Saturday, December 29, 2007

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

This book chronicles the story of Greg Mortenson who, after a failed K2 climbing attempt, promises to build a school in the rural village that nursed him back to health. He ends up building dozens of schools in villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is now the director of the Central Asia Institute, a non-profit organization that is committed to building schools in these areas.

This story is inspiring in that it shows how much good one person with lots of determination and direction can accomplish. For me personally, however, reading about all of the time, travel, and obstacles made me a bit tired. But that's probably because I'm still, to some degree, still recovering from living overseas.

It's neat to read about how his projects came together, especially in terms of the funding. However, the writing in this book is sometimes tedious and I skimmed some parts.

Friday, December 28, 2007

An email from the author of Kimchi & Calamari

I enjoyed reading Kimchi & Calamari so much yesterday that I wrote the author, Rose Kent, an email via her website ( and she wrote back today! Below is her email to me. (In the form, it asked for my favorite food and I wrote: "Lemonade and Cheez-its, but not together!")

Hello Elaine,

Your email made my day. Thanks so much for writing and sharing a little about yourself. I wrote KIMCHI & CALAMARI because I truly believe there are so many "sandwiches" walking around. Some are ethnic, some are due to interests, different friend groups, etc. Iwanted kids to see a character wrestling with this but who wasn't a "problem" in and of himself.

How terrific that you check out children's books! I'm biased but I think there are many out there that speak to all people.

Thanks again for writing Elaine, and best to you in Sunnyvale. I will add your email address to my list, if you like, and let you know when my next book comes out. And feel free to recommend KIMCHI & CALAMARI to any kids who might be interested. As a new author, that's really the best way books get read.

Rose Kent

ps Lemonade and Cheez-Its rock. (Together might not be bad either!)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

I picked up this book while I was walking through the Children's Section of the library. It was on the New Book shelf.

It's about Joseph Calderaro who is adopted from Korea. His family is Italian-American. In May of his 8th grade year, Joseph is given a writing assignment in which he has to trace his ancestry. This is a tough assignment for Joseph because he doesn't know who he is. Joseph makes up a story, turns it in, and wins a contest. He feels horrible, admits the truth, and is given a second chance. This causes him to search for some real truth about himself. He doesn't come up with any definite answers, but he does experience more peace with who he is: "I knew this version wouldn't win a contest, but this time it was the God Honest Truth from a former Cub Scout: how it felt to be Joseph Calderaro - Korean on the outside, Italian on the inside, and sometimes the other way around...It was my story."

The book label says it's for ages 8-12, but really, anyone would enjoy this book. It is honest and real with some neat characters and good values and lessons.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

God Will Make a Way: What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Nothing is impossible with God, no matter what the situation may be... and this includes situations, like heartbreak, addiction, and depression, in which we can't see a way out by ourselves. Cloud and Townsend (co-authors of Boundaries) give us eight principles that let God work through our problem and bring us healing and recovery:

- Begin your journey with God
- Choose your traveling companions wisely
- Place high value on wisdom
- Leave your baggage behind
- Own your faults and weaknesses
- Embrace problems as gifts
- Take life as it comes
- Love God with all you are

There are also separate chapters addressing specific concerns that come with marriage, dating, parenting, depression, addictions, weight loss, and personal goals. Definitely nothing comprehensive, but enough to give us some steps to get started and, maybe more importantly, the hope that things don't have to be like this forever.

I was especially encouraged by the chapter on personal goals and dreams. As I muddle my way through the middle of this graduate program, part of me wants to throw in the towel. The following quotes reminded me of some truth:

"Look hard at what will be true if you do NOT pursue your goals or dreams. What do you see? How does that feel? Can you live with it? Is that what you really want your life to be?"

"...reaching your goals is always secondary. The process of who you are becoming with God and others in that process is what's important."

Overall, an encouraging, yet practical book with solid truth and lots of wisdom. I recommend this book. A chapter a day will give you plenty to think about.

Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA by Julia Alvarez

This book explores the tradition of the quinceañera, the party celebrating a 15-year old girl's coming of age. Alvarez describes one specific quinceañera, that of Monica Ramos, while also including sections on the history of the quinceañera and Alvarez's own experience growing up in the United States. The sections are short and this makes the flow of the book quite confusing and disorienting. I learned some about the quinceañera, and Alvarez's own autobiographical story was interesting, but I'm not sure that the two mixed as well as intended.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

This book is a repeat of The Devil Wears Prada. Similar storyline, predictable ending. However, instead of taking place in the fashion magazine industry, this book is set in the world of public relations.

So...why did I read this? What can I say? I'm on vacation.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

This fictional book is about Andrea Sach's year of working as a junior personal assistant to Miranda Priestly, editor of a fashion magazine called Runway. Miranda is demanding, manipulative, and pretty crazy. Andrea believes that working one year for Miranda is worth it because it'll help her get a position that she really wants: writing for The New Yorker. Things get crazier as Andrea is at Miranda's service 24/7 and Andrea begins to neglect herself, her family, her friends, and her boyfriend. She comes to a point in which she has to decide what she wants and what is important to her.

This book was very amusing and funny. I think it would fall under that chic-lit category, but it's written well-enough so that it's not distracting. It seems trivial in all of the fashion details and gossip, but the author manages to pull in some important things to think about: Which qualities do we want to cultivate? How important is it to "get ahead"? What price are we willing to pay to succeed professionally? The book also questions the idea that celebrities have happy, perfect lives. Miranda may be successful and wealthy, but she is also a very mean, bitter, lonely woman. Overall, this was a very easy read and much better than I expected. I would recommend it if you're looking for something relaxing and light.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

This won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 1989. It's the story of one day in the life of Ira and Maggie Moran as they drive to a friend's funeral. They are two ordinary people, married for 28 years, trying to muddle their way through life as best as they can. The book doesn't contain any great action or revelations, but in the ordinariness, we learn about the characters' forgotten dreams, unmet expectations, and the unwillingness to give up. When do we just resign ourselves to how things are? When is acceptance the best (and maybe, only) solution? No, this book doesn't answer this question, but it brings it up. Mild, but rich somehow in its mildness.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Time for a Break

Fall quarter 2007 is history! Well, I should wait until I find out my grades to say that. =D I have the month of December off and I look forward to resting and enjoying this season of Advent. I found this picture of a reading chair. Neat, huh?

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

This is a short coming-of-age story about Frankie, a 12-year-old girl growing up in the south during World War II. Frankie is looking for a place to belong. Aren't we all?

The author is effective at portraying life through the eyes of a pre-adolescent girl. The writing is very smart and concise. The kitchen conversations that Frankie has with the cook and her little brother are very funny and touching. Some experiences and emotions are described so accurately that it is neat and a little uncomfortable too. However, the book ends rather abruptly and is a bit unsatisfying since there was so much character development. There are some pretty dark things that happen as well, but this is a short, interesting, different kind of read.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Ah. The Chronicles of Narnia.

Through Aslan, C.S. Lewis has a way of describing what God might be like in a way that my human mind can understand a little bit better:

"Aslan threw up his shaggy head, opened his mouth, and uttered a long, single note; not very loud, but full of power. Polly's heart jumped in her body when she heard it. She felt sure that it was a call, and that anyone who heard that call would want to obey it and (what's more) would be able to obey it, however many worlds and ages lay between."

Sometimes The Magician's Nephew is ordered as the sixth book in the series, but I prefer reading it first. It explains how Narnia was created and the significance of the lamp post and the wardrobe. What a delight...There's something timeless about how these books manage to connect with my heart and sense of adventure. Plus, they do help me think more about what God is like. Maybe this is why, every so often, I experience the urge to pick them up yet again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Promise by Chaim Potok

"Almost everything of importance that a person does is a gamble, isn't it? Every crucial decision is a gamble." --Abraham Gordon in The Promise

This novel picks up where The Chosen left off. Reuven is in graduate school, studying to become a rabbi and his friend, Danny, is studying to become a psychologist. One of the themes that strikes me from this book is: What do we do with our knowledge? These boys fight for what they believe in and take risks. Again, as with Chaim Potok's books, the novel is beautifully written and very rich in description and character development. He writes so flawlessly that the writing is never a distraction. It's just the story and the lives of these young men that draws me in and keeps me interested.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

This book tells the story of Cameron and Sonia whose friendship abruptly ends after college. The story goes back and forth between the present day and their time of being best friends until we find out what exactly happened (of course, it involves a boy). Some of the themes explored are reconciliation, choices we make, protecting ourselves, loss, and moving on. For the most part, the book was engaging (I read it all in one day), and although it is kind of more in the "chic-lit" genre, it's well-written enough to not be annoying. A good kick-back easy read book.

The book made me think about my own "best friends" from the past, especially those from high school, that I am no longer in contact with. What have they chosen to do with their lives? Are they married? Do they have families? How did we manage to lose touch? Have we changed so much that we wouldn't be friends anymore? And how much do I still care?

Hum. I guess this book also struck something inside of me since my ten-year high school reunion is coming up later this month. I am not going, but within the last couple of weeks, I've heard from my only two high school friends that I still talk to. None of us is going. Yah, I'll pass on that walk down memory lane.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L'Engle

"But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea."
--William Langland

This book traces the family history of Camilla Dickinson. Her granddaughter begins to question if Camilla is truly her biological grandmother and this is the story that comes out.

I think the author intended for this book to illustrate a human's capacity to extend mercy and forgiveness. And she did communicate that and actually, the first half of the book was quite absorbing. However, the characters were very flat and the storyline was pretty predictable. So the best thing about this book was the quote above from which the title came.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Reading books by Chaim Potok feels like coming home to me. Which is strange because I've never lived in New York City and I'm not Jewish. But it does make sense when I consider how accurately Potok writes about the human experience. When I read Potok's books (my favorite is My Name is Asher Lev) I feel more deeply connected with myself and with life. I'm also reminded, because of the many references in the book, that God is the Master of the Universe.

This is the story of an unlikely friendship between two boys: Reuven, an Orthodox Jew, and Danny, a Hasidic Jew. The story takes place in New York during the 1940s and traces Reuven and Danny's friendship through adolescence and college. They struggle with all aspects of life (relationships with fathers, politics, academic goals, career aspirations) and really engage in finding out who they are, what they value, and how to support each other.

Re-reading this book last week made me think about when I first read it, back in the fall of 2004. It's one of the few books that I associate with a specific period in my life. I re-read Potok's books, and will probably continue to do so, because the feeling of coming home is one that always brings comfort no matter what else is going on.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

One of the best books I've read this year.
An engrossing tale of a Depression-era traveling circus full of performers, workers, and animals with distinct personalities. Secrets, adventures, and humor. Very satisfying.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

A short, sweet book about listening to our hearts, following our dreams, and enjoying the journey.

An excerpt:

"Well, then, why should I listen to my heart?"

"Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you're thinking about life and about the world."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

Fannie Flagg's latest. Some books just make for fun, enjoyable reading. This is one of them.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools

In this book, Alec Klein spends a semester observing and experiencing life at New York City's Stuyvesant High School, one of the country's most prestigious and exclusive high schools (only 3% of applicants pass the entrance exam). Klein, a Stuyvesant alumnus himself, follows a handful of students and writes about their struggles and successes. He also writes about the faculty politics and academic pressure found at the school.

I'm a fan of investigative reporting so I enjoy books like this one. I feel like I got a taste of the atmosphere of the school. The stories of the students are engrossing and moving. Very enjoyable.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

Short, direct, and a bit haunting. This Wallace Stegner novel is about Margaret and Alec, a couple living on a farm in Iowa, and Elspeth, Margaret's sister who comes to live with them. This book covers infidelity, family secrets, shame, and consequences. Not my favorite Stegner novel because it seemed too linear compared to his later works. However, Stegner is a master at accurately portraying and describing human emotions, and that is apparent here, in his very first novel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

A friend from college introduced me to Fannie Flagg's books (xie xie to Emily out there in Lanzhou!). Flagg's most famous book is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Her books are fun, heartwarming tales about small-town Southern life.

This one is about Oswald Campbell from Chicago who, following his doctor's orders, reluctantly relocates to Lost River, Alabama for the winter. Oswald finds the small town to be made up of a quirky set of people who gladly welcome him into the community. It's really a story of new beginnings. A sweet afternoon read at anytime of the year despite it's holiday title.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Time to hit the (school) books!

Goodbye, summer vacation. Hello, fall quarter. I knew you would arrive sooner than I wanted.

Wallace Stegner's The Spectator Bird

I read the first 150 pages of this book the night before I left for vacation. I don't take library books with me when I travel so this one had to stay at home, unfinished, for a week before I could read the conclusion. I was kicking myself for not starting the book earlier in the afternoon.

This novel won the National Book Award in 1977. It's about an older couple, Joe and Ruth (also found in All the Little Live Things), who, prompted by a postcard from an old friend, read through Joe's journal that he kept during their trip to Denmark 20 years ago. This novel is about aging, life, marriage, choices we make, and the commitments we keep.

Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild

Chris McCandless, a recent college graduate, gives away all of his money and heads off to start a new life. He wanders around the United States for awhile, hitchhiking and working at odd jobs. His journey ends in the Alaskan wilderness with, after several months of living off the land, his death.

Jon Krakauer (author of Into Thin Air about his Mt. Everest climb, also an excellent read) researched the last years of McCandless' life and pieces it together for us. He weaves in interviews with McCandless' family and friends in an attempt to understand what prompted McCandless to leave his old life behind and walk "into the wild." Of course, only McCandless has an answer for that, but Krakauer puts together a fascinating narrative of the last few years of Chris' life. A little spooky and disturbing, but it's a page-turner.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Iraq Study Group Report

Last month, I read a newspaper article about the death of Sgt. Michael Tayaotao who was serving his third tour of duty in Iraq. He was a local boy, graduating high school the same year I did from the school across town.

Reading about Tayaotao's death made me remember that thousands of families have lost family members. As of today, there have been 3,754 confirmed US deaths in Iraq and 44,729 Iraqi deaths (the number of Iraqi deaths reflects only those deaths reported by news agencies, so the actual number is much higher). Also, 27,186 US soldiers have been wounded so far.

This weekend, I read The Iraq Study Group Report in an effort to gain a better understanding of the situation. The Report gives an overview of what's going on and also includes 79 specific recommendations for "moving forward." I feel more informed, although I know that this 96-page report is simple and just the tip of the iceberg. It made me realize that it's not just a black and white choice between "staying the course" or withdrawing troops.

I encourage you to read this. There's no way you could read this and not come away better informed.

An excerpt:

"While it is clear that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is moderating the violence, there is little evidence that the long-term deployment of U.S. troops by itself has led or will lead to fundamental improvements in the security situation. It is important to recognize that there are no risk-free alternatives available to the United States at this time. Reducing our combat troop commitments in Iraq, whenever that occurs, undeniably creates risks, but leaving those forces tied down in Iraq indefinitely creates its own set of security risks" (Baker, 2006).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

This morning I read that Madeleine L'Engle died on Thursday at age 88. A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Medal for best American children's book in 1963. So this afternoon I picked up my copy, re-read it, and found it enjoyable once again.

All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner

I guess I am on a Wallace Stegner kick because this is the third Stegner book I've read this summer with a fourth sitting on my desk waiting to be read next. I enjoy his books because he creates characters of real depth. He delves into the human experience without padding it at all. Sometimes life is tricky, complicated, horribly unfair, and filled with grief. It's just how it is, and Stegner doesn't veil that at all.

All the Little Live Things is about Joe and Ruth, a couple living in rural California. The other characters include Jim Peck, a wanderer and hippie-type fellow, who camps out on their property, and the Catlins, a young couple with a daughter, who move in next door. The topics in this book range from enjoying the little pleasures in life to taking one's own life, pregnancy, anticipatory grief, and untimely death.

How the characters dealt with heartbreak resonated with something inside of me. Sometimes we can't escape disappointment and despair. Feeling it and going through it (rather than trying to avoid and deny it) is the only route to take. It's not fun, but to not experience the pain and grief is to cheat ourselves out of the richness of the emotions that life brings, both good and bad.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Lyman Ward, an elderly wheelbound man, is writing a biography of his pioneer grandparents. As he traces the history their life and marriage, we also get a glimpse into his own failed marriage. What he learns about marriage from his grandparents may affect how he handles his own relationship with his ex-wife.

This is a big, sprawling novel. The first 50 pages were tough to get through, but it picked up after that. Some parts seemed really long and overly descriptive (definitely NOT a beach/vacation read and I'm not sure if I'll ever read it again because it wasn't necessarily an easy read), but it was worth it for the final 50 pages or so. The ending provides lots of food for thought....when do we forgive? what makes us trust again? when do we try to rebuild trust and when do we throw in the towel? what does it take for us to stay engaged and work through deep hurt and broken trust? can we ever fully heal from betrayal? what if we decide not to stay? what does that say about us? A serious, thoughtful book that requires some commitment and time, but the ending and the questions it raised made it worth it for me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I love love love Stargirl, which is why I asked Boomer to read it. When I saw the sequel, Love, Stargirl, at the store, I was so excited that I immediately bought it (hardcover! which, for those of you who know how big of a library fan I am, is rare...the only other hardcover books I've bought in recent years are the Harry Potters).

In the first book, we learn about Stargirl through the thoughts of Leo Borlock, the narrator. Stargirl remains as mysterious and eccentric to us as she is to Leo. The sequel takes place fairly recently after the first book ends and is written from the viewpoint of Stargirl.

Somehow, it just didn't work. The magic and charm of Stargirl is gone. She's still intelligent, different, and compassionate, but I was not fascinated by her. The storyline did not seem as tight and cohesive as Stargirl, and most of the supporting characters were actually kind of annoying. So, I've decided that I will recommend that Boomer NOT read this book (as he has already asked to read it). The first book, Stargirl, can stand alone. So read that one and forget about this one.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (A Guest Review)

Guest blogger: Boomer
Boomer is recently rediscovering the joy of reading and is honored to be a guest blogger on El Estante Para Libros.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli proved to be singularly inventive and cleverly crafted. Written primarily as a social commentary on the often cruel labyrinth of the high school social scene, the author also writes a heartfelt story about coming of age and self-discovery. By far the best part of the book is the titular character herself. As an enigmatic mix of wholesome honesty and clever creativity, Susan “Stargirl” Caraway carries the story and is the hook that invites the reader to explore just how foolish we all remember being in high school. This book was a fun, lighthearted read, but it still carried enough depth to make me think and tune into my heart. I would heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety

This is a story about two couples from very different upbringings and social classes. The husbands are professors at the same Wisconsin university during the Depression. The two couples become lifelong friends and this novel tells of the ups and downs of their friendship, lives, careers, and health. Stegner makes these characters come alive and I really came to like them all.

This novel seemed so real. Life is hard and complex. The hard blows will inevitably come. This book takes an honest look at friendship, marriage, life, and tragedy. And the writing is excellent. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

To choose between something safe and conventional vs. something new and risky. To live a life that looks satisfying on the outside, but to be slowly dying on the inside because your heart is being denied what would give it life. Living without regrets, listening to your heart, pursuing what you know awakens you and makes you feel alive.

These are the themes in this book about Newland Archer and the choice he makes about who to marry. This novel is engrossing and heartbreaking. It is also beautifully written. Wow. It's been awhile since I've read a book that has touched my heart so deeply. After I finished reading it, I sat in silence for a few minutes just to think about how the ending had moved me.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

I first bought this book for my Agroforestry PhD candidate best friend. I then picked it up at the library to read for myself.

Kingsolver details the year in which her family of four ate locally and, for the most part, lived off of their farm in southern Appalachia (they purchase what they don't grow or raise themselves from neighboring farms). This book is educational and adventurous at the same time. The writing is rich, satisfying, and beautiful, as is usually the case with Kingsolver.

Reading this book has been applicable to my own suburban life. It has made me think more about where my food is coming from. Yes, most of my food still comes from Safeway, but I am more motivated to consider how I can eat more locally. This summer, for the first time, I am growing three plants: cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and basil. Eating vegetables from my backyard has made me much more mindful of the flavors, beauty, and efficiency of homegrown food. I am planning on adding some more plants this year. This book also encouraged me to research Community Supported Agriculture programs and I'm hoping to join one at a local farm next season (

This book also made me think more about my own experience with food. I was born and raised in suburbia where most any fruit or vegetable can be bought at the grocery store down the street whether or not it is really in season. I didn't realize this was unnatural until I lived in southwestern China and relied almost solely on the local open-air market for my meat, vegetables, and fruit. It really wasn't until I was 24 years old that I learned that onions aren't in season year round. Tomatoes aren't either! Once I got over this shock, I became more in-tune with what food life was like outside of suburbia and in a more rural setting. I started to love that all of the produce I bought had been picked that morning by the person (or their family members) selling it to me. And that their farms were probably within a mile of my apartment, in the farms surrounding the university campus. Filling up my bicycle basket with this bounty of local, fresh vegetables became one of the highlights of my week. It's also something that I miss the most about living there.
Overall, this book was a treat to read, and made me wonder about how my eating could be different, healthier, and friendlier.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

This is a beautiful book written by Barbara Brown Taylor. She recounts her time working as a pastor, first at a large church in Atlanta, and then at a small rural church in Clarksville, Georgia. She eventually experiences burn out and leaves her post at the church to teach at a university. As she does this, she struggles with her identity: she is no longer a "professional holy person," but rather someone living life in the community.

I really liked this book because Taylor is so honest about her feelings, questions about God, and what spirituality looks like. Her writing is eloquent and I stopped many times to jot down quotes in my journal. Reading her story is inspiring. It makes me want to strive less and rest more, to enjoy being human and alive, and to expand my idea of where and how I can find God.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Jesus of suburbia: Have we tamed the Son of God to fit our lifestyle?

Mike Erre (2006), pastor at Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa, CA, writes:
"The Jesus of Suburbia is the Jesus of Christian religion. He is the Jesus who calls us into comfort and convenience and away from engaging the world around us with truth and grace. He is the Jesus who makes sense. Not surprisingly, we are tempted to follow him. The children of God have always been tempted to temper and soften the God who is there into a much tamer counterfeit."

In this book, Erre challenges us to NOT settle for the safe, drab Jesus that is preached about in our clean North American churches. Instead, Erre asks us to wonder what it would be like to open up our hearts to the real Jesus who has the power to transform lives and communities. The real Jesus is wild and wonderful. Jesus calls us to follow Him, to trust Him, to take risks for Him, to see Him as He really is instead of what we want Him to be. What would life look like if we actually did this? Scary, huh? And somehow compelling at the same time.

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

This is a great summer read chronicling a year in the life of Nan, the nanny for Mr. and Mrs. X's son, Grayer, in New York City. This book contains a lot of smart, funny commentary on childcare and family life (or lack thereof). It also highlights the significance of the attachment that children develop to their primary caregivers, whether that be their mom, dad, or nanny.

Friday, July 27, 2007

That Summer by Sarah Dessen

This is one of the few books that has made me burst into tears at the very end. It's a coming-of-age tale, with the main character, Haven, surrounded by broken family relationships along with new (and possibly unwanted) additions to the family. She learns that we never know the full truth about anyone or any situation and thus, our assumptions and judgments can sometimes be very wrong and unfair.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

I loved Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies, a collection of essays on life and faith. Plan B, another collection of essays about the same, was just okay. This, her third collection, was stale and repetitive. There wasn't anything truly new and creative here. It was still easy to read, but it was just more of the same. I'd rather just read Traveling Mercies again.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


And to J.K. Rowling: Thank you.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Welcome, summer. I've been waiting for you.

I finished summer school yesterday! The eight weeks ahead of me are untouched by syllabi, reading assignments, and research papers. Let the fun reading begin! First up, of course, is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is Khaled Hosseini's second novel (his first was The Kite Runner). The story spans 30 years and tells of two women in Afghanistan and how their lives become intertwined. It's an easy read in the sense that the story moves along quickly. It's a difficult read in some parts because of the graphic scenes of domestic abuse. There really is everything in this story: revenge, love, tragedy, friendship, redemption. I recommend that you read this book. If you haven't read The Kite Runner yet, read that one too.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I saw this book in a book list by Anna Quindlen titled " 10 Big Thick Wonderful Books That Could Take You a Whole Summer to Read (but Aren't Beach Books)." Well, I was so engrossed in this book that it only took me two weeks to read. And it is a big, thick, and wonderful book. Wow. READ THIS BOOK. That's all I can say.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

I first read this book several years ago and re-read it last week. I like the whole Ripley series (there are five in all). They are all enjoyable reads because Tom Ripley is a brilliant, fascinating, and repulsive character all at the same time. The movie starring Matt Damon captured Ripley and the story quite well, but I vowed never to watch it again because the murder scenes were gruesome. But I will re-read the books.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rise and shine by Anna Quindlen

Eh. This book started out okay. It contains enough description for two, maybe even three, books. I didn't really care about the characters. I found myself skimming the last third of the book. The story was boring for a really long time and the wordiness made it even harder to stay engaged. So, yah, you can skip this one! (I would like to note that I do enjoy Quindlen's columns in Newsweek and that I enjoyed her first novel, One True Thing, but I have yet to read another one of her novels that is as good.)

Easier than you think: The small changes that add up to a world of difference

Sometimes I need to think about life differently. So that's why I checked out this book by Richard Carlson, author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Carlson suggests ways to make small adjustments in our lives that will make huge differences in how we experience life. For example, he writes about: being aware of unhelpful thought patterns, resting, listening without interrupting, being fully present, laughing, saying no, and reading (Yay! He challenges us to read just ten pages a day. At this rate, we'll read 3,650 pages a year! Think of how many books we could read!). Overall, this book is encouraging and everything in this book is very practical and inspiring at the same time. There are 39 suggestions, and I read one a day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shalom in the home: Smart advice for a peaceful life

I haven't watched this TLC show. I've only seen Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Oprah. This is a companion book to his TV series. On the show, families request his help and he visits them and helps them work through the problems in their households. Some of the problems the families face: adultery, grief, excessive arguing, and rebellious kids. Some things I learned:

  • Kids like boundaries and structure. All families need some spontaneous fun though.
  • The home should be a refuge from the world, a place where family members can let down their defenses and find some rest and peace.
  • Kids want attention and if all they can get is negative attention, that's what they'll settle for.
  • Although Rabbi Shmuley was usually called in because of trouble with the kids, the deeper problem was usually with the quality of the parents' marriage.
  • Kids require lots of time, love, attention, and leadership! If they don't find it at home, they'll look for it outside of the home.

I'm interested in watching the show now to see what these families look like. I'll file all this information away for my future with or without kids.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The man who was Thursday

It really is incredible how much time there is to read while I wait for the train or for an appointment. Or is it because trains and appointments sometimes arrive/start late? Or maybe I intentionally arrive early in order to read?

Either way, I read this G.K. Chesterton book during those waiting times over the last several weeks. The big question of this book is: who is this Thursday guy? And who are these other guys hanging out with him? There are lots of surprises and everyone turns out to be someone other than who they appear to be. The last 30 pages are particularly crazy. However, this was a dense book, full of lots of long sentences and paragraphs that made me kind of tired. I guess that's what made it a good book to read while I waited because it was okay, but only in little spurts of 5-10 minutes.

Should I give Chesterton another chance? Any recommendations for what I should try?

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

In this book, Albom chronicles his weekly visits with Morrie Schwartz, his college mentor, who is dying. This is one book that I read every year. Last week was my reading for 2007.

Why do I read this book every year? It never fails to bring about a renewed sense of appreciation for the beauty of an ordinary day. It reminds me to step back and re-evaluate my priorities. It asks me to reflect on the person I am and who I would like to become. It makes me consider if I have any unfinished business with anyone (to say: Thank you, I forgive you, Will you forgive me?, I love you). And that is why I read this book every year.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A walk in the woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

All I can say about this Bill Bryson book is that I really enjoyed it! Full of history, geography, and travel adventures. Plus, lots of humor! This was one of those books that made me scheme to try and figure out when I could sneak in another chapter or two.