Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: A Year in Review (A Bit on the Long Side)

The end of the year always seems to bring about my need to finish projects and update all my lists so that I can get a fresh start in the New Year. It is silly in some respects, I suppose. The year's end and beginning are more symbolic than anything. The fiscal year for my agency begins and ends in July. I was born in September, so technically, shouldn't my year begin and end then? And yet, I find myself eagerly anticipating the end of one year and the start of another as per the Gregorian calendar. It's so much more fun when we celebrate together, don't you think? More meaningful somehow.

Two thousand nine has been a challenging year, and I wish I could say I was looking forward to two thousand ten, but, well, let's not go there. Positive thoughts. On the reading front, at least, I predict good things for us all: many top notch books, interesting discussions, the strengthening of friendships and connections, and, of course, the making of new friends. I am ever so grateful to all of you who visit my blog and read my ramblings. I truly value the friendships I have made in the blogging community.

This past year was a bumpy one reading wise. My reading numbers are considerably lower than they have been in years. No, I wasn't watching more television. And regardless of what my husband says, it isn't Big Money's fault either. Things came up. Life happened. Reading took a backseat at times. Despite that, I read quite a few really good books. While last year, not one book I read had that "wow" factor, this year four did and nine came awfully close. Personally, I think that's pretty darn good.

This year I committed to read for a literacy based charity organization. Jodie declared it The Year of Readers. Many readers joined in the effort. I committed to donating $1 for every book I read and the same for every challenge completed. I obviously had hoped to have a better year when I signed up for this event. I stated up front that I was not going to be actively seeking out sponsorship--it's not something I am comfortable with, and so my donation will probably seem very small compared to what others are able to contribute. Still, every little bit helps!

I made the (unspoken) decision when I signed up for the project that I would donate at minimum a $100 to the Book Wish Foundation, regardless of how much I fell short. And that's exactly what I plan to do. I wish I could do more, but right now, unfortunately, that just isn't possible.

Before I get to my list of favorite books read this year, I thought I would begin with a few other fun facts.

Longest Book Read ~ Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden

Shortest Book Read ~ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Best New Series ~ The Tattoo Shop Mystery Series by Karen E. Olson

Best Nonfiction Book ~ Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah

Best Fantasy Novel ~ Starfinder by John Marco

Sobfest Book of the Year ~ Tie: Lisa Genova's Still Alice and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief

Most Disappointing Book ~ Broad Street by Christine Weiser

Worst Mother of the Year ~ Mary from Push by Sapphire

Book that Made Me Smile ~ Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Most Mentally Disturbed Narrator ~ Eleanor Rushing by Patty Friedmann

Scariest Book of the Year ~ Still Alice by Lisa Genova

2009 Reading Trends ~

Total Books Read ~ 60
Total Authors Read ~ 54 (books written by multiple authors are only counted as one author)

Graphic Novels Read ~ 2
Short Story Collections or Anthologies ~ 4
Short Stories Read (not counting short stories read in collections) ~ 2

Total New To Me Authors Read ~ 44

Books Read by Genre ~
29 Fiction
18 Crime/Suspense/Thrillers/Mysteries
9 Fantasy
5 Nonfiction
1 Science Fiction

31 Female Authors
22 Male Authors
1 Mixed Gender

Books Read by Authors' Gender ~
37 Females
22 Males
1 Mixed Gender

Books Read by Rating ~
4 Outstanding/5 Stars
9 Very Good +/4.5 Stars
20 Very Good/4 Stars
18 Good +/3.5 Stars
6 Good/3 Stars
2 Fair +/2.5 Stars
0 Fair/2 Stars
0 Poor/1 Star

Total Books I was Unable to Read to Completion ~ 1 (Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith - I was so put off by Elena's character that, try as I might, I could not get into the book.)

Book Size ~
7 Pint Size Books (200 pgs and Under)
42 Intermediate Books (201-350 pgs)
7 Substantial Books (351-500 pgs)
4 Doorstop Books (501+ pgs)

Books Read by Type ~
19 Hardback Books
33 Trade Paperback Books
8 Mass Paperback Books

Books Read by Year of Publication ~
54 in the 2000's (32 books published in 2009; 1 book set to be published in 2010)
3 in the 1990's
1 in the 1980's
2 in the 1800's

Books Read by Narrative Voice ~
24 1st Person
24 3rd Person
6 Both
6 Nonspecific Voice

Reading Challenges Participated in ~ 16
Reading Challenges Completed ~ 7
Reading Challenges Carrying Over Into New Year ~ 1

Best reading months ~ December & August (7 books)
Worst reading month ~ February (2 books)

2009 Blog Posts ~ 238 (including this one)

Top Five Movies Seen This Year ~
  1. District 9 (2009)
  2. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  3. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
  4. The Orphanage (El Orfanato) (2007)
  5. Star Trek (2009)

One of my favorite crime fiction blogger's, Kerrie of Mysteries In Paradise, is collecting readers' top ten favorite crime fiction lists this year (up until January 7th--so there's still time to get your lists into her!), and I could not resist joining in again. I took a few liberties, and, while some of these books may not fall under the "crime fiction" label officially, they do enough for my purposes. They all involve solving some sort of crime, after all. Without further ado:

Top Ten Favorite Crime Fiction Books for 2009 (in no specific order) ~
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Zoo Station by David Downing

In the Woods by Tana French

The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

A World I Never Made by James LePore

The Missing Ink by Karen E. Olson

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl

No One You Know by Michelle Richmond

Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

As I mentioned earlier, I read a lot of good books this year. I was introduced to many new authors via their books and re-visited authors I've enjoyed before. It is never easy coming up with a top ten list. At least not for me. Because I rate the books I read, it's a little easier, I suppose, but it doesn't take the pressure off completely. I still have to put them in some semblance of order--and that's the hardest part of all. Each of the ten books that made the final cut are books that touched me in some way. The writing is beautiful and the characters are the kind that get under my skin and find their way into my heart. These books are the reason I read. If you want to know more about any of the books that made my list and the specific reasons I love them so, please check out my reviews.

Top Ten Favorite Books Read in 2009 (listed in reverse order) ~
10. In the Woods by Tana French

9. Precious by Sandra Novack

8. The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks

7. Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

6. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

5. Who By Fire by Diana Spechler

4. Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

3. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond

2. Push by Sapphire

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

There will be no reading goals or resolutions this year. At least none that are set in stone or written down. Well, except for the two reading challenges I have already committed to. I have an idea of the many directions I want to go, but only time will tell which of those directions I will be traveling. I hope you will join me for another year of reading and sharing bookish thoughts.

Have a Safe and Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Books Read in 2009

(Archive of books read in 2009)

January 2009
Teaser by Jan Brogan (2008) - 291 pgs - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 3.5 Stars
Who By Fire by Diana Spechler (2008) - 343 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
Zoo Station by David Downing (2007) - 293 pgs - Crime Fiction (S/T) - 4 Stars
Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith (2008) - 332 pgs - Nonfiction
Broad Street by Christine Weiser (2008) - 234 pgs - Fiction

February 2009
Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup (2005) - 318 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson (2009) - 288 pgs - Nonfiction - 3 Stars

March 2009
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1861) - 632 pgs - Fiction (S/T) - 4.5 Stars
Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (1987) - 416 pgs - Science Fiction (GN) - 4 Stars
Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn (2007) - 303 pgs - Fantasy - 3 Stars
Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn (2008) - 226 pgs - Fantasy - 3.5 Stars
Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn (2009) - 282 pgs - Fantasy - 3 Stars
Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn (2009) - 311 pgs - Fantasy - 3.5 Stars

April 2009
The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories by Catherine Brady (2009) - 227 pgs - Fiction (ss) - 3.5 Stars
The Brightest Moon of the Century by Christopher Meeks (2009) - 312 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
Probable Claws by Clea Simon (2009) - 255 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Starfinder by John Marco (2009) - 326 pgs - Fantasy (YA) - 3.5 Stars
The Glass Devil by Helene Tursten (2007) - 311 pgs - Crime Fiction (MYS) - 4 Stars

May 2009
Precious by Sandra Novack (2009) - 274 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009) - 290 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris (2009) - 319 pgs - Suspense/Thriller - 4 Stars
No One You Know by Michelle Richmond (2009) - 306 pgs - Fiction - 5 Stars
Defending Angels by Mary Stanton (2008) - 293 pgs - Fantasy/Mystery - 3.5 Stars

June 2009
Angel's Advocate by Mary Stanton (2009) - 304 pgs - Fantasy/Mystery - 3.5 Stars
A World I Never Made by James LePore (2009) - 262 pgs - Suspense/Thriller - 4 Stars
Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandell (2009) - 247 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall (2009) - 319 pgs - Fiction - 5 Stars
Chemical Cowboys: The DEA's Secret Mission to Hunt Down a Notorious Ecstasy Kingpin by Lisa Sweetingham (2009) - 442 pgs - Nonfiction - 4 Stars

July 2009
The Missing Ink by Karen E. Olson (2009) - 299 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4.5 Stars
One More Year by Sana Krasikov (2008) - 196 pgs - Fiction (short stories) - 4 Stars
Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris (2009) - 312 pgs - Fantasy - 3 Stars
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (2007) - 338 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (1997) - 321 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars

August 2009
Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey (2009) - 319 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3.5 Stars
In the Woods by Tana French (2007) - 429 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4.5 Stars
The Promised World by Lisa Tucker (2009) - 319 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
Parker: The Hunter (Richard Stark’s Parker, Book 1) by Darwyn Cooke (2009) - 140 pgs - Crime Fiction (GN) - 4 Stars
Shades of Grey by Clea Simon (2009) - 216 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (2009) - 280 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3.5 Stars
Sometimes We're Always Real Same-Same by Mattox Roesch (2009) - 317 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars

September 2009
Eleanor Rushing by Patty Friedmann (2000) - 275 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman (2009) - 374 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Durfar by Halima Bashir with Damien Lewis (2008) - 316 pgs - Nonfiction

October 2009
De Marco Empire by J Lou McCartney (2008) - 345 pgs - Fiction (Romance) - 2.5 Stars
Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal (2009) - 362 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl (2009) - 386 pgs - Crime Fiction - 4 Stars
Still Alice by Lisa Genova (2009) - 303 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathon Scott Fuqua (2008) - 307 pgs - Fiction - 4.5 Stars
Push by Sapphire (1996) - 192 pgs - Fiction - 5 Stars

November 2009
Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon (2002) - 558 pgs - Fantasy - 3.5 Stars
Face Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan (2009) - 280 pgs - Crime Fiction - 3.5 Stars
The Fifth Servant by Kenneth Wishnia (2010) - 387 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge (2009) - 322 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars

December 2009
The Girl on Legare Street by Karen White (2009) - 335 pgs - Fiction - 3 Stars
Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics (2009) - 104 pgs - Fantasy - 4 Stars
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (2006) - 218 pgs - Fiction - 3.5 Stars
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843) - 52 pgs - Fiction - 4 Stars
Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden (2006) - 704 pgs - Nonfiction - 4 Stars
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2006) - 552 pgs - Fiction - 5 Stars
Interpreter of Maladies (1999) - 198 pgs - Fiction - Fiction (short stories) - 4 Stars

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reading Challenges Wrap Up Post

Whew! I made it with just a few days left in the year to spare. For a second there I was afraid I might not make it. My final challenge of the year was the War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge hosted by Anna and Serena. I committed to reading 5 books for the challenge. My original list included four of the listed books. That's not bad considering how poorly I stuck to lists this year.

1. Zoo Station by David Downing
2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
3. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
4. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The number of World War II related books out there is astronomical. I could probably devote an entire year to reading the books I own but have yet to read on the topic. Of all the wars, it is the one I seem to be the most drawn to. I liked all of the books I read for this challenge, some more than others. My only regret is that I didn't read more of a variety. My stand out favorite was The Book Thief which I nearly didn't read, except for the prompting of several fellow readers.

Thank you to Serena and Anny for hosting the War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge this year!

If a person drops out of a challenge but completes the challenge before the deadline, can that person claim a victory? I eagerly entered Annie's What's in a Name Challenge in January of this year, confident that I could read six books, each one fitting into a specific category. By September, however, I was feeling the pressure and decided to drop several challenges, including this one. Reviewing my reading list so far this year, I discovered that I have, in fact, read a book for each category (yes, being dead is a medical condition; it's just not one a person can be cured of. )

I read the following books for this challenge:
A book with a "profession" in its title - In the Wake of the Boatman by Jonathan Scott Fuqua
A book with a "time of day" in its title - Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandell
A book with a "relative" in its title - Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
A book with a "body part" in its title - Probable Claws by Clea Simon
A book with a "building" in its title - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
A book with a "medical condition" in its title - Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn

I enjoyed each of the books I read for this challenge and would gladly read more by any of the authors. Many thanks to Annie for hosting the What's in a Name Challenge!

All together, I signed up for 16 challenges this year. Of those 15, I completed 7 with one continuing on into the next year. Alas, it was not a year for reading challenges.

Challenges Completed:
50 Books for Our Times Project
2009 Pub Challenge
ARC Challenge
Chunkster Challenge
New Authors Challenge
War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge
What's in a Name Challenge

Incomplete Challenges:
1st in a Series Challenge - 9/12
2nds Challenge - 8/12
Buy One Book and Read It Challenge 8/12
Classic Challenge 2009 - 0/4
Cozy Mystery Challenge - 4/6
Nonfiction Challenge - 1/5
TBR Challenge - 6/12
Themed Challenge 1/4

Continuing Challenge:
Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge - I have read all books in the series but a recently published short story collection

[edited to add 50 Books for Our Times Project. Thanks to Florinda for the reminder!]

© 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, December 29, 2009

Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Once, words had rendered Liesel useless, but now, when she sat on the floor, with the mayor’s wife at her husband’s desk, she felt an innate sense of power. It happened every time she deciphered a new word or pieced together a sentence.
[pg 147]

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Knopf, 2006
Fiction; 552 pgs

From the Publisher: It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.
I am at a loss for words. I began reading The Book Thief on Sunday and finished it on Monday. Admittedly I was motivated to try and squeeze it in before the end of the year as my last pick for the War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge, but I truly was swept away by the book from the very first page. After I finished the book, I told my husband there was no way I could review it. What could I say besides that it's brilliant? The writing, the characters, the presentation of the story--every word of it is just plain brilliant. I suddenly understand why so many people gush over this book. And now it's my turn.

I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it's cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
facial features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue. [pg 307]

The novel is narrated by an unusual character, that of Death. Death offers a different perspective than a human would have. He is straight forward with his insights into the human condition, sometimes to the point of being blunt; and while his position offers him some detachment, he is at the same time drawn to humans and their stories, as he is in the case of Liesel Meminger.

Death is telling a story that happened in the past and as such offers spoilers along the way. This may be disconcerting to some, but I found the foreshadowing comforting in this case. It seems fitting given how omnipresent Death is. And like Death, I have always been more interested in the process, the chain of events leading up to something, than the ending itself (hence my enjoying a mystery even though I can see the ending coming a mile away). Death is not impartial despite what he wants the reader to believe, however. There is a hint of bitterness behind some of his statements, but he also has a heart, even if he is himself not human.

The characters are fully fleshed out, even the minor characters. The author makes their weaknesses and strengths clear. And these come out all the more fully in their interactions with one another and their relationships. The main character, Liesel, has suffered much loss in her young life. She is nine when she comes to live with her foster parents. Her foster mother is a bit rough around the edges and takes a little getting used to, but she has a big heart. Liesel takes to her foster father right away; he teaches her almost immediately how to roll a cigarette. He also is the one who teaches her to read and encourages her interest in books. Also among my favorites are the neighbor boy, Rudy, who becomes Liesel's best friend, the mayor's wife with the big library, and Max, the Jewish man hiding from the Nazis.

While a heartbreaking and brutal story at times, this is also a novel of hope and resilience. It demonstrates the ugly side of humanity as well as the beautiful. The evil of the Holocaust and the actions of the Nazis during World War II are well known. Set in a German town outside of Munich, The Book Thief offers the reader a glimpse of what life was like for the average (non-Jewish) German during that time in history. Liesel and her friends are members of the Hitler Youth, a requirement for children her age. There are book burnings, war rations and air raids. As the Jewish prisoners are paraded through the town on their way to the concentration camp Dachau, the town folk flock to the main street to watch. Complacency was all too common during that time period, whether out of fear or hate. Those who did intervene were beaten and often punished for reaching out to help.

The power of words is a strong theme throughout the novel. The first book Liesel steals is one she finds in a graveyard after the death of her brother. She has no idea what the book is about, being that she is unable to read. Somehow she knows, however, that the book is a treasure worth keeping close. It would be the first of many books that she would steal, earning her the title of the book thief.

It was through words that Adolf Hitler and his followers perpetuated the prejudice and hate against the Jewish people, spurring the violence on. It was with words that Liesel left marks on the mayor's wife out of anger. But it was also words that comforted during the air raids and soothed the injured soul. Words brought friends together and words that empowered a little girl, giving her courage and strength.

The writing is beautiful, almost poetic. There is a certain rhythm to Death's narration. The book may be long but I savored every word. I even found myself rereading passages not because I didn't understand them, but because I wanted to re-experience the words, feel them in my mind and taste them on my tongue.

Markus Zusak's The Book Thief one of those books that will haunt me for a long while. So much for being at a loss for words, eh?

Rating: * (Outstanding)

For more information about the author and his books, visit his website

Book Source: I bought this book in November of 2008 through Amazon.

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge
[Note: Thanks to everyone who participated in my survey to decide what my last book for this challenge would be. I went with the book that got the most votes, which was The Book Thief.]

© 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.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Review: Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden

One put a .45 pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. Belk heard the hammer snap and at that point didn't care. He begged them to remove the handcuffs. His hands had turned a faint blue and the pain was intense.

Finally, one of them loosed the cuffs. He was taken to another room in the basement and tied with nylon ropes hand and foot to a straight-backed wooden chair. He was untied only to eat and use the toilet. This is how he spent the Christmas holidays.
[pg 266-267]

Guests of the Ayatollah, The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam by Mark Bowden
Grove Press, 2006
Nonfiction; 704 pgs

From the back of the book: On November 4, 1979, a group of radical Islamic students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini, they hoped to stage a three-day sit-in protest of the American decision to allow the exiled shah to enter the United States for medical treatment. But these modest peaceful aims were overwhelmed by something much more sinister. The students took sixty-six Americans hostage, kept the majority of them for 444 days in a conflict that riveted and changed the world.

Mark Bowden tells the sweeping story of this watershed moment in American history, America's first showdown with Islamic fundamentalism, through the eyes of those who lived it, on both sides of the crisis.

I was six years old when Iranian students raided the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Sixty-six hostages were taken in all. The planned three day protest turned into a 444 day nightmare. I cast my very first vote (albeit unofficial) for President Jimmy Carter that following year. I vaguely remember he wasn't the popular choice, but even then I had a tendency to want to fight for the underdog. I was completely oblivious to the events that surrounded his final year in office and what would be the last straw in what turned the majority of Americans against him at the polls.

The Iran Hostage Crisis became a pivotal moment in world history, especially for the United States. Americans would take to the streets in outrage while Iranians rallied in support of their fellow countrymen for taking on "the Great Satan". Iranians had good cause to be furious with the American government who had blatantly interfered with the leadership in Iran years before, knocking aside the Iranian people's favored leader for one the Americans felt served the U.S. interests better. The American favored shah was an oppressive and cruel leader. The tyrant was eventually overthrown and forced out of the country, leaving Iran in the middle of a revolution, different factions vying for power. When the shah was admitted into the U.S. for medical treatment, it was as if the Americans were flipping the Iranians the bird.

One particular group, a group of students calling themselves Muslim Students Following the Iman's Line wanted to make a statement and plotted to take over the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The sixty-six Americans hostages were all accused of being spies. In reality, only three of the hostages were CIA agents and none of them had viable contacts within Iran, and therefore, had not really been doing any spying at all. The turmoil in the country made that next to impossible. None of the evidence uncovered during the search of the embassy and the hostages living quarters supported the students assertions that the Americans wanted to assassinate the Ayatollah or do anything other than routine foreign embassy staff weren't also doing, and yet they persisted in their beliefs and acted accordingly.

Each of the hostages responded to captivity in their own ways; some were cooperative and tried to make friends with their captors, faith grew stronger for a couple, while others became rebellious and did what they could to torment their captors in their limited capacity. There were escape attempts and attempted suicides. It was a very difficult time for the hostages. Fourteen would be let go before the 444 days were up, leaving 52. Despite denials by the student captors of torture and that the hostages were treated well, that was not always the case. The hostages discovered that many of their captors were uneducated in terms of world events and were zealots to their cause.

The American government's decision to allow the shah into the U.S. had been the catalyst that sparked the takeover, but it fed flames that had already been simmering under the surface. The challenges the U.S. government faced in dealing with the situation seemed nearly insurmountable. The demands of Ayatollah Khomeini and the students were not ones the American government wanted to meet, and yet Carter and his administration were willing to make some concessions, even against their better judgment if it meant to return of the hostages. However, the leadership in Iran was unstable and the figureheads the U.S. government were trying to work with on a diplomatic level held no real power. Going in with force would most likely result in the death of the hostages, something the Carter administration wanted to avoid.

A rescue attempt was a long shot and a last resort. If anyone could do it, it would be the newly formed Delta Force, a unit of specially trained men, the best of the best. They trained for months, looking at all possibilities. Getting into and out of Iran, and most especially the land locked Tehran, would be one of the biggest hurdles. Those assigned to the mission knew that there would likely be causalities.

Mark Bowden set out to put the stories of both the captors and the hostages together for the book, Guests of the Ayatollah, as well as those in the military and government. Readers are also offered a glimpse at the reactions and thoughts of the families of the hostages. The author does an amazing job of piecing the crisis together and does so in a way that makes it accessible to the reader. Even knowing how the situation played out, I was still caught in the suspense of the moment as I read. Keeping the hostages straight was a bit of a challenge at first, but I eventually had a clear picture of who those featured in the book were.

I selected Guests of the Ayatollah as my pick for the 50 Books for Our Times Project not just because I had a copy sitting in my TBR collection, but also because of its relevance today. Today's Iran is under the control of some of the very people who were involved with the Iran Hostage Crisis thirty years ago. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken by those Islamic students, it put events in motion that would solidify the fundamentalists' position in power. It gave Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers the ammunition they needed to step in and take the reins.

Not all the students were happy with the result. They went into the situation full of dreams of an Islamic utopia; strike down America and gain their freedom from Western oppression. They hadn't anticipated that their actions would unleash something much darker than they ever imagined. Not everyone feels that way, however. Some still believe in the current government of Iran and find comfort in the strict religious laws and controls.

The crisis in Tehran was not just limited to Iran. The cry of the people, the anger towards America, was felt by many in the Middle East. American foreign policy had not always been on the up and up and had offended many. This was the first time America faced off with militant Islam, especially in such a public setting. It was also one of the first times that television played a vital role shaping a major historical event.

Western influence is but a part of what the growing fundamentalist Islamic movement is fighting against, however. It is steeped in ideology and tradition, fighting against the inevitable change that comes with the passing of time and a world that is becoming more interconnected and dependent on each other.

For its part, the U.S. got a wake-up call from the experience.

Despite past transgressions by the American government, the taking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the holding and treatment of the hostages was against the law and unethical. It was wrong, and it would come to have a negative impact on Iran in the long run. While the students and Iran celebrated a victory at the time and still try to portray it as such, more was lost than won by everyone during that crisis. The effects still reverberate today.

Earlier this year saw uprisings and protests in and outside of Iran which have not been seen in a long time. There are many people who are tired of the autocratic rule of the current ruler, Ali Khamenei, fed up with the oppression and direction their country has gone. Khamenei, just as his predecessors, uses his power to silence those who speak out against him. It is still too early to tell if the current outrage will be a catalyst for change or if, like previous attempts, it will be stamped out by those currently in power.

Guests of the Ayatollah deals with an event in history that is a defining moment for not only the United States, but also for Iran and the rest of the Middle East. Its impact is still being felt today. So, to answer My Friend Amy's question, yes, this is a book of our time.

The book is over 700 pages long and covers a lot of ground, including going into detail about the Americans' captivity. Sometimes big books like this could do with a little extra editing, but I never felt that way with this one. I have kept my review of this book relatively short and spoiler free, leaving out many great discussion points. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading nonfiction and who want to understand and stay on top of current events.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Source: I bought this book at a Borders store in May of 2007. I purposefully waited for the paperback version to be released so I wouldn't have to tote the ginormous hardback around.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
Chatham River Press, 1986 (original story published in 1843)
Fiction; 52 pages

I feel especially in the Christmas spirit having just finished A Christmas Carol. My poor husband and animals have had to put up with my belting out Christmas carols, and taking them for a spin around the house. While my husband and my dog Riley love to dance, the cats aren't quite so willing partners.

I am not sure what to say about this wonderful story. It's one that is known the world over. I have seen the many movie versions (except for the latest animated film which just came out this year), most more than two or three times. It's almost a tradition to see the film at least once each year. I had never read the novella until now, however. It was exactly as I thought it would be; which is to say, if you've seen the movies as often as I have, you know the story well. I felt like I'd read the story before--but it didn't strike me with boredom. Rather it was exhilarating. I can see why so many of you choose to read this story every year.

For those not familiar with the story, it is about a miserly curmudgeon of a man who has no love in his heart for Christmas. He believes in working hard and that's about it. He is hard on his employee and unkind to those requesting charity. He sees others as being greedy, lazy and no good. The night before Christmas, Ebenezer Scooge is visited by the spirit of his old business partner, who lived his life in much the same way as Scrooge when alive. Jacob Marley warns Ebenezer that he is destined to follow in his footsteps, bound by the same chains and suffering in the afterlife, if he doesn't change his ways. Marley foretells that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits, each one representing the phases of life: past, present, and future. And so the story goes. For Ebenezer Scrooge, the spirits were frightening as well as awe inspiring. He was overcome with everything he experienced and saw that night.

Charles Dickens has never been at a loss for words as far as I can tell. In A Christmas Carol, he doesn't hold back on details, painting vivid pictures with words of the characters and scenery in the story. Nor does he write a completely serious tale, as serious as his subject matter may seem. There is humor mixed in as well as pageantry. I love the way he writes. Admittedly, it is hard for me to separate out the movies from the book as images from the movies kept springing to mind as I read.

A Christmas Carol has become a staple of our culture. The lessons learned from it are ones we are all familiar with. The story has been told in countless ways over the years. Charles Dickens' tale is every bit a classic in that way. If you've only seen the movie, whichever version and incarnation, you really must read the story from which it came.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Source: I found this gem in a used bookstore one day while killing time on a visit to the courthouse for jury duty. I couldn't tell you what year or month, only that I did buy it myself.

~ From my Family to Yours ~

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Remember my Friend the Non-Reader?

In February of this year, I requested your help in coming up with book recommendations for a coworker who wanted to read at least two books this year. He was not a reader, not having a book in many years. He envied his daughter and I who could so easily lose ourselves in a book and wondered what it was about books that could draw us in so completely.

He started off with The Things by Carried by Tim O'Brien, a work of fiction with a bit of nonfiction mixed in for good measure about a company of soldiers during the Vietnam War. It is not a book I have read (I hope to next year as part of the Vietnam War Challenge), but it comes highly recommended, including by my dad. My coworker stretched out the reading of the book over several months. I did not want to be a pest, and so I kept my distance and only occasionally asked if he was enjoying it. He always said he was and sometimes would talk about a story he'd just finished. His final verdict: great. He was eager to try something else.

Keeping with the war theme, he next picked up Catch-22 by Joseph Teller, a classic novel I had read a couple of years ago. He plowed through it and loved every minute. He couldn't stop talking about how funny the novel was. Like my husband, his favorite character was Major Major.

My coworker's daughter was pleased to see her father reading and offered her own recommendation: Along Came a Spider by James Patterson, the first in the Alex Cross crime fiction series. He liked the short chapters and fast-pace of the novel. He was shocked when I told him how many books James Patterson had written. I hope to convince him to give Michael Connelly a try this next year.

The pressure from a fellow coworker and his own daughter got to be too much to bear, and last month he began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. He finished it this past weekend. He was skeptical at first and while he hasn't made up his mind yet if he will continue with the series, he did like the book. He's not sure the fantasy realm is for him though.

He surpassed his goal of reading two books this year and read four. He read quite a variety too, wouldn't you say? He is quite proud of his accomplishment and I couldn't be more pleased. His favorite of the four was The Things They Carried. He is eager to read more crime fiction novels and to try nonfiction. You can bet I have a list ready! Between his daughter and I, I don't think he'll ever run out of book choices.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Favor of the One Night Stand (with reading lists)

I am not one to make the traditional to do list, listing what I hope to accomplish in a day. My to do lists are usually more specialized than that: ideas for my blog, books I want to read that month, reading goals, and shopping and gift lists. My favorite kind of list to make are book lists, I've discovered. Whether it be listing the books I am going to read for a particular challenge or keeping track of what I have been reading. I haven't been as fastidious about keeping my reading lists up to date this year, which is a bit unusual for me. Truth is, I've been letting a lot of things slide this year. Some of my excuses are good and others not so much. Perhaps one of my goals this coming year should be to get back on track.

The coming of the new year gets many of us thinking about setting new goals, perhaps even resolutions. The number of reading challenges out there today as compared to when I began blogging nearly three and a half years ago is astronomical. My first year and a half of blogging, I jumped on the challenge band wagon and stayed quite faithful to my lists. It wasn't so hard. I had set my mind to the task and kept my focus. The second and third years proved less successful. My head just wasn't in the game, so to speak. I was less focused and, as a result, was easily distracted.

I love the idea of reading challenges. They foster community and provide new opportunities to expand one's horizons. They also encouraged me get to some of those TBR books that had been sitting on my shelf awhile, at least initially. The excitement surrounding our beloved reading challenges is not only contagious but can also be inspiring. Sure challenges have their downside; we all know what they are. Many of the challenges this past year took that into consideration and were flexible as a result. Can't commit to reading one book a month for the challenge, pick a level with a lower commitment requirement! You don't want to commit to a list of books? You don't have to! Pick your books as you go. Such options proved to be a saving grace in quite a few cases. I missed the lists though. I made reading lists for a few, but not all. It just wasn't the same. Instead of feeling that accomplishment of checking a book off my list, I was erasing it and substituting in the book I read instead. While that still counted as progress, I felt like I was cheating a bit. I realize that's my own little hang up and completely irrational, but there you have it. Fortunately my finishing ANY challenges has become a worthy objective, and so, at this point, I've shed any guilt I might have been feeling.

I made the decision about half way through 2009 that I would try to go challenge free this coming year. I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it has been not signing up for the many challenges that catch my eye. Reading your blog posts, so full of enthusiasm, makes me want to jump back on the band wagon. I want to share in that! No one would hold it against me if I changed my mind and decided to to take part in a few reading challenges this year. Most, if not all, of you would understand.

After much internal debate and hashing it out with anyone who would listen, I decided on a compromise. I will be participating in two challenges this next year. Both are ones I am already a part of. One is a year long challenge that began the middle of the year, the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge hosted by Beth Fish (and yes, I know I wrote my wrap up post already, but the short story collection came out this fall and now I have to read that in case I missed a story--and what if another book comes out in the series before the deadline?). The other challenge is the War Through the Generations Challenge. This year we focused on World War II (WWII) and this next year will focus on the Vietnam War. While I could look at each war as individual challenges, I prefer to think of the War Through the Generations Challenge as one continuing challenge, with several parts. I am still reading to complete the WWII part of the challenge and haven't had time to think about the books I want to read in relation to the Vietnam War just yet. Be on the look out for my official sign-up post sometime soon.

Because one of my favorite activities to do when it comes to the reading challenges is to make book lists, I asked myself why can't I still do that? No, really. Why couldn't I make lists of books I would want to read for the the reading challenges that interest me even if I am not participating in them? I get to have part of the fun without the commitment. Call it a one night stand, if you will.

The real challenge for me will be to hold myself to the one night stand rules. No guilt. No feeling of obligation. Not falling into that ol' relationship thinking. You see, I get easily attached to my book lists. I may say I am not committing, but will my heart feel otherwise? Will I think about the challenge after I make my lists every night, wishing I could just spend more time with them, nurturing them to see where the relationships go? You can imagine my concern. Unlike the traditional one night stand, I will, of course, read the books on my list at some point in the future. And maybe that will have to be my consolation. Oh, fellow book lovers, this will be a true test of will power, won't it?

Starting in January, I will be highlighting several of the challenges I would have participated in but won't be because of my self-imposed-almost-ban, sharing my reading wish list (made up mostly of books I own but have yet to read) with you. It'll help with my list making fix at the very least. Maybe you will offer your own recommendations or convince me to read a book from my lists sooner than later. It could be fun. Or it could be dreadfully boring for everyone but me.

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

From Book to Film: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

'Who are all those people outside?' he said finally.

Father tilted his head to the left, looking a little confused by the question. 'Soldiers, Bruno,' he said. 'And secretaries. Staff workers. You've seen them all before, of course.'

'No, not them,' said Bruno. 'The people I see from my window. In the huts, in the distance. They're all dressed the same.'

'Ah, those people,' said Father, nodding his head and smiling slightly. 'Those people . . .well, they're not people at all, Bruno.' [pg 53]

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
David Fickling Books, 2006
Fiction; 218 pgs
Rating: * (Good +)

Book Source: I bought this book in November of 2008 through Amazon.
Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: War Through the Generations: WWII Challenge

The bell at the nearby elementary school is sounding as I settle in to begin my review of John Boyne's novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I suddenly find myself thinking of all the eager students sitting at their desks, eager, in part, to get on with the day but also because the winter break begins as soon as that final bell tolls at the end of the day. My mother was busy wrapping little presents for her classroom of 1st and 2nd graders last night when I called. 'Tis the season and all that.

I can't help but think of Bruno and Shmuel though, nine year old boys from very different backgrounds. Shmuel is Jewish and from Poland, forced from his home into a ghetto and then later to Auschwitz (or rather Out-With, as Bruno calls it), an extermination camp during the late 1930's and early 1940's. Bruno is a German boy, the son of the Commandant put in charge of the camp. The two boys form an unlikely friendship when they meet, one on each side of the fence. Bruno is bored and misses his friends. Shmuel is trying to get away from the horrors of the camp, at least for a brief while. How different life would be for them had they grown up in a different time, under different circumstances.

In the book, Bruno does not meet his Shmuel until about the half way point. Up until then, the focus of the novel is on the Bruno's family's movie from Berlin to Poland and their adjustment to their new home. While the main of the story may seem to focus on the friendship between the two boys, it also is very much about Bruno's family and their own relationships and experiences during such a tumultuous time.

I suppose reading a book about the Holocaust is not ideal holiday reading. And yet, I think it is in its own way. It's a reminder of the suffering both in the past and in the present. It makes us more grateful for what we have today and perhaps feel more compassion for others. I wish more than anything I could pull those two boys out of the book and set them in the elementary school down the street. Imagine them playing a game of soccer during lunch recess: no worries and no one to tell them they cannot be friends.

I have heard quite a bit about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Initially the reviews were glowing but recent reviews have been more critical. Bruno is awfully naive. Can a boy really be so innocent and ignorant of the war and what is going on around him? Can he really not know what the camp outside his bedroom window is? Why the men in striped pajamas are behind that fence?

I confess I wondered that too as I read. Bruno seemed much younger than his 9 years. The author specifically set out to make Bruno that innocent, that ignorant. He wanted to counter the extreme evil of the Holocaust with extreme innocence. And I think he succeeded in that. The novel, written in third person, is told from Bruno's perspective. What he sees and thinks and feels is what is relayed to the reader. It's a very limited view, especially because Bruno is confused much of the time, unsure about what he is seeing and feeling, but it's also effective.

I also couldn't help but think back to The Welsh Girl, which I read earlier this year. The German prisoners of war were made to watch newsreels of the death and concentration camps as the war ended. Many of them would stare disbelieving at the screen, angry and frustrated, some even accusing the Allied Forces of forcing lies and propaganda down their throats. They had no idea what had been taking place. They may have heard rumors and whisperings here and there, but even they were shocked at the extent of the horrors they were seeing.

During the war, the Nazis showed films portraying a rather happy and carefree life in the camps, not at all revealing what really went on behind those fences and in the ghettos. The Nazi government perpetuated lies and sometimes swore those involved to secrecy about what was really taking place. They kept the truth hidden--at least tried to on some level. As the author, John Boyne, pointed out in an interview at the end of the book, we, today, can't imagine not knowing and it is hard for us, as a result, to conceive of some of the people who lived back then not knowing--or, in some cases, not wanting to know, whether from complacency or outright denial.

Considering who Bruno's father is and where Bruno is living, it does seem a bit of a stretch that he would be so in the dark about the goings on around him--shouldn't he have an inkling? I would think so, but I don't believe this is a book meant to be analyzed too closely for accuracy or depth of character. That isn't to say the novel shouldn't spark thought or conversation. I think it is meant to do just that. Think of this novel more as a fable, if you will.

I have read criticism about Bruno, the type of boy he is, that he isn't very likable. Having grown up as he has, he does have a sense of entitlement which can be off-putting. He can be self-centered, which, I think, comes with his age to some extent. It makes sense though, given his upbringing and his naivety. What Bruno does have is compassion, even if he is confused by the idea and not quite sure how to act on it. From the bits we learn about his family, I get the impression that he was not raised in an anti-Semitic household, not exactly anyway, even despite his father clearly having adopted that attitude..

The ending of the book did not come as a surprise. While no one spoiled it for me exactly, I expected there to be tears on my part (and there were many) as I cry at both happy and sad endings, and I guessed early one what would happen. When I was the boys' age, history was glossed over and made pretty in the guise of making it age appropriate. Not being a parent nor an educator, I do not know for what ages this novel would be best for. The author himself denies that this is a children's book or an adult's book. When he wrote the novel, he had neither in mind. While written in simple text, this is a dark story that touches on a very terrible time in our history. It is in no way graphic, although much is implied, nor does it skirt the truth.

I had the opportunity to watch the movie soon after reading the book. The movie was very close to the book with only a few minor additions and changes. In my mind, the movie filled out the characters, making them more three-dimensional. The novel is limited in viewpoint, limited to Bruno's observations, whereas the movie offers a more full picture, getting a better feel for not only Bruno but his family as well.

Asa Butterfield played the role of Bruno, reduced to the age of 8 in the movie version. He is stunning in the role--his eyes are so full of his unspoken feelings and thoughts. His Jewish friend, Shmuel, is played by Jack Scanlon. His part, too, is well played. He seemed so old and yet so young, just as his character in the novel.

The relationship between Bruno and his father is much more palpable in the movie--at least it was for me. The book does go into Bruno's admiration and respect for his father and then later mixed with his questioning of his father's character, wondering how, if he is so good, he can let bad things happen, but seeing it on the screen made it seem all the more real.

When I first began reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I was a little put off by the writing, but I eventually eased into it, and the story became a part of me. The movie was just as moving, adding more depth to the story and characters. The two complement each other well, and, in some respects, go hand in hand. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is about friendship, and how friendship can bloom between anyone, anywhere. It is also a story about racism and lost innocence, topics that are forever relevant.

Movie: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Genre: Drama, War
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed By: Mark Herman
Written By: Mark Herman (screenplay) & John Boyne (novel)
Rating: 4 Bags of Popcorn

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Salon: A Reading Retrospective (December 2004)

December is a month that seems to encourage reflection of what was and planning for what will be. Frankly, I'm still caught up in finishing up what I began this year and haven't had much time to look ahead. I have one more book to read for the War Through the Generations: World War II Challenge and am finishing up my book for the 50 Books for our Times Project. Some serious reading for this time of year, I must say.

It wasn't that way five years ago. It was a month of many books and much frivolous reading. I read the first three books in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events series. Each one great fun, but by the time I finished the third book I was ready to move onto something different. The books feature three orphan children who are bounced around from relative to relative. The children seem to have the worst of luck, and yet they somehow always come out on top. The series is funny and dark, and I can see why so many adults and children are fans.

In December 2004, I also read the first three books in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series, featuring Rebecca Bloomwood, a woman addicted to shopping. I found the series both charming and entertaining. I admit that Rebecca did get on my nerves more than once--and, boy, did I want to shake her and tell her to get her act together more than once!

My husband introduced me to Greg Rucka's Queen and Country that year, and I read the first of his non-graphic novels in the series, A Gentleman's Game about a female MI-6 spy. Tara Chace is a very independent and capable woman who relies on only herself. Another first in a new series, that month I read was Michele Martinez's legal thriller Most Wanted. Melanie Vargas is a U.S. Attorney juggling both her career and being a soon-to-be-divorced mother of an infant. Both were exciting reads and promising starts to two new series.

I followed that up with crime fiction novel, this one by Abigail Patchett called Moonbird Boy, featuring another strong female protagonist. This one is part of a series that starring Bo Bradley, a social worker in San Diego who also happens to have Bi-Polar Disorder. I wasn't quite as thrilled with this one as I'd been with an earlier book in the series I had read, but I still enjoyed it. I next read Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, the second book in the Southern Vampire series. As always, it was great to spend time with Sookie and learn more about her and her friends.

The highlight of December 2004, however, lay with the author Amulya Malladi. I read two of her books that month and fell in love with each of them. I read Mango Season and Serving Crazy with Curry. Both books touch on Indian culture, but also deal with relationships and involve the main characters coming into their own. Amulya Malladi was one of the first authors who instilled in me a love for reading about all things Indian. And for that, I'll always be grateful.

Looking back over my reading in 2004, it's fair to say that much of my reading was made up of mysteries and series books, although not exclusively. It was a good year overall.

Bringing us back to the present, this past week I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne, a tale about an unusual friendship in the midst of the Holocaust. After I finished that one, I dived into the novella A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, wanting to lighten the mood. I will be posting my reviews for both later this week.

I am in the process of deciding what book will be my final choice for the War Through the Generations: World War II Challenge. I sat in my TBR room yesterday, looking through all my books, trying to find the perfect one. I narrowed it down to 27 books I really want to read and from there to 13. Now I'm stuck. I keep telling myself I'll get to them all eventually. I just need to pick one to read before the end of the year.

Current Possibilities:
Guernica by Dave Boling
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
Bloody Good by Georgia Evans
The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Before I resort to throwing a tantrum and stomping my feet because I can't decide (and then throwing all the titles in a hat and having my husband choose one), I thought maybe I would reach out to you for help. Tell me which one of the above titles I should read before the end of the year. Pretty please?

Until I can decide, I will be finishing up Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah, which I really must do. It's actually very good. I just keep getting distracted.

I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday and a great week. Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!

This Week In Reading Mews:
Reviews Posted:
The One in Which I Attempted to Write Mini Reviews (but still used too many words)

Reading Now:
Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis
by Mark Bowden

Posts of Interest This Week:
Monday at the Movies: What I Have Been Watching Lately
Why I Do What I Do - A Guest Post by Author Karen White
The Search for the Perfect Gift - Virtual Advent Tour
Christmas Came Early This Year

© 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, December 18, 2009

Christmas Came Early This Year

I am pretty sure Christmas came on a Tuesday this year. Tuesday, December 15th. It was the day of my team lunch at work and our Secret Santa exchange. It's my favorite meeting of the year. And not because my Secret Santa made me homemade brownies and filled my gift bag with tootsie rolls. Rather, it's the only real opportunity my team has to get away, just us, and set the shop talk aside. I am blessed to work with such a great group of people. Sure, we get on each others' nerves sometimes, but at the end of the day, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Full of the holiday spirit after a fun afternoon, I decided to swing by my mailbox on my way home. I had three packages waiting for me. Well, two were for me. One was for my husband. In the corner of one of the boxes was a note saying it was for the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. I also noticed that according to the sticker, it had arrived the week before (but I won't let the fact that I was at my mailbox last Friday evening and was told I didn't have anything ruin my day--I'm in too good of a mood for that). The other two packages were from Amazon and I just knew they were from the SantaThing exchange (hosted by LibraryThing). I signed up my husband this year too, not wanting to leave him out of the fun of receiving a book in the mail. He hadn't a clue so was much surprised when he got home from work that evening.

Try as I might, I couldn't wait until my husband came home to open my Book Blogger Holiday Swap gift. Such wonderful presents awaited me! The snowman stocking was overflowing with goodies and then there was a rectangular shaped package that looked and felt an awful lot like a book.

My Secret Santa this year was Pooch from Yarn-Knit-Read-Lit and did she ever spoil me! She gave me heavenly smelling candles in a beautiful cloth bag, lavender lotion, note cards, a journal, a Christmas magnet, and an ornament for the tree. And then there was a book, Midnight Never Comes by Marie Brennan. I let out a squeal of joy at the sight of it! It's been on my wish list for awhile now.

I cannot thank Pooch enough for her thoughtfulness (thank you, Pooch!). Everything is perfect.

Parker insisted on getting in the photo. If you look closely in both the above pictures, you can see Anya under the glass of the coffee table.

As hard as it was for me, I did wait for my husband, Anjin, before opening my SantaThing package so we could open ours at the same time. My husband's Santa, Clue, sent him a copy of Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s & 40s. It's the perfect gift for him. He loves noir and enjoys reading short stories. My Santa, Boblinfortino, sent me copies of Anne Rivers Siddons' Off Season and The Girls by Lori Lansens. Both are new-to-me authors, and I look forward to giving them a try. Many thanks to both Clue and Boblinfortino for the books!

It was a good day, that Tuesday, the 15th.

(Note: I was assigned to send a gift to Teresa of Shelf Love this year. I had such a fun time shopping for her. She received her gift this past week. I'm happy to say her cat Sophie liked her gift as well.)

© 2009, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
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