- Fizzy Thoughts: December 2007

The last book of 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

Persian Girls
Nahid Rachlin
288 pages

First, I just have to say…this book has the most gorgeous cover. I love the cover art, and the shade of purple that is used for both the background and the back cover. However, I didn’t buy this one for its cover. I bought it because it made so many people’s list of favorites. And I’m glad I did (buy it). This was a great book to end the year with.

Persian Girls is a work of non-fiction, although it reads more like a novel. It is the story of Nahid and Pari, their childhood and the different paths their lives take. Nahid was born in the 1950’s into a wealthy Iranian family. Her mother gave her to her childless sister Maryam to raise, a practice that was not uncommon. Nahid lived with her aunt, who she considered her mother, until she was 9. At that time, her father reclaimed her, a decision that brought much grief to all of the women. With the exception of her beloved older sister Pari, Nahid never did feel like part of the family she was forced to live with.

Nahid and Pari both loved America. Nahid dreamt of following her older brothers footsteps and going to college in America; Pari wanted to be an actress. Unfortunately, their parents were still traditional enough to want arranged marriages for both girls. Pari was maneuvered into marriage to a man she does not love, while Nahid eventually convinced her father to let her go to America.

As Nahid finished college and established a life for herself in America, Pari remained in Iran, becoming increasingly unhappy with her confining life. After many years, she died after falling down a flight of stairs. Nahid traveled back to Iran seeking answers about her sister’s death, but was only left with more questions. Eventually, she decided to confront her past and the result is this book, which explores her own childhood and journey to America, contrasting it with the unhappy life her sister was forced to live in Iran.

One thing that really struck me about Nahid’s tale was how she always bitterly regrets her father kidnapping her away from Maryam and forcing her into a family where she feels like an unwanted outsider. However, the friendship she forges with Pari opens her eyes to America. And her father is the one who allows her to leave and go to college in America. So even though her father causes the greatest unhappiness in her life, he is also the one who sets in motion the path to her present life. She alludes to this at the end of the book, and the irony stuck with me.

This is also a fantastic book for learning a little about the politics of modern Iran. The author intersperses her story with some history lessons. As I mentioned before, this reads like fiction, so both the story and the history are easy to read; I never felt like I was reading a dry history text. Thank goodness, because I’ve been there done that and it’s not happening again.


Any Bitter Thing

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Any Bitter Thing
Monica Wood
335 pages

While out jogging one night, Lizzy Mitchell is the victim of a hit and run. As she lies unconscious in the hospital she believes her deceased uncle, Father Mike, visits her. After she was orphaned at a young age, Father Mike (who is a Catholic priest) took in Lizzy and cared for her until she was nine, at which point she is sent away to her aunt’s house. Father Mike dies shortly thereafter.
After his mystical visit in the hospital, Lizzy begins to reflect more on her childhood. The book easily moves between the past and the present, the voices of Lizzy and Father Mike. Intertwined with Lizzy’s search to understand the past is her search to reclaim her marriage and ultimately, herself.
This sounds like a depressing book, but it really isn’t. Of course, it isn’t exactly jump up and dance a jig material, either, but it’s a quiet, reflective book that focuses on relationships…those between friends, family, and community.
One of the things I liked most about this book is how rooted in the everyday it is. The characters could easily be your neighbors; they are that normal and well crafted. This is not book about unusual magical occurrences (although I like those books, too). Granted, the hit and run isn’t ordinary, and being raised by a Catholic priest is a little out of the ordinary, but the actions and reactions of everyone seem very grounded in reality and everyday.There is also a twist about 2/3 of the way through that came as a surprise and got me to thinking even more about what was going on. And that’s all I’m gonna say ‘bout that.



It’s an old question, but a good one . . . What were your favorite books this year?
List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

In no particular order, here is the best of 2007...

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
love walked in, by Marisa de los Santos
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak
eat pray love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Julia's Chocolates, by Cathy Lamb
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hossein
The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani
The Saffron Kitchen, by Yasmin Crowther
The Caliph's House, by Tahir Shah

I forgot (how could I forget?!?)...
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diana Setterfield


My new love

Sunday, December 23, 2007

These are ricotta cookies. I know they don't look like much, but my whole family fell in love with them tonight.

And yes, I made them with my own two hands. I know that may come as a shock, but I figured since it was Christmas and all, I would bake something. I actually tore myself away from a book for the approximately two hours (that includes the baking time) it took to whip these puppies up. They are probably the easiest cookie I've ever made.

Ricotta Cookies

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 (15 oz.) container ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
4 cups all purpose flour
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat sugar and butter until blended. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).

At medium speed, beat in ricotta, vanilla and eggs until well combined.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt; beat until dough forms.

Drop dough by level tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake approximately 15 minutes or until cookies are very lightly golden (cookies will be soft). Remove to wire rack to cool. When cookies are cool, prepare icing. Drizzle icing across tops of cookies and immediaely sprinkle with sugar crystals or sprinkles. Allow to dry at least 1 hour, preferably longer. Yield: 6 dozen.


Public Service Announcement

Friday, December 21, 2007

I know what I'm doing Sunday night.

Except someone needs to warn to Elmo to stay away from Sheryl. She likes to date famous guys...I'm a little nervous for Elmo.


And the nominees are...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?

Of the books I read this year that were published this year, I would nominate The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid. I almost said A Thousand Splendid Suns, but it's on other people's lists, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist isn't. And besides, I love what the author did with the ending. It's a short, quick read...I'd highly recommend it.

My favorite non-fiction reads for the year (eat pray love and The Places In Between) weren't published this year, and I can't think of any other worthy of nomination. Even my current read (North of Ithaka), which coulda been a contender, falls short of the required publication date. So no non-fiction nominations.

And finally, "best of" lists don't really influence my reading. I tend to go for books that catch my eye, either on the tables at Borders and Borders and Noble, or from people's blogs, or from the Powells or B&N websites. Which isn't to say the books aren't on a list...they're just not on a list I'm aware of.


Whatcha Reading Meme

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This meme comes from Lisa...

I’m a reader who is always looking for a good book recommendation from friends, neighbors, people on planes, in waiting rooms, at the library.. wherever I happen to be. I find myself saying, “Whatcha reading?” several times a week!
In this meme, I’d like to know 5 things:

1. Whatcha reading?
2. How much of it have you read so far?
3. What’s it about? (in a nutshell! A sentence or two is enough)
4. What does the title refer to?
5. Would you recommend it?

My answers:

1. I'm currently reading North of Ithaka, by Eleni Gage.

2. I'm on page 207 of 272.

3. Eleni Gage's grandmother was executed during the Greek civil war that followed WWII. She decides to return to her grandmother's village and rebuild the house where her grandmother was held prisoner. The book is both informative and entertaining, as the author describes her experiences of living in an itsy-bitsy village and her family's reactions to the rebuilding of a place that holds bitter memories.

4. Lia (the itsy-bitsy village) is north of the island of Ithaka. Beyond the obvious, I think (but am not sure, since I can't find the spot) that the title refers to the fact that Lia is far, far removed from the typical Greek island view that many tourists have of Greece.

5. Yes, especially if you like travel/moving to another country memoirs. It is also worth noting that the author's father, Nicholas Gage, wrote his mother's story, Eleni. The book was made into a film. I have neither read that book nor seen the movie, and you don't need to in order to appreciate this book. But it might make a nice follow-up if you did read/see Eleni.


Booking Through Thursday - Catalog

Friday, December 14, 2007

Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or . . . do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to?? (grin))
If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
P.S. Incidentally, folks, did you see the
clever post Joanna put together with all our Connecting Words from a couple weeks ago? Not to mention, of course Brad’s winner to the contest.

I have a Library Thing account. Do I keep it up to date? No. I thought I could use it to keep track of the books I read, but this blog works a lot better. For now. I was telling lisamm that I'm on my third bookish blog attempt. The books always end up taking a back seat on the blog. Anyways, back to Library Thing. I always end up giving my books away (I hear those gasps of horror...but trust me, if you moved every couple of years, you'd be giving your books away, too). So it's kind of pointless to catalog books I don't have.
I also like Library Thing's nifty little blog widget thingy that shows what books you've read recently, but I couldn't quite seem to get it to accurately reflect what I'd just read. Okay, and I'm lousy about updating it, too. So, long story short...I love the concept, and I think the site (Library Thing) is awesome, but I don't use it.


A couple of well-traveled books

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In between my time spent hanging out with the locals at Lambeau Field and Ashwaubenon Bowl, I've done a little reading. In fact, I'm down to one book, so I'm getting a little twitchy.

This was the book I finished on the plane, The Center of Everything, by Laura Moriarty.

It was a straight-forward tale of growing up in the '80s in a small Kansas town. Evelyn's father ran off before she was born, so it's just Evelyn and her mom. The story centers around Evelyn, and her growing awareness of her mom's struggle as a single mom in a fairly conservative town, Evelyn's own struggles with not quite fitting in, and small town values. It was a fairly simple, yet interesting book. Probably because the author weaves in so many things that I remember from growing up (OP sweatshirts, Challenger, that scary movie about a nuclear bomb that we weren't allowed to watch, Reagan, Carter...). Two thumbs up, especially if you were a kid in the '80s. Guess that rules you out, Mack. :-D

I followed that one up with When Madeline Was Young, by Jane Hamilton.

First off, the back of the book does a crap job of explaining this book. Not that I'll do much better, but still. It says it's a book about Madeline, a young wife who is in a bicycle accident and regresses to the state of about a six year old. Her husband and his new wife care for Madeline for the rest of their lives.

Yes, the book is about that. But it is told from the viewpoint of Timothy, who would technically be an ex-stepson of Madeline. Timothy talks about his parents, his sister, Madeline, the neighbors, his aunt, uncle, cousins, wife and daughters. In fact, for the first four chapters, Madeline was almost incidental to the story, and I was feeling like a victim of false advertising. The book is set primarily in the '50s and '60s, and political debate is a key part of the family, and the book. Timothy is a doctor, and there is some weird medical jargon and terminology tossed in. And there are many references to composers and literature, because the family is well-read and educated. More so than me, because a lot of it went over my head. So I probably didn't appreciate this book as much as the author wanted, but tough. It was okay, just not what I was expecting.

Although the author is from Wisconsin, so I guess that's appropriate.


Our big day at the bowling alley

To wrap up our fun-filled Wisconsin-in-December vacation, HB and I went bowling yesterday. Yes, bowling. It's indoors, it's warm, and you can say you've gone somewhere and done something.

HB was in bowling league as a kid. (He was in the band, too...he'll admit to being a dork.) So needless to say, he always scores waaaaaaaaay higher than me. 'Cause I pretty much suck at bowling. However, for one brief shining moment I was actually ahead of HB. I even have proof:

Pay no attention to the score on top. Focus on that 69...this was the game where I actually broke 100. Yes, yes, I told you...I'm a lousy bowler. I blame it on the fact that HB bowls so many strikes. I have less time to rest in between frames, or whatever it is they're called.

Here's HB after he bowled (yet another) strike. I was going for the action shot, but he was too quick. If he's going to bowl so many strikes, I'm going to post less than stellar pictures of him.


Game Day

Monday, December 10, 2007

Before we get to the details, a few observations...

  • I don't know why people would choose to live here. Getting ready to go outside is a total pain in the ass. And it's cold. Really, really cold.
  • The people here are very friendly. Which I don't get, considering the cold. Everytime the Packers scored a touchdown I got patted on the back. And my head. Well, actually my cheesehead. And high-fived. Even the waitresses are friendly. Not that I don't like it. I do. It's just a little surreal.

  • I totally get bowling. The warmest I've been in the past 5 days was when we were bowling this afternoon.

Okay, so on to yesterday's game, our whole reason for being here.

The hotel shuttle dropped us off a few blocks from the stadium, so we (along with a horde of people) walked towards the stadium.

Yes, it was cold. I had on long johns (top and bottom), jeans, a turtleneck, a turtleneck sweater, a vest, a jacket, socks, footwarmers (which didn't do squat), boots, gloves, handwarmers, mittens, two scarves, earmuffs, a hat, and a cheesehead.

After a quick search by security and a short walk through the stadium (they were right...there aren't any bad seats!), we were there:

And so was the rest of Green Bay.

Attendance was 70, 800+ fans. And I'd be willing to bet they are the nicest group of 70,800+ people to crowd into a stadium. In this case, crowding is good, because it helps to counter the wind chill. Right before the game started the sun came out. Woo-hoo! It didn't do anything, but it boosted morale. An hour later it was gone and we saw honest to goodness snowflakes. They were quite pretty, you could even see the flake design. But at that point the camera batteries were dead. Which is okay, because it's really difficutl to take pictures with your mittens on.

Anyways, back to the pre-game action. Here's Hamburger looking all excited. Really, he's excited. He's just a little cold.

And here's Favre (the Green Bay quarterback, for all you football neophytes). He's #4.

More warm-ups. Isn't this exciting?
And here's is where the team came out for the game. Go Pack Go! (Yes, I chanted that during the game...we were instructed to leave our inside voices at home).
Look, a fellow fan.
Hold onto your cheesehead! I had mine knocked off a few times.

It's hard to keep track of it when you're wearing a hat and a scarf underneath.

Really, that's me underneath all those layers. Aren't I fashionable?

Oh, and yes, the Packers won. Of course they won, they were playing the Raiders. Although maybe it was because I was wearing my lucky cheesehead.


the frozen tundra

Friday, December 07, 2007

You know you're a Packers fan (or a dork) when...

You visit Lambeau Field and it isn't a game day.
And you sign up to take a tour of the stadium.
And you hang out at Curly's Pub, where you see the players walking into the stadium after practicing across the way in their big indoor field.

And you see the ref. And you take his picture, too.

And then you take a picture of the snow, because you still can't get over the fact that you're in Wisconsin.
And then you go on the tour, where you get to see the stadium from a fancy dancy sky box.

And then you get to walk through the tunnel and onto the field. Which was cold.

And then you take another picture of the snow.
And then you head back to the hotel. Because Curly said to.


Baby, it's cold outside

It's official, we're in Packer Country. In fact, that was the first thing we saw when we walked into the airport. A banner that said, "Welcome to Packer Country." It really is all about the football. Our taxi driver said, "You here for the game?"

Amazingly, all of our flights were on time. Especially since this is what Chicago looked like:

Yes, that's snow. See:
We walked through it to get to our plane. With no warning, they announced boarding, took our tickets, and sent us through a door, down some stairs, and out into snow. Okay, so the stuff on the ground was pretty much melted. But there was more falling from the sky. And it wasn't a short walk. By the time I got to the plane it was snowing in my ear. Seriously...the wind was blowing little fluffy flakes into my ear while I was waiting to get on the plane. There's a sentence I never thought I would type.

After our plane was de-iced and coated with a gooey green anti-freeze (that is only good for 20 minutes, how comforting is that??) we taxied through the snow. Luckily we were able to launch within our 20 minute window and before you know it we were in Green Bay.

And here we are. Holed up in the hotel room. It's not currently snowing, but here's more evidence that it has been:

Not very exciting pictures, but that's because I took them from the balcony of our room. We'll venture out later, when it warms up. To the expected high of 26 degrees.


OOP (and ooops, it's cold in WI)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Let me just start by saying that it is currently 4 degrees BELOW zero in Green Bay (I'm not there yet, but can you hear me laughing hysterically about the thought of being there?). There is a very good possibility that I'm going to experience more culture shock in Wisconsin than I did in Italy.

And now it's time for...

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again? (I have several…)

This will be quick.


If I can't buy it at the big four (Borders, B&N, Amazon and Powells), it doesn't get read. And I tend not to pay much attention to books after I've read them...on to newer things!


Oh. My. God.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It is currently 3 degrees in Green Bay, WI. This California girl is going to freeze her ass off!

Tomorrow, Hamburger and I leave for the frozen tundra. Yes, we are really going to Wisconsin . In December. To see a Packers football game. And yes, I am going of my own free will.

Of course, it is snowing in Chicago currently and they are snow plowing the runways. Flights are backed up. And wouldn't you know, we fly through Chicago. This could be where my travel karma abandons ship.

I am pretty much packed. I am taking the same suitcase I took for a month in Italy, and I'm only going for 5 days. It is stuffed full of long johns, turtlenecks and sweaters. As well as two scarves, ear muffs, a hat, mittens and gloves, hand warmers, and three books. Can't forget the books. Because really, how much time do you really think we'll be spending outdoors?

I am also taking the laptop, so stay tuned for updates as Hamburger and Softdrink travel to the frozen tundra for a freakin' football game.


Another reading challenge

Monday, December 03, 2007

I really like the idea of this one...

There are two ways to approach this challenge. Either read four books by authors in one of the six categories (you can read more than one category, but you must read four books; not two books in one category and two in another) OR read six books, one from each of the six categories. The categories are:

1. African/African-American

2. Asian/Asian-American (This is not just East Asian -- Chinese, Korean and Japanese -- but also Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and the Central Asian -Stans.)

3. Hispanic/Latin American

4. Indian/Indian-American (Again, books by Indian authors; not books by white authors set in India.)

5. Middle Eastern (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Turkey...)

6. Native Peoples (Can include Native American, Inuit, Polynesian --Maori, Samoan, etc -- Siberian natives and Australian Aborigines.)

I'm going with the second option. I'll be reading...

1. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (African)

2. Twinkle, Twinkle, by Kaori Ekuni (Asian)

3. Ines of My Soul, Isabel Allende (Latin American)

4. From Heaven Lake, by Vikram Seth (Indian)

5. Istanbul, by Orhan Pamuk (Middle Eastern)

6. Sky Dancer, by Witi Ihimaera (Native Peoples - Maori)

A few words on why I chose what I chose. Things Fall Apart is one of those books that always seems to pop up when I'm cruising through bookstores. And Wikipedia made Chinua Achebe sound like an interesting guy. I found Twinkle, Twinkle while doing an online search for Japanese authors. This was my last category, and I was trying to find a female author...I clicked on Kaori Ekuni because the name just looked beautiful. I have high hopes for Twinkle, Twinkle. I was going to read 100 Years of Solitude for my Latin American selection, but I've started the damn thing twice, so I'm going with Ines of My Soul, because it's been on one of the Borders tables for the past two weeks and it keeps catching my eye. I'm so shallow. From Heaven Lake is a travelogue...need I say more? Istanbul is another book I'm determined to finish...I gave it up last year, so it's getting resurrected for this challenge. And finally, I wanted to read a Maori author. Not knowing anything about Maori authors, it was a challenge to find one. I finally found Witi Ihimaera, who wrote Whale Rider (anyone remember that movie?). Since I don't like to read books if I've seen the movie (and vice versa), I'm going with Sky Dancer, which I know nothing about, because none of the online bookstores that I frequent had a review or blurb on it. Even though they sell it.

Thanks for organizing this one, Melissa. I'm really looking forward to reading these books.



Last week's reads:

I really don't feel like reviewing either one, but I'll choke out a few words.

Sixpence House, by Paul Collins, is non-fiction. Collins and his wife decide to move to Hay-on-Wye, that cute little Welsh town that is devoted to used book stores. After striking out on finding a house to buy, they pack up after a few months and move back to the US. Obviously, there's more to it than that. But not much. Needless to say, it didn't rock my world.

Digging to America, by Anne Tyler, is a little harder to describe. It tells the stories of two families who both adopt Korean babies. Told from the viewpoint of various family members over the next six or so years, it is an interesting book. The two families are totally different (the Donaldson's are PC Americans full of advice, the Yazdans an immigrant family, assimilated yet still with their own traditions) and I enjoyed reading about the differences between them and speculating on how these differences will impact the lives of the little girls they adopted. However, I'm not sold on Anne Tyler's style. It seems abrupt. But I'm also in a bit of a slump when it comes to choosing books...I feel like Goldilocks. Nothing is quite right.


City Swap

Saturday, December 01, 2007

This year, for the first time ever, I signed up to be a part of the Great International City Swap. You can click on the badge to go to Shelley's site and read all about it.

I sent my package off to Italy (and hopefully the Italian mail will cooperate and Monica will actually get her package...if you're so inclined, please send speedy, efficient vibes to Poste Italiane.)
Now for the good part...I got a package from Adrienne in Tampa, Florida. I actually received my package last week (yikes, almost two weeks ago at this point!), but like I told Adrienne, I'm a slacker.

This was my package, fresh off the doorstep:
See the pictures? Adrienne took those.

Unlike me, she has talent with a camera.
Now for what was inside...

Adrienne made a collage representing a tour of her town. She wrote out an explanation of what she chose, and taped it onto the yellow pages. And included a page from the phone book with the listing for my last name. The collage includes a picture of her spinning on the beach, a receipt from a yummy sounding Cuban meal that she had, a matchbook from one of the many strip clubs in Tampa, grass from the Buccaneer's stadium, and a crumbled cigar.
Here's a final, lame picture of the collage propped up on my desk. That's for Adrienne's boyfriend...tell him it's NOT going in the garage. Please ignore the glare from the flash.
So...many thanks to Shelley for organizing the fun, and a big thank you to Adrienne for her tour of Tampa. I had a blast. :-D

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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