Saturday, August 18, 2012

World traveler

Jiangsu Province, Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, California, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Idaho, Georgia, Florida, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Tomorrow she'll get Iowa, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Book Review: A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

Title: A Short Stay in Hell
Author: Steven L. Peck
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 96

I may be the only Mormon on the planet who doesn't have a think for C.S. Lewis. Oh, I think The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe works as a children's story, but the series lost me after that. And his more theoretical works don't do it at all for me unless I read them knowing that discussion will follow. I guess I'm just not that good at theoretical stuff. I loved Steven Peck's novel The Scholar of Moab and when I heard that he had a new book out (is it new? I see reviews stretching back to 2009, but I've heard a lot of hype about it lately), I bought it eagerly.

The book is actually more of a novella, possible to read in one sitting. In the opening pages, the narrator, a Mormon from Utah Valley, finds himself dead, at a young age, from brain cancer. When he gets to the afterlife, he discovers that Zoroastrianism was the true religion, and as a result, he has to spend some time in hell. Not too long, the demon in charge assures him-- just until he finds the book that contains his life story. So he's sent to a library. A big library. A huge library. A library with many times more books than there are electrons on earth. The residents of this particular hell can't even find a book with a single sentence that makes sense, let alone a whole book. So the narrator talks about what he does, groundhog day style, to make daily life (death?) tolerable in this kind of hell.

The story is interesting, well-done, and would work really, really well as a basis for group discussion in a university setting. I'm still thinking about it days later. I feel like my *** rating more reflects the fact that the story is a novella and therefore there's not a deep exploration of character and motives. In fact, it feels a little bit unusual for so much time to pass in such a short number of words.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: Gold by Chris Cleave

Title: Gold
Author: Chris Cleave
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible for iTunes
Books I've read this year: 95

When I started listening to Chris Cleave's Gold last week, I had no idea what it was about. I picked it up based on his previous novel, Little Bee, which I remembered liking, and on the fact that Amazon and Audible kept telling me I'd like the book. I have several friends who are trying to write books to capitalize on the "Mormon Moment" but I didn't know until I got into the narrative that Cleave had timed his work's publication to coincide with the London Olympics. The book, which starts in 1989 and whose main narrative ends in the months leading up to the Olympics, tells the story of Kate, Zoe, and Jack, three promising young athletes who become the best short track cyclists in the world.

Cleave does a fantastic job with the alternating narration-- the story is told by the three main characters, as well as by their coach, Tom, and Kate and Jack's daughter, Sophie. While I remember enjoying Little Bee when I read it a few years ago, I also remember that I liked it with reservation. And like Little Bee, there are two strong female characters here, best friends and rivals, one of whom, Kate, is lovely and sweet and unselfish. Zoe, on the other hand, doesn't ever stop competing, on the track or off. For example, when it's evident in the early days of their relationship that Kate and Jack have a thing for each other, Zoe tries to throw herself at Jack, just to mess with Kate's head. There are some reveals in the book that feel a little manipulative (a la Jodi Picoult), but overall, this is a very satisfying read. It makes me think that every athlete up on the podium at the Olympics must be a serious head case, but that just makes the Olympics all that more interesting to watch.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Title: Dark Places
Author: Gillian Flynn
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 94

Dark Places is right. On the one hand, I've had so much fun reading Gillian Flynn's three books this summer. They were all terrifying and put a human face on evil in a way I hadn't seen before. I mean, the people in her books are crazy. Specifically, Flynn writes some really freaky women-- women who kill, women who don't know how to grow up, women who destroy and seem not to have souls. And because of that, I'm also sort of glad to get a break from these devious and damaged characters.

In Dark Places, Libby Day is the only member of her family who survived when her brother killed her mother and two older sisters more than twenty years ago. Or at least that's how the story goes. When Libby, who has never had to grow up, get a job, or take care of herself (she's been living on donations her whole life) comes to the end of her gravy train, she finds that she can finance her lifestyle by hiring herself out to a group of people who believe her older brother, Ben, to be innocent. As Libby delves deeper into the story for the first time, she's surprised at what she finds.

I love the style of narration in Dark Places. It alternates between chapters of what happened on the day of the murders (from several different points of view) and chapters of what happens in the present day as Libby starts sleuthing, and the stories connect in the final chapters.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent

Title: Kimchi and Calamari
Author: Rose Kent
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Library Copy
Books I've read this year: 93

Joseph is turning fourteen, and not exactly sure how he fits in his New Jersey family, who with their big hair and their goat horn necklaces sound like they could be extras on The Sopranos. You see, Joseph is Korean, and his parents adopted him when he was an infant. An essay assignment about his heritage gives him a bit of an identity crisis-- he knows nothing about his Korean past, but writing about his Italian family feels disingenuous. His parents are reluctant to talk to him about his adoption both because they feel such a strong identification with their own culture and because they don't want Joseph to feel diminished in his role in the family.

There are lots of picture books about adoption for international adoptees. I have a whole shelf of them to read with Rose when she grows up. I think that Kimchi and Calamari works really well for preteens, the kids who have cut their teeth on I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, but who now need to have an understanding of their identity and to come to see that sometimes their parents' motivations for being less open than they would like are because they don't have the answers or they don't want to confront the issues themselves. It's a nice, well-written story for any preteen, but I think it's one that I will slip into Rose's hands about ten years from now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The honeymoon is over

When Eddie and I got married, we had to take a short honeymoon. We got married on a Saturday, and since we'd decided to get married while he was still an undergraduate, we wanted to remedy that situation as soon as possible, so he started his load of spring term classes the following Wednesday. That gave us three whole days to go on a honeymoon. They were three wonderful days. It's funny, because we went to Park City for our honeymoon, and it's a place we visit pretty frequently now that we only live 20 minutes away, but I've never had any desire to go back to Stein Ericksen Lodge, where we spent those three days-- it's like that place exists in my mind as a memory, and I don't want the reality of today to change it at all.

So we came home, went back to school, and started building a life together.

When we got Rose, the honeymoon lasted longer. First there was the time in China. Then the time when we came home and were hanging on until she had her surgery-- we didn't want to make anything too difficult in that time. Then she had to recover. And then we were getting ready to go on vacation, so it was still time to just do whatever it took to keep her and us happy.

For a while, she felt like my little doll, a baby to dress up and play with.

But today, she sat in her high chair, with a brownie and an open cup of water, mixing brownie bits and water until they were a brown, sloshy mess. I picked her up and nearly started gagging. Because she smelled. Bad. Really bad. And I wasn't sure what was poop and what was brownie and I didn't want to accidentally confuse the first one for the second. And I looked at my baby, cranky from missing her nap, covered in brown goo and smelling to high heaven, and I realized that I'm not seeing her as my little doll or even my adopted baby any more, she's just one of the kids. One who, at that moment, happened to be incredibly dirty.

And while everyone loves a babymoon, it doesn't last forever.

I think that's a good thing. Because, as one of the gang, all of the attention isn't focused right on her. She can mess up. She can be crabby. She's not the crown princess, privileged above all others.

In the long run, I think that's a good place to be. I've had more than fifteen years of a great marriage and only three days of a honeymoon, and I prefer real life for sure. I hope Rose will too.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 92

A British spy, Verity, is caught by the Gestapo in France and forced to tell her story. The story she tells, about two young girls, one of whom, Maddie, becomes a pilot, seems to have little to do with her own tale, but the Gestapo agent in charge is patient. As a reader, you have to be patient too, because the first hundred pages of the novel are pretty confusing. But gradually, there's an enormous payoff for a reader who is willing to live with the ambiguities of the story. As you would expect in a war story, there's hope and action and love and unthinkable loss.

At first, I didn't think the novel fit the YA parameters. After all, the main characters are adults. In fact, there are very few children in the novel. But now that a few weeks have passed since I finished reading, I actually like the classification. It's a book that will require more effort than, say, the latest Wendy Mass book, but it's also the kind of book that I desperately want my daughters to read. I want them to know about the struggles of women that have gone before, and how women like these characters had to make hard choices and be strong-- stronger than they even knew was possible.

I had heard that the book was a shocker and full of codes, so I spent the whole time I read looking for signs and symbols. Ultimately, I think that made the read less satisfying. I had a "that's it?" moment when I came to the end, but it was still a wonderful novel.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The thing about love

When I was pregnant with Annie, I had a nagging worry. It wasn't how I'd be able to cope with two kids, although that did keep me up at night, especially when Bryce went through his "terrible ones" phase (for me, chasing after a one-year-old has always been much more exhausting than dealing with a two-year-old's temper). Instead, I worried about whether I'd be able to love my little girl as much as I loved her big brother. It didn't seem possible-- he was my whole world.

And of course, like every mother of more than one child, I found that there was room in my heart, plenty of room, in fact, to love Annie too. And Isaac. And Maren. It sounds cheesy, but each time, I found that my love grew exponentially. I loved my older kids and Eddie more as I watched them interact with the baby too.

Last year at this time, I found myself, once again, with a head full of doubt. I knew how to love these biological kids of mine, but it would certainly be different with Rose, wouldn't it? Wasn't part of the reason that I loved Bryce because he was the perfect marriage of Eddie's features and my coloring? Annie because her intensity and enthusiasm reminded me so much of my mom? Isaac because he'd inherited his dad's natural athletic ability? And Maren because she seemed to be a mix of all of our best parts? If she didn't share our biology, wouldn't it be natural that my relationship with her would be different? Still loving, of course, but a little bit diminished?

Of course, every fear I had disappeared on the night of September 26th, when I saw her face for the first time. Through my tears, I knew that this baby was meant to be ours. I already had opened a place for her in my heart, and from that moment, she was just as precious to me as Bryce, Annie, Isaac, or Maren. All of those months of waiting were so hard, because she wasn't just an embryo or a fetus growing inside of me, not yet ready to be born, but because she was already out there, halfway around the world, and she couldn't be in my arms yet. But from that moment on, I didn't doubt that I loved her.

Eddie was different. When I was pregnant, he wasn't holding my hands at doctor's appointments or rubbing my belly every night, eager to feel every kick. I didn't hold it against him-- he wasn't carrying the baby. And when we were waiting for Rose, he had a similar sort of detachment. He signed papers and said she looked cute in her pictures, but honestly he thought that adoption was a crazy scheme I had cooked up because I had too much free time. As we were boarding the plane, he whispered in my ear, "We can still back out if we want, right?"

So while I wasn't worried that I would love Rose, I was a little bit worried that he wouldn't be that engaged with her.

And just like he fell in love with our bio kids the moment they were placed in his hands in the delivery room, he fell in love with Rose in the cold governmental office in Jiangsu.

Now he comes home every night and plays tackle with her. He feeds her her bottle in the morning before he goes to work. They both light up when they see each other.

We shouldn't have worried.

I'm not saying it's always easy-- there are nights when she doesn't sleep, or she sleeps banging her head into him and kicking me. She's zipping and unzipping one of my pants pockets right now as I type. This one-year-old thing, man, it's not for sissies.

I should have known. After all, we've chosen to love people who aren't biologically related to us before. I love my best friend like she's my sister. My godmother really is a second mother to me. And, then, there's Eddie. I fell head over heels for him when I was eighteen, but part of that was opening my heart to love him.

And he's done the same for Rose.

I've never doubted that I loved my husband. We'd only been together a few days when I knew I wanted to marry him, and I've never questioned that choice. Like I said, love is a choice. But it's made me fall even more deeply in love with him to watch him do something he wasn't sure he could do-- to open his heart to Rose and to love her, not just like a daughter, but as his daughter.