Wednesday, January 27, 2016

From the Archives: Favorites From 2006 (The Last Two Reviews From My Pre-Blogging Days)

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 are a couple of my reviews from 2006:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Random  House, 2005
Fiction; 258 pgs

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the story about the lives of two special friends in nineteenth-century China. The two girls are matched as laotongs, a rare friendship that is established between two girls specially chosen to be lifelong friends. They communicate through a secret language called nu shu. The descriptions and writing style of Lisa See, the author, brought to mind Arthur Golden with Memoirs of a Geisha. I found the historical and cultural aspects of the novel intriguing: the foot binding process, the role of women in society and within the family, for example. The chapter and description of the foot binding process was difficult to read at times. Foot binding was a big part of the Chinese culture during that time period and a reflection on the place of women in society. It was believed that foot binding was proof of personal discipline and an ability to endure the pain of child birth as well as whatever other misfortunes might come. Small feet were a sign of beauty. The smaller the feet, the better the wife. Lisa See painted a disturbing portrait of women’s roles in those days, where only having male offspring made a woman valuable and women were the property of their husband’s family. While this idea still exists today in one form or another in some cultures, it was even more widespread back then. The friendship and misunderstandings between Snow Flower and Lily brought to mind Hassan and Amir from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Like it did for Amir, my heart ached for Lily and the poor choices she made, which ultimately caused a riff in her friendship with Snow Flower. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a powerful novel, not one that I will easily forget, and is by far the best novel I’ve read so far this year.

The Lincoln Lawyer (Mickey Haller #1)  by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown & Company, 2005
Crime Fiction; 404 pgs

Defense Attorney Michael Haller’s clientele are not always the most popular among society. He defends drug dealers, gang members, rapists, and murderers. His most recent client promises to bring in a paycheck. He’s a well-to-man accused of raping and brutalizing a woman he picked up in a night club. As he builds his defense, Haller suddenly finds himself in the middle of something even bigger than he expected. His friend and colleague turns up dead and Haller must put his wits to the test, possibly to save his own hyde. Author Michael Connelly lets readers into the backdoor of the defense attorney world. Michael Haller is a character whose ethics and morals raise eyebrows at almost every turn. As sleazy as he seems at times, it’s impossible not to be pulled in by his charm and root for him all the way. Michael Connelly has written a funny, suspenseful thriller that was difficult to put down and kept me up until the wee hours of the morning to finish. I did find the story was predictable in how it eventually played out. Trying to avoid any spoilers, I do have to say that I did smile at the very end of The Lincoln Lawyer. Michael Connelly knows how to be true to his characters.

And with this, the last of my journal entries pre-blogging days has been posted to my blog. I initially began keeping a reading journal the later half of 2003 in hopes of keeping track of the books I read. I thought it would be fun, not to mention a good way to help me remember what I read. I wrote a brief synopsis of each book and followed it up with my general thoughts, often just a line or two, sometimes more, depending on how inspired I was by the book or just how much I had to say. Kind of like how my reviews seem to work out today . . . I'd like to think I have gotten better and organizing my thoughts and explaining what it is I liked or did not like about a book a bit better since I began blogging, but I also know it will probably always be a work in progress.

I posted the first one on November 2, 2008, as part of my Sunday Salon posts, referring to them as my "Reading Retrospective" posts.  In my first post, I featured the first three books I ever recorded in my reading journal in the fall of 2003: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, The Mindhunter by John Douglas, and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Eventually I came to post my pre-blog reviews independently as From the Archives posts.    

Many of the books I remember, and revisiting my exact thoughts after I read them has been both entertaining and sometimes even surprising.  It's amazing how our perceptions change over the years. There were books I barely remembered at all and wish I had written more about to help jog my memory.  There are those books I remember liking more or even less than I actually did when I read them. A reflection of the books, a faulty memory, or perhaps just a changing perspective over time? Maybe a combination of some or all of those things. There were also many authors I just had to read more by and yet . . . And yet, it's impossible to get to all the books we want to read.  I'm still working on it.  

I have enjoyed revisiting my reading during the time I kept my journals. My only regret is that I didn't start writing down my thoughts about the books I read sooner. Thank you for taking this journey into the past with me.

Before Goodreads and LibraryThing and book blogging, did you keep track of your reading? Have you ever looked back on your reading over the years? What stands out for you when you look back?

© 2016, 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.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Where Is Your bookmark? (01/26/2016)

I am nearly done with my current book, My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella, which I am reading for an upcoming tour. I hesitate to say how I feel about the book right now. So far it is a rather sad story about an abused mother who has had a very difficult life. It's written from a unique perspective, although the subject matter itself is not all that new.

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea 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. It is also where I share my first impressions about the book I am sharing.

I thought today I would share the first three paragraphs from the first chapter. There is a prologue, which I am not sharing here.

Fixed between breasts and plumped belly, that tattered apron bound her despite its ties dangling loose by her sides.
Glancing sideways at the crumpled cap and shredded gown, she tsk-tsked. She did what she could to keep from thinking ahead but every now and again, well, my momma-to-be just couldn't help herself. 
In late March but a few months shy of her high school graduation she'd dropped out. This was not unusual for a girl in these parts back then. Truth be told, most folk supposed it peculiar she had made it that far. 

Every Tuesday, Jenn from A Daily Rhythm hosts Teaser Tuesdays at which time participants grab their current read, open to a random page, and share two (2) "teaser" sentences from that page while avoiding any spoilers.

Teaser from 11% of My Sweet Vidalia:
Vidalia's phase, Gamma persisted, was just something she needed get through and come back around from. "There ain't no stick big enough to measure what's right or what's wrong for a woman summoned to bury her child," she'd say with certainty.
and at 28%:
Awarded her choice of anything at all on that top shelf, and--even though she would have liked the shiny, new aluminum washboard, as ours was a bit rusted and sorely misshapen having been run over "on accident" by JB's back tires--with her fingers now trembling, she pointed to it. The big book with the hard, shiny cover and the golden trim: The Wonderful World of Insects.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?  

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely ladies at Broke and Bookish.

This week's  Top Ten Tuesday theme is a freebie, and so I decided to go with the Top Ten Graphic Novels/Memoirs in My TBR Collection. I do not read many graphic novels or memoirs, admittedly, but occasionally I like to sit down with one and read it. My graphic book preference tends to lean more towards memoirs as you can see. Some of my favorites include Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Maus by Art Spiegalman, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, and Blankets by Craig Thompson. I confess some of these have been in my TBR pile for years  and years. Hopefully I will get to them one day soon.

1. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast ~ A graphic memoir about the author's aging parents' final years.

2. Stitches by David Small ~ This is a coming of age story about a young boy with serious health issues and a rather dysfunctional childhood.

3.Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton ~ Described as "an uproarious romp through history and literature . . ."

4. Regards from Serbia: A Cartoonist's Diary of a Crisis in Serbia by Aleksander Zograf ~ The book tells the author's story of living life in a war zone.

5. The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell ~ The story of the author whose research leads her to discover her dad wasn't exactly who he said he was and the fall out it causes for the author and her family afterwards.

6. Palestine by Joe Sacco ~ Laded as graphic journalism at it's finest, this book is based on the author's first hand research of life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990's.

7. The Secret Loves of Geek Girls edited by Hope Nicholson ~ I put in money toward the Kickstarter for this one, something I rarely do, and so am especially excited to read to read it (I just have to wait until the Triple Dog Dare if over). This is a collection of stories and comics about dating, romance and sex told from a variety of artists and authors, including one from Margaret Atwood.

8. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh ~ I wasn't sure this counted as a graphic memoir given how much text is in the book. I'm adding it here anyway. My husband really liked this one and is sure I will too. Having seen some of Allie Brosh's comics about depression, I think I will too.

9. Locas (Love and Rockets) by Jaime Hernández ~ " Locas tells the story of Maggie Chascarrillo, a bisexual, Mexican-American woman attempting to define herself in a community rife with class, race and gender issues." (I don't actually own this one, so not officially a TBR book. It is on my wish list, however.)

 10. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol ~ A ghost story about a teenage girl who befriends a ghost--but then wonders if the ghost has an ulterior motive. (Another one that is on my wish list and not my actual TBR pile. Yet.)

Do you read graphic novels/memoirs? Have you read any of these titles? What are some you liked or  have been wanting to read?

© 2016, 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, January 24, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault

HARTFORD, Sept. 5, 1878--The dead body of Mary E. Stannard, 22 years old, was found at Durham, hear the border of Madison, on Tuesday night. ~ Opening of The Evening Spider 

The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault

William Morrow, 2016
Fiction (Psychological Thriller; 400 pgs
Source: NetGalley/Edelweiss

The Evening Spider is set in both the present and the past, following the lives of two women, both obsessed with uncovering the truth.

Frances Barnett has spent the last few years locked in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital. She shares her story with a visitor, telling of how she came to be there, including her marriage to a respected attorney, the birth of her daughter, and the events that followed. Frances has always been interested in science and logic, and has never been content to lead the traditional life expected of a woman during her time in the mid to late 1800's. She would rather examine things under her brother's microscope than cook a meal or sew. Her husband humors here to a degree, but she is still expected to perform her wifely duties in terms of maintaining the household. Frances finds pleasure in hearing about her husband Matthew's cases, especially the one involving a murder.

Motherhood does not come easy for Frances. She doubts herself and her abilities. Slowly we see Frances begin to go so far as to question her sanity. She becomes obsessed with the murder trial of a reverend accused of murdering a young woman, needing to know every detail. Her husband grows increasingly worried about her, calls in an outside doctor for advice, and from there, things only get worse for Frances.

In alternating chapters, the reader is introduced to Abby Bernacki, a young mother who has taken a year off from her teaching career to stay home with her baby. She's restless and a bit bored, but also feels anxious and begins to isolate herself. When her daughter suffers an unexplained injury, Abby begins to wonder if her house may be haunted. She's sure she heard someone in the room with her daughter when no one should have been there. As her paranoia increases, Abby seeks out the history of her house that once belonged to Matthew Barnett and his wife Frances.

I love stories like this, the kind that have you wondering if there is something supernatural at play or if it is something more reality based. Both Frances and Abby may have suffered from Postpartum Depression--some of the symptoms are there. It would explain so much. And yet. . . There is definitely more to it than that. Or so it seems.

The novel has a sort of Gothic, creepy feel to it, and I found myself glued to the book, wanting to know just what was going on. I liked how the two threads, the past and the present story-lines were laid out--seeing them come together as they did. As Frances looks into the real life murder of Mary Stannard, she also keeps a journal, a journal which Abby uses to help piece together Frances' life in the hopes of finding her own answers. Abby's own past comes to the fore during the book. The death of a roommate in college haunts her to this day. It seemed a bit out of left field in some ways, but the author manages to tie it in to my satisfaction.

Frances and Abby were both such interesting women. I really felt for Frances, having to go through all she did--not to mention how trapped she felt, a woman living in that time period.  It was her story I was most drawn to, as I often am in books with two time-lines. The historical story-line is often my favorite. I wasn't sure what to think of Abby initially. It took a while for me to warm up to her, but on some level I could relate to her, and, like her, I wanted to get to the truth.

There have been some readers who were quite disappointed in the end, and because I do not want to spoil it for anyone, I will only say that I can see where they are coming from. Still, I disagree. I liked it quite a bit. Sometimes big red bows do not belong on the final pages of a book.

The Evening Spider is a dark and suspenseful novel. A sense of dread hung over me throughout, as the tension built and the story unfolded. This was my first book by Emily Arsenault, but it will not be my last.

To learn more about Emily Arsenault and her work, please visit the author's websiteShe can also be found on Goodreads and Facebook.

Challenge Requirement Met for COYER.

© 2016, 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.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sunday Post: Winter Is Here

The Sunday Post is hosted by the wonderful Kimba, the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and gives us all a chance to recap our week, talk about what we are reading, share any new books that have come our way, and whatever else we want to talk about. 

My Facebook feed is full of photos of the snow this weekend. I am thinking of all of you caught in the storms. We got a little rain Saturday afternoon, but it barely counted. Mouse was still able to go for her bicycle ride and my husband and I for a walk.

How are you faring today? Did you have a good week?

New to My Shelves: Although audiobooks are not my preferred way to take in a book, I have a membership to Audible and occasionally take advantage of their deals. I used some of my points to get these four this week:

Brownies and Broomsticks (A Magical Bakery Mystery #1) 
by Bailey Cates (narrated by Johanna Parker)

The Ice Princess ((Fjällbacka #1) 
by Camilla Läckberg (narrated by David Thorn)

The Preacher (Fjällbacka #2) 
by Camilla Läckberg (narrated by David Thorn)

The Stonecutter (Fjällbacka #3) 
by Camilla Läckberg (narrated by David Thorn)

What I Am Reading: I wasn't able to get in as much reading as I hoped. I left my e-reader at work one night and so there went my bed-time reading. Not that I would have been awake enough to read anything. Getting up earlier to work out has taken its toll. This past week I finished reading Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson. After leaving behind 1924 Paris, I have settled into 1955 rural Georgia. I am now reading Deborah Mantella's My Sweet Vidalia. It is described on Goodreads as a
. . . wise and witty, outstanding for its use of vibrant, poetic language and understated Southern dialect, as well as Mantella's clear-eyed observations of race relations as human relations, a cast of unforgettable characters, an in-depth exploration of the ties that bind, and its creative perspective. My Sweet Vidalia is a rare, wonderful, and complex look at hope, strength, the unparalleled power of unconditional love, and a young mother's refusal to give up.
One of the characters is a rather despicable human being. I might have let out a few choice words for him while reading last night. Luckily no one was around to hear me. Do you ever talk to your books? Or is that just me?

What I Am Watching: I had hoped Mouse's first introduction to Harry Potter would be through the books, but, alas, she has discovered the movies first. We haven't made our way through all of them yet, but she's insisting. I have reservations about her seeing the later movies, but we will see. She loves Hogwarts. And I just love her excitement over the fantaastical world J.K. Rowling has created. I hope she will like the books just as much--if not more.

My husband, Mouse and I just began season 4 of Doctor Who. These are all episodes my husband and I have seen before, of course, but we are getting closer to where we left off. I am all caught up with the medical drama Code Black. It reminds me of ER, which was a family favorite when I was growing up. Saturday night we watched The Lion King. Now I want to see the musical again.

What's Going On Off the Blog: My emotions have been kind of all over the place recently. Stress. Health issues. Maybe even horomones, although I hate that excuse. Work has picked up, and, as always, is not without its challenges. In addition to that, we are on a heightened security alert due to a credible threat made against staff as well as recent car break-ins in the office parking lot. To top it off, my daughter and I butted heads earlier in the week, and I am still kicking myself over the way I responded. I know I will have many more moments like that--no one is perfect--but it doesn't take away from how it made me feel.

Saturday my family and I bought a mattress for my daughter's "new" bed at the local high school. They were having a fundraiser, and we needed a mattress, and so it all worked out well for everyone. Mouse's bed is one of those convertible cribs that went from crib to toddler bed to a full size bed. She's quite excited.

Challenge & Dare Update: 
  • What's In a Name? Reading Challenge  ~ I have yet to read a book for this one, I am afraid. Unless a broken wheel counts. I imagine somewhere someone does have a broken wheel in their home they use as maybe a table or chair or a planter . . . Yeah, it doesn't work. I guess it's good there is only a six book requirement. 
  • Nonfiction Challenge ~ Another challenge I have yet to start. 
  • COYER ~ I have read 8 books that qualify for the Clean Out Your E-Reads Challenge. I am really pleased with my progress so far. I have even linked my reviews to the challenge site--at least the ones that I have posted so far.
  • The TBR Triple Dog Dare ~ I am doing well here too, sticking only to review books I received before January 1st. I wish I could say it was easy, but a couple have come my way since then that I have had the urge to pick up and read. I am standing firm, and I will succeed!
  • FitReaders ~ This week I was able to get in three formal cardio workouts, as well as some informal walking which was my goal. As I mentioned before, I am taking it slow to start. This next week I hope to bump it up to five formal workouts. It will be easier with my husband back at work and no holidays to work around.

This Past Week In Reading Mews:

I hope you all have a great week! Happy Reading!

© 2016, 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, January 20, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell

The last time I was this close to Rudy Mayfield he was leaning across the seat of his dad's truck trying to grope my recently ripened breasts. ~ Opening of Angels Burning

Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell
Gallery Books, 2016
Crime Fiction; 288 pgs
Source: NetGalley

I was first drawn to this book because it features a female chief of police, Chief Dove Carnahan. That and the Pennsylvania countryside setting.  Given my dad is from Pennsylvania originally and I still have family there, I enjoy reading books set in the state.

Chief Carnahan knows she and her small force are out of their league when a teenage girl is found brutally murdered in their jurisdiction. She does not hesitate to call in the State Police for help. And while she knows they will take lead on the investigation, she and her team work diligently to solve the crime. The victim is a member of the Truly family, a poor and extremely dysfunctional family. As the chief begins to poke her nose into the Truly family's business, she cannot help but think on her own similar childhood. It doesn't help when a man from her past, the man convicted of killing her mother several years before, is released from prison and returns to confront the chief and her sister. What follows is a dark and twisted look into human motivations, family secrets, and just how far someone will go when pushed to the limit.

Dove has had to work hard to get where she is, sometimes harder just because she is a woman. She is dogged in her approach to her work, rarely showing any outward vulnerability. She has a fierce loyalty to her family, both her sister and her brother. Her childhood has left her somewhat bitter, and has damaged her ability to have a healthy relationship. To say I liked her character would maybe be too much. I never was quite sure of Dove. I felt for her and could understand where she was coming from, but she isn't an easy person to get close to. It's clear she is good at her job and takes it seriously. She has had to make some hard choices in her life, for right or wrong.

I would like to have known more about Dove's sister who at times seemed more closed off than Dove. Her love for animals and preference over them to humans was something I could relate to to some degree.

The Truly family is at the heart of the novel in many respects. They are dysfunction at its worst. Poverty itself does not make dysfunction, but for the Truly family it certainly played a part. The more I learned about the Truly family, the more I found myself mentally backing away from them. I wish I could say families like them do not exist, but I know first hand they do. While the Truly clan was impossible to like for many reasons, the same can't be said for the young Derk Truly who, as wild as he is, seems to have some redeeming qualities. There were a number of times I wish I could have plucked him out of the book and dropped him into a much better--healthier and loving--environment.

O'Dell's Angels Burning was an intense novel, keeping me engaged throughout. The characterizations are raw--you really get a feel for just how desperate and frustrated the characters are. While I felt the murder investigation itself was wrapped up well, I wasn't quite satisfied with the way one particular thread was left. Still, overall I enjoyed this novel.

To learn more about Tawni O'Dell and her work, please visit the author's website

Challenge Requirement Met for COYER.

© 2016, 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.