Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

"This is a book about how the American ideal of parenting doesn't match the reality of our lives, and how that incompatibility is hurting parents and children. Because the expectation of a certain kind of parenthood - one where we're perfect mothers who have perfect partners, where our biggest worry is whether or not to use cloth diapers - makes the real thing much more difficult to bear." --Jessica Valenti

In her introduction, the author warns that "this book will likely make you angry." She tackles myths about parenting (children make you happy, mothering is the 'hardest job in the world,' women are the natural parent) in order to provide more realistic expectations about parenting. She argues that being real about what parenting is like will then open up the discussion about to how to make parenting easier and how to provide more support to parents.

This book was made much more interesting by the fact that the author is a mother herself and she doesn't shy away at all from talking about how challenging it is. It's really nice to hear a more realistic portrayal of parenthood.

A quick read and also quite fascinating as she cites studies and articles about parenthood. However, the very last chapter entitled "Why have kids?" was disappointingly the weakest one. It's like she ran out of steam. Anyway, I think this would make interesting reading for parents and non-parents alike, or people thinking about having kids.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Penelope by Rebecca Harrington

Penelope is a Harvard freshman who is not adept at making friends. This book follows her during her first year at school and all of her social and academic mishaps.

This book was quite bad. Neither Penelope nor her friends had personalities. They weren't likeable at all. And, apparently, at Harvard no one uses contractions when they speak. Hum, maybe using contractions is a University of California thing because I use contractions A LOT (see the following sentence)! Furthermore, Penelope doesn't change at all during the book, so I didn't really see the point of the whole story. I finished the book, but I was ho-hum throughout. Please don't waste your time with this book. Thanks!

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

If you're looking for a book that will not challenge you or will not make you feel any discomfort, this book is definitely NOT for you.

This thoroughly researched book addresses human rights violations around the world, specifically those against women. We're talking about sex slavery, female genital mutilation, honor killings, etc. The authors clearly explain each issue and tell the stories of women.

This book was quite the education. It was difficult to read. However, at the end of every chapter, there is a story of hope. The authors write about ordinary people who are doing something to intervene with each of these issues. Some people live abroad, and some are in the US. Some are even teens here in the US. So, this book actually left me with some hope rather than feeling depressed and helpless.

The last chapter is about things you can do to help in the next ten minutes. One of them is to make a micro-loan (for as little as $25!) through

Like I said above, this is not a comfortable book to read. But if you do care about human rights, and want to know what you can do, this is a very well-written, hopeful, and accessible book to help you get involved.

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favorite Books of 2012

Below is a list of the Top Books I read this year!

Thank you for reading my blog. I really appreciate your time, comments, and recommendations! Hoping that 2013 is filled with peace, fun, and good books to read! =D

Favorite Fiction:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I was so into this book, that I told myself that I just had to finish it so that I could get on with the rest of my life. 

A Book That Had Me Thinking About Another Way to Parent:
Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
Wow! This was an eye-opening book about a different way to parent.

Favorite Cooking Memoir:
Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson
A well-written memoir by a serious chef.

Best Distraction to Read During the 2012 Presidential Election:
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Fun, readable, and interesting. Oh yah, and it took my mind off all of the dirty politics of fall 2012.

Favorite Memoir (General):
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
A warning though: there are disgusting parts about her toenails falling off, and another very graphic and disturbing description of a horse's death that made me cry and cry and cry.

Made Me Sigh and Think About Living in China:
Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion by Michael Levy
Ah, China. What can I say??

The Most Disturbing Book I Read this Year:
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Super disturbing, especially in light of the recent school shooting.

Book That Changed My Eating Habits:
French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon
After reading this book, I pretty much stopped eating between meals except for an afternoon gouter (snack) of fruit and cheese.

Best Book about the End-of-Life:
The End of Your Life Bookclub by Will Schwalbe
A wonderful, tender book about family relationships, books, and caring for one's parent.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Love & War: Find Your Way to Something Beautiful in Your Marriage by John and Stasi Eldredge

The Sacred Romance and The Journey of Desire were two of the most important books I read in my 20s, and they both really prompted me to think about life and God in very different ways. Captivating was a very healing book for me as well.

Then, John's books became more formulaic and sloppy. This book falls under the formulaic and sloppy category.

The most helpful list that is included in this book is the list of "top three things that would most help your marriage":
1. Find life in God.
2. Deal with your brokenness.
3. Learn to shut down the spiritual attacks that come against your marriage.

But there were very judgmental parts of the book as well. For example, they write: "I think of friends who have decided not to marry, and of those who are married but have decided not to have children. They are fundamentally selfish. There is just no other description for it." I think that it's very possible to have kids and still be quite selfish, and it's also very possible to be single and childless and to be generous and caring of others. It's careless and judgmental comments like this one that make me think that the Eldredges are getting sloppy.

I don't want to spend too much time writing about this book because it was just mediocre, and I'm eager to return it to the library. So my final word about this book is: SKIP!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Did your teacher ever read this book to you in elementary school?

It's about the annual Christmas Pageant and the Herdman kids, a group of rowdy, dirty, and hungry kids who participate.

The Herdman kids start attending church because they hear that refreshments are served, and they end up with all of the major roles in the Christmas play (mostly because they bullied everyone else into not volunteering). They've never heard the Christmas story before, and the church congregation thinks that the Herdman kids will ruin the whole play, so there is a record turn-out. The kids don't end up ruining the play. Instead, they bring an awe and authenticity to the story, which makes it the best Christmas pageant ever.

Reading this as an adult was different from reading it as a kid. Reading the Christmas story from the perspective of kids who have never heard the story makes it fresh and new, something that isn't so bad around this time of the year.

Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin

"Paris, I thought, was like a library book, something loaned." --Rosecrans Baldwin

Rosecrans and his wife move to Paris for 18 months. Although he barely speaks French, he gets a job working at an advertising agency. In his spare time, he works on his first novel. In this book, he writes about his adjustment to Paris and his exploration of the city. We read about Paris in all of its glory and not-glory.
This is a funny book. And a crass book, so be forewarned. Also, Rosecrans and his wife attend a lot of parties, so that gets tedious after awhile. Some parts were so funny though that I read them out loud.

The title of the book is kinda incongruent as it doesn't really seem like Rosecrans falls out of love with Paris, or that it really brings him down.

Recommended if you like Paris and don't mind crassness and reading about parties.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This was the most twisted and twisty book I read all year. I could not put it down.

Amy Dunne disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary. Is she framing her husband for her murder? I had no idea how this story was going to end, so it was a very fun (but twisted) book.

Recommended. One of the most engaging and engrossing books I read in 2012.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Cool Chick's Guide to Baseball by Lisa Martin

Boomer and I try to make it to at least one baseball game each season. It's so fun to take the train to the stadium and chow down on some garlic fries. Oh yah, and watch the game!

This is a very straightforward and easy-to-read guide to the game of baseball. It covers the field, the players and their positions, scoring, and even a chapter on how to dress appropriately for the ballgame (which is basically: don't wear the other team's color, and wear sunblock!).

The most helpful chapter for me was on how to read the box score.

If you're new to baseball, or want a refresher course, pick this up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch

Five years into his marriage, Finch is diagnosed (unofficially at first by his wife, and then officially confirmed by a physician) with Asperger Syndrome. Asperger syndrome is a mild form of autism, and people with it have difficulty navigating social situations and engaging interpersonally.

Over the next 18 months, Finch delves into figuring out how to be a better husband and father. Since empathy doesn't come naturally for him, he has to discover guidelines about how to act (for example, fold the laundry instead of rooting through the dryer for just what you need), and he writes these things down in his Journal of Best Practices.

A very interesting look into the mind of someone with Asperger syndrome. This book gave me a greater appreciation for the challenges they face when it comes to relating with people.


Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

"I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me."  --C.S. Lewis

I like reading Anne Lamott's books. I liked this one. However, it's more like a pamphlet though, not a book. Each section covers each prayer of Help, Thanks, and Wow.

It's a nice read, but glad I didn't buy it since it's a very little book. Also, some of Lamott's jokes are re-runs from previous books.

Read if you can, but see if your library has it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith by Joanna Brooks

I've been thinking about the Mormon religion for months now. First, there was that presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Remember him? And then I read a book The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance about a Mormon girl looking for love. Then, I saw the musical, The Book of Mormon, which required weeks of preparation as I listened to the soundtrack to familiarize myself with the music. And just this weekend, I read this book about a woman who grew up in the Mormon church, but then struggles with the stands the church takes on women and homosexuality.

The problem with having The Book of Mormon soundtrack pretty new in my mind, is that whenever I read in this book that Joanna tells someone, "I am a Mormon," I heard Elder Price singing that same line: "I am a Mormon....and a Mormon just believes!"

This book was just so-so for me. I learned a lot since there's a lot of church history included. I didn't really get a good sense of the author's personality so that kinda made it a bland book. Although some parts were interesting, I found myself wondering if I should even finish the book. I did, but maybe it was a more difficult/boring book to me because even though Mormonism has been on my mind over the last several months, it still has a lot of foreign stories and concepts to me, a non-Mormon.

Anyway, out of all of the Mormon things I've been thinking about, I would definitely recommend the musical, The Book of Mormon to you! It's really funny, touching, and well-done. (Oh yah, it's also by the creators of South Park, so it's offensive to everyone, so beware!)

PS: Thanks to Kjersti for this book recommendation!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Please submit your Best Books of 2012!

I'll post my list of favorite books of 2012 shortly.

What were your favorite books this year? Please leave a comment and let me know so I can make sure I check them out in 2013.

Thank you for reading my blog this year. Keep reading!

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

"I was learning that when you're with someone who is dying, you may need to celebrate the past, live the present, and mourn the future all at the same time." --Will Schwalbe

A true story about a son and mother book club. Will's mom, Mary Anne, was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. As Will accompanies her to doctor appointments and chemotherapy treatments, they discuss the books they are reading. They read some new books together, and they re-read old favorites.

This is a wonderfully touching book about the relationship between son and mom, and the role that books play in our lives. Mary Anne Schwalbe was also a very inspiring and compassionate person so it was a treat to read about her life and her work toward making the world a better place, especially for women.

As I was reading this book this last week and toting it around with me everywhere I went, I was recommending it to everyone I talked to, and now I'm recommending it to you.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

Lucy and her mother spent six weeks in Paris to celebrate their birthdays. She kept a journal filled with drawings of their time there. She describes and draws the food they ate and the art they saw. She also writes down her own musings about life, her relationship with her mom, and her boyfriend.

The book is called French Milk because she fell in love with the rich, unpasteurized milk in France.

I really liked this book. It was sweet and funny. And of course, it made me want to go back to Paris and eat loads of unpasteurized Camembert.

Thanks to Grace for the recommendation!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, translated from German into English by Kevin Wiliarty

Julia's father suddenly disappears the day after her graduation from law school. It's not until four years later when Julia finds an unmailed love letter from her dad to a Burmese woman that Julia gets some clue about where her father might have gone. She travels to Burma to look for him, and is given insight into her father's early life that she had no idea about.

Engaging, engrossing, and mystical. The story had some twists that I didn't expect. Overall, a good book, but I'm not raving about it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

I try to avoid the Children's Room at my local library. It's too loud with children screaming and parents talking over their kids about meeting up at Jamba Juice.

But every so often, I stick my hood on and run into the kids' room to grab some books in the "J" section.

My last run into the kids' section yielded this book.

All four Willoughby children are despised by their parents. Alas, all four Willoughby children despise their parents. The kids would rather be orphans and their parents would rather be childless.

This book is probably funnier if you're an adult reading it than if you're a child, so a note to my junior readers: wait until you're in your 20s to read this one. Reading about parents not liking their kids could be damaging at a young age.

But if you're an adult, and you haven't read any kids' books lately, this is a funny book to read. It's whimsical with cute illustrations, and a funny neighbor boy who thinks he's speaking German but he's not ("Helloschlimhofen, neisch day, isn't itzenschlitz?").

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Just for fun!

Finding Contentment: When Momentary Happiness Just Isn’t Enough by Neil Clark Warren

Please check out my latest post on Sindy's blog about the book, Finding Contentment: When Momentary Happiness Just Isn’t Enough. I even talk about cheese. Cheese and books!!

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue

Annie and Julia both grow up in a mansion in San Francisco, but only because Annie is the daughter of Julia's nanny. Class differences aside, they are like sisters...until Julia spreads some rumors about Annie during high school. Then they go their separate ways (and to emphasize how different they are, isn't it appropriate that Julia goes to Stanford and Annie goes to Cal?). Ten years later, they are thrown back together and Julia offers to fund a cupcakery for Annie who is now a baker.

One very good thing about the book is that the descriptions of cupcakes are mouth-watering.

Overall though, it was cheesy, predictable, and yet very readable. It was a rainy, rainy weekend here in California, and this book is perfect for rainy weather.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie is a book that I try to read once a year to remind myself about what's important in life. Tuesdays with Morrie was, by far, Mitch Albom's best book, but I continue to read whatever else he writes.

The Time Keeper deals with time, having too much, or having too little of it.

It's a fast read and gave me some things to think about.

The format of the book is weird though, and takes some getting used to. It's like Albom typed all of his topic sentences in Bold, and forgot to go back and undo the Bold.

When you're visiting your in-laws this Christmas, and this book happens to be on the nightstand in the guest bedroom, go ahead and pick it up. Otherwise, I wouldn't go out of your way to find this one. But read Tuesdays with Morrie if you haven't already.

PS: I have an extra copy of Tuesdays with Morrie if you want to borrow it.

PPS: An update - my copy of The Casual Vacancy has been spoken for despite my warnings against it! Sorry, Julie, don't say I didn't warn you, and thanks for taking this one off my bookshelf.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood - The Good, The Bad, and the Scary byJill Smokler

Smokler took some time off from working when her kids were young. She started a blog about motherhood, and found a community out there with other blogger moms who shared about the ups and downs of motherhood. She added an anonymous "Confessional" sections and moms responded with real, honest, sad, and funny confessions.

This book has short chapters on different aspects of motherhood (pregnancy, birth, vacations, sick children), and each chapter begins with a bunch of "confessions" from her blog.

Some confessions:
"I like my children best when they are newborns. I like them less every year after."
"If I'd known the kind of father my husband would be, I never would have married him."
"I swear at my kids in German and they have no idea what I'm saying."
"I have triplets, so why am I lonely?"

All I have to say about this book is: if you're thinking about having kids, you probably shouldn't read this book. If you already have kids, you might be either totally amused and relate to Smokler, or maybe you'll think she's a bad, bad mom. Or maybe both. I thought it was funny.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest Blogging on The Chocolate Gravy Diaries

I'm happy to write that I'm guest blogging on Sindy's blog, The Chocolate Gravy Diaries. For those of you who don't know Sindy, she is a very creative, curious, and thoughtful lady, and her blog posts are great food for thought.

Each month on her blog, I'm writing more in-depth about the books that have influenced me and shaped who I am today. You can head over there to read my November post on He's Just Not That Into You. My December post will be up next week.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

A little bird told me that you're looking for a great book to read during your upcoming holiday vacation. A sprawling novel with superb writing, well-developed characters, and a wonderful story?

Well, get out your pencil from your pencil pouch, because I have the book for you!

This book has everything: a nun who gives birth, twins, an abandoning dad, political uprisings, homicide, suicide, love, unrequited love, and transplant surgery. What else are you looking for in a book??

I really, really enjoyed this book. I'm thinking of giving it to some people for Christmas.