Janice’s Review Blog

Archive for April 2009

Alberto Alvaro Rios writes 'Capirotada,' a Nogales memoir.

Alberto Alvaro Rios writes 'Capirotada,' a Nogales memoir.

A flashing advertisement on the Phoenix Public Library homepage piqued my curiosity.  The ad showed the book “Capirotada,” the 2009 winner of the ONEBOOKAZ award.  The book looked interesting, and I met the author, Alberto Alvaro Rios, and purchased another of his books, “The Theater of Night,” at the Phoenix College Microburst Writer’s Conference in 2007, so I decided to read it.

Although small in size, only 147 pages, this paperback book tells the story of Rios growing up in Nogales.  He describes the border town starting in the 1950s and includes some black and white photos of his family.  His descriptions of the area paint vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.

Rios uses the innocence of his childhood to describe how his family lived their life in Nogales.  How they worked together, took care of each other and enjoyed a happy life.  He describes a border in the early years where people in the U.S. and Mexico could come and go freely while shopping, getting medical treatment or enjoying celebrations.

The subject of Capirotada surfaces midway through the book.  “Capirotada: This is indeed simply a bread pudding,” writes Rios, “but it would be unfair to stop there in the description.  ‘Bread pudding’ says so little about it, as so many words are unequal to their task.  Made with a zoo of foods, each thing in it is good, but taken together Capirotada is Mexican cooking’s version of fruitcake.”  The last two pages of the book contain the full recipe for Capirotada.

Many stories give glimpses into Rios’ childhood.  At eight-years-old, Rios describes how he and his friend Sergio packed their knapsacks with all the ingredients for sandwiches along with plates, silverware and Coke and headed into the mountains surrounding their homes.  They planned to stay for three days.  Their full knapsacks weighed them down and wore them out, but they continued on until they came to the top of the hill.  On the other side of the hill, they thought they found heaven.

Rios tells how his English mother and Mexican father met in England while his father served in the U.S. Air Force.  The couple planned to marry and live in England, but two weeks prior to his father’s discharge from the Air Force his commanding officer sent him back to the United States.  The reason was never clear.

The stories in the book make it hard to put down.  It’s not difficult to see why ONEBOOKAZ chose this book as the 2009 winner.

Book sales held at the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library warehouse.

Book sales held at the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library warehouse.

Every year, the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library hold book sales throughout the year.  Even though I own more books than I will ever be able to read before I die, I look forward to attending their half price sales on Sundays since they remain the best organized and most affordable around.

This weekend, Saturday, April 25 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 26 from noon to 5 p.m., the Friends hold another of their well-organized book sales in their climate-controlled warehouse.  Volunteers greet eager book fanciers as they enter the garage door on the south side of the building, and they point them in the direction of the types of books they desire. 

A guide shows Melvil Dewey's Decimal System.

A guide shows Melvil Dewey's Decimal System.

Volunteers work throughout the year to organize the books by either the Dewey Decimal System or by categories.  The books reside on sturdy metal shelves, and category signs mark the end of each shelf.  Price lists also appear here and there on the ends of the shelves. 

Book enthusiasts find hard cover and paperback books, magazines and videos at the book sales.  Books may be gently used or discards from the library, and they also carry a wide range of books for children and teens. 

Friends' warehouse contains shelves of books.

Friends' warehouse contains shelves of books.

Book lovers receive a laminated book mark containing the book sale schedule and other information when they pay for their books.  Friends will hold another book sale on Oct. 24 and 25 or stop by The Friends’ Place located at the Burton Barr Central Library.

Book lovers can volunteer and become members of the Friends for as little as $20.  Friends have supported the Phoenix Public Library System for 30 years.

"Left to Tell"

"Left to Tell"

Buhoro, ten-year-old Immaculee Ilibagiza’s teacher, took ethnic roll call on the first day at her new school.  Her teacher angrily sent Immaculee from the classroom when she stood up for none of the three tribes, Hutu, Tutsi or Twa, that he called from the roll.

“Get out!  Get out of this class and don’t come back until you know what you are!” said Buhoro.

Immaculee Ilibagiza tells the story of her life in Rwanda and how the tension between the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsi tribe erupts into a full blown genocide in 1994 in her book “Left to Tell.”

The idyllic life that Immaculee lives with her mother, father and three brothers turns into Immaculee’s fight for survival as the Hutus begin a three-month murder spree, which kills nearly a million Rwandans.

As the Hutus approach her home in the village of Mataba overlooking Lake Kivu, Immaculee’s father tells her to flee to the home of Pastor Murinzi, a long-time friend and Hutu, to take refuge from the killers.  Immaculee begs Pastor Murinzi to hide her from the murderous Hutus, and for 91 days, she hides with seven other women  in a small, remote bathroom in the pastor’s home away from the pastor’s family and the murderers.

The book unfolds like a fiction thriller with the reader wondering if Immaculee and the other women will survive or be found and killed on the spot.  The outcome of the book shows the strength and the courage Immaculee showed during her ordeal, how she recovers, the fate of her family and her capacity to forgive those who hurt her most.

"Finding Your Own North Star"

"Finding Your Own North Star"

Life coach Martha Beck sets out a program to help readers find the life they are meant to live in her book, “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live.”

Throughout the book, Beck asks hard questions in numerous exercises that she expects readers to answer truthfully in order to discover the path to their own North Star.  Beck divulges personal experiences and how she worked through them to get to her own North Star.  She also gives examples of clients and their problems and how together they work through them.  She refuses to sugar-coat the steps that clients need to follow.

“If you actually do all the exercises I’ve written into this book so far,” says Beck, “you’ll end up either pleased as punch or scared to death.”

Unlike other motivational self-help books, Beck fills her book with a good dose of humor in addition to concrete methods of leading the life you want.  She takes the reader through the change cycle, so they know exactly what to expect.  Beck tells the reader that steps may be hard as well as painful, but she describes in detail all the events and steps involved in the process.

Each of us possesses a social self and an essential self, explains Beck.  The essential self came with you at birth and “first, it is the essence of your personality, and second, you absolutely need it to find your North Star.”  The social self developed over time from rules and regulations and the pressures of people around you.

By following the relaxed essential self instead of the rigid social self, finding the way to your North Star becomes much more fun and easy, explains Beck.  Beck includes a quiz designed to test if readers’ essential self and social self work together.  If the quiz reveals readers already operate with their North Star, Beck congratulates them and suggests they stop reading the book and live their wonderful lives.


As I write and copyedit, I put out the best possible product that I can and help my fellow writers to improve their writing skills.  At Paradise Valley Community College, I take a journalism course, Writing for Online Media, and I serve as the copy editor for the school newspaper, the Puma Press/Lynx.  In addition, I write freelance and take lots of photos.

As I did the copyediting for the April issue of the Puma Press/Lynx, I noticed that many of the students failed to proofread their articles and follow “The Associated Press Stylebook,” so at our meeting I wrote them all a love letter.  I call it a love letter because I didn’t want to seem like an old fuddy duddy giving them heck, but I did want to make them aware of the many resources and references they had at their disposal to improve their writing and prepare them for the real life challenges of writing for other publications.

"The Associated Press Stylebook"

"The Associated Press Stylebook"

“The Associated Press Stylebook” provides most of the information any good journalist needs.  I keep it nearby whether I’m writing a story for publication or copyediting.  The most frequent mistakes I found on students’ stories involved the abbreviations of months, the abbreviations of states and the proper use of quotes with titles of books and movies.  This stylebook also contains additonal sections on such subjects as sports, business, punctuation and media law.  Every serious journalist should invest in the latest copy.

Writers forgot to spell check their stories creating another avoidable problem.  I found that in addition to running Word’s spell checker, Dictionary.com provides a great source for checking word spellings.  The culprits in the students’ stories included words that could be hyphenated, one word or two words; unusual words; and names such as dogs’ breeds and which parts if any are captialized such as Scottish terrier.  Using this Web site allows writers to check the spelling as they write.

"The Elements of Style"

"The Elements of Style"

“The Elements of Style,” allows writers to polish their writing by using the advice contained in this little reference book.  Written by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, the author of “Charlotte’s Web,” the book contains Elementary Rules of Usage, Elementary Principles of Composition, A Few Matters of Form, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused and An Approach to Style within its 105 pages.

Two helpful Web sites for the serious writer are Newsroom  101.com, which provides “exercises in grammar, usage and Associated Press Style” and “The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).”

Finally, to improve your vocabulary as you contribute to a charitable organization, visit the Web site Free Rice.  The Web site is fun, educational and you earn free rice for those in need.

April 2009
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