Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Commoner

Title: The Commoner
Author: John Burnham Schwartz
Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Summary: It is 1959 when Haruko, a young woman of good family, marries the Crown Prince of Japan, the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. She is the first non-aristocratic woman to enter the longest-running, almost hermetically sealed, and mysterious monarchy in the world. Met with cruelty and suspicion by the Empress and her minions, Haruko is controlled at every turn. The only interest the court has in her is her ability to produce an heir. After finally giving birth to a son, Haruko suffers a nervous breakdown and loses her voice. However, determined not to be crushed by the imperial bureaucrats, she perseveres. Thirty years later, now Empress herself, she plays a crucial role in persuading another young woman—a rising star in the foreign ministry—to accept the marriage proposal of her son, the Crown Prince. The consequences are tragic and dramatic. 

Told in the voice of Haruko, meticulously researched and superbly imagined, The Commoner is the mesmerizing, moving, and surprising story of a brutally rarified and controlled existence at once hidden and exposed, and of a complex relationship between two isolated women who, despite being visible to all, are truly understood only by each other. With the unerring skill of a master storyteller, John Burnham Schwartz has written his finest novel yet.

Review: The Commoner tells the story of the first non aristocratic Japanese commoner to marry a Crown Prince of Japan. A young woman who has grown up in what would be considered moderate luxury and moderate freedom, with a good education, and loving parents connects with the Crown Prince through playing tennis matches with him, and then occasionally meeting with him in other social situations. At the onset her parents are adverse to the match because they believe their daughter will be thrust into a imperial court and world that she has not been trained for, growing up as a common citizen, and they do not want her to suffer. However after pressure from one of the Prince's closest confidante's and inside the imperial court her parent's and Haruko relent to the Prince's offer, and say yes, that she will marry the Prince.

From the day of her marriage, and her entrance into learning all the traditions, rigorous schedules, and rules of the court, Haruko learns that her main purpose is to provide an heir, and to quietly suffer the criticisms of the current empress without complaint.  A few years into her marriage she has a nervous breakdown, which she does eventually recover from, but which shows how her imperial life has taken away her connections to her nuclear family, and her sense of purpose as a soul who has her own interests, and being a person beyond the strict traditions of the world she now feels trapped in. Around thirty years after her own marriage Haruko is instrumental is convincing another common citizen, a young woman who is independent and strong minded to accept the marriage proposal of her son, even though she suspects that the girl might have the same troubles that she did. This ultimately results in tragedy, but has a bittersweet ending.  Haruko in the only way she can helps her daughter in law escape the fate that she herself must live with.

This book was a very easy read, wonderful writing, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about this dynasty, and the traditions, and human feelings that go along with it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why I Left the Amish

Title: Why I Left the Amish
Author: Saloma Miller Furlong
Rating: <3 <3 <3
Summary: There are two ways to leave the Amish — one is through life and the other through death. When Saloma Miller Furlong’s father dies during her first semester at Smith College, she returns to the Amish community she had left twenty four years earlier to attend his funeral. Her journey home prompts a flood of memories. Now a mother with grown children of her own, Furlong recalls her painful childhood in a family defined by her father’s mental illness, her brother’s brutality, her mother’s frustration, and the austere traditions of the Amish — traditions Furlong struggled to accept for years before making the difficult decision to leave the community. In this personal and moving memoir, Furlong traces the genesis of her desire for freedom and education and chronicles her conflicted quest for independence. Eloquently told, Why I Left the Amishis a revealing portrait of life within — and without — this frequently misunderstood community.

Review: This book was recommended to me by the author, after she read my review for Unorthodox, on Goodreads. I decided to take her advice, and ordered the book.  It is about the life of young Saloma Miller who grows up with a Father who has mental capabilities that are less than those of the average individual, and a Mother who looks the other way as her daughters are abused physically, sexually, and emotionally very roughly by their older brother and very harshly beaten by their Father.  The memoir takes you deep into the world of what the author describes as where a young person must choose between leaving their family behind, and going their own way,  which in her case this was wanting an education, and a chance to make her own choices, or joining the Amish church and blindly following the rules for the rest of your life.  The book really opens your eyes to facets of the Amish culture that I was not aware of before, and struggles that Amish young people and children face within the Amish community, struggles that are often romanticized in novels about the Amish culture, which were brought out in a harsh light in this book. It ended on a brighter note, because Saloma does get out and marry someone she loves, and get an education... so that made me feel better, but some of the scenes I would not recommend for younger readers. But it does make you think about a culture that is often romanticized within our society...with facts that are obviously UNTRUE.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012





Everyone ! =)

Have fun and Be SAFE! 

My next review for The Huntress by Susan Carroll, should be up tomorrow; taking a break today since it's a holiday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Silver Rose

Title: The Silver Rose

Author: Susan Carroll

Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3

Summary: From Brittany’s fog-shrouded forests to the elegant dark heart of Paris’s royal court, one woman must challenge a country’s destiny–and her own dangerous fate.

France, 1585. She is the youngest and most powerful of the “Sisters of Faire Isle,” women known far and wide for their extraordinary mystical abilities. Skilled in healing and able to forecast the future of those around her, Miri Cheney has returned to her ancestral home to take refuge from a land devastated by civil war–and to grieve for her family, driven to exile. But she cannot hide from the formidable new power threatening to seize control of France from the dread “Dark Queen,” Catherine de Medici–a diabolical woman known only as the Silver Rose. Miri has no choice but to turn to the one man she distrusts as much as she desires: Simon Aristide, the charismatic witch-finder who is now himself the hunted, and who has reluctantly made an unholy pact with Catherine. Miri must defy throne and family to save all that she loves most–and command a future greater than she could ever imagine.

Review: The Silver Rose takes you into the world of the youngest Cheney sister Miri who has returned to the Island of Faire Isle, because she missed her home, but nothing is as she remembers it. Women can no longer come here searching for a place where they are safe from the eyes of the world, The world is now a place that hunts down witches and burns them at the stake, Fair Isle used to be a place of refuge for Daughters of the Earth to come, a place of safety where they could gather together, and practice their trades, and live together in harmony, but now even Miri's sisters are not safe here after her long ago friend Simon, convicted them, of witchcraft, and they had to flee for their lives.  Now as Miri looks around she sees, bitterness and spite in the women of Faire Isle instead of the harmony that once existed in her childhood home.  Miri receives the shock of her life when Simon comes calling for help to vanquish the Sisterhood of the Silver Rose, a coven of witches that has been following and attacking him; how can she trust what he is saying after he has betrayed her trust so many times? And yet he seems so beaten down and weary; he wants her older sister's help at first but Miri says no wanting none of her relatives involved in something so dangerous after all they have been through; especially with the man who put them through half of their misery. Instead she decides to follow Simon herself and help him defeat this coven of witches who are giving daughters of the earth everywhere a bad name.  What follows is a book full of surprises, as Miri's suitor back home decides to join in on the adventure, the "wolf" joins in; you find out who the silver rose really is and Miri discovers that true love can be found in the strangest of places, and that it is not always the man who must take charge.  This book was a fun read, there were some slow places, but for the most part it was fact paced and not one you wanted to put down.

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots

Title: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots

Author: Deborah Feldman

Rating: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Summary: n the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, Unorthodox is a captivating story about a young woman determined to live her own life at any cost.
The Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism is as mysterious as it is intriguing to outsiders. In this arresting memoir, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within a religious tradition that values silence and suffering over individual freedoms.
The child of a mentally disabled father and a mother who abandoned the community while her daughter was still a toddler, Deborah was raised by her strictly religious grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy. Along with a rotating cast of aunts and uncles, they enforced customs with a relentless emphasis on rules that governed everything from what Deborah could wear and to whom she could speak, to what she was allowed to read. As she grew from an inquisitive little girl to an independent-minded young woman, stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life. She had no idea how to seize this dream that seemed to beckon to her from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, but she was determined to find a way. The tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until, at the age of seventeen, she found herself trapped in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she had met for only thirty minutes before they became engaged. As a result, she experienced debilitating anxiety that was exacerbated by the public shame of having failed to immediately consummate her marriage and thus serve her husband. But it wasn’t until she had a child at nineteen that Deborah realized more than just her own future was at stake, and that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.

Review: Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox, is a memoir, as she describes it, that takes you into the first twenty-three years of this young woman's life in the world of the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism.  In this world as a young child, Deborah is looked down upon because her family feels shame because of her parents, because her father is mentally disabled and her Mother left the sect long ago because of secrets that Deborah will not learn the answer to until she is into her late teen years.  As she grows up in her grandparents home, Deborah faces ridicule from the other girls in her all girls private school because her Grandfather Zeidy, does not believe in wealth through secular material goods therefore she is not given new clothes or trinkets, like the other girls and subsists with second hand clothes and shoes during her childhood and adolescent years.  She must also follow the strict dress code for girls, while also remembering  to appear subservient to men at all times, and keeping her head low as a "good girl" should.  While a strong willed aunt has made most of the decisions about her life, including where she will live, who she will and will not see, and eventually she will help decide who Deborah will marry. Deborah does secretly mount small rebellions such as sneaking English books into her room, and hiding them under her mattress or behind her dresser, her desire for knowledge is insatiable, and her desire to escape the boundaries she is forced to live in being a "good girl" can be spotted even when she is a young child.
     As she is married off at seventeen to a boy she has seen twice, been alone with for thirty minutes, and only had the sexual world explained to her in a very limited class, with one woman who did a very poor and limited job with with a young woman who up until this point has been taught that this part of her body is forbidden and evil; Deborah and her husband experience serious sexual problems within their marriage which lead to criticism of her of course because she is the woman and the man cannot be seen at fault.  She goes through many psychological and sexual problems, and doctors, before they come to a type of resolution to the problem, but I still felt as a reader that more should have been done for her, she was so young, and her family should've realized at this point that marriage, a husband, and all they were pushing on her was too much for someone of her age, but because of their culture she was expected to perform her part, and she did to the best of her abilities, but at this part in the book I realized how selfish her relatives truly were and I prayed she would get out soon for the sake of her mental and physical health.  There is a stark turning point in the book which you realize, it happens soon after Deborah starts attending college, she has an awakening, so she takes her son, gets a rental car, and leaves her husband and the community; I breathed a sigh of relief, as hard as I knew it had to be for her, I thought it had to be less dangerous then the situation she was in presently.  There is a picture of Deborah sitting on a bench near the end of the book, and unlike the other pictures of her she looks happy and free, like she can finally breathe, this was a true happy ending for me.