The Calligrapher’s Daughter

Inspired by the life of the author’s Korean mother, this first novel by Eugenia Kim is a beautiful and satisfying story.  The Calligrapher’s Daughter spans 30 years of Korean history, from 1915-1945, and is narrated by najin Han, the daughter of an ultra-traditional and aristocratic calligrapher.  Born in 1910 at the beginning of the Japanese occupation of Korea, her life, through privileged, is restricted by strict social standards, including a very limited education for women.  When her father decides to marry her off at age 14, her mother bravely defies him by sending her instead to Seoul, where she serves as a companion to the young Princess Deokhye during the waning days of the centuries-old dynasty.

Later, Najin attends college and works as a teacher and school principal.  When her parents again choose a husband for her, she is pleasantly surprised to find that she concurs with their choice of Calvin Cho, who is leaving to study for the ministry in America.  However, only one day after her wedding, she is denied a passport.  An entire decade passes, separated from her husband with little hope for reunion, as she struggles to survive the hardships and poverty brought on by World War II.  Both lyrical and tragic, this novel celebrates the perseverance and strength of women — a thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age saga.

Sarah Addison Allen

Though we have only one week of hot, laying around the pool weather, I recommended the following author to readers who enjoy light romance with an ability to suspend some disbelief.

SARAH ADDISON ALLEN – is from Ashville North Carolina, and brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction — a captivating blend of fairy tale magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town sensibility.

garden spellsIn Garden Spells there is a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, where an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit grows. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it….The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants–from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys–except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down–along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy–if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom–or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….

sugar queenThe Sugar Queen was written in 2008. In this irresistible follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, is  the tale of a young woman whose family secrets–and secret passions–are about to change her life forever. Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis–and two parts fairy godmother. Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life–because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman.

With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding. Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and–most amazing of all–has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time–even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place–and what Chloe has to do with it all–is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life. Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love–and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

Elizabeth Berg Comes to the Quad-Cities

elizabeth-bergMeet the author  at a Moline Public Library on June 3rd at 1:00, where she will be signing copies of her new book, Home Safe.

My favorite Berg novel is The Year of Pleasures. If you like books in which the protagonist has faced tragedy and must rebuild her life, this is a classic starting-over story.

You’ll enjoy reading how Betta moves to a new town, buys a house, and reconnects with old college friends. Immersing herself in her new surroundsings, she also makes new friends, finds romance and opens a store called “What a Woman Wants.” It sounds a little incredible, but Berg writes so lyrically, the journey seems completely logical and enjoyable. One of Berg’s strengthes is her depiction of the small joys of daily life; you’ll not want to leave the world she has created.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

snowflowermedIn today’s  world the main character in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan would perhaps be categorized simply as a “senior citizen”. In Lily’s unforgiving world at 80 she is known as “the one who has not yet died”. Pretty telling about how the elderly and or women are portrayed in this story. Lily tells her challenging life story and what it was like growing up female in a 19th century Chinese village. Women in particular at this time lived excruciatingly difficult lives. Their feet were bound rendering them all but crippled yet was neccessary to procure a husband. They were married off and forced to take the position of lowliest person in the household. Essentially, women were deemed responsible for anything that was bad or went wrong in their culture. Although their customs, folklore and traditions were fascinating, this was a difficult read at times.

I was amazed at how these women managed to survive such physical and emotional hardships. A beautiful way in which they escaped was through the ancient art of women’s writing called nu shu. Some young girls participated in a sort of arranged friendship called laotongs through which they communicated in this secretive fashion – writing on fans, in letters or embroidering handkerchiefs. Snow Flower and Lily had just  such a relationship in which their remarkable lives are chronicled through their nu shu correspondence.

On Display — Women’s History

s-history-monthMarch is National Women’s History Month, celebrated every year since 1978. This years theme is Women: Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet and spotlights Rachel Carson, author of A Silent Spring.

Of course, the library has the expected biographies about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but how about Billie Jean King, Sally Ride or Betty Friedan? Setting individuals aside, I found these two titles very interesting:

Wild Women: Crusaders, Curmudgeons and Completely Corsetless Ladiesby Autumn Stephens.

Cowgirls by Candace Savage

And, for today’s history makers, don’t forget  Ms. Magazine.

virtuous-victorian1 cowgirls ms

The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam

submitted by Georgann

road-of-lost-innocenceThis inspiring true story is the author’s experience as a sex slave in Cambodia, how she broke free and how she now helps other girls find freedom. Somaly Mam is a simple woman, not well educated, and she tells her story in simple, frank language. I was hesitant to read it at first because I was afraid it would be too explicit and give me nightmares. Although she tells a heartrending story and she still suffers nightmares, it was not so graphic as to give them to me.

In The Road of Lost Innocence, Mam explains the series of tragic events that lead to her being sold into the sex slave trade when she was about 16. As she relates those years your heart just breaks. What all this woman lived through is just unbelievable.

Eventually Mam escaped and made a life for herself. Now she heads up an organization that helps other women and girls as young as six to also escape. She lives in constant threat to her life and to those of her children, but she perseveres. I was glad I took the risk to read this story. It is a story of hope well worth reading.