Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson

Sacred Cows by Karen E. Olson
Warner Books, 2005
Mystery; 304 pgs

Started: 07/29/2007
Completed: 07/30/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: My hand closed over the cold steel in that second between hearing the phone ring and before my eyes opened.

Reason for Reading: This is my fifth selection for the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge.

I cannot help but hesitate when reviewing a book by someone I know. I don’t actually know the author, but she has honored me by reading and commenting here on my blog now and then. Still, it was enough to get me curious to try one of her books. It helps that she writes books in my one of my favorite genres. Still, what if I hated it? What if I couldn’t finish it? As it turns out though, I thoroughly enjoyed Karen Olson’s novel and will definitely be reading more of her books in the future. I can easily see Annie Seymour sliding in as a favorite mystery heroine of mine.

Comments: Annie Seymour is a veteran crime reporter for the New Haven Herald. The last thing Annie wants is to be dragged out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to a crime scene where a young college student has fallen to her death, but duty calls. In an effort to get her story and but with little help from her cop boyfriend, Annie begins her own investigation into the murder of the Yale student, uncovering more than she could ever have imagined. The victim was a high priced escort on the side, but the mystery doesn’t stop there. As Annie gets closer to the truth, following a trail of fraud, prostitution and murder, her own career and life are put on the line.

If that isn’t enough, Annie learns that her mother is mixed up in something related to her investigation, but her mother is remaining close-lipped. Then there is the young reporter, Dick Whitfield, who is dogging on her heels and seems to show up when she least wants him around.

Annie has moxie. She is cynical, rough around the edges, and tenacious in the pursuit of her story. Do not let that fool you, however, because Annie does have heart. Karen E. Olson has created an edgy and intelligent character that quickly earned my respect and had me pulling for her through the entire story.

Karen E. Olson’s Sacred Cows was a satisfying and entertaining story. The author adds a good dose of humor and wit to an otherwise hard boiled and thrilling murder mystery. There’s even a bit of romance for those readers who enjoy a touch of sexual tension between characters. I look forward to reading Secondhand Smoke, the next book in the series, in the future.

Favorite Part: I loved the cows. The idea of fiberglass cows on display throughout the city is quite amusing. My favorite part in particular was when Annie and the Mooster Street cow meet face to face. You’ll understand if you read the book.

I know it’s cliché for the main character to be a favorite, but Annie won me over pretty quickly. Besides that she is a strong female character, I like that she is not pretentious or overconfident. She knows she is good at her job, but it never crossed the line into arrogance. She came across as a real person. And besides, I can’t help but love a character who craves pizza and eats banana splits when a day can’t seem to get any more rotten.

Note about the Author: The author teamed up with several other authors (Lori Armstrong, Alison Gaylin, and Jeff Shelby) to create the First Offenders blog. It is a wonderful and witty blog where the authors talk about all sorts of subjects including writing, current political and social issues, their own lives, and much more. I recommend you take a look. Karen E. Olson also has her own website if you would like to learn more information about her books.

Read what Melody had to say about the book:
Melody's Reading Corner

Monday, July 30, 2007

Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong

Exit Strategy by Kelley Armstrong
Bantam Books; 2007
Suspense/Thriller; 480 pgs

Started: 07/12/2007
Completed: 07/14/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: Mary Lee pushed open the shop door.

Reason for Reading:
I have enjoyed the author’s Women of the Otherworld series and was curious how she would do outside of the fantasy realm. When I saw Exit Strategy offered up for review through Curled Up With a Good Book, it seemed like too perfect of an opportunity to pass up.

Comments: Author Kelley Armstrong of the Women of the Otherworld series where werewolves, witches and the supernatural walk among humans takes her writing in a new direction with her latest thriller, Exit Strategy, where the main character lives a double life. Nadia Stafford was once a policewoman, carrying on the family tradition. A career breaking incident leads her to an early retirement at which time she decides to run a nature lodge. When it looks like she will lose the lodge like she has lost everything else in her life, Nadia cannot pass up the opportunity to make some quick cash. She hires out as a hitwoman for a mob family.

While this in and of itself may seem farfetched, Nadia’s past lends a helping hand in making her perfect for the job. She is a killer with a conscience but will not hesitate to take her target out. Nadia is not a woman to mess with. She is intelligent, calculating, and hard as nails. Nadia is no damsel in distress that is for sure.

Nadia does hesitate when asked to team up with her mentor Jack with a challenging and deadly target in mind. A serial killer is on the loose and the authorities are nowhere near uncovering the killer’s identity and purpose. It is believed he may be a hitman like Jack and Nadia, which poses its own problem. The serial killer’s killing spree is a threat to business not to mention taking out innocent people. The killer must be stopped. Nadia’s reluctance comes from not wanting to mix with others in her profession as well as for more personal reasons. Secrecy and privacy are of the utmost importance in the life of a hit person and no one wants to be an easy target. Still, there is too much at stake not to get involved, and so Nadia agrees to take on the task.

Jack is a very private person, one whom Nadia knows little about. He is mysterious and a loner. He has always refused to take a partner in the past but for reasons unknown has no qualms about working with Nadia. The two make a perfect team, both intelligent and coming from different backgrounds. Their combined experiences give them an edge, and their loyalty and trust of each other is unfaltering. As their investigation gets underway, Nadia learns things about Jack she never knew before and is taken deeper into the fold of the criminal world where she meets others like herself and Jack. She is not sure who she can trust and prepares herself to be on guard at all times.

Exit Strategy is a perfect suspense novel for the summer. It is fast paced, high in action with a colorful cast of characters that will leave you wondering who you can trust. There is a wisp of romance; however, it takes backseat to the main events in the novel. While suspension of disbelief is a must while reading the book, this is one adventure not to be passed up for readers of suspense thrillers. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Wendy Runyon, 2007

Favorite Part: I am drawn to strong female characters, and while most have an obvious softer side, Nadia is one badass woman, one of the more serious I’ve come across. She isn’t all toughness, of course, but when it comes to her job she is.

I came to really like Jack. His dialogue took a bit getting used to because he didn’t feel it necessary to use pronouns, but kudos to the author for giving the character that extra definition that helped make him who he is. By the end of the novel, Nadia and I see a deeper side of Jack that perhaps we suspected was always there and yet he keeps so much hidden and inside himself. I look forward to future books in the series (of which I know at least one is planned) in hopes of learning more about this character.

I’m also dying to know more about Evelyn. She wasn’t my favorite character as I found her annoying at times, and yet I find her to be quite interesting. I am sure I haven’t seen the last of her.

Read what Melody had to say about the book:
Melody's Reading Corner

The author's website can be found here.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Perennial, 1999
Fantasy; 250 pgs

Completed: 07/29/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.

Reason for Reading: For years I have been curious about Neil Gaiman’s Stardust but it took the coming of a movie to finally motivate me to read it. This is my first selection for the Saturday Review Challenge.

Comments: What a wonderful story! I had no idea what to expect when I first began reading Stardust other than what the back of the book had to offer (and the recent movie trailer for the upcoming film). I had heard that Neil Gaiman’s writing in this book was quite different from his others, and while I have only read one other book by Mr. Gaiman, I can at least say it was very different from American Gods, which I read earlier this year.

Different is not a mark of better or worse, however. Stardust was delightful and entertaining, while American Gods was darker and more thought provoking. I was reminded of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride in story and in style.

Tristran Thorn lives in the village of Wall at the turn of the Victorian era. Wall is situated next to the wall that separates the land of Faerie from Tristran’s home in the “real” world. Once every nine years, there is a magical fair in which visitors from all over venture past the wall, through a single gate, into the meadow that lies just beyond. At all other times, the gate is guarded to ensure that no one crosses the gate from Wall into the Faerie.

When a star falls from the sky, Tristran promises the lady he loves that he will retrieve it for her in exchange for whatever his heart desires, be it marriage or perhaps simply a kiss. He sets off for the other side of the wall where he will encounter people and creatures of myth and face challenges unlike any other. As it turns out, Tristran is not the only one looking for the star. There are others who seek it out for darker purposes.

Stardust is both a love story and a coming of age story. Uncomplicated in his prose, creating a quick and rather lighthearted story smattered with darkness here and there, Neil Gaiman has fashioned an unforgettable fairy tale that will no doubt remain one of my favorites.

Favorite Part: I liked the hairy little man quite a bit. The book doesn’t go into depth about the characters, which works well for the story and the style in which Gaiman wrote the story. Just the same, I would not have minded learning more about some of the mysterious creatures and beings Tristran encounters along the way.

Miscellaneous: Anjin and I are enjoying the second season of The Wire on DVD. The second season is just as good as the first. One of my favorite characters died in an episode we watched today. I knew it was coming, but it still made me sad.

We also saw the movie Hairspray this weekend, the new musical version, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but then, I am a big fan of musicals. It was very uplifting and definitely worth seeing in the theater.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Death's Acre by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson

Death’s Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead to Tell Tales
by Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson
Berkley, 2003
Nonfiction; 304 pgs

Completed: 07/27/2007
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: A dozen tiny bones, nestled in my palm: They were virtually all that remained, except for yellowed clippings, scratchy newsreel footage, and painful memories, from what was called “the trial of the century.”

Reason for Reading: After I finished reading Mary Roach’s book Stiff, Andi, a fellow booklover, recommended that I read Death’s Acre. Although it’s taken me a while to get around to it, I finally have. This is my third selection for the Nonfiction Five Challenge.

Comments: I am not sure where my interest in forensic science began. I have long been interested in the psychological aspect of criminal behavior. I always have been drawn to crime mysteries, both in real life and fiction. What makes a person commit a crime? What is going on in his or her head? What motivates the person, spurs them on? Was there something from the past that led the person to do what he or she did? What was the breaking point that pushed him or her over the edge? What was the person thinking before, during and after? All of these questions can be summed up with a simple, “Why?”

It is impossible not to read books on these topics without venturing into the more hard science aspect of crime. I was fascinated when I first learned that there were people who studied blood spatter patterns and that there were professionals out there that specialized in the minute details of a crime scene, which could be make or break a case. It seemed only natural that my curiosity would spread into other areas related to criminal behavior, such as the evidence left behind. Yet another reason I enjoy reading mysteries, watching the protagonist put together the clues that lead to the resolution of the crime or problem. My own career led me down a similar path in a way. Although I am not in law enforcement, I was an investigator of sorts for several years, gathering information through interviews, studying evidence, all in an effort to form as clear a picture as I could to get to the truth. To a lesser degree today, I still play a part in that process.

I never was able to get into the CSI shows that air on television. Although I have heard that they are fairly accurate (and entertaining), there was something too Hollywood-ish about the shows that turned me off. But put a book in front of me on the subject, and I will devour it, just as I devoured many of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels. It was because of Patricia Cornwell that I first learned about the Body Farm in a book with the same title. Ironically, Dr. Bass devotes an entire chapter to Patricia Cornwell, praising her as a person and the interest and attention she brought to the Anthropology Research Facility at the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Bass is a modest and down to earth man, qualities that come through quite clearly throughout the book. He is hardworking, dedicated, readily admits his mistakes, and is eager to learn from those mistakes. It was because of one such mistake that Dr. Bass got the idea to start the Body Farm. He wanted to study decomposition of bodies in relation to time of death. The Body Farm is the only one of its kind in the world, a place where forensic research regarding the dead can take place in a more natural setting. It has proved to be useful both to science and to law enforcement agencies around the globe in solving crimes. Several of those crimes, Dr. Bass himself helped solve.

Death’s Acre is a small look into the world of Dr. Bass’s career as a forensic anthropologist. He discusses well-known cases like the Tri-State Crematorium scandal, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Zoo Man serial murders, a mob hit along with other stories that put his skills to the test. I will not go into detail about each of the cases—you really do have to read them to get the full impact.

This book does require a strong stomach. The author talks at length about the decomposition of human bodies in all of its stages and sometimes the picture he paints is not very pretty. Death’s Acre is an informative book, however, and the strides forensic science has made in recent years are amazing due in a large part to Dr. Bass and other professionals like him.

Favorite Part: For some reason, I was really taken with the story of the ants. During one of Dr. Bass’s earlier excursions, he led a team of anthropologists in search of an Arikara Native American cemetery in South Dakota. He traced the path of the ants to the cemetery, having determined where they would most likely build their homes.

New Phobia Attributed to the Book: Although I have been aware of where flies come from for many years now, after reading this book I have a much stronger dislike for them. I understand their purpose on the food chain, but I’d rather they stay far away from me—while I’m alive at least.

Miscellaneous: While many major advances in forensic science have been made, the state of forensic labs and equipment throughout the United States is in sad shape because of lack of funding and attention. Much of the equipment is outdated or nonexistent. The facilities leave a lot to be desired and there are not enough qualified staff to meet the needs out in the communities. What you see on television in the movies is not often reality. As a result, crimes are going unresolved, victims’ families are left to wonder and fear, and the perpetrators remain on the streets. Author Jan Burke (who I have yet to read) mentioned the Crime Lab Project last spring at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, which began as a group of writers and producers who are interested in improving the conditions of our forensic facilities. Although the project is not mentioned anywhere in Death's Acre, Jan Burke’s words came to mind as I read. If you want to learn more, visit the Crime Lab Project website.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Best Moustache-Twirling

Who’s the worst fictional villain you can think of? As in, the one you hate the most, find the most evil, are happiest to see defeated? Not the cardboard, two-dimensional variety, but the most deliciously-written, most entertaining, best villain? Not necessarily the most “evil,” so much as the best-conceived on the part of the author…oh, you know what I mean!

I am finding that this is not such an easy question to answer. I read a lot of books with bad guys but rarely do they stand out--at least not at this moment when I most want to remember them. The villians that do catch my fancy are the ones that while evil, have also earned my respect. The authors have created them in such a way that brings them to life, make me feel for them, and despise them all at the same time. The first two are the more obvious ones, and I would not be surprised to see them on quite a few lists.

Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. Hannibal is not only one of the most brillant fictional serial killers but frightening as hell. This is not a man I would want roaming the streets.

Another character who comes to mind is Dexter Morgan from the Jeff Lindsay series. Dexter is a blood spatter pattern expert who sidelines as a serial killer. He is a charming character, and it is easy to forget he is not such a good guy when he only kills human predators who kill and harm innocent people. It never fails that when I start feeling too much of a connection to Dexter, the author, makes sure to remind me just how cold blooded the hero of the novel truly is.

Finally there is the Leanansidhe, Harry Dresden's faerie godmother from Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. Although evil is not the word that comes to mind when I think of this character, Lea certainly is not one I look forward to Harry having to deal with when he gets in a tight spot. She is cunning to say the least, and even though she seems to care about Harry on some level, her intentions are rarely without a cost.

**While I have seen the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, I have not seen beyond the first television episodes for both The Dresden Files (SciFi) and Dexter (Showtime). Someday perhaps. Just not today.**

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tag! I'm It.

Karina over at Candid Karina tagged me for an interesting meme. I can be a big moaner, especially on a bad day, but I tend to keep it to myself--or at least to the confines of my home with just my animals and husband in earshot. It reminds me of an assignment I was given a couple of years ago.

One of my former managers gave his staff tiny notebooks and asked us to use it for a week by writing down any negative thoughts we had. His intention was to show us how easy it was to be negative, and then, by realizing just how much we time we wasted on those thoughts, perhaps we would focus more on the positive. It is a good thing no one ever collected those notebooks because I do not believe any of us filled them out.

I will accept, however, Karina's challenge.

The Freelance Cynic created this meme. He says:

If you've ever listened to people talking on a bus you'll know that most of what they say is negative. They talk about things they hate, people that annoy them and boyfriends that let them down before they even think about mentioning the 'nice things.'

All of us do it. We find it natural, when with a friend, to moan.In fact a recent study has shown that the most effective form of human bonding is moaning and gossiping.Yet our blogs, the social tools of the 21st century, are populated by memes listing our 'favourites,' or our 'blessings,' or our 'funniest' moments. In our efforts to be readable we have denied others the one thing that makes us interesting - our whining, moaning, complaining selves.And so I am pleased to present the first ever Moaning Meme! The meme that will teach us all a bit more about each other and ourselves.It's time to spread some Personality...

The Moaning Meme

5 people who will be annoyed you tagged them.
- I tried, but I can't. If you want to give this one a try, feel free to do so. Remember to be annoyed.

4 things that should go into room 101 and be removed from the face of the earth.
- Child Abuse
- Animal Cruelty
- Terrorism
- Cockroaches (to be removed without cruelty, of course)

3 things people do that make you want to shake them violently.
- Taking forever to get to the point - I work in a job where crises occur every day. It's the nature of the job. Heck, my work is dealing with one crisis after another. When someone comes to me with a question or a problem, I do not need someone to beat around the bush, especially when I have five other people demanding my attention with their own questions or crises to deal with.
- Tailgaters and people who go way too slow in the fast lane.
- Mothers who choose bad men over their children.

2 things you find yourself moaning about.
- Lack of A Quiet Place to Read - I just want a quiet place to read during my lunch break. Is that too much to ask? If it wasn't so hot, I would go sit in my car. I almost did today. I could always let the air conditioner run, I suppose.
- My house - I hate almost everything about it. It needs so much work (painting, new windows, landscaping, new furniture, inside repairs like you would not believe). It's embarrassing.

1 thing the above answers tell you about yourself.
- I complain too much.

Stephanie over at Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-A-Holic tagged me with the Blogging Tips Meme. The object of this meme is to pass along helpful blogging tips.


It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends!

Just think- if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn. **-http://www.neonscent.com/

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. **-http://www.bushmackel.com/

3. Don’t let money change ya! *-http://www.therandomforest.info/

4. Always reply to your comments. *****-http://chattiekat.com/

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. *-http://chipsquips.com/

6. Don’t give up - persistence is fertile. *-http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/

7. Give link credit where credit is due. ****-http://www.sfsignal.com/

8. Pictures say a thousand words and can usually add to any post.**-http://scifichick.com/

9. Visit all the bloggers that leave comments for you - it's nice to know who is reading! * -http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/

10. It never hurts to proofread. - http://literaryfeline.blogspot.com/

Like with the Moaning Meme, I am going to spoil the fun and not tag anyone. If you have a good tip you want to share, feel free to participate in the Blogging Tips Meme.

Kailana from Kailana's Written World has awarded me the Rockin' Girl Blogger Award! Thank you so much, Kailana. I think you are pretty Rockin' yourself.

I crowned a few terrific bloggers with this award not too long ago, and so I will leave it at that. I do want to say, however, that I frequent many blogs and all of them are worthy of this award. You rock! Keep up the good work.

Monday, July 23, 2007

February Flowers by Fan Wu

February Flowers by Fan Wu
Washington Square Press; August 2007 (ARE)
Fiction; 244 pgs

Completed: 07/23/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: After my marriage ends I move to a one-bedroom apartment five blocks from the university where I studied twelve years ago.

Reason for Reading: The novel was sent to be by the publisher Simon & Schuster for review. I decided to read it because the subject matter and setting intrigued me.

From the Publisher: Set in modern China, February Flowers tells the stories of two young women's journeys to self-discovery and reconciliation with the past.

Seventeen-year-old Ming and twenty-four-year-old Yan have very little in common other than studying at the same college. Ming, idealistic and preoccupied, lives in her own world of books, music, and imagination. Yan, by contrast, is sexy but cynical, beautiful but wild, with no sense of home. When the two meet and become friends, Ming's world is forever changed. But their differences in upbringing and ideology ultimately drive them apart, leaving each to face her dark secret alone.

Insightful, sophisticated, and rich with complex characters, February Flowers captures a society torn between tradition and modernity, dogma and freedom. It is a meditation on friendship, family, love, loss, and redemption and how a background shapes a life.

Comments: February Flowers is one of those novels that ends with a big question mark and gives pause for contemplation. There are no easy answers at the end, no clean break. There is quite a bit of ambiguity and yet also a sense of hope. This book would make a great book club selection,; it’s just ripe for discussion.

Narrated by seventeen year old Ming, the story begins with Ming looking back on the year she met Yan, a woman who would forever haunt her thoughts long after the two parted ways. Ming is the good girl while Yan is the “bad” one. The two are unlikely friends from the start and yet their friendship blossomed and grew, each of them admiring in the other what she herself did not possess. Each longed for intimacy and friendship and found it with each other.

The differences in the old traditions versus modern ideas played a big part throughout the novel. Ideas about sex and sexuality were among those differences. While Ming was growing up, sexuality was not discussed at all; this was exemplified by Ming’s utter lack of knowledge about the act of sex itself. It was an enigma to her. Homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness and considered wrong. The author also touches upon the cultural aspects of relationships between men and women as well as that of parents and children, offering readers a look into the society Ming and Yan lived in.

The author captured the sense of place: university life in the big city of Guangzhou, China, a place where many students, including Ming and Yan, longed to settle and work. The descriptions of the places as well as the culture brought the city to life. It was an environment that was very different from that of both Yan and Ming’s hometowns. Ming had spent most of her life on a farm where her parents had been re-located during the Cultural Revolution for “re-education”. Yan was a minority from Yunnan, a place she wished not to speak of or return to if she could help it.

Overall, February Flowers was an enjoyable reading experience. The novel is one that inspires thought and discussion and lingers on the mind long after completion.

Unfortunately, I never quite settled into the novel quite like I would have liked. While I felt sorry for Yan in some respects, I never really cared for her character. She remained somewhat elusive throughout the novel. On the other hand, I felt some affection for Ming, in part because I could relate to her in the sense that she was studious and an avid reader, preferring books to people, as I imagine a few of us readers occasionally do.

Perhaps my biggest fault with the book, which is no fault of the author’s and really only a complaint about the Advance Uncorrected Proof I received, is that the font used failed to record the italicized words. Ming, being quite the reader, makes references to several titles and yet they were nowhere to be found, only blank spaces. Chinese words that might have been used here and there were also missing. As a person who sometimes likes to look up the books the characters are reading, this was quite disappointing, not to mention a bit distracting.

For an interview with the author on writing this particular book check out the Compulsive Reader website.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Arthur A. Irvine Books, 2007
Fantasy (YA); 759 pgs

Completed: 07/22/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.

Comments: After going back and forth for days about whether to attend the midnight release, Anjin and I decided to go. Events like this do not happen very often, and this being the last of the Harry Potter books, who knows when a book will garner such treatment again. And so, after a dinner out on the town, we stopped in at the local Barnes and Noble and picked up a wristband. Already people were arriving, some in costume. With about four hours to kill, we went home and returned around 11:30 p.m. to a store that was packed full with people. It was impossible to move without elbowing someone or having to step over someone sitting on the floor in the aisles. There were people of all ages and from all walks of life. I saw several Hogwarts’ students dressed in school uniforms, a couple of Tonks, fans of Ron's proudly wearing their "I love Ron" T-shirts, and several other random characters scattered here and there. Had we arrived earlier, I imagine there would have been activities set up for the children as the ads had promised. Upon on arrival though, all we could find was a photo station where people could have their photo taken with a life-size Voldemort doll.

Just after midnight, the first book was sold. It was held up by its new owner at the request of the crowds waiting their turn. Applause broke out amongst the masses. The time had come. Staff at the store should be commended for how well organized they were at getting the books out come midnight. Anjin and I were in the 5th group 50, and we had our book in hand by 12:30 a.m.

We saw a couple of sleeping children, one using books as his pillow, another lying against the front windows, waiting for their parents or older siblings. People were already reading the book as we walked out, some sitting outside by themselves with the book propped open on their knees or they were sitting in their car sneaking a peek before driving home.

Other than looking inside at the cover flap, my book remained unread until the next day. I desperately needed sleep and knew that if I tried to read Harry Potter in bed, I would not make it far. And so, Saturday was devoted to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I set up camp on the couch and lost myself in Harry's world.

Without giving too much away, J.K. Rowling’s latest novel was the perfect ending to a great series. While tears welled up in my eyes for fallen friends, there were many more tears shed for the happy moments, of which there were plenty.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows continues with the story of Harry's quest to find and destroy Voldemort's horcruxes, a task Dumbledore had set him out on during the previous book. Harry is joined by his two friend Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, who have stood by his side throughout the entire series. Their mission tests the boundaries of their friendship and their will, causing them doubt themselves and each other, while at the same time making them stronger. Readers are given a window into Dumbledore's past, which seemed very fitting for this final book. I like that J.K. Rowling humanizes even the greatest of her characters, reminding readers that no one is without flaws or having made wrong choices.

I have many thoughts swirling around in my head about the book and would love to hear the thoughts of others who have read it. At this moment, I am anxiously awaiting my husband's completion of the book now so he and I can discuss it at length, and hopefully some of my online yahoo groups will be discussing it more fully as well. There's so much to talk about! Please be advised that the comment section may include spoilers. Proceed with caution.

While I am sad to see the series come to an end, I do think it is time. J.K. Rowling has come a long way from when she first began writing the series. She never could have imagined the direction the books would take her life. I wish her all of the best in her future endeavors.

Read what Jeane had to say about this book:
Dog Ear Diary

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Just Wild About Harry

1. Okay, love him or loathe him, you’d have to live under a rock not to know that J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter book, /Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, /comes out on Saturday… Are you going to read it?

2. If so, right away? Or just, you know, eventually, when you get around to it? Are you attending any of the midnight parties?

3. If you’re not going to read it, why not?

4. And, for the record… what do you think? Will Harry survive the series? What are you most looking forward to?

There are people who actively avoid Harry Potter; there are those who do not care one way or the other; there are those who hate him, tolerate him, like him, or love him. Some people are fanatics and some are just regular fans. There's nothing wrong with falling into any one of those categories. I happen to be among those who thoroughly enjoy reading the books and watching the movies and so you can bet I will be right there in the middle, waiting to read the final Harry Potter book.

A couple of my coworkers are organizing a Harry Potter potluck for tomorrow in honor of the book release. I imagine one person might even come in costume, as big a fan as she is. There are several of us who read the books and are anxiously awaiting the strike of midnight when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released.

I still have not decided if I will be among the throngs of people lining up to get my copy. Barnes and Nobles opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, the crowds will be gone, and I would have the store mostly to myself for other book browsing. Can you imagine trying to browse the shelves at the midnight release? Still, there is something enticing about being swept up in the moment and being a part of the festivities. Everyone there will be sharing in the excitement about a book--just one little book.

While I may or may not be collecting my book at midnight on the 21st, I will be reading the book right away. Besides not being able to resist diving right in, I also do not want to have to avoid all the spoilers that will immediately be coming, some of which will be unavoidable altogether. And then there is the fact that my husband wants to read the book. He is kindly allowing me to have first dibs, knowing that I will not leave him waiting long. I did suggest buying two books, but he does not think it is worth the money or the effort.

As to what I expect to happen, I am keeping my thoughts on the subject to myself. This is in part due to the fact that I have no specific predictions and made no real guesses as to what I think or want to happen. I will let the story unfold as I read it and accept whatever the author has mapped out. The characters and story are her creation. I trust her to make the best decisions for her world; I'm just a visitor after all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
Harcourt, 2004
Fiction (Horror); 369 pgs

Completed: 07/18/2007
Rating: * (Very Good +)

First Sentence: I first saw the photograph on a hot January afternoon in my mother’s bedroom.

Reason for Reading: This is my 7th selection for the TBR Challenge. My friend Jody read this one back in April, and I had been holding on to an e-mail with her thoughts upon finishing it--I figured I had kept her waiting long enough to share my own.

Comments: The Ghost Writer is one of those novels for which I am afraid to say almost anything for fear of spoiling the story. The story builds on itself with each passing page, weaving a complex and captivating story, each thread having a possible deeper purpose in how the story will eventually play out.

A typical curious young boy, Gerard Freeman, goes searching in his mother’s drawers while she’s away. Her reaction when he discovers a photograph of an unknown woman is extreme and not at all what he expected. Whereas before that moment Gerard was entertained by his mother’s stories of her childhood in the countryside of Staplefield, England, some of the few times his overly anxious mother ever seemed happy, after he heard no more. A wall had built up between him and his mother, one he did not understand and could not breach even into adulthood. And yet Gerard’s curiosity to know his mother’s roots takes him in directions he never could have anticipated.

Joining him on his journey in search of answers to the past is Gerard’s long time pen pal, Alice Jessell, who Gerard began writing to when he was thirteen years old. Their relationship is a unique one. Alice, living in England, is wheelchair bound thanks to an accident that killed her parents. Although Gerard wants to meet her, he is forced to keep his distance at Alice’s insistence. She would rather meet Gerard standing on her own two feet, an event that might never happen. Through letters the two fall in love, sharing their lives with each other in words.

There is also the elderly Abigail Hamish who may have answers Gerard seeks. Her willingness to help Gerard in his quest open many doors for him that might have otherwise been closed.

My favorite piece of the book is the ghost stories written by his great grandmother, Viola Hatherley. It just so happened I seemed to approach these sections just as I was settling into bed for a little reading before falling asleep. While I had no nightmares, the themes of my dreams those nights were quite interesting.

I was most fascinated by the character of Viola, Gerard’s great grandmother. She seemed to having a starring role despite her so few appearances in the novel itself. Through her stories, I felt a better understanding of her, perhaps more so than most of the other characters.

For the most part, the characters do not stand out in such a way as to attract a lot of affection from the reader; however, they are quite interesting in their own ways. Gerard is not an especially warm person and yet I was drawn into his story, came to care about him and cheer him on. Gerard is more the vehicle used to tell the story, the characters taking a backseat to the story itself.

The literary references throughout the novel will give a few well-read readers a thrill. Think Henry James, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens for starters.

Nightmare inducing is not how I would describe this book; eerie, yes. It is in fact . . . haunting. The author pieces together the story in all its various forms, adding new dimensions right up until the very end. The format of the book, which has been described as choppy by some, did not come across that way to me. Each chapter and section flowed smoothly into the next. There were a couple of moments when I groaned out loud because I wanted to know more, but I also understand that the author needed to take me in another direction for a little while. I was fascinated and entranced once the story got moving. I admit to having doubts at the beginning as the story began to unfold. It was with Viola’s first ghost story that I became glued to the book. There was no looking back from there.

Note about the Author: John Harwood in a discussion of his book at Readerville:

Plotting the book: I knew from the beginning that there would be a 20th century narrative framing the ghost stories, but Viola Hatherley came first. I discovered a great freedom in writing in her voice and had finished several stories including ‘The Gift of Flight’ before I began work on what became Gerard’s. So the book grew around the Viola stories; I made a rule for myself that once I’d finished a Viola story, I wasn’t allowed to change it to suit the mystery plot. The book had to adapt to the stories, and so G’s narrative gradually evolved around them.

Friday, July 13, 2007

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. - Proverbs 4:23

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
West Bow Press, 2006
Fiction (Christian); 336 pgs

Completed: 07/11/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: I pushed against the spring hinge, cracked open the screen door, and scattered two hummingbirds fighting over my feeder.

Reason for Reading: Amanda over at A Patchwork of Books was the one who first recommended this book to me earlier this year, and it fit in perfectly as my second choice for the Southern Reading Challenge.

Comments: Set in the beautiful town of Clayton, Georgia right on the shores of Lake Burton, Charles Martin’s novel, When Crickets Cry, is a soulful novel that goes straight for the heart, both literally and figuratively speaking. Seven-year-old Annie first comes into contact with Reese outside of the hardware store where her aunt Cindy works, while selling lemonade. She is a special child, strong in spirit but with a bad heart. The day the two meet is a day that neither of them will forget. Shortly after Reese leaves the lemonade stand having had his fill, a strong wind comes along blowing Annie’s cup of money over and into the intersection. Before anyone can react, a truck hits her and Reese flies into action, saving Annie’s life.

Reese long ago pushed his past behind him and is simply surviving. As Reese and Annie’s friendship grows, it becomes harder and harder to keep his secrets and the painful past hidden. As Annie and her aunt begin to help Reese heal his heart wounds, he in turn must decide whether protecting his past is worth the life of a child.

As I began reading this book, I immediately knew it was one to be savored. The writing style itself sets the tone, a gentle and measured pace, while the language painted the landscape of a small town tourist community in such a way that I was standing right inside the story. The characters themselves completed the picture, their actions shaping the story as it unfolded. Reese is a complex character; it is obvious from the very first that he has a good heart. His love and devotion for Emma were so true and touched me deeply. Reese’s pain over losing her was genuine and debilitating. Annie is a young child who had been forced to grow up fast because of her health problems. She has an innocence about her just the same and her spirit never wavers. Charlie, Reese’s brother-in-law, and Cindy, Annie’s aunt, are the pillars of strength for both Reese and Annie. Cindy especially struggles, raising her sick niece on her own and trying to meet the financial obligations that come with so many doctor’s appointments, treatments and surgeries.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I love the title itself, and the story is not only heartbreaking but also heartwarming. It is a novel most of all of love and friendship, but also of letting go, making sacrifices, redemption, and of having hope.

Christian fiction is not a genre I usually indulge in, and while this book is classified as such, it can be read and enjoyed by just about anyone. Faith plays a large part in the lives of Annie and Reese, but the novel never gets preachy nor is the spiritual aspect ever overwhelming. It’s a natural part of the story that makes sense in the lives of the characters and the events that take place.

Favorite Part: Where to begin? And once I do, where to stop? I enjoyed so much of this book. Emma and Reese’s love story; Annie and her lemonade stand and crickets; The Well; Reese and Annie’s first meeting, including the rescue; and the doctor’s explanation to Charlie about the red blood cells being dump trucks come to mind immediately.

Sense of Place: Maggie over at Maggie Reads is hosting a contest, asking readers of Southern novels to select a passage that offers a sense of place from the novel and post it along with a photo (either your own or one you find on the internet) on your blog and then add the link from your blog post on her blog. The following is my contribution along with some extra passages that I felt captured the sense of setting in the novel.

Below me the Tallulah River spread out seamlessly into Lake Burton in a sheet of translucent, unmoving green, untouched by the antique cutwaters and Jet Skis that would split her skin and roll her to shore at 7:01 a.m.

Behind me, fog rose off the water and swirled in miniature twisters that spun slowly like dancing ghosts, up through the overhanging dogwood branches and hummingbird wings, disappearing some thirty feet in the air.

The roads around Burton are a plethora of Norman Rockwell’s Americana—apple orchards, dilapidated gristmills, craft stores, comb honey, smoked bacon, Coca-Cola, the Marlboro man, and cold beer at every turn. Vintage cars painted in rust dot the pastures that flow with creeks, cows, and horses. All summer long, hay bales rolled into one-ton mounds sit big as shacks, covered in white plastic like melted snowmen until the winter cold sheds their coat and feeds them to the livestock. And farmers, those whose lives are connected to the lake yet uninterested in it, sit atop green or red tractors beneath dusty brimmed hats, roll cigarettes, and pull at the earth for one more year like a pig suckling the hind teat.

Around here, folks sit in rocking chairs, sip mint juleps, and hold heated arguments about what exactly is the best time of day on the lake. At dawn, the shadows fall ahead of you, reaching out to touch the coming day. At noon, you stand on your shadows, caught somewhere between what was and what will be. At dusk, the shadows fall behind you and cover your tracks. In my experience, the folks who choose dusk usually have something to hide.
Check out the author's website for more information about his books.

Miscellaneous: My friend (Christy) warned me that this book would elicit an ugly cry—the kind of cry that leaves the eyes swollen and red, the nose stuffed, and maybe even result in a cry related hangover. She did not lie. Of course, I’m a big crybaby anyway when it comes to the books I read. A touching moment, happy or sad will bring tears to my eyes. The ugly cry though is not one I experience often. It takes a special book to turn my eyes into the Tallulah Falls.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. - Ruth Bell Graham

Love is like a friendship caught on fire.
In the beginning a flame, very pretty,
Often hot and fierce,
But still only light and flickering.
As love grows older,
Our hearts mature
And our love becomes as coals,
Deep-burning and unquenchable.

~ by Bruce Lee ~

Today is Anjin's and my 9th wedding anniversary. It is hard to believe how much time has passed since we stood inside the gazebo of that rose garden and said our vows, our friends and family gathered around. We tied the knot just over 6 1/2 years after we began to fall in love. My husband is my best friend, and I love him dearly to this day. Happy Anniversary, Anjin.

I love thee, I love but thee
With a love that shall not die
Till the sun grows cold
And the stars grow old.

~ by Willam Shakespeare ~

Booking Through Thursday: Celluloid

In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie? The worst? Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference?

I enjoy watching movies almost as much as I enjoy reading books. I am able to enjoy a movie for the movie's sake, regardless of how accurately it follows a well loved book. The two are very different mediums, often aimed at varying audiences, have different limitations and constraints, and therefore, my expectations for each are also different. This in no way means I do not notice the differences or make note of them. I take all of that in. I cannot help to, but I try not to let it detract from my enjoyment of one medium or the other.

That said, five movies come to mind immediately in reference to the first part of the question, what is the best translation of book to a movie. While the below list may not necessarily be my favorite movies that were based on books, I think these films are among the best translated from books in spirit and content to the screen. They are movies I enjoyed very much, even almost as much as the books.

- Simon Langton's Pride and Prejudice (book by Jane Austen), the 1996 mini series most often referred to as the "Colin Firth version".

- Susanna White's Jane Eyre (book by Charlotte Bronte), the 2006 mini series that created quite a buzz when it first hit the airwaves.

- Rob Riener's Princess Bride (book by William Goldman) - Although there are some differences, I include this one because the tone, mood, and atmosphere of the book was translated so well to the big screen.

- Clint Eastwood's Mysttic River (book by Dennis Lehane)

- Jonathan Demme 's Silence of the Lambs (book by Thomas Harris)

(I purposefully am not including my all-time favorite, The Lord of the Rings books and movies because so much was left out when the movies were translated to the big screen. So, as a direct translation, I wasn't comfortable listing it. Still, of all the movies made based on books, the Lord of the Rings movies take the cake. They were awesome.)

I think I block out the worst of them. They must not be very memorable, anyway. Going back to movies I have recently seen the ones I can think of off the top of my head with a little nudge from Anjin include

- Scott McGehee and David Siegel's Bee Season (book by Myla Goldberg) - I admit the book itself was not among my favorites, but I did enjoy it to some degree. There were a lot of changes made from book to movie. I found the movie to be boring and did not care for it.

- Stefen Fangmeier's Eragon (book by Christopher Paolini) - I did enjoy the movie on some level, but it really was a poor translation of the book and the movie suffered for it.

Anjin's offering to the worst list, is Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein. The movie was pretty bad, I agree, but I have not yet read the book and so cannot count it among my own list.

Of all the above mentioned books, I read the book first with one exception, The Princess Bride. I saw the movie several times before I first read the book. If given the choice, I much prefer to read the book first. Interestingly enough, while there are many movies I have watched and will want to see that are based on books I have no interest reading, I tend to always want to see the movie based on a book I have read.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Ballantine Books, 1901, 1902
Mystery; 173 pgs

Completed: 07/09/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table.

Reason for Reading: I initially came upon this particular title while searching for a book to fit into the 1900 category for the Reading Through the Decades Challenge. It sounded like it might be interesting, and knowing how I enjoy a good mystery, I figured it was about time I read something by the famous Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes after all is a mystery icon.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my 8th selection for the Reading Through the Decades Challenge (or By the Decades Challenge), my 3rd selection for the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge, and my 1st for the Classics Challenge.

From the Publisher: Perhaps the most popular of all Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles combines the traditional detective tale with elements of horror. When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on the wild Devon moorland with the footprints of a giant hound nearby, the blame is placed on a family curse-and it is up to Holmes and Watson to solve the mystery of the legend. Rationalism is pitted against the supernatural and good against evil, as Sherlock Holmes tries to defeat a foe almost his equal.

Comments: Sherlock Holmes is well known throughout the world as one of the finest literary detectives. His intelligence and skills in logic and observation surpass most, and he knows it. In fact, there was one part in the book where Holmes took offense to one of the characters referring to him as second best. Arrogance and a superiority complex are not qualities I tolerate well in significant characters in books, I'm afraid. Fortunately for Mr. Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle saw fit to have Dr. Watson as the narrator, therefore taking care of that little problem. Somewhat. My poor husband was worried as I read the first chapter that he was going to have to listen to my haranguing of the famous detective, which I had already begun to do. With a quick reminder to myself that if Watson, who was an intelligent man himself, was not insulted, I should not be. Hadn't I been forewarned that Sherlock Holmes thought a lot of himself? Of course, I had been. I had also been advised to take it with some humor, and so I did. Too, there was the consideration that the novel was written at the turn of the last century, over one hundred years ago.

With that behind me, I quickly lost myself in the mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I enjoyed immensely. The author laid out his story, leaving hardly a stone unturned. Sherlock Holmes is a whiz at putting the pieces of a puzzle together, even the little facts that may seem inconsequential at first. Dr. Watson himself is no slouch. He takes the lead throughout the book, even if the series is not named for him. It is he whom readers follow from London to Dartmoor to investigate the events at Baskerville Hall. It is from Dr. Watson's point of view that the story is told. While he may not be the one who figures everything out in the end, his findings and observations play a large part in Sherlock Holmes’ final wrap up of events.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my first Sherlock Holmes novel and will not likely be my last. Even with my initial eye rolling at the character of Sherlock Holmes, I could not help but like him. He is not only smart and gifted, but there is some compassion beneath his rather logical and focused character. He is also a man of action, not just of thought. Dr. Watson provides good balance for the detective, being the more compassionate of the two. He takes notice of the beauty around him even when it does not have anything to do with the task at hand.

I cannot say I was surprised by much that occurred in the novel or by the outcome. The author left footprints all along the way so that the facts and details are all there for almost anyone who cannot help but add them up. The story itself was quite intriguing, just the same.

Favorite Part: I cannot tell you. It would ruin the effect.

Aside from that, I liked the setting of the novel. The author was able to give the moors a dark and foreboding feeling which was necessary for the story while at the same time capturing its beauty.

Note about the Author: If you would like to know more about the author, you can find a detailed biography here. The man led an extraordinary life. That alone makes me want to read some of his lesser known works.

Miscellaneous: Today is my dog’s anniversary with us. Six years ago today we brought him home from a local animal shelter. He had been a bit shy back then, taking his new surroundings in, unsure of what to expect. He settled in very quickly and soon gained his confidence. His initial shyness certainly wasn’t his natural state! He is actually very people-friendly and is a ball of energy that never rests. Except for now. He’s lying beside me, chewing a new rawhide bone at the moment.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
Ecco, 2007
Fiction; 338 pgs

Completed: 07/07/2007
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence:
When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won’t be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.

Reason for Reading: The subject matter and setting drew me to this title when I discovered it on the publisher’s website. As a result, I put my name in to preview this book through the Harper Collins First Look Program.

Comments: Before the Iranian Revolution, the Amin family enjoyed a relatively good life in their home country of Iran. Isaac Amin earned a good living as a gemologist, working hard to support his family. The fall of the monarchy and the rise of the Islamic republic changed everything for Isaac, his wife and their two children, a nine-year-old daughter and a college-aged son. Whereas before their status and wealth were something to be proud of, the new tide in Iran found them looked down upon and blamed for past oppression. Their lifestyle was seen as a crime.

Just as Isaac is preparing to join his wife and daughter for lunch, he is arrested and taken into custody. Not knowing what charge is being levied against him, Isaac has no idea what fate has in store for him. He is taken to a prison where he is interrogated frequently and tortured for his perceived lack of cooperation. Through all of this, his wife, Farnaz, has not a clue where her husband is being held, and so she must carry on as best she can, facing a persecution of her own.
Shirin is only nine-years-old at the time of her father’s arrest. At first she is told her father is on a trip, but quickly learns the truth. Confused and scared, Shirin goes about her life as best she can, coping in the only way she knows how.

The son, Parviz, had been sent to the United States to attend the university in New York. His parents most wanted to avoid his being drafted into the Revolutionary Guard and to allow Parviz to carry out his dream of studying architecture. Parviz’s kindly landlord Zalman Mendelson, a Hassidic Jew, takes pity of Parviz and his situation, his loneliness and lack of financial help from his parents due to conditions in Iran.

The contrast between the lives of the characters plays out in several ways throughout the novel. There is the interplay between Isaac and his interrogator Mohsen, who had once been in Isaac’s place, the recipient of the torture and endless interrogations but who now has power because of his position and religion. There is also Shirin’s friendship with Leila whose father is in the Revolutionary Guard. It is the relationship between Farnaz and her Muslim housekeeper, Hebibeh, that is the most telling, however. Their cultural and class differences are now in the limelight, threatening to divide them at a very difficult time in Farnaz’s life.

Religion also plays a part throughout the novel. The Amins, although non-practicing, are Jewish, which in and of itself is a mark against the family under the new government. Parviz’s landlord’s family is extremely religious and Parviz finds himself examining his own faith during a time when he feels most lost. Isaac also begins to seek answers both within his own faith and that of Islam by studying the Koran. Despite this, the religious theme as well as the characters’ own spiritual journeys are subtle and therefore readers should not expect deep insight in this particular area.

The narrative is relatively simple and not overly descriptive. I would have liked to see the characters fleshed out more. Although the anguish, confusion and heartache could be felt throughout the novel, I was still left wanting a deeper look into the hearts and minds of the characters. Even with that, however, the author, Dalia Sofer, allows her readers to experience her characters’ suffering and to have hope for them and their future. Overall, The Septembers of Shiraz, the author’s debut novel, is a moving and thought-provoking novel well worth taking the time to read.

Favorite Part: Of all the characters, Shirin captured my heart the most. My favorite part of the novel, the one that made me sad to some degree and yet proud of her at the same time, was when she took it upon herself to be useful, however dangerous and irrational her actions were. What mattered was that she felt like she was doing something worthwhile. It gave her a purpose when she was most feeling helpless and frightened.

Miscellaneous: On the movie front, Anjin and I recently watched Live Free or Die Hard starring Bruce Willis. True to everyone’s recommendations, leaving your brain at the door is a must. Once that was done, we both enjoyed the movie quite a bit. Unbelievable? Absolutely! But it sure was fun.

We also saw License to Wed, which we enjoyed (good, not great). It had its funny moments as well as a more serious side. I thought Robin Wiliams did a good job.

We began watching the third season of the western HBO TV show Deadwood over the weekend. I am anxious to see how the final season plays out.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Because I Am Not Only Rockin' But Crazy Too

Not too long after I began blogging, discovered Sherry's Saturday Review of Books. I've made a point of stopping by her blog every Saturday (and then some because she's got a great blog and always has something interesting to say) to see what other bloggers are reading. It has not only been a great way to network, but more importantly to get the latest scoop on the books others are reading. The people who post links to their reviews are a diverse crowd as are their reading tastes.

Sherry's Saturday Review of Books Challenge is quite simple. Participants are to read 6 of the books by December 31st that have been linked to reviews at the Saturday Review of Books in the past year, post their reviews on their own blogs (or in the comment section at Sherry's site for nonbloggers), and then post a link at the Saturday Review of Books, which is held each Saturday.

I have a good excuse for signing up for yet another challenge. Really. You see, there are several books I want to get to soon, books I have committed to read through various reading challenges and others because I am dying to read them. I intially was going to avoid Sherry's Saturday Review of Books Challenge but thought I would at least take a look and see if any of my "must reads" would qualify. Once I realized I had more than enough books on my "must read" list and taking into account my desire to read the books sooner than later, it seemed pointless not to join the challenge. I plan to read the books anyway, right?

For the record, the reviews posted in regards to my chosen books did inspire the "sooner rather than later" feeling I had for the books I have selected to read. It helps though that they are already among my TBR collection.

My Saturday Review of Books Challenge List
1. Persuasion by Jane Austen reviewed by Barbara H
2. Stardust by Neil Gaiman reviewed by Stephanie, Petunia, Elaine, Laura, and Framed
3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini reviewed by Carol
4. Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos reviewed by 3M
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy reviewed by Becky's Husband, Wendy, Stephen, Joy, Julie, and Amy (I also took into account Isabella's review,which presents the descenting viewpoint about the book.)
6. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson reviewed by Kris

Alternate List
7. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson reviewed by Laura at Musings
8. Peony In Love by Lisa See reviewed by Wendy
9. Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta reviewed by Wendy

My friend Karina over at Candid Karina honored me with the Rockin' Girl Blogger Award at the beginning of the week (Thank you, Karina!). It's always nice to be recongized in such a positive way. The hard part comes in choosing who to pass the award along to. I make regular stops at so many terrific blogs. They all are rockin', both the girls and the boys. I made a random selection from my long list of favorites and hope you will enjoy visiting the listed blogs as much as I do.

- Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot has opened new doors into the fantasy genre for me. I really enjoy spending time at her blog. She has great taste in books, both in the fantasy genre and outside. She's such a nice person--someone I wouldn't mind talking about books over lunch with.

It's a guarantee that when I visit Nan at Letters a Hill Farm, I will be greeted by a beautiful photo. I'm partial to her garden and flower photos, which I find so soothing, but they are all wonderful. I keep meaning to ask her if I can come sit in her garden and read beside her. Think she'll mind?

Daphne over Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff is a great source for historical fiction recommendations among other books. And you have to love someone whose blog's name is inspired by their furry companion.

I am not sure how I came across Nikki's blog (my memory isn't always so great), Keep This on the DL, but I do know that it is among my favorite places to visit each week. Nikki has great insight, and I enjoy reading her thoughts about her life and life in general. As an aside, her husband is an American soldier currently deployed in Afghanistan, and my prayers are with Nikki and her husband daily.

Historia's blog, BiblioHistoria, is a fairly new one, but she dove right into blogging like a fish to water. I enjoy reading her book reviews and reading about the books she reads. My wishlist grows just with the thought of visiting her blog every week!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dreaming In Libro by Louise Bernikow

Dreaming in Libro: How A Good Dog Tamed A Bad Woman by Louise Bernikow
Da Capo Life Long Books; 2007 (ARE)
Nonfiction; 217 pgs (Hardback copy is listed at 244 pgs)

Completed: 06/16/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: My mother always told me I would grow into my feet and my nose.

Where Book Came From: This novel was a Curled Up With a Good Book selection that I chose to review.

Reason for Reading: I was attracted to this book because of the title. As a booklover I was instantly drawn to the word "libro" and as a dog lover, knew this book and I would be a perfect match.

Comments: Louise Bernikow is the author of Bark If You Love Me, which features some of Libro's and her exploits. Dreaming In Libro: How a Good Dog Tamed a Bad Woman takes hers and Libro's life a little further as she writes about their eight years together, as she adjusted to having a dog in her life, how it opened new doors to her and the impact Libro himself had on her as a person.

Louise is not someone who ever wanted a dog, nor had she ever considered having one before she met Libro. It was quite by accident that she came upon him in a park where he sat in a police car attracting a crowd. Louise to this day is not sure what possessed her to take the dog home with her, but she never regretted that decision. The dog with the amber eyes that had peered at her from the window in the back seat of that squad car would soon be named Libro, a fitting name given that Louise is a journalist and author.

Before Libro, she had lived life in the fast lane, traveling at the drop of a hat, flirting with the men that came in and out of her life, enjoying the clubs and nightlife with friends, as well as building a career for herself. As she settled in with Libro, she had to give up some of her independence, settling down to life with a dog. And not just any dog. Libro proved to be very adaptable and became the star when she took him on tour for her book, which was written about Libro. His introduction into Louise’s life opened many doors for Louise. She was welcomed into a community of dog lovers, including people off the street, other professionals, her neighbors and her readers. He loved meeting new people and did not mind the attention, the cameras or the traveling; although it was obvious he was most content at home, walking the streets of New York or visiting the neighbors in his apartment building.

As time went on, Libro and Louise learned to recognize each other's body language and moods. Libro seemed to anticipate when Louise needed him to be calm rather than playful. They helped each other through various illnesses and injuries, supported each other as only human and dog can do.

While not a deeply insightful memoir, it is almost impossible not to fall in love with Libro from the very first encounter and understand how Louise Bernikow could so easily fall under his charm and take in his life lessons. Libro opened her heart in ways she could not imagine possible. His unconditional love and trust in her, as well as his protectiveness over her, made him the perfect companion. Louise likened him to being the man in her life, her significant other, and the way she described it, Libro certainly was. Full of humor and a bit of anthropomorphism as to the motives and thoughts of her dog, the author has written an entertaining and heartwarming book that will be welcomed my dog lovers everywhere. Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Wendy Runyon, 2007

Favorite Part: I have two parts in particular that I count among my favorites. The first being when Louise puts off of Libro’s toys away and does a little housekeeping. Libro watches the door for company for surely someone must becoming. When no company comes, Libro carefully extracts his toys from the basket and returns them to their rightful places on the floor of the apartment.

The second part that I enjoyed was at a book signing and discussion when Louise mentions Libro’s name and he stands up, barks, and then all of the other dogs who had been brought to the signing begin to bark back. This happened several times during that same event, which made it even more hilarious—and special.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais

The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais
Bantam Books; 1987
Mystery; 201 pgs

Started: 06/30/2007
Completed: 06/30/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: “I’m sorry, Mr. Cole, this has nothing to do with you.”

Reason for Reading: Although I was familiar with the author’s name, it was not until the Los Angeles Festival of Books in 2006 that I became interested in reading anything by author Robert Crais. Sad to say, it’s taken me this long to get around to reading my first novel by the author. This is my third selection for the Summer Mystery Reading Challenge.

From the Publisher: When quiet Ellen Lang enters Elvis Cole's Disney-Deco office, she's lost something very valuable - her husband and young son. The case seems simple enough, but Elvis isn't thrilled. Neither is his enigmatic partner and firepower Joe Pike. Their search down the seamy side of Hollywood's studio lots and sculptured lawns soon leads them deep into a nasty netherworld of drugs and sex - and murder. Now the case is getting interesting, but it's also turned ugly. Because everybody, from cops to starlets to crooks, has declared war on Ellen and Elvis.

Comments: This is one of those moments when I kick myself for not picking up and reading this author sooner. Despite the author’s preference that new readers begin with his later books to gain an appreciation for where he is today with his writing, I had to start at the beginning, especially since I decided to read one of his Elvis Cole mysteries.

Elvis Cole is a private detective in Los Angeles, California. He has a way with the women, a wit that will not quit, and knows just when and where to throw a punch. Elvis also has a heart and has a habit of getting too involved with the cases he takes on. His character is balanced out in this novel by his partner, the quiet but deadly Joe Pike, who may be ruthless, still commands respect. I imagine he is the favorite character for many of Elvis Cole readers.

Robert Crais knows Los Angeles well and takes readers up and down the streets of the city, capturing some of the diversity one can find there. The Monkey’s Raincoat is a suspenseful and gripping mystery that leaves me eager to read more by this author, whether it be an Elvis Cole mystery or one of Robert Crais’ stand alones.

Favorite Part: I love Cole’s beer drinking cat. He’s completely the opposite of my cat who is as friendly as can be (and I would never give my cat beer to drink), but there are days when I feel like growling at all the people around me too.

Visit the author's website for more information about Robert Crais and his books.