Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam by Willow Wilson

The author grew up in Colorado with atheist parents, and moved to Boston for college where she started studying Islam. She converted to Islam and moved to Cairo to teach. In Cairo, she fell in love with Omar, an Egyptian man, and eventually married him.

For me, this was a mildly interesting book. I learned more about Egypt and Islam. But there was something about the writing and the language that made it not such a pleasant and easy read.

The author was actually in the area speaking at a local library this morning. I was thinking about going. If I had loved the book, I would had definitely gone, but since the book was just so-so for me, I didn't end up going.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This was recommended to me by Karen, a faithful reader of this blog. Thanks, Karen!

To all my readers: Please keep sending me your book recommendations. I do check out what you suggest!

The Snow Child is sent in 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel, a childless couple (not by choice) from the East Coast, move to Alaska to farm. It's an isolating and challenging place to live, and they are both weighed down with it all.

During the first snowfall, they build a little snow child, complete with red mittens and a red scarf. The next morning, the snow child is gone, along with the scarf and mittens. And then, Jack and Mabel begin to see glimpses of a young, blonde-haired girl running through the woods with a red fox by her side. Who is this girl? Is it just their imaginations?

Delightful, well-written, and enchanting. One of my favorites so far this year. I'm thinking of buying it for a friend's graduation gift now that she'll have time to read for fun.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

The author of this book is an American journalist living in Paris and raising her family there. While out in a restaurant with her husband and her 18-month-old daughter, she realizes that her lunch experience with a toddler in tow is a mess and a struggle, and not at all relaxing. Meantime, the French families around her, also with young children, are calmly enjoying their meals together. This experience prompts her to wonder, and then to research, what makes French parenting different from American parenting?

She finds that, in general, French kids start sleeping through the night around two months old, have a higher tolerance for waiting and frustration, and they eat well-rounded meals. French kids also seem to be in better control of themselves and more well-behaved.

Druckerman finds that the French view of what a child actually is and what he/she is capable of is quite different from the American view. 

This book was super interesting! It made me think that there’s another way to raise kids than how I see it done in the United States. For example, while American kids seem to be snacking all day long and mothers keep an endless supply of cheerios in their purses, French kids eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. When a child buys a treat from a bakery, she knows that it’s not to be eaten right away. The treat will be saved until the afternoon snack time.

I like that French kids are raised to eat well-rounded meals. They don’t just eat “kid food.” This is how Druckerman describes lunch at her daughter’s daycare: “Lunch is served in four courses: a cold vegetable starter, a main dish with a side of grains or cooked vegetables, a different cheese each day, and a dessert of fresh fruit or fruit puree” (p. 112). Cool, huh? I’d eat that. Especially the cheese!

I’d definitely recommend this book for some good food for thought. It's thoughtful and funny, and the author is quite likeable. It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read so far in 2012.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly

This is a collection of letters written by the author to one of her old graduate students who is expecting a baby. She writes about various aspects of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a young child. The letters are in chronological order as she sent them to her old student.

I found the letters to be thoughtful and readable. However, it was kind of weird to only read one side of the story. The voice of the graduate student is missing (her letters in response are not included although the author alludes to them and the questions that the student asks in her letters), so the conversation is one-sided and therefore, not totally satisfying. It would have been interesting to read what kinds of questions, doubts, and feelings the student was experiencing throughout her pregnancy.

I give this a so-so rating. I am planning on giving it to one of my pregnant friends this week, and I'm interested in what she thinks.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

This is how I find books to read: I go to bookstores and browse the titles. In my purse, I keep a little notebook, and when I find a book that I'd like to read, I write down the title in my little notebook and then look for it at the library. Usually I have to put myself on a wait list, but within a few days/weeks, I can check out the book. I came across this book while at Costco and was able to check it out at the library after being on the wait list for several weeks.

The story starts off in August 1974 when a tightrope walker runs, jumps, and hops across a wire between the Twin Towers. Who is this guy?? Commuters stare up and are mesmerized.

We're then introduced to a variety of characters that don't seem to be related, but end up being a part of each others' stories in some way.

If you like books in which there are different story lines, but some kind of connection between them all, you'll like this one.

For me, this one was just okay. I read it all, but got stuck at times.

**Warning: contains adult themes and characters.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott

The first Anne Lamott book I read was called Operating Instructions which was a journal about her son's first year of life. She was a single mother and this was an unexpected pregnancy. It was the first time that I read about what it's like to have a baby and how challenging it can be. I gave Operating Instructions to a friend at a baby shower, and later she told me that the book freaked her out. So I stopped giving the book out to pregnant ladies.

The son that Lamott writes about in Operating Instructions is all grown up now, and got his girlfriend pregnant when he was 19. So this is a book that chronicles the first year of Anne Lamott's grandson.

I'm a fan of Lamott's non-fiction (Traveling Mercies is one of my favorites), but some of her jokes and descriptions have been used so many times (like references to Nixon) and are found in this book as well, so that felt old. She also describes a trip to India that she took during that first year, and that seemed like a totally different book within a book.

Overall, I read this one in two days and liked it. Way better than her fiction - I advise you to stay away from her fiction and stick to her non-fiction.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Haiku for the Single Girl by Beth Griffenhagen

Eyelash extensions?
Really? This is standard now?
Shit, man...I give up.
--Beth Griffenhagen

This is a funny, funny collection of haiku poems written about the single girl life. There are cute, whimsical illustrations that accompany each haiku. 

Warning: contains some mature content though.

Pick this up at your library if you happen to see it. It's funny. My husband was even reading over my shoulder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park

Soo-Ja Choi desperately wants to move to Seoul so that she can study to become a diplomat. Her father won't allow this, and the only way Soo-Ja can see of getting there requires marrying a man she does not love, but who might want to move to Seoul.

However, on the eve of her wedding, another man proposes to Soo-Ja, and this time it's a man that she does love. Soo-Ja follows through with her wedding, but the other man that proposed will drift in and out of her life, reminding Soo-Ja of her choice and what could have been, had she chosen him.

Sounds like an interesting plot, eh? However, the character of Soo-Ja and the defining choice she made about which man to marry never seemed solid to me. This, along with some other events in the book that didn't quite make sense, made it seem like the story was built on a faulty and fragile foundation.

Instead of just an okay book, I think this could have been a great book. I want to sit down with the author and say, "Hey, let's think through some of these things a little bit more." And then send him back to the writing board because this really could have been a great book.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

High school senior Kate Malone is a straight-A student. She might look like the perfect student from the outside, but inside she is a ball of nerves. She's waiting to hear from MIT, the only school that she applied to. Her father is a pastor and her mom died years ago (she tries to not remember).  Disaster strikes close in the neighborhood and Kate is delegated responsibility that she does not want.

This is a story about mess and perfection, and what things look like on the outside vs. the inside, and how we never know the full story (or even close) about anyone.

This is the fourth Laurie Halse Anderson book I've reviewed in the last month or so, and it does not rank at the top of my list although it was a good read. If you were to read one of her books, I'd recommend Wintergirls.

Monday, April 2, 2012

An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer

Edward Schuyler is a 60-something science teacher in his 60s when his wife dies. He is bombarded with casseroles and by single/widowed/divorced women calling him and checking up on him. In addition, his step-children decide to place a personal ad for him, and dozens of women reply.

Funny, poignant, and overall, just very delightful, this is a very fun, easy read.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Instead of speaking about a horrific event that happened at a party, Melinda decides to go silent. She carries a dark secret with her as she's snubbed by her ex-friends and peers during the school year. As the book goes on, more details are revealed until the reader figures out exactly what that horrific event was and what happened.

Maybe you've noticed that I've been reading books by Laurie Halse Anderson. I like her writing, but it takes me back to the horrors/social aspects of high school which is not so fun, but real.

A fabulous, well-written, deep read that I think would appeal to just about anyone.