Tag: book reviews

Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

Book Review: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Posted on February 15, 2016 by

Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I cracked open the cover of Isabel Allende’s latest novel, The Japanese Lover. To be honest, I was surprised with the title – I always associate Allende with stories set in Latin America, magical and mystical and certainly not settings in Asia.

I quickly came to discover that Allende, in fact, utilized a familiar setting after all – San Francisco, close to her home in California, and sixty short miles away from mine. That got me hooked, and I could hardly put the book down.

Using the dual time periods of the 2000s and 1940s, The Japanese Lover tells the story of Alma Belasco, an elderly, eccentric woman living in a nursing home, and her decades old love affair with Ichimei, the son of her family’s Japanese gardener. At the end of Alma’s life, her grandson Seth and her care worker, Irina (who is harboring her own secrets) strive to discover who is sending Alma secret letters and gardenias.

I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story line as Allende weaves the disparate love stories of Alma, Ichimei, Seth, Irina against the backdrop of both World War 2 and contemporary San Francisco. I was swept into Alma’s life as a young girl, forced to immigrate from Poland to seek protection from Nazi persecution by living in the San Francisco mansion of her uncle Issac. And just as quickly, I found myself caught in the narrative of Irina, herself an immigrant who struggles generations later with her own back story and coming to terms with her inability to commit to a loving relationship.

Allende skillfully weaves in and out of current time to Japanese Internment camps, sharing the back story of Ichimei, his family, and offering a snapshot of what life was like for Californians of Japanese descent pre-World War 2 who were forced to leave everything they knew to live in government-run prison camps. As a student of California history, I found Allende’s historical details descriptive and factual, thought provoking and tender. Alma and Ichimei, cognizant of their inability to publicly demonstrate their interracial love, share a passion that spans generations


Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

I just loved this book – everything about it resonated with me. Allende’s tender portrayal of Alma and Ichimei illuminates a passion that spans generations despite societal norms which restrict their ability to demonstrate interracial love, alongside relationships that are both acceptable and secret in a multitude of ways. All along the way, I couldn’t stop thinking of our world today in 2016, that has come so far in defining both marriage and love, and yet we live in a country which still struggles with racial and societal inequity. For me, The Japanese Lover provided the perfect vehicle to think deeply about what our world would look like if we could put down the barriers between races, if we could eliminate the huge divide between income levels, and really look at each other as soulful humans, each with an ability to love and be loved for who and what we are, not who or what others think we are.

Isabel Allende’s novel The Japanese Lover is one of those books that I know will linger with me as I move through my own work and life, attempting to teach my children to love and not hate, to be kind and not cruel, and to make the world a better place for those who come after us.

For more great book ideas, head over to Brynn Allison’s Literary Maven site.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

My Favorite Books of 2015

Posted on December 27, 2015 by

2015 best books mamawolfe

 “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

I am a book lover. I love being surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, both read and unread. I adore walking into someone’s home and scanning their bookshelves, and get giddy when I see familiar titles. I carry at least one – if not two (just in case, you know) – books with me everywhere I go. I typically read at least two titles at once – a novel, an inspirational morning book, and some sort of writing guide. I collect books like some people collect records (wait – does anyone DO that anymore?) and update my Goodreads profile like a pro. My Amazon wish list is full of…books. That’s about it. And I LOVE to gift books – in fact, this year my mom’s present was a HUGE bag of books that made her as excited to receive as it felt to give. She reads more than I do!

In 2015 I set my reading challenge too high, and missed it by about 13 titles. I did manage to complete at least 27 full-length novels, which I consider pretty satisfactory considering I have over 100 English students in class this year (think – 100 papers per assignment, at least 5-10 minutes to read/grade each, totaling 500 minutes which is OVER 8 HOURS minimum!). This year I’m sharing my favorite books, only because I want to share just the very best. I’ve added links to make it easy to read more about these titles on Amazon; I’d love to know if you agree with me – and if you’ve read something you think I should add to my list, be sure to comment. I’m always on the look out for great stories.

Here are my 2015 favorite books, in no particular order…

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

I read more historical fiction than any other genre, and this was one of my favorites. The main character, Sarah Brown, is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, and embraces the cause of the Underground Railroad all on her own. The author weaves a parallel story set in current time about a woman struggling with infertility who finds a mysterious porcelain doll head in her root cellar. I loved the mingling of past with present, and the ideas that women throughout history have challenged themselves to create the life they really desire. I tried to write my own bit of family history after reading this book – you can get the story of my great, great grandfather in my blog post, “Sheep Shearer’s Children In Lake Tahoe”.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Pulitzer Prize winner. Besides that, this story is a glorious, delicate and beautiful tale about a blind French girl and a German boy who are trying to survive World War 2 in France. It’s a long read (530 pages), but I guarantee you will be captivated by the author’s ability to weave together two characters who should never have met, all the while sharing the idea that despite our circumstances, people really do try to be good to each other.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Another historical fiction story set in parallel structure, The House Girl tells the stories of Josephine Bell, a seventeen-year-old slave living in Virginia, 1852, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer living in New York City, 2004, who is tasked with research into a class-action lawsuit surrounding a mysterious Civil War era artist. I loved the interplay of art and history and secrets, and the idea about what does justice really look like.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

This book was deliciously creepy, telling the story of a young boy named Will who had never been allowed to go outside. So what does he do? He defies his mother, sneaks out (wearing a protective helmet, just in case) and finds a kid who shows him the joy of skateboarding. There’s a mystery that happens, too – but this story showed me the extremes that parents will go to to protect their children, and the dark side of not allowing kids to experience life on their own. You can read my blog post, “Living In Between Love and Fear”,  inspired by this book.

All Together In One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick

After reading this first book in a series, I am now completely hooked on Jane Kirkpatrick. All Together In One Place shares the story of life during the westward movement in the U.S., a time when women were forced to pick up, move, and follow their husband to someplace they had never seen. What made this one of my favorite books was the multitude of strong female characters – women so strong they outlasted most of the men and managed to create their own destiny along the way.

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

I loved discovering this writer – another woman tackling the issues of feminism as told through the story of Mary Sutter, a Civil War era midwife who battles prejudice and discrimination against women. This was one of my favorite books because while the depictions of medical treatments of the time could be a bit hard to stomach, the courage and fortitude of Mary captivated me. I couldn’t put this one down.

Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

To my surprise, I wound up meeting this author during a conference at BlogHer this summer in NYC, and she was as lovely and delightful as her novel. While this wasn’t historical fiction ( the story is set in current day Chicago), her themes and story line most definitely have been repeated throughout our country’s history. Her story of Rachel, a biracial girl who survives a family tragedy, made me really stop and think about racism in our country, and how we all contribute to the ideas of social justice, and the power beauty and race hold in our world.

I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People 

OK- true confession – I’m sharing this title as one of my favorite books of 2015 because this collection of short stories is where I first became a published author in print. My story, “The Ride of a Lifetime”, was selected to be published by Story Shelter in their first ever print edition. To say I was over the moon is an understatement; after decades of seeing other author’s names on the title page, I did do a happy dance to see my very own there in black and white. I Am Here is an interesting collection of real life stories of regular people who have had extraordinary experiences – and my tale of our first trip to Nicaragua fit right into their theme.

Do you see anything you’d like to read in 2016? Do you share my love for any of these titles or authors? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment and let’s create another amazing year full of books!

P.S. – Too late for making my list, but I’m about to finish A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. This title came to me via a friend’s blog A Design So Vast – Lindsey’s post about “Best Books of the Half-Year” is full of interesting titles. It’s fun to stray away from my usual genre to dump myself inside the life of another modern woman determined to balance motherhood, career and marriage.

If you’re interested in my past year-end book posts, you can find my 2013 recommendations here, and my 2014 favorites here. I’ve also written a “Books I Love” post here.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

Are You Afraid You Might Fail?

Posted on March 22, 2015 by


Is something holding you back from living your best life? Are you afraid that you might fail? Are you ready to move forward but find yourself frozen in fear?

You need to read this book: What Would You Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail.

 The parenting website, Ten To Twenty (I’m a regular contributor now) loved this review I wrote and is publishing it today on their front page – here.

I adored this little book; it was the first review I did for Viva Books, and has let to a great partnership. You can read more of my Viva books reviews about living in the present, gratitude, and finding the right words with these links:

Wholehearted Life

Toasts: The Perfect Words To Celebrate Any Occasion

The Grateful Life

Imagine The Life You’d Like To Live, Then Live It

header photo credit: Courageous via photopin (license)

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

My Best Life, March 2014: A Month of Anticipation

Posted on March 29, 2014 by

March was a month of anticipation; the wrap up of one ski season, the college acceptance letters, and the countdown until Cameron returns home from the ski academy. I struggled to stay in the present moment, to breathe deeply and know that everything will work out as it should. As we move into April, I feel the breath of possibilities whispering at the back of my neck. It should be an interesting month, to be sure!

My Best March:

Best Blog Reads:

I was fascinated with the idea of ‘grittiness’ this month; how do we cultivate grit in our children seems to be a hot topic for teachers and parents right now. Fittingly, Cameron’s ski academy school motto is “Grit, Grace and Courage” – what more could we ask for our kids? I loved this post from NPR titled “Does Teaching Kids To Get Gritty Help Them Get Ahead”, as well as this one from one of my favorite websites, Daily Good. Definitely worth a read.

Best Books:

I managed to get a bit of reading done this month between the anticipation of ski races and college tours in Salt Lake City. I really enjoyed What Would You Do If You Could Not Fail by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. These writers collected stories of courage from everyday people and put them together with quotes and ideas for the reader to really use in their lives. The theme of grit really got my interest, and made me think about why some people have the drive to persevere and others don’t.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger was written in the form of letters, emails, and documents, telling the story of a marriage in collapse. I wasn’t sure how I’d like this format, but it turned out that the characters were well developed and the plot surprisingly easy to follow. It made me think that teaching middle school was really a dream job compared to being a divorce lawyer!

Finally, I just finished Holly Peterson’s new novel, The Idea of Him. It really made me think about how so often in life we think we know what we want or how it will all turn out, and usually, life has a way of surprising us. Holly is a Goodreads author – if you haven’t used Goodreads yet to track your books and reading, you should start! If you already do, please friend request me! I’d love to see what you’re reading, too.

Best Quiet Place:

A long time ago, when my children were small and very demanding, I decided I needed to find a quiet place close to home where I could escape when I needed to center myself. Over the years, the path running along Putah Creek in the UC Davis Arboretum has offered me great solace and joy. One of my favorite times to visit the Arboretum is when a storm is looming – I love the quietness, the animals taking cover, and the whisper of the wind blowing through the trees.

UC Davis Arboretum trees

Redwood Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum

Redwood Grove in the UC Davis Arboretum

Best Photos:

A month of endings and beginnings…nothing fancy, just the fabulous moments of anticipation and reward in March:

Lily and Bob

Lily and her beloved high school ski coach

Lily Pole Vaulting 11 feet

Lily pole vaulting 11 feet, a new personal record

Lily and Mikaela Shiffrin

Lily and friends and Mikaela Shiffrin at Squaw Valley race.

Lily at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah

Sunset at Tahoe Park Beach with my boy

Sunset at Tahoe Park Beach with my boy

Spring is coming! In the UC Davis ArboretumSpring is coming! In the UC Davis Arboretum


A rare race day together at Northstar

A rare race day together at Northstar

Best Quotes:

When I look back at my Twitter #quoteoftheday postings, there seems to be a strong theme of openness to possibility and anticipation of what is yet to come. -I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but looking back, that’s really what March taught me.

“Stay committed to your decisions; but stay flexible in your approach.” –Tony Robbins

“You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you gotta suit up for them all.”-J. Askenberg

“Instead of bracing yourself for the perils of the unknown, embrace the joy that is here, in your present moment.”
― Michelle Cruz-Rosado

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”- Brene Brown

“It doesn’t matter where you are, you are nowhere compared to where you can go.” -Bob Proctor

Best Moments:

High School State Ski Championships

It was a month of my girl pushing herself to the limit; finishing second place in the high school state ski championships gave her such a sense of accomplishment. And then a few weeks later, she went and did this – caution-it gets a bit loud at the end of the video! Facebook Post by Jennifer Mason Wolfe.

Wishing you great possibilities in April – and as always, thank you for supporting mamawolfe. I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and Facebook, too!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

My Year In Books, 2013

Posted on December 31, 2013 by

In 2013, I set a goal to increase my reading this year, despite all the other events that take up my spare free minutes. I met my goal, and have some great titles to share with you! Thanks to all the wonderful authors that shared their stories with me this year – here’s to 2014 and many more great books!

January, 2013

I wasn’t sure if I would like (or finish) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot but finish I did-I was fascinated by the story behind HeLa cells, and the idea that racism could be entwined with medical science in such an unfair manner.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, beautifully written and lyrical, shares the story of 1970s northern California – my own backyard.

Divisadero (novel)

Divisadero (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here I Go Again: A Novel by Jen Lancaster is a delightful read you’re looking for a good, funny escape-my-life chick-lit novel; check out my review of Here I Go Again!

Saturday Night Widows: The Adventures of Six Friends Remaking Their Livesby Becky Aikman is a book that shows us how life has a funny way of taking us on a different path than we might expect; Becky Aikman’s novel was a great reminder for me to live in the moment and love what I have. Read my post, “When Life Doesn’t Turn Out The Way It’s Supposed To” inspired by her story.

February, 2013

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and adored A Good American for that reason – but also, because of the author, Alex George. Tweeting with him while I was reading was such a thrill-and I cannot wait for him to finish his next novel! Read my review of A Good American here.

Another brilliant historical fiction novel, The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom, recounts the story of a white Irish servant girl and her attempts to survive  as she lives and works with the slaves in a plantation house during the 1800s.

March, 2013

Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Robison Elder helped me understand some of my students who have Aspbergers in a touching story of a father-son struggle to love each other.

April, 2013

Afterwards: A Novel by Rosamund Lupton – oh, I loved this book, despite the constant stream of tears rolling down my face. You know what I mean-those books that touch you deeply? This one triggered volumes of emotions about motherhood, as I reflected on my post “Forever Afterwards”.

May, 2013

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel by Anthony Marra wasn’t at the top of my 2013 book list, but I did enjoy the story of the father and daughter in war torn Chechnya and how it reminded me of playing Risk as a child.

June, 2013

Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff, a beautifully written story about motherhood and change, left me teary and happy I was introduced to Lee’s writing. While her autobiography detailing the horrific accident endured by her husband, reporter Bob Woodruff, established her talent, this novel will solidify her ability to evoke emotion within her reader in this story of a fictional tragic accident.

The Binding Chair; or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society: A Novel by Kathryn Harrison satisfied my need for more historical fiction, this time a story set during turn of the century Shanghai combined the pull of the past with the push towards the future – really a good read.

The Samurai’s Garden: A Novel by Gail Tsukiyama didn’t catch my attention-maybe it hid in the shadows of Harrison’s novel-I’m not sure why I didn’t get into it.

I was introduced to the mystery novels of J.A. Jance years ago by my friend and author, Dawn Wink (see below for her novel Meadowlark) and fell in love with the character of Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady – think of Judgment Call: A Brady Novel of Suspense (Joanna Brady Mysteries) as a story to satisfy your need for a  grown up Nancy Drew

Home by Toni Morrison – what can I say about a novel by one of my all time favorite novelists? Simply beautiful, haunting and a must-read.

English: Graffiti de Toni Morrison en el front...

English: Graffiti de Toni Morrison en el frontón del barrio de Aranzabela-Salburúa, en Vitoria-Gasteiz. Imagen tomada el 30-12-2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July, 2013

If you haven’t read Ann Patchett, you’re certainly missing out and you should certainly add Run, a story set in a New England snow storm,  to your 2014 book list!

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton: A Novel by Elizabeth Silver combines a mother’s love, a murder mystery, and the death penalty into a gripping novel. Reading it reminded me of  the power of memories, and as children when we feel powerless over our future.

This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila is a beautiful collection of short vignettes about the author’s homeland, Hawaii. I loved her stories about making choices and growing up, especially as I was helping my daughter navigate the college application process. Kristiana Kahakauwila is not only a gifted novelist, but her ability to connect with her readers (me!) over social media made the reading experience really come to life.

August, 2013

The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese by Kathe Lison – I can’t really recommend this book unless you’re SERIOUSLY into cheese. I’m not.

Meadowlark was written by my friend, confidante and a wonderfully amazing woman, Dawn Wink. Elegantly written, Meadowlark is simply a beautifully heart-wrenching story of her great grandmother’s life on the South Dakota prairie that you MUST read! After being one of the first ‘editors’ of her story many years ago, seeing her first novel birth into the world was one of the highlights of 2013.

September, 2013

“Parenting is hard as hell” – that quote resonated with me, even though my parenting experience is vastly different than the author, Lori Duron’s. Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son is an eye-opening read for modern day parents and educators – see my reflection here.

Mother, Mother: A Novel by Koren Zailckas was the first in a series of stories surrounding the theme of motherhood that I read this year as part of the blogger’s book club From Left To Write. This psychological thriller left me wanting to hold tightly to my own children, and savor every momenet with them.

October, 2013

The Funeral Dress: A Novel by Susan Gilmore Gregg was a story that captured my attention and kept me up late for a few nights-I couldn’t get through the story of love, motherhood, and marriage fast enough. Can’t wait for her next novel!

The Dinner by Herman Koch wasn’t my favorite read of the year, but I was intrigued by the narrative technique used by the author as he shares the mystery story of a mother’s love.

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land: A Novel by P.S. Duffy takes the reader back in time to World War 1, but for me, it reminded me of my summer travels and the Pull of Nicaragua.

November, 2013

I was haunted by The Last Winter of Dani Lancing: A Novel in part because of the skillful mystery writing of author P.D. Viner, but also because it brought back memories of a horrible childhood memory when I first felt the horror of murder in my community.

I devoured Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (30 Minute Spiritual Series) by one of my all time favorite writers and life-guides, Anne Lamott. I spent this month hunkering down and preparing for big change; read my thoughts about Help Thanks Wow here.

Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory was a sweet memoir by the editor of the Boston Globe….reminded me of finding my own very first buddy.

December, 2013

Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon tells the story of the REAL Downton Abbey-if you’re a fan, you’ll love this one.

I’m wrapping up the year with Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin – enjoying parts of her story, but not all.

Yes, I’m one of those people who has ongoing novels on my bedside table:

I’m slowly rereading The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, which reminds me that every day should be infused with reverence.

Cover of "The Seat of the Soul"

Cover of The Seat of the Soul

I started reading The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays by Caroline Knapp after reading blogger Lindsay Mead’s recommendation-I love savoring an essay a little bit at a time!

Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers by Kate Hopper is another blogger recommended book that I dip into, chapter by chapter, as I attempt to describe this glorious time of my life.

Have you read any of these great books? What was your favorite book of 2013? What’s your reading goal for 2014?


Enhanced by Zemanta

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp