Monday, December 31, 2007

A New Year and New Start

2008! I intend to bring this New Year into being with celebration and joy!!

My goal for this new year is STRETCH. Where this word will take me remains to be seen but I decided a few months ago that it would be my goal for 2008. I realize that it can be both physical and spiritual, that it might hurt a bit, and that once stretched I may not go back to what I was before. Sounds interesting doesn't it? I'm pretty excited about it.

Career-wise I am beginning the stretching already. I signed up for a Language class to finish up an endorsement for teaching second language learners. I am learning a lot myself! But more than anything else I am learning to balance again.

Physically I have set a goal to participate in a marathon in the next year. WoW! Talk about stretching!

As I envision a year of reading I see stretching again. Getting out of my comfort zone and reading more thought provoking books, trying new genres, reading more and carving out more time for reading spiritually as well is a way I really want to stretch. I want to embrace the technology of the internet and the iPod, the podcast, and the audio books for the iPod to help me stretch in an even different way. Could I really learn to blog? I still quiver when I have to add an attachment to an email!! Oh well, one stretching muscle at a time.

To close out the year 2007 I finished The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It was terrific!! What great voice the author has. The book was laugh-aloud funny and cry real tears on the same pages. I felt like I was talking to a dorky 14 year old boy who was both a nerd, a dweeb, and a reluctant warrior. The book was autobiographical and poignant. Junior (Arnold) Spirit lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, draws comics to cope with everyday life events, and is poor, poor, poor. When Junior decides to leave the rez school he becomes an outcast among the tribe but a warrior for his family. It was a great way to end my year of reading.

In 2007 I read only 35 books. That really saddened me as I think of time lost, yet as I looked back at the books I read I realized that there were a lot of great books there. I also realized that I gave myself permission to not finish some books. Although I didn't write those books down as clunkers, I know that what I wanted to be reading was something that would contribute something to me and/or my life. It felt good to give myself permission to set a book aside. I discovered that I truly enjoy memoirs (I must just be downright nosy) and I am intrigued by readable nonfiction. I love the prose of Willa Cather, Mildred Walker, and Ivan Doig - the quiet calm. I read a lot of young adult books and am proud of it. What a booming market. I also met my goal of reading 6 Book group books this year. I even participated in an online book group and read a fantastic book that I would have never been exposed to. I found many great book recommendations at Word of Mouth on and great recommendations at Semicolon Saturday Reviews. I read/lurk on several sites and I am so glad that they share their enthusiasm for reading, their titles and their goals. I feel like I learn a lot from them. I failed to read as many classics as I wanted to, I will definitely rectify that this year. It will be another way I want to stretch.

2008 looks great from this vantage point!!

Friday, March 16, 2007

March Madness

How I love March Madness, college basketball, spring, and the newness of a season. As I continue on Jury Duty (going into the 11th week) I have had some moments to really jump into some books, revisit some hobbies and I have even found some time to picnic at the park and enjoy the weather that we love in Arizona! Now that basketball playoffs have started as well it all adds up to some perfect days!

I have discovered some pretty terrific books in the last few weeks. I have felt like I have had some great adventures as I've turned the pages. I may be prevented from real travel because of jury service but that's not to say that I can't "travel" in my mind!

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn was a terrific first novel by the author. Set in 1800's England the author displayed a real flair for word crafting. Lady Julia Grey is widowed early when her husband dies of a chronic heart condition; the family saying goes, that the men in the family " will not make old bones." After a period of mourning Lady Julia is visited by a sullen private investigator who challenges her belief that her husband did not die a natural death. Historic detailing and first person narration were a plus as I found myself turning pages after page. Not only was the book visually beautifully crafted - the cover is probably the most beautiful that I have seen in a long time - but the imagery was beautifully crafted as well. The ending was an interesting twist. I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

The Alexandria Link by Steve Berry had been passed around the table in the Jury assembly room and now it was my turn. Although I wasn't sold on the book in the first 30 pages I did continue and was glad I did. A terrific book with tremendous research to back it up. I was intrigued and then impressed with the afterward by the author where he detailed where fact and fiction parted ways. What a plus! The plot revolves around the Library of Alexandria and purported Biblical translations that may lie within the lost Library and ones that could truly change the face of the Middle East today. Action packed, covert action, and a Da Vinci Code-like tale. I am recommending it to many!

The Yellow Lighted BookShop by Lewis Buzbee is both a history and a memoir. The author worked as a bookseller and then as a publisher sales rep and having worked in the industry myself I felt a kinship to this book from the get-go. I found passages to highlight right away, commonalities that I wanted to celebrate and revisit. I especially loved a passage about "book snooping!" I am totally guilty of this sin - looking over the shoulder of someone to see what they are reading. I am always glancing at books in other's arms, in their bags, or what they are picking up to glance at. It can then be a conversation starter or even more - another book that I might want to try myself. Another little gem, "Books are digested yet never consumed." by Francis Bacon. There were slow parts and parcels in the book. Times when the author was detailing historical bits and pieces that I glossed over. That surprised me as it is usually these little details that I love. Despite these glitches I enjoyed this small book.

The case I am involved with has finally closed and we begin jury deliberation this next week. I will miss my daily bus commute when this all wraps up as it has given me a gift of an hour of reading time each day. It will be sad to finish up with everything and say goodbye to new friends as well as this reading time. Hard to believe that we have spent all of the year 2007 together.

I am enjoying a great book called Molokai by Alan Brennert. I am reading it as a part of a a read-along at Abe Books, an online used book source. The story is of a young girl and a leper colony in Hawaii during the late 1800's to the turn of the century. It is fascinating. There is a good discussion group as well. I have done some research on the internet on leprosy but really could use some help in Hawaiian language pronunciation. I will be ready for a trip to the islands soon!

Rich is off at the Mountain Man Rendezvous in the White Mountains with about 2000 scouts and leaders for the week. He and the committee have been working on this rendezvous for over 2 years. I was supposed to go with him and help out but Jury Duty prevented that. He has shouldered such a big part of this event . He has been such a support to me through all the trial so I told him that I would come up for the last day of the event and help out on Saturday. As temperatures are going off the charts here in the valley (96 - 97 degrees) it will be really nice to get away to the mountains after all. Another plus!!

March Madness - - it's a blast!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fast Reads

I must have a little bit of a restless nature lately as the last three books have been short and easy to read. But I had a great time reading them and it was a great way to spend this holiday weekend.

I found the first book,Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bahija Lovejoy, as I read a recent blog at Semicolon. They had been doing a study of the Middle East and as I was reading the memoir of Queen Noor I was intrigued. I had to get the book via an inter-library loan but it was worth it. Seven Daughters and Seven Sons is a retelling of an Iraqi folktale from the 11th century. A poor merchant in Baghdad is the father of 7 daughters, too poor to provide much more than a meager living while his brother, the father of 7 sons, lives the life of a wealthy merchant. Yet riches aren't always what they seem! Buran, the middle daughter, angry with her uncle for spurning her and her sisters convinces her father to agree to her dearest wish - to masquerade as a boy and travel afar off to learn the traders art. Before Buran's story is over she has "not only established the family's fortune," but has bested her uncle and cousins as well! It was truly enjoyable!

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainia by Marina Lewycka was the Book Group read for AbeBooks. Certainly not one I had heard about or would have been apt to pick up on my own, but I stretched a little and tried it. Again it was another cultural jump. This time to England where an elderly Ukrainian immigrant decides to marry a much younger woman - much to the dismay of his two daughters! I must admit that I had to give this book the 50 page rule but finally fell into it. I didn't love it the way that many in the group did but perhaps that's because I worry often about my parents as they are approaching their later years. What was seen as humorous tended to hit me harder and perhaps much more close to the heart. I did learn a lot about the immigrant saga and the history of the tractor as well as the Ukraine - a great plus.

The last book was a little gem. Written in 1943, Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes, is the family memoir of a Norwegian family in San Francisco in the early 1900's. Each chapter reflects the sweet caring of a clever and crafty mother. I found myself giggling and laughing at every chapter. This little book can be read in an evening and is a real trip back in time. In it I saw my own mom, and both of my grandmothers!! This book counts as one of my "classic" reads of the year because my "classic" definition was something over 50 years old!!

My library stock has now been whittled down to 6 and none look like fast reads - but more opportunities to adventure!! That feels like the perfect thing as I continue on Jury Duty. I had a good laugh this week when one juror asked if I really read all the books I bring with me!!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Leap of Faith

Queen Noor has penned an educational and poignant biography of her marriage to King Hussein of Jordan in the book Leap of Faith; Memoirs of an Unexpected Life. I learn something new on each page - I am reading history through the eyes of an insider.

Born into prestige and privilege, Lisa Halaby met King Hussein as she was working abroad in Jordan. He was a recent widower and considered a most eligible bachelor. Their courtship was secret and ever so quick - a certain surprise to both of them. I have enjoyed her candor as well as the political history that she imparts. I never really knew or understood the history of Jordan, its people or much about the Muslim religion. It is a fascinating book and very readable. I must love biographies so much because I am nosey!

My pile of books to read is growing higher and higher. I brought home new titles from the library the other afternoon which only added to the current ones on the nightstand! Now Daniel Silva's The Messenger, Mama's Bank Account, Inkspell, Water for Elephants, A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine, and Silent in the Grave are all waiting patiently. Don't they all sound great?? To top it off I keep getting great recommendations from blogs, friends, and family. I have GOT to learn to multi-task while I read...

The weather here has been beautiful. One day I found myself picnicing at the park as even the ducks looked envious of what I was reading - probably what I was eating but I can imagine it differently!!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

NonFiction Buzz

I recently read a recommendation by Nancy Pearl (my library goddess) about a book called To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever; A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry by Will Blythe. She recommended it as a great nonfiction read .... very readable and spunky. Loving college basketball like I do I thought it would be a kick. Although it is definitely different than I expected I am really enjoying it. The writer has made it part memoir and part journalistic project or as he calls it, "written by the beast and by the journalist!" The rivalry is real and the author lives it himself, yet he maintains enough of a distance that he rather fairly exposes us to both sides of the ball! I am almost done --- good timing too. North Carolina recently whomped my team (U of Arizona) and now I am ready to pass the book on to a real North Carolina fan. I am usually a sporadic nonfiction reader but I have tried to really focus on this one and read it all the way through rather than mixing it in with my other fiction books. It seems to be working and I am finding the book easy to pick up and become involved in. It is also a good bus companion as I continue to commute to jury duty.

I completed Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen over the weekend and loved it. It was a Newbery Honor book, announced last Wednesday. The story of a brave young woman in Montana during 1917 - 1918 in the midst of World War I. I LOVED it and found that I could easily compare it to Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker - even a tad bit like the feel of My Antonia by Willa Cather (my favorite!) It makes me want to visit the vast prairies and gaze out on them myself. The story was inspired by the true story of the author's relative and the post script gave information on genealogical research and a connection to websites where people could investigate on their own family lines. That was a fun twist. I wonder how many young adults would do that very thing? I sure want to pass it on to some of my friends though. It was great and read really fast. The character was spunky and keen, full of moxy that I like to feel I have yet really know I probably don't! Isn't that why we read about different characters?!?

They just announced the release date of the last Harry Potter. It will come out when we are on vacation this summer. I wonder if we can pick it up in route on the trip and read it in the car. We will need multiple copies for the readers in this household. We all get a bit possessive.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bus Reading

I've found an easy way to add some extra reading time into my day. I now ride the Express bus home from downtown jury duty and have found it's a perfect 45 minutes to an hour of peaceful reading. The new Newbery Honor Award book, Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larsen reads quickly on the ride. What a great book that is!! It reminds my of Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker.

I finished Casino Royale by Ian Fleming earlier this week and I really did enjoy it. The movie was quite a faithful rendition as well. I look forward to watching it again sometime soon. I had thought that I might read another of Ian Fleming's books but have read some recent blogs mentioning the racism in them....guess I want to read too many other books to waste my time on such as that.

I started reading a nonfiction account called, America's Women, 400 years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail COllins. Although it doesn't read as quickly as fiction it is a fascinating collection of women's stories over the last 4 centuries of history in America. I have decided to buy the book so I can take my time reading it and really study and learn. I want to combine my discount coupon AND my birthday gift cards!! Yippee!

The library had 3 reserves come in for me this week. What a great thing to be thankful for. It appears that I may lose my 45 day checkout period as they are disbanding YAAC (young adult advisory council) at the Dobson Branch. Jennie has served on the council since she was 7th grade and having a prolonged checkout period was a great perk that she got. She and I have really gotten used to it. She also enjoyed the free galley books and the monthly meetings. They published a quarterly book review publication too and she will miss writing and publishing reviews. Although it often became a challenge to read and keep abreast of what others might like I know that she did enjoy it. To remain positive I'll be grateful for the time that she has had to be involved and serve.

Jury Duty is still tremendously interesting. I can't write or tell anything about it but it is beginning to be on my mind more and more. It really is becoming part of my life. It will be hard to go back to my real job tomorrow - yet being around little kids is just what I need! They keep life happy and positive.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Maintaining my Sanity

SInce I have been called to Jury Service this week I have found that the only way to insure sanity was to have a book with me at all times. Of course this is really nothing unusual for me but I must admit that the book has felt like a life saver that I hang on to. I left my book in the courtroom one time for a brief break and almost began to hyperventilate when I realized that I couldn't go and get it. I guess I have also been encouraged at how many other people had their "sanity saving" books! There were some reading Margaret Atwoods' the Handmaidens Tale, others reading Stephen King, some Jonathan Kellerman, and some delving into nonfiction. It was a fun experiment to talk with others about their books and their choices. I made some great friends that way!!

I am still reading The Book Thief. I am enjoying it although it is a quirky read. It took me almost all the way up to my 50 page rule for me to feel committed to the book and to really enjoy it. I stopped toting it to court to read the January book group selection, Hitched, by Carol Higgins Clark and I am 2 days dumber because of it! Gosh, I think I really felt myself laughing because it was so trite and tidy - tied up in all the cliche places. Consider this a warning - don't waste your time on it. Oh well, at least I'm done with the read. I have made it a goal to read at least 6 of the book group books for the year so I can cross off one of them!! Woo Hoo!

I am also trying my hand at Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming. Rich and I saw the movie for our anniversary and we really enjoyed it. I must say it is a little more confusing reading the French and the gambling lingo but I will press forward! A final book that I read a bit from every day is Reading People by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius. It is a fascinating book written by a scholar who helps select people to serve on high profile jury cases. The book details how we can all look beyond the first impressions to try to really understand someone else. Body language, compassion, socio-economics, and more. It is really easy to read - but ever so hard to remember to recall and apply. I hope that it can help as I have to make some very important decisions coming up.

Thank heavens for books!

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A New Beginning

After lurking around blogs for the last few months I have finally decided to take the plunge and jump in myself. I don't know why this feels so scary. Perhaps it's the fact that officially putting thoughts down seems so permanent or perhaps it is that, in true reality, I am a techno-dork. Nonetheless I am starting off 2007 with a!

In 2006 I discovered renewed interests in needlework and found so much pleasure in reading. Now in my second year of teaching a new grade level I feel a little more in control and can balance my work and personal life better. I must admit that I can get a lot more done now that I am not working fulltime and going to school fulltime as well. I look back over 2006 and realize that I had a lot of fun getting my life "back!"

DS, Ben, and I discussed some of our favorite books of the last year and he told me that I had really recorded the "stats" of my reading. Here I always thought of stats as more sports related, but oh, what the heck!
  • I finished 37 books this year - not counting those that I allowed myself to "let go of" if we weren't clicking.
  • Mysteries -12
  • General fiction - 17
  • Non-fiction - 4
  • Book Group reads - 4
  • Male authors - 13
  • Female authors - 24
My goals for the new year would be to challenge myself a bit. My first challenge is to start this blog (can I check this one off now?!?) I challenge myself to read at least 4 classic books (over 50 years old!! Now that I am hitting that ripe old age myself maybe I should re-think that definition!!) I also challenge myself to read 6 of the Book Groups selections, to read at least 10 non-fiction selections that are NOT work related and finally to record faithfully the books read both in my book journal as well as on this blog. Now, with those challenges out of the way I can sit and stare at the shelves and their titles that beckon me ----

If you want to join me at any point in time I would love it. Ben loaned me The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and I have it on my nightstand waiting. Any insight or new recommendations are always welcome too. I love personal recommendations!