Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Lace Makers Of Glenmara

I've been reading a lot of vampire books lately and watching a lot of it on television (I think I'm the only person in America to have never seen Buffy The Vampire Slayer until two months ago) so when the chance to review The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri came along, I jumped at the chance. It would make a nice change of pace from all the biting.

The Lace Makers of Glenmara is a lovely read. It's the story of Kate, a 26 year-old woman fleeing a broken relationship in Seattle, traveling to Ireland to keep a promise she made to her mother to visit her homeland. She winds up in Glenmara and meets several women there who are lace makers, holding up the tradition of home-made Irish lace in the face of cheap knockoffs and foreign competition.

One of the women, Bernie, takes Kate in and brings Kate into her circle of lace makers. As Kate is accepted by these women, she learns their stories while being taught their art. She discovers that friendship can come in many guises and that lessons can be learned from even the most prickly of characters.

Of course there is a love angle to this story but what really spoke to me was the stories of friendship between each woman, how essential that is to all of us, how those friendships satisfy a need we all have. This book illustrated that beatifully and while the love story is fun and well-crafted, it is the women who move the book along and have the most interesting story lines.

This is a MotherTalk book review. To read more reviews of this and other books, please visit the MotherTalk website.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Meeting Mr. Wrong

Meeting Mr. Wrong, The Romantic Misadventures of a Southern Belle, by Stephanie Snowe is a highly entertaining account of one Southern woman's attempts at dating after a divorce. It is one of those books that makes you snort with amusement. We've all done the dating thing (well, I'm assuming we've all done it) and it can be hell, but Stephanie tells her tales with a lot of humour and wry wit.

Even before giving birth to twins, Stephanie's husband informs her that he wants a divorce and she is immediately thrust into a world of diapers and daycare. Dating is far from her mind initially, but once she does take the plunge, she does it via the Yahoo personals page. The dates she gets from this venture range from the odd to the slightly scary.

There's Denny, who lived in a trailer park and had a velvet Elvis picture on his wood-paneled wall. Denny, who had six of his workmates follow them on their date to the Golden Corral. Denny who peed with the bathroom door open.

Then there was Juan, who gave Stephanie a rating (average to slightly above average) as they were sitting down to dinner on their first date and then proceeded to ask the waitress for her phone number. This one called her back, even after she ran screaming up her walkway, yelling that he should never call her again.

Or Brian, who still lived with his mother and did everything with her, including let her listen in on his phone conversations. George, who turned out to be married and Ben, who got completely drunk and puked at her feet (and still wanted to kiss her after that).

The stories continue on, interwoven with conversations with her mother (which are hilarious) and talks with advice-filled friends. It's a quick, fun read that will leave you wincing in sympathy while laughing out loud.

This is a MotherTalk book review. For more reviews of this and other books, please visit MotherTalk.

Monday, May 5, 2008

That Baby

This is a MotherTalk review.

I was recently send a copy of That Baby DVD and CD. I'm not usually one to gush, but doods. Go buy this. It's great.

It features cover songs by people like Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Natalie Merchant and my personal favourite, Bruce Springsteen. This is not insipid children's music. This is intelligent yet fun music that parents and kids will both enjoy.

My major beef with most kid's music is that it's condescending, treating children as though they have no taste and only want to hear the umpteenth rendition of the Itsy Bitsy freakin' Spider. That Baby is definitely not that.

It's good music. It's music I loved in high school and college. And better yet, it's music that my girls adore. They beg to watch the DVD (again and again and again). They love to listen to the CD when we're driving around. And I don't mind listening to it. It does not set my teeth on edge, it doesn not make me want to run screaming for the hills and in fact, I have even been known to listen to it when the girls weren't in the car.

I can put the DVD on when the girls are getting wound up and they calm down. I put the CD on in the car when they're both in full melt-down mode and the stop and they listen and they're quiet, for the entire CD. Obviously there's something there that grabs them and makes them listen and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Given my adoration of all things Springsteen, it made my heart go pitter pat when Boo, my 3-1/2 year old, decided that Pony Boy was her absolute favourite song on the disc. Every day she asks to hear "the giddy-up song, mama!" And I am more than happy to oblige.

Go. Buy. Enjoy. Seriously. It's that good.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Ten Year Nap

Mother-Talk recently asked me to review The Ten Year Nap. I was more than happy to oblige.

The Ten Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer, was far more than I expected. Amy, the main character, is the mother of a ten year-old son, Mason, and wife of Leo, a lawyer. Her days are busily aimless and she feels somewhat out of control of her life. She had been a lawyer, at the same firm as her husband, but law was not her passion. In fact, she's starting to wonder if she has a passion at all when it comes to work. One section, towards the end of the book, really summed up Amy's struggles: "I expected things of myself," said Amy. "But not everyone is that driven. And not everyone is really that talented. And also," she said, "sometimes it's too difficult to make it happen.... I feel good.... Good enough." Then she said,"I don't know why I haven't found it. I thought I was going to."

This resonated with me because I have similar doubts and often look back at my younger self, when I thought I had it all sussed out, thought I knew where I was going to be and who I was going to be and now things are very, very different. Not bad, just...different.

The theme of this book, of well-educated women who decide to opt out of a career in order to stay home with their children, is one that is debated ad nauseum in the press and online. The Mommy Wars are almost a cliche, but in Wolitzer's hands, they become intimate and personal; I felt like I understood, almost, why these women fell into the SAHM role, in the way that I almost understand algebraic equations. I can see it, I get it, but I can't quite explain it. It's just there. It just is.

For me, this was a book of longing. All the women in the book seem to be longing for something they don't have. Amy, the excitement she sees in her friend's affair. Jill, for her daughter to have the average intelligence she sees in her friends' children. Roberta, for artistic inspiration to come back full throttle, after her long absence from it. But most of all, they all long to be seen as people, as valued, valuable people, far more than "just" a stay-at-home mother.

I thought it would bother me that these women couldn't find contentment in staying at home with their children. Having been a stay-at-home mum for the last 2 years, I can understand this urge to get away. An urge I only expect to get stronger once my children are in school full-time. The way that Wolitzer describes the dilemma, the back-and-forth of should I or shouldn't I work was spot on, something I've found myself thinking with increasing frequency.

But there is also the conundrum of what to do for work, that, as Amy thinks, work doesn't make you interesting, interesting work makes you interesting. So, what to do? Find a job that's just a job, that just brings in a paycheck each week? Or find something that grabs you, that makes you feel alive and vibrant and excited each morning?

I found this book fascinating. The women in this book who stayed at home almost seemed to be doing it as a backlash against the feminist movement, as though they were saying "We don't need to break down barriers, we want to stay at home with our children."

I doubt that this book will put an end to the Mommy Wars, but it goes a long way to showing both sides of the coin, that both choices are valid and valuable ones and that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn't be passing judgment on each others choices and instead, just accept them for what they are: choices.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Body Drama

This is a MotherTalk book review.

Body Drama by Nancy Amanda Redd is the book I wish I'd had when I was a young teenager. It discusses the things you don't want to even think about when you're 12, 14, 15 years old and it does it in a down to earth and friendly fashion. There are photographs galore and they aren't the airbrushed things you find in fashion magazines. They're of real young women with real bodies who have real issues and problems.

The book addresses myriad calamities that girls of that age go thru - zits on your face and on your back, body hair, weird odors and body image. It does it in an honest and straight forward way. It doesn't sugar coat things but its reassuring tone is comforting to girls who are convinced that they are the only ones experiencing all these strange things.

I handed the book to my daughter, who is 13. She was revolted and fascinated at the same time. She spent about an hour flipping thru it and handed it back to me, saying "Mum, there's, like, 20 pictures of vaginas in there." Then she paused and said "You don't have to give it back, do you?" I assured her that I didn't and she smiled and said "Good. I want to look at it again."

I initially wanted to review this book because my daughter has type 1 diabetes and the incidence of eating disorders and body dysmorphia are exponentially higher in girls with type 1. I wanted something that would reassure her that she was normal, that most girls go thru what she does and that no one is like they are in the magazines or on television. Going by her reaction, I think this book will more than hit the mark. It doesn't patronize, it speaks honestly and openly and is reassuring without being phony. I'm thrilled to have this on hand for my daughter to peruse and think it would make a great addition to any young woman's book shelf.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Middle Place

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan is ostensibly a memoir about a young woman's battle with breast cancer. In reality, it is that and an ode to her family, to her irrepressible father, her pragmatic mother, to her husband and their two young daughters.

I'm often torn about whether I should read books like this or not. They knock at my heart and drag some of my darkest fears into the light where I'm forced to examine them before locking them away until the next time. But this was a book I was glad to have read.

Ms. Corrigan brings you right in to her story, her battle with breast cancer and the story of her family, by switching back and forth from her childhood to her current situation. This can often be jarring, but she accomplishes it smoothly, without the frustration of being left hanging for a while.

Even though she is telling a difficult story, she tells it with a lot of humour and with a down-to-earth manner that pulls you in and keeps you reading. She is honest about her bouts of selfishness, her impatience with her kids, her silly arguments with her husband, her difficult relationship with her mother. She doesn't sugar coat things and she doesn't make herself out to be a superwoman or a hero, but just confused, scared and angry about having to deal with having cancer.

I found myself laughing, often thru tears, as I read this book. It sounds a little odd to say that I had fun while reading this book - it is, after all, a book about breast cancer, a topic that often elicits hushed tones and somber expressions - but it was a fun book, a book full of hope and life and laughter. It was less a book about breast cancer than it was a book about love.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Daring Book For Girls

This is a Mother-Talk book review.

Upon first perusal, some might wonder why The Daring Book For Girls is getting such rave reviews. In this age of cell phones, video games and instant messenger, do girls really want to know how to press flowers or make a daisy chain? Isn't that a little old-fashioned?

Yes. Yes it is. And old-fashioned is good. Old-fashioned can be fun. But the old-fashioned ideas in The Daring Book For Girls, by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz (founders of Mother-Talk) are also interspersed with such common-sense information like how to change a tire. How to negotiate a salary. The Greek and Latin roots of words. All useful information that anyone (girl or boy) should know.

I read thru this book and kept thinking "Oh, man, I wish this was around when I was a kid." There were so many things that I used to do, that I could have done better, taken further, if only I had this book. It's sort of like a big sister, without the annoying get-out-of-my-room-you-pest business.

There were far too many things that jumped out at me to write about here, but there are a few that I do want to mention.

Besides the cool things to make, like daisy chains and friendship bracelets and sit-upons, there were whole sections on famous women. Famous women inventors, famous firsts by women and even famous women pirates. The two women who caught my eye were Helen Free and Clara Barton. Most people are familiar with Clara Barton; she founded the American Red Cross. She was also born and lived most of her life in the town next to the one where I grew up. Her name graces one of the best camps for girls with type 1 diabetes in the country. We're big fans of Clara Barton in this house. The other was Helen Free. She was a urinalysis expert (how one becomes one of those is, thankfully, a detail left out of the book). In 1958 she developed the first home diabetes test. She was inducted into the inventors Hall of Fame for this invention.

Another section that caught my eye was a bit on words that will impress. I love words. When I was a kid, a favourite after dinner game was to pick a word out of the dictionary and have everyone guess its origins and meaning (I think we may have invented Balderdash), so my interest was piqued by their list. Included on it were: crepuscular, jejune and one of my top five, all-time favourite words: sesquipedalian. Oh, how I love that word. There were other words, but frankly, my little heart was singing too loudly upon spotting sesquipedalian.

And finally, there was advice about boys. "1. If a boy doesn't like you the way you are, the problem is him, not you. 2. Don't try to make a boy change for you - it's important to appreciate people for who they are." I think I was about 30 before I figured that one out.

I can't recommend this book enough. It is an excellent resource for something other than television, video games or chatting on the phone when you're looking for an activity to do with your daughter. The writing is crisp and not condescending. The sections are short, the activities are fun and interesting and definitely not boring.

If you know a girl between the ages of 8 and, oh, 13 or 14 (or older - it's also a great resource for babysitters), add this one to your holiday shopping list.