While walking a half-marathon at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer was the purpose of my recent trip to Santa Barbara, I also had some time to relax and read! Here are the four books I read, all of which were worth reading!
I started with The Flamenco Academy by Sarah Bird, having recently read and enjoyed her newest book, The Gap Year. While this was the fictional account of a woman who as a senior in high school fell in love with a Flamenco guitarist, which changed the course of her life, I particularly enjoyed it for the lesson on Flamenco and the Gypsy culture. I learned about Spanish Gypsies, who created Flamenco as a means of expressing their frustration and grief. The guiding principle for Flamenco is "Dame la verdad" ("Give me the truth), meaning the dance should reflect what is most true in your life or in your heart.
Next I read Lisa See's Shanghai Girls, which was published a couple of years ago. Much like The Flamenco Academy, I enjoyed learning about China in the 1930s, the second Sino-Japanese war, immigration at Angel Island off the coast of San Francisco, and the Chinese immigrant community in California in the mid-20th century. At the start of the book, sisters Pearl and May are "beautiful girls," meaning they model for painters. Their family is financially sound, and Pearl has graduated from college. However, their father owes a significant amount of gambling debts to a local gang, and he trades his daughters for his debt, arranging marriages to the sons of a Chinese immigrant in America. The girls refuse to board the ship to America, and in doing so, become stuck in Shanghai at the start of the Japanese invasion of China and are caught in the middle of a war. They eventually make it onto a boat, but are detained for months at Angel Island. Will they ever be happy in their arranged marriages? This was by far my favorite of the four books I read on my trip.
I next read Ann Patchett's highly acclaimed book State of Wonder about drug exploration in the Brazilian rain forest. When Marina's lab partner fails to return from a trip to visit their company's researcher in the rain forest, Marina must make the trip to determine what happened to him and to see what progress is being made on a fertility drug. After many road blocks, she finally makes into the heart of the rain forest and learns much about herself. I have to say I have no desire to go to Brazil after reading this book! Biting bugs galore, giant poisonous snakes, and high humidity aren't my idea of a good time. However, the book was interesting if not completely worth the hype.
Finally, I read the first book in Alexander McCall Smith's latest series, Corduroy Mansions about people living in three flats in a converted mansion in London. Much like his series, 44 Scotland Street, the characters are quirky and have a number of interesting interactions throughout the book. My favorite character in this book was Freddie de la Hay, the vegetarian dog who comes to live with the main character, William, in the hopes that Williams' dog-hating adult son Eddie will move out of the flat. Much like 44 Scotland Street, this book was published daily in the Daily Telegraph by chapter over 100 days. The second book in the series has just been released, and I'm on my way to the library tomorrow to check it out!