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.)


  1. I've always been fascinated by the Salton Sea area. Enjoy God of War!

  2. I love your monthly retrospectives. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel sounds like one for my wishlist! I also have always wanted to read more of Tanya Huff's books. I'm glad to know you like them too, that will push me in her direction a little more. =)

  3. The Hansel and Gretel retelling sounds particularly interesting, mostly because I'd be fascinated to see the way the fairy tale aspects to the story are turned on their heads in order to accommodate the new twist.

  4. What a great post! Maybe you should be writing the book! It's fun to look back and see how we spent our reading time... 5 years ago I was pure mystery but after forming my book club I opened up to the whole bookstore- maybe that wasn't such a good idea....
    Thanks for brightening the day!

    AND open up The Devlin Diary! I just finished that last night and LOVED it! I'm part of her blog tour June 29th and can't wait to share it with my blog readers!


  5. Such a cool idea to look back at what you were reading 5 years ago. I wish I'd started keeping track 50 years ago! Alas, I only began last year!

  6. I'm still a huge Stephanie Plum fan :) Although, I'm a little behind - I rushed out to get the new book #15 and still have #14 sitting in my TBR :)

  7. Oh, I love the title you chose for your Status Report - it fits so well with your blog's felinity :-). And I always enjoy your Reading Retrospectives. I wish I'd kept better records of my own reading pre-blog, but no...which is why I started blogging in the first place.

    And I'm slightly envious that you received unsolicited review books that you actually want to read. I haven't been quite so lucky in that department.

    Enjoy your Sunday, Wendy!

  8. I loved reading what you included in your writing journal--what heart you put into your bookish thoughts! June 2004 was a pretty slow month for me--Curious Incident, Angels and Demons, and No Mother to Guide Her (Anita Loos). Yikes. :)

    I love how you include your current travels--you certainly went to a lot of places in June. If you had to pick a favorite, it would be...?

  9. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel looks very interesting. Thanks for the recommendation!

  10. Lately I have been reading The Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson. Enjoying it too!

  11. You traveled all over! Great summary post.

  12. I've been interested in Tanya Huff's Keeper books for a while now. I'm hoping to get to them sometime in 2010, TBR List willing!

    And I know I've told you this before, but I love how you trace your fictional travels.

  13. I love how you do your retrospectives from years ago. I wish I started keeping track of all I read back then.

    I agree with you about the Keith Ablow books. The main character is difficult to like at first, especially with some of the choices he makes, be he definitely grows on you!

  14. I love how you describe the journeys you have taken in June through your reading. We all go places and meet people through books that we would never have the time or ability to do in our "real" lives.

  15. I really enjoy the new look of your blog (it's been a while since I've had time to wander the blog world visiting my favourite places...) and your post is excellent! I have now added another book to my to-get list - Louise Murphy's - what a wonderful review, Wendy.

    And I have to say that as a Canadian, I am thrilled you have enjoyed The Keeper series by Tanya Huff for so long! I love Austin too :-D I hear there's a fourth book out in the series, and if you haven't read the Smoke &MIrrors book yet, that stars a man who can see ghosts. I quite enjoyed it also.

    And Stephanie Plum - always a very laugh out loud read, I love her!!

  16. It is amazing how we travel when we read. We get to visit so many countries without having to take tablets to ease my nerves when flying!

  17. The True Story of Hansel & Gretel sounds both heartbreaking and intriguing. I have a weakness for fairy tales, but oh how I hate the Nazis.

    Summon the Keeper! Hmm. I think I have one more to go in that series.

  18. A True Story of Hansel and Gretel sounds chilling. You took some good notes on that one. They give a good sense of the book.

    LOVE your Reading Mews label :o)

  19. I can't even remember what I was reading five years ago. Hmmm.... nope, no idea.

  20. I love, love, love when you do these. Thanks for is always fun to look back :)

  21. Lenore - I hope it will be a good one. I hadn't heard of it before it showed up in my mailbox.

    Meghan - Thank you. I enjoy writing them. :-) I've read some of Tanya Huff's more traditional fantasy too, and while I enjoy that, I think I prefer her urban fantasy novels best. I'm looking forward to reading more by her down the road. I hope you do get a chance to read Louise Murphy's Hansel and Gretel book. It's truly haunting.

    Anonymous Child - I admit that I am not that familiar with the original Hansel and Gretel tale, only the one I grew up on. I definitely saw similarities in the retelling from that stand point.

    Suzanne - Thank you for your kind words! My reading definitely has gone in many directions over the years. I still love my mysteries and fantasy novels. There just never seems to be enough time to read everything I want, you know?

    I am glad to hear you enjoyed The Devlin Diary. I admit I hadn't heard of it before it showed up in my mailbox. It sure sounds good! I'll be sure and stop by your blog tomorrow for the tour date.

    Linda - If only, huh? I wish I'd started keeping track much earlier too. At least we are doing now. That's something. :-)

    Yvonne - I really enjoy the Stephanie Plum books too--just in paperback or at discount. I'm behind too. Need to read #14 still.

    Florinda - Anya was mewing up a storm last night and "Reading Mews" just came to me. :-)

    I'm on an readers' advisory board for Simon and Schuster and they send books throughout the year for me to review. I don't have to read every one of them, but a fair amount. I never know what books they will be sending or how many. It seems like this year they've gone hog wild in sending out books. What happened to the recession, I'm tempted to ask. ;-) I'm not really complaining though. Just surprised. And happy that they're sending me books I want to read.

    Trish - Thank you, Trish. How nice of you to say! My review of Murphy's book was one of my more heartfelt ones--most of my reviews from back then are quite brief and to the point. I should try and get back to that instead of rambling like I do now. Haha!

    You're putting me on the spot . . . My favorite this month is Sweeping Up Glass. Such a wonderful book. Location wise, I would probably rather be in Las Vegas or Europe, but book wise, definitely Kentucky.

    Michelle - It is a difficult read in spots, but definitely worth it.

    Gautami - I am glad to hear it! Some of his tales are among my favorites.

  22. I am impressed at how you can recount what you were reading 5 years ago! I wouldn't even be able to rely on my blog if I looked back at it in 2015 because I don't review or blog about every book I read.

  23. Beth - Thank you! I hadn't meant to do that until the end of the month, but it seemed fitting with this post.

    Memory - I hope you will enjoy them when you read them. I'm already planning some of my 2010 reads too. We're so bad. LOL

    Kristie - Thank you. I'm really glad I decided to keep track. I only wish I'd started earlier.

    I really came to appreciate and like Frank the further in the series I got. I wasn't quite so impressed with the books themselves though, especially the last one.

    Kathleen - Thank you. One of the joys of reading is being able to travel just about anywhere within the pages of a book.

    Susan - Thanks so much! I hope you like Murphy's book when you get to it. It has stayed with me over the years.

    I had heard rumors of a fourth book in the Keeper series but hadn't known for sure if it had come out. I'll have to look for that one. Thanks for the heads up. Smoke & Mirrors: definitely a book I must read.

    I can always count on Stephanie Plum for a good laugh. I adore Grandma Mazur. I need to catch up with the series so I can visit with her again.

    Scrap Girl - Haha! Yes, no worries about air or sea sickness when traveling by book. :-)

    Carrie (Patience) - You'd the Nazis still if you read Murphy's book.

    Terri - It definitely wasn't light reading. It made quite an impression on me.

    I have Anya to thank for the Reading Mews label. :-)

    Heidenkind - It helps that I started keeping a reading journal long before I began blogging. :-) I wouldn't have remembered otherwise.

    Samantha - I enjoy looking back too. Sometimes I'm even surprised at what I had to say all those years ago.

    Dani - I began journaling everything I read about five and a half years ago. I still keep it up, even though I now have my blog. It's become a natural part of my reading routine over the years.

  24. I really wish I'd kept a reading journal from that long ago! I'd love to go back and recall what I was reading and what I thought about the books. I haven't heard of the Hansel and Gretel book, but boy that sounds interesting.

  25. I'm relatively new to the Stephanie Plum series, but I'm absolutely loving it!

  26. Kim - I do wish I'd started keeping it earlier though. It's fun to read through my old entries and see what I was thinking about what I read back then.

    Carrie (B&M) - It's a fun serious. :-)

  27. I love reading your "reading retrospective" posts.

    By the way, I am really looking forward to Sacred Hearts too... Can't wait to hear your thoughts on that one.

  28. I love these flashbacks you do. I sure wish I had been blogging to know what I was reading. I keep meaning to read Hansel & Gretel-I've heard that it's very good.

    You sure did get some good books in this week. I've got a few of those to read too.

    Have a great week!

  29. It's interesting to see your "looking back many years ago". I'm always curious in how your books reading change over the years. And it always fun to look back and see how much thing have change too.

    The Stephanie Plum series is always a laugh out loud a minute for me. I love the series but I'm way behind on it too :)

  30. I have to echo what others have said - how interesting to look back in time. :) Five years ago? I was deep in any and all kinds of fantasy books I could find. Ten years ago? I was just coming out of my horror genre cocoon to discover the fantasy genre...

  31. A look back to five years ago is such an interesting idea. I know that my reading preferences have changed quite a bit in the last five years. It would be interesting to see what I was all excited about back then, but I didn't have a blog then and I don't think GoodReads was in existence so I will just have to wonder.

  32. This is such a great post, Wendy! Thanks so much for sharing with us! :)

  33. Hi Wendy, thank you for sharing your journal entry!

    I've enjoyed The Good Fairies of New York and I hope you will too. :)

  34. Iliana - Thank you! I enjoy revisiting my old journals entries. :-)

    Dar - It's fun to share a bit of what I was reading with you all before I began blogging.

    I'm so behind in my reading. I am drowning in books! Not that I'm complaining really. :-)

    Julia - It is interesting to see in what way my reading has changed, I agree. I love Grandma Mazur from the Plum books. She's such a hoot!

    JM - We've come a long way, haven't we? Explored so many different types of books over the years.

    Ti - I still enjoy reading the same types of books I did five years ago, but I'm definitely reading more variety today. I'm glad I decided to journal what I read all those years ago--I just wish I'd started earlier.

    Melody - I am glad you enjoyed it. :-)

    Alice - I remember your review of The Good Fairies of New York. It's one of the reasons I decided to try it out. :-)


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