Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Reading Retrospective (October 2004)

How are you on this lovely Sunday afternoon? Have you recovered from the read-a-thon? From all the posts in my Google Reader it looked like everyone who participated had a wonderful time. I haven't had the opportunity to participate in any of the read-a-thons as of yet, but maybe one day I will get the chance. Despite that, I did spend a good part of yesterday reading whenever I could. At about midnight, I finished reading Push by Sapphire. I wanted to read the book before the movie came out this next month. It is a heartbreaking but inspirational novel about a teen mother who has two children by her own father. Her mother is pure evil. It was a difficult novel to read subject matter wise, but, oh, so worth it. I will be posting my review along with my thoughts on the movie later next month.

I am about to start reading Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon. After a good dose of reality, I am in desperate need of a taste of fantasy. Kelly (Kailana) from The Written World and I are reading the book together, and I cannot wait to get her take on the novel.

As I do on the last weekend of every month now, I like to revisit my old reading journal to see what I was reading five years ago at this time. I began blogging in the summer of 2006, and so many of my thoughts about the books I read before then were kept to myself. Reflecting on my past reading each month has been a worthwhile experience. I hope you have found it interesting as well.

October of 2004 was an especially challenging month for me on the work front. Lots of changes were afoot and there did not seem to be an end to them. My husband had gotten back into painting miniatures after taking a hiatus and I was reading up a storm in my spare time. As a result, I read quite a variety during October 2004. Care to travel down memory lane with me?

I started October 2004 off by finishing R is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton. R is for Ricochet was a bit different from the previous books in the series. Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone is hired to transport a wealthy man's daughter home after her release from prison and to is help make sure she settles back into the "real" world. In this particular installment, Kinsey is more of a passenger throughout the story, being led along by the various characters and the crime and mystery unravel.

One of my favorite complaints that gets my eyes rolling about Sue Grafton's novels is that she is stuck in the 1980's. Well, of course the series is! The author purposefully chose that time period, a time before people were completely reliant on computers and cell phones. A private investigator was forced to do much more research out on the streets rather than in an office behind a computer. I also love that the series is well grounded in reality. So much of crime fiction today includes over the top crimes (which I very much enjoy too, don't get me wrong). Sue Grafton's series provides the readers with a more down to earth realistic mystery. It's a refreshing change now and then. Besides, I'm quite fond of Kinsey Millhone. She's an intelligent and resourceful private detective. I enjoy spending time in her company.

Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West has garnered much in the way of praise and criticism over the years. I went into the book not really sure what to expect--something light and fun, perhaps. What I found was something completely different. And I loved it. The novel is part drama and part social commentary, touching on a variety of political issues. It was even more about friendship, acceptance, faith and forgiveness, however. Since reading Wicked, I have never been able to look at the Wicked Witch of the West the same again.

October of 2004 was be the month I read my last Patricia Cornwell book. Trace is the 13th book in the series featuring chief medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. I read Trace hoping it would revive the series for me, and instead it was the final nail in the coffin. The writing made me cringe, and I finally accepted that I no longer was interested in the characters or what direction their lives would take them. I expected it to be hard to let the series go, but it was surprisingly easy. It would be the first series I ever gave up on but certainly not my last.

Fortunately, the bad taste left behind after reading Cornwell's novel did not last long. One of my online book groups selected M.J. Rose's The Halo Effect as the monthly read and I was eager to try out this new-to-me author. I was intrigued by the fact that the protagonist was a sex therapist and curious to see how the author would weave a mystery around that fact. I was not disappointed. I was captivated right from the start. I may have given up on a favorite series that month five years ago, but I also discovered a new one.

By far, one of the best books I read in all of 2004 was Khaled Hosseini's novel, The Kite Runner. I read the book all in one day, sitting in the sun room. My husband spent most of the day reading by my side (although I couldn't tell you what he was reading). I was blown away by the writing and the story. My heart ached for the characters. It was one of those books that made me say, "Wow!" upon completion.

Finding a book to read after that proved difficult, but I finally settled on A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi. I had met the author in an online reading group and was curious about her books. I hadn't had the best experience with a previous book I'd read by an author I had met online, so I admit to being hesitant even still. However, my worries were for naught. A Breath of Fresh Air was the start of my love affair with India. It is a novel about facing the past, moving on and most especially about enduring love. I have since read more by the author and look forward to reading more by her in the future.

Needing something a bit less serious, I jumped immediately into P.D. James' crime fiction novel, A Mind to Murder. I was again reminded of how much I love P.D. James' ability to put the reader right into the minds of her characters without giving too much away. Next I dove into Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first in a series featuring a blood spatter expert working for the Miami Police Department. The catch? Dexter is also a serial killer who only targets those who deserve the fate he metes out to them. The novel was funny at times. Jeff Lindsay never lets the reader forget that as likeable as Dexter may be, he is still a cold blooded killer. The book series has since become a television show which is quite popular in its own right.

After all that death, I thought I would spend a little time with Lynne Truss and her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves; The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. It was both witty and educational. My favorite part was learning about the history of some of my favorite punctuation marks and how their uses have evolved over time.

It could have been worse. I begin my journal entry regarding Incubus Dreams by Laurell K. Hamilton with the idea that sometimes it is important to know what to expect from a book going in. This is one of the reasons I like reading a negative review of a book that is highly regarded. Not that this book is (or was) praised all that much. Still, having read several other opinions of this book before reading it, I was prepared for less mystery and more relationship issues. Knowing that, I was better able to appreciate the book for what it was, rather than what I hoped it might be. Incubus Dreams is the 12th book in the series featuring Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. It was perhaps my least favorite in the series up to that point. Unlike with Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, I still cared about Anita and her friends and I was interested in their lives. So even with my disappointment in the direction Hamilton had taken the series up to this point, I still liked it enough to hang on.

While October of 2004 would be remembered as the month I read my favorite book of the year (and one of my all-time favorite books), it did not end on the best of notes. One of my pen pal's husbands had written and published a novel and I decided to give it a try. The novel, The Pariah Stigma, by Howard Selden, is about a group of people who are exiled to another planet because of their religious beliefs. After several years, some of the old leaders of Earth are forced to flee to the planet to make a new living of their own. The two groups must find a way to live peacefully if they are to survive. The novel was optimistic and simple. I found it lacking in suspense and thought it rather anticlimactic in the end.

Looking back over my reading that October in 2004, I can only think of how rewarding it turned out to be. I was introduced to several new authors and revisited old favorites. Out of all the books I read, only two left me disappointed. Out of 11 books, I would say that is pretty good.

Some Discussion Questions:
  • I would love to know if you have read any of these books and what your thoughts are on them.
  • Are there any movies based on books coming out in the next couple of months that you are looking forward to?
  • If you are a series reader, have you ever given up on a series that you had once enjoyed? Or is there a series you continue to read because you are interested in the characters still, even if the story lines themselves aren't quite what you had hoped for?
  • What are you reading right now?

This Week In Reading Mews:
Reviews Posted:
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

Reading Now:
Lion of Senet
by Jennifer Fallon

Posts of Interest This Week:

Animals as Teachers: A Guest Post by Ingrid King (& a Giveaway of her book, Buckley's Story)
Wordless Wednesday: A Day in the Life of Anya and Parker

I am taking a little break from my computer this week. My blog hopping will be down to a minimum, and I will not be posting to my blog. This will give you a chance to catch up on all your other blog reading and maybe read a book or two. I will be back before you know it. Have a great week everyone. Happy reading!

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

Alone in the gray living room of their clapboard rental, their four-year-old daughter asleep in bed, Carl's thoughts crudely took him off guard. On this oppressive Norfolk evening, the notion came to him so calmly it almost made sense. He should crack his little boy's neck as gently as possible. It would be like saving two lives. [pg 1]

In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua
Bancroft Press, 2008
Fiction; 307 pgs

Beginning during World War II and spanning the years through the Vietnam War and well into the seventies, In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua takes the reader into the life of Puttnam Steward and his family, from his childhood into his adulthood. He is the son of a self-made man, a father who worked hard and expected that others around him should too. Puttnam cannot seem to do anything right in his father’s eyes, try as he might. His mother gets through her days with the help of alcohol. Puttnam goes through life never quite feeling good enough. He is not sure what it is he wants in life. His self-doubts and guilt are compounded by his struggle with his gender-identity. The wrongs he did throughout his life, even as a small child, outweigh the positive in his mind. His accomplishments, such as graduating from the college his father was unable to finish and being a war hero, are lost on him.

In the Wake of the Boatman surprised me. I knew from the description that it was a book I would likely enjoy. I hadn’t realized though how much it would resonant with me on a personal level. I could see myself in both Puttnam and Mary, Puttnam’s older sister.

I most identified with Puttnam. I know what it is like to seek love and approval from someone who is not able to give it and that feeling of never being able to measure up. When it is a parent, it makes it all the more difficult. Puttnam tried for much of his life to make his father proud. Even when he tried to distance himself from his family, not to let his father in, it was impossible to break off completely. The parent/child bond is not easily dismissed. Puttnam is smart and capable. I wanted so much to step into the pages of the book and reassure him.

Puttnam’s sister Mary and his friend Milton are perhaps my two most favorite characters in the novel. Both care about Puttnam and reach out to him in their own ways to try and help him. I like them not just because of the support they offer Puttnam, but also for their own stories. Mary was not a victim to her father’s ill will. She saw what was happening to Puttnam, however, and, in her own way, sought to remedy the mistakes of the past with the choices she made in her own life. Like Puttnam, Milton struggled with the direction his life was meant to take. He joined the service right alongside Puttnam but soon discovered that military life was not for him. His love for nature and birds would eventually guide him to his new career. Even so, Milton had an uphill battle. Mary and Milton are both down to earth characters and anchor Puttnam, keeping him from losing himself completely.

Helen, Puttnam’s mother, turned to alcohol to fill the emptiness in her life. Her life had not quite turned out the way she had hoped it might. Booze numbed her to not only what was going on in her household, but also her own failures and disappointments.

I admit I was not too fond of Carl Steward, father of Puttnam and Mary. I voiced a few choice words about him as I read the novel. He was cold and sometimes cruel to his son, never satisfied with Puttnam and making sure he knew it. I saw in Carl a familiar figure from my own past and that made it all the more personal. It made it harder for me to feel sorry for Carl, even knowing his own upbringing was much like the one he gave his son. Both Carl and his father were hard on their sons who never seemed to live up to their fathers’ expectations. I can’t help but wonder if Carl’s own father had had a similar childhood to the one he gave Carl. Carl was not a heartless man. Just misguided. He always had something to prove, never quite feeling good enough himself. He transferred those expectations and feelings onto his son, Puttnam. Instead of acknowledging his own insecurities, he put them off onto his son.

Carl’s hobby of making boats and his struggle to make one that could float and carry his weight mirrored his own life and his struggles with his son. He did attempt to reach out to his son at times, but his efforts rarely carried the weight they needed and were weak at best.

The characters are fully realized, making them all the more real. I felt Puttnam’s frustration and sadness, his guilt and shame. I could even feel Carl’s internal struggle as he warred with saving face and acknowledging he might be wrong. I have a feeling I will be wondering for awhile to come about where Puttnam would be today if he were a real person.

In the Wake of the Boatman is a study into the human psyche, about how our lives are shaped by our life experiences. Jonathon Scott Fuqua’s novel moved me. In his acknowledgements, he mentioned that he hoped his story would inspire, and I definitely feel that it does; at least it did this reader.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

You can learn more about Jonathon Scott Fuqua and his books on his website.

Disclosure: Copy of book provided by publisher for review.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: A Day in the Life of Anya and Parker

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Animals as Teachers: A Guest Post by Ingrid King (& a Giveaway)

I have gotten to know Ingrid King through her blog and am honored to have her as a guest today. Anyone who has spent any time on her blog, The Conscious Cat, knows how much she loves and respects cats. She recently published her first book, Buckley's Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher. Please welcome Ingrid to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Animals as Teachers From the Introduction to Buckley’s Story –
Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher

I have always believed that animals come into our lives to teach us. First and foremost, they teach us about unconditional love. But they also teach us to stretch and grow, to reach beyond our self-imposed limits, and to expand our consciousness. They take us to places we did not think were possible for us to go. I’ve been fortunate to have a number of these animals in my life.

I was not allowed to have pets as a child. The apartment building I grew up in would not permit them, but I would temporarily adopt cats for the duration of almost every family vacation. I grew up in Germany, and in those days, a typical vacation meant that you went to one place and stayed there for two or three weeks at a time. We stayed at small bed-and-breakfasts or rented a vacation condo, and somehow, at every place we stayed, we would either find a resident cat or two, or there would be a number of stray cats hanging around the property. The times I spent with these cats make up some of my happiest childhood memories.

I got my first cat when I was in my twenties. Feebee was a grey tabby cat who was born in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to a cat named Blue, who belonged to a childhood friend of my former husband. Walt and I were living in Germany at the time, but we would be moving back to the Washington, DC area shortly, so Walt’s friend saved one of the kittens in Blue’s litter for us. Meeting Feebee was love at first sight for me. We took him home as soon as we had moved into our new house in Northern Virginia, and for the next fifteen and a half years, Feebee was the love of my life. He saw me through my divorce as well as the death of my mother. He was my primary emotional support during those dark days. If it wasn’t for him, you might not be reading this book.

He was also instrumental in guiding me toward a new career. I was increasingly unhappy with my corporate job but had no clear sense of what I was meant to be doing with my life. Then Feebee took matters into his own paws, so to speak, and developed bladder stones. The time we then spent at veterinary hospitals for diagnosis, treatment, and surgery led me to change careers. I started volunteering and then working part time at veterinary hospitals, which eventually led to a full-time position managing an animal hospital—a position that came with an office cat with a very distinct personality. Virginia, a beautiful tortoiseshell cat, loved me fiercely, and made my dream of a fulfilling career complete. Whenever I had visualized my perfect job, that dream had always included a cat sleeping in a sunny spot on my desk. One of Virginia’s favorite sleeping places was the spot right next to my computer, in front of a sunny window.

Working at various animal hospitals led to many encounters with a large variety of special cats and dogs. The lessons learned from those encounters are enough to fill another book.

Several years later, Feebee lost his battle with lymphoma. Three months after he passed away, Amber came into my life. She was a stray who was brought to the animal hospital with her five kittens. She was emaciated and scrawny, but even then, her eventual beauty was evident. She is a dark tortoiseshell color, with an amber-colored, heart-shaped spot on top of her head, which became the reason for her name. Her kittens were adopted out to new homes in fairly rapid succession, but nobody was interested in the beautiful mommy cat. I did not think I was ready for another cat yet. The wound from Feebee’s passing was still very fresh and raw, but coming home to an empty house was becoming increasingly difficult, so I took Amber home, “just for the weekend.” She never returned to the animal hospital, and for the past nine years, her gentle, loving, wise presence, not to mention her almost constant purr, has been bringing love and affection into my life every day.

Virginia passed away two years after Feebee, and my office felt empty. For the next three years, I did not have an office cat, but there were always plenty of cats boarding at the animal hospital and these cats appreciated getting a break from being confined to a cage all day. I would bring a succession of favorites into my office with me whenever the opportunity presented itself. But it was not the same as having my own office cat.

And then, in the spring of 2005, Buckley entered my life. It seems hard to believe how much one small cat can change your life in just three short years. This is the story of Buckley and the lessons she taught me. Since the lessons are universal, I hope that you, dear reader, will find some of them useful for your own journey. If nothing else, I hope you enjoy the story of Buckley, a very special little cat.

* * *
Ingrid King is a former veterinary hospital manager turned writer. She publishes the E-zine News for You and Your Pet, covering topics ranging from conscious living to holistic and alternative health. She shares her experiences with consciously creating a joyful, happy and healthy life for pets and people on her popular blog, The Conscious Cat. Ingrid lives in Northern Virginia with her tortoiseshell cat Amber. Visit

The author has kindly offered a copy of her book, Buckley's Story, to one lucky reader in the U.S.A. If you would like a chance to win a copy please let me know by leaving a comment. Be sure and include your e-mail address. The winner will be selected at random and notified by e-mail. The deadline to enter the giveaway is October 30th at 11:59 p.m. PDT.

Thank you to all who commented and entered the giveaway! The winner was selected using The winner is

Congratulations, Diane!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Alice watched and listened to the relentless, breaking waves pounding the shore. If it weren’t for the colossal seawall constructed at the edges of the properties of the million-dollar homes along Shore Drive, the ocean would have taken each house in, devouring them all without sympathy or apology. She imagined her Alzheimer’s like this ocean at Lighthouse Beach—unstoppable, ferocious, destructive. Only there were no seawalls in her brain to protect her memories and thoughts from the onslaught. [pg 156]

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Pocket Books, 2009 (ARE)
Fiction, 303 pgs

My grandmother was an amazing woman. She was a teacher, a wife and a mother. She was active in both her church and the League of Women Voters organization. She and my grandfather very much a part of my childhood. After my Grandpa John died, the family began noticing little changes in my grandmother. She was forgetful. She would go out wearing her clothing backwards. She left a turkey in the trunk of her car one hot summer night, completely forgotten. She could not do simple tasks and would lose her way home while out running errands. She bought a minivan she could not afford nor needed. She was irritable and defensive. Eventually she withdrew, barely speaking. She stopped making an effort to walk, preferring instead to sit in a wheelchair. She couldn’t remember who people were and we did not know if she really understood what was going on around her. My grandmother did not have Alzheimer’s, however. She suffered from vascular dementia, with many of the same symptoms as someone with Alzheimer’s might have. In my desire to learn more about her illness, I did quite a bit of research into dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease.

My father’s father, Grandpa Willie, did have Alzheimer’s Disease. His was not early onset as Alice’s was in the novel. His came with old age. Being on the West Coast and he on the East, I did not see the impact his illness had on him first hand like I had with my grandmother in California. I heard the stories though. The last time I saw my grandfather in the nursing home, he had no idea who I was.

Earlier this year, my husband’s uncle was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Uncle R is a war veteran, highly intelligent and was successful in his career. It has been difficult for his family, including his wife, children, mother and sister.

Alzheimer’s is hereditary. And that’s a scary thought. As terrible as this may sound, I confess to being more frightened of having that than cancer (although I worry about that too; breast cancer being a real risk factor in my life—both my grandmothers and mother having had it). The idea of losing my mind, piece by piece . . . My memories, including the most basic disappearing. And knowing it is happening. I cannot imagine how frustrating and frightening that would be not only for me but those around me.

Still Alice was not a book I sought out to read before now. It was one sent to me by the publisher for review. Even amidst all the glowing reviews, I hesitated in reading it. I commented on many blogger reviews that I wasn’t ready, that it hit too close to home. When Florinda brought up the idea of a group read-along, I penciled it in deciding I might as well give it a try.

I picked up Still Alice at lunch on Friday and barely spent any time on my computer that night as I jumped right back into reading. I only went to bed at 12:44 a.m. because I could not keep my eyes open any longer. I finished the book Saturday morning. I didn’t rush through the book on purpose with a deadline in mind. I was so involved in Alice’s story, in her family’s story, that I just wanted to keep reading.

In Lisa Genova’s novel, Dr. Alice Howland is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard University. She has a successful career and is well-respected among her peers. She prides herself on her accomplishments and being the best teacher she can be. She is the mother of three adult children and married to a man she loves very much and who is also successful in his own career.

She loves her children. Her older two are leading successful lives. Alice worries about her youngest though who has chosen a career path that Alice has trouble understanding. She also worries that she and her husband have grown apart. They live under the same roof, but lead very independent lives. She misses their walks to work in the morning, holding hands and stopping at Jerri’s for coffee and tea.

She is extremely busy, always on the go. It is no wonder she occasionally forgets where she puts things and sometimes loses a word. Everyone does that now and then, especially when stressed or overwhelmed. In Alice’s case, there’s also the possibility of menopause setting in. Hadn’t she read that minor memory disruptions and mental confusion could be related to that?

It isn’t until she forgets how to get home one day during a run that she realizes just how serious her problem may be. Not wanting to worry her husband, she sees her doctor and later a neurologist. She never expected the diagnosis she was given: early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Lisa Genova’s prose is simple and easy to read even if the story she tells is one filled with sadness and pain. It is not all depressing though. While Alice’s prognosis is poor, her family is just as much a part of this book as Alice, and their lives will go on.

I wasn’t too keen on Alice at first. I immediately identified with her youngest daughter, Lydia. Alice is very opinionated and has difficulty understanding Lydia’s choice not to attend college to pursue an acting career. Alice and Lydia have a strained relationship in the beginning of the book, but as the story progresses, their relationship begins to change. My impressions of Lydia only grow more positive and I came to really care about Alice.

I could understand Alice’s husband’s initial denial and constant search for solutions that might help his wife. It couldn’t have been easy for him. The woman he loved was disappearing before his eyes. Juggling his career and a spouse who was becoming increasingly dependent would not be easy on anyone. I feel terrible for writing this, but he frustrated me at times with the choices he made, one in particular. Was he wrong? Not necessarily. He did what he thought was best for him in his situation. It is hard to know what we would do in any given circumstance without being in that situation ourselves. Still, his choices bothered me.

Alzheimer’s Disease is degenerative and there is yet no cure. There are drugs that help minimally by delaying the progression of the illness but it is still unknown how to stop it. There is DNA testing available which can detect whether a person is likely to develop Alzheimer’s, however, it is not full proof by any stretch. And then the question becomes whether you’d want to know something like that ahead of time. Lisa Genova broached this subject in the novel as well.

The author also addressed the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s. The fear and assumptions people make upon learning someone has the disease. When Alice’s colleagues learned of her diagnosis, they began to avoid her. Her family often would talk about her while she sat right there in the room instead of addressing her directly. Alice could not help but feel alienated and alone, not to mention helpless.

I felt a full range of emotions while reading this novel: fear, anger, sadness, joy, hope, helplessness, and love. The bonds of the Howland family are tested to the limit. Alice is an amazing and strong woman. I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother, grandfather, and Uncle R. as I read. My heart aches for what they must have gone through—and are going through in the case of my husband’s uncle. I hope that a cure for or at least a way to stop the progression of Alzheimer’s will be found in the near future. I cried as I read Still Alice and for a long time after I finished it. It is not an easy read due to the subject matter, but it is well worth reading.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

For more information about the author, Lisa Genova, and her book visit her website.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Salon: Meeting an Author & Computer Woes

I met an author this weekend. My husband and I decided to stop in at Borders Saturday afternoon. I thought he wanted to get a copy of a Umberto Eco's most recent book (he's currently reading The Name of the Rose and enjoying it), and he thought there was a book I was looking for. Neither of us really had any intention of buying any books. Of course, I was the one who walked out with two anyway. He of the 18 book TBR pile is already feeling a bit overwhelmed by his stack of unread books. When I asked him if he'd found what he was looking for, he said yes. He doesn't want to get it just yet though. It will surely topple over his neatly stacked pile. If my conscience had an eyebrow, it definitely was raised when I snickered in response. I would be so lucky to have his will power, his sense of reason, and a TBR pile I can see the end of.

While my husband went in one direction and I contemplated whether I wanted to spend the last of my gift card, I noticed a table in the corner near the front door with a display of books propped up beside it. A local author sat behind the table writing in his notebook. I had a little conversation in my head, wondering if I should approach him or steer clear. I tried to make out the cover of his book from a distance. Did it look like something I would read? I knew if I approached, I probably wouldn't walk away empty handed. I'm quite shy when it comes to approaching strangers, and striking up a conversation is doubly hard. Even so, Kip Shelton and I had a nice conversation about short stories, favorite authors (I completely drew a blank--why do I do that?), and blogs/websites. We also talked about the importance of giving voice to little known authors who seem to get lost in the shuffle among the bigger more prominent names. We did not talk for long, but I enjoyed our chat. In the end, I walked away with a signed copy of his book, First Person Shooter.

As to what I am reading now, I am in between books. I am craving something light and frivolous after reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I was not sure I would be able to fit Still Alice in this month, much less in time for Florinda's read-along. Some of you may have read this one earlier in the year. It has gotten a lot of good press among readers and critics. I will be posting my own thoughts about the book tomorrow. It is one of those books that stays with you long after you finish it.

I was writing my review of Still Alice, in the middle of a thought, when my computer shut down. It has been doing that a lot lately and more and more when I am in the middle of something. The computer has been acting up for months now. It had this annoying habit of rebooting at random or not shutting off when I wanted it too. It wasn't so bad though. Until recently that is; now that it shuts down all its own at the most inopportune times. I have run several virus checks using various scanners. Nothing. My husband and I have tried several other recommended tricks to try and discover the problem to no avail. I think it is time to take my laptop in for a professional opinion. Fingers crossed whatever is wrong is easy to fix and covered by warranty.

In the meantime, I have been looking at other laptops. My husband and I have talked at length about my getting a new one. He'll keep the old one, use it as a secondary computer to his desktop. He's been wanting mobility for awhile now, if only for word processing, and this will work out perfectly. It's an expense we probably should not take on, but now that the idea is in our heads, we are determined to make it work. Figuring out what kind of computer to get has been my biggest dilemma. There are so many brands out there. My current computer is a Dell. I probably won't be getting another one of those anytime soon. The Toshiba and Sony Vaio look promising. What I really want is a MacBook Pro, but financially that just isn't feasible.

My computer has managed to stay on as I write this post. Whew. Thank goodness for periodic automatic saves.

I hope you all have a great week filled with many happy bookish moments. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts. How are you spending your day? Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Reviews Posted:
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl (& a Giveaway - open worldwide)

Reviews Coming This Week:
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua

New Additions to my TBR collection:
Bought with birthday gift cards (I still have $0.67 left):
  • Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
  • The Outlander by Gil Adamson (recommended by Kelly from The Written World)
  • Friendly Fire by Alaa Al Aswany
  • My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past by Ariel Saber
  • The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
  • The Dracula Dossier by James Reese
  • First Person Shooter: A Collection of Multi-Genre Short Stories by Kip Shelton
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (Gift from Softdrink at Fizzy Thoughts)
Posts of Interest This Week:
Monday At the Movies: The Invention of Lying
Wordless Wednesday: Growing Up
Animals and Writing: A Guest Post by Matthew Pearl

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl (& A Giveaway)

In a Dickens story, readers were not asked to aspire to a higher class or to hate other classes than their own but to find the humanity and the humane in all. That is what made him the world’s most famous author.
[pg 33]

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Random House, 2009
Crime Fiction; 389 pgs

Starting a review is always a difficult task for me. I come up with ideas and end up dismissing them on second or third thought. In regards to this review, should I begin with the fact that this is my first Matthew Pearl novel? I have wanted to read his books for some time now but it took a book tour for me to finally pick one up and give it a try. This seems to be something I have been doing quite a bit--joining a book tour as an excuse to read a book I’ve wanted to read but haven’t managed to yet. I very nearly passed this one by. I wasn’t sure I should take on another tour so soon after the last one. And I figured The Poe Shadow would be more up my alley. I have a thing for Edgar Allan Poe.

Charles Dickens is fine and all. I have only read one of his books (as if I have read all that much by Poe!). I read Oliver Twist years ago and loved every word of it. I fell quite hard for dear Oliver. I confess to being a fan of the musical too. Don’t get me started! Whenever I hear someone say “I’ll do anything,” I break out in song. Let’s not get started on picking pockets. I have seen a million different versions of A Christmas Carol, but I know that doesn’t really count as reading the book.

Charles Dickens is one of those authors whose writing I want to explore more. I bought a huge omnibus a couple years back of some of his work, but, like so many other books I own, it is still waiting its turn. I haven’t managed to get to many of the classics this year, unfortunately. I do love a good classic. Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens appealed to me on many levels. Its tie to Charles Dickens certainly played a part in that as did the fact that it is a mystery set in the nineteenth century that takes the reader into the bowels of the cutthroat publishing world.

The novel is divided into three narratives. Upon his death in 1870, Charles Dickens appeared to only have completed half of his tale, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was being published in serial format by American publisher Fields, Osgood & Company in The Atlantic Monthly. Daniel Sand, a clerk with the publishing company, is killed in a bus accident while on assignment to secure the last installments of Charles Dickens’ novel. His death is just the first in a string of unexplained incidents that raise questions for Publisher James Ripley Osgood. With the security of his firm hanging over his head, Osgood sets out to uncover the ending Dickens had planned for his last novel. Perhaps he’d written more than was known. Finding it would be a coup that could save his career. Osgood travels to England in search of answers, taking along his book keeper, Rebecca Sands, Daniel’s sister.

Meanwhile, in India, a major shipment of opium has gone missing. Superintendent Frank Dickens, son of Charles, has his hands full investigating the theft and possible corruption in his police force. He is dedicated to his job and determined to get to the bottom of the crime.

The novel also takes the reader back in time to 1867 during Charles Dickens’ second book tour on American soil. His experience is fraught with illness, rabid fans, speculators, tax collectors, and Bookaneers. Charles captivates those around him. Imagine hearing him speak in person! Those traveling with Charles are loyal to him, including the Irish Tom Branagan who keeps an eye out for the trouble he suspects is right around the corner.

All three narratives come together nicely as the book draws to a close. The novel is not short of thrills. Murder, spies, the drug trade and the underhanded practices of certain publishers make sure of that. The book had a few slow moments but it was never dull. Literature lovers will enjoy the occasional mention of some literary greats.

I wish I could have spent more time with Frank Dickens. His portion of the book was much shorter than the rest. His story was minor though in comparison to Osgood and Charles Dickens, so it is understandable why. Still, he is a character I wouldn’t have minded exploring further. My favorite character of all, however, was Rebecca. She reminded me of the librarian from The Mummy. Rebecca was strong and capable, intelligent and independent. I really enjoyed getting to know Charles Dickens as well. He could be charming and charismatic, but was not without his own peccadilloes too.

Matthew Pearl’s writing definitely sets the tone of the novel, taking me back to the nineteenth century. He paid close attention to historical details and facts. He captured the historical period quite well, including the shifts in the opium trade and the influence the drug had on society, both where it was being grown and in the market where it was sold and used.

The publishing industry in the 1800’s was still evolving. International copyright laws were nonexistent, and so after a book was published in Britain, it was a free for all for American publishers. Competition was steep, the publishers trying to get their hands on the books so they could be the first to publish books by foreign authors, like Dickens. Much to the dismay of the competition, Charles Dickens entered into an agreement with Fields, Osgood & Company, and it was by professional courtesy that the other American publishers kept their hands off his books. At least until Dickens’ death and all that was left was an incomplete novel. The lengths that the publishers would go to sabotage each other and get their hands on those books are downright wild.

Another aspect of the book that fascinated me was the antics of the public, including the fans. I shouldn’t be surprised. Look at how people react to movie and television stars today. So why wouldn’t people be taking an imprint of Dickens’ foot as a souvenir or stealing his pillow in the night? Haven’t I stood in line to get an author’s autograph, stammering unintelligibly how much I like that author’s work, or still hold dear the first response letter I ever received from an author?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Dickens and look forward to reading the author’s other books. Maybe I’ll even pick up another Dickens' novel to read soon. Christmas is coming up . . .

Rating: * (Very Good)

If you have not had the chance yet, please take time to read Matthew Pearl's guest post titled Animals and Writing. Matthew is an author after my own heart, reaching out to help and protect animals.

For more information about the author and his books visit his website. Matthew Pearl is the author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens. Visit TLC Tour stops for a list of Matthew Pearl's tour stops!

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Random House.

Would you like a chance to win a copy of The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl? The publisher, Random House, is offering a copy to one lucky reader in the U.S.A. or Canada. Due to publishing rights issues, they are not able to ship to any other countries. I, however, have no such restrictions and am giving away a copy at my own expense to one lucky reader outside of the U.S.A. and Canada. In other words, this giveaway is open worldwide!

For a chance to win, please leave a comment along with your e-mail address (and whether you are in U.S./Canada or in another country so I know which giveaway to add you to) if it is not easily accessible via your blog or website. The deadline to enter is October 22nd at 11:59 p.m. PDT. The winner will be notified by e-mail.

Good luck!

***Giveaway Closed***

Thank you to all who entered The Last Dickens Giveaways. The winners were chose at random using Congratulations to the winners:

Diane from Bibliophile By the Sea
Ruth from Book Focus

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Animals and Writing: A Guest Post by Matthew Pearl

A lover of the classics and thrillers, I jumped at the opportunity to host author Matthew Pearl here at Musings of a Bookish Kitty. I could not resist a novel set in the nineteenth century involving Charles Dickens, the publishing world at that time and his last writing project. Please join me in welcoming author Matthew Pearl!

Be sure to stop by tomorrow for my review of The Last Dickens and for a chance to enter a giveaway for a trade paperback copy of this great book!

I tend to write about literary history and the nineteenth century, stirred up together inside the format of thrillers. Whenever I have the chance, I also like to include scenes involving my characters interacting with animals, even if it's just a moment or two.

In light of Literary Feline's name and theme, I thought I'd ruminate on why. I think I have creative and personal reasons. Creatively speaking, the way a character interacts with animals is a good window into that character's psyche, and one that creates variations on the other ways we observe a character. More on that in a second, in relation to my new novel, The Last Dickens. From a personal perspective, animals are an important part of my own life, and when it fits organically writing about animals is a chance I relish.

The Last Dickens is what I'd call a dual narrative, switching between a period right after Dickens has died and has left an incomplete mystery manuscript that launches a quest for his young American publisher, and a period when Dickens was touring America a few years before his death. The two narratives gradually tie together. As much as possible, I draw on my research into Dickens's actual time in the United States, as he went from city to city giving readings before huge crowds.

At one point Dickens and his entourage were in upstate New York (yes, Dickens had an entourage on tour and a pretty big one, including a full time employee who was what we'd call a stylist!). There had been massive snowstorms and, after several days of warmer weather and melting, severe floods. The Dickens party had to go by boat to Albany and on the way they passed a stranded train car filled with livestock. Dickens ordered his companions to help him rescue the animals, who would have otherwise perished.

Here was a good example, in my eyes, of the way a scene involving animals can help shape a character. Charles Dickens could be a very difficult person and rather demanding. I wanted to show this in my novel, particularly as Dickens struggles with competing desires for privacy and for fame (and money). He was harried and in declining health. This touching moment, away from his public, helps humanize a larger-than-life character.

I'd suggest that writing and fiction have a natural match with animals. Animals, of course, lack their own voices (which isn't to say they can't communicate in different ways and to different degrees). Fiction writers have from time to time entered the minds of animals. Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, narrated by a horse, is groundbreaking and far more sophisticated than many might realize or recall. The life of an animal has also been commonly used to structure a story about a particular person, group or culture. Virginia Woolf wrote Flush, a biography of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel. Besides their frequent use in children's books, animals can also be used as stand-in or allegorical characters, with Orwell's Animal Farm as a famous and influential example. The substitution of animals for humans in a world that resembles our own distances us from the subject and conditions us to read the story differently.

In my personal life, I actually do write for animals—not for publication but as a volunteer at my local animal shelter, where I write cat biographies in first person, er, first cat, to be displayed on their cages and online. It gives us a way to encourage empathy with animals who are often too terrified or traumatized in their cages to be outwardly friendly or affectionate. The text can bridge an empathy gap between animal and person. I would never allow my interest in animals or animal welfare to intrude unnaturally into one of my books. I do hope to find more venues in the future for writing about animals, since it's something I enjoy so much. In the last year or so, I was able to add my voice in opposition to greyhound racing in an op-ed and I contributed a short story to a new collection of Sherlock Holmes stories in which I have the detective cross paths with the founder of the first modern animal shelter in America (the Animal Rescue League of Boston, where I volunteer).

I encounter many writers who have a deep interest in animals. Coincidence or not? I sometimes think of trying to start an organization—something like Writers for Animals, but maybe with a catchier name.

What are some animal-focused fiction or narrative moments that stick out in your mind?

* * *
Matthew Pearl is the author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens. For more information about the author and his books visit his website.

Photo of the beautiful cat, Wendell, provided by author Matthew Pearl; Wendell was named after Oliver Wendell Holmes who was a character in The Dante Club and makes a brief appearance in The Last Dickens.

TLC Tour stops for a list of Matthew Pearl's tour stops!

Many thanks to Matthew Pearl for taking the time to stop in and visit!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Growing Up


© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies

It's a close June night in the Welsh hills, taut with the threat of tunder, and the radios of the village cough with static. The Quarryman's Arms, with the tallest aerial for miles around, is a scrum of bodies, all waiting to hear Churchill's broadcast. [pg 23]

The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
Mariner Books, 2007
Fiction; 338 pgs

Peter Ho Davies’ The Welsh Girl opens and closes with Rotheram’s story. He was raised by his mother, a German Lutheran, his Jewish father having died when he was young. He never quite fit in while growing up in Germany—he technically was not Jewish being that his mother was a Christian but the Germans classified him as a Jew because of his father’s heritage. The ambiguity this caused would have an impact on the man he would eventually become.

It was 1941 when Rotheram, now in the British Army, was sent to Wales in the United Kingdom to interrogate Rudolf Hess, Deputy Furher of the Third Reich. Hess had traveled to England near the beginning of the war and claimed amnesia over the events that took place in Germany before that time. He denied any recollection of his part in the war. Rotheram was assigned the task of determining whether or not Hess was competent to stand trial for war crimes. Rotheram and Hess are but a small part of the novel. They provide an anchor of sorts for the story of Karsten, Esther and Jim.

Esther is a seventeen year old barmaid, working at a local pub. The Welsh sit on one side of the bar while the British soldiers sit on the other. There is an old animosity between the two groups, an ancient disdain for one another that has been carried down for generations. World War II is underway and the soldiers are part of a construction detail. While at first the nature of their project is kept a secret, it soon becomes clear that it will be a camp for prisoners of the war.

Esther is so innocent. Her mother died when she was young and she was raised by her father, a proud Welsh man who holds tightly to his roots. She is a farm girl, raised on a sheep farm. Esther is well read, her English better than most in the town, but there is so much in the world she does not yet know. Her romance with a young British soldier goes horribly wrong, and she ends up suffering the consequences, her world irrevocably changed. She blames herself for things that she had little to no control over. She wraps herself in her blame and guilt, closing out those around her, sure they will not understand. She keeps her secrets hidden, fearing what others will think.

It was common practice during wartime for the British to send their children to the countryside, in the hopes that they would be safer there, away from the bombings and fighting. Jim was one such evacuee. Esther takes Jim in and tries what she can to get close to him. However, Jim is angry and mistrusting and not so easy to reach. Jim is resourceful though and resilient. Even though he is the butt of many jokes by the boys he calls friends, he never gives up trying to fit in and prove himself. Try as he might not to show he needs anyone, Jim craves the love and attention of a man. He once had that in Rhys, a local boy who had gone off to war. Now Jim feels alone and lost.

Meanwhile, on the coast of France, Karsten, a corporal in the German Army, is trapped in a bunker with two of his fellow soldiers, one his superior and the other a young boy who lied about his age to fight in the war. Karsten is the only one of the two who speaks English. At the insistence of his commanding officer, Karsten surrenders to the British on the beach. He is now a prisoner of war.

Karsten saw much during his childhood, his mother raising him on her own after his father died at sea. She ran an inn and Karsten often would help her. He learned about the world and about people during his early years. He went off to war hoping to be like his father. He is thoughtful, a bit of an outsider, never quite fitting in with the others. Karsten feels guilty and ashamed for surrendering to the enemy. He is mocked for it by his fellow prisoners.

Esther, Jim and Karsten could not be more different. And yet, they are very much alike. Each outcasts. Each with doubts and fears, struggling to survive as best they can. As their stories come together, the three characters find in each other a part of what they’ve been missing. There is a comfort in that but also a great danger.

The Welsh Girl is one of those books that sneaks up on you. It begins slowly as the author sets up the story, introduces the characters, and takes his time before bringing them together at the midway point.

The Welsh Girl is a character driven book. The characters are simple in some ways, but complex in others. The Welsh countryside itself is a strong part of the story. The Welsh culture, the conflict with the British, the history and strong roots of the land and people all building a strong foundation for the novel. It was interesting to read how the relationships between the different ethnic groups played out. That between the British and the Welsh often times ran hot and cold. And it was similar with the Germans. And what of the Jew who kept his real heritage a secret from those around him?

The author did quite a bit of research for his novel, including investigating the history of prisoner of war camps both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. He offered a glimpse at how the Germans imprisoned felt, the strong sense of patriotism that remained and kept them going, the hope they shared and the fears they would not speak about. Camp life was dull and repetitive. The confinement was stifling.

Hess is the only character in the novel based on a real person. Rudolf Hess did in fact exist, and, while the author took liberties in creating the story around him, his fate and the basic outline of his story are based in fact.

The Welsh Girl touches on several different themes: nationalism, loyalty, and the meaning of freedom among them. Each of the characters, including Rotheram, grows in the course of the novel, their experiences shaping them. Peter Ho Davies’ has written a novel that offers much food for thought. It is enjoyable and well worth reading.

Rating: * (Good +)

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge

Be sure to check the author's website for more information about the author and his book.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday At the Movies: The Invention of Lying

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

The Invention of Lying (2009)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Written & Directed By: Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson

From Netflix:

In a land where no one fibs, fiction doesn't exist and movies consist of actors simply reading historical facts, unsuccessful screenwriter Mark (Ricky Gervais) gains fame and fortune -- and maybe the girl of his dreams (Jennifer Garner) -- by saying things that aren't true. Gervais and Matthew Robinson co-write and co-direct this mayhem-filled comedy that co-stars Rob Lowe. Look for cameos by Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Browsing through the current movie releases, nothing stood out for the past few weeks. There are movies out now that I do want to see. Only, on DVD. I can think of a few movies that have yet to come out that I will definitely be catching in the theater later this year. I just have to be patient. Anyhow, when Florinda from The 3 R's Blog recommended The Invention of Lying, Anjin and I decided to take her up on seeing it.

Comedy is not my favorite movie genre. My husband jokes that I have no sense of humor. My sense of humor is just, well, different. And I really have to be in the mood to enjoy comedy. I must have been in the mood this weekend because I laughed quite a few times during The Invention of Lying. It was quite funny. But then, Ricky Gervais always seems to be able to make me laugh.

The romance plot line is pretty weak admittedly and seemed to be dragged out a little too long. Jennifer Garner as Anna plays the beautiful but brutally honest love interest. Gervais' character Mark is a down and out television writer who has no luck with women. While Anna is ever practical, Mark is much more a feeling person. He is not like everyone else.

I was most fascinated by the society Gervais and Matthew Robinson had created, a world in which no one could lie and everyone was quite direct. The word "truth" does not even exist. The very idea of fiction was unheard of in that world. The movie offered a glimpse at how dreary the world would be without the use of imagination--how stunted creativity could be. Mark's lies were not without consequence though, as he quickly discovered.

Compassion and empathy seemed to be missing to a large degree in this alternate reality. The invention of the lie by Mark changed all that. Sort of. He was the only one who could tell untruths and so everyone believed every word he said. Mark's lies made life more interesting, and he was able to obtain respect and material possessions he had never had before. The only thing he couldn't get was the girl.

I can see some movie watchers not particularly taking to this movie. The whole idea of a lie possibly being good might offend some. And then there is the fact that Gervais and Robinson take a poke at religion, one of the big lies being that there is a man in the sky who controls everything. That might offend more. I thought it was actually quite amusing though.

Disclosure: My husband treated me to the movie, paying the early bird matinee price. We each enjoyed an overpriced movie theater pretzel and shared a bottle of water (remind me next time to bring one from home). We thought at first we would be the only two people in the entire theater, but we totaled seven by the time the movie actually began. No cell phones ringing, no babies crying, only the occasional noise from outside the theater coming in from the door the staff forgot to close.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Salon: Short Story Sunday & Reading Challenge Wrap Up

It is after midnight, and, therefore, technically Sunday. I was searching through my TBR collection for a particular book, which, unfortunately, I was unable to find. I am sure it is there, hiding somewhere among the masses. Meanwhile, my oldest cat has crawled under the guest bed for a little nap. This is not odd behavior at all for a cat, and it is probably all the more appealing because the room is generally off limits to the animals. Coaxing him out will take longer than if I let him be. So, in the meantime I have come across Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I think we have time for one story. And a fitting title it is!

"A Temporary Matter," short story by Jhumpa Lahiri
from The Interpreter of Maladies
Mariner Books, 1999

They were happy once, before their child was born dead. After that, it was as if Shoba and Shukumar lived completely separate lives, only under the same roof. Shoba would spend her days at the office, often working late into the night, while Shukumar stayed at home, working on his dissertation. They both suffer through their loss in their own ways. Alone. When their electricity is shut off several nights in a row for repairs to be completed in the neighborhood, Shoba and Shukumar find themselves spending the time together, swapping confessions.

"A Temporary Matter" is a sad story about how grief and loss can create a rift between two people. Instead of coming together in their sorrow, the couple drifted apart. Shoba spent most of her time working and keeping busy, trying to forget. Shukumar, on the other hand, rarely wanted to leave the house, sleeping late and hardly studying. I fell instantly into the story, Jhumpa Lahiri's writing full of the underlying emotions of her characters. My heart ached for both Shoba and Shukumar.

It is late. I want to read on, but I know I should stop now and go to sleep. Parker has found his way out from under the guest bed, and it is safe to close the door. The TBR room is animal free once again.

Oh, what the hey. I will read one more story in bed. Just one more.

Have you read a short story lately? I'd love to hear about it! Be sure and drop by Ready When You Are, C.B. for Short Story Sunday & The Book Mine Set for Short Story Monday, the hosts for this event.

I completed three challenges, went above and beyond in two really. I decided against doing proper summaries this time around. Call me lazy or a curmudgeon, if you like. My enthusiasm for reading challenges has waned considerably. I have been pondering this for awhile, even tried wringing out some small bit of that excitement I had when I joined them all. Nothing. Not a speck. Oh, wait! I think I felt a little spark. It's very weak, but it is there. Considering I am still actively involved in a few challenges, I had better nurse that little guy back to full flame--maybe half a flame will do.

I love the idea of challenges: the camaraderie among participants (and all the cheerleaders who offer encouragement along the way), the list making and the, well, challenge. I have great admiration for those who host the challenges. It takes a lot of work and organization. It must be hard to keep up with all the participants--and the bigger the challenge is, I imagine it can become impossible. Many thanks to all of you who dare to host reading challenges!

Challenge Status:

Host: Teddy Rose from So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Goal: Level 1: Read 12 Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARC) or review books; Level 2, Overachiever: Read 24 ARC or review books; and Level 3, ARC Obsessed: Read 25+ ARC or review books.
Time Frame: January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009

I read 28 at last count. When I first began reviewing books for outside sources, I was not so good at saying no. I ended up reading a few books I would rather have not read once all was said and done. I quickly learned to be pickier, only choosing books I really wanted to read, might buy myself if given the chance and, of course, thought I would enjoy reading. The problem is that I have eclectic taste and much appeals to me. As often as I told myself at the beginning of the year I would not over commit myself like I had the year before, I still did, just at a slower rate. This summer I re-adjusted again. I am still playing catch-up and will be for awhile, but I am now smarter about my choices and realistic in my goals. Mostly.

Host: Jackie from Literary Escapism
Goal: Read books by 20 new authors. Books/Authors may be listed anytime during the year.
Time Frame: January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009

So far this year, I have read 28 books by new to me authors. I have discovered many new authors this year and will continue to do so before the year is out. Some of the books I read were by first time published authors and others have been publishing books for years. I love the thrill of being at the beginning of a new author's career. And there's nothing that beats falling in love with a book and realizing that the author has an entire blacklist of books to explore.

(refer to the sidebar for a list of the books I read for this challenge)
Host: Michelle from 1 More Chapter
Goal: Read a minimum of 9 books first published in 2009. Books can be listed anytime during the year.
Restrictions: No children’s/YA titles allowed and at least 5 of the titles must be fiction.
Time Frame: January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2009

I have read 19 so far that were all published this year. Before I began blogging, I happily read books from years past. I did not pay much attention to the bestsellers' lists and much less to the various book award nominees and winners. Besides, I didn't (and still do not) like paying full price for a hardcover. As many books as I buy, I have to draw the line somewhere. I still enjoy reading older books, but I find it impossible not to be drawn to the new releases, especially with all the excitement surrounding each one. These are often not bestsellers, although you wouldn't know it by the amount of enthusiasm around the blogosphere. I catch myself being surprised when one of my offline reader buddies hasn't heard of a book that is the talk of the town online.

I have noticed too that I tend to receive more comments and hits on posts about newer books than I do older ones. More people read the newer books, or have at least heard about them, and so there seems to be more interest in those. The only exception to that rule is if it is a classic.

Continuing Challenges:
War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge - 3/5
Chunkster Challenge - 2/3
50 Books of Our Time Project - 0/1

Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge - Technically completed; still open in case new book released before deadline.
Herding Cats II - Met the minimum requirement

This Week In Reading Mews:

Reviews Posted:
De Marco Empire by J Lou McCartney
Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Currently Reading:
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

New Additions to my TBR collection:
The Man of My Life by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (review book from publicist)

Posts of Interest This Week:
Monday At the Movies: Good ol' Dad
Giving Voice to the Past: A Guest Post by Shilpa Agarwal
TGIF: Wishlists & a Nearly Endless List of Questions for My Dear Readers

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.