Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Reading Retrospective, May 2004

Five years seems like such a long time ago on one hand, and yet on the other, it seems just like yesterday. May of 2004 was a month of transition for me on the work front. I took over a new position and moved into a new office. I distinctly remember the mess I walked into when I first stepped into that new office. Coffee stains all over the desk and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff, junk really, filled the drawers. I had a lot of cleaning to do before I could settle in and unpack my own boxes. I had trainings to attend and a new physical to undergo. It was a busy month, and I had more on my plate than I ever had before. My husband was especially patient with my long hours and late nights.

During my spare time, I spent quite a bit of time with Charlotte and Inspector Thomas Pitt that month, five years ago. Stepping back into Victorian England, I found comfort in the steady rhythm of Anne Perry's fictional world. Perry is an author who pays close attention to the minor details in her novels, trying to make them as accurate to the time period as possible. It was in that same way that she attacked the social issues of the day, which were interwoven with the mysteries. It was easy to get swept up in the series, and I ended up reading seven books back to back, the most I had ever read in order, one right after the other.

I also made a new friend, Thursday Next. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde was unlike most of the other books I had read up until that point, and I was quite delighted after having read it.
A lighthearted novel filled with mystery, suspense, romance, and science fiction, this is a humorous tale of Special Operative Thursday Next (of the literary detection division) who is on the trail of a dangerous criminal, a man who has the ability to pull out characters from literature, risking the very stories booklovers have come to treasure. In a world where the debate of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays is a common argument and time travel is not impossible, Mr. Fforde introduces readers to colorful characters, both real and imagined. [excerpt from reading journal, May 2004]
I rounded out May 2004 with another, very different sort of mystery, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time:
Written from the perspective of an autistic 15 year old living in Swindon, England, the main character, Christopher sets out to investigate the murder of his neighbor's dog. However, this novel is about more than just solving a neighborhood crime. Mark Haddon weaves a complex tale about family, betrayal, trust, and courage, while allowing the reader into the mind of someone with autism. [excerpt from reading journal, May 2004]
Mark Haddon took quite a chance in writing the novel the way he did. I appreciated the perspective from which this book was written, portraying the nuances of a teenage boy with autism.

Looking back over my reading five years ago this month, I just realized I spent the entire month in Great Britain. I am fairly certain I hadn't planned it that way.

My reading this month was much different not only in the types of books I read, but also in the settings. I took up residence in small town Pennsylvania, where a family's bonds were tested, hope faltered, and innocence was lost (Precious by Sandra Novack). As a British journalist, I traveled to a West African country scarred by civil war, a place where murder and secrets are well hidden (The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris). I shared in the grief and sadness of lost love, of a people persecuted because of their ethnicity, and that of family disappointments in Seattle, Washington during World War II (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford). In San Francisco, my life was turned upside down when everything I thought I knew suddenly may not have been true at all; the death of a sister, a wrongful accusation, and the rewriting of a story (No One You Know by Michelle Richmond). And then there was the time I inherited a law practice in the beautiful and haunted Savannah, Georgia; only my clients turned out to be an unusual sort: they were ghosts; and I was to defend them in the Celestial Court (Defending Angels by Mary Stanton and Angel's Advocate by Mary Stanton).

Where did your reading take you this month?

June is looking promising in the book department and I cannot wait to share my thoughts about my reading with you. This week be on the look out for my interview with author Mary Stanton and my thoughts on two of her novels, Defending Angels and Angel's Advocate!

Week in Review:
Monday at the Movies: Burn After Reading
Review: No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
Guest Appearance: Michelle Richmond (There is still time to enter the giveaway!)
Friday Fun: Fill-Ins, Poll Results & Mailbag

Please join me in congratulating Book Lady on winning a copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Fun: Fill Ins, Poll Results & Mailbag

*Click on the image above to get to the Friday Fill-In headquarters!*

1. It's cold and numb, a definite sign that it's time to take the ice pack off my ankle.

2. I don't especially care for raw tomatoes.

3. My favorite health and beauty product is a good moisturizing lotion.

4. If only I could hop on the cross-country train and go for a nice long ride.

5. Well, first of all, I am never going to agree with with my husband that the 30th Anniversary Chocolate Cake Cheesecake is better than the Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake.

6. My two sleepy cats, my drowsy-eyed dog, and an angry alarm clock that came to life and chased after us all; those were the cast of characters in my most recent memorable dream and it was pretty weird.

7. And as for the weekend, I really am not sure what I have planned. It may depend on how my ankle is holding up. My husband and I have been watching the 3rd season of Closer, and so I imagine we will do more of the same over the weekend. I also foresee a bit of blog hopping in the near future along with some quality time with a book or two.

Thank you to all who participated in my poll at the beginning of the month. I occasionally go through identity crises where I wonder if I should make a change here and there. I am one of those people who would never be able to get a tattoo--not because I am afraid of the needle or blood, nor am I worried about the possibility of ink poisoning, but rather the fact that I would grow tired of the image after awhile and want a change.

It was with that in mind and wondering if it would be easier to match my blog name with my online nickname, that I put the question to you: Which do you prefer? Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Musings of a Literary Feline? After all, I'm not rally that original.

There were 99 votes in all:
31 for Musings of a Literary Feline
68 for Musings of a Bookish Kitty

My husband has refused to tell me which he prefers just yet. He knows all too well how I am easily swayed by his opinion on these matters. And he knows how much I labored over coming up with the name Musings of a Bookish Kitty in the first place. I thought it was too cutesy at the time, but I was afraid that people would get the impression that I only read "literary fiction" if I went with Literary Feline.

The identity crisis has passed for the moment. I am content with Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Although, I think I may change the name of my car instead.

Wouldn't this pretty Dutch windmill mailbox be fun to receive mail in every day? Here's a look inside my own mailbox on this Mailbox Monday on Friday:

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson
(Many thanks to Dar from Peeking Through the Pages.)

In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

The Missing Ink by Karen E. Olson

Giveaway Reminders:

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet if you have not already. Deadline to enter is May 30, 2009 at 11:59 p.m.

And if you enter by June 6th, you will have a chance to win a copy of Michelle Richmond's No One You Know. (Note: Because of legal restrictions, the publisher is only able to send a giveaway copy to the USA and Canada; HOWEVER, because I am not so restricted, I am giving away an extra copy I have on hand, which is open to those outside of the USA and Canada.)

Just click in the titles of the books and it will take you to the sign-up pages!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Guest Appearance: Michelle Richmond, Author (& a Giveaway)

Please join me in welcoming author Michelle Richmond to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Michelle is the author of No One You Know, the New York Times bestseller The Year of Fog, the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, and the novel Dream of the Blue Room, which was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed No One You Know. Be sure and read my review if have not already.

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Michelle for stopping by!

Not long ago, I was sitting with my son Oscar in the loft of his preschool, telling him a story, when he interrupted me to ask, "Where did that story come from?"

"I just thought of it," I said.

He was not satisfied. "But where did it come from?"

"From my imagination," I said.

"Where's your magic nation?"

"In my mind," I said.

Oscar's question is a variation of the same one I heard again and again from graduate students during my years teaching creative writing, the same question I hear every time I do a reading or visit a book club: where do stories begin?

The novel that inspired No One You Know

I imagine every writer would have a different answer. For most, it involves some kind of percolation. Something occurs to you in the shower, or during a walk, or while down in the garage doing laundry. Days later, or weeks or months later, that original idea surfaces in the mind, and something else is layered on top of it. If the idea seems urgent enough, you get yourself to the notebook or the computer and write it down. It is possible to go for months of creative drought, but I've learned not to get too discouraged. Humans are born storytellers. I always trust that something will come; eventually, I'll find my story.

When I'm feeling particularly uninspired, I try to find something mind-blowing to read. Sometimes, if I am very fortunate, I happen upon a book or essay that jogs my imagination--or, as Oscar would say, my magic nation--something that loosens the rust around the synapses and gets a story moving.

A couple of years ago, I was about fifty pages into the novel that would become No One You Know. I had a basic plot, and a melange of ideas around which to construct the story. I knew, for example, that I was interested in the fine line between fact and fiction, the way stories shape our lives. I knew that I wanted to capture the spirit of San Francisco, my adopted home, the place that had inspired The Year of Fog. I knew that the story would be told by Ellie Enderlin, a coffee buyer in her mid-thirties who had lost her sister Lila--a math prodigy at Stanford--to violent crime twenty years before. Lila's murder was sensationalized in a true crime book written by Ellie's English professor, whose version of events derailed the life and career of a mathematician named Peter McConnell, with whom Lila had been working to solve a centuries-old mathematical puzzle. Read the first chapter here.

Sisters, storytelling, & San Francisco

During this time, I had lunch in North Beach with a writer friend and teaching colleague--Juvenal Acosta. We got to talking about our favorite books. Juvenal had high praise for Graham Green's The End of the Affair, and couldn't believe I'd never read it. I went right out and checked the book out from the library; six months later it was still sitting in my office, full of post-it notes. Eventually I returned it, paid the fine, and bought my own copy. It is one of the most bedraggled books I own. Bedragglement is evidence of a book's high standing in a person's life. A book that has been well-loved bears the marks.

The End of the Affair is the story of a love affair gone wrong, with the mystery of the beloved's death front and center, but it's also a book about writing, about finding one's story and figuring out the best way to tell it.

Graham Greene's letters to his lover Catherine Walston, the woman who inspired The End of the Affair

Like most novels, No One You Know grew out of several ideas that had been percolating over a period of time. But ultimately, it was The End of the Affair that provided the opening impulse for the book. Greene's novel begins with the line, "A story has no beginning and no end. Arbitrarily one chooses the moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead." Twenty years after the tragedy that has defined her life, Ellie must decide for herself, as we all must, where her story truly begins.

* * *
For more information about the author and her books, including an excerpt from No One You Know, please visit Michelle Richmond's website.

Michelle and her publisher have been kind enough to offer a signed copy of her book, No One You Know, to one lucky winner. To enter the giveaway:
1. Leave a comment on this post along with the title of a book that has inspired you.
2. Be sure to include your e-mail address if it is not easy to locate on your blog or profile page.
3. The deadline to enter is June 6 at 11:59 p.m.
4. This drawing is only open to those in the U.S.A. and Canada.

Those of you outside of the designated countries, do not despair! I have an extra copy of No One You Know in my possession that I am willing to giveaway to someone outside of the U.S.A. and Canada. Same rules apply as above: leave a comment along with a title of a book that has inspired you, include your e-mail address, and sign up before 11:59 p.m. on June 6th.

The winners will be chosen in a random drawing and notified by e-mail. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Review: No One You Know by Michelle Richmond

For me, life was a house that I passed through quietly, trying not to unsettle the dust or bump up against the furniture. Henry was just the opposite; he moved through life with his hands outstretched, picking everything up and measuring its weight in his hands, knocking on walls to test their strength. [pg 116]

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
Delacorte Press, 2008
Fiction; 306 pgs

I imagine Ellie would be dismayed to learn that I do not like the taste of coffee. I do not even care for mocha ice cream. But, oh, do I love the smell of a fresh pot of coffee, especially in the morning!

Ellie Enderlin has the perfect nose for coffee. She had never set out to become a coffee buyer, but it is a career well suited to her. She can pick out the individual scents and flavors of varying coffee types and knows a good coffee bean when she comes across it. During her most recent business trip to Nicaragua, Ellie runs into a person from her past, a person she never expected to see again.

Nearly twenty years before, Ellie’s older sister Lila was murdered, her body discovered in the woods days after Lila had disappeared. Lila was the golden child of the family, the math genius. Ellie always felt she was living in her sister’s shadow, never quite living up to her parents’ expectations. Lila was extraordinary. Ellie felt ordinary, even after Lila’s death. Ellie and her sister could not have been more different, one finding comfort in numbers and the other in books. Where Ellie was more social, her sister seemed to prefer solitude. Still, the two young women loved each other very much and shared a bond that only two sisters could share. Lila’s death was devastating to her family. She left behind a gaping hole that could never be filled.

Upon her sister’s death, Ellie turned to her professor as a confidante, leaning on his shoulder for support. She trusted him with her inner most thoughts only to have him turn her family’s tragedy into a bestselling spectacle. He went so far as to name the man he believed was behind the death of Lila in his book, something even the police could not do.

It was the man accused of Lila’s murder that approached Ellie in the out of the way Nicaraguan restaurant late one night. What he told her would change Ellie’s life view irrevocably. Everything she came to believe to be true was suddenly in question. Was it possible that this man, Peter McConnell, really was innocent of her sister’s murder? Ellie is suddenly determined to learn the truth, and, in the process, she learns much about not only her sister, but herself as well.

No One You Know is an amazing novel. Simple as that. Michelle Richmond has created characters that are complex and deep. Ellie’s issues with trust are multi-layered. She always believed her sister was murdered by someone her sister trusted and loved. How then could she trust those close to her? And then to be betrayed by a close friend when her confidante wrote a book about her family’s tragedy against her wishes. Is it any wonder then that Ellie has problems with trust—and love? Then there is Lila, who even in death is wholly alive in the novel. The more Ellie learns about her sister, the less perfect Lila seems, and the more equal the two sisters become.

There are the other major players in the book. Andrew Thorpe, former professor, now bestselling author. He charmed his way into Ellie’s life and while he may have truly believed he was a good friend to Ellie, his motivations and actions said otherwise. Peter McConnell, Lila’s math partner and the man Thorpe accused of having murdered Lila had fled the country, driven out away from his family because of the accusations being leveled at him. His entire life was ruined, and yet he had found some sort of peace in his new life, surviving as best he could. I cannot leave out mention of Henry, Ellie's ex-boyfriend. She gave more of herself to him than she had to most others in her life, and yet she still held back. There are other characters as well that stand out. Each one having a distinct purpose in the novel.

“’ . . . in order for a book to be really good, it’s not enough to develop the major characters. The minor ones, too, have to be distinct. When readers close the book, they shouldn’t just remember the protagonist and antagonist. They should remember everyone who walks across the pages.’” [pgs 268-269]

San Francisco is a beautiful city and proved to be the perfect setting for the majority of No One You Know. I have a special fondness for the city myself and could relate to Ellie’s admiration and love for it. The author paints San Francisco just as it is, both in its glory and its haze, which fits the story all the more.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was the balance between mathematics and the elements that make a good story. Two aspects that might seem very different on the surface, and yet share a lot in common. On one hand the author would offer a mathematical conjecture and how it may come to be proven, while on the other, she would describe how a story is shaped and formed. It is an overreaching theme that fit well with the discovery of truth in Lila’s death, the building of a proof to make an absolute, the forming of a story with a beginning, middle and end. For me, it was also an extension of Lila and Ellie, their differences and their similarities.

The true crime book aspect of the novel provided a lot of food for thought. It felt like Andrew Thorpe had taken advantage of his friendship with Ellie, and exploited her family's tragedy. Not only that, but it also had resounding repercussions on Peter McConnell and his family. There are many viewpoints out there about true crime, including whether it is pure sensationalism or provides a valuable truth. I am not sure even now where I stand. I think that it can be either/or and some of both.

My favorite quote is actually the final two sentences of the book, which I have decided not to share here. And while neither contains a spoiler, part of their power comes from reading them in context. As I read those lines, I found myself nodding in complete agreement. It was the perfect wrap up for this wonderful book.

I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. The characterizations, the setting, the story, and the language drew me in so completely. There was no one aspect of the novel I did not like. No One You Know is a novel that will appeal to mystery lovers as well as those who prefer contemporary fiction. While the mystery plays center stage, it is the growth and development of the characters that are really what this novel is about. It’s a combination that I find irresistible and I hope you will too.

Rating: * (Outstanding)

Be sure and stayed tuned! Author Michelle Richmond has graciously agreed to appear on Musings of a Bookish Kitty as a guest in the near future, and there may just be a book giveaway to boot!

For more information about the author and her books, including an excerpt from No One You Know, please visit Michelle Richmond's website.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge & New Authors Challenge

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday At the Movies: Burn After Reading & Movie Watching Style

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.

Movie: Burn After Reading (2008)
Genre: Comedy, Crime Drama
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Ethan and Joel Coen
Writers: Ethan and Joel Coen

Summary from Netflix:
In this dark comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen, ousted CIA official Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) loses his recently penned memoir into the hands of a pair of moronic gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, in a Golden Globe-nominated role) who use it to try to turn a profit. George Clooney and Tilda Swinton round out the cast of this irreverent farce, which was nominated for a Best Picture (Comedy) Golden Globe.

I really do not know what to say about this film. It is dark. It is funny. And it is completely insane. I really wasn't sure what to expect going into it and now having seen it, I'm not really sure what to make of it still. The characters are quirky and the plot is way over the top. I am still in shock over one particular pivotal moment in the movie. It happened so fast! Anyway, I am not sure what else to say about this film. Did I like it? I did, but it was very unusual and not for the faint of heart.

The Monday Movie Meme is brought to you by The Bumbles.

This week's movie topic is all about How You Watch Your Movies . . .
If you play along with this weekly meme then obviously you enjoy movies. But how do you watch them? Do you wait in line for the big premier at the theater? Do you savor trips to the local video store perusing the titles up and down the aisle? Or maybe you only watch them from home as they arrive in your mailbox, inbox, or on T.V. And maybe who you watch them with dictates how you watch them.

I love going to the movie theater. There's something about sitting in a gigantic darkened theater, with the sound bouncing off the walls, sometimes making the entire room shake, that I find irresistible. Some movies are just meant to be seen on the big screen. While on occasion the crowds may bother me or a particularly annoying person (cell phones, crying babies, incessant chattering), more often than not I find seeing a film with other moviegoers to be part of the charm of the theater experience. There is something magical about seeing a movie in a theater. Not to mention that I am not always the most patient person in the world when it comes to seeing a movie I have wanted to see since I first heard it was being filmed.

During our college years, my husband and I spent a lot more time at the movie theater than we do now. Not having our own transportation and being limited in resources, the theater was an easy escape from campus life. To this day, we try and go at least once or twice a month, sometimes more often if we can swing it. We've never been big on concessions and so you will not see us loading up on popcorn, drinks, and candy. Sometimes we may get a pretzel and split a drink between us, however. My most favorite time to hit the theater is for that first showing. There's rarely a crowd or line to wait in. Depending on the theater, the price may even be lower than for a matinee.

Renting movies is another way we get our movie fix. It helps that we have a nice sized widescreen TV and a decent surround sound stereo system. Watching movies at home has its own advantages. The ability to pause for short breaks being a major one. We often will enjoy lunch or dinner while watching a movie. We can make editorial comments and laugh as loud as we want. I don't have to worry about holding back the tears. We no longer visit the local video store, which, if you ask me, was always a bit of a hassle. Netflix is so much more convenient. They deliver right to the door, there are no late fees and when we are done, we only have to drop the DVD back into the mailbox.

Occasionally we will watch a movie on cable. Truth be told, it's more likely that it will be me doing so. And it's rarely, if ever planned. Those random TV movie moments tend to only come when I am in a television watching mood and just happen to see something interesting on as I flip through the channels. As it is, most of our regular television watching occurs only after we have recorded the show on the DVR to watch. There's something to be said for being able to fast forward through commercials.

As for online movie viewing, I have given that a shot. It's not quite as comfortable and can sometimes be a bit of an inconvenience. It is not my preferred method of movie viewing, but it is an option I like having.

It has been years since we last saw a movie in a drive-in. There is an old drive-in theater in town that I think still plays movies. My husband and I have never actually been to that theater though. I have many fond childhood memories of camping out in the car, which watching movies at the drive-in. I think seeing a movie at a drive-in is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Oh, how I love my movies . . .

Happy Memorial Day. May we remember those who gave their lives so that we could be free.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Salon: Saying Goodbye to Journal #3

The attached ribbon bookmark is frayed at the end, the result of overuse and too many cat attacks. The spine is broken from lying flat on my desk so I could jot down notes as I was reading; and the pages are filled with my scribblings. There are eraser smudges here and there. If you flip through the pages, you may notice some are written on upside down--my way of keeping notes of two books I had been reading at the same time.

Although I keep a reading journal on the computer, complete with my reviews, my reading journal/notebook is the one that travels with me everywhere. It is the place I write down random thoughts as I read or jot down details and names I think might be important to remember for later. It is a record of my reading at its most primal level, before I organize my thoughts and polish them into what you read here on my blog.

It was just over a year ago that I put to rest my second reading journal. Now it is time to say goodbye to the 3rd. As much as I liked this journal, it was often too big to fit inside my purse alongside my book. If it was a paperback, it wasn't a big problem, but trying to cram a hardback and my journal in was a bit of a challenge. I resorted to writing on loose paper on occasion which is now tucked inside the journal for safe keeping.

The first book to find its way into my 3rd reading journal was After Hours at the Almost Home by Tara Yellen. I began with a brief summary of the opening chapters and moved on to character descriptions. I rambled on about the book for three and a half pages. My final comment was simply, "First impressions are deceiving." I would go on to record the thoughts of many more books within the pages, traveling to distant lands and stepping into the shoes of many people from varying cultures and lifestyles along the way. I shared thoughts about books I loved as well as those I did not care for.

My last entry was about The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. My thoughts were actually left incomplete, my notes only covering a page and a half. Not because I ran out of things to say, but because I forgot to take notes the more I read. Sometimes that happens.

I find there is a certain sense of sadness each time I reach the end of a reading journal. The book has been with me through many ups and downs. It has served me well. Even so, there is an unavoidable excitement at starting fresh with a new journal. Those clean pages just waiting for my pencil to fill them with all of my bookish thoughts.

I have already begun taking notes in journal 4. It is the perfect size. It fits easily into my purse and is designed for laying flat without any problem. There are fewer pages than my old journal, and so I imagine I will fill its pages quickly. The journal is handmade by fellow book blogger Iliana from Bookgirl's Nightstand. I won it in a giveaway last year and have held off using it until now, knowing it would make the perfect reading journal. And so it has.

Do you keep a reading journal?

I am just finishing up a terrific book called No One You Know by Michelle Richmond. I feel as if I have been on a roll with all of the great books I have read recently. I hope this lucky streak lasts for a long while yet. What are you reading these days?

Week in Review:
Monday at the Movies: Angels and Demons & Those Darn Tear Jerkers
Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (There is still time to enter the giveaway for a brand new copy--you didn't think I'd give away my own copy, did you?)
Review: The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris (& words from the author: Fact vs. Fiction)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris (and a word from the author: Fact Vs. Fiction)

He talked of how journalism had always been what he'd wanted to do since he was a little kid. Of how chasing a story could feel a little like chasing a drug, getting high, moving on to the next one. Of how covering a war had seemed like the ultimate hit.

"And what do you think now?" she asked. "Is it what you expected?"

Danny shook his head.

"I don't understand this place," he said. "I don't know how people can do the things they have done to each other. I feel there's nothing that can be done to make this better. I don't think we're telling that story."
[pg 179]

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris
Dutton, 2009
Suspense/Thriller; 318 pgs

I have gotten fairly good at choosing books that I know I will like. Occasionally I come across a book that proves to be disappointing, but, fortunately, that was not the case with Paul Harris’ The Secret Keeper. Far from it. The novel held me in suspense throughout and had me thinking of it even when I was unable to read. I even dreamt of Sierra Leone one night; I was stopping at checkpoint after checkpoint on my way out of Freetown for a purpose I did not know.

Danny Kellerman at least had a purpose. He had snagged an assignment in the war torn country of Sierra Leone, his own dream come true. It was a promise of excitement and to be right in the middle of something big. A place where he could make a name for himself. His life was irrevocably changed by his experiences in Sierra Leone. He saw the unimaginable, the horrors of war, and it hit way too close to home.

Seeking normalcy, Danny returned to his life in London. He settled into life with a new girlfriend, Rachel, and continued to work at the paper. His relationship with his ailing father continued to leave a sour taste in his mouth, the two never quite being able to see eye to eye. Danny thought his life was going along okay, even despite the emptiness he felt; at least until he received a letter in the mail from a long lost friend.

Maria Consuelo Tirado had been the one. He had once thought she was the love of his life; only their lives had taken them in completely different directions. Maria’s ties to Sierra Leone bound her there while Danny was only too eager to get away after the civil war at last seemed to come to an end. Her letter, however, called him back. Maria needed his help. She was in trouble. Danny was at first reluctant to go, but after learning that she had been killed in a roadside robbery, he knew he had to convince his editor to let him go back to Sierra Leone. Even if it put his relationship with Rachel in jeopardy, he had to find the truth. Was Maria’s death a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or was it a planned murder?

The country had changed much since his last visit there four years before. And yet, it had changed so little. His old friend and guide, Kam, seemed to have prospered during Danny’s absence, while Danny’s friend Ali Alhoun worried about his business in a country that was fast becoming unfriendly to “foreigners”.

I really liked reading about the journalists’ interactions with each other and seeing them in action. There was a definite competitive edge, but there also seemed to be a camaraderie between them—they helped each other out and looked after each other.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise that what drew me most to the story was that of the child soldiers. War is such an ugly thing and to bring children into it is unimaginable to many of us. And yet it happens. Children are ripped from their families and forced into service as soldiers, sometimes, often times, being asked to do terrible things. One of the most heart wrenching stories in the novel is of a mother separated from her son after having lost all of her other children. The details of it made me mad and oh so sad. Unfortunately, stories like that are all too true.

Maria worked with child soldiers, trying to rehabilitate them; she was an U.S. aide worker, very passionate about her job. While others looked at these young men and saw only cold blooded killers, she saw children whose childhoods had been completely stolen away. They and their families were victims of a terrible war. It is no wonder Danny fell head over heels for Maria. She was beautiful, strong and independent, not afraid to stand up for what she believed in.

I liked Danny right from the start. He was troubled and flawed. He was never cocky, just confident. He was smart and thoughtful. When he had first arrived in Sierra Leone during the war, he was still a bit idealistic and caught up in the euphoria of a new experience, not to mention being in the middle of a situation that was a constant adrenalin rush. Even the more experienced journalists were not immune to it. Paul Harris captured that so well in his writing. The author also painted a realistic picture of an older Danny. He’d lived a lifetime during his short time in Sierra Leone. The weight of his experiences was heavy on his shoulders, and Harris made me feel that. I felt Danny’s confusion and grief as well as his rage.

Another aspect of the novel that especially interested me was the setting of Sierra Leone. I was not too familiar with Sierra Leone until I saw the movie Blood Diamond. After seeing it, I researched the country and its history, trying to find out what was true and what was fiction, and to try to gain a better understanding of what was really going on there. It was interesting to read about Harris’ Sierra Leone in The Secret Keeper. I could feel the heat beating down on me just as Danny could. I especially liked the juxtaposition of the old Sierra Leone with the new, as Harris weaved the past with the present throughout the novel.

There is so much I want to say about this novel. There was so much to it, but then you might not want to read the book if I give it all away! It is not just a mystery thriller. There is certainly mystery and plenty of suspense, but I think the underlying stories of the characters, their relationships and their personal struggles are very much a part of what makes this book great. I loved how the author demonstrated that nothing in the world is black and white. Nothing is as simple as it may seem. People are complex as are the situations they may find themselves in.

Paul Harris has earned a place on my must read list. I wish he’d hurry up and finish his next book so I can read it.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge & 2009 Pub Challenge

I admit to being a bit fascinated by Paul Harris and his career as a journalist. He has traveled the world on assignments, including to Sierra Leone, the setting of his novel, The Secret Keeper. I am thrilled to have him here as a guest on my blog and was even more excited when I got a sneak peek at what he had written. I don’t think you will be disappointed! Please join me in welcoming Paul Harris to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

FACT VS. FICTION by Paul Harris

I still don’t really consider myself an author. Not yet. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a novel published but I always have been – and remain – a journalist first and foremost. That is my day job. But writing The Secret Keeper allowed me to explore some of the experiences I have had as a journalist through the medium of fiction. Perhaps strangely I hope that a deeper version of the truth might have come out as a result. Journalism is by its nature limited. For better or for worse (and sometimes it is really not clear which) journalism is limited by what the reporter can prove or has seen. Facts and interviews and reportage are scrambled together against a deadline. But fiction can reflect what a writer knows to be true. Or feels in their gut to be right. As such writing The Secret Keeper was a liberating experience in that it allowed me to look at things in an obscure part of Africa that meant a lot to me but not much to the outside world. And it allowed me to do it my way, saying what I wanted to say, not just what I could glean from a notebook.

Wendy wrote me an email saying: “As a war correspondent, I imagine it would be impossible not to be touched and influenced by everything you see going on around you.” That is true. But the picture that emerges is a complex one. Few people cover wars or crises such as natural disasters or famines and emerge untouched. It is impossible not be moved by the suffering and the tragedies and, most often, the sheer pointless of most of the reasons why these disasters happen. But there is another side too. Journalists, like everyone else in a conflict, are also participants in these events. As such they have their own agendas, both personal and professional, just like aid workers or politicians or warring combatants. Journalists go to war not just to expose the plight of the innocent. They also do it for ego, for the excitement and to further their careers. It is a dirty little secret and not one limited to reporters or wars. I covered a famine in Ethiopia once and was astonished to hear aid workers from “rival” organisations grumbling about each other’s activities as if they were in a competitive sports game. They expressed all the bitterness or triumph or petty jealousies of each other’s aid activities as Mets and Yankees fans do when talking about who has the better team. Journalists can be like that too.

Several incidents in the book are based on real experiences I had in Sierra Leone. One in particular stands out. I had been present at a protest outside a rebel leader’s house in the capital Freetown. My driver had spotted signs of trouble and spirited me away five minutes before shooting broke out and several protestors were killed. One of my colleagues was less lucky. She had been caught up in the thick of it, fortunately escaping with her life despite the flying bullets. Now, looking back, I am deeply grateful for the wisdom and foresight of my driver. But back then – and I still hate to admit this (it feels so, so warped now) – I felt a huge streak of professional and personal envy. Genuine jealousy at her brush with death. She had an amazing story to tell her colleagues, many of whom measured success by closeness to the action. And, even better, her account of the day had sailed onto her newspaper’s front page. Perhaps a little of the reason why I wrote The Secret Keeper was to process emotions and experiences like that. To get out that version of the truth, which exists far beyond the notebooks, interviews and TV pictures that make up journalism. Truth can be stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction can hold a deeper truth than journalism.

* * *
Check out Paul Harris' website for more information about the author and his book. And visit TLC Book Tours for a list of Paul Harris' tour stops!

Many thanks to author Paul Harris and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (& a Giveaway)

As he left the hotel, Henry looked west to where the sun was setting, burnt sienna flooding the horizon. It reminded him that time was short, but that beautiful endings could still be found at the end of cold, dreary days.
[pg 77]

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
Ballantine Books, 2009
Fiction; 290 pgs

I am sure many of you have had this experience: you come across a book that you just have to read. From that very first moment that you heard of or saw the book, there is no doubt in your mind that you will be reading that book. And so it was for me with Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I do not like to buy hardbacks at full price, and so I began the long wait for the book to make it out in paperback. I told myself there was no way I would get to it anytime soon anyway, and so I could stand to wait as hard as that might be. Patience is not one of my virtues when it comes to books.

When Tracee’s e-mail came asking for tour participants, I did mental cartwheels. This was my chance! No more waiting! So, of course, I did not hesitate to say yes.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a delightful and tragic book all in one. It is full of hope even during the direst of moments. Crossing over time lines, the novel goes back and forth between the sort of present (1986) and the past (World War II). It is the story of Henry Lee, a young Chinese-American growing up in Seattle, Washington, and an older Henry, who is searching for something even he is not sure he will find and trying to piece his life together as he makes peace with the past.

The Panama Hotel had been boarded up since the 1950’s. One day in 1986, as Henry is walking by, he notices a crowd gathering outside the hotel. He stops to see what is going on. The new owner of the hotel has uncovered a treasure trove of belongings, presumed to be hidden in the basement during the early 1940’s by the Japanese-Americans who were forced to leave behind their lives and everything they owned because of an executive evacuation order. The Japanese-Americans were believed to be a threat to national security. The concern was that any of them could be spies or saboteurs, and so they were locked away in internment camps “for their own protection.” The sight of a beautiful Japanese parasol reawakens memories in Henry to a past that is never completely out of his mind.

Stephanie Kallos’ Broken for You instantly came to mind as I read the first chapters of this novel. Both are set in Seattle and have elderly protagonists. In Broken for You, Margaret Hughes is surrounded by antiques collected by her father from the Jewish people who had been forced into concentration camps all over Europe. In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry finds himself in the basement of a hotel, looking through the belongings of those who were interned during the war. Both Margaret and Henry have led full lives and yet they both feel something is missing and are in need of some sort of resolution to their pasts. Even among so many similarities the two books are completely different. The stories are told in their own unique fashions and go into completely different directions. Still, it was hard not to think of the one, at least at first, while reading the other.

In 1942, Henry is an innocent child of 12 years of age, untouched by the scars his father carried. His father, a proud Chinese man, did not like the Japanese because of the violence they inflicted on his friends and family in China. He saw it as a good thing that the Japanese were being persecuted in the U.S. during the war as they were the enemy, a common enemy shared with China. That part of Henry's family's history is so removed from Henry that he does not fully understand why his father holds so much animosity towards the Japanese, including Japanese Americans.

Henry’s father dreamed of sending his son to school in China once he reached his teen years, but with the war and the growing resentment towards the Japanese, Henry’s father and mother decided to push their son into an entirely different direction. Henry was instructed only to speak English both inside and outside of his home. In a home with parents who barely spoke English, this would prove to be difficult on many levels. In addition, Henry was enrolled in an exclusive private school where he was the only non-white student. At least until Keiko Okabe arrived.

Even before Keiko came to the school, Henry was tormented by the school bullies. The “I am Chinese” button his father made him wear did nothing to prevent the never-ending razing he got for being Asian. Keiko’s appearance on the scene only made things worse, and yet it also made things more bearable for Henry. He wasn’t alone anymore. The two formed an instant friendship.

Keiko was second generation Japanese. The daughter of a lawyer, she did not speak Japanese. She was American through and through. Henry and Keiko’s relationship blossomed, and yet she was not someone he could tell his parents about. His father’s hatred of all things Japanese made that impossible.

As the two grew closer, the situation in Seattle and around the country heated up. The war closed in around them. The persecution of Japanese-Americans intensified. Henry was devastated when Keiko was taken away from him, forced into an internment camp. He was not sure he would ever see her again.

I was in middle school when I read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, a memoir of one woman’s experience during and after her internment at the Manzanar camp during World War II. I had heard about the internment of civilian Japanese Americans before that, but not in much detail. Farewell to Manzanar had a profound impact on me at the time. I would later read the novel Obasan by Joy Kogawa, a fictional account of one family’s experiences in an internment camp in Canada. The novel was drawn in large part on the author’s own real life experiences. Up until that point, I had not realized Canada had also been involved with interning their Japanese-Canadian population.

As you can guess, it was this part of Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet which most moved me. It was both sad and tragic. So many lives uprooted out of fear and prejudice. So many lives destroyed.

I cannot leave out mention of Sheldon. Sheldon was a black jazz musician, playing his saxophone on the street for money, while hoping to make it big. He was a constant in Henry’s life and one of my favorite characters. Jamie Ford did a good job of offering readers a glimpse at the layers of discrimination during the early 1940’s, not only for the varying Asian groups in the United States, but for blacks as well.

The novel is not just about the internment of the Japanese-Americans, however. It is so much more than that. It is also about family, particularly the relationship between father and son. Henry and his son, Marty, do not talk to each other. Henry never really could talked to his own father and he isn't sure now how to talk to his son. His wife had been the person to facilitate much in their relationship. Now that she is gone, Henry must figure it out for himself. There is much Marty does not know about his father, especially his past. And there is much Henry does not really know about his son, including his son’s perception of him. So much stood in the way of Henry and his own father having a good relationship, and the influences of that relationship on Henry can clearly be seen in his relationship with Marty. Fortunately for both Henry and Marty, it is not too late to try to fix what is broken.

And then there is the love story: love lost and found. Keiko and Henry had so much going against them during the war years. The stress of the times and their separation did not help matters. While the story of Keiko and Henry takes center stage, the story of Ethel and Henry should not go unnoticed. They too shared a special love and devotion. I liked the fact that Jamie Ford was kind and gentle to Ethel's memory throughout the novel. I spoke much of Henry's character.

There is romance, friendship and broken hearts. There is tragedy and hope. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet lives up to its title. There is definitely the bitter, but in it all, there is the sweet. I truly enjoyed Jamie Ford’s novel. Henry and Keiko are great characters, even if seemingly a little too perfect at times. They both suffered much in their young lives. I flew through Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It touched my heart, made me laugh and cry, and left a smile on my face as I closed the book for that last time.

* (Very Good)

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, 2009 Pub Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge & War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge

Check out Jamie Ford's website for more information about the author and his book. You can find excerpts from his novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Thank you to Pump Up Your Book Promotion and the author, Jamie Ford, for the opportunity to participate in this book tour.

Want to enter for a chance to win a copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? Here's what you have to do:
1. Leave a comment on this post telling me why you are interested in reading this book.
2. Be sure to include your e-mail address if it is not easy to locate on your blog or profile page.
3. The deadline to enter is May 30th at 11:59 p.m. (edited to add: open to anyone with a valid mailing address)
A winner will be chosen in a random drawing. Good luck!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday At the Movies: Angels and Demons & Those Darn Tear Jerkers

Monday's Movie is hosted by Sheri at A Novel Menagerie.

Movie: Angels and Demons (2009)
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed By: Ron Howard
Writers: David Koepp & Akiva Goldsman; Dan Brown (novel)

Synopsis from Fandango:
When Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) discovers evidence of the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the illuminati—the most powerful underground organization in history—he also faces a deadly threat to the existence of the secret organization’s most despised enemy: the Catholic Church. When Langdon learns that the clock is ticking on an unstoppable illuminati time bomb, he jets to Rome, where he joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and enigmatic Italian scientist. Embarking on a nonstop, action-packed hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even to the heart of the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra will follow a 400-year-old train of ancient symbols that mark the Vatican’s only hope for survival.
Angels and Demons wastes no time catching viewers up to speed. The pope is dead and a new one must be appointed in his place. The four top candidates for the pope's position are missing, their lives in grave danger as are the lives of everyone in Vatican City. What was a simple experiment in alternative energy resources has resulted in the creation of what can be used as a bomb in the wrong hands, which is exactly where it has ended up. Scientist Vittoria Vetra and symbologist Robert Langdon must unravel the clues and uncover the location of the anti-matter device before it destroys the Vatican.

When I read the novel five years ago, I told my husband that it was a book worth making into a movie. It all had the elements of a great thriller: a race against the clock, a mystery to solve, controversy and intrigue, not to mention great characters. Ron Howard managed to fit all of that into this exciting fast-paced film. It stretched the boundaries of believability, certainly. I couldn't help but wonder how the characters managed to get around so quickly and take care of business in such a short amount of time. Still, the film is pure fun, simple as that.

Changes were made and scenes were left out; the story and characters tweaked for the big screen. Even early synopses of the film carry incorrect information, taken directly from the book, but changed come the time of the movie's release. Even so, the writers and director did a good job in bringing Dan Brown's novel to the screen. Is it as good as the book? When is a movie ever?

The movie is plot-driven, sacrificing character development, and yet several of the actors in more prominent roles manage to assert their personalities enough to make themselves known. Tom Hanks is one of my favorite celebrities both on screen and behind the scenes. He along with Ayelet Zurer who plays the scientist, Vittoria Vetra, make a good team, matching brain power and agility as they try and solve the puzzle before them. The best performance of all was by Ewan McGregor as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna. And I would have loved to have explored Nikolaj Lie Kaas' role as the assassin more. What little I got to see and know of him, just did not seem like enough.

The movie has already garnered its share of controversy, whether from the fact that the author, Dan Brown is the one who also penned The Da Vinci Code or on its own merits, I haven't quite been able to make out. It makes no difference to me either way. As far as I am concerned, Angels and Demons is a entertaining thriller that has earned a place in my DVD collection upon its release. I left the movie feeling entertained and satisfied, which is all I asked.

The Monday Movie Meme is brought to you by The Bumbles.

This week's movie topic is all about Tear Jerkers . . .
The Bumbles aren't big criers. In fact we find "a good cry" to be quite the oxymoron. So therefore we don't go looking for sad movies - but every now and then a movie tricks us into thinking it is going to be perfectly fun and some damn sad scene gets snuck in there. We put on the brave face, but that stupid tear starts trickling out the corner of an eye and next thing you know, our sleeve is all wet because, being tricked into the sad scene, we didn't have any kleenex handy. Here are the few that really did a number on us. Why don't you share some others with us so that we aren't caught off guard without our tissues?
Unlike Molly and Andy, I am a big crier. Whether it be a book, a movie, a television show, a song and, yes, even a commercial, I can get teary-eyed. It does not matter if it is sad or an especially happy moment. I do not discriminate. My husband thinks it's adorable. I think it's annoying. And yet, I cannot help myself. It's especially funny considering how little emotion I show when other people are around, but that's an entirely different topic altogether.

Let's get back to the topic at hand: movies that make me cry. It might be more interesting to ask me what movies don't make me cry. That might be a bit more challenging. As it is, it will be a challenge to limit my list to five.

ET (How could anyone not cry watching this movie?)
Schindler's List (think of all the World War II movies I could list here!)
Sleepless in Seattle (and countless other romantic comedies.)
Independence Day (I even cried at the beginning of the new Star Trek movie.)
Empire of the Sun (another World War II movie, I know, but I can't help but list it too.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Play Time!

1. If we had no winter, spring would not be quite the same.

2. Books can offer a perpetual astonishment.

3. If I had my life to live over, I would do it just about the same way all over again.

4. I love you every second inside of four and twenty hours.

5. If you've never been thrilled you probably do not know the joys of reading a terrific book.

6. "To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind to be than to be hopelessly in love with spring." ~ George Santayana

7. And as for the weekend, Saturday included lots of babying of a sick puppy (even at nearly 10 years old, he's my pup) after another visit to the veterinarian; tonight I'm looking forward to cuddling on the couch with hubby and Riley to watch a movie; and Sunday, I want to spend the day reading, catching up with my review writing, and spoiling my cats and dog!

My plans to catch up with my blog visits has fallen by the wayside since Riley has been under the weather, not to mention work has been extremely busy these days. I apologize for not being around more. I truly appreciate all of you who have stopped by and visited Musings of a Bookish Kitty.

I thought I would share a few (not so good) photos of Riley when he was feeling better.

Riley taking a break while playing fetch.

My Riley and my parents' Sammy playing ball.

"I'm ready. Go ahead and throw me my ball!"

Ready for a nap.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Page in the Life of Sandy from You've GOTTA Read This!

Welcome to another installment of A Page in the Life. It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you Sandy from You've GOTTA Read This! Sandy is one of my favorite bloggers, not to mention commenters. her comments are always so thoughtful, and whenever I stop by her blog, I know I will be welcome there. She has great taste in books and movies, and how could I ever resist a blog that features a cat in the header?

Please welcome Sandy to
Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: Welcome, Sandy! I am excited to have you here today. I thought I would start off with an easy question: how do you like to start off your morning?

Sandy: Well, I’m usually the first one up each morning, which is usually around 5am. My one and only goal is to get to the computer! This gives me a good 45 minutes to an hour to read e-mails, do my blog socializing, work on a post, and do a little Facebooking before everyone starts to stir. Once the kids get up, I am making lunches, ensuring all appropriate things are in the backpacks (homework, projects, canned goods for donation, etc.), throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine, and sometimes reading to the kids while they eat their breakfasts.

Literary Feline: Besides reading and books, what are some of your other interests, hobbies or passions?

Sandy: I absolutely LOVE to cook. This has been a newly-acquired passion, since I quit working four and a half years ago. I never had time to bother with it before, but now I am able to experiment and try some exotic things. Unless the kids have a late activity after school, I will cook a meal each night. And what goes hand in hand with cooking? Wine! My husband and I are a couple of glasses short of being considered winos. If we are anywhere near California when we travel, we always make time for a quick stop in Napa/Sonoma. We have a couple of wine fridges, and we collect as well as drink. It doesn’t hurt that a very good friend of ours owns a wine shop! We also love to travel (sometimes with the kids, and sometimes not), and we like to play golf.

Literary Feline: How did you get started blogging about books?

Sandy: If you would have told me a year ago that I would have a book blog, I would have said “No. Way.” Too intimidating! I love to write, but am a little shy about it. However, my sister has had a movie blog for awhile, and I’d always been impressed and envious of her moxie. Via e-mail last October, I mentioned to her that I wanted to be a part of a book club, but there was nothing viable near me. Most of the book clubs that I am aware of spend most of their time gossiping and eating, and not near enough time on the book itself! I swear, I would rip my hair out! Anyway, my sister said, “Well, why not start your own book blog? It’s free. You read like a maniac and always have recommendations. What do you have to lose? I’d read your blog!” I sat there at my computer, chewing on that for awhile. I got butterflies in my stomach. But once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I launched myself into the project with an almost religious fervor.

Literary Feline: Has blogging impacted your reading? If so, how?

Sandy: Yes it actually has. Before I started blogging, I was much more relaxed about reading. I could never NOT be reading a book, but never felt any sense of urgency. Now I do, a little. I know this isn’t good! It’s not that I’m not enjoying the reading, but I’ve found that if I stumble on a book that takes longer to read, I get very twitchy. I guess because I am new at this, I worry that I need to keep the posts coming, and always have something fresh going on. I acknowledge I need to chill out! On the positive side, I am reading a way more diverse spectrum of books than I used to (see the next question!). I am also more aware of the different elements of a story and its characters, because I’m going to have to review it. Before I gave very little thought to writing styles, technique, character development, etc.

Another impact that blogging has had on my reading involves my kids. They are 11 and 9. My daughter, the 11 year old, has always been an avid reader. My son, not so much. He can’t sit still long enough. I had quit reading to them ages ago, back when they were able to read themselves. However, I recently started following Carrie’s blog (@ Books and Movies), and saw that we had kids the same age, and that she read to them all the time. This was like an epiphany for me. I started not only reading to my kids aloud, but also listening to audio books in the car. They absolutely love it. They even help me sometimes with the reviews. I can see that this has truly enriched their lives, and even lured my son back to books again. I’ve exposed them to some fabulous books and authors, and I think will be something that they look back on with fond memories.

Literary Feline: What types of books do you like to read? And do you blog about every book that you do read?

Sandy: Before I started blogging, I would get most of my recommended books from friends and Entertainment Weekly. For the most part, I read murder/mystery/thriller books, particularly series. I did stray off the path, but not much. About the time I started blogging, I had decided I needed to stop reading trashy paperbacks and start reading some “real” literature. Perfect timing! It is amazing how the wonderful blogging community has open my eyes to genres I’d never touched before. I read just about everything now, with some exceptions. I don’t think I’ve ever read a graphic novel. And very few short stories. I need to work on these genres. I may sign up for some reading challenges eventually that will push me in those directions. I do review everything I read, because I signed up for the Read and Review Challenge! Sometimes it is hard to keep up, but so far, so good…

Literary Feline: Do you have any reading routines, rituals or habits?

Sandy: I have a few, but my life is pretty crazy so I have to read when I can. I do love to take walks several times a week with my audio books. Sometimes I don’t want to stop walking, when I get to an exciting part of the story! I also will always be listening to an audio when I am cleaning the house or doing my yardwork. (I’ve fallen into the pool with my iPod on before, so I have to be careful!) This is a great way to forget that I’m doing a undesirable chore. And I almost always read before bed. Rarely does that last very long, but I try to keep my eyes open for as long as I can. If I get a moment to sit down, I have a reading/drinking chair…a big overstuffed thing that two people could fit into…in my living room, where I will curl up and read. This is also where I sit when my husband and I share a glass of wine and talk about our day.

Literary Feline: How do you pull yourself out of a reading or blogging slump or what steps do you take to avoid that from happening?

Sandy: This is a tough question. As far as reading slumps, the only ones I have is when it takes too long for me to get through a book. I get anxious. But I try pretty hard to alternate short books with long ones, WWII ones with lighter reads, just to make sure I don’t get burned out. If I stumble across a book that I don’t like, I’ll drop it and move on. I just did this actually, about a week ago. This does not happen all that often though. I put time into researching what I want to read, and will rarely just grab something without knowing what I’m getting into. As far as blogging slumps, I haven’t hit one of those yet. I’m too new I guess! I just can’t shut myself up…a problem I’ve had since I was young!

Literary Feline: Do you have any advice or tips for your fellow bloggers?

Sandy: Honestly, I don’t feel qualified to give advice. I need tips from everyone else! But if I must…I have found that the more social you are, visiting blogs and leaving comments, the more activity you will get in your own blog. People are innately curious, and will come check out this chatty person that won’t go away! It does take time, and I have trouble balancing my time away from the computer. I also try hard to respond to most comments that people leave on my blog. I’m not at the point yet where there are too many, so usually I can keep up. When you are a new blogger, try hard not to get your feelings hurt when it seems everyone else is getting awards. This I found very distressing at first. I felt left out and unloved, and when I got my first award I was over the moon. The awards will come with time.

Literary Feline: What are you reading right now? Do you have any book or author recommendations?

Sandy: I have four books going right now. I am very close to finishing “Before Women Had Wings” by Connie May Fowler. She is a favorite author of mine, a Floridian, who is the essence of the South, and an extremely talented writer. This particular book is very sad, about two girls growing up in an abusive household, but the book is still fabulous. I’m also in the middle of the Outlander Series (Diana Gabaldon) on audio, the current one being “Drums of Autumn”. This is a phenomenal series, but very lengthy. The current audio book is 39 discs, and I think the entire series is well over 200 discs. It is a commitment! The kids and I are reading the 39 Clues series in hard book, and we just finished an audio this morning called “The Kind of Friends We Used To Be”. Review forthcoming!

Literary Feline:
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Sandy. It's been a pleasure having you here.

Be sure to stop by and visit Sandy over at You've GOTTA Read This!