Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: LaRose by Louise Erdrich

Where the reservation boundary invisibly bisected a stand of deep brush--chokecherry, popple, stunted oak--Landreaux waited. ~ Opening of LaRose 

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Harper, 2016
Fiction; 372 pgs

In a split second, everything can change. Landreaux Irons had been aiming for the deer when he pulled the trigger. Instead, he shot the five year old son (Dusty) of his best friend and neighbor. In this heart-wrenching novel about two families filled with grief, Louise Erdrich explores loss, justice and forgiveness.

Erdrich's writing is beautiful, sweeping me up into her story set at the turn of the twenty-first century in North Dakota. Turning to Ojibwe tribe tradition, Landreaux offers his own five year old son, LaRose, to the Ravich family, to atone for his taking the life of their only son. The grieving father, Peter Ravich, wants to say no, but his wife, drowning in her own loss, accepts. To be in the shoes of either mother was heartbreaking. I cannot even imagine the pain Nola was experiencing, to lose her son to such a senseless death, and then for Emmaline to give up her beloved son to her estranged step-sister.

It is through this tragedy and this act of atonement that the two families become even more closely tied. My heart ached for LaRose, pushed away by his own family and sent to live with a family deep in grief. I felt for Maggie, Dusty's sister, who was put in such a difficult situation--not only grieving the loss of her brother, but to be a brother to LaRose--and to hold up her mother who was falling apart in every direction. Maggie's recklessness scared me. She was so lost. LaRose grounded her in a way as he did everyone. He gave Nola purpose and Peter hope that perhaps their family would be okay.

Landreaux, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, feels so much guilt over what he's done. His wife suffers in her own way. As to their children. I really liked LaRose's sisters. Through it all, even as the sadness threatened to overcome everyone, they still managed to see the light.

Outside but intertwined in the story of these two families is that of Father Travis who seems lost in his own way and yet a significant support for the families and Romeo who holds a childhood grudge against Landreaux and only wants to ruin the man's life the way Landreaux ruined his. There is also the story of the first LaRose, which is shared at intervals, through flashbacks, in the novel, connecting the past with the present, tradition with the new. LaRose is a name that runs in Emmaline's family and is highly regarded.

This novel could easily have been about revenge, and yet the focus is more on the characters finding peace within themselves and with each other. There is so much anger and sadness. And yet, as time passes, the families begin to heal. Their shared love and bond with LaRose help bring about forgiveness, both of others and themselves.

By the time I finished the last page of Erdrich's novel, I had tears in my eyes. What a beautiful novel. Tragedy turned to hope. I still worry about Maggie though.

You can learn more about Louise Erdrich and her books on Facebook

© 2017, 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, June 26, 2017

Mid-Year Review: My Top Ten Favorite Books So Far This Year.

Can you believe the year is half over? With the Top Ten Tuesday theme this week being the best books that I have read so far this year, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to review my reading year so far.

I have read a total of 35 books (not including children's books, of which I have read over 90). I long ago surpassed my Goodreads goal of reading 13 books for the year (okay, so my goal was a bit of a joke this year).  Looking back, I have read a lot of great books so far, and quite a variety. I decided it would be a year of no reading challenges, and so far I have stuck to it  despite some very tempting ones. I avoided making any real reading goals, although I did make a list Top Ten Books I'm Looking Forward To For The First Half Of 2017, which I didn't fare to well with. But let's not focus on what I haven't yet read, rather what I did read from that list.

I read the book my husband recommended, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (review pending). I also read a book my daughter recommended, The Princess In Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon and Dean Hale and LeUyem Pham. Back in December I had asked you all to recommend a book for me to read during the first half the year, and I picked two winners the following month: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Both of which I have read. My review of Kowal's book is pending, but I did enjoy it. Thank you to those who recommended those books!

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

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is Best Books I've Read In 2017 So Far. Considering most of the books I have read this year are children's books, I thought I would split the list--five of my favorite children's books read in the first half of the year and five of my adult favorites so far. I also included two honorable mentions because I couldn't help myself.

1. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow is a favorite of mine and Mouse's. We both love Molly Lou Melon. Molly Lou tries to live by her grandmother's advice and it is soon put to the test when she encounters a bully at her new school. This book is about having confidence in oneself and celebrating our differences.

2. While in search for a book about the Chinese New Year, I came across this gem of a children's book, The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, illustrations by Alina Chau. Yet another favorite Mouse and I share, this one about a young girl who goes up against an ancient monster using her wit and charm. I liked how the author incorporates Chinese New Year traditions into the story and the heroine's actions as the story unfolds.

3. Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson is a well written and thoughtful book that introduces children to the difficult subject of slavery. The author does not shy away from presenting some hard facts of the time, making this a good book for parents to read with their children in case they have questions or want to talk about anything and everything that happens to Henry.

4. When I first read Let Me Finish! by Minh Le and Isabel Roxas to Mouse, I was nearing the end when she blurted out the big reveal that was coming (she had read the book at school, evidently). I guess she missed the message of the book. Those of you who don't especially like book spoilers will be able to relate to this book and the main character, a boy who just wants to read his book without someone giving away the ending. That doesn't seem like too much to ask for, does it? Evidently it might be . . .

5. Chalk by Bill Thomson is perhaps a cheat given it was a re-read for me. I fell in love with this book the first time I encountered it--an imaginative story told through illustrations about a group of children who find magic chalk waiting for them at the park. It's one of my daughter's favorites too. We have read it several times now and never tire of it.

6. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See was not only the first book I finished reading in 2017, but it also earned my highest rating. That's quite a way to start the year! I have long been a fan of Lisa See's work, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan being one of my all-time favorite books. This one comes in right next to it. Lisa See is gifted at creating characters that get under my skin and in weaving history, tradition, and cultural issues into her novels. She is an auto buy author for me. I can't get enough of her books.

7. I picked up The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood to read for a read-along and because the timing seemed perfect. I had only read one other Atwood book in the past, which I enjoyed, but found a little intimidating. The Handmaid's Tale is beautifully crafted and such a sad, and, in many ways, frightening story. Especially given how easily it is to imagine the fiction in the novel becoming reality. I can see why The Handmaid's Tale is considered a modern classic.

8. Monstress, Volume One: Awakening by Liu, Marjorie & Sana Takeda is a work of art, both in the writing and the gorgeous artwork. While I enjoy graphic novels, I tend to gravitate more towards graphic memoirs, which tend to have more depth (at least in my relatively limited experience). However, the richness of the world and character building in this volume is amazing. I am anxiously awaiting the release of the second volume next month.

9. LaRose by Louise Erdrich was my first book by the author, but it will not be my last. I found her writing beautiful. She is extremely adept at drawing out the raw emotions of her characters as well as immersing me completely in their lives. I loved how well--and naturally--she incorporated Ojibwe tradition and history into the novel.

10. Uprooted by Naomi Novik was one of the books recommended to me in a poll I held last December. It was also a book I had been wanting to read for some time. It did not disappoint. Naomi Novik's world building drew me in instantly, and I especially appreciated the tie in to existing folklore.

Honorable Mentions:

I could not help but mention The Princess in Black series by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrations by LeUyem Pham even though the entire series was a re-read this year for us. It remains a favorite for both my daughter and me. It is just so much fun. It's about a princess who has a secret identity. When she dons her black monster fighting attire, she becomes the Princess in Black. Whether hosting a fancy birthday party or beating up monsters, she is a fun character to spend time with.

I was a little nervous about reading Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie at first because of the mixed reviews, but I found it to be an extremely compelling and good read. It took a moment for me to get into because of the unusual narrative style, but once I did, I had a hard time putting the book down. Breq is such an interesting character, and I look forward to reading more about her in the next book of the series.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What is your favorite book of the year so far?

© 2017, 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, June 25, 2017

Mouse's Corner: The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang and Alina Chau

This past week Mouse got her very own library card! She also signed up for the public library's children's reading program. For every five library books she reads, she gets a stamp and a prize (a coupon for a free meal, free admission to the local kid's museum, i.e.).

The Nian Monster written by Andrea Wang and illustrated Alina Chau
Albert Whitman Company, 2016
Fiction (Children's); 32 pgs
Source: Purchased for my daughter's personal library.
Goodreads Summary: 
Tong tong! The legendary Nian monster has returned at Chinese New Year. With horns, scales, and wide, wicked jaws, Nian is intent on devouring Shanghai, starting with Xingling! The old tricks to keep him away don't work on Nian anymore, but Xingling is clever. Will her quick thinking be enough to save the city from the Nian Monster?

When I was growing up, my mom always made a point of celebrating the Chinese New Year with us. I was excited when I found this book. It sounded like something Mouse would enjoy, and sure enough, she loves it. She gets excited every time she pulls it out of her stacks. We've read it a dozen or so times and the story never gets old.

Xingling is very brave standing up to Nian monster when he appears at her window. She outsmarts him at every turn, while introducing a variety of her family's traditions. It is a great opportunity to teach young ones about a different culture. Xingling isn't alone in her efforts to save Shanghai, she has the help of her family and neighbors. 

It's a cute story, and the artwork lends itself perfectly to the novel. Mouse's favorite part is towards the end, when the fireworks go off. She loves to count the dancing dragons in the background.

To share your children's book related posts stop by Booking Mama’s feature,
Kid Konnection and leave a comment as well as a link to your posts!

© 2017, 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, June 22, 2017

Where Is Your Bookmark? (Secret Societies/Interruptions/A Little Friday Fun)

I nearly finished with Jenna Blum's Those Who Saved Us, and have been enjoying the read-along discussion over at at the War Through the Generations Challenges blog this month, which wraps up in another week. In order to pace myself with that book, I am also reading The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi, but June TBR List winner. It is about a forensic analyst with the police recently lost her husband. The authorities believe it was a suicide, but his wife isn't convinced. She begins her own investigation into his death, which leads her into dangerous territory, including a possible centuries-old secret society. And that's only a part of it. I'm halfway in and enjoying it quite a bit.

A weekly meme where readers share the first sentence of the book they are reading and say what they think. Hosted by the wonderful Gillion Dumas of Rose City Reader.

The corpse opened his eyes. 

My thoughts: That first sentence certainly grabs one's attention doesn't it? One might assume from the first sentence this is a zombie book. I admit, it gave me pause at first, and I had to stop and ask myself, "Aren't I reading a mystery?" Which, of course, reading on, I quite clearly am.

A weekly meme in which readers share a random sentence or two from page 56 or 56% of the book they are reading. Hosted by the wonderful Freda of Freda's Voice.

Taken from 33% of my Kindle edition of The Lost Girls in Rome:
"What about my husband, did you know him? Did you kill him?" There was no anger in her voice, just despair. "If you know something you have to tell me. Or I swear I'll kill you." She seemed sincere.

This is a quite tense scene with one character pointing a gun at the other, although it is also a very telling moment. Is he the one who killed her husband? Will she shoot him? It's obvious how much emotional pain she is in.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?


Every Friday Coffee Addicted Writer from Coffee Addicted Writer poses a question which participants respond on their own blogs within the week (Friday through Thursday). They then share their links at the main site and visit other participants blogs.

If you are at a really good point in a book and the phone rings or the door bell rings, do you stop reading or let the phone or door bell go unanswered?

I do not like talking on the phone at all if I can help it. So there is that. Luckily, I do not receive a lot of phone calls. At least on my cell phone. Most people know to text me instead if they need my immediate attention. Although that can be futile too if I am busy with my family, at work, do not have my phone on me, or do not notice the text when it comes in. If I did remember to turn the ringer back on my cell phone (I keep it on silent at work), even while reading a good book, I will likely, at a minimum, look to see who may be calling. If it is my husband, my daughter's school or my mom, chances are good I will answer it. Anyone else . . . probably not. I'm going back to that book instead.

If it's the land line, I rarely, if ever, answer it at all. Chances are, it is someone wanting me to buy something, donate money, or the IRS threatening to send the police to arrest me for not paying my taxes (a scam, obviously). Most of the time, I do not even register the landline is ringing when it does ring. It is set to a generic song which doesn't sound like an actual ringing phone (to avoid waking up the baby during a nap--when she was a baby, anyway; I just never changed the ring once she got older). So, yeah, the good book will win out every time when it comes to the landline ringing.

I am not one of those people who likes unexpected drop in visits. As it is, most people who knock on my door are people trying to sell something. Frankly, I'd rather not be bothered.  And so, admittedly, there was a time when I never answered the door unless I was expecting someone. Just over six years ago someone tried to break into my home. The man knocked on my door and rang my door bell. Thinking I wasn't home, he tried to kick down the door. This was a month after someone had already broken in when we weren't home and robbed us. Except, this time, I was home. He ran away after I yelled through the door I was calling 911, thankfully. But I have never completely gotten over the experience.  Now, anytime my door bell rings or someone knocks on the door, anxiety shoots through me--even when I'm completely lost in a good book. So, whether I open the door or not, my attention from the book will be broken. I have to get up and see who is at the door. Besides, it might be the mail person with a book I ordered!

What about you? Do you bother to answer the phone or door while engrossed in a good book?

Every Friday Ellen from 15andmeowing.com and Ann from McGuffy’s Reader get together to host the Friendly Fill-Ins. You can be serious or funny--the idea is just to have fun.

1. A recurring dream I have is of me exploring a house: sometimes familiar but other times unfamiliar; it might be big or rather small; I may be afraid and trying to hide or full of curiosity and wonder, excited to see what's behind the next door.

2. Turning my favorite book  into a movie can either make me very happy or especially disappointed.

3. My daughter's daycare summer camp program schedule is driving me crazy!

4. Lately, I have been feeling extra stressed and overwhelmed.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! Be sure and tell me what you are reading and are up to!

© 2017, 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, June 20, 2017

Bookish Thoughts: Planetfall by Emma Newman

Every time I come down here I think about my mother. ~ Opening of Planetfall

Planetfall (Planetfall #1) by Emma Newman
Ace/Roc, 2015
Science Fiction; 336 pgs
Source: Purchased

Goodreads Summary:  
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.

More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.

Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.

The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
Most of my experience with science fiction so far falls to Robert Heinlein and Douglas Adams, both rather tall orders to follow. I have read a scattering of other science fiction novels over the years, and recently have found myself wanting to explore the genre more. Planetfall seemed a good book to go to next. It wasn't quite what I expected, even having read the blurb, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Planetfall isn't just a book about a colony on a far away planet, but also a character study of someone with a mental disorder going through crisis.

Renata (Ren) Ghali is a well drawn character who shoulders a heavy secret and has been through more than one traumatic experience. Not only has she left behind the world she knows for the completely unknown, but she's lost the woman she loved most in the world, and is asked to be complicit in a big lie that could very well destroy the very community she lives in--not to mention the stability she's come to depend on. Being that Ren is the narrator, the reader is inside her head, feeling her panic when her world is threatened, and understanding where she is coming from. It did cross my mind at one point that perhaps Ren's disorder was relied on too heavily for the sake of the plot, but, at the same time, the way events played out, it seemed a natural progression and felt so real.

I felt for Ren on many levels, feeling the tension of the position she was in. She wanted to come clean with the truth, but isn't sure the colony would recover from the damage caused if the truth got out. Ren is extremely smart, skilled, and more resourceful than she realizes. She is always second guessing herself. I imagine the others in the colony see her as bit of an eccentric, withdrawn at times and very private, having trouble connecting with others.

When the stranger appears out of nowhere, Ren is suspicious, as is Cillian "Mack" Mackenzie, the so called ringmaster of the colony. How could someone have survived outside the colony for so long? Is he really as innocent as he seems? His friendly and open demeanor suggest so, and his welcome into the colony seems a forgone conclusion. Sung-So takes an instant interest in Ren and she can't help but respond to that. He is the first who she lets into her private world, however reluctantly. He is also the first to realize just how bad things have gotten for Ren. And from there, things begin to unravel very quickly.

It is through flashback and memories that the story unfolds, at first slowly, building in tension as it goes. Ren recalls the reason behind the colonists setting out on Atlas to search for their new home, the Earth being overpopulated and polluted. Despite being so far from home and civilization, the colonists have made a good home for themselves at the base of God's city. It was faith and science that had brought them there and what keeps them going. With each new memory Ren shares a new layer to the story is uncovered.

The novel could have gone in several different directions, and I would have happily followed along. In fact, I wasn't too surprised in the way certain events finally came to a head. The very end hearkens back to the purpose of the colonist's original mission, in a way coming full circle. But I have mixed feelings about it. Maybe my dissatisfaction comes from all the questions I still have, about certain threads left hanging. And yet the ending seems so final.

I wouldn't have minded a little more science behind the technology they used in order to add more flesh to the world Newman's created. I also wish the author had explored the spiritual journey the colonists were on a bit more, especially in relation to the time period they are living in. These are just minor things though in the scheme of things.

Overall, I liked Planetfall, and feel it was a worthwhile read. Emma Newman has created a fascinating character in Ren and a complex and interesting world. I am hearing even better things about the next book in the series, which I understand is set in the same world as Planetfall, but not a sequel per say.

You can learn more about Emma Newman and her books on the author's website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

© 2017, 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.