is an extraordinary person who survived many excruciating trials when most people would have given up.  Just as it’s written in the title: “It’s a story of survivall, resilience, and redemption.”  It’s obvious that his incredible strong will and confidence helped him pull through it all.

Unbroken is a 406 page book but what a page turner, along with a bit of suspense toward the end!  I learned so many different things about the war, the Olympics, B-24s, etc.  I must admit thinking back to high school I realized that the Pacific hadn’t been covered in the same depth as the Normandy invasion.  I knew very little about it.  So, for all of you out there like me, you should read this book.  Hillenbrand’s style of writing is smooth, informative but most of all easy to appreciate.  Moreover, everything is so well described that your imagination comes alive while reading.  Certain descriptions of the bomber planes and flying incidents are very clearly explained.

Laura Hillenbrand is known for having written another extraordinary true story called Seabiscuit which is about  a race horse.  It’s amazing to see how much thorough information she acquired from Louie Zamperini and his family members, not to mention the help from people who corrected her writing of the flying scenes so that they would be more true to life.  Some people have criticized Hillenbrand’s style saying that it was written like a movie script, which I find harsh.   Personally I don’t have a problem with that.  I think it made it more readable and very intriguing.  The only real mistakes I thought she made was when she occasionally let her personal opinion creep in on a situation where it wasn’t necessary or when she goes on about thee feelings of certain people when she couldn’t know exactly what they would have thought and felt.  Nevertheless, once you get started you will plunge into the story and won’t be able to put it down.  I read this book in 3 days and started to wonder about the audiobook of Unbroken.  I imagined it would be very captivating to listen to because of the storyline. So I checked it out on You Tube and found an extract.  Click below. I give this book 4 and a half stars and am so glad I read it.  Thanks Sonia for suggesting it and sorry I teased you so much about it.  We missed you at the meeting.   Check it out everybody!