Monday, May 31, 2010

Question of the Day: Book Buying

For those of you who buy books now and then, do you have a book budget? How do you decide what books to buy?

© 2010, 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, May 30, 2010

Sunday Salon: Spring Cleaning & Your Favorite Books So Far This Year

Do you hear that? The birds outside my window are singing on this beautiful spring day. If you listen closely, you can hear my cat Anya singing back to them in her new found bird voice. She hasn't quite mastered it as well as Parker has. He actually does sound like a bird, chirping right back at the little sparrows in the trees.

Last week seemed like the longest week of the year somehow. I have a three day weekend because of the U.S. Memorial Holiday on Monday, which makes for a nice reward. It is spring cleaning time and that's how I have spent most of the weekend so far and will continue in the same vein.

I began to tackle the TBR room Saturday, looking through my unread books to see which ones I still want to read. It's always a dangerous endeavor. I come across so many books I want to read RIGHT NOW that it can be overwhelming. One of the reasons I have to be careful when I go looking for my next book to read. I am taking my time with the project, and so it will probably take me a few more Saturdays before I am done. The books that are going are ones I no longer am interested in reading; most have been on my shelves for years. So many are books I still want to read though, and so I imagine not many will be pulled from the shelves. I think my giveaway stack is at 17 books so far.

I spent Friday night finishing John Hart's The Last Child, and what an intense read it was! I hope to organize a few of my thoughts on it today and perhaps you'll see a review before the end of the week.

I am in between books right now. Loretta Stinson's novel, Little Green, is calling to me as is Charlaine Harris' latest, Dead in the Family. Little Green sounds like it will be a heart-wrenching book, about an orphan who runs away and strikes out on her own. It is set in the late 1970's in Oregon. Dead in the Family is much lighter fare, the most recent book in the Southern Vampire series featuring Sookie Stackhouse. Two very different novels but both are ones I am eager to start. My decision may come down to the flip of a coin at this point. Choices, choices.

This past Monday, I posted the question: Of all the books you have read so far this year, what is your favorite?

Thirty of you responded, some with a favorite, a few with a list (it really is hard to chose just one, isn't it?), and then there were those of you who have yet to read that book that wow book yet. Thank you to all who participated!

I saw quite a few titles which are books already on my wish list or in my TBR stacks, ahree I have read, and others I had not yet encountered. I thought I would share the list with you:

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (Kay, Iris & SmallWorld At Home)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows (Angie & Brittanie)

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O'Connor McNees (Staci & Florinda)

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (Carrie K. & Me)

On Folly Beach
by Karen White (Staci & Melody)

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Heather J. & Florinda--a reread for both)

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher (Staci)

Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (Jess)

Boneman's Daughters by Ted Dekker (Angie)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Kathleen)

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Vasilly)

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (Kay)

Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (Melody)

Fences by August Wilson (Vasilly)

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Nymeth)

Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols (Melody)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Pam)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Carrie K.)

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Borgnanni (Jen)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Staci)

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman (Florinda)

In Harm's Way by Irene Hannon Brittanie)

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald (Helen Ellis)

The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor (Kathy)

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson (Geranium Cat)

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian (Angie)

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Ti)

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Andi)

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (Dancin' Fool)

The Lunatic, The Lover, and The Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes (Zibilee)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Raidergirl3)

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (Amy)

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness (Clover)

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Staci)

Paper Towns by John Green (Clover)

The Passage by Justin Cronin (Carrie K.)

The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg (Staci)

The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin (Ti)

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (Heather J.)

Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James (Staci)

Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig (Staci)

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (Melody)

Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey (Staci)

South of Broad by Pat Conroy (Staci)

Testimony by Anita Shreve (Angie)

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (Melody)

Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie, & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood by Jane Yolen (Carrie K.)

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (J.C. Montgomery)

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar (Jen)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Vasilly)

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Melody)

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon (Charley)

Did one of your favorite books make the list? Have you read any of the books listed? If so, what did you think of them?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Trying to Decide Between:
Little Green by Loretta Stinson
Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Reviews Posted:
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

This Week's Upcoming Review:
The Turning: What Curiosity Kills by Helen Ellis

© 2010, 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, May 26, 2010

Why I Haven't Been Around Much Lately

© 2010, 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, May 25, 2010

Review: The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

The recording began with a click: the sound of a woman picking up her telephone, which had been tapped the day before the call came in. A man's voice: It's done. There is a sound on the tape here -- the woman's sharp intake of breath -- but all she says in reply is Thank you. We'll speak again soon. He disconnects and she hangs up three seconds later. The woman's name was Aria Waker, and the call had taken place fifteen days earlier. The incoming call came from an Italian cell phone but proved otherwise untraceable. Police were at Aria's apartment forty minutes after the call went through, but she was already gone and she never came back again. [pg 1]

The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
Unbridled Books, 2010
Fiction; 288 pgs

From the Publisher:
Everyone Anton Waker grew up with is corrupt. His parents deal in stolen goods and his first career is a partnership venture with his cousin Aria selling forged passports and social security cards to illegal aliens. Anton longs for a less questionable way of living in the world and by his late twenties has reinvented himself as a successful middle manager. Then a routine security check suggests that things are not quite what they appear. And Aria begins blackmailing him to do one last job for her. But the seemingly simple job proves to have profound and unexpected repercussions.

As Anton’s carefully constructed life begins to disintegrate around him, he’s forced to choose between loyalty to his family and his desires for a different kind of life. When everyone is willing to use someone else to escape the past, it is up to Anton, on the island of Ischia, to face the ghosts that travel close behind him.

I first was introduced to Emily St. John Mandel's writing in Last Night in Montreal, which nearly knocked my socks off. The writing was superb and the story was intriguing. Even so, I was not sure what to expect with her latest, The Singer's Gun. I was eager to give it a try though. Like with her first book, I hesitate to describe it (which is why you are presented with the publisher blurb above). There is so much to The Singer's Gun. On the surface it sounds like a crime fiction novel, but it really is more about the characters: about Anton Waker in particular, and his struggle to lead a law abiding life and also about Elena who is also struggling to form her own identity and live life as she desires.

I was struck by how similar Elena and Anton are and yet also how different. Both want different lives than they are born into. Both are going through the motions of life. Anton comes close to realizing his dream, only to have it disintegrate. Elena, in her effort to be free of normalcy and routine, ended up doing exactly what she didn't want to do in the first place; at least, until her own life, based in falsehood, was uprooted too.

Aria's appearance in the novel was sparse, but the reader gets a good idea of her background and importance in Anton's life. She is resourceful and clever. She is also greedy. I felt sorry for the young Aria, but even then there was something about her that warned me to keep my distance.

The story is revealed to the reader layer by layer, and not necessarily in chronological order. The novel opens as Alex Broden with the State Department's Security Service is in the middle of her investigation, searching for Anton Waker who has disappeared. From there we go back in time to the day Anton arrives at his office only to discover his secretary , Elena, has been reassigned and he no longer has any responsibilities. He suspects something is up, something related to a recent background check, but he isn't quite sure. And no one around him will give him any answers.

The novel raises questions about personal responsibility, about how one's upbringing influences the direction our lives take, and about the choices we make in life and the consequences that follow. It also touches on morality, both in its clarity as well as how ambiguous it can be. Nothing is quite as it seems.

Like with The Last Night in Montreal, the author caught me in her spell with her subtle style and simple yet lyrical prose in The Singer's Gun. I still find myself thinking about the book days later, wondering about the characters and where they might be now.

Rating: * (Very Good)

Be sure to check out this excerpt from the book on the author's website and learn more about the author and her books on her website.

Source: Review book provided by the publisher.

© 2010, 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, May 24, 2010

Question of the Day

As the sixth month mark approaches, I am curious to know:

Of all the books you have read so far this year, what is your favorite?

© 2010, 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, May 23, 2010

Sunday Salon: Random Bookish Thoughts

I dedicated this past Thursday to reading. I didn't actually stay in my pajamas the whole day like I threatened, but I didn't exactly put on "going out" clothes either. It was the perfect day, just about. I got to sleep in a little, I had the best company a reader could ask for (her two cats and dog), and I had my choice of books to choose from. I was anxious to get back to Emily St. John Mandel's The Singer's Gun and dive into Helen Ellis' The Turning: What Curiosity Kills, both of which I finished that day. I also started The Last Child by John Hart, which is what I hope to spend some time today reading along with catching up on my blog reading.

I'm kind of hoping my boss has forgotten she loaned me The Last Child a couple of months ago. More often than not I say no when someone offers to loan me a book these days because I know I won't be able to get to it right away, but she made such a compelling argument for reading this one. For the record, the person who I am to pass the book onto after I finish it has insisted that she isn't ready for it yet. So, I don't feel so bad. Just a little. Plus, my boss said she understood and told me to take as long as I liked since she's already read it. Still . . . I feel like a bad borrower.

A couple of weeks ago you may remember that I mentioned I was weeding my bookshelves, going through all of the "read" books and pulling ones I no longer wish to keep off the shelves. Yesterday, my husband began pulling books of his own off the shelves. I noticed a few more of my own that I am considering parting with. Not yet though. Maybe tomorrow. I still haven't tackled the TBR room. There are books that have been in there for years that I know I am no longer interested in reading. I just have to get over that "but maybe someday" feeling that keeps hovering around.

I have been keeping a Must Read List, otherwise known as a determination list, this year with titles of books I own that I intend to read this year. June is fast approaching, and I just realized I haven't read a single book on that list yet. Shame on me. I will be remedying that soon (if I keep telling myself, it's bound to be true, right?). I have never kept a list like this before, at least not one I intended to complete in a year. It's not a list I've posted here or anywhere. Maybe because I don't want anyone to know when I fail. No, it's not really that. I think it has more to do with the fact that the list is fluid, and not set in stone.

I would love to hear what you are reading right now. Is it something you would recommend?

What about that Must Read List (aka Determination List)? Do you keep one? Are there any books you are intent on reading this year that you haven't gotten to yet?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Currently Reading:
The Last Child by John Hart

Next Up:
Little Green by Loretta Stinson
Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Recent Additions
to the TBR Room (all books bought by me unless otherwise noted):
Captivity by Deborah Noyes
In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay & Laney Salisbury (my heartfelt thanks to Heather from Age 30+ . . . A Lifetime of Books for giving me her copy. This book had been on my wish list for about 6 years; so it's a real treasure to finally have in hand.)

Reviews Posted:
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Mrs. Sen's by Jhumpa Lahiri

Posts of Interest This Week:

Random Conversations at the Office
The Long Overdue Reading Day Is Here!

This Week's Upcoming Review:
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

© 2010, 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, May 20, 2010

That Long Overdue Reading Day is Here!

Sometimes a person has to put a positive spin on the negative. Instead of crying over the loss of income I would have when the furloughs began last August, I dreamt of all that extra reading time. Instead of working, I could read! It hasn't worked out that way. Far from it. There is always something to do, something I must do. Now that rumors are flying that the furloughs will end the end of June, I wish I'd taken better advantage of the extra time away from the office.

I am making today a reading only day. I won't clean the house or run errands. I will keep off the computer. Well, mostly. I will stay in my pajamas for a good part of the morning (maybe all day if I feel like it!), cuddle close with my two cats and my dog, and I will read.

I won't feel guilty. I won't think of all the house work that needs to be done or the other stuff I should be taking care of. I am going to make up for a little lost reading time. Just me, my animals, and my book (sorry you are stuck at work today, Honey).

When was the last time you were able to devote an entire day to reading? Was it the read-a-thon? Or are you able to regularly take time out to keep a date with a book or two?

© 2010, 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, May 19, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: Mrs. Sen's by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Mrs. Sen's"
from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (Mariner Books, 1999)

This is one of my favorite stories in Interpreter of Maladies. Eliot has had two previous babysitters, one whom was fired and the other graduated from college. His mother reluctantly agrees to hire Mrs. Sen, who insists that she care for Eliot at her own home. Her husband teaches at a local university. Mrs. Sen is far from her home and family in India. She misses them terribly as she tries and adjust to her new home, which is very different from the one she left behind.

What I liked most about this story was the relationship between Eliot and Mrs. Sen. It was very understated. The story is told from the perspective of Eliot, and so it is his observations and interpretations of events that the reader is privy to. Eliot and Mrs. Sen are in similar situations, both alone and struggling to get by as best they can.
"My sister has had a baby girl. By the time I see her, depending if Mr. Sen gets his tenure, she will be three years old. Her own aunt will be a stranger. If we sit side by side on a train she will not know my face." She put away the letter, then placed a hand on Eliot's head. "Do you miss your mother, Eliot, these afternoons with me?" [pg 122]

© 2010, 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, May 18, 2010

Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath. [First Sentence]

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Speak, 2006
Fiction (YA); 236 pgs

John Green is one of those authors whose name keeps popping up on the blogosphere. I admit I didn't take much interest initially. Then my husband pointed me in the direction of John Green's blog and his video-reviews. Suddenly, I knew I had to read at least one John Green novel. But which one? Upon Elizabeth's recommendation, I decided to start with An Abundance of Katherines. And what a treat it was!

I knew from his blog that John Green was a funny person and it comes through in his writing as well. What I especially liked about John Green's An Abundance of Katherines is that it was smart and funny. It was also an endearing story, one about two friends who have just graduated from high school: Colin Singleton, the prodigy with a penchant for anagrams, whose heart has been broken for the nineteenth time by the nineteenth Katherine, and Hassan, his always joking best friend who doesn't want to go to college despite the pressures from his family. Hassan suggests a road trip is in order that summer and the two friends head off, leaving behind Chicago. While Colin passed on the opportunity to see the world's largest crucifix in Kentucky, his curiosity got the better of him when he saw the sign for the Eternal Resting Place of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The two friends make their way to the small town of Gutshot, Tennessee as a result.

After a fall while on the way to the gravesite of the Archduke, Colin has the "Eureka!" moment he has been waiting for all his life. He is sure he can work out a mathematical equation to predict the outcome of any relationship. He calls it The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability.

Hassan and Colin agree to stick around Gutshot for a little while, after being offered a job and a place to stay. There they meet the beautiful chameleon Lindsay Lee Wells, her mother, Hollis, The Other Colin, and various other interesting characters.

Colin is not the easiest person to like, but then, he is more at home with facts and figures than he is with people. He can be very literal at times and occasionally comes across as self-centered. That self-centeredness stems more from insecurity, however, than arrogance. As smart as Colin is, he never quite believes he's good enough and needs constant reassurance.

His best friend, Hassan, on the other hand, is instantly likable. He is funny and charming. He offers a good balance to Colin. Whereas Colin takes life so seriously, Hassan has a tendency to do the opposite. Where Colin is driven, Hassan lacks ambition. At least on the surface.

The funniest moments in the novel involved both Colin and Hassan. I loved how they played off each other. The story itself was one I think many of us can relate to: the sting of heartbreak and the search for direction in our lives. Not everything always works out as we might hope, and sometimes the answers we are searching for are right in front of us. I enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines quite a bit and look forward to reading more by John Green in the future.

DFTBA fellow Nerdfighters!

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about John Green and his books on the author's website. You can also catch him over at Vlog Brothers.

Source: Book purchased for and by myself.

© 2010, 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, May 17, 2010

Random Conversations at the Office

So. Um. I recently had the following conversation with a coworker who had a question. I was pulling my book (An Abundance of Katherines by John Green) out of my purse to get ready to sneak off to a quiet spot to read during my lunch break when my colleague approached. I set the book on my desk and immediately turned it over onto its back, then grabbed a memo and put it on top of the book.

Coworker (giving me a knowing look): Embarrassing cover?

Me (I pull the book out to show the person the harmless cover): No, not at all.

Coworker: What then?

Me: It's the people on the cover. I don't like them staring at me from the front cover. And the publisher had to go and put a person on the back too.

Coworker: You know that's weird, right?

Me: I prefer the term "quirky".

Me: I'm going to lunch now. See you in half an hour.

Coworker: You're not going to lunch. Lunch is for eating. You're going to read.

Me: Same thing.

Settling into an armchair in the breakroom at work one afternoon, opening a book to read, I was looking forward to a little reading time. Only, in walk two of my colleagues. We'll call them Matthew and Maude.

Maude: What are you reading?

Me: A book by Don Carpenter called Hard Rain Falling.

Matthew: Is it any good?

Me: I'm enjoying it so far.

Matthew and Maude proceed to take the chairs nearest me. Clearly, my lunch half hour would not be spent reading or eating. They wanted my opinion on something. I was wordlessly cursing them for taking my precious reading time away. It wasn't their lunch break that was disrupted, by the way. This is why I prefer to read somewhere I cannot be found.

© 2010, 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, May 16, 2010

Spotlight Series Review: Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter

When the latest Spotlight Series Tour, featuring New York Review Books Classics was announced, I looked through the publisher's catalog to see if any book jumped out at me. I love the idea being the Spotlight Series Tours, which is to draw attention to small press publishers and their books. They often don't have the money or the resources to advertise the way bigger publishers do, and so their books go unnoticed.

I was drawn to consider Hard Rain Falling, Don Carpenter's first novel, for two reasons: the title and the fact that author George Pelecanos went so far to say the novel "might be the most unheralded important American novel of the 1960's." And, after reading the description of the novel, my interest in it was more than a little piqued.

From the Publisher:
Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling is a tough-as-nails account of being down and out, but never down for good—a Dostoyevskian tale of crime, punishment, and the pursuit of an ever-elusive redemption. The novel follows the adventures of Jack Levitt, an orphaned teenager living off his wits in the fleabag hotels and seedy pool halls of Portland, Oregon. Jack befriends Billy Lancing, a young black runaway and pool hustler extraordinaire. A heist gone wrong gets Jack sent to reform school, from which he emerges embittered by abuse and solitary confinement. In the meantime Billy has joined the middle class—married, fathered a son, acquired a business and a mistress. But neither Jack nor Billy can escape their troubled pasts, and they will meet again in San Quentin before their strange double drama comes to a violent and revelatory end.
Hard Rain Falling reminds me of American Rust by Philipp Meyer in some ways. The overall mood of the book is dark and, well, sad. Too, there is that immoral ambiguity which runs through it. There is a hopelessness there but also a sense of hope. The characters always seemed to be seeking redemption or a better life only to be dragged down by circumstance or their own choices. The major and minor characters in the novel all felt trapped and longed to be free.

Jack was not a character I liked all that much, I confess. I felt sorry for him, but I had a difficult time relating to him. He was tough and angry, a product of his environment and the lack of love he received as a child, having grown up in an orphanage. He was quick to temper and egocentric. Not really surprising given his young age throughout most of the book. He does grow as a person over the course of the book, looking inward and trying to find the meaning in life--in his life. From Carpenter's words, the sense of longing and frustration Jack often felt was palpable.

Billy Lancing, on the other hand, was a different story. I liked him from the start. He was sharp and honest. He had an uphill road to travel most of his life, facing prejudice and being out on his own. His story, especially, was heartbreaking, seeing him succeed only to land in prison.

Then there was Sally, a woman full of ambition and life, who began spiraling downward at breakneck speed. It was hard to watch that happen.

I was swept up in the story immediately, caught up in the story of Jack's parents, but the story began to wan for me in part three. While Jack was struggling with big questions, I grew a little weary of his inner monologues and longed to get back to the "action" of the novel.

Don Carpenter's novel takes the reader into the pool halls of Portland, Oregon to the streets of California and into the jail and prison system. He paints a harsh reality of life and society, both human nature and systematic. I can see why Hard Rain Falling is thought to be a novel of its time, capturing the feel of the 1960's so well. While some of the ideas and language used is clearly dated, the novel is still just as relevant today.

Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter
NYRB, 1966
Fiction; 308 pgs
Rating: * (Good)

To see what other New York Review Books Classics bloggers are reading for this Spotlight Series, check out the Spotlight Series blog.

Book Source: I bought the book myself for the tour.

© 2010, 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, May 13, 2010

My Recent Foray in Graphic Novels

Twilight, Volume 1 by Stephanie Meyer & Young Kim
Yen Press, 2010
Fantasy; 224 pgs

You know the story. This is the graphic novel version. I confess I was a little leery about reading this one, but my friend insisted. I haven't always been impressed with the results that come with the translation of one form to the other (take Laurel K. Hamilton's Guilty Pleasures, for example). Artist and adapter Young Kim did an amazing job, however. The artwork is beautiful. The story holds true to the original book for the most part, with minor changes here and there for the sake of brevity. Dare I say I liked the graphic novel a bit more than I liked the original version? Volume 1 is the first of three that will retell the story in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight.

Scalped: Indian Country by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra
Vertigo, 2007
Crime Fiction; 126 pgs

I have been struggling to find words to describe my thoughts on Scalped: Indian Country. I remember asking my husband if he had any western oriented graphic novels that I might recommend to a friend, and this was the closest he could fine. Of course, I had to read it first. It's not your typical western. The story is set in the present on an Indian Reservation, where corruption and greed rule the day. A hardened man with a chip on his shoulder returns to the reservation he once had run away from, gets into a bar brawl and lands on the police force of the tribal leader/crime boss.

Our anti-hero, Dashiell "Dash" Bad Horse, doesn't waste time busting meth labs, getting into a gun fight, and going after his childhood girlfriend's lovers. In the background is the story of his mother and her own connection with the crime boss. Both had been activists during their younger years, and Dash's mother continues in that vein today. Everyone seems to have a secret, a couple of which we learn in the first volume of this series.

The author knows how to place the punchline to get the fullest effect, while at the same time using it to build more suspense. I wanted to like Scalped, but I did not much care for it. It was dark and gritty, both characteristics I generally like. Maybe I finally met my match. Scalped was a little too dark and gritty for me. It didn't help that I sometimes had trouble figuring out who was who. I doubt I will be following up with the next volume in the series.

Hellblazer: Chas - The Knowledge by Simon Oliver & Goran Sudžuka
Vertigo, 2008
Horror; 128 pgs

Feeling a bit like a failure at reading and enjoying graphic novels after the last one, I was reluctant to start on Chas. My fears were unfounded, however, as I really enjoyed my first experience with the Hellblazer series, even if I started with a stand alone featuring one of the minor characters of the main series. I labeled this one a horror novel, but it really is a combination of horror and mystery. When an evil is unleashed in the city of London, seeking to finish what it had started hundreds of years before, cab driver Chas must pull himself out of his funk and try and stop it. Not only is his friend's son's life at stake, but so is the city.

While the main plot line was interesting, my favorite aspect of the novel was in the details. The artwork in addition to the writing gave the characters depth, in particular Chas. I look forward to reading more by Simon Oliver in the future.

Have you read any graphic novels lately?

© 2010, 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, May 12, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: "Chicxulub" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Months ago, Teddy Rose of So Many Precious Books, So Little Time challenged her readers to read the short story "Chicxulub" by T. Coraghessan Boyle. It's about a girl walking home late one night and a father meditating on how unpredictable life can be, and at times how meaningless. I printed out the story after finding it on The New Yorker website and it's been sitting on my desk every since. At least until I picked the pages up to read them this afternoon. Wow. Now I understand why Teddy encouraged others to read it. On an emotional level, it's a powerful story, heart-wrenching in every way. And frightening, but not in the horror story kind of way. So much packed into just a few short pages. From the technical standpoint, Boyle has crafted a story that draws the reader in, introduces well developed characters, the suspense building all the while, and leaves the reader stunned but with a sense of closure. When my husband gets home from work tonight I am going to give him a big hug, and I might never let go.

© 2010, 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, May 11, 2010

Days of Prey Blog Tour: Mortal Prey by John Sanford (& a Giveaway)

The thought popped into her head as she lay in the soft-washed yellowed sheets in the hospital bed. The thought popped in between the gas pains and muscle spasms, through the pungent odor of alcohol swabs, and if she'd read the thought in a book, she might have smiled at it.

She wasn't smiling at anything now. [pg 1, Mortal Prey]

Mortal Prey (#13) by John Sanford
Berkley, 2002
Crime Fiction; 424 pgs

I recently joined a group on GoodReads called Comfort Reads. The definition of a comfort read varies from person to person, I'm sure we can all agree. What I turn to for comfort may not be what you turn to. One of my most favorite comfort type reads are crime fiction novels. Give me high suspense, a puzzle to solve, good versus evil, and a character or two I can root for, and I'm content for hours.

For years I have been wanting to try John Sanford's series featuring Lucas Davenport, but, for whatever reason, it's taken me this long to finally get around to giving one of Sanford's books a try. Sometimes I use book tours as an excuse to finally get around to reading books or authors I want to read but just haven't been able to, and that's exactly what I did in this case. And while I would have preferred to start with book one in the series, that was already taken. I picked a book at random, knowing each of the books in the Prey series stand alone. Wouldn't you know it though, I pick a book that appears to feature a character that most likely appeared in a previous book. Even so, I had a blast reading Mortal Prey. It's the ultimate comfort book: smart, entertaining and suspenseful. I can't wait to read more in the series. This time though, I'll start with the first book in the series.

As part of the TLC Book Tour, each of the participants signed up to read one book out of the series and answer a questionnaire, creating a time-line of Lucas Davenport's life and career. For old fans, it's a great way to recap the series leading up to the newest release, Storm Prey, which is due out in stores this month. Those of us who are new to the series get a little taste of what we can expect from the series with a limited fear of spoilers.

Tell us about Lucas Davenport:

Lucas is well known for his luck. And while he may get lucky from time to time during an investigation, it is his skill and brain power that really help him get the job done. While he may be into fast expensive cars and fancy suits, he is an every day man who works best independently but also knows how to be a team player, putting his resources to good use.

What is Lucas doing when he first appears in the book? Set up the scene.

Lucas arrives on the scene in his Porsche, parking on the street near his house. He surveys the progress of the construction to rebuild his home, making note of what hasn't yet been done and how many workers are actually working. When the call comes in from a friend in the FBI, Lucas is in no rush to return it. His mind is consumed by thoughts of the construction of his house as well as his upcoming nuptials. The last thing he needs is to be pulled away, but his fiancée convinces him it's best if he takes a break and gets out of town for a short while for her own peace of mind.

Give us a sense of time and place.

The novel opens in beautiful Cancún, present day, as a woman lies in a hospital bed, recovering from a gunshot wound that took the life of her unborn baby. Soon, she is on the run, headed to California and then across the country to St. Louis, Missouri. Lucas Davenport is soon on his way to St. Louis too where he'll take to the streets in search of a killer. The summer heat is almost too much to bear and Lucas longs for Minneapolis.

Lucas’ occupation or professional role?

Lucus is the Deputy Police Chief in Minneapolis. An election is looming and it appears he is on his way out.

Lucas’ personal status (single, dating, married):

Lucas is engaged to Weather, who is pregnant with his child. They are in the throes of planning a wedding at the start of the book.

Lucas Davenport is a known clothes-horse; did you notice any special fashion references?

He definitely has an eye for fashion and likes expensive suits, particularly Italian ones.

Let’s talk about the mystery: Avoiding spoilers, what was the crime/case being solved?

An old nemesis comes out of hiding after an attempt on her life and the murder of her boyfriend and unborn baby. She's bent on revenge, targeting those she believes are behind the hit. Lucas joins the FBI in the investigation to find and stop her. She does not make an easy catch, however as her skills as a hit-woman are matched by none. Her targets don't make it easy either, each of them with their own secrets and connections, not wanting to acknowledge their association with a hired gun.

Does the title of your book relate to the crime?

Very much so. The body count is high in Mortal Prey, not to mention the villain demonstrates just how mortal her prey are. It's all about life and death in this book.

Who was your favorite supporting character, good or evil?

Clara Rinker (who is outed as the villain very early on in the book) made for a complex and capable foe. She is always one or two steps ahead of the police and FBI. Even Lucas begrudgingly likes the woman, sympathizing with her for all she's had to endure and admiring her skill, even all the while knowing she has to be stopped.

What was your favorite scene?

I especially liked how Lucas turned to the locals to aid in the hunt for Clara, a source the FBI overlooked as they scrambled to find any leads they could that might help them catch a killer.

Finally, how do you envision Lucas Davenport? If he were to be portrayed in a movie, what celebrity would play him?

I confess that I am no good at naming celebrities who could play characters in a movie version of a book. If I had my druthers, lesser known actors would be given the roles. Less chance of the celebrity getting in the way of a good character. I really can't think of an actor that fits my image of Lucas Davenport. Kathleen's choice of George Clooney comes close. There is also Jen's idea of Russell Crowe. I think I have to go with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, however. Picture him as more the John Winchester version (Supernatural) rather than the Denny Duquette version (Grey's Anatomy).

Be sure to check out the other stops on this tour:

Monday, May 3rd:
Rules of Prey: Rundpinne
Shadow Prey: Boarding in my Forties

Tuesday, May 4th:
Silent Prey: Chick with Books

Wednesday, May 5th:
Winter Prey: The Bluestocking Guide
Night Prey: Books on the Brain

Thursday, May 6th:
Mind Prey: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Sudden Prey: Starting Fresh

Friday, May 7th:
Secret Prey: Fantasy & SciFi Loving News & Reviews
Certain Prey: My Two Blessings

Monday, May 10th:
Easy Prey: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Chosen Prey: Reading with Monie

Tuesday,May 11th:
Mortal Prey: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Naked Prey: Dan’s Journal

Wednesday, May 12th:
Hidden Prey: Novel Whore
Broken Prey: You’ve GOTTA read this!

Thursday, May 13th:
Invisible Prey: Booktumbling

Friday, May 14th:
Phantom Prey: The Novel Bookworm

Monday,May 17th:
Wicked Prey: A Bookworm’s World

Tuesday, May 18th:
Storm Prey: Bermuda Onion

You can learn more about John Sanford and his books on the author's website. The Penguin Group website offers excerpts of all the Prey novels for a sneak peek. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Book for review provided by the publisher.

Thank you to all who entered the giveaway and shared with me what your favorite type of comfort reads are. I hope to do a post summing up your responses soon. Now for the winner of the giveaway, chosen at random through

Lisa from Minds Alive on the Shelves!

Kirsten wins a copy of Mortal Prey as well as an ARC of Storm Prey.

© 2010, 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, May 09, 2010

Sunday Salon: Weeding the Bookshelves

Letting go of books has never been my strong suit. I tend to want to hang onto them. Perhaps I will reread them one day. Or maybe the books have sentimental value. Plus, I like the look of a full bookcase, or several in my case. Unfortunately, I only have so many bookshelves, and there just isn't enough shelf space for all the books my husband and I own. For the moment, let us forget that I continue to bring in books, despite that little fact. That's a topic for another time.

As a result of my overflowing shelves, I knew I needed to part with a few books. And since it's rare that the mood to weed my shelves overtakes me, when it did, I knew I had to jump on the feeling while it lasted. I mostly targeted books I have no intention of rereading or those that I am not especially attached to. It may not look like much: three boxes and nearly three fourths of another one full of books. I didn't even touch my TBR room (okay, so I peeked into the jungle of books I call my TBR room and was suddenly overcome with the desire to take a nap). I am saving that task for another day.

The boxes are sitting in the living room awaiting my husband's approval. After all, I am not the only person in the house who has a hard time letting go of books (I have to give him credit though for the one book he added to the giveaway pile). There were a few others I could say goodbye to, but those tended to be series books of series I am still reading. I figure I might want to keep them handy as a reference point. Yeah, right. Any excuse.

Now to decide what to do with them all . . . My first thought was to give them away here on my blog, but considering how many books there are, I really can't afford the postage. My second thought was to give them away to a charity of some sort, perhaps a thrift store. Regardless, I had better get the books out of the house soon or else I may change my mind . . .

Do you hold onto books or give them away? Do you ever donate books to charity or to a specific group?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Currently Reading:
Hard Rain Falling
by Don Carpenter

Next Up:
The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel
The Turning by by Helen Ellis

Recent Additions
to the TBR Room (all books bought by me):
by Jim Butcher
Girl in Translation
by Jean Kwok
Let the World Spin
by Colum McCann
The City & the City by China Mieville

Reviews Posted:

The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey A. Cohen
Beautiful Assassin by Michael C. White

Posts of Interest This Week:

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, 2010
In Which I Have a Change of Heart . . . About Fish (at least the live kind)

This Week's Upcoming Reviews:
Mortal Prey by John Sanford
Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephanie Meyer& Young Kim
Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guéra
Hellblazer: Chas - The Knowledge by Simon Oliver and Goran Sudžuka

© 2010, 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, May 06, 2010

Review: The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey A. Cohen

She giggled.
He hated her. [ excerpt from The Killing of Mindi Quintana]

The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey A. Cohen
Welcome Rain Publisher, 2010
Crime Fiction; 256 pgs

Not everyone likes to read the synopsis of a book before reading the book; you know, the one that falls on the back cover or inside flap of a book. I am not among those. I often base my decision to read a book on the synopsis, determining whether it sounds like something I might be interested in reading or not. Favorite authors, of course, are an exception sometimes. Occasionally I read a synopsis and it turns out to be misleading, but that isn't often. I can only remember one occasion when the synopsis on the inside flap of the cover gave too much away. The reason I bring this up now is because I am undecided about the synopsis provided for The Killing of Mindi Quintana. It isn't misleading, not really, but it does border on giving too much away. And yet, I can also see why offering so much of the plot to perspective readers might be necessary too.

As a result, I am having a difficult time settling on how to summarize this book without spoiling anything. It is about a man, Freddy Builder, the manager of the China department at a department store. His life is rather dull, or so he believes. He dreams of being a writer and being famous. He is just biding his time, making spectacular China displays until opportunity comes knocking at his door. The novel is also about a young beautiful woman, Mindi Quintana, with a big heart and gentle manner who is editor for a literary magazine and once dated Freddy. Freddy's world changes when she walks back into his life. There is Mindi's best friend, the painter, and a defense attorney whose just going through the motions of life, feeling numb. And there is an ambitious prosecutor and a corporate manager who is a bit full of himself. They all are set on a collision course the day Mindi and Freddy meet again. Then there is a murder.

The Killing of Mindi Quintana is an experience all of its own. It is not your usual crime fiction novel. Author Jeffrey A. Cohen's characters seem more like caricatures than fully realized people (except perhaps defense attorney Philip), which, I believe, is the effect he was aiming for. The story itself was satirical. And it worked.

The novel takes a hard look at the notoriety and sensationalism of our society's criminals and their crimes, about how the justice system plays into that and where the victims stand as a result. Freddy seems like your every day sort of man. Stuck in a job he doesn't like, dreaming of bigger things, a man in love, a man done wrong. Freddy, however, is not quite what he seems. He is the epitome of a psychopath.

I liked the way the author wove art into his novel: Freddy's China displays, Mindi's appreciation of words and Lisa's paintings. It seemed a fitting juxtaposition to the crime itself, or, rather, more directly to the aftermath. It also tied into the abstract feel of the novel.

I enjoyed the book overall, finding it both entertaining and thought provoking, and I appreciate what the author set out to accomplish. However, at times I was not completely satisfied with the approach. I think that was more a me issue than the author's. I found the ending quite satisfying and fitting with the rest of the tale. It wasn't an ending I expected, and yet I can't see it ending any other way.

Rating: * (Good)

You can learn more about Jeffrey A. Cohen and his book on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website as well.

Many thanks to the TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. Book for review provided by the author.

Be sure and stop by the other Tour Stops for The Killing of Mindi Quintana:

© 2010, 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, May 05, 2010

In Which I Have a Change of Heart . . . About Fish (at least the live kind)

I was about seven or eight when my brother brought home a small goldfish in a plastic bag full of water. He would be the first of three, the last one living quite a long time, swimming forever in his round bowl.

Our home would soon become the home of other fish, from Betta to Neon to kinds I can't remember. My younger brother and I named every single one. We took turns feeding them and spent hours watching them. They were beautiful and graceful. Oh, to be a fish! It was quite an event in our house when it came time to clean the tank. Then they died.

We tried again. Only, my heart wasn't in it quite as much. I hesitated at naming them. It was hard not to be drawn to them, however. They all died quite suddenly one day, and I was devastated. I swore off fish forever. Eventually my feelings turned to a strong dislike of fish, both alive or dead (whales and dolphins being the exception). Unfair to the live fish, I know, but true.

I have never developed a taste for fish or seafood. Every week when my parents forced me to eat it, I drenched it in ketch-up so I couldn't taste it. I have tried a variety of different fish and other seafood over the years to no avail. My taste buds reject it every time.

Getting back to where I was going with all of this, I came across an article in Bookmarks Magazine the other day about Rebecca Skloot and her father. I saw mention of an article she'd written called "Fixing Nemo", about veterinary care and fish. I am not sure what compelled me to look up the story, but look it up I did. The article is funny and touching. Not to mention fascinating. Imagine being the doctor who operates on a fish! Go ahead. Read it.

While I am not any more eager to rush out the pet store and buy a fish tank and fish than I was before reading the article, I have more of an appreciation for the little (or big) guys.

© 2010, 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, May 04, 2010

Review: Beautiful Assassin by Michael C. White

Imagine, a woman in a tree, a silly, foolish young woman holding a gun and preparing to kill a man she does not even know. [excerpt from Beautiful Assassin]

Beautiful Assassin
by Michael C. White
William Morrow, 2010
Fiction; 464 pgs

For all the books I have read over the years set around or during World War II, I have yet to explore every facet of it. The Soviet Union's involvement is one such area I am still relatively new to. And so, when the opportunity arose to read and review Michael C. White's novel, Beautiful Assassin, I was quick to volunteer. The novel opens with an American journalist on her way to meet who she believes is the namesake of the novel, a woman she has long been searching for. The two women talk long into the night as Tat'yana tells the story of her life all those years ago.

Tat'yana was once a Soviet Hero, having killed over 300 soldiers. She had come to the United States as a guest of Eleanor Roosevelt, but under the watchful eye of the Soviets who dictated just about every word she spoke and every move she made. She had been told her purpose was to draw support from the Americans and to encourage the U.S. to become more active in the war, to fight the Germans alongside the Soviets. Only, she soon learned that she was to also glean as much information as she could from her new friends. Tat'yana did not want to be a spy as it went against her very nature. She was loyal to her country, but she also knew the faults of her government. She was put in a difficult situation, having to choose between her country and a new one.

Tat'yana is not someone anyone would expect to become a soldier. She was an academic, a poet. When tragedy befell her family, however, she was desperate and full of rage. The only thing she wanted to do wass strike out at the enemy. Her skills in marksmanship proved an asset in the war.

Although women fought alongside men in the Soviet Union, Tat'yana and other female soldiers did not have it easy. There were those who did not believe a woman's place should be on the battlefield and they made life difficult. As Tat'yana tried to prove herself in a man's world, she quickly learned that it would be an ongoing battle. While others sought to keep her in her place, Eleanor Roosevelt had other ideas. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt instantly takes a liking to Tat'yana, a capable, strong woman, as does Tat'yana to Mrs. Roosevelt.

There was so much I liked about this book. Tat'yana is an interesting character who evolves as a person over the course of the novel. Because Tat'yana is telling her story in hindsight, she has insight into the events that took place all those years ago, and so she comes at it from a place of maturity we might not have seen from her younger self. Tat'yana is by no means perfect. She is strong and yet vulnerable. She did not always make the best or even the most heroic choices.

At 464 pages, this novel has a lot packed into it; it is at once a war story, a political thriller, and a historical novel with a touch of romance. Although I enjoyed nearly every aspect of the novel, my favorite time was spent when Tat'yana was in the Soviet Union. I felt like I got to know Tat'yana best during that time as well as her family, including her husband and her relationship with him.

Once Tat'yana arrived in the United States, I felt as if the plot began to overshadow the characters. I found the later romance portion of the novel difficult to buy into if only because Captain Taylor was not as well-developed a character as I would have liked. He is charming and mysterious, and while I could understand the attraction between Tat'yana and him, I never felt like I got to know him as well as I did her character. I never lost my fascination and interest in the story and of Tat'yana, however, and I was anxious to see how it all turned out in the end.

Beautiful Assassin was a satisfying read overall. I enjoyed the time I spent with Tat'yana and look forward to exploring the author's other novels.

Rating: * (Good +)

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

Source: Received book through BookBrowse First Impressions Program.

© 2010, 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.