Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: The Case for the Only Child by Susan Newman

The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide by Susan Newman, Ph.D. 
HCI, 2011
Nonfiction; 250 pgs

The decision to have or not to have children is age old. It is a very personal decision, one that is not always easy, and can be different for everyone. Not all babies are planned. Some people want no children. Some cannot have children. Parents may choose to have one or many children. Some people choose to adopt. Whatever the method, families come in all shapes and sizes. And it's a good thing. I respect a person's right to choose the size of his or her family, and I only ask for the same in return.

Who would have thought how many children I have would be a bone of contention for so many people?  Remember when people badgered you about getting married?  "When are you planning to get married?" They'd ask even before there's a prospective spouse in the wings.  Or perhaps you're in a long term relationship with no intention of marrying.  But people ask all the time anyway.  Or how about, once you are married, "When are you having children?"  Those who do not want or cannot have children come to despise that question.  Now that I'm married and have a child, I figured I was safe.  No one would ask me either one anymore.  Boy, was I wrong. 

I suppose it's a given that people will want to know if I plan to have another child.  And I really don't mind the question.  Most of the time.  But it doesn't stop there.  When I respond with a firm no, we only want the one, I was surprised to find how vehement many people are about the need to have another child. I swear it's become a crusade of a couple of women in my office to convince me that my daughter needs a sibling. It's not just those two either.  Just yesterday I attended a training and ran into an old colleague I haven't seen in years.  When I told her I had a daughter and answered her question about whether I intended to have another with a no, I was told I should consider another.  The second one is much easier, she said, trying to convince me.  And when my daughter is a little older, she'll appreciate having a playmate.

The most common argument for me to have another seems to be the sibling factor.  Don't you want your daughter to have the sibling experience, I'm often asked.  One friend told me my daughter would be lonely without a sibling.  I have also heard about how she'll be spoiled and feel entitled.

It doesn't matter the reasons I give for my and my husband's decision to stop at one.  And I always wonder if those who put on the pressure ever stop to wonder if maybe we aren't having another child because we can't.  For us, it is a choice.  For others, it might not be.

The thing to do, of course, at least at the office and among my friends and family, would be to tell them to stop badgering me, to tell them it's none of their business and to just walk away.  I'm too nice though.  I usually just smile and shake my head, while on the inside I'm thinking, "Not again.  Why won't they leave me alone?!" Sometimes I just find it amusing.  I know they aren't trying to be malicious or mean.  I only wish they'd accept that their idea of the perfect family is not necessarily meant for me.  I tried to tell a few people that, including the women on the crusade to change my mind, but it fell on deaf ears. 

It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't take it personally. I try not to. I try not to internalize the messages coming at me.  Maybe it wouldn't bother me if I wasn't hearing the same messages so often.  Or if I was a stronger person.  My husband and I are quite adamant about wanting one child, and yet doubt creeps in with the constant pressure.  I start to second guess myself and wonder if I truly am ruining my daughter's life by not trying for a sibling.  Logically, I know I am not, but there's that small niggling thought that just won't seem to go away.

I sought out a copy of Dr. Susan Newman's The Case for the Only Child, which I had heard much about. I was hoping it would help me shore up some of those doubts. I was also curious to know what the author had uncovered to debunk the myths of the Only Child Syndrome.

It is important to note The Case for the Only Child is targeted for a specific audience--those who have only children and those on the fence, leaning in that direction. It's meant for people like me. In this way, I would say it is pro-only child. It isn't the author's intention to criticize other family types; rather just to show support for the one.

I was especially drawn to the research aspect of the book, the various studies done about children with siblings and without. Much of the negative theories once believed about only children have since been disproved, and yet they linger, perpetuated by society. Only children are not necessarily more spoiled or more lonely or more selfish or even more bossy compared to children with siblings.  Of my friends who are only children, none have ever fit the profile for the Only Child Syndrome, and so it came as no surprise that the initial research suggesting there was such a thing was faulty and incorrect.  Much comes down to how they are parented. How any child is parented. 

Dr. Newman's book is fairly easy reading and quick too.  She describes the growing trend of single family households and touches on all of the reasons my husband and I have chosen to have one child, including a few others.  I found myself nodding in a agreement more than once.  She also captured some of what I've been feeling, especially from the pressure I receive. So I'm not just crazy or weak!  Whew! She uses real life examples, which help drive her points home.

Did I walk away from the book with a stronger resolve in my decision? In some respects, I suppose so.  It was more confirmation in why my husband and I have come to the decision we have.  And it was nice to have that validation.

The truth is, I am feeling more confident about my decision each day (which, for the record, wasn't just my decision--my husband has a big say in this too).  I have a beautiful and smart daughter whom I love dearly.  Life is good.

You can learn more about Dr. Susan Newman and her books on the author's website.

Source:  I purchased a copy of this book for my own use.

© 2012, 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, May 30, 2012

The Stand-Along

Way back at the beginning of the year I got excited about the The Stephen King Project, and committed to reading at least one book by the famous author.  I am not a Stephen King virgin, although I am still what one would probably call a novice, only having read two of his books (Misery and Cell).  One I loved and the other, well, I was at least entertained even if perhaps not in the way the author intended.  There are certain King books I will likely never read (Pet Sematary and Cujo being among the top two) and others which are on my must read list (The Stand, The Shining, Carrie, the Dark Tower series, Dolores Claiborne and Dead Zone).

When I discovered Trish from Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity, was hosting a Stand-Along from June 1st to July 27th, I went back and forth: to join or not to join.  Every second of reading time I get these days is precious and I seem to have committed myself to probably more than I should have as it is.  But.  Try as I might, I am unable to stay away.  Besides, I did commit to reading at least one Stephen King novel.  Might as well be The Stand.  And if I don't finish the novel by the Stand-Along's deadline, that's okay.  Trish isn't likely to draw blood or beat me with a stick (at least I hope not). 

So, here goes nothing . . .

1. What makes you want to read The Stand?

Ever since I heard the story about The Shining, the one in which it's so scary it's worthy of hiding away in the freezer, I have wanted to read it.  Even though it's really not my usual type of book to read.  I am not opposed to horror novels by any stretch.  I've read my share of them, especially early on.  I tend to prefer a certain kind over another though (which is why I laughed my way through Cell and sat on the edge of my seat and felt the intensity of Misery).  My suspension of disbelief isn't so wide as to encompass everything, after all.  Still.  I want to try The Shining even though I have a feeling it will test the boundaries of my imagination--and maybe tickle my funny bone (although, I really hope not).  Honestly, I'm not sure where my preconceived notions about The Shining come from.  It has many elements I love and look forward to in a book.  Maybe it is because it's Stephen King.

There's also the fact that Jack Nicholson stars in the 1980's movie version.  And I really want to see the movie.  I can't do that, however, without reading the book first.  I made that rule a long time ago.

What does The Stand have to do with The Shining, you ask?  For some reason I have it in my head that I have to read The Stand before I can read The Shining. Someone somewhere must have told me to read one before the other. I couldn't even tell you who or why.  All I know is the reason I haven't read The Shining yet is because I need to read The Stand first.

2. Describe your preconceived notions of The Stand.

I am not even sure what The Stand is about.  A super virus, I think.  I worry that I won't find it very original, but I expect it will be suspenseful and intense as that's Stephen King's trademark.  The suspense and intensity being his trademark, I mean.  Not the originality part.  Most likely it is very orginal and others have followed in King's footsteps; only, it won't seem that way to me since I'm reading the book so late in the game.  For the record, I haven't seen the movie either.

3. What was the last scary(ish) book you read or movie you saw?

I currently am reading a book called Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers.  It features ghostly vampires, which are actually quite intimidating.  The vampires aren't anything like what you find in most vampire literature today--it truly is more of a horror novel.  The jury is still out on what I think so far, being as I'm only about half way through. 

As for movies, I barely remember the last movie I saw.  One for the Money, actually, but that doesn't count as a scary movie.  Well, maybe to some.  I mean, the casting did scare some people away.  I rewatched the movie Hotel Rwanda, which was all too scary--even more so since it was based on real events.  I don't think that's the type of scary meant though.

4. Which version of the book will you be reading?

I can't resist reading the uncut version. I have a paperback copy that has really small print.  I think the page count comes out to 1120 or something close to it.

5. What are your previous experiences with Stephen King?

As I've mentioned before, my experiences with Stephen King have been hit and miss so far.  I really enjoyed MiseryCell, on the other hand, I found it to be predictable and on the ridiculous side.  I had fun reading it, but when all was said and done, I was disappointed.

6. Anything else you'd like to add (bonus points for being extra random).

I got a subscription to Entertainment Weekly solely because of Stephen King's column.  I was so disappointed when he was no longer a regular on their staff.  I barely read the magazine now.  Of course, that could have something to do with my attention being elsewhere, but I like to blame it on the lack of Stephen King factor anyway.  Thank goodness he still writes something for them every now and then.

Are you participating in the Stand-Along?  What Stephen King books, if any, have you read?

© 2012, 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, May 29, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Dark Magic by James Swain

Dark Magic by James Swain
Tor Books, 2012
Fantasy; 352 pgs.

What better cover for a psychic than to be a real life magician? I love a good urban fantasy novel. Add in a mystery and a thrill and I’m in reader heaven. It was for those reasons that I eagerly dove into James Swain’s latest book, Dark Magic. I confess I had Harry Dresden on my mind at time time. I really need to jump back into Jim Butcher’s series . . .

Anyhow, Dark Magic features Peter Warlock, a magician by trade who is carrying a rather big secret. He is part of an underground group of psychics who use their abilities for the greater good, trying to prevent crimes before they happen. During their most recent séance, Peter witnesses a horrifying act of violence that results in multiple deaths. Unfortunately, the clues are scarce and he must figure out a way to pass along the information to the authorities without getting caught. Meanwhile, an attempt on Peter’s life leads to the realization that someone is out to kill not only him, but the other members of his group as well. It is a race against time to stop a terrorist attack and to save himself and his friends.

James Swain spins a great tale. Dark Magic was all it promised to be: suspenseful and thrilling. It had some unexpected twists along with the more expected ones—and I was glad to see that sometimes things were just as they seem.

I took to Peter right away. He is smart and daring, but also flawed. The author did a good job building his character and showing his growth over the course of the novel.  I was not too keen on his girlfriend, Liza, I admit. She got on my nerves, actually.

There really isn’t too much else to say other than I can’t wait until the next installment in the series.

 You can learn more about James Swain and his books on the author's website.

Source: E-Copy provided by publisher for review.

© 2012, 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, May 24, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Trevor's Song by Susan Helene Gottfried

Susan Helene Gottfried first came to my attention through blogger Florinda of The 3 R's Blog. Susan writes the blog West of Mars and began recording her characters various adventures on her website several years ago, giving readers a taste of what to look forward to in her novel. I never really followed her blog and so was unfamiliar with the Shapeshifter rock band. It took me awhile, but I finally purchased a copy of Shapeshifter: Demo Tapes, Year 1 (2008, 134 pgs) and Trevor's Song (303 pgs) to see what all the fuss was about.

I really wasn't sure what to expect going into Trevor's Song. I hadn't read a synopsis of the book going in. All I knew was that it was about a rock band, and probably one you wouldn't find me listening to if Shapeshifter was a real band. Heavy metal is more my husband's type of music. When have I let a little something like that stop me from reading a book, however? I was curious and so I dived right in. One thing I especially liked about Shapeshifter: Demo Tapes, Year 1 and Trevor's Song was how real and normal the characters were. And by normal I mean like you and me. They could have been teachers at a school, for instance. Only they weren't. They are part of a pretty popular rock band. Only, fame hasn't gone to their heads.

Mitchell seems like someone I wouldn't mind hanging out with--he and Kerri. Sure he has a bit of a temper, but he's got it pretty well under control. The rest of the band seems pretty cool too. Even Trevor who leans toward the drama queen. He tries a bit too hard to perfect the rocker image. Trevor and I didn't mesh right away, I admit. He grew on me after awhile--although I never stopped seeing as that lost puppy dog that needs caring for. Let's just say he has a lot of issues--both past and present.

There is a degree of humor mixed in with the serious in Gottfried's writing. She tackles some pretty difficult topics from child abuse to breast cancer. I really came to care about her characters and enjoyed spending time with them.

If I could do it over again, I think I would have read Trevor's Song before diving into Shapeshifter: Demo Tapes, Year 1. Some readers will appreciate trying the sampler first, getting to know the band that way. It certainly was a smart way to get her blog readers invested in her characters before the novel came out. I, on the other hand, would have preferred the novel first.

I look forward to moving on to Shapeshifter: Demo Tapes, Year 2 soon.

© 2012, 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, May 23, 2012

Short Stories on Wednesday: Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

Hosted by Risa of Breadcrumb Reads.

"Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell

First published in 1936, George Orwell’s "Shooting an Elephant" tells the story about a disgruntled white police officer in Burma who hates his job. He is a symbol of imperialism and therefore disliked by the masses. He is called upon to find and take care of an elephant who on the loose wreaking havoc and violence everywhere. He finds the elephant eating peaceably in a field and is reluctant to shoot it. Behind him, however, is a crowd of Burmese anxious for him to shoot the elephant. To give into the crowd or save the elephant? The narrator must decide.

There is some question as to whether George Orwell’s essay is a true account or based purely in fiction. Regardless, it’s a suspenseful story and well told. I am not the biggest fan of short stories, often coming away from them wishing there was more. In this case, George Orwell does an excellent job of introducing his reader to the main character and setting up the story. I wasn’t left wanting in the end.

The essay carries with it a deeper meaning, beyond just the surface story. The anti-European is heavy in Burma at the time the story is set and the narrator himself is clearly opposed to imperialism, having grown more so based on his experiences as the masses see him as a symbol of that imperialism. The question of how far will a person go to please a crowd even if it may not be the right thing to do is also raised. It’s particularly significant given the role of the narrator.

It’s a fairly easy read if you have a few minutes to spare. "Shooting an Elephant" is a disturbing tale—so be forewarned.

© 2012, 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, May 22, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
William Morrow, 2012
Crime Fiction; 358 pgs

Author Peter Robinson steps away from his Inspector Banks series briefly to bring readers Before the Poison, a stand alone novel.

As I read through the first few chapters of Before the Poison, I was coming to the conclusion that the novel would be good but nothing that would stand out. I hate to form judgements so early on, but we all do it to some degree, don't we? I liked Chris Lowndes, the narrator and main character, well enough. He has an interesting background as a music composer who scores films. He lost his wife to cancer nearly a year before and decided to move home to Yorkshire after almost thirty years in the U.S. He bought the Kilnsgate House sight unseen, only going off of photos on the internet. Like many old houses, the house has a history. And part of this particular house's history was the death of its master, a prominent doctor. The doctor's wife, Grace Fox, formerly a nurse, had been having an affair with a much younger man at the time. The affair became the cornerstone for the prosecution's case against Grace. The conviction came quickly and she was hung as a result. Chris is convinced she is innocent and sets out to prove it; only the more he learns, the more he questions his initial impression--the only thing he knows for sure is that there is more to the story than the public believed.

Much time is initially spent getting to know Chris as he settles into his new life in Yorkshire. He is prone to moments of depression, which is understandable given the recent loss of his wife. He drinks too much. He is thoughtful and introspective. He seems like an all around nice guy--and he is. He is just learning to live life again and his crusade to uncover the truth about Grace helps him find his way. His friends think he's obsessed--and maybe he is. Well, if he is, so was I, as the novel went on. I confess there were a couple of times I wanted to speed through Chris' ruminations and get back to the meat of the story--or at least when I consider the meat of the story--that is, Grace Fox.

For the first several chapters, each chapter opens with notes from the trial which eventually makes way for journal entries by Grace herself from her time as a nurse during World War II. For me, that's where the book went from good to great. I became just as enamored with Grace as Chris was. She was such an interesting character with such a rich past . . . Unfortunately (for you), this is one of those books that is layered like an onion; with each layer of skin removed, a little more is revealed. It makes writing a review with any substance a bit difficult. I will say that there is much more to this book than at first appears.

I confess I didn't quite buy into the present day love story, a minor subplot, but I liked the way the author tied Chris's own story into Grace's in the end, and I came to appreciate more the time the author took in building up Chris's personal story. It almost makes me want to go back and read the book again. Someday perhaps I will.

Even though Before the Poison is pure fiction, I couldn't help but do a little Google searching when certain names or incidents popped up. I had no reason to think they were real or made up and it certainly wouldn't have hindered the story either way. Still, I was curious and was impressed with how much research Peter Robinson put into his book. I learned about the last woman executed in England as well as more about The Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, including their role in World War II, and I learned more about Porton Down. I love it when a book sparks off the researcher in me, and Before the Poison certainly did that.

Overall, I walked away from Before the Poison satisfied, if not a little melancholy. I really must read more by Peter Robinson. He impresses me every time.

 You can learn more about Peter Robinson and his books on the author's website.

Source: Review copy provided by publisher.

© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Salon: The Rambling Update

Sundays are such lovely days. The mornings start off at a leisurely pace which lasts most of the day through. We wake up when we wake up. We take the day as it comes. No offices to go to. No schedules to follow.

In the pre-baby days, I would often spend Sundays reading and catching up with my fellow bloggers. I could spend all day on my computer if I wasn't careful--and sometimes I did. Post-baby, days like that are non-existent. I am not complaining. It's just how it is. Now my Sundays are filled with board books and miniature cars and dolls, pots and pans and utensils turned into musical instruments, water play, and leisurely walks. I almost dread when the next door neighbors officially move in. Will they mind that Mouse likes to climb the steps up to their front door and examine the yellow flowers along their driveway? There is the occasional tantrum when Mouse doesn't get her way or when she grows tired (oh, how she hates naps and fights us tooth and nail most days), but generally, our Sundays are filled with the activities of a 14 month old who barely takes time out to rest. Her smiles and laugh never cease to melt my heart.

Mouse has quite a few words under her belt now. I love hearing her say "apple" and will often say it myself just to hear her say it back. She can say "up", "down", "Daddy", "kitty cat", "shoes", "ball", "boat", "hi", "bubbles", "pizza", and "bye" among other less discernible words.  She is learning the names of the children at her daycare. I am always amazed at just how much she understands. She waves goodbye and can blow kisses. She knows how to blow her nose and is learning how to brush her teeth (although there's still more biting than brushing). At her daycare she's discovered how to climb up the step stool to get to the sink--she can turn on the water and "wash" her hands.

Mouse also is at that "helpful" stage where all she wants to do help. I let her carry the cat food dishes to the sink for me, and will lift her up so she can put them in the sink's basin. We are still working on the part where she needs to leave the fresh food out for the cats and not pick the dishes up as soon as I put them down. She likes to play with the broom and "sweeps" the kitchen and dining area floor for us. She likes to move clothes from the washer to the dryer and from the dryer to the basket. Mouse has gotten good about putting her own clothes in the hamper in the evenings before bath-time. All seemingly simple tasks, sure. Still, seeing a child grow and learn . . . It's amazing and I couldn't be more proud.

Her knee bouncing dance has been taken to new heights. She loves to spin in circles, often making herself dizzy to the point of falling down. She has a magnet farm set on the fridge (thanks to Serena for the idea!) that plays music, and many afternoons or evenings you can find all three of us spinning to the magnet's tunes. When the music stops, Mouse walks over to the farmhouse, pushes the button and starts the music again. She makes sure her dad and I are dancing before resuming her spot and spinning again.

Anjin and I recently got a new bedroom set, our first after having used a hand me down set for the past 15 years. The bed is high and so I got a little foot stool to make it easier for me to get into bed. Mouse learned quickly how to climb up the steps and pull herself onto the bed. She also knows how to get down--although we're still working on completely mastering that trick. She recently went down our entire flight of stairs all on her own (my husband and I holding our breath the entire time). She has been going up them on her own for awhile now, but I could never interest her in practicing going down. Now we know she knows how to do it! Backwards and all.

It isn't just stairs Mouse is climbing these days either. She climbs everything. Or attempts to. It's exciting and thrilling, but scary as heck for us parents.

It wasn't too long ago I was worried about Mouse's lack of interest in books. No sooner had I come to accept it for what it was--just a young child too busy exploring her world--then suddenly she began bringing me book after book after book to read.  She likes to climb onto my or her dad's lap for story time. I joke with friends that her first full sentence was, "Sit down!" Said with a pointed finger at the spot where she wants me to sit, often after she's dragged me by the hand to the location, book in hand. She loves to be read to--even if she sometimes still has difficulty sitting through the entire book. 

She definitely has her favorite books. She'll go to her shelf and start pulling off books, throwing each one to the ground until she finds the one or two she wants. In one reading session, we'll read the same three books over and over and over again. The more often we read a book, the more she will take charge and start turning pages herself. And sometimes she'll "read" to me. With a couple of books, Anjin and I noticed that she always stops us at the same place--right after the cuddle. We, of course, use voices and act out the stories as we go--and the cuddle seems to be one of her favorite moments. She'll get a big smile on her face and giggle as we squeeze her close. 

Besides playing outside at her water table, Mouse seems to love reading most these days. She will bring me a book to read to her no matter where we are in the house. As a fellow reader, I love it and only hope her interest in books continues to grow.

My own reading has flowed at a relatively steady pace. I rarely open a book on the weekends, unless it is to sneak in a page or two before I fall asleep, and so most of my reading is done during my lunch break at work. My usual preference of reading one book at a time has shifted somewhere along the line to reading two at a time. One at work and another at home before bed time. At one point last month I had four books going at once.  In fact, I think I'm at that point again right now.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain failed to win me over, and I doubt I will return to it. I just can't bring myself to care about the characters or to find out what happens next. For me, that's always the kiss of death for a book. The book is basically a fictionalized story about Hemingway and his first wife--about how they met, fell in love and about their relationship. I can't complain about the writing--it's actually well written from what I read of it. It just wasn't my cup of tea. Since I don't have a lot of time to read, I've gotten a lot more picky about how long I'll stick with a book that isn't capturing my interest.

One of the books I have going is a paranormal romance involving fairy magic called Twixt by Diane J. Reed. I finished reading the first chapter, but got sidetracked by Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff and then decided I really needed to finish another nonfiction book I had started reading a month before . . . I do plan to get back to Twixt one of these days. My only gripe about the book so far is the use of italics. It seems like every other sentence contains a phrase in italics (used for emphasis) and I am finding it distracting. The premise of the book is interesting, however, and I hope I can get past my issue so I can enjoy the book.

Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves is another book I have been reading--a horror novel of sorts--featuring ghostly vampires and well-known (and real life) literary figures.  I am about half way through right now.  I am finding it fascinating, but it is one of those books that requires a bit more concentration than some of my other current reads, and so it is taking me a little while to get through.

I also am reading Love is Murder, an anthology of short stories edited by Sandra Brown, for an upcoming tour.  I will be highlighting some of the short stories over the next few weeks leading up to my final review of the book.

As I was straightening my desk the other day, I came across a book my friend and fellow blogger Stacy was kind enough to send me, I Was a Really Good Mom Before I had Kids: Reinventing Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile.  And of course, I had to open it up and start reading.  I am liking it quite a big so far--the humor and the truth of it.

Anjin has been bugging me to listen to Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and I began listening to it Friday as I straightened the house before heading out to get my hair done.  I have been a follower of Jenny's blog, The Bloggess, for awhile now and just love her sense of humor.  Her book is no different.

Suddenly my four books have turned into five.  How did that happen?!

What have you all been up to lately? What are you reading?

© 2012, 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.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Kid Konnection: Mouse's Favorite Downstairs Books (Part 3)

To share your children's book related posts stop by Booking Mama’s feature,
Kid Konnection and leave a comment as well as a link to your posts!

It isn't just the little board books that have won Mouse over. Seeing her coming with Olivia the Magnificent by Sheila Higginson (Simon Spotlight, 2009), a rather large book, is a sight to see! Olivia the Magnificent was a birthday gift from a friend and her twins and it became a fast favorite.

I admit there is a part of me that cringes every time Mouse brings me Olivia the Magnificent to read to her. Olivia the Magnificent is a flip flap book. While it's a board book, there are flip pages, hiding parts of the story behind them on each page--and those pages are easy to bend and rip.   She's already ripped one flip page off, resulting in some doctoring of the book. I know, I know. Children will be children--and it's just a book. As I try to teach Mouse to be gentle with her books, she isn't quite there yet--and so it's a bit of a balancing act on my part--keeping it fun for her without keeping her away from her favorite books. And keeping the book in one piece.

While Mouse is mesmerized by the flip pages, I like the story. Olivia and Ian's grandmother comes to visit one day and performs a magic trick. Olivia is determined to become a magician herself and so practices on her brother. She makes herself disappear. I believe the story is also a Nickelodeon show. I especially like the artwork--it tells the story well on its own, although it's nice to have the narrative as well.

© 2012, 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, May 16, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Mission Rescue of World War II 
by Mitchell Zuckoff
Harper, 2011
Nonfiction; 400 pgs

I love to give books as gifts, especially to my dad. When the anniversary of his birthday came last January, I caught myself picking out books I would like to have given him if he was still alive. It’s become such second nature. As much as he loved mysteries and thrillers, I never quite seemed to put my finger on what he liked most (I sure did try though!)—but when it came to nonfiction, it was easy peasy. Mitchell Zuckoff’s Lost in Shangri-La is exactly the type of book I would have gotten for him (with the stipulation that he loan it to me after).

World War II has always been a particular interest of mine (thanks, Dad!) and so it was only natural that I would gravitate towards Lost in Shangri-La for myself as well. It’s an amazing story as well as a tragic one.

The author provides an inside view to the events leading up to and after that fateful Mother’s Day, May 13, 1945, when the Gremlin Special went down in the remote mountainous jungle of Dutch New Guinea. Twenty-four American serviceman and Women's Army Corps (WACs) were on board the plane that day. As a bit of fun, their commanding officer was treating them to a trip to see “Shangri-La” first hand. Shangri-La was a supposed paradise with natives still living in the stone ages, untouched by the world war going on around them.

Despite the loss of their friends and comrades and life threatening injuries, the three survivors did what they could to survive, hoping against hope for rescue. Meanwhile, efforts to send in a rescue team were underway and a group of eager paratroopers were called upon to assist.

I got to know many of the victims and survivors as well as the major players involved in the rescue, including the natives. Mitchell Zuckoff conducted in-depth interviews with survivors and family and friends of those who were touched by the event in some way, dug through declassified military documents, relied on personal diaries and journals, and viewed film footage. He did an excellent job bringing it—and the people involved—to life.

Lost in Shangri-La reads like a novel, proving yet again how interesting real life can be. Even as sensational a story as it is and the media made it out to be at the time, Zuckoff takes great care with the story and with those he writes about. This book is much more about the people, about their will to survive, and about the human spirit.

The area in which the survivors found themselves was (and is) extremely remote. Very few outsiders had ever been there before. The terrain was very rough, dense with growth and rocky in many parts. The survivors were very lucky in many respects and the rescuers even more so. The rescue itself was quite harrowing. The military had to be creative in determining how to get into the area and get out again. I found myself holding my breath several times throughout the book and praying alongside Margaret Hastings, one of the survivors, even though I knew the outcome of the events of that time were already sealed.

I appreciated the author’s research and thoughts about the natives in then Dutch New Guinea. The misunderstandings between the Americans and natives were at times humorous, admittedly, but, when you think about it, had circumstances been different, it could have proved to be very dangerous and deadly for all involved. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad for the natives knowing how much their way of life was about to change once their existence was fully known. “Progress” was about to come their way—and, as we all know, “progress” isn’t always favorable.

Lost in Shangri-La did not disappoint. It was an emotional journey for not only the real life people involved but for this reader as well. I don’t know that I would have been as strong in such circumstances.

I was fortunate enough to receive a paperback copy of the book for this tour and included in the back were letters written to the author, responses by friends and family of those involved in the crash or rescue effort. I had to stop several times as I read through the letters because they were causing me to tear up.

I can’t say enough about this book. I am sure my dad would have loved it as much as I did.

To learn more about the Mitchell Zuckoff and his book, please visit the author's website.

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. Copy of Lost in Shangri-La provided by the publisher.

© 2012, 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.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kid Konnection: Mouse's Favorite Downstairs Books (Part 2)

To share your children's book related posts stop by Booking Mama’s feature,
Kid Konnection and leave a comment as well as a link to your posts!

Mouse's interest in books has grown over the past few months, and it is fun to see which books she is most drawn to. Here I highlight another couple of books which have gained her affection, evidenced by the number of times she brings me the book to read to her.

One of my aunts is a strong believer in giving books as gifts to children. She'll get no argument from me! For Easter, she and my uncle gave Mouse a set of animal books, one called Kitty Kitty and the other Farm Friends. Both are board books that Mouse has grown quite attached to. Farm Friends teaches children the various sounds that farm animals make. Mouse loves it when I make the donkey sound--probably because I get a little too into it. The Kitty Kitty book discusses a kitty's behavior, using real life pictures of cats. I try to engage Mouse as we read, asking her if her cats do the same as the cats on the pages.  Both books are more instructional than entertaining story wise, but they are perfect reading for a toddler learning about the sights and sounds around her.

© 2012, 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, May 10, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Viking Adult, 2011
Fiction; 592 pgs

Oh my gosh!  I got so consumed by my reading I forgot I needed to sit down and share my thoughts on Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches.  How does that happen?!  Okay.  Don't answer that.  We all know how that can happen . . .

From the Publisher:
When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.
For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.
I remember when A Discovery of Witches first came out. I knew I had to read it. It was rather thick though and so I hesitated. Not because I was daunted by reading all those pages--but rather I was worried about hefting such a big book everywhere. I could wait for the paperback, I figured. I ended up buying the book on my Nook, however, which worked just as well.

I love stories about witches. I've always been fascinated by magic and the tie witches often have to the earth. Vampires are fine, but witches . . . I find tales about them irresistible. This is why A Discovery of Witches caught my eye initially.

I've often heard that those who loved The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova also loved A Discovery of Witches. And those who didn't like the one didn't like this one either. I also heard Harkness's novel described as the adult Twilight, something I took with a grain of salt. I suppose one could find some similarities--but then, I can find similarities between any two books if I look hard enough. Anyway, I am one of those who loved The Historian--yes, every word--and so it was with great anticipation and some hesitation that I read A Discovery of Witches.

It's not The Historian. Let me just get that out of the way. However, I really enjoyed A Discovery of Witches on many levels. I liked the characters and the world building--the author's use of both established ideas as well as her own imagination. And I especially loved the way the author eased into the story, taking her time as she introduced me to her characters and world. Then BAM! From leisurely Cambridge life to total immersion into the volatile and dangerous life of vampires, daemons and witches. It could have been like reading two separate books, but it wasn't. I enjoyed every minute of it, although I admit I liked the first half best.

My eyes did glaze over a bit when the characters spent too long on Darwin and the various theories about origin. It was interesting to be sure, but I would rather read about history than science, to be honest. However, whenever the history of science (alchemy in particular) came up, I was quite interested. I did like the other historical references, although I was reminded of Forrest Gump when Matthew Clairmont would recount his own history--you know, how Forrest seemed to be at just about every major event in U.S. history during his lifetime. I am making fun, I know, but I really did enjoy even that aspect of the novel quite a bit.

I am quite taken with the world Harkness has created and I enjoyed my time spent with Diana and Matthew. I came to really like both of them--and it wasn't hard to do. Diana is fiercely independent, or maybe it seems so next to Matthew's old school ways. The two have good chemistry and play off each other well. I know some think Diana gives in to Matthew all too often, but I don't agree. Harkness explains the nature of vampires in her world quite well--and Matthew himself reminds us more than once of his desire need to control and how easily he can lose control if tested--his need is almost visceral. Diana tests his control over and over.

I also liked the side characters and am so glad the author took time to weave many of their histories into the novel as well. A couple of my particular favorites were Ysabeau, Matthew's mother, and his son Marcus. I was also quite taken by Hamish and can't wait to learn more about him in future books--at least I hope Harkness will take us there.

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in a trilogy and I am anxious to read the next book Shadow of Night, which is due out this summer.

 You can learn more about Deborah Harkness and her book on the author's website.

Source: I personally purchased an e-copy of this book.

© 2012, 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, May 08, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab
Crown, 2012
Nonfiction (Memoir); 346 pgs

I didn't expect the first few pages of In My Father's Country to impact me the way it did. As I read the author's initial recounting of an incident that nearly left her dead at age five, about her father shooting his pistol off in honor of her birth despite the fact she was a girl, a tradition saved solely for boys, and then his prediction that she would go far in life, I thought of my own dad. And it made me sad. I had to stop reading at that point, take a deep breath, wipe the tears away and then begin again, this time with my mind in the right place.

My interest in reading Saima Wahab's book has much to do with my interest in the Middle East and current events. It also stems from my love for my daughter and wanting to expose her to strong and resourceful women. She's too young to understand or even care about much of anything outside of her own family and friends right now, of course, but that will one day change. I want her to be proud to be a woman and know that she can do just about anything she sets her mind to do.

Saima Wahab was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, her father a radio talk show host who stood up for his beliefs. His courage to speak out led to his arrest by the KGB and eventual death in prison. His family joined one of many families seeking refuge with relatives in a small village and later Pakistan. Fortunately for Saima, her grandfather honored her father, his son, by continuing to push for Saima's education, something unheard of for a Pashtu family. Boys went to school, but girls stayed home and learned domestic tasks, their job to take care of the home. Saima knew from a very young age she did not want to live like that, especially if it meant being under the thumb of a man. She saw the way men treated the women in their family, and Saima longed to be free and independent.

In her memoir, Saima shares the story of her childhood, of becoming a refugee, of her time in Pakisan and eventual move to to Portland, Oregon. She also talks about the culture shock she endured in the process. She was fortunate to immigrate to the U.S. with her brother and sister and cousins. Still, the experience was eye opening. The uncles who had taken them in wanted the teens to fit in in terms of outward appearance, however, they were still very conservative--and at times restricting--in the home. Saima, who was sometimes outspoken, caused them quite a bit of grief, even when it wasn't warranted. In one instance, a boy called Saima to ask for help in a class. It was a completely innocent situation, but the fact that a boy called for Saima was enough to send the uncles off the handle. They questioned her reputation and accused her of things that weren't true. It was behavior like this on the uncles part that eventually caused Saima to take her leave of them, striking it out on her own.

Saima always felt she was destined to do something big and she longed to return to Afghanistan to better understand the country her father loved so much. When the opportunity arose to go as an interpreter for the U.S. Army, she jumped at the chance. That experience opened many doors for Saima both career and personal wise.

I came away from In My Father's Country with a sense that the author had learned much about herself during her years in Afghanistan and yet still has a ways to go. Given she's still relatively young, it's to be expected. She is very westernized in her thinking and it came across in her expectations and desires for the Agfhanis, particularly the Pashtu women. She really wasn't given much of an opportunity to interact with the native women in her position and job duties in Afghanistan. When she finally was able to sit down and have a heart to heart with some of the women, it was an eye opening experience for her.

I wish Saima had been able to interact more with Afghani women. It would have been interesting to get a more clear picture of their perspective of life and the situation in their country. There was some of that included in the book; however, it was limited--and understandably so given Saima's access to who she spoke with. It would be really interesting to read something written from their perspective. I think I hoped to find some of that with Saima's memoir, but it wasn't meant to be.

Even so, Saima does a great job of describing the culture of the American military and its relationship to the people of Afghanistan, both the good and the bad.  She also was able to get across the difficulties created when one country enters another without understanding the various cultures or the way the country is governed. Many mistakes were made early, including using the wrong interpreters--whether by deception on the part of the interpreters or ignorance. Would avoiding such mistakes have made a difference in the growing unrest and violence? Maybe not, but it certainly didn't help relations between the two countries.

I have great respect for Saima Wahab and all that she has accomplished in terms of reaching her dreams. I also admire her insight in not only the world around her but in her own personal life, recognizing her limitations and faults. I was fascinated with her various jobs in Afghanistan, both as an interpreter and later as a researcher, and enjoyed reading about her experiences. I could feel her frustrations when she hit a wall as well as joy when she was able to make a difference.

Saima clearly has genuine respect for the American Armed Forces. As the daughter of a Marine, I can't help but feel a sense of pride in that. They were lucky to have her on their team in Afghanistan. I only hope there are more women--and even men--out there like her who truly want to make a difference and do it right.

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. Copy of In My Father's Country provided by the publisher.

© 2012, 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.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Kid Konnection: Mouse's Favorite Downstairs Books (Part 1)

To share your children's book related posts stop by Booking Mama’s feature,
Kid Konnection and leave a comment as well as a link to your posts!

Mouse loves to bring me books, climb into my lap and sit for a minute or two as I begin to read. Rarely does she stay long enough for me to get through an entire book, no matter how short or how much I abbreviate the story. Sometimes she'll join in the page turning and other times not. It depends on what she has on her agenda at the time. The books that do have her sticking around tend to be the more interactive books: ones with squeaky buttons to push or different textures to feel. And then I or my husband can expect to have her wanting us to read the book to her over and over again. It's fun to see her so animated about reading, especially after worrying she would never sit still long enough to enjoy it.

One of her current favorites is Squeak Squeak (written by Gabby Goldsack, illustrated by Marie Allen, concept by Fiona Hayes) about a puppy who is trying to figure out where the squeaky noise is coming from. He asks all his friends, including a snake and a bear if they are the ones squeaking. It's a fun board book, encouraging the reader (or child being read to) to push the black nose to make the squeaky nose. Mouse loves pushing the nose.

Perhaps more than Squeak Squeak, Mouse loves Quack! Quack!, a baby touch and feel book. Each animal inside the pages sports a different texture for the reader to touch. Mouse particularly likes to poke the pig in the nose. I can't tell you how many times Mouse has brought me Quack! Quack! to read, sometimes multiple times during the same sitting. Besides getting to know the feel and sounds of the different animals via the book, I have also been working on teaching her "nice touch", a lesson we've been going over for months in an effort to teach her to be gentle with the real animals (humans included) in the house. She's pretty good at it, although sometimes her enthusiasm gets the better of her--and now that she's bigger her slaps can carry quite a sting.

© 2012, 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, May 03, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie Random House, 2011
Nonfiction; 656 pgs

I confess I am not particularly enamored by royalty, whether past or present. And so when it comes to reading about the royalty (fiction or nonfiction), I tend to steer clear unless a book comes highly recommended. Add to it the fact I am not a big biography fan. I have read really good ones and some that are not so good--okay, a couple that were downright awful. Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie falls into the really good category. Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman was my book club's March reading selection. I probably would not have read it without their urging.

Having spent nearly a decade researching Catherine and her life, Massie's book is well documented. He captures Catherine's voice in the pages, something I've found can be difficult to do when it comes to biographies.

Catherine began as Sophia Augusta Fredericka, the daughter of a devout Lutheran general and governor and an ambitious and vain mother. She was precocious and intelligent. She loved to read, not to mention learn. Sophia was a girl after my own heart. I saw in the young woman a kindred spirit. She was someone I wish I could have known. Her family was not wealthy and her station relatively low, despite Sophia's princess status. As a result, her mother wanted Sophia to marry well and planned and schemed accordingly.

Sophia's marriage to Peter of Holstein-Gottorp was not only a match sought by Sophia's mother, but also by both Frederick II of Prussia and Empress Elizabeth of Russia for political reasons. It also served Sophia's purposes. It was a way out of her mother's household. Sophia, renamed Catherine by Elizabeth upon her conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy and marriage to Peter III, was to become one of the most well known and thought of leaders in Russian history.

Catherine was extremely bright and knew how to get what she wanted. She was ambitious, but her ambition for power was marked by her desire to better Russia--not just her own station. She was a relatively benevolent leader, interested in the arts and culture. She desired to better Russian society, including ending serfdom, something she was unable to do due to politics and various circumstances. She was a strong believer in the Enlightenment and tried to apply many of its teachings in her leadership of Russia, sometimes with success and often without. Catherine was a hands on leader, taking part in local government as well as issues abroad. She helped make Russia a country to contend with. She truly was ahead of her time.

Catherine's relationship with her husband was an interesting one. If sources are to be believed, she and he never consummated their marriage. Peter III was an interesting man. Peculiar is the word that comes to mind. 

I was fascinated by Empress Elizabeth. I can see why Catherine was enamored by her initially. She could be very maternal on one hand and very cruel on the other. It broke my heart when she took Catherine's children from her and would not allow her to hold or see them right after they were born. And then to send away anyone either Peter or Catherine became close to . . . I also was appalled by her treatment of Ivan, the boy who could threaten her hold on the thrown. He had been an innocent child when locked away and was never allowed to have even a smidgeon of a normal life.

Over her lifetime, Catherine took on many lovers and, where she was skilled in her role as empress, she was less successful in her personal relationships. Even as a leader, Catherine did not use the best judgement, sometimes giving in to vanity or fear. You would have thought she'd learn from the way she had been treated to not make the same mistakes, and yet she did. But then, Catherine was only human and we are all guilty of that.

The biography covers a lot of ground and explores nearly every facet of Catherine's life, including offering in depth descriptions of the influential people in her life. I was never bored, although I did favor the first half of the book over the second. The war and political maneuvering in the second half took more careful reading to get through.

Russian history is not my strong suit and so I knew very little about Catherine going into the book. Massie clearly thinks highly of Catherine and it shows in the presentation of his book. Just the same, I believe he was fair in his assessment, sharing both the good and the bad. I walked away from the book wanting to know more--and I look forward to reading more about Catherine in the future.

Source: I purchased my own e-copy of this book.

This book counts towards The Eclectic Reading Challenge.

© 2012, 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.