Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: Iodine, Haven Kimmel. Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Iodine: A NovelThis may be the only book I've ever read which induced me to say, "that was horrifying," as I put it down. Mind you, the entire book itself wasn't that horrifying, okay, maybe a bit horrifying. But the end was particularly so. I won't spoil it for you by telling you why.

Anyway, I'm still trying to decide whether or not I like the book. I've loved all of Haven Kimmel's previous books, the two Zippy memoirs that were popular a couple years ago, plus several novels which most people don't seem to know about. Her books are smart, interesting, and full of quirky characters. But Iodine is something completely different. It's still smart and interesting, but I have to say the characters go way beyond quirky, the book is much, much darker than Kimmel's others, and the style much more experimental and internal.

Basics: a college girl falls in love with her professor and he falls in love with her. That seems like a simple premise. But the story is complicated because it focuses not so much on the boy meets girl aspect, but on the internal life of the narrator, the college girl, who's using the alias of Ianthe Covington because for some reason she doesn't want anyone from her past to know where she is. (That reason is revealed at the end.) Ianthe is an unreliable narrator. She seems to waver between reality and a dream-state, and it's hard to tell at any given moment which is which. I found myself confused, often, about what was actually happening. This was frustrating, but toward the end we find out why Ianthe/Trace experiences the world in this manner. And then it all makes sense. Well, sort of. We are still left wondering which things in the book Ianthe/Trace imagines, and which she actually experiences.

As I write this review, I'm starting to realize that I do really like the book because wow, it is masterfully crafted. Very complicated and internal and intellectual and strange. In these aspects it reminds me of Iris Murdoch's novels, which I love, but which are extremely dark and challenging to read. Kimmel conveys the dream-like state of the main character so well. I'm supposed to be confused! I'm supposed to feel the strangeness of Ianthe/Trace's mind right along with her. Kimmel has accomplished what she set out to do! Perhaps I felt uncertain about the book just because it wasn't the sort of story I expected from Haven Kimmel.

But I take back my statement that the end contains the greatest share of horrification. It starts right at the beginning, with the very first sentence: "I never had sex with my father but I would have, if he had agreed." Whew! I should have known immediately this wasn't going to be an easy read.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

3 Fiction Worlds I Would Like to Hang Out In

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: 10th Anniversary Edition (Harry Potter)Lost in Books is hosting a meme with a new question each week. Here's my answer for this week's question:

1. Narnia. Talking animals sound like fun. Plus, as a "daughter of Eve" I'd probably have a pretty good chance of being a queen.

2. Harry Potter. I'd love to go to boarding school in a castle and learn magic. Though dealing with Voldemort does sound rather stressful. Maybe I can attend Hogwarts after the 7th book, once he's already been vanquished.

3. The three books after Ender's Game: Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind. There are some really stressful situations in this world too, but how cool would it be to live on an alien planet!?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. HarperCollins, 2009.

In Praise of Stay-at-Home MomsI'm not sure why I picked this book up at the library. I've heard Dr. Laura a couple times on the radio, and found her extremely annoying: bossy, self-righteous, full of herself, and sometimes downright mean to her callers. Though I have to admit, her advice did often sound spot-on. Maybe it was the enticing title, In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, because I've been a stay-at-home mom for 9 years now, and let's face it we don't always have a lot of praise coming in our direction. Unless you count your 3-year-old screaming at you that he doesn't want a turkey sandwich for lunch, he wants peanut butter and jelly instead, praise.

So as off-putting as the front cover is (see giant picture of overly made-up author so as to appear plasicky), I went ahead and read the book. And while I definitely found some ego stroking in the book, as the cover implies, overall I felt uplifted by the book's praise of my hard work, and interested in some of her advice. Though apparently not interested enough to mark any particularly passages I wanted to share with you here. The book is an easy read, maybe a bit too easy for my taste, and not very well organized. It reads more like a conversation, which isn't unpleasant. And I enjoyed the multitude of quotes from radio listeners who have emailed Dr. Laura or sent letters to her.

So go ahead, if you're a stay-at-home mom and you're having a bad day and need some encouragement, this is the book for  you. You can read it in bits, quickly, when you have a few moments. But don't expect to find anything particularly new or earth shattering.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Books Completed Last Week
I read three books last week: In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, Dr. Laura Schlessinger; Iodine, Haven Kimmel; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, May Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I'm hoping to post reviews of all of these books this week.

Books I'm Currently Reading
Yesterday I started reading The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, by Alexandra Robbins. It's so fascinating, I couldn't put it down! That doesn't usually happen to me with nonfiction books. Usually its only novels that I can't put down. Also on tap for this week is American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I read Sittenfeld's first book, Prep, and really enjoyed it, so I have high hopes for this one.

Both of these books are quite long, so if I actually finish them both this week, I'll be surprised.

Click here to participate in this meme from J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review: NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Hachette Book Group, 2009.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About ChildrenForget everything you've read about child-rearing. And forget trusting your instincts. According to NurtureShock, everything you've learned (or felt instinctively) about how to raise your kids is wrong. But not to worry, if you read NurtureShock you'll finally be able to get it right! Lucky for us, the authors have collected all the scientific studies about child-rearing that have obtained real results, as opposed to those with dubious results but which have become inflated by the media and preached as fact (which, according to this book, is pretty much every popular study of the past 20 or so years).

Wow. This is quite a claim, and I was pretty skeptical as I started to read this book. But I have to admit the book contains some pretty convincing debunking of some popular child-rearing theories, such as the theory that you need to constantly tell kids how great they are in order to raise their self esteem. Not so much. Apparently it's better to praise kids for working hard, and for particular achievements, instead of just praising them in a more general manner, such as "you are so smart!"

So debunking. Yes. But I don't know about you, but I've heard this new theory of self esteem before. Possibly even in some popular parenting magazine. I've also already heard about how important sleep is for children, and how it effects their performance in school. And about how testing, especially testing of young children, doesn't really tell you much. So it seems that many of these theories are already out there. That NurtureShock's claim of "new thinking about children" might be a bit of a stretch.

Still, it's nice to have all these theories in one place, presented with the actual research that supports them. And the book definitely contains some new theories that I've never come across before. Here are a couple I particular liked:

"In taking our marital arguments upstairs to avoid exposing the children to strife, we accidentally deprived them of chances to witness how two people who care about each other can work out their differences in a calm and reasoned way" (p. 194).

"...the predictive value of self-discipline in many cases are better than those of IQ scores. In simpler words, being disciplined is more important than being smart" (p. 174).

"When I began this research, I would have thought the main reasons teens would say they lie was 'I want to stay out of trouble,' ... But actually the most common reason for deception was, 'I'm trying to protect my relationship with my parents; I don't want them to be disappointed in me" (p. 139).

So, do read NurtureShock. There is a lot of good stuff in here: research to support what you've already heard about raising kids, and maybe a few things you haven't heard before. And the book is nicely organized; the writing style clear and concise. Just try not to let the overblown claims in the introduction keep you from delving into the first chapter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On My "To Be Read" List


-Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes, Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown
-Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman
-The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser
-The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, David Kessler
-Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life, Eli Zaretsk
-Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America, John de Graaf
-Post-Capitalist Society, Peter Drucker
-The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Jean M. Twenge

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Review: Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant. Random House, 2009.

Sacred Hearts: A Novel
Confession: I don't enjoy thinking critically about books of fiction. I read fiction for escape, for entertainment and relaxation. I don't want to have to think about it too much. (This probably explains my love/hate relationship with my English major in college.) So my review of Sarah Dunant's lovely novel is going to be short. As will most of my reviews of novels.

So here you go. Sacred Hearts -- I liked it!

Well okay, I guess I could say a little bit more about the book, if you twist my arm. Sacred Hearts is a work of historical fiction, which I always find fascinating. It's an entertaining way to learn more about a particular historical time period. So in this case, if I trust the author's claims of historical accuracy, I now know a lot more about late 1500s Italy than I used to. The story centers on a convent in Ferrara, Italy, and particularly on one novice who's family has put her into the convent against her will because of her illicit love affair. The main character, Zuana, the dispensary nun, alternates between wanting to help the young novice find happiness, and wanting to obey her abbess and do what she thinks is right in the sight of God.

The writing in this book is lush and detailed, the characters feel authentic, and the story is gripping. But the thing I find most fascinating in this book is the tremendous tension between politics and piety, and how the convent abbess must balance these in order to protect the nuns within her care. The abbess must keep the powerful families of the city happy in order to secure not only money, but also protection from other religious authorities who have threatened to cut off the convent's small luxuries and their connections with the outside world. I also find it interesting how the nuns have more power and more opportunities to develop their interests and talents than do women in the outside world. The dispensary nun particularly embodies this, for in the outside world she wouldn't be allowed to create medicines and function as a doctor, as she does inside the convent.

So all in all, I'm glad I randomly picked this book up from my library's new book section! I'm putting her Sarah Dunant's other books on my TBR list now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On My "To Be Read" List

I recently gathered together all the TBR lists I've had lying around and put them into one Microsoft Word document. This is making my inter-library loan process so much easier! Before the Word document, I had one list in a notebook, one on a computer sticky note, plus various scraps of paper and post-it notes, and a folder with pages pulled out of magazines. Since my list is so long (and getting longer every day), I'm going to list them in different posts, by genre. Here's fiction:

-The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
-Island in the Sea of Time, S.M. Stirling
-The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister
-The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, May Ann Shafffer
-The Beautiful Miscellaneous, Dominic Smith
-Iodine, Haven Kimmel
-The Children’s Book, A.S. Byatt
-The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
-People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
-Oxygen, Carol Cassella
-Shanghai Girls, Lisa See

Please comment and give me more suggestions for my list!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. Anchor books, 2006.

My Life in France (Movie Tie-In Edition) (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)Okay, so I've become a bit obsessed with Julia Child ever since I watched "Julie & Julia" on DVD a couple weeks ago. I can tell I'm not the only one, since Volume 1 of her famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is on the New York Times Best-Seller list right now. The movie shows only a smattering of events from Child's life, interspersed with blogger Julie Powell's attempt to cook all the recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But the book is a comprehensive memoir of Julia Child's life that spans nearly 50 years. The bulk of the book focuses on her time in France, and especially on the years she spent in Paris, the city she loved most, and the place that started her on the path towards becoming a famous cook.

It's funny, because it appears that Child's decision to become a cook came about quite by accident. She hadn't even done much cooking or felt particularly interested in it until she moved to Paris. In Paris she fell in love with food and became, well a bit obsessed, in my opinion. Nearly every event recorded in My Life in France is centered around cooking and eating. It becomes rather exhausting after awhile, all this food, even for someone who loves food as much as I do. But I can see why she became such an accomplished and famous cook. Only someone who focuses all her energy on cooking can rise to the heights of celebrity like she did!

I think part of my exhaustion also came from trying to decipher all the untranslated French dishes that are mentioned in the book. Some of them are explained and translated into English, but many are not. I'm of two minds about this, though, since many of the dishes that Julia Child's explains in more detail sound really gross to me, so maybe I'm better off not knowing what they involve! I guess I don't have a refined enough palate for French food, but still, I'd like to take a look at Mastering the Art of French Cooking and try to make some of the less adventurous dishes.

Another thing I found a little off-putting about the book was its lack of interiority. When I read a memoir, I expect to find plenty of emotions and inner thoughts. But My Life in France focuses more on external events (and on food, of course) with only a few hints now and then as to what Julia Child was feeling or thinking about said events. So while the book gives me a good picture of Julia's life, it leaves me feeling like I still don't know her very well. Bummer. I know she was a very private person, and didn't necessarily wear her heart on her sleeve in real life, but still. Bummer.

Anyway, despite wanting to know Julia better, and despite being slowed down by French phrases and things done to fish that are so crazy they make me want to faint, it was a fascinating read and I've got the cookbook on my library list and a DVD of her cooking show, "The French Chef," next in my Netflix queue.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Books Completed Last Week
I only read one book last week, Julia Child's My Life in France. I've got to pick up my pace if I'm going to read 100 books this year! I'll be posting a review of My Life in France later.

Books I'm Currently Reading
Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant, which is a novel about a convent in 16th century Italy. NutureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, a parenting book that purports to be new and more scientific than other parenting books. And Simple Country Wisdom, by Susan Waggoner, which is a how-too type book full of tips for managing a house.

Click here to participate in this meme from J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Favorite Books of the Decade

Here are my favorite books of the decade. All of these were published during the 2000s, and by favorite I mean books that I love so much I read them over and over again.

-The Harry Potter series
-The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
-Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
-The Road, Cormac McCarthy
-Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
-A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
-Ender's Shadow, Orson Scott Card

-National Anthem, Kevin Prufer
-Love Song with Motor Vehicles, Alan Michael Parker
-Averno, Louis Gluck
-Book of My Nights, Li-Young Lee

-Iris: The Life of Iris Murdoch, Peter
-A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel
-She Got Up Off the Couch, Haven Kimmel
-A Girl from Yamhill, Beverly Cleary
-The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, and Steven L. Hopp
-The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, Madeline Levine
-The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: Volume 1: Ancient Times, Susan Wise Bauer
- The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
- Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think and What We Can Do about It, Jane M. Healy

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: The Trophy Kids Grow Up: how the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Ron Alsop. Jossey-Bass, 2008.

The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation is Shaking Up the WorkplaceOne of my favorite nonfiction genres is something I'd call social or cultural criticism. These are books that explore and critique some aspect of American society. I don't know why I find these books so fascinating -- maybe it's the one thing that's stuck with me from my BA in Sociology. In any case, I find books that focus on a particular generation of Americans particularly fascinating. And since there's not all that much being written about MY generation anymore (Generation X), I've been reading books like The Trophy Kids, about Generation Y, also called the Millennial Generation, the NetGeneration, or the iGeneration. My children are part of this generation, so I want to see what I'm up against!

The Trophy Kids focuses on Millennials who've now gotten old enough to enter the workplace. For some reason I was expecting more about the characteristics of these kids, and not quite so much about their forays into the workplace, but I should have known better, from the subtitle. This book runs through Millennial character traits pretty quickly, then focuses on how these kids view the workplace, and what companies are doing to attract and keep them. Apparently these young 20-somethings, have been brought up by "helicopter parents" to be, according to Alsop and other books that I've read, selfish, arrogant, and overly-dependent upon technology. Their parents have been spoiling them, getting them out of scrapes, over-scheduling them with activities, and pressuring them to get into a good college since before they were out of diapers. And now these kids have entered the job market with high expectations. They believe that companies should give them what they want, which is, pretty much -- fun!! And pay them lots of money to have said fun. This means that Millennials tend not to stay in one job for very long because they get bored, or they want more money faster, or they have ADD from watching too much television and playing video games. They don't appear to have a lot of, um ... patience. They don't want to "pay their dues" with a company. They don't want to do a lot of grunt work in order to some day get that big promotion. They want it now.

On a more positive note, Millennials are searching for more work/life balance. They've watched their parents put in a lot of hours at work at the expense of, well ... them! And they don't want that for their kids. They also want time for fun. For travel and hobbies and friends, etc. And let's not forget TV, video games, and of course, Facebook and blogging! Surprisingly enough, according to Ron Alsop, many companies are actually changing their policies to give Millennials the kind of work environment that they want. They are trying to put more fun into the workplace, track kids for quicker promotions, and allow for more flexible hours and work-at-home time.

Now, I said "surprisingly" because I can't believe any company would need to add more "fun" to the workweek, just to keep employees. It's difficult to find a job right now, and people who have one already certainly aren't leaving just because they can't play Wii in their cubicles. The fact is, while this book may have had a lot of good points two years ago, it's hopelessly outdated now, in the aftermath of economic collapse. At the end of this book, I'm left wondering what's happening with Millennials in the workplace now that they've had a strong dose of reality. Are they still quitting their jobs in droves, thinking there's a more fun job out there, and then ending up living at home working at TGIFridays because the big corporations aren't hiring? Or are they biting their tongues and turning into the corporate drones they never wanted to be? A quick Google search for the author hasn't given me any answers. Perhaps I'll just have to wait for Ron Alsop's next book.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lucy's 100+ Reading Challenge

My nine-year-old daughter also wants to take part in J. Kaye's Book Blog 100+ Reading Challenge. So this is her page to keep track of the books she's read for the challenge.

1. Beezus and Ramona, Beverly Cleary
2. One Day in the Alpine Tundra, Jean Craighead George
3. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling
4. Cricket Boy, A Chinese Fable retold by Feenie Ziner
5. The Emperor and the Kite, Jane Yolen
6. Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from Ching, retold by Ai-Ling Louie
7. The Moon Lady, Amy Tan
8. Bird Boy, Elizabeth Starr Hill
9. The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan
10. Muggie Maggie, Beverly Cleary
11. Chang and the Bamboo Flute, Elizabeth Starr Hill
12. Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism, Georgia Byng
13. Marguerite Makes a Book, Bruce Robertson
14. Five Children and It, E. Nesbit
15. The Magician's Elephant, Kate DiCamillo
16. A Good Night for Ghosts, Mary Pope Osborne
17. Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: The Nixie's Song, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
18. Favorite Medieval Tales, Mary Pope Osborne and Troy Howell 
19. Viking It and Liking It, Jon Scieszka
20. Read About Vikings, Stewart Ross
21. Favorite Norse Myths, retold by Mary Pope Osborne
22. An Egg Is Quiet, Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long
23. Traditional Tales from Norse Lands, Vic Parker
24. The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
25. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
26. Hour of the Olympics, Mary Pope Osborne
27. Lancelot, Hudson Talbot
28. Knights of the Round Table, adapted by Gwen Gross
29. The Dolphin: Prince of the Waves, Renee le Bloas 
30. The Magic School Bus to the Rescue: Forest Fire, Anne Capeci
31. Castles and Dragons: Read-to-Yourself Fairy Tales for Boys and Girls, compiled by the Child Study Association of America
32. Dragon of the Red Dawn, Mary Pope Osborne
33. Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, retold by Eric A. Kimmel
34. Days of the Knights: A Tale of Castles and Battles, Christopher Maynard
35. Knights & Armor, Daisy Kerr
36. Viking Ships at Sunrise, Mary Pope Osborne
37. Oil Spill, Mervin Berger
38. The Story of Castles, Lesley Sims
39. The Spiderwick Chronicles Book1: The Field Guide, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
40. The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 2: The Seeing Stone, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
41. The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 3: Lucinda's Secret, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
42. The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 4: The Ironwood Tree,  Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
43. The Spiderwick Chronicles Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgarath, Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
44. Saint Francis of Assisi, Robert F. Kennedy
45. Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobia Burgess, Page, Richard Platt 
46. Midnight on the Moon, Mary Pope Osborne
47. The Magic School Bus Chapter Book: Dinosaur Detectives, Judith Bauer Stamper
48. Runny Babbit, Shel Shilverstein
49. Dracula, Bram Stoker (adaptation)
50. Raisel's Riddle, Erica Silverman
51. The Time Warp Trio: You Can't but Ghengis Khan, Jon Scieszka
52. Genghis Khan, Demi
53. Beowulf: Grendel the Chastly, adapted by Michelle Szobody
54. The Glass Menorah and Other Stories for Jewish Holidays, Maida Silverman
55. Robins, Jill Kalx
56. My Grandmother's Stories: A Collection of Jewish Folk Tales, Adele Geras
57. The Life Cycle of the Painted Turtle, Andrew Hipp
58. Oil to Gas, Julie Murray
59. Cocoa Bean to Chocolate, Julie Murray
60. Backyard Birds: Cardinals, Lynn Stone 
61. The Time Warp Trio: Knights of the Kitchen Table, Jon Scieszka
62. Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll
63. Magic School Bus Chapter Book: The Truth About Bats
64. The Time Warp Trio: Marco? Polo!, Jon Scieszka
65. Marco Polo, Kathleen McFarren
66. The Fire Within, Chris D'Lacey
67. Mandy, Julie Edwards
68. A Child's First Learning Library: Sky and Earth
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart 
70.  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, Trenton Lee Stewart 
71. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart 
72. The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan
73. Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare, Diane Stanley & Peter Vennema 
74. The Man in the Iron Mask (adaptation), Alexandre Dumas 
75. Women and Girls in the Middle Ages, Kay Eastwood
76. Science and Technology in the Middle Ages, Joanne Findon and Marsha Groves 
77. Art of the Middle Ages, Jennifer Olmsted 
78. The Clever Monkey: A Folktale from West Africa, Rob Cleveland
79. Africa Calling: Nighttime Falling, Daniel Adlerman
80. Places of Worship in the Middle Ages, Kay Eastwood
81. The Dragonology Handbook, Dugald Steer
82. Recycled Paper from Start to Finish, Samuel G. Woods
83. The Bridge Book, Polly Carter
84. Monarch Butterfly, Gail Gibbons
85. A Child's Portrait of Shakespeare, Lois Burdett
86. Eric Carle's Dragons Dragons & other creatures that never were
87. Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press, Bruce Koscielniak
88. How to be a Pirate, Cressida Cowell
89. What's So Bad About Gasoline? Fossils Fuels and What They Do, Anne Rockwell 
90. Stories from India, Anna Milbourne 
91. The Time Warp Trio: DaWild, DaCrazy, DaVinci, Jon Scieszka
92. Magic Tree House: The Leprechaun in Late Winter, Mary Pope Osborne
93. The King's Fool: A Book about Medieval and Renaissance Fools, Dana Fradon 
94. The Walrus and the Carpenter, Lewis Carroll
95. Across the Atlantic, Terry Nova
96. Christopher Columbus, Stephen Krensky
97. Ferdinand Magellan, Mervyn Kaufman
98. The Log of Christopher Columbus, Christopher Columbus 
99. Me Oh Maya, Jonathan Scieszka 
100. Tree Girl, T.A. Barron
101. I Sailed with Columbus, Miriam Schlein
102. If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad, Ellen Levine 
103. Green Boy, Susan Cooper 
104. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Roald Dahl
105. Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliett 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Review: A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg. Simon & Schuster, 2009.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen TableThis book made me hungry! There are so many delicious-sounding recipes in here, everything from a simple French Toast, to the more gourmet Bouchons Au Thon, a tuna mixture baked in muffin cups. I haven't tried to recreate the recipes in my kitchen yet, but just reading the ingredients and directions made me drool. And every recipe is paired with an autobiographical essay. Together the essays form a memoir of the author's life, with a food slant of course.

The prose in A Homemade Life is personable and at times funny, as in this description of using oil for cooking French Toast, "the key, and I learned this the hard way, is that you can't pussyfoot around when it comes to the amount of oil. This is not time to worry about calories. It's time to upend the bottle and pour. A glug will not do." At other times there's a lovely emotional poignancy, particularly when Wizenberg writes about her father's death from cancer, and about her memories of him. Wizenberg is one of those lucky bloggers whose blog turned into a book contract, and I was pleased that the writing in A Homemade Life is of true quality. The book is well organized and reads like a book, rather than a blog.

After reading the book, if you want more, visit her blog, Orangette. It looks like she still writes on it regularly.

Okay, just writing about this book has made me hungry so I'm off to get a snack. I'll let you know how some of the recipes from the book turn out, once I've tried them.

100+ Reading Challenge

I've decided this year to participate in J. Kaye's Book Blog 100+ Reading Challenge. I've never read this many books in a year, and I'd like to see if I can do it. Maybe it'll motivate me to leave the TV off at night and read more books instead! Ugh, but I have so many nights of Jeopardy on TIVO to catch up with!

So according to the rules on J. Kaye's website, I need to have one post where I list all the books I read for the challenge. So here it is. I'll be updating this post as I go along, and I'll also be posting reviews of some of the books that I read, in separate posts.

Hey, with all the books I'll be reading, maybe I'll finally be able to beat my husband at Jeopardy!

1. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg
2. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, Ron Alsop
3. My Life in France, Julia Child, with Alex Prud'homme
4. Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
5. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
6. In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, Dr. Laura Schlessinger
7. Iodine, Haven Kimmel
8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, May Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
9. The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, Alexandra Robbins
10. Homeschooling: A Family's Journey, Gregory and Martine Millman
11. The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It, by Robyn O'Brien.
12. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
13. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,  Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell
14. Homeschool Open House, Nancy Lande
15. Wounded by School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up to Old School Culture, Kirsten Olson
16. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
17. Simple Country Wisdom: 501 Old-Fashioned Ideas to Simplify Your Life, Susan Waggoner
18. The Duggars: 20 and Counting!, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar
19. The Fortieth Day, Poems by Kazim Ali
20. Erosion, Jorie Graham
21. Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet, Christian Wiman
22. Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Mark Doty
23. The Joy of Teaching, Peter Filene
24. Leaping Poetry, Robert Bly
25. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching, James M. Lang
26. Spell, Dan Beachy-Quick
27. The Writing Teacher's Companion, Rai Peterson
28. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself
29. A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
30. Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books, Lynne Sharon Schwartz
31. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
32. Possession, A.S. Byatt
33. The Color of Water, James McBride
34. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home, Rhoda Janzen
35. Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
36. The Doctor & the Diva, Adrienne McDonnell

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The 2009 Book List

Here are the books I read in 2009. Re-reads are marked with a * See yesterday's posts for brief reviews of my top 10 books for 2009.

A Winter’s Love, Madeleine L’Engle*
Making Love to the Minor Poets of Chicago, James Conrad
Camilla, Madeleine L’Engle*
The Young Unicorns, Madeleine L’Engle*
Life After Genius, M. Ann Jacoby
Troubling a Star, Madeleine L’Engle*
Blessings, Anna Quindlen
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton*
Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf*
Never Change, Elizabeth Berg
Falling Angels, Tracy Chevalier
Until the Real Thing Comes Along, Elizabeth Berg
Say When, Elizabeth Berg
Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
The Art of Mending, Elizabeth Berg
An Accomplished Woman, Jude Morgan
Burning Bright, Tracy Chevalier
Open House, Elizabeth Berg
The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier
Indiscretion, Jude Morgan
Range of Motion, Elizabeth Berg
We Are All Welcome Here, Elizabeth Berg
The Virgin Blue, Tracy Chevalier
The Pull of the Moon, Elizabeth Berg
True to Form, Elizabeth Berg
Handle with Care, Jodi Picoult
The Abstinence Teacher, Tom Perrota
Admission, Jean Hanf Korelitz
Home Safe, Elizabeth Berg
The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger*
The Solace of Leaving Early, Haven Kimmel
The River King, Alice Hoffman
Something Rising, Haven Kimmel
The Used World, Haven Kimmel
The Piano Teacher, Janice Lee
Babyville, Jane Green
Back When We Were Grown Ups, Anne Tyler
Ladder of Years, Anne Tyler
Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler
Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby
Digging to America, Anne Tyler
Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler

Two Men Fighting with a Knife, John Poch
National Anthem, Kevin Prufer*
Elephants and Butterflies, Alan Michael Parker*
Constance, Jane Kenyon
Averno, Louis Gluck*

Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days, Nancy Lande*
Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, David Guterson*
Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John DeGraaf et al.
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, Sven Birkerts*
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf*
The Trouble with Perfect: How Parents Can Avoid the Overachievement Trap and Still Raise Successful Children, Elizabeth Guthrie
The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling, Rachel Gathercole
Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement Oriented Society, William Crain
Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, Alissa Quart
The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Susan Bauer and Jessie Wise Bauer
Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, Jenna Woginrich
The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do, Peg Tyre
School: The Story of American Public Education, Sarah Mondale
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeleine L’Engle*
The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children, Robert Shaw
A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books, Alex Beam
Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, Leonard Sax
Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish, Tom Shachtman
Homeschooling for Excellence, David and Micki Colfax
Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, Judith Warner
Real Food: What to Eat and Why, Nina Planck

Great with Child, Debra Rienstra
Moose: A Memoir, Stephanie Klein
A Girl from Yamhill, Beverly Cleary
My Own Two Feet, Beverly Cleary
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls*

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Books of 2009

I read a lot of books every year. And I keep track of every book that I read: book, author, and number of pages. I've been doing this since 1998. Yes, I'm that crazy about books. It's a sickness, really. But anyway, in 2008 I accidentally read more books than I had read in any year previously. 67. So in 2009 I deliberately set out to do it again, and I made my goal. 76!

MY 2009 TOP TEN LIST, or the books I couldn't put down and had to neglect my children in order to finish.

1. A Girl from Yamhill, by Beverly Cleary. This is a memoir by Cleary, who you probably know better from the Ramona the Pest books she wrote for children. Cleary was one of my favorite authors as a child, so I was thrilled to discover her memoir. The memoir is written for adults/teens, though I think a younger child who's a good reader could read it too. And it's just as well written as those Ramona books, and the story is as gripping as any novel. This book follows her life from early childhood until just before she leaves for college.

2. My Own Two Feet, by Beverly Cleary. I was so disappointed to come to the end of A Girl from Yamhill, because I wanted to spend more time with Beverly Clearly. So I was excited to discover part two of her memoirs. This one starts as she leaves for college, and ends just as her writing career is beginning. I wish there were more memoirs!

3. The Solace of Leaving Early, by Haven Kimmel. I first discovered Haven Kimmel through her popular memoirs, A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch. I had no idea she'd written several novels too, until a friend of mine randomly picked one up at a used book sale. Wow, these are really well-written, and right up my alley. They combine great story-telling and characterization with intellectual concepts, literature, and theology.

4. Something Rising, by Haven Kimmel. See above.

5. The Used World, by Haven Kimmel. See above. I've loved everything I've read by her!

6. Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier. I'd seen the movie a few years ago, and loved it, since I'm a sucker for arty moody type movies, and I finally got around to reading the book this year. It's just as good as the movie, maybe even more so, since there are more details and a better developed back story. Of course, the absence of eye-candy Colin Firth in the book is kind of a downer. After reading this book, I went ahead and read every Tracy Chevalier book I could find at my library, and they were all wonderful stories. Every one is historical fiction, so check it out if you like that sort of thing.

7. Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby. You might recognized Nick Hornby's name because there have been a couple of movies made from his books: High Fidelity and About a Boy. Hornby's one of my favorite writers, even though he uses pop culture references a lot. And I mean, a lot! That usually gets on my nerves, but he's such a good storyteller that in his case, it doesn't bother me. This book has nothing to do with Shakespeare, (well, other than the usual allusions the name evokes), rather, Juliet is an ex-girlfriend of a now washed-up indy band singer. The story follows a British couple's obsession with this former singer. This book was the most difficult book of the year for me to put down in order to make the children's dinner. Children? What children?

8. Admission, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Okay, I'll admit it. You probably have to be a bit of a geek to enjoy this book. It's full of detailed references to college administrative life. If that sort of thing excites you like it does me, read this one! Beyond the collegiate references, there's an interesting love/anti-love story here, and solid storytelling. Plus you'll get all sorts of insights into the selection processes of Ivy League schools. So maybe that'll help you out if you've got a kid applying for college.

9. The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise and Jesse Wise Bauer. This book will educate you in the classical method of home education. Warning: it's not for the faint of heart. If you're just starting out homeschooling, I'd suggest waiting a year, or even two, before tackling this book and trying to put the methods into practice. It's an intense method, and a lot of work for the parents, but I've been using it this year and it's working well for us. The classical method is an ancient and well-proven way of teaching kids to think critically and express their ideas clearly. If you read this book and are overwhelmed and think you should just stop homeschooling right now because it's too hard -- remember, the authors beg you not to use every single thing they talk about in the book. Pick and choose. Don't go overboard. But anyway, these two ladies are fabulous writers, and the book is chock full of curriculum ideas and great books for kids to read.

10. Real Food, by Nina Planck. Wow, if you're concerned about what sort of food you're putting into your body, read this. Or maybe, don't read this. You'll never eat factory farmed meat again. But if you're willing to take that risk, this is a fascinating take on nutrition, particularly on the benefits of pasture raised meats and dairy, and, my favorite, butter. Yes, according to Nina Planck, butter is good for you. Eat more of it! But beware, her list of things you shouldn't eat is long!

My top 10 list is a good sampling of the book subjects I'm obsessed with right now: novels, memoirs, homeschooling, and food/cooking/nutrition. In my next post, I'll list all 76 books that I read this year.


Welcome to Marci's Book Blog! As an avid reader and lover of books, I can never get enough of talking about books and discussing books and thinking about books and reading books and ... well, you get the picture. So I'm joining my love for books with the Internet, in hopes that I'll get to talk even more about books and discuss books more and think about books more ... anyway. Please join me!

If you're a homeschooler, or you're interested in homeschooling, visit me on my other blog, Homeschooling, A Life.