Friday, January 30, 2009

TGIF: Better Late Than Never

I spoke too soon last Friday. Friday evening two more books arrived in the mail and so I decided to add them to this week's Mailbox Monday mailbag.

Bait by Nick Brownlee ~ My friend Valentina sent me this debut crime fiction novel set in Kenya.

Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder
by Shamini Flint ~ Another generous gift from my friend Valentina. I cannot thank her enough.

Breathing Out the Ghost
by Kirk Curnutt ~ I was lucky enough to win a copy of this much raved about novel through a contest hosted by Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit. Thank you to Serena and the author.

Slumdog Millionaire
(aka Q&A) by Vikas Swarup ~ With all the movie buzz in the air, I could not help but to order a copy of this one.

Bronx Justice
by Joseph Teller ~ Lori of Lori's Reading Corner was kind enough to send me a copy of Joseph Teller's latest. Thank you for your kindness, Lori.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews ~ Just because it sounded good.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson ~ My blogger friends have been more than generous with me lately, and I cannot thank Melody from Melody's Reading Corner enough for sending me a copy of this one.

Kitty Raises Hell
by Carrie Vaughn ~ When I heard that Hachette Book Group was having book tour for one of my guilty pleasure series, I immediately signed up to review the up and coming latest in this paranormal series.

Gods Behaving Badly
by Marie Phillips ~ I could not pass up entering a contest for this witty book. Many thanks to Anna from Diary of an Eccentric for hosting the giveaway.

The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block ~ My husband is a fan of the author, and enjoyed the first book in the series (which I got him for Christmas), and I couldn't resist getting him the second one as well. I can't always buy books just for me, after all. We won't talk about the fact that I plan to read the series someday myself.

The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block ~ Another book I ordered for my husband. Really. I was not thinking of myself at all.

The Vagrants
by Yiyun Li ~ Sometimes an unexpected surprise comes in the mail, and, from the looks of it, this is one I will enjoy quite a bit.

1. I'd really like a foot massage right now.

2. S**t is the word you'd most often hear me say if I stubbed my toe.

3. Possession is a very uncomfortable state to be in. I mean, imagine having someone else controlling your body against your wishes.

4. Johnny Depp makes an excellent Captain Jack Sparrow.

5. Marshmallows and fire go together like cocoa mix and hot water.

6. Sometimes I can go on and on about something when I am excited.

7. And as for the weekend, tomorrow my plans include going to see Phantom of the Opera in Los Angeles and Sunday, I want to listen to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack over and over, spend time reading, and catch up on this past week's television shows (fortunately there are only two I'm watching).

Tamara from Books by TJBaff an Jan from Jan in Edmonds gifted me with the "Your Blog is Fabulous Award" this week. Thank you so much, Tamara! I think you are pretty fabulous yourself.

The Rules:
Write 5 things that you are addicted to and tag 5 other people.

My Addictions:

Books ~ Did you really think this wouldn't top my list? Whether it is reading them, buying them, organizing them, or being surrounded by them, I can't seem to get enough of them.

E-mail ~ I check my e-mail several times a day, including first thing in the morning when I get up. Those e-mails telling me you left comments on my blog are especially nice.

Television shows on DVD ~ This is the best way to watch television, if you ask me. No commercials, no wait for the next episode, and I can watch as many or as few episodes as I want when I want. I've been able to go back and watch shows I missed the first time around or catch shows that were not available to me in the first place.

Minesweeper ~ My husband urged me to cop to this little addiction. Once I start playing, I can play for hours if I let myself.

Clock Gazing ~ When I decide to turn out my light and go to sleep, I look to see what time it is. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I check the clock. When I wake up (if my alarm isn't set), I immediately check the time. I am constantly checking my watch or the clock to see what time it is during the day as well.

I am going to do what I often do and avoid tagging specific bloggers. Every one of the blogs I follow is fabulous and worthy of this award. If you want to play along, please do and let me know.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Day of Sixes

Dynamic Uno has tagged me with a photo tag recently, and I thought this would be the perfect time to play along.

Rules to the 6th Picture Meme:
1. Go to your Picture Folder on your computer or wherever you store your pictures.
2. Go to the 6th Folder, then pick the 6th picture in that folder.
3. Post that picture on your blog and the story that goes along with the picture.
I remember the last time I was tagged for this one how complicated it became. When I open my pictures file, I only have four files. Each of those files contains a number of files, however. I decided to choose file 3 for the sake of this exercise and then picked up where the rules left off after that.

Once upon a time there was a dog named Riley. He had many books.
[Taken quite awhile ago, not sure when.]

Last week I was also tagged for the Happy Things Meme by Jen, Yvonne and Sandy.

Rules to the 6 Things that Make Me Happy Meme:
1. Link to the person who has tagged you.
2. Write down six things that make you happy (I am stealing Nymeth's idea and sticking to 6 bookish things that make me happy).
1. A book that sweeps me off my feet and makes me lose all sense of time.
2. News that a favorite author has a new book coming out.
3. Discovering new authors that I know instantly will be counted among my favorites.
4. Coming across a sentence or paragraph that stays with me even after I've reached the end of the book.
5. Finding quiet time to read.
6. A book that makes me exclaim, "Wow!"

I am not going to tag anyone for either of these memes, but if you want to play along, I hope you will. Be sure and let me know!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review: Zoo Station by David Downing

There were two hours left of 1938. [First Sentence]

Zoo Station by David Downing
Soho, 2007
Crime Fiction (S/T); 293 pgs

Reason for Reading: I liked the sound of this book, not to mention the time period appealed to me.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: 1st in a Series Challenge, ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge

Comments: Set in 1939 Germany, Zoo Station is a novel of intrigue and suspense. Germany is in a powerful position, the threat of war is in the air and the rest of the world is waiting anxiously to see what direction Adolf Hitler will take the country next. The government has taken control of many facets of German life, controlling the media, dealing swiftly with those who might disagree or cause trouble for the Fuhrer’s plans, and persecuting the Jews and other people who do not fit into the acceptable norm established by the Nazi party. The atmosphere in Germany is tense.

Journalist John Russell has been around the block. His goal at this point is to stay in Germany as long as he can in order to be close to his son and his German girlfriend. With Hitler’s regime tightening its hold on the media and information being allowed out of the country, John Russell must make a difficult decision. A former active communist, born to a British father and an American mother, Russell soon discovers that he is in a convenient position; convenient, that is, to the British and Soviet governments. Both sides know he has no love for the Hitler regime and understand his reasons for wanting to stay in Germany for as long as he can. Russell would make a great covert agent, a source of information. Needing to stay on the Nazi’s good side in order to stay in the country and keep his journalist accreditations while at the same time not being able to sit by without doing something to right the injustices he encounters, however, small, Russell finds the idea of being an informant very tempting. And it could prove useful for his own purposes.

John Russell is a man of integrity. He walks a thin line throughout the novel, appeasing the Nazis so as not to compromise his position and risk losing his family. He worries that he is compromising his own values, but then would he have been in a position to help those he was able to reach out to? It’s a difficult dilemma. John Russell is an admirable character, flawed, and yet someone who the reader can easily cheer for.

Author David Downing notes at the beginning of the book that he aimed for historical accuracy, and it comes through in his writing. He weaves history with the plot and characters seamlessly, whether it is the plot by the government to kill the mentally ill children or rid the country of its Jewish population, stripping them of their rights, forcing them to live in poverty, beating them, imprisoning them, and accusing them of false crimes in order to persecute them even further. The historical setting and true life situations only add to the suspense of the novel, creating an added tension to events as they unfold.

Zoo Station is a powerful and compelling novel. Set in the pre-World War II era, readers are taken deep into the heart of Germany during a pivotal moment in history and are treated to an entertaining and yet thought provoking novel. Fortunately for readers, author David Downing has more in store for John Russell.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2009.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday At the Movies

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sher over at A Novel Menagerie each Monday.

Movie: Gran Torino
Genre: Crime Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Nick Schenk & Dave Johannson

Gran Torino wasn't at the top of my list of movies to see, but the visiting in-laws were eager to see it, and so off we went to the theater. Two friends enjoyed a debate over the merits of the film earlier this month, one outright dismissing it because of the foul language and frequent ethnic slurs and jokes. The other was able to look beyond that, and appreciate the movie on a deeper level. Gran Torino is one of those movies that needs to be taken in context of the time period and the life situations of the characters. It is not your typical shoot 'em up movie. It tackles serious issues dealing with cultural and generational differences and similarities, as well as crime in urban areas.

Clint Eastwood's character, Walt Kowalski, is a Korean War Veteran. He is stubborn and curmudgeonly, set in his ways. He keeps everyone at a distance, including his sons. Walt becomes unwittingly involved with the Hmong family that has just moved in next door when a gang tries to encourage the teenage neighbor boy to join them. Despite his contrary nature, Walt finds himself drawn to the family next door and their problems become his own.

Walt is a complex character. He is not instantly likable, but it is clear that he has built a protective shell around himself. The past haunts him and he has a good heart. While it took me a while to warm up to Walt, I immediately liked Sue Lor, played by Ahney Her. She was smart and undeterred by Walt's frequent attempts to push her away. Another favorite character was Father Janovich, the young priest played by Christopher Carley. Initially I thought he would be an annoying character but was soon impressed with his persistence and openness to hear Walt out.

I expected a slightly different ending, but was pleased at the direction the movie turned in the end. I have heard some say the ending was unrealistic, but I disagree. I felt it was quite fitting when all was said and done. I especially liked the added touch at the very end, Clint Eastwood singing the closing song, Gran Torino, a song he wrote along side his son, Kyle Eastwood, Jamie Cullum, and Michael Stevens.

As an aside, I may have to go back and watch it again just to count the number of times Clint Eastwood grunts and growls in the movie. Don't get me wrong; it fit his character, but I found it amusing just the same.

Rating: 3.5 Bags of Popcorn

Movie: Defiance
Genre: Drama, War
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Writers: Clayton Frohman & Edward Zwick (screenplay); Nechama Tec (book)

I knew I wanted to see this film the first time I saw a trailer for it. Defiance is based on the true story of the Bielski brothers, who helped organize refugees and fight the Nazis in an effort to rescue fellow Jews during World War II. The four brothers played by Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber, Jamie Bell and George MacKay, had only each other when they fled to the forest of eastern Europe in hopes of avoiding death at the hands of the Nazis. They never anticipated that they would be joined by several other Jews who were also fleeing for their lives.

Daniel Craig's character, Tuvia, steps in as leader, the refugees build a hidden community in the forest, determined to survive. Meanwhile, Zus Bielski (Liev Schreiber) is determined to fight against the Nazis, and he and several other strong and able refugees join him in the fight alongside the Soviet soldiers in exchange for supplies and protection of the Jewish camp. Fending off starvation and struggling to survive the freezing winter, the refugees have much to contend with, not to mention the threat of the encroaching German army.

One thousand two hundred refugees walked out of that forest alive when the war was over, thanks in part to the efforts of the Bielski brothers. The story itself is a powerful one, one of courage and hope against the odds. The refugees faced many hardships in their struggle to survive. They also faced moral dilemmas, learning from their mistakes. And yet I was left feeling Defiance could have been much more than what it was. I was underwhelmed. I do not think that the movie went deep enough. It only seemed to touch the surface.

Rating: 3.5 Bags of Popcorn

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Reading Retrospective

It is the memory that enables a person to gather roses in January. ~ Unknown

January 2004 got off to a rocky start. My workload at the office suddenly doubled, and two people I cared about were facing life and death health issues. One would not make it to the end of the month. I took solace in my books.

My ever supportive and loving husband granted my single book wish the Christmas before with the promise of a copy of Sara Nelson's So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading upon its release. It was the first book I read in 2004, and it earned my top rating.
. . . Someone in one of my online book groups said that this is the type of book any reader can write. Although I disagree that just anyone would be able to write so well, I do agree that Ms. Nelson touches on points that many book lovers can relate to. In this book, the author sets out to read a book a week and journal her experiences as she goes. It is not a book of reviews but is a book about how her life is impacted by the books she reads and vice versa. Ms. Nelson is witty and knows her subject matter very well . . . [excerpt from reading journal, January 2004]
Five years later, I remember little details about the book that I would have thought long forgotten by now. It is definitely one of those books that has stayed with me over the years.

That January I read my first review book--and, oh, was I ever nervous! I was one of 20 people selected to preview a book for It was really an informal deal. All I had to do was write a brief summary of my impressions of the book and submit it to where it would be posted on their website. The book was called The Last Goodbye by Reed Arvin. In my journal I wrote: "His style reminded me of the old black and white movies . . ." I liked the book enough to add another of the author's books to my TBR collection.

I would fall head over heels for Tess Gerritsen's Harvest and Susan R. Sloan's Act of God that month; one a medical thriller dealing with organ stealing and the other a legal thriller touching on the controversial topic of abortion. January 2004 would also be the beginning of my love affair with P.D. James. She quickly became a favorite mystery author of mine after I finished reading Cover Her Face. P.D. James is gifted at drawing out her characters.

The less memorable books I read that month included Juno and Juliet by Julian Gough and Paragon Walk by Anne Perry, both of which I enjoyed at the time of reading. My only slight about Julian Gough's novel was a portion of the ending that left me dissatisfied.

I ended the month with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. It is a book that still resonates with me today.
Two Chinese city boys, guilty of being the sons of doctors, are sent to a mountain village for re-education in the early 1970’s during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. There, the two best friends meet a beautiful girl who is the tailor’s daughter, discover a stash of Western books, and learn about love and life. How interesting, I thought, that these two boys, nearly men, were sent to the mountains to be cleansed of their intellectual ideas and backgrounds, to make them more like the peasants they were living among in the village, and yet it is they, with the outlawed books and “intellect,” that had a larger impact on the culture around them. Something as simple as a story from a book holds much power even in the subtlest of ways. This book was surprisingly light and easy to read. The author used humor throughout the book and his characters were sympathetic and extremely likeable. [journal entry, January 2004]

My reading that month five years ago took me all over the world and put me in numerous situations. My own stressors faded into the background for a brief while and brought me much needed relief.

January 2009 is nearly at an end, can you believe it? I am only a little farther along in The Woman in White than I was at this time last week (so much for finishing it this weekend). Company kept me away from the book last weekend, and my attention was not on books most of the rest of the week, admittedly. When I was reading, I was lost in a memoir called Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith. It reminds me a bit of Augusten Burroughs' Running With Scissors, another eccentric childhood story that both fascinates and amuses me while at the same time dredging up feelings of sadness and sympathy.

This week I will be posting my thoughts on recent movies I have seen along with my review of Zoo Station by David Downing. I hope you will stop in and say hello. Happy Reading!

Week in Review:
Interview with author Diana Spechler
Review of Who By Fire by Diana Spechler
The Year of Readers
Bookish Chatter

[Note: It is very difficult to type with a kitten laying across my arms.]

Friday, January 23, 2009

TGIF: Weekly Meme Fun (01/23/2009)

As has become my habit, I am behind in posting my recent Mailbox Monday discoveries. It was a good week, I have to say!

De Marco Empire by J. Lou McCartney (from the author)
The Pages In Between by Erin Einhorn (from my good blogging buddy, Florinda--thank you!)
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah (This one was a complete surprise from the publisher.)

A little Teaser from what I've been reading lately:

He drew back towards his table, and said nothing. His face showed plainly that he thought my delusion had got the better of my reason, and that he considered it totally useless to give me any more advice. [pg 437, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins]
Our first stop was to be Paris, but at the last minute, and for no particular reason, we changed our minds and jumped a train to Spain. Maya spoke the language, and it seemed as good a place as any to start our adventure. [pg 195, Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith]

Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

If you have ever taken the time to read my profile, you know how much I am drawn to stories. I crave them. I need them. The written word is but one form of story telling, but it has a magic all its own. My father and mother encouraged my reading from an early age and I was always surrounded by books. Is it really any wonder then that my personal library rivals that of my parents?

It is hard to put into words what inspires me to read. So much does. I have an innate curiosity about the world around me. I am fascinated by other cultures, history, human behavior and thought processes, religions, and other worlds. Both fiction and nonfiction inspire me. I am inspired by books that make me feel and think just as much as I am by books that offer me an easy escape. Books are inspirations all on their own. I am inspired by beautiful writing, complex characters, settings (locations and time periods) that are characters all on their own, and story lines that capture me in their spell and hold on even after coming to an end.

Where I am in my life often plays a part in what I read at any given time. That could be based on my mood or general interest. I could be inspired to pick up a book based on current events or perhaps I just want something to lighten my mood when I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.

I am often inspired to read a book based on a recommendation from a friend or fellow book blogger--or perhaps a heated discussion about a particular book that has me curious over what that fuss is all about. Sometimes an interview with an author or finding a random book while browsing through the bookstore will be inspiration enough.

My passion for reading and stories knows no bounds. I never know what might inspire me to pick up that next book. It could simply be because the subject matter or genre calls out to me at that moment or perhaps it was just the first book my cat set his paw on when I was struggling over what to read next.

1. Oh, I am so behind with my reading!

2. I always except changes, big and little. Change is inevitable after all.

3. During my lunch break today, I will be hiding somewhere in my office building reading. It's sad that I have to hide, I know, but it's the only way I will get any peace.

4. You did what again? Are you kidding me???

5. Right now I'd like to be farther along in The Woman in White than I am right now. That isn't to say I am not enjoying the book. I am. I am just finding it slow going. And let's not talk about all the interruptions.

6. An iPod is my favorite gadget. Actually, this isn't true. I've never had an iPod, much less used one. It just seemed like the thing to say at the time.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to starting on the second season of Charmed; tomorrow my plans include dragging my husband to see a movie; and Sunday, I want to finish reading The Woman in White!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Year of Readers

Reading and access to books and education have always been issues close to my heart. One of the first steps to creating an oppressive society and limiting freedom is to ban books and limit access to them. It stands to reason than providing books and encouraging reading and learning can have the opposite effect. Literacy and education empower people, adults and children alike.

Jodie came up with the idea of hosting a year long read-a-thon, asking readers to join her in an effort to raise money for reading and literacy based charities. She writes:

In 2009 I want to spread my love of reading throughout the world. The Year of Readers aims to bring people who enjoy books together to have fun bringing literature into the lives of others. From the 1st January 2009 until 31st of December 2009, I will be running an international read-a-thon that will be open to anyone who reads. It doesn’t matter what kind of books you read or how many you read as long as you’ve got your nose in a book in 2009 you can join in.

She goes on to say:
It’s an easy concept (which is probably why I thought of it). You pick a literary charity that you want to support in 2009. You sign up to be part of The Year of Readers, get people to sponsor you and just start reading whatever you like.

I am slow in signing up for this particular event because choosing a charity to support is not as easy as it looks. There are quite a number of great groups out there who strive to make books and reading more accessible across the globe. How do you choose just one? Do I go with a local outfit or branch out beyond the borders of my own country?

It was this description which struck me the most, however, and was what made me settle on the Book Wish Foundation:
Reading relief is a concept much broader than providing books. It encompasses all of the aid for community institutions and individuals that makes reading possible. This includes, for example, support for libraries, schools, informal literacy and language programs, and vision care. To provide relief, this aid must match the specific needs that exist, which vary according to the crisis situation, culture, language, demographics, educational history, and aspirations of the people being served. These needs form the basis of the Wish Lists on our website, and provide an opportunity for highly targeted giving.

We focus on people in long-term crisis situations because they may face problems so grave that reading relief is not a major component of the aid they receive, although reading may have a great positive impact on their lives. Refugees, internally displaced people, school-aged children not in school, the homeless, the critically ill, and the desperately poor are among the populations we aim to reach.
I am pledging $1 per book read during the year of 2009, including those I have already read so far this year. I am also going to donate an extra $1 for every challenge I am able to complete during the course of the year. I am not going to make a big deal about asking anyone to sponsor me. I've never felt comfortable soliciting donations--not even for those run and walk-o-thons I participated in while in school all those many years ago. If you are interested (whether lump sums or per book or per reading challenge, no matter the amount), please e-mail me (my e-mail address can be found on my profile page), and I will pass along the information for you to do so. Better yet, you can join The Year of Readers too.

This is just a little something I want to do. I give to other charities that support issues I feel passionate about, although never a reading/literacy based one. I just never thought to do anything like this before. It does make sense though, doesn't it? Why not share my love of reading with those who do not have the same resources and means that I do?

It isn't much, I know. It is very little actually, but it is something. In a work related training I attended yesterday the instructor talked about how sometimes all we can do is take a baby step but to remember that even those baby steps are a movement forward. And they add up.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ~ W. B. Yeats

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: Who By Fire by Diana Spechler

Maybe I’m overstepping my boundaries, maybe I’m supposed to let my kids make their own mistakes—that’s what the self-proclaimed experts say—but I know about mistakes, about how indelible they can be. [pg 45]

Who By Fire by Diana Spechler
Harper Perennial, 2008
Fiction; 343 pgs

Reason for Reading: I was contacted by the author who wanted to know if I would be interested in reading and reviewing her book. After doing a little research, I knew this was a book I couldn’t pass up.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, TBR Challenge

Comments: It is rare I read a book longing for more when I reach the end. It was that way with Who By Fire, however. I wanted the story to go on, to know what would happen to the characters next. I was not ready to close this chapter on their lives. Not just yet. I am not talking about those types of endings that leave you in the lurch or where you aren't satisfied. Rather, I am talking about a book that has you so invested in the characters’ lives that you aren't ready to let go.

Alena was only six years old when she was kidnapped from right outside her home. She was the youngest of three and the favorite of her parents. Her disappearance was the breaking point of the Kellerman family. Alena's father abandoned his family, leaving behind a broken wife and two children, all of whom would bear the scars for a lifetime.

Bits, the oldest of the Kellerman children, lives her life recklessly. She began turning to sex at an early age, hoping to fill a void deep within her. She feels empty and lost and seems to feed off of the chaos in her life. She does not let anyone get close to her and instead uses people without much regard for their feelings or thoughts.

Like Bits, Alena's brother Ash feels alone in the world. He blames himself for his sister's disappearance, holding close a secret which burns him from the inside. He is angry at himself, lashing out at others. Unlike his sister who runs away from all that might tie her down, he turns to religion, something controlled and focused to quell the pain inside of him. He thinks that by breaking away from his past and dedicating himself completely to religion, he will find the peace and happiness he seeks.

Ellie Kellerman, their mother, wants nothing more than to have her family back. She lost her youngest child and her husband and is desperately afraid she will lose her remaining children as well. In her mind, her children are both disappearing from her, in particular her son, who she believes has joined a cult. She is willing to go to any length to reel him in.

When Bits learns from her mother that her sister's remains have been discovered, she decides it is up to her to bring him home. She travels to Israel where her brother is now living and learning among the Orthodox Jews at a yeshiva. She blames herself for her brother's self-exile from the family, for his turning to what she thinks is extremism in his faith, and believes that it is up to her to save her family.

The story is told from the points of view of Bits, Ash and Ellie. Diana Spechler takes a chance writing each part in first person, but it proves quite effective. The reader gets a deeper understanding of the characters, their motivations and their pain. There are also other characters who stand out in the novel for their own reason, including Monica, a girl on a mission who at first seems confident in herself and in her beliefs, but who really is a lost soul herself, and Todd, Ash's roommate at the yeshiva who is still searching for his niche in the world. He was perhaps my favorite of all the characters.

Yet it was Ash's story which most moved me. I could identify with his reasons for turning toward faith for direction, more than I could Bits' life choices. Like him, I find comfort in order and self-control rather than in chaos and recklessness. Ash turned to religion for the wrong reasons, out of guilt and self-loathing. He hoped for a cure, to be rid of his past. He clung to it like a drug. The religion itself is not the problem, although to some, the practices and beliefs of Orthodox Judaism may seem extreme and overzealous.

Who By Fire is not just about Ash, however, despite his family’s focus on him. It is about all three of the main characters and their relationship with one another. They each are suffering in their own ways and have made choices, sometimes bad ones, in an effort to cope with a terrible tragedy from their past. This is a story about grief, loss, guilt and blame. It is also a story of hope. Despite the direction their lives have gone and in spite of the past, Ash, Ellie and Bits are all searching for something more, something better in life, and for each other, even Ash, who may not realize it.

I loved this book on many levels. I am drawn to books that touch on religious themes as this one did. Not as a way of preaching or teaching about a religion, per say, but about a character's self-journey. Judaism and its many facets is one religion that I have always been interested in. Also, I appreciated how well Diana Spechler crafted her characters. They were terribly flawed and not always the most likable and yet I really came to care for them. In addition, the setting seemed very appropriate. Set partly in Israel, the turmoil there seemed to mirror the turmoil of the family, as well as highlighted some of the good, including Israel's diversity. Overall Who By Fire was a compelling and moving novel that will stay with me for awhile to come.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

For more information about the author and her books, please visit the author's website. Be sure and stop by yesterday's interview with the author if you haven't done so already!

Many thanks to both the author, Diana Spechler, and her publicist, Audrey Harris, for providing me with a copy of Who by Fire.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Guest Appearance: Diana Spechler, Author

I had not planned on asking author Diana Spechler for an interview, but the more I read her book, Who By Fire, the more I wanted to know about the author behind the book. She graciously agreed to an interview--even while in the middle moving.

Please welcome author Diana Spechler to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: How did you get your start writing?

Diana Spechler: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. But if I had to name the moment when it dawned on me, “Wow, I’m going to be a fiction writer; this thing is going to be my whole life,” it was probably when I won the creative writing award that my home town gives annually to a high school student. I was a terrible student in high school. I failed at lots of things, like gym and chemistry and going to class consistently. And then I wrote this story about a teenage girl with all these angsty, teenagey problems, and I won this award and got all this attention that was usually reserved for the kids who did extracurricular activities and took the SAT seven times, and I thought, Writing is the thing I love best. And I’m actually good at it. How about that.

LF: Where do your story ideas come from?

DS: It’s so hard to say. Sometimes I meet someone who interests me in a very specific way. For example, I know a guy who rolls his eyes back into his head many times a day because he thinks it feels good. When something about someone interests me, I have so many questions, but I don’t always ask them. Often, instead, I start making up answers, and then a character is born. Other times, a line will just pop into my head. For example, one day I thought to myself, “Our father is a weak man.” Then I thought, “Huh?” I mean, my father isn’t a weak man. But that’s now a line in Who By Fire.

LF: How much of your own experiences and life, if at all, played a part in your novel?

DS: The range of human emotions is pretty small. We’ve all felt everything, to varying degrees, and in a variety of situations. So I attributed emotions I’ve had to my characters, but created lives for them that I’ve never lived. I think my novel has a lot of emotional truth, even though the plot is mostly made up.

LF: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

DS: I hope they will be entertained. I hope they will want to read more of my writing. I hope they will want to go to Israel.

LF: Who or what inspires you?

DS: People inspire me, especially the ones who are completely unique, unaffected, somehow uninfluenced by the things by which everyone else seems to be influenced. For example, I have a very good friend who has been one of my very good friends for years, but she still tells me stories about her life that I’ve never heard. She’s completely unpredictable, yet totally dependable. She feels genuinely happy for other people. At least one person is always staying at her house. Sometimes she packs up and goes to live in Russia for a year. Or Germany. People like that, I want to put them in a glass case so no one gets them dirty.

LF: Is there a question you have not yet been asked by anyone that you wish someone would ask?

DS: Yes: “Would you like a massage?”

[LF: Why doesn't anyone ever ask me that either?]

LF: What is one of the more memorable experiences you've had on a book tour?

DS: At the Book Group Expo in California, I was on a panel with the author Andre Dubus III. He looks like a movie star. And, as far as authors goes, he is sort of a movie star. Our panel drew a huge crowd because…well, because he’s Andre Dubus III. Before we started, I told him, “I’m not used to this kind of crowd. I’m so nervous. They’re here to see you.” He said, “Maybe they’re here to see you in your purple dress.” I was wearing a purple dress that I had been thinking was a little bit ugly. But then he said that and I relaxed.

LF: Some authors have a designated work space in their home where they spend hours writing while others prefer to settle in at a local cafe. A few authors swear by writing with pen and paper and yet others prefer the modern technology of the computer. Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

DS: If you had asked me last week, I would have said yes. But this week, I just packed up everything and moved to a new apartment, so I will need to form new rituals. But there are certain things that my living space doesn’t change: I write on a laptop, never by hand. I do my best writing if I get a good night’s sleep, wake up early, and start my morning with a yoga class.

LF: Are you reading anything at the moment?

DS: I’m finishing up the novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown. I met Janelle during my book tour and liked her so much. Her novel is amazing. So is the title. I highly recommend it.

Thank you, Diana, for taking the time to answer my questions!

You can learn more about Diana Spechler on the author's website. Please stop in tomorrow for my review of Who By Fire!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Does the Reading Environment Matter?

My husband and brother-in-law are enjoying a morning walk with the dog, and I thought I would use this free time to drop in and say hello. We are meeting my husband's parents for breakfast a little later. I am not sure how much reading I will be able to fit in today, but my plan is to cram it into every spare corner that I can.

I am not much of an entertainer. I prefer to go places to see people rather than have them come to me. One thing I do not mind when company comes to visit is how they take instantly to the big bookcases overflowing with books in my living room. My husband and I are both lucky in that we came from families of readers, and so our parents, whenever they are in town, can't help but peruse our shelves, sometimes gently touching spines, reading title names aloud with a sense of wonder in their voices. The last time my own father was in town, he and I had been discussing what he was reading these days and I went to my shelves, pulled several books down and handed them to him, suggesting he might like those. I may not trust everyone with my books, but I do trust my family (other than a particular relative whose gender and exact relation will remain undisclosed in case he or she happens to stumble on my blog).

I am still working my way through The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It is one of those books which I find best to read in the quiet and when I have long chunks of time to settle into, which, of course, is not on a weekend with company visiting, or during work breaks while at the office. I considered starting on another book to keep me occupied this weekend, something less demanding of my complete attention and time, but I still cannot settle on one. I keep wanting to get back to The Woman in White. It's got that grip on me that so often books do, and it won't let go.

Are you like me in that certain books call for a specific reading environment while others can be read just about anywhere at anytime? Perhaps that is why so many of you juggle multiple books at once (something that is not so easy for me because once I get caught in the gaze of a book, I only have eyes for that one book). Or does it not matter for you, regardless of what you are reading? Or perhaps you always have to have your reading environment a certain way or else you cannot focus?

Events to look forward to this week: Diana Spechler will be stopping by for an interview on Monday and my review of her book, Who By Fire, will be posted on Tuesday. I may or may not be posting another movie review. It depends on if I can think of anything to say beyond "I liked it."

Week in Review:
Guest Appearance by Jan Brogan
Review of Teaser by Jan Brogan
Movie Reviews of The Reader and Valkyrie
A Page in the Life of Anna from Diary of an Eccentric (new monthly feature)
Bookish Chatter

My husband, brother-in-law, and dog are back. Time to think about breakfast. Thank you for stopping by, and have a great week. Happy reading!

Friday, January 16, 2009

TGIF: Weekly Meme Fun

This week's Musings Monday post is about assigned reading . . .
How did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/university/college/etc? How do you think on these books now? What book were you 'forced' to read when you where in school that you've since reread and loved?
I was one of those rare students who lived for assigned reading lists. More often than not, I dived into whatever book was assigned with enthusiasm, finishing it way ahead of time. There were exceptions. William Shakespeare being one. And I never did make it all the way through Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (although that is one I would like to try again someday).

I do not often reread books. I have bookshelves full of unread books (and boxes, bags and stacks as well), and I am more likely to turn to them when considering what to read next. Jane Eyre, however, and Pride and Prejudice are two that I did manage to reread. Both I had read initially because they were assigned reading for classes. I loved Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre from the first moment I opened its pages. I loved it even more the second time around. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was a slightly different story. I did not care for it the first go around, but I now consider it one of my all time favorite books--it was that second reading that changed my mind.

There are plenty of assigned reading selections I would love to return to someday. I think with each reading, our impressions and thoughts are subject to change each time. Hopefully we come away feeling more satisfied than before, but I imagine that isn't always the case.

I have a bit of catching up to do with this week's Mailbox Monday. To catch up, I thought I would list the books that have made their way into my house so far this month.

For Review*:
The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks
Strangers in the Land of Egypt by Stephen March
Starfinder: A Skylords Novel by John Marco
The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover
Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom

Just Because:
A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

*I have made it a rule not to accept just any book offered to me for review. Sometimes a book is offered or comes along that I just cannot resist. I make a point to research a little about the book being offered and the author before agreeing to review that book. I would rather spend my time reading books I want to read, after all.

A little Teaser from what I've been reading lately:
There, in the middle of the broad, bright high-road - there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven - stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments; her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her. I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. [pg 24, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins]

If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes.

So, today’s question?

  • What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love?
  • Why?
  • And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?
Music is as much a part of my life as the written word. I love the sound of a guitar serenading me to sleep or a strong beat that gets my toe tapping. The poetry of lyrics can bring me to tears or have me laughing out loud. There is power in a song. It can be invigorating, sooth away my pain, or calm my nerves. The songs that work the best for me are the ones that have the entire package: great music and great lyrics.

Not to mention that I love to sing. I may not be very good at singing, but I can carry a tune. I was entertaining my friend yesterday with that old geography song I learned way back when. You know the one (and I am sure you can guess why I like it):

Maine is an island in Asia, France is a river in Spain,
Coconuts grow on a mountain of snow,
Deserts are covered with rain;
China is bordered by Norway, Texas is south of Peru,
Persia's a sea, and Vermont is a tree,
I adore knowledge, don't you?

I love ge-og-ra-phy, og-ra-phy, og-ra-phy
I love ge-og-ra-phy, with rapture the pages I turn.
I love ge-og-ra-phy, og-ra-phy, og-ra-phy
I love ge-og-ra-phy, because it's so easy to learn.

Crocodiles come from Chicago, rivers flow backward up-hill
Grass is quite rare, the equator is square,
Utah is east of Brazil.
Kansas is full of volcanoes, Switzerland's right on the coast.
Knowledge, you see, simply fascinates me,
I love ge-og-ra-phy most.
Naming a favorite song is like trying to name just one favorite book or author. There are so many I love, all for very different reasons. And the same goes for song writers. There is no one name that stands out above the others.

Often times my mood dictates what type of music or song speaks to me at any given moment. If I am feeling particularly down, I may listen to sad love songs or perhaps something more playful to try and cheer myself up. When I am having an especially bad day, songs like Rodney Atkin's If You're Going Through Hell (written by Sam Tate, Annie Tate & Dave Berg), Up! by Shania Twain (& Robert Lange), Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway (written by Avril Lavigne, Bridget Benenate & Matthew Gerrard), or Bitch by Meredith Brooks (& Shelly Peiken) have a way of perking me up. I also go through phases. I am sure my husband is glad that my country music phase has faded into the background to make way for a more alternative adult/rock one. Regardless, I enjoy a wide variety of music--much like my rather eclectic taste in books.

Just a very small few of the songs whose lyrics and music never fail to pull me in:

Whiskey Lullaby performed by Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss, written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall
Fast Car performed and written by Tracy Chapman
Bring Me to Life performed by Evanescence, written by Ben Moody, Amy Lee, David Hodges
Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning) performed by Rodney Atkins, written by Matthew Scannell
Desert Rose performed by Sting, written by Sting and Kipper
Dark Lady performed by Cher, written by Johnny Durrell (this is just a fun dark song)

I could go on and on, but you want to do something else today besides read my blog post, I bet.

1. Enough with the work for this week. Let's get on with the weekend.

2. My job sometimes causes me to be conflicted.

3. I've been craving cheesecake lately.

4. The kitten's attempts to play with the dog make me laugh.

5. I wish I could go to the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto next week. It's actually not the biggest anymore, but it's a eye catching name, isn't it? Unfortunately, I have to work next week, and so I will be stuck in Southern California instead. At least it's warm here.

6. Where exactly I put the two new tubes of face cleanser has been on my mind lately.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a quiet evening with my husband and animals; tomorrow and Sunday my plans include entertaining the in-laws.

Thank you to all who provided feedback regarding the new look here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty. I was in the mood for a change and thought I would give this template a try.

I realized just last night that my blog roll is missing. I could kick myself for not making sure it was there before I got rid of the old template. I am slowly going to be rebuilding that up, so please be patient with me. Obviously today there is no blog roll, and so you won't find your name there, but if you are a frequent visitor and want to be listed on my blog roll, please let me know. You can either e-mail me directly or leave a comment here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Page in the Life of Anna from Diary of an Eccentric

I knew right away that the focus of my blog would be the books I read. You know that not so old cliche about books being like breathing? It's true. Before I took the plunge into blogging, I did a little research. I visited book blogs, hoping to get an idea of what I might want to do and what I could expect. The wide variety of blogs amazed me. Even today, I still am awed by many of the blogs out there, and I continue to learn and glean new ideas from them. But what of the person behind the blog?

My Friend Amy came up with the idea of having bloggers interview other bloggers as part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week this past year. And that was the spark that gave me the idea of hosting "A Page in the Life." I thought it would be a good opportunity for you and I to get to know each other a little better.

When I was trying to decide who to approach for the first interview, Anna of Diary of an Eccentric came to mind. She is intelligent and caring, qualities that can easily be seen by anyone who visits her blog. I wish my reviews were as well written as hers are. Anna's 8-year-old daughter has even been bitten by the book reviewing bug and occasionally contributes a review or two. Anna proved to be a good choice to open A Page in the Life. She has been a joy to work with.

Anna is currently co-hosting the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge and has taken an active role in promoting aid to the Lost Boys of Sudan, encouraging others to donate medical supplies in order to promote health and a better life.

Please welcome Anna to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: Welcome, Anna! Thank you for agreeing to be my first guinea pig. I am excited to have you here today.

Let's start off with the ever important question: how do you like to start off your morning?

Anna: I'm not much of a morning person, but I roll out of bed at 4 a.m., and I'm out the door by 4:50 to catch the train to work. I read from about 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. during my commute. It's much better than annoying people with my snoring, and it makes it easier to ignore the crazy people who seem to follow me around on public transit.

Ideally, I'd love to get up around 7 a.m. with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. Heck, even without a day job I wouldn't have that luxury. Not with a kid who needs to get ready for school!

Literary Feline: Besides reading and books, what are some of your other interests, hobbies or passions?

Anna: When I'm not reading, I write (I'm working on a novel and some short stories) and knit. I also enjoy card games, bowling, and my new Wii Fit. I don't watch a whole lot of tv, and I'm not a big movie person. I do watch documentaries (mostly war-related) on the History and Military channels, and I love the Food Network. Some days I'm pretty boring though. Because I'm gone from 4:45 am to 5:15 pm every day, I'm lucky if I have enough energy after I cook dinner, help my daughter with her homework, and get her to bed. Sometimes the only thing I do besides my commuter reading is falling asleep on the couch!

Literary Feline: How did you get started blogging about books?

Anna: I've always been a bookworm, but I didn't even know book review blogs existed until about 6 months ago. (I know, I was living under a rock, or more accurately, balls of yarn.) I started blogging in June 2007, and I envisioned a knitting blog with some talk about books and writing, mostly to fill in the gaps between completed projects. I barely posted once a month back then, so that didn't work out well for me. I didn't start blogging on a regular basis until June 2008, when I realized I had more to say about books than yarn. (Don't get me wrong, I still love me a soft ball of cashmere or merino wool.) I started reviewing books as a way to keep track of what I read. That's still the main reason why I blog, with the added benefit of discussing books with my book blogging buddies.

Literary Feline: Has blogging impacted your reading? If so, how?

Anna: Blogging doesn't cut into my reading time, as much of my reading is done on the train to and from work. The only thing that's changed about my reading is the review requests from authors and publishers. While it's great to have the opportunity to read books before they hit the shelves, it's easy to become overwhelmed with review copies. I'm digging myself out from under a pile right now, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. Still, I've become more critical of the books I accept these days, as I want to leave room to read what I want. There are a lot of old books on my wish list, and I have a very ambitious reading list for the WWII reading challenge I'm co-hosting with Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit.

Literary Feline: What types of books do you like to read? And do you blog about every book that you do read?

Anna: I don't stick to a single genre. I'm pretty much open to anything. I'm just looking for good books. If the summary on the book jacket grabs my interest, I'll probably pick it up regardless of genre. Still, I generally don't read westerns or Harlequin-type romance novels. I'm picky about fantasy and chick-lit, but I will read it. It just depends on the book. Since I started blogging, I've explored some genres I might not have otherwise. I'm a sucker for family sagas and fiction set during wartime, though.

One of my goals for 2009 is to review every book I read. Last year, I read more books than I reviewed. I'd finish a book, set it aside to let it sink in, then immediately start another book. A few books go by, and my initial impressions are lost. My to-be-reviewed stack rivaled my TBR pile! Well, almost. ;)

Literary Feline: Do you have any reading routines, rituals or habits?

Anna: I have to carry a book or two with me for the work commute. I know what it's like to be stuck on a broken down train for an hour or more, and I shudder to think about being in that situation without a book. Hmm...what else? I'll read the entire book, even the copyright page and acknowledgments. I have to stop every few minutes and sniff the pages. I love the smell of books, and each one is unique! Oh, I also find myself smoothing down the cover where it joins the spine. I can't stand bent covers or broken spines. I hope that's what you were looking for, otherwise all your readers now know how weird I am. Then again, I've never denied my eccentricities. :)

Literary Feline: How do you pull yourself out of a reading or blogging slump or what steps do you take to avoid that from happening?

Anna: With a full-time job and a rambunctious 8-year-old, there's not much time for blogging or blog reading during the day. It's not unusual to find me reading blogs at 3 a.m. on Saturday mornings. But I don't feel like I have to post something every day, and I give myself a couple of nights off during the week. That really helps me not feel overwhelmed. As for reading slumps, normally I find myself falling asleep on the train or staring out the windows when I can't get into a book. Life is too short to read bad books, so I find that simply giving up on a book and choosing a new one gets me back in the groove.

Literary Feline: Do you have any advice or tips for your fellow bloggers?

Anna: Be honest in your reviews, don't be afraid to say what you think. Write about what interests you, and don't feel pressured to post every day. Blogging should be fun, and if it becomes a chore, you should step back and make some changes.

Literary Feline: What are you reading right now? Do you have any book or author recommendations?

Anna: Right now, I'm halfway through Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas. Next in line is The Scent of Sake by Joyce Lebra.

Amy Tan and Anita Shreve are authors I've loved for a long time. Some of my all-time favorite books are The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Resistance by Anita Shreve, Sea Glass by Anita Shreve, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Two books that blew me away that you might not know about are Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy and its follow up, A Family Daughter. Pam Jenoff's The Kommandant's Girl and The Diplomat's Wife are new favorites.

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog!

Literary Feline: It was my pleasure! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

Be sure to stop by and visit Anna over at Diary of an Eccentric!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Double Feature: The Reader and Valkyrie (Movie Talk)

So, I am a little late with this one. Pretend it is Monday, only let's make it so I don't have to actually work through the entire day again as if it were, okay? In fact, maybe by the end of this post it will be Thursday evening, time for my weekend to begin. Wishful thinking, I know. Anyway, this is all Sheri's idea. She hosts Monday's Movie over at A Novel Menagerie each Monday. Hopefully she will forgive me for being tardy with this post.

If movies counted toward the War Through the Generations Challenge, I would have been able to knock two off my list. One Saturday earlier this month, my husband and I took in a double feature. It was more for my benefit than his, although recent reviews were enough to get him at least a little curious. Therefore, I did not have to twist his arm too hard.

Let me say here that as much as I love movies, I cannot review them. I sat down many times to write down my general impressions of the films and ended up deleting each and every attempt. I don’t know why I have such difficulty with it, I just do. I’ll give it one final try, and you and I will just have to live with the results.

Movie: The Reader
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Runtime: 2 hrs. 2 min.
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Stephen Daldry
Writers: David Hare (screenplay) & Bernhard Schlink (book)

Having really liked and been moved by Bernhard Schlink’s novel, The Reader, when I read it years ago, I was eager to see it come to life on the silver screen. It helped that one of my favorite actors, Ralph Fiennes, played one of the leads.

Brief Summary: Set in post World War II Germany, a 15 year old boy, Michel Berg, had an affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz. Ten years later, while taking a seminar at law school, Michael discovers that Hannah is on trial for war crimes.

My Thoughts: The Reader as a book was my first real exposure to the turmoil Germany and its citizenry faced in the years after the Second World War. And really, not just Germany, but all those who were under German control at the time. How did the average person reconcile what was done in the name of the Nazi party, whether that person was involved with the war effort or not?

The movie version of the book was amazing on many levels. The performances by all of the characters, especially that of Kate Winslet, Robert Kross and Ralph Fiennes, were exquisite. The setting felt real and true. It has been years since I read the book and so I cannot account for accuracy, I am afraid. I came to care for the characters, particularly Michael’s character.

Kate Winslet played the role of Hanna Schmitz, and she couldn’t have done a better job. She was guarded and came across as cold at times, and yet somehow vulnerable. Her inability to read was a badge of shame for her and she had learned to hide it well over the years. I felt pity for her at times, but not enough to ever really like her or excuse her for what she’d done. What I did take away from her character was how ordinary she was. And how ordinary people were among those who committed some of the most horrific crimes. We all would like to think that we would have acted differently in the same situation. Maybe we would have. I want to believe that I would have. It’s something to think about, regardless.

The story had the promise of being powerful and yet somehow was underwhelming when all was said and done. My husband suggested that it may be a result of Michael’s passive role throughout the movie—as a main character, he took very little action in the film; rather, he took a back seat as events unfolded around him. I am not sure if that was it for me as well, only that I felt something was missing from the film. I wish I could put my finger on it. It was a beautiful film, and oh so terribly sad.

Rating: 4 Bags of Popcorn (Very Good)

Movie: Valkyrie
Genre: Suspense/Thriller/Drama
Runtime: 2 hrs.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie & Nathan Alexander

I like Tom Cruise in most of the roles he undertakes but sometimes it can be hard to separate the actor from the public image that has been out there in the media in recent years. That image has not been very favorable. Still, I was eager to see Valkyrie, a movie set during the Second World War, a time in the world’s history that draws me like a magnet.

Brief Summary: Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man to plan and initiate the final attempt on the Fuhrer’s life. He is disillusioned with his country’s leadership and fears that if things continue as they have been, it will be the downfall of his beloved country. He is willing to risk being labeled a traitor in order to do what he feels in his heart is the right thing. After being injured in a battle in North Africa, he is enlisted in a plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the government. His efforts are not easy, conflicts arise and even the best laid plans can go awry.

My Thoughts: I was drawn into the movie and, even knowing how the story would end, I found myself wishing for a different outcome. My only complaint? The accents. The German officers in the movie had a number of accents, including American and British. It didn’t in any way ruin the film for me, but I did find it amusing. Still, all in all it was an entertaining and powerful film.

Rating: 3.5 Bags of Popcorn (Good +)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: Teaser by Jan Brogan

This is what I’ve learned so far about Rhode Island chat rooms.

Not everyone is from Rhode Island.

Correct spelling and complete sentences are signs of a newcomer.

And no matter what the supposed topic of the chat room, two-thirds of the conversations are always about sex. [excerpt from book]

Teaser by Jan Brogan
St. Martin’s Minatour, 2008
Crime Fiction (S/T); 291 pgs

Reason for Reading: The author approached me about being a part of her book blog tour. I was intrigued by the premise of the novel and decided it was something I would like to read.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, TBR Challenge

Comments: We all have been warned about the dangers of the internet many times over, especially for children. There are predators lurking out there, sometimes pretending to be who they are not, preying on the young.

Jan Brogan’s Teaser takes readers into that world as Chronicle reporter Hallie Ahern investigates a possible sex ring involving teen girls. As a former gambling addict, Hallie has turned to chat rooms to keep herself occupied and out of trouble. One night Hallie stumbles onto what will become a career make it or break it story. She finds a video clip of two girls in a provocative situation, with a promise of more to come—in other words, a teaser. Hallie’s investigation into the video and her search for the two girls involved, lead her into dark territory. Drugs, sex, and murder are all tangled together in a complex web of conspiracy. The more she learns, the more complicated things become and the more danger Hallie finds herself in.

I instantly liked the character of Hallie Ahern. She has a reporter’s tenacity and dedication to her job, but she also takes time to think things through—even if at times she ends up going with her first impulsive thought. She is aware of the toll her choices have on her personal life, which is where her more vulnerable side comes out. Her live-in boyfriend is a prosecutor who has made sacrifices in his career because of his love for Hallie. In Teaser, Hallie finds herself facing difficult choices—follow the story and risk losing the man she loves or hand over the reins to someone else. Her quandary is complicated by the fact that she cares about what happens to the girls she meets on her quest for the news story. These warring factions only prove to deepen Hallie’s character, and endear her more to the reader.

The two teen girls, Whitney and Lexie, couldn't have been more different. Lexie comes from an abusive background and in many ways, for her, survival is her utmost priority. Whitney, on the other hand, comes from a solid but distant family. She is lured in by the attention and money and expensive gifts that come her way. Both girls are in over their heads. It was impossible not to feel sympathy for Lexie and Whitney. They played at being grown up and yet they were really just children, lonely and afraid.

Jan Brogan also takes readers inside the newspaper business, where the financial impact and worth of stories are negotiated and decided upon. I liked that the staff of the newspaper worked so well together (most of the time). They seemed like a real team even off on their individual assignments, and each of the characters in the newsroom were interesting in their own ways.

Teaser is a compelling novel that had me glued to the pages, turning them as fast as I could to find out what would happen next. While this is the third book in the series featuring investigative reporter, Hallie Ahern, it stands on its own quite well. I look forward to going back in the series and seeing where Hallie got her start.

Rating: * (Good +)

For more information about the author and her books, please visit the author's website.

Many thanks to Jan Brogan for her guest post yesterday and for providing me with a copy of Teaser!