Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam, 2012
Crime Fictionl 384 pgs

If you have been following my blog for any length of time, you know about my interest in World War II fiction. For some reason though, I mostly shy away from mysteries set during that time period (even though I love crime fiction). I did read David Downing’s Zoo Station and liked it. Then there was Tokyo Zero by David Peace, which was . . . interesting.

I had read good things about Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope series and decided to give it a try. Suffice it to say, I am hooked.

Maggie Hope was raised in the United States by her aunt, after her parents were killed in a car crash. When her grandmother died, Maggie traveled to London to see about the sale of her grandmother's Victorian house, putting her graduate degree on hold. Only, Maggie ended up liking London enough to settle in and stay.

In Mr. Churchill's Secretary, Winston Churchill has just been elected as Prime Minister and war is threatening to come to England. Maggie wants nothing more than to help the British fight the Nazis. Her skills in logistics and math cannot compete with the fact that she is a woman, however, in a time where gender matters more than intellect.  Reluctantly, Maggie accepts a position in Churchill’s secretary pool replacing a woman who had been murdered on her way home from work. Soon, Maggie is working directly under Churchill.

I expected a straightforward mystery novel, but what I got was a complex story involving murder, extremists, espionage, and family secrets. There was rarely a dull moment. In fact, about half way through the book everything starts coming together at such a rapid pace, I didn’t want to put the book down. It was like that right up until the end.

I especially liked the setting of the novel and how the author brought it to life. She captured the social climate of the time so well, and slipped in historical details which made the story all the more relevant and interesting. Early on, there was a lot of mixed feelings about the war, especially with the threat of war coming to England directly. Once the first bomb dropped, life completely changed for everyone in the country.  Even despite the rationing, air raids, blackouts and constant fear, the British carried on as best they could. The theater stayed open to give everyone a break from the constant tension.

I adored Maggie. Her tenacity and compassion drew me to her. I loved her spunk and how she stood up for what she believed, including gender equality. And I enjoyed getting to know her roommates and friends, each of whom was well drawn character with his or her own backstories. I look forward to getting to know them better in future books.

If I had a complaint, it would be that the romantic thread in the book was so thin. It makes complete sense, given the time period and culture that there would be such hesitation in acknowledging feelings of interest, but I kept wanting a little more. I think it was just my mood, really.

Anyhow, I bumped this one up on my “To Read” list since I will soon be reading reviewing the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy. I am eager to read it and spend more time with Maggie Hope.

Rating:  * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Susan Elia MacNeal and her books on the author's website.

Source: I purchased an e-copy of this book for my own personal pleasure.

© 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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

October is Coming: Time For Monsters and Banned Books!

What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books. ~Sigmund Freud, 1933

Through reading, we learn about other people, cultures and experiences.  Reading encourages empathy and compassion. We also learn that we are not alone.  We are exposed to ideas we may not encounter in our personal lives, and we are inspired to create our own ideas.  We can learn, we can grow, and we can become better people from the books we read.
The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen. ~Tommy Smothers

We may not always agree with what we read or even each other.  We may be offended or made to feel uncomfortable.  We may become angry or embarrassed.  And that's okay.  A person can choose to avoid certain books because he or she feels they may be offensive or inappropriate or voice a strong opinion about the books. I support 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.  What is not okay, however, is deciding that because a book is offensive to you, no one should read that book.  I respect a person's right not to read particular books.  Now, respect mine to read them.
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]
Sheila of Book Journey is hosting this year's Banned Book Week event, and I am looking forward to participating.  It runs from September 30th to October 6th.  It's amazing the books that end up being challenged or banned, both past and present.  If you are anything like me, hearing a book has been challenged or banned only increases my interest in it.  I am eager to see what other banned or challenged books people are reading next week.

Books I will be reviewing next week:
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Blankets by Craig Thompson
(I will also be reviewing Tina Connolly's Ironskin, but, as far as I know, no one has challenged that particular book.  Yet.)

What banned or challenged book have you read recently?

I seem to miss most read-alongs until they are in full progress.  And it's often books I really want to read too.  So when I first heard Jill, Trish and Ti talking about this year's Dueling Monsters earlier in the month, I nearly scared the neigbors with my shouts of joy that I hadn't missed it.  Now that the event is upon us, I'm wondering how I'll ever fit it in.  I'm determined though.  Where there's a will, there's a way.  So someone once said. 

Which book I will read is a no brainer really.  I read Red Dragon years ago, back when I ate up anything related to Hannibal Lector.  It was an intense book to read.  Hannibal is one of those characters who once you meet you cannot forget.  So, this time around, I figure I might as well read American Psycho.  It's been ages since I saw the movie (and I only vaguely remember it--it didn't make a huge impression on me).  I'm curious to know how Bateman stands up to Lector.

Will you be joining in this year?  What monster are you siding with? 

© 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, September 24, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Sweat by Mark Gilleo

Sweat by Mark Gilleo
Story Plant, 2012 (ISBN-13: 978-1611880519)
Crime Fiction; 366 pgs
It’s been awhile since I last read a political thriller.  This one had a lot going on and quite a few smarmy characters.   
From the Publisher:
When Jake Patrick took a summer internship at his estranged father’s corporation, he anticipated some much-needed extra cash and a couple of free meals from his guilty dad. He would never have guessed that he'd find himself in the center of an international scandal involving a U.S. senator, conspiracy, backroom politics, and murder. Or that his own life would hang in the balance. Or that he’d find help – and much more than that – from a collection of memorable characters operating on all sides of the law. Jake’s summer has turned into the most eventful one of his life. Now he just needs to survive it.
From the sweatshops of Saipan to the most powerful offices in Washington, SWEAT rockets through a story of crime and consequences with lightning pacing, a twisting plot, an unforgettable cast of characters, and wry humor. It is another nonstop thriller from one of the most exciting new voices in suspense fiction.
Mark Gilleo takes his time setting up the story and introducing the characters.  It by no means slowed the story down, however.   If anything, it built a good foundation, especially given everything going on in the novel.   And there was A LOT going on.   I was particularly drawn to the story of Wei Ling, the seamstress in the sweat shop and her plight.  She was being held prisoner against her will and forced to endure terrible circumstances.  I thought the way her fellow seamstresses attempted to come to her aid initially was ingenious and gutsy.

Many of the characters were well developed, the author getting into their heads about why they made the choices they did.  Still, I really wanted to know Jake more—he at times seemed too perfect.  He was the character, however, to which I most identified.  He and Kate, another character I wouldn’t have minded getting to know better.   Jake clearly has a good heart, wanting to do what is right.  Jake’s dad, Peter Winthrop, was a much more complex character.  He’s a person who likes to bend the rules.  I admit I didn’t like him from the start and never really warmed to him.  I’m not sure I was meant to.  Even so, I was fascinated by the man and curious as to the direction his and Jake’s relationship would go.

Which also has me thinking about Lee Chang and his father’s relationship.  The two men, like Jake and his father, seem to have a somewhat estranged relationship.  Lee Chang, being in Saipan, as sort of a punishment for a past failure.  He feels the need to prove his worth –and value to his father.  Jake, on the other hand, never really seemed like someone with something to prove.  He obviously wanted to get to know his father better, learn what kind of man he was, but he had no delusions as to what he would find.  Nor did he seem all that surprised. 

The conditions in the sweatshop in Saipan were quite different from the lifestyle led by those pulling the strings, both in Saipan, China and Washington D.C.  It was hard to feel sorry for the blackmailed Senator Day given his actions and attitude.  If anything I felt bad for his wife and unborn child.

The author has a gift for storytelling and bringing multiple story lines together.  The tension increased as the novel went on, really taking off during second half of the novel.  I found Sweat to be an entertaining read overall.  I really hope the author explores Kate and Jake’s relationship further in a future book, as well as Kate’s family. I see a lot of potential there, especially since it seems as if there is more to the Sorrentinos than first meets the eye.

Rating: * (Good +)

To learn more about Mark Gilleo and his books, please visit the author's website.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about Sweat on the Partners in Crime Tour route!

Many thanks to the Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour. E-copy of Sweat provided by publisher.

© 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, September 20, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: A Fresh Set of Eyes by Liz Strange

A Fresh Set of Eyes by Liz Strange
MLR Press, 2012
Crime Fiction; 269 pgs
I first met Private Investigator David Lloyd last spring when I read Missing Daughter, Shattered Family.  I appreciated the old school mystery feel of the novel—a detective hitting the pavement in search of answers as he tried to track down a missing woman.  I took an instant liking to David who is not only smart and tenacious but fair and level headed as well.
In A Fresh Set of Eyes, having just recovered from his injuries during his last big case, David is hired by a mother to prove her son and his friend are innocent of murder.  The two had been convicted for the murder of two young boys and had already spent 10 years of their lives in prison as a result.  The case against them had been extremely flimsy from the get go, but anxiety and fear to put someone behind bars rushed the trial and got a conviction.  David has very little to go on initially, but he believes in the young men's innocence and refuses to give up.
On the home front, David’s partner, Jamie, is still dealing with the ramifications of coming out to his family, particularly his father who is less than accepting.  Having gone through that with his own father, David understands how difficult it must be for Jamie. In addition, Jamie and David have taken a young woman under their wings, a former prostitute, who is working through her own issues. She can be quite a handful, but David is determined to help her.
I like the way the author portrays David and his partner’s relationship as well as their struggles.  It’s very natural and realistic.  You don’t often come across a mystery novel where the protagonist is gay, and I find it refreshing.  David and Jamie’s relation is one of the highlights of the novels, their very different personalities and areas of expertise playing well off each other.  It’s obvious the two men love each other very much.  
The personal story never overshadows the actual mystery. Rather, it compliments it.  Especially given how David enlists the help of his family and friends to help him with the investigation, always conscious of their safety.  Like with her first book, Liz Strange puts David through the expected motions of a more realistic P.I. as he canvases the neighborhood, conducts interviews , does a lot of research, and calls in favors of friends on the force.  It’s a traditional mystery in every sense.  And I love that about the book.
The crime itself was inspired by a the case of the West Memphis Three, three men who were wrongly convicted of killing three boys.  Liz Strange uses many of the details of that crime in her own story of the murder of two brothers, but adds her own spin to it--and twists. 
I was able to fit the pieces of the mystery puzzle together a little quicker than David, but that didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the novel.  And even so, there was still a surprise or two up Liz Strange’s sleeve.  In summary, Liz Strange has impressed me yet again, and I hope I’ll have many more opportunities to visit with David and friends.  

Rating:  * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Liz Strange and her books on the author's website.

Source: E-copy of the book provided by the author for review.

© 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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Helping Bring the Cat Back In

Hosted by Wordless Wednesday

© 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.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Housekeeping & Random Stuff

1. I am going back to using my rating system. I miss it. I find it helpful for personal reasons. And frankly, I don't care who thinks a three is a bad rating.  I purposefully built my bias into my rating system.  It isn't all that different from Bookmarks Magazine's rating system.  I tend to skew high—I pick books I will likely enjoy—and so a three is “good”.  That means I liked it.  Maybe I didn't love it, but that's okay.  I liked it. 

2. My take on the controversy – Which one you ask?  Not the one about paid for positive reviews, not the blogger vs. librarian mess, and certainly not ones involving negative reviews.  No, I'm talking  about a more pressing and important issue.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Peanut butter should be spread on each slice of bread before the jelly is added. The jam or jelly should be added lightly to just one slice of bread. No pickles or avocados. Whoever it was who suggested honey be added too—thank you! Of course, honey and peanut butter sandwiches by themselves are the best. Just remember to go heavy on the peanut butter and honey.

3. Mouse can count to six.  She can count to ten if you overlook the fact that she skips seven and eight.

5. My husband let Mouse watch an episode of Dora and now my daughter craves Dora.  It's Dora and Boots this.  Dora and Boots that.  She gets mad when we won't let her watch Dora whenever she wants.  I've become one of those parents who tells my daughter, "Dora is going to bed too . . . Dora is at school . . . Dora is spending time with her family . . ." All in an effort to explain why she can't watch Dora right now.  At least she hasn't asked us for a pet monkey.  Yet.

4. Oh, and one other item. I am looking for readers interested in writing a guest post. I have a project in mind, but am gauging for interest before deciding whether to go forward with it. I am also interested in including authors in this. Something related to reading and childhood—either your own or in relation to your children/a child in your life.  Please let me know if you’d be interested in taking part and I’ll e-mail you with the details once I iron them out.

That’s all.

© 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, September 17, 2012

Monday Reading

Weekly meme where we discuss the books you've read
and those you plan to read in the coming week.

After the fun and exciting Book Blogger Appreciation Week last week, a vacation and being sick, I have a lot of catching up to do at the office and around the house.  It hasn't stopped me from reading though.

I am back on a mystery kick again!  After reading Tatjana Soli's The Forgetting Tree, I decided to "lighten" things up with a political thriller called Sweat by Mark Gilleo that took me from Washington D.C. to Saipan.  Over the weekend I squeezed in the second novel in Liz Strange's David Lloyd, P.I. series, A Fresh Set of Eyes.  I hadn't expected to finish it so fast, but once I started reading, it was hard to put down.  My lunch time book this week is Susan Elia MacNeal's Winston Churchill's Secretary, a cozy mystery set in England at the start of World War II.  I am already a big fan of the main character, Maggie Hope.  I haven't settled on a second book yet.  I am feeling like I might want to stick to one book at the moment.

What are you reading this week?

© 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, September 14, 2012

BBAW: Highlights

I am really excited about Book Blogger Appreciation Week this week and had a great time visiting old and new-to-me blogs.  I met some interesting people—including my fabulous interview partner, Amanda.  It is events like BBAW which bring bloggers together and help foster that community aspect I love so much.   It also has re-inspired me, reminding me what it is about blogging I love so much.

Posts like Andi's and Carrie's particularly struck a chord with me.  They're stories could be mine.  As a veteran (six years doesn't really seem like a lot to me though) book blogger, I have seen big and small changes in blogging over the years--and made some myself.  And yet some things remain the same: the joy in reading and sharing about the books we read in particular.  

My favorite day in celebration of BBAW was day four, when participants got the chance to "pimp" those unappreciated books.  It was impossible not to get caught up in the moment--the enthusiasm was overflowing, not to mention contagious.  If you are anything like me, your wish list grew by leaps and bounds.  Heck, I didn't even pause after reading Memory's post about Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja. I bought the book on the spot.  And then after reading Adam's praise of the book too . . . Well, I know I made a good choice.  There were many other books that caught my eye that day.  Some I already own and have read.  Others I have yet to read but have copies of (and now want to drop everything and read--but how to manage that since there's so many?!). 

The interviews are always a blast, getting to know our fellow bloggers better.  I wasn't able to get to everyone's interviews this week, but I will still make an effort to try in the coming weeks.  The links will be there for a long while.  
BBAW opened this year with the opportunity for participants to give shout outs to some of their favorite blogs.  It's never easy to do, is it?  We hate to leave anyone out, but we inevitably do.  Any show of appreciation is worthwhile though--and when the person you recognize sees their name--well, it's smiles all around (and sometimes a few tears too).  There's something very rewarding in that.

I understand there were giveaways, none of which I really took part in, and some great articles on the  BBAW website.  I especially liked Hannah and Amy's retrospective about BBAW and Sheila's article about Book Blogging and Community.
I like that the book blogging community is so varied and diverse in our styles, focus, and just in who we are.  I think we each provide something valuable to the community.
What has this week meant for me?  It has been a reaffirmation of who I am as a blogger and why I continue to blog about books.  It has been a great week.  One whose spirit I hope will stay with me for another year at least.
What have you taken away from BBAW this year?  What part did you enjoy the most?

A special thanks to the hosts of BBAW who worked hard to pull this week together and make it fun for everyone. 

© 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, September 13, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
St. Martin's Press, 2012
Fiction; 416 pgs

I have put off writing this review for days now, unsure about what to say or even how to start. Tatjana Soli's writing is exquisite. Imagine sitting comfortably in a boat on a calm lake, drifting freely. When I sat down to read her book, I lost all sense of time and place--I was transported into the pages and onto a citrus farm in Southern California.

It is near impossible to describe this book.  I hadn't read anything about it before going into it.  Having read and loved the author's book, The Lotus Eaters, two years ago, I knew I had to read The Forgetting Tree as soon as it came out.   What little I did know about the book was that it would be an emotional read.  I just didn'r realize how much so.  Per the author's website:
When Claire Nagy marries Forster Baumsarg, the only son of prominent California citrus ranchers, she knows she's consenting to a life of hard work, long days, and worry-fraught nights. But her love for Forster is so strong, she turns away from her literary education and embraces the life of the ranch, succumbing to its intoxicating rhythms and bounty until her love of the land becomes a part of her. Not even the tragic, senseless death of her son Joshua at kidnappers' hands, her alienation from her two daughters, or the dissolution of her once-devoted marriage can pull her from the ranch she's devoted her life to preserving.

But despite having survived the most terrible of tragedies, Claire is about to face her greatest struggle: An illness that threatens not only to rip her from her land but take her very life. And she's chosen a caregiver, the enigmatic Caribbean-born Minna, who may just be the darkest force of all.

Haunting, tough, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree explores the intimate ties we have to one another, the deepest fears we keep to ourselves, and the calling of the land that ties every one of us together.
Having grown up in California most of my life, it isn't too hard to imagine the place Soli writes about. I imagine my husband would have an even better picture of it--his grandparents having orchards of their own at one time. The land can be bountiful and beautiful and yet harsh just the same.   I can see why Claire would be attracted to the life she chose.  And I could relate to Claire's desire to put down roots, to settle down in one place and make it more than just a home.  After the death of her son, the land took on a different meaning--its hold on her even stronger. For others in her family, it had the opposite effect, causing them to want to get away.  Tragedy affects us all in different ways.  Tatjana Soli captures that well in her novel. 

One of the elements that touched me the most was Claire's relationship with her daughters, particularly after she was diagnosed with cancer. The physical distance between them--as well as the emotional. It made me long for my own mother and wish I didn't live so far away from her.  In some ways, I could relate to Claire's daughter Gwen, busy with her own life--and it made me sad.

I thought I knew what book I was reading, but then Minna walked into the picture and everything changed.  I felt the lure of her just as surely as Claire did, mesmerized by her story--her character.  Not quite sure if she was exactly who she said she was, knowing she had her secrets and wondering how that would play out.  The author was so subtle in her approach to this particular part of the book.  Minna and Claire--their relationship, Claire's illness--I was witnessing first hand as their story unfolded.  Scared, sad, angry, and confused. I felt what the characters were feeling.

Soli has a way of getting to the heart of the matter, bringing her characters deepest emotions and darkest secrets to the surface. They are often raw and heart wrenching. It was no different in The Forgetting Tree. I wasn't sure I would be able to get far in the book initially, the sadness in the book soaking into my pores. I'm not exactly in a place right now where reading sad books is such a good idea.

And yet . . . And yet the beauty of the writing. The characters. I couldn't put the book down. I wanted to--needed to--know more. Claire is such an interesting character. There is no simple way to describe her. Just as there is no easy way to describe dear Minna, whose own story is heartbreaking and powerful.  The climax of the novel itself was powerful and moving.  

Least you think the book was all sadness, it wasn't.  There was an undercurrent of hope and strength that shined through now and then.  And in the end.

I walked away from this book not sure how I felt about it. Did I like it? I knew I loved the writing. The story left me in a thoughtful place for several days after I finished it. And really, until sitting down to write this review, I still wasn't sure.  The Forgetting Tree moved me and was another reminder of why I love reading so much.

To learn more about Tatjana Soli and her books, please visit the author's website.

I hope you will check out what others had to say about The Forgetting Tree on the TLC Book Tours route!

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

© 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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BBAW: What Book Blogging Means to Me

I wish I had a better memory of when that spark of passion for reading first was lit. I have long said it began before I was born. My father was an avid reader and collector of books. There wasn’t a room in our house growing up that didn’t have either books on shelves or stacked on a table somewhere. My mom, also a reader, contributed to that too. I came to being a reader naturally, my love for books and stories never ending. It has colored every aspect of my life, including bringing my husband into my life all those 21 years ago.

On an average Wednesday, around lunch time, you will find me hidden away in a private office, munching on my sandwich, reading. At least, that’s where you will find my body. My mind is miles away—sometimes worlds away--lost in a book. Reading is one of those activities that can fit just about any of my moods. I read to learn, to be inspired, to grow, and to experience places and events I might never know otherwise. I read to escape, to feel, and to be entertained.

Reading is such a private affair—it’s just the book and the reader. We each come away from the books we read having very individual experiences. Still, as personal as that journey is to me, I can’t help but want to share it with others—and find out what others have experienced while reading as well.

Besides reading, I enjoy writing. I do not put the effort I used to in my writing, and for that I am sad. Blogging has given me an outlet for writing, at least in part. I’ve long kept a journal of the books I read, more to help jog my memory than anything else. The desire to share the reading experience with others made blogging seem like the obvious next step.

When I began book blogging six years ago, I had no idea just how much of a community there was out there. Suddenly I found myself among likeminded people—people with a passion for books and writing—for talking about those books and other bookish tidbits. While we share in our love for books, our experiences with those books can vary widely. It gives me the chance to hear a different perspective, think a little differently, and branch out to try something new. I felt—then and now--instantly at home. And to me, that’s what book blogging is about: feeling at home amongst friends, sharing opinions and stories, and, most importantly, enjoying good books.

What does book blogging mean to you?

A special thanks to the hosts of BBAW who worked hard to pull this week together and make it fun for everyone. 

© 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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BBAW Interview: Introducing Maestra Amanda!

It was serendipity that my interview partner for this year's Book Blogger Appreciation Week is Amanda of Maestra Amanda's Bookshelf.  With a budding reader in the house, I've been eager to find a good book blog that highlights children's books.  Amanda does just that.  She's not only a great resource for children's through young adult books, she's also an interesting person!  She's also one of the reasons I love book blogging so much.  Her enthusiasm about books and literacy is contagious.  Go!  Visit her blog now.  Or rather, wait until after you read my interview with her.

Please welcome Amanda to Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Please tell us a little about your blog! Why did you start blogging and how did you choose your blog's name?

My blog started about 18 months ago (January, 2011). At the time, it was called "That Book Lady's Blog", but it just didn't feel right. So about a month later, after I had thought about WHY I had started blogging (to become more knowledgeable about children's-ya books), I decided to switch to "Maestra Amanda's Bookshelf" (Maestra Amanda is what my former pre-k students called me).

Funnily enough, this past summer, I was talking to a friend about books, and he started talking about GAME OF THRONES and the maesters (the really smart, educated, advisors). He thought I had named it after that, but "Maestra" is "teacher" in Spanish, which is what all my students (past and present) speak. But, like I said, I started blogging because I wanted to become more knowledgeable about books my students were/should be reading, and then it expanded in both directions to picture books and young adult.

 Who are some of the bloggers who you look up to/admire and why?

Some of my favorite bloggers are Danielle from There's a Book, John Schu from Mr. Schu Reads, Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts and Donalyn Miller aka "The Book Whisperer". They have never steered me wrong about a book. In fact, if they recommend a book, I've learned to just go read it and enjoy myself. Of the books that I have listed down below in my "favorite reads of the year", they recommended 3 (well, 2 books and 1 trilogy). 

And not only do they know their picture books to YA, but they are just so great to talk to on twitter. They are all super nice. 

 And of course, I look up to all the Nerdy Book Club bloggers---teachers, librarians, readers. Every member knows their stuff!  

What do you find most challenging about blogging? What do you enjoy the most?

The most challenging thing, I think would be to remember to keep creating content! I have a hard time remembering to post about a book I read and enjoyed. I usually just go on to the next one! Which is probably why you'll see on my "Books Read" tab that I have read a lot more than I've blogged about! 

What I enjoy the most is interacting with other readers. I don't care if you're a teacher, librarian, mom, reader or whatever, if you are enthusiastic about books, then you're totally cool in my book ;)

What about the person behind the blog? What do you do in your free time?

In my other life, I'm a teacher. I teach grades 3-5 English Language Learners. I enjoy baking, taking photographs, traveling and flowboarding (which is surfing and bodyboarding on a manmade wave---but our wave is broken, so I haven't been in a really long time!) I love technology---and would really like to start checking out more bookish apps.  

What are some of your favorite books you have read so far this year?

I think my most favorite book of the year was Wonder by RJ Palacio. That being said, I also really enjoyed Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer), the Chaos Walking trilogy (Patrick Ness), and The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate).  

Share five random facts about you. Don't be shy!

5. I've been off caffine of all kinds (coffee, tea, soda) for 9 weeks. No, I am not pregnant :) It just wasn't having an affect on me anymore, and I figured I didn't need the empty calories. Its been really hard finding a suitable drinking alternative. A girl can only drink so much lemonade.

4. I eat one item of food on my plate at a time before I move on to the next. I don't like it when my food touches.

3. If I'm not reading, I'm probably pinning. I'm ADDICTED to Pinterest!

2. I'm making a blanket on my Nifty Knitter knitting loom.

1. I don't like reading "the classics" and have never gotten through the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice. I just can't get into it, even though I've tried several times. I'm sure its a wonderful book, but I'm also sure I can get the same theme and ideas out of something more interesting (sorry classics lovers).

You can read Amanda's interview with me over at  Maestra Amanda's Bookshelf, but more importantly, check out Amanda's blog!

A special thanks to the hosts of BBAW who worked hard to pull this week together and make it fun for everyone.  

© 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.

One Year Anniversary

It is a day of remembrances. For me one stands out most of all. 

I love you, Dad. 

January 30, 1943 - September 11, 2011 

© 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, September 10, 2012

BBAW: A Big Thank You

It is that time of year again: Book Blogger Appreciation Week!   I would like to start off by saying welcome. Whether you are visiting for the first time or dropping in for a return visit, I am always glad for the company. Book blogging is very much about community for me, and so this week is especially close to my heart. It’s a chance for me to say thank you to my fellow book blogging buddies and share in the joy of book blogging.

I am especially grateful to those who have stuck by me through my ups and downs the past couple of years. I haven’t been the most consistent blogger, and yet they are always here to offer support and say hi. Among them include Heather aka Zibilee (Raging Bibliomania), Sandy (You’ve GOTTA Read This!), Carrie (Books & Movies), Stacy (Stacy’s Books), Trish (Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity), Susan (You Can Never Have Two Many Books), Kay (Purple Sage & Scorpions, Staci (Life in the Thumb), Caspette (The Narrative Casuality), and Kelly (The Written World). All wonderful bloggers with blogs you MUST check out if you haven’t already. They not only have great taste in books, but they are my examples, who I look up to, and I count them among my friends.

I also want to highlight five blogs (and bloggers) who are worthy of your attention (and my appreciation). I don’t think I have let these bloggers know how much I enjoy their blogs—which is a shame, since they deserve kudos for their hard work and ability to make me feel right at home when I drop in for a visit.

Marg, The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, whose love for historical fiction inspires me and feeds my craving to read more.

Jennifer, The Relentless Reader , who is honest, smart, and funny. Need I say more?

Lisa of Lit & Life who never fails to bring new books to my attention that I must read. Plus, she’s just that awesome.

Sally from Books and Musings from Down Under because if Sally likes a book and recommends it, it’s almost a sure bet I will enjoy it too. I think of Sally as my mystery go to person, but she reads a wide variety of books.

Samantha from Booked on a Feeling who never fails to make sure I have a long list of guilty pleasure reading choices on my TBR pile. She’s a great mom and an all-around nice person.
I wish I could mention every blog listed in my Google Reader because each one has a lot to offer.  Book blogging is time consuming.  You read the books, write the reviews, come up with ideas for other types of posts, pull them all together, and post them on your blogs.  And it doesn't end there!  There are comments to respond to and other blogs to visit.  All this going on in between other of life's events.  Blogging is something we each do because we want to--your passion and thoughtfulness shines through every day.  Thank you to all the book bloggers out there for making the book blogging community what it is today.  And thank you for all the blog readers, whether you have a blog or not, for continuing to read and join in this journey with me.

A special thanks to the hosts of BBAW who worked hard to pull this week together and make it fun for everyone. 

© 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, September 09, 2012

A Letter to My Daughter as She Turns 18 Months Old

Dear Mouse,

I woke up this morning, your face in mine. “Mommy. Mommy,” you called, a big smile spreading across your face when you saw my eyes open. “Morning,” you said, giving me a kiss. The perfect start to a new day, and the best birthday present a mom can ask for.

Today you are officially 18 months old. Just six months ago, we were celebrating your 1st birthday. In those six months so much has changed. You have changed. You are no longer a baby, but a little girl. I didn’t think I could love you more, but I do. You warm my heart every day with your smile and laughter. You have such a good heart and spirit.

Your vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. I can’t tell you how surprised I was when you pointed to my radio clock and asked me to turn it on by saying, “Sound.” You eagerly bring your dad and I books to read, sometimes wanting to “read” them yourself. I love that I can identify more of your words, particularly the ones that aren’t so clear.  You are better able to articulate your needs and are understanding so much more.

You sometimes get frustrated when you can’t have your way—or we don’t understand what you want. I know it can't be easy. Your dad and I try our best. Sometimes we can’t give you what you want, and I know that’s hard. It’s one of those lessons in life we all learn—and struggle with.

You sure do know how to throw a tantrum! Often falling to the floor, kicking your legs, screaming as if the world is ending. Sometimes it breaks my heart to see you so upset. But, I confess, sometimes it makes me smile. You are cute even when upset. And I love you just the same. One good thing though is that your tantrums rarely last long—unless you are extra tired. You are so good natured, never staying mad long.

You understand fairness and like to share (except maybe when it comes to going down the water slide at Mrs. C’s), whether it is food, toys or kisses and hugs. How many times have I seen you give up a doll or ball so someone else can have a turn even before your turn is over? So maybe you aren’t so willing to give up your teeter totter spot, but, hey, the teeter totter is so much fun! And what of those times you shared your snack or food with your dad or me, whether pretend food you’ve prepared or actual snacks we give you? Even when we don’t ask.

I love how, when one of your friends gets in trouble for something he or she has done to you, you are the first one to reach out and give that child a hug. Then the other day Maya was crying because she had to leave and you went over to her and patted her back before giving her a big hug.

Some of my favorite moments with you are when you run and throw yourself at me for a hug, do the same to your father and then come running back again for another hug from me--on and on it goes.  It never grows old. Then there are those times you make your father and I run around the table after you by saying, “Run! Run!” until we aren’t sure who is supposed to be chasing who (sometimes Riley, our dog, joins in too).  Or when you insist on blowing your own bubbles. And how fun are the peek-a-boo games and the dinosaur games where you say in the softest and sweetest voice, “Roar!” I treasure each of these moments with you.

I love seeing you care for your dolls, shushing them as you lay them down and covering them with a blanket (or a napkin—whatever you have handy), or pushing your train or police car across the furniture, walls and floor saying, “Choo choo”. You’re quite taken with your Duplo Legos, able to build towers and match like pieces together. Your father is so proud. Of course, so am I.

Bath time is rarely dull. We blow the bubbles off our hands and you now insist on washing yourself and sometimes me, whether it is with your body paints or the soap from the dispenser.  You love to splash water outside of the tub, even though daddy says no. You no longer cry when I wash you hair. You love the water so much! Maybe that’s why you’ve taken to your swim lessons so well. From the grin on your face, I think you love jumping into the water best.

How surprised I was when you wanted to start potty training a couple of months ago—and how quickly you’ve taken to it. Admittedly, your interest seems to have waned recently, but you’ve given your dad and I hope that maybe it won’t be as hard as we thought it might be. Maybe. We’re taking it slow, either way. There’s still time, and I believe in doing things as naturally as possible.

I love cuddling in bed at night or waking up with you in the mornings. You sleep in your own bed most nights, but often you still end up in dad’s and mine in the morning. Some would say it’s a bad habit, one that will be hard to break—I’m sure they are right—but for now it seems like just where we should be.

Your favorite food is pasta. You love ice pops (“ice pocks”), particularly the blue ones. You enjoy coloring—and eating the crayons. You love to dance. Your favorite song is "Camptown Races" (wouldn’t you know it, a song about gambling, horse racing, no less). I love it when you sing along. When we walk to the mailbox each evening, you make us go a little farther so you can sit us down in front of the "big green box" and clap while you sing to us. You like to feed the cats and dog (have even eaten their food) and play with Riley (“Ri-eey”). You still “torture” the cats. And yet they come to you for pets and love, just the same. I think they know you are still learning—and you have gotten better with the gentle touches and pets.

Your curiosity is endless and sometimes can be fearless, especially when you know I am there. I try to give you the freedom you need to explore and take risks while making sure you are safe. While you may be quick to try to run into the street (never failing to scare your mother half to death), you are shy of strangers or people you do not know well. You especially love being with other children, but even then, you take your time, considering, before you warm up and want to play. Unless, of course, they are well known to you. Your friends bring you such joy—I see it on your face and in your behavior, the extra sparkle in your eye and the squeal of delight you can’t contain.

I have been given a lot of parenting advice over the past year and a half. The one bit that has stuck out most for me is to follow my instinct, and that is what I try to do.  I have made plenty of mistakes, but my love for you never wavers. Being a parent is not easy, and yet you make it all worthwhile. Even on the more difficult days, you never fail to make me smile. I cannot begin to tell you how much you mean to me—how glad I am to have you in my life.

Happy half-birthday, my Sweets.

I love you now and for always,
Your Mom

© 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, September 06, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: Amy Plum's Revenant Trilogy (Books 1 & 2)

Ah, young love . . . Such intensity! Such romance! What if you were a teenager, barely living, grieving the loss of your parents in a terrible accident, and you find yourself falling for a handsome young man—only, he isn’t really so young? What if it turns out he has a secret? He’s immortal, a Revenant. He saves lives, sometimes dying in their place, only to be reborn again at the same age as his initial death. Would you pursue the love or turn on your heels and run, not able to stomach another death of a loved one, even knowing it is likely temporary?

Kate finds herself in exactly that predicament. Having left her home in the U.S. after her parents’ death, she and her sister try to rebuild their lives in Paris with their grandparents. At first, Kate cannot believe someone like Vincent could be interested in her—he’s charming and good looking. She’s, well, she doesn’t think too much of herself. Her older sister is the gorgeous one, the one boys gravitate towards. Kate is more of an introvert, books and museums being her escape. Her sister, Georgia, is gregarious and loves the party scene. Despite their differences, the two sisters are close. Besides their grandparents, they are all they have left.

In Die for Me by Amy Plum (HarperTeen, 2011; Fantasy, 352 pgs), the reader is introduced to the characters, getting to know both Kate and Vincent as well as their friends and family. Kate is overwhelmed by this new world she finds herself in—and in danger. The Revenants have a deadly enemy—one that is the same as them only the opposite. Immortals who kill humans instead of saving them. The two sides are constantly fighting, each trying to take the upper hand.

Amy Plum's Until I Die (HarperTeen, 2012; Fantasy, 368 pgs) takes the story further. Kate and Vincent want to be together, only both know that Kate is reluctant. They each set off on their own to try to find a way to make that happen—to either turn Vincent human or make it easier for him to fight the compulsion to die repeatedly while saving lives. Meanwhile, the Revenants are on age, sure their enemy, the Numa, are planning for a big attack. No one is safe and everyone’s lives are in danger, including that of the immortals.

It is an interesting twist to a traditional story—a new take on it really. Amy Plum has created characters that are easy to care for, even if they seem straight out of a CW television show. Kate is such a typical teenager—in her mannerisms, thought processes, and worries. The author did a good job of capturing the essence of a teenaged girl, I thought, at least one type of teenaged girl. Kate is na├»ve and innocent in many ways, but also strong willed and smart. Vincent at times seems too good to be true—but he sure is dreamy.

I have never been smitten with Paris the way some are, but the author certainly has me reconsidering. I loved her descriptions of Paris, how romantic she made it sound.

Amy Plum spent quite a bit of time in the first book explaining (through dialogue) the world she was creating. I was reminded of Archon by Sabrina Benulis, a book I read earlier in the year, in which I felt the author spent too little time setting up her world for the reader. My preference would be for something in between the two books—one had a bit too much and the other not enough. Although, in both cases, I eventually was carried away by the stories and the worlds created.

As a result, I enjoyed the second book in the Revenant series more than the first—all that explaining already out of the way. Don’t get me wrong. The first book was still good. In both books, there was plenty of romance and teen angst, action and self-discovery. I hated the ending of the second book, if only because I have to wait now for the third book. I blame Marg who recommended the books in the first place. And the author who clearly wanted to torture her readers.

I admit I am not a huge Young Adult fiction fan (although I like what I've read well enough), and so my experience reading this category of books is rather limited. Reading the books, it’s clear the intended audience is younger, although I still enjoyed them and look forward to reading the next book. Okay, so I can’t wait to read the next book, Hurry up, Ms. Plum!

To learn more about the author and her books, please check out the author's website.

Source: I purchased e-copies of both books.

© 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, September 01, 2012

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge 2012 September/October Reviews

If you haven't already, please sign up for the Merely Mystery Challenge here!

One of my favorite parts of challenges is supporting and cheering on my fellow participants--not to mention all the great new-to-me book recommendations I come across! Please leave direct links to your September/October review posts for qualifying reviews for the challenge here. Participants without blogs can post reviews on general review sites such as LibraryThing, Goodreads or Shelfari. And if you have the time, stop by and check out some of your fellow participants reviews as well! I am sure they would love to hear from you!

Please include your name or blog name along with the title of the book you reviewed as well as a direct link to your review post (not just a general link to your blog). Thank you!

© 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.