Thursday, September 29, 2011

The kids' reactions to Rose

Bryce: "She looks creepy. Like Kwazel Maw."
Annie: "Can we print off pictures right away so I can take them to school to show everyone?"
Isaac: "Are you absolutely sure this is the best baby we can get?
Maren: "Mom says I will still be her most favoritest baby, even when Rose gets here."

Well, one out of four isn't so bad. Maybe it's a good thing we'll have a few months to adjust to the idea.

Book Review: Alone With All That Could Happen by David Jauss

Title: Alone With All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About the Craft of Fiction
Author: David Jauss
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Source: Hardcover purchased from Amazon
Referral: Required reading for my fiction seminar
Books I've read this year: 116

We busted through Alone With All That Could Happen in the first couple of weeks of my fiction seminar this semester. You know me-- if the book has a good story and interesting characters, I'm hooked; if not, it doesn't do much for me. For a "craft" book, this one is pretty good, but I'd never curl up with it for fun. Jauss is an interesting author because he lets his biases be known. He also occasionally points out problems in the craft of fiction, but doesn't really try to solve them (for example, he devotes a whole chapter to the problems of the term "point of view" because it can be used to indicate both who is speaking and how much of a character's mind is revealed, and he says that we really need new terms, but he doesn't try to define those new terms). He's the guy who says epiphanies are lazy and present tense should be used sparingly. I appreciated his voice as a writer, and I thought that one of the greatest strengths of the book is how he uses examples from stories to illustrate his points. I also really liked the chapter on how to put together a collection of short stories (how to order the stories) which is something I had never seen tackled in one of these "writing craft" books.

Book Review: Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Title: Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
Author: Gabrielle Hamilton
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Source: Kindle for iPad
Referral: A lady sitting in front of me in an endless Suzuki viola group lesson was reading it, so I bought it for my Kindle out of desperation for something to take my mind of all the squeaking
Books I've read this year: 115

I read primarily for enjoyment, and when the school year starts again, I sometimes feel an overwhelming need to balance out all of the boring school reading I'm forced to do with light, fun reading. Blood, Bones and Butter is an example of totally delightful, unabashed food porn, married with entertaining life story. However, the story of Hamilton's life almost feels like three separate stories, and I ended up at a very different place in the final pages of the book than where I expected to go in the beginning. I see the book in three very different sections. In the first, Hamilton experiences a magical childhood in the wilds of New Jersey, where her artist father and French mother raise their five kids in an old castle-like mill and have elaborate parties where they roast lambs. Her mother always has a pot of something fantastic on the stove. Then, when Hamilton is approaching adolescence, her mom splits, and she and the other siblings still at home basically get themselves through their teen years. This section is one part food to one part life history. In the second section, Hamilton cooks. She starts out as a waitress, goes to college here and there, does a lot of catering in NYC, makes the most glorious food I've ever heard of at a Vermont summer camp, gets an MFA in creative writing but finds herself uninterested in and unable to connect with fellow students (all a decade younger than she is) and spends her time hanging out in a friend's restaurant. Then she returns to NYC and opens her own restaurant. This section is one part life history to ten parts food. In the third section, Hamilton, whose long-term relationships up to this point had been with women, suddenly embarks on a green card marriage with an Italian doctor. Pretty soon, they try to make their fake marriage into a real marriage, with kids and two weeks every summer at his family home in Italy. It's evident that Hamilton is much more in love with her husband's family than she seems to be with her husband. This section is ten parts life history to one part food.

Overall, I liked the first two sections better, and now that it's been a while since I finished reading, I've decided it's because Hamilton is still living the third part when she writes the book. The book ends with the family returning to NYC, presumably to make some decision on the state of their failing marriage. I've tried to write about emotionally-charged situations while living through them, and it's hard. It shows in the book, because the focus seems to change a lot, and what made the book charming for me (peeking through Hamilton's food live to get a glimpse of her personal life) is totally removed in the third section, and I feel like she's opened the window all the way and invited us to enter in. I guess maybe that's what Jauss was talking about when he talked about how writers use distance. I've always been one to let it all hang out, but I can now see some of the wisdom about keeping some of the cards close to the vest.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Pardonable Lies: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating: 7/10
Source: Audible for iPhone
Referral: Book 3 in the series I've been reading my way through
Books I've Read This Year: 114

Oh dang, I've listened to so many of the Maisie Dobbs books in the last month that they're all starting to run together for me. I think that in this book, Maisie returns to France for the first time since she was a nurse in a casualty clearing station during WWI. She's on a case to prove that a soldier who went missing during the war is actually dead, and that case spawns other cases (Winspear always seems to include cases that are almost too similar to be believed, and she writes off the situation saying that there's no such thing as coincidence, just serendipity). And Maisie's almost spooky sense of what people are feeling, which I think Winspear would call intuition, sometimes feels a little overdone to me. Also, I know that my graduate professors would sigh and roll their eyes over all of Maisie's sighing and gasping, and the incredible number of details Winspear includes in the book (like a careful accounting of what Maisie wears nearly every day). But I think that if you can get away with an overabundance of detail in any genre, period mysteries are probably where it works best. Winspear really makes her audience feel as if they're in 1930, and the details are only annoying when I think about what other people would say about the book.

Since Maisie had such shocking and tragic experiences during the war, I guess it's not surprising that she has a nervous breakdown of sorts when she returns to France. She certainly seems more on edge in this book than in previous books, and this shows itself in her relationship with her father, with her mentor Maurice Blanche, and with her boyfriend, Andrew Deane. I recognize that Maisie is too damaged in this book to be in a romantic relationship, and that she's almost socially retarded as a result, and that Winspear is creating her as a soft, well-spoken kind of feminist icon (she doesn't need a man, does she), so I sort of hate myself a little bit for wanting her to get healthy so she can find some love in her life. I don't want her to be lonely. So, despite her sighing and her adjectives, you can probably see that Maisie Dobbs has got me hooked. I've been walking around with my iPod in my ears for months, and she keeps me good company on my drives to Provo, so I guess I'll keep her around for a little while longer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rose Huijue Miner

Ever since we decided to adopt from China, I had a pretty definite picture in my mind of what our daughter would look like. She'd come home to us a black haired, black eyed toddler, and within a few weeks of arriving at home, she'd be following Maren around the house.

On Friday we got the weekly email from our adoption agency, alerting us that the next list of waiting children would be available on the shared list on Monday night. Last month when we got the email, I knew that our chances of being matched were slim. I wasn't sure, in fact, that our file was even eligible for matching since it had just been sent to China two weeks earlier. So I didn't have my hopes up in August, but as the day wore on yesterday, I kept my eye on the clock. Call it a mother's intuition, but I knew that it was going to happen, just like I could predict in advance when the pregnancy test was going to turn out positive.

Last month the "sorry, we didn't find you a match" email came at 9:23, so yesterday, by the time nine o'clock rolled around, I was barely able to sit down. Annie was just as nervous as I was, coming in every two minutes to reload my email (which I reloaded in alternate minutes). Then, right at 9:01, the phone rang. It was Elizabeth at our adoption agency, with the news that we had a daughter! She was born April 7, 2011 and she's living at an orphanage in Xuzhou, China.

Her name will be Rose Huijue. A little word on her name: Annie and Maren both have middle names that are family names. Annie was named Anne Caroline for Caroline Eyring Miner, Eddie's grandma, who was an author and poet, a world traveler, and a beloved teacher for many years at Highland High School. Maren was named Maren Camilla for Caroline's sister, Camilla Eyring Kimball. We liked the idea of using the names of sisters for our two sisters. Also, Eddie has aunts (his dad's sisters, the original Caroline's daughters) who are named Caroline and Camilla, we felt that we were referring to both generations of sisters. Well, in the original generation of Caroline and Camilla, there were many sisters (it was one of the last big polygamous families of the Mormon era), and one of the sisters was Rose. Caroline's other daughter is named Rosemary after this aunt. (Can you follow all that? If not, don't worry, it's taken me 18 years to sort it all out). So when it came time to pick a name for our baby, Rose seemed like the obvious choice, since this will be the third generation of sisters named Caroline, Camilla and Rose. Huijue is the name that Rose was given by the orphanage staff, and we want her to keep it as her middle name. The material we got from the agency explains the rationale of the staff: "Hui means benevolence and smart. Jue means jade. We hope she could become a pretty and smart child and as good as the meaning of jade." I love the idea that the orphanage workers had faith that our little girl would grow up to be benevolent, smart, and as good as jade, which I understand to be quite precious in Chinese culture.

While I may have had a mother's intuition about the fact that we would be matched with Rose last night, I was shocked and delighted to learn that she is five months old. We're getting a baby, not a toddler! Other than a unilateral cleft lip and palate, she appears to be in excellent health. And about that full head of black hair I was expecting? She's as bald as all the other Miner babies have been.

Needless to say, it was a late night at the Miner household. We spent a few hours examining pictures and trying to read the Chinese translation of her medical records and sitting around with silly grins on our faces. Then everyone else went to bed and I stayed up most of the night (something I did every time I got a positive pregnancy test too) thinking about how our lives will change for the better. A baby! I love babies! I hadn't let myself hope for another baby because I thought the chances were so slim and another toddler would be the next best thing. Having a baby instead of a toddler means totally readjusting the vision I had in my mind, buying a crib, and adjusting to naptimes, but I am beside myself with excitement. I'm also completely convinced that this is our daughter. If you'd asked me a year ago, I wouldn't have believed that we'd be traveling halfway around the world to add a fifth child to the family, but I know that Rose is going to be a perfect fit in our family, and we wouldn't be complete without her.

I also have to say that it's been wonderful to watch Eddie warm up to the process. I definitely took this bull by the horns back last winter, and he's called a few times today, each time asking if we'd heard anything more. I think he's as excited as I am (but thankfully, without the insomnia).

I just learned that the CCCWA discourages putting pictures of adoptive children on public websites, so my options are to make the blog private or put pictures on Facebook. Since I don't want to go private, I think Facebook is the best option for now. So once we have our preliminary confirmation from the CCCWA (which should be sometime in the next week or 10 days) then I'll put the pictures on Facebook. She's adorable!

Now comes the hard part-- waiting the next four to six months to get everything in order to be able to travel to China to get her. Up until this point the waiting has just been for some abstract child, but now that I have this sweet face smiling up from my desk, four to six months suddenly seems like an eternity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review: Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Title: Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs, Book 2)
Author: Jacqueline Winspear
Enjoyment Rating:
Source: Audible Book
Referral: One of my Study Abroad friends told me about the first book in the series and I was hooked.
Books I've read in 2011: 113

It's now been way too long since I read Birds of a Feather to remember it well, but I found it a completely enjoyable, delightful novel. Once again, Maisie is called into service to solve a mystery (this time she's trying to find the adult daughter of a grocery-chain mogul). It turns out that the daughter's disappearance is related to a host of other deaths and disappearances, and eventually Maisie works to tie up all the apparently unrelated cases. I've been reading Stephen King's writing memoir (review to come) and was impressed by what he had to say about how symbolism can enhance a story. He says (and I'm probably paraphrasing badly) that symbols don't have to be esoteric or elaborate, and that they're often something he sees during the revision process, not during a first writing. In Birds of a Feather, Winspear uses birds and feathers (get it?) as her main symbol, and she does it beautifully. I don't expect to see symbolism in mysteries, and it works here to great effect. In fact, it might have worked a little too well, because once I caught on to the symbols, it wasn't hard for me to figure out who the murderer was. However, that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book (it just made me feel really smart).

I've been surprised as I've read these books (I'm almost done with the fifth one now) about what a great preoccupation World War I was in England at this time. Although a dozen years have passed since the end of the war, it feels like it ended yesterday. Most of the deep, meaty issues Winspear tackles are directly related to things that happened during the war. If this is a realistic portrayal of England at the time, I'm getting quite an education on the effects of this event, but it seems as if so much hearkens back to the war that it's almost unbelievable. In fact, I'm looking forward to when Dobbs books don't have such a preoccupation with war.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


When we visited my grandparents in Florida every summer, there were some things I really looked forward to (Disneyworld! the beach! gorging myself on every chocolate in their very own chocolate store!) and there were other things I hated about the trip (listening to my grandparents watch the news at 5am, my grandma's dentures sitting on the bathroom counter, the smell of the ice in their freezer). While the dentures were pretty freaky, they didn't hold a candle to the freakiness that was my grandma's feet. Grandma always wore orthopedic sandals, her heels were cracked, her toenails were yellowed and long, and her toes (oh her toes!), were permanently bent and disfigured. They were ugly, ugly feet. I remember lying on the floor of her living room, looking at pictures of strongmen and fat ladies through the stereoscopic viewer they had, and hoping that she and her feet would stay far away from me.

I was all grown up and married before I solved the mystery of Grandma's feet. She'd been a nurse, starting in the 1940s, when nurses wore the white uniforms and pumps, and after spending years standing on those feet, they stopped being pretty and started looking like deformed claws. Even though I admired Grandma for how she got her ugly feet, I still wished she'd cover them up.

Now I'm the one with the ugly, ugly feet. One of my toes is in a permanent state of toenaillessness. My second and third toes are bigger than my big toe. They're callused all along the instep. I inherited Grandma's cracked heels, and I always have a blister or two. One of my achilles' tendons has a huge scabby scar from the wart I had burned off earlier this summer. The pretty little size seven-and-a-halfs I had from age twelve to age thirty have expanded to eight-and-a-halfs in the four years that I've run marathons. I don't even have anything noble, like providing for my family or saving peoples' lives, to make these ugly feet noble. They've carried me and my one-track mind thousands and thousands of miles over the last four years, and every mile shows in the calluses and the blisters and the too-long toes.

If I were a more considerate person, I'd probably cover my feet up, or at least prettify them, but instead I show them off. Maybe Grandma thought her feet were a badge of honor too. I'm sure that in another 30 years, my feet will be even scarier, because if I have my way, they'll continue to carry me thousands of miles, and I'll proudly wear my flipflops and take pleasure in freaking out my grandkids.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: Stay by Moriah Jovan

Stay (Tales of Dunham)Title: Stay (Book 2, Tales of Dunham)
Author: Moriah Jovan
Enjoyment Rating: 6/10
Source: Kindle for iPad
Referral: the only book in this series I hadn't read yet
Books I've read in 2011: 112

In Stay, Jovan tackles the love story of Vanessa Whittaker and Eric Cipriani, the two wards of Knox Hilliard. Since people seem a little bit more comfortable with the idea of keeping love in the family in Western Missouri (at least according to The Proviso, where two sets of first cousins hook up), I guess that readers of Jovan's novels shouldn't be surprised, and honestly, while Knox took care of both Vanessa and Eric during their teen years, they didn't grow up together.

While The Proviso and Magdalene have a strong Mormon core to their stories (although Jovan's Mormons are larger, hotter, cooler and less orthodox than the ones I see in my ward) the Mormon theme in Stay isn't as strong because neither Vanessa nor Eric is a Mormon (Eric did attend BYU and BYU Law as a nonmember but he graduated without taking the plunge). As a result, the story feels less shocking and a little less jarring when the characters start getting it on and talking dirty to each other (I use shocking and jarring as positive adjectives here, don't worry). It also felt a little more like a straightforward romance novel with the guy and the girl trying to get together throughout the book. In Magdalene, the main couple marries in the middle of the book which changes the dynamic, and the three romances in series in The Proviso also change the pace.

I thought this book was an interesting escapist read. I'm not sad that I read it, and I appreciated how Jovan, once again, used another literary figure (this time Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose) as an extended literary metaphor in the book. Who knew that they were some of the major players in the libertarian movement? Not me. While I see the four couples in the other books having the potential to reappear in successive Jovan novels, I'm not sure if Eric and Vanessa will come up again-- and it feels okay to have this book be a little bit more stand-alone.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Review: The Proviso by Moriah Jovan

The Proviso (Tales of Dunham)Title: The Proviso (Book 1, Tales of Dunham)
Author: Moriah Jovan
Enjoyment Rating: 5/10
Source: Kindle for iPad (only $3.99!)
Referral: I read the third book in the series, now I'm backtracking
Books I've read in 2011: 111

Moriah Jovan's Magdalene blew my mind. I'd never read anything like it before-- I'd read clean Mormon romances, and seen a lot of sexy romances at Barnes and Noble (but hadn't read very many), and to read a sexy Mormon romance felt liberating and earth-shattering. But it became evident pretty early on in Magdalene that there was a bunch of backstory that I was missing. So after finishing that book, I went and downloaded the first two to my iPad.

The Proviso is the first book in the Tales of Dunham, and while Magdalene focuses only on a single couple, Mitch and Cassie, The Proviso tackles not just one love story but three: Bryce and Giselle, Sebastian and Eilis (I want to know how to say her name so badly!), and Knox and Justice, all of whom reappear in Magdalene. And while the book is definitely engrossing, there is a lot going on with three love stories in one book. In fact, that's my major criticism of the book and the reason why my personal enjoyment rating was a little lower-- because it's so dang long. At 736 paper pages and over 18000 iPad units, I felt like I was reading this book forever. In fact, my son was walking around the house with a D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths while I was trying to conquer The Proviso, and I had a distinct sense that Mount Olympus had sprung up right down the road from Adam-Ondi-Ahman in Western Missouri and sired the Dunham/Hilliard clan. They're all bigger, badder, meaner, more loving and much, much sexier than the normal humans I know. Jovan even refers to Bryce as Ares and Sebastian as Dionysus in the course of the novel.

I can see that there's an overall arc to the story of Knox and his evil uncle and how all of the romances are tied to that main story, and I appreciate how Jovan weaves together a literary theme (in this case an homage to Ayn Rand) along with her main story. I feel like I should go read The Fountainhead now, but I might need to stick to shorter books for a while in the interim. But as I was reading I kept wondering if it might be better to write three 250 page novels, each focusing on one of the couples.

My last criticism is one that is hard to put into words, but I'll try. When I read most books, I feel like the author sort of disappears for me and I'm immersed in the story. But as I read The Proviso (and to a certain extent, with Magdalene too, although I noticed it less), I felt like Jovan never became invisible. She seemed very present in the story, making decisions about what her characters were going to say, what they'd be doing in bed, and what they'd be saying about Libertarian politics. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what I mean here, maybe the playlists of the kinds of music Sebastian and Eilis might listen to is an example. And come to think of it, I feel the same way when I read a Stephenie Meyer book, but it's hard for me to say exactly why I feel this way.

Overall, Magdalene and The Proviso have convinced me that every once in a while, a good old romance novel isn't such a bad thing to add to my reading list. And if it's a little wild, even better. And if there are Mormon characters getting wild, maybe I'll feel a little more willing to experiment myself.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet: A NovelTitle: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Author: David Mitchell
Enjoyment Rating: 8/10
Source: Audible for iPhone
Referral: I can't remember. I think I picked it off some sale at the Audible website.
Books I've read this year: 110

I heard a lot of buzz around The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet last year, and at some point over the last twelve months I bought it from Audible. Then it sat, and sat, and sat in my iTunes. It's a long book-- I'm not sure of the page count, but it was about 24 hours of listening long, so whenever I had to choose between listening to this and listening to something shorter, I always picked the something shorter.

Then one morning I was out in the canyon on a run. The podcast I was listening to had a glitch, and this was the only book I had on the iPod. So I heaved a big sigh and started listening. I was hooked. The first chapter of the book is extremely engrossing-- a midwife, Orito Aibagawa goes to the home of a geisha in Nagasaki in the summer of 1799 in order to deliver a stillborn baby, and the chapter gives a lot of insight into both the thoughts of the midwife and the culture of the place. The story then switches to Jacob de Zoet, a redheaded clerk who has just arrived in the docklands off Nagasaki to work with a Dutch trading company. What evolves is a beautifully written, epic romance. de Zoet loves Aibagawa, she's not sure how she feels about him when she's captured and sent to an evil monastery (too complicated to explain here). Although they spend little time in each other's presence, they are always important in each other's lives.

Mitchell writes in at least a dozen voices here, and the Audible narrators (one male, one female) do an absolutely amazing job adapting to the voices-- educated Dutch, Japanese of many different social classes, English, French, Irish, and many more. It was an unconventional romance, and once that some readers might not find rewarding, but ultimately all of the hours I spent listening were well worth it.