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.