Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - July 29th

I had a lovely beach picture from our vacation all picked out for today, but last night we picked up this cutie pie and my plans changed!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand - July

July has been a busy reading month! I finished 7.75 books. That is a lot of reading for me, even during the summer. Going back to school next week is really going to slow my reading pace and I am going to miss my mornings sitting on my back porch with a cup of coffee and my books.

This month I finished:
Salt - A World History
Snow Falling on Cedars
To Kill a Mockingbird
In the Wake of the Plague
The Russian Concubine
The Book Thief

I am almost finished with (my .75 book)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Next on my nightstand
Vive La Revolution by Mark Steele
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Can You Keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella (this one on audio for my trip to KY this week)
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (my book club pick for September)
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston - this is a re-read to prepare to teach it in class the second week of August
and if I can squeeze it in...
The Girl from Junchow by Kate Furnivall - this the sequel to The Russian Concubine

What's on your nightstand this month?
For more great book lists visit 5 Minutes for Books.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak

It seems I am the last person on earth to read this book! Somehow I missed this one and just recently picked it up at my favorite place in the world… Barnes and Noble. When choosing my books to take on our beach trip last week, The Book Thief just kept calling to me from the shelf,….”Take me, read me, you will like me….”, so I did. And The Book Thief was right, I did like the book.

For those of you living under a rock, like me, the book is set in Munich during World War II. It follows the story of a Liesel, a 10 year old girl and the people who touch her life during the war. The book is narrated by Death. This in and of itself makes the book different, but what makes it amazing is the writing. The story is beautifully written and pulls you along with beautiful characters that make you ache with sorrow and smile at the love shared between the most unlikely people. This is a story of what it was like to live in Germany during the war and it pulls no punches. Hunger, fear, inhumanity and death all play a prominent role, but so does love and compassion, friendship and learning.

As a reader, the central theme of Liesel learning to read and the way she acquires the books she reads, thorough stealing them, really hits home. The world that opens up for her thorough books is what keeps her going though the war. The relationship she builds with the mayor’s wife and her library takes some amazing turns. The comfort her books bring to others is just another thread that draws a group of unlikely people together, to survive.

The best part of the book however was the author’s style. The book is full of interjections from Death as the story goes along. He will explain things, including himself and his duty, as well as give you teasers of what is to come. In a book that should be dark, drab and depressing, Death uses colors and the most beautiful imagery to tell Liesel’s story.

“It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it has pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater.”

“The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper streaked across the redness.”

Now, who wouldn’t want to read a book written that beautifully? I am just sorry It took me so long to read this book.

Rating - A+

The Sunday Salon

This week found my family at the beach sharing a beautiful beach house with our neighbors. It was a fantastic week. Our kids are all the same age and get along wonderfully. Our husbands are friends and have similar interests, but the best part of the trip was that my neighbor Julie is a reader. Leaving hours of beach and pool time open, not to mundanely talk about the too small bikini on the lady next to use, but to read fabulous and wonderful books!

During the 4 perfect days we spent on the Emerald Coast, I finished The Russian Concubine by Kay Furnivall, started and finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and begain Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It was a very successful reading trip. Reviews of all books will follow soon, but I enjoyed The Russian Concubine so much I went out and bought the sequel, The Girl from Junchow to read next. The Book Thief was an excellent read, so much so, I am thinking of making it required reading in my AP European History class this fall. Fahrenheit 451 is my book club selection for this month. My students can’t believe I have not read this classic, but I am enjoying it so far. I do not read futuristic novels, but this one has grabbed my attention. We shall see. My goal is to finish before I start back to school on August 3rd.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Booking Through Thursday 7/24

From Booking Through Thursday

Which do you prefer? (Quick answers–we’ll do more detail at some later date)

Reading something frivolous? Or something serious? Serious
Paperbacks? Or hardcovers? Hardcovers
Poetry? Or Prose? Prose
Fiction? Or Nonfiction? Fiction
Biographies? Or Autobiographies? Biographies
History? Or Historical Fiction? Historical Fiction
Series? Or Stand-alones? Both
Classics? Or best-sellers? Best-sellers
Lurid, fruity prose? Or straight-forward, basic prose? Basic
Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Plots
Long books? Or Short? Long
Illustrated? Or Non-illustrated? Non-illustrated
Borrowed? Or Owned? Owned
New? Or Used? New

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My "Little" Literary Shopping Spree

I was a very bad girl today! I went book shopping for our upcoming beach vacation. Not that I needed any books, but my historical fiction tbr is seriously lacking and I really wanted to take a good one on vacation, soooooo I visited some blog friends.... big mistake! Marie at The Burton Review had reviewed Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant and after reading her review, I just HAD to have it. On Marie's blog, I also found Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross and The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner. Stephanie at Laughing Stars, listed How to Read Literature Like a Professor on her blog today and well, that went on my list too. In addition to these, I picked up 6 more books, for a total of 10!! My husband it going to take away my Am Ex card, but at least I will have enough to read until I get it back!

Booking Through Thursday 7/16

Follow-up to last week’s question:
Do you keep all your unread books together, like books in a waiting room? Or are they scattered throughout your shelves, mingling like party-goers waiting for the host to come along?

I keep my TBR books in several locations and each has it's own purpose...

  • The books I am planning to read next are stacked up on the table beside my bed - usually no more than 5 or 6, if it is more, I feel like they are going to topple over on me while I sleep.
  • Books I need to read for research for the classes I teach are on a shelf in my office.
  • There is a basket of books in my bedroom that I should read, but I am just not in the mood and may never be...
  • There are also some in my closet, can't remember why they are there and not with the others????
  • All others, and there are many, are on the book shelves in my great room. This is where I go to pull books for my stack by my bed when it is getting low.

How about you, where do you keep your TBR books? For more interesting answers, go to Booking Through Thursday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In the Wake of the Plague

By Norman Cantor

I selected this book to read for background on the plague in Europe in the 14th century. The European History course I will teach in the fall begins with this catastrophic event. It was not quite what I expected. Norman Cantor is a respected medieval historian and I expected a detailed historiography of the events and the consequences of the plague on Western Europe. There was some of this, but also so detailed stories of individuals and how their deaths may have changed history. One of my favorite theories discussed in the book is that the death of Princess Joan before her marriage to the Prince of Castile was the beginning of the end of the Plantagenet rule of England. His arguments are strong and he makes an excellent case. Overall I learned a great deal about Europe after the plague and how politically and religiously it had changed. Although it dragged in some parts and I felt he repeated himself a great deal, I have some great information to share with my students in the fall.

Rating - B

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Sunday Salon

My book club met on Sunday. As usual it was a great get together on a typical southern summer night - great food, inexpensive wine (and lots of it), singing tree frogs and one HUGE thunderstorm. As we sat on my back porch eating way too much and watching the rain come down, we discussed Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. (You can read my review here.)

I spent time reading In the Wake of the Plague – the Black Death and the World It Made by Norman Cantor to prepare for the European History class I will be teaching in the fall. I am also reading Freefall by Anna Levine. My big project for this week is to collect books to take with me for our beach vacation next week. I wonder how many books I can read sitting by the pool for 4 days?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reading Lolita in Tehran

by Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi conducted a class in her home in Tehran, Iran for 2 years. During this class, Nafisi and seven of her former female students studied forbidden western classic literature. Nafisi writes her memoir through a series of four books they read, each paralleling a particular time in the turbulent uprisings in Iran during this time period. She also flashes back to her time as a student in the US, her return to Iran and the time of the Iran Hostage Crisis. She laments the loss of freedoms for women, especially the loss of university education. She details her part in student protests as well as her own refusal to change her teaching or to wear the veil. She explains the events of the revolutions in Iran from a personal perspective, but without a fanatical approach. It is a very believable story.

I felt one of the most effective ways she portrayed the different views on the revolution was through her discussions on the different perspectives of her students regarding the wearing of the veil. One of the ladies wore the veil before the laws requiring it. She and all the women in her family had worn it as a symbol of their religious beliefs. She felt the laws requiring all women to wear the veil were belittling to her religious beliefs, it not longer had significance to her. While, at the other end of the spectrum, you have Nafisi, refusing to wear it while she taught and always being reprimanded for wearing it incorrectly.
The best part of reading this book for me what the timely manner in which my book club chose to read it. I finished the last chapters in the book just as the protests against Ahmadinejad’s election began. At the end of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi comments that the younger generation in Iran is ripe for change. Maybe this is the beginning.

Rating - B+

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Fill-Ins

1. The last thing I ate was Zaxby's Zensation Chicken Salad and a Coke.

2. Two pairs of Cole Hann shoes is something I recently bought.

3. When it rains, it is cause for celebration!

4. My husband was the first person I talked to today.
5. Hugs are best when they come from your kids.

6. A homemade quilt is extra comfort.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Bunco, tomorrow my plans include not much of anything and Sunday, I want to enjoy my book club meeting!
For more great answers, visit Friday Fill Ins.

Salt - A World History

By Mark Kurlansky

Salt – A World History traces the production of salt through history, from the first recorded salt production in China in 800 B.C. to 1997, when Morton Salt officially becomes the largest salt company in the world. Kurlansky addresses salt production on all continents (except Antarctica) paying particular attention to the ways salt is mined, evaporated, transported, taxed and used both in cooking, medicine and chemical production. But, the best parts of the book deal with how history has been shaped by salt. For example, when the Greeks and Romans conquered a territory the first thing they did was either take over or build a saltworks. The medieval trading superpower, Venice was built first on the trade of salt, then on other spices, fabrics and exotic goods. The first revolts of the French Revolution were over the taxation of salt. Gandhi started his campaign against the British rule of India by purposefully breaking the British salt laws. These are just some of the interesting historical facts the are based in the trade and production of salt.

This is the second book of this type I have read. The first was And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails by Wayne Curtis. It is one of my favorite books of all time. The author is in fact one of my Facebook friends. I enjoyed this one almost as much. It is interspersed with OLD recipes using salt, such as how to make salt cod and herring, proscuitto de Parmi, parmesano reggiano and even soy sauce. In a sea of boring world history books, this one is unique, offering a very interesting perspective on what might have caused history to take some of the turns it has.

This is the third book I have finished for My Cozy Book Nook's Summer Vacation Challenge. Read my list of books and other reviews here.

Rating - B+

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Booking Through Thursday 7/9

An idea I got from The Toddled Dredge (via K for Kat). Here’s what she said:
“So here today I present to you an Unread Books Challenge. Give me the list or take a picture of all the books you have stacked on your bedside table, hidden under the bed or standing in your shelf – the books you have not read, but keep meaning to. The books that begin to weigh on your mind. The books that make you cover your ears in conversation and say, ‘No! Don’t give me another book to read! I can’t finish the ones I have!’

I am almost embarrassed to post this list (almost). There are 27 book on my immediate must read list. This does not include at least 30 others sitting on my shelves that I have no idea when I will get around to reading. This quite an eclectic list, I teach geography which explains all the geography related books. I am also teaching Advanced Placement European History for the first time this year, so there are several books to help me research different time periods I will be teaching. Others are just a random selection of recommended books as well as those that were just too good to pass up at the book store. And, the one sci-fi-ish book, Fahrenheit 451 is my book clubs pick for August. Now, I need several days (weeks) to just read!

Why Geography Matters by Harm de Blij
The Sea Monsters by Rick Riordan
In the Wake of the Plague by Norman Cantor
Vive la Revolution by Mark Steel
Freefall by Anna Levine
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
What to Read When by Pam Allyn
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Sisters by Mary Lovell
Land of a Thousand Hills by Rosamond Carr
The Diplomat’s Wife by Pan Jenoff
Delivered from Distraction by Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Romanov’s – The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie
The Essential 55 by Ron Clark
Sex with Kings by Eleanor Herman
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan
Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund
Teaching Geography by Phil Gersmehl
The Annotated Mona Lisa by Carol Strickland

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Snow Falling on Cedars

by David Guterson

I read this book as part of My Cozy Book Nook's Summer Vacation Reading Challenge. Here is my original list and other reviews for this challenge.

In 1954, on San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, a Japanese American is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman. Coming so soon after the events of World War II, specifically, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the evacuation of the island’s Japanese descendants to interment camps, the proceedings are just a little twisted. Add to this a long ago romantic connection between two people closely related to the case and you have a story.

The story jumps from the trial to the investigation to events occurring before and during the war. This is the only thing that keeps the story interesting. I could not get into the story at all, probably because I did not like the characters very much. In fact, I really didn’t care what happened to them in the end. They seemed lifeless and passionless for such important events to be taking place. One of the reasons I kept reading was because I knew something dramatic just had to happen, but it never did.

The writing however was excellent. I enjoyed the descriptions of the scenery of the Pacific Northwest. I specifically enjoyed how the author set the stage for the snow storm that takes place during the trial. The flashback scenes were some of the best in the book. From the Manzanar interment camp to the island battlefields of the war, the descriptions and writing were what kept me reading the book.

Rating - C+

Wordless Wednesday

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Summer Vacation Book Challenge

Molly at My Cozy Book Nook is hosting a Summer Vacation Reading Challenge at her wonderful blog. Since I just finished the Spring Reading Thing Challenge I was looking for another challenge to keep me modivated. This one looks like a lot of fun. It made me really think about the books I chose, as one of the requirements is the books should take you on a "literary vacation". I love that phrase!

Dates: Friday, May 22 - Monday, September 7, 2009 (Memorial Day weekend - Labor Day weekend)Requirements: Summer vacations are meant to be relaxing and fun - not stressful. However, some people interpret "fun" by doing nothing but going to the beach and vegging out -- while others like to maximize their sight-seeing adventures. To that end, I have developed two different levels of participation:

Beach Bumb: you will read 3 books during this time frame (a leisurely book-a-month); cross-over book selections from other challenges may count; and you do not have to list books in advance -- after all, summer vacation is a time for spontaneity.

Globe Trotter: you will commit to reading 6 pre-selected books during this time frame, but you may substitute up to 3 books due to changes in travel plans. Cross-overs for 5 out of the 6 books are allowed, but ideally one book will be read for this challenge alone.

I decided to be a Globe Trotter -

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (small town Alabama)
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Washington State)
Salt - A World History by Mark Kurlansky (around the world)
Vive La Revolution by Mark Steel (Paris)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (London and Paris)
the Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Nazi Germany)

I will link a review to each book as they are finished.

Thanks Molly for hosting this challenge!