Monday, November 19, 2012


It's a short week for most of us, so rather than bore you with a review that you probably wouldn't get around to reading until this weekend -- after you've stuffed yourself with turkey, fought your way through Black Friday and mentally prepared yourself for Cyber Monday -- I'll just wish you happy holidays.  Think of me slaving over a hot stove and dancing to my Christmas play list, which I officially break out on Thanksgiving Eve, while you're enjoying time with family and friends.  See you back here next week.

Friday, November 16, 2012

#BookReview: Please Look After Mom - Kyung-Sook Shin

Would it take your mother's disappearance for you to realize how little you knew of her?

"Do you remember asking me a while ago to tell you something that only I knew about Mom? I told you I didn't know Mom.  All I knew was that Mom was missing.  It's the same now.  I especially don't know where her strength came from."

It's not until your wife goes missing that you even see her as your counterpart.

"Before you lost sight of your wife on the Seoul Station subway platform, she was merely your children's mother to you."

"Before she went missing, you spent your days without thinking about her.  When you did think about her, it was to ask her to do something, or to blame her or ignore her.  Habit can be a frightening thing.  You spoke politely with others, but your words turned sullen toward your wife.  Sometimes you even cursed at her.  You acted as if it had been decreed that you couldn't speak politely to your wife. That's what you did."

When 69 year old Park So-nyo goes missing, her husband and her children come to understand how little they knew of her and how much they took her for granted for so long.  Born into poverty, she married a man that she didn't know, or initially love, yet raised five children to become productive members of society.  Yet, like many adult children, she became an afterthought as they became successful, seen as an annoyance by some.

Still, their successes were all built firmly on the foundation that she set for them.  The eldest son for whom she saved and sacrificed to send to school; a younger daughter that was sent off to live with that same son to receive an even better education; the daughter who tries to manage being both a pharmacist and a mother to three, while wondering how Mom managed to raise five children and make it seem so easy and natural.

"Since she went missing, I often think: Was I a good daughter? Could I do the kind of things for my kids she did for me?  I know one thing.  I can't do it like she did.  Even if I wanted to.  When I'm feeding my kids, I often feel annoyed, burdened, as if they're holding on to my ankles.  I love my kids, and I am moved - wondering, did I really give birth to them?  But I can't give them my entire life like Mom did.  Depending on the situation, I act as if I would give them my eyes if they need them, but I'm not Mom."

Over the course of this short read, each member of the family reflects on the role Mom played in his/her life, realizing that not once did they see as anything other than their mother.  And as mothers sometimes do, she downplayed any problems she had the few times that anyone asked.  Ultimately, it's the inability to express her pain (and her family's willingness to overlook it) that leads to the disappearance of Park.

"So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning?  She didn't have the opportunity to pursue her dreams and, all by herself, faced everything the era dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn't do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best of her ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely.

Published: April 2011

Theme: Acknowledgement by John Coltrane

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#BookReview: Where Did We Go Wrong? - Monica Mathis-Stowe

Ahhh, to be young and dumb.  You couldn't pay me to go back to those days.  Reading Monica Mathis-Stowe's Where Did We Go Wrong? certainly did nothing to make me miss them.

Joy, Maxine and Gabby have been friends since their days at Morgan State University, though I'm unsure as to why Joy and Maxine have tolerated Gabby's foolishness for so long.  If you were to look up the word golddigger in the dictionary, you'd find a perfectly posed picture of Gabby.  And she's not ashamed of it either.

Never mind that she was in a relationship with a good man, when the opportunity to hook up with a pro football player came along, she hopped on it.  The day he signed a $ 75 million dollar contract was the day she stopped taking birth control.  The fact that he was already married with kids was just a small stumbling block.  When Gabby wanted something, nothing stood in her way.

Former teacher and current homemaker Maxine has the perfect family life, if you're on the outside looking in.  But she sees her attorney husband sinking them deeper into debt as he tries to keep up with the Joneses.  They can't afford their home, cars or any of the other luxury items he insists on.  Things would be much more manageable if he would allow her to go back to work, but Trent doesn't want the mother of his children to have to work, like his own mother did after leaving his abusive father.

Joy's fear of her mother has kept her from being truly happy.  Mind you, her mother isn't abusive, but she is very opinionated and, in her opinion, Joy has no business thinking about any man until she's completed her doctoral program.  She and her longtime boyfriend Allen have been sneaking around behind her mother's back since they were teens, but Allen is tired of being her secret.  If she can't be open about their relationship, he'd rather not be with her.

While Joy and Maxine seem to have each other's backs, they also have Gabby's, even though she's undeserving.  Joy and Maxine are likable enough characters, though Joy does make some rash decisions that I really questioned, but Gabby? This chick is the skankiest of all skanks.  The way she schemes and plots against others without any remorse is unconscionable.  Like Mitt Romney, even when it's obvious that she's playing a losing game, she continues to play it.  I don't know how the two of them tolerated her in college and beyond.

I'm eager to read the sequel to the book because I'm interested in finding out what happened with Joy and Maxine.  More than anything, I want to know if Gabby has changed at all and, if she hasn't, has karma finally slapped her in the face.  I can only hope so.

Published: May 2012

Theme: What About Your Friends by TLC

Monday, November 12, 2012

#BookReview: The Bridegroom - Ha Jin

In this collection of short stories from Ha Jin, winner of the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, readers are treated to plenty of tongue in cheek humor.  Of the 12 shorts, it would be hard to pick just one favorite.  I'd have to say In the Kindergarten and After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town are tied for first.

In In the Kindergarten, little Shaona hates that she's been sent away to kindergarten, sure that her parents will forget her now that her mother has given birth to a new baby.  Between being bullied by Dabin, the biggest boy in the class, and being tricked by her teacher, Shaona is at her wit's end.  But when she sees a chance to get revenge, she takes it and the results are hilarious.

When a Western fast food place makes its way to Muji City, its presence is met with glee by some and disdain by others.  For the workers at Cowboy Chicken, there's much confusion over traditional Chinese ways and the foreign, western way of doing things.  While "the customer is always right" may be the corporate motto, it doesn't go over well with the employees.  As the employees continue to work at Cowboy Chicken, they become more disgruntled with the actions of their American boss, Mr. Shapiro, and Peter, their Chinese born/American educated manager.  As the employees plot and plan their coup, they have no idea what's in store for them.

Written just over 10 years ago, it seems hard to believe that some of the stories in The Bridegroom are supposed to be set in present day.  In fact, it was only because of references to modern day technology that I was able to tell that the stories weren't set during the reign of Chairman Mao.  Regardless of the time period in which the stories take place, I found them all to be enjoyable.

Published: October 2000

Theme: That's It, I Quit, I'm Moving On by Adele

Friday, November 9, 2012

World Book Night 2013

World Book Night isn't until April 2013, but they're accepting sign ups now.  If you've never heard of it, you're not alone.  It gets a lot of publicity in the book community, but not so much outside of that.  Each year, book givers sign up to receive a copy of 20 books that they hand out to light or non-readers.  It's completely up to the giver where they distribute them.  It can be anywhere from a subway station, a school parking lot to the grocery store.

2013 books include Sandra Cisneros The House on Mango Street, Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist, John Grisham's Playing for Pizza, Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress, Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound and Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, among others.  I didn't get to participate this year, but I'm definitely signing up for next year.

Care to join me? Sign ups are here.  You'll be asked to choose three books, why you're interested in giving them away and where you plan to do it.

If you could give away any book, not just the ones on the list, what would it be, who would you give it to and why?

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Didn't Get My Groove Back, But...

Villa Walkway, Grand Palladium Resort
Last year for my birthday, I wanted to go to Savannah.  I made plans with friends and they all fell through.  I didn't go because I didn't want to travel alone.  Instead, I spent the day at a day spa that I hope to never set foot in again, got a hair cut, had lunch with my dad and squealed with glee over gifts from the guy I was dating at the time.  Overall, it was a decent birthday, but it wasn't what I really wanted.

This year I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to Jamaica.  I mentioned it to friends, most of whom wanted to go.  I threw out dates, gave them deadlines, received assurances that they would indeed attend...and I got crickets.  Mentioned it to the guy I had been dating and he asked if I could wait until February to go.  Dude, you do understand that this is for my birthday, right? And my birthday is in October, right? So going in February kind of misses the point, right?  When it came down to deadlines, dates and what not, no one came through.  So what's a woman to do? She rolls solo.

I'll admit that I was hesitant to go by myself.  I've been to Jamaica several times, so I was already familiar with parts of the island, but I've never gone alone.  I wanted to stay some place that would allow me to do as much or as little as I wanted.  I didn't want to stay at a couples resort and stick out like a sore thumb, but I also didn't want to stay at a super family friendly place and be surrounded by kids.  I had to have a spa on site and I had to have a beach.  And I found those things and a little bit more.

Las Brisas Beach, Lucea, Jamaica
Most mornings after breakfast, I set up shop in a shady spot on the beach.  Though I tried to read, I found myself just staring at the water for hours.  Okay, I did pause to grab a drink (or two or three) from the bar.  I chitchatted with those around me.  But mostly I just sat in silence and let the stress in my shoulders slowly melt away.

I did venture off site a few times and was highly amused by first time visitors to the island.  At a local craft market, I watched naive newlyweds get suckered into buying items they'd have no need for later or "one of of kind" wood carvings that they'd surely see in another store at a lower price.  I waved off some vendors and talked with others, while answering the often asked question, "Sis, are you Jamaican?"  I still haven't figured out what triggered that question, but in my week there, I was asked that no less than three times a day.

Sunset at Rick's Cafe, Negril
I laughed at a German woman who kept staring at me at dinner one night trying to figure out where my dinner companion was, all while she looked terribly bored with whatever it was her husband was saying to her.  I gaped at a young couple arguing another night (seriously, who argues in paradise???), which resulted in him leaving the table abruptly and her chasing after him.  You know who wasn't bored and who wasn't arguing with anyone? Me.  I set my own scheduled, changed my mind without needing to run anything by anyone and had the best vacation ever.

On the shuttle back to the airport I met some twentysomethings from Wisconsin who were amazed that I'd traveled alone.  They asked for suggestions on how to do it successfully.  The following is what I shared with them.

  • Now what works for some may not work for others, but first and foremost, you have to be okay with spending time with yourself.  As an emptynester, I'm used to doing things by myself.  If you can't imagine going out to dinner or to the movies alone, a solo trip probably isn't for you.  

  • I'm an introvert by nature.  I can go a whole weekend without actually speaking to anyone.  Social media provides as much of an outlet as I need at times. Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, pick a resort that offers activities that fit your behavior.  

  • Do your research.  These ladies picked a resort based on its website.  A lot of places use stock pictures and that's exactly what their hotel did.  They were disappointed in the hotel and their area of the beach.  As a result, they'd been ready to go home long before their trip was over.  Check out sites like, where previous guests post honest reviews and pictures, before booking your hotel.  

  • And lastly, use common sense.  Don't go wandering off with someone you don't know.  You may be in paradise, but anything can happen.

I didn't miss traveling with a companion. The hours I spent on the beach, the time I spent at the spa, the peace of mind I found, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.  The freedom to set my own course was worth every dime I spent.  As far as getting my groove back, I'm no Stella.  It turns out I  never lost it