Thursday, January 30, 2014

Throw Back Thursday: In Remembrance of My Dad on His Birthday

My dad would have been 71 this year.  He passed away in September of 2011.  I see him still in so many places: in a man walking his dog, a Marine Corps bumper sticker on the back of a car, the image of a wolf, a jigsaw puzzle, the books on my shelves, a taste of lemon pie, a war or action movie, the mountains on the horizon that I see on my way to work every day, my daughter's eyes, and in some of my own words and mannerisms.  I hear his voice sometimes. I know he would be proud of my brother and me.  He would also be proud of my mom and my half-sister, and most especially his two granddaughters.   Miss you, Dad. 

My dad, brother, Huppy, and I at Donner Pass, 1985
(Camping was one of my father's favorite hobbies.)

The graduate, June 1986

(My dad, a career Marine, had been told by his teachers in high school he wouldn't survive college.  Years later, he was so proud to prove them wrong, a straight A student, receiving his Associates degree in Accounting.)

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie

The man behind the cluttered desk looked like the devil, and Nell Dysart figured that was par for her course since she'd been going to hell for a year and a half anyway. Meeting Gabriel McKenna just meant she'd arrived. ~ Opening to Fast Women

Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie
St. Martin's Press, 2001
Fiction (Romance); 496 pgs

From the Publisher:  
Nell Dysart's in trouble.Weighed down by an inexplicable divorce and a loss of appetite for everything, Nell is sleepwalking through life until her best friend finagles a job for her with a shabby little detective agency that has lots of potential and a boss who looks easy to manage.Gabe McKenna isn't doing too well, either. His detective agency is wasting time on a blackmail case, his partner has decided he hates watching cheating spouses for money, and his ex-wife has just dumped him . . . again. The only thing that is going his way is that his new secretary looks efficient, boring, and biddable. But looks can be deceiving, and soon Nell and Gabe are squaring off over embezzlement, business cards, vandalism, dog-napping, blackmail, Chinese food, unprofessional sex, and really ugly office furniture, all of which turn out to be the least of their problems. Because shortly after that, somebody starts killing people. And shortly after that, they start falling in love.
One of my unofficial goals this year is to take part in more of the group reads in one of my online book groups, On the Porch Swing.  The group often has interesting and lively discussions, and I wanted to be a part of that this year.  To begin the year, January's pick was Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie.  I have never read anything by this author before, although I have heard of her.  She's a favorite in many circles.

I did not really know what to expect when I began reading Fast Women.  When I hear Jennifer Crusie's name, I automatically think romance, and in this book, there was plenty of that.  The mystery, however, often takes center stage in the novel, which makes it more my kind of story.

While Gabe and Nell are the main protagonists, there are other characters who have strong story lines throughout the novel, including Gabe's partner Riley and Nell's best friends (and sisters-in-law), Suze and Margie.  

Betrayal, loss, women coming into their own, redefining who they are later in life, and finding love after having been betrayed are themes that each of the women in the novel share.  I really appreciated the depth the author went into in fleshing out her characters, even the more minor ones, and their motivations.  The growth of the more major characters over the course of the novel was also well done, including the self reflection and re-assessment of their situations.  By the end of the novel, it's easy to see why certain things happened the way they did, even if bad decisions were made.  In terms of the relationships gone sour, I mean.

In terms of the mystery, well, I liked how the author built up to the climax.  It was a slow build, built around the characters and their personal drama, but the more events came to light, the more complex and slippery the mystery became.  Like the relationships in this book, the mystery itself is one big tangle.  Until its not.  I appreciated the internal struggle Gabe was going through, concerned his father may have been involved in or had covered up the murder of the wife of his father's long time friend. It really would be difficult to be in that situation.  Like Gabe, I would want to know the truth, to hope to clear my father's name.  

I liked the characters alright.  I wanted to like them more.  My first thought was that perhaps it has to do with the fact that I cannot really relate to what they are going through in their personal lives, dealing with marital affairs and divorce, but other authors have been able to draw me and help me relate without any trouble. So, it can't be that. I think part of it was the fact that so much was going on in the novel, as well as my just not really connecting with any of the characters.

Even so, I really felt for Nell.  She had worked hard her entire life, helping her husband establish his insurance business, basically running it for him, raising their son, and then all of that disappeared out from under her when her husband left her for another woman.  It made me angry and sad.  One of my favorite scenes in the novel is when Nell finally lets loose and lets her ex know how she really feels about his actions.

Of the characters though, my favorite would have to be Gabe.  He was a good person and there was nothing about him that was manipulative or shifty or dishonest.  He could be clueless at times, but he admitted when he was wrong (mostly).

One of the aspects of the novel I appreciated too was the juxtaposition of the young and the old(er). Although Nell's son and Gabe's daughter were not focused on often in the novel, they were enough of a presence to get a feel for the differences and similarities between new and more established romantic relationships.

There is also the relationship between the women.  Their friendship was quite strong and I thought it was wonderful how they supported each other, how they banded together when one of them needed help, whether it be stealing a dog or working through a divorce.  I'm always a little envious of relationships like that.  I don't really have any close women friends like that.  While I liked Nell, I never warmed completely to Suze and I just felt sorry for Margie.  Both women were dealing with their own issues.  Suze was that other woman who had broken up a marriage, married the guy, and was now unhappy.  Margie's husband disappeared fifteen years before and she was living with another man who wanted her to marry him, but Margie wasn't willing to commit.

Fast Women is a wonderful book for a book discussion, which I hadn't expected when I first started reading it.  I think many of us who have been married for many years can relate to how hard marriage can be sometimes, how many compromises we have to make in life in general once we have families, and how we change and evolve over time.

For all the seriousness of the issues covered in this novel, what made it especially enjoyable for me was the humor.  There were comical scenes and witty dialogue throughout.  And you can't forget the mystery aspect: murder, secrets, and good china.

I am glad I read this book.  Had it not been for my book group, I would not have, and I would have missed out in a good book.  Even despite it's flaws, I still liked it.

Rating: * (Good +)

You can learn more about Jennifer Crusie and her books on the author's website

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

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where is Your Bookmark? (01/28/2014)

While Mouse battles the umpteenth cold this season, my husband is also sick again.  It is only a matter of time before it is my turn again, unfortunately.  I hope you all are faring better health-wise.

I am about 25% into Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, and enjoying it immensely.  It is one of those books I wish I had several hours to just sit and read, but alas I have to sneak in moments here and there when I can.

What are you reading at the moment?  Is it something you would recommend?

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea hosts 
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where  
participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a 
book they are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Recently I took part in a book discussion of Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie, and thought I would share the opening with you.  My review will post later this week.  Nell Dysart has nothing going for her.  Her husband left her for a younger woman and took everything she'd built with him along with him, including their insurance business.  At least that is until she walks into Gabe's private detective agency looking for a job.  Fast Women has a little bit of everything from romance to mystery to a later in life coming of age story.
The man behind the cluttered desk looked like the devil, and Nell Dysart figured that was par for her course since she'd been going to hell for a year and a half anyway.  Meeting Gabriel McKenna just meant she'd arrived.  
Would you continue reading?

© 2014, 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, January 25, 2014

Mouse's Corner: Birthday Planning, Shoes & Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna

What Mouse is Doing Today:  We get to sleep in just a little on Saturdays, but even Mouse is not too excited about waking up to the alarm on Saturdays.  Mention that it's a soccer day though, and she's immediately wide awake.  Most of the time.  Today was not one of those days.  It took a little coaxing to get her up, and ready for the day.

What Mouse Needs: New shoes.  Her feet have grown yet again.  So, another activity to add to the list of things to do today.  Shoe shopping.  

What Mouse is Talking About: Mostly she is into telling stories right now.  It's so fun to witness her imagination take flight.  She may not have many life experiences to build on, but she can be quite creative when she wants to be.

She is also talking a lot about her birthday.  She even has it all planned out.  Who she is inviting.  What her theme will be.  Who will bring and do what.  I think the talk stems from the fact that so many other children in her school have birthdays this coming month.  She even can tell you the order of their birthdays before it's her turn.

She goes through phases where she sometimes calls me Mommy, Mom or Mama.  We are going through a Mama phase right now.  

What Mouse is Playing:  

What Mouse is Listening to:  "Not talk music, Mommy."  I do not generally listen to an audio book or talk radio when Mouse is in the car, but occasionally it's on when I turn the car on.  At the moment we are listening to the third CD of a children's song set.  The Wheels on the Bus is her favorite from this particular CD.  She also has been singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song quite often lately as well as making up her own songs.

What Mouse is Watching:  All week it has been all about Caillou.  Yesterday she was in the mood for Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  While there are several shows she likes to watch, she often fixates on one at a time.  

What Mouse is Reading: 

Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna, illustrated by Loren Long
Callaway, 2003
Children's; 40 pgs

My daughter has an extensive book collection, but, true to her age, she often has a favorite she likes us to read to her over and over.  The favored book changes frequently, which is nice in a way.  Just when my husband and I are ready to hide a book because we just can't read it one more time, she fixates on another book.

One of her most recent favorites came as a surprise.  A surprise because I had forgotten it was on her shelf. My aunt and uncle had gotten it for her the year before last.  The other reason I find it surprising my daughter likes this book is because of its length.  I am not sure she fully grasps what the story is about just yet, but it's a lesson well worth learning.  Madonna admits the story is not a new one, based on one that has been told in one version or another for over 300 years.

Mr. Peabody is a well liked teacher who is witnessed taking an apple from a fruit stand without paying for it. Soon everyone in town thinks Mr. Peabody is a thief.  This is the story of what happens when a person spreads a rumor instead of first seeking out the truth.  

This book has an overall good message, and the author does a good job of getting her point across in a way children will understand.  I think the biggest draw for both my daughter and I though are the illustrations, which complement the story very well.  The book is set in 1949, and the pictures have a late 1940 feel to them in terms of details and characterizations.

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 Final Thoughts: Have a Happy Saturday!  And don't play with the light switch.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. ~ opening of The Final Solution

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon
Harper Perennial, 2004
Crime Fiction; 131 pgs

Set in a small town in England during 1944, a young boy with an African Gray parrot on his shoulder passes by an elderly retired detective turned beekeeper.  The 9 year old boy appears to be mute.  His bird is a mystery, spouting numbers in German, sometimes singing songs and making the occasional comment.  A boarder at the minister's house is found dead, the minister's son charged with the crime, and the parrot is missing.  The police are sure they have the right man, but turn to the old detective for help in finding the bird. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear there is quite a bit of interest in this bird and the possible secrets he may hold.  During war time, codes need cracking and military secrets are highly valued.  Although the former detective refuses to work the murder case, he does agree to find the missing bird, all the while doing just what he said he wouldn't do.

It took me a moment or two when I first began reading to step into the world Michael Chabon has put together for the reader in this short book, but once I did, I was quite taken with the story, the characters, and the writing.  There is a definite literary feel to the book; Chabon takes great care in his word use and in creating atmosphere and his characters.  The characters were well drawn, even when not much was said about them.  Although, it sometimes felt as if the characters and the events in the story were kept at a distance from the reader.  I was never in the story, as I often like to be.  I was merely an observer.

I came to care for the boy.  He had seen way more than a 9 year old boy should have, an orphan and refugee from the war.  There were the Malayan minister and his wife and their wayward son, each with their own burdens to carry.  And then the boarders at the minister's house, each one with their secrets and  possible and ambiguous motives.  

I confess I am not a Sherlock Holmes reader.  I have only read one of his books, Hound of Baskersville, and while it is one of my goals in life to read more of Arthur Conan Doyle's work,  I have yet to do so. And so, I utterly failed to see the connection between Michael Chabon's elderly retired detective and the famous Sherlock Holmes.  I would not have known about the subtle connection had I not read the author's interview at the end of the novel.  Looking back, however, it is more obvious to me--the references to the old man's deduction skills, the way the police deferred to him, his pipe, and other more minor details.  I probably should have made the connection, but I didn't.  I went into the book knowing nothing about it, really.

At times the story felt more academic than entertaining, however, I came to really enjoy it and the characters Chabon created.  I like the author's writing style, and continue to be curious about his other books.  I will read more by him in the future.

Rating: * (Good +)

You can learn more about Michael Chabon and her books on the author's website.

Source: I own a copy of this book.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where is Your Bookmark?

Yesterday my daughter and I enjoyed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday while my poor husband spent the day in his office, slaving away.   You would think with such good weather, we would have spent some of our time outdoors.  Instead we made it a pajama day.  Mouse slept in allowing me some unexpected reading time.  I finally am making progress in Isabelle Allende's Ripper.  It's my first book by the author, and I have to say I am surprised.  It's not at all what I expected given the way everyone talks about Allende's writing.  I am a bit disappointed.  That isn't to say I am not enjoying the book.  Once I finally had time to settle into it, I do like it.  It just took awhile.  Hopefully it will continue to get better.  I will be reviewing the book for a book tour this next month.

I hope to finish Ripper in the next day or two and then will begin reading Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, which comes highly recommended.  Hopefully I will be able to finish it in time for the movie release.

What are you reading at the moment?  Is it something you would recommend?

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea hosts 
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where  
participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a 
book they are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Set in 1944, this particular book features a murder and a missing bird.  The protagonist is a retired private investigator with a keen sense for deduction. The opening paragraph of Michael Chabon's The Final Solution: A Story of Detection:
A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks.  His gait was dreamy and he swung a daisy as he went.  With each step the boy dragged his toes in the rain bed, as if measuring out his journey with the careful ruled marks of his shoetops in the gravel.  It was midsummer, and there was something about the black hair and pale face of the boy against the green unfurling flag of the downs beyond, the rolling white eye of the daisy, the knobby knees in their short paints, the self-important air of the handsome gray parrot with its savage red tail feather, that charmed the old man as he watched them go by.  Charmed him, or aroused his sense--a faculty at one time renowned throughout Europe--of promising anomaly.
Would you continue reading?

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Know I Said No Challenges This Year . . .

In years past, my excitement and eagerness for challenges usually struck in late November, early December. This year, I felt nothing.  None of the challenges appealed to me.  The idea of signing up and obligating myself to read a certain type or number of books sounded more like work than fun.  As January rolled out, however, I found myself wondering if I was too hasty in my decision to write off all challenges.  I could still sign up for one or two challenges, after all.  I can change my mind, and none of you would hold it against me. Having participated in many challenges in the past, I know for a fact that nothing--absolutely nothing--happens when I don't quite meet my goal.  I may feel a little bad, but I get over it so quickly that it really doesn't matter.  What matters is the fun I have along the way; I enjoy the community aspect more of blogging; and I read wonderful books.  I think, too, participating in a few reading challenges this year will help spice up my blogging life.

As I had these thoughts and wrestled with the idea of signing up for challenges this year, I came across C.B. James's post, in which he says:
One of my long-time blogging friends Gautami Tripathy pointed me towards a reading challenge in a comment yesterday.  I was whining about how few people seem to participate in reading challenges these days, usually complaining that they never finish them as though we will all be graded on this and no one wants to risk lowering their overall G.P.A.
I say signing up for challenges and making your reading list is not just half the fun, it can sometimes be all the fun you need at the moment. [I had to ask myself: isn't that, in part, why I created the One Night Stand feature on my blog all those years ago?]   
He's right.  And I really want to join a couple of challenges.  Okay, more than a couple.  From the look of the sign up lists, James and I aren't the only ones who still like participating in challenges.   

As late into the month as it is, I hope no one will mind my late entries:

My favorite challenge is back this year with a new host, Charlie from The Worm Hole.  What I love about the What's In A Name Challenge is how random it can be.  The only requirement is that one book be read from each of the following categories (no overlap):

(Titles listed or possibilities, not guaranteed reads)

~ A reference to time in the title 
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

~ A position of royalty in the title
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
Little Princes by Conor Grennan

~ A number written in letters in the title
Six Years by Harlan Coben
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

~ A forename or names in the title
Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
Delia's Shadow by Jamie Lee Moyer

~ A type or element of weather in the title
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Snow Child by Ivey Eowyn

 *                    *                    *

I am also going to participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year, tackling the Victorian Reader level in which I commit to read at least 5 historical fiction novels.  One of my favorite aspects of this challenge is that books can be chosen from just about any genre, just as long as they have a historical element in them.  This challenge is hosted by the ladies over at Historical Tapestry.

2. The Final Solution: A Story of Detective by Michael Chabon ~ review pending

A handful of possibilities:
Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen
Stella Bain by Anita Shreve
Changeless by Gail Carriger
A Study in Darkness by Emma Jane Holloway
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

 *                    *                    *

Since there are a long list of movies coming out this year I want to see (after I rush to read the books), I thought I would go ahead and join Doing Dewey's Book to Movie Challenge hosted by Katie of Doing Dewey and Sergio of Tipping my Fedora. The rules are pretty relaxed for this particular challenge, depending on how difficult I want to make it for myself.  I am going to go with the idea that as long as I read the book and watch the movie in 2014, it counts, regardless of whether the movie is on television, DVD, streamed in, or in the theater.  I am committing to read 6 books and watch their corresponding movies for this challenge, aiming for the Movie Devotee category.

A handful of possibilities:
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (I'm just a movie away from having this one done!)
Labor Day by Joyce Maynard  (I'm just a movie away from having this one done!)
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (I doubt I'll be able to see the movie this year, but you never know, so it's on the list.)

 *                    *                    *

I was not going to do this one, but I might as well.  I seem to have already read a few bigger books at the start of the year and plan to read a few more.  Why not make it official and join the Chunkster Challenge? Vasilly at 1330V is hosting this year.  Chunksters are defined as being 450 pages or more.  While graphic novels do not count, audiobooks and young adult novels do, along with the usual adult fiction, nonfiction, and short story or essay collections (as long as they are read in their entirety). There are no levels this year, and participants are free to set their own numeric goal.  I am going to be conservative and commit to reading 5 chunksters this year.

Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie - 496 pgs ~ review pending
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - 577 pgs ~ review pending

A handful of possibilities:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (which I'm listening to now)
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving
Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth

 *                    *                    *

And just to make it official, although I mentioned it in passing in my year end wrap up for 2013, I am also participating, in part, in Carrie of Books and Movies' "I've Always Meant to Read That Book!" Challenge.  I will not be participating every month, but I would like to participate in at least five, maybe six of the discussions.  I have highlighted the ones I want to join Carrie in reading.

  • January – The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor 
  • February – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon 
  • March – State of Wonder by Ann Patchett 
  • April – The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 
  • May – The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  • June – A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving 
  • July – American Gods by Neil Gaiman 
  • August – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver 
  • September – Watership Down by Richard Adams 
  • October – Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 
  • November – A Passage to India by E.M. Forster 
  • December – Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Three of the titles (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, American Gods, and Catcher in the Rye) I read in the past, and, after much thought, do not want to re-read them at the this time.  I am still undecided about whether I want to tackle The Poisonwood Bible again.  I have tried twice already and could not get into it.  Watership Down has never really appealed to me, but it comes highly recommended, so maybe.  I might read A Passage to India with Carrie.  I haven't quite decided.  With this challenge, I am really more interested in reading books I have been wanting to read for what seems like forever and haven't yet, just like the challenge title implies.

I think that will do.  Five challenges seem like a good place to stop.  I am sure there will be crossovers.  I am not that prolific a reader as to think there will not be.  I am not putting any pressure on myself in terms of absolutely having to complete any of the above challenges. I will still read what I want, when I want.  And I will have lots of fun reading the books I do read.

Are you participating in any challenges this year?  If so, which ones?

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

It was past nine, past time, for the sun had set, the orchestra had begun to play, and hundreds of guests were streaming up the grand central staircase, their voices rising in an ebullient, ever-swelling chorus to the floors above. ~ Opening of Somewhere in France

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
William Morrow, 2013
Fiction (Historical); 400 pgs

I was first drawn to read Somewhere in France after reading a description of it.  Set during World War I, the novel is about a young woman, Lady Elizabeth, who wants to do her part in the war.  Her mother forbids it, wanting her daughter to marry well and raise a family, true to the family's station in life.  Elizabeth, or Lily as she prefers to be called, grew up around opulence and wealth, but she has always aspired to be something more than just her title allows.  Encouraged by her former tutor and friend, Charlotte, as well as  by her brother's best friend, Robbie, Lily leaves home and ventures out on her own.  

Lily is humble and modest.  She has the grace of the lady she is, and is curious and eager to take on the world.  I liked her instantly and appreciated how much she cared for people. I understood and could relate to her hesitancy when it came to taking those big steps, which was more from nerves and uncertainty than anything else.  Lily was naive in many respects, but she was also smart and resourceful.  She was not afraid to get her hands dirty and learn something new.  

Lily tries to hide her family roots once she enters the "real world", taking a job first as a painter and then as a "Clippie" (female conductor on a bus).  When the opportunity comes to actually take part in the war effort more directly, Lily takes a job as an ambulance driver by joining the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).  She is assigned to work in France, where she works alongside her brother's best friend Robbie, a surgeon.  

Like Lily, I was immediately taken with Robbie.  His background is not one Lily's mother thinks highly of, although Robbie is the sort of man I think any mother should be proud of.  He is hard working and thoughtful.  He sees in Lily what she doesn't see in herself at first, helping her find the courage she needs to be who she wants to be.  

Somewhere in France is very much a love story, with Lily and Robbie at its heart.  Forbidden love tends to make a compelling story, and this instance was no different.  Lily and Robbie have real chemistry, and I wanted nothing more than for them to be able to be together, despite the odds.

The war itself plays an integral part to the story.  Many were excited when war was declared, but the horrors of what was to come, the lives lost and the trauma suffered, soon brought everyone back to reality.  War is not at all pretty.  Jennifer Robson does a good job of capturing the affects of war on the men and women directly and indirectly involved in the fight.  Not everyone reacts the same way, and I really appreciated the different perspectives the author provides.  In particular, Lily's brother, Edward, comes to mind.  None of the characters were left untouched by the war, and by the end, each had grown has individuals.  

Somewhere in France was an enjoyable book to read, full of heart and yet also bittersweet at times.  I will definitely be reading more by this author in the future. 

Rating:  * (Very Good)

To learn more about Jennifer Robson and her books, please visit the author's Facebook Page

I hope you will check out what others had to say about Somewhere in France on the TLC Book Tours route!

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. The publisher provided an e-copy of the book for review.

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Where Is Your Bookmark? (01/14/2014)

I feel as if I have been reading up a storm lately, even after getting off to a slow start.  I started the year with a little romance and historical fiction set during World War I, reading Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson, which I will be reviewing tomorrow (I couldn't resist a book about a female ambulance driver). Then I dove into Jennifer Crusie's Fast Women, January's group read for one of my online reading groups. Fast Women had a little bit of everything from mystery to romance to girlfriend bonding, with a good mix of humor to boot.  

I began reading Beautiful Creatures after that, deciding now would be a good time to catch the movie (before the end of the month).  Somewhere in the middle of that young adult fantasy novel about forbidden love, my attention wavered, and I found myself reading The Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon, which is about a retired elderly detective and a boy and his parrot.  All because Kristen from We Be Reading mentioned on Twitter that she was reading Cabon's book this weekend.  I have since finished both books and have moved onto Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, which I just began reading yesterday.

In audio, I have been listening to Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone, narrated by Sunil Malhotra.  I kind of wish I had a longer commute to work, frankly.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I am enjoying listening to this book.  Given how long it is, I imagine it may be the end of next month before I am actually able to finish listening to it.  I have a feeling this will be among my favorite books this year--and I'm not even close to being half way through it yet.  That is saying something.   

What have you been reading lately?  Anything you would recommend?

Every Tuesday Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea hosts 
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where  
participants share the first paragraph (or a few) of a 
book they are reading or thinking about reading soon.

Here is a taste of Jennifer Robson's Somewhere in France
It was past nine, past time, for the sun had set, the orchestra had begun to play, and hundreds of guests were streaming up the grand central staircase, their voices rising in an ebullient, ever-swelling chorus to the floors above.  Past time to call for Flossie, and array herself in the gown her mother had chosen.  If only there were armor for occasions like this.

Would you continue reading?

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, January 03, 2014

2013: A Year in Review

My favorite photo of the year.

Two thousand thirteen came with its share of challenges.  It was a heartbreaking year, one in which it seemed like one bad thing kept happening after the other.  There was also much to celebrate, however.  For instance, watching my daughter grow and learn (and just how fun she is!) adopting the amazing Gracie (who is so cuddlicious!), going on a family vacation this past summer, spending time with our families, and just being together.  There is also how grateful I am for this blog, and, most especially for all of you.

I have always believed that my reading coincides with my moods and where I am in life currently.  I did a lot of comfort reading this year, delving deep into mysteries and fantasy novels.  Books are my therapy, in a sense.  I also did quite a bit of soul searching, sometimes without realizing it.  I read a number of books that touched me to the core, helped me through the rough spots, with characters I could see myself in.  It was a good reading year.

I enjoyed answering Jamie's (The Perpetual Page TurnerEnd of the Year Survey last year and decided to join in again this year.  I did alter some of the questions and subtracted a few to make it my own.

1. Best books read in 2013?

I read some wonderful books this past year, but I think these five stand out the most in terms of books I read in either print or e-book format.  It is impossible for me to put them in any particular order.  Each one was amazing.

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

I did not read many nonfiction books in 2013, unfortunately, but I enjoyed the ones I did read.  The one that I had the most fun reading was Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

Of the six audiobooks I listened to in 2013, Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin was by far my favorite.

2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

There were a couple of books I was hoping to like more than I did, if only because of all the hype and blogger love the books have already received.  I cannot say I am too surprised about one.  Stephen King's books are hit and miss with me, but rarely have I absolutely loved any of his books that I have read.  The Shining was no different.  The other book that disappointed me was The Memory of After by Lenore Appelhans.  I wanted to like it more than I did.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

I was not sure what to expect going into either Ernest Cline's Ready Player One and World War Z by Max Brooks, but both knocked my socks off.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

I was recommending books right and left last year, and continue to do so.  I even gave several copies of my favorites away as gifts for birthdays and Christmas.  Of them all though, I think Christina Baker's The Orphan Train was the one that I recommended the most.  I also highly recommended the audio version of William Landay's Defending Jacob to whoever would listen.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Juliet Dark's Fairwick Chronicles swept me off my feet this past year.  I fell in love with The Demon Lover and was just as impressed with the other two books in the trilogy,  Water Witch and  The Angel Stone.  I do not often reread books, but this is a trilogy I would like to revisit again one day.

6. New authors you discovered in 2013 and hope to read more by?

While many of the new to me authors whose works I read or listened to last year won me over enough to want to try their other work, a few favorites stand out:

Christina Baker
Cathy Marie Buchanan
Carla Buckley
Alafair Burke
Gail Carriger
Juliet Dark
Gillian Flynn
Mari Hannah
Elizabeth Haynes
Beth Hoffman
Lynda La Plante
Marisha Pessl
John Searles
Simon Van Booy
Menna van Praag

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

When I was a teenager, I devoured romance novels.  I burnt out on them eventually and have avoided them more often than not in recent years.  This year, I wanted to spend more time exploring the genre and its sub-genres.  While I did not read an abundance of romance novels, I did read some that came highly recommended by my fellow bloggers.

Trisha from Tripping Over My Tongue recommended Monica McCarty's Highlander historical romance series and Tasha from Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books recommended Kresley Cole's paranormal romance series.  Staci from Life in the Thumb indirectly recommended Jill Shalvis, a contemporary romance novelist, and so I read Simply Irrestible (2010).  These were just a few of the romance focused novels I read this year, and are among the ones that stand out.

My two favorites, however, include Karen Marie Moning's Beyond the Highland Mist and  Juliet Dark's The Demon Lover.  I enjoy urban fantasy novels, many of which contain strong romance elements, and so it really isn't a big surprise I would be so taken with these novels.  I did worry though, given how romance-focused they were, that I might not be easily drawn in.  Boy, was I wrong.

8. Top five favorite covers of a books you read in 2013?

9. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

By far this would have to be Rebecca Walker's Adé: A Love Story.  The writing was beautiful and mesmerizing.  It was like sliding a piece of chocolate onto my tongue and letting it melt in my mouth.

10. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

Two books in particular stand out: The House At the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman.  Both books spoke to my heart and soul.  They came into my life at just the right moment.

Another book that had a strong impact on me was Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin.  It was an extremely difficult book to take in, but ultimately one that I am glad I took the time to listen to.

A couple of the books I read caused me to loose sleep at night, including Night Film by Marisha Pessl and Elizabeth Haynes, Into The Darkest Corner.  Both were engrossing reads that kept me on the edge of my seat.  I still find myself tempted to check all the locks again thanks to Into the Darkest Corner.

11.Shortest and longest book you read in 2013?

Die For Her by Amy Plum was the shortest book I read this past year at 60 pages.  The longest was Stephen King's The Shining, which was 672 pages.

12. Book that you most wanted to talk about with someone else? 

There were several, actually.  We Need to Talk About Kevin and Defending Jacob most definitely, both touched on similar issues and provided much food for thought, especially from a parent's perspective.

Night Film is another that just begs to be discussed for much different reasons--probably the book I most would like to talk about.  But maybe that's because I just finished the novel and am still walking around under its cloud.

To a lesser degree, Cline Ernest's Ready Player One and  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

13. Favorite book you read in 2013 by an author you’ve read previously?

Reading Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass was like coming home.  I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Kinsey Milhlone, and look forward to catching up with her again this year.

14. Genre you read the most from in 2013? 

I would say a good 24 books I read this past year fall into the crime fiction category in some way.  I read 73 books in all.

15. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of 2013?

I utterly failed the year long read-a-long for War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  My second attempt to read the book, and I couldn't manage it.  I still want to try.  Just maybe not yet.  

I also attempted the What's In A Name 6 Reading Challenge, but came up short.  I came in strong in four of the categories, but two (3 and 4), well, I did not manage to read books with titles that fit into those, as you can see.  I did not go out of my way to read books that would meet the challenge requirements, I confess. So, I think I did pretty well considering.

1. A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title.
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan 
2. A book with something you'd find in your kitchen.
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri 
3. A book with a party or celebration in the title.
Dancing with the Devil by Keri Arthur (I know, totally doesn't fit--but it's a kind of party in twisted and wrong sort of way.) 
4. A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title.
Damn Him to Hell by Jamie Quaid (okay, so huge stretch--it's hot in Hell, right?)
5. A book with an emotion in the title.
His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal 
6. A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title.
The Missing File by D.A. Mishani  
Although I did not commit to reading any particular books this past year, I did make a list of hopefuls.  I only read three of the books on the list. 
1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 
2. Garden Spells by Sara Addison Allen 
3. The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan 

4. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

5. Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian
6. Nightwatch by Sarah Waters
7. The Blind Assassin by Margeret Atwood
8. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
9. The Road  by Cormac McCarthy

10. The Outlander by Gil Adamson
At the beginning of 2013, I said I would read The Shining by Stephen King at the urging of Trish and Jill who led a read-a-long, and I did.  

*                          *                          *

So many book bloggers I love and have followed over the years have stopped blogging or have scaled back considerably.  I am determined to make it to year 10.  After that, who knows.  I was more consistent in posting to this blog in 2013 than I have been since 2011, although I took a number of unscheduled breaks here and there. I don't know that much will change in this New Year. I am less concerned about that as I once was.  

I do not have the time I used to when I first started this blog. Meaning, time spent writing reviews and other posts has suffered as a result.  I have given myself permission, however, to be more free with my reviews, write less if I want to or make them more personal reflections of how a book impacted me (which is what I prefer to do anyway).  It's a constant balancing act, trying to find time to read and blog in between my other priorities.  I am sure many of you can relate.

I have no set goals for this year.  After much thought, I have decided not to participate in any challenges, with the occasional drop in for Carrie's "I've Always Meant to Read That Book!" Challenge.  There are a number of books up for discussion this year that I too have been meaning to read.  Now seems like a good time!  I do want to take part in more of the book discussions in my one online reading group that has monthly group reads.  I already have the first two books we are discussing for this year ready to go (Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie and The Husband's Secret by Lianne Moriarty).  I also want to make 2014 a Year of Re-Discovery.  I want to spend the year reading authors who are old favorites and dive into the back lists of authors who I have only tried once or twice.  I will still be reading new books--I can't help myself--but expect to see some familiar authors and titles popping up too.

I do not know what 2014 will hold, but I am hopeful.  I am looking forward to spending another year with you all, and hope you will continue to visit and comment when you can.  

May 2014 be filled with much love, laughter and happy memories for you all--as well as many good books!

Mouse and Her Grandparents, Christmas 2013

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: The last books of 2013

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season.  We had a nice Christmas, even despite all the illness.  We traveled out of town to spend time with my in-laws. Mouse got sick the weekend before Christmas, running a high temperature for three days straight.  It finally started going down on the fourth day and was gone by Christmas.  Her cough is just about gone as I write this.  My husband managed to catch what she had and spent most of Christmas Day and the day after miserable.  He spent New Year's Day in bed too.  So, you can imagine he's not feeling much better than he had been.  My father-in-law was sick during our visit too.  I felt bad for my mother-in-law, having to cater to two sick grown men.  I was only so much help because of my sprained/fractured ankle.  Even so, it was a good holiday over all.  Mouse enjoyed the festivities, and I am sure is sad things are finally starting to return to normal.  She is back to insisting her birthday is just about every day.

We brought in the New Year a little early.  One of the advantages of living on the West Coast is all the East Coast New Year's Eve television coverage.  While we only tuned in for the final 30 second countdown, we were able to join in and celebrate.  We marched around the house and out into the backyard with our pots and pans, banging away.  I am sure our neighbors thought we were crazy.  We toasted with apple cider (Mouse had orange juice, not willing to try the cider), and then went to bed.  Earlier in the evening we enjoyed hot fudge sundaes, a new tradition I hope will stick.  I do not think any of us saw midnight, all fast asleep.

Did you do anything special to bring in the New Year?

I fit in quite a bit of reading the final three weeks of December.  I read Carla Buckley's The Deepest Secret (Bantam, 2014; 448 pgs).  I was selected to preview the book through BookBrowse's First Impression Program.  I will be writing a more formal review of the book come February, when it is officially released.  The novel is about a family, a 14 year old boy with an incurable illness who likes to peek in people's windows at night, a mother who will do anything to protect her son, a wayward teenage daughter, and a mostly absent father.  A girl goes missing in their neighborhood, and they all are impacted in varying ways.  The Deepest Secret was a very engrossing crime fiction novel, unique in some respects, and one I highly recommend.

After reading such a dark novel, I was in the mood for something much lighter and turned to an unusual choice for me.  I have been wanting to read something by Jill Shalvis.  A former fellow book blogger enjoys her books, and I wondered if I might too.  I admit I don't especially care for most contemporary romance. Sometimes though, the formulaic and assured happy ending are just what a person needs.  I selected Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis (Forever, 2010; 311 pgs), the first in the Lucky Harbor series.

The book features Maddie Moore, one of three sister's who has inherited an inn in the beautiful small town of Lucky Harbor.  Maddie has just come off a very bad relationship and was fired from her job.  The last thing she is looking for is love.  In fact, she's sworn off men.  Then she meets Jax, a local contractor, and she finds it harder and harder to stick to her resolve.

Simply Irresistible is pure brain candy.  It's predictable in all the right places.  I liked the interplay between the three very different sisters, and Maddie was a particularly interesting character, especially as she grew over the course of the book.  Jax was a bit too perfect, but then I imagine he was supposed to be.  Even his flaws seemed a bit perfect.  I would be lying if I said I did not finish the book with a little crush on him.  I enjoyed my first experience with a Jill Shalvis novel and will likely read more by her in the future.  These types of books are ones I can only take in small doses though.

From pure fun romance, I jumped into Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House, 2013; 602 pgs).
My daughter gave me the book for Christmas, and after all the rave reviews my fellow bloggers have been giving the book, I dove in right away.  This book.  Oh my gosh.  It lived up to my expectations.  It is dark and crazy.  I don't know what to say about it that could do it justice.  The novel follows a disgraced investigative journalist, Scott McGrath, who had been on top of his game until he decided to investigate the mysterious movie producer Cordova.  Scott is drawn back into that old story when the producer's daughter commits suicide.  It sounds simple enough, but what comes from it is hair raising to say the least.  There are so many twists and turns that had me guessing the entire way.  I had no idea what to expect from beginning to end--and that's saying something.

The characters are extremely well written, from the main protagonist, Scott McGrath, to the most minor of characters.  Each one plays a significant role in the novel.  The story goes down a very dark path, which is fitting given the type of movie producer Cordova is.  He produces deeply dark and terrifying horror movies that even the actors who perform in them won't talk about after.

I decided against doing a full review of this novel, which probably isn't fair.  It's such a fantastic book. With the rush to put this past year behind me and start fresh and my non-alcoholic holiday hangover, however, I decided this would be a good way to wrap up this past year's reading.  I recommend you check out Ti's review of Night Film as it sums up my thoughts on the book perfectly: "A completely absorbing literary thriller that's both smart and alluring."

I hope to post my year end summary within the next day or so, and then I will likely be taking a blogging break over the next couple weeks.  

Happy New Year, everyone!

© 2014, 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.