Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Australia Day!

To all of my Australian blogging friends:


I hope the weather isn't too stifling.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday Fill-In - January 25, 2008

1. Reading a good book makes me happy.
2. I would like winter to go away, please.
3. Tea and pumpkin scones tastes SO good!
4. The day my husband has off work is my favorite day of the week because I don't get to see him nearly enough.
5. My eyes are my best feature.
6. We could learn so much from all the past mistakes that have been made in this world.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Shabbat dinner, tomorrow my plans include celebrating with my husband that his board exam is over and his two week vacation has begun and Sunday, I want to have a little time to myself to read while Daddy and Maya play together!

March - Geraldine Brooks

Title: March
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Country: USA
Year: 2005
Rating: 5 of 5
Pages: 280

First sentence: This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky.

I always hesitate to pick up books that are based on characters from classics, especially a classic as beloved as Lousia May Alcott's Little Women. March, by Geraldine Brooks, tells the previously untold story of the absent father. Fortunately for readers, it does not disappoint.

In this beautifully written novel, we get to experience life from Mr. March's perspective. Told largely through a series of flashbacks after he enlists as a Chaplain for the Union Army, we hear about March's childhood, his life as a young peddler in the pre-Civil War South, how he makes his fortune, and how he loses it. We learn about his dreams, hopes, failures, hopeless idealism, and indiscretions. The writing is exquisite, and sounds like an authentic voice from the past.

Brooks' detailed research of the Civil War era is evident, and I learned about aspects of the war that I had not previously known about, such as what happened to runaway slaves that crossed the federal lines during the war. Referred to as contraband, they worked on plantations taken over by Northerners for a small wage.

Like Alcott, Geraldine Brooks draws largely from Bronson Alcott's life for inspiration. Yet, this is a novel that easily stands on its own. Lovers of Little Women may not like the freedom that Brooks took with the characters, which were portrayed as an ideal family. Through this novel, they are a bit more realistic, and seen in a different light. It is a book about the harsh realities of life; she does not cast Mr. March in the role of a hero.
I promised her that I would write something every day, and I find myself turning to this obligation when my mind is most troubled. For it is as if she were here with me for a moment, her calming hand resting lightly upon my shoulder. Yet I am thankful she is not here, to see what I must see, to know what I am come to know. And with this thought I exculpate my censorship: I never promised I would write the truth. (p.4)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday - January 24

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

I have met a lot of people that have never heard of The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which is one of my all-time favorites. Winterdance, by Gary Paulsen, another favorite, is virtually unknown, even by book lovers. One of my new favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is still not very well known here in the U.S. Some other authors that come to mind are: Tim Winton, Luong Ung, Soseki Natsume, Nick Earls, and Barbara Pym.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I have a copy of the Pulitzer prize winning The Hours by Michael Cunningham to give away. I didn't receive it new, but it looks new. There are three ways you can enter to win:

1. You are automatically entered just by leaving a comment on this post.
2. If you subscribe to my feed, let me know, and you will get a second entry. If you aren't already subscribed, you can do so here, then you will receive a second entry as well.
3. If you post this give away on your blog, you get a second (or third) entry. Again, just let me know that you have done so.

Do you want to see what I thought of the book (for the most part, I liked it). You can check out my review here.

The giveaway will be open until 11.59pm EST on Wednesday, 30 January. Good Luck!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008



I like challenges that I complete before I even sign up, therefore NaJuReMeNoMo over at Foma is right up my alley. I'm already a winner, and you could be too! The challenge is to read one novel in January. Only one novel. You can count any that you have already read this month, as long as it was started in January. I'm currently on number 3.

Living A Jewish Life - Anita Diamant

Title: Living A Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today's Families (2nd ed.)
Author: Anita Diamant
Country: USA
Year: 2007 (1st ed. 1991)
Rating: 5 of 5
Pages: 308
Happy Tu B'Shvat!!!

Tu B'Shvat, a minor Jewish holiday, is the New Year for the Trees, and is commonly celebrated by planting trees and eating fruits and nuts. It is also known as Jewish Arbor Day. Which leads into the latest book that I finished, Living A Jewish Life by Anita Diamant.

Although a good book for anyone who is interested in learning more about liberal Judaism, this book is most beneficial to exactly what we are: a young Jewish family looking to incorporate more rituals and traditions into our home life. 

Living A Jewish Life provides thorough explanations to many things that remain somewhat elusive to me, a non-Jew raising a Jewish child: the essence of Shabbat and how to include it in your home life, the Jewish calendar and holidays, Jewish community organizations and education. and how to make (and stick) to Jewish choices when other aspects of life interfere (ie. soccer practice on Shabbat).  I especially appreciate the fact that Anita Diamant writes with an assumption that you do not know a lof of Hebrew, and provides a very useful glossary in the back and detailed explanations for the Hebrew she does use.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Series Challenge

So, I just realized I never did an "official" post for the Series Challenge, hosted by Kathrin at Crazy Cozy Murders. The challenge runs from December 1, 2007 - May 31, 2008.

Btw, it is freezing here. It's the coldest day of the winter so far, and our heater goes on the blitz. The landlord is really making me angry, as we have now been waiting 7 hours for maintenance to show up. Maya and I are bundled up together under a LOT of blankets at the moment.

Okay, now that I got that plan for this challenge is to catch up with Sue Grafton's Alphabet series. Going into 2008, I was up to to "J".
  • K is for Killer (finished 15 Jan 2008)
  • L is for Lawless
  • M is for Malice
  • N is for Noose
  • O is for Outlaw
  • P is for Peril
  • Q is for Quarry
  • R is for Richochet
  • S is for Silence
  • T is for Trespass

Sunday Salon - January 19

The Sunday
Currently Reading: Living A Jewish Life by Anita Diamant. 

Anita Diamant is slowly finding her way into my favorite author's list. She seems to be present at so many of the big days in my life. Her book The New Jewish Wedding was immensely helpful when we were planning our interfaith wedding; we found Maya's Hebrew Name in The New Jewish Baby Book. for her upcoming Brit Bat (naming ceremony). I am also a big fan of Anita Diamant's novel, The Red Tent, the first book of hers that I read.

Living A Jewish Life provides a practical, real-life guide to do exactly what it says - live a Jewish life. Before my hubby and I got married, we made the decision to raise our kids in Judaism, his faith. Although he calls himself more of a cultural Jew, we both agreed that we want to introduce some religious and cultural Jewish customs into our home. However, he has a very hard time explaining the rituals that were so much a part of his upbringing that it was second nature. Other customs, like Shabbat, his family never did, and he doesn't know very much about how to go about it. This book is turning out to be a great resource in helping us to create a Jewish home, and start some family traditions of our own. I'm hoping to finish the rest of the book by the end of the day.

Additions to my Bookshelves:
I have been eagerly looking forward to Daedalus' 2nd anniversary sale, which was yesterday. With the whole store 10% off, I could have easily gone overboard with impulse buys. However, I managed to restrain myself and only purchased the two books that I had planned on buying. This might be due to the fact that I also scored a pile of books off of Freecycle, but I like to think it was my own attempt at moderation.

Here are my acquistions, from both Freecycle and Daedalus:
  • Weslandia by Paul Fleischman (illustrated by Kevin Hawkes) This is one of the books from Daedalus. I first saw this mentioned at PlanetEsme, and thought about buying it for Maya when she was older. When I saw it at Daedalus, I couldn't resist. Wesley is no ordinary boy...he plans a self-sufficient civilization during his school vacation. This story about a young nonconformist is a delight, and I plan on using it in the future to teach Maya about civilizations and consumerism.
  • What is the What by Dave Eggers. The second of the two books I purchased at Daedalus, I have been meaning to read this book since it was first published in 2006. Technically a novel, the subject of the story is a real person. Valentino Achak Deng is a Sudanese refugee, and the novel is a fictional recreation of what he experienced.
My freecycle finds mainly consist of novels by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis: Freedom or Death, Report to Greco, The Odyssey: A Modern Novel, Saint Francis, and A Greek Passion. Also included is the award winning children's book Old Turtle, written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Cheng Khee-Chee, and a 1961 copy of the Garth translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Book Coveting around the blogisphere:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Meme

This meme floating around the web looks like fun. It's not really book related...oh well! First spotted at Musings of a Bookish Kitty.

What kind of soap is in your shower right now?
Method body wash and Aveeno. The Method soap came in a very modern, stylish, but impractical boxy container, so I won't be buying that one again because the soap doesn't want to come out. The Aveeno is a free sample (full-size, too!). Oh yeah, and my husband's Dial bar.

Do you have any watermelon in your refrigerator?
No. We only eat watermelon in the summer.

What would you change about your living room? 
Well, we are in a rental apartment, so it's pretty boring. For one, when we buy a house (hopefully this summer), I don't want a living/dining room combo. I am soo tired of that.

Are the dishes in your dishwasher clean or dirty?
Um, I'm not sure. Doing the dishes one of hubby's responsibilities.

What is in your fridge?
Leftovers of the Moroccan Dafina I made last night; milk from a local dairy farm; OJ; yogurt; eggs; broccolini; red cabbage; lettuce; spinach; red capsicum; apples; and lots of condiments.

White or wheat bread?
Neither. We don't eat a lot of bread, and when we do it is either ones with lots of grains, or baguettes when we are having soup.

What is on top of your refrigerator?
A crystal dish that hold our quarters for laundry, and I have no idea what else because I am short.

What color or design is on your shower curtain?

How many plants are in your home?
None. We used to have a jade plant, but last year it was still outside when the first frost arrived. Oops. We do have two lavender plants on our porch that have managed to stay alive for two years. I'm not known for my green thumb.

Is your bed made right now?
Ha! You're kidding, right?

Comet or Soft Scrub?
Neither. We use all-natural cleaners. Baking soda and vinegar are my best friend.

Is your closet organized?
I am somewhat obsessed with keeping our bathroom linen closet in perfect condition. During grad school I worked in the bed and bath department of David Jones department store in Australia, one thing I know how to do is fold sheets and towels. Our bedroom closets could be better, and the one in Maya's room is a certified disaster That's where all the gifts we don't really want have ended up, as well as the massive amount of clothes that are in bigger sizes and the clothes she has already outgrown, and the pre-pregnancy clothes that are still too small, and the maternity clothes that are now too big. Did I mention we are in a small apartment?

Can you describe your flashlight?
It's a mini-Maglite. Electric blue.

Do you drink out of glass or plastic most of the time at home?
I drink out of my funky Sigg bottle if it's water. Otherwise, I use glasses. We don't like plastic.

Do you have iced tea made in a pitcher right now?
I just finished the last of the green tea and ginseng iced tea that I made a few days ago.

If you have a garage, is it cluttered?
No garage. If we had one, I assure you it would be cluttered.

Curtains or blinds?
Both. Some Ikea wooden blinds with a think white curtain over top, and some windows just have curtains. One has an old pillowcase in use as a curtain. Classy.

How many pillows do you sleep with?

Do you sleep with any lights on at night?
We now use a nightlight, so I can see to feed Maya in the middle of the night.

How often do you vacuum?
Since we bought the Roomba last year, it is much more often. All I have to do is press a button. It's bliss.

Standard toothbrush or electric?

What color is your toothbrush?
I have no idea. And no, I'm not going to go look.

Do you have a welcome mat on your front porch?
We have a mat, but it doesn't say welcome. That is assumed.

What is in your oven right now?
The oven racks.

Is there anything under your bed?
Since most of the day I'm wearing Maya in a sling, I don't get down there to check too often. It could be anything.

Chore you hate doing the most?
Cleaning the bathroom. That's another one that is hubby's responsibility.

What retro items are in your home?
I guess I outgrew retro after college, we don't really have anymore retro stuff.

Do you have a separate room that you use as an office?
We used to. It's now Maya's room, which is really only used to change diapers and store clothes, since she sleeps with us.

How many mirrors are in your home?
Two. My grandmother's antique vanity in our bedroom, and the bathroom mirror. We had a full-length mirror which suffered a minor mishap with the Roomba a few months ago (okay, it's not perfect, but close enough!)

What color are your walls?
Off-white. I can't wait till we buy a house.

What does your home smell like right now?
Well, my immediate vicinity  smells like sour milk, buy Maya just spit up. 

Favorite candle scent?
No favorites, but I have a pumpkin pie one at the moment.

What kind of pickles (if any) are in your refrigerator right now?
We buy pickles, and then never finish the jar. I'm sure there is either a jar of bread and butter, or those small, crunchy ones in there somewhere.

What color is your favorite Bible?
I don't have a favorite Bible.

Ever been on your roof?

Do you own a stereo?
Yes, which is currently holding two CD's: Ella Fitzgerald and The Very Best of Edith Piaf (a French singer).

How many TVs do you have?
One. I don't think it has been turned on in more than 2 weeks.

How many house phones?
Two. Although, most of the time the one in our bedroom is unplugged.

Do you have a housekeeper?

What style do you decorate in?
We don't have one specific style. Maybe, worldly? Most of our wall decorations were picked up in various travels to other countries. Our furniture varies, depending on the room.

Do you like solid colors or prints in furniture?
Both, but right now all of our furniture is solid colors.

Is there a smoke detector in your home?

In case of fire, what are the items in your house which you’d grab if you only could make one quick trip? 
Our baby and the cat. If I had a fourth hand, I would also grab the computer back-up drive (which holds all of our photos), and our wedding album. But I don't actually know where that is at the moment...maybe I should go find it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Fill-In - January 18, 2008

1. The last compliment I got was from my husband; he said that I looked beautiful.
2. I'm reading Living a Jewish Life: Jewish traditions, customs, and values for today's families.
3. I woke up today and thought wow, I woke up before my daughter, who looks so peaceful right now.
4. Why does my cat want to claim all of Maya's stuff for herself? (the co-sleeper, crib, rocking chair, activity mat, my lap).
5. The last thing I ate was a tomato and basil bagel with cream cheese and lox.
6. January... the month when winter really comes here.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to eating the first Shabbat meal I have been able to make since Maya was born, tomorrow my plans include meeting up with a friend at Belvedere Square market, and checking out Daedalus Bookstore's 2nd anniversary sale and Sunday, I want to sit down with my husband and start to finalize our plans for Maya's Brit bat (naming ceremony)!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

K is for Killer - Sue Grafton

Title: K is for Killer
r: Sue Grafton

Country: USA
Year: 1995
Rating: 3 out of 5
Pages: 320

I typically don't review series books, but since this is part of two challenges, I thought I would mention it here. This one is not quite as good as most of the previous Kinsey Millhone books, especially the ending. The story line appears contrived, especially when compared o the other books in the series.

I aim to catch up with the series by the end of the year. I said the same thing last year, and obviously didn't get very far. I am reading lighter reads this year, so hopefully I will make it this time!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

2008 Sydney Taylor Book Awards

The 2008 Sydney Taylor book awards were announced earlier this month. This award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience.It looks like a great selection of books, and I will definitely be heading to the library to check some of these out!

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers:

The Bedtime Sh'ma: A Good Night Book by Sarah Gershman
with illustrations by Kristina Swarner
(EKS Publishing)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Older Readers:

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman
(HarperCollins Children’s Books)

The Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Teen Readers:

Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin
(Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)

Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winners for Younger Readers:
  • The Castle on Hester Street by Linda Heller with illustrations by Boris Kulikov (Simon & Schuster)
  • Letter on the Wind: A Chanukah Tale by Sarah Marwil Lamstein with illustrations by Neil Waldman (Boyds Mills Press)
  • Light by Jane Breskin Zalben (Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)

    Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winners for Older Readers:
  • The Secret of Priest’s Grotto: A Holocaust Survival Story by Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola (Kar-Ben)
  • Holocaust: The Events and Their Impact on Real People by Angela Gluck Wood
    with consulting by Dan Stone (DK Publishing in association with USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education)

    Sydney Taylor Honor Award Winner for Teen Readers:
    Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Mirjam Pressler, translated by Erik J. Macki (Front Street/ Boyds Mills Press)

    Notable Books for Younger Readers:
  • My Cousin Tamar Lives in Israel by Michelle Shapiro Abraham with illustrations by Ann Koffsky (URJ Press)
  • A Nickel, a Trolley, a Treasure House by Sharon Reiss Baker with illustrations by Beth Peck (Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Shuli and Me: From Slavery to Freedom by Joan Benjamin-Farren (Black Jasmine)
  • Papa Jethro by Deborah Bodin Cohen with illustrations by Jane Dippold (Kar-Ben)
  • Hanukkah Moon by Deborah da Costa with illustrations by Gosia Mosz (Kar-Ben)
  • Celebrate Passover with Matzah, Maror and Memories by Deborah Heiligman (National Geographic)
  • Celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with Honey, Prayers and the Shofar by Deborah Heiligman (National Geographic)
  • Five Little Gefiltes by Dave Horowitz (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Mendel’s Accordion by Heidi Smith Hyde with illustrations by Johanna Van Der Sterre (Kar-Ben)
  • Abraham’s Search for God by Jacqueline Jules with illustrations by Natascia Ugliano (Kar-Ben)
  • A Mezuzah on the Door by Amy Meltzer with illustrations by Janice Fried (Kar-Ben)
  • Ten Good Rules: A Counting Book by Susan Remick Topek with photographs by Tod Cohen (Kar-Ben)

    Notable Books for Older Readers:
  • Out of Line: Growing Up Soviet by Tina Grimberg (Tundra)
  • A Picture for Marc by Eric Kimmel with illustrations by Matthew Trueman (Random House Children’s Books)
  • Anne Frank: The Young Writer Who Told the World Her Story by Ann Kramer (National Geographic)
  • The Silver Cup by Constance Leeds (Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)
  • Passover Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig with illustrations by Elizabeth Wolf (Kar-Ben)
  • The Whirlwind by Carol Matas (Orca)
  • Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg by Rebecca O'Connell with illustrations by Majella Lue Sue (Roaring Brook Press)
  • All Star Season by Tovah Yavin (Kar-Ben)

    Notable Books for Teens:
  • How to Ruin My Teenage Life by Simone Elkeles (Flux)
  • Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
  • Hidden on the Mountain: Stories of Children Sheltered from the Nazis in Le Chambon by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland Desaix (Holiday House)
  • Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel by Marv Wolfman, Mario Ruiz and William J. Rubin (Nachshon Press)
  • Monday, January 14, 2008

    Reading Across Borders - North America

    (The U.S. is not included, since this isn't across a country border!)

    Countries Completed are highlighted in purple.
    Books read are highlighted in red.
    Reviewed books are followed by link to the review.

    1. Antigua and Barbuda

    2. Bahamas

    3. Barbados
    4. Belize

    Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald (finished 5 May, 2007)
    Cat's Eye, Handmaid's Tale, Robber Bride, Blind Assassin, and Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (Cat's Eye finished 31 July 2007)
    Random Passage by Bernice Morgan
    6. Costa Rica
    7. Cuba
    Dreaming in Cuban, by Christina Garcia
    8. Dominica
    9. Dominican Republic

    How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
    10. El Salvador
    11. Grenada

    12. Guatemala
    I, Rigoberta Menchu, as told to Elizabeth Burgos-Debray (finished 18 April, 2007)
    13. Haiti

    14. Honduras

    15. Jamaica
    16. Mexico
    Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquival (finished 9 May, 2007)
    17. Nicaragua
    18. Panama
    19. Saint Kitts and Nevis
    20. Saint Lucia
    21. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
    22. Trinidad and Tobago

    Reading Across Borders Challenge

    You'll probably see a lot of posts in the next week or two as I try to transfer my Reading Across Borders list and stats to my blog. I will be using this post as the main reference point, with a link on my sidebar.

    Reading Across Borders Challenge Progress

    North America - 5/23 countries read
    South America
    Asia - 7/46 completed
    Africa - 5/52 countries read

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Sunday Salon - January 13

    The Sunday
    This is a very mini post this week, as things are busy here, and I am functioning on very little sleep. Maya slept wonderfully last night, however I had insomnia and couldn't go back to sleep after her 2am feeding.

    I am almost finished reading K is for Killer from Sue Grafton's Alphabet Series. I always like to escape with Kinsey Millhone and these fun, light books, but this one isn't holding my attention as well as the others. I hopefully will finish it tonight after Maya goes to sleep, as I only have 30 pages left. Next up I plan on reading Living A Jewish Life by Anita Diamant.

    Of course, I have added to my TBR pile this week after reading some reviews by other bloggers. Here is what caught my eye:

    Friday, January 11, 2008

    Friday Fill-In, January 11


    Yay, I have time to do a Friday Fill-In this week!

    1. My favorite day of 2007 was November 26, the day my daughter was born.
    2. I'm most tempted by Paperback Swap and
    3. Today I want to sleep for 8 uninterrupted hours when I go to bed, which I know will not happen. 
    4. The last thing I took a picture of was actually not my daughter, but something that I was giving away on Freecycle. 
    5. You and I have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead. (can you figure out where I got this from?)
    6. The most recent movie I’ve seen that I really enjoyed was Transformers.
    7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to going to Daedalus bookstore, tomorrow my plans include going on a walk, weather permitting and Sunday, I want to spend time with my husband and daughter!

    Possum Magic - Mem Fox

    Title: Possum Magic
    Author: Mem Fox

    Illustrator: Julie Vivas
    Country: Australia
    Year: 1983
    Rating: 5 out of 5

    First sentence: Once upon a time, but not very long ago, deep in the Australian bush lived two possums.

    Possum Magic is a delightful tale of two possums, Hush and Grandma Poss. Grandma Poss practices bush magic, and one day makes Hush invisible. When Hush decides that he no longer wants to be invisible, Grandma Poss can not reverse the magic! We follow the two as they set off on a trip around Australia, sampling tucker in different cities in an attempt to make Hush visible again.

    We received this book from a good Australian friend of ours, after Maya was born. This was one of her favorite books as a child, and I can see why. We lived in Brisbane, Australia for four years, and plan on taking Maya back on vacations; this book will be a great introduction to Australian wildlife and culture. The illustrations are beautiful, and were able to capture a six week old's attention for an extended period of time! I look forward to someday reading Koala Lou by Mem Fox as well.

    Grandma Poss hugged Hush, and they both danced "Here We Go Round the Lamington Plate" till early in the morning.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    BTT - January 10

    How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
    Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?

    The first author that comes to mind when I think of my favorites is Margaret Atwood. I first discovered her work when I took a Women's Lit class my sophomore year in college. We read The Handmaid's Tale, and I absolutely loved it. (It is still my favorite of all of her books that I have read). After I graduated, I started reading more of her books, and have loved pretty much everything she has written.

    Two other favorites are Isabel Allende and John Steinbeck. In my 10th grade English class, we had to chose an author, and read one of their books each quarter. I picked Steinbeck, mainly because my father had many of his books on our bookshelves. I had read The Pearl in junior high, and did not particurly enjoy it, but I have been captivated by all of his other stories.

    I came across Isabel Allende one day at the library about five years ago. Her novel, Paula, caught my eye, as that is my mother's first name. I picked it up, knowing absolutely nothing about the author, and have since gone on to read many more of her books.

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    Help make my blog beautiful!

    There are some beautiful blogs out there. Some have elegant but simple headers, like Book-a-rama. Others really exude their owner's personality, such as Lotus Reads and Bookgirl's Nightstand.

    I would love to add some images in my header and make a nice, pretty background, but I don't know how.

    Anyone willing to volunteer to teach me?

    Links - Nuruddin Farah

    Title: Links
    Author: Nuruddin Farah
    Country: Somalia
    Year: 2004
    Rating: 4 out of 5
    Pages: 336

    First sentence: "Guns lack the body of human truths!"

    It has been 15 years since the Somali state collapsed, when the dictator Said Barre fled Mogadishu in 1991, and Somalia continues to remain a failed state, with no effective government. Continuing to be neglected or ignored by the international community, Somalia has no rule of law or justice system, and very little of its infrastructure remains functioning or intact. As recently as 2006, active warfare broke out between the warlords and militia, with the backing of Ethiopia. This is the setting in which Links takes place, Mogadishu of the mid-1990's. Unfortunately not very different from the Mogadishu of today.

    Jeebleh arrives in a Mogadishu vastly different from the one he left twenty years ago. On landing at an airport now under the control of a warlord, Af-Laawe, a man unknown to him that was sent by someone unknown to pick him up, greets Jeebleh with 'Guns lack the body of human truths!' At his hotel, when asking to make an international phone call, he is visited by a one-man phone operator that carries a satellite phone in his bag. Jeebleh does not know what to make of his devastated city, nor how to understand those who live in it. He arrives in Mogadishu with the goal of finding his mother's grave, and finding his friend Bile's niece, who has been abducted. Through Jeebleh's self-righteousness, parallel to the American military intervention, Farah asks the question of how does a person be good and just in a city that is a murderous vacuum.

    Links is a psychological quagmire, a reflection of Mogadishu itself. Through Jeebleh's perspective, an exiled Somali now considered an outsider by many of his fellow Somalis that never left the country, we witness the ambiguities of clan violence, hazy alliances, and conflicted values that characterizes the Somali civil war. Through the story of Jeebleh's close friends and acquaintances Farah demonstrates the violence in Mogadishu as a reflection of the disorder in the home, and the impossibility of separating the political from the personal.

    This portrayal of tangled clan loyalties and its effect on society is one of the greatest strengths of the novel. His description of war-torn Mogadishu and the personal stories of those whose daily lives are surrounded by such extreme violence, is harrowing and poignant. I was particularly affected by a passage about a mother who describes the day her daughter was permanently injured by an American helicopter:

    "I became hysterical," she continued, "and tore at my bare breast, where my daughter had been nursing. I wailed, I wept, I cursed, I prayed, but to no avail. I tore at my clothes, until I disrobed, convinced that my child had been swallowed up in the sand raised by the helicopter's sudden arrival. Then I saw the shape of evil. Rangers pointing at my nakedness and laughing. I stopped wailing, and covered my indecency, and then cursed the mothers who bore these Rangers. I've never glimpsed worse evil than those men cupping their hands at me, their tongues out, pointing at my nakedness." (p.276)
    I do wonder why Farah chose English, his 4th language, as the medium to write. At times, the conversations and plot seems awkward, and I leave the novel failing to understand any of the major characters. Despite this weakness, Links remains a telling story of those who have become collateral damage in a cycle of violence.
    "A cynic I know says that thanks to the vultures, the marabous, and the hawks, we have no fear of diseases spreading," one of Jeebleh's contacts says. "My cynical friend suggests that when the country is reconstituted as a functioning state, we should have a vulture as our national symbol."

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Sunday Salon - January 6

    The Sunday
    This is my very first post for the Sunday Salon, but I hope it won't be my last. :) I can't guarantee that I will be able to participate every week, but I will definitely do my best!

    Maya and I ventured out to the local library this week to return some books. Before she was born, I went to the library every week, sometimes more than once. This, however, was my first trip there since she was born. And, what is even more exciting, it was just the two of us for the first time! No hubby, mother, or mother-in-law, just me and my baby!

    Maya loves books. (Thank god!) Our bookshelves at home were one of the first things that caught her eye when she became interested in the world around her. They often calm her down, and I can just imagine all the new colors she is discovering by looking at them. So, on her first trip to the library, I was thrilled to watch her captivation with all of the bookshelves. She was perfectly content, which is somewhat rare on outings. A girl after my own heart!

    On this trip we only came away with books for mommy. I picked up The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, for the My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge. I haven't read a Toni Morrison book since high school, so I'm really looking forward to reading this book. I also grabbed Living A Jewish Life by Anita Diamant, as we are reading selections from this book at the Mother's Circle that I belong to. Two books is a bit shabby, but at least I am finding time to read!

    Although my reading time has been somewhat limited today, I was able to read a huge chunk of my latest book yesterday. Links, by Nuruddin Farah takes place in Mogadiscio (Mogadishu) a few years after the failed American/UN intervention . It is an engrossing, but sometimes unenjoyable read. Violence has plagued Somalia, and particularly in war-lord controlled Mogadiscio, since the fall of the Dictator Barre in 1991. Somalia has been in a condition of a failed state ever since. Reading a novel by a Somali author set in modern day Mogadiscio is interesting, although I can assume there is not going to be a happy ending to this book.

    Saturday, January 5, 2008


    Okay, I'm very late this week, but I wanted to answer this one!

    Last week we talked about the books you liked best from 2007. So this week, what with it being a new year, and all, we’re looking forward….

    What new books are you looking forward to most in 2008? Something new being published this year? Something you got as a gift for the holidays? Anything in particular that you’re planning to read in 2008 that you’re looking forward to? A classic, or maybe a best-seller from 2007 that you’re waiting to appear in paperback?

    There are quite a few books I am looking forward to this year. In fact, I am looking forward to all of the ones on my challenge lists, but here are a few highlights:

    • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Jewish Lit Challenge).
    • Red Poppies by Alai (What's in A Name Challenge, Reading Across Borders and Expanding Horizons Challenge)
    • The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevera (Expanding Horizons Challenge)
    • Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser (TBR and Chunkster Challenge)
    • The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Chunkster and TBR)
    • First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (Themed Reading Challenge)
    And, not on any challenge list, I really hope I get a chance to read The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari, to be published in March 2008.

    Thursday, January 3, 2008

    Chunkster Challenge is back!

    Woohoo! It's back! Hosted by a different person, but the same fun challenge I enjoyed last year. I'm grateful that this is a full year challenge, I don't know if I would be able to finish it in a shorter time frame. I am only choosing books that are already on a challenge list, so here are my preliminary selections. I would love to count Great Expectations, which is 484 pages, but I started it before January first, so I won't. :)

    Each book I finish over 450 pages, I will post a link to my review here.

    Preliminary Chunksters:

    Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

    Title: Great Expectations
    Author: Charles Dickens
    Country: Britain
    Year: 1861
    Rating: 5 out of 5
    Pages: 484

    First Sentence: My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.

    I have only read Dickens once before, an that was not of my own volition. I read A Tale of Two Cities in 10th grade, and really loved it. For some reason, I never went back. I always meant to, and when My Year of Reading Dangerously came about at Estella's Revenge, and Great Expectations was January's book, I figured I couldn't put it off any longer.

    I will admit, it was a slow start. For the first 50 pages or so, I wasn't entirely captivated. Then I really became interested and engaged with the characters, particularly Miss Havisham, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the novel.

    As many of you probably know, since Great Expectations started out as a weekly serial, there is never a lack of suspense. Dickens' writing is intricate and detailed, and there are more twists and turns than many of the other books I have read from his time period. His ability to hone in on the nuances of human behaviour, particularly through Pip's fallibility, is a highlight in what I consider to be a true masterpiece. Great Expectations covers virtually every aspect of the human condition, and causes the reader to consider their own human nature and "great expectations". Highly Recommended.

    So throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise. (p.218)

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    TBR Challenge Wrap-Up

    When I first joined the TBR Challenge yahoo group last year, I thought I would be finished this challenge in six months. Turns out, it is the only one that I did not finish. Around September, I lost interest in the books that were left on my list. I would still like to read them. Just not right now. But, I did come close, completing 10 out of my 12 books (2 were alternate selections).

    I joined again for 2008, and gave myself more alternate choices, so we will see what happens this year! (Sorry for the lack of links, I am having some difficulties linking things this morning)

    Books finished:
    Things fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
    Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
    Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehrenreich
    I, Rigoberta Menchu
    Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer
    Hilda and Pearl - Alice Mattison
    Survival in Auschwitz - Primo Levi
    To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolfe
    Bee Season - Myla Goldberg
    Fall On Your Knees - Ann-Marie MacDonald

    The best book: Things Fall Apart.
    What book could I have done without: I originally had The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand on this list, and it was the only book in 2007 I did not finish. I also did not like Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.
    What did you learn -- about anything -- through this challenge? I might not be the best at completing year-long challenges!

    Tuesday, January 1, 2008

    A few "ideas" for 2008

    I'm making a promise to myself this year, which may be a resolution in itself, not to make any specific resolutions or goals for 2008. With the exception for challenges, of course. However, I do have some "ideas" of the direction I would like my reading to go in this year. Here they are, in no particular order:

    • Once again, to continue to read more non-fiction
    • To read more books by lesser known authors
    • To get through a few series I have had on my TBR list for a very long time
    • To read even more books in translation
    • To read more spontaneously
    Notice, I am not being very specific. Oh, the temptation is there, but I resist.

    Happy New Year, it's my Blogiversary!

    Today is also my blogiversary!!

    One year.

    168 posts.

    9 challenges completed.

    8,500 visitors since I started counting, on August 29.

    An entire world of new friends.

    And one new baby. :)

    Thank you to everyone for visiting, and I look forward to many more adventures and conversations in the new year! And a big Woohoo for Wendy at caribousmom for being the very first person to ever comment on my blog!