Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friday Fill Ins: Spring Is In The Air

1. I'm looking forward to more spring like weather next week.
2. I don't handle waiting for the release of a highly anticipated book I want to read very well.
3. A bowl of ice cream or frozen yogurt is something I could eat every day.
4. Warmth and sunlight are sure signs of spring where I live (and unfortunately allergies too).
5. Weekend, here I come!
6. I do not have any tattoos.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to finally getting around to my friends blogs that I have been neglecting this week; tomorrow my plans include cleaning out the garage and Sunday, I want to laze about, catch up on some reading, and maybe even Lost!

Booking Through Thursday: Heroine

Who is your favorite female lead character? And why? (And yes, of course, you can name more than one . . . I always have trouble narrowing down these things to one name, why should I force you to?)

Human nature is full of complexities. No one is perfect. No one is above making mistakes, and no one is liked by everyone. We each have our insecurities and fears. We have our ticks and eccentricities. Our lives are filled with obstacles we each must overcome. Our journeys are very different; our experiences are our own. And yet, we are more alike than we think, and we are not nearly as different from one other as we might sometimes believe. I am reminded of this every time I open a book. Even as I step into the pages of a world completely different than my own and into the life of someone whose experiences I cannot fathom, it is rare that I do not find some common ground with the characters I read about.

People, their thought processes, emotions, and behavior have always fascinated me. I imagine that this is in part what helped determine my career path and influences my reading choices. I enjoy seeing the process unfold: what makes a character tick, exactly what they think and feel and to better understand why he or she makes certain choices.

Where I am in my life plays a part in the types of characters I may be drawn to. As a teenager, I was drawn most to the outcast or perhaps the one who sat on the edges looking in. For many years it was important for me to like the lead characters in a way I might like a friend. That is less important to me today. Certainly for a book to work for me, I have to feel some sort of connection with the lead character, but that connection is less defined nowadays in the sense of seeing things in terms of black and white. I am better able to see the gray areas today and understand them more fully. I would like to think that I also am more open minded and more willing to step outside of my comfort zone.

In recent years, I find I am most drawn to female lead characters that come across as real. They share the same complexities and humanness as every day people. They are flawed and vulnerable, and yet also intelligent and strong. I have a preference for strong leading ladies who can take care of themselves and do not need a man to come to their rescue at every turn (although once in a while is okay). Give me a little edge and moxie any day, but please no arrogance as that is sure to turn me off rather quickly. If she's bookish too, all the better! This is a lot how I would like to see myself in some respects, and, in others, what I aspire to be. Characters that come to mind instantly and who have stayed with me include Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennet, Kinsey Millhone, Margaret Hughes, and Morgaine. Each of them has an inner strength and a mind of her own; not to mention the stories they inhabit are enduring.

That isn't to say that I do not enjoy reading about other types of characters. I most certainly do. Variety is the spice of life, right? And who knows what type of character will sway me more than others ten years down the road.

Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland
Soho Crime, 2008 (ARE)
Mystery; 322 pgs

Started: 02/08/2008
Completed: 02/10/2008
Rating: * (Very Good +)

First Sentence: I parked my little white ute on the outskirts of the camp and sat there, looking out at the scatter of corrugated iron hovels.

Reason for Reading: The description of this book is what first drew me to it as I was deciding on what to review next for Curled Up With A Good Book. A mystery set in the Australian outback seemed too good to pass up.

Comments: Author Adrian Hyland makes his debut with Moonlight Downs, a novel about a young woman trying to find her place in the world and the murder of a well-respected leader and friend. Emily Tempest has always felt like an outsider. With the death of her mother when she was still a young girl, Emily and her father settled in Moonlight Downs, which would become her home for the next ten years. Taken under the wing of the Moonlight Downs community and spiritual leader, Lincoln Flinders, and befriended by his daughter Hazel, Emily knows no other home until everyone in the community is forced to leave. The people of Moonlight Downs going one way, and Emily heading south to school.

Now as an adult having traveled the world, she is ready to come home, not sure of the welcome she will receive nor if in fact Moonlight Downs will be the home she hopes it will be. Emily has always been a bit of a free spirit, wild and untamed. Most of the community has resettled the area and life has returned to normal. Soon after her return, her old friend and mentor, Lincoln, is murdered, and the people of Moonlight Downs scatter, mourning in their own way, unsure of what the future will hold.

The murder is believed to be the work of a sorcerer, a man Lincoln had been seen arguing with not long before his demise. The police set out on a manhunt in hopes of finding their number one suspect. As time passes and she settles into her new life, Emily begins to question the course of the investigation and is determined to seek out the truth on her own. Her inquiries and snooping soon find her knee deep in more than she anticipated and her own life may now be at stake.

Emily Tempest is not the kind of woman you want to mess with. She may be small in stature, but she is smart and tough. Half white, half aboriginal, Emily has always straddled the two worlds, never knowing quite where she belongs. It is something she has struggled with most of her life; however, you would not necessarily know it because she has a confidence and strength that suggest otherwise. With her wit and candid observations, she proves to be the perfect narrator for this tale.

Adrian Hyland’s novel takes the reader deep into the Australian desert where life is difficult. The land is harsh and beautiful, much like the people who eke out their survival in the rural land, making the best of what they have. Adrian captures both the desperation and the love of a people and land rich in culture and history. He weaves in the spirituality of the indigenous people and does not shy away from exposing racial tensions and political corruption.

Moonlight Downs is a captivating crime novel that brings to life its characters and the land it is set in. Adrian Hyland has proven that he is a great storyteller much in the tradition of those he writes about. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2008.

Favorite Part: There is a scene in the book where Emily’s little pickup becomes the victim of a local’s aggression and power play. Little Emily takes matters into her own hand and shows him what’s what. I love Emily’s moxie. She isn’t afraid of much; or rather, she doesn’t let her fear get in her way of standing up for herself.

This is definitely a series I plan to follow.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Salon: Out Sick

I hate being sick with the restless nights and what seems like endless misery and pain. The day is not proving to be much better. I was not able to settle in with my book like I would have liked this morning as a result. Instead I found comfort in updating my wish list. Both of them. I used to just keep one wish list. A regular Word document which later I moved to Excel. Then I decided it might be fun to keep an Amazon wish list for those family and friends who are always complaining they do not know what book to get me for those gift-giving holidays. It is also nice to glimpse quickly at what the books are about during my moments of forgetfulness. The downside to keeping such a list on a book buying site is that it's all the more easier to "add to cart" which itself is a simple click or two away from taking that final step to check out. Ho hum.

I currently am reading a book called Fangland by John Marks. It has been described as a modern retelling of Bram Stoker's Dracula, but with the author's own twists and turns added in. I can see why it earned such a description, both in story and style. I am not even a hundred pages in and the similarities between the two stories is very evident. At the same time, they are both very different. I am enjoying Fangland quite a bit. A friend who recently attempted the novel likened it to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and I can see why she might do that.

When last I left off, Evangeline Harker, associate producer for an American news show, had just parted with her temporary traveling companion, a missionary (although, Clemmie much prefers to be called a change agent), who gives Evangeline a dire warning before fleeing the scene. Evangeline, of course, is not sure what to make of the warning or her new friend for that matter. Perhaps later this afternoon I will be feeling up to seeing just what is in store for the young protagonist.

I am drowning in books at the moment, ones I have on tap to read for a variety of reasons, mostly because of commitments I have made. They all sound rather appetizing. I guess it is a good thing that books do not have calories.

In the immediate to be read stack, there is The Sister by Poppy Adams about two sisters who come together again after a long estrangement; The Fisher Boy by Stephen Anable, a mystery set in Cape Cod involving a summer visitor, a local and a murder; and E.J. Rand's Say Goodbye, another murder mystery, this one with a twist of neighborly romance. I am still itching to read Matt Beynon Rees' A Grave in Gaza, which I keep asking myself why I haven't started yet.

I nearly have forgotten that I am participating in any reading challenges this year. As the Unread Authors Challenge draws to a close the end of this month, I am content with the effort I made.

Unread Authors Challenge List:
In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes [read]
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos [read]
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley [read]
Pursuit by Thomas Perry[read]
Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson[read]
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

While I failed in terms of meeting the requirements of the challenge in the sense that I did not read all the books on my list, I did succeed in reading plenty of authors I had not read before but had been looking forward to trying. And definitely more than six. So, in that way, I at least succeeded on a personal level. Many thanks to Ariel from Sycorax Pine for hosting the Unread Authors Challenge.

I hope you all enjoy the week ahead and happy reading!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Fill Ins: Traveling & News

1. Exploring new sights is the best thing about traveling.
2. I love a good cozy blanket, warm pair of socks and a mug of hot chocolate when I'm cold.
3. I often use the internet to keep abreast of the news.
4. I'm reading Fangland by John Marks right now; I am not too far into it.
5. The Periodic Table is something I dislike talking about.
6. When I visited Colorado I most looked forward to seeing the Air Force Academy.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to catching up on Lost and going to bed early to read, tomorrow my plans include going to see No Country For Old Men and Sunday, I want to remember where I put that box!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Format

All other things (like price and storage space) being equal, given a choice in a perfect world, would you rather have paperbacks in your library? Or hardcovers? And why?

A book is a diamond. A pearl. A sapphire. Perfectly cut and sparkling whether it sits on my shelf or I am holding it in my hands. The content, of course, is what really makes the book valuable to us as readers, although a nice cover never hurts.

Hardcover books are sturdy and strong. They can easily lay flat on a desk for easy reading when using hands is not possible. They look pretty on the shelf, somehow more formal and elegant. They are more difficult to hold with one hand and less convenient to lug around.

Mass market paperback books, the kind that will fit in your back pocket it you really want to stuff it in there (but, watch those edges!), were brilliant inventions. They are easy to hold, especially with one hand, and fit so nicely into purses and bags without being bulky or adding too much more weight. They do show the wear and tear more easily though and some have complained about the print size (I'm not quite there yet).

The slightly larger mass market paperbacks were designed with Baby Boomers in mind with slightly bigger print, bigger margins and a little added height to make them easier to hold. Or so the publishers say. I have not had too much experience with them to really say if they live up to their intended reputation.

Audio books and e-books are not formats I am too familiar with other than in name. I am not opposed to either, but neither have found a place in my life. Perhaps if I owned a decent e-reader I might consider trying e-books, but that is not likely to happen any time soon. An already bulging library of paper books does not make such an idea very practical. But then, the ability to take 25 plus books on a vacation in one little paperback size device sure is tempting! As for audio books, the only place I could see fitting them into my life is when I exercise, but that would require an iPod or an MP3 player, neither of which I own.

Now take the trade paperback book. Not too big and yet not too small. They are easy to hold and relatively light weight in terms of carrying around. They do not have the advantage of being quite as compact as the mass market paperback nor are they as sturdy as the hardback. They certainly do look attractive on the shelf though. There is just something about the trade paperback book that immediately draws me in. The size, the quality and the style all seem just right when it comes right down to it.

I have discovered over time that I enjoy certain types of books and, in some cases, even authors in specific formats over others. I do not know if this is because of cost or simply because the book seems more fitting wearing certain clothes. Although this is not true in every case, it seems to be a common preference that pops up.

The formats books come in all have their advantages as well as their disadvantages. I think it is obvious which I would prefer above the rest, but truth be told, in the end it does not matter because it is what is inside that counts. I may prefer a sapphire over a diamond, but I will gladly wear both (although I really would prefer a book, please).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Salon: Choices

Here I sit at my computer, wondering what to write. I thought of going off on a rant today, talking about an annoying bit of book snobbery I encountered recently, but I do not feel like it. It is such a lovely day outside and my mood is relatively high. There is no point in getting myself worked up just now.

My husband and I ventured out to the movie theater yesterday, after a leisurely lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. We settled on seeing There Will Be Blood, a movie neither one of us was particularly excited about, but with all the Oscar buzz and the talk around town that it was a must see movie, we could not resist. The movie is based on the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair, a novel and author I have never read. While our stop at the bookstore after the movie did not find me searching out the book, it may be one I look into reading at some point in the future.

I did not feel so bad when I discovered that I was not the only one laughing at the end of the film as the credits started to roll. I am not sure that was the most appropriate reaction to have, but I could not help myself. I was not certain if I liked the movie or not yesterday, but today I am pretty sure I did. It certainly was different.

Moving on to the actual topic for today, I would like to start by posing a question to you. After reading a powerful or especially moving book that not only has you thinking but feeling strong emotions too, how do you choose that next book to read? In instances like this, is it better to pick up something light and funny (or perhaps light and suspenseful) to offset the seriousness of the book just finished? You know, to lighten the mood. Or is it better to continue along a similar line?

I was faced with this very quandary earlier this week after reading Daoud Hari's The Translator. I did not pick up another book to read right away. In fact, I did not read anything the day after I finished the book. I was reluctant to pick up another book to read right away.

Feeling obligated to work my way through several books I have sitting on my desk that I have committed to reading and reviewing, I decided to limit my selection to choosing one of those, limiting my choices considerably. I nearly picked up A Grave in Gaza by Matthew Rees because, while it is a completely different type of book altogether, it still appears as if it will not be quite as light or free of politics as some other books on my immediate shelf might be.

As I often do in situations like this, however, I instead went with Blood Poison by D.H. Dublin. It looked like it would be a fast paced suspense novel, something different and on the lighter side. Unfortunately though, being the follow-up to a book like The Translator is bound to have some repercussions. And it has.

I think it might have been wiser to stay with the momentum of the first book and ridden it out until I craved something different. However, as I sometimes do in situations like this, I jump ahead and force myself into doing something before I am ready because I can see where it will lead eventually. I over think the situation and end skipping lunch because I am thinking only of supper. That isn't to say that reading something lighter or less serious after the more serious book is not appropriate. There are times when it most certainly is. But there are also times when it is not. I am still learning the difference between the two when it comes to my own reading.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Meme Saturday

Nyssaneala tagged me for this particular gem. I remember hearing an author talk about how her characters crowd around her wherever she goes, demanding to be heard and written about; the stories always pushing her around and wanting out. I know exactly what she means. The difference though is that she in much more gifted at channeling her energies into her writing. I am more likely to flail around without much direction, all those ideas swimming in my head but without the focus to give them a proper home on paper. While I do believe that everyone has a book inside them, I do not believe that just anyone can write a good book.

10 Signs a Book Has Been Written by Me

1. The novel would be an epic fantasy. No, maybe a mystery. Nah. Better to just stick to straight fiction for now.

2. My lead character would be a sad sort of person. She has had a difficult life, but one that has made her stronger. She can hold her own in any given situation.

3. Set in a city. One I have been to. Maybe even one I have lived in. Probably on the West Coast.

4. There will be a kitchen with a window above the sink.

5. The reader will be moved to tears.

6. My lead character would have to use the restroom at least once. It's only natural.

7. The reader will chuckle.

8. My main character will stop in a bookstore and browse the shelves, looking for the perfect book. Someone will have to help her reach a book on the highest shelf.

9. There will be a sleepless night.

10. The novel will be published under a pseudonym.

I was tagged by both CJ and Melody for Gautami's Nonfiction Meme. Although I tend to gravitate more towards fiction, I do enjoy reading nonfiction as well. My tastes in both fiction and nonfiction are very similar.

1) What issues/topics interest you most?

I am most drawn to human interest stories, the types of stories that let the reader into the life of a particular person and experience life walking alongside them, sharing in their experiences whether it be a story about his or her childhood, an addiction, war, a spiritual journey, or a look into a particular part of his or her life. Such stories can be inspirational, informative, and life-changing. Some are sad and horrifying, while others are uplifting. I tend to shy away from books about celebrities. I prefer to read about everyday people more often than not. Those are the types of people I can more easily relate to.

I also have an interest in exploring other cultures as well as taking a walk into history, including religious history, which sometimes means stepping outside of my comfort zone. Then, of course, there are books that deal with forensic science, sociology and psychology that often capture my interest, although not so much self-help or how-to books.

2) Would you like to review books concerning these?

Oh, absolutely! And I have. I review all of the books I read on my blog and have received a nonfiction book here and there to review as part of an early review program. The most recent being The Translator by Daoud Hari, which I reviewed earlier this week for LibraryThing's Early Review Program.

3) Would you like to be paid or do it as an interest or hobby? Why?

I certainly wouldn't mind being paid, but truth be told, I doubt anyone would pay me for my thoughts on his or her book, fiction or nonfiction. Reviewing books is more of a hobby for me and a natural part of my reading process. My reviews are not really reviews when it comes right down to it. I am just throwing my thoughts together in hopes that I can coherently express how I feel about what I am reading.

There would certainly be more pressure if I wrote reviews for money, and I worry that my freedom to choose what I read might be constricted. I do not want my reading to feel too much like work. I do sometimes receive free books to review, which is always a great treat. And in a way, this is a form of payment. Regardless, I prefer to read and review books that I want to read and that I think I will enjoy. I hate to have to offer up a review on a book I did not like--it's a waste of my time and probably the author's.

4) Would you recommend those to your friends?

If I read a book that is worthwhile, I will certainly recommend it. Some books I know are better suited for one type of individual than another. Not everyone shares the same interests and tastes, after all.

5) If you have already done something like this, link it to your post.

All of my nonfiction reviews can be found under my nonfiction tag.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Fill Ins and More 123 Fun

1. Snowdrops are very rare around here. (At first I thought snowdrops had something to do with the white cold stuff that comes down in the mountains. We actually got a tiny bit of snow on Thursday in the city where I work. Everyone scrambled to the windows to see the foreign sight.)
2. I'm going to have a little something for dessert now.
3. The Rose is a song whose lyrics have meaning to me. (This was an especially difficult one because music is so important to me and many songs have special meaning in my life.)
4. Just one sip and I fall flat on my face.
5. Snuggled up under the covers in bed with a book and my husband and animals by my side is where I'm happiest.
6. I believe that making mistakes is a necessary part of life.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to catching up on my sleep; tomorrow my plans include skydiving sleeping in and maybe deep sea fishing taking in a movie and lunch out on the town; and Sunday, I want to enjoy the fact that Monday is a holiday!

My friend Aarti over at BookLust tagged me for the 123 Meme. Yes, I did this one last week, but it just happens to be one of those memes you can do over and over again and come up with a different response each time.

This also gives me the opportunity to thank Lynne for sending me a copy of Anita Shreve's All He Ever Wanted, which arrived in today's mail. Thanks, Lynne!

The Rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages)
2. Open the book to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence
4. Post the next three sentences

"Perhaps this would be a good day to have the painter in to finish the hallway," Edna said, putting the top of the pen to her chin. "He could work undisturbed through the late afternoon and evening."

"Yes," I said, "that might be wise."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: After The Honeymoon

This question comes from Chris:

Here’s something for Valentine’s Day.

Have you ever fallen out of love with a favorite author? Was the last book you read by the author so bad, you broke up with them and haven’t read their work since? Could they ever lure you back?

I am not sure when it happened. Maybe when he gave my white teddy bear the raspberries during a game of Truth or Dare. Perhaps it was while we were sitting on the moonlit beach talking about our dreams and aspirations. Or when he pulled out that pillow in the middle of Religion 101 and put his head down during the lecture (okay, so definitely not this time--this is when I wished he wasn't sitting right behind me and I wanted to pretend I didn't know him). It could have been on one of our many late night/early morning dessert runs to Denny's with the gang after a long study session. All I know is that somewhere in the middle of all that, I lost my heart to a writer.

We were first introduced in the dormitory lobby; my friend and I were on our way out, and he and his friend were on their way in. We met again in my friend's dorm room one afternoon when he came to tutor her in chemistry. We got to talking and the conversation quickly turned to books and writing. He asked me to read something he had written and I readily agreed. Our friendship evolved from there and seven years later I put on that white gown and walked down the pathway to become his wife.

We did break up once during our first four years as a couple. Almost, anyway. I was scared, afraid of how close we were getting. I did not let people in easily back then. He was the first person with whom I completely let my guard down, and I panicked. He was patient with me, let me have my space, and waited. Fortunately, I came to my senses quickly. Sixteen and a half years later, he is still my best friend, and we are happily married. I still read everything he writes.

Such wonderful memories . . .

I did it again, didn't I? Going off on a tangent right from the start. I think it may have something to do with the fact that it's Valentine's Day and I have my Valentine on my mind. Anyway, the question was not meant to be about me and my writer, was it? It is about my favorite author, of which I have more than one. Perhaps you remember a previous post I wrote that was in a similar vein.

I have fallen head over heels for particular books and then scooped up the author's other books with eager anticipation. Occasionally I have read an awesome book only to be disappointed in books that come after, but I do like to give second and third chances. There have only been a couple of authors who I no longer follow because the disappointment was too much to bear, and, even after giving the authors chance after chance to redeem themselves, I still was not satisfied. This could be for a variety of reasons and cannot always be attributed to the author. It is our nature to grow and change; our interests evolve as time goes by. Other times it is the author's (and maybe the publishers' with all the pressure they put on the authors) fault. The quality of work depreciates, and I am not willing to settle for less.

More often than not, however, I accept that there is bound to be a book by an author I like less than the rest and that could be for a variety of reasons. When I am disappointed, it is generally only a minor disappointment, one that does not impact an author's place on my favorites' list or even necessarily ruin my enjoyment of the book that does not quite live up to the one I liked best. It is just a matter of degree, really, and liking one book more than another might not mean much of anything when I like them both in the end.

Breaking up is hard to do, no matter what anyone says. Even when tired and frustrated, I still am reluctant to totally say goodbye to an author. Of the favorite authors I no longer follow, I cannot say never in response to whether I would find my way back to their books. There's always a chance that I will come across a review of a later book by the author that will pique my interest and lure me back for a taste test, however hesitant I may be.

It is important not to short shift those favorite books whose authors I may not have any interest in reading more of for whatever reason, or those that have only written one book. It isn't really the author that I fall in love with, but the books themselves.

*Not to be confused with my author crushes, which is an entirely different topic altogether.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari

The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari
Random House, March 2008
Nonfiction; 200 pgs

Started: 02/10/2008
Completed: 02/12/2008
Rating: * (Very Good +)

First Sentence: I am sure you know how important it can be to get a good phone signal.

Reason for Reading: I was interested in learning more about the current conflict in Darfur. I received this book through the LibraryThing's Early Review Program.

Comments: Last summer as I immersed myself in books, I spent time in Africa. Through books, I lived life as a child soldier in West Africa; I talked with the killers in Rwanda who murdered their own neighbors and friends, ones they played and dined with just days before; I was taken into South Africa and came face to face with Apartheid; and I lived through a vicious war in what now is called Zimbabwe. The torture and slaughtering of a people is nothing new. The horror of such actions remain fresh always.

As far away and unaffected as we Americans may feel, miles away from the death and danger, that distance is not so great. What goes on across the globe does impact us, whether directly or indirectly. As history repeats itself over and over again, we must not fall into the trap of thinking we are immune. We live in this world too. We are all brothers and sisters. Our basic needs are the same. Our hopes and dreams are not far off from each other. The older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize just how connected we all are. Our choices and decisions have consequences that can have a resounding effect all over the world.

Daoud Hari brings his story to the world in hopes that it will make a difference. He wants his story and the story of those in and from Darfur to be heard. For perhaps in the telling, people will listen and take action.

Daoud Hari, a Zaghawa, was born and raised in a village in Darfur. He had a relatively happy childhood, surrounded by family and a close-knit community. Life had been tranquil, full of the usual every day hardships, playing games with friends and cousins, attending school, and visiting neighbors. Suddenly all that changed. The government has been unstable for quite some time; politics, power, and religion, all creating rifts that would soon come to a head, leading to the slaughter of several thousands of people and displacing millions more, in what would later earn the grim title of genocide. This is still taking place today.

The government under the Sudanese President Omar El Bashir used its military might to attack the every day people and manipulated ethnic groups to turn against their friends and neighbors. Arabs who once lived side by side by their African brothers took up arms against them, and the fighting began. Rebel groups that had begun forming over the years of rising conflict, grew in numbers as the violence escalated and innocent people died. The Sudanese government took advantage of the rebel groups, pitting them against each other, making promises of power and money that were empty at best. For women and girls no matter their ages, rape was a given. Death and violence was everywhere. Is everywhere. The Sudanese government continues to engage in such practices, continues to murder and rape the country. And yet the people, those caught in the middle who have become the targets, struggle to live on as best they can. It is because of people like Daoud Hari that their screams and cries are not falling on deaf ears.

In The Translator, Daoud Hari writes about his life in Darfur, his travels into the great Sahara, Israel and his imprisonment in both Israel and Egypt for entering Israel illegally. He also talks about how he came to be a guide and translator for both the genocide investigators and journalists wanting to visit and speak with people in Darfur. He risked his life time and time again, leading the reporters and investigators into war torn Darfur so the truth could get out.

Mr. Hari's voice comes through in his writing. He seems genuine and sincere. There is no pretension. His writing is simple and to the point. He maintains his sense of humor even in the direst of moments--at least in the retelling. What else can you do? You have to cope somehow. There were, and continue to be, so many every day people trapped in between the fighting, some fleeing and others trying to survive and hold onto what they still have.

The author describes the horrors he encounters, individualizes the victims and gives them their own voices. He includes the readers, drawing us in pointing out the similarities, however small: the girl you admire, the loss of a baby. These are all things we all can relate to regardless of our borders. While he is careful with names and locations for the safety of those who remain behind, he does not shy away from talking about the rapes, the torture and the murder. He is not overly graphic in his descriptions, but the reader cannot help but visualize it all. Several times throughout the book, my heart ached and tears welled up in my eyes, mothers and fathers watching their children die.

Daoud Hari's experiences while in Darfur during the war were full of suffering and loss. And yet, he stood his ground and carried on. He had a purpose, always moving forward to help those around him who needed his aid and in helping get the word out about the conditions is which the people of Darfur were forced to contend. He saw the humanity even in those who might cause him the greatest harm. His courage and strength carried him through as much as his friendliness, insight and thoughtfulness.

The Translator is a powerful memoir that needs to be read. It is an important story about the terror that has engulfed Darfur and is spilling over the borders into neighboring countries and regions. Darfur is not the only area that currently is facing such atrocities, and unfortunately it will not likely be the last unless humanity begins to take action and set things right.

Favorite Parts (and on a lighter note): I loved how he described the Sahara desert--beautiful and merciless. It is obvious the author is in awe of this great desert, but then, who wouldn’t be?

The author is a reader! One of his favorite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Miscellaneous: I actually marked several quotes in this book that I would like to go back to at a later time. Unfortunately because this is an Advance Readers Copy, I am unable to post them at this time.

It seemed quite timely that just as soon as I finished reading this book, there was an article about Steven Spielberg in relation to Darfur. He has withdrawn as the artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics in protest of China's failure to take a stance against the Sudanese government. China has close ties with the Sudanese government and is one of the main buyers of Sudanese oil.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein

Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein
Scribner, 2007
Crime Fiction (Legal Thriller); 397 pgs

Started: 02/05/2008
Completed: 02/07/2008
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: I was alone in the courtroom, sitting at counsel’s table with a single slim folder opened before me.

Reason for Reading: Alex Cooper and I go way back. I enjoy the author’s series and thought this one would be a good one to read on toward putting another notch on my belt for Kathrin's Series Challenge.

Comments: I admit that I was not too impressed with Final Jeopardy, the first book in the Alexandra Cooper series, however, after reading an article about the author in a book magazine that detailed her career as both a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office in Manhattan and a writer, I decided to give her another try. The series has become one of my favorites over the years, each book getting better and better as the characters grow and evolve.

Bad Blood is the 9th book in the Alexandra Cooper, assistant district attorney in New York City, series. Alex Cooper is about as ready as she can be in her recent case. The daughter of a successful businessman, Amanda Quillian, was strangled in her upscale townhouse, and her husband, Brendan, is on trial for her murder. He has hired one of the most prominent defense attorneys in the area, and his attorney is not about to let anything slip by him without a fight.

An explosion in a New York water tunnel shakes the city barely a week into the trial, killing three men. Police rush in to determine whether the explosion was an accident or intentional. After the Twin Towers bombing, any explosion or threat to the city is taken even more seriously than ever before. The threat of terrorism is very real. Pulled into the investigation by a strange twist that may or may not be related to the defendant she has on trial, Alex is soon traveling over 600 feet into the earth and into parts of New York she did not know existed. Nothing is quite what it seems and the deeper she digs, the more dangerous things become. Joined by her sidekicks, homicide Detective Mike Chapman and Detective Mercer Wallace, Alex is sure she can uncover the truth.

One of my favorite features in Linda Fairstein’s is how the author takes a piece of New York history and weaves it into her modern day murder thriller. In Bad Blood, she takes readers underground, into New York City’s water system and subway tubes sharing their history and also offering a glimpse into the dangerous work of the sandhogs, the people who work in the tunnels.

Bad Blood is one of those fast-paced stay up late novels. Linda Fairstein has succeeded in writing another legal thriller that is pure entertainment and fun.

Stop in and visit the author's website.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunday Salon: A Visit to Australia

A couple of years ago, my husband and I watched the movie, Rabbit-Proof Fence. Set in 1931 Western Australia, it was based on a true story about three girls who had been ripped from their families and forced to live in a government camp designed for "educating" them. The goal was to prepare them for integration into white society by stripping them of their own culture. The three girls were determined not to let them happen and escaped from the facility and set out on foot in search of home, over 1,500 miles away. It was a powerful and heartbreaking story.

I am not too familiar with Australian history other than what little was offered to me in the American school system, and the movie, The Rabbit-Proof Fence, proved to be an eye opener for me. A seed was planted and my interest in the Australian indigenous people grew.

It was with great interest then that I picked up Adrian Hyland's novel, Moonlight Downs, a mystery set in the Australian Outback with a heroine that is half white and half indigenous. Mr. Hyland's descriptions of the people who live and eke out their livings in the Outback, as well as the rugged land, offered me a more contemporary glimpse at what life may be like in that part of the world. Beauty and harshness all rolled into one.

I spent a good part of the day in the Australian desert with the spirited and tough Emily Tempest as my guide. Her wit and candid narrative made the novel an even more enjoyable book to read. I am looking forward to reading more by Adrian Hyland and visiting again with Emily Tempest. (Review to follow at a later date.)

While I do enjoy spending time in my own backyard, reading about familiar locations and traveling down familiar streets, I also take great pleasure in stepping outside what I know. I enjoy taking in different cultures and lifestyles, experiencing things I might not otherwise have known. Books can take me just about anywhere.

Where to go from here? Now that my visit in Australia has come to a close, I must move on. Will I travel next to Gaza in the Middle East for another intriguing mystery? To Darfur where the people are struggling to survive a continuing onslaught of violence? Or perhaps a visit closer to home is in order, maybe to Manhattan or Wyoming? So many choices . . . So many great books to read.

Where are you going today?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Friday Fill In & Having a Little Friday Fun

1. I'm looking forward to figuring out which book I am going to read next and diving right in. (It shouldn't be this hard! This is what comes from having too many choices . . . )
2. Alaska in the summertime is a place I always wanted to visit and haven't made it there yet.
3. I've fallen in love with my husband over and over again through the years. I do not know how I got so lucky (and no, I'm not saying this because I want to go to the bookstore this weekend).
4. Six of one just is not enough when it comes to fresh out of the oven tortilla chips.
5. Addiction to books, you say? I have an addiction to books? Me? Nah!
6. The dry weather and wind crack me up! (and not in a good way--thank you to whoever invented lotion.)
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to cozying up with a good book; tomorrow my plans include taking in a movie and dragging my husband to the pet store to buy food for the dog and Sunday, I want to watch Lost and Chuck and get in some more reading time!

Alice tagged me for the Page 123 meme that has been floating around, and I thought this would be the perfect time to play.

Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
Open the book to page 123.
Find the fifth sentence.
Post the next three sentences.
Tag five people.

It just so happens that the book nearest me has more than 123 pages, but page 123 happens to be the end of a chapter, and so not a full page. Thankfully, there are enough sentences to fit the criteria of this meme. Only just.

"That'll warm ya."

Warm me? My God, it suffused me, it seeped into my bones in ways I'd never felt before.

--page 123 of Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland

If you want to play along and have not already, consider yourself tagged!

Dancin' Fool convinced me to offer up a glimpse of what I might look like. It turned out to be quite accurate (not really, no), and it was fun to put together (this, at least, is true!).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Enough About Books

Okay, even I can’t read ALL the time, so I’m guessing that you folks might voluntarily shut the covers from time to time as well… What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time? Walk the dog? Knit? Run marathons? Construct grandfather clocks? Collect eggshells?

Not too long ago one of my coworkers asked me, "Don't you do anything else in your spare time besides read?" I stared blankly at her for several seconds. There has to be more? How else would I be able to travel all over the world and beyond, go on adventures I could never imagine or ones I would never be brave enough to try on my own? Where else, than in a book, could I really get into the psyche of a character so different from me, someone I might never interact with in real life, and not only get to know them, but to walk in his or her shoes for awhile? Why, at the end of the day, reading is all that I need! Maybe. Okay, so not really true. But it could be if I wanted it to be.

Reading and books certainly do make up a good portion of my leisurely time. There is the actual reading, of course, but there are other book and reading related activities I engage in such as journaling my thoughts about what I am reading, writing reviews, discussing books online with my fellow book lovers, making wish lists of books, organizing my books and lists of books, shopping for books, and blogging about books. So, I suppose it is not so difficult to understand why someone might think all I ever do is read.

My work days are often hectic and crisis-filled. I tend to prefer my home life to be much more quiet and relaxed as a result. My favorite pastimes reflect that. I enjoy listening to music and singing, much to the chagrin of anyone around me when I decide to really belt out a tune. I just cannot help myself. Then there is writing. I love to write. Writing is like breathing for me, whether it be composing my thoughts on a book I just finished, writing a letter or perhaps a story.

My husband and I are movie buffs, taking in films at the theaters and at home. Since discovering the convenience of watching television shows on DVD, we frequently can be found cuddled on the couch taking in a show or two or three or else a movie.

Although you would think that after being on a computer at the office all day the last thing I would want to do is sit in front of one at home, the opposite, in fact, is true. Home is where I most often am able to do the fun stuff online such as surfing the web, blog hopping and visiting my online reading groups.

My favorite way to spend my leisure time regardless of what I do is doing something with my husband, whether it be going to see a baseball game, a musical or just going out to eat. My husband and I enjoy each other's company and like to do things together. Tied for that top spot is playing with my animals. They can make any bad day end on a happy note.

When all is said and done, my leisure time is my opportunity to unwind and recharge.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
Knopf, 2007
Fiction; 355 pgs

Started: 01/27/2008
Completed: 02/05/2008
Rating: * (Good)

First Sentence: ‘Detective Minami!’

Reason for Reading: The description of the novel caught my attention when I first heard about it through the Library Thing’s Early Review program. I was lucky enough to be selected to review the book.

Comments: I am not sure what to say or where to start. Tokyo Year Zero is a complex novel, full of several layers that take the reader into post-World War II Japan during the American occupation. With the end of war came despair, poverty, and shame mixed in with what remained of the country’s pride and lost hopes and dreams.

At the center of the novel is a true crime story, that of a possible serial killer who preys on young women, raping and murdering them. The fictional character of Detective Minami is assigned to head the investigation into the death of an unknown woman, which may be related to the murder of another young woman found in the same location. With hardly any resources available to him, Detective Minami has a difficult row to hoe. To close the case successfully will bring great honor to his team. To fail will bring shame and dishonor, something none of them want.

Perhaps more so, however, David Peace’s novel is about Detective Minami himself. His past haunts him; the part he played in the war is never far from his thoughts. His secrets are his own and yet they are not. He is an insomniac dependent on drugs for sleep. He keeps his distance from his family and is indebted to a local gang leader with an agenda all his own.

David Peace took an interesting stylistic approach when writing Tokyo Year Zero. At times it seemed like he was writing in verse or in a stream of conscience. It was a difficult read, not so much because of the subject matter, however brutal that was at times, but more because of the writing itself. David Peace intermixed action with thoughts, and often those thoughts were repetitive, phrases repeated over and over again. I admit to being annoyed at times with just how often certain phrases were inserted in a paragraph amidst the forward movement of the story, but after awhile I grew used to it--or at least almost. The stylistic writing slowed down the story quite a bit for me, making it more difficult to stick with for long stretches.

At the same time, however, the writing enhanced the story, bringing it all the more home that not only Minami’s life, but also the life of many people during that time in Japan was desperate and bleak. Women were prostituting themselves for food; lice and flea infestations were common and DDT was used as a cure. People lived in half bombed houses and shopped on the black market. Gangs and police corruption were rampant. The people were afraid and struggling to survive in the best ways they knew how. It was a very dark time in Japan and the author adeptly carried that tone throughout the novel.

Tokyo Year Zero was both compelling and interesting, especially from a historical and sociological perspective. Would I recommend Tokyo Year Zero? The book has a lot to offer, however, I think that the writing and the slow pacing of the novel may turn off many readers. After all is said and done, I did enjoy the novel and think this would be perfect for a reading group discussion.

Miscellaneous: Thanks to the author for putting a glossary at the end of the book. The author has a spattering of Japanese phrases and words throughout the novel, and I appreciated that the author took the time to define them for me.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Merciless by Richard Montanari

Merciless by Richard Montanari
Ballantine Books, 2007
Crime Fiction S/T; 402 pgs

Started: 01/16/2008
Completed: 01/27/2008
Rating: * (Good +)

First Sentence: In his dream they are still alive.

Reason for Reading: This is a Curled Up With A Good Book selection, and the second series I have managed to get all caught up on for Kathrin's Series Challenge.

Comments: Merciless is author Richard Montanari’s third novel featuring homicide Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano. When homicide Detective Kevin Byrne spots a dangerous fugitive in a diner one evening, he knows he must act. Unfortunately for Byrne, the wanted man also spots him, and the events that follow quickly turn deadly. This was not exactly how Byrne wanted to finish out what had been a peaceful vacation.

It does not take long before Byrne and his partner, Detective Jessica Balzano, get a call about a body found on the bank of the Schuylkill River. They had been heading out to investigate a cold case, when an anonymous tip came in about the dead woman. They quickly change their plans and head for the crime scene, braving the cold winter weather. The body is clearly posed, sitting on the bank as if looking out at the river clothed only in what appears to be a vintage dress much too big for the woman wearing it. As the evidence is gathered, the mystery deepens.

When a second body is discovered and evidence points to the same killer, the detectives begin to worry that they have a serial killer on their hands. They are still nowhere closer to knowing who may have killed Karen, the first victim, and so the hunt continues and the stakes grow higher. Murder does not wait for one investigation to finish before another begins, and true to form, the brutal murder of a just-retired detective has everyone on edge. The already short-staffed homicide division is stretched to its limit as the two high profile cases are investigated. The media attention is an added weight the police do not really need, much less want.

Richard Montanari is careful in his details, not wanting to give anything away too soon. He is good at obfuscating the truth right until the very end. Certain themes can be found running through the novel, most particularly the way past cases and past horrors continue to haunt and impact the present. There is no getting away from it and no real way to avoid it.

Detectives Byrne and Balzano have worked together for several years now, and the reader falls quickly into their rhythm. Jessica is a young mother, balancing work, marriage and motherhood. Byrne is a divorced father, burdened by past cases and old nightmares. The killer himself is an interesting character, a wounded and delusional man. He is quite intriguing, his motives somewhat obvious and yet still quite hazy as the story unfolds.

One of the draws of Richard Montanari’s book is the setting. Philadelphia is more than just a place name in the author’s recent novels, and that holds true with this latest novel, Merciless, in which not only the city, but the winter season play important roles in the novel. The city is as much a character as the people themselves, and the wintry weather has a voice of its own.

Merciless takes readers in a number if different directions and there is a lot of set up, threatening to bog down the story at times, but never quite doing so. Once the pieces begin to fall into place, the novel takes off and there is no going back. Although this is not his strongest novel, Richard Montanari continues to be a master storyteller, and Merciless is well worth reading. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Wendy Runyon, 2008.

An Observation: Perhaps it is simply because this season’s The Wire focuses on the media that I am more attuned to their role in police investigations right now, but I was constantly aware throughout Montanari’s novel of the media attention the police received and the pressure they felt under the media’s ever watchful gaze. Although no reporters or specific persons from the media were named or brought into focus, media in general was a background character throughout the novel, hovering, waiting, and ready to pounce on any information they could discover.

Miscellaneous: Today is Super Tuesday in the U.S.A. and my state just happens to be one of the states joining in on the election fun. I actually voted last Thursday by absentee ballot, and so that's one less thing I have to worry about today. I hope that if you are American and have an election taking place in your area, you will take the time to vote if you have not already.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sunday Salon: TBR Room Winter Cleaning

One can find the best hidden treasures when going through one's TBR collection. Awakened much too early Saturday morning, I decided to get a jump start on the day's project. About twice a year, I try and go through my unread book collection, mostly to reorganize and add in the new additions that have yet to be filed away, but also to see if perhaps there are any books that no longer interest me. The best time for me to do this, I have found, is when I am in a decluttering mood and not prone to want to hold onto things I really should let go.

Forty-seven books were left stacked against the hallway wall when I was done. Forty-seven unread books that are going to new homes, unread by me. That is maybe 3.8% of the unread books I own. Forty-seven is the most I have said goodbye to at once, and so it feels like quite an accomplishment.

The biggest downside to going through all of my unread books is that it renews my interest in reading them and makes me want to drop everything and read them right this very minute, which of course would be impossible. I finally got around to pulling out all my challenge books for the year and putting them in a separate stack. I also did that with a few of the books that cried out, "Must read me now!" From TBR room to immediate TBR stack, so to speak. The stack being a box and two bags.

While straightening up the TBR room a little after getting all the books back in place, I discovered a $15 Barnes and Noble gift card tucked away in a bag. I must have forgotten all about it.

This morning after a trip to the grocery store, I realized I had five minutes to kill before the fast food restaurant I wanted to grab a bite to eat at switched from breakfast to lunch. I happened to have a copy of Clea Simon's The Feline Mystique with me, and passed the time reading the preface and part of the first chapter. According to the author's definition of a dog person versus a cat person, it appears I may have been wrong in thinking of myself as a dog person all these years. I am more likely a cat person who also loves dogs. Who would have thought? I was raised with dogs all my life, mostly because my father was never too keen on cats (to put it mildly), and never really had much of an opportunity to experience life with cats, other than when visiting my grandparents (I loved their cats, especially Boots who had such a sweet temperament).

My animals were very helpful yesterday, by the way. My dog followed me from room to room as I collected the books, spread them out and put them in their proper order as my cat supervised from various points in the TBR room, sometimes perched on the books themselves. We make a very good team.

I am still working my way through David Peace's Tokyo Year Zero. I am finding it very slow going. It is not for lack of interest, but the writing style takes some getting used to. The author uses repetition quite a bit. The phrase gari-gari has been stuck in my head after reading it so frequently in the novel. Thank goodness I am not actually scratching as well (gari-gari means the sound of scratching). For a while there the author inserted the phrase after just about every sentence. David Peace certainly has the idea of setting the mood down pat. The story itself seems to be creeping along at a snail's pace, although that could be because I have not been reading as faithfully as I should be.

I have been feeling like a failure as a reader lately. I am hardly reading much at all. Then again, a coworker mentioned last week that she only read one book last year. It made the six books I read in January seem like a lot. I feel better now.

I forgot to mention my new acquisitions last Sunday, and so here is a combined list of books acquired in one way or another over the last two weeks.

My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon edited by P.N. Elrod - I actually haven't read the prequel yet, but some of my favorite authors have short stories in the anthology, and so I could not resist.
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani - I was on my way out of the bookstore one day the week before last and just happened to see a copy on the remainder table, discounted to $4. How could I resist? The paperback version would cost more than that . . .
Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne - I finally caved and ordered this one after reading so many great blog reviews about it.
Christine Falls by Benjamin Black - recommended by Danielle from a A Work in Progress.
The Collaborator of Bethelehem by Matt Beynon Rees - I discovered this mystery by seeing mention of the second book in the series and my interest was immediately piqued. My eye seems to be straying these days to mysteries set in other countries, and this fits in with that perfectly.
The Feline Mystique by Clea Simon - I enjoy the author's cat mysteries and was curious about some of her nonfiction work.

Well, I guess that about sums up my Sunday. I have not spent much of it reading like I planned, but there's still tonight. Happy reading!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Friday Fill In: Oh, Weekend! How I Love Thee!

1. Once I was finished managing the last crisis of the day at the office, I was more than ready to go home and start the weekend.
2. I am tired of being sick.
3. Today at work I definitely earned my paycheck--and then some.
4. What's up with her hair? Do you think she's knows it got blown all about?
5. If I make a mistake, I admit I am wrong and try and fix it.
6. When I woke up this morning, I thought immediately of my last blog entry and wondered if I should change the wording on one of my 7 Oddball things least it be misunderstood. I still had twenty minutes left before my alarm went off but was unable to fall back asleep because I kept worrying about that post.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to curling up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, watching a movie while cuddled up with the dog and cat, and waiting for my darling husband to call to say he arrived safely at his destination; tomorrow my plans include pruning my TBR collection and doing some much needed house cleaning; and Sunday, I want to spend the day reading in between loads of laundry and enjoy the evening with my husband!