The Samurai's Garden

Disease, love, commitment, betrayal, strength and war are just some of the themes you will experience in this beautiful and serene novel. As the Second World War is brewing between Japan and China the main character is sent to his family’s summer home to recuperate from TB. Gail Tsukiyama highlights the beauty of the human spirit as strong friendships develop between these current enemies in her slender yet, contemplative book. I enjoyed how Tsukiyama has organized The Samurai’s Garden into seasons rather than chapters. The book is very visual, slowly exposing the different characters emotions as the seasons change. With the intricacies that accompany leprosy, suicide, loss, devotion it is surprising that Tsukiyama was able to create such a peaceful story.  

The Sandcastle Girls

Chris Bohjalian has crafted a powerful historical novel that depicts the Armenian Genocide. Although the author’s descriptions of abduction, torture, massacre, rape, starvation and deportation are immensely disturbing he also created a beautiful love story.  I am so glad this author has shared the truths about this dark period in history as it needs to be better illuminated. Sadly, I am only aware of this horrendous history due to my Armenian friends. (Another strike against my public school education.) Just like other devastating periods in history, The Holocaust, the massacre of Cambodian’s by the Khmer Rouge or the Rwandan Genocide, if the horrors are not exposed, we cannot grow, learn and ensure they are never repeated. I am glad The Sandcastle Girls is a New York Times best seller and hence will get to the mainstream.
Be prepared, Bohjalian sets the book in two time frames, present and past. At times, I truly felt this was a family memoir rather then a fictional tale based on horrific facts. The author does a great job of fooling the reader to think this is actually his story. I had to keep reminding myself the author is a male while the narrator in the story is researching her grandparents' story.
Finally, I have to mention that Germany was an alley of Turkey during this period. Germany's pro-Turkish stance led to an official policy of "non-intervention" toward the Armenian genocide. Through further research, I learned Germany choose to cover up the genocide to minimize any suspicion of German involvement. Additionally, Germany embraced genocidal tactics toward the Armenians as well as policies that condoned it.  Learning that this was Germany’s first genocide was a great surprise. (Good grief, how much genocide can one country take part in?) Turkey was trying to rid the Ottoman Empire of the Christian Armenians. Turks were mostly Muslim. I am again very surprised Germany, especially with their later history, aligned with Muslims, accepting and even honoring the elimination of Christian Armenians. I would think this would have been the complete opposite choice for Germany. The whole thing is so disturbing! (I had another choice word in mind.) If you have some thoughts and a deeper understanding of this turbulent history I'd love to hear from you. Please make a comment. 
My final parting thoughts are people’s intolerance of others is disgusting and what occurs due to hate makes me sick. Elimination of a race, culture, religion is inexcusable. 

Bringing Up Bebe

This was both a fascinating and at times hilarious read. If you are not a parent, do not disregard this book. I am not a parent nor do I intend on becoming a parent but this was a great book regardless. Bringing Up Bebe provides a sociological perspective comparing the values of American and French parenting styles. I truly enjoyed this American expat's take on the study of French parenting and how she tried to integrate it into her children's lives while living in Paris. I found I agreed with much of what Pamela Druckerman described as the French style of firm rules, boundaries, your child joining your world, not the opposite of parents curtailing their lives that sadly seems to include a continuous need to entertain. Other strong tenets of French parenting are no hovering, over analyzing, over-stimulation, constant praise or intense paranoia. Children, even toddlers are expected to adapt, self-sooth, be polite and to participate as a full-fledged member of the family. French parents do not cater to every whim or impatient, bratty want as it causes unhappy children and only worsens the negative behavior. Quite an interesting philosophy to child rearing and in many of the situations described radically different from American parenting.
There were many parts of this book in which I insisted I read aloud to Chris, as they were too funny not to share. My most favorite part was the section when Druckerman observed toddlers eating lunch at the day care. The toddler’s embarked on a four-course meal that included the starter of a tomato salad in vinaigrette. This was followed by le poison (fish) in a light butter sauce and a side of peas, carrots, and onions. Next the two year olds enjoyed the cheese course of le blue and finally dessert of whole apples cut up by the teacher assigned to the tables consisting of four children each. First, the meals sound better then what I eat. Second, the teacher announcing aloud, le poison or le blue is hysterical. Finally, that toddlers have this capacity due to the daily routine and high expectation amazes me. 

Gentlemen and Players

About ninety pages into Gentlemen and Players, I realized I read and very much disliked Sleep, Pale Sister another Joanne Harris novel. I was extremely worried at this point, as the story was becoming quite confusing with the multitude of character as well as two narrators. Be patient and muddle through. Gentlemen and Players has so many interesting twists and turns that are completely unpredictable that the Harris' novel surprised me. The author does an excellent job of managing the complicated plot with impressive dexterity. This is a very clever and engaging book.