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2018 Book Review

9 Jan

It was my goal to read 60 books for 2018, and I only managed to finish 53. It was also my goal to only read books I enjoyed, and I dropped several without finishing, including Farewell to Arms by Earnest Hemingway and Origin by Dan Brown.

My favorite fun reads: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand (Thanks Katie)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, narrated by Jim Dale (this one is the first book I’ve listened to that I believe is a better experience listening than it would have been to just read myself)

Classic that I hadn’t read before that I still can’t talk about:

Random Harvest by James Hilton

All I can say for now is that it is what Brideshead Revisited could have been if Evelyn Waugh had written characters worth reading about.

The one book I read that I didn’t enjoy, but I finished because it was good for me:

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Books that I couldn’t stop talking about:

At Home by Bill Bryson (thanks, Ruth)

The War to End All Wars by Russell Freedman

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Best Family Read-alouds:

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Little Britches by Ralph Moody

Top 3:

No Greater Love by Mother Teresa

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E Frankl

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

Multiple Book Series are the Worst

20 Apr

Things I dislike about Multiple book series:

Not all stories are well written enough to deserve 3 (or more) volumes. I resent having to read 5 books to get to the end of the poor written story.

 If the volumes can’t stand alone, thats even worse. 

The obligatory recap chapter at the beginning of every book after the first. UGH! And also, the little reminders about what happened in the last books, apparently these are supposed to help anyone who didn’t read book 1 or had to wait a year for book 2 (3-4-5). 

 But what they actually do is bore me and make me feel like the author thinks I’m too dumb to remember basic plot events.

There are never reminders about the really important tiny details (that I sometimes do forget ) that turn out to be the clue to everything. (Like remember her scarf had tassels? That’s going to be important later.)

Things that reconcile me to the multiple volume novels:

 Harry Potter



Oh and 

The Lord of the Rings

Little House on the Prairie 

Ramona the Pest

I would like to point out that 3 of the 4 series on my list did not employ the recap chapter. Because it is lame.

The end

(Sike! To be continued multiple times)

2 Months Old

15 Feb

Baby Dumpling is 2 months old! Now she

Smiles on purpose

Makes cooing noises when happy

Is distracted by dark objects and movement

Sleeps 6 or 7 hours a night (can I just say “WOW!”-none of the other baby pies did that)

Eats hungrily all the time so I get to feed her and read, read, read. I love it!

In the last month I’ve read:

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Austenland by Shannon Hale
The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller (condensed)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scarlet Sails by Alexander Green (translated from Russian by Thomas P Whitney)
Heaven is for Real by…Todd Burpo
My Sergei: A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva
and half of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

There are perks to being the Stay-Home Mom, and nursing a new baby is one of them.

For those of you who are interested in my opinion of what I read, (because I’m witty and brilliant and you wish you were in my book club)

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy–This is at least the 2nd time I’ve read it. It is not my favorite by Hardy, but still good. I read it first when I was 13 or 14. I was in love with Diggory Venn and couldn’t believe that Hardy had originally not allowed Thomasin to marry him in the end. However, reading this book profoundly influenced my teenage years.
#1 I learned to braid my hair in 4 strands–Thomasin braids her hair by the calendar. 3 strands for regular days, 4 strands for Sunday, and 7 strands for her wedding day.
#2 I promised myself I would never be so prideful as to refuse to explain my innocence to the man I love–none of this “If you loved me, you would never suspect me; I refuse to answer your accusations” silliness.
#3 I was completely enthralled by the beauty of Eustacia Vye and her power over men. I wanted to be so beautiful that a boy would think holding my hand to be the supreme experience of his life. When I read Return of the Native this time, I remembered my wish and I remembered a time in high school when it was fulfilled–but at the time, I had forgotten my wish and despised the boy as much as Eustacia despised hers–so I got no satisfaction at all from the experience.

Into the Wild
by Jon Krakauer–very interesting, thought provoking, and fun to discuss with the Man of the House. (I never would have read it, if he hadn’t been) Jon Krakauer is arrogant and judgemental and skews his writing so you’ll agree with him, but he is a good writer and a persuasive one. I’ve also read Into Thin Air– his book about the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest. I read 3 books by others who were also there. Krakauer is so smooth and persuasive and so good at quietly turning good people into villains. Lucky for Chris McCandless (the boy whom Into the Wild is about) Krakauer likes him. Greg Morgenstern was not so lucky.

The Story of My Life
by Hellen Keller (reader’s digest condensed)–This is one of those books I’ve always felt that I SHOULD read and just never got around to reading. I felt uplifted and inspired to be better after reading it.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo
–a true story about a little boy’s near death experience. Interesting perspective.

by Shannon Hale–I’ve absolutely adored all of Hale’s young adult fiction. This is her first novel for adult women. It was okay. I was in the mood for love and this book satisfied that wish better than some of the others I read in the last 2 weeks. A single 30-something obsessed with Mr Darcy is bequeathed a 3 week vacation to Pembrook Park, a.k.a. Austenland, to dress and live like Jane Austen’s characters. The part I liked least about the book was that the heroine didn’t immerse herself immediately in the experience (as I would have done).

Just like in Eclipse, where Bella totally ruins the scene where Edward proposes to her by being all freaked out and not wanting to get married. How am I supposed to really enjoy that delicious marshmallow fluffy romantic proposal with Bella freaking out and saying no all through it?

But I loved the middle and the end of Austenland and forgave Jayne for being such a worry wart by the time I’d met those last few boyfriends of hers. I’m pretty sure I would have been incessently insecently worried all the time, too.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- a page turner for sure, but I was disappointed in the end. I read a great deal of young adult fiction because it isn’t raunchy like much of “adult” fiction. However, I’ve become tired of the love triangle plots that include 2 amazing boys and a girl who can’t figure out which one she loves. If Kat is going to break Peeta’s heart in book 2 or 3, I wish he would have died in the games instead. (I haven’t read them yet.) The plot reminded me a lot of Uglies and Pretties and Specials by Scott Westerfield, so that was disappointing too. I really dislike girl characters who have feelings but never stop to figure out how they feel. All that time Kat spends hunting food and she doesn’t have time to think about how she feels? I don’t buy it. I dislike that I am more interested in finding out who Kat loves than she, herself, seems to be.

This is the way modern young adult novels get rid of feelings–the characters just refuse to think about them. It is only slightly better than adult fiction, where feelings are completely eliminated. **warning, rant ahead.

My biggest pet peeve about “adult” books is that so often the characters don’t seem to care about themselves. They act, they don’t feel. At least they don’t think about how they feel or act in a way that I can understand how they feel, even when the book is written in first person narrative. Examples: The Stranger by Camus, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by …a writer I don’t Maguire, The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. hm, funny how those last two are both about painters.

How am I supposed to care about the characters if they don’t care about themselves?
How am I supposed to understand them if they don’t understand themselves?
How can life (or a book) be beautiful if no one in it notices the beauty?

When you take all the feeling out of a story, it seems coarse, raw, and dirty. It’s the modern style, I guess, but I don’t like it.

Scarlet Sails by Alexander Green (translated from Russian by Thomas P Whitney)
Ah, a fairy tale of a novel full of beautiful things and the appreciation of them. The idea that mysterious beauty is attainable and that we can make our own fairy tales come true. I picked this book up in a library book sale years ago and have loved it ever since. And here is the thing. I think Gregory Maguire and Tracy Chevalier would have you believe there is no beauty in the world, only selfishness and lust and regret. Art is the only beauty and real life is a dissappointment. I, on the other hand, along with Alexander Green, believe in beauty seen and unseen.
I’ve wandered through the forest imagining magical things. I’ve walked round a fat cedar tree completely sure that in just a moment I would find the doorway to Narnia. And not finding it didn’t discourage me or diminish my belief at all.

My Sergei: A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva
–Anyone who grew up watching Gordeeva and Grinkov skate will love the story, as I did. One thing I found especially interesting was Ekaterina Gordeeva’s perspective of her life. She says she had an idyllic childhood with no hardship or sadness. Then she describes her father–a dancer with exacting perfectionism, which perfectionism he required of his daughter. She was so afraid of displeasing him and felt that even her Olympic gold was barely satisfying to him–yet she is genuine in saying her childhood was idyllic. You can feel it. Jon Krakauer would have hated this father (in fact he did hate his own father for a long time.) I think most people would have found much to complain about. But Ekaterina knew her father loved her and that was enough. She did not think his requiring her to work hard was abuse, the way many people would. It was interesting to read about the life of someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain–interesting to read it from someone who was not writing for political reasons. I loved her writing voice. It reminded me of my Grandma Hansen’s personal history–her voice is similar.

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler: THE MOVIE WAS BETTER

Free Book

22 Nov

If you are suffering from insomnia like I am, you may be quite happy to enjoy a free book of what seems to be exceptionally good quality.

Edmund the Persuader

Today I am thankful for libraries, friends, and websites that share lovely books for free.


24 Oct

I read Classy: Exceptional Advice for the Extremely Modern Lady earlier this year (sometimes my library does have good stuff–if you can get past the vampire heavy teen section. sheesh! enough vampires already! Just because Stephanie Meyer hit the jackpot, must every publisher bring out a vampire trilogy or two?)

Back to my sweetie pie, Derek Blasberg. He is a genius. Plus he grew up in my home state! Good things can come from Missouri! This book was hilarious and I learned some super useful things too, like:

What do you take as a gift for the hostess of a dinner party when you and your friends don’t drink wine?

Answer: flowers! (perfect! I always wanted to be one of those classy people who brought a gift to their hostess, I just could never figure out what to bring. In movies it is always wine.)

How should you dress when flying?

Answer: classy and good-looking! The airport is one of the few places left where you can find a single man, and at least you know that his family can afford a plane ticket! (sheer genius. Heaven forbid I am ever single again, but if that day comes, I’m totally going to hang out in airports to meet guys.)

This book got a few too many negative reviews on Amazon (as in: any negative review was 1 too many.) They were either from people who had no sense of humor or people who write reviews for their own self-aggrandizement.

Mrs. “Everything in the book is quite predictable and even pedestrian,” Have you no sense of humor?

Miss “I hardly learned anything,” are you trying to impress us with your knowledge– because I’m very (un)impressed by your inability to learn anything!

Anyway, it was a great read and very fun. It made me want to hostess a dinner party and go buy a cashmere sweater. One more nice thing. Derek recommended some great wardrobe pieces that are worth investing in, but he has a sense of proportion as well. I read and enjoyed Nina Garcia’s The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own but my needs won’t justify the 5 or 10 cashmere sweaters in all colors like she recommends. Derek’s recommendations geared more for starving college student budgets are much more fit to my budget and my lifestyle. Let’s face it, I don’t get invited to 10 dinner parties a year, so 1 little black dress is really all I could ever use.

Book Review

29 Aug

I just finished reading The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker

“Why would you read that book, you’re not fat?” DH asked.

Wasn’t that sweet of him? The answer is, I read it because, while I may not be fat fat, I feel like I have no control over my size–which I’d like to be a bit smaller but I am waiting until after I am not pregnant to do something, obviously.

It’s just that for the last 11 years I have been the amazing accordion woman, shrinking up and down in size to accommodate 6 babies. La Leche League will tell you that you loose weight breastfeeding and I have seen it to be true for some women. For me, my body hangs on to at least 10 or 20 reserve pounds until I stop nursing to make sure that baby has food.

It’s not so much that I want to be skinny. I’d just like to be the same size for maybe a whole year or two. I feel a little delirious dreaming about being the same size for 5 years in a row. About 2 years ago, I gave up on the fantasy that I would someday be as skinny as I was in high school and right before I got married. The truth is, that wasn’t a healthy weight for me and I had achieved it by not eating. So I just want to be a size and stick with it long enough to actually build one of those workable wardrobes that you read about that has a sensible amount of clothing that I can mix and match. Not a closet that has to have normal clothes, bigger size clothes, maternity clothes, post baby size clothes that I can still nurse in, etc.

But I’ve gotten off track.

The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life blows some serious holes in the whole “you have to have a certain BMI (Body Mass Index) to be healthy” rule. I love it. It confirmed some things that I have often thought from my own attempts to lose weight and watching people I love try to lose weight.

I know lots of girls who carefully watch what they eat and exercise at least 3 times a week and yet do not lose weight. At best, they lose and regain the same 10 pounds over and over.

I know lots of skinny people who say that losing weight is a simple matter of caloric deficit and getting of your fat butt to exercise. If a “fat” person insists that they do exercise, the skinny person will insist that it must be the wrong kind/not enough exercise. Yet these skinny people will eat large servings of ice cream twice a day and rarely exercise more than once a week but will stay complacent in their assumptions that anyone who wants to be skinny can be skinny if they just do the work.

Did you know:
*A moderately active fat person is likely to be far healthier than someone who is svelte but sedentary. What’s worse, American’s (largely unsuccessful) efforts to make themselves thin through dieting and supplements are themselves a major cause of the ill health associated with being overweight.

NEWS FLASH! Dieting and Diet pills are BAD FOR YOU

* There is in fact no medical basis for the government’s BMI recommendations or the public health policies based on them. The BMI range correlating with the lowest mortality rate is extremely broad, from about 18-32 BMI, meaning that women of average height can weigh anywhere within an 80 pound range without seeing any statistically meaningful change in her risk of premature death.

*In a decided majority of studies, groups of people labeled overweight by current standards are found to have equal or lower mortality rates than groups of supposedly ideal weight individuals.

*Large scale mortality studies indicate that women who are 50 or even 75 pounds “overweight” will on average still have longer life expectancies than those who are 10 to 15 pounds “underweight” aka fashionably thin.

*Numerous studies have shown that weight loss of 20-30 pounds leads to an increased risk of premature death, sometimes by an order of 700%

If you would like to hear some common sense and stop blaming yourself for all those failed diets, then this is the book to read. If you would like to stop feeling like the reason you are fat is because you are lazy, dumb, low on will power, and unable to delay instant gratification, then THIS IS THE BOOK TO READ.

Here is my favorite favorite quote from Wendy (who is 5’7″ and weighs around 220 lbs. despite the fact that she spends an hour on a treadmill 3-4 times a week and lifts weights as well and sticks to a healthy, reasonable diet.)
“Think about how much time you’ve spent thinking about that poundage, and the time you’ve spent punishing yourself about that poundage. Then I’d like you to imagine NOT doing that. Instead, imagine the relief you’d feel if you could walk past a plate-glass window without cursing your reflection. ….
Now imagine if we all did it. The Fat Girls, the Skinny Girls…..all that free time on our minds that we aren’t using to rip ourselves to shreds. All that money in our wallets that we’re not going to spend on fat-free, sugar-free, taste-free sorbet. That’s a lot of minutes and a lot of money from a lot of women who have a lot of brain power.”

As I read this, I couldn’t help thinking, we are doing exactly what Satan wants us to do. We are obsessing about something that isn’t important. All of us intelligent, powerful women are using up our time stressing and worrying about whether we are fat and beating ourselves up about it. Think of all the good we could do if we quit worrying about fat.

So I have a new determination to not worry about what I weigh. I am determined to exercise moderately so that I can be healthy. I am determined to eat lots of vegetables so I can be healthy. But I am not going to worry about what weight comes along for the ride. I hope you’ll join me. 🙂

Hugs and Snoodles

12 Dec

**Warning: sappy post**

It was all started by a book, as many good things in my life are.

I have never been a “Huggy” person or a “touchy-feely” person. I like my personal space to stay personal. Not that I didn’t love my children, but somewhere around their second birthday, I just didn’t actively think about hugging and snuggling them any more.

That all changed the summer I read “Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant. It is about an orphan girl who has been passed from relative to relative until she is taken in by a couple named May and Ob.

“…the first time I saw Ob help May braid her long yellow hair, sitting in the kitchen one night, it was all I could do not to go to the woods and cry forever from happiness. I know I must have been loved like that, I must have; otherwise, how could I even recognize love when I saw it that night between Ob and May? ….[My Mother] must have known she wasn’t going to live and she must have held me longer than any other mother might, so I’d have enough love in me to know what love was when I felt it again.”

I spent several hours after reading that imagining how if I took in an orphan how I would hold her and sing to her every night and tell her how much her mother had loved her. Suddenly I thought, “I don’t even do that for my own children.” Yikes! So after that, I started remebering to hug my kids when they got home from school. And instead of saying, “Last one in bed gets a spanking,” I said, “First one in bed gets a snoodle.” Actually, everyone gets a snoodle, but it still works every time. They all go running and laughing to bed for the honor of the FIRST snoodle.

What, you may ask, is a snoodle? Well is is a cross between a kiss and a raspberry. You start about 2 feet away from your child and make those kissy smoochy noises as you get closer and closer and suddenly plant a whole bunch of little kisses on that tickly part of their neck. Admittedly, I have had my face smashed a couple of times by a wriggling giggling child, but it is worth it.

Here’s what I found: our family is happier. Hugs make the hard parts of the day work better, like in the morning getting ready for school, at bedtime, any other stressful time. When I say “no,” to my 4 -year old and she starts wailing, instead of saying something like, “stop that awful noise,” or the old “Stop crying or I’ll give you something real to cry about,” I just hug her. I don’t give in and give her what she wants, but I do hug her. I let her know that I understand it’s tough when we don’t get our way. After all, I have seen many an adult (including myself) throw a tantrum because they can’t have what they want. Working from a viewpoint of empathy is so much more effective than working from the angle of force and control.