Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rockabye Rocks!

Over the past few months, I've read a few non-fiction books and memoirs. I generally enjoy memoirs because I like hearing about people's experiences. However, I have been a bit disappointed lately in many of the memoirs. Just because a person has an interesting story to tell, does not mean that they are good writers who can tell the story well.

Rockabye: From Wild to Child, by Rebecca Woolf, does not have this problem. Rebecca's blog Girl's Gone Child was one of the first mommybloggers I started reading. Because of her exceptional writing in addition to her interesting experiences, I never left her site. If you haven't discovered her yet, I suggest going to her site and buying her book. They are both worth it.

Rockabye is Rebecca's story of her unplanned pregnancy, subsequent marriage, and her transition into motherhood. While her story is perhaps in almost every way different from mine, I found myself related in so many ways to what she went through and the thoughts and feelings she had while going through these transitions. Even the areas that I could not relate to directly were told so well that I could understand and even embrace her decisions and feelings. That is a remarkable talent in a storyteller.

Rebecca's writing is simply amazing. I was maybe 10 pages into the book when I looked up at my husband and said, "Now THAT is how you write a book!"* Her rich writing is full of details that draw you in and make her world your world. I'm incredibly impressed by her ability to introspectively view her own life, feelings and emotions and express her deep analyses and conclusions. Even if you have no interest in what it is like to be a new mother, suddenly thrust into parenthood and marriage, her writing is so beautiful that this book would be a joy to read.

I happen to love the topic of parenthood, and I loved reading about Rebecca's struggles and joys. Being a new mom or dad is tough in so many ways, and Rebecca captured many of those ways that I believe are pretty universal, as well as some that are more unique. What she shared was not a day-by-day account of her son's growth, it was not four-page chapter sound bites with trite snippets of life or thoughts. It was the deep reflection of what went on in her head through pregnancy and the first few years of her son's life. She also showed how having a child is worth all the rough times and how the love you experience is greater than anything you knew before.

For those of you who wonder how I make time to read, try reading this book and you'll see how quickly you get sucked in and make time for it.

For other reviews, check out The Parent Bloggers Network's post on the book.

*This was in reference to the previous memoir I read right before this book which had an interesting story, but I found to be poorly written in many ways. Of course Londo got to hear all my grips about the previous book.

(Copied from a post originally on Cara Mama.)

Bel Canto Review

My April book for the TBR Challenge was Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. Here is the story about this book, which has been sitting on my shelf for maybe 3 or 4 years.

My sister bought this book for me as part of my Christmas presents one year. It is an award-winning book that was a bestseller and had great reviews. My sister is a great gift buyer, especially when she buys for me. She has excellent taste, she knows my likes and dislikes, and she has bought me other books that I've totally loved. The fact I haven't read this book is no reflection on her. But honestly, if I had seen it in the store, I doubt I would have bought it. The plot isn't that intriguing to me, but I hear that the plot isn't what makes it great--it's the writing, the looks into the people, that is what is great. It must be good to have won awards and been a bestseller, right?

So, I finally made myself read it. I hoped that I would love it and wonder why I hadn't read it earlier. But about a third of the way into the book, I thought the writing is good, but it hasn't captured me. I thought it was just because I hadn't had much time to try and get into it. So I kept going on the book, hoping I would start getting into it.

Let me warn you there may be spoilers in the following paragraph. I won't give away details, but I may hint at what happens in a way that could be considered spoilers.

Bel Canto was a very well-written book, and I think that I did like the book. It was slow, very slow, but that was done on purpose to really make it more of a character study than an action book about a hostage situation. The characters were interesting and even believable, given the situation. But (you knew there would be a but, didn't you?) there was a lot of build up, a whole book of build up, and then BAMB! it was over. And even though there was an epilogue, there really wasn't any wrap up or closure. It was almost like a Twilight Zone ending that left me going "Huh? Really?" I can see what she was trying to do with the epilogue, but I don't think she explained it well which was just disappointing.

For two months in a row, my TBR Challenge books had to do with people being held hostage. I'm not sure what that was about... I must have been feeling hostage (maybe to the baby?) when I set my book list. hehe.

(Combined and edited from two posts originally on Cara Mama.)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

In March, I also read one of my TBR Challenge alternates, a book I've been really excited about reading: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I've heard great things about this book from many, many people. I bought the book when the Pumpkin was only a couple months old. I was on maternity leave and would meet up with some other moms who had March babies. I went to the book store with one of the moms, who happens to be a child psychologist. When we were perusing the parenting section, she recommended this book. Since that time, I've heard one good thing after another.

This book is in a similar vein as Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen, a book that really spoke to me with its thoughts grounded in child psychology and great ideas that really make sense for dealing with children. I recommend Playful Parenting to everyone with kids!

As for How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough. Seriously, this book is one of the most amazing books I've ever read.

I don't just recommend this book to parents. I think everyone in the world should read this book. I think the book should be called How To Talk to Other People and Listen To Other People. It's really true. For example, last weekend Londo saw me picking through a bowl of chips he had set out for guests and he started berating me for touching them all (while looking for the best ones). Well, my instinctive feeling was to keep doing it to spite him, even though he was 100% right. I realized it was the way he talked to me that made me feel that way. As an adult, I'm able to do the right thing anyway, but I can totally see that a child would do the instinctive thing that they know is wrong because of the way we say things to them. I had another example of this, but I forgot it. My point stands though, that this book can apply to every. single. person. in. the. world!

It's a quick read and really makes you think about how you are talking and listening and gives concrete ideas for how change the ways you talk and listen. And the bonus is that you don't even have to read the whole book or do the activities in it! They put in little cartoons to illustrate each concept, so all you really have to do is read the cartoons! Although the entire book is well worth the read. It will change your life. I mean it. Read the book. Buy it, check out from the library, borrow it from me (after Londo reads it, that is).

(Combined and edited from two posts originally on Cara Mama.)

The Nerd Who Loved Me

In March, I read The Nerd Who Loved Me, by Vicki Lewis Thompson. While I have really liked the other two Nerd books by Thompson that I've read (Talk Nerdy to Me and Nerds Like It Hot), I found this one disappointing. You know how you are taught in writing to not just say it but show it? This book didn't show anything, but just told the reader. The hero was supposed to be so smart, but he never did anything smart other than play chess with a 4 year old. I also didn't find some of the romance part all that realistic (five years without sex and she is able to jump right into a two-day marathon? I know she's a dancer, but come on). And the hero's reason for not wanting to out with the Vegas showgirl in the first place wasn't really explained or fleshed out. The plot itself was okay and the characters fine, but there were just too many things that just didn't have any substance.

(Edited from part of a post originally on Cara Mama.)

Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning

For March, my TBR Challenge book was Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning. I love Amy Tan. She is such an excellent writer and story teller. If you like her but haven't read her book of essays, The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings, you really should go out and buy it right now.

Of course, there is a story about this particular book sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. This book is actually my aunt's book which she has lent to me (for like a year and a half). As an adult, it's been very special to connect with this particular aunt through our love of books. She has lent me some fantastic books, such as The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears and The Blessing Stone by Barbara Wood. The latter was such a great book, I bought my own copy so I could re-read it and lend it to others. So for my aunt's 70th birthday, when my sister and brother asked what we should get her, I volunteered to go to the bookstore and pick out a bunch of books I thought she would like. She loved them and agreed to lend them to me after she had read them. This is one of those books. She has moved in with her son in Texas, so I don't see her much lately, but I still need to read this and give it back to her. Which is why it's my next book on the Challenge.

The book was really good. It was very different from Amy Tan's other works, but really well done. At first, I had a hard time following all the different characters and I was surprised that some of her normal themes were not in the book, but after I started getting into it I really enjoyed it.

The political commentary on Myanmar/Burma was well said, as was her look at how obnoxious tourists can be when visiting other countries. As much as the tourists she wrote about annoyed me, I still found myself rooting for them. That takes good writing, because usually if I don't really like any characters in the book, I don't get into what happens to them. In this book, I did. Although I did want to kick some of the characters in the butt and yell at them sometimes... Okay, frequently! But not enough to get frustrated and put down the book. Definitely a good read.

(Combined and edited from two posts originally on Cara Mama.)

Desiring Italy and Other Book Recommendations

My February TBR Challenge book was Desiring Italy, edited by Susan Cahill. The book is a collection of writing from some pretty famous women (and only women) about Italy. The point is that the historical women write about Italy in a different way than men historically have. I can't remember exactly how the editor describes it, but she's sold me on it--something about women's passion for it and their finding sensuality in Italy. The Overtures section has some snippets of writing from authors like Erica Jong and Virgina Woolf who talk about Italy.

Would you like to hear the story behind this book and why it's on my TBR Challenge list? I bought this book a few years ago because I saw it in an airport bookstore while waiting for a plane (this might be a recurring theme for the books in this list, because I used to travel for work a bit and would always pass time in bookstores if there were any in the airport). It had been sitting on my shelf to be read for really no reason, but there are reasons I was drawn to it and bought it.

First, you all must know how much I love Italy. Being of Italian decent, I have always felt a bond for the country and its people. In college, I took italian for 2.5 years, including a semester abroad in Florence. I haven't been back since that semester, over ten years ago, and that makes me want to cry. Londo and I have kicked around the idea of going there on a vacation, and we are currently saving up to attempt this hopefully before we have any more kiddies. When you haven't seen Florence in a while, you get what they call "Duomo-sickness"** like home-sickness except for Florence's Duomo (the dome of the cathedral). I've had it bad for a while.

Second, for a while, I thought I would become a travel writer. I studied Journalism and Mass Communication in grad school, and I truly thought I wanted to work for a travel magazine. That plan didn't work out, and I'm glad it didn't. I couldn't imagine a job that took me away from my husband, baby and home on a regular basis. Travel for work used to sound (and be) so much fun, but now I'm so happy being home that I'm glad my current project doesn't require much traveling. But I still have always loved to read travel articles and books and stories.

Third, I have a high appreciation for women writers. I studied English as an undergrad, and took a few gender studies/literature courses. I like reading things from a woman's perspective. I guess it's cause I can relate. But I especially like to read historical literature by women, because it really gives me an insight into a time period from a woman's perspective, which is too often overlooked by historical books and literature as they are usually written by men from a man's perspective. Oh yeah, and I'm bit of a feminist.

So this book combines all those things that I enjoy. I think I hadn't read it because I ache to go back, and reading about Italy makes the ache much greater. But since Londo and I have really been talking about going (he's never been), I decided to read this book and another book I have on Italy this year to help inspire me to plan the trip. Hopefully this fall.

As a side note about the book, I actually bought a copy and gave it to my italian Grandma for Christmas this year. She is now 93 and unable to travel all the way over there. She did go just a few years ago with my mom and uncle, but it was hard on her. I hope she is enjoying the book.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy very much. It's a shame, because I was really looking forward to it, but either my expectations were off or the book itself could have been better. Probably both. I thought that a book with well-known female writers writing about how they love Italy would include interesting stories of their time in that country. I was expecting stories like I've read in the Travelers' Tales series (excellent books!), like A Woman's World, or stories reminiscent of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway about his time in Paris.

This book was a collection of stories by women writers, yes. Some stories were true, autobiographic stories and some were fiction taking place in Italy. But they were really all over the place, and I don't mean geographically. For example, Mary Shelley's piece read like a Fodor's guide to what to see or a walking tour of sites in Venice, while George Eliot's selection was parts of Middlemarch that take place in Rome but didn't really speak much about the details of Rome. It just didn't feel cohesive to me.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it at all. The short story by Edith Wharton (I can't remember the name) which took place in Rome was absolutely perfect. There was plenty of scenery which set the mood, the writing was excellent and the story itself was brilliant. I also discovered some fascinating women writers who I did not know before, and my next amazon order will include non-fiction and fiction books by Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Von Arnim and Iris Origo.

But it will also include Travelers' Tales Italy: True Stories, because those are the kinds of stories that I love to read about people's travels. It will also include a couple other Traverlers' Tales books, because looking up the links above brought some new books to my attention, such as A Mother's World: Journeys of the Heart and Family Travel: The Farther You Go, the Closer You Get. If any of you internetters enjoy travel writing, I highly recommend this series.

*That's right, morning. When the baby nurses for 45 minutes or longer at 6 AM, I actually have time to read in the mornings. It's kind of nice--a relaxing way to start the day and wake up slowly. I get to read while she nurses and plays with my hair.

**There is an italian phrase for this, which I can never remember.

(Combined and edited from two posts originally on Cara Mama.)

Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

Because I finished my January book so early, I decided to read a book from my list of alternates for the TBR Challenge: Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

Jane Austen is my favorite author (just barely beating out F. Scott Fitzgerald in recent years). My favorite book of hers is Pride and Prejudice, which I have read so many times I've lost count. Since Austen is my favorite author, you'd think I'd have read all her books. After all, when Fitzgerald held the distinction (and it is an honor, I assure you), the only book--nay*, the only story (since I've read all his short stories) of his I hadn't read was The Last Tycoon. Since it was unfinished at the time of his death, I've not felt compelled to read it, although I probably should.

In fact, I have not read all of Austen's finished works. I had have never read Mansfield Park or Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. I own multiple copies of compilations of her entire works. I have no idea why I haven't read them. The Penguin Classic copy of Mansfield Park I'm reading was even my husband's copy from a college class. I've always felt remiss in not having read all her works. I'm working on remedying that, which is why this one is on the list.

Having finished the book, I must say that as much as I love Austen and usually am very pleased with her endings, I thought the ending of this book kind of fizzled. I had originally thought I didn't know how I wanted the book to end, but that was apparently not true. The character who I wanted to like, and was just starting to like, I did not end up liking. Oh, well.

It was very well-written and a great commentary of the time on many issues, including society, education, wealth (or lack of), charity, love and principles. Another really good book by Austen. I personally did not relate to any of the characters. There was no Elizabeth or Jane Bennett for me to love, no Mr. Darcy to make my heart swell up. But I can appreciate the book itself and Austen's excellent writing.

*Can you believe I said "nay"? My head is apparently in the Austen world right now.

(Combined and edited from two posts originally on Cara Mama.)

Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

My TBR Challenge 2008 book for January was Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. I did say there was a story behind each of these books, so I will now relate the story behind this one.

I love Neil Gaiman. I've loved Neil Gaiman for longer than I've known my husband. I discovered Neil Gaiman through my brother, who has introduced me to so many good writers, books, movies and comic books. That's right, I said comic books (I'm a bit of a geek*). Or in the case of Neil Gaiman, graphic novels. Neil Gaiman wrote The Sandman comic books/graphic novels, which are incredible. He has also written quite a few novels, including Anansi Boys. Neil Gaiman is extremely imaginative, coming up with new and unique plots, and he is dark, delving into places of the mind and psyche that many dare not go.

Even if you don't like the science fiction/fantasy genre, there are a few sci-fi/fantasy novels that are such amazing books that they transend the genre and are just great books period**. The way Battlestar Galactica is more than just a great sci-fi show--it's a great show. One of these books is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It's one of the best books out there, and I recommend it to everyone.

So, my point is I love Neil Gaiman and everything he's written. This book came out in 9/2005, and I bought it shortly after. That's right, over 2 years ago. Londo read it right away and proclaimed it another excellent book by Neil Gaiman. But I still haven't read it. Why not? Why wouldn't I read one of my favorite authors? It was because I Wasn't Myself! This was one of those things I simply wasn't in the mood for while pregnant and during the early months of having a baby. Now, I'm back to being mostly myself, so it's the first one I've selected from the stack to read. Cause I missed me, and I missed Neil Gaiman!

I finished the book pretty quickly, and the book was fantastic.

Once again, Gaiman writes a great book, with an interesting plot, well-rounded characters and surprises that I didn't see coming. Some I did see coming, but as Londo and I agree, Gaiman likely intended the readers to see those coming. This story, like his others, is so well written, with things you don't suspect as important coming into play later. Things you might overlook become key to the plot, and you realize just how tight of a story it is. And that's how I like my stories.

I'm not going to sum up what the book was about. I used to hate doing book reports because I felt like I was just re-writing what was written on the back of the book. If you want to know what it was about, read the back of the book. Then, buy the book and read the whole thing. It was definitely worth it.

*I will just fess up that I'm a HUGE geek, especially in the area of sci-fi/fantasy/comics. Those of you who are not into these things, I challenge you to expand your horizons and discover the amazing stories that reflect our world in the form of other worlds. I've got a whole schpiel, but this isn't the time for it.
**My number 1 example of this type of book is Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, which I've recommended to many people who look at me skeptically because they don't like sci-fi and come back to me within the week saying they stayed up all night finishing the book. It's that good. Hmmm, I should re-read that.

(Combined and edited from two posts original originally on Cara Mama.)

Pie Crusts

I have such trouble with rolling out pie crusts! It always sticks to the rolling pin or counter, no matter how much flour I use, and I can't seem to roll it evenly. This summer, I bought a ceramic rolling pin (like this one, but a different maker and design) which is supposed to help because you put it in the fridge for 20 minutes before you start rolling so the dough won't stick. This rolling pin really seems to help.

Two years ago, I discovered the book I Love Pies and Tarts, by Nancy Kershner, that has the best recipe for a No-Roll Pie Dough. It has been wonderful! I halve the recipe and use it for the bottom crust of my pecan pie. I'm not sure how you would use do a top crust from it, but it works great on the bottom. I highly recommend the book in general, too!

The recipe basically says to mix 2 and 1/4 cups of flour, 2 TBSP sugar, and 2 TSP salt directly in the pie tin, then add 3/4 cup oil and 3 TBSP milk to the mix, and press it into the edges and up the sides of the pie tin. You can bake it first at 425 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes, or just add your filling and bake however long the pie recipe says. And then, enjoy tasty, tasty pie!

(Edited from part of a post originally on Cara Mama.)

TBR Challenge 2008

I am participating in the To Be Read (TBR) Challenge 2008. I buy, receive and borrow so many books, and I really mean to read them all. I just don't always get to them. So I'm doing the challenge! Below is my list of books and alternates (which are also listed on the side of my other blog, Cara Mama), and I will strike them out (or mark as "= DONE" on Cara Mama) when I've finished them. I will also review each book when I've finished it.

The books in order of how I plan to read them:
1. Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
2. Desiring Italy, collection edited by Susan Cahill
3. Saving Fish from Drowning, by Amy Tan
4. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
5. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior, By Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson
6. The Blind Mirror, by Christopher Pike
7. The Pact, by Jodi Picoult
8. It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff
9. Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
10. The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time and the Texture of Reality, by Brian Greene
11. The Last Days of Dogtown, by Anita Diamant
12. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

The alternates (in no particular order):
1. The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
2. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
3. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
4. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
5. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen
6. The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl
7. A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss
8. Eon, by Greg Bear
9. The Accidental Buddhist, by Dinty Moore
10. Bella Tuscany, by Frances Mayes
11. Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier
12. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

These lists initially looked really ambitious to me, especially considering that I read other books in addition to these. And I need to read a romance novel or two a month, because I need a regular stream of light-hearted, happy-ending stories to keep me a happy girl. But so far, I'm doing alright.

Oh, and there is a story behind each of the books I selected, so I'll also relate the story of why I bought the book and why it has been on my shelf for over 6 months.

(Edited from post originally on Cara Mama.)

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