Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, April 2009

For Wendy -
Get that bit between your teeth!
Your Pal,
Craig Johnson
Inscription written inside my new copy of The Dark Horse

The weekend was beautiful weather-wise, especially considering how hot the week before had been. I almost wished for rain so it would thin out the crowds, but that would not have been fair to the vendors and authors who had come out for the occasion. Anjin and I have made a tradition of attending the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books each spring. We take in the author panels and browse the booths, often coming home with backpacks full of books and a lot less money in our wallets. This year was not much different, with one big exception: this year we met up with a few fellow book bloggers for the first time. I was both nervous and excited about the opportunity.

Saturday, April 25, 2009, UCLA

On Saturday morning, Anjin and I arrived too late to meet at the designated meet-up spot where the bloggers had agreed to meet, and so we headed straight to Franz Hall for our first panel, Status Update: Social Networking & New Media. We took our seats and it was not long before the room began filling up. And then I heard voices right behind me that sounded awfully familiar. I leaned toward my husband and told him that I thought that might be them. I would know Natasha's voice anywhere. He asked me if I wanted him to say something, but I told him no, I would do it. I just needed to work up the courage. Just then, two women took to the empty seats next to us and I heard one of the women mention Florinda 's and my name. What are the chances that, in such a big room, the book bloggers attending the same panel would sit right there next to us? I took that opportunity to introduce myself to the group. Lisa from Books on the Brain, who had taken the seat next to me, instantly put me at ease. Also there for the panel discussion about social networking were Jill from Fizzy Thoughts, Amy from My Friend Amy, Trish from Hey, Lady! Watcha Readin', Natasha from Maw Books, Tracy from Shelf Life, and Florinda from The 3R’s: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness. It wasn't until lunch time that I got the chance to meet Ti from Book Chatter. She had attended another panel that morning. Everyone was so nice and friendly.

The Social Networking and New Media panel was comprised of Wil Wheaton (actor, author, twitterer and blogger), Otis Chandler (founder of Goodreads.com, which I decided to try again--as if I need another online community to keep up with), and Sara Wolf (dance critic, e-zine creator and Facebook user). The discussion opened with the role of social media on reading. Otis Chandler mentioned that he had started Goodreads as a way to make reading a social experience. He wanted a place where readers could come to talk about what they are reading, get excited about reading and get recommendations of books to read.

Wil Wheaton had a lot to say on the topic. He is well versed in the different types of social media out there and has used them to his full advantage. He pointed out that technology is not responsible for the dumbing down of society. Both he and Chandler pointed to television as being partly to blame for that. Wheaton talked about the advantages of getting oneself known in a viral atmosphere such as Twitter. He also touched upon the topic of book recommendations made by friends online. Friend recommendations, he said, add legitimacy. How many of us prefer reviews from each other over the more professional reviews today? I know I do. Wheaton went on to say that authors too can find value in the attention their books receive through social media. The author can get a better idea of what readers are getting out of his or her book. Christopher Meeks said something similar on my blog not too long ago.

Sara Wolf's experience with social networks seemed more limited. As a dance critic and the creator of the e-zine Itch, she talked about social media as being a way to "rehearse conceptually." She further described it as a constellation, connecting various people with related ideas together.

The panelists also discussed the importance of incorporating user feedback and quality control. Wheaton said that users have more of an investment in social media, own it in a sense, and therefore their needs and desires should be incorporated. He also suggested that users need play a part in the quality control of social media sites. I immediately thought of LibraryThing.com and how actively involved many of the users are in maintaining the quality of the site along with the founder and his staff. Tim Spalding, of LibraryThing, has done a good job of fostering such an environment. It was an interesting panel, overall.

The panel was followed by lunch. We bloggers found seats at a table at one of the outdoor food courts to eat and chat, getting to know each other a little better. Afterward, we divided up, going our separate ways, some to other panels and Anjin and I to visit the booths.

I was eager to meet Craig Johnson, one of my favorite crime fiction authors, and along the way we discovered a few other authors who I just couldn't pass by without stopping in to visit. I was thrilled to finally meet Christopher Rice (Blind Fall). We also met Gary Phillips (Bangers), and a couple of new-to-me authors, Kate Carlisle (Homicide in Hardcover) and Jonathan Miller (La Bajada Lawyer). Craig Johnson, author of the Sheriff Walt Longmire series, was just as friendly as I imagined he would be. He had driven from Wyoming to California the day before.

In years past, Anjin and I have filled our festival days with panels which meant less time to browse the booths. This year, we decided to go light on the panels and only took two in each day. Our final panel on Saturday was called Religion: The God Question. I was particularly interested in attending this panel because I am reading William Lobdell's book, Losing My Religion. Also on the panel was the moderator, Mr. Zachary Karabell, Chris Hedges, author of I Don't Believe in Atheists, and Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters. I really did not know what to expect with this panel. I find religion to be a fascinating topic, and I was curious to see what sort of discussion would ensue. The conversation seemed to center on religion as an institution and the positives and negatives of each. Chris Hedges and Rabbi Wolpe dominated the discussion, both offering differing opinions on the topic. They each made many really good points. I walked away from the panel with a lot to think about. In fact, Anjin and I spent much of the ride home from the festival that evening talking about it.

That evening Trish and Lisa treated all of us to dinner at Jerry's Deli in Westwood. Good food and good conversation. Anjin told me later in the evening that he enjoyed listening to us all talk shop. It seemed to end all too quickly when we had to say goodbye.

Sunday, April 26, 2009, ULCA

Sunday dawned early. We hit the road for the hour and a half drive into Los Angeles for the second day of the festival. We managed to snag seats right next to Trish at our first panel for the day, Fiction: Borderlines. Jill joined us as well. Of all the panels that weekend, I had most been looking forward to this one. I was eager for the chance to hear and meet author Thrity Umrigar (The Weight of Heaven) as well as Uwem Akpan (Say You're One of Them). Unfortunately, Uwem Akpan was unable to make it (he had to catch a flight back to Nigeria). As disappointed as I was that he could not make it, I was pleased to discover a new-to-me author whose work, of course, I now need to try. In his place was author Gina Nahai (Caspian Rain). Author Luis Alberto Urrea (Into the Beautiful North), another new-to-me author, was also on the panel, along with the moderator, Veronique de Turenne.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Borderlines panel. The authors each talked about their backgrounds, including their heritage and languages. Nahai was born in Iran and has not been back since she left in 1977. Because of her books, she is not in a position to return there under the current regime, unfortunately. Nahai spoke of a permanent amnesia of her time in Iran, saying that the only time she seemed to remember the country and her life there was when she is writing and it is through her books that her memories flow.

Thrity Umrigar is from India. She talked a little about her own family history. She also talked about her novel, The Space Between Us (which I highly recommend if you haven't read it), and how she had hoped someone else would write the story. The novel is about a mistress and her hired servant and their relationship, their class differences and the bond between them. Umrigar pointed out that, in India, because the labor pool is large and cheap, it is common for middle class families to have hired help. It seemed an obvious subject matter to want to write about, she thought. When she realized that no one else was doing so, she decided that she would.

Luis Alberto Urrea was born to an American mother and Mexican father in Mexico. During his childhood, he thought his mother's strange sounds and pronunciations were funny, however, now, as an adult, it makes him sad. His mother was surrounded by the Spanish language, and yet she could not speak the language, and therefore, had trouble communicating even with her own son.

Each of the authors had a chance to read a passage from their books as well as discuss misconceptions of their cultures. Gina Nahai pointed out that on a positive side, literature has opened many doors to understanding.

After the panel, we made our way to the signing area. I was eager to meet Thrity Umrigar and Luis Alberto Urrea. I would have liked the chance to meet Gina Nahai as well, but since her substitution was short notice, she was not present at the signing. Urrea's latest book, which technically isn't available until next month, was on hand for festival goers, and so I was able to buy a copy for the author to sign while there.

Anjin's and my second panel of the day was called Mystery: Guns and Gams. Being the crime fiction lover that I am, you know I had to attend at least one mystery panel. Sitting on the panel were authors Cara Black (Aimee Leduc series), Lisa Lutz (Spellman series) and Harley Jane Kozak (Wollie Shelley series). It was moderated by Mary McNamara. In this case, I have not read any of the books by the authors present, but I had heard of each of them and have wanted to read their books for some time now. My husband, at least, had read the first book in Cara Black's series, Murder in the Marais.

It was a fun panel. The discussion ranged from food, the creation of their female leads in each of the series, the benefits of having a female protagonist, the sense of place in their novels, and the writing process. I thought the panel make up was perfect--each of the authors are very different from one another as are their series. Lisa Lutz had no intention of writing a mystery series, when she began writing Spellman Files. The book was meant to be comic fiction. Her novels do not include big crimes like murder as so many mysteries today do. Instead, she focuses on every day life and the familial relationships of her characters. Harley Jane Kozak set out to write a literary fiction novel and what she ended up with was quite different. She was relieved when she discovered she was really writing a mystery. It felt like "salvation" she said. Cara Black, on the other hand, set out to write mysteries from the start. She was an avid mystery reader, admiring authors like P.D. James. The idea for her first novel sprang up from a true story her mother told her. She felt the story was important enough to tell and settled on a mystery as the best format to tell it. For Black, sense of place is very much a part of each of her novels. During the session, there were many jokes cracked and both my husband and I were smiling as we left the hall.

For the rest of the afternoon, Anjin and I wandered around the booths. We stopped by one booth to say hello to author Paul Levine (Solomon vs. Lord series) and he was kind enough to sign a book for me. Anjin and I were soon ready to call it a day. With our backpacks full of books, we headed for our car and the drive home.

There were many highlights to this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, but biggest of them all was meeting fellow bloggers. Being able to sit and talk with them truly enhanced the festival experience. I had no reason to be nervous. Everyone was wonderful. And I mean that. I'm not just saying that because they might read this post. I hope we can all do get together again next year. And maybe next time, you can join us too!

If you want to see photos from the festival and to hear what other book bloggers have to say, be sure and stop by the following blogs:
Lisa from Books on the Brain
Tracy from Shelf Life
Amy From My Friend Amy (Vlog)
- (also check out Amy's Ten Things I Learned At the LA Times Book Festival)
Amy From My Friend Amy (Sunday Salon)
Hey, Lady! Watcha Readin' (Part 1: Vlog)
Hey, Lady! Watcha Readin' (Trish Geeking Out Over the Festival of Books)
Natasha from Maw Books Blog (Part 1: Vlog)
Natasha from Maw Books Blog (Part 2: In Which I Meet Awewsome Book Bloggers)
Ti from Book Chatter and Other Stuff
Florinda from The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (To FoB or Not to FoB)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Social Networking Panel)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Window on the World Panel)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Intimate Strangers Panel)
Jill from Fizzy Thoughts (Borderlines Panel)

Note: I will be taking a brief break from blogging the rest of this week and next. Don't despair! I will be back. May promises to be a busy and exciting month here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, and I can't wait to tell you about what I have been reading. Happy Reading!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Salon: An April Reading Retrospective - A Revelation

My feet are a little sore, and the suntan lotion didn't quite work as well as I had hoped. I am not sure how much reading I will get done today, but it will be a book-filled day nonetheless. It is the second day of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and no one can keep me away!

With spring underway and April nearly over, I decided this would be the perfect time to reflect back on my reading five years ago this month. Care to travel down Memory Lane with me?

As I sat down to review my reading journal from April 2004, I noticed I had only read three books the entire month that year. I got off to a slow start but finished the month off with two quick reads: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and To the Nines by Janet Evanovich. I enjoyed both books. They offered me adventure, one full of puzzles and intrigue and the other full of hijinks and laughs.

But what captured my attention most was my review of the first book I finished that month, Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson. This particular book was a milestone in my reading, and so when I found the review, I eagerly read over my thoughts of the book all those years ago. And I was disappointed with myself. Not one word about why that book stands out still today.

I read the book for an online reading group discussion. Fantasy was a genre that I had grown to love over the years, and I was really curious about this particular book.

Lord Foul's Bane is the first of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever:
Thomas Covenant is a troubled and isolated man who finds himself in an alternate world. He believes he is in a dream and takes on the title of the Unbeliever as a result. He is the chosen one who is expected to save or damn the Land. Thomas Covenant himself is not a likeable man. He is an anti-hero who is mean and dour through most of the book. [passage from my reading journal, April 2004]
The truth is I did not like Thomas Covenant; in fact, I vehemently despised him. Never before had I been tempted to throw a book across the room, but I nearly did with this one. Thomas Covenant committed an unspeakable crime I could not get past. Not entirely, anyway. I almost did not finish the book, and yet, for some reason, I found it in myself to persevere. It just took a while. I have never regretted my decision to go on. I actually ended up liking the book in the end even though I never warmed to the character of Thomas.

Lord Foul's Bane was a turning point for me. It was the book that made me realize that I did not have to actually like the main character in order to enjoy a book. Before then, I was a staunch believer that to enjoy a book, I had to be able to relate to the main character and at least like him or her. I am not sure what changed for me. Perhaps it was maturity or a recognition of the beauty found in other characteristics of a book, such as minor characters, the setting, the themes, the plot lines or the writing itself.

I did find other characters to admire and cheer for (Saltheart Foamfollower, the giant, and Bannor the Bloodguard in particular) in Lord Foul's Bane, which definitely helped me find a more comfortable thread to hold onto. My need for a character, however minor, to connect with still exists to some extent. Only, I have reached a point in my reading where I can look beyond the obvious for something to anchor me to a book. Having that anchor, or connection, is a necessity for me. It is what keeps me interested and wanting to read further. When there is no connection, I lose interest quickly and move on.

When I think of Lord Foul's Bane today, I have mixed feelings. I still despise Thomas Covenant. I am not sure he will ever be able to redeem himself in my eyes. At the same time, however, I admire Stephen R. Donaldson's craftsmanship. He has written an amazing fantasy novel. It is dark, exciting, and a true adventure. I love the set up of the story: not knowing if it is a dream or real. Someday I do plan to continue with the series. I just haven't yet built up the motivation.

Have you ever come across a protagonist who does something you just can't forgive?

Does your enjoyment of a novel hinge on whether you like or can relate to the main character(s)?

Was there a book that had you thinking you might give up on it one minute only to discover that by the end, you were glad you read it?

Week in Review:

A Page In the Life of Nicola of Back to Books
Review: Starfinder by John Marco
My Weekend Plans & A Quick Challenge Update

Stop in and check out Anjin's thoughts on The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Weekend Plans and a Quick Challenge Update

It is that time of year again. Today you will find me at the University of California, Los Angeles campus where the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is being held. I am thrilled to be able to go again. This year, my husband and I will be meeting up with several fellow book bloggers from the area (and a couple from out of state). I am both nervous and excited.

Anjin and I decided to go light on the author panels this year. We hope to take our time and look around more leisurely as opposed to watching the clock and racing around the campus like we usually do in order to get a good place in line. That means we may have less time to sneak in a moment of reading though.

I have been saying I needed to settle in and check my challenge progress for a couple of months now. Well, I am finally getting around to it. It could be worse. And, yes, it could be a lot better. That darn life thing! Always getting in the way!

Let's take a peek at my progress, shall we?

1st in a Series Challenge - 2/12
2nds Challenge - 1/12
ARC Challenge - 11/12
Buy One Book & Read It Challenge - 2/12
Chunkster Challenge - 1/3
Classics Challenge - 0/3
Cozy Mystery Challenge - 1/6
Herding Cats II - 0/Undetermined
New Authors Challenge - 9/20
Nonfiction Five Challenge - Begins May 1st
2009 Pub Challenge - 7/9
TBR Challenge - 3/12
Themed Challenge - 0/4
War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge - 1/5
What's in a Name Challenge - 1/6

No challenges completed; but then, I am not one of those industrious bloggers who plows through challenge lists in hopes of finishing them a month in. I like to spread the books out and draw the challenges out for as long as I can. That's half true, anyway.

While some challenges will be wrapping up sooner then others, many still have months to go. I haven't given up hope on any of them yet. I actually feel more confident about them than I did last year--and I was signed up for quite a few less then. For me, it is all about having fun in the process and that's exactly what I am doing--having fun.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Starfinder by John Marco

There was no other word for it. Moth knew constellations were pictures, but these seemed alive to him, moving together, tumbling, running. And not just one big mess of stars, either. They were separate from each other, moving in their own particular dance. [pg 65]

Starfinder: A Skylords Novel by John Marco
DAW, May 2009 (ARE)
Fantasy (YA); 326 pgs

When I first began reading John Marco's Starfinder, I was instantly transported back into my own past. Waves of heat bouncing off the tarmac, I stood looking on in awe as the F-16 jets roared down the runway and into the sky. How many times did I gaze longingly at the poster in my bedroom of the Thunderbirds, wishing I could sit inside the cockpit of one of those jets and race through the sky? It was with those memories that Moth and I became acquainted.

Thirteen year old Moth is an orphan, poor and low in status. He knows his chances of becoming a Skyknight and being able to fly a Dragonfly are slim, and yet he dreams and holds on to the possibility that his dream can come true. When his friend and caretaker, Leroux, dies on the night of Moth's birthday, Moth's world is turned upside down. His friend left him with a mysterious gift and a mission that will forever change Moth's life.

Moth's friend Fiona is only a year older. She has shared similar pains--having lost her parents when she was young, just as Moth had. Unlike Moth, however, she comes from a powerful and wealthy family. Her grandfather, Governor Rendor, is the inventor of the Dragonflies and the airbuses as well as the leader of Calio, a city on the edge of their world. Fiona's grandfather is so caught up in his business affairs that he has no time for Fiona. Feeling abandoned and alone, she wants nothing more than to leave behind her grandfather and Calio.

Leroux and Rendor had been Eldrin Knights, heroes in their younger years. Upon Leroux's death, Rendor seeks out the gift Leroux left for Moth, understanding its full power, something a young Moth could never fully comprehend. His search turns into a chase, and Moth and Fiona, along with Leroux's beautiful kestrel, Lady Esme, decide to brave the unknown in an effort to save themselves and grant Leroux's dying wish.

The Reach, covered in mist, and what lies beyond are places of legends. It has long been forbidden to enter the Reach. The threat of being lost forever is very real. Leroux had been famous for his stories of the Reach and the lands on the other side, all of which were often disregarded as tall tales; the stories being full of mythical creatures such as dragons, mermaids, centaurs and the fearsome but beautiful Skylords. Moth and Fiona are about to find out for themselves whether the stories are true. What they find is both magical and dangerous. And not everything--or everyone--is what it may seem.

Moth may be a dreamer but he also has common sense. His trusting nature is not devoid of suspicion where suspicion is due. Fiona is intelligent and very strong willed. For Fiona, trust comes slowly and she does not easily rely on others. Her loyalty to her friend, Moth, is fierce though. The two balance each other out and make the perfect protagonists for this fantastical adventure story. Both characters grow over the course of the novel, not quite as innocent by the end as when their story began.

A minor but prominent character in the novel, Skyhigh, caught my fancy early on in the novel. His character was not developed to the degree that many of the others were--his personal story remains a mystery that I hope the author will explore further in a future book. The centaurs were also favorites of mine. They are a noble and intelligent species. Their relationship with the dragons especially had me curious, wondering if something in their past played a part in the status of their current relationship.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about this novel was the ambiguity of some of the characters. It added an extra dimension to the novel that took it in unexpected directions. While on the surface this novel is light reading, there is an implied depth that grazes on more serious and darker themes. While an older audience may expect more, I personally felt this approach worked well for the type of book written.

I had never read a fantasy novel that had flying machines before, and so this was a new experience for me. Steampunk, I think my husband called it, or something along those lines. Calio certainly had a slightly modern feel to it, and it was, therefore, quite different from the more traditional fantasy world belonging to the Skylords. Seeing the two side by side made an interesting contrast.

While Young Adult (YA) fiction is not my first or second choice in reading material, it certainly has a way of finding itself on my reading list often enough. And although I may not always care for much in the way of YA fiction, I do enjoy those with fantasy themes more often than not (Harry Potter and the Farworld series come instantly to mind). In the case of Starfinder, it is a young adult novel and it reads for a younger audience; however, that never bothered me. I had a good time while reading the book. I love a good fantasy tale, and, while I enjoy long epics, it was nice to settle in with a fantasy novel that was a bit shorter, especially right now with everything else I have going on in my life. The story moves quickly and there was never a dull moment. As I read, I could easily picture a librarian sitting in the school library, reading Starfinder to a group of students, much like my own school librarian used to do for my class. I do think that adults might enjoy it too.

is the first in what promises to be a fun-filled and exciting fantasy trilogy. For those concerned about starting a trilogy with only the first book yet published, do not fret. Starfinder stands well on its own.

As an aside, I never did get to fly an F-16. Back then, my gender, poor eye sight, and height would have kept me from being a fighter pilot anyhow. Even so, as I got older, my dreams shifted and other ones became more prominent. My calling lie elsewhere.

You can learn more about John Marco and his books at the author's website and his blog, Bastion.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, 1st in a Series Challenge

Many thanks to the author for giving me this opportunity to read and early copy Starfinder!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Page in the Life of Nicola of Back to Books

I am thrilled to have Nicola from Back to Books as today's A Page in the Life guest. Hers was one of the blogs that made me feel right at home as I began to find my own place in the book blogging community. Nicola's blog continues to be one of my favorite blogs to visit. She's not afraid to speak her mind and is respectful while doing so--qualities I admire.

Please welcome Nicola to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: Welcome, Nicola! It is great to have you with us today. I thought I would start off with an easy question: how do you like to start off your morning?

Nicola: Well, I start everyday pretty much the same way. I'm an early riser, though I never used to be. Must have something to do with getting older. So I get up between 5:30 and 6:00 and make myself a big cup of espresso. Then I log onto the computer and if I have a book review to write I'll get to work on that right away and post it to my blog and the other sites I like to post to such as Novels Now and Amazon.ca, if applicable. Then, whether I have a review to write or not the next thing I do is settle down to reading my blogs and enjoying my coffee until it is time to start waking up the rest of the house and start my morning ablutions.

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

Nicola: I go through all sorts of hobbies. I actually have Asperger's Syndrome so I'm always obsessed with something. Right now blogging, cataloguing my books on LibraryThing and keeping my various book related lists on the go such as the one for my series (http://addictedseries.blogspot.com/) take up a lot of my time. I'm also working on turning my blog posts from 2007/2008 into a book for myself. But I've also been known to knit, crochet, mixed-media collage art, and am also working on digitalizing all my family photographs onto flickr to preserve them for the future. I plan to do some heritage collage art with them eventually.

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

Nicola: I joined a couple of book clubs on yahoo. Ok not a couple, more like six and I noticed most everyone had blogs in their signatures. I was not a stranger to blogging as I already had blogs for my knitting, my mixed-media art and homeschooling and after reading a few peoples blogs I thought wow! what a great way to remember the books I've read. I've been keeping a list of the books I've read in a notebook since 2000 but honestly mostly when I look at it; it's just a list of titles that I can hardly remember what the books were about. Blogging gave me the opportunity to actually remember not only what books I had read but what they were about. So I started book blogging and all my other blogs went to blog heaven and I became devoted to my book blog.

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

Nicola: Yes, most certainly! The most significant way it has changed my actual reading is in the content. I used to be a genre girl and I would get stuck in a genre and read nothing but for a lengthy period of time then get sick of it and move on to another genre. This would mostly revolve around YA fantasy, mysteries and historical fiction with YA fantasy being the core of my reading for much of the years pre-blogging. Also, I was, I'm going to say it, a bit of a snob about current fiction. I figured if a book hadn't been around for 30 or so years it hadn't proven it's worth to be read so I was pretty much stuck in the past with my reading choices, picking books up at thrift stores and the library and reading the classics or books from the golden age.

Now along comes blogging, and I get pulled into the idea of challenges and suddenly I'm exploring all sorts or different genres again. Now I've always been widely read but those genres always sucked me in and now I find that there are just so many different types of books I don't want to concentrate on only one genre for any length of time any more. Then the next thing that happened was the offer of ARCs and I discovered a whole new world of current fiction and I've found so, so, so many new others who have become absolute favourites and I read newly published books all the time. For the first time in my life I actually know when the next book by one of my favourite authors is due to be published! So, yes, very big changes!

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

Nicola: I guess I answered this already above. I like to think I'm well read. The only type of books I don't read are romances and westerns but then there are always exceptions; I've read J.D. Robb and Colleen Gleason (romance authors) and I've read Louis L'amour (western author) so let's just say I'll read anything as long as it's good! I pretty much think I do blog about every book that I read. Occasionally, I will not blog about some picture books my son and I read together, I'll add them to the yearly list but not give any reviews. I also, until recently, have not mentioned on my blog any self-help type or religious books that I have read but just recently decided to start blogging them as well. So pretty much, yes, I do blog every fiction and non-fiction book I read plus every book I read aloud to my son.

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

Nicola: I don't think I really have any specific habits or routines. I carry a book around with me all the time. I read in the car, in bed, in the bath, when we are out and about and I need a sit down. I can't read with the radio or TV on though, that really bothers me. I like to hold the book with my left hand and use my right hand to turn the pages and it bothers me if the book is too big or too heavy to be held with only one hand, thus I do prefer softcovers over hardcovers, especially when it comes to a chunkster. Before setting a book down I must always stop at the end of a chapter. I really appreciate authors who keep their chapters readable lengths and must say books with no chapters can be very irksome to me, Empress of Asia by Adam Lewis Schroeder comes to mind, very good book but "booo" to no chapter breaks.

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?

Nicola: If I'm in a reading slump I pick up something fun, something familiar. The next book in a fun series is usually a winner and will get me back in the mood or a short fun children's book will do the trick too. Fortunately, I haven't been in a blogging slump very often but I try to keep it fun. If I start to feel pressured to get books reviewed I do what I call mini-reviews and get them done. I'm blogging for fun, no one pays me for this and if I'm not having fun, what's the point? Usually, I post my reviews right away the next morning as stated above in the first question and I've only felt indifferent to my blog a couple of times so far.

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

Nicola: Keep it real, keep it fun. Be yourself. Don't try to be like that blogger you admire so much who writes such wonderful, insightful reviews full of quotes. Just write what comes to your mind. First and foremost your blog should be for yourself. As time goes by, you'll find that your reviews will develop into a format that is uniquely you and you'll get an audience that you'll find yourself writing for as well as yourself.

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

Nicola: Right now I am just starting the last chapter of The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by e.l. konigsburg. She and I go way back to 6th grade when my teacher, Mr. Fischer, played the book on tape (well actually it was a reel to reel machine) of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to the class. Over the years I've taken time out to catch up with her now and then and at the moment I'm a few books behind. I'm also reading Poe: A Life Cut Short by Peter Ackroyd. This is a slight biography of Edgar Allan Poe; it's not the first biography of him I've read and it won't be the last. I'm always reading books, both fiction and non-fiction, where Poe is featured. I find his melancholy, morbid life so apropos to his macabre work. And finally I am reading Ben and Me by Robert Lawson aloud to my son, a very funny story about Ben Franklin which I have read previously. Lawson was a good writer but I'm always very fond of him as an illustrator. And that is all I'm reading as of today.

Authors to recommend. I could go on for pages! I love so many authors. My most highly recommended author at the moment is Mo Hayder. An absolutely brilliant British crime thriller writer. She writes thrillers full of gore and gruesomeness and heart palpitating fear along with an intelligent twist turning practically unsolvable mystery that will shock you with its stunning, usually not happy ending. She is a very smart writer who can write about very disturbing topics without going over the line of decency. I haven't found anyone who can compare with her yet and honestly I'll be shocked if I can find another author with the skill to write such intelligent mysteries that almost verge onto the horror genre but don't. Either start with Birdman, which is the first in her Jack McCaffrey detective series or The Devil of Nanking (UK title: Tokyo) a standalone.

Literary Feline: I find Edgar Allan Poe's life and work fascinating. And I second your recommendation in regards to Mo Hayder. I have only read one of her books so far, The Devil of Nanking, and I was blown away by not only the story, but the writing and characterizations as well.

Thank you for being such a willing interview subject, Nicola. It's been a pleasure having you here.

Nicola: Thanks! That was fun. I had a lot more to say than I thought I would. Hope I didn't ramble on! Now it's time to go wake up the rest of the house!

Literary Feline: There's no such thing as too much rambling here. Thanks again, Nicola!

Be sure to stop by and visit Nicola over at Back to Books!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review: Probable Claws by Clea Simon

I am not a cat. Beyond the obvious - no fur, no whiskers - I'm not and have never been as fastidious as your average feline, and I'm certainly not the clean freak that my own Musetta is.
[from the prologue]

Probable Claws by Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen Press, 2009 (ARC)
Crime Fiction (MYS); 255 pgs

My favorite computer moments, however awkward, are when I have a cat sitting on my desk, another cat lying across my chest and arms and a dog at my feet. There is just something comforting in being surrounded by my fur friends. It might come as a surprise then when I tell you that I haven’t always been a fan of animal related mysteries. No, that isn’t quite true. I had not really tried enough to form that solid of an opinion. What I had read had not impressed me much and so for quite a while, I shied away from them.

And then I was introduced to Clea Simon’s Theda Krakow series. It was impossible not to fall in love with Musetta, Theda’s beautiful and playful tuxedo cat. What I like most about this particular series is how natural the cats are in the book. The cats are natural and realistic, which fits well with this series. They behave just like my cats. There are moments when I find myself nodding, “Parker does that!” Or light is shed on a behavior I might not have understood before.

Another aspect I like about the Theda Krakow series is how character driven the books are. Theda is a freelance reporter and music critic in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Theda’s personal and professional lives are woven together in such a way that they are integral parts of the mystery; the club music scene and her involvement with the cat community, included. In Probable Claws, the line is even more blurred as Theda’s career and relationships suddenly are put into precarious positions. What begins as a suspected poisoning of cats at her friend Violet’s shelter soon escalates into murder, and Theda becomes the number one suspect. Could shelter politics be behind everything? Or is a simple case of jealousy or greed?

Animal shelters carry a heavy burden in our society, and Clea Simon touches upon some of the difficulties they face. While her novels focus on cats, the issues also apply to other pets, such as dogs as well. In Probable Claws, the author addresses the problem of over population and euthanasia. With over population, it is difficult to maintain a no kill stance and yet many shelters are trying to go that route, limiting euthanasia only to hard to place animals. But what exactly constitutes a hard to place animal? This too is under scrutiny and a serious issue to consider.

Theda is in the thick of things in Probable Claws and she comes across as strong but vulnerable. So much in her life seems to be going downhill all at once and the author captures Theda’s internal struggle of trying to stay in control despite the odds. Many of Theda’s friends make an appearance in Probable Claws, including her boyfriend Bill and one of my favorite characters, Violet. The reader gets the opportunity to know fellow reporter Ralph a little better in this novel. Although he isn’t the most likeable guy, I found myself feeling sorry for him as the novel progressed. But only a little.

Probable Claws, the fourth book in the series, is the best yet. The mystery is tightly woven and the tension builds as the story unfolds, resulting in a climax that was both exciting and satisfying. Theda grew as a character in this book, and I look forward to seeing where the author takes her next.

If you haven't already, take a look at my interview with the author! You can learn more about Clea Simon and her books on the author's website and on her blog, Cats & Crime & Rock & Roll.

Other books in the series:
Mew is For Murder
Cattery Row
Cries and Whiskers

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled:
ARC Challenge, 2009 Pub Challenge, Cozy Mystery Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interview with Author Clea Simon, Theda Krakow Mysteries

Mysteries come in all shapes and sizes. They range from the hard-boiled to the cozy and everything in between. Protagonists can be anyone from police detectives to the amateur sleuth. Reporters fall into the role naturally--they have a penchant for seeking out the truth and following leads regardless of risk (at least most of the fictional ones do). Clea Simon's Theda Krakow, freelance journalist and music critic, is no different in that regard. And yet, Simon's series does stand out in the sense that her series is more character based. Theda's personal life and relationships, not to mention her beautiful cat Musetta, are just as much a part of the novel as the mystery itself.

Probable Claws, released just last week, is the fourth in the Theda Krakow mystery series. The author, Clea Simon, was kind enough to drop by and answer a few of my questions about her writing and books.

Please join me in welcoming Clea Simon to
Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: How did you get your start writing?

Clea Simon: I've always written. Seriously, one of the earliest elementary school exercises I remember (and that my mother saved) was a story I wrote about a prince who was turned into a frog. He could only be turned back if he could reach the fountain at the end of the world. So he hopped and he hopped, but he realized he'd never get there so he decided to be happy as a frog. The end. As soon as I could read, I was the classic bookworm, always taking a book out into the woods behind our house to read or burrowing into one in a corner. And so I always wrote, as well. It just went hand in hand. But somewhere in college, I lost faith in my ability to write fiction. Too many creative writing classes and too much intimidation! And by then I was also writing for the school newspaper, and so I put away the fiction writing for a good ten years or so.

Literary Feline: You have written a few nonfiction books in addition to fiction. What made you decide to make that leap? I imagine there are different kinds of challenges that come with each format. What kind of challenges did you run into in writing one or the other?

Clea Simon: Honestly, in retrospect, I think it was a question of confidence. When you write nonfiction, you are purveying information - facts or an analysis of a situation. Something "real." So you can tell yourself that the writing doesn't matter, that you are giving people information. But when you are writing fiction, you are saying "I've totally made this up out of my head, but I think it has worth." It took a long time for me to make that leap.

I made my living for years as a journalist and arts critic, primarily as a music critic (like Theda). Which may sound like "making stuff up," but you are actually trying to give your readers a lot of information - it's not just "I like this" or "I don't like that." It's, well, "this band is interesting because it is drawing on this tradition, which I'll tell you a bit about. But they're doing something new, which I know because I've made a point of listening to everyone. So you might want to give it a try, but listen for that twist - that new thing it brings... " Stuff like that. That is actually sort of what I did with my nonfiction books. The first, about my family ("Mad House: Growing Up in the Shadows of Mentally Ill Siblings") was me saying, well, yes, lots has been written about schizophrenia. But as the younger sister of two people with schizophrenia, I think it affected my life in a unique way. Let me talk to other siblings who don't have the disease and see if we have anything in common... and we did. The same went for my other two nonfiction books ("Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads" and "The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats"). In both cases, I did research and interviews. I may not have said anything new, but I tried to put information and first-person accounts together in a new way, give readers a new perspective on something that maybe they had lived with.

The challenge of that, of course, is that you feel you have to get it right. You have to talk to everybody available. And you have to try to account for the effect that your interviewing has on the people you are interviewing. I mean, we don't always tell the truth -- we don't always KNOW the truth -and the act of being interviewed affects how we answer (really). So you have all these variables and you really want to get it right, show all the options. That's the challenge there. With fiction, the burden is entirely on making a made-up world SEEM utterly real and convincing. Your people have to act as real people might, your actions have to be believable. And there are no facts -- there's no excuse for the story except that it will entertain.

I've told this story before, but I made the leap -- or the leap backward, you could say, since I'd written stories as a child -- because a local bookstore owner gave me permission, in a way. Kate Mattes of Kate's Mystery Books here in Cambridge invited me to a holiday party at her store. She does these every year, has a ton of local authors sign and she knew me because I read mysteries, and she asked me to come and sign "Feline Mystique." I said, "But Kate, that's not a mystery." And she said, "Believe it or not, Clea, there's a huge overlap between women who love cats and mystery readers." Well, I came and signed and had a blast, and at some point in the evening she turned to me and said, "You should write a mystery." And so I started the very next day.

Literary Feline: In your books, you tackle important social issues, and not just those involving animals. Where do your story ideas come from?

Clea Simon: Life! They interest me. For example, someone sent me a clipping saying "PETA hates pets" and it was all about the idea that pets, especially cats that go outdoors, are invasive species and should be done away with. That was the core of "Cries and Whiskers." For "Probable Claws," the nugget was something I heard about one animal shelter accusing another one that claimed never to euthanize healthy animals of, in fact, euthanizing animals it couldn't place -- and saying that those animals weren't "healthy" or "socialized." There's a great push on to end unnecessary euthanasia, and I'm for it - but there are too many animals out there and no simple solutions, so I wanted to look at that. I mean, that's simplistic, but that was the core of it. There are just so many interesting conflicts out there.

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

Clea Simon: That these are complex issues! Oh, and that pet overpopulation is a serious problem and that they should spay/neuter their pets to stop unwanted suffering!! And they should have a good time while they're reading, too.

Literary Feline: The question many of the fans of your series are asking: Are you going to continue writing about Theda and Musetta now that you've started a new series?

Clea Simon: I would very much like to!! I have many other stories to tell and I love those characters. To some extent, it really depends on my publisher(s). Poisoned Pen thought that maybe Theda needed a rest -- and then Severn House bought "Shades of Grey," which I'd been working on on the side -- and they've contracted a second Dulcie Schwartz book, so that's what I'm working on now. But I'd love to go back and spend time with Theda and Violet and Musetta. Maybe give Violet a chance to solve the crime!

Literary Feline: Tell us something about your new series!

Clea Simon: Dulcie Schwartz is another side of me, I guess. Where Theda is the rock and roller, Dulcie is the bookworm - only she goes farther than I ever did. She's working toward her PhD in Gothic literature, studying those great, campy novels of the 1790s (which, by the way, were largely written by women and were popular and all the critics poo-poohed them). And she thinks she is very sane and logical, unlike her sort of ditzy mom, but then she stumbles across a body and she seems to be hearing her much-missed, late cat Mr. Grey speaking to her and helping her figure things out... Needless to say, her very ordered life starts to take on elements of the Gothic novels she so loves. I'm trying for more humor in these books. It's a very different type of writing for me and I'm having a blast!

Literary Feline: Who or what inspires you?

Clea Simon: Oh lordy, everything. I'm constantly reading books that I admire and I'll think, "I wish I'd written that." My agent now has a sort of tongue-in-cheek hardboiled mystery I wrote after reading a lot of Linda L. Richards and Megan Abbott. Who knows what will happen to that? And people constantly inspire me. Right now, we're having a tough time and my old profession -- journalism -- is in particularly bad straits, but the resilience of people inspires me. I'm actually very optimistic about life in this country right now.

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

Clea Simon:
Hmmm... you've asked really good ones! How about "So what's next?"

And then I'd answer: Well, I've just hacked my way through a first draft of the second Dulcie book, tentatively titled "Grey Matters." I find these days that I can only do the roughest sorts of outlines and then I really have to write the book. As I write it, I realize more and more what it is really about --who the characters are, what the crime is really about, and what should happen. It's not a time efficient way of writing, because now I have to go back and work in a lot of things that I realized should have happened -- and clues, too! -- but it seems to work for me. So I'm about to start re-reading it and doing a rough revision, putting all those missing bits in (I have a load of Post-it notes all over my computer!). Then I'll print it out an read it through carefully..

And I'm waiting to hear what might be the fate of my humorous noir, which features a tough-girl animal psychic named Pru Marlowe and her sidekick, a snippy calico named Wallis. So after this, it could be another Dulcie or another Theda -- or I could end up working on another Pru! I'll be sending Dulcie #2 off at the end of May. I know I'll have to do more revisions on it, but sometime in June I'll get to think about what's next at least.

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

Clea Simon: One of the nicest experiences I had was walking into Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis and seeing a small, but very friendly crowd -- maybe a dozen people -- and having a great time with them. They were real readers and had great questions. And then, before I could leave, the owner cornered me -- she'd had phone orders for my book from about a dozen MORE people so she needed me to sign copies! What a lovely surprise!

I'm sure I've had other great stories, but I'm feeling sort of brain dead at the moment, I'm afraid. I've been going on quite a bit!

Literary Feline: Are you reading anything at the moment?

Clea Simon: Silly question!! I just finished "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which I'm reviewing and I loved it. I adore Austen anyway, but this is a very smart spoof and I kept laughing out loud and interrupting my husband to read him parts. I laughed till I cried. I also just finished the new Sarah Waters, "The Little Stranger," which is positively creepy fun. And so I treated myself to the new Laurie R. King, "The Language of Bees," which I've only just started, and I think I'm going to also splurge on the new Ariana Franklin, "Grave Goods." Oh - and I have an ARC of the upcoming Megan Abbott, "Bury Me Deep." I don't usually like noir (except Linda L. Richards' books), but I love Abbott. Fast, tough-girl, positively crackles!

Literary Feline: Thank you for this opportunity, Clea.

Clea Simon: Thank you so much for interviewing me, Wendy! Just to let you and your readers know, I'm updating my website, and there are now excerpts from all the books on it, as well as information about readings and more.

You can learn more about Clea Simon and her books on the author's website and on her blog, Cats & Crime & Rock & Roll.

Please stop in tomorrow for my review of
Probable Claws!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday At the Movies: Sunshine Cleaning

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.

As I was browsing through the list of movies out in theaters this weekend, nothing stood out. At least, not until I came across a listing for Sunshine Cleaning, a movie I had been wanting to see since I first saw it advertised late last year. It meant my husband and I had to drive a little farther to a theater that was playing it, but that was okay. Sunday stretched out before us, and we had no other plans.

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) is a single mother, supporting her young son. In high school, she had been the head cheerleader and dated the star football player. Now she works as a maid, and finds herself cleaning the house of one of her former classmates. She struggles with feelings of self-worth as she balances work, motherhood, and a dead end relationship. When Rose's son is kicked out of public school, Rose decides to open her own crime scene clean up service in order to raise money to get her son into private school. Rose's sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), whose own life is muddled and off track, reluctantly agrees to help her sister with the business, having just lost her own job as a waitress. The two sisters settle into their new career choice, cleaning up the messes left behind by others while, at the same time, trying to get their own lives on track.

Sunshine Cleaning is a quirky dark comedy that is more complex than it may appear on the surface. The movie had me laughing in spots and tearing up in others. The entire cast does an amazing job, including Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin who plays the sisters' father. Adams' and Blunt's performances came across as raw and genuine.

I have read a lot of criticism about how this movie is a lesser Little Miss Sunshine, and I have to disagree. The two movies may have some similarities, but overall, they are completely different. Sunshine Cleaning stands just fine on its own. Sunshine Cleaning does tackle quite a few issues, some are resolved more fully in others. And that's okay. This is the sort of movie that is best left with certain questions left in the air or else it would not seem quite so real.

Movie: Sunshine Cleaning (2009)
Genre: ‎Comedy, Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Christine Jeffs
Writers: Megan Holley

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mail Call & Friday Fill Ins

I will be venturing out in the rain soon to run a few errands. I have the day off of work to spend however I want. What could be better than that? Just add in a book and a steaming hot mug of hot cocoa and I'm all set. But first, the errands.

I am going to try to avoid stopping in at the bookstore while out and about this morning. It will be a test of my will, let me tell you. With the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books just two weeks away, I am trying to be good and refrain from spending too much extra money before hand. Several of us bloggers have plans to meet up at the festival and it would be great to see you there too! If you are planning to go, please let me know.

Dare to take a look inside my mailbox for this week's Mailbox Monday on Friday? I was quite pleased with what I found.

Shanghai Girls
by Lisa See ~ I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was when this arrived in the mail. Kisses to Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program for granting me my book heart's desire. At least one of them.

The Surest Poison by Chester D. Campbell ~ A mystery that sounded too good to pass up. This is the first in a new series by the author of the Greg McKenzie mystery series. The author was kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel ~ This book came to me by way of the Unbridled Virtual Book Tours, for which I will be a stop along the way in June. I was intrigued from the description, " . . . a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and the nature of obsession."

Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton with Erin Torneo ~ Everything about this nonfiction book captured my interest and now has me eager to read it.

1. (The opening for this fill-in was "Anonymous . . .", however, I decided to approach it differently by shifting the beginning of the sentence to the end. Barbara from Heidi's Books passed away early this morning and I instantly thought of this poem.)

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

by Anonymous

2. Today is a sad day.

3. "Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course." ~ William Shakespeare

4. The warming of the temperatures, seeing my cats and dog lazing in the sunspots around the house as well watching them take pleasure in playing with the birds (the cats from behind the glass windows) are what I look forward to most about Spring. You can be sure I don't look forward to the allergies that come with the season!

5. Who needs therapy when I have chocolate, books, cuddly animals by my side and friends like you to talk to?

6. A big solid chocolate Easter bunny MUST go into the Easter Basket!

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to getting a great big hug when my husband walks in the door this evening; tomorrow my plans include going to see the L.A. Galaxy and Chivas play (professional soccer); and Sunday, I want to sleep in, curl up with a book and travel the world in its pages, trying desperately to forget that I'll be suffering through a root canal come Monday morning.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Review: The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks

Near mid-century when Edward was born, the full moon was years from being the brightest. That would happen - in terms of luminosity and size - in the last month of the century. [Opening of The Brightest Moon of the Century]

The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks
White Whiskers Books, 2009 (ARC)
Fiction; 312 pgs

Christopher Meeks came highly recommended by fellow blogger and friend Wendy from Caribousmom. Wendy has good taste in books, and so I knew I could trust her not to steer me wrong. Although she hadn't read The Brightest Century of the Moon at the time I agreed to read and review the book, she had read some of the author's other work and knew he was a gifted writer.

The Brightest Moon of the Century is Meeks's first full-length novel. If it is a sign of what he has already written and what is to come, Christopher Meeks is well on his way to becoming one of my favorite authors. In this particular novel, the reader is introduced to Edward Meopian. The story spans a good portion of his life, beginning when he is 14 years old and coming to a close when he reaches his mid-40's, from 1968 to 1999.

This is a difficult book to summarize without giving too much away, but I will give it a try. Edward lost his mother when he was a young boy and is raised by a father struggling to do the best he can under the circumstances. They live in Minnesota where his father works as an encyclopedia salesman. Edward is not too happy when his well-meaning father forces him to attend a private school during his teen years. During the glimpse into his life we are presented, Edward gains a stepmother and stepbrother, heads off to college in Denver, Colorado and makes his way in the world in Los Angeles and later in Alabama. He finds love as well as heartbreak. His life is full of ups and downs as he discovers just who he is, and as he sets off on the path he has chosen for himself. That path does not always go in the direction he anticipated, sometimes taking unexpected detours; and yet it is exactly that which makes Edward's story all the more real and interesting.

The Brightest Moon of the Century is full of funny moments as well as sentimental ones. I laughed out loud on occasion and got teary eyed in others. While I enjoyed every word in this book, my favorite section has to be Edward's stay in Alabama where he and his college friend Sagebrush own and run a mini mart in a trailer park. The two couldn't be more different from one another, one being more interested in playing while the other strives to be responsible. The two men compliment each other, balancing each other out. Small town Alabama was such a contrast from the life Edward had been living in Los Angeles. He grows quite a bit while in the South.

I enjoyed reading about Edward's experiences in graduate school. as well. The rather demanding Professor Neff reminded me of one of my former college professors, albeit in an entirely different field of study. And I loved the moments when Edward struggles to understand girls and women early on in the book. The final section of the book also left quite an impression on me, taking a more serious turn. As quirky and funny as the book could be at times, there was also a seriousness about it. Life is not always easy. It certainly wasn't all that easy for Edward.

As Edward's story unfolds, the author effectively captures the essence of where Edward is in the moment at each point in his life, both mentally and developmentally. As a result, I grew up right along side Edward. I felt his teenage angst, his optimism about the future, his frustrations and disappointments, his hope and the shifting of his dreams. I experienced first hand his transition from boy to man and as he came into his own. The transition was very subtle, as it is in real life. Life events building on one another and the people that come in and out of our lives are a part of what makes us who we are, shaping the direction our lives take. We play it safe; we take risks. It is no different for Edward.

Edward himself is a bit naive in some ways. It's that innocence which makes him easy to relate to initially. He is insecure and yet there is also a confidence about him that balances his character out. He does not realize just how smart and capable he truly is. Edward is a romantic at heart, and, like many, he longs for love, hopes for it and searches it out. He wasn't the cool kid in school nor do the beautiful women flock to his side (although I'm sure he wished they would). He is down to earth; someone who is easy to identify with. He is someone I wouldn't mind having as a friend.

The other characters in the book are just as memorable. My favorite perhaps is Beatrice, Edward's stepmother. She seems to take everything in stride and is supportive of both Edward and Edward's father. Len, the handyman, is another favorite. Like all of the characters in the book, he is flawed, but it is his good intentions and heart that stand out. Many of the characters brought something to the story all their own and made me long to know more about them.

What I got most out of this wonderful novel is a sense of hope. Life is full of bumps in the road, and those bumps make us stronger, helping us to become who we are and who we will eventually be. It's important not to forget to watch that sunset once in awhile.

This world could be heaven on earth if only people let it, Edward realized. Every sunset could show you. Take it. [pg 224]

* * *
You can learn more about Christopher Meeks and his books at the author's website.

If you haven't already, please stop by yesterday's guest post, INTERACTION by author Christopher Meeks where he discusses the interactions between authors and readers: "Later he or she will make sense of it all in a review. Sometimes I learn things about my work that I didn’t see, things that may have been at a subconscious level, by which some of the best writing is guided."

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge & 2009 Pub Challenge

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Guest Appearance: Christopher Meeks, Author

Please join me in welcoming author Christopher Meeks to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Christopher Meeks is the author of two short story collections,
The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons. He is also a playwright and has also published short fiction in several literary journals. The Brightest Moon of the Century is his first novel. Be sure and come back tomorrow for my review of The Brightest Moon of the Century.

INTERACTION by Christopher Meeks

As a professional writer, I started as a playwright first, before becoming a novelist. Never did I think the two mediums would meet, but a recent posting here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty gave me an epiphany. My wife often laughs at my epiphanies, so let me explain this one.

One of the joys of having a play mounted is that one senses what an audience feels at every performance. My play Who Lives?, recently mounted at the Pico Playhouse in Los Angeles, has a mixture of drama and humor. The play explores the serious issues that surrounded the selection of people dying of kidney disease in the sixties for the first long-term experiment in kidney dialysis. How the citizen-based committee reacted to the pressures sometimes brought humor. Each night I saw the show, audiences reacted differently.

They did not act inappropriately, but certain sections in the play brought outright gawfaws on some nights, and other evenings, soft appreciative laughter. The last two scenes typically were so powerful that everyone barely breathed. You could hear a pin drop.

My own interests in writing over the last decade, though, have brought me into writing fiction. Rather than have actors and a director help me push toward the drama, I’m now on the wire without a net. My only feedback has been reviews. Those can be quite interesting because a critic, focused on my book, may take notes, write impressions in the margins, and underline favorite passages. Later he or she will make sense of it all in a review. Sometimes I learn things about my work that I didn’t see, things that may have been at a subconscious level, by which some of the best writing is guided.

Still, that’s not the same as being in the room with the reader. Once I discovered Google Alerts, I now witness even small mentions of, for instance, my recently published novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century.

This first registered recently when Wendy quoted a passage from The Brightest Moon of the Century in Tuesday Teasers, and a few days later wrote, “I spent a good part of the week in Minnesota with Edward, the protagonist in Christopher Meeks's novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century. When I began reading the book, I was nestled under the covers in bed. ‘Honey!’ I called, scurrying out of bed to get my husband who was playing World of Warcraft in our home office. ‘Listen to this!’ Barely a page into the book and I had found something funny I just had to share.”

That’s wonderful. I’m there witnessing the act of reading, and it makes me smile.

I’m also witnessing the act of wanting to read the book in the response section after some of the online reviews. For instance, in a long and wonderful piece at She’s Too Fond of Books, one response came from a woman named Kathy: “Okay, since part of the book takes place in a trailer park in Alabama, I have to read it!”

Another person wrote, “You had me with ‘quirky characters.’ I love the inclusion of the photos, too. This sounds like a great read and I’m off to add it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review.”

This is the equivalent of a wave at a stadium and it shows we’re not alone. Books—and the Internet at times in literary websites—can bring us together.

I wrote more about reviews, the Internet, and old-fashioned newspapers at my blog, http://www.redroom.com/author/christopher-meeks.

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Note: Photos provided by Christopher Meeks
Photo 1 ~ Author Christopher Meeks at a book reading.

Photo 2 ~ Himmel and Gottlieb from the play
Who Lives?
Photo 3 ~ Cover of The Brightest Moon of the Century.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tuesday Teasers

A little tease from where I was:
"What to you mean overweight?" Rachel had been writing up her bill when I had noticed the word on my pet's chart. "You didn't say anything!" Yes, I was a little oversensitive. As I progressed into my own thirties, I was finding it increasingly difficult to fit into my own jeans. But this was my pet she was talking about.

~ pg 41-42, Probable Claws by Clea Simon

A little tease from where I am:
IT might have been a minute later or an hour - Moth couldn't tell - when he woke to the sound of crunching branches. Supposing it an animal, he opened his eyes, expecting to see a looming tiger or bear. He held his breath, his eyes adjusting to the darkness, and saw the outline of a man standing over him.

~ pg 84, Starfinder by John Marco

A little tease from where I will be:
I refolded the sheet of notepaper, and was about to slip it back into the envelope, when the faintest of faded-ink inscriptions caught on the back of the sheet caught my eye. My heart began to pound as I recognized my grandfather's handwriting: Secured. P. Died 11th March, before my held could reach him. Pax cineribus.

pg 33 The Ruffian on the Stair by Gary Newman

Update on Barbara from Heidi's Books: Thank you to all who have been keeping Barbara and her family in your thoughts and prayers. It has been an uphill battle for her the past several weeks. She started with a cough which lead to dizziness and weakness and loss of control in one of her arms. Her health rapidly deteriorated after that. She currently is in a coma and will be moved to hospice sometime this week. The doctor is projecting she has a week, maybe two left. The family is still waiting for the results of the biopsy, and so the exact cause of her illness is unknown at this time.

It is a very difficult time for the family, as you can imagine. Her husband is having trouble keeping up with all of the e-mails and will most likely be shutting down her online accounts soon. He and the family appreciate all the love, support and the outpouring of concern and good wishes.

Barbara is most known for her kindness and generous spirit. She's never been afraid to state her mind and she's always quick to be there for her friends in a pinch. To those who know her in person or just online, my heart goes out to you. You are in my thoughts and prayers just as her family is. I know I will miss her.