In my informal book blog, I share thoughts and impressions from most of the books I read. This latest round of books includes When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, and two historical fiction novels by Teresa Funke, Remember Wake and Dancing in Combat Boots.

For my culinary tastes, I had to read Sarah Addison Allen’s deliciously written Garden Spells (2007). I would have to rate this as one of my favorite reads for 2008 so far. The book came at a great time too, when I needed something really great to read and take my thoughts away from the everyday. Garden Spells was the perfect recipe for a novel set in the south, with quirky characters, foodie innuendo everywhere, romance, family dynamics, and a bit of magic thrown in for good measure. Allen is a wonedrful storyteller who knows how to draw her readers in. This was one of those books you want to stay up all night reading; you just can’t put it down. From the budding romance between next-door neighbors, to a family that shares highly sensitive traits, to cooking outstanding food with complex relationships, this book really has it all for us dreamer types. Read this and you won’t be disappointed!

I’ve been on a history kick lately, thanks to Colorado author Teresa Funke’s historical novels. Dancing in Combat Boots (2007) is novella-like with short bios on fictionalized woman from WWII. Funke is a history researcher and writer and has this wonderful style of romanticizing the lives of so many woman involved in WWII. She captures the stories and puts them on the page in a way that gives us a window to the past. What was it like to live with rations during the wars? No sugar for the cookies? No new tires for the car? You mean people actually walked to work or took the train? And how did they learn about the war and what opinions did they form? Of the Germans? Of the Japanese? Funke demonstrates these opposing views through the voices of 10 women. This is a book you’ll want to read with your friends/book group and discuss the wars of the past and present. How have the times changed? How have they not changed? Is war ever a good thing? How is war so damaging in so many ways: economically, emotionally, physically, psychically, environmentally?

Remember Wake (2001) is Funke’s first historical novel, based on a true story. While again romanticized, the novel demonstrates the social and emotional strains caused by wars. Set in Wake Island just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941, Colin and Maggie keep their relationship alive through the hope of their future life. Colin is captured on Wake Island by the Japanese and taken to various Japanese concentration camps and lives to tell his story. War atrocities are all to easily forgotten, on both sides, and Funke does a good job in reminding us what shapes these atrocities take form in and the effects on the people involved. It’s one thing to read about the wars in history and text books, but it’s another to take a snapshot of a few lives truly affected by  a war and then set those lives to a compelling and interesting story. Kudos to Funke for opening the door to the past effectively and giving a plausible story to match the history books.

Over the last 3 weeks, whenever I had to drive (which was not too much since I really try to bike and walk to the places I need to go locally), I listened to When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka, read by Elaina Erika Davis. Here again, I was still on the history kick, especially WWII. As the antithesis to Funke’s historical novels, Otsuka’s novel portrays a Japanese American family in San Francisco in 1942 who were forced to move to an internment camp. These camps were placed all over the west, including several in UT and CO. Japanese Americans were classified as “enemy aliens” and this little known history is coming to light again. The Japanese Americans had to leave their homes, their posessions, their jobs, their schools and lived in internment camps for several years, with poor living conditions and even worse conditions upon their release. Given just $25 per person upon leaving the camps, the Japanese Americans were expected to go back to their homes and remake their old lives, which was impossible, because you can never go back to what was. Life doesn’t work that way. Racial tensions against the Japanese was extremely high. Good jobs were not given to the Japanese, whether or not they supported the Flag or the Emperor. This book will bring out the discussions on racial issues, wars, war time efforts, and the treatment of anyone non-American enough to be percieved as a threat. Thought provoking, educational, and melancholy; Highly recommended.

I’m still on the historical novel kick and I’m currently reading Chris Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast (2008). I’m still just on the prologue and I can’t put this down. So far, so very good!

For my professional reading, I have in my stacks, Nancy Mulvany’s Indexing Books and McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook. Sound like fun? For an information professional, yes!

My bookstand is towering over, practically toppling. The grey cat usually strikes at night and knocks over a few books or my reading glasses and tries to nibble my bookmarks. Naughty grey cat who loves when I read because that means laptime and quiet time!

Happy Reading and Writing!

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