It’s Ramadan. I’m not Muslim, but I spend most of my time with Muslims, and Ramadan always kicks my butt. I spend my day doing normal things–helping a young woman get registered at college, taking my kids places–and then I go over to a family’s house at about 7:30, eat about 10, drink Turkish coffee, get home about 1. So here it is, 10 a.m., and I’m rocking a good headache and drinking coffee and I missed my gym class and I haven’t written my post yet. Unfortunately, since I’m not fasting, Ramadan is NOT a good time for me to miss the gym. Tonight promises to be more of the same.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about books.

This month, I read:

The Voluntourist: After the sudden death of his father, writer Ken Budd decides he’s wasting his life and he wants to give something back. He decides to participate in “volunteer tourism,” which is when you pay to go volunteer somewhere. He ends up going six different places, from helping autistic children in China to working in a Palestinian refugee camp, or working at an ecological camp in Ecuador.

Year Zero: This one was really fun, you guys. Apparently aliens LOVE Earth’s rock music, and they’ve been listening to and downloading our music since 1977, the year they date their calendars from now (i.e. year zero). They also have a law that they must respect the laws of whatever (primitive) society produced the artwork they enjoy. Now they’ve suddenly realized they owe every man, woman and child on Earth (except North Korea) billions of dollars. What are they going to do? Year Zero is a clever send-up of the music industry, science-fiction, and more. The bit about Microsoft had me in stitches. A fun, quick read.

Where We Belong: Marian got pregnant the summer after high school, deferred college for a year and gave the child up for adoption, and told no one–not even her own father. Now, 18 years later, the child is standing on her doorstep. How does keeping secrets change the kind of people we become, and how does it affect our relationships with others? This book about keeping secrets is told from both Marian’s and the daughter’s points-of-view. Enter to win a copy yourself here and read my interview with author Emily Giffin here.

Bullying Decoded: A most unorthodox take on how to deal with bullying. His writing style made me laugh as he dealt with this serious subject.

The Soldier’s Wife: I really like Joanna Trollope’s writing–she writes of ordinary people dealing with ordinary things, and she does it really well. The Soldier’s Wife deals with the impact of war on an ordinary family. Dan has just returned, physically at least, from a 6-month tour in Afghanistan. His wife Alexa is dealing with the fact that while he’s gone, she makes all decisions unilaterally, but when he returns they need to discuss things. Their marriage is in trouble and their friends and family gather round to try to help, or in some cases hinder. But it’s ultimately up to Alexa to figure out how far she’s willing to let duty carry her.

Shadows of the Workhouse: This was an incredible book that you should go read right now. Author Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife in East London in the  50s, and although the workhouses had officially been closed, she met many people whose lives were irrevocably shaped by them. Worth writes their stories almost as fiction, in the sense that she includes lots of descriptions and motives, and she brings these people to life on the page. I feel richer for having met them, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. The stories are heart-breaking (I totally cried) but Worth is a very balanced writer, presenting a little of the history of the workhouse and the good motives behind them initially. An incredible book, one that stands out in the myriad of books I read.

I’m currently reading:

Double Time: How I Survived—and Mostly Thrived—Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins: I’m enjoying Jane Roper’s account of her twins’ early lives, because it reminds me of my twins’ early years. Although I have to admit, just to you and no one else, that I privately think she’s a wimp because I had twins AND a 20-month-old AND I didn’t get the occasional nights and weekends off that she does, thanks to generous in-laws. I took all 3 to the store and playground all the time! But I really am enjoying the book, mostly because it’s reminding me of the joy of twin toddlers. And yes, they are a joy–especially in hindsight. They were so cute! I miss their chubby little cheeks and sweet hugs. Sigh.

Immigration and Adaptation: How Immigrant Families Excel in North America: This is turning out to be a book written for immigant families, to walk them through various aspects of adjusting and provide them practical tools to help them. I’m hoping to incorporate some ideas into my day job.

Skios: a Greek island, a big foundation which sponsors  a huge, boring lecture every year. This year, when demure, discrete Nikki is picking up the lecturer at the airport, instead she mistakenly takes home a grifter who thinks she’s cute. That’s how far I’ve gotten. It’s a farce and so far is shaping up just fine.

To Read:

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman: I’ve got to have the review posted in 4 days so I guess I should get going on this one ;) It’s about how all you need to know in life you can learn from reading Austen. I’m hoping to get Ilsa to read it too, since she’s just starting out and all.

What You Wish For: a novel about those who become parents in non-conventional ways–IVF, adoption, etc.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale: another one where I read the first chapter and was totally hooked. A family is confronted by their daughter who disappeared in the woods 20 years ago. She claims to have been in fairy land. Was she? Or not? (I’m hoping she was, personally, but I’ll let you know next month).

So, what about you? What have you been reading? And are you affected by Ramadan at all?

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