Once my five-year-old got past his confusion (he thought it was a story about wolves hunting wallabies), we all quite enjoyed this audio book. It wasOnce my five-year-old got past his confusion (he thought it was a story about wolves hunting wallabies), we all quite enjoyed this audio book. It was a fun little story along the "riches to rags" and "spunky orphans" lines. There wasn't much else to it, but it was fun and provided discussion of some new vocabulary (plaits, quince, and landau, most notably; that last one I knew thanks to the New York Times crossword puzzle).
I'm not sure if we're going to pick up the other books in the series. Maybe after we've re-listened to all of the Penderwicks books in preparation to read Jeanne Birdsall's latest....more
This wasn't a bad book. I enjoyed the parallels between the lives of the survivor of the murders on the island of Smuttynose and the modern-day womanThis wasn't a bad book. I enjoyed the parallels between the lives of the survivor of the murders on the island of Smuttynose and the modern-day woman delving into the history of the tragedy. I also enjoyed pondering the question raised near the end: what does someone who suffers a tragedy need to leave behind in order to go on with her life?
The style of the book was a little tedious and confusing at times, though. Shreve jumped back and forth from a fictional confessional about the 19th Century murders, historical records of the trial, and the present-day crisis going on for the narrator on a small boat off the coast of New Hampshire. On the one hand, this lent a sense of urgency to both tales. However, I think it was slightly overused and led to more confusion than necessary.
I also am just not quite sure that it makes sense that what led to the insane rage of the murderer really would have led to it. (That's me trying to make a point without spoiling the ending.)
All that being said, I did enjoy this book. It felt odd to have read a book about Norwegian immigrants at the same time as the attacks in Norway happened, though....more
We rode the swan boats in Boston last weekend. All the while, I was thinking of this book and of E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan.
Then today we weWe rode the swan boats in Boston last weekend. All the while, I was thinking of this book and of E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan.
Then today we were killing time in the book store while I had some work done on the car, and I found (and bought) a lovely hardcover edition of Make Way for Ducklings. My husband is reading it to the kids as I type. I read it to my daughter several years ago, and we both enjoyed it (as we did s0 many other of McCloskey's books, especially Blueberries for Sal). It makes the story even better having seen so recently the sights depicted in the book. My kids are thrilled.
Aside from the names of the ducklings (Ouack?), I enjoy this book quite a lot. The writing is a pleasure, the story is a classic, and the illustrations are fabulous....more
On the cover of this book there's a quote about how Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become the "darling of conservatives" because of her outspoken stance againstOn the cover of this book there's a quote about how Ayaan Hirsi Ali has become the "darling of conservatives" because of her outspoken stance against Islam.
I don't think I would have chosen to read this book had it not been the July selection for my local library's book club and I've decided that going to a book club might be a good way to meet people in my new town. This quote was intriguing enough to keep me going through the first several chapters until the story itself had me reeled in.
This book was a challenge for me in a couple of ways. First, the content itself is a bit difficult to read. Hirsi Ali and her sister and brother were "circumcised" in their home when they were between the ages of 4 and 6. For the girls, this meant excision. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say it was brutal enough that I had to put the book down for two days before I could bring myself to read more of her story. And that wasn't the only challenging part. There's brutality at every turn, along with the sense of being trapped in a life that can't possibly bring fulfillment or even pleasure or a feeling of safety. These were things I found difficult to read.
Not only was this element challenging, but Hirsi Ali's position about Islam challenged my ideas of tolerance and caused me to look at my own tolerance in a different light.
Hirsi Ali contends that, rather than being an exception, the honor killings and terrorist activities of Muslim extremist groups are actually specifically sanctioned by the Quran. Because the religion hasn't been secularized the way that Christianity and Judaism have, the only acceptable way to follow Islam is a fundamentalist way. The proofs she offers---quotes from the Quran, stories of brutality against Muslim women that she experienced and witnessed in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and, later, among refugee populations in The Netherlands, and even the fact that, for expressing this view of Islam, she's being hunted down and must live a hidden life---are compelling and make it difficult to simply dismiss her claim as simply a result of an unfortunate childhood.
Hirsi Ali points to the honor killings that still take place among Muslim refugee populations in Holland. She contends that the continued existence of such practices even in Europe is a result of the Dutch propensity towards blanket tolerance of all cultures. She contends that this tolerance has led the Dutch to have an entirely hands-off approach when it comes to these populations. As a result, these refugee communities are never forced to integrate into Dutch society and internalize the very tolerance that allows them to remain separate. They never have to learn the language. Due to the Dutch social safety net, they never need to take jobs. The government funds their religious-based schools, so their children never need mix with Dutch children and never need learn subjects that might cause them to question Islam.
I generally would rather not question others' religious practices. I want to be tolerant, and described on their own as policies, I would have agreed that the Dutch policies were the tolerant way to go as regards immigrants. But with the way Hirsi Ali presents them juxtaposed with the violence in the culture, I have a bit of a moral crisis to work through.
A couple of months ago, a friend posted a story about how an Orthodox Jewish newspaper in New York removed the images of Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from a photo of the White House situation room because their paper has had a long-standing religious-based practice of not publishing images of women. While I felt uncomfortable with the idea that they had altered a photographic record of an historic event (they were in the situation room watching the raid that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden) to make it seem as though no women had been present, I felt equally uncomfortable making a strong statement against the practice. It seemed rude and intolerant to criticize a practice based in someone else's religious beliefs.
The much more extreme examples in Infidel have me questioning this stance.
Aside from being thought-provoking, I thought this memoir was quite well-written. There were some inconsistencies as her views of her religion evolved, but I would expect that with a memoir. (For example, early on, she blames the corruption of the Somali government for people there becoming more clannish, then later she blames the Dutch government's tolerance for the clannishness of the Muslim immigrants there.)
I found it interesting that the language in the beginning of the book, when she's writing about her childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria, is more simple, matching the developmental stage she would have been in at the time. As she matured and her thinking became more complex, so did her language. When she got to the place in her story in which she's pursuing a degree in political science from a Dutch university, her language becomes noticeably more sophisticated and complex. It's almost like I can see the light shining into her understanding of the world.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story is inspiring to me, especially at this time that I'm seeking to develop my public self. She came from a much different background than I did and has gone much further in her public life than I ever plan to (I have no plans to run for Parliament, nor do I plan to live in hiding because people are trying to kill me for my views), but watching her journey from cloistered child and young woman to public figure, buoyed primarily by the strength of her convictions, gives me a sense of the direction I want to go in my own life. ...more
This was a very fun book. The layering and interweaving of the stories felt a tad contrived, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment following ShaThis was a very fun book. The layering and interweaving of the stories felt a tad contrived, but that didn't take away from my enjoyment following Shadow through his various adventures.
There were some interesting ideas about America and Americans, about faith and what we as a culture hold sacred, and what the sacred becomes when we forget its origins and follow only the ritual (or when we forget even the ritual). There was also a lot about the nature of sacrifice. And, of course, some walking corpses and giant spiders.
Incidentally, I was thinking that Mr Nancy ought to join Toastmasters. I think he would enjoy getting up and telling his stories and getting applause from the group....more
I really enjoyed The Magicians, but this one didn't really do it for me. I'm not sure what it was. It seemed to drag and jump about and left red herriI really enjoyed The Magicians, but this one didn't really do it for me. I'm not sure what it was. It seemed to drag and jump about and left red herrings (Janet, The Order, Penny). Grossman used too many words, I think, and that diluted the potential punch of the story. There were some parts that were clearly supposed to be really poignant, but they were obscured by so much internal monologue on the part of the characters that I just didn't feel the impact. I expected to be bludgeoned (emotionally speaking) and instead got whacked with a foam mallet.
"Quentin had always felt that way but now he felt this way. It pained him to feel this way. Frankly, he felt pissed. But, that's what he signed up for..." That kind of thing. That's not a direct quote, just my paraphrasing. Grossman's writing isn't that bad (it's not bad at all, really...it's just not as awesome as it was in the first book), but that's kind of the feeling I got while reading.
I don't mean for this to be a negative review, and there were parts I enjoyed. It's possible, too, that I picked this one up too soon after Gaiman's American Gods and Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, both of which dealt with similar issues of mortals interacting with gods and attaining "god" status themselves. Maybe if I'd read this one first, it would have held a little more oomph for me. As it was, though, I'm just kind of glad to be done with it.
Now I need to take it back to the library so Lev Grossman's author photo on the book jacket stops looking at me reproachfully. I'm sorry! I just didn't really like it! I don't like Curtis Sittenfeld's books either, if that's any consolation....more
I bought this book on a very bad day. I was overwhelmed with our situation---the layoff, the uncertainty, along with the usual doubts about how I wasI bought this book on a very bad day. I was overwhelmed with our situation---the layoff, the uncertainty, along with the usual doubts about how I was doing as a mother---and I ran off after dinner. I left the house on foot and walked downtown to the library, my safe haven always, no matter where I live.
On the shelves outside the library shop, I found a copy of Cold Mountain. I'd watched the movie with mixed feelings, but the "National Book Award Winner" sticker on the cover won me over. I bought the book and walked back home to my family.
It's taken me more than a month to finally finish reading the book, what with life intervening and all. But in the end, it seems a very apt book to have picked up in that moment.
In a way, this book is about life. It's about the quest from ease to hardship then back towards ease when you know what you've lost seeking hardship. Without the hardship, you wouldn't have known what you were missing. But the hardship itself makes it impossible to live the ease when you return. And of course, there's no ease in the end. Only death.
Wow, that was a dreary review. But really, I found the book amazing. Frazier's style was conversational in the mountain-speak sense. He wrote eloquently about one of my favorite parts of the world, the mountains of North Carolina. I have an affinity towards this area. It's one of the few places I've been that immediately felt like home to me (and still does). I related to the draw that Inman felt towards that blue and rolling landscape.
It's unlikely I will ever have the opportunity to live there....more
I'm probably a horrible person who will never be able to fully embrace simple living because I can't get through Walden. I know Thoreau has some gemsI'm probably a horrible person who will never be able to fully embrace simple living because I can't get through Walden. I know Thoreau has some gems in there, but they're just hidden in the middle of so many words. I found it mind-numbingly boring.
I first started reading it to get a sense for New England when I discovered that we were moving here. I did the same thing with Wallace Stegner's The Gathering of Zion when we moved to Utah and Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona when we lived in California, both times with great results. With Walden, however, I didn't have such a great experience.
After a few months trying to trudge through, I decided to keep reading it because everyone says that you have to read Walden if you're going to embrace the principles of voluntary simplicity. I disagree. I think something like Duane Elgin's Voluntary Simplicity might be a better choice for someone hoping to get inspired towards simple living in the 21st century.
In the end, I decided to simplify my life by removing this book from my currently-reading list so it could no longer taunt me there. If you're reading this review and have recommendations for books that will give an overall sense of the culture and history of New England (the stuff in the nearly 400 years since the Mayflower), please leave a comment....more
In an interview with Ann Packer that I heard on NPR, she said that she generally started her stories with an image and built the plot around that imagIn an interview with Ann Packer that I heard on NPR, she said that she generally started her stories with an image and built the plot around that image. I find myself imagining which image was the catalyst for her novels while I'm reading. I also find myself encouraged by her description of her process, as it seems like it legitimizes my own writing process. Mine is much more like Packer's than it is like the "write up an outline and do your research before you start writing" process. I always feel inferior to writers who outline their plots before they start, which tinges my pleasure in reading their work.
The plot of this book appealed to me on a couple of levels (beyond feeling a kinship to the author based on her writing process). First, I just like reading about the Midwest. And second, whenever things get difficult in my life, I retreat into fantasies of escape, of just hopping in my car and leaving everything behind. I never take these fantasies beyond that "jumping in the car" point, but that's just what Packer has done in this book. What happens when you get where you're going? What happens if you want to go home again?
This is also a story of loss, and of how people (two people in particular) choose to deal with loss. Packer explores the relationship between our identities and our geographical location and the question of whether you can ever truly leave home. As someone who's never had one geographical location to call "home" (the question I generally ask is, "Would I know "home" if I saw it?"), I'm intrigued by the idea of someone living the same place all of her life, especially when that character pulls up stakes and leaves that lifelong home. I'm quite familiar with the pulling up stakes, but not so much the staying in one place.
Packer seems very adept at painting vivid settings. With Songs Without Words, I wondered if I thought this just because I was familiar with the location of her story. But having never been to Madison, Wisconsin, and having spent less than 24 hours in New York City, I think I can safely say that the vivid image, both visual and physical, of these locations is a result of Packer's skill as a writer. I might be totally off in what I'm imagining the look of these cities to be and the feel of the air in different seasons, but the picture Packer painted drew me in and made me lose my sense of where I was (sitting on my sofa in Salt Lake City reading her book and hoping the baby would stay asleep long enough that I could finish just one more chapter). The accuracy of my image seems pretty irrelevant in this case....more
I've made four recipes from this, the Aloe and Calendula Cleansing Cream, the Fennel Soother, the Smooth-as-Velvet Vanilla Toner, and the "Out Damn SpI've made four recipes from this, the Aloe and Calendula Cleansing Cream, the Fennel Soother, the Smooth-as-Velvet Vanilla Toner, and the "Out Damn Spot" Antiblemish Elixir. I've not tried the vanilla one yet because it's still got a week and a half to steep until it's ready, but I've been using the others for the past several days.
The cleansing cream is an incredible moisturizer. My husband has eczema on his hands, and this is just wiping it out. It's taken a little getting used to as a facial cleanser since it's more like a cold cream than I'm used to, but I think it will be great for winter.
The soother feels wonderful after a shower, and the antiblemish elixir seems to do a fairly good job of wiping out small pimples.
I love the way all of this stuff smells. I love to just stick my nose into the jar with the cleansing cream and breathe in the rosemary fragrance.
It was a bit of an investment to acquire all of the ingredients (including more obscure essential oils) and storage containers, but I can see my family using the recipes I've made with them. In the end, I think it will cost less than the natural skin care products in the stores, and I have complete control over what goes in them.
Oh, and if I start making this stuff regularly, I might invest in an inexpensive blender just for this purpose. The cleansing cream (which contains beeswax and lanolin) was a beast to get out of my VitaMix.
Update: I've stopped using the cleansing cream on my face; it was just too heavy and left my skin looking greasy. But I still use it as a hand lotion and on my decollete. And the anti-blemish elixir is still pretty awesome. Photos of a couple of the things I made are on my blog in the post entitled "Potions Class."...more
There are some minor spoilers here, so if you're sensitive to that kind of thing, you might want to read thI wasn't terribly impressed with this book.
There are some minor spoilers here, so if you're sensitive to that kind of thing, you might want to read the book before reading this review.
Some things that bothered me:
-It seemed like they all sort of got free passes with the mistakes they made, and I found that irritating and unrealistic. Embezzlement is easy and fun and carries only the most intangible of consequences. And who just walks into a place and gets offered a job? Apparently 100% of the Andreas sisters do (and still they don't stop whining).
-The fact-checking problems annoyed me. Robins aren't cavity nesters so they don't live in birdhouses (ch. 12), you don't knead gingerbread (ch. 22), and I found the progression of the pregnancy to be dramatically accelerated. Oh, and Rose lost 12 pounds in the first two weeks of college because she only ate in her dorm room, in the campus hangout, or in town (ch. 15)? Yep, I don't buy that one. I lost 15 pounds in two months, but that was on a strict elimination diet. I don't think burgers at the Student Union would have had the same effect unless the meat was tainted with E. coli.
-The sisters were all just stereotypes. First children do this, middle children do this, youngest do this, so that's just what Rose, Bean, and Cordy are going to do. The only differences between them seem to be their birth-order stereotypes. All three look alike and talk alike so the sisters end up being pretty interchangeable. There's even a conversation between Cordy and her dad in chapter nineteen in which Bean's name is inserted for Cordy's. I think it's a sign of the interchangeability of the sisters that neither author nor editor picked up on this mistake.
-The library in the college town is run by one person? I'm incredulous about that one. As am I incredulous that the library system can be modernized by one person who has only a month or so of experience running a library (any library, not just the one being modernized).
-And why is it there's such a focus on the women pairing off with romantic partners? Perhaps because that's the sign that a woman truly has it together? Because a woman can't be truly happy unless she's in a romantic relationship? Maybe I'm being a little hard on Brown for this one. Maybe it's not the pairing off per se so much as it's the tied-up-in-a-bow nature of the ending of which the pairing off is a large part.
I'm on the fence about the first person plural narrator. I loved it when Jeffrey Eugenides used it in The Virgin Suicides, but I also think it makes more sense in that book than it does in this one. I think Brown is trying to make the point that there is a sort of sister consciousness separate from the individual relationships between the sisters. I'm just not sure the device does this very well.
What do I like about the book? Well, I laughed out loud at the kiss in chapter 13. I like that it's set in Ohio, although I've known Ohio college towns (I went to college in one) and the idea that there would be no "townies vs students" blow-back seems unlikely to me.
It's a nice story, with the sisters coming back together and growing to love and respect each other as adults, it's just not as deep as I would have liked it to be. It's too formulaic and too unrealistic to really pull me in. Maybe I would have liked it better if I were a bigger fan of the Bard....more
So many reviewers point to how "depressing" and "boring" this book is. Although I didn't find it so, I can see the "depressing" point. I actually founSo many reviewers point to how "depressing" and "boring" this book is. Although I didn't find it so, I can see the "depressing" point. I actually found it a rather hopeful story, exploring how someone can be buried in profound despair and still find a way back up to the surface.
And boring? It's certainly character-driven and most of the action is internal, but I was never bored while reading it. I was sometimes annoyed when a character made a choice or came to a conclusion contrary to what I wanted for them, but I wasn't bored. The writing was so skillful and the characters so real, I can't imagine being bored by this book.
I see the book as mainly about the reactions of three women to life. Liz is emotionally healthy and used to acting as the support and the voice of reason to those struggling around her. When faced with a crisis, she's forced to reevaluate her life, but she does so in a sane and healthy manner. Sarabeth had an unstable childhood due to her mother's mental illness and perceives even small events in her life as crises. She's not necessarily the owner of the depression she feels, but she's learned it from her mother and doesn't know quite how to stop it. Lauren is deeply and biologically depressed. The depression originates in her despite a loving and stable home environment.
Packer's description of Liz's "knocked off her feet but picking herself up and dusting herself off" reaction to her daughter's suicide attempt and Sarabeth's "can't get out of bed" reaction to, well, life, was an interesting juxtaposition. Sarabeth's relationship with her mother left her with this kind of learned helplessness that I suppose is somewhat pathetic. She believes that she can't possibly do anything to change or improve her situation, so she doesn't try. She relies on well-adjusted Liz to pull her out of each funk, and when Liz isn't there, it sends her into a tailspin, but it also forces her to choose whether she's like her mother or whether she can make a different choice. That's a hopeful element in the novel, although I am a little skeptical about just how fully recovered Sarabeth seems to be at the end. Can someone really make that big a shift in their lifelong thinking that quickly?
Being inside Lauren's head was just riveting to me. I felt frustrated that she couldn't just stop thinking her negative thoughts, but at the same time it was written in a way that made sense (and felt familiar): How could she possibly not think that way? How could she think those things about herself, believe them, then let them go? The answer is pretty mundane (therapy, medication), but the internal journey is what I find interesting. And I like that even when she's feeling better, there's the recognition that she's not done. She's going to be confronting these thoughts throughout her life, probably. Her task isn't to vanquish them once and for all but to develop skills to cope with them as they come up.
What was strange to me about this book is that I wasn't bothered that much by Packer's mention of the names of businesses and streets in the story. Usually this kind of name-dropping drives me nuts. I admit, I think the mention of Berkeley Bowl and Andronico's didn't further the story, but the street names I think actually enhanced the story. Maybe it's just because I lived in the Bay Area recently and the street names helped me place the characters in the world and see better where they were. Or maybe it's just that excitement of, "Hey! I know where that is! And it's in a book! I must be important!"
Perhaps it's just because I'm a boring, depressing person who gets a kick out of reading about places she's lived, but I liked this book, and I look forward to reading The Dive from Clausen's Pier....more