Monday, November 29, 2010

Maternity Leave Lessons

My maternity leave comes to an end tomorrow, so I just want to share a few of the things I learned:
  • How to darn a sock.
  • How to hide collard greens in a variety of dishes: lasagna, tacos, stir-fry. For Thanksgiving, Mark actually learned how to cook them in such a way that they are palatable on their own, but I think I'll need another spring/summer of CSA produce before I can say I've learned to "like" collards.
  • How to make gnocchi.
  • Baking really is worth the time invested.
  • The only way not to burn the bottoms of cookies in my oven is to put the top rack on the VERY top and bake them there.
  • My house is never going to be completely clean. I still have to keep trying, but I need to accept this fact.
  • Doing one or two loads of laundry every couple of days is more likely to keep the laundry mountain at bay than trying to do it all once a week. This also keeps bibs with baby food from developing mildew.
  • Washing diapers twice a week is better because you can talk yourself out of washing the covers by hand more often.
  • Every baby is different.
  • If your first child sleeps like a champ, don't expect the same with the second child!
  • The Durham County Public Library is awesome. So is the Durham Life and Science Museum and the free indoor playground at Southpoint Mall.
  • Checking out a book you didn't plan on is just as satisfying as buying a book you didn't plan to, and a lot cheaper!
  • Staying home with my kids is super fun and should be taken advantage of whenever possible!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My October Shannon Hale kick

I had read a couple books by Shannon Hale before now (Princess Academy and Austenland) and enjoyed them both, but didn't really think too much more about them. This month (party inspired by reading Shannon's amazing blog here), I went on a real Shannon Hale kick.

First, I reread Princess Academy.

Princess AcademyPrincess Academy by Shannon Hale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really liked the main character and enjoyed the book, but didn't find it to be life-changing.

Rereading 9/10--enjoying it more after reading some of the author's blog/online information about the writing of the book (and other books!)

10/8/10--Liked it a lot more this time--especially the idea of quarry speech, Miri learning her place in the village, and the relationship between Miri and Katar.


Then, I read The Actor and the Housewife.

The Actor and the HousewifeThe Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I went into The Actor and the Housewife expecting a fluffy read, and it took me a little while to connect with the characters (I've never been good at the kind of breezy banter that Becky and Felix excel at, so I was a little taken aback at first), but I was surprised by the depth of the book. I spent several days afterwards thinking about friendships, family, and how the two interplay. An excellent read, even if it's more likely to appeal to women than men.


Next up, Enna Burning. (Which should really be preceded by The Goose Girl, but this one was in at the library, and the other was not, c'est la vie.)

Enna Burning (The Books of Bayern #2)Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great book, but it took me awhile to get into. I didn't like Enna's brother from the first, so I had a hard time sympathizing with Enna when he started acting weird and then put himself in danger (yes, I know it was her brother, but still), plus I haven't yet read The Goose Girl, so I didn't have the background on Enna's friendship with Isi. I also found Isi's behavior vis-a-vis the wind a little strange and disturbing (wasn't she supposed to have been "happily-ever-after'd in the first book?). I was also prey to the outsider's trap where I could see danger that Enna could not (of COURSE you shouldn't read that parchment that tells you how to make fire, what are you THINKING?), so I was getting pretty annoyed with her by midway through the book.

Then she got captured by enemy forces and I really felt like the book picked up and got more interesting--and I could feel for Enna more. I am happy to say that the ending was more than satisfying and that it is well worth getting through the first part of the book. I also think the first part of the book would feel a little less slow if I had read the first book in the series first!


Now, I'm reading Calamity Jack, a graphic novel co-written by Hale's husband, Dean, and illustrated by Nathan Hale, who is of no relation, but it's fun to see "Hale - Hale - Hale" on the book spine. This one should actually be preceded by Rapunzel's Revenge, but I had the same issue at the library. (I should mention that libraries allow you to put books on hold so you can avoid this and read books in the correct order, but it didn't bother me too much in this case, and I was reveling in the spontaneity of finding something I wanted to read and taking it home then and there.)

Calamity Jack (Rapunzel's Revenge, #2)Calamity Jack by Shannon Hale

If you like YA books and fantasy (although Actor and the Housewife does not fall into this category), consider getting on your own Shannon Hale kick this month!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

POC Book #5: Children of the New World

There's no way I'm going to get to my goal of 10-15 books by the end of the year, but hopefully I'll get one or two more under my belt after this one...

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel, by a Francophone literary giant, describes a day in the Algerian war from the perspective of a number of women (and some men) in a small town that is not far from front-line fighting. I did read it in translation, so I probably missed some of the lyricism that characterizes Djebar's writing, but it was a very good translation. It read pretty quickly (it just took me awhile to finish because I kept getting distracted by other books!), and I thought Djebar did a good job of describing the point of view of different people without necessarily judging. (I say necessarily, because it's hard for me to conclude that Lila--until the very end--is anything but a self-centered ditz, Touma a self-centered jerk, and Hakim a man with a weak conscience, to name some of my least-favorite characters.)

The afterword made a big deal about Djebar adhering to all the Aristotelian unities (time, place, and action)--I could see place and action easily, but I found it hard to realize that the whole novel took place in one day--if, in fact, it did--because the characters reminisce and recount so much else. I don't think this at all takes away from the story, but it's something that struck me.

The Algerian war is often considered France's Vietnam, so reading about it from the point of view of Algerians (mostly--there are a few European characters, but certainly the author is Algerian, although she is now an exile) is definitely worthwhile. Djebar's storytelling, however, makes it an enjoyable as well as a worthwhile read.