Saturday, February 28, 2015

Even if the Sky Falls Down by Susan Jackson Bybee, a DNF, and an Internet-Free Month



I'm getting ready to go on a month-long break from the Internet, but I can't bear to leave without first talking about Susan Jackson Bybee's book, Even if the Sky Falls Down. I knew Susan as just "Bybee" at her blog, formerly called Naked Without Books but recently changed to Blue-Hearted Bookworm, for years before I finally got to know her as Susan at Facebook. And, I watched from the sidelines as she wrote during National Novel Writing Month. But, wow . . . I didn't expect her to edit and publish a book within just a few months! I had no idea what she was writing, much less that it would turn out to be one of the best stories I've read so far in 2015.

From Goodreads:

Thirty-something American Lily Thompson is enjoying her life as an English teacher in a private kindergarten in Seoul, South Korea. When she breaks her ankle and loses her job, her handsome recruiter finds her a new position in the Korean countryside, teaching English to elders at a senior center. Lily is unsure how she'll relate to students at the other end of the age spectrum, but things are not quite what they seem. Charged with documenting the memories of an eclectic range of elderly people sends Lily on a journey revealing unique insight into both Korea's troubled social history and her own life.

You have got to read this book. Even if the Sky Falls Down (link leads to Amazon) is currently available in e-book and it's so good I hope someone will "discover" Susan and publish it in paper form, someday.

I love the way Lily's faced with not one but several changes and conflicts in the book. Can she cope with the change from teaching young children to giving lessons to the elderly? How will she deal with the ghost of her past who has returned to haunt her? Will she ever learn to speak Korean?

As the elderly people at the senior center begin to dictate their stories and Lily gets to know them, you see the marvelous transition of Lily from a young (30-something) woman running away from her past to a woman who is happy and secure in her present. But, what I most love about Even if the Sky Falls Down are the personal histories dictated by the elderly people, which are interspersed within the present-tense story of Lily. They are so believable that I found myself wondering how on earth Susan came up with all those stories. Did she actually interview people? Are they similar to stories she's heard while living and working in Korea? Did she pick some historian's brain? It doesn't matter. What matters is that the book has that unusual ring of truth that makes a book really stand out.

Highly recommended, and not just because I like Susan (although I do). Unlike a lot of self-published books, Even if the Sky Falls Down is almost completely devoid of errors; it's about the cleanest text I've ever seen in a self-pub. I'm impressed and I can't wait to see what Susan comes up with next.

And, now a DNF:

Married to Sin: Hideous family secrets, redemption was dictated by Darlene Collier (whom I'll refer to as the "author") and written by Meredith McGee, who has also written a book about James Meredith that I hope to read soon (James Meredith was the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi). I met Meredith McGee at the meeting of a local writers group that I attended, last week, and she gave me a copy of Married to Sin after I mentioned the fact that I'm a book blogger.

I thought Married to Sin started off quite well. There's an authenticity to the voice of Darlene Collier that comes through very nicely and I found her family history fascinating. One of her ancestors bought a large chunk of land in Mississippi after slavery ended and the family is still earning income off that land. But, Darlene's mother died quite young and after her hard-working grandfather died from injuries received in a tragic accident, she and her siblings were left with a father who drifted in and out of their lives, seldom working, and a grandmother who was diabetic, hid food from the children, and stayed in a chair all day. The children eventually were sent to a home for many years, then lived with relatives for a short stretch, and Darlene was still very young when she married.

Here is where I began to have trouble with the story. The author was (and is) married to a serial abuser but she never attempted to leave him, sticking around in spite of hardship. I would admire her for her tenacity if I didn't know she's a classic abuse victim, always letting the man back into her life no matter what horrors he has inflicted upon her. There were other people in the family who caused trouble and one of them raped her daughter for years before he was finally caught in the act. This was the point at which I closed the book: when the man who raped her daughter begged Darlene not to send him to prison and she dropped the charges. I've read about abuse in the past and I can understand falling prey to an abuser and having difficulty getting away, but letting your daughter's rapist off the hook? That, I cannot respect. I couldn't bear to read any farther. I made it 83 pages, which is close to halfway, but was tempted to give up sooner. Lots of errors in this one, another self-pub.

Last but not least - break time!

I'm taking off the entire month of March from the internet -- not just the blog, but social media, as well. I'll only be checking e-mail. This is a last-minute decision, although you already know I've been thinking about taking an extended break for some time if you're a regular reader at Bookfoolery. I started out my writing year well in January but lost the thread in February, so I feel like it's necessary to get myself back into a routine. But, I also just like to step away, now and then, and we're moving into the best part of the year, when it's still cool enough to do outdoor work and the pollen hasn't begun to peak. Hopefully, ditching distraction will allow me to enjoy the best time of year more fully, as well.

I hope you all have a fabulous month. Happy reading!


©2015 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, February 23, 2015

Monday Malarkey - This will make you feel better

Now you can forgive me for last week's blurred bookshelf image. Here are two of the shelves:



I skipped Monday Malarkey because we were in the midst of a plumbing disaster that flooded our kitchen and warped part of the living room flooring, last week, but there wasn't much to say, anyway. The last couple of weeks have gone from deliberately slow reading to genuine reading slump as I read 50 pages of this, 65 pages of that and nothing clicked.

Recent arrivals:


  • The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry - via Paperback Swap
  • Married to Sin by D. Collier and M. McGee - Given to me by author
  • The Third Twin by C. J. Omololu - Sent by friend
  • The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen - via Paperback Swap


Library check-outs:


  • Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican - My first hold from the new library!!


Posts since last Malarkey (quite a few, this time, since I had a burst of writing energy this week):




Books I've finished in the past two weeks (this part's depressing):


  • The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing (for F2F discussion)
  • The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III


Currently reading: 


  • The Waste Land and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot - Some of which fries my brain
  • Quiet by Susan Cain (after 2 weeks of not turning a single page of this title)
  • Married to Sin by D. Collier and M. McGee


Books abandoned:


  • Just One Day by Gayle Forman - I loved If I Stay and Where She Went but by 20 pages I was thinking, "This is currently a 2-star read" and by 65 pages I was done. 
  • The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton - I can't say I either loved or hated this book but so little had happened by the time I got to page 54 that when I set it aside to sleep I knew I was likely not going to pick it up, again. Sure enough, the next day I had no desire to continue. I do think it's nicely written, though.


Both of the DNFs were library check-outs so while I'm disappointed that I spent time on books without finishing them, it's easier to give them up than it would be to give up purchased books. I'm glad I gave them a go. Libraries are the bomb.


©2015 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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2 by Native Americans: The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III and Indian Boyhood by Charles Eastman

I just finished reading The Lakota Way by Joseph M. Marshall III and, I never got around to writing about Indian Boyhood by Charles Eastman (read in November of 2014). So, it's time for another Two for the Price of One review. I purchased The Lakota Way when Borders was going out of business [muffled sob] and bought my copy of Indian Boyhood from a secondhand shop in New Jersey, although you can download it for free in e-book form.


Humility can provide clarity where arrogance makes a cloud. -- p. 12

The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living (also subtitled Native American Wisdom on Ethics and Character) by Joseph M. Marshall III is divided into chapters headed with a particular characteristic revered by the Lakota, also known as Lakota Sioux, a Native American tribe that were nomadic hunter-gatherers in the Northern Plains and Dakotas for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Each characteristic is illustrated by stories passed down in the oral tradition, as well as personal tales from the author's lifetime.

The chapters: Humility, Perseverance, Respect, Honor, Love, Sacrifice, Truth, Compassion, Bravery, Fortitude, Generosity and Wisdom.

There is also an afterward that describes the history of the Lakota from their perspective, which unsurprisingly does not entirely agree with history books.

I love reading Native American tales and appreciated the way the author combined the moral code for his people with the stories that are used to illustrate right from wrong. Marshall's writing transports the reader to another time and place marvelously, whether it's the dawn of time, the 17th century or the 1950s. While I think anyone can benefit from the kind of wisdom in The Lakota Way, the afterword is particularly interesting and would be great for teaching purposes. Most history books have been written by European Americans, after all. It makes sense to teach the alternative viewpoint, as well, when discussing American history.

Highly recommended - A lovely combination of basics in morality, stories that illustrate the importance of strong character, and history. There's a bit of explanation about the spirituality of Native American tradition, as well. Although Marshall can be a little emphatic about the wrongs perpetrated upon his people, I think he has good reason for feeling that way and didn't find the book at all preachy.

Indian Boyhood by Charles A. Eastman (who was also known by his Indian name, Ohiyesa) is a book that was published in 1902. As a child of the 19th century, Eastman straddled two remarkably different time periods for Native Americans. He spent his childhood in the traditional way as a Santee Dakota Sioux, learning to hunt and observing his people living off the land and practicing the old ways. The bulk of his adulthood took place in the white man's world.

It's been quite a while since I read Indian Boyhood so details are fading but I do recall that the book is mostly about the beauty of the land, the joy of growing up in the outdoors and the sensation of freedom that he felt as a child. Occasionally, he compared his life to that of the European settlers and talked about why white children who were captured and became part of an Indian family often escaped to return to Indian life after being rescued by their families.

I can't recall how old Eastman was when his father disappeared but at some point his father was captured in battle and presumed dead. But, eventually, he returned and by then he had long since been converted to Christianity. By that point, Eastman was a grown man and he gave in to his father's influence, joining the world of the white man.

Because Eastman grew up with the traditions of his people but eventually became an Ivy League educated physician living in the modern European sense, he offers an interesting perspective from that of contemporary writers looking backward as he was able to compare and contrast the two cultures in which he participated, although the book is focused on his youth. He also learned about herbal medicine from his grandmother, so you could say Eastman had not one but two types of medical training.

Highly recommended - I've never read anything quite like Indian Boyhood. Most of what I've read regarding Native American culture has been either modern historical viewpoints or, in the case of older material, from the side of settlers. It was utterly fascinating reading about childhood as a Native American by someone who grew up traditionally and then transitioned into a completely different style of living as an adult.

©2015 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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Dozen Cousins by Lori Haskins Houran, illustrated by Sam Usher


You have to peek inside A Dozen Cousins by Lori Haskins Houran (illustrated by Sam Usher) to appreciate it. You should be able to click to enlarge the images, but in case you can't, the words are:

Anna had a dozen cousins.
All of them were boys.
They smelled like sweaty sneakers,
and they made a ton of noise.



It continues:

They read her secret diary.
They used up all her paint. 
They put a lizard in her hat
to see if she would faint.

The rest of the book is similar, with the little rapscallions using her skirt as a tree and launching her doll in a rocket, building Anna a castle and then attacking it, letting her play the bad guy and tying her to a tree then forgetting to untie her when their game has ended, and more. But, the book ends sweetly:

Anna had a dozen cousins.
None of them were girls.
And Anna, if you asked her,
wouldn't trade them for the world.

A Dozen Cousins has just vaulted to my "new favorites" category because it's one of those sweet, funny books that you can't help smiling all the way through. The illustrations are terrific -- colorful, cheerful, humorous. And, Anna is a great character. Rambunctious as her cousins are (they also hug her and stick ice cubes down her back), she holds her own, smiling at the lizard tucked into her hat, untying herself from the tree. I love it! My granddaughter doesn't have a dozen male cousins but I'm sure she'll enjoy the book when I read it to her (or her parents do). Note that Anna is reading in the two opening spreads. You can't help but love that, eh? Highly recommended.

My thanks to Sterling Kids for the review copy of A Dozen Cousins! Isabel enjoyed it, too.


©2015 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, February 20, 2015

HitRECord TV, Season 1 and a Friday Cat


First things first: a description for those unfamiliar with HitRECord. HitRECord.org is a website created by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to which anyone can subscribe. Artists, musicians, illustrators, writers, filmmakers, poets and cartoonists all work together in a collaborative creative effort. HitRECord is responsible for the Tiny Book of Tiny Stories book series (I have read and loved all three and hope they'll publish more, in the future) and the HitRECord production company also has released this TV series, an auditory and visual feast.

Second things second: I have a confession to make. I got Season 1 of HitRECord TV from HarperCollins' Dey Street imprint in late 2014 and hesitated to write about it because I wanted to buy a copy of the season for a friend. He's a blog friend and I couldn't bear the thought that he'd read my gushy review and buy it before I got around to sending it to him. So, I dragged my feet.

Fortunately, Season 1 of HitRECord TV is memorable. The boxed set contains 9 booklets. One of those is a general guide; the rest are books with bits of art much like that in the Tiny Book of Tiny Stories series but with some background information about the episodes, lyrics to songs, and brief blurbs from contributors (illustrators, musicians, composers, etc.) that add a bit of dimension to the episodes. They're not stories in and of themselves but material to accompany the series.

I absolutely loved watching Season 1 of HitRECord TV. There are touching stories, funny skits, illustrated songs and poems, people playing games. Each episode is centered around a particular theme: "Games", "Money", "Trash", "Patterns", "Fantasy", "Space", "The Number 1", and "The Other Side." I had particular favorites amongs those songs, skits, stories and such -- and even favorite episodes. But, in general, I just loved being swept away, listening to the songs, thinking about the topics, singing along, being entertained by this massively creative collaborative effort.

The only thing I dislike about the HitRECord TV, Season 1? The episodes are downloaded to computer. I am old school and absolutely hate watching things on the computer. Plus, I like to have a physical copy of any television series I own. Downloads don't feel entirely real to me; and, I'm not even sure where exactly to locate them on my computer, now that I've watched them and stepped away for a couple months. The download code is on a small piece of paper that falls out when you pull out the booklets. I'm going to tape mine to either the case or that first booklet. It would definitely be much nicer to have this series on DVD.

Otherwise, I have zippo complaints, although I would have personally preferred a single book to a set of booklets. No big deal, though. It works. Highly recommended. I keep thinking "visual and auditory feast" and can't get beyond that description but let me say this . . . it will not only entertain you, HitRECord on TV will make you want to pull out your paint box, sit with your guitar, put pen to paper. It's inspiring.

Also, it's Friday, so have a cat:


©2015 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, February 19, 2015

Two thrillers: North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

2015, besides being a slower reading year, seems to be one in which I've read a lot of books in pairs: two books about the Great Depression, two thrillers, two children's storybooks (reviews forthcoming). In the case of the two thrillers, I just happened to be in the mood for fast-paced reads at the same time I came up with a story idea that's on the thrillery side (necessitating a little thriller reading to find examples of good pacing).


Briefly, John Rodgers and Jean-Luc square off, shoot subtly hateful glances at each other. Imagining that these two men could agree on anything is like imagining that the north and south poles could overcome their magnetic issues and meet for lunch at the equator.

--from North of Boston 

North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo was one of the books recommended to me when I asked for thriller title suggestions from friends. And, then the friend who recommended the book offered to send me her copy (which has a different cover than the one at left but I couldn't find a decent image). I'm so glad she did.

Pirio Kasparov was on a fishing boat with her friend Ned on a foggy morning when a freighter ran into the boat, killing Ned and leaving Pirio clinging to flotsam for hours in frigid water. Convinced that the collision was not an accident, Pirio begins to investigate, uncovering a tangled web of deceit that leads her to discovery and danger.

I have mixed feelings about North of Boston. I loved the writing, adored some of the characters (especially Pirio and her best friend's son, Noah), appreciated those who were unreliable, liked the added interest of the question, "Why did this character survive something that kills most?" and really liked where Pirio's search led -- to a legitimate world concern. But, I didn't find the book gripping, nor did I always find Pirio's ability to keep going in spite of serious injury entirely believable. Still, a solid read, definitely well-written and recommended.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was a total risk. You've undoubtedly heard of it, by now -- the book everyone is calling this year's Gone Girl, the story of a woman who sees the same couple from the train most weekdays and imagines their perfect life until . . . a kiss, a death, a mystery, and somehow Rachel ends up in the middle of a tangled web.

I haven't read Gone Girl but I'd read a few reviews of The Girl on the Train, knew friends were reading it, and saw that the buzz was growing. What convinced me to spend some of my Christmas money was none of the above. I simply liked the idea and the setting. A London setting is always going to grab my attention, especially when the story happens to fit the characteristics of something I'm seeking (in this case, of course, an engrossing, fast-paced read) with gift card money in hand.

As it turned out, I did find The Girl on the Train every bit as gripping as I hoped. The reviews I read before buying were mixed. A lot of people didn't like the characters. Too flawed, too unlikable. I tolerate unlikable characters a lot better if I know they're coming, so I opted to go ahead and order the book and hope for the best.

Fortunately, The Girl on the Train was exactly what I was looking for and, nope, I didn't mind the characters. Yes, the women are definitely unlikable -- all of them. But, each is flawed in ways that I found believable. I particularly found the alcholic and unreliable main character had the ring of truth. I also thought the use of three viewpoints worked very well and, even though I figured out "who done it" around 100 pages before the end of the book, the pages continued to fly. Highly recommended.

North of Boston and The Girl on the Train both have substance-abusing characters in addition to a mystery and it was fascinating to see how that played out in both books. I thought it was a little better handled in The Girl on the Train but Rachel is the character I considered the female protagonist, in spite of the fact that the book is told through several different points of view, and in North of Boston it's Pirio's best friend who is the substance abuser so Rachel's alcoholism is key to the plot while Thomasina's (that of Pirio's friend) is not. That may have impacted how I feel about the use of substance abuse in the characterization. Both fed nicely into the reading of my book group's latest read, The Road to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing. More on that later, I hope.

©2015 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, February 18, 2015

Two Memoirs of the Great Depression: Anneville by Thomas G. Robinson and Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

I feel like talking about books, finally, so I'm going to bash out some mini reviews and pre-post to my heart's content. Anneville and Little Heathens are books I acquired because I currently have a particular interest in the Great Depression.

Anneville: A Memoir of the Great Depression by Thomas G. Robinson is a little confusing, title-wise. Anneville is a memoir with names of people and places changed and written with as much accuracy as memory provides but in the introduction the author refers to it as a novel because he's aware that memory is imperfect. I don't think it was necessary to rename the book a novel within the intro, but it's a nice touch since there have been some controversies about invented memoirs in recent years.

As to the content, Anneville is absolutely charming. Thomas, the author, is clearly Thos in the book (one of 6 children) and the book is told in past tense, third person, but you mostly see things from his perspective. The Robinsons' father absconded early in the book, leaving a mother with 6 children, no income, and no relatives nearby. You get a good idea of the difficulties the family went through as they were evicted twice, each time moving into a home of lesser size and quality, and the mother had to beg the selectment of Anneville to give them a weekly allowance. This was called living "on the town" and it was frowned upon. Occasionally, Mrs. Robinson resorted to stealing electricity and, at least once, food.

But, though the book describes constant hunger, cold, outgrown shoes and clothing, and how the impoverished are treated with disdain, it's mostly about boyhood and that's what makes the book so captivating. There are tales of jaunts into the woods to skinny dip in a swimming hole, having to prove oneself tough (there are quite a few fistfights), pranks and silly games the children came up with that got them into trouble, school stories, and an adventure in which two of the boys helped a WWI vet enjoy his last days. Anneville is lovely in many ways.

The book is an Author House publication and like many self-published books, Anneville is rife with errors. There are a few inconsistencies in the memories, as well, but I enjoyed the storytelling so much that I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars, taking a single point off for the book's problems. I'm glad I read it. Just be aware that you will have to fight your internal editor a bit if you're a perfectionist. Recommended.

Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm by Mildred Armstrong Kalish is similarly misleading in that the words "hard times" absolutely do not belong in that subtitle. The author's father was out of the picture, as Thomas Robinson's father in Anneville was, but her grandparents owned a farm and a home in town debt-free and the children alternated between living at the farm and the house in town. There was never any threat of being kicked out or having their possessions hauled away.

The farm had livestock and fowl to provide milk, eggs and meat, as well as vegetables and orchards. Even honey was available, although it could be tricky to acquire. Young Mildred also had the advantage of a large, extended family that banded together. As such, the only hardship that enters into the picture at all was the fact that the houses were not fully heated, forcing the occupants to either cram together in a single heated room or bundle up and shiver.

There are some charming stories about life -- box socials, holidays with the family, splitting wood, etc. But, Little Heathens is heavily focused on food, with recipes interspersed throughout. I perused the reviews at Goodreads when I was considering requesting the book from Paperback Swap and quite a few people complained about the quantity of recipes and the author's arrogance as she often remarked that "kids today" don't know how to do this or that thing she was taught to do by hand in the olden days. Forewarned is forearmed. Those comments didn't bother me. I found the book entertaining and upbeat. Kalish set the scene beautifully, describing various aspects of her childhood in vivid detail. In fact, when she mentioned the song, "Hello, Central, Give Me Heaven," she helped add a little dimension to the reading of Parade's End, in which Sylvia Tietjens refers to her maid as "Hullo Central" because of her tinny, high-pitched voice. The operator at a central telephone exchange must have sounded oddly metallic through early phone lines, both in the U.S. and abroad. Interesting. Recommended.

Of the two books, I enjoyed Anneville the most -- in spite of its editing problems -- because the tales of childhood were so immensely entertaining and I was (and am) particularly in search of stories about how people dealt creatively with poverty, cold and hunger during the Great Depression. I liked both books very much, though, and I'm glad I read them.

©2015 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.