Thursday, February 25, 2010

From the Archives: Review of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I began keeping a reading journal several years before I began blogging. The following are my thoughts on a book I read in January 2005.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Signet, 1990
Historical Fiction; 983 pgs

An epic tale set in England in the 12th century during a time of unrest as the crown is in question and civil war erupts. The book opens with a man being hung for thievery and a vengeful woman cursing the men who had made the accusations: a priest, a monk and a knight. The lives of several characters are intertwined as the tale unfolds. Ken Follett crafted an intriguing novel involving politics, faith, rivalry and ambition.

Readers are introduced to Tom the Builder and his family, Tom being a moral and hardworking man. His dream was to build a cathedral and after suffering poverty and several losses, he finally was able to do so with the help of Prior Philip, a pious and just man. Philip was one of my favorite characters—his faith was strong and unwavering. He had a good and generous heart and strove to be just and fair throughout his life. It seemed as if every delay and obstacle was thrown in the way to stop the creation of the cathedral and yet Philip and Tom’s perseverance remained. Aliena Bartholomew was another favorite character; her strength, resilience and ability to better almost any situation she was in was admirable. The main female characters, although not always taken seriously or thought much of, were indeed strong women and not to be underestimated, even Countess Hamleigh who was usually scheming to better her own family’s end. My least favorite character by far was William Hamleigh and I actually found myself wanting to throw the book across the room as I read about his hateful deeds. He was a foul and whiny man, easily given to bad temper without any conscience or self-control. And then there is Bishop Waleran Bigod, a man who was ambitious and would do anything to move up in the world no matter who he stepped on regardless of the means he used to reach the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It came highly recommended by several people, and I just happened to have a copy. The characters were well developed and the story entrancing. I had a hard time putting down. Considering how long the book was, I was surprised I was able to read it as quickly as I did!

Rating: * (Very Good)

Source: I bought this book used several years ago, probably through E-Bay, back in the days when I used to bid on entire lots of books because it was inexpensive and fun. Plus a great way to fill out a series.

© 2010, 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, February 24, 2010

One Night Stand: What's in a Name?

The number of reading challenges for the year continues to grow. Even if I did have the luxury of reading all day and night I doubt I would be able to fit in each and every challenge. I haven't even started on the one challenge I did sign up for this year. Let's not think about that right now, okay?

Instead I am more in the mood to consider another of those many challenges I am not joining this year but which was awfully tempting.

This past year, I participated for the first time in Annie's What's in a Name Challenge. I nearly didn't make it to the finish line but crossed over just in the nick of time. It is fun matching titles to themes, and I especially enjoyed making my reading list for that challenge. Considering the unmentionable number of books in my TBR collection, I probably could have completed the challenge ten times over if I'd set my mind to it.

Beth of Beth Fish Reads is hosting this year's What's in a Name Challenge and has come up with some great categories. The idea is to read one book fitting each category (no overlapping of categories allowed!). I've included just a small few titles from my own TBR shelves that would fit the set categories. Remember, I am not actually joining the challenge, just having a little one night stand.

1. A book with a food in the title:
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread by Don Robertson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

2. A book with a body of water in the title:
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Color of the Sea by John Hamamura
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa
The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason

3. A book with a title (queen, president) in the title:
Don of the Dead by Casey Daniels
Pope Joan by Donna W. Cross
Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Thursten
Priestess of the White by Trudi Canavan

4. A book with a plant in the title:
The Family Tree by Sheri S. Tepper
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
Forcing Amaryllis by Louise Ure
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

5. A book with a place name (city, country) in the title:
The Fall of Atlantis by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Guernica by Dave Boling
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
Murder on Moloka'i by Chip Hughes

6. A book with a music term in the title:
The Islands of the Divine Music by John Addiego
Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
Whale Song by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

  • 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?

As an added caveat, I am considering taking Callista up on her idea to read one book from each one night stand challenge I feature here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty. In her words: "It's like sampling the challenges!" It seems to fit better with the whole idea of a one night stand too, if you think about it. By just making the lists, aren't I only really flirting? If I actually read a book from each list this year, it will feel more like a true one night stand. If I do this, I will not read the books on anyone's schedule but my own. I won't be saying which book I will be reading--although your suggestions and comments will be taken under advisement. I may read more from a list than just one and I may choose to overlap. No real pressure. What do you think? Am I over-committing when I said I wouldn't commit at all? Or is this a worthy goal?

© 2010, 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, February 23, 2010

The Best Places To Sleep: A Meditation On Rest by Parker

It has come to my attention that, although this blog is called "Musings of a Bookish Kitty", very few, if any, of you reading this are cats. That is a shame. Your dull human lives must indeed be dreary. To alleviate your doldrums, I have decided to grant you this boon of feline insight.

If one pays attention, you will find that there are several places around a house that are suitable for sleeping, napping, or resting. Many are useful for all three purposes, so do not overly concern yourself with dividing places into separate categories.

First, I'm quite fond of the carpeted structure my human thralls purchased for my use. There is a circular perch at the top where I lay on my side and survey the entire house. The only problem is that there isn't room for two and sometimes another cat takes my perch. This is only an irritation because, as I mentioned, there are many good places to sleep. It doesn't hurt to voice your displeasure, though.

Second, sometimes I need to exert my authority over my human thralls directly. At night as the male lies down to sleep, I climb onto his chest to demand his attention. I don't always stay very long on this perch, because you humans are decidedly unstable to sleep on. But once you are asleep, stretching out between your legs provides a perfect enclosure for my own naps.

Third, when all else fails, I may resign myself to sleeping on a bed. It does not matter particularly which bed. As soon as you lie down upon it, the bed is yours for the duration. There is the large bed where my humans retreat to most nights. Sometimes a door is left ajar and I can find a hidden bed in there. And sometimes I must remind the raving canid that he has a bed of his own only at my pleasure.

These are just a few ideas for sleeping that I have for you. If you have found this essay helpful, I accept tribute in the form of scratches either behind the ears or at the base of my tail.

* * *
Parker, a short haired orange tabby, is best known for his work with wrapping paper and ribbon as well as the arms of couches.

© 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, February 22, 2010

Monday At the Movies: Push Review/What's Wrong With Me?

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.
(Disclosure: I rented the movie through Netflix.)

(Action, Science Fiction - 2009; rated: PG-13; directed by Paul McGuigan; written by David Bourla )

Synopsis from Netflix:
On the run from the Division, a shadowy government agency that uses people with psychic abilities to do their bidding, telekinetic Nick Gant (Chris Evans) and clairvoyant Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) join forces to find a third psychic who can help them destroy the organization. But when the Division picks up their trail, it sends a powerful agent (Djimon Hounsou) to stop them at all costs in this atmospheric thriller.
Push is one of those films that I went into not expecting all that much. I was just looking to be entertained for a couple of hours. Push served just that purpose. I actually liked it a little more than I thought I would. While predictable in some ways, it was not in others, which made it all the more interesting. I loved Dakota Fanning's character. She was spunky and smart. I liked that the movie was set in Hong Kong. It was an interesting nuance.

I always leave these types of movies wondering which power I would like to have if I lived in a world like the one in the movie. More often than not I would choose telekinesis, the ability to move objects with my mind. While it would be interesting to see the future, I'm not sure I would want to know. The screamers seemed a bit silly to me, but it obviously came in handy in the movie.

What about you? What super power would you most want to have if you were able?

The Monday Movie Meme is brought to you by The Bumbles.

This week's movie topic is all about Popular Movies I Hated...
Ever get excited to see some movie the whole world has been gushing about, only to discover that you thought it was a dud? Not only are you completely annoyed that the movie didn't meet your expectations, but you don't have anyone else to complain to because you're the only one who didn't like it. Lonely days. Well, here are a few that Molly just didn't get that lots of others loved. Share on your blog movies you didn't see what all the fuss was about and link back here at The Bumbles. And don't forget to visit your fellow participants!
I mentioned today's topic to my husband last night and his first comment was, "Are there any movies you don't like?" There had to be at least one. Since I tend to forget books and movies I'm not especially enamored with as quick as I can, I decided to refresh my memory by visiting Netflix and looking over the movies I rated the lowest.

Here are a few that stand out as ones others have loved but which I didn't care for (the first three are all movies even my husband loved):

© 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, February 18, 2010

A Page in the Life of Molly from My Cozy Book Nook

I am thrilled, ecstatic even, to have Molly from
My Cozy Book Nook here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty today. She's one of my blogging idols and I think she might become one of yours too after you hang around her blog long enough.

She was kind enough to answer a few of questions for me. I hope you will join me in welcoming Molly to Musings of a Bookish Kitty.

Literary Feline: Let's kick your visit off with an old favorite of mine: how do you like to start off your morning?

Molly: Typically I get up around 5:15 (the alarm goes off at 5:00 - but I hit snooze a couple of times). I immediately pour myself a cup of coffee, let out the dogs, read email, and then catch up on blogs. If it is a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday - then I start my devotions and write a few pages in my journal around 6:00 before getting ready for school. I leave the house around 7:15 and get home around 5:15. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I work from home, so the morning routine stays the same, but has a bit more flexibility.

Literary Feline: That snooze button sure comes in handy, doesn't it? I think I have been using it a little too often these days . . . But you don't want to hear about that! Trust me.

I am always interested to know what motivates a person to start blogging, especially about books. How did you get started blogging about books?

Molly: I guess I first heard of blogs about 3 or 4 years ago. I was very interested in the concept of an online journal, but I had no idea what I would write about. In October of 2008 I somehow landed on my first book blog - I believe it was the Pulitzer Prize book blog and I was fascinated by the concept that someone would read their way through these award winning books and then blog about the experience. It was shortly after that I happened upon Becky's Review blog and J. Kaye's blog and that was the beginning of the obsession. I began following links to other blogs and was addicted to reading them, but still not sure whether I could actually write on myself. Finally I discovered memes and figured that they could help me generate post ideas. So...on December 9, 2008, I wrote my first post and it has been a wonderful journey every since.

Literary Feline: I have enjoyed being on that journey with you! I was really surprised at just how much blogging has affected my reading. What about for you? Has blogging impacted your reading? If so, how?

Molly: OH MY...the easier question would be how has it not impacted my reading :) First of all, I purchased more books in 2009 than I believe I had purchased in the 5 years prior to the book blog. Now, a part of that is due to my season in life (my kids are nearly grown - I teach English so I am always looking for books in the classroom) - but by and large, the books purchased were recommended from fellow bloggers whose reviews I trust. I have also broadened my scope of reading. I am still not a graphic novel convert - but I continue to try them as a direct result of blogger recommendations. I have persevered with audio books and have finally discovered a way for me to enjoy this literary format. I use my library far more now for personal reading than I have done since I was a child (I have always used it for academic reading for school - but usually reserved personal reading for books I purchased at the bookstore). I read MUCH more closely now than I ever have before (or at least personal reading) because I now read with the review in mind. I am mindful of quotes that I want to use - themes that have been developed, etc. I am sure there are many other ways that blogging has impacted my reading - but this will suffice for now :)

Literary Feline: When you first began My Cozy Book Nook, you mentioned that you were partial to British authors during the mid-19th century but that you wanted to broaden your reading horizons. You have certainly done that from what I can tell from reading of your blog. Where do you hope your reading will take you this year?

Molly: Well, in my personal reading, this year seems to be going in several directions. I am always interested in mystery/thrillers - and new released in the literary fiction genre - but this year I am also focusing on fantasy fiction - a genre that I have always shied away from. I am listening to Harry Potter on audio CD - and my students have just turned me on to the Percy Jackson series. I am also pursuing an interest in writing - so I am currently reading several non-fiction books that deal with the writing life, as well as the craft of writing. I will soon have to start reading for my summer school class, which, if all goes as planned, I will be studying in Oxford and I will have numerous books of the 19th century - both British and American. C. B. James is nudging me towards watching film adaptations of books with his Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge - and I hope to do more of that throughout the year.

Literary Feline: Studying in Oxford would be such a great experience! I do hope it will work out for you. Imagine the stories you will have to share with us!

If it was not for my decision to severely limit my reading challenge participating this year, I would have jumped at the chance to sign up for C.B. James' challenge. I enjoy watching movies almost as much as I love to read. And I am a sucker for seeing a movie based on a book I have read.

Speaking of challenges, last year you hosted your first challenge, the Summer Vacation Reading Challenge. How did you find that experience? Do you think you will host the challenge again this year? Do you have any advice for other bloggers who might want to host a challenge?

Molly: Hmmm....I don't think I was a very good hostess :( I loved the concept - and I was so pleasantly surprised how many took part in my humble vacation challenge, but I did not consider that I would be going to summer school for half the challenge time. I was not very responsive to those who joined - and I did not comment on their reviews as much as I would like to have done. I would definitely like to host another challenge sometime - but I will probably wait until after my Master's is completed (God willing, summer of 2012).

Literary Feline: I imagine running a challenge can be very time consuming. I give you a lot of credit for hosting one. I have always had a great admiration for those in the teaching profession. I consider it to be one of the most important jobs in the world. I will always be grateful to the teachers who introduced me to and encouraged me to read so many great books. What has been one of the highlights for you as an English teacher, helping instill the love of reading in your students?

Molly: I love when the lightbulb goes on. When they suddenly realize that they can find insight and analyze literature on their own. I would say the biggest highlight was last Friday when I experimented with the ball of yarn. Students downplayed that aspect when we discussed it in class on Monday, but the truth of the matter was -- IT WORKED. My 7th grade students are very anxious to try it and I think it is well suited to that grade level. I also love when students come to me and suggest a book. It is thrilling to know that some students still enjoy reading outside the classroom, and I am thrilled to connect with them in that way.

Literary Feline: It is innovative lessons like that which lead to a love for reading, I am sure. Besides reading and books, what are some of your other interests, hobbies or passions?

Molly: Well, I don't have much time for anything else nowadays with teaching, going to summer school, and maintaining a blog :) --- but other interests that I would love to continue to pursue once life settles down is scrapbooking (I was a Creative Memories instructor for 10 years and am totally convinced that the experienced prepared me to teach in the classroom); making stamped cards; and travel (I really want to travel to England, France and Italy for extended periods of time). I would also like to learn photography sometime --- not to be a professional, but to learn how to take a "decent" photo and then enhance it using PhotoShop. In addition, I would like to take some art appreciation courses to learn how to analyze a beautiful painting - and I would like to continue my pursuit of writing. It goes without saying that my primary passion in life are my DOGS :)

Literary Feline: I am right there with you! My dog and cats are my passion too. I especially love it when they cuddle up to me while I am reading--just one of our little reading routines. Do you have any reading routines, rituals or habits?

Molly: Since my nook has been established, I much prefer to spent quality time there than anywhere else. I have a difficult time with balance - and it is very easy for me to get tunnel vision with regards to school. I am trying to make myself spend at least one hour a day reading something for me - not for class. I enjoy reading with a nice glass of chardonnay - or a hot cup of tea. Other than that, I have no real routine. If I could - I would read 18 hours out of 24 :)

Literary Feline: Making time to read for yourself an hour a day sounds like a reasonable plan, especially given how busy you are. I can see how it would be hard to fit leisure reading in. Too read all day . . . Now that would be pure pleasure, wouldn't it? On the flip side, how do you pull yourself out of a reading or blogging slump or what steps do you take to avoid that from happening?

Molly: Hmmm....not sure I know how to prevent that from happening. I never tire of reading other blogs - and truthfully, that is probably the "secret" to draw me out of a slump. At this point I do think I have enough variety of books lying around, that I rarely find myself in a reading slump anymore. Now..I may not feel like reading fiction for a while, but if I read a bit of non-fiction, that will do until I find a book that I know I absolutely must read (which is of course, thanks to blog recommendations). Blog slumps are a bit more difficult. I either experience a slump because I am feeling depressed (and therefore think - what do others care what I have to say) OR because I am so busy with life that I don't have time. Memes are nice to help fill the latter issue. Usually memes can be answered rather quickly - and still make me feel like I am part of the community. I tend to procrastinate with reviews. I put too much pressure on myself. I want my review to be "perfect" - that is, to perfectly represent what I felt about the book. I oftentimes become paralyzed how to write such a review (case in point - I finished Alice I Have Been over a week ago but still haven't written the review). I don't know how to overcome that. Just Do It - as Nike says.

Literary Feline: I tend to put too much pressure on myself when it comes to review writing too and then have trouble starting. I think that's good advice, Just do it.

Now to put you on the spot (you have 20 seconds to answer each of these questions--I've got my stop watch ready!):

Book you'd most like to be trapped with in a broken elevator for several hours: anything by Dickens - it is long enough to outlast any elevator mishap, and the writing is unsurpassed.

It's storming outside, you're alone in the house, and the electricity has gone out; what book do you pick up to pass the time? Well, NOT a thriller as my imagine would get the better of me! Truthfully, it would probably be some kind of character driven novel that involves close relationships. that I think about of those characters would be a loyal, faithful dog :)

The storm has passed and it's a beautiful day outside. The temperature is just right. Will you read outside or inside? I am really not an outdoors gal (I wish I were, but bugs just ....well....bug me). NOW, if I lived at the beach, I would be outside in a heartbeat.

You're picnicking by the lake and have an hour to yourself while the family is off exploring. What book did you bring with you to read? This is where I would bring my mystery/thriller. One that I would not have to concentrate too hard (bugs, you know) --- but that would hold my interest and I could read rather quickly.

Name one book I absolutely must read at some point in my life: the Russians. I am not sure whether it would be Anna Karenina, or Crime and Punishment -- but one of those.

Thank you, Molly, for being my guest today! I hope all of you who are visiting will stop by My Cozy Book Nook and check out Molly's blog.

© 2010, 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, February 17, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Interpreter of Maladies"
from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, 1999)

I actually read this collection of stories this past year but had stopped in between each story to jot down my thoughts. You're seeing them now because I ran out of time to post them last year. Plus, I figured I'd get a head start on blog material for this next year.

I wasn't quite as enamored with the title story from Jhumpa Lahiri's short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, as I have been with her other stories. That isn't to say it was not good, just that I did not feel the connection to it that I have with many of the other stories.

Mr. Kapasi is a part-time tour guide who often takes English speaking tourists to various points of interest in India. He once had big dreams of being an interpreter on the international scene, but settled for working as an interpreter at a doctor's office and giving tours on the side.

In this particular story, he is taking an American family of Indian descent to the Sun Temple. Mr. and Mrs. Das have three young children, a girl and two boys. They are very American and Mr. Kapasi is quick to notice their cultural differences, despite their shared ethnicity. As the story progresses, Mr. Kapasi begins to see how much alike this American family is to his own, however. Some things know no borders.

Mr. Kapasi is greatly flattered when Mrs. Das takes an interest in his job as an interpreter. She even goes so far as to call it "romantic." It gives him something to think about. He's always seen his job with the doctor as being one he settled for because of financial woes, not something to be especially proud of. Her comment also sets something else off inside him, and soon she is revealing a secret to him that she has not told anyone.

"Interpreter of Maladies" is a complex story and Mr. Kapasi goes through several levels of thoughts and feelings throughout its course. Lahiri yet again captures the essence of her characters and brings them to life, flawed and vulnerable but not weak. This is one of those stories that puts reality next to fantasy and then swings back to reality. Lesson learned: Don't feed the monkeys.
All along the path, dozens of monkeys were seated on stones, as well as on the brances of the trees. Their hind legs were stretched out in front and raised to shoulder level, their arms resting on their knees. [pg 61]

© 2010, 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, February 16, 2010

Review: The Little Known by Janice Daugharty

Confession: I have nothing against e-books. I don't mind reading short stories and essays on the computer, but reading an entire novel while sitting behind a computer is not especially comfortable. It's downright inconvenient. At least for me. Sure, I could have printed this one out, and I might have if I had been home using my own computer and printer. Oh, how I wished I had an e-reader!

The publisher sent out review copies of The Little Known in PDF format to bloggers on their mailing list. I did not request a copy of this book for review. It wasn't a book I planned to read nor thought I would enjoy much truth be told. I just happened to be somewhere with a computer, no book to read and a little time on my hands. And so, I opened the file and began reading.

I will attempt to separate out my dislike for reading a novel on the computer with my thoughts on the book. I do think it had an impact, which is unfortunate because The Little Known has a lot to offer. I know I could have gone without going into all this, but one of the reasons I keep a blog is to talk about my experiences reading, not just about the books that I read.

The Little Known by Janice Daugharty
BelleBooks, Inc, February 2010
Fiction (YA); 234 pgs

The Little Known is the story of a nine-year-old African American boy named Knot in 1960's segregated Georgia. While out riding his cousin's bicycle, he comes across a bag of money, dropped by a bank robber who was fleeing from the police. Knot could have easily spent some of the money on that bicycle he's been wanting, but he knows he'd have to explain himself. Instead, he decides to give the money away, hoping to make life better for those around him. Only, it does not quite work out that way.

Knot is a sweetheart of a boy who is coming into his own. He seems so innocent at times and yet like an older soul at others. He has been poor all his life and believes that money can make things better. He quickly learns, however, that having money does not correlate with people doing the right thing. Knot is also struggling with his identity, trying to figure out his place in the world--and in his family.

The author captures the essence of a poverty stricken, close-knit community, full of internal strife and yet coming together in times of need. Knot lives with Marge, a woman whose weakness is alcohol. I didn't much like her at first, but the more I got to know her, the sorrier I felt for her and the more I hoped she would pull herself together for Knot's sake. She really wasn't a bad person, just a damaged one. Many of the characters in the novel are damaged in some way, white and black alike. Among them are the family next door with the drunk abusive husband; the daughter whose mother is mentally ill and often runs naked in the neighborhood; and a girl who is handicapped but whose family can't afford a wheelchair. I wouldn't have minded if some of these other characters had been more fleshed out, however. Then again, this is Knot's story more than anyone else's.

And although the author did not go into it as much as I would have liked, I was especially drawn to Knot's relationship with Becky Bruce, the white girl and the daughter of Sammy Bruce, a man who terrorizes not only those in the black community but his own family as well. Becky is a sad child, withdrawn and easy to tears. While Knot tries to dismiss her at first, he can't help but feel the need to help her, somehow rescue her from her father. He is fearful though; the colors of their skin make friendship dangerous.

While Knot is my favorite character in the novel, coming in at a close second is the pastor. Knot admits that he likes to go to church every Sunday for the food. Sometimes it's the only good meal he'll get that week. The pastor plays the role of the father figure and is perhaps the one stable person in Knot's life.

Race does play a part in the novel. There is always an undercurrent of tension in that regard. Knot is one of a handful of black students in a school that has recently been integrated. And in the society at large, there is a clear demarcation of who holds the power: the white man. As the story unfolds, however, there is definite hope that change is coming.

Overall, this was a touching novel of forgiveness and hope. On the surface, it is a simple story, but it has several layers, some of which I'm still discovering after having finished it. This is a novel I think both adults and children would enjoy.

Just a note of warning: the author does use the "n" word in the text, albeit minimally. Given the time period the novel is set in, it was not out of place.

Rating: * (Good)

You can learn more about Janice Daugharty and her books on the author's website.

© 2010, 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, February 15, 2010

Monday At the Movies: Taking Chance

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.
(Disclosure: I rented the movie through Netflix.)

Taking Chance
(Drama, War - 2009; directed by Ross Katz; written by Ross Katz and Michael Strobl)

Synopsis from Netflix:
Based on an article by Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, this HBO original film tells the story of Strobl's emotional experience traveling across America as a volunteer escort officer for the body of fallen 19-year-old marine Chance Phelps. Along the 2004 journey to Phelps' hometown in Wyoming, Strobl (portrayed by Emmy nominee Kevin Bacon) witnesses -- and is moved by -- acts of respect by everyday Americans.
It was because of Carrie from Books and Movies that I added Taking Chance to my Netflix queue. I probably would have never heard of the movie otherwise. It was not one that was in the theaters but aired directly on HBO.

This is an emotional movie about an officer who escorts the body of a fallen soldier home. And it is even more than that. I never really considered the process the U.S. military takes when returning their fallen soldiers home, all of the people involved in ensuring that the soldier is given all the respect he or she is due. I confess that I had tears in my eyes at the kindness and honor bestowed to the soldier, Chance Phelps, and to Lt. Colonel Stobl along the way. I got to know what a great person Chance Phelps was through the stories of his friends and family, and yet the connection I felt with him began long before I met them, from that first moment his body was put on the airplane to return to the United States.

As a daughter of a retired war veteran, this movie warmed my heart and made me feel proud. It is sad, yes, terribly sad that young men and women like Chance Phelps have lost their lives. I mourn for all the soldiers lost, and for their families and friends left behind.

© 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, February 02, 2010

Tuesday Tangents: Saying Goodbye to a Favorite Bookstore & Today's Reasons to Smile

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

My husband and I were driving by the used bookstore I occasionally visit last weekend and noticed that it was closing its doors. It was a cozy little place called Romantically Inclined. There was quite a big selection of romance novels as you might imagine from the store's name, but the shelves were also well stocked with mysteries and other fiction novels, including science fiction and fantasy. The owner was such a nice woman, and I was sad to discover that the store is closing because she's passed away. She knew just what books to recommend to the customers. and came to think of many of her customers as friends. On my most memorable visit to the store, she had a new puppy that she'd brought with her and we swapped stories about our pets. as we cooed over the little darling. Donalene Dillon touched many readers over the years, and I know she will be missed.

* * *
Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day. ~Author Unknown
Random Moments That Made Me Smile This Week:

Coming home from work this evening and being greeted at the door by my two cats and dog. I always look forward to coming home because I know they'll be eager to see me.

Jason Mraz's I'm Yours.

A little boy. Anjin and I were enjoying lunch out on afternoon recently and a little boy kept standing on the seat of the booth behind ours. I was facing the other booth, my husband's back was to it. The boy ran his toy truck along the top of the bench, occasionally ducking down to hide, only to pop up seconds later. A game of peek-a-boo. His parents kept telling him to sit back down, which he would, jumping back up again soon after. At one point, he reached out and touched my husband's shoulder. The mother jumped up and grabbed her son, apologizing profusely. We told her it was okay. We couldn't help but smile.

Finding something I had lost and thought gone forever.

Seeing a stranger's face light up with a smile when I first smiled at her. There's something very rewarding in a moment like that.

Crawling into bed early with a good book. I so rarely do it, but when I do, it's a slice of Heaven. Add to that two cats and a dog and it's perfect.

What has made you smile this week?

© 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, February 01, 2010

Review: The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

A few days after Benny's death, Ellie and Frank Benton broke into separate people. Although they didn't know it then. At that time, all they could do was concentrate on getting through each bewildering day, fighting to suppress the ugly memories that burst to the surface like fish above water. [Prologue, page 2]

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Harper Collins, 2009 (ISBN#978-0-06-147254-1)
Fiction; 365 pgs

I was first introduced to Thrity Umrigar through her novel, The Space Between Us. It was one of those novels that made the author an instant favorite of mine. I knew I had to read every book she wrote. I haven't quite managed that, but it's still something I'm working on. I followed The Space Between Us up with Bombay Time and now The Weight of Heaven.

What I love most about Thrity Umrigar is her gift for drawing out the emotions of her characters. The reader gets to know them through and through, feel what they are going through, know what they are thinking, and feel like we know them just as well as we do ourselves. At least that's how it is for me.

The Weight of Heaven is more than what it might first appear. An American man and woman grieving for their lost son move to India in hopes of reconnecting with each other and starting a new life. Their 7-year-old son had been their world. His death has torn them apart. Frank Benton blames his wife, Ellie, for their son's death, despite her doing everything she could to save him. His anger has put a wall between them that, at times, seems insurmountable.

Ellie is determined to save her marriage, while Frank, haunted by the memories of his son, turns his affections toward an Indian boy, Ramesh, the son of the household cook and maid. In his own way, Frank wants to piece his family back together. However, the path he chooses to do that will have drastic consequences.

Ellie comes to love India, both the culture and the people. She is a psychologist and volunteers her time helping the people of Girbaug, the community in which they reside. She is well liked not only by the other characters in the book, but by me as well. She was not perfect by any means, but she has good sense and a thoughtful manner about her.

Frank's experience in India is much different. He runs the Indian division of an American company and faces constant conflict with his low paid workers and the locals whose land the company bought from the government. He has a more cynical view of the country. The death of an employee rattles him, especially the circumstances surrounding that death. And on top of that is his own overwhelming grief for his son.

I will be honest. I never grew to like Frank. I wanted to, at least on some level. I tried to understand him, knowing that people deal with their grief differently. His pain was palatable as was Ellie's. I wanted so much to reach into the book and comfort them both. I wanted to save Frank from himself. Because, even if I didn't care much for Frank or the decisions he made, I still felt for him, could see how the life he is trying to put together for himself is unraveling. He truly is a lost soul, who, in his desperation, made the wrong choices.

I was most drawn to the story of Prakash and Edna, Ramesh's parents. Prakash, in particular. He is a complicated character with many layers. He was not the most likeable, I suppose, but, like Frank, there is a desperation about him, a longing. His only son is being showered with affection by an American man, offered things Prakash could not offer Ramesh. His once happy marriage is not so good anymore. His life was not what he wanted it to be. Edna only wants what is best for her son. She is torn between her loyalty to her family and letting her son experience the finer things in life. Where her husband drinks himself into a stupor and hardly spends time with their son, here is a wealthy American family who encourages his education and welcomes Ramesh into their home.

Just as the personal aspects of the novel are emotionally charged, so are the social issues brought to the forefront: the impact of globalization on a small community and the cultural clashes between the Indians and the foreigners. The author offers a look into varying perspectives, providing a well rounded picture of the world and the characters she has created in the novel. And, although I am not going into depth about this aspect of the book, it was perhaps the piece I found most intriguing of all.

I barely have touched on the surface of the novel. It is multi-faceted to be sure. It is rich in culture and character. The Weight of Heaven was in some ways just as I expected, but it also held much surprise. It was not quite the novel I expected it to be. Thrity Umrigar proved yet again why she is one of my favorite authors.

Book Source: I bought a copy of the book, which the author graciously autographed for me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April of 2009. You can just imagine how excited and nervous I was to be meeting one of my favorite authors!

* (Very Good)

You can learn more about Thrity Umrigar and her books on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Thrity Umrigar's TLC Tour Stops:
Wednesday, February 3rd: Devourer of Books
Thursday, February 4th: Red Lady’s Reading Room
Tuesday, February 9th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Thursday, February 11th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, February 15th: Lit and Life
Wednesday, February 17th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, February 18th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, February 23rd: BookNAround
Wednesday, February 24th: Dreadlock Girl Reads
Thursday, February 25th: Book Chatter

As part of the tour, the publisher sent me a trade paperback copy of the book. Since I already have my own copy, I am putting this one up for giveaway.

To Enter:
  • Leave a comment below and tell me why you want to read The Weight of Heaven.
  • Be sure and include your e-mail address if it is not easily visible from your website/blog.
  • The giveaway is open to anyone with a valid mailing address, regardless of country.
  • The deadline to enter is February 12th 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***

Thank you to all of you who entered! I used to select the winner. Congratulations to Amanda from A Bookshelf Monstrosity!

© 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.