Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday Malarkey

When I look at the stack of books I acquired, this week, I feel like one of those characters in a movie who has done something terrible and shouts (as he's being handcuffed), "I can explain!" All of this week's acquisitions were purchased. I'll tell you why there are so many, in a bit.



Recent arrivals (top to bottom):


  • Caesar's Vast Ghost by Lawrence Durrell
  • Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert
  • In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
  • L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras
  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  • The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards
  • Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymore, an Introduction by J. S. Salinger
  • Emily L. by Marguerite Duras
  • Summer Crossing by Truman Capote
  • The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
  • Wildlife by Richard Ford 
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
  • The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
  • Some Horses by Thomas McGuane
  • The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley
  • War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator by John MacGavock Grider, Ed. by E. W. Springs
  • The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino


OK, so why the huge stack? Our local secondhand bookstore (the only bookstore within 30 miles, actually), Pentimento Books, is going out of business. Normally, I seldom go there because they're a bit pricey but at 50% off the prices were reasonable. I decided to focus on books that are either classics or by well-known authors I've enjoyed (I often like their less famous books better), authors I've had on my mental radar but not gotten around to, and WWII.

The WWII pile is not shown, apart from War Birds, because it's doubly embarrassing. I bought Churchill's entire history of WWII in one volume and The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, along with a very thick "Armed Services Edition" of a History of WWII. A couple of the books in that stack are just random titles that piqued my interest. The Go-Between just sounded fun and I've got one book by Lawrence Durrell, so I bought it a friend. Not pictured is a book I've already read, If This Isn't Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a book of speeches which I probably will not recommend, although there are bits of wisdom between its covers. It made me want to read more Vonnegut, so I ordered a couple Vonnegut books and they'll show up in next week's arrivals.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Braving the Wilderness by BrenĂ© Brown
  • The Dry by Jane Harper
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (ebook)
  • If This Isn't Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut

Huh. Now that I look back, I can see that I didn't like much of what I finished last week. The Dry is excellent, but Milk and Honey didn't do a thing for me and If This Isn't Nice, What Is? was a bit on the repetitious side. Braving the Wilderness is a book that I sometimes enjoyed and sometimes found a yawn because I honestly could not entirely discern its purpose. But, I'll tell you more about that when I review it. I'll probably do a single post with mini reviews of those three.


Posts since last Malarkey:




Not a big posting week, unsurprisingly after the heavy posting of the week before.


Currently reading:


  • A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole
  • The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes


Oy. I can't say I'm in love with any of these books, either. A Nest for Celeste is lovely to look at and has its charming moments but it can also be brutal (the mouse watches a rat get killed by the cat of the house, a bunch of people shoot "thousands" of passenger pigeons out of the sky, and then the famous illustrator, Audubon, shoots an ivory-billed woodpecker and lets it slowly die before pinning it up to illustrate). It's harsh, to say the least. The Radium Girls (bought for discussion) is deeply sad because it's the true story of a company hiding the fact that their painting process was causing the slow, torturous poisoning deaths of its former employees -- the reason for all those "burdensome" regulations on corporations in a nutshell. And, Flowers for Algernon is also sad. But, I really want to finish it because I want to get back to reading a classic per month. I'll definitely need to find something a bit more upbeat to read after all this.

No other news, today. It wasn't a particularly eventful week, apart from visits to the bookstore that's going out of business and my very first Paint Night with a friend. We painted a snowman with sand mixed into the paint to give the snow texture and glitter spinkled on top of the snowman's body. Fun!

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fiona Friday - Princess Izzy

No human fingers were damaged in the making of this image (thank goodness). You can tell she was thinking about getting back at me, though.


©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe by K. Howes and V. Fabbretti



Magnolia Mudd looks forward to Fridays because on Friday her uncle Jamie comes over to invent with her. Uncle Jamie is different than most adults. He's all about the science.

He says, "We can make it go higher!" and
"A little electricity never hurt anyone." 

Magnolia's favorite invention is the Super Jumptastic Rocket Launcher Deluxe, which runs on "Mudd Power" (a human jumping on an air pad to launch the rocket). It needs a bit of work and Magnolia's looking forward to getting help from Uncle Jamie. But, then he announces that it will have to wait because he's bringing over someone called Miss Emily. Uncle Jamie is getting married. And, he wants Magnolia to be their flower girl.

Uck, the last thing Magnolia wants to do is be a flower girl. How boring. Magnolia asks if she can do something different. Maybe something involving Mudd Power? She tries a number of inventions, none of which are quite right. But, then she comes up with a plan and enlists Emily's help. On the day of the wedding, her Dual-Directional Super-Jumptastic Flower Launcher Deluxe is a hit. Actually, it's a bit of a knock-out for the mailman who gets a bouquet of flowers in his face.

Highly recommended - There's only one minor thing I disliked about Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe and that's the cartoonish illustrations. However, that's simply a taste issue and the storyline - a young inventor kicking science butt - is the kind of girl power book I doubly appreciate now that I have a granddaughter, so it gets my highest recommendation.

Side note: I am loving the girl power trend in picture books. When I think back on my childhood favorite stories, I realize that all of them had heroines who were special in some way - bold, imaginative, gifted with some unusual power. But, I don't recall any of the picture books I loved being female-centric. This is a terrific trend. I've added a "girl power" category to my labels and will add it to some of my older reviews and any real stand-outs I review in the future.


©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is, as I may have already mentioned, a book I resisted reading because I tend to dislike a Russian setting. I don't know why that is and I do, at times, manage to overcome my resistance but it's a strong one. A selection for discussion in my F2F group, the book was only available in hardback (another thing I try to avoid) so I just decided not to buy it. And, then I missed the meeting. When I was told that the book is "delightful" I was kind of surprised. That was not a word I expected. What did I expect? Oh, probably a lot of dark, dreary scenes with grumpy people stabbing each other in the back . . . in the rain.

The reality of A Gentleman in Moscow could not possibly have been more of a contrast to my expectations. After the Russian Revolution, Count Alexander Rostov is lucky not to have already been killed or put in prison, but being a part of the aristocracy is still a problem. Put under house arrest in 1922 and told he'll be shot if he sets foot outside the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of the count's decades-long imprisonment, how he survives the passage of time, changes to the hotel and to Russia, and the many friendships he makes over the years.

I adored Count Alexander: his wit, charm, and sense of humor, his relationships, his young friend Nina's boldness and curiosity, the transformation of the Count's life over the decades, the characters in the hotel, and even the way he managed to transform his tiny living quarters. I also loved the fact that there was a character to have fun hating (including a surprising twist in which he gets what's coming to him). A few of my favorite scenes will probably stay with me forever. A couple of them brought tears to my eyes.

Highly, highly recommended to anyone and everyone - Absolutely the most charming, engaging, delightful, smart, funny, magical book I read in 2017.

Definitely should have bought a copy (I'll certainly want to reread it, someday) and I'm very grateful that my friend Linda said, "You really need to read this."

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals:


  • The Dry by Jane Harper - purchased
  • Zingerman's Bakehouse by Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo - purchased, but not by me!


It's so unusual for a book that wasn't purchased by me to arrive that I nearly fell out of my seat when I found out Husband had ordered one. But, since we once lived in Ann Arbor, home of Zingerman's Delicatessen, it was also a no-brainer that we'd buy a cookbook if they ever wrote one. Husband has already cooked the "Hot Cocoa Cake", which is so good (and, unfortunately, so pricey) that we generally just buy it for other people and seldom get to eat it ourselves. The flavor was fabulous but the cakes got stuck in their little mini bundt slots, in spite of the pan being well greased, so we have a glass container of Hot Cocoa Cake chunks. I'm okay with spooning out my cake instead of slicing it.

I bought The Dry (which has been on my wish list since shortly after its release) because I've got an ARC of Jane Harper's second book, Force of Nature, and I wanted to read the two books in order but my library system doesn't have a single copy of The Dry. I started reading it last night. A friend has been waiting to discuss it with me and I'm looking forward to that.

In case you're wondering, that's a bookmark from Australia sticking out of The Dry. I try to match my bookmarks to my books in some way - often by color but sometimes by topic or location. One of my recent reads was a perfect match to a paint sample I happened to have, colorwise, so I got a kick out of how perfectly color-coordinated they were every time I picked up the book.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
  • The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam

2018 is off to a good start. Forty Autumns is the true story of a single family divided by the Iron Curtain and how different their lives were on opposite sides. The Bones of Grace is the story of a Bangladeshi paleontologist reflecting on the way she hurt other people in her search for self. Both were hard to put down.


Posts since last Malarkey:



I don't know if I'll be able to keep up the same pace, this week, but since reading is like laundry (you never stop wearing clothes or moving on to the next book; therefore, there's never an end), I'd like to at least get December wrapped up for good by finishing off the last of my 2017 reviews, this week. We'll see how that goes.


Currently reading:


  • The Dry by Jane Harper
  • The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
  • Braving the Wilderness by BrenĂ© Brown


I'm enjoying The Dry, so far, and looking forward to discussing it with my friend, Heather. The Radium Girls is also for discussion. A Facebook friend just started up a reading group and The Radium Girls is the first book we'll be discussing. It's heartbreaking but a good reminder of why we need those "burdensome regulations" that protect us from heartless corporations who care only about the bottom line. And, I'm close to finishing Braving the Wilderness. I'll probably finish that one off tonight. I've found it interesting but not necessarily a book that fits my personal needs. The friend who recommended it called it a "comfort read" and I can see how it would be for the right person.


In other news:

I'm still mulling my reading goals for 2018 and I'm not sure I'll ever manage to post about them, but we'll see. Two years ago, one of my reading goals was to read a classic per month and, as I recall, I came very close with a final number of 11 classics read. Last year, I decided to add feminist reading and now I can see that it's better to stick with a single topic. I read a decent number of both classics and feminist books but didn't manage a book per month of either in 2017. However, looking at the classics on my shelves and deciding which one I want to read next has become a habit after two years and I already have chosen my next classic read. So, I feel like the end result was still positive. And, I really enjoyed the feminist reading, so I'll continue to insert some similar titles into my reading, this year.

Do you have any special plans for your reading in 2018?

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Fiona Friday - Cold weather friend

All I have to do is spread a blanket on my lap and I have an instant buddy. Love cold weather for the cuddle time.


©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper


The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper is a book I've intended to read for ages. It was a read-along on Twitter, hosted by author Robert Macfarlane, that convinced me to go ahead and acquire a copy. I thought it would be fun to read with a group, to check out other people's thoughts, since this particular book is apparently up there with my favorite, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, as a stand-out childhood read that really means something to people.

I did not even hear about this particular series - the Dark is Rising Sequence - until maybe 10 or 15 years ago. It never even came onto my radar till then (although I would have been the perfect age for it in 1974), so I missed out entirely on the possibility of reading it as a child or young adult.

It wasn't till I opened the book that I realized it's the second book in the sequence. However, the author indicated that the stories each have a different focus so the hero, Will Stanton, is not in the first book. Interesting. At any rate, Will is an 11-year-old who finds out he's an "Old One" in charge of gathering a set of 6 signs (round disks of different materials). As a Seeker of Signs and an Old One, he is preparing for the ultimate battle between Dark and Light.

The writing in The Dark is Rising is lovely but at times inscrutable. I was a little relieved to find that friends who've written their thoughts at Goodreads felt the same. "Wouldn't it have been difficult for a child to understand?" friends and I wondered. It turns out the opposite is true, at least judging from the replies to Robert Macfarlane's first questions -- about the atmosphere, how one felt while reading, whether those who read while young remember where they were, the weather, how they came to read it. As broad as that sounds, those who read it as a child almost all had vivid memories of their first reading. They remembered where they were, whether it was given to them by a relative, found on a shelf, or a librarian encouraged them to check it out, whether they curled up by a fire or on a tall bed to read, whether it was raining or snowing or sunny - the kind of things you only remember when you've had a really meaningful experience.

As to whether or not they understood it as children - most definitely. It was mostly those of us who were reading it for the first time as adults who had difficulty understanding what was going on. One of the people who read it as a child expressed a feeling opposite to my sense that I needed more details to explain to me what was happening. Her opinion: "I liked the way the author gave the reader space to imagine." Ooooh. I know that feeling.

I'm not going to bother with a recommendation. The Dark is Rising Sequence is a fantasy series and you either like fantasy or you don't. I'm iffy. Sometimes I love it, sometimes it loses me. This story was a little of both. There were times I felt completely lost. And, then something would happen or some bit of dialogue would set me straight and I lost that sense of everything swirling around me and things came into focus, at least for a time. It certainly was a unique experience. But, it was not one that was so profoundly moving that I'd rush out to buy the rest of the series. Still, I'm glad I joined in. I didn't say anything; I just read as many of the responses as I could on the first day and that was enough to satisfy my curiosity about how others felt. I knew, at that point, that I could never look at it from the innocent viewpoint of a child but that I could at least enjoy knowing how others felt and what I got out of it, myself. There are definitely some vivid scenes that will stick with me for a long time.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Power by Naomi Alderman


This is going to be another one of those book reviews in which I confess to being the odd reader out. The Power has so many things going for it. It's a favorite of President Obama! Margaret Atwood wrote a positive blurb! It won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction! It's dystopian!

And, I confess to loving the first 100 pages. It was gripping, unique, the writing is sharp, I was fascinated by the characters. I could barely put the book down. Then, it began to slip and here is probably where my opinion diverges from that of a lot of people who know and appreciate good writing. I didn't like the direction it took. It's not that the writing became any less tight or exceptional. Naomi Alderman is an excellent writer. But, the book didn't fulfill my personal hopes for a world in which the patriarchy is subdued by the sudden acquisition of physical power on the part of women. So, I acknowledge that The Power is an excellent piece of writing but one I grew to dislike because of the direction the author chose to take. It's a taste thing, not a writing thing.

Neither recommended or not recommended - Since I think the one thing I disliked about this book was its direction and the violence that came of the choice on the part of women to abuse power when it came into their hands, I would never tell anyone not to read The Power. But, it wasn't for me.

Incidentally, I decided to skip the synopsis because this one is everywhere, but I'd really like to know what my readers think about how I normally handle reviews. This is something I ponder, now and then (especially at the beginning of a new year). I like to write a brief synopsis -- admittedly, I am often not as brief as I'd like to be -- because when I go to a blog to read someone's thoughts, I don't necessarily know anything about the book they've opted to review. You, the blogger, may be my introduction to a book. I want to know what the story is about before you tell me your thoughts about it. Like everyone else, I hate spoilers. So, when I write a synopsis, I try to avoid them, but I've occasionally been informed about my failures.

Opinions? Thoughts?

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine


I guess the first thing you need to know about this book (and maybe the only one, from this blog) is "Everyone liked it better than meeee!" No idea why that's true, but I'm often the odd reader out.

The Last Mrs. Parrish tells the story of a young woman who has chosen a wealthy man as her target for marriage. Amber wants to be wealthy. She has done some research, chosen her target, and studied up on his world and how to work her way into it. Amber buddies up to Daphne Parrish intending, of course, to take her place and using her friendship to determine the individual weaknesses of husband and wife. Will Amber succeed at luring the fabulously wealthy and handsome Mr. Parrish away from his wife Daphne and becoming the next and last Mrs. Parrish?

The book is told in several parts. Part 1 is told from Amber's POV and Part 2 from Daphne's. When you're in Daphne's point of view, things begin to change. You've only seen the marriage from the outside. Daphne's recollections are every bit as shocking as Amber's. While Amber has been studying them, transforming herself, even reading the books they read, she doesn't know what's really going on behind closed doors and you'll begin to wonder, "Who is really being played?"

I found the plotting clever, once I got to the second section and realized what was going on, but I found the first section so hard to buy into that I almost didn't make it that far. The dialogue was particularly flat and lifeless. I only stuck the book out because of a friend's gushy review. In the end, I liked The Last Mrs. Parrish enough to not think of the reading as a waste of my time, but I didn't consider it exceptional in any way. I thought the characters were far too easily manipulated, for one thing. But, it was the atrocious dialogue that killed the book for me.

Neither recommended or not recommended - It's worth noting that just about everyone else seems to love The Last Mrs. Parrish and it is, in fact, a pretty clever idea. But, I was unable to suspend disbelief and gave it an average rating. The positives were the plotting and the quick pace, although there were times I felt bogged down by dull dialogue and disbelief. The book improves after the first section because the second part is where the bones of the plotting are slowly exposed. "Oh," you'll say to yourself. "I had no idea." And, you'll wonder what's going to happen, but you might not care -- at least, I didn't. I think part of my problem was that there's nobody to really root for, possibly because the dialogue makes everyone sound like an automaton. They're not witty characters, although they're intelligent in their own ways.


©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon


Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship that Helped End the Cold War is part memoir, part spy story about a CIA operative, Paul Dillon, and a Russian spy he handled. That spy, Dmitri Polyakov, was possibly the most important GRU agent ever "turned" by the CIA and the author is the daughter of the CIA operative who worked with him. Eva Dillon weaves her personal story in with the information she learned through personal interviews and extensive reading. But, the focus of the book is on the relationship mentioned in the subtitle: the people the two spies interacted with, the methods of their spycraft, the occasional betrayals and deaths of various spies, and what became of Paul Dillon and Dmitri Polyakov.

I was impressed with the readability of this particular work of nonfiction. Books about intelligence operations can be surprisingly dry or convoluted, but I never had any trouble at all discerning the relationships, remembering the real-life characters and distinguishing them from each other, following the use of various spying tools and methods, etc. In fact, the Cold War is a time period I tend to avoid because the little I've read has been too dry for me.

Not Spies in the Family. The story was told well and felt complete but left me wanting to read more about the Cold War era, particularly espionage memoirs of a similar nature. There's an extensive list of references in the back of the book and I may need to scratch down a few titles before I send my ARC on to Eldest (who is besotted with the Cold War era in the way I am with WWII). Kiddo has been begging me to read a biography of CIA Director William Casey that he loved, as well, and while I've been lukewarm about the subject matter and brushed him off for several years, I've moved the book to my bedroom TBR. My interest in Cold War spying has definitely been piqued.

Highly recommended - A well-written, easily digestible story of two spies, their families, the agencies in which they worked, and the methods they used. Really enjoyed this read and found it was easy to keep all the characters straight. I particularly found the communication methods and tools fascinating. And, I enjoyed reading about what it was like being the daughter of a spy, moving from post to post, while not aware of what her father's job entailed. I gave Spies in the Family 5 stars at Goodreads.


©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.