Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Year in Review

This time of year has always been a milestone for me: a time to look back on what I have accomplished over the last several months and to look ahead, setting new goals and to reorganize where necessary. Two thousand ten was a whirlwind of a year with many ups and downs, including some that are life changing.

Join me in taking a look at my year in reading:

Longest Book Read ~ The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Shortest Book Read ~ Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth and Childbirth by Jenny McCarthy

Best New Series ~ The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews

Best Nonfiction Book ~ What We Have by Amy Boesky

Books that Touched Me Most Personally ~ Tie: What We Have by Amy Boesky & Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book Not Finished ~
Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

Book that Made Me Smile ~ 29: A Novel by Adena Halpern


2009 Reading Trends ~

Total Books Read ~ 73
Total Authors Read ~ 62 (books written by multiple authors are only counted as one author)

Graphic Novels Read ~ 4
Short Story Collections, Anthologies or Essays ~ 7
Short Stories Read (not counting short stories read in collections) ~ 5

Total New To Me Authors Read ~ 51

Books Read by Genre ~
28 Fiction
29 Crime/Suspense/Thrillers/Mysteries
9 Fantasy
6 Nonfiction
4 Horror
3 Science Fiction

35 Female Authors
26 Male Authors
1 Mixed Gender

Books Read by Authors' Gender ~
40 Females
28 Males
5 Mixed Gender

Books Read by Rating ~
2 Outstanding/5 Stars
3 Very Good +/4.5 Stars
46 Very Good/4 Stars
13 Good +/3.5 Stars
8 Good/3 Stars
0 Fair +/2.5 Stars
1 Fair/2 Stars
0 Poor/1 Star

Book Size ~
7 Pint Size Books (200 pgs and Under)
41 Intermediate Books (201-350 pgs)
22 Substantial Books (351-500 pgs)
3 Doorstop Books (501+ pgs)

Books Read by Type ~
20 Hardback Books
39 Trade Paperback Books
12 Mass Paperback Books
2 E-Books

Books Read by Narrative Voice ~
31 1st Person
35 3rd Person
3 Both
4 Nonspecific Voice

Reading Challenges Participated in ~ 3
Reading Challenges Completed ~ 3

2009 Blog Posts ~ 148 (including this one)


Top Three Movies Seen This Year ~
Inception (2010)
The Town (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010)


Top Ten Favorite Crime Fiction Books for 2010 ~

10. Grey Matters by Clea Simon

9. Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

8. The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

7. Mortal Prey by John Sanford

6. The Devotion of Suspect X Keigo Higashino (review pending)

5. 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

4. The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

3. The Last Child by John Hart

2. Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson


Overall it was a good reading year. A great one, in fact, quality wise. I did not read as many books as I hoped, but I did read 13 more than I did last year. Even so, with Anya's illness, my pregnancy, the situation with the house, and my extra responsibilities at work, reading was not a high priority. And still, I couldn't not make time for it--reading is very much a part of who I am. I had no idea what would make my top ten list this year until I sat down this past weekend and began giving it serious thought. After setting my completed list aside for several days and returning to it last night, I feel I made the right choices.

I value good writing, well developed characters, a setting that is just as much a character as the time and location the story takes place, and a story that wraps me up in the pages and won't let go until the end. I tend to be a visceral reader. For a book to become a favorite, it must touch me in an emotional way, whether it be through laughter or tears--even better if it's both.

Top Ten Favorite Books Read in 2010 (listed in reverse order) ~
10. Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller

9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

8. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

7. What We Have: A Family's Inspiring Story About Love, Loss, & Survival by Amy Boesky

6. American Rust by Philipp Meyer

5. The Boat by Nam Le

4. The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar

3. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

2. Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney

1. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Plans for 2011 ~
At the start of 2010, I had big ideas for my blog and a list of books I just had to read within the year. I think I managed to read 1 book off that "must read list". The big craze this year was reading deliberately and the contrarian in me decided my goal would to be to deliberately not read deliberately. I knew then it would be a challenging year on many different fronts, and I wanted to keep my options open. Who knew where my mood and the moment would take me?

This new year I am taking it one step farther. I will not be joining any reading challenges, as tempting as many of them sound (and I do love a good challenge!). I stopped accepting books for review several months ago and will continue to turn down offers in the foreseeable future (exceptions are very few and far between). I still have a number of review books to get through, and so you'll be seeing those titles pop up now and then. I do hope to tackle those TBR stacks, although a lot will depend on what gets packed and when--and then unpacked. I will be taking each day as it comes.

I think Edmund Wilson got it right when he said, "No two persons ever read the same book." When we read a book, we bring who we into our reading experience, including who we are in the moment. Reading is a very intimate and personal experience as a result. That's how I see it, anyway. One of the many things I enjoy about the book blogging community is being able to share our thoughts about the books we read, seeing how similar and different our opinions may vary, all the while learning more about ourselves and each other. I cannot thank you enough for joining me this year on my reading adventures and hope you will join me again this coming year. I look forward to seeing what 2011 will hold for not only me, but for you as well. Keep those book recommendations coming!

Musings of a Bookish Kitty will be dark the first week of the New Year. Have a Happy New Year and stay safe.


© 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.

Books Read in 2010

(Archive of books read in 2010)

The Other Side by Jason Aaron & Cameron Steward (2007) - Fiction (GN) - 4 Stars
Scalped: Indian Country by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra (2007) - 126 pgs - Crime Fiction - 2 Stars
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999) - 198 pgs - Fiction (YA) - 4 Stars
Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews (2010) - 367 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews (2007) - 260 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews (2008) - 260 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews (2009) - 310 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
On the Edge by Ilona Andrews (2009) - 309 pgs - Fantasy - 3.5 Stars
What We Have: A Family's Inspiring Story About Love, Loss, & Survival by Amy Boesky (2010) - 327 pgs - Nonfiction - 4 Stars
A Deadly Paradise by Grace Brophy (2008) - 299 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3.5 Stars
Damaged by Pamela Callow (2010) - 456 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter (1964) - 308 pgs - Fiction - 3 Stars
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child (2009) - 543 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Little Bee by Chris Cleave (2008) - 271 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey A. Cohen (2010) - 247 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3 Stars
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (2009) - 391 pgs - Science Fiction (YA) - 4 Stars
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008) - 384 pgs - Science Fiction (YA) - 4 Stars
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2010) - 392 pgs - Science Fiction (YA) - 4 Stars
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan (2005) - 201 pgs - Nonfiction - 3.5 Stars
The Little Known by Janice Daugharty (2010) - 234 pgs - Fiction (YA) - 3 Stars
Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show by Frank Delaney (2010) - 427 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
Room by Emma Donoghue (2010) - 336 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
What Curiosity Kills (The Turning, Book 1) by Helen Ellis (2010) - 224 pgs - Fantasy (YA) - 3 Stars
Semper Cool: One Marine's Fond Memories of Vietnam by Barry Fixler (2010) - 320 pgs - Nonfiction - 3.5 Stars
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (2006) - 229 pgs - Fiction (YA) - 4 Stars
Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley (2009) - 370 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji (2009) - 308 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
29: A Novel by Adena Halpern (2010) - 269 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
31 Hours by Masha Hamilton (2009) - 229 pgs - Fiction (S/T) - 4 Stars
Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris (2010) - 311 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris (2009) - 192 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
The Last Child by John Hart (2009) - 419 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann (1986) - 209 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson (2010) - 320 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (2011) - 304 pgs- Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (2005) - 316 pgs - Fiction (ss) - 3.5 Stars
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007) - 376 pgs - Horror - 4 Stars
Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag (2010) - 532 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag (2010) - 464 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan (2010) - 352 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
The Fairest Portion of the Globe by Frances Hunter (2010) - 421 pgs - Fiction (Historical) - 4 Stars
Damaged by Alex Kava (2010) - 272 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3.5 Stars
Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb (2009) - 273 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2008) - 554 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4.5 Stars
The Boat by Nam Le (2008) - 272 pgs - Fiction (ss) - 4.5 Stars
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003) - 369 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
If Could be Worse. You Could Be Me by Ariel Leve (2010) - 289 pgs - Nonfiction - 4 Stars
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004) - 472 pgs - Horror - 4 Stars
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel (2010) - 287 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth by Jenny McCarthy (2004) - 165 pgs - Nonfiction - 3.5 Stars
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead by Frank Meeink & Dr. Jody M Roy(2010) - 346 pgs - Nonfiction - 4 Stars
American Rust by Philipp Meyer (2009) - 369 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
Twilight, Volume 1 by Stephanie Meyer & Young Kim (2010) - 224 pgs - Fantasy (YA) - 3 Stars
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (2010) - 256 pgs - Fiction - 3 Stars
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (1990) - 246 pgs - Fiction - 5 Stars
Hellblazer: Chas - The Knowledge by Simon Oliver & Goran Sudžuka (2008) - 128 pgs - Horror - 4 Stars
Pretty in Ink by Karen E. Olson (2010) - 299 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Driven to Ink by Karen E. Olson (2010) - 299 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller (2010) - 376 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (2009) - 336 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst (2010) - 320 pgs - Fiction - 3 Stars
The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda (2010) - 311 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose (2010) - 409 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Blue Nude by Elizabeth Rosner (2010) - 224 pgs - Fiction - 3 Stars
Mortal Prey by John Sanford (2002) - 387 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva (2010) - 496 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Grey Matters by Clea Simon (2010) - 232 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (2010) - 389 pgs - Fiction (Historical) - 5 Stars
Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano (2010) - 326 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3.5 Stars
Little Green by Loretta Stinson (2010) - 290 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar (2009) - 365 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
Beautiful Assassin by Michael C. White (2010) - 464 pgs - Fiction (Historical) - 3.5 Stars
How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique (2010) - 184 pgs - Fiction (ss) - 4 Stars


© 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, December 29, 2010

Mini Reviews: Belly Laughs, The Boat, 20th Century Ghosts

I couldn't let the end of the year go by without tying up loose ends. I read three books earlier this year that deserve mention, even if in brief. Two are short story collections that have made an appearance here before when I reviewed a few of the short stories individually. The other is a book my friend Nicole gave me.

While Jenny McCarthy and I do not always see eye to eye on certain subject matters, I often find her to be entertaining and funny. In her book, Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth (Da Capo Life Long, 2004 - Nonfiction; 165 pgs), she is no different. McCarthy wasn't kidding when she said she'd tell the naked truth! She does so with humor, however, which makes it impossible not to laugh at even the worst of moments. While every pregnancy is different, there are enough similarities that just about every woman who has been pregnant can relate to. Although I'm not sure my husband appreciated it, I couldn't help but share some of the author's antidotes about her experience with him.

There was a time when I didn't especially like short stories. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate them more. It isn't easy to write a good short story. At times I think it must be more difficult than writing a novel. You have to use less words to say so much--and do so in a way that leaves readers satisfied.

I tend to prefer short stories that delve into the hearts and minds of the characters and that is exactly what Nam Le has done with his collection of stories in The Boat (Knopf, 2008 - Fiction; 272 pgs). I find his writing beautiful at times, while at others somewhat harsh harsh. The stories in the collection are all rather melancholy, the characters flawed and real. My favorite of the stories included the title story, "The Boat," about a mother and child who befriend a young woman traveling on her own. They are escaping Vietnam, hoping for a better and safer life. It is a heart wrenching story that continues to stay with me months after I read it. My other favorite was "Cartagena" about a 14 year old Colombian boy, a hitman, who has had to grow up all too fast. He goes into hiding after refusing to kill his most recent target. I found myself holding my breath near the end, knowing what was to come but wishing it would end differently. I came to really care for the 14 year old protagonist.

It sometimes takes me a while to get through short story collections. I tend to read a story here and there, set the book aside for a full length novel or two, and then come back to the short story book when I think about it, sometimes a month or two or three later. It was like that with The Boat as well as 20th Century Ghosts.

Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts (William Morrow, 2007 - Fiction; 336 pgs) was a book I had been anticipating for awhile. I loved the cover and was intrigued by the description of what I would find inside it's pages. Like with any collection of short stories, there were some I like more than others; but the author never failed to prove he is a gifted writer. Each story is quite different from the others. I wasn't particularly fond of the story about the young man who evolved into an insect--my appreciation for horror tends to lean in other directions--from the subtle to the psychological as opposed to the grotesque and bloody (although in this collection there isn't a whole lot of blood). Among my favorites in this collection was a story called "Last Breath" in which a retired doctor has a collection of the last breaths of the deceased. He has them on display in his mortuary like museum. A mother, father and son come to the museum. The young son is instantly taken by the exhibits, however his mother finds the entire thing beyond belief. The story itself has an eerie feel to it. It's one of those horror stories that creeps up on you, although you know something is about to happen--just what, you can't be sure. Another of my favorites is called "Dead-Wood", which is the shortest story in the book. It is one that resonates with me still. Can a tree leave behind a ghost? If you do read this collection, be sure and read on through the acknowledgments.

You can learn more about Nam Le and his book on the author's website.
And to find out more about Joe Hill and his books, visit the author's website.

Source: Belly Laughs was a gift from a friend. I purchased both The Boat and 20th Century Ghosts for my own reading pleasure.


© 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, December 28, 2010

2010 Challenge Wrap Up

I do love a reading challenge! As a reader, planner and lover of lists (except those annoying "to do" lists), reading challenges hold a special appeal to me. This year I decided to take it easy, however, taking a break from my over-zealousness in past years. It was time to slow down.

I started a feature called the One Night Stand to help quench my challenge thirst--no commitment to complete the challenges, but all the fun of making lists of books I might have read had I participated. Someone suggested I at least read one book from each of the lists, a sampling of sorts, which I did consider doing. In the end, I decided against making such a commitment. My goal was to avoid the commitment aspect, after all. I had an overly ambitious challenge list for my One Night Stand, but only ended up making lists for four challenges (Once Upon a Time, What's In a Name, GLBT Challenge, and Riley's twist to the Cat Book Challenge). Oh well. It was worth a try. And I did have fun in the meantime!

Of the challenges I did take part in, I completed all three. I wouldn't be able to pick a favorite among them as they were all such fun.

The first began in 2009 and continued into 2010. The goal was to read the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris. I already had a head start on the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge (hosted by Beth Fish) being a fan of the series for years. I was only a couple of books behind at the start. I enjoyed revisiting old friends and going along with Sookie on her latest adventures.

The Southern Vampire Series Books:
Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead Until Dark
Dead and Gone
Dead in the Family
A Touch of Dead (short stories)


The second challenge I took on this year was the War Through the Generations: Vietnam War Challenge (hosted by Anna and Serena). I agreed to read five books about or related to the Vietnam War. This was a personal challenge for as much as a bookish one. My father had fought in the Vietnam War. Even though he did his time there before I was born, it was a part of who my father was and it impacted me in indirect ways. I have read a number of books about Vietnam over the years and was excited to get back into it. I had hoped that with so few challenges, I might have read more for this one, but it didn't work out that way. I am quite content with what I did read, however, and was not disappointed.

Vietnam-Related Books Read:
The Other Side by Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart
Semper Cool: One Marine's Fond Memories of Vietnam by Barry Fixler
Paco's Story by Heineman (see also read-along discussion posts #1 & #2)
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Short Stories Read Relating to Vietnam (do not officially count toward the challenge):
"The Boat" Nam Le
"Love and Honor and pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" by Nam Le



In the fall, I slipped in the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Challenge (hosted by Carl V.), reading books full of fright or thrill. I had such great fun with it and enjoyed my reading choices. It was a great way to kick off the season.

Peril the First:
Damaged by Pamela Callow
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Damaged by Alex Kava
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Art of Disappearing by Ivy Pochoda

Short Story Peril:
"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe
"Best New Horror" by Joe Hill
"20th Century Ghost" by Joe Hill
"Pop Art" by Joe Hill

A lot of hard work goes into putting together a reading challenge, and my hat is off to the hosts of all three of the challenges I participated in this year.

When I first began blogging, reading challenges were few and far between. Today there are challenges for just about any book imaginable. They are addicting and fun. Despite what critics may say, most challenges I've come across are extremely flexible in terms of what books a participant can read--often times, you don't even have to have a list ahead of time and the options to read a small few or a large amount of books is more the rule than the exception. Still, I have no regrets about my decision to take it easy reading challenge wise in 2010. It turned out to be a wise decision for more reasons than one. I enjoyed the challenges I participated in, read a number of memorable books, and enjoyed being a part of the reading challenge community.

Did you participate in any reading challenges this year? Do you have a favorite?


© 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, December 27, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Sheila of One Persons Journey Through a World of Books
Weekly meme where we discuss the books you've read
and those you plan to read in the coming week.


This past weekend I played catch up, finishing off one short story collection and am nearly done with another. I figure with the end of the year so close, I would try and knock those out and get them reviewed for you later this week. They're both quite different from one another. One is The Boat by Nam Le and the other is 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. What they do have in common, however, is that they are both written by authors who know how to write a good short story. I have enjoyed both immensely.

On the full length novel front, I am reading Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X. I enjoy reading crime fiction set in other countries and so jumped at the chance to read Higashino's book. So far, I haven't been disappointed.

From the back cover:
She's a single mother with blood on her hands. It was a murder that should have never happened. Without hesitation her enigmatic neighbor, a brilliant math teacher whose devotion towards her runs deep, calculates the perfect alibi. When evidence doesn't add up for the authorities, the lead detective seeks the advice of his friend, a brilliant physicist, who knows the math genius from his past. What ensues is a fierce battle of wits.
What are you reading at the moment?


© 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.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Looking through the old photos my mother sent me, I found quite a few old Christmas photos. On Wednesday I shared a very special tradition with you that has long gone by the wayside because of deaths in the family and distance between those of us still living. Every year we would gather together and bake cookies. I was one of the decorators. We'd make hundreds and hundreds of cookies from a secret family recipe and then wrap them to give as gifts for family and friends.

Other family traditions started not long before that, however. Whether it be putting together the Christmas tree, decorating the tree, or setting up the manger. Can you pick me out in the photos?




As my husband and I prepare to welcome our own child into this world, I can't help but reminisce about all of the traditions she will become a part of--and the new ones we will create.

Wishing you a very Happy Holiday Season!


© 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.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: Semper Cool by Barry Fixler

We either became men or we became statistics at the Siege of Khe Sanh. Those who became statistics were the real men. They were the heroes. Khe Sanh may not have altered the outcome of the war, but it added to the mystique of the Marine Corps because despite overwhelming odds, we refused to lose. [excerpt from Semper Cool]


Semper Cool: One Marine's Fond Memories of Vietnam by Barry Fixler
Exalt Press, 2010
Nonfiction; 320 pgs


Despite my being born after my father's service in Vietnam, the Vietnam War was still a part of my life. It was a part of who my dad was and, to a degree, shaped the way he viewed the world. Like Barry Fixler, my father enlisted in the Marine Corps straight out of high school. The two men went on to serve in Vietnam. From there, their experiences diverge, but I imagine there are some similarities. I read Fixler's memoir thinking of my dad and what his life might have been like during that time in his life. I have always been proud of my father's service, of his being a Marine, and after reading Semper Cool, I couldn't help but feel even more proud.

The author has a great sense of humor, even about himself, which is one of the things I most liked about the book. His pride in his country and as a Marine is clear throughout the book. The book is written in a simple and rather plain manner, but that isn't necessarily bad. As a reader, I got a real feel for who Barry Fixler was and what he was going through. He didn't coat the truth with sugar or try to paint himself a hero--although he certainly is that in his own right.

Semper Cool is not just about the author's experiences during the war, but also his story about how he became a Marine and how it shaped his life. He also writes about being a victim of an attempted burglary, and how he turned the tables on the thieves. The author's inspiration for writing the book, however, was to raise money for American Iraqi and Afghani war veterans with medical needs, as well as for their families--all his profits on the book go to the cause. All too often they fall through the cracks and receive little to no aid from the government and country they serve. Fixler's fundraiser at his jewelry store to help the family of one such soldier was a huge success, Americans coming from all over to donate money and volunteer their services. Stories like that always warm my heart. People do care.

You can learn more about Barry Fixler and his book on the author's website.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: War Through the Generations: Vietnam War Challenge

Source: Many thanks to Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit and the author's publicist for the opportunity to review a copy of this book.


© 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, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: My Favorite Childhood Christmas Tradition



© 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, December 20, 2010

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, two, one, then zero. [excerpt from opening paragraph]


Room by Emma Donoghue
Little Brown & Company, 2010
Fiction; 336 pgs


Emma Donoghue's Room has received much praise from critics and bloggers. As with any book that is raved about, I find myself both excited to dive in and reluctant that all the hype will leave me disappointed. I was curious about Room, especially given it is written from the perspective of a five year old whose world view is limited to that of the room he and his mother are imprisoned in. Jack's mother was kidnapped, locked in a garden shed for several years, giving birth to her rapist's son during that time.

The novel opens on Jack's fifth birthday. He knows very little about the outside world. What he does know comes from the stories his mother tells him, what he sees on television, and is in the books he reads. To him, all that is fiction. His mother has made the most of their situation, teaching Jack to read and write and do math. Jack is a very intelligent boy for his age in that regard.

While I enjoyed the first part of the book, getting to know Jack, his mother, and the world they lived in, it wasn't until the second part that I really became fully invested in the story and hated to put it down.

****SPOILER ALERT****

It began with the escape plan and built from there. The entire sequence of events was intense, from the moment Jack is wrapped up in the blanket to the moment he is in his mother's arms again after the police find her.

I was especially interested in seeing how the author would handle Jack's entry into the real world. It wasn't just about his experience, but about his mother's as well. Told from Jack's perspective, it provided an interesting dimension to the story, but his mother's struggle with re-entry was just as difficult. I especially liked the juxtaposition of how she wanted to put her captivity and everything about it behind her while Jack missed his old life. The author did a good job of capturing the psychological intricacies involved.

****END SPOILER ALERT****

It's been a long time since I was last around a five year old, and so I'm not the best person to say whether Donoghue correctly captured the voice of a child that age. Given his upbringing, how much knowledge he had and how little he knew of the outside world, I had no trouble buying into Jack's character and situation. I really came to feel for him and his mother and everything they had to go through.

I liked the book quite a bit and appreciate the author's approach to such a dark story, especially the way she crafted her characters and all of their nuances. Her description of Room in Jack's eyes was well done. Still, I didn't come away loving the book quite as much as others. I can't pin my finger on exactly why. Perhaps the more I think on it, it will come to me . . .

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Emma Donoghue and her books on the author's website.

Source: I bought the e-book for my nook in September. My first official nook read!


© 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.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Secret Santa Strikes Again & Friday Fill In Fun

On my way home from work yesterday I had time to stop by my mailbox to see what I might find. My mother recently had gone through my grandparents' old photos and decided to split what she found between my brother and I. I haven't yet gone through them all, but what I have seen are sure bringing back memories! I don't have too many photos of me growing up--my mom doesn't want to part with her copies--and so I consider this an extra special boon.

Along with the package from my parents was another one, nestled snug in my box. I participated in the Broke and Bookish Secret Santa exchange this year, and my Secret Santa couldn't have picked a better book for me. I've only had the opportunity to read one Fannie Flagg book so far but have long wanted to read her other books. Can't Wait to Get to Heaven sounds like a great place to pick up again. I wish my Secret Santa, Jennifer of Soy Chai Bookshelf, could have seen the smile on my face when I unwrapped the book! She included the perfect bookmark for a cat and lover like me. I can't thank you enough, Jennifer! Thank you also to the Broke and Bookish Team for hosting such a great giveaway!





Graphic courtesy of Tonya!
*Click on the image above graphic to get to the Friday Fill-In headquarters, hosted by Janet!*


1. What in the world will I do tomorrow when I am stuck at the hospital for several hours? Why, read, of course! Now to just decide what books to take with me . . .

2. My cat Anya is certainly well fed. I'm not sure her diet is having the desired effect . . .

3. Go read a book. Yes, you. Right now. I don't care if you have other things to do.

4. I've sent out all the Holiday cards and Christmas gifts. Whew!

5. I keep a book with me at just about all times. Being stranded without a book is one of my worst nightmares.

6. I may go to bed early tonight . . . or not. I have been staying up a little too late lately and it's starting to have an effect on me.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to cuddling on the couch with my husband and animals. We're finally getting caught up on last season's Supernatural. Tomorrow my plans include spending the day with my in-laws for an early Christmas visit and Sunday, I want to kick up my feet, read and mentally prepare for the week ahead (with so many people on vacation, I'll be extra busy at work)!


© 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, December 15, 2010

Reviews: Deeper Than the Dead & Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag

When offered the opportunity to be a part of the TLC Tour for Secrets to the Grave, I was also offered a copy of the first book in the micro-series, Deeper Than the Dead. It had been years since I last read a Tami Hoag novel, and her most recent books sounded like they would be right up my alley.

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
Signet, 2009
Crime Fiction; 560 pgs


Four children stumble on a mutilated dead body in the woods after school one day. Their lives are changed forever, as are the lives of many others in the small college town of Oak Knoll. FBI agent Vince Leone with the Behavioral Science Unit joins local law enforcement to investigate what appears to be the latest serial killing. Time is short as they try to find a missing woman before her fate is sealed.

Anne Navarre is a fifth grade teacher and finds herself thrown into the middle of it all. The four children who had found the body are in her class. She is determined to be there for them; only, she gets more than she bargained for.

There is a lot going on in the lives of the characters and nothing is quite as it seems. The novel is set in 1985, a time when profiling was still new and not always accepted. Computers were scarce and DNA a thing of the future. The author adds bits of pop culture subtly throughout the novel to help ground the story to the time and place.

I really came to care about Anne and her students. While the discovery of the body seemed to set off a chain of events out of everyone's control, much of the discord in the children's lives had existed long before. Anne is the kind of teacher I would want for my child. She knows them well and wants only what is best for them. She is protective when necessary and not afraid to advocate for them.

Deeper Than the Dead moves at a fast clip, especially towards the end as the mystery unfolds. It was at times intense and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Having read a lot of serial killer novels and about profiling in general, it wasn't difficult to eliminate suspects, but that's never stopped me from enjoying a thriller.


Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag
Dutton, 2010
Crime Fiction; 464 pgs


On the heels of finishing Deeper Than the Dead, I dived into the sequel, Secrets to the Grave. For those who aren't sticklers about reading series books in order, I would recommend you do so in this case. While Secrets to the Grave could be read as a stand alone (the author does a good job filling in the back story), there are significant characters and storylines that carry over.

Secrets to the Grave opens with a grisly murder scene. A four year old girl is found barely alive next to her dead mother. Set a year after the first book in the micro-series, the physical and emotional wounds from the serial killings are still raw but on their way to healing. Then to have a respected up-and-coming artist brutally murdered and an attempt made on her young daughter's life, the small college community finds itself upside down again in grief.

The nature of the crime points to a very personal kind of attack--someone who knew the victim. The local sheriff and his investigators don't hesitate to call in former FBI profiler Vince Leone to help. Anne's gift with children is put to its ultimate test when she reaches out to four year old Haley, the only witness and survivor to the horrific crime. Anne must not only try and help Haley, but she must battle the wealthy godmother who wants custody of Haley. As a result, she is forced to sacrifice some of the time she was spending with a very disturbed 12 year old, who, save for her, the world has given up on. This brings about its own consequences.

Tami Hoag has created a setting and characters that remind me of a cozy mystery--a small town with sometimes eccentric but always interesting characters--but make no mistake. These books are not cozies. They are at times dark and violent.

Like with the first book in the series, there is a lot going on in Secrets to the Grave. The lives of the characters and their histories are tightly woven into the plot and subplots. I especially like the team aspect of the novel--that it isn't one person solving the crime, but rather a group of people, working together. The author also shows varying aspects of violent crime, including the emotional impact it has on a community as well as the individuals.

I did like the first book slightly more than this second book. There were certain markers that were more obvious in Secrets to the Grave that led me to figure out who did what sooner. Even so, I enjoyed the novel and spending more time with the characters. There is more I would like to say about this second book, about its characters, but I don't want to give away too much or else I'll spoil the first book. Besides, I think you should find out for yourselves!


You can learn more about Tami Hoag and her books on the author's website. You can also find her on Facebook. I hope you will check out what others had to say on the TLC Book Tours route!



Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Books for review provided by the publisher.






© 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, December 14, 2010

Book Bloggers Give the Best Gifts

This past week was an especially generous one mail-wise. I overdid it with book blogging holiday swaps this year, but it's been such a joy finding bookish goodies in my mailbox, especially since I am no longer accepting review books and rarely buy any books for myself these days. I have had such fun selecting books for other people as well--sometimes adding new titles to my wish list.

One of the swaps I couldn't resist joining in on was the Booklovers Secret Santa 2010 in which participants were to give a book or two to their Santees.


My Secret Santa, Lizzy from Cornucopia of Reviews, made my holiday with books that were at the top of my wish list: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin and Kelley Armstrong's Living With the Dead (and don't you just love that polar bear card?). You should have heard my little squeal upon opening the package and finding what was inside. There's nothing better than finding books in the mail!

Many thanks to Lizzy for the great books and Kate from The Neverending Shelf for hosting the swap!

And of course I had to join the Book Blogger's Holiday Swap again this year! Jill of Rhapsody in Books Weblog spoiled not only me, but my dog, cats and the baby too. My husband even got a little something (I couldn't eat the Biscotti cookies all by myself, after all)!

Included in the package were candles, a pin that says "I'm not to be trusted in a bookstore with a credit card" (how true is that?!), beautiful note cards, cat toys, a bone for the dog, Biscotti cookies, a Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes (& batteries), bookmarks, and an ornament for the tree. And no book blogger holiday swap would be complete without books! Jill gave me a copy of Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, one of my childhood favorites, along with The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, a book I've been wanting to read since it first came out. She also included a book called On the Farm, a cute little book the baby will certainly enjoy not only hearing, learning to read, but touching too!

Thanks so much, Jill! And thank you also to the hosts of the Book Blogger's Holiday Swap!


Did you participate in any book blogger gift exchanges this year?

Are you getting anyone books for the holidays?


Oh! And please do check out Jill's (Rhapsody in Books Weblog) and Lizzy's (Cornucopia of Reviews) blogs if you haven't already. They both write quality reviews and have great taste in books!


© 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, December 13, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hosted by Sheila of One Persons Journey Through a World of Books
Weekly meme where we discuss the books you've read
and those you plan to read in the coming week.


It's not terribly unusual that something about the books I am reading slip into my dreams somehow, but lately it seems to be happening more and more. Most recently I have found myself right in the middle of a Tami Hoag mystery, interviewing and interacting with her characters, as if I am reliving the book.

This past week, I finished Deeper Than the Dead and began Secrets to the Grave, both by Tami Hoag. Set in a small Southern California community where crime is usually at a low, the characters are suddenly dealing with several major violent crimes. What I especially have enjoyed about these novels is that it isn't just one person pounding the pavement who solves the crimes but rather a team effort. Expect my reviews of the two novels this coming Wednesday.

Next up on my reading agenda is my final book for the Vietnam War Challenge, Barry Fixler's Semper Cool. With the end of the year in sight, it's about time I wrap that challenge up!

What are you reading at the moment?


As you may know, this year I took part in the Book Bloggers Holiday Card Exchange hosted by Anastasia of Birdbrain[ed] Book Blog, in which book bloggers/readers are partnered with other book bloggers/readers to exchange holiday cards. The only stipulation was that each card sender had to include a little bookish note.

This past week I was quite thrilled to receive a card from Rob Kvidt of Books are Like Candy Corn . He included a bookmark and a packet of Papaya Seed Dressing Mix, straight from Hawaii. Rob shared a couple of his reading favorites this year, including Louise Penny and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Thank you, Rob, for the card, goodies and your reading thoughts!

The card exchange was so much fun! Many thanks to Anastasia for hosting it!


© 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.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Fill-In

Graphic courtesy of Tonya!
*Click on the image above graphic to get to the Friday Fill-In headquarters, hosted by Janet!*

1. I wish only good things for all of you this holiday season and in the new year.

2. After overdoing it last weekend and having an extra long week at work, a weekend of taking it easy is in order . . . that's what I'm thinking.

3. Please bring a book with you to read--just in case.

4. A book with characters that capture my heart, a story that I just can't put down, a setting I feel myself a part of, and which stays with me long after I close it for the final time is so amazing.

5. One of my fondest hopes is that my daughter will love reading as much as I do.

6. I appreciate all the great bookish recommendations from my fellow bloggers, and I just wanted to say thank you.

7. And as for the weekend, today I'm looking forward to having the Glucose test behind me (fingers crossed I pass so I can avoid the three hour one!) and finishing up the last of my Christmas shopping; tomorrow my plans may include attending the Baby Express Class and Sunday, I want to rest, read and write reviews!


© 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.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Review: Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

The cast-iron railing wobbled in his hand as he climbed the porch steps. He nearly fell over. After three tries, he decided the doorbell didn't work. The screen wouldn't give, so he striped off a glove and rapped on the aluminum frame. Paint the color of pea soup was peeling off the face of the inside door. [1st paragraph]


Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
Touchstone, 2009
Crime Fiction; 384 pgs


Gus Carpenter left Starvation Lake to make a name for himself and to exonerate himself for a shame that had been lain on his shoulders when he was a boy playing hockey. He'd nearly done it too, but circumstances landed him back in his hometown, his image and reputation as a newspaper reporter tarnished. He works as an editor for the local paper in town, where his bosses prefer softer news to hard hitting stories. When new evidence surfaces about the death of his childhood hockey coach who had died many years before, several people in Starvation Lake would rather leave the past in the past. What was perceived as an accident all those years ago, is now being investigated as a murder. The more Gus discovers, the more he realizes just how little he knew his coach--and several of the other townsfolk.

I went into the novel hoping for a fast-paced read but found the book to be slow going at first. The author took his time setting the background and preparing the reader for what was to come. I was never bored, however. I settled into the novel and let it suck me in. And suck me in it did. While the mystery is significant to the novel, so are the relationships and side stories presented on the pages of the book.

The sense of place is strong throughout the novel. Starvation Lake by name alone doesn't sound like an inviting place to live, but it is a beautiful mountain lakeside town like many others (in my own reading and visualization of the town, it was like a mountain town, but CJ pointed out in her comment it isn't one. I've never been to Michigan and so have no reference--I tend to pull images out of my own memory or from pictures I've seen. When I read the next book I'll try and think Lake Elsinore instead of Lake Tahoe.). The name of the town is quite fitting in some respects--more than just for the reason given in the novel. The town has suffered its share of financial woes and is struggling to stay afloat. Business is hurting. The town is also full of secrets, some darker than others.

As the story unfolded, it picked up speed and came together in a satisfying way. I feel like I was right there, alongside the characters. Each of the characters was fully developed, none without their own flaws. I liked the fact that the novel had so many layers to it. I am really curious about the author's next book in the series and hope to read it soon.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Bryan Gruley and his books on the author's website.

Source: My copy of Starvation Lake was provided by the publisher for review.


© 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, December 08, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Cuddle Time



© 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, December 07, 2010

Tuesday Tangents: More Random Thoughts & Happenings

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

Doesn't a Brownie Batter Blizzard sound good right about now?

Thank you to all who sent me well wishes this past week. My wrists are returning to normal, more or less.

If I can pin my husband down, we will soon be clearing off the shelves of books we have read soon, sorting out ones we no longer want to keep and boxing up those we will take with us to the new house (still not date--but we did get a letter from the relocation counselor who is working with the city, saying he'd be contacting us "soon". Is the end in sight, I wonder?).

Once those shelves are cleared, I will be moving my TBR books onto them. I figure it'd be easier to sort them that way. Maybe even do a bit of organizing, so when the ones we're keeping are packed, they are all in order.

My dad is enjoying the boxes and boxes of books I sent home with them during their last visit. He jokingly told me that I must be a sadist after reading a couple of the Richard Montanari books. He did enjoy them, he said, but wouldn't be passing them on to my mother.

I was going to keep next year reading challenge free, unsure about where my reading would take me once the baby is born. A couple of the challenges though have caught my eye and are tempting me--kind of like that Brownie Batter Blizzard from Dairy Queen that I can't seem to get my hands on. I keep telling myself they're relatively relaxed challenges so not really challenges at all. If anything, the challenge will be actually reading books. We'll see. I still am undecided.

Despite my initial reservations (lack of experience, not really being a parent yet, and my concern over time constraints), my friend and fellow blogger, Caspette of The Narrative Causality, as well as my husband convinced me to join a new blog called Tales From the Toybox. It's made up by five women (me included) who are at varying stages of motherhood. There will be product reviews and tips (neither of which I'll offer a lot of at this point) as well as personal stories (you know how I like to ramble!) and questions. I'm excited about this opportunity and challenge. My first post will go up Friday.

I began my new schedule at work this past Thursday, which isn't saying much since I had Friday off. So, the next two weeks will be a good test at seeing how I like working the extra hour and having every Friday off. I have hour long lunches now instead of the half hour ones I was enjoying. Do you know what that means? More reading time! I completely forgot I was supposed to take a full hour last Thursday, but I did remember yesterday.

Remember that colleague of mine I encouraged to read last year? He is reading all the time now. I see him with a book just about every day.

I still want that Brownie Batter Blizzard.

What have you all been up to lately? Any Tuesday Tangents of your own you want to share?


© 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.