Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Dance, Dance, Dance

I used to participate in a weekly event called Thursday Tunes hosted by S. Krishna - I don't think she hosts it anymore, and I certainly haven't been playing along for a while, but music is still a big part of my life and I miss sharing it.

My husband and I have played music for the babies since before they were born, and since they've been here we have made a point to incorporate music into their lives on an almost daily basis. They both love to dance - in fact, when they are in a particularly bad mood, throwing on some music and dancing around the living room is an almost sure way to get them smiling again. So I'm going to start sharing some of our dancing music, and hope it brings a smile to your face, too.

Miranda Lambert is one of my favorite current female artists, and it appears she is forming a new group called Pistol Annie. I can't listen to this song without smiling, and can't wait for their album.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Thoughts - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
published 2011
251 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. Former ABC News reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon spent years on the ground reporting Kamila's story, and the result is an unusually intimate and unsanitized look at the daily lives of women in Afghanistan. These women are not victims; they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation.

My thoughts:

Monday, April 11

I am going to try out a new system for talking about what I'm reading - I am finding it difficult to sit down and write out a formal review for each book, so I thought I'd just write some quick updates as I'm reading. Part of my problem is that I have lots of insights as I'm reading, but find that when I sit down several days later to write the review, they have all leaked out of my head. (I'm blaming the lack of sleep for that one. *grin*) So I thought perhaps writing little bits each day - closer to when I actually read - might help me save some of those thoughts. We'll see. I might decide I hate it....

I'm about 60 pages into this nonfiction work and am loving it so far. I love the author's purpose behind the book. She says that she is accustomed to reading war stories of women who are left as victims - she wanted to write a story about women who emerge as resilient survivors. It's a different kind of war story, and so far it has been fascinating.

Kamela and her family are wonderful. The author stresses how Kamela's father was committed to educating ALL his children - both boys and girls - because he believed it was a duty of his faith to share knowledge and serve his community. I think I've always had a view of Afghanistan that involved rural, mostly illiterate families, or bombed out cities filled with poverty and despair - perhaps because that's what I saw on CNN so often. This book paints such a different picture of life in Kabul, and makes the imprisonment of women under the Taliban regime even more tragic.

So far, so good with this one - can't wait to read more.

Tuesday, April 12

I am just blowing through this book - it's a fairly short volume, and at the rate I'm going I will be done in no time. I am still finding Kamela's story to be fascinating. Once again, it is giving me such a different perspective on this part of the world. Kamela's brand of Islam is so far removed from the intolerance that tends to cloud our view of the religion. Part of the reason she is so driven to make a success of her dressmaking business is because she believes it is her duty under Islam to help as many people as she can. She is doing this not only to support her family, but to support as many others in her situation as possible.

The daily dangers she and her brother face are astounding. Every time they leave the house they face the very real possibility of beating or imprisonment. It's amazing to remember that these are teenagers - kids who, here in America, would be worried about what dress to wear to prom, or whether or not they could borrow the car Friday night.

Wednesday, April 13

Finished this one tonight - as expected, it didn't take long. What a truly amazing story. The author did a fantastic job of keeping herself out of the narrative- I never felt like she was putting a "spin" on the story at all, just relating the events in the lives of this remarkable family.

The book is pretty intense, so the section about "Titanic fever" sweeping across Kabul was a welcome moment of lightness - apparently, Jack and Rose are everyone's favorite doomed couple.

Near the end of the book, the author says:

"Brave young women complete heroic acts every day, with no one bearing witness. This was a chance to even the ledger, to share one small story that made the difference between starvation and survival for the families whose lives it changed."

I would absolutely recommend this book for that very reason - we tell young people all the time that they can make a difference if they just put their mind to it. Here is an example that can't be ignored, of a young woman who chooses to put herself in danger for the good of her family and community, and the difference it makes in the lives around her. It is a remarkable story, and I won't soon forget it.

Finished: 4/13/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG for scenes of potential danger and depictions of violence against women
My rating: 9/10

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review - Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
published 2011
441 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Ninety-five days, and then I'll be safe. I wonder whether the procedure will hurt. I want to get it over with. It's hard to be patient. It's hard not to be afraid while I'm still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn't touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't.

My thoughts:

Hmmm. Something about this novel didn't QUITE work for me, and it appears I might be the only person in the blog-o-sphere who feels that way. Interesting.

I loved the idea, and the story itself moved along quickly, building tension and keeping me wanting more. It just felt like I didn't quite know enough about the world, or how it worked, or WHY exactly everything changed. Oliver gives readers a United States that is significantly different from the one we see today, and yet I never quite felt like I figured out when or how it became the way it was.

I liked Lena - she was funny, and smart, and had a bit of spunk. But I never quite felt like I could believe that she would ultimately make the decision she did. Or maybe the decision just came too quickly. Or perhaps we were supposed to believe it was inevitable, that the seeds for it were inside her just waiting to bloom, but I never quite got there. And honestly, I liked her best friend Hana just a little bit more.

The writing was good, but never quite spectacular. Somehow it just didn't quite grab my emotions they way I had hoped it would, though many of the ideas explored were interesting and thoughtful.

""Most things, even the greatest movements on earth, have their beginnings in something small. An earthquake that shatters a city might begin with a tremor. a tremble, a breath. Music begins with a vibration....and God created the whole universe from an atom no bigger than a thought.

Grace's life fell apart because of a single word: sympathizer. My world exploded because of a different word: suicide.

Correction: that was the first time my world exploded." (p. 145-146)

It was a fun read, but never quite captivating. I wouldn't try to disuade you from reading it if you think it sounds interesting, and I will probably read the next book in the series if I see it after it is published. However, lots of other readers LOVE it, so obviously it does something right!

Finished: 4/8/11
Source: South side library
MPAA rating: PG for some tense situations and the beginnings of teen love/sexuality
My rating: 6/10

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The State of Things...

You know, because it's been a while since I've shown off my little ones...

Things are going well. I'm figuring out that I can, in fact, take both babies to Target by myself, and still manage to spend over $100....*grin*

We have discovered the park, and the swings, and it's becoming a fast favorite. I think we are going to be spending lots of time outside now that the weather is nicer.

I'm reading, although not as much as I used to, but I think I have good reason for that. It's hard for me to find time to sit down a write a good review anymore, though, so I'm going to be changing up the way I discuss what I read, and we'll see if I like it. I miss being able to be involved in the blogging community, but that will come again with time. I do still visit you all as much as I can!

It's sure hard to complain when I have these two smiles to come home to. Life is good.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review - Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
404 pages
published July 2010

Synopsis from publisher:

Raised in a sepulchral house where ghosts dwell in mirrors, Meridia grows up lonely and miserable. But at age sixteen, she has a chance at happiness when she falls in love with Daniel — a caring and naive young man. Soon they marry, and Meridia can finally escape to live with her husband's family, unaware that they harbor dark secrets of their own. There is a grave hidden in the garden, there are two sisters groomed from birth to despise each other, and there is Eva — the formidable matriarch and the wickedest mother-in-law imaginable — whose grievances swarm the air in an army of bees. As Meridia struggles to keep her life and marriage together, she discovers long-buried secrets about her own past as well as shocking truths about her new family that inexorably push her love, courage, and sanity to the brink.

My thoughts:

I love this novel. I am fighting the urge to read it all over again. The characters showed up in my dreams last week. The actual story itself was not anything terribly unusual, but the author's incredible creativity lifted it to something very, very special.

One of my favorite things about the novel was it's cast of strong, powerful women. The author writes women who truly leap off the page - not all of them sympathetic, some of them flat-out despicable, but each unforgettable in her own way. In fact, this novel really is about the women, leaving the men to serve as bit players, characters that serve a purpose, but are never the driving force behind the story. It is the women who call the shots, the women who own the stage, and I loved every minute of it.

My other favorite thing about the novel is it's gorgeous prose - I love the way Setiawan writes. His words are visual, allowing the reader to paint pictures in their mind as they read his words on the page. I don't want to delve too deeply into the story, so as not to give too much away, but he uses two specific images - bees and mist - as representative objects, and they work perfectly.

"Under the waning moon, they began their journey. Meridia had no idea where her mother was going, aware only that they were heading into the dark heart of the town. The earth was damp and muddy, yet Ravenna walked as though her shoes touched nothing but brick. As the drizzle thickened into rain, they hustled past moldering huts and ramshackle tenements, past temples of abandoned gods and hotels tenanted by transient midnight souls. Eyes without bodies tracked them from the depths of shadows, howling, laughing at every turn of the wind."

This is my favorite book so far this year. It is definitely one I will read again - possibly soon. It feels like the kind of novel that will grow richer with time, and will reveal more with each read. I've seen mixed reviews for it around the 'net, but for me it was a complete hit. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Finished: 4/2/11
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for adult content
My rating: 9/10