Thursday, March 22, 2018

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Orphan Master Spy starts out with a bang. 15-year-old Sarah emerges from the floor of her mother's car to find that her mother has been shot dead at a checkpoint in Germany. Will the Nazis know to look for a child? She's not sticking around to find out.

It's 1939 and Sarah is an orphan, half-Jewish, and on the run. But, Sarah has a few marks in her favor. She is physically adept (a former gymnast), smart as a whip, and blonde with blue eyes. She's small for her age, which means she can get away with pretending she's as young as 11 or 12. And, her Aryan features mean she can hide in plain sight if she can find a way to obtain false papers. After a night sleeping on a roof to evade the Nazis, she finds a friend. But, his life is in danger, as well.

When Sarah offers to help out with an important mission, it means going where the worst of her enemies live, inside a Nazi girls' boarding school where she is tasked with befriending the daughter of a scientist who has created a devastating bomb the size of a grapefruit. Can Sarah survive school and befriend Elsa in time to save the world from this bomb? Sarah finds the task is even more challenging than she'd imagined. She's is naturally a bit caustic and her sharp intellect can get her in trouble. Making friends is not easy. She's already a fish out of water and there's a social hierarchy at the boarding school. The only way to befriend Elsa is for Sarah to make her way to the top tier.

Highly recommended - Smart, scary, tense and gripping - a terrific read with the kind of disturbing, violent moments that are typical of realistic WWII novels. Sarah is fierce but flawed, a tough and witty character whom you can really get behind; and, the English captain she befriends has clearly also lived through a lot. I liked hanging out with them in the first part of the book. But, then comes the really scary part.

Life at a Nazi boarding school is insane. I can admit I found the boarding school parts much more uncomfortable to read, although Sarah is befriended by another girl who doesn't quite fit in (so, at least she always has one friend to rely on) and there are plenty of action scenes. The hardest part is the bullying and some vicious scenes of violent abuse. The girls are rough on each other, with an initiation for the new students and competition to get into the favored group. Will Sarah succeed at befriending Elsa? Will she get caught out as a spy? Will she survive the brutality of the girls she lives with and their teachers? Orphan Monster Spy had a slight sagging middle problem but the phenomenal ending is worth sticking it out. I never even remotely considered setting the book aside. Sarah's a terrific character and I cared about her. The reward for sticking out the slower part is immense.

The ending hints at continuation of Sarah's story, so I wrote to the publicist to ask if Orphan Monster Spy is a series book and she confirmed that it is, indeed, the first in a series. It's wrapped up completely and could stand on its own, though: no cliffhanger ending. I'm grateful to the author for that (I abhor cliffhangers). I'll be looking forward to reading more of Sarah's adventures.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Our Native Bees by Paige Embry

We really don't have a good idea of how well wild bees are holding up to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation plus whatever effects climate change, imported bees, parasites, and diseases may be having. We do know that some bees are in decline. The data on the current status of most bees are patchy at best, and few areas have been well studied. Bee surveys take a huge amount of time and money, and someone has to identify all those bees.

~from. p. 148 of Our Native Bees

Our Native Bees: North America's Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them by Paige Embry is just what it sounds like - a book about bees that are native to North America, their declining numbers, and what bees do for humans -- and one woman's quest to learn all about them. But, it goes well beyond that, into talk about how little research has been done about bees, how many species of bees exist (20,000!!!) , why honeybees (which are not native to North America) and bumblebees get all the attention but aren't the best pollinators, how poisoning bees that carry worms damaging to trees interrupts a natural cycle without actually helping the trees, whether burning or mowing certain areas is better or worse for bees, etc.

The author, Paige Embry, has a passion for learning about bees and visited with experts across the country to interview them, view bee collecting and identification in person, and basically gobble up every bit of bee information she can. And, Embry describes her experience with a marvelous sense of humor:

The method I learned at Gordon's bee class involves puting the bees in a tea strainer (hopefully one dedicated to lab use) that functions as a tiny bee tumble dryer as you blow hot air from a hair dryer at the strainer. The purpose of the rinse and blow dry is to fluff up the bee's hair. You can see the colors better, it's easier to move the hair to look for markings, and, well, the bees just look better. I know they're dead and the last part shouldn't matter, but I've acted as a mortician for quite a few bees at this point, and I don't want them to be preserved forevermore in the midst of a bad hair day. So I coif dead bees. My children find me creepy. 

~from p. 105 of Our Native Bees

I was out in the field with an old bee biologist once, and a bunch of little bees were zipping about. He said they were halictids (sweat bees). They were tiny. I wondered how he knew that they were halictids and not, say, Ceratina or Hylaeus. So I asked him. His response was something along the lines of "they have a certain gestalt." Gestalt? Well, pish, that's not going to help me learn to identify them.

~p. 111

If you have even the slightest interest in bees, you should definitely read Our Native Bees. It'll give you a well-rounded idea of what's going on with bees -- the threats they face, the way they're managed by humans and how important they are to American crops, what "colony collapse" is all about, and much more. Our Native Bees is crammed with gorgeous photos. It's a beautiful book on high-quality paper.

Highly recommended - One of the books that helped break my brief February reading slump, I could be found leaning forward, rapt, for days as I read Our Native Bees, occasionally smiling at something funny the author said or reading favorite parts aloud to my husband. The most important takeaway from this book:

The one thing you can do to help bees, no matter where you live: plant flowers. Even if you live in an apartment and only have a small outdoor space, planting flowers can make a huge difference to bee populations. We've just potted some spring flowers. I don't know if we're near anything that needs pollinating as a food source but the author said sometimes city flowers are closer to areas where food sources are planted than fields in the middle of the boonies, so you never know . . . you could be helping provide the food at your local market and helping strengthen your local bee population.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • None. Again. 

I think this makes 3 weeks with no arrivals? Some that I've been expecting have not arrived, so now I'm actually a little worried that something is happening to the ARCs (we did, at one time, have a postal worker who was stealing packages). But, we're not short of books in this household. And, I did order a few, this week -- one of them because the library book had a too-quick due date. So, hopefully, I'll have some pretty, shiny new books for you to admire, next Monday.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix

Both were excellent - one a WWII YA spy novel, the other the nonfiction story of a daring man in the French Resistance (a nobleman who later inherited the family title, Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld). I've already written a Goodreads review of The Saboteur, which I finished yesterday, and I'll rewrite it as a blog post, soon. And, my draft of Orphan Monster Spy (a tour book scheduled for Thursday) is nearly complete.

Currently reading:

  • Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso 

Poor Don Quixote had to sit around yawning, this week, because I had priorities and he just couldn't be squeezed in. And, I still need to reread The Woman Next Door (for F2F discussion) before I can return to him. But, soon. Very soon. The great thing about Don Quixote is that his exploits are so unforgettable it's easy to pick up where you've left off, even after a week or two.

Princesses Behaving Badly is a book of stories about real-life princesses who were not content to sit around waiting for the opposing army to defeat King/Emperor Daddy or their own armies to be run over. They were the kind to run into battle, not wait for the results. I'm finding it a tiny bit dry and wishing it had maps but neither of those are enough to convince me to stop. I love reading about heroic, smart, indefatigable women.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

This was not a TV weekend. I decided my utility room was getting too cluttery and both the counter and cabinets needed to be cleaned and rearranged, so we first cleared the kitchen counters to use for sorting and then emptied cabinets, shuffled various objects, filled a box with things to donate, and made use of the circular file. We're not done, even after two days of working on it, but we're close. When we needed a break, we watched an episode or two of Dr. Who or read. And, last Thursday we watched this for the first time:

I've seen a lot of people mention Weekend at Bernie's when the topic of Andrew McCarthy's acting comes up (I follow him on Twitter) because it seems to be a favorite, particular a favorite of the males. But, I'd never seen it and it was on, so we watched roughly half of it. We didn't manage to see the entire movie because it was late, but we were both enjoying it and would really like to see the second half. I'll have to see if I can find a place to stream it, soon. It's such a different role from what I typically saw McCarthy play in the 80s (like Pretty in Pink, the dreamboat role).

The last episode of Dr. Who that I watched was the final episode for companions Barbara and Ian, who were finally able to return to London of 1965. I'll miss them, but I think that at least means I've made it to Season 3 of William Hartnell.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fiona Friday

With apologies to Facebook friends, who have already seen this - my favorite photo of the week. Fiona was on my lap.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James weaves together two stories. Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for girls who are unwanted or difficult. Established in 1919 and never maintained well, the uniforms and many of the textbooks have never been updated. In 1950, four girls attending the school become friends. Then, one of them disappears. In 2014, a reporter who has spent her time writing fluff pieces finds out that the long-closed and derelict school has been bought and is being restored. But, why? Surely it could never turn a profit. As Fiona seeks to uncover the reason for the purchase and a body is discovered on the property, the search for answers may lead the intrepid reporter into danger. How did the body found on Idlewild property end up where it has been found? What was the girl's story? Does her disappearance have any connection to the death, in 1994, of Fiona's sister?

By far one of the best mystery/suspense books I've read in months, I found The Broken Girls so compelling that I ditched my chores and spent an afternoon curled up with the book, unable to bear putting it down.

Highly recommended - Gripping, well-written, creepy, and satisfying. I was most surprised by the fact that The Broken Girls has a believable ghost (seriously, most ghost stories are just disappointing) as well as the realization that I had no preference between the historical and contemporary stories. Usually, in a historical/contemporary book with interwoven storylines, I'll find myself wishing the author had focused on one storyline or the other. Not so with The Broken Girls. I loved being at Idlewild Hall in 1950 and I was equally mesmerized by Fiona's story: the unfolding clues, her relationship and how it complicated her research, her family history.

I received a copy of The Broken Girls from Berkley Books in exchange for my unbiased review and wow, am I glad I said yes to this title! I've read some really disappointing attempts at suspense, this year. The Broken Girls is exceptional and I'll be be watching for future releases by Simone St. James.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell

An incredibly gripping YA novel that's almost impossible to put down but also quite disturbing, Nothing Left to Burn tells the story of 16-year-old Audrey, who must evacuate her home (alone - the rest of the family is away) on the morning after she lost her virginity. The story alternates between the 24 hours after she's told to evacuate and scenes from the months she's been dating Brooks -- starting with when they met and slowly moving forward. Audrey's sister Maya has recently recovered from lymphoma and Maya's dream is to become a professional dancer. Because Maya was unable to dance while going through treatment, Audrey continued on with ballet to make Maya happy. Once Maya recovered, though, Audrey ditched the ballet because it was never really her thing.

Now, she's unsure what her thing is. But, she's met Brooks and he's even more of a mess than she is. Brooks lost a brother and plans to be a firefighter. Brooks and Audrey spend all their spare time together and they're wildly in love. Or, are they? Is this a case of two flawed people creating an even more dysfunctional couple? How did Brooks' brother die? And, what happened to set off the fire that may very well consume Audrey's house?

Nothing Left to Burn is edge-of-your-seat reading but it's also pretty horrifying. There's mention of kittens being burned alive, which I had to almost mentally block, being a cat lover (no graphic scenes of burning, just mention). There are bits and pieces of the characterization/plot that are obvious but the author does a good job of only giving you so much information, and the rest is left to your imagination till she finally reveals all, in the end. In spite of figuring a couple things out, the end was not at all what I expected and because it solved the mystery but not everything turned out as expected, I found it very satisfying.

Highly recommended with warning for some disturbing behavior - Not a happy story but certainly one that makes you think. Nothing Left to Burn would probably make a great discussion book for a YA group, especially something involving adults (maybe a Mom and daughter discussion group) who could talk about the various subjects that come up, like whether or not Audrey really wanted to sleep with Brooks or felt pressured, what kind of help the two teenagers should or could have gotten for their problems (depression, guilt, anger), spotting the danger signs in a relationship. There's a lot to talk about. I found myself wondering the age-old question, "What would you save if your house caught fire?"

Cover thoughts: While the story takes place in an upscale part of Southern California and I think it's safe to say that most, if not all, of the characters have a house with a pool, there are no pool scenes at all and I'm perplexed by the cover choice. However . . . it may change. My copy is an ARC. I'm kind of hoping the final cover will be fire-related because it really is about the devastating impact of fire and fire is what gives the book its urgency. The cover is beautiful; I just don't think it fits the content.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • None. But, clearly spring has arrived so you get a glimpse of tulips, this week. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell
  • The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Both of these were excellent and almost impossible to put down. I stayed up late one night to finish Nothing Left to Burn and blew off most of my chores on Saturday to finish reading The Broken Girls.

Currently reading:

  • Don Quixote by Cervantes 
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix
  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I am absolutely loving everything I'm reading, right now, and last week was a terrific reading week. As of last night, I'm 48% into Don Quixote. Nearing the halfway point! And, I'm still every bit as entertained as I was, at first. In fact, I think pages 350 - 400 of the Edith Grossman translation I'm reading were among the best so far. Don Quixote's second visit to the inn where Sancho Panza was tossed into the air by some men with a blanket was masterful.

The Saboteur is nonfiction about a man who was in the French Resistance during WWII and Orphan Monster Spy is a YA novel about a blonde Jewish girl working in the Resistance, as well (but in Germany).  Both are so amazing that I'd really be happy to just ignore the chores, again. But, no. Someone left me a really messy kitchen (Huzzybuns experimented with his first attempt at making gyro meat) so I've done Round 1 of tackling the kitchen and Round 2 is coming up. So much scrubbing and sweeping and dishwashing to be done.

Last week's posts:

  • None. I took the week off. Did you miss me?

In other news:

The week off helped restore my urges to read and write but I didn't manage to totally shut off social media. I closed Facebook completely for about 5 days and have mostly succeeded at avoiding it, so that was good. Twitter, though . . . total failure. I continued to tweet and read tweets, all week, and I really need to walk away from it for a while. I'll try to just post blog links to Twitter, this week. Wish me luck.

Otherwise, the week was a huge success. What is it about Facebook that's so stressful? I can't figure it out but I always feel better when I close Facebook. I don't think it's merely that it's a time suck -- that's problem enough, though, and just closing Facebook really helped me to spend my time more wisely. I got some tidying done in the guest room before Kiddo arrived home for Spring Break, caught up completely on laundry for a day, enjoyed my reading more than I have in weeks, and spent more time at the gym. It's been sunny and gorgeous, most of the time, with a couple random days of heavy rain. The sunshine is always helpful for restoring one's soul.

I watched Saving Mr. Banks, last week, and am still watching the first Dr. Who, now on Season 2 of William Hartnell, because I only watch an episode on occasion, usually when I sit down with my lunch. We watched Thor: Ragnarok and Logan's Run, this weekend. All were great but I found Saving Mr. Banks a little too sad for my taste and it was the first time I've actually felt like Tom Hanks slipped up. He just didn't sound like Walt Disney, to me. Yes, I'm old enough to remember Walt Disney introducing movies on Sunday nights, although I was young enough that the Walt Disney voice I hear in my head may not be accurate.

The tulip photo above is from the gardens around our Whole Foods, of all places. They always have the most gorgeous tulips in spring. Here's another one:

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.