Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: What I Plan to Read Next

I do not really like to write much about what I have up next in my TBR stack. At least not beyond the next book I am about to pick up to read. I think it is mostly because I change my mind a lot. Even with a stack of books in my immediate TBR pile, I remain a spur of the moment book chooser. I just sometimes limit my options. Yet, here I am, to tell you about a few of the books I hope to get to in February.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, as many of you know. While reading should have been my escape, it wasn't much of one. I chose a serious book that dealt with a couple grieving over the death of their son when I should have chosen something light and funny. As a result, my reading was slow going. Don't take that to mean I did not like the book at all. I did. I liked it very much. I just am not sure it was the best book for me in the moment. No. I take that back. Maybe it was. Sometimes sad books can help us through our own sad moments, can't they? There's something to be learned in such books. Even perhaps some comfort to find, however odd that might sound. The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar was like that for me in its own way. Although, something funny might have been nice too.

I was reading another book alongside it. I almost forgot to mention it since it's an e-book I am reading on my computer. I hate reading books on the computer. I have nothing against e-books. I just hate reading them on the computer. It's a pain in the behind, especially since I am unable to sit for long periods of time. The book is Janice Daugharty's The Little Known, which is due out early next month. I am about half way through it at the moment. Set in Georgia in the 1960's, it is about an African-American boy who comes into possession of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He decides to give it to his family and neighbors in hopes of making their lives better. Only, that's not what happens. The money seems to make things worse. The whole "child finds money and tries to do good plot" has been done before, but I am curious to see just how Daugharty will spin the story.

After reading several reviews recently of Craig Thompson's Blankets, I mentioned my interest in reading it to my husband. He was kind enough to dig through his shelves of graphic novels and find his copy for me. I hope to begin reading Blankets later today. Maybe tomorrow.

This coming month I also am planning to read a historical thriller called The Fairest Portion of the Globe by Frances Hunter. I really enjoy historical fiction, but it's been years (and I mean YEARS) since I read something set in the United States during the late 1700's. Usually my reading of that time period finds me in Europe or thereabouts. Hunter's novel is set in the Louisiana Territory, a highly desirable region controlled by Spain. Tensions are high and the threat of war is very real. This was the time when the legendary scientific explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, well known in American history, first meet.

Clea Simon's latest, Grey Matters, featuring Dulcie Shwartz, a graduate student studying Gothic literature, is another book I look forward to getting to in February. Rumor has it that it's the author's best yet. I enjoyed the first book in the series, Shades of Grey, and am eager to visit with Dulcie and feline friends again.

Calling my name (and rather loudly at that!) is the Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story as told by Dr. Jody M. Roy. I read a bit of the opening when it first arrived in the mail, and I have to say, I was hooked immediately. I can't wait to dive back in.

I think that will be a good start--not to mention a bit of variety. What are you planning to read in February?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Reviews Posted:

The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

Books That Found Their Way Home:
2666 by Roberto Bolaño (bought with gift card and coupon)
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
(bought with gift card)
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam (bought with gift card)
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger (bought with gift card & a little bit of money out of my own wallet)
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel (from the publisher for review)

American Rust Giveaway Winners:
Laura from Musings
Alice from Hello, My Name is Alice

Posts of Interest This Week:

Monday at the Movies: Sherlock Holmes
Tuesday Tangents on Thursday: Update on Anya, RAWW, and Other Random Thoughts
It Takes a Village: A Guest Post by Author Misa Ramirez

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, January 29, 2010

It Takes a Village: A Guest Post by Author Misa Ramirez (BronzeWord Latino Book Tour)

I had hoped to have a review of Misa Ramirez's book, Hasta la Vista, Lola!, for you today, but the mail gods haven't been cooperating. As soon as I get my hands on a copy, I will be reading and reviewing it (I also plan to buy and review the first book in the series, Living the Vida Lola). I am always excited about discovering new-to-me mystery series, but one aspect of this particular series especially caught my eye. Something really minor in the scheme of things, but we all know sometimes that is all it takes. The setting. The novels are set in Sacramento, California, where I spent a good portion of my childhood. And as much as I love reading about places I have never been, there's something wonderful, too, about revisiting those towns and cities I have been.

A little bit about the book:
What’s a girl to do when she finds out she’s been killed? Pinch herself to make sure she’s not a ghost, for starters. When Dolores Cruz comes home to her parents’ house to find every relative she has mourning her death, all hell breaks loose. With the help of on-again/off-again love Jack Callaghan, and juggling a new case thrown at her by muy misterioso boss Manny Camacho, it’s up to fledgling detective Lola to find out who’s behind the identity theft and suddenly wants her dead.
Since I can't give you a review just yet, I am at least grateful to Misa for agreeing to write a guest post. I look forward to reading her books and hope you will too! Misa will be dropping in today, so if you have any questions for her, don't hesitate to ask. She's extremely friendly and eager to hear from you.

Please welcome Misa Ramirez to Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Thanks so much for stopping by Misa! And a big thank you as well to BronzeWord Latino Book Tour the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Thank you to Wendy for hosting me today! I’m in the midst of a whirlwind blog tour to celebrate the release of Hasta la Vista, Lola!, the second Lola Cruz Mystery. It comes out on Tuesday and I’m celebrating big time. See, this series was a long time in the making. The first book, Living the Vida Lola, took more than 5 years to write. The time stretched on and on because I kept having babies (have 5 kids!), we moved--twice, and I was working. Time to write was treasured, albeit scarce.

But getting the call from my agent saying we had an offer from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Minotaur was a dream come true. My journey, I thought, was over. I’d made it as an author.

Ha! Little did I know the journey had just begun. Writing IS a journey. You have to love, love, love it to subject yourself to the rejections and the waiting and the disappointment, but then something great happens and it’s all worthwhile. Yesterday my editor shared with me the Book List review of Hasta la Vista, Lola!

“In Ramirez’s second novel featuring the feisty Latina detective, Dolores “Lola” Cruz is investigating her own death. That is, she is trying to find out why a woman who stole her identity ended up dead. With sexy reporter Jack Callaghan—her on-again, off-again love interest—by her side, Lola finds out that the other Dolores is actually Rosie Gonzalez, a single mother, whose young son has been missing since his mother’s death. Now Lola’s search turns to finding the young boy, which leads her closer to home than she expected. Fans who fell for Lola in Living the Vida Lola (2009) will welcome her smart and snappy return. The suspense here revolves as much around the will-they or won’t-they romance with Jack as it does with the missing boy and mysterious death, leading up to a shocking ending that ties everything together.” ~ Book List

Needless to say, I was thrilled! Add to that the 4 1/2 (out of 4 1/2) stars from RT Book Reviews and these two reviews...

“Lola Cruz returns in her second mystery — and her family’s still horrified that she’s more interested in dead bodies than in finding a husband to settle down with. Tightly plotted, with scenes of laugh-out-loud humor, great dialogue and supporting characters, this is a sassy, fun story that will have you waiting impatiently for the next book.” ~Page Traynor, Romantic Times Book Reviews, 4 1/2 Stars

“Ramirez’s saucy second mystery…insightfully explores one of today’s more pervasive crimes…” ~ Publisher’s Weekly

...and I am beyond thrilled.

But then I checked my reality. Living the Vida Lola, the first book in the series, received awesome reviews, too, but it never ‘took off’, or ‘got legs’ as they say. One thing I’ve realized over the last year is that it ain’t easy getting noticed–writing a great book is not enough. Not even remotely close. Even when a book has gotten great reviews and lots of stars from various sources, it’s not enough. Random [glorious] readers emailing to say they L.O.V.E.D. the book does not equal buzz. Book clubs reading the book and having margarita nights to celebrate does not equal a viral effect. (Though all of this has made me feel great!)

The bottom line? It truly takes a village to raise a book series, and my village, while fantastic, is a tiny little place populated with average people whose reach doesn’t extend very far.
What this means is that the career path of a writer is a slow and steady one that takes perseverance and drive. I’m the tortoise in the Tortoise and the Hare. Sure it would have been fantabulous to have sky-rocketed to the top right out of the gate, but that clever tortoise was slow and steady and enjoyed the journey along the way, passing up the hare whose journey was sporadic and frenzied.

That’s what I’m doing–enjoying my journey--the journey that’s just begun. I’ve met so many wonderful people thanks to this writing career of mine, including people like Wendy who help readers and books come together. I’ve learned so much and I’m doing what I love. I’m so proud of the book series I created. Now it just needs to find its legs!Lola excites me (in a writer/reader kind of way). So does Jack Callaghan (in a girly kind of way). And Antonio Cruz (ditto). And Reilly Fuller (she’s just a hoot). Oh, and Manny Camacho (who can make a woman’s heart go all a-flutter). They are a dynamic bunch of fictional people with whom I L.O.V.E. to spend time. Lola’s adventures are a thrill a minute and I hope and pray the series will continue (book three is Bare Naked Lola and takes place at a nudist resort. Don’t you ALL want to read that one?!).

I’m working on other projects, too, always pushing myself, stretching beyond what I think I can do with fiction, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished. 2009 was a wonderful year full of ups and downs, but always an adventure and an exhilarating odyssey.

I have faith that 2010 will bring more successes–and failures (gotta have those failures to really appreciate the successes, doncha think?)–and that it will be equally exciting and fulfilling.

* * *
Misa Ramirez is the author of the Lola Cruz mystery series: Living the Vida Lola (January 2009) and Hasta la Vista, Lola! (February 2010) from St. Martin’s Press Minotaur. A former middle and high school teacher, and current CEO and CFO for La Familia Ramirez, this blonde-haired, green-eyed, proud to be Latina-by-Marriage girl loves following Lola on her many adventures. Whether it’s contemplating belly button piercings or visiting nudist resorts, she’s always up for the challenge. Misa is hard at work on a new women’s fiction novel, is published in Woman’s World Magazine and Romance Writers Report, and has a children’s book published.

You can learn more about Misa Ramirez and her books on her website. Also, be sure and check out The Stiletto Gang and Chasing Heroes where she is a contributing blogger.

To purchase a copy of the book
Hasta la Vista, Lola! (St. Martin’s Press Minotaur, ISBN #9780312384036), visit Amazon. The novel is due out February 2, 2010. - I am in no way associated or affiliated with Amazon, although I do ccasionally shop there.

Misa Ramirez's BronzeWord Latino Book Tour Stops:
Mon Jan 18 BronzeWord Latino Authors
Tues Jan 19 Book-Lover Carol
Wed Jan 20 Latino Book Examiner
Thur Jan 21 Julia Amante
Mon Jan 25 Murder By 4
Tues Jan 26 Book Journey
Wed Jan 27 Mama Latina Tips
Thur Jan 28 Caridad Piñeiro

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tuesday Tangents on Thursday: Update on Anya, RAWW & other Random Thoughts

Tuesday Tangents' host Florinda of The 3 R's Blog makes it mighty convenient for those of us who aren't posting our tangents on Tuesday with her extra buttons.

A coworker recently told me that I am the kind of person who does the right thing even when it isn't the most practical. I don't know how to take that.

It's now official. Anya has a rare autoimmune disorder called Pure Red Cell Aplasia (PRCA).

The blood transfusion and medication seem to be working. Anya's red blood cell count is up although she isn't out of the woods yet. We have been warned that it will be a long road to recovery and that relapses are not uncommon.

I have not been feeling very sociable (or articulate) lately, and although I have been keeping up with my Google Reader, I haven't been leaving any comments. I feel terrible about that. So many of you have taken the time to stop in and say hello. I can't tell you how much that means to me, especially right now. I do hope to return the favor soon.

I have been following the discussion about whitewashing in the publishing sector with great interest. Twice now a publisher has been called to task for publishing books featuring light skinned people on the cover when, in fact, the books are about people of color. This is a pervasive problem that is not limited to just the one publisher, however. Why is this a big deal when covers don't always "fit" with the actual contents of the book? It is not only discriminatory but it has a harmful effect on our society, in particular our young people. Young people benefit from reading books about and by people they can identify with, be it race, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. What kind of message does it send to a child when the cover of a book about a person of color portrays a white person?

There's also the other side of it. We all benefit from learning and reading about those who are in some way different from us. The research study about readers being more empathetic and compassionate comes to mind. But in order to reach that point, readers have to read about other cultures and such. Whitewashing book covers defeats that very purpose. Sure, we can look beyond the cover and into the book to see the book's heart, but that message is still there. White is more acceptable. White sells and, therefore, white is better. Hogwash!

Susan of Color Online and Terri of BrownGirl Speaks have set up a group called Readers Against WhiteWashing to not only promote awareness of whitewashing in the publishing industry but also a call to action to fight against it.

If you have not already, do drop by and read My Friend Amy's post On Being Offended, where she opens her own discussion on the topic.

In a recent discussion with my husband, he directed me to Border House where Tami, aka Cuppycake, offers her thoughts on the social obligation of game designers in regards to similar issues.

Because this is a random thoughts post: My husband and I are switching internet providers this weekend. Wish us luck and minimal problems.

Author Misa Ramirez is scheduled to make a guest appearance here tomorrow as part of her BronzeWord Latino Book Tour. She is the author of the Latina mystery series featuring Lola Cruz. She will be stopping by and answering any questions you might have for her. Be sure to drop in to say hi!

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review: The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia

Their first reaction to this crime is to seek vengeance, not justice. I had to do something to prevent disaster. That such a mission was probably doomed to fail did not excuse me from trying. As Rabbi Tarfon says, "It's not your job to finish the work, but you are not free to walk away from it." [excerpt from The Fifth Servant]

The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia
William Morrow, 2010
Fiction (historical, mystery); 400 pgs

When I first read the description of Kenneth Wishnia's novel, The Fifth Servant, I knew I had to read it. Set in late 16th century Prague during the inquisition when Catholics and Protestants are battling for control, the Jewish people in the ghetto are going about their lives, hoping attention is not turned on them. When the body of a young Christian girl is found on the floor of a Jewish businessman's shop, however, all eyes focus on the Jewish community and what is perceived as their Jew-magic. Shammes Benyamin comes upon the scene hoping to sort it out only to find himself more deeply involved than he could have anticipated. Suddenly it is on his shoulders to find out what really happened, prove that it was not a blood crime, and save the ghetto from complete destruction by the angry mobs outside the gates.

Benyamin is an outsider even in his own community. He is a newcomer who hasn't yet proven his value. He traveled from his home in Poland, following his wife, a woman who feels betrayed by him. Benyamin still has hope that he could win her back. With the prejudices and biases of the authorities involved with the murder investigation, Benyamin knows he has a difficult road to travel to get to the truth. He knows he cannot do it alone.

Anya is a Christian woman, the daughter of a butcher. She earns extra money by working as a servant in a Jewish home despite the prohibition by the Catholic Church against Christians working for the Jews. Because of Anya's foot in both worlds, she is the perfect person to ask for help with the investigation into the girls' murder, a friend of both Christians and Jews. She is observant and intelligent but must be careful.

There was much in the way of Talmudic thought and discussion throughout the novel, which I found quite interesting. I have long been interested in the Jewish faith and history. The author clearly did a lot of research into the traditions and history of the time period. The hostility between the various religious factions was a big focus of the novel. The Catholic Church in that region was very powerful and punitive. It seemed to be a fearful time, one where a cry of witchcraft or blasphemy by a neighbor would be enough to warrant punishment, even torture without a full investigation. My heart went out to the midwife who was only trying to make her living, having to watch her every step for fear she'd be accused of witchcraft.

The novel was told from the perspective of both Benyamin and Anya, one in first person the other in third. The Fifth Servant takes place over three days, but is not a fast paced book for all the author tries to accomplish, both in conveying the historical aspects of the time period as well as the more philosophical discussions that take place between the characters. There are also the personal stories: Benyamin's attempts to reconcile with his wife and Anya with her own internal struggles, including whether or not to pursue forbidden love. There is building tension, especially as Benyamin's deadline to bring forward the real killer approaches and the angry mob outside the gates grows more and more violent. The mystery itself, the search for what happened to the murdered girl, seemed almost secondary to the other events taking place in the book. Still, it definitely is what moved the story forward.

The Fifth Servant was not quite I expected, but I did enjoy it. I would have preferred there to have been more of a balance between the mystery itself and the other aspects of the novel; however, there was so much going on that I can see how challenging that might be. The inquisition is an interesting and sad part of our world's history, and I was inspired to do a little research into the time period and setting of the novel after finishing it--always a good sign.

Rating: ***1/2 (Good +)

Book Source:
Review copy provided through publisher as part of BookBrowse First Impressions review program.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday At the Movies: Sherlock Holmes

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.
(Disclosure: I used a birthday gift card given to me by my staff to pay for the movie tickets.)

Sherlock Holmes
(Action, Crime - 2009, rated PG-13; directed by Guy Ritchie; Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson based on Arthur Conan Doyle's characters)

Synopsis from Netflix:
Robert Downey Jr. stars as the legendary London sleuth Sherlock Holmes, joined by Jude Law as dear Dr. Watson, in this Guy Ritchie reinvention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's oft-adapted detective series. Based on a comic book by producer Lionel Wigram, the story follows Holmes and Watson as they face off against the villainous Blackwood (Mark Strong). Rachel McAdams co-stars as quick-witted beauty Irene Adler.
I had been looking forward to seeing Sherlock Holmes since I saw the first trailer. I have only had the chance to meet Sherlock Holmes once before, in Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. I am pretty sure, however, that the Sherlock Holmes in the movie is quite different from the one on the page. It was a given that it would be more of an action flick than a cerebral one.

While I liked the movie, I was disappointed. It seemed disjointed in spots and, while the action scenes were good, the bigger ones reminded me of some of the tried and true displays at Universal Studios. You know, the ones you see on the tour--just with different set pieces. That aside, I liked the characters of Sherlock Holmes, and, in particular, Dr. Watson. Sherlock Holmes reminded me a bit of Bill Pullman's character from Zero Effect, only much more socially capable. It was enjoyable film--one that is probably best to walk into without high expectations. Ironman, it is not.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Night Stand: The Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I stopped by A Novel Challenge not too long ago and browsed through this year's challenges. Several caught my attention--64, if you want to be exact. Yep. You read that right. Sixty-four. Imagine if I actually joined all those challenges . . . I would probably have to give up my job. And my family. Not to mention sleeping.

Since I have sworn off challenges this year (except for the two I had previously committed to), I will not be joining any of those 64. That won't stop me, however, from enjoying a one night stand--browsing through my TBR room, selecting books that would be perfect to read for the challenges and putting them all on a list. Ah, the joy of making a list! Part of the fun and none of the commitment. The only thing missing is in the reading of the books, but I will get to that in time, just not in time for the the challenge deadlines most likely. I will not be doing this for all 64 challenges that I am interested in, only a select few. The question is, where to start?

Of all the challenges I am not joining this year, there were a couple in particular that I really struggled saying no to. One of them is The Challenge That Dare Not Speak Its Name, or the GLBT Reading Challenge.

The host, Amanda from The Zen Leaf, writes:
What I hope to do by creating this blog is help others gain a better understanding of the GLBT community. This is a very sensitive and divisive issue right now in our world, and the only way for us to reach equality is by learning and sharing.
I have been mulling over what to write, how to express why this challenge means so much to me, for several days now. And I am still not sure quite what to say. Fellow blogger Memory over at Stella Matutina summed it up by saying:
. . . being queer/gay/LGBT/GLBT/whichever term you prefer is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, any more than being heterosexual is good or bad. It's just a thing, full stop, no positive or negative connotations intended. (Ditto for heterosexuality). You can't control it, and it's not something that should make any difference.
When one of my coworkers came up to me one day and asked me if I'd heard that a certain celebrity was gay, my response was simply, "So?" I did not see what it mattered. I still don't. Knowing that did not change my perception of that person or what I thought of his work.

Unfortunately in our society it does matter to some people. There are those who judge others based solely on their sexuality. They reduce sexual orientation to a sexual act and vilify it. Sometimes in the name of religion. Or in the name of tradition. Regardless, it's discrimination. And as a result, it makes reading challenges like this all the more important. By reading GLBT books, Memory went on to say:
. . . maybe, just maybe, they'll realize that these characters are people first and foremost; that it's a person's actions that define them, not their sexuality. That it's every bit as possible to relate to someone of a different sexuality than, say, someone with a different hair colour than their own.
I believe that in literature, issues can often be stripped down to the person, whether real or imagined, and it is easier for people to realize that underneath it all is a human being. We may not share the same politics and dreams; we may come from different backgrounds and faiths, and be of a different culture, race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation; We may have varying life experiences. Perhaps by learning more about those who are different from us, we can not only learn to celebrate those differences, but also come to realize how much we are the same. This is one of the reasons I read. To open myself up and learn about other cultures and people. To step outside of my own little box and learn about the world around me. Reading has opened my mind and my heart over the years in a variety of ways. I believe it can do the same for others as well.

The challenge guidelines state that books can be about Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgendered (GLBT) topics and/or by GLBT authors. There will be mini challenges during the year and prizes to boot. Participants are asked to sign up for one of three levels:
  • Lambda Level: Read 4 books.
  • Pink Triangle Level: Read 8 books.
  • Rainbow Level: Read 12 or more books.
List of possible books I'd read if I was actually joining the challenge (which I'm not):
(all books listed are ones I own but have not yet read)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Passage to India by E.M. Forster
Three Junes by Julia Glass
Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Blind Fall by Christopher Rice
Light Before Day by Christopher Rice
The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Night Watch by Sarah Waters

I imagine there are more on my shelves I don't know about or I've missed. With this list alone, I could probably sign up for the Rainbow Level. Alas, it is not to be. This is a one night stand after all. However, I am looking forward to following the progress of those who are participating and perhaps even adding a few new books to my TBR collection.
  • Have you read any of the books I've listed? Any I absolutely must read right now?
  • What books have you read or want to read that might fit into this challenge?

Note (it sucks that I have to write this at all but . . .): I respect that others may have views differing from my own, and so I ask that you respect mine; in other words, be nice even if you disagree. I will not tolerate inflammatory or malicious comments and will exercise my right to delete them.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine by Jhumpa Lahiri

"When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine"
from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, 1999)

The year is 1971, and Lilia is ten years old the year Mr. Pirzada comes to visit. He is studying in the U.S. on a government grant while his family, his wife and seven daughters, remain in Dacca in east Pakistan. What makes the distance all the more difficult is the fact that Dacca is fighting for its independence and then add to that a war between Pakistan and India. Lilia watches the news each night alongside her parents and Mr. Pirzada. She does not fully understand what is going on, but knows that it is bad.

At school, she is learning about American history and it seems worlds away from the current day horrors that has her family on edge. Her father tells her about the Partition of 1947, about the country being "sliced up", and about the animosity between the Muslims and Hindus. She learns all this when her father explains to her why Mr. Pirzada is not Indian, which is how she has always thought of him. This isn't something she easily understand. He looks the same. He eats the same types of foods, and he speaks the same language.

Jhumpa Lahiri's story may be short, but it is rich in emotion and detail. While the reader never really knows what is going on inside Mr. Pirzada's head, it's not hard to imagine. Lilia longs to comfort him, but isn't quite sure how. Through a child's eyes, Lahiri explores the juxtaposition of two cultures: the American and the one her parents came from. Perhaps in a smaller way, it is also the story of Lilia becoming more socially aware. One of my favorite scenes in the story is when she seeks out a book on Asia in the school library. I was a little miffed at the teacher's reaction, but then, Lilia was supposed to be working on a particular assignment, not off exploring on her own. Still. I think the teacher could have handled it better.
I prayed that Mr. Pirzada's family was safe and sound. I had never prayed before, had never been taught or told to, but I decided, given the circumstances, that it was something I should do. That night when I went to the bathroom I only pretended to brush my teeth, for I feared that I would somehow rinse the prayer out as well. [pg 32]

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Tangents: The Pet Hospital Edition

  • My kitty Anya had to spend the night at the hospital last night.
  • When I called the internal specialist yesterday after getting his name from Anya's regular veterinarian, I was told to bring her in to the emergency room that same day.
  • The specialty hospital Anya's veterinarian recommended is 70 miles away.
  • It is actually a nice drive, albeit a little longer than Anya would like considering how much she hates being crated and having to go for car rides.
  • The drive, however, isn't so nice when it is windy and pouring down rain.
  • Animal people are among the best. The hospital staff were all very professional and kind. The patients' humans were too.
  • On my visit yesterday, I met a woman who was picking up her dog. He'd been snatched by a coyote a couple of years ago and only got away because she came screaming out of the house. He's had serious health problems ever since.
  • As I was waiting for Anya to be brought out this morning, I was going over the final bill and a woman commented, "It's a shocker, isn't it?" She and her husband were there with their cat who had just had major surgery. She and her husband told me they're already into the five digits cost wise and said they understood what I must be going through. We chatted a bit about our animals and wished each other the best.
  • Anya underwent quite a few tests and had to have a blood transfusion because her red cell count was at such a dangerous level. She is doing well now and seems much more alert and happy today.
  • She came home with two types of medication, one in pill form and the other a liquid. Here's hoping Anya is the rare cat who takes her medicine easily.
  • I will be getting one of the test results back tomorrow and then more next week. Then maybe we'll know more about what exactly we are dealing with.
  • In the meantime, I'll be taking her back to her regular veterinarian this next week to check on her red blood cell levels. If the medicine works right, she won't need another transfusion any time soon. That's the hope anyway.
  • Blood transfusions are very expensive.
  • The internal specialist said that if it's what we think it is (Pure Red Cell Aplasia), it will be a long road for recovery; but if the medicine takes, her chances of a full recovery are good.
  • I'm kind of hoping it's what he thinks it is because the other options are not so optimistic.
  • Through all of this, all I wanted to do was eat Dairy Queen Blizzards. I was good. I only had one.
Thank you for all of the prayers, well wishes and positive energy you sent Anya's way. Anya is my little angel, as you know, and it's been difficult these past few days.

Tuesday Tangents is hosted by Florinda of The 3 R's Blog

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: American Rust by Philipp Meyer (& a Giveaway)

It was like this all up and down the river and many of the young people, the way they accepted their lack of prospects, it was like watching sparks die in the night.
[excerpt from American Rust]

American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Spiegel & Grau, 2009
ISBN #978-0385527521
Fiction; 369 pgs

It's quite an endorsement when several book bloggers include a book on their top ten list of the year. American Rust was one such book in 2009. My interest in the book began before that, but, admittedly, became heightened even more as a result. Not everyone has been enamored by the book, however, which isn't all that unusual. I don't think I've ever come across a book that everyone liked.

Isaac English wants only to leave his hometown. After the death of his mother and his sister's escape to college, he is left to care for his disabled father. He is extremely intelligent and could have had his pick of colleges to attend, only the obligation of taking care of his father had set in--that and his strong desire to please his distant father. Billy Poe, Isaac's unlikely best friend, is a former high school football star. Poe has a penchant for finding trouble and a temper to boot. He never backs down from a fight.

Isaac is finally striking out on his own and his friend agrees to accompany him to the outskirts of town. The weather forces them to seek shelter, and it is there where their lives, and those around them, are irrevocably changed through an act of violence, a death. One will leave town and one will face trial for murder, all the while not knowing the other's fate. Their families will look inward and blame themselves.

My father grew up in Pennsylvania. Not in a steel town, but a small town nonetheless. It has seen many ups and downs over the years. Businesses have come and gone, people too. It is not thriving as it once was. Work is harder to find. My grandmother still lives there, but her children and their children have moved on. It's a beautiful place, full of trees, rolling hills, and wild life that a city gal like me can only dream of. While my grandmother's town is not as bad off as the Valley described in Meyer's novel, I still couldn't help but think of it as I read.

The beauty of American Rust is twofold. It is in the setting, in the landscape. Philipp Meyer's descriptions of a financially devastated and eroding community in Pennsylvania paints a very real and vivid picture of our times. Many of the residents in the community are hanging on by a thread. The steel mills that had once made the area thrive are now in ruins and the community around it has long been suffering as a result. The author holds nothing back in describing the poverty and conditions of the Valley, the hardships of sleeping on the streets, nor of the violent and tenuous conditions inside the prison system. Given the state of many American cities today, the economic hardships facing communities, the novel seems all the more fitting in this day and age.

Then there are the characters. The novel follows several characters throughout the novel, allowing the reader a close look at the thought processes and feelings of each of them. There is Isaac and Poe, the two young men whose story sets the stage for the novel; Grace, Poe's mother, who is lost and struggling to find her way; Bud Harris, the sheriff, a man who has always looked out for Poe, even when he shouldn't, all for the sake of Grace; Lee, Isaac's sister who is ever practical but has emotional baggage of her own; and Henry English, Isaac and Lee's dad, who is afraid of being alone. This format drew out the isolation each character felt and made their desperation stand out all the more. Their pain and guilt and feelings of helplessness were all very real, their resilience astounding. In getting this across, the author succeeded. Yet I felt somehow distant from the characters. I cared about them, sure. Wanted to know how the events in the novel would play out, and hoped for the best, but, still, something was missing. Something I can't quite put my finger on.

The story itself is complex. The situations the characters find themselves in and the choices they make are wrapped in moral ambiguity. These choices have consequences and the reader can clearly see the ripple effect of such decisions, including those made long past and the choices made near the end. Life is not black and white. The choices we make and their consequences are not isolated to only that moment. American Rust is a reminder of that.

American Rust is a strong debut for author Philipp Meyer. I liked the author's writing style and the way he framed the story. My overall emotion while reading the novel was one of hopelessness and sadness. There were times when I grew frustrated with the characters, willing them to make wiser choices, yet knowing they wouldn't because of who they are. While the novel does hold out some hope, however, small, it is a dark novel and will likely not appeal to everyone. It is well worth reading, however, if you are willing to take a chance on it.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Philipp Meyer and his book on the author's website and on the American Rust Face Book Page. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.

Source: Many thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for the copy of this book and the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Philipp Meyer's TLC Tour Stops:
Tuesday, January 19th: Book Club Classics!
Wednesday, January 20th: A Circle of Books
Thursday, January 21st: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books
Tuesday, January 26th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, January 28th: Ready When You Are, CB
Tuesday, February 2nd: Rough Edges
Thursday, February 4th: Bibliophile by the Sea
Monday, February 8th: Bibliofreak
Tuesday, February 9th: Becky’s Book Reviews
Thursday, February 11th: The 3 R’s Blog
Friday, February 12th: Beth Fish Reads

Are you interested in a chance to win a copy of Philipp Meyer's American Rust? Well, here is your chance! The publisher has graciously offered to give away one copy to a lucky reader of Musings of a Bookish Kitty.

To Enter:
  • Leave a comment below and tell me why you want to read American Rust.
  • Be sure and include your e-mail address if it is not easily visible from your website/blog.
  • The publisher's copy are only open to those who reside in the U.S. or Canada (no P.O. Boxes please).
  • I have 1 hardback copy of my own (read once) available for giveaway to one of my international readers (it is important that you tell me if you are outside of the U.S. and Canada s0 I can enter your name in the proper random drawing).
  • The deadline to enter is January 25th at 11:59 p.m. PST. The winners will be chosen at random through and the winners will be notified by e-mail. The winners names will be posted below once they are determined.
Good luck!

**Giveaway Closed**

The winners were chosen randomly through The winners of the American Rust Giveaway are:

Laura from Musings
Alice from Hello, My Name is Alice


Thank you to all who entered the giveaway and left comments.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Salon: A Book about Reading & What I am Reading Now

In my August 10, 2008 Sunday Salon post I wrote: "It is my intent to stretch out the reading of this book, reading snippets here and there in between my other reading." And I certainly did stretch it out! Over a year later, and I finally was able to finish Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Yourself in Books by Maureen Corrigan. This was that book I referred to at the beginning of the year, the one I found hidden in a basket of reference books. It was never my intention to put off finishing the book, much less to wait so long to get back to it. There's no time like the present, eh?

I have only read a handful of memoirs focusing on a reader's love of books. Sara Nelson's So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading and Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi come instantly to mind. There's always a risk to reading such books: running into possible spoilers of books I have yet to read and not being familiar with the books talked about, perhaps feeling a bit lost as a result. And what about all the new titles added to that wish list? Now there's a positive--or a negative depending on how you look at it. That would surely be the case with Maureen Corrigan's memoir.

Picking up where I last left off, I had no trouble jumping right back into Maureen Corrigan's narrative about how books have impacted her life and vice versa over the years. In the final two chapters of the book, she discusses the influence of her childhood and faith on her reading and how those early books she read influence her life to this day. She also goes into how her view and expectations about relationships were impacted by her reading, including those of a romantic nature. Books opened her eyes to an entirely different world and it lead her down unexpected paths. They also helped shape her values and ideals. On a broader scale, Corrigan talks a little about the changing nature of literature over the years, something I found especially interesting.

Corrigan included a coveted "Recommended Reading" list near the end of the book, which, of course I found irresistible. While several of the titles she mentions I have read and enjoyed (Jane Eyre, The Maltese Falcon, and Pride and Prejudice, just to name a few), there are many others I have not yet tasted and some I had never heard of before that are now on my wish list, especially from her mystery and suspense list. She reminded me that I need to dive back into Sara Paretsky's series and finally get around to reading Ian Rankin and Henning Mankell. Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen, Straight Man by Richard Russo, and Bleak House by Charles Dickens are among some of the titles that I must read.

My earlier discussions of the book:
Part One: Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading!
Part Two: Women's Extreme Adventure Stories

Part Three: Tales of Toil

Do you ever read memoirs about books and reading? If so, do you have a favorite?

At some point this year I hope to get to Nick Hornby's collections of essays about books and reading. I hear they are irresistible.

This past week I also read an intriguing mystery set in Italy--Umbria to be exact. It is called A Deadly Paradise and is by Grace Brophy. It's the second in a series featuring Commissario Cenni, and now I am anxious to get my hands on the first. I love a good mystery set in a country other than my own. This particular one delves a little bit into World War II history, although it is set in the present day.

Yesterday I began reading Umrigar Thrity's The Weight of Heaven, a book I have been wanting to get to since I first heard that it had been published. It is about a couple who lost their child to death and are trying to re-establish their lives. I jumped at the chance to be a part of the TLC Virtual Book Tour when I saw it coming around. I have read two books by Umrigar before, both very good, and am anxious to read more by this great author. There will be a giveaway of The Weight of Heaven (I have an extra copy since I bought my own) so be sure and visit on my tour date (February 1st) for a chance to win.

Speaking of giveaways, tomorrow I will be posting my review of American Rust by Philipp Meyer along with a giveaway of Meyer's book. I have two copies for giveaway, one for U.S. and Canadian residents from the publisher, and the other my own copy of the book that I will be giving away to someone outside of the U.S. and Canada. I hope you will stop by!

I am determined to read a Sarah Waters novel this year as so many readers have sung her praises. The question then became, where to begin? I put it to you to help me decide which book I should start with of all her novels. Many thanks to each of you who participated in the survey.
The results:
- 4 votes
Fingersmith - 20 votes
The Little Stranger - 14 votes
The Night Watch - 3 votes
Tipping the Velvet - 7 votes
Fingersmith is the clear winner and seemed to get the most praise even on Twitter when I mentioned my survey there. I am looking forward to reading Fingersmith later this year and seeing what all the fuss is about. To those who voted for the other books, this doesn't mean I won't read those at some point in the future as well. Just that I am starting with Fingersmith.

Good news! To me anyway. On a whim I put my name in for a chance to win a bookcase over at Myckyee's BookBound. And I won! The bookcase (from CSN Office Furniture) arrived in the mail the end of last week. I have not yet had a chance to put it up (still deciding exactly where it will go), but already have the books to fill it. I will be sure and take photos of before and after so you can see how it looks.

On the not so good front (and non-book related), Anya is having serious health problems at the moment, and we're waiting for the final test results to come back to see how to proceed with treatment. She's a real trooper and is hanging in there. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

Edited to add: The veterinarian called this morning as promised. There's still more testing in store for Anya, unfortunately (including a possible bone marrow biopsy) but we're getting closer to finding the root cause. I truly appreciate all of your thoughts and prayers.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sunday Salon: Christmas Loot, First and Last Books of the Year & A Blogging Break

Now that 2010 is here, life is will soon be falling back into its regular routine. The last couple of days I have been busy reading all the detailed wrap up posts for 2009. It's one of my favorite times of year in the blogging community. I especially enjoy reading everyone's lists of their favorite books read in the year. There is always quite a variety and the occasional book I forgot to add to my wish list when the blogger first reviewed it.

I was remiss in telling you about the books I found wrapped and waiting for me on Christmas morning. It somehow got lost in the end of the year frenzy. Santa (Anjin) must have taken a peek at my wish list. He gave me:
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett
Columbine by Dave Cullen
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Drood by Dan Simmons
I also received several bookstore gift cards, which you can bet will be put to good use. In fact, the one from my brother-in-law is already spent:
John Green's An Abundance of Katherines (Raidergirl from An Adventure in Reading is to blame for this one as I got it based on her high praise)
Wally Lamb's Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story (a little late for the Christmas holiday, I know, but it was marked down considerably and I do adore Wally Lamb)
Anjin also received a few books in his stocking this year (which I will no doubt be reading as well):
U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
I was cleaning out a basket of reference books (medical phone numbers, the car manual, etc) and discovered a book I had misplaced the year before last (I'd wondered where it went!). My post card, just a little over half way through, is still in it, marking the place I stopped. Fortunately, it is one of those essay/memoir type books that does not leave the reader hanging at the end of the chapter. I considered trying to finish it before 2010 began, but it wasn't meant to be. I hope to pick up where I left with that one in the near future.

I did at least finally finish reading Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies, capping off 2009. I enjoyed many of the stories, some more than others. Jhumpa Lahiri is a gifted writer and is able to get across the emotions of her characters without being obvious. I jotted down notes on each story and will be posting them throughout the early part of this year.

Just yesterday I began reading my first book of the year, Philipp Meyer's American Rust, which I'm reading for an upcoming book tour. I was happy to see that it made many of your lists of favorite books read this past year. Set in an old steel town in Pennsylvania that's fallen on hard times, the novel follows two young men, friends, whose lives are irrevocably changed by an act of violence. The writing is harsh and beautiful. I am looking forward to reading more of it today.

What was the last book you finished in 2009?
What book did you start 2010 off with?

It has become my tradition to take a brief blogging break at the beginning of the year. It's a bit of a relief after that year end rush to get everything done. I am looking forward to a year filled with good books and discussions.

Enjoy the start of the New Year and Happy Reading!

Is it any wonder why changing the sheets is not so easy to do at my house?

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings oft a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, January 01, 2010

War Through the Generations: Vietnam War Challenge

It never really crossed my mind to give up the War Through the Generations Challenge, even after I made the decision to take a reading challenge hiatus. While a new challenge is starting up, in my mind, it is just a part of the bigger whole, and therefore, not really a separate challenge. I was eager to see what war we would be reading about next. Would it be the American Civil War? I could certainly use a challenge for that one. I have quite a few books that would fit into that category. World War I would do just as nicely too. When I saw that the focus of 2010 will be the Vietnam War, I knew I would join in. This one is too close to home not to.

There was a time when I was a daddy's girl. My father took me to my first ballet. I remember dressing up, so proud to be wearing my "nylons" (tan tights). We had dinner, just the two of us, at a Mexican restaurant before the show. I was beyond thrilled. We saw one of my favorite fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty. It is a memory I hold close to my heart. My father is a book lover and has a massive collection of books. Is it any surprise then that I followed in his footsteps?

My father has a love for history, including war history. I'm sure that's in part where my interest in the subject came from as well. World War II is a special favorite for both of us. Then there is the Vietnam War.

My dad is a Vietnam Veteran. He was an enlisted man, having joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. His time in the war was a part of his life he never talked about, other than a funny story here and there. I knew it haunted him. I could see it in his eyes. I longed to know that part of him, to understand what he went through. As a result, I began reading as much as I could about the war, and even watched quite a few movies based on the conflict. As an adult, I have a better understanding of why he kept that part of his life closed off from me.

My personal goal is to read at least five (5) books related to the Vietnam War. Anna and Serena have graciously agreed that watching a movie related to the Vietnam War may count towards this challenge too. I may have to take them up on that idea!

Tentative Reading Ideas for the Vietnam War Challenge:
The Things They Carried by Time O'Brien
Dragon House by John Shors
Paco’s Story by Larry Heinneman (challenge group read selection)
Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King
Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Huong
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

I'd love to hear of any titles relating to the Vietnam War that you might recommend. Are you participating in the challenge? What will you be reading?

About the Vietnam War Challenge:
The 2010 War Through the Generations reading challenge will focus on The Vietnam War (1959-1975), which is technically a Cold War military conflict and is sometimes referred to as the Second Indochina War.

The fighting occurred in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and relates to the rise of Communism in Asia following the defeat of the French, who had colonized the region, during WWII.

The challenge will run from January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2010.


This year you have options when reading your fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, etc. with the Vietnam War as the primary or secondary theme.

Books can take place before, during, or after the war. Books from other challenges count so long as they meet the above criteria.

Dip: Read 5 books in any genre with the Vietnam War as a primary or secondary theme.

Wade: Read 6-10 books in any genre with the Vietnam War as a primary or secondary theme.

Swim: Read 11 or more books in any genre with the Vietnam War as a primary or secondary theme.

The War Through the Generations Challenges are hosted by Anna and Serena. For more information about the Vietnam War Challenge or to sign up visit the challenge website. The challenge website has a great list of recommendations as well, a feature that comes in mighty handy for me!

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.