Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge

Hosts: Beth Fish
Goal: Catch up on Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series.
Time Frame: July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009

The Books:
Dead Until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone

I read most of the books in the series in my pre-blogging days. but you can find my reviews of the ones I have read by clicking on the linked titles above. I asked Beth if I would still qualify to join having only one book to catch up on in the series (I am not going to be re-reading them at this time--too many other books in my TBR stacks to get through that haven't yet read once). And so it is with her blessing that I am signing up. Somehow it still feels like cheating.

I have been a fan of the series for a number of years now and am excited to see so many others take an interest in it. Hopefully they won't be disappointed!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday At the Movies: June Movies & Action Heroes

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

Movie: Up (2009)
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG
Directed By: Pete Docter & Bob Peterson (co-director)
Writers: Bob Peterson & Pete Docter (screenplay)
Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy & Bob Peterson (story)

From Netflix:
After a lifetime of dreaming of traveling the world, 78-year-old homebody Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) is lured into an unbelievable adventure, thanks in part to the persistence of Russell, an 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer (Jordan Nagai). Together, the unlikely pair embarks on a thrilling odyssey full of jungle beasts and rough terrain. Other voices include the renowned Christopher Plummer and Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger.
I wanted to love this film. I really did. I even got teary-eyed during the telling of Carl's life story, about how he met his wife and their life together. And yet, I left the theater feeling unsatisfied. On one hand the movie was a beautiful, somewhat sad, redemptive story and on the other it was an entertaining adventure story. The two contrasting personalities of the film just never quite gelled for me. I did like the movie, don't get me wrong. I just didn't love it. Bags of Popcorn: 3

Movie: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed By: Gavin Hood
Writers: David Benioff & Skip Woods

From Netflix:
This action-packed prequel to the popular X-Men films explores Marvel Comics character Wolverine's (Hugh Jackman) past and the events that influenced the mutant before the Weapon X program bonded his skeleton with the powerfully strong metal alloy adamantium. After the death of his girlfriend, Wolverine seeks vengeance against supervillain Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber). Ryan Reynolds, Danny Huston and Lynn Collins co-star.
I really liked the first and second X-Men movies. While the third one wasn't quite as good as the first two, I still enjoyed it. So, of course, there was no question that I would see Wolverine. I had heard the chatter and read a few reviews of the movie before hand and so knew not to expect much going in. There were plenty of great action sequences and Hugh Jackman looked terrific, all of which I expected. And while I know these types of stories demand suspension of disbelief right from the start, this one really pushed the envelope for me. I am not quite sure what bothered me about it: the fact that the plot seemed so convoluted or that it was downright silly at times. So, maybe I should have listened to my husband and waited to see this one on DVD. Still, it was an entertaining film. Bags of Popcorn: 3

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

This week's movie topic is all about Action Heroes . . .

Summer is in full swing and that means it is time for the blockbuster releases. You know, big budget flicks where things get dicey, blow up, burn down, and in the end - saved - by those quintessential action heroes. Here are some that we feel best represent the genre.

Jason Bourne - Bourne Series

Wolverine - X-Men Series

Aragorn - Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Captain Steven Hiller - Independence Day

Batman - Batman Begins & The Dark Knight

Lara Croft - Tomb Raider Series

Ellen Ripley -Alien Series

Trinity -Matrix Series

Lola - Run Lola Run

Charlie's Angels

(Note: I'm a non-gender specific kind of gal. Action heroes to me can be men or women. Watch, next week the question will be to name action heroines. That's okay. At least I got a head start.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Reading Retrospective, June 2004

June will be behind us in just another couple of days. I haven't even finished with May yet, but there you have it.

With the end of the month comes a look back to my reading five years ago. Grab a snack and drink and settle in for a trip down memory lane. Let's see where June of 2004 took me.

I began that June with a mystery, which turned out to be more a romance, and that proved disappointing. It was not what I had expected--or wanted--at that moment in time. The novel was called Death Warmed Over . . . Coming Soon by Cindy Daniel. I can't remember exactly where I heard about the book. I seem to think the author had been a member of one of my reading groups at the time, and I decided to give her book a try. I could be completely remembering that wrong though, so don't hold me to it. I thought the book was okay but was not encouraged to pick up the next in the series.

Needing something intense and suspenseful, I turned to an old favorite, Jonathan Kellerman. I gobbled up two of his novels that month, A Cold Heart and Therapy. A Cold Heart, the 17th book in the series fit the bill perfectly. Therapy, not so much. Both books featured child psychologist and police consultant Alex Delaware and his sidekick, homicide detective Milo Sturgis. What I found a little off putting about Therapy was the amount of dialogue and the lack of forward movement in the story. They characters seemed to sit around and hash things out over and over again. It got old fast.

In between those two I read my first Keith Ablow book, Denial, another crime fiction novel, which had come highly recommended. I had been warned ahead of time about the main character, Frank. Frank, a forensic pyschologist with a drug problem, was anything but likeable at first. But he grew on me as the book went along. Not to mention the story itself was quite good. It seemed like a promising start to a new series.

And then it was time for some laughs. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series had certainly kept me in stitches before and when I read Big Ten it was no different. This was back in the day when the release of a Stephanie Plum book meant I was at the bookstore as soon as I could get there. I didn't even wait to get home to start on this one. Grandma Mazur can do no wrong in my book.

I followed that up with the first in a series that would soon become a favorite, Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff. The novel features, Claire Hansen, a Keeper, whose job it is to help keep the universe in one piece, sealing off the evil holes that open up along the seams of the universe when evil is perpetrated. I instantly fell in love with her talking cat. The novel had a colorful cast of characters, including a romantic ghost, a vampire, werewolves, Olympian gods, and a nosy neighbor. I have yet to try Tanya Huff's Blood series, but it's on my must read list.

Somewhere in between all the more entertaining novels, I also read a more serious one, Louise Murphy's The True Story of Hansel and Gretal. For those of you who like books about the Holocaust or World War II, this is definitely one you should read it you have not already. It is a book that still lingers with me today.

Here is my journal entry about the book from five years ago:
So much went into this novel that it is hard to describe succinctly, at least for me. Although the book got a slow start, it was hard to put it down after awhile. The characters found their way into my heart and I wanted to see how the story would play out. The story takes place in the Bialowieza Forest, one of the last untouched forests in Europe. This is a fairy tale taken in a different direction, set in Poland during the final months of the Nazi Occupation during the Second World War. Hansel and Gretel are two young Jewish children who are abandoned by their father and stepmother on the edge of the forest in an effort to save all of their lives. Although we never know the true names of the two children, they take on different identities in the book in order to stay alive. A kind gypsy woman known as the village witch takes the children in and the reader is introduced to her family, a fallen priest who is the witch’s brother, and her grand-niece who is in love with a mysterious woodsman. The village in which they live is controlled by a German Major who had been maimed on the Russian front and then later an SS officer who strikes terror wherever he goes.

Much like the original fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, characteristics from the original tale could be seen in Ms. Murphy’s version throughout: the dropping of the breadcrumbs so their father could find them, Hansel eating bread on a stick outside the house of the witch (candy from the house of the witch in the original version), Gretel being locked in a cage, and the children being stuffed into the oven, for example. However, the two tales differed greatly in many respects and a completely different tale was told in this book. The author left no detail out about the terrors the villagers and the main characters faced. The evilness of the SS officer darkened every scene he was in. Louise Murphy did her research in recreating the horrors, including the gas chambers, the science experiments, the kidnappings, rapes, and the extermination of those who were not “pure.” Ms. Murphy also described openly the mutilation and sacrifices made to protect the children out of desperation and fear. The author wrote about the resistance effort, taking us into the minds of those hiding in the forest doing what they could to further the ousting of the German forces from Poland. The prejudices were clearly shown among even the victims toward each other. And while the hope was that the Soviets would save them, there was also the fear that the Soviets, a long time enemy of Poland, would not let them free once the Germans were gone.

This is a story about survival, sacrifice, the power of memories and love. It is a heart-wrenching story that gives new meaning to an old fairy tale and brings to life the horrors of a terrible time in our world’s history. [excerpt from reading journal, June 2004]
I think that sums it up well.

Returning to the present, this past June I traveled across Europe and North Africa, searching for a journalist fleeing for her life from terrorists. I spent time in Montreal after a brief stint in New York, hoping to find a wanderer who was running from a past she did not remember. I went back in time to Kentucky during the late 1930's. I learned the meaning of friendship and love and stood up to those whose hearts were full of hate. Then I found myself in the middle of a major investigation into a dangerous drug ring, tracing dealers, distributors, suppliers, and on up the food chain. I have also spent some time this month with immigrants from the country of Georgia, as they try to make their way in the world, one who is separated from her son and another who is still searching for love. And who would pass up a chance to visit Las Vegas and hang out with a tattoo artist while tracking down a killer? Whether I was laughing to myself, shedding tears, or holding my breath in fear or anticipation, it was an exciting month. I look forward to seeing what July has to offer. I hope you will join me!

Reading Mews:

Book reviews posted this past week:
Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Glass
Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham
Short Story Saturday: "Champion" and "Maia in Yonkers" by Sana Krasikov

Currently Reading:
One More Year by Sana Krasikov
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

New Additions to my TBR collection:
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (I liked Birth of Venus by the same author very much. I couldn't pass this one up.)
The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar (a couple of you recommended this one and the description of the book was just too good to pass this one up again. I had to have it. And I couldn't very well leave Barnes and Noble empty handy, now could I?)

Other Posts of Interest This Week:
Movie Mondays: I'd Rather Be Pretending
Wordless Wednesday: Riding the Highway (Part 3)
A Page in the Life of Teddy Rose from So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

(Many thanks to Florinda of The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness for allowing me to copy her status report idea. And an added thank you to Anya who helped my husband and I come up with the title of my status review report.)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Short Story Saturday: "Companion" & "Maia in Yonkers" by Sana Krasikov

Reviewing short stories individually is a new exercise for me. They are short for one thing. And while some may pack a big punch within a few pages, jotting down my thoughts for a single story still feels somehow incomplete. I have a number of short story collections and anthologies sitting on my shelves, and my plan is to work my way through them, one by one. I have gotten into the habit of reading collections and anthologies of short stories as if I were reading a novel, reading story after story with no break in between, all the while searching for overreaching themes and ideas. I may still do that to some degree, however, I also want to take advantage of the fact that the short stories in a collection can be read independently from one another. It may be that I devote several Short Story Saturdays to one collection or I will cover a book of short stories all at once. I may even stray from my TBR pile and mention a short story I find online or in a magazine.

I decided to begin my short story reading with Sana Krasikov's One More Year: Stories. I only have a half hour break for lunch during the day and it seemed fitting to fill that time with a short story while I was inbetween novels this past week.
Since she'd arrived in America and gotten divorced, Ilona Siegal had been set up three times. [excerpt from "Companion"]
And so opens Ilona's story in "Companion." Divorced and with no where to go, Ilona had moved in with a man twenty-five years her senior. Earl is ailing and Ilona fills a need for him, caring for him occasionally and keeping him company. Much like Earl, she is lonely, only he does not quite fill that same need that she does for him. Her friends do not seem to understand her anymore, having moved on with their own lives. She has been set up with numerous men, the most recent a fellow Georgian who has come to the country seeking a better life and more opportunity. Ilona herself longs for love, for someone who will show her appreciation and affection.

I did not find Ilona especially likeable; she struck me as someone who uses others, particularly men, to get what she wants. At the same time, I could not help but admire her strength and instinct for survival. She was a woman who followed her heart, coming to America for love only to have lost it. And yet, she continues to search for it even after.

I next turned to "Maia in Yonkers," the story of a Maia, a woman who made her way to the United States to support her family, leaving behind her son, Gogi, in Georgia (former Soviet Union). Her sister, Lela, had been kind enough to take him in, only he is older now and harder to control, hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Maia's son, Gogi, is coming for a visit to New York. She could not be more excited. He has changed so much since she last saw him. He is older now and angry. Being separated from his mother has been difficult for him too. My heart went out to him, even when I was most frustrated with him.
He's still a big child, with a child's magical oblivion to danger. This is why children win Olympic medals, she thinks, why audiences go to hear ten-year-old violinists; at their age, the music is still more real for them than the crowd. [excerpt from "Maia in Yonkers"]
I instantly liked Maia. She has had a difficult life. Her husband was killed years before, and she was left to try and fend for what was left of her family. She traveled to a completely foreign country, took up a job caring for an elderly woman and is doing what she can to support her family back home. Being separated from her family and all she knows is the biggest struggle of all. Yet she perseveres.

Sana Karsikov has a gift for drawing out her characters in only a few pages and telling their stories in so few words. Within both of these stories, the readers are offered only a slice of their lives, and yet we still come away knowing much about them, including their struggles and their hopes. The immigrant story is one I am drawn to, and Sana Karsikov captures it quite well in these first two stories, in particular the second. I look forward to my continued reading of One More Year.

(Short Story Saturday is brought to you by the host of Short Story Sunday, James of Ready When You Are, C.B., & Short Story Monday, John of The Book Mine Set.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Review: Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham

Agents and the men they chase often have the same start in life. They are creative problem solvers, natural leaders with street smarts and an ability to anticipate their adversary’s next ten movies. Somewhere along the way, guys like Gagne choose the law, and guys like Solomon choose crime. Gagne understood that there is a fine line between them, and he believed deeply in sticking to his side of the line. [pg 8]

Chemical Cowboys: The DEA’s Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin by Lisa Sweetingham
Ballantine Books, 2009
Nonfiction; 464 pgs

Journalist and author Lisa Sweetingham takes the readers behind the scenes of the investigations into major Ecstasy rings, while following the career of Special Agent Robert Gagne. For many years, Ecstasy was not taken all that seriously. It was "kiddie dope". Special Agent Gagne with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would play an integral part in changing that. Gagne was passionate about his work and wanted to make a difference. While most DEA investigations were focused on cocaine and heroin in and around 1995, he was hoping to go in a different direction, go after a lesser known drug. A call from an informant who was given a sample of Ecstasy by two Israeli Nationals was just the break he needed.

Ecstasy got its start as a psychotropic drug and was quite popular for couple's counseling during the 1970's and 1980's. It’s official name is 3, 4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). It earned the name "Empathy" because of the effects it had on users, including a feeling of euphoria and heightened sensitivity; however later came to be called Ecstasy. In 1988, MDMA became a Schedule 1 Drug, determined to be highly addictive and with no real medical purpose. The effects of the drug diminish with each use, causing users to use more and more to gain the same results as when they begin taking it. The side effects and consequences of using Ecstasy, especially long-term use, can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

While very popular among young adults, Ecstasy knows no boundaries. It holds appeal to a wide spectrum of people from all walks of life. As the drug grew in popularity and there was a greater demand for the drug, it became all the more challenging for law enforcement officials to crack down on it. When one person in the Ecstasy chain was arrested or disappeared, another was immediately ready to take that person’s place. The Ecstasy business was ever changing and growing rapidly.

The book opens with a stakeout in Los Angeles in November of 1999. DEA agents followed their suspects and watched as they abandoned a SUV. Suspecting it was a trick set up by the suspects to make sure they were not being watched, the agents laid in wait, keeping an eye on the vehicle for days. Eventually, they made a move on the vehicle and discovered the body of a man linked to the Israeli mafia. There were obvious signs of his having been murdered. Suddenly, the stakes had risen and it was not just about the drugs anymore.

In 1973, President Nixon's declaration of war on drugs led to the establishment of the DEA. In the early years, the DEA went after anyone they could get, and that often meant the little guys. Today, they go for those higher up in the hierarchy. They want to suppliers and the cartel heads. It was no different for Special Agent Gagne and his partner, Special Agent Germanoski. The agents began by investigating two low level Israeli drug dealers in New York in 1995 and worked their way up from there. They infiltrated the nightclub scene, posing as gay ravers, in an effort to bring down Peter Gatien, a well-connected nightclub owner who they believed was a major player behind the scenes of the Ecstasy trade. Unfortunately, the jury found him not guilty despite the damaging evidence against him. Special Agent Gagne was not so willing to let it go, and, as a result, suffered a blow when he is assigned a desk job, his maverick style finally catching up with him. However, that did not stop him from doing what he could to stay involved with the Ecstasy scene.

In 1995, when Gagne and Germanoski began their investigation into Ecstasy sales, the drug was barely a blip on the map. As time went on and the demand for the drug grew, other agencies across the globe began to take notice. The problem was so widespread that it did not take long before law enforcement agencies around the world joined forces to tackle the growing problem. The effort was lead by Gadi Eshed with the Israeli National Police. Once the various law enforcement agencies came together, their jobs suddenly became a lot easier. The tangled web of the Ecstasy underworld, at least that under investigation, was beginning to be unraveled.

The drug was being imported into the United States from Holland. Israeli Nationals played a large part in the organization and distribution of Ecstasy during the 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s. It was even tempting enough for the Israeli mafia to take up. The three countries, working with other countries across Europe, were able to put a major dent in the Ecstasy trade.

While Special Agent Gagne plays a large part in Lisa Sweetingham's book, he is not the only major player, nor even the most important. The bringing down of a major Ecstasy kingpin, Oded Tuito, and many others tied to the industry was the result of the hard work of many. While jurisdictional issues occasionally came into play, for the most part the various law enforcement agencies involved worked together for their common cause. They relied heavily on confidential sources, such as informants. In fact, many of their leads come from those on the inside.

It will come as no surprise that I am a fan of crime fiction, especially mysteries. I am fascinated by the investigative process, the discovery of clues that lead to another and another and how it all comes together in the end. True life investigations are even more fascinating in many ways. You may not be able to get into the characters' heads quite the way you can in fiction (which is one of the aspects I especially find appealing in reading fiction), but you can get a glimpse at how crimes are really solved and of our legal system at work.

I have a new found respect for the hard work and dedication of those investigating drug crime rings and just what they are up against. They have an immense amount of patience, that's for sure, and their job requires meticulous attention to details. I am glad to have people like Special Agent Gagne and Commander Gadi Eshed on the job. They both take their jobs very seriously and it shows in their work product—and in their personal lives.

There are a lot of players mentioned in this book, both criminals and authorities. Usually I do not have trouble keeping several characters straight while reading, but in this case, it proved to be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, Sweetingham did try and help, reminding the reader of the link between one person and another without being repetitive; however, I would not have minded having an organizational chart to help me keep it all straight. Especially one or two involving the various criminal groups.

I never know quite how to review a nonfiction book. While the events covered in the pages of Chemical Cowboys are factual and a matter of record, I do not want to spoil the book just the same. I will not go so far as to say the book reads like fiction, but I will say that it flows smoothly and the author has done a good job in presenting the information she has gathered. Is the book suspenseful? Yes. Informative? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it? Very much. Chemical Cowboys was without a dull moment. Sweetingham kept me interested from the very first page through to the last.

With both the law enforcement officers, the criminals and those who fall somewhere in between, the author presented them as the human beings they are, with their strengths and vulnerabilities. At times she talked about their families and their hopes and dreams, along with their failures. The people described in the book are more than just names on a page. Lisa Sweetingham saw to that.

While the efforts of the DEA and their allies had a major impact on the Ecstasy trade, the distribution and abuse of the drug continues still today. There are new criminals in place to do the dirty work, and law enforcement agencies all over the world continue to do what they can to make our streets safer.

Rating: * (Very Good)

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

Be sure and check out the author's website. If you would like to follow Lisa Sweetingham's book tour in progress, visit the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours blog.

Thank you to Dorothy of Pump Up Your Book Promotion and the author, Lisa Sweetingham, for the opportunity to participate in this book tour.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Page in the Life of Teddy Rose From So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

I am excited to have Teddy Rose from So Many Precious Books, So Little Time as today's A Page in the Life guest. Teddy Rose is such a fun person to be around. And while I can only speak to that from the online perspective, I am sure it would be true offline as well. There's never a dull moment on her terrific blog. She's partly to blame for my ever growing wish list.

Teddy Rose is the host of the 2009 ARC Reading Challenge, and if you haven't signed up, there's still plenty of time! Teddy Rose also is involved with the Historical Tapestry blog, which is devoted to historical fiction. And if that didn't keep her busy enough, she has been instrumental in keeping A Novel Challenge up to date. A Novel Challenge is where you can find a listing of many of the reading challenges being hosted around the blogosphere.

Please join me in welcoming Teddy Rose to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Literary Feline: Welcome, Teddy! It is great to have you with us today. Inquiring minds want to know: how do you like to start off your morning?

Teddy Rose: Let me start out by saying that I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON. I always wake up on the wrong side of bed, and it takes me awhile to wake up and be civilized. My favorite days of the week to wake up are Saturday and Sunday. That is because my husband is home and he makes me a soy milk latte. Yes I am spoiled! During the week I get up and have a leisurely breakfast and watch a little HGTV. I often work from home and when I do, I start work in my pajamas. I go up to my home office and check my email, including book related emails. Then I am ready to start my work day.

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

Teddy Rose: I volunteer in pet rescue. Animals are a very important part of my life. I am a vegan because of my love for them. I also love music. My husband and I have around 700 CD's and we listen to our stereo a lot. I also knit, crochet and so some occasional quilting.

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

Teddy Rose: I had been thinking about doing it for awhile. I belonged to a Classics Book Club on Yahoo Groups. A couple of my friends from there started book blogs first. Some of you know them, Christina of Book-a-rama and Stephanie of Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic. I had been keeping notes and mini reviews of books that I read in a spiral notebook and decided I wanted a nice place to collect my thoughts on books. Then my father died, and I spent about a month back in my hometown helping my mom out. My notebook was nearing its end and I decided once and for all that I was going to start a book blog when I returned home. I started it on November 1, 2007. It truly helped me through my grieving process. I hadn't had time to grieve when I was with my mom. I was too busy taking care of and worrying about her.

Blogging has become much more for me then what I initially planned. I didn't think that people would actually read my blog. I was really doing it for myself. Then I found out that book blogging is bigger then that. There is an entire community of book bloggers wanting to interact and help each other. Who knew? Fellow bloggers have reached out to me and I have reached back. We have a beautiful community. I now also have the goal of promoting literacy, sharing my love for books.

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

Teddy Rose: Yes, I think I retain more of what I read because I read with reviewing in mind. I also learned about a whole new world, that is "the wonderful world of ARCs." Yes, I've become ARC obsessed! I love getting to read a book before the masses do.

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

Teddy Rose: My favorite genre is historical fiction! I can't seem to get enough of it. I do read other books on occasion, mostly literary fiction and the occasional Dystopian book. I just recently started reading children's books as well. I do blog about every book I read. It's part of keeping a record of what I read and sharing my love of books with others.

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

Teddy Rose: I read mostly at night after I finish blogging and reading my blog subscriptions. I often stay up until 1:00 am reading. Gosh, no wonder I don't like waking up in the morning. LOL!

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?

Teddy Rose: I don't get into one too often, thank goodness. I usually try to switch to a lighter genre book to "refresh". I tend to read quite a few fairly bleak books. I guess that goes with historical fiction. I also find reading my blog subscriptions help. I get so excited about some of the books my blogging friends review!

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

Teddy Rose: If you are a new blogger, don't be afraid to ask other bloggers for help and suggestions. Most are more than willing to help. Blogging is a passion for most of us and we love to share it! Get involved in some of the events happening. The more you blog the better you will become and the more you will learn. There is always something new to learn even for the most seasoned book blogger.

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

Teddy Rose: I am currently reading The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein as part of the TLC Book Tour. My review will be posted on Thursday June 25th. As for book recommendations, I could go on and on! A few of my favorites for 2009 are The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Signora da Vinci by Robyn Maxwell, and The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks. I also recommend Kate Grenville, especially The Secret River. Pop by my blog anytime for more recommendations. I also blog at Historical Tapestry with a great bunch of bloggers who share my love for historical fiction. There are some great suggestions there as well.

Literary Feline: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Teddy Rose. I have enjoyed our visit and hope my readers have too.

Be sure to stop by and visit Teddy Rose over at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Review: Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

There's nobody on this strip of mountain now but me and Ida, and my grandson, Will'm. While I love the boy more than life, Ida's a hold in another sock. She lives in the tar paper shack in back of our place, and in spite of this being the coldest winter recorded in Kentucky, she's standing out there now, wrapped in a blanket, quoting scripture and swearing like a lumberjack. Her white hair's ratted up like a wild woman's.

I'm Ida's child. That makes her my ma'am, and my pap was Tate Harker. I wish were here instead of buried by the outhouse. [pg 1]

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall
Delta, 2008 (ARC)
Fiction; 319 pgs

I was not in the mood for Sweeping Up Glass when I began reading it. I had made a commitment though to read and review it. I am sure it sounded good to me when I checked the box at the BookBrowse website to be entered for a chance to review it, but once it arrived in the mail, I wondered what in the world I had been thinking. My extra-fabulous reading streak would surely be ruined now. Maybe that would be a good thing though, I told myself. People are beginning to think I not only like, but actually love just about everything I read.

Sweeping Up Glass is Carolyn Wall’s first novel. And let me just say now that it definitely did not ruin my love ‘em all reading streak. I loved it. Can I say that again, please? I loved it. So much for not being in the mood for it. Well, there you have it. End of review.

Okay, so not really. Despite my initial doubts, it was clear from the very first page that I was going to like this novel. Olivia Harker Cross has lived a lifetime in her nearly 42 years of life. It was not all bad at first. Although they were poor, which was true of most of the folk living in their Kentucky town, Olivia and her father ran the grocery store, living in the back. Olivia adored her father. He ran a little side business, mending and caring for injured animals. He did what he could for Olivia, making sure she did not do without. Olivia’s mother, Ida, during those early years was locked away in an asylum, having never been quite the same after giving birth to her daughter.

Olivia spent her days going to school and helping her father with the store, sometimes even helping him with the animals. Her best friend, Love Alice, a black girl just a few years older than herself, was married to Junk Hanley, a strong and decent man who often did work around the store for Olivia and her father. Junk’s family had taken Olivia in more than once, Junk’s mother being the mother Olivia never really had. This was during a time when the line between black and white was well drawn. Segregation was the norm: they shopped at the grocery store on different days from one another, attended different schools and churches, and the blacks had to enter through the back door rather than the front at the local restaurant. Color made no difference to Olivia, however. She knew who her friends were, and she loved them dearly.

When word came from the asylum that her mother was ready to come home, Olivia was devastated. Her mother had never taken kindly to her and Olivia knew it would not turn out well. She was right. Her mother treated her poorly, cruelly even. When Olivia got word of her father’s death, she blamed herself and her mother would not let her forget the part she played in it.

As time went on, Olivia found love and lost it, became a mother early on and struggled with raising a daughter. She did not hesitate to take in her grandson Will’m, when her daughter, Pauline left him on her doorstep. It was to that end that Olivia finds herself caring for her elderly mother, who has grown no nicer with age, and her young grandson, the only real joy in her life.

Will’m is so much like his great-grandfather, big heart and all. When the wolves on the family’s mountain are suddenly targeted by cold-blooded hunters, he begs his grandmother to try and save a litter of young pups. Olivia is angered that someone is trespassing on her land and killing off the wolves. She is determined to get to the bottom of it. What she finds is a town full of dark secrets, cover-ups and lies. And the closer she comes to the truth, the more danger she and Will’m are in.

Olivia Harker Cross’s life has made her tough and somewhat bitter. She has a softer side, which is most evident when she is around her grandson, Will’m. She is such a strong woman, so resilient, and yet still so full of doubt. Even though I may not have agreed with every choice she made, I never lost respect for her. She believes in standing up for what is right and is not afraid to speak her mind.

Olivia’s mother, Ida, is such an interesting character. She too has had a difficult life. She is much kinder to the men in her life (other than her husband) than she is to the women. She’s long been plagued with mental illness, but it is never clear what exactly that may be. One of the heart-wrenching moments in the book is when Olivia visits the state hospital her mother had spent much of Olivia's early childhood in. Even though Ida was terrible to Olivia, it was hard not to feel for her, having had to live in a place like that. For all intents and purposes, Ida seems to be a woman unhappy with her lot in life and so she takes it out on those closest to her. The relationship between Olivia and Ida is a complicated one.

Olivia has long harbored a hate in her heart for a mother she does not understand. All her life, even now, Olivia has wanted her mother to show some sign that she loves her. Her mother never has. The scars her mother has left on her run deep. They impact her relationship with her own daughter, who could not wait to escape. Olivia’s heart has been broken too many times, and love does not come easily for her. She guards her heart as those who love her know all too well.

Carolyn Wall’s novel begins in the future and quickly steps back into the past where the reader learns about Olivia’s childhood, setting the stage for the events to come. What begins as a quiet novel picks up intensity in the second half, particularly in the final 100 pages or so, as everything comes to a head (several soft expletives escaped me mouth, causing my husband to wonder if I was crazy). It almost seemed like two different novels in a way: the first half being more of a life story and the second being the suspense-filled mystery. And while I could fault another novel for this, I actually thought it worked quite well. The transition happened gradually and the story threads were interwoven from beginning to end.

The novel is set in the late 1930’s, at least in terms of the “current” story thread. The time period plays an especially important role in the novel. Life was hard all over the United States at that time and in the decades preceding it, people struggling to make ends meet. In Pope County Kentucky, where the novel is set, it was no different. Carolyn Wall captured the desperation of the times as well as the adaptability of the people. People bartered with food and services when they could not pay. Segregation was commonplace and racism ran rampant.

There is so much I want to say about this book and I haven't even come close to capturing all that I loved about it, but I’ve already said more than I probably should. This is one of those books that you have to read for yourself. Told in the voice of Olivia, the narrative is uncomplicated, her wry humor coming out now and then. The pages are filled with characters well worth getting to know, and Olivia’s story is one that will surely touch the reader’s heart. The secrets uncovered are chilling and the resolution is satisfying. The novel is as complex as Olivia Harker. Sweeping Up Glass is a love story, a mystery, and historical novel that touches on social issues that still reverberate today.

To think I had doubts about reading this book. That will show me, won’t it?

Rating: * (Outstanding)

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge & New Authors Challenge

Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie Mondays: I'd Rather Be Pretending

I have not forgotten about Monday Movies with Sheri over at A Novel Menagerie. Be sure and stop by her blog for the latest in what others are watching. I have only seen two movies so far this month and will be posting my thoughts on them next Monday. In the meantime, I am back on schedule with the Monday Movie Meme, which is brought to you by The Bumbles. Be sure and stop by Molly and Andy's blog to see what other people have to say about today's topic!

This week's movie topic is all about The Movies You'd Most Like To Hang Out In . . .
Movies transport us to all different times and places and let us live in the minds of the young, the old, as men, as women, famous and imaginary. Sometimes when the lights come up it is hard to leave the world the film just inserted us into. If you could go and hang out in any movie, which would it be? Why?
Lord of the Rings, most definitely. Such a beautiful world! I could have lunches one, two, and three with the hobbits and live amongst the elves (because in my Middle Earth, the world is at peace and the elves are still all around). Oh, and I could visit with Gandalf! We could talk about so many things and he could take me on many exciting adventures.

I fell in love with the house in which Tom Hanks lives in Sleepless in Seattle. Maybe he'd be willing to sell it to me? Or perhaps he'd dump Annie for me . . . Such a romantic and sweet movie.

Oh, and what about that to die for library in the Beast's house in Disney's Beauty and the Beast? Wouldn't I love to have that for my very own? Or at the very least, become Belle's best friend, and we can spend hours together exploring the shelves. I would have to get over my fear of heights to climb up on that ladder though.

One of my favorite period movies is Pride and Prejudice. I don't care which one you throw me into (although the Colin Firth version is my favorite). I love the atmosphere and landscape of the films. And to sit and talk with Elizabeth Bennett would be such fun!

Because I already do it much to the chagrin of those around me, I think I would fit right in with the cast of Grease, breaking out into song at random moments. I already know all the songs. And I could finally have that much needed talk with dear Sandy.

I'd love to hear what movies you would like to hang out in for awhile!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Salon: Happy Summer!

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -
True Poems flee.
~Emily Dickinson

Can you believe summer is finally here? For many of you, I imagine it began Memorial Day Weekend (for Americans) or the end of the school year earlier this month. I, however, am a calendar girl, and it really did not begin for me until today. The spring decorations in the office have made way for the upcoming Independence Day ones, and although the weather has not quite caught up with the changing of the season, it will soon enough.

It used to be that summers meant more reading time. When I was a child and up through my teen years, I would load up on library books and read to my heart's content. I barely stopped for meals and sleep. Come college time, summers were the only time I allowed myself to read for pleasure since the school year I was busy trying to keep up with my studies. Looking back, I am appalled I deprived myself in that way. Although, I am sure I meant well. Studies had to come first and it wasn't as if I did not have plenty of assigned reading to keep me busy.

Nowadays the summer months are really not all that different from any other time of year. Other than the fact that I cannot read in my car quite as much during my lunch breaks. The types of books I read do not change with the seasons (except for maybe the occasional Christmas oriented book closer to the holiday season--and even that is rare).

And yet, it is hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of summer. There's definitely something in the air.

How is your reading impacted by the summer season, if at all? Do you have any special summer plans, reading or otherwise?

Some of you may be familiar with Short Story Sunday hosted by James of Ready When You Are, C.B. or perhaps Short Story Monday hosted by John of The Book Mine Set. I have been toying with the idea of joining in for awhile now as the unread collections and anthologies of short stories gather dust on my shelves. My appreciation for short stories is still fairly new, and I would like to explore that further. As a result, I thought it might be fun to review a short story or two each week. So, be on the lookout for Short Story Saturdays here on Musings of a Bookish Kitty in the near future. Perhaps those of you not already participating in the Short Story review days will decide to give it a try too!

The Reading Status Report:

Book reviews posted this past week: Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Next review scheduled: Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

Currently reading: Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham

"That's not Angel," he said defiantly.

Gagne and Germanowski realized in that moment that Alig knew exactly what had happened to Melendez, and when he aw the photo of the only lead the police had, he knew they weren't even close. He had won that round, and the agents had lost a little credibility. [pg 145]
Currently Reading: The Missing Ink: A Tattoo Shop Mystery by Karen E. Olson

TBR Next: The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (subject to change)

Other Posts of Interest This Week:
Wordless Wednesday: Riding the Highway (Part 2)
TGIF: Weekly Meme Fun

(Many thanks to Florinda of The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness for allowing me to copy her status report idea.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

TGIF: Weekly Meme Fun (June 19, 2009)

This week's Musings Monday question:
Do you feel compelled to read prize-winning (Giller/Booker/Pulitzer etc) books? Why, or why not? Is there, perhaps, one particular award that you favour? (question courtesy of MizB)
I have a confession to make. I am not even sure what most of the book awards' criteria are. I had to ask my husband just now what exactly the difference between the Booker and Pulitzer was. I know the Edgar Awards have something to do with crime fiction. And I keep getting the Giller Awards mixed up with the Orange Prize. While at this moment I have them clear in my head (thanks to a quick Google search), by the time this posts on my blog, I will have forgotten again.

Before I began blogging, the only time I noticed a book had received an award was if it was if it was mentioned somewhere on the book cover, whether the front, back or inside cover. I never chose to read a book just because it won an award. And I cannot say I do that even today. I do notice the nomination long and short lists these days--but only because others blog about them. I sit up a bit straighter when I hear the winners announced, sure. It's interesting to hear what book won what award, especially if I am just a little bit familiar with it. Half the time, I do not remember what book won what award a week later.

There have been occasions when I have seen the lists of nominated books and found myself making note of the titles. When it gets right down to it, the award process may be the very reason I have heard about the book in the first place. Ultimately, however, the book has to sound interesting to me if I am going to pick it up and read it. No award is going to make me read a book that I have no interest in. So, while a prize winning book may catch my attention for a quick second, it takes more than its status to win me over.

How about you? Do you read prize winning books? Do you have a favorite award?

Amazon was kind to me this week. Well, I guess "kind" isn't exactly the right word. I mean, I did give them money so they would send me books. Those are mixed in with a couple of review books I could not say no to, and my Poisoned Pen Press Book Club selection of the month.

Here's a look inside my mailbox on this Mailbox Monday on this Friday (brought to you by Marcia at The Printed Page ):

Murder Is Binding by Lorna Barrett
Doubleback by Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Ghost and Mrs. McClure (Haunted Bookshop Mystery) by Alice Kimberly
The Devil's Company by David Liss
Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris by Vanina Marsot
I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Havana Blue (Mario Conde Mystery) by Leonardo Padura
Camelback Falls by Jon Talton

What bookish delights arrived in your mailbox this week?

Hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine

Anyone who knows me knows I will not be able to resist this one:

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Release Date: July 28, 2009

From the Publisher:
Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine "Millennium, " has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government.

But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander--the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of "The Girl Who Played with Fire."

As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.
What upcoming release are you looking forward to?

*Click on the image above to get to the Friday Fill-In headquarters, hosted by Janet!*

This week's questions are from Tamy at 3sidesofcrazy; thanks, Tamy!

1. All children alarm their parents, if only because they are forever expecting the child to be just like them.

2. Show me a good loser and I will show you a person who knows how to be a good sport.

3. Having the stomach flu is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs at one time.

4. Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy fixing toasters and teaching our children.

5. I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine beer and baseball.

6. It is impossible to think of any good meal, no matter how plain or elegant, without a rice or potatoes.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to watching another episode of Closer (season 4), tomorrow my plans include taking in a movie and enjoying lunch out and Sunday, I want to spend the day reading!

What great books did you hear about/discover this past week? Share with us your FRIDAY FINDS! (I know some participants list books they've actually bought or received for this meme. In my case, these are books that went straight on my wish list after reading the reviews. They are not in my possession. Yet.)
Bloody Good by Georgia Evans (discovered at Melody's Reading Corner)

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman (discovered at Bookworm's Dinner)

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon (discovered at Medieval Bookworm)

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose (discovered at At Home with Alyce)

What books have you discovered this week that are tempting you?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Review: Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

No one stays forever. On the morning of her disappearance Lilia woke early, and lay still for a moment in the bed. It was the last day of October.
[excerpt from Last Night in Montreal]

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Unbridled, 2009 (ARC)
Fiction; 247 pgs

Last Night in Montreal is a rather melancholy tale set in the bitter cold of winter. But the author's writing has a softness to it, a gentleness that takes away the edge without losing any of the suspense or the strength of its message. Emily St. John Mandel has a way with words. Her writing is lyrical and yet simple.

On the outset, this may seem like Lilia's story. Her father kidnapped her when she was 7 years old, and, most of her life, she was on the run, traveling by car from town to town. She has no recollection of her life before her father whisked her away, much less of why her father took her in the first place. Even after her father decided to set down roots, Lilia was unable to stop moving from place to place. She would make friends, sometimes take on lovers, and always she would leave, most often without a word of warning.

It was like that when she left Eli behind in New York. Eli had no idea that the morning he sat working on his long-overdue thesis would be the day she would disappear from his life. She gave no warning. After she left, he felt lost. A postcard from a stranger in Montreal about Lilia spurred him into action. He would go to Montreal to make sure Lilia was okay.

All her life, Lilia had felt as if someone was watching her. And she was not wrong. When police failed to locate her, her mother hired a private investigator to track her down. The detective assigned the case became obsessed with finding Lilia to the detriment of his own family, including his daughter Michaela.

And while this is Lilia's story, it is also the story of Eli, Christopher and Michaela, all of whom are gliding through life, seeking something they aren't quite sure of. There is an underlying desperation within each of the characters, even the outwardly calm Lilia. Lilia has been chasing after her forgotten past while all the while running away from it. Eli feels stuck, living his life but not moving forward. He has been trying to write his thesis for years and continues to work in the same mindless job. Michaela longs for her absent father, jealous and angry of the time he has devoted to finding Lilia, a complete stranger. Michaela was on her own from an early age, her parents absent for much of her life. Christopher's life was spiraling out of control before he took on the search for Lilia and her father. Lilia was someone he could latch onto, an anchor of sorts. She was a distraction that kept him from facing his own problems. Each of these four characters were lost, their paths intersecting--the key, being Lilia.

I was just as mesmerized by Lilia as the other characters were in the book. There was a charm about her that drew people in. She was worldly and ever changing. She seemed to float through life, or as Lilia would say, "ice skate" through it. It is obvious the author took great care in creating the characters. They are vulnerable, and yet each carry within them a strength that keeps them going.

The city of Montreal made a fascinating character all her own. Not to mention it was the perfect setting for the story. Both Michaela and Eli are English speakers in a part of the town where French is the main language. Already feeling unsteady on their feet, they are even more isolated, more alone.

There was only one minor thread in the story that stretched my own suspension of disbelief almost to the breaking point, a part of Michaela's family's history. Eli's wonderment over it made it okay for me though. It is always interesting to me how that happens. If a character acknowledges the doubt I am feeling, however silly I am being, I find it easier to move past it and accept that which I doubted in the first place.

Told in third person, the novel flits back and forth between the past and present and between the characters. The changes are subtle, but I had no difficulty following each of the story threads. This is definitely a book that is more about the process, the journey that falls in between the beginning and the end. While certain aspects of the outcome may not be surprising, the way it comes together was completely unexpected. Last Night in Montreal was a pleasure to read. It was beautiful--poetic even--in writing and profound in scope.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, 2009 Pub Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge, & Themed Challenge

Be sure to check out this excerpt on the author's website and stop and take a look around the rest of her website. Many thanks to Caitlin with Unbridled Books for the opportunity to read this novel and participate in the blog tour.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Glimpse Of What I've Been Reading and Crime Fiction on the Brain

My Bookmarks magazine arrived in yesterday's mail, but I have yet to flip through the pages for even a cursory glimpse. It is sitting here next to me, taunting me, full of books I will no doubt want to consider for reading.

Right now I am reading Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall, which is set in the fictional county of Pope in Kentucky. I have not made much progress in the novel, but it is not for lack of interest. I am already drawn to the main character, Olivia Harker Cross, and her grandson Will'm. Olivia's mentally ill mother promises to be an interesting character as well. As Olivia puts it: "All in all, I have a crazy ma'am who owns a hundred dusty Bibles, a leggy boy with a too-soft hear, and no man to bed down with." [pg 7] Olivia's taken up where her now deceased father has left off, caring for the area grocery store. Sometimes people pay in food and animals, too poor to afford their bills. Olivia has had a difficult life. She is bitter, but there is a softness to her that she tries to cover up with wry humor and a tough attitude.

Shortly, I will be starting on a nonfiction book about the underbelly of the drug world as a journalist offers the reader a glimpse into a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigation. It is not my usual sort of nonfiction read, but I wanted to read the book both out of professional and personal interest. Plus, I love a good crime story.

A couple of brief book related stories of my own to share:

My husband and I were having lunch the other day, and he made the mistake of asking me how the book I had just finished turned out. I gave him the rundown, spoiler after spoiler, knowing he'll never read the book. He paused before asking, "And you liked this book?" I actually did. I liked the book quite a bit. I guess in the telling, it does sound a bit ridiculous. In the reading though, it was quite believable and was a story well told. I guess it's good I didn't write the book.

And then . . .

While we were out shopping for a new sofa set this past week, my husband kept sticking his hands under and behind the cushions. I didn't think anything of it until we got to the final store where we found one we liked enough to add to our serious consideration list. He told me that his favorite feature on the couch was the way the back cushions were positioned and sewn onto the couch. He said it would be perfect for hiding a gun. Not too obvious when you go to pull it out--no digging under the seat cushions; slip your hand in and out the gun comes. My jaw dropped, and I just stared at him for a minute. I finally asked him, "And why would we need to hide a gun in the couch?" Heck, we don't even own a gun. He replied that he's been reading a lot of mysteries recently, and they've gone to his brain.

I won't mention the direction my own mind went when we saw three police cars, sirens blaring and lights flashing, pass through the intersection in front of us on the way home that same afternoon. By the time I first saw them coming to after they'd driven out of sight, I had an entire crime scenario laid out in my head.

I had hoped to have my review of Last Night in Montreal up and ready for you tomorrow, but it looks like there will be a slight delay. Not a long one though. I am behind in writing of the review and, while I could whip one out tonight and post it before midnight, I am not sure how good it would be. And a book like that deserves more of my attention and care than that. Not to mention I just don't feel like putting the pressure on myself to rush it.

It is back to work tomorrow. I hope I can remember my gazillion passwords (or where I put the paper on which I wrote them all down).

Happy Reading!

Week in Review:

Review: A World I Never Made by James LePore & A Word from the Author
Wordless Wednesday: Riding the Highway (Part 1)
A Week of Bookish Memes on Thursday
TGIF: Mail Call and Friday Fill-Ins