Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Should Have Been a Review but Turned More Personal

It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new books, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache. [1st paragraph of Speak]

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Penguin, 1999
Fiction (YA); 198 pgs

This is Banned Books Week. It is a week designed to bring attention to the many books that are challenged and banned; the books that some people would attempt to silence because they may offend or cause discomfort. I have strong feelings against censorship and wanted to join in this year's celebration of our freedom to read what we want to read.

Last week Twitter was all a buzz with the news that yet another person is seeking to ban Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Something about a rape scene and an attempted rape scene being soft porn. Also, the unfavorable light the authority figures (parents and school staff) were painted in. Tell me I shouldn't read something, and I only grow more curious to see for myself.

That isn't the only reason I decided to read Speak in honor of Banned Book Week, however. It seems a fitting choice. Censorship is the silencing of voices. And wanting to ban a book like Speak is like trying to silence the voices of many teenagers who find themselves in similar situations as Speak's protagonist, Melinda Sordino.

Melinda is a freshman in high school, ostracized by her friends and peers because she called the police at a summer end party. She keeps the real reason she called the police a secret, feeling ashamed and as if no one would believe her. Melinda was raped by a senior. An outcast, Melinda has a difficult time adjusting to high school after what happened. She is afraid to speak about what happened and often refuses to speak at all. She falls into a depression and those who care about her are at a loss as to what to do. They do not understand what she is going through.

I have read more intense novels on the subject of rape and depression and found this one not quite as much so in comparison. I guess that is what surprises me most about the fact that this book was singled out for censorship. Just the same, Speak is a powerful novel and one I would encourage parents and teens to read. The author tells the story from Melinda's viewpoint and captures perfectly the voice of her teen protagonist. Melinda feels alone and isolated. She has no friends and little support. Her parents are always too busy, wrapped up in their own issues. She doesn't feel she has anyone to turn to. My heart went out to Melinda and, in many ways, I could relate to her. Her desire to forget; her hope that not speaking about it would help her forget; and the depression that came with it.

It's not something I ever talk about. It's like a dark secret that I keep hidden away. I don't know exactly why. Not anymore. I have come to terms with it as best one can. I take pride in the fact that I am not so much a victim, but a survivor. And yet. I don't talk about it. Until now.

I was sexually abused when I was six years old by a babysitter. The details don't matter. I knew it was wrong at the time, and even told me parents. Sort of. What I told them was that he "wanted to". My parents, in their innocence, told me that they hoped I said no. Their response was enough to silence me. I had done something wrong.

We moved. I never saw him again.

The chronological order of events during the next seven years are fuzzy. I remember bursting into tears when a particular song came on the radio at my uncle's house. We both loved Bruce Springsteen, but the words of the song, struck me cold--still do. For years, I had to leave the room or turn the radio off when the song came on. I would start shaking when I heard it, sometimes cry. I may have told my mother then what happened. I'm not sure. Whatever I did say to explain away my sudden sobs didn't really help.

Then there was a slumber party. It wasn't a big party. Just three of us. I told my friends what happened. I will forever be grateful to them for speaking out for me. They did not just sit on the information or forget about it. They talked to a school counselor who in turn spoke with me. It was a freeing moment and yet also a very scary one. I was finally able to deal with it in the open.

My parents were told. They didn't understand. I was told to put it behind me and move on. And as part of me struggled with the fact that it wasn't that simple, to just be able to get over it, the other half felt exactly that. Why couldn't I? More reason to feel ashamed.

I don't blame my parents in any way. It wasn't something they ever imagined they would have to deal with nor did they know how to react. They fell back on what they knew and went from there. In a way, they were victims too.

I blamed myself for many years. If I'd just said no. How stupid would someone have to be to let something like that happen without putting up much of a fight? That's what I believed for a long time.

I went to therapy. Joined a support group. I read; I wrote; I had long conversations with God. I played scenarios in my head about confronting the guy. I carried a photo of myself at the age of 6 to remind myself that a girl that young could not be to blame for what happened to her. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that I actually was worth it--worth caring about and loving. It took me a while, but I eventually found a confidence and strength I didn't know I had. And I realized that he no longer had power over me.

To say "I'm over it" would be a bold faced lie. Can anyone truly be over that kind of experience? Sure, I have moved on in many ways. I now know it wasn't my fault. I no longer feel the shame. And yet, I don't ever talk about it. It will always be a shadow in the past, affecting me in the slightest of ways. There is a stigma associated with being a victim, one that is not so easy to shake.

I may not have been a victim of rape like Melinda was, but I do know the pain of living in near silence, of the stigma, self-doubt and blame that goes along with it. It's a terrible weight to carry. One that in the perfect world would never have to be carried because sexual assault of any kind would not exist.

Society doesn't exactly make it easy for victims of rape or abuse to speak out. I do think that there is an effort out there to change such backwards thinking, but it has a long way to go. Authors like Laurie Halse Anderson are helping to make that change one book at a time, and their voices should not be silenced. Girls and boys who have been victims of sexual assault need to be heard--and, as cliche as it sounds, to know they are not alone.
Most censorship I see is fear-driven. I respect that. The world is a very scary place. It is a terrifying place in which to raise children, and in particular, teenagers. It is human nature to nurture and protect children as they grow into adulthood. But censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in darkness and makes them vulnerable. [excerpt from statement by Laurie Halse Anderson about censorship, included at end of Speak]
Books have been my friends through many ups and downs, helped me to see the world through different eyes as well as take a closer look at my own life. We can learn so much from books, find reassurance and hope. We are able to face new challenges and view the world from many different angles. Books give us that and so much more.

© 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, September 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Hear Me Roar

© 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, September 28, 2010

Review: Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson

I was barred from school for the day because I'd been biting again. Whenever I pressed my teeth into one of my classmates, my teacher stopped the lesson and called, "Tillie, Tillie." There was always a struggle as she tried to wrestle the hand or arm from my mouth, but I held on--fighting until the last string of spit released--because I liked to leave a mark. [pg 9]

Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson
Harper, 2010
Fiction; 320 pgs

I recently caught a rerun of an old Law and Order: Special Victim's Unit episode in which one of the lead detectives must reach out to his estranged mother when his daughter's mental illness comes to light because of legal issues. His mother also suffered from mental illness, only it was never talked about in that way. His mother was odd, sometimes manic and then falling into deep depressions.

I couldn't help but draw parallels between that episode and Susan Henderson's novel, Up From the Blue. What it must have been like for a child growing up in a home with a mother suffering from a mental illness, especially at a time when such things were kept secret and not talked about outside of the home. In the TV show, it was the detective who was orderly and regimented, even strict--a result of his upbringing and his hope to instill order into his own family life. In Henderson's novel, the father, an officer in the military takes on that same role. I imagine the time periods of when the detective and Tillie were children were similar.

At the start of the novel, Tillie, recognizing the signs of labor, is forced to reach out to her estranged father for help. Her husband is out of the country on business; she is unpacking after having just moved to a town; and she knows no one else. Her father comes to her aid, but at a price. With him comes all the memories Tillie would love to forget, and she is forced to confront the past and deal with her feelings in regards to her father. The novel takes place mostly in the past, when Tillie was 8 years old, with only a few interruptions from the present (1991) to remind us where we started.

The author uses subtle markers to remind the reader of the time period Tillie grew up in throughout the novel, including racial tensions and the political climate. This proved an effective way of setting the environment for which Tillie tells her story.

I admit that as I started reading, my feeling about the book tended toward how typical it was. Another novel about family dysfunction. A steady diet of such novels can be overwhelming (one of the reasons I like to mix up my reading so much--variety keeps me from growing tired of a topic or genre). As I continued to read, I remained skeptical, but somewhere in there, I lost that skepticism and the book really took off for me. By the end, tears streaming down my face, I was hooked. It turned out to be a little different than I expected.

I liked young Tillie from the beginning. She's a free spirit if ever there was one. As a Marine Corps brat, I know what life can be like in the home of a military person. In Tillie's case, appearances were everything given her father's important position and high rank. Her father was very strict and demanded order. Tillie rebelled against that. Instead of writing a science paper, she'd write poems. Tillie's older brother was much more apt to please and to do as he was told. I appreciated the way the author did not make this story just about Tillie, despite it being told from her viewpoint. Although Tillie was not completely aware of the impact events in their life were having on everyone else, it is clear to the reader. It was easy to understand Tillie's confusion and upset with her father once the entire story came out. At the same time, it was impossible not to also see his side of it, even if I don't agree with all of the choices he made or the reasons he made them.

At first I wished for a bit more resolution in the end. While certain aspects of the story were wrapped up satisfactorily, one particular piece left me wanting. That is until I really had a chance to think about it. Now I don't think any other ending would have fit--not realistically.

As inundated as you may be with books about family dysfunction, Up From the Blue is definitely worth a look.

Rating: * (Good +)

You can learn more about Susan Henderson and her book on the literary blog LitPark. You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter: @litpark. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website for other tour stops 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.

© 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, September 27, 2010

Banned Book Week: What Banned Book Have You Read Lately?

Visits to the public library were among my favorite summer activity growing up. My mother would pack my brother and me into the car and off we would go. We'd be let loose among the stacks and allowed to roam to our heart's content. I don't remember my parents ever telling me I couldn't read a particular book.

I do believe in a parent's right to guide his or her children in choosing appropriate reading material when necessary; I think it's smart parenting to know what your children are reading, listening to, watching, and playing. However, what I do not get behind is when someone or a group of people decide that no one should be allowed to read a particular book. And so they challenge it and request it be banned. Often books are challenged because they raise viewpoints that differ from someone else's. Or perhaps they touch upon subject matter that the person finds offensive or uncomfortable. I respect a person's right to have his or her own opinion about any book. I truly do. But do not tell me what I should and should not read, or anyone else for that matter.

When it gets right down to it, censorship is dangerous. Those who would censor argue the opposite, but shutting down ideas and thoughts, not allowing people to be heard and others to hear what others have to say is detrimental to society as a whole. You cannot protect anyone by censoring reading material. We are only made more vulnerable as a result.
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
To kick start Banned Books Week, which started this weekend, I followed Florinda's lead and looked over the list of books tagged as banned on LibraryThing's catalog. I was curious to see which one's I'd read. Of the top 150 books listed, I was pleased to see I had read a number of them:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Forever by Judy Blume
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Odyssey by Homer
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Blubber by Judy Blume
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Dracula by Bram Stoker
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

I have read chunks of both The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and the Bible, both of which were included in the top 150 books list on LibraryThing. And many more are books on the list are sitting in my TBR room waiting their turn. I look at these titles and I find myself scratching my head in wonderment at what could be so threatening about any of them.

What was the last banned book or challenged book you read?

Later in the week, I will be reviewing a book called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, which made recent news as one man attempted to have the book banned because of its content, I chose that particular book for personal reasons, but I think it also speaks to a much broader topic, one that ties nicely into this week's theme. Books like Speak need to be read, need to be given a voice, for all our sakes. They offer much needed perspective on a serious problem in our society. Topics such as sexual assault and teen depression do more harm than good when swept under the carpet.

© 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, September 15, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Hotel Rooms

© 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, September 14, 2010

Review: On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

Rose always recognized the precise moment when she passed into the Broken. First, anxiety stabbed right through her chest, followed by an instant of intense vertigo, and then pain. It was as if the shiver of magic, the warm spark that existed somewhere inside her, died during the crossing. The pain lasted only a blink, but she always dreaded it. It left her feeling incomplete. Broken. That's how the name for the magic-less dimension had come about. [pg 7]

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews
ACE Fantasy, 2009
Fantasy, 309 pgs

After finishing the first four books of the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews, I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye just yet. My husband recommended I read On the Edge by the same author. Although set in a different world, the premise of On the Edge intrigued me. The Edge is that in-between place between the Broken (our world) and the Weird (the magical one). Rose was born and raised in The Edge and had lived a hard life. After her mother's death and her father ran off for adventure, Rose is left to care for her two young brothers, one of whom is a changeling and the other a necromancer. Rose has her own power, one that has brought her nothing but grief over the years, especially when it comes to love. In walks Declan Carmarine, a blueblood from the Weird. He challenges Rose, asking her to give him three challenges, and if he wins, he wins her. Rose is determined to stump him and make him leave empty handed. As if that isn't enough, an evil has come to the Edge and is threatening to destroy it.

While On the Edge has an obvious romantic component at its core, the story of this small community of people and their daily struggles, both with magic and without, as well as the mystery, finding the source of the evil and the attempt to rid the area of was what drew me in. As someone who prefers any sort of book to be light on the romance and heavy in other areas, I thought there was a nice balance of the two.

Rose is a strong heroine and yet vulnerable. She is softer than Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels from her other series. You don't often run into heroines in urban fantasy series that are acting as single mothers, and so having Rose caring for her two young brothers who have special needs added an extra layer of complexity--and heart--to the novel.

The mix of the ordinary versus the fantastical was well played in the novel. It was very believable and well thought out. The authors, a husband and wife team, have proven yet again that they have a gift for world building. I look forward to the next book set in this world, Bayou Moon, which features a minor but significant character from On the Edge.

Rating: * (Good +)

Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife writing team. For more information about the authors and their books, visit their

Source: Copy of On the Edge was provided by the author for review.

© 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, September 13, 2010

From Book to Film: Shutter Island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Harper Torch, 2004
Suspense/Thriller, 400 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good)

I read Mystic River years ago and fell in love with Dennis Lehane's writing. His characters were so real and fleshed out that I felt I could reach out and touch them. I liked everything about the book: from the tone to the setting to the complex story line. I knew I wanted to read more by the author but wasn't sure if Shutter Island would be the best place to go next. The movie coming out decided for me. Only, it's taken me awhile to get around to actually reading the book.

When the movie buzz was high, praise for the book was immense. But I remember when the book first came out, there were quite a few mixed reviews. Shutter Island is no Mystic River. It is different from the previous books the author had written in many regards, and so that is to be expected. It shares some of the same characteristics, however. Both Mystic River and Shutter Island are dark and brooding. The characters are deeply troubled, haunted by their pasts.

Set during a hurricane on an island, at a mental institution for the criminally insane where the most violent perpetrators are housed, Shutter Island has all the elements of a good thriller novel. The year is 1954; World War II has long been over, but the scars remain.

The setting of the story is significant. The 1950's were an interesting time in U.S. history. McCarthyism was strong and the controversy around certain psychiatric treatment methods was beginning to come to the forefront. Psychiatry back then was highly experimental; new drugs were being tested and lobotomies were in vogue. The novel opens with Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule's arrival on the island. They were sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando, who mysteriously disappeared from her locked cell. As the story unfolds, it is clear there are dark secrets being kept at Ashecliffe Hospital.

Teddy's ghosts revolve around his late wife, his guilt over her death and is not being there for her when she needed him most. It colors his thoughts and actions throughout his investigation, coming in the way of flashbacks and dreams.

This is actually a difficult book to summarize in that to give too much away is to take away from the suspense of the story. It's got several layers which make it all the more intriguing. I was less enamored by Shutter Island than I had been by Mystic River, but I still enjoyed the novel quite a bit. It got off to a slow start but grew in intensity.

The movie followed very closely to the book, with only minor changes. This is one of those cases where not knowing what is going to happen has its advantages, and yet knowing, I was able to make out little details that I perhaps had overlooked in the book.

The island was much more beautiful than the one I'd created in my imagination, and I easily bought into Leonardo DiCarpio as Teddy Daniels. I never tire of seeing Ben Kingsley and Mark Ruffalo in movies, and this instance was no different. The movie pulled off the tone and sort of gothic feel that was also in the book. And while the story itself is good, like with any Lehane story, it is the characters that make it all the more rich. This is true for both the book and the movie.

In the movie version, I got a stronger sense of Teddy's past as a soldier, about his memories to the war than I did while reading the book. It's hard to imagine anyone seeing what he did come out unscathed. It carries over in his suspicions of experimentation at the mental facility. I was impressed too with how well the flashback and dream sequences were played out. They generally come off as cheesy in movies, but they were very well crafted in this film. The fit the tone and helped move the story along.

Like with the book and movie of Mystic River, I find myself at a loss to say which is better in the case of Shutter Island. I enjoyed both equally.

Shutter Island
Drama, Thriller, Mystery - 2010 (rated R)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay) & Dennis Lehane (novel)
Rating: * (Very Good)

Source: My boss loaned me her copy of the book (although I do own my own copy, which I purchased years ago). The movie was a rental from Netflix.

© 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, September 12, 2010

Sunday Salon: Where I Write About the Sunrise, a New Year, and What I am Reading Now

For the longest time, I was a sunset person. I loved watching the sun set, disappearing over the horizon. If I woke up before the sunrise, it was too early. Of course, responsibilities being what they are (work) and having a cat who believes sleeping in past 5:00 a.m. is a crime, I rarely miss a sunrise. On a day without the morning fog or overcast skies, the sunrise can be quite beautiful. Colors splashed across the sky, sometimes intermixed with clouds, only adding to the array of colors. Shades of orange, yellow, blue, purple, red . . . A mirror image of a sunset, really. But a sunrise signifies the start of a new day rather than the end.

With a sunset, you can watch the sky long after the sun has disappeared. With a sunrise, there comes a point when you have to look away, the sun's light too bright to stand. Most mornings, I'm driving right into the sun, and so it's impossible to miss as it rises. On the mornings I am still cozy at home, I watch it rise from my study window.

If you would have asked me 25 years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of ever finding such joy in a sunrise. Who gets up that early?! And yet now, I look forward to those few moments each day. It is a quiet opportunity to reflect on the day to come, revel in nature's beauty, and just be.

Tomorrow is the start of the third annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I have taken part every year to varying degrees. It's a whirlwind week of book blogging fun and always overwhelming but never dull.

I turned a year older this past week and the year ahead brings to mind a sunrise. A beginning. An overwhelming brightness as the sun takes flight. In this new year of my life, I will be moving into a new house, having a baby and delving more fully into the world of e-books. Three very ordinary things. And yet for me, they will be life changing.

For the past three months I have been spending time every week reading two pregnancy books (What to Except When You're Expecting and the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy), learning as I go what is happening to my body. I now think of unborn babies in terms of fruit.

Becoming pregnant was my husband's birthday present (okay, so he also got a new laptop). Mine was a nook. I rarely like to talk about what I receive as gifts for any holiday (unless it's books), and so I can't go without mentioning my new e-reader. I'm pretty sure I let out a little squeal when I pulled my nook out of the gift bag. I have already purchased my first e-book, The Passage by Justin Cronin. I am not yet sure when I will actually get to it, however. I am in the middle of the Hunger Games trilogy (reading Catching Fire currently) and have a couple of TLC Tour books to read (if I ever receive one of them in time, that is). Once those are out of the way, I definitely plan to dive in and experience my nook to its fullest--and, of course, lose myself in The Passage. What a perfect addition to the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Challenge!

Tomorrow is the first day of the third annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week. It is a whirlwind week filled with book blogging fun and a chance to show our appreciation for blogging and our fellow book bloggers. I am stepping back this year and will be more of an observer than an actual participant. I know, I know. Such a party pooper. I do look forward to following the activities of those of you who are participating! Have fun!

A quick glance outside and I see the sun is full in the sky. It's promising to be a beautiful day. And now, since I desperately need milk, an early run to the grocery store is in order!

What are your plans for today? Are you reading anything you would recommend?

This Week In Reading Mews:

Reading Now:
Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins
It Could be Worse, You Could Be Me by Ariel Leve

Recent Additions to the TBR Room (all paid for by me):
The Passage by Justin Cronin (my very first e-book purchase for my nook!)
Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld (recent selection from Unbridled's subscription program)
Tears of the Mountain by John Addiego
(recent selection from Unbridled's subscription program)

Reviews Posted:
What We Have by Amy Boesky
"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe (Short Story Wednesday)
Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

Other Posts of Interest:
Readers Imbibing Peril V Challenge
What It's Like to be Married to a Non-Reader: A Guest Post by Author Robin Spano

© 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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano

Clare Vengel tossed a leg over her Triumph and kicked it into gear. The sun was shining, the mayor was dead, and Cloutier wanted to meet with her. As she sped along Dundas Street, weaving a bit too quickly through traffic, visions of her first undercover assignment played in her head. [opening paragraph]

Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano
ECW Press, 2010
Crime Fiction; 326 pgs

How far would someone go for the sake of politics? Clare Vengel is about to find out. Barely a police woman for 3 months, she is asked to go undercover as a student at the University of Toronto. The death of the mayor appears to be related to a secret student political society, and local authorities hope that Clare will be able to discover who is behind the murder. It is soon obvious that the mayor's death was part of a bigger plot as the bodies begin to pile up. It's up to Clare to find out whether the murders are being committed by an individual or the secret society itself.

Clare has a lot of her own issues; she's estranged from her family and unlucky in love. She is a bit of a rebel who knows her way around cars and rides a motorcycle. She longs to work undercover and hopes that she'll do well enough on her first undercover assignment to earn her a more permanent spot taking on such jobs. Clare is a little rough around the edges, but she has determination and brains.

This is the first in a new series by author Robin Spano. The author takes an interesting approach with the narrative, in particular for a series, by presenting points of view from various characters, including suspects, throughout the book. Clare is just one of the many storytellers. I thought it was a very effective way of having the mystery unfold. I wasn't too fond of any of the characters, except for Clare really, but, then, what do you expect when they all have a motive for murder?

Dead Politician Society was a quick read, one I enjoyed quite a bit. What made this mystery most enjoyable for me were the characters and their many sides, as well as the unfolding of the story. While I guessed the culprit behind the murders early on, it wasn't outright obvious. And what made the resolution all the more interesting was how it played out in the end. I am definitely going to keep my eye out for the next installment in this series.

Rating: * (Good +)

You can learn more about Robin Spano, and her book on the author's website. You can also find her on Twitter and on Clare's Facebook page.

Source: I bought this book for my own reading pleasure.

© 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, September 09, 2010

What It's Like to be Married to a Non-Reader: A Guest Post by Author Robin Spano

I was so intrigued by the sample chapters I read on the author's website of Dead Politician Society by Robin Spano that I pre-ordered the book and have since read it. Be sure and come back tomorrow for my review. Although the last thing I need is to become involved with another series given my already long list, I'm already hooked. Dead Politician Society is the first in a new mystery series featuring motorcycle enthusiast and undercover police officer Clare Vengel.

When I read in Robin's bio that her husband hates reading, I just had to know more . . . Please join me in welcoming Robin Spano to Musings of a Bookish Kitty!

Wendy asked me: What is it like for a writer to be married to a non-reader?

Actually, it rocks.

First, my husband is my biggest champion. Since we met (when I was a strung-out, partied-out 24-year-old and he was a 40-year-old businessman), he has believed in me. He doesn’t read my work objectively or critically—how would he, with nothing to compare it to? He just believes that I’m a writer (and in his warped mind, a good one).

Second, he gets me out of my own head. We don’t sit around discussing literature—my friends and family love to read, so I’m not starved for literary conversation—we go hiking and traveling and do other real world things.

When I say Keith doesn’t read, I mean he doesn’t. The last book he read cover to cover was Spycatcher by Peter Wright. He read it when it came out, in 1987.

“What?” you say. “But Robin, haven’t you written a book? How could Keith read Spycatcher and not Dead Politician Society?”

I mean, Spycatcher was pretty gripping. It’s the true life tale of an MI6 operative who witnessed the Communist betrayal and defection of Kim Philby and his cohorts, a series of events that inspired several awesome Le Carre plots.

And actually, what Keith did for me was even more amazing than read my book in its current shiny packaged form. He read half of my first manuscript at the time when I was both nervous that it was terrible, and toying with sending it out into the world.

He read, he laughed, he commented. He told me he could see the events happening as if it was a movie. (Another great thing about a husband who doesn’t know the writing industry: he thinks that naturally this book will be a movie.)

“Nice,” you say. “But why did he only read half?”

He stopped reading when I got an offer from a publisher. He’d been reading it to be encouraging, to convince me that I didn’t suck. Once the outside world seemed to be saying the same thing, he figured he could go back to his normal, avoid-all-reading self (aka the awesome man I married).

Some parting words for all you single writers: Don’t write off the non-readers. They might be the best match for you.

* * *
Robin Spano is a crime writer from Toronto, living in Vancouver. She loves to explore the world in her boat, on her motorcycle, and traveling new places with her husband. Her first novel, Dead Politician Society, has just hit shelves.

You can learn more about Robin Spano, and her book on the author's website. You can also find her on Twitter and on Clare's Facebook page.

© 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, September 08, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)

What first struck me about Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Pit and the Pendulum", was how beautiful the language is; how much I love the feel of his words in my mouth. It's a shame I was unable to read the story out loud as I read. It's poetic in its own way. I suppose that makes sense, given that the author also was well known for his poems.

The narrator has been imprisoned in what appears to be a torture chamber in a dungeon after being sentenced to death in the Inquisition. The story tells of how he explores his surroundings and faces death several times, only to escape it at the last minute. The reader is led to believe that the narrator may be unreliable, out of touch with his senses, and yet he proceeds to tell the story in a very rational way. "The Pit and the Pendulum" carries a glimmer of hope even while having a strong sense of foreboding. It is a dark and violent tale, full of suspense and intensity. Perfect for the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Challenge.

You can find the story, "The Pit and the Pendulum", and read it for free here.

© 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, September 07, 2010

Review: What We Have by Amy Boesky

It's a funny thing fear. How it follows you, changes shape, adapts to each new place and situation. Like furniture, which you carry around and set up in one house after another. It may look a little different in its new place, but it's still the same stuff. [pg 143]

What We Have: One Family's Inspiring Story About Love, Loss, and Survival by Amy Boesky
Gotham Books, 2010
Nonfiction; 327 pgs

Have you ever plucked a book off your shelf to read, not really expecting more than a good story; only, you find so much more than you anticipated? I am sure we all have to some degree. Whether it be an even richer reading experience, a connection made with a character, a lesson learned, or something else entirely. It was that way for me and Amy Boesky's memoir, What We Have.

It is difficult for me to be objective about this book because it spoke to me on a personal level. And when Lisa of TLC Book Tours pitched the book to me, I think she knew it would, although perhaps not in quite the way she thought. I hadn't been so sure. I didn't think I was in the right place for a book like this, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

Ovarian cancer runs in Amy's family, cutting short the life of many of the women in her family. With their their history of cancer always looming over them, Amy and her sisters knew they didn't have much time and so tried to pack a lifetime in as soon as they could. Getting married and having children were among the priorities. The memoir covers a short span in Amy's life, but definitely a life changing one. It is full of happy moments as well as intensely sad ones.

Certain aspects of Amy Boesky's life are similar to my own--some of what she writes about I am going through right now. And I think that's part of why I connected so well with What We Have. At times it felt like I was looking into a mirror. I devoured the chapters about Amy's first pregnancy and when she brought the baby home. I could feel her and her husband's frustration at selling one house and searching for another. And I know what it's like to live with a family history of cancer (breast cancer in my case).

There were also other moments, such as my own mother's diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; how frightening a time that was, especially given our family history, and my own fear of the disease. And then of the spreading of Amy's mother's breast cancer to her bones and the various treatments and side effects that followed--much like my friend, Melyssa's experience. She lost her battle with the disease a couple of years ago, and it was quite a blow to all of us who loved her. As a result, that was an especially difficult part of the book to get through.

Like Amy, I am a bit obsessed with time and planning. Her interest in the history of time (clocks, calendars, etc) resonated with me, although I am not sure I attach my own interest so tightly to thoughts of mortality--at least not on the surface. With the birth of Amy's children to the death of her mother, the theme was reinforced, reminding me of the cycle of life.

I was also drawn to the strong relationship between Amy, her sisters and her mother. I only met my own sister in adulthood and we live so far away from one another that we haven't really had a chance to develop much of a relationship. So while the author's experiences are different than my own, I do know the love of family and the significance that it can play in a life. Seeing my parents grow older, I feel the weight of time even more, especially at this stage in my life. As much as I struggled to get away and be my own person, there are still times when I need my parents, when I long for my mother. Just as Amy does.

Amy Boesky's memoir is written in a casual and thoughtful style which I found warm and welcoming. I easily connected with the author and found we share a lot in common both in beliefs and worries. But there were differences as well and that made the book all the more interesting. When I finished reading What We Have, I could only think how fitting the title is. It can be seen in several different ways. What We Have is about a family history of cancer and loss. But more so, as I prefer to see it, What We Have is a story about life and love and survival.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Amy Boesky, and her book on the author's website. Be sure and check the TLC Book Tours website for other tour stops 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.

© 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, September 06, 2010

Readers Imbibing Peril V Challenge

With the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” begins the fifth annual Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Challenge hosted by Carl V. of Stainless Steel Droppings. Participants are asked to read books that fall into the following categories

Dark Fantasy

Depending on the challenge level, readers can choose their own level of commitment. There's little stress and a whole lot of creepy fun. The challenge began on September 1st and will end on October 31st. What better way to welcome in the autumn season than by reading books that keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat?

In regards to Peril The First, which is the level I am taking on, the host, Carl V., writes:
Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.
I confess my mood at the moment is leaning more towards mystery/suspense novels, but I hope to make an effort to read books from a couple of the other categories as well. I haven't quite settled on which four books I will be reading for the challenge, however, I couldn't resist making a tentative list of books I am considering, with room to read other books not listed as well.

White Night by Jim Butcher
Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
The Devil's Company by David Liss
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt
Drood by Dan Simmons
Echoes From the Dead by Johan Theorin
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I also plan to sprinkle my short story reading with peril filled tales throughout the next two months. I am not committing to reading a set number of short stories, at this time. If time permits, I'd love to read Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, even if just a couple of stories from the collection. I have another ghost story collection that is mighty tempting as well, The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Richard Dalby I might give a try. Perhaps another Edgar Allan Poe story. I never tire of those!

Are you joining in the R.I.P. V Challenge too? If so, What are you most looking forward to reading?

What books or short stories would you recommend for a challenge like this? Have you read any of the ones on my tentative list? If so, what did you think?

© 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, September 02, 2010

Review: Driven to Ink by Karen E. Olson

When Sylvia and Bernie came back from That's Amore Drive-Through Wedding Chapel with my car, it would've been nice if they'd taken the body out of the trunk. [opening line of Driven to Ink]

Driven to Ink by Karen E. Olson
Obsidian Mystery, September 2010
Crime Fiction; 320 pgs

In this third installment of A Tattoo Shop Mystery, series our meddling tattoo artist and shop owner, Brett Kavanaugh, finds a dead body in the trunk of her car. The body looks an awful lot like Dean Martin. She'd recently loaned her car to friends for their drive-through wedding, and now with the elderly bride and groom missing, all sorts of thoughts--and fears--are running through Brett's mind. Despite her brother's advice that she leave the investigation to the police, Brett, joined by the bride's son, Jeff Coleman, sets out to find her own answers.

Author Karen E. Olson won me over with her Annie Seymour series several years ago and, while I miss Annie's wry humor and grit, I do enjoy spending time with Brett and friends as well. The cast of characters is as funny and charming as ever, and it was great to see Brett and her brother, Tim, a detective with the Las Vegas police department, sharing so many scenes. My favorite part was when Tim was stuck on babysitting duty--having to keep Brett out of trouble, which is not an easy thing to do. He and Brett are a lot alike in more ways than one.

The author keeps the reader guessing at just about every turn. I found myself laughing on occasion and turning pages as quickly as I could to find out what would happen next. Driven to Ink was a fast-paced and entertaining read; a great way to spend a summer day.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Karen E. Olson and her books on the author's website. You can also find Karen on her blog.

Source: My copy of Driven to Ink was provided by the author for review.

© 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, September 01, 2010

Short Story Wednesday: "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe

"The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

Sitting in his jail cell, awaiting execution for murder, the narrator revisits the events that led him to his current circumstance. He was a man who loved animals and married a woman of like mind. They were surrounded by animals, one of which was a black cat. His wife liked to talk about the superstitions surrounding black cats, particularly that they were "witches in disguise". Neither one believed it, of course.

Once very close to his cat, Pluto, the narrator begins to change, growing more irritable and moody because of his drinking. He becomes mean and cruel, often taking his anger out on the animals, including his once beloved cat.

Edgar Allan Poe's tale grows in darkness with each sentence, our narrator overtaken by his hatred and loathing for everyone and everything. He spirals downward, finally reaching a terrible end. There are subtle elements of the supernatural (or so the narrator wants us to believe), relying on the superstitions surrounding black cats, but also there is clear evidence that the narrator's alcohol consumption and growing violent outbursts play a large part in his behaviors. "The Black Cat" is at once a horror story and a psychological study. Poe proves yet again that he is a master of suspense.

You can find the story, "The Black Cat", and read it for free on the

© 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.