31 January 2010

Left to Tell

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
I read this one earlier this week, while we were moving.  So I read it in bits and pieces through a couple of days even though it's a fairly short book.  I thought it was a good book.  Of course, any book about a genocide is going to be violent and disturbing, but this book handles those scenes well.  It's also a very religious book, but not in an in-your-face sort of way.  The author is simply a very religious woman who relies on her faith in God to help her, but she doesn't seem to be trying to convince the reader to believe what she does.  It reminded me a bit of The Hiding Place with its emphasis on forgiveness.  Recommended. And no, I haven't read anything else about the genocide in Rwanda, except for news reports shortly afterwards (in fact, the only novel I've read about Rwanda is Baking Cakes in Kigali, which hardly counts).

25 January 2010

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the PresentI loved this book.  Julie recommended it several months ago and it finally came in at the library.  And it should be a popular book, because it really is that good.  It pulled together so many pieces of women's history over the last 50 years and put them into a readable and interesting story.  There were several women whose anecdotes and stories were quoted often throughout the book, and I didn't really like keeping track of whether I should remember someone or not, but aside from that small complaint, I very much enjoyed this book.

There were a lot of great quotes in this book, but one that will stick with me is that women my age can't even comprehend that things used to be so different for women.  I really can't. 

21 January 2010

This Is Why I Decided I Like Living in a City

This morning I went to the library, the produce market, and a Pakistani store for spices.  When the 2-year-old wakes up, we're going to a nature preserve for science.  Another day I stopped at three different grocery stores to buy what was on sale, so the fresh cod, the satsuma mandarins, the toilet paper, and the milk all fit into the budget.  And I got to do it all without the stupid car.

There are a few things I need to drive to (the super-cheap grocery store (but I wouldn't want to haul home everything I get there without a car) and a few other ethnic stores (I'd love to have a Korean market, a SE Asian market, and a Middle Eastern market nearby)), but I love that hardly ever have to drive anymore. 

I don't love everything about cities, but the thing I hate the most and with a passion is the traffic.  I'm glad I figured out that I don't have to deal with it.

19 January 2010

Mama's Bank Account

Mama's Bank Account (Harvest/HBJ Book)This was a very short and delightful little book about a Norwegian-American woman and her family.  Did I mention it was short? It hardly felt like I'd gotten into it and it was over, and I wanted more.  Still, it's certainly recommended.  Even if it was too short.

Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big In This?This was a book group read that I was looking forward to.  Basically it's about an Australian-Palestinian Muslim girl who decides to wear the hijab and how that affects her life.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book.  It dealt honestly and realistically with life as a Muslim in a country where wearing the hijab is strange at best, and most people don't assume the best.  It definitely had an agenda, and could be considered preachy, but since what it was preaching is what needs to be heard, it worked for me.  The preachy parts came off fairly realistically too, because Amal, the main character is written so enthusiastically normal.

And that takes me to what I didn't like.  Amal is a typical teenager and she got on my nerves. I think it's important for her to be interested in what a lot of teenage girls like, like boys, clothes, etc. She needs to be normal in every other way so that wearing the hijab means something.  But really, I got tired of reading about the boys and clothes (and the not-so-skinny friend obsessing about food) and the ever-so-stereotypical mean girl.  I also thought the part about the debate at the end wasn't very well developed, especially when it prompted Amal to go into law. 

I think this will be an interesting one to discuss, particularly with a group of women who share many of the same goals Amal has.  It was worth reading, if only because the author does a good job of presenting a fresh and reasonable Muslim character.

15 January 2010

In My Nature

There's no picture of this one because Amazon doesn't carry it, which isn't really surprising, because In My Nature: A Birder's Year at the Montlake Fill is hardly a general interest book. The only reason I read it is because I walk through and enjoy the Montlake Fill almost every day.  I liked the Fill parts of the book, didn't enjoy the rambling on about other stuff so much (although it was fine), and loved, loved, loved the excellent map of the area. 

I always enjoy reading books about places I like.  The Montlake Fill has been one of my favorite places in Seattle.

13 January 2010

The Little Prince

The Little PrinceI hadn't read this book in years and years, probably since I read it in French in high school.  I certainly couldn't read it in French again, but I thoroughly enjoyed it in English.  This was for a book group or I probably wouldn't have thought to pick it up.  I'm glad I did.  I think it'll be interesting to talk about. 

This is a newish group and we have a international/different cultures/books in translation theme for this group.  So far we've read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Chosen, The Hungry Tide, Things Fall Apart, and now The Little Prince. I'm liking the theme, and it obviously leaves room for a variety of books.  Up next is Does My Head Look Big in This? and Mama's Bank Account.

12 January 2010

I can always tell when it's time to apply to a bunch of new stuff because my husband picks my brain to remember when we moved here, or started working there, or graduated from that other school.  Remembering when he started working for an small law firm he only contracted with for a few months in 2004 is a little tricky.  And does anyone really check all that stuff?  Especially when you're applying to study Uzbek in Kyrgyzstan? 

Someday I'll have to make a master list of all major and minor events in our lives so he can pull it up when he needs it.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesI can't remember who recommended this one, but I'm glad she did because I enjoyed this book.  It's a memoir by a woman who was a midwife in London in the 1950s.  It talks about lots of different things, from poverty to prostitution to the survival of premature babies.  I think this one would be interesting for a book group.

At first, it did ever so vaguely remind me of James Herriot, but with poor people instead of animals, and that made me a little uncomfortable, but it didn't remind me of it for long.

09 January 2010

Stones into Schools

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Despite my reservations about Three Cups of Tea, I've been looking forward to reading Greg Mortenson's new book.  And I'm pleased to say I liked it ever so much better.  This is the book I've been wanting to read about Greg Mortenson and the CAI.

SiS only has Mortenson listed as an author, unlike TCoT which was co-written with David Relin.  SiS is written in first person and feels much more personal, even though there are many fewer personal details in SiS than TCoT.   TCoT also seemed to go in for hero worship, which didn't sit well with me.  TCoT was about Greg Mortenson, and SiS is about Central Asia, the people working for the CAI, and most especially about the people who have benefitted from the schools.

One of the things I liked best about this book was that it's so much about Central Asia.  I'm sure not everyone will like that part (and the book really could have used more editing- it was too long), and there was more than one mistake (calling Tatarstan Tartarstan, spelling names of villages in different ways on that same page), and the maps, even though there were 6, could have been clearer, but overall it was so much fun to read a Central Asia book by someone who loves  the people and places of Central Asia.  So much of what I read about Central Asia doesn't quite fit that.

I also loved the bits about the Kyrgyz in the Wakhan.  And the women who were getting medical training so they could work in the Wakhan.  And the different stories of the men working for the CAI.  And understanding a little better why the Mortenson family doesn't move to Pakistan.  And reading about the logisitics of getting buildng materials to the Wakhan.  And so much more.

It seems like I've talked to so many people who were fired up by TCoT, and I never felt that. But I do about Stones into Schools.  Definitely recommended, even if you don't care about Central Asia.  And if you do read it, try to read it soon, because the epilogue will be more meaningful for the next few months.

06 January 2010

The Blood of Flowers

The Blood of Flowers: A NovelA woman I don't know recommended this at our last book group, and since it was about Persia I wanted to read it since I was probably the only person in the room who cares about Central Asia.  After I got it from the library and quickly read a few reviews, I didn't think I'd like it much, but decided to try it anyway.

And I liked it.  It wasn't amazing, but it definitely was better than I thought it would be.  One of the things I hate most about a lot of historical fiction is that the main character always seems like she is plucked out of the 21st- (or whatever the modern time is) century and dropped into a new time and place with little understanding of the culture or the history or anything.  Even when the author says she's done a lot of research to write the book, the characters just don't work.  This book wasn't perfect in this regard, but it was much better than a lot of historical fiction.  The main character (whose name we never know) doesn't feel completely out of place.  She's reasonably believable.

And she's not even necessarily likeable. In fact, she seems like a teenager in the book, which she is.  She makes some foolish decisions that have a negative impact on her family.  Things don't work out beautifully for her, or as she planned, but she ends up happy with what she was able to do.  But the misfortune isn't heaped on either, and some of the unusual bits about Persian society, especially the sigheh, were handled well.

A pleasant surprise. 

02 January 2010

Stuff for Dinner

Still working on the links, but at least there are more now.

pasta primavera
morning market noodles
Vietnamese noodle combos (see comment below)
noodles with greens and gravy
Navajo tacos
Cuban beans or chilaquiles
couscous and garbanzos
pumpkin plov (I follow the recipe on this one, except with the chicken)
Pakistani garbanzo pulao (see variation at the end; I follow this recipe)
rice and stuff
Khmer rice soup
baked potatoes
Montreal fish
tahina fish
turmeric fish (last recipe)
fish curry
fish soup
sweet and spicy fish
corn chowder
dal with coconut milk
dal with lime 
potato pletzel
dal with shallots
fried rice
rice with green beans and tofu
potato curry
black beans, corn, and peppers with rice or flatbread
rice noodle soup with tofu

bean sprouts, salad or stir-fried
Bangla-style vegetables
cabbage salads
carrot salad
stir-fried choi sum
corn stir-fry
tomato cucumber salad
zucchini corn stir-fry
stir-fried green beans
stir-fried peppers
cucumbers in vinegar
cucumbers in yogurt
carrots in yogurt
sweet and spicy green beans

rice pilaf
bulgur pilaf
Mexican red rice
Mexican green rice
spinachy rice

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants: A NovelThere was a lot that was good about this book. It was interesting to learn a little more about depression-era circuses in the US, and the parts with the old Jacob were quite good.  It was a fast read. But there was a lot that wasn't so good.  Except for old Jacob, the characterization wasn't great- all the characters were predictable, except for young Jacob, and he was just boring.  The plot almost felt floppy, just moving from one thing to another.  It certainly was vulgar, as many people had told me.  And it suffered from one of my biggest pet peeves, which is having an unreasonable number of wild things happen in a short time.  Yes, the author says all the outrageous events were historical, but just because something really happened, doesn't mean that 50 other unlikely things happened to the same person in a few weeks' time.  It was worth reading to learn about train circuses.

01 January 2010

And What I'd Like for the 2010s

Live in Central Asia for most of the 10 years
Send my oldest two children on a religious mission
Pay off all our student loans
Write a book about traditional bone games in Central Asia
Learn Tajik and Uzbek
Homeschool and parent effectively so my children are ready for whatever they want to do
Enjoy my boys
Not move quite as often as we did this decade
Live by the ocean for a little while
Travel around China by train
Go to Siberia
Buy a bit of land in Idaho
Read, read, read, read

Maybe if I'm still blogging in 10 years I'll see what the decade actually held.  I know if you'd asked me ten years ago what the 2000s would be like, I wouldn't have guessed a lot of the things that really happened.

Best of 2009

Sweetness in the Belly  Camilla Gibb
The Language Instinct  Steve Pinker
The Year My Son and I Were Born  Kathyrn Lynard Soper
Invisible China  Colin Legerton and and Jacob Rawson
China Road  Rob Gifford
Garlic and Sapphires  Ruth Reichl
Pomegranate Soup   Marsha Mehran
Driving over Lemons   Chris Stewart
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper  Fuchsia Dunlop

There could be more here, but this looks like a pretty good list. It looks like I read about 90 books this year, not including most rereads.  It was a good reading year (and a lot of the thanks for that goes to Melissa's challenge- I'm excited for next year's!).