Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested I go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books held at UCLA. She knows how much I love reading and was sure I would enjoy hobnobbing with authors and soaking up the atmosphere. It did not take much nudging but finally, three years ago, I dragged my husband along for two days of pure booklover's bliss. We filled our days with discussion panels, browsed through the many booths, met a few authors, and came home with what I thought was an embarrassing amount of books. I've since learned what I considered embarrassing was nothing compared to the people who bring suitcases to fill with books, roll them back to their cars, and then come back for more over and over again. Truth be told, that probably would be me except my husband's along for the trip and I am not sure he would go for that. I do want to remain happily married, after all.

Around the middle of March every year for the last three years now, I eagerly await the release of the list of authors and schedule for the panel discussions. As soon as it is posted on the website for the festival, I begin planning ahead. Just how many panels can I jam in on one day? We need time to browse, of course. Who cares about lunch! We can snack during the day and have a big dinner that evening. There is waiting in line for the panels so we get decent seats to take into consideration as well.

This year, Anjin and I decided to only go for one day instead of our usual two. And unlike the past two years, I kept our panel discussion schedule on the lighter side. I like the panel discussions for a variety of reasons, but mostly I like being able to see and hear some of my favorite authors talk about their books and their writing. I find it interesting to know what motivates them, to learn more about their writing process, and to get to know them a little better in general. With most of the panels I have attended in the past several years, the set topic of discussion seems to be secondary to all of the above and sometimes even gets completely ignored all together. Still, it's a great opportunity that I wouldn't want to miss out on.

This year we had tickets to four panels but only attended three. The schedulers had the audacity to schedule two of the ones I wanted to attend back to back and unless I wanted to bail out of one early to get to the other, it wasn't going to work. I hate leaving any event early, including baseball games. Because of my love for mysteries (and really wanted to meet J.A. Jance), I decided to forgo the vampires. If only you knew how difficult choice that was for me to make.

Our first panel was called "Mystery: Death Becomes You." I was mostly there to see Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos, two authors that I've read one book each (of course, I have good intentions to read more by both). Also on the panel were authors Patrick Neate (very witty man) and Don Winslow (poor guy! His bus broke down while in route to L.A. from San Diego and he showed up 10 minutes before the end of the panel). I warned my husband on our way out of the classroom that I planned to give the two new-to-me authors a try. Oh! And the moderator of the panel was Thane Rosenbaum, who, until he mentioned the title of his book, The Golems of Gotham, I was at a loss as to his identity. The Golems of Gotham is sitting somewhere on a shelf in my TBR room at this very moment.

The second panel we attended, "Fiction: Jumping Off the Page," was moderated by a man whose name I cannot remember (isn't that awful?). He was a stand in for the scheduled moderator, who couldn't attend due to illness. Chris Bohjalian was my must see author for this panel. At the beginning, I was only familiar with him and Marianne Wiggins (I've yet to read any of her books). Once the title of Gary Shteyngart's latest novel (Absurdistan) was mentioned, well, it became obvious I'd heard of him too. I have to say, Mr. Shteyngart was a hoot! If his book is half as funny as he is, it is well worth reading. The other author, Peter Orner, was completely new to me, and after he described his latest book, my interest was immediately peaked. Three more new authors to add to my must try list . . .

The final panel discussion we decided to attend was called "Mystery: From One Murder to the Next." Although I have only read J.A. Jance's novels (all but two), I have at least heard of the other four authors (Jan Burke, Stuart Woods, Stephen Cannell, and Kelly Lange) and plan to someday read their work. Kelly Lange was actually the moderator for the panel, although she included herself among the panelists.

Each of the panels that we attended this year were wonderful. The discussions were interesting and often times funny. I came away quite satisfied with my choices, although, I do wish we had been able to attend my other choice as well, the one called "Dracula's Children: Books with Bite" that included Elizabeth Kostova, John Marks and Christopher Moore. Anjin says we can buy the CD of the session, although it's not quite the same that way, is it?

As for the signings after each panel, I have yet to get in the long lines for one. It's not so much for lack of interest, but more so for lack of time between events. I am more likely to meet up with an author by chance at one of the many signing booths. I love to wander by the various big name (and some small name) booths where there are always authors available to autograph their books. The key is to walk by the booths multiple times throughout the day to catch different authors at different times. I came very close to buying a third copy of Elizabeth Kostova's novel just for the chance to meet her, but I chickened out.

That's another thing. I go all wobbly-kneed around authors. Some people go ga-ga over movie stars or rock stars. I am that way about authors (a star sighting for me today was when T. Jefferson Parker and Denise Hamilton walked right by me while I was waiting in line for the last panel--you should have seen how excited I got--embarrassing really). I am already a rather quiet person and shy around people I do not know well. Put me in front of an author, and I feel like hiding behind my husband. It's true. When we were face to face with Don Winslow, I whispered to Anjin to ask for the personalized autograph and nudged him ahead of me. I'm sure Don Winslow thought I was crazy. He asked what name to use and Anjin gave him my name. Don Winslow smiled at me and asked if that was me. I squeaked out a yes, or what I hoped sounded like a yes. Anjin made small talk with Mr. Winslow while I stood there quietly, squealing with glee on the inside. Nearly the same thing happened with Christopher Moore, although I did get up the courage to ask him to sign one of his books myself. No "I think you're great!" or "I'm a big fan!" I got in and out as fast as I could, I was so nervous. Star struck, I think they call it. It wasn't much different when I met Joanne Fluke. I must come across as the most unfriendly reader around! Imagine if I had been brave enough to wait in the huge line to meet Michael Connelly this time around! I'd probably completely hide behind my husband. There were plenty more authors I would not have minded meeting today, but I imagine Anjin is grateful I decided not to. After all, we can only carry so many books (we bought a few that weren't autographed too).

The weather was perfect for the festival, and I am glad we decided to go again this year. You can bet I'll be ready for next April's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Seasonal Reading

Booking Through Thursday

  1. Does what you read vary by the season? For instance, Do you read different kinds of books in the summer than the winter?

  2. If so, do you break it down by genre, length of book, or...?

The extent of my seasonal reading is to maybe try and read an eery book around Halloween and a Christmas type book near the end of December. Most of the time, I fail miserably at even that. My reading rarely follows a seasonal pattern. When I began keeping a reading journal, I looked forward to someday seeing patterns like that emerge, but so far no luck.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I live in a climate that does not see the extremes in weather like some other parts of the world do. While the summers frequently reach into the 100's here, the winters rarely bring snow (and if they do, it's front page news!). Or maybe it is simply because so little in my life changes with the seasons other than the types of clothes I wear (to match the weather). When I was a student, especially during my college years, I stuck mostly to academic reading; my holidays and the summer months were filled with the lighter and more entertaining books. I do not know if that counts as a seasonal reading though as it really only had to do with the school schedule and not so much nature's seasons. For the last several years my routine has been more static. I work full-time year round and do not have exams to study for and papers to research, my reading seems to be much less defined in terms of the seasons.

Even taking that into consideration, I do not find myself craving a particular genre at any specific time of year. My craving or desire to read a particular genre usually comes when I have been neglecting that category or I am in need of a change that only that particular genre can offer. Although I do go through my phases, they do not seem to be dictated by the seasons.

Don't forget to leave a link to your actual response in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dead Birds Don't Sing by Brenda M. Boldin

Dead Birds Don’t Sing by Brenda M. Boldin
Cambridge Books, 2005
Mystery; 226 pgs

Started: 04/22/2007
Completed: 04/22/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: Roger Beauregard leaned back against the pillows and just let her work her magic.

Reason for Reading: I was in the mood for something light and came across this title among the Curled Up With a Good Book selections available for review. It sounded like it would an entertaining mystery.

Comments: Dead Birds Don't Sing is a promising start for an entertaining new mystery series that will quickly become a must read series. Brenda M. Boldin has created a host of interesting characters, among them the steamy guitar playing Detective Cole Armstrong, the experienced and family oriented Detective Lieutenant Anthony Morello, the mean and cold-blooded Beau Rogers, the formidable Helen Shelby and the spunky and clever main character, Alex Masters.

Alex Masters is trying to lead a straight life. The former prostitute and heroin addict wants nothing more than to stay out of trouble and keep her nose clean. She has a decent job at a typing school and has a promising lead on a job as a singer in a nightclub. While dropping off a deposit for her boss at the local bank, her world comes crashing down when she falls victim to a shooting in a bank heist. All that she had worked hard to build up begins to unravel. Detective Armstrong and his partner are sure she is withholding information from them as they begin their investigation. Their suspicion of her involvement in the robbery mounts as they begin to dig into her past and connect her to at least one of the bank robbers, the vengeful Beau. Detective Armstrong is the first to voice his suspicions of Alex's possible guilt and soon the other detectives on the investigation team follow suit. He is determined to get to the bottom of the case. Alex soon realizes that she is the only one who can prove her own innocence and reclaim her reputation, and so she ventures back to her old haunting ground in search for the truth. The cards are against her from the beginning, and it is only a matter of time before the situation comes to a head.

The chemistry between Alex and Cole is intense. The two characters come head to head several times throughout the book, Alex in her stubbornness and Cole in his determination. Neither character completely trusts the other and for good reason.

Although the novel comes across as a light mystery that will no doubt bring a smile to many readers faces, there are some deeper undertones that the author subtlety blends into the story, including organized crime, corruption, drug abuse, prostitution, violence, and Alex's past and that of some of the other characters. The author balances the dark with the light in such a way as to create a novel that makes for easy reading. Alex comes across as a strong no-nonsense woman and yet there is a vulnerable side to her as well. She may be hardened because of her experience; however, she is still naive in some ways.

The story moves quickly as the events unfold, and while the mystery itself is relatively easy to figure out early on, just reading how the characters get to that final point and seeing what more trouble can possibly come their way is enough to keep the reader turning the pages at top speed. The Alex Masters series is definitely one worth following. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2007

Favorite Part: In general, this was an enjoyable book to read. My favorite part was Mrs. Shelby’s reaction to Alex’s tale of how King “saved” her. Mrs. Shelby asked some pointed questions that, although they went unanswered, brought up some good points that the clever Alex is not quite ready to face.

Note about the Author: Author Brenda Boldin got her start writing as a teenager, but let it fall by the wayside once she settled into college. Later on, she began writing fan fiction for the once popular television series Diagnosis Murder and was encouraged by one the show's writers to strike out on her own with her own characters. The result is the Alex Masters' series.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Walk Down Memory Lane Through Memes

Memes remind me of slams. There was a time during my early pen palling days when slamming was quite popular. Maybe they still are. Slams are these little handmade booklets that traveled through the mail, requesting the recepient to answer questions, add themed stickers, or what have you and then pass the booklet along to someone else. Once full, the slams are returned to the creator or perhaps to the person the creator dedicated the slam to. I recall something like that going around in elementary school too, now that I think about, although for the life of me I cannot remember what name those particular notebooks went by.

I was recently tagged by two fellow bloggers, one for a history meme and the other for a book related meme.

Many thanks to VioletLady for tagging me for the following meme:

1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your birthdate, no year.
September 9

2. List 3 important events.
1543 - Mary Stuart, at nine months old, is officially crowned "Queen of Scots" in the central Scottish town of Stirling.
1839 - John Herschel takes the first glass plate photograph.
1947 - "First actual case of (a computer) bug being found": a moth lodges in a relay of a Harvard Mark II computer at Harvard University.

3. List 2 births.
1828 (N.S.) - Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist (d. 1910)
1890 - Colonel Harland Sanders, American fast food entrepreneur (d. 1980)
1903 - Phyllis Whitney, American writer

4. List 1 Death.
1990 - Doc Cramer, American baseball player (b. 1905)

5. List 1 Holiday or Observance.
California - Admission Day (to commemorate the state's admission to the USA). (oh, how upset I was when the the day was no longer a school holiday!)

Bookfool was kind enough to tag me for the Booked by 3 Meme. I imagine this is the sort of meme in which my answers reflect my current mood and the answers would be vary depending on my current state of mind.

Name up to three characters . . .

1. You wish were real so you could meet them:

Sookie Stackhouse from the Southern Vampire series (Charlaine Harris)
Kitty from Kitty and the Midnight Hour & Kitty Goes to Washington (Carrie Vaughn)
Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

2. You would like to be:
Hermoine from the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)
Kinsey Milhoune (Sue Grafton)
Elena from the Women of the Otherworld series (Kelley Armstrong)

3. Who scare you: (two of the ones I wanted to name, I am unable to do so for fear of spoiling those particular books and so I'll stick to the well known villians who would frighten me if I ever came face to face with them.)
Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris)
Voldemort from the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)

Sauron from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Technically, both memes require that I tag several people, but I much prefer to go the easy route and invite anyone interested in participating to do so.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Harper Torch, 2001
Fantasy; 592 pgs

Started: 04/15/2007
Completed: 04/21/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: Shadow had done three years in prison.

Reason for Reading: I picked up a copy of this book at a bookstore closeout in January of 2006. Although I have heard that American Gods is not necessarily the best new-to-Gaiman novel to read, I could not help myself. I'm sure my husband's encouragement to read it played a part as well. This is my 2nd selection for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

From the Publisher: Shadow dreamed of nothing but leaving prison and starting a new life. But the day before his release, his wife and best friend are killed in an accident. On the plane home to the funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday—a beguiling stranger who seems to know everything about him. A trickster and rogue, Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With nowhere left to go, Shadow accepts, and soon learns that his role in Mr. Wednesday's schemes will be far more dangerous and dark than he could have ever imagined. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought—and the prize is the very soul of America.

Comments: There are good books that I am glad to see come to an end, the story winding down, the characters going as far as they can go in the story being told by the author. Then there are books where the characters get under my skin and even though I am anxious to see the story end so that I know what happens next, once it does reach that point, I wish it could go on just a little bit longer. I am not quite ready to say goodbye to the friends I had made during my journey through the pages. And so it was with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

The novel also has inspired my curiosity to find out more about the different mythology and religious aspects of the novel. Neil Gaiman brought a myriad of different cultural beliefs together for his story, and I found the tale of how the gods and mythical characters came to America fascinating. The various characters came with their quirks at times seemed over the top, however, that fit well with the story and made it even more appealing. There was mystery surrounding each one of the characters, and I found their histories quite intriguing. There are a few I would not have minded spending more time with, among them Ibis and Jacquel. My only regret with the novel is that I was not allowed to know more about a few of the more mysterious characters, although I imagine the author wanted to stick to the main story and not spend too much time running off on tangents just to please me. Imagine how long the book would have to be then!

Favorite Part: There was so much to like about the novel. Among my favorite characters is the obvious one, Shadow, who had a good heart. He was gentle in his own way and yet stood up for what he believed. He was loyal, sometimes to a fault. As stated before, I was quite enamored with Ibis and Jacquel and would not have minded spending more time with them. Bast and Whiskey Jack were among my favorites as well, and I wish I had been able to learn more about them.

Check out Neil Gaiman's website. He has his very own blog that is well worth reading if you are a fan of the author's work.
Miscellaneous: Tickets will be available tomorrow for the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Yippee! Anjin and I have gone the last two years and have enjoyed ourselves each time. This year, unlike the previous years, we will only be attending one day of the festival instead of both. I don't think either of us are feeling up to driving into the city two days in a row, fighting the traffic and the crowds.

Friday, April 20, 2007

More Classics, Medical Mysteries and a Taste of the South

Lately I have been feeling like the slowest reader on earth. I do so little reading during the work week and then on the weekend it's a mad dash to make up for lost time with whatever book I am reading.

I am on target with the TBR Challenge and am looking forward to the start of the Nonfiction Five Challenge that will begin next month. I am in the middle of my second book for the Once Upon a Time Challenge and am working through my selections for the Spring Reading Thing and the Reading Through the Decades Challenge. I still have not earned my place as an active participant in the New York Times Notable Books Challenge, but I hope to soon (I know, I know, I keep saying that and actions do speak louder than words . . .). I finished off my last book for the Chunkster Challenge this month, and am glad to now have two challenges under my belt for the year.

Although I made no announcement here on my blog, I had decided to stop signing up for reading challenges for the time being, especially during this busy time of the year when all the books I seem to be able to read are challenge books. While all the challenge books are obviously ones I want to read (why else would I select them?), it is nice to have room for a spontaneous choice now and then.

However, one of my fellow mystery readers, Kathrin (who has been reading mysteries enough for both of us since I seem to be slacking in that area lately), is running the Classics Reading Challenge this summer and into the fall. She was unable to participate in the Winter Classics Challenge but did not want to miss out on an opportunity to read a few classics before the year was out. I had indicated back when she was first considering the idea that I might be interested, and I have since decided to support her in the challenge she's hosting. Her challenge is quite flexible: participants will read 3 to 5 classic novels between July 1st and November 30th.

Classic Selections:
Persuasion by Jane Austen [read]
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle [read]
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde [read]

The last month or so I have been craving a good suspense/thriller novel, and when Debi over at Caught Between Worlds announced the Medical Mystery Madness Challenge, I gave it some thought. Since a lot of my reading seems to be dictated by challenges lately, why not sign up for a challenge reading one of those books I've been craving? This might be the only way I can fit them in! The challenge involves reading 2 or more medical thrillers between June 1 and November 1.

Medical Mystery Selections:
Brain Dead by Eileen Dreyer [read]
Life Support by Tess Gerritsen [read]
The Society by Michael Palmer [read]
The Pumpkin Seed Massacre by Susan Slater [read]

And what about Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge, which spans over three months, June through August? I really did plan on staying out of this one. I was actually surprised to discover how few Southern authors are among by TBR collection. It is shameful really. I am sure I will regret signing up for another challenge. I can just imagine my husband reading this and shaking his head, wondering if I will ever be able to make time for him outside of my reading. Challenges are like the snooze button on my alarm - just one more time won't hurt. Hopefully my selections all qualify since I'm kind of going Southern-lite this round (I might be stretching it a bit).

Southern Selections:
Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris [read]
A Garden of Vipers by Jack Kerley [read]
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin [read]

There are many terrific sounding challenges out there that I would love to participate in, but it is not realistic for me to do so at this time. Check out Caribousmom's A Novel Challenge blog for the latest list of reading challenges. You may just find something you would be interested in!

On a different note, I was excited to see Anjin (aka Kira), post about one of our favorite mystery writers, Michael Connelly, on his
Bullet Points
blog. I love to see my darling husband excited about the books and it's especially nice when we can share an interest in a particular author or book.

Back to my own reading . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: 'Fess Up!

Booking Through Thursday

Okay, there must be something you read that's a guilty pleasure . . . a Harlequin romance stashed under the mattress. A cheesy sci-fi book tucked in the back of the freezer. A celebrity biography, a phoned-in Western . . . something that you'd really rather not be spotted reading. Even just a novel if you're a die-hard non-fiction fan. Come on, confess. We won't hold it against you!

I often use the term "guilty pleasure" to describe my enthusiasm over my lighter reading fare, most often a paranormal or urban fantasy novel, a comical or cozy mystery, or a suspenseful thriller that keeps me up all night.

Truth be told, however, referring to my enjoyment of Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty series, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, or the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels by Alexander McCall Smith, for example, as guilty pleasures is a misnomer. Certainly there is pleasure, and often times with a capital "P", but there is definitely no guilt. I am not ashamed, afraid or embarrassed by my interest in these types of books. I find them entertaining, fun and not at all bad for me. "Guilty pleasure" is more a term of endearment for me, as is my sometimes referring to a book as fluff. I do not mean it as an insult or to insinuate it is less than any other type of novel. I am drawn to many different types of books and each serve their own purpose in my life.

So, I suppose my answer to this Thursday's question is that I do not have any truly guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. I think my book buying is more of an actual guilty pleasure. I do not like to admit just how big my TBR collection is (and just how often it grows bigger) . . .

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern

The Angel of Forgetfulness by Steve Stern
Penguin, 2005
Fiction; 404 pgs

Started: 03/25/2007
Completed: 04/01/2007
Rating: * (Fair)
(I really fluctuated on this one, between good and fair, settling on fair in the end. I do think this book deserves an audience and will definitely appeal to some. Why am I rambling here?? On to the review . . . )

First Sentence: “Gib mir ayn kush,” said my aged Aunt Keni in a Yiddish made comprehensible by the fishy pucker of her desiccated lips. “Give me a kiss.

Reason for Reading: When browsing through the list of possible books to review for Curled Up With a Good Book, I came across The Angel of Forgetfulness and the description of the book intrigued me. I was in the mood for something different, and this book sounded like the perfect choice.

Comments: The reader is first introduced to Saul, a young student in 1969 who aspires to be a poet. He convinced his family to allow him to attend college in New York City, yet another place he finds he does not quite fit in. As a result, he seeks out an unknown relative living in the city, his eccentric Aunt Keni. Their walks through the streets of the city open his eyes to sights and smells he never could have imagined, images from the past. On her deathbed, his aunt gives him a book thinking perhaps someday he will finish the story her long dead husband, Nathan Hart, had begun.

During the early 1900's, Nathan, a young Jewish immigrant happens upon a job as a proofreader for the Jewish Daily Forward after stumbling through other less enticing jobs. He leads a relatively solitary and lonely life until he meets a beautiful red head in a shop one day. He is haunted by her and desperate to see her again. It is as if he suddenly has found his muse and begins obsessively writing a story about a fallen angel. It is this story that mesmerizes and draws in the beautiful Keni, bringing her unexpectedly to Nathan’s doorstep one evening.

The third narrative is told from the perspective of Mocky, the fallen angel. Mischievous practically from birth, Mocky always wanted something other than what he was granted in life as the Angel of Forgetfulness. It was while performing his duties one day that he met Hannah, the woman who he would take his fall from Heaven for. When his wife is murdered brutally by the Cossacks and Tartars, Mocky flees earth with his son, Nachman.

Nachman follows his restless father back to earth only to find himself enamored by a beautiful actress named Sophie the Red. His own life from that point on is filled with the same obsession and torment that haunts the lives of Stern's other main characters.

What follows is the story of the four men as they make their way in the world, as they fall in love and search for something outside of and beyond themselves. The Angel of Forgetfulness touches on an age-old struggle, that of spiritual versus mortal needs.

Although the story lagged on occasion, it was overall a compelling one. The colorful cast of characters, including the look at life in New York City during the early 1900's, with the gangsters and theater life; the strong minded and independent women; the misfits of the Arkansas commune; the theater troupe in England; and the tourist guide in Prague made the novel all the more appealing.

Almost poetic in his prose, at times funny and at other times dark, author Steve Stern presents three distinct and yet connected stories that are flecked with magical realism and a touch of the philosophical. Although they share commonalities in themes and experiences, the three different narratives never quite gel completely. Despite that, The Angel of Forgetfulness does not leave the reader wanting. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2007

Favorite Part: My first thought is to say I most enjoyed Saul’s story above the others, however, there were times when Nathan’s story captivated me the most, especially the more down trodden he became. What does that say about me? Haha

Some of the characters that stood out for me most: Billy Boots, Aunt Keni in her older years, during the time she spent with Saul; and Svatopluk, the Jewish “tourist guide” in Prague.

Least Favorite Part: I was not too keen on Nathan’s first chapter of the book, especially when he goes into storytelling mode. While an interesting story, this part lagged for me more than any other and I considered moving to another book if it had not picked up by the next section.

Occasionally as I read, I found myself wondering what the purpose of the book was. What was the author trying to tell me exactly? I am not sure that ever really became clear, although I enjoyed most of the ride along the way and was somewhat satisfied in how it all ended. In some respects I was reminded of One Hundred Years of Solitude, another book that left me scratching my head at times, perhaps more so than this one.

Miscellaneous: My review selections for Curled Up With a Good Book are always telling, revealing a little of the mood I was in when I was going through the list to see if any of the available titles might interest me. I received my latest requests in the mail yesterday, and while I am now kicking myself for requesting so many in the middle of the busiest part of my challenge season, I admit I am definitely hoping some of the books offer the promised laughs!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Harper Touch, 1998
Fiction; 894 pgs

Started: 04/09/2007
Completed: 04/15/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable.

Reason for Reading: My 3rd and final selection for the Chunkster Challenge. I added this to my list of challenge books because it was one I had heard great things about but had not gotten around to reading. It was about time it gave up its spot on my TBR shelf.

Comments: All of his life, Dominick Birdsey has had to take care of his twin brother in one way or another. Thomas was the weak one, the brother who could not stand up for himself. Dominick, on the other hand, was the tough brother, the one who knew he had to fight and stand up for himself if he was going to avoid being a victim like his brother.

In his multi-layered story about family, loss, betrayal, responsibility, and self-discovery, Wally Lamb takes readers on an emotional roller coaster of a ride as Dominick narrates his family’s story, the story of his difficult childhood, the onset of his brother’s mental illness, and deep into the family’s history, that of his grandfather, grandmother and the birth of his mother. The stories are intertwined, often sharing similar themes and features.

Dominick, much like his brother Thomas who suffers from schizophrenia, is like a lost soul. He battles the anger in his heart his own guilt over past actions, both as a boy and as an adult. It is in helping Thomas after his brother is placed in a maximum-security psychiatric hospital that he begins to finally search for what it is he needs to find to heal his own wounds. He must face his own demons no matter how difficult he finds the task. Author Wally Lamb pulls no punches in creating characters that are very real and true to life. Their vulnerability, flaws, and frustration with their lot in life make them even more than just characters out of a book. As upset and frustrated as I got at times with the main character, I could also see where he was coming from, the reasons behind his behavior and actions. I was less sympathetic with the grandfather, who I disliked throughout the story; however, as Dominick discovered, there was a lesson to be learned even from him.

There were a couple of moments it felt like the author was throwing in everything but the kitchen sink by way of what his various characters when through. Yet it somehow worked and did not overburden the story. I Know This Much Is True is well worth reading. As Dr. Patel might say, it a story about destruction . . . And renovation.

Favorite Part: I liked the way the author weaved history and current events of the time into his story. He kept in short and concise, which made the addition seem natural in the narrative. It also helped keep the story’s time line in perspective.

I was most relieved when social worker Lisa Sheffer came on scene, followed by Dr. Patel. Both women earned my respect instantly and it never wavered throughout the novel. I was not too keen on the main character in the beginning, his arrogance, machismo, and anger combined were a off for me, and so the coming of these two women in particular, two characters I could relate to in some respects, eased me through a rough patch in my reading of the novel.

Read what Beastmomma has to say here.

Miscellaneous: Finishing my final book for the Chunkster Challenge comes with a big sense of relief. I was fortunate to pick three books that I enjoyed very much and were worth every page. I decided at the beginning of the month that I would not worry about reading the alternate books. I am involved with too many other challenges right now (overcommitted, you say?) and think I will focus on those now. Many thanks to Bookfool over at Bookfoolery and Babble for hosting this great challenge!

As a side note: Last night, Anjin and I finally got around to watching another one of our Netflix movies. We saw The Holiday, which we both enjoyed. It's a romantic comedy--not one of the best, but I'm glad we rented it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Where Does the Time Go?

Booking Through Thursday

Have you ever missed an important appointment because you have become so engrossed in a book you forgot the time or were up so late reading that you didn't wake up in time? Been late to work because you couldn't resist the temptation and left the house too late?

I feel like I should answer yes to the first part of the question to prove myself as a true reading addict, however, that would be a lie. To my knowledge, I have never missed an important appointment because I am so consumed by the book I am reading that I forget my commitments altogether. I have been known to lose track of time while reading on occasions when I am free to read for as long and as much as I would like.

There are times when I get so lost in the pages of a book that I lose any sense of my surroundings. Any background noise fades away until it disappears. On occasion, someone can be talking to me, and I will not hear them. (Off topic: During my younger years, I could read with all sorts of sounds and volume around me, however, the older I get, the more I find I prefer silence or minimal sound).

While I cannot recall ever having read so late that I cannot wake up in time (my alarm makes sure of that) for work, I have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning reading, sometimes even going to bed to sleep but then getting up having decided I would rather continue reading. I rarely pull all-nighters with the books I read anymore (is it age?). Sleep has a way of overtaking me these days even when I try to keep it at bay. My little trick of keeping one eye open at a time only prolongs my reading time for a short while longer, unfortunately. Ho hum.

I absolutely hate when I am close to finishing a book and it is time to leave for work. When I worked the second shift, this proved to be a problem all too often. I was running into the office barely in the nick of time because I decided I had to finish the book or read just one more page or chapter. Now that I work the early shift, I tend to wake up as close to my leaving time as possible and do not always have time to read before I have to be at the office. I'm not much of an early bird. At least not that early.

These days it seems my problem is more in finding the time to read. I do my best to fit it in when and wherever I can. I suppose compared to some, the amount of time I spend reading could be considered substantial, however, that does not really change my own perception of wishing I could fit in just a little more time here or there.

It's your turn! Do you lose track of time when you read?

Monday, April 09, 2007

April Witch by Majgull Axelsson

April Witch by Majgull Axelsson
Translated by Linda Schenck
Villard, 2002, English Edition (1st published in Sweden in 1997)
Fiction; 408 pgs

Started: 04/07/2007
Completed: 04/09/2007
Rating: * (Very Good)

First Sentence: “Who’s out there?” asks my sister.

Reason for Reading: A friend of mine from The Netherlands first mentioned Majgull Axelsson's April Witch to me, and I was able to find a copy online in October of 2004. Since that time, it has made its home on my To Be Read shelf waiting its turn. When choosing books to read for the TBR Challenge, I tried to select books I have wanted to read above others and yet have not had the chance to get to. April Witch was one of them. It's one of those books that leave me wondering why I waited so long.

4th book for the TBR Challenge and 2nd book selection for the Spring Reading Thing.

Comments: April Witch reminded a little of White Oleander by Janet Fitch and Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, and yet it has a mystical side to it that adds an interesting dimension.

April Witch is a multi-faceted story about four foster sisters, linked together by one woman, Ella Johansson. Desirée, the deformed and crippled daughter who was abandoned to institutional care at birth, has an unusual gift. She is an April witch, one who has a disabled body but a very strong mind. She is able to transport her spirit into other living beings to observe, influence and sometimes control their behavior. All of her life, Desirée has felt unwanted and she struggles to find meaning in her life. With the help of Dr. Hubertsson, with whom Desirée shares a special bond, Desirée unravels her past in search of her own story. Putting to use her special gift, she sets out to discover which of the three foster children her birth mother took in is living the life that she should have had.

Margareta was abandoned at birth by her own mother, taken in by Ella Johansson. Most of her life Margareta has felt empty inside and continues to search for something to fill that void in her life. Christina was a victim of a horrific physical abuse at the hands of her mother, a young girl shut inside of herself, not trusting anyone when she first comes to Ella's. She now appears to have the perfect life, at least on the surface. And then there is Birgitta, the daughter of a neglectful alcoholic mother. While Margareta and Christina have both found some success in life, one a physicist and the other a physician, it is Birgitta who has fallen the farthest, becoming a drug addict, living her life on and off the streets.

Each of the women carries their own baggage, struggling to come to terms with their pasts, who they are, and the direction their lives have taken. They are full of fear, frustration, bitterness, and need--yet all still maintain some semblance of hope. It is their inner struggles that bring them together and yet also keep them apart. Majgull Axelsson has created authentic characters with very distinct voices and experiences. Their stories creep under the skin and settle there to percolate.

From a social perspective, the novel touches on such issues as socialism, institutionalization, and the child welfare system in Sweden during the 1950's. The latter two topics were especially interesting to me from a professional aspect and ultimately, I did not see many differences in thoughts and theories between Sweden and the United States--at least not on the surface.

There was a scientific thread throughout the novel that concerned me at first. I worried that it would get in the way of my enjoyment of the story, however, that proved not to be the case. Once I got over my initial concern, I was swept into the story and the lives of the characters. What followed was a heart wrenching and insightful novel that I will not soon forget.

Favorite Part: I could probably fill pages with my favorite moments in this novel. The author did such a good job of bringing the characters to life and tackling difficult issues. Some highlights:
I thought the author did a good job of showing the differences in attitudes about the severely disabled during the time that Desirée was a child. There were doctors like Redelius and Zimmerman who saw no hope for growth or learning by someone as disabled as Desirée, and yet there were also doctors like Dr. Preben who took a completely different view, encouraging growth and development in his patients no matter their medical diagnosis.

One of my favorite scenes in the book was the beginning of Desirée’s lessons, when her roommate Elsegard at the crippled children’s home practiced her teaching techniques on Desirée. The other roommates joined in as well. All of this despite Dr. Redelius belief that Desirée’s disabilities were so bad that she was not capable of learning.

There was also a scene in which Elsegard visits Desirée at her apartment when they are adults. It was a significant moment for both women, and showed a softer side to Desirée.

Of the foster sisters’ stories, I was most taken with Christina’s story. It is the one that impacted me the most, although each of the characters’ stories was powerful in their own right. My least favorite character was Birgitta, but not because the author failed to adequately represent her—her anger and bitterness flew out of the pages, and at times I had difficulty empathizing with her because I more often wanted her to wake up and realize she was headed down the wrong path.

Interesting Factoid: The author, in her research, was only able to find one reference to an April witch, and that was through one of her favorite author’s Ray Bradbury’s short story.

The names of the four sisters, Christina, Margareta, Birgitta and Desirée, are also the names of the four sisters of the Swedish king.

Note about the Author: The Swedish author received the 1997 August Prize for April Witch.

Miscellaneous: Our late night action: Some hit the fire hydrant and two giant wooden phone poles outside my house just after midnight this morning. He lost his fender and front driver side tire right where the fire hydrant used to be. He sent the fire hydrant flying about 7 feet into our front yard, water shooting up into the air. We had our own geyser right outside our window. The driver also ended up hitting our neighbor’s car which was parked in the street, his own vehicle coming to a stop about three houses down the street. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Updated Rating Scale (Why? Just Because I Can.)

1 (Poor) - Occasionally my cat climbs on my chest and makes me pet him instead of reading. This time, I should have listened to the cat more carefully.

2 (Fair) - This book kept me guessing until the very end. The problem was I was guessing whether I really liked it or not.

3 (Good) - By the end of this book, I was happy to have read it. Not so much that I don't have some very pointed comments to make, Mr. or Mrs. Author, but I liked it.

4 (Very Good) - Now that was a book. It really is too bad more books aren't as good as that. Really, what's wrong with you authors? I want to like your books. Here's an example of what I'm looking for. Hop to it!

5 (Outstanding) - This book is the reason I read. The book made me say "WOW!" when it was all over. Six months to a year later I'm still talking about it almost nonstop and wondering why everyone hasn't read it. It might annoy my husband but I don't care. The book is that good.

Many thanks to Anjin for his help in turning my ideas for a rating scale into a more palatable and humorous format. And a big thank you to Jody who gave me the idea to add a little humor in the first place.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Bantam Spectra, 1968
Fantasy; 198 pgs

Started: 04/01/2007
Completed: 04/07/2007
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.

Where Book Came From: My husband’s collection of books.

Reason for Reading: I selected this little book to read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge as well as the Reading Through the Decades Challenge.

Comments: A Wizard of Earthsea is a story of a boy who comes into great power, desires more and is a fool to his pride. As a result, he tampers with magic he does not fully understand and unleashes a terrible darkness with unknown powers. The wizard Ged must undo what he created somehow in order to save himself and the world he knows.

In the first book of Ursula K. Le Guin’s series, magic is not something to be trifled with lightly. There is a balance, an equilibrium that must be maintained in order to avoid chaos or evil to come into the world. Ged is a flawed character from the start, his pride and anger his ultimate downfalls. I liked the simplicity of the story. It is not a novel that delves deeply into character development, but is more about the plot and Ged’s journey from boy to man. A Wizard of Earthsea was a nice break from my more serious reading of late, and I definitely plan to read further into the series.

Favorite Part: My favorite part of the book is when Ged is traveling towards the Court of Terrenon up through his flight from there. The pull of the stone and the behavior of the occupants of the keep, including Ged’s, made for good reading.

I also enjoyed the short time spent with the old dragon and hope that I see more of him or his kind in future books.

Check out the author's website.

Miscellaneous: Anjin and I drove into Redlands today to visit one of his favorite comic books stores. We stopped for lunch at Claim Jumper on our way home. Anjin was quick to say no when asked if we wanted dessert despite that being one of the highlights of eating at a restaurant like that. It was probably for the best. Ho hum. Still, I can't get that chocolate cream cheese pie out of my mind though.

A Prize Fit For a Queen

Thank you for the overwhelming response to my contest for Buy a Friend a Book Week. I cannot thank you all enough for all the great recommendations. I wish I had the funds to make everyone a winner in this contest, but only one name could be chosen (thanks goes to Anjin and my cat for their assistance in choosing the winner).

And the Winner Is

KAILANA from Kailana's Written World


Kailana's prize is a book of her choice of up to $15. I have sent her off an e-mail for the title she would like and will be doing a little book shopping for her soon!

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Reminder and Many Thanks

I'm drowning in great recommendations from those who have already entered the drawing for a free book. You still have time to enter the drawing, which will close at midnight tonight (Pacific Daylight Time). All you have to do is leave me a comment under the Buy A Friend a Week thread along with a recommendation of a book you think I (or anyone) should read.

As some of you already know, it has been a difficult week for me and so it was especially heartening to be nominated by Lynne from Lynne's Little Corner of the World for the Thinking Blogger Award. It was my second nomination, but it is no less appreciated. I never expected for my blog to be anything but a place for me to share my thoughts on the books I read, and I certainly did not anticipate having so many people interested in reading what I had to say! I am glad my husband convinced me to give blogging a try. It has opened up a whole new world for me. I have made new friends and am challenging myself in ways I had not thought to before. The true Thinking Blogger Award should go to all of you out there who have inspired and made me think. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I Think I Need a Shopping Cart

Bookfool from Bookfoolery and Babble made the recommendation that I post a list of the great recommendations I requested as part of the Buy A Friend A Book Week. I think it is a great idea.

A heart felt thank you to everyone for the recommendations! Several of the titles are among my TBR collection and only one mentioned is one that I've read (Thirteenth Tale) so far. The best kind of recommendations are those that come from fellow readers, and I look forward to diving into the below list.

Recommendations (name of person who recommended author or books and link to blog):

- The Books of Anne Stuart
(Melody from Melody's Reading Corner)

- Nefertiti by Michelle Moran
(Kailiana from Kailana's Written World)

- Smonk by Tom Franklin
(Kookiejar from A Fraternity of Dreamers)

- Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
(Joy from Thoughts of Joy)

- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
(Karen from Verbatim)

- The Magician's Assitant by Ann Patchett
(Karen from Verbatim)

- Ida Mae Tutweiler and the Traveling Tea Party by Ginnie Siena Bivona
(Lynne from Lynne's Little Corner of the World)

- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
(Malady from Life By Candlelight)

- Mary by Janis Cooke Newman
(Malady from Life By Candlelight)

- We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg
(Karen from Write From Karen)

- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
(Amanda from A Patchwork of Books & Booklogged from A Reader's Journal)

- When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
(Amanda from A Patchwork of Books)

- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover
(Booklogged from A Reader's Journal)

- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
(Booklogged from A Reader's Journal)

- The Wee Free Men and Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
(Booklogged from A Reader's Journal)

- Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
(Booklogged from A Reader's Journal & Chris from Book-a-rama)

- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
(Chris from Book-a-rama)

- Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors
(Stephanie from Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic)

- Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie
(Marianne Arkins from Reading, Writing, & Stuff That Makes Me Crazy)

- Angels Fall by Nora Roberts
(Marianne Arkins from Reading, Writing, & Stuff That Makes Me Crazy)

- I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
(Marianne Arkins from Reading, Writing, & Stuff That Makes Me Crazy)

- Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett
(Toni from Logostoni)

- Karin Slaughter's Grant City series
(Judy from Welcome to My World of Dreams)

- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
(Lisa from Books. Lists. Life.)

- March by Geraldine Brooks
(Wendy from Caribousmom)

- The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
(Lisa Jean from Practicing Stillness)

- Books by Lisa See
(Deborah from Books, Movies, and Chinese Food)

- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
(LK from The Literate Kitten)

- Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger
(Carrie K from My Middle Name is Patience)

There is still time to join in. Go here for details and to sign up!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Buy A Friend a Book Week!

Do you ever get a craving for a particular kind of food? Chocolate perhaps? Maybe a salty snack? A heaping plate of spaghetti? How about a craving to buy a new book? It usually comes with an urge to drop by the local bookstore when your in the neighborhood (it doesn't matter that there's a post office closer to your home or that the bookstore is on the other side of town. The definition of a neighborhood can be relative).

It just so happens that this week is Buy a Friend a Book Week , and what better way to get my book buying fix than to buy a book for someone else? With my overflowing TBR room, a husband who bites his tongue but gives me a suspicious look every time he walks into the TBR room, and the goal (which I'm failing miserably if only because more go in than come out) to clear out some of those books by reading them, this seems like a good alternative. I will satisfy my craving to buy a book and have the satisfaction of giving another reader some pleasure.

Reading through some of the participants' blogs who are having contests to giveaway books, there are a variety of great ideas out there, from giving away books from their own shelves to offering to buy a book of the winner's choice. I have plenty of books I could offer up, but would anyone want them? I imagine so. Well, maybe. The question would then become: am I ready to part with them? That is the dilemma. Of course, that won't settle my itch to buy a book, will it?

In honor of Buy a Friend a Book Week, I am going to join in on the fun and hold a drawing. The winner can select a book of their choice that is no more than $15. All I ask is that it be a book that is relatively easy to get a hold of (no out of print or obscure books, please--I'm not that talented at searching out hidden treasure).

One other catch. Not that requiring this is a good idea any way you look at it considering my already extensive personal library; if you want to participate and take a chance at winning, please leave a comment with a recommendation for a book you think I (or anyone who might be looking for a recommendation) might like to read. This does not have to be the book you may hope to receive if you win.

The drawing will be held on Saturday, April 7, 2007, so I ask that you post a comment to enter no later than midnight on Friday, April 6, 2007 (PDT).

Note: The drawing is not limited to the USA (thanks goes to Kailana for introducing me to The Book Depository).