Monday, March 29, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - March 29, 2010

After taking a few weeks off of Menu Plan Monday, hosted by I'm an Organizing Junkie, I decided that I was overdue for a little food blogging.

Here's what's on our menu for this week:

Sunday:  Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup with crusty French Bread - it will taste especially good, because my husband will be making it!

Monday:  Grilled Pork Chops, Stove Top Stuffing and Green Peas

Tuesday:  Taco Tuesday - a family tradition

Wednesday:  Pizza Night - our weekly family get together at my parent's house

Thursday:  Leftover Chicken Noodle Soup

Friday:  Fish Sticks, Macaroni and Cheese and Green Beans - Our last Lenten Friday

Saturday:  Grilled Chicken, Brown Rice and Peas

Sunday:  Happy Easter!  Honey Baked Ham, Potato Salad, Green Bean Casserole, Squash, and Rolls

Hope that you have a great week!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
Barnes and Noble Classics Series (January 2004)
286 pages (includes Through the Looking Glass)
Source:  Personal Copy
Challenges:  You've Got Mail Synopsis: 
Alice begins her adventures when she follows the frantically delayed White Rabbit down a hole into the magical world of Wonderland, where she meets a variety of wonderful creatures, including the Cheshire Cat, the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts—who, with the help of her enchanted deck of playing cards, tricks Alice into playing a bizarre game of croquet.

My Thoughts:
My husband and I read constantly to our daughter and recently set out to read longer stories, instead of only picture books.  Because of the recent release of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland movie (which our daughter is too young to see anyway), the idea of reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland struck me as a good idea.  Having lived under a rock for my whole life, apparently, I have never read the book, nor have I seen the Disney movie.  So beginning a few weeks ago, J and I snuggled under the covers almost every night before bed, and read this one for the first time together.

I was really disappointed.  I feel horrible for saying that.  Whenever I read a book that others rave about, and in this case is a classic, I feel that I am a literary traitor or something.  The story was OK for me - I enjoyed all of the different characters that Alice happened upon along her journey.  I think that I may have set my expectations too high for the writing itself, and was frustrated the nonsensical talk of the characters, and scenes that played on a little bit too long to be valuable to the storyline. 

I was pleased with the ending - for a few brief pages, I found myself enjoying beautiful writing and I wanted it to make up for my lack of appreciation for the rest of the story.   

J's Thoughts:
My daughter liked that there were a few drawings sprinkled through the story, which was a change from our recent read of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  Her favorite part was "when Alice was swimming in her pool of tears."  A part that she didn't like was "when the baby turned into a pig." 

I may reread this one again on my own. Because I read it out loud, some of the magic may have been lost.

Your turn:  Did you feel the same way that I did, or did you just love Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland?  Is there a favorite part that I should reread, which may just change my opinion?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

Thank you for coming by this stop on the Spotlight Series book tour for Unbridled Books.  Please visit the Spotlight Series home site to find more stops on the tour!

31 Hours by Masha Hamilton
Unbridled Books (October 2009)
229 pages
Personal Copy

Publisher Description:
A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother’s blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn’t know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won’t answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours. Jonas’s absence from the lives of those who love him causes a cascade of events, and as the novel moves through the streets and subways of New York we come to know intimately the lives of its characters. We also learn to feel deeply the connections and disconnections that occur between young people and their parents not only in this country but in the Middle East as well.

My thoughts:
**This review contains spoilers**
It is hard for me to start the review with the beginning of this novel, because I am still so consumed by the ending.  I did not want it to end the way that it did.  I turned page after page and found myself getting closer to the end of the book, and knew that the decision that Jonas made would change the lives of every character that I had become invested in. 

I loved the way that Hamilton wove together the characters in the novel:  Jonas, his mother and father, his girlfriend Vic, Vic's little sister Mara, and Sonny a homeless man who considered the subway his home.  Each character was beautifully described and I felt as if I understood their hopes, their perspectives, and I thought that I had guessed how their stories would end.  I especially connected with Mara, who seemed young and innocent and was trying desperately to reconnect her family.

With each brief chapter, as the 31 Hours counted down, I waited for all of the distinct characters to be brought together.  That the book ended as a cliffhanger shocked me, then angered me, but I have come to an understanding that it could not have ended any other way.  Hamilton's writing is breathtaking and 31 Hours most certainly took my breath away.

I highly recommend this book and I'm looking forward to enjoying additional books by Masha Hamilton.

Other Reviews:
Booking Mama

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Weight of Heaven: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar

Harper (April 2009)
384 Pages
Source:  Personal Copy

When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they had built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. But an unexpected job half a world away offers them an opportunity to start again. Life in Girbaug, India, holds promise-and peril-when Frank befriends Ramesh, a bright, curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of the grieving man's attentions. Haunted by memories of his dead son, Frank is consumed with making his family right-a quest that will lead him down an ever-darkening path with stark repercussions.

My Thoughts:
I enjoyed The Weight of Heaven very much, despite its propensity to make me burst into tears.  The thought of losing a child is unbearable to me, and Umrigar's description of the parents' pain and loss were very real. There was one evening while reading that I had to get up to go kiss my sleeping daughter, because I needed to see her and be thankful that my child is still with me.

The Indian setting was very interesting to me, and I think that it provided a well thought out back drop for the story by separating the grieving parents from their usual surroundings.  Both parents were flawed in their own way and the story illustrated two very different approaches to dealing with loss.  Frank's character seemed to spiral downward, reaching for any possible way to bring back his son.  While Ellie, seemed to move forward to accept the death and find new ways of living.

I highly recommend The Weight of Heaven for its beautiful prose and sometimes painfully real emotions.  Thanks to Mari from Bookworm with a View for suggesting that I move it up in my reading queue.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Anna Karenina Read Along: Part Two

Today I am continuing my thoughts on Anna Karenina with Part Two of the book, as part of the Read Along hosted by Mari at Bookworm with a View.  Here is a link to the synopsis and feedback for Part One from last month.

Part Two Synopsis (Wikipedia):
The Shcherbatskys consult doctors over Kitty's health which has been failing since she realizes that Vronsky did not love her and that he did not intend to propose marriage to her, and that she refused and hurt Levin, whom she cares for, in vain. A specialist doctor advises that Kitty should go abroad to a health spa to recover. Dolly speaks to Kitty and understands that she is suffering because of Vronsky and Levin. Kitty, humiliated by Vronsky and tormented by her rejection of Levin, upsets her sister by referring to Stiva's infidelity and says she could never love a man who betrayed her.

Stiva stays with Levin on his country estate when he makes a sale of a plot of land, to provide funds for his expensive city lifestyle. Levin is upset at the poor deal he makes with the buyer and his lack of understanding of the rural lifestyle.

In St. Petersburg, Anna begins to spend more time with the fashionable socialite and gossip Princess Betsy and her circle, in order to meet Vronsky, Betsy's cousin. Vronsky continues to pursue Anna. Although Anna initially tries to reject him, she eventually succumbs to his attentions.
Karenin warns Anna of the impropriety of paying too much attention to Vronsky in public, which is becoming a subject of society gossip. He is concerned about his and his wife's public image, although he believes that Anna is above suspicion.
Vronsky, a keen horseman, takes part in a steeplechase event, during which he rides his mare Frou-Frou too hard and she falls and breaks her back. Vronsky escapes with minimal injuries but is devastated that his mare must be shot. Anna tells him that she is pregnant with his child, and is unable to hide her distress when Vronsky falls from the racehorse. Karenin is also present at the races and remarks to her that her behaviour is improper. Anna, in a state of extreme distress and emotion, confesses her affair to her husband. Karenin asks her to break off the affair to avoid society gossip and believes that their relationship can then continue as previously.
Kitty goes with her mother to a resort at a German spa to recover from her ill health. There they meet the Pietist Madame Stahl and the saintly Varenka, her adopted daughter. Influenced by Varenka, Kitty becomes extremely pious, but is disillusioned by her father`s criticism. She then returns to Moscow.

My thoughts: 
Part Two was much more difficult for me than Part One.  In the first part, I was entralled by the early chase of Anna by Vrosksy.  The forbidden love was interesting.  In Part Two, Vronsky and Anna had already declared their love and they were flirting around St. Petersburg while most all of society knew about their affair.  In Part One, Levin was my favorite and I was pained by his rejection by Kitty.  In Part Two, he was back in his country home and descriptions of the farm, hunting and purchase of a forest bored me a bit.  The interaction between Kitty and Varenka were interesting, and because I can't seem to remember anything about the plot from the first time I read the novel, I'm anxious to see what happens to Kitty when she returns to Moscow.

Following are the discussion questions that Mari selected from's Book Club.  I've included my responses for each.

1. Talk about Anna's friendship with Princess Betsy. Why are they fond of each other, and what important roles do you see them playing for each other?

I think that Anna is drawn to Betsy because Betsy is aware of her relationsheip with Vronsky.  Anna, although she previously avoided Betsy and her circle of friends, feels like she has the ability to be herself in Betsy's company.  By being her friend, Anna also has a more frequent opportunities to see Vronsky.  Other than Betsy's ability to keep tabs on Anna and Vronsky, I do not recall a good motivation for her friendship with Anna.

2. Spend some time discussing the courtship and interactions between Vronsky and Anna. What do you find to be unique about the way they talk to each other? Do you recognize it as something you would call "love?"

The conversations between Anna and Vronsky are interesting.  When they are able to meet at Betsy's house, Anna spends a great deal of time trying to convince Vronsky to go back to Moscow and apologize to Kitty.  She frequently makes excuses for why they should not be together.  Vronsky on the other hand, only professes his love for Anna, and counters her every attempt to break off their relationship with an excuse for how they will always be together.  I think that they are in love, but it is strained and because of Anna's marriage it is difficult for them to be together. 

3. Do you get the sense that Anna truly feels guilty about the actions she has taken with Vronsky? If not, why do you think?

I think that Anna professes that she is guilty about the relationship, but she is more inconvenienced by their inability to be together.  She spends more time telling him why they cannot be together than declaring her love.  It is possible she has more anger at herself for the situation than guilt toward her husband or son for the impropriety.

4. Society—what it means to be a part of high society or operate successfully in society—is discussed at length in Part Two. What do you feel you have discovered about the way Russian society used to work. How does it seem different from your life today?

Society in Tolstoy's Russia is centered around class and wealth.  It appears that many jobs in government are secured by the wealthy, including Stiva's.  Social circles seem to play an important part in society - who you know, who you work with, who you spend time with.  There also seems to be quite a bit of evening socialization, where members of the same circle attend parties at night.  This provides Anna and Vronsky the opportunity to meet and mingle, while still being able to maintain the appearance of propriety.

5. When Kitty tells Varenka at the end of Part Two that she will never marry, do you believe her?

I feel that Kitty is still feeling sorry for herself.  She is still in love with Vronsky and because she knows that he is in love with Anna, she does not see herself marrying another.  I hope that she will have the opportunity to meet Levin again and have the possibility of marriage.
Off to Part Three!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Wives of Henry Oades: A Novel by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades:  A Novel by Johanna Moran
Ballantine Books; Original edition (February 9, 2010)
384 pages
Personal Copy

Synopsis from the Author's Website:  The Wives of Henry Oades is inspired by a controversial court case. In the late 19th century, Henry and Margaret Oades emigrate from England to New Zealand. There, Margaret and her children are abducted by Maori and eventually given up for dead. Grief stricken, Henry sails to California, where, many years later, he marries a young widow, Nancy Foreland. When Margaret and her surviving children show up on their doorstep, Henry and Nancy take them in, and all attempt to adapt. Berkeley townspeople rise up against the apparent debauched arrangement. Henry is charged with bigamy, a crime punishable by hanging. As their legal troubles mount, Margaret and Nancy find themselves allying in ways neither could have predicted. The story at heart is theirs. Readers will probably take sides, and will no doubt be divided. Both women have a rightful, lawful stake.

My Thoughts:
I enjoyed The Wives of Henry Oades and was pleased by Moran's writing style.  The description of the abduction was quite gripping and I found myself breathless.  As a wife and mother, I couldn't help but picture myself in a similar situation - what would I do?  how would I feel?  would I be strong enough? 

The story flowed very quickly for me, and for that reason I felt like I would have been willing to spend more time with the book in order to get a little bit more explanation on some of the characters.  Once Margaret was able to return to Henry, I felt as if some of the relationships and interactions were only explored on the surface.  The pain of the strange living arrangements, the ostracism by the community, and the threat punishment for the crime of bigamy would put enormous strain on a family and the individuals within it.

In all, I think that this was an very good debut novel by Johanna Moran.  I am looking forward to future releases.

Other Reviews:
Jenn's Bookshelves
Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books
Devourer of Books

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My dearest readers,
It is with great happiness that I share with you that I have completed Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. Having spent the last several days reading in every available moment, I thought that I must communicate the pleasure I now feel. I found the story quite agreeable and I daresay that it has become one of my all time favorite books. The conversations between the book's characters were lovely, but I must admit that I was inspired most by the letters. I fear that in this age we have lost much of the beautiful communication that is contained in the handwritten word, and I felt it necessary to offer my thoughts in a similar manner.

Elizabeth Bennet is a character for whom I feel great affection. Her interactions with Mr. Darcy were greatly entertaining and I was quite pleased by the resolution of their relationship at the novel's end. Elizabeth was smart, witty and courageous and I admired her ability to speak her mind. I must say that one of my most favourite persons in the story is Mr. Bennet whose candor and humor with respect to his wife and five daughters was amusing. Mrs. Bennet's relentless pursuit of husbands for her daughters was often shameful and embarrassing and her faults in this regard were many. Mr. Collins was pompous and annoying, but nevertheless played a very interesting role by demonstrating his scorn and condemnation of others.

The travels throughout various parts of England were quite pleasant to read and I found myself desiring a carriage ride, or a stroll through a traditional English garden.

It is impossible to convey unique and inspiring thoughts about a book that is so well known and loved. Dear reader, if you have not yet had the opportunity to read Pride and Prejudice, I hope that you will make time for it soon.

With warm affection,

Kristi, &c.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Penguin Classics, October 2009
480 pages
Personal Copy

Penguin Classics Summary:  When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships,gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

I read Pride and Prejudice as part of the You've Got Mail reading challenge hosted by Book PSmith.