Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After

So, remember how I recently mentioned a few YA fiction books that I really enjoyed, like Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer? Well, I got to thinking about that book in particular, and looked it up again, only to find that there was a third book in the series, and this is that book, so I got it! (The second is called The Grand Tour.)

I really enjoyed the first two books, which cover some events in the lives of Cecelia and Kate, two young adults living in a Regency England where magic is commonplace. One of them discovers that she is a magician, and they both eventually find dashing young husbands. Good, lighthearted fun, in the form of letters written to each other. One of the really fun things about these books is that each of the authors took on a particular character and then they actually wrote these letters to each other, as the characters they were portraying. People who can have fun like that are the kind of people I want to be friends with!

But anyway. Back to the book at hand. So this one is, surprisingly enough, set ten years after the last one leaves off, and now both girls have several children and are settled and respectable ladies. They are again each asked to solve a different mystery, and their mysteries end up being somewhat intertwined as usual. I enjoyed reading this one, but not quite as much as the last two, and I can say with confidence that it is entirely because of the way the subject of children are treated in this book. Although it's obvious that both girls love their children and husbands and they are loved in return, there's a lot of them trying to escape from having to deal with the children, or being grateful that they can leave the upbringing of their children in the nurses' hands, and so on. I'm sure this is all historically accurate and all that, but the writing style didn't really feel like something that was trying to be historically accurate. It just seemed like the author's take on child-rearing, and that made me sad. Not a huge deal but you know, not as entertaining for me and all that.

This leads to to wonder, because in Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons series (which you may remember if you were involved in my childhood at all), the main character has one child, but the books skip from before the child is even conceived to his 16th birthday with no detail in between. And since Ms. Wrede also doesn't have children of her own, does this reflect simply her lack of experience, or perhaps her personal feelings about children?

I don't know, but either way, it made it a slightly less enjoyable read for me. Still, great fun to read, and I still really like the series. I also enjoyed the surprising introduction of a famous historical figure into this book, which now allows me to label it historical fiction...but only jokingly.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense

Seems like everyone I know who has read this book, by Ellyn Satter, just loves it. I've heard lots of rave reviews, which is why I was so surprised when it turned out I didn't really like it that much.

Don't get me wrong. It's not complete trash. It's just that Ms. Satter is very judgmental and quick to make snap judgments and use her position of authority as a nutritionist to make sweeping statements that I don't believe she has the right to make for me and my family.

But first let's review the good pieces of this book, because I think it really does have some great and valuable lessons, especially for parents who are prone to worry about "making" their children eat well. This book explains a very important principle, the division of responsibility in feeding. This basically means that you the parent are responsible for what foods you will offer your child and when and where to offer them. Your CHILD should be responsible for how much of that food he or she eats, even if that means no eating at all. This is SO important for parents who think that somehow they have to make their children eat or eat a certain amount. They need to hear it! Excellent.

Let me share with you a few other good tips from the book. First, you shouldn't ever have a "no thank you" bite. There should be NO pressure to eat anything the child does not want to eat. But if you want them to eat a lot of vegetables, the secret is to expose them to a lot of vegetables and to EAT THEM YOURSELF. Second, we are obsessed with eating a low-fat diet, but this is bad for kids! They need fats to grow well, so don't ever limit the amount of fats they want included with their food, although of course you are the one to choose whether that fat will be in the form of nuts, meats, butter, oil, or all of the above. And don't serve dessert last. Serve it with the meal so your children don't get the impression that dessert is somehow better than other foods, or they will always ask you for more of it and not more of the veggies, instead of listening to their palates and appetites and asking for the foods they need, which is what they will normally do. And don't say things like, "Why aren't you eating your cheese? You LOVE cheese!" because this could give the child the impression that there are only a few things they like to eat and that can actually induce picky eating.

I could go on. Suffice it to say, there are quite a few good tips and things to consider when helping your children to establish a healthy relationship with food.

However. Now let's talk about some of the things I didn't like. As mentioned above, my main problem with this book is the way the author continually passes judgment on things that are outside her scope, or at lesat things that individual families have to decide for themselves, rather than a One-Answer-Right-For-Everyone formula. (Here's my tip: when you see the formulaic parenting advice that doesn't take your own personal situation into away!)

For example: she randomly throws in that you shouldn't cosleep, it's dangerous. Really? How would you know, Ms. Dietician? Was that covered in your training? Didn't think so. And explain to me again how it's MORE dangerous than crib-sleeping? Aha, you can't. Thought so.

Or the presented "fact" that there's no reason to be vegetarian unless you morally object to killing cows. Really? Because I have my reasons for being mostly vegan, and they don't include cow considerations, and I resent the fact that you pass such easy judgment on me with no clue as to what my reasons might be.*

Or how about when she says eating organic is no big deal because, while modern agricultural practices *might* be hard on the earth, the pesticides just wash off in the sink. Uh....what? No matter what you personally think and feel about eating organic or not, you have to admit that the pesticides don't always wash off. Again, not her area of expertise! And something that I think parents probably need to examine for themselves to discover what their personal best choices will be.

So, all in all, this is an okay book. It has good tips, but I'm afraid it will shove impressionable parents into opinions that are not their own, and that might not be the best for their families, simply because the information is all presented as "expert." I hate the idea of "experts" anyway, but that's a topic for an entirely different post.

* If you're interested in some other reasons why one might want to follow a vegetarian diet, how about this book about the health benefits? Or this article introducing some of the ways it's ecologically friendly?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Forever Amber

This is that book I was telling you about earlier, the one that's 972 pages long and has taken me over 6 weeks to read. It was written by Kathleen Winsor in 1944, and it's supposed to be a "new classic." Yes, I know, cue the groaning and eye-rolling now, because you know a new classic is probably not going to work out well for anybody.

I finished it today, and I have to say, it turned out to be every bit as awful as I first suspected.

Well, wait a minute. This is sort of complex, because I liked some of it. You see, the book is about a girl living England in the time of King Charles II--and you all know how crazy I am for English history, especially during the time of the Tudors and I LOVED getting to read all the period detail. The Restoration, the plague, the Great Fire, what life was like as an actress or a courtier in those days, all of these details were highly Susan-pleasing.

But I have never hated two main characters more than I hated the two in this book. Amber and her lover, Lord Carlton, are just really people that I don't want to read about and that I cannot sympathize with. They NEVER LEARN, for one thing. They show no HOPE for learning. They just do the same old tired things again and again and with complete disregard for all the other human beings on the planet. And I feel bitter about this because I kept wanting to connect with them and like them a little, and I never managed to. In my eyes, they never did anything redeeming AT ALL. Lord Carlton uses Amber, and many others, in whatever way suits him, because it's easiest or most enjoyable or whatever, and Amber...she gets people KILLED! GOOD people die because of her. And that is just not okay, not when she doesn't even really NOTICE. Geez.

Also, I have to say there were a lot of details included in this book that I didn't think should be there. I can see the point of having them there, but ultimately it didn't work for me. For example? There's a short history of Amber's mother's life in the beginning of the book. Makes sense to know where she came from, and also gives us a view into life before the Restoration. But there are so many weird details that it ends up feeling like an incredibly loose end. And the author actually picks it back up a little bit later in the book, but does nothing satisfying with it. Moral of the story? Gaping holes in this story make me feel strange.

Ultimately, this book was very disappointing. The ending was typical--I saw it coming from a million miles away. Every time I had to pick up this book I cursed myself for it because I couldn't stand the two main characters, those two who supposedly have this wonderful romance. BAH! I totally don't understand why the Amazon reviewers liked it so much, but feel free to check out what they had to say about it.

But I still kept picking it up because I wanted to read about the life and times of Charles II and his subjects. So sue me.

Fit and Fabulous in 15 Minutes

This exercise book, by Teresa Tapp, is one that I never ever would have picked up on my own. But Moxie of Ask Moxie, one of my online heroes and someone I have exchanged emails with who therefore is a real, live person--she says it has worked wonders for her.

And then I found out that a million other people who read Ask Moxie also LOVED this "T-Tapp workout." And one of the big reasons I went ahead and got it was because it promises things like: "...effective against conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome...With T-Tapp you're building a better body--inside and out." And although I don't care much about weight loss and such aside from its benefits for my health, I went ahead and got this because it sounds like it has the potential to really benefit my health and make me feel good.

So it was obviously a very quick read, since I almost forgot to post it up here! It's mostly an outline of how she developed the exercises and then a detailed-instructions list of how to do them. I liked it, but I think my ruling on this one has to wait a couple of months. I'll let you know if it's really worth the read once I've been doing it for awhile!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Sweet Far Thing

I got this book yesterday and I finished it today. When you compare its 819 pages to the 972 pages in Forever Amber that I've been reading for 6 weeks and have yet to finish, you can see that this was a truly compelling read. I LOVED it!

This comes as no surprise, since I also loved the two earlier books in this trilogy by Libba Bray. It starts with A Great and Terrible Beauty and continues with Rebel Angels, and this is the finale. It is amazing, wonderful, a true work of art.

Can you tell I love these books? I love them so much that I can't even describe them clearly, but instead can only think of words like "fabulous" and "perfect" to tell you how I feel about them.

But let me try to give you some background. First of all, these are found in the "young adult" section of the library because they follow the story of a teenage girl named Gemma Doyle, living in Victorian England. She discovers in the first book that her mother, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances, was a powerful priestess belonging to The Order, a group of women who control a place called "the realms," a place of magic and mystery, a place that entices and threatens, a place with a dark secret.

I can't really say much more than that about the plotline without giving too much away, and I don't want to give it away because I want you to read these books! I will say that they are much more than fantasy novels. They deal beautifully with issues of autonomy and women's rights, growing up and being an outsider, questioning social norms, friendship and love, and finding and being true to yourself. The author, Libba Bray(different link from the previous one), is one of those people that I desperately wish I could be friends with, mostly because if I could write so wonderfully, these are EXACTLY the kinds of stories I would tell.

I can't wait for her to write another story!

P.S. Have I ever mentioned to you that I enjoy reading young adult fiction from time to time? Check out Sorcery and Cecelia or City of the Beasts for some other really, really great reads that also happen to be found in the YA section of my local library. ;)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm still here...

...but I've been reading several books at once, and they're all loooong, and I'm not yet done with any of them. However, I WILL be back soon with THREE reviews, as soon as I wrap them all up...which has to be soon since I don't think I can re-check them from the library again.

Just wanted to stop by and say that I saw The Other Boleyn Girl recently (when Becky was here--yay, Becky!) and while it was not as good as it could have been, and not as good as the book (shocking, I know)...I can now say that I've seen a movie with Scarlett Johansson in it that didn't make me want to strangle her. I have never been a fan of hers and usually I can't get past that to actually enjoy the movie that she's in. But luckily, I finally actually enjoyed a movie in which she starred. Will wonders never cease?

Also...I never really thought much about Eric Bana before. And knowing what I know about Henry VIII, I have never really thought of him as sexy so much. But whoa. Nice casting. I didn't think so much about it while watching the movie, but now that I've had a chance to reflect, that was spot-on in an unexpected way. Kudos to them, as I can't imagine Henry VIII is an easy part to find a convincing actor for.

The End