Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year in Review

In many ways, I am sad to see the year end.  It was such an amazing year of growth for Mouse--for any child her age really--but seeing her grow and discover and explore . . . Being a part of her life and having her in mine.  She brings me such joy.  And to have a wonderful and supportive husband by my side--I feel so blessed.  I am blessed.  I have a job I like and coworkers who make the hard days more bearable.  I have a mother who would drop everything and come flying in if I asked her to.  Life is good.

Then there is the side of the year I am glad to see go.  It was a very difficult year for me in some regards.  When the year began, I was in a very dark place and it continued like that for quite awhile.  I wasn't sure I would ever find my way out.  I was too stubborn for my own good, and it took me too long to ask for help, so sure I could manage just fine on my own.  I am fortunate to be in a better place now, and have learned much in the process. For that I am grateful.  Even the worst of experiences can teach us something, can't they?

Through it all, my blog suffered.  Blogging hasn't been high on my priority list.  My family, my work, and my own health taking precedent.  Yet I keep chugging along.  And I continue reading.  I am very pleased with my numbers this year--not that quantity is what matters most.  But for someone who wasn't sure she'd be able to read two books a month, well, it's a big deal.  I squeezed in 67 books this year, not including the number of children's books I read and reread, some I've come to love and others I wish I could hide from Mouse so I don't have to read them again.

I spent much of the year lost in comfort reads whether it be mysteries or urban fantasy.  I read mostly e-books (41 compared to 22 print books and 4 audiobooks), finding it a much more convenient way to read, whether in the dead of night so I wouldn't disturb Mouse, or just in terms of mobility and ease of use.   I learned how easy it is to purchase books on an e-reader--and how dangerous that can be to one's bank account!  In honor of my father, whom I lost in September of last year, I read a book I knew he would have loved, and I loved it too.  I took on fewer reading commitments this year and found I liked the slower pace.  I branched out into audiobooks and think I might actually make a habit of listening to them (somehow). I stepped outside my comfort zone, reading books I normally wouldn't gravitate towards.  I also returned to a few favorite authors.

I enjoyed answering Jamie's (The Perpetual Page TurnerEnd of the Year Survey last year and decided to join in again this year.  I did alter some of the questions, subtracting a couple and adding some of my own.

1. Best books you read in 2012?

In Audio: My absolute most favorite book this year was Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus.  It blew me away--it was so beautiful.  The narration by Jim Dale was the perfect touch to such an enchanting tale.

Fiction: My favorite book that I read in print this year was Sarah McCoy's The Baker's Daughter.  It was a book that appealed to my love for all things World War II and also touched me on a more personal note.

Young Adult: I was quite smitten with David Levithan's Every Day, whose characters stole my heart.

Crime Fiction:  It is a tie between Julia Heaberlin's Playing Dead and The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris.  Both were amazing reads: intense, thought provoking, and fun.

Speculative Fiction:  A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  I really liked the flow of the novel and the world she created around her characters.

Nonfiction: Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Mission Rescue of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff.  I read this book in my father's memory because I knew it would be a book he would have like.  It was well researched and very readable.  I quite enjoyed it.

2. What books most disappointed you?

When my face to face book group chose to read Under the Skin by Michel Faber, I was excited.  I really liked the author's book, The Crimson Petal and the White.  Under the Skin, however, was much different.  While I knew that going in, I still had high hopes.  I barely finished the book.  It did make for a great discussion book, however.

I had hoped for more when I decided to read Sandra Hill's Deadly Angel books, Kiss of Pride and Kiss of Surrender.  At the same time, I knew I was taking a chance on them.  While I like urban fantasy and don't mind a good love story, I generally do not like books where the main story line is the love story.  I hoped it would be different with these books, but it only reinforced what I already know about my reading tastes.

The two books I liked the least this year were E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker.  If I'm honest though, I can't really say I was surprised.  I went into the books with low expectations.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

Karen Marie Moning's Darkfever.  It wasn't what I expected.  I loved it and cannot wait to read more by the author.

4. Books you recommended to people most in 2012?

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy, and Every Day by David Levithan.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

I've only read the first book, Darkfever, in Karen Marie Moning's Fever series, but if the rest of the series is anything like the first, I am sure I will love every single book in the series.

It was love at first page with both Louise Penny's and Deborah Crombie's mystery series. The two books I read from their different mystery series made quite an impression me.

Oh!  And  Charles Todd's Bess Crawford series.  I can't wait to read more in the series as well.

I was also quite taken with Amy Plum's series and am anxiously awaiting the third book in the series.  I'm still mad at the author for the ending in her second book.  Cliffhangers suck.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

Absolute Must Reads:
Amy Plum
Susanna Kearsley
Lisa Lutz
Deborah Crombie
Oliver Harris
Karen Marie Moning
Louise Penny
Sarah McCoy
Erin Morgenstern
David Levithan
Julia Heaerlin
Terri Nolan

I also really liked and will be reading more by:
Sabrina Benulis
Tina Connolly
James Swain
Deborah Harkness
Susan Elia MacNeal
Charles Todd
Erika Chase
Liz Strange
Shawntelle Madison
Lisa O'Donnell
Terri Nolan 

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  I put off reading this book for quite awhile, and even then, decided to settle for the audio version thinking it might be the better format to use to get through it.  I went into the book expecting to hate it.  The subject matter alone being repulsive.  And while Humbert Humbert is everything I despise in a person, the book was . . . well, let's just say by the end, I was quite impressed with the book.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable books in 2012?

It's a tie between Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin and David Levithan's Every Day.  I couldn't turn the pages fast enough in either book.

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read again?

Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus.  I listened to the audio version and now I must--MUST--read the book.

10. Most memorable characters in 2012?

Several stand out for me, including A from David Levithan's Every Day.

There was also Maggie Hope from Susan Elia MacNeal's mysteries set during World War II.  I had such fun reading about her adventures.  She is a woman ahead of her time.

And I really liked Natalya Stravinsky from Shawntelle Madison's series.  She isn't your typical urban fantasy hero and that's one of the things I loved most about her.

Oh, and who can forget Junior from Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian?  He was such a great character.  I still find myself wondering what he's up to now.

11. Most beautifully written book read to in 2012?

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was my favorite by far, but if I had to name a book I read in print, I would say Susanna Kearsley's Shadowy Horses.

12.  Book that made you laugh out loud in 2012?

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson.  Oh my goodness, how I laughed and laughed as I read this book!

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

You might think I would select one of the nonfiction books I read this year.  They were all good in their own way, the books relating to motherhood and the like.  But no, the book that had the greatest impact on me in 2012 was The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy.  I enjoyed the book for many reasons: from the characters, to the historical aspects, to the story itself.  I had this to say about the book, particularly about the character Reba:
In some ways, as I read, I felt like Sarah McCoy had gotten into my head and was holding up a mirror to me--See?" She was saying, "I know you.  I understand."  I couldn't have chosen a more perfect time to read this book as I am coming to terms with my own past and the loss of my father.  

14. Books you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

I think it is fair to say it wasn't so much the books that had me wondering what made me wait so long to read, but rather the authors.  Why did it take me so long to read a mystery by Deborah Crombie or Louise Penny?   And  Charles Todd?  I'm still scratching my head over those.  Now to go back and read their back lists.

I also am wondering what took me so long to try Lisa Lutz's series.  I adored The Spellman Files.  Another series I want to catch up with!

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2012?

Both of my favorite passages/quotes come from Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus:
Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that... there are many kinds of magic, after all. 
Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case. 

16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2012?

Does a book of comic strips count?  If so, the shortest book I read this year was The New Yorker Magazine Book of Mom Cartoons coming in at 112 pages. 

The longest book I read this year was  The Stand by Stephen King.  I read the uncut version, which was 1472 pages long.

17. Best short story you read in 2012?

"I Heard a Romantic Story" by Lee Child was perhaps my most favorite short story this year.  It was heartbreaking, about a sniper about to take out his latest target.  I also really liked Alexandra Sokoloff's "In Atlantis"  which was much more lighthearted and fun.  The story is a romantic mystery about a woman who re-imagines her life while on vacation where she meets a man she is sure is a jewel thief.

18. Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2012?

Cecelia and Marco's relationship in Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for one.  I liked how subtly the two came together and the way their relationship evolved.  They were the couple I was most rooting for.

In The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell, the relationship between sisters Nelly and Marnie and their neighbor Lennie is especially memorable.  Thrown together under complicated and difficult circumstances, the three form an unlikely bond that really touched by heart. (My review is coming later in the week.)

I was also quite taken with the relationship between David and Jamie in Liz Strange's Missing Daughter, Shattered Family and A Fresh Set of Eyes.  They had their share of problems, but the two make a great team, and I appreciated realistic they were as individual characters and as a couple.

19. Favorite book you read in 2012 from an author you read previously?

 The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli.  I expected no less.

20. Best book you read that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from someone else?

Every Day by David Levithan was recommended by my friend Nicole.  I bought it immediately after she said I had to read it.  It was as awesome as she said it was.  Somehow I had missed all the buzz about this book going around the blogosphere before that.  I am not sure how that happened.

Looking Ahead

I am looking forward to seeing what 2013 will bring, both in life and in reading.  Other than a couple of read-alongs and one challenge, I have no set plans for the New Year. I hope to continue reading more of my TBR back log and would like to follow through on some themed reading that I have been wanting to do for awhile now.  I also want to get back to posting more regularly, two or three posts a week, and visiting--and commenting on--other book blogs.

On the personal front, I plan to spend more time in the moment, something I am not always very good at doing.  I also plan to practice more patience, be more organized, and eat a more healthy diet.  Typical New Year's resolutions--although I refuse to call them resolutions.  I have already put much of these in practice.  There's no reason to wait until January 1st, after all.

Somehow, we made it through another year, with all its ups and downs.  Some of you have been with me for awhile and others I've only just met.  I am very grateful to all of you for your support and thoughts.  I wish you and your families all the best in 2013.  Happy New Year!

© 2012, 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, December 30, 2012

Books Read in 2012

(Archive of books read in 2012, in order by rating)

 Rating: * (Outstanding)
Levithan, David - Every Day (2012) - Fiction (YA)
McCoy, Sarah - The Baker's Daughter (2011) - Fiction
Morgenstern, Erin - Night Circus (2011) - Fiction/Speculative Fiction

Rating: * (Very Good +)
Alexie, Sherman - The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian (2007) - Fiction (YA)
Crombie, Deborah - No Mark Upon Her (2012) - Crime Fiction
Harris, Oliver - The Hollow Man (2012) - Crime Fiction
Heaberlin, Julia - Playing Dead (2012) - Crime Fiction
Moning, Karen Marie - Darkfever (2007) - Speculative Fiction (Urban Fantasy)
Penny, Louise - A Trick of the Light (2011) - Crime Fiction (Detective)
Soli, Tatjana - The Forgetting Tree (2012) - Fiction

Rating:  * (Very Good)
Ashworth, Trisha & Amy Nobile - I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood (2007) - Nonfiction
Butcher, Jim - Storm Front (1997) - Speculative Ficton (Urban Fantasy)
Cross, Ethan - The Prophet (2012) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Fairstein, Linda - Night Watch (2012) - Crime Fiction
Fairstein, Linda - Silent Mercy (2011) - Crime Fiction
Fairstein, Linda - Hell Gate (2010) - Crime Fiction
Harkness, Deborah - A Discovery of Witches (2011) - Speculative Fiction
Kearsley, Susanna - Shadowy Horses (2012) - Fiction
Lawson, Jenny - Let's Pretend This Never Happened (2012) - Nonfiction
Lutz, Lisa - The Spellman Files (2007) - Fiction/Crime Fiction
MacNeal, Susan Elia - Mr. Churchill's Secretary (2012) - Crime Fiction
Massie, Robert K. - Catherine the Great: A Portrait of a Woman (2011) - Nonfiction
Mendez, Antonio with Malcolm McConnell - The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (2000) - Nonfiction
Nabokov, Vladimir - Lolita (1958) - Fiction
O'Donnell, Lisa - The Death of Bees (2013) - Fiction
Robinson, Peter - Before the Poison (2012) - Crime Fiction
Sakey, Marcus - The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes (2011) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Strange, Liz - A Fresh Set of Eyes (2012) - Crime Fiction (P.I.)
Strange, Liz - Missing Daughter, Shattered Family (2011) - Crime Fiction (P.I.)
Swierczynksi, Duane - Fun & Games (2011) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Thompson, Craig - Blankets (2003) - Nonficton (Memoir/Graphic Novel)
Todd, Charles - An Unmarked Grave (2012) - Crime Fiction
 Zuckoff, Mitchell - Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Mission Rescue of World War II (2011) - Nonfiction

Rating: * (Good +)
Brown, Sandra (ed) - Thriller 3: Love is Murder (2012) - Crime Fiction (Short Stories)
Chase, Erika - A Killer Read (2012) - Crime Fiction (Cozy)
Connolly, Tina - Ironskin (2012) - Speculative Fiction (Steampunk)
Fairstein, Linda - Legal Legacy (2009) - Crime Fiction
Gilleo, Mark - Sweat (2012) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Harkness, Deborah - Shadow of Night (2012) - Speculative Fiction
MacNeal, Susan Elia - Princess Elizabeth's Spy (2012) - Crime Fiction
Madison, Shawntelle - Kept (2012) - Speculative Fiction (Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance)
Madison, Shawntelle - Coveted (2012) - Speculative Fiction (Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance)
Nolan, Terri - The Burden of Truth (2013) - Crime Fiction 
Pelecanos, George - The Cut (2011) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Plum, Amy - Die For Me (2011) - Speculative Fiction/Paranormal Romance (YA)
Plum, Amy - Until I Die (2012) - Speculative Fiction/Paranormal Romance (YA)
Swain, James - Dark Magic (2012) - Speculative Fiction (Urban Fantasy)
Verdon, John - Think of a Number (2010) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Verdon, John - Shut Your Eyes Tight (2011) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Wahab, Saima - In My Father's Country (2012) - Nonfiction

Rating: * (Good)
Banks, Dakota - Dark Time (2009) - Speculative Fiction (Urban Fantasy)
Benulis, Sabrina - Archon: The Books of Raziel (2012) - Speculative Fiction (YA)
Chast, Roz - Childproof: Cartoons About Parents & Children (1997) - Comics
Gottfried, Susan Helene - Shapeshifter: The Demo Tapes, Year 1 (2008) - Fiction
Gottfried, Susan Helene - Trevor's Song (2008) - Fiction
Hamilton, Rebecca - The Forever Girl (2012) Paranormal Romance
Howard, Cori (ed) - Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood (2008) - Nonfiction
King, Stephen - The Stand (1978, 1990) - Speculative Fiction (Horror)
Newman, Susan - The Case for the Only Child (2011) - Nonfiction
Verdon, John - Let the Devil Sleep (2012) - Crime Fiction (Thriller)
Wells, Dan - The Hollow City (2012) - Fiction/Crime Fiction/Science Fiction
The New Yorker Magazine Book of Mom Cartoons (2008) - Comics

Rating:   (Fair +)
Hill, Sandra - Kiss of Surrender (2012) - Paranormal Romance

Rating: (Fair)
Faber, Michel - Under the Skin (2001) - Science Fiction
Hill, Sandra - Kiss of Pride (2012) - Paranormal Romance

Rating: (Poor)
James, E.L. - Fifty Shades of Grey (2012) - Romance/Erotica
James, E.L. - Fifty Shades Darker (2012) - Romance/Erotica

Not Rated:
Sebastian, Linda - Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety (1998) - Nonfiction

© 2012, 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.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Secret Santa Strikes Again

 We've had a busy and fun Christmas to say the least!  Anjin, Mouse and I flew up north to visit my mother and extended family for the holiday, just arriving home yesterday evening.  Mouse had a great time.  She really took to flying, and I imagine it will be awhile before she isn't mentioning airplanes in just about every conversation.

This year Christmas was a very much a bookish one.  I gave away quite a few books to family and friends for Christmas.  I did my best to pair books with the right reader, all the while wanting to challenge them a bit by giving them books that they might not have picked up on their own. 

In addition to the usual family and friends gifts this year, I took part in two gift exchanges: the SantaThing organized by LibraryThing and The Broke and Bookish Secret Santa Exchange. Sometimes these exchanges are the only way I get books for the holidays.  I wouldn't think I'm that hard to shop for when it comes to books, but, then again, maybe there are those who think the last thing I need is more books . . .

My husband is the one person I can count on in my face to face life who will most likely get me a book or two for Christmas each year.  And this year was no different.  He made sure I had a couple of books under the tree.  He knew how much I wanted a print copy of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, which I listened to and loved earlier this year, and was crossing my fingers someone would get me Cold Days by Jim Butcher (even if I'm not quite caught up to the book in the Dresden Files series).  Don't I have the best husband?

My Broke and Bookish Secret Santa is awesome!  She spoiled me this holiday with bookmarks, a Christmas decoration, and, of course, books!  She clearly did her research before shopping for me.  My husband is drooling over The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter, as am I.  It'll be a race to see who gets to read that one first.  Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi Occupied Paris by David King sounds very intriguing--and feeds my interest in all things World War II related.  Ever since I first heard about it, I have been wanting to read The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman. Many thanks to my wonderful Secret Santa Katie

 LibraryThing's Secret Santa exchange is always an interesting one, and I look forward to it each year I have participated.  The members are diverse, and I often get books that are relatively unknown or new to me.  My Secret Santa this year was Mellu from Finland.  I received four e-books that sound right up my alley: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Fated by Benedict Jacka, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  I can't wait to read them!  Thank you, Mellu!

The one who really made out book-wise for Christmas this year was little Mouse.  I didn't do an exact count, but I'm pretty sure she came home with 20 or so books.  She's one lucky girl!

What books did you get for the holidays this year?  Are there any you are particularly looking forward to reading?

© 2012, 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, December 27, 2012

2012 Reading Challenge Wrap Up

Two thousand twelve was a mixed bag for reading challenges.  I tried.  I did better in some than in others, and in my own I had to adjust my expectations.  I had hoped hosting my own challenge would jump start my book blogging, but it proved to be too much too soon given everything I have had to deal with this year.  It's my own fault.  I bit off more than I could chew.  Still, I am extremely grateful to those who took part in the Merely Mystery Challenge. I hope you had fun!  

In my other reading challenges, I did surprisingly better than I thought I would.  My reading had a mind of its own this year and the books I chose to read had little to do with my challenge commitments, and yet somehow, just somehow, I did pretty well considering.

Crime/Mystery Fiction - No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie
Your Favorite Genre - Mystery - A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

I completed the Eclectic Reader Challenge!  I wasn't sure I would make it, but I was able to complete Lolita just in time. The goal of this challenge was to step outside one's comfort zone--which I definitely did.

Although it wasn't part of the challenge per say, I took on more audio books this year, Lolita being one such books, which was a challenge in and of itself.  I'm still not completely sold on the whole audio experience, but it was a start!  Lolita itself was a big step outside my comfort zone.  Not because it is a classic, but because of the subject matter.  I tend to shy away from books that deal with issues of sexual abuse of a child in general.

Another book that took me outside my norm was E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey (and the sequel).  I am not a big romance reader, preferring my romance on the side rather than as the main dish in any book I read.  I don't mind hot and heavy or lots of steam, so it's not that.  It's a matter of taste really (some people like coffee--I don't).  It doesn't mean I won't pick up a romance novel--I know I will.  It may not be my favorite genre, but I know there are good romance novels out there worth reading.  Jane Austen, after all, is one of my favorite authors.

Horror is not a genre I turn to often, although I suppose my forays into the supernatural worlds can sometimes count in that direction.  Still, tackling Stephen King's The Stand this year was huge for me.  I've always found King's work to be extremely readable, but not all of his books appeal to me.  The Stand didn't particularly, although it's one of those books everyone said I had to read.  So I did.

Although I enjoy reading nonfiction occasionally, I tend to avoid reading biographies of celebrities or famous people.  It was really the fault of my book club that I picked up Massie's Catherine the Great earlier this year.  And I'm so glad I did.

At first glance, I was sure The Eclectic Reading Challenge would be a breeze.  I have always read a wide variety of books and am not afraid to try something different--at least not most of the time.  Still, looking back, it wasn't quite as easy as I thought--I really did challenge myself and am coming away from the challenge with some new experiences under my belt.

Many thanks to Shellyrae for hosting The Eclectic Reading Challenge!

I challenged myself to read at least 10 essays this year, which I knocked out at the beginning of the year when I read Between Interruptions: 30 Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood edited by Cori Howard . Although I began the book in 2011, I read the majority of the essays in January of 2012. I also read and reviewed Orwell's essay entitled "Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell.  I attempted to listen to Me Talk Pretty One Day, a collection of essays by David Sedaris, but gave up five essays in.  I confess it was hard to read independent essays (outside of collections), and it was easy to forget to even try after awhile.  I think essay reading is a habit I need to work on . . .

Thanks to Carrie from Books and Movies for hosting this great challenge!

A book with a topographical feature - The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli (According to Wikipedia, a tree counts as a topographical feature.)

A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title - A Trick of the Light by Louise Penney

A book with a creepy crawly in the title - The Case for the Only Child by Susan Newman (Yes, a child does creep and crawl!)

A book with a type of house in the title - An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd (It is a house for dead people--sort of.  And bugs!  Some insects consider graves their home, you know.)

A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Shapeshifter: The Demo Tapes, Year 1 by Susan Helene Gottfried

A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title - Think of a Number by John Verdon

The What's in a Name Challenge is one of my favorite reading challenges.  Books can be read from any genre--the only thing that matters is that it fits an assigned category.  The hostess allows for creativity, which I took full advantage of this year.  As always, I had great fun in completing this year's challenge.

Thank you to Candace from Beth Fish Reads for hosting the What's in a Name Challenge!

I committed to reading two books for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and I read five!

Every time I read a book with a historical element, I let out a sigh of contentment. History has long been an interest of mine and what better way to combine two loves, fiction and history, than by participating in a challenge like this?  I am eternally grateful to the ladies at Historical Tapestry for hosting this challenge again this year.  I had such fun stepping into the past.

My plan was to catch up with two series I love and have fallen behind in: Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries.  Yeah.  Not so much.  I did catch up with Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper series.  That counts for something, right?  Maybe just not this challenge.

Many thanks to Yvonne of Socrate's Book Reviews for hosting this challenge!

The Stephen King Project

Kathleen and Natalie hosted this year's The Stephen King Project and decided to join in the fun.  I signed up for the Novice level, agreeing to read one book by the author.  I ended up joining in the the Stand-along, reading King's  The Stand by Stephen King.  Whew.  I am glad I finally have that one under my belt.  Now to tackle Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace!

A special thanks to Kathleen and Natalie for hosting the The Stephen King Project this year!

My initial goal was to complete the Shamus Who Has Seen It All category, but I knew by September I would be unable to do it.  I did complete the Down on Her Luck category, reading 25 crime fiction novels from the varying subcategories this year. So, while I had to readjust my initial expectations, I feel pretty good about my accomplishment just the same.

A Killer Read by Erika Chase

If anything, this challenge re-ignited my love for all things mystery.  While not every book earned my love, many did.  I am still kicking myself for taking so long to try Louise Penny and Deborah Crombie.  Lisa Lutz was a pleasant surprise and I am finally caught up with Linda Fairstein's series.  Many of the authors I read for this challenge will be ones I visit again in the future.

Overall, I am very satisfied with the progress I made in this year's reading challenges, even if my progress was more of a case of circumstance rather than intention.  Regardless, I went in with the goal of having fun with my reading and that's exactly what I did.  

How did you do with your reading challenges this year?

© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

From Our Family to Yours

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tying Up Loose Ends: Mini Reviews

After seeing the movie, Argo, I just had to know more.  In my search, I came across The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Antonio Mendez with Malcolm McConnell (William Morrow, 2000; Nonfiction, 376 pgs) and my curiosity took the better of me.  I purchased the e-copy and began reading almost right away.  I found The Master of Disguise to be fascinating reading.  Mendez and McConnell write about the evolution of the disguise being used in Intelligence work and Mendez's role in advocating and mastering it.  So much detail and care is put into the disguises--the need to make them passable as realistic being of utmost importance.  People's lives depend on it.  The Cold War was under way when Mendez joined the CIA and he shares his experiences during that time, including his work forging documents during the Vietnam War, his work in the Soviet Union and Tehran.  I especially enjoyed reading about Mendez's time in Moscow in 1976--the KGB was a force to be reckoned with and the obstacles the CIA had to overcome seemed near impossible.  He also goes into the politics and public view of the CIA during a very tumultuous time in the agencies history.  Clearly the book is slanted in a positive light, and Mendez admits up front he wrote the book at a time when the CIA was trying to improve its public image by becoming more open.  Still, I can't help but have a new found respect and awe for the dedication and hard work of the CIA operatives.  Regardless of the political figures pulling the strings and their political agendas, the men and women in the trenches have to be smart, cunning and quick on their toes.  Although at times a slow read, The Master of Disguise is well worth reading.

I am not a big self-help reader.  I generally don't turn to books like that when I have a problem that needs solving or for inspiration.  However, I was encouraged to read Overcoming Postpartum Depression and Anxiety by Linda Sebastian (Atticus, 1998; Nonfiction, 152 pgs) at the time I finally reached out for help for my own depression.  My do-it-yourself-attitude had failed me, and I knew I couldn't go on living the way I was.  Although much of what I read in the book I had found out through my own research or was knowledge I already had, I found the author's words validating and so true to what I was experiencing.  She talked about the treatments out there for PPD--and gave me hope.  I found the book useful in that way. 

I owe Stacy of Stacy's Books a boatload of thanks for sending me her copy of I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile (Chronicle Books, 2007; Nonfiction, 240 pgs).  I wish I'd made time for the book sooner than I did.  I actually started reading it when I first received it, but for some reason set it aside.  When I did pick the book up again, I found so many of the lessons apt to my situation--from the guilt to the too high of expectations to the judgement (both by myself and by others), and perhaps my biggest issue--asking for help when I need it.  Parenthood is hard right from the gate, there is no denying it.  It's just nice to read a book where women admit it--and admit to not being saints.  And, really, sometimes all you can do it laugh about it: the mistakes and the hard times.  This was definitely a good book for taking on some rather difficult issues while at the same time normalizing them, seeing the humor in it all and offering solutions to readjusting one's expectations and thinking.

I wish I could remember where I first heard about Roz Chast's Childproof: Cartoons About Parents and Children (Hyperion Books, 1997; 160 pgs).  I read it several months ago, and so I'm afraid my memory of it is a bit fuzzy.  It was on one of your blogs.  The book takes the reader from infancy to adulthood and features some very funny scenarios.  At the same time, I read The New Yorker Magazine Book of Mom Cartoons (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008; 112 pgs), which I couldn't resist.  Made up of cartoons featured in the magazine The New Yorker over the years, it's quite a collection, sometimes funny and sometimes more serious.  The New Yorker features some of my favorite cartoons.  I just wish I could afford to subscribe to the magazine (and had time to read it!).

© 2012, 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, December 20, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. ~ Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 

Narrated by Jeremy Irons
Random House, 2005
11 hours and 32 minutes

The Synopsis on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, as well as on GoodReads, describe the book in this way: 
Awe and exhilaration—along with heartbreak and mordant wit—abound in Lolita, Nabokov's most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert's obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love—love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.
Now, I am really no good at reviewing the classics.  I am not one to dissect a novel into all its various parts, analyzing every last detail.  Rather, I tend to read a classic as I do any other book, taking in the story, the characters and letting the pieces fall where they may. My reviews are written more from my heart--how a book made me feel and what my general impressions are--how a book affected me.  It is no different with this review.

The above synopsis fits the book, but it wasn't quite the summary of the book I would write.  But then, who would read the book if it was described as being about a man who runs off with his 12 year old stepdaughter after her mother's death, only so he can have his way with her?  There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the bare bones of it.

I nearly gave up on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.  The idea of reading a book about a pedophile, a man who lusts after and rapes a child, was not my idea of pleasure reading.  Still, I wanted to see what the fuss was about. The book is considered a classic and has been quite controversial over the years, appearing on many banned book lists.  I opted for the audio version even though I have a paper copy and am so glad I did.  I think I had a fuller appreciation for the novel as a result.

The book was initially published in Paris in 1955 and three years later in New York. At that time, Orville Prescott of the New York Times wrote of the novel:
"Lolita," then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.
I have to agree with Mr. Prescott on some level, although not in the way he likely meant his words.  Told from the first person perspective of Humbert Humbert, a middle aged literature professor, the novel does in fact have a rather "pretentious, florid and archly fatuous" air about it.  Humbert himself is all those things.  And that is what, in part, makes this novel stand out.  I see it less as a flaw, however, and more of what makes this book what it is.  I would not, however, agree that it is dull, at least not in its entirety. There were sections of the book I found my mind wandering as I listened, particularly when Lolita and Humbert were on the road.  Did I find the book repulsive?  Yes.  I'll give Prescott that.

I was quite impressed with the care and attention to detail Vladimir Nabokov put into the book.  It's beautifully written.  Jeremy Irons, as the narrator of the audio version I listened to, was a perfect choice to play the role of Humbert.  It was such a natural reading of the book that I forget at times I was listening to a book.  I understand he starred in a movie version of the book several years ago.  I haven't yet watched it and am still unsure I want to.  Still, I am curious.

Humbert Humbert, ever the unreliable narrator, was an interesting character to say the least. He isn't the kind of character the reader is meant to like.  He thinks he is witty; he is arrogant and egocentric.  While one minute he was fond of embellishment, the next he would honor honesty.  Humbert came across as reasonable at times but then quite mad at other times. He deluded himself much of the time and, I believe, only later was able to reflect on the truth of the situation and see it for what it was.  I appreciated how nuanced his character was.  In his own convoluted and obsessive way, I do believe he came to love Delores.

Was Lolita a victim or a young seductress?  The nickname Lolita has come mean a young seductress. You hear it in the media and see it referenced throughout modern literature.  Humbert Humbert would have us believe Lolita seduced him.  Having worked professionally with pedophiles who have said the same thing about their victims, some as young as six, I was less inclined to take Humbert's version at face value.  It is very telling too when Delores, near the end of the book, makes a statement about Humbert having broken her life.

I do wish, as the reader, I could have known Delores better.  So much of what I learned about her was through Humbert Humbert's eyes.  She was all at once beautiful and flighty and worldly and innocent.  He romanticized her, painting her as he wanted to see her--and as he probably had convinced himself she was.  It wasn't until one of the chapters near the end which I felt I got a more true glimpse of the girl.  My heart broke for her.  Her youth was snatched away from her and she was forced into a life no child, however young or old, should ever have to live.

What I admire most about the novel is the artistry of the writing and of the story.  I can truly see why Nabokov favored this book so much.  It must have been a challenge to write on many different levels.  My hat goes off to him for making me, in the end, like a book I was sure I would hate, even despite a main character who is pathetic and despicable and a story that made me queasy.

Source: I purchased an audio edition of the book for my reading pleasure. 

Have you read Lolita?  If so, what did you think?

© 2012, 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.