Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mouse's Corner: Mooncakes and A Cat Named Gorilla

When I first considered joining A More Diverse Universe Event, I started going through my daughter's shelves in search of books that might qualify. My daughter is fortunate to live in a community and go to a school that is fairly diverse. As a parent, I think it is important to continue to expose my daughter to a variety of cultures and ethnicities, and that includes through literature.  I would like her to have an appreciation for the differences as well as to know just how similar we all are as well.

When Gorilla Goes Walking written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Shane Evans
Orchard Books, 2007
Fiction (Children's); 32 pgs

We have two cats, one of which has been with us since before Mouse was born. She's never known life without a cat. She is also an only child, like the main character in Grimes' book. When Gorilla Goes Walking seemed like the perfect book for Mouse, a collection of poems telling the story of Cecilia, an African American girl, and her cat, Gorilla. It is a fun (and funny) story, with bright playful illustrations. Mouse and I both enjoy the rhythm of the verses as we read together. Gorilla is a bit more bold and mischievous than our own cats, but in some ways they are similar. Mouse really likes Cecelia and can relate to her in many ways. Especially when Cecelia is sick or sad, and her cat comes to comfort her.  Mouse particularly loves the page in which Cecelia and Gorilla get into the paints and make quite a mess. She always points out the colorful paw prints.  

My daughter and I are definitely interested in reading more by Nikki Grimes and Shane Evans.

To learn more about author Nikki Grimes and her work, please visit the author's website
To learn more about illustrator Shane Evans and his work, please visit his website

Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by Grace Lin
Chronicle Books, 2000
Fiction (Children's); 40 pgs
From the Publisher:  
A little girl's neighborhood becomes a discovery ground of things round, square and rectangular. Many of the objects are Asian in origin, other universal: round rice bowls and a found pebble, square dim sum and pizza boxes, rectangular Chinese lace and very special pencil case. Bright art accompanies this lively introduction to shapes and short glossary explains the cultural significance of the objects featured in the book. Perfect for read-alouds or one-on-one sharing.

My daughter has long known her shapes, at least the basic ones. She has a little trouble with differentiating between squares and rectangles sometimes, although mostly gets them right. I wish the author had gone with the triangle instead of the rectangle, but there are triangles to be found on some of the pages. As a result, I sometimes ask Mouse to identify them as we read through the book.  

Her favorite shape to point out is the circle. She loves finding the lanterns and moon. Mouse often asks questions about the objects she finds in the illustrations, and I do my best to explain what they are, including the "chop's inky mark" and the abacus.

I love the illustrations in the book. The colors are bright and big. For me, they make the book more than the actual words on each page. I think this is a book that will grow with Mouse over the next few years as she gets older and begins to notice different things.  

To learn more about author Roseanne Thong and her work, please visit the author's website
To learn more about illustrator Grace Lin and her work, please visit her website

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books, 2012
Crime Fiction; 316 pgs

Opening Sentence ~ I'm staring at the insurance man and he's staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I'm having this awful and inspiring feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't.
From the Publisher: 
What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

Many thanks to Nancy from Bookfoolery for recommending this book to me.  It was such an enjoyable read and I just love Detective Hank Palace, the main character.  Harry Dresden will have to share me.  I have a new literary crush now.

Everyone has a different way of coping in stressful situations.  For Detective Palace, his method of coping is to focus not on the stressful situation (the coming asteroid and possibly the end of the world) but rather to focus on something more immediate, that of his case. In fact, Hank does not want to talk about the asteroid at all if he can help it.

While the main plot line in the novel is Hank's investigation into the murder of an insurance man, the book, to me, seemed to be more about how Hank and the people around him were coping and living with impending doom.  Ben H. Winters has painted a very clear picture of the panic and terror a society might face in a similar or the same situation.  I admit to having a hard time believing things would go to hell so quickly, but, that aside, I was pulled into Winters' world immediately and didn't want to put the book down.  I also really liked the depth Winters put into many of his side characters and their varying situations.  

As Hank tries hard to prove to himself and to those around him that the insurance man was murdered and that his death wasn't just another suicide, he also has to deal with his sister and her problems.  She calls him when her husband goes missing, and while Hank would like nothing more than to just stick with his case, his sister talks him into helping her.  

For being a pre-apocalyptic book, The Last Policeman did have a few humorous moments, which added levity to the more serious side of it.  I am eager to dive into Countdown City, the second book in the trilogy.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books, 2013
Crime Fiction; 316 pgs

Opening Sentence ~ "It's just that he promised," says Martha Milano, pale eyes flashing, cheeks flushed with anxiety.

I am still in love with Hank Palace.  In the second installment of the trilogy, we find Hank out of a job.  Despite his reluctance to take on the case, Hank gives in to his former babysitter's request to find her missing husband.  Like so many others since news of the asteroid's coming, it is most likely her husband is off to fill some bucket list request or perhaps he met another woman.  Or committed suicide.

Hank sets out to find the missing husband, just the same, hitting the streets in a time when computers and cell phones are almost obsolete. His investigation takes him into dark and desperate places, where he meets people from all walks of life, each doing what they can to survive.

In Countdown City, the reader sees the continuation of civilization falling to pieces under threat of destruction.  Winters, again here, does an amazing job of capturing an array of responses to such a situation, his characters raw and desperate, good and bad.

Hank continues to be a rock, persistent in his task, almost single minded in his goal to find the husband.  He nearly always takes the higher moral ground, which is another reason I admire him. He's trying to hang on to decency and responsibility.  Something that seems to be deteriorating rapidly around him.

During his investigation, always taking detailed notes, Hank enlists the help of his estranged sister, Nico who is more than willing to give her brother a hand.  She has her own agenda, of course, and Hank doesn't like it at all.  It is clear the two love each other, and Hank wants so much for his sister to be safe.  She has always been a free spirit, and Hank knows he cannot control or contain her.

Can I just say poor Hank?  He goes through so much in Countdown City.  He went through a lot in The Last Policeman too.  But, really.  Ouch!

Countdown City was just as good The Last Policeman.  Even those who do not generally read pre-apocalyptic books but who like mysteries might enjoy this trilogy.

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books, 2014
Crime Fiction; 319 pgs

Opening Sentence ~ "Are you here about the dust?"

Will the asteroid hit?  How will Hank fare?  What about his dog, Houdini?  These were just some of the questions that went through my mind as I started reading World of Trouble, the third book in The Last Policeman Trilogy.  With less than two weeks until the asteroid is supposed to hit, we find Hank in Ohio, making camp in a police station where he believes his sister once stayed.  It has been awhile since he last saw her, and he is determined to find her, to make amends, and to spend his last days with her.  Coming along with him is a former thief, Cortez, who is both cunning and violent.  Cortez is a resourceful man to have around in the end times, but, like Hank, I wasn't sure I could trust him.
From the Publisher: 
There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end. 
But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank's search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.
Down to his last page of his notebook, himself hanging by a thread, Hank will do anything to find his sister. He is met with hostility and violence as well as kindness along his journey.  No matter what, he will get the answers he needs.  He has to.  Hank changes over the course of the novel, however, he never loses his sense of decency and need to do the right thing.  He grows harder and more resourceful.  He takes more risks.

In World of Trouble, the end is near and the desperateness and fear are even more at the forefront than they were in previous books.  Even Hank is feeling it, despite his manic persistence in finding out what's happened to his sister.  It is sad to say how true to reality I imagine some of what Winters' writes about in his book would be if we really were facing the end the world.  The chaos and violence, the selfishness and greed. And yet there is also the softer side--how people are willing to help each other.  The trilogy offers an interesting case study on human behavior.

The ending.  Just that.  I have nothing else to say about it.  At least not without spoiling anything.

I liked each book in the trilogy equally, but for different reasons.  This one hit me harder emotionally. Maybe because of the heightened tension, but I think that is only part of it.  It was more about the personal nature of Hank's investigation, the search for his sister and everything that follows. There is one scene in the book in which an entire family is sitting on the roof of their house, together, waiting to see if the asteroid will hit.  I think that would be me and my family.  Or perhaps my husband would convince me to wait it out in a bunker, hoping for the best.

While I think a reader can jump in at any point and read a satisfactory mystery (and the author does a good job setting up each book, including the necessary back story in the later books), I truly feel this is a series best read in order.  The overreaching themes and story line are an important part of what makes this trilogy as good as it is.  I think readers trying to read the books as stand alones will miss out on the greater experience.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

You can learn more about Ben H. Winters and his books on the author's website.

Source: I received copies of all three books from the publisher for my honest review.   I also purchased e-copies of the book with my own money.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Time for Art

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Where Is Your Bookmark? (09/09/2014)

I bought my first Christmas present this weekend. It is a silly gift, but one I think that will be well received. Now that I have a tentative surgery date, I have to buckle down and get my Christmas shopping done before then. I will be in the middle of recovery come the holidays.  

We had an extremely busy weekend. The new soccer season began Saturday. Mouse moved up an age level and is now in the "big" kid class. She had a lot of fun that first class and said she cannot wait until next Saturday. Mouse did very well in the older class, without a parent by her side. It is amazing how much she has learned since she first started the classes when she was two years old. We also spent a little time at the park and the library. The library air conditioning felt so good after being in the summer heat!  We followed that up with a visit to Chuck E. Cheese to celebrate the beginning of the soccer season.  It's one of Mouse's favorite places to go.  I just hope she doesn't expect us to go every Saturday.

Sunday was just as busy. The morning was perfect for a day at the pool with Mouse and her best friend, our usual summer Sunday routine. I watched as the storm clouds begin to roll in in the distance. The wind had picked up just as we were leaving, and, by the time we were on the freeway headed for lunch and ice cream to celebrate an early birthday, the rain started coming down hard and fast. We later learned of reports of flooding of city streets, trees had come down, closing roads and damaging property, and the power was out in some areas. It hadn't even rained that long.

Today my daughter is officially 3 1/2, and I am, well, I'm a year older.

Weekends tend not to be the time I get much reading in, unfortunately, and this past weekend was no different.  I currently am reading two books for A More Diverse Universe Event hosted by Aarti of Booklust, which begins next Sunday. The first is One World: A Global Anthology of Short Stories, which includes stories written by a variety of different authors, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jhumpa Lahiri, among others. The short stories span many continents and cultures. The few I have read so far are quite good. The book I am reading is Ash by Malinda Lo. Ash is a re-telling of Cinderella about a young girl, abused by her stepmother, who longs for the fairies to take her away from it all.  She doesn't have a fairy godmother per say, but there there is a fairy who takes an interest in her, and, of course, the required love interest, a royal huntress. It is a young adult fantasy type novel. I am already in love with the writing and care deeply for young Aisling. 

What are you reading at the moment?  Is it something you would recommend?

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea hosts 
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where  
participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a 
book they are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I thought I would share the opening of Malinda Lo's Ash with you today:
Aisling's mother died at midsummer. She had fallen sick so suddenly that some of the villagers wondered if the fairies had come and taken her, for she was still young and beautiful. She was buried three days later beneath the hawthorn tree behind the house, just as twilight was darkening the sky.

 Would you continue reading?

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

From the Archives: The Friendship Test by Elizabeth Noble

I began keeping a reading journal several years before I began blogging. I find it interesting to sift through my thoughts of books that I read back then. My reviews were often brief and contained little substance, but I thought it'd be fun to document them here on my blog as well as share them with you. Here is one from October of 2005: 

The Friendship Test by Elizabeth Noble
William Morrow; 2004
Fiction; 448 pgs

The first book of the four I got in the mail on the same day (how exciting!) I decided to give a try was The Friendship Test by Elizabeth Noble. The book was first released in the United Kingdom under the title The Tenko Club. The Friendship Test is about a group of best friends whose friendship has stood the test of time. They are all very unique and different in their own ways and have supported each other through the bad and the good times. When one of them receives the call that her distant father has died, the friends come together in a show of support. Everything is not quite so simple both among the friends as they are dealing with family secrets, and friendships are put to the test. Although at first I found the writing style a bit dry (perhaps because it moved so fast at first), I soon found myself engrossed in the story of these women, their families and friends. At moments some of the characters seemed a little too good to be true, however, they were likeable and easy to relate to. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was sad to see my visit with the Tenko Club come to an end.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.