Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday Malarkey - Book photos, lists, some chick's bare feet

Well, huh. I didn't realize it's been 3 weeks since my last malarkey post. Time flies. Because I took a long weekend trip in the middle of this past few weeks and also have been battling a cold, I'm not entirely sure I managed to gather every arrival but it's been a light mailbox month. So, I probably came close.

Recent arrivals, top to bottom:

  • How Penguin Says "Please" and How Tiger Says "Thank You" by Samoun and Watts - from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • Titanic by Colonel Archibald Gracie - via Paperback Swap
  • The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams - from a friend
  • Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal - Purchased on friend's recommendation 
  • Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey
  • The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground by Jeffrey Ostler - Purchased at secondhand bookstore

Posts since last malarkey:

Books finished since last malarkey:

  • There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do by Michael Ondaatje
  • Nine Horses by Billy Collins
  • This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
  • Black Run by Antonio Manzini
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
  • The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
  • How Tiger Says "Thank You" by Samoun and Watts
  • How Penguin Says "Please" by Samoun and Watts
  • Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

Currently reading:

Top to bottom:

  • Pamela by Samuel Richardson - The first modern novel, apparently the Twilight of its era as it was so popular there was Pamela merchandise. I've reached the halfway point, at which Pamela decides to marry the man who has molested her and held her captive, just as she's finally gotten free of him. So, we're entering "WTF?" territory and I'm pondering whether or not to go on. Pamela was another book I purchased at the secondhand store but I opted not to put it in two separate photos.
  • Extreme Food by Bear Grylls - It starts out tame, with suggestions for camping food to carry with you, how to set up and make a fire, and various survival tools to keep on hand (a sponge and a ziploc bag for collecting rain water, for example). I've yet to get to the disgusting parts. Oddly, since I love reading about survival, I'm looking forward to reading even the yucky stuff. 
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert - Recommended by a former blogger. I thought Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe was excellent (and terrifying), so I was very happy to hear she's written another. 

In other news:

We're still working on the deck painting. The first coat has been rolled or brushed onto most of the upper deck; it's just a matter of going back, now, to do detail painting, fill in flawed places in the wood and do a last coat. It's a long-term job but we're both enjoying the look. And, I promise those are clean feet. No need to cringe.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fiona Friday - I wouldn't mind having two Isabels

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sleepy Puppy and Sleepy Kitty by Sterling Children's Books

Sleepy Puppy is a board book without any credited author. Instead, what the publisher apparently did was purchase images of puppies from various sources to fit the text. Interesting. The result is a book that shows a variety of different puppies rather than a single puppy character. The text is about a puppy who needs to go to bed. But, first, he wants to play, get a drink and a tissue, check for monsters under the bed -- in other words, all the things little kids do to put off going to bed. It's adorable. A peek inside, with apologies for the image quality (I realized I needed to photograph the interior as I was packing and took them rather hurriedly):

Eventually puppy gets comfortable and falls asleep and the final image in Sleepy Puppy shows a little boy sleeping next to a puppy.

We spent last weekend visiting family in New Jersey and I took Sleepy Puppy along with me for our granddaughter. I read it to her and helped her turn the pages when she played with it on her own. She absolutely loved it. Her family has a dog, so I thought she'd prefer Sleepy Puppy to Sleepy Kitty, the companion board book (which I'm saving for my younger son's possible future children, since he's a cat lover). Sure enough, she was drawn to the photos of puppies. She looked them over, patted them, and smiled.

Sleepy Kitty is much the same as Sleepy Puppy but with slightly different wording and, of course, kitties featured instead of puppies.

As in Sleepy Puppy, the kitties (mostly kittens, but not all) resist going to bed, ask for milk and a softer pillow, then eventually give in and go to sleep. The final image is, again, a photo of a human sleeping with a kitty.

Both highly recommended - While the books are similar enough that you could easily choose just one book based on your animal preference, there are slight differences in the wording. Both Sleepy Puppy and Sleepy Kitty are exceptionally cute books in which the text and photos illustrate the typical resistance to bedtime most children go through. They're utterly charming and Sleepy Puppy definitely passed the Small-Child Approval test. I'm sure Sleepy Kitty would have, as well, if I'd brought it along. Granddaughter actually favored Sleepy Puppy over the ABC book I brought along (also a board book). She liked both but spent more time pondering the puppy faces than any particular page of the ABC book.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
Copyright 2010
Square Fish - YA/Fantasy-SciFi
358 pp.

I have mixed feelings about The Marbury Lens, a book in which a pair of glasses with purple lenses transport characters to another world, a dark place known as Marbury that has been ravaged by a disease that turns people into monsters.

Jack is not a very happy young man. 16 years old, reserved and uncomfortable in his home life with grandparents Wynn and Stella, born to an unwed mother and teased at school, the only thing that keeps Jack going is his friendship with Conner, who cares for him unconditionally. Conner and Jack are preparing to travel to England to visit a school at which they're considering finishing their high school educations. But, first, they have plans to party.

At the party, Jack gets drunk and is pressured to do things (besides drinking to extremes) that he doesn't want to do. He tries to stumble home but gets kidnapped. Helped by a mysterious force, Jack manages to escape but the worst isn't over. By the time he arrives in England, Jack has been severely traumatized. When a mysterious man gives him a pair of glasses with purple lenses, things get really weird. In Marbury, Jack and his friends Ben and Griffin must fight to survive. Jack is pulled back and forth between the two worlds and isn't certain what's happening. Is Marbury real or was his brain damaged by the drugs given to him by his kidnapper? Is it worth even trying to survive in such a horrific place? Is there anything he can do to save his friend when he discovers Conner has been claimed by the monstrous disease that turns people into "devils"? How is a ghost able to help Jack in both Marbury and the real world? Or, is the real world even real at all? Why does Jack feel compelled to keep returning to Marbury?

As I was reading The Marbury Lens, the most overwhelming thought to which I kept returning was, "This is coming from a very dark place." I wondered what happened to the author to prompt him to write something so dark. And, when I say dark I'm referring to violence and gore, fear for one's life, the terror of torture and attempted rape . . . seriously unfathomable dark, not the kind of things this mind could even begin to approach from a written perspective. An interview with the author included in the book confirmed that the author did, indeed, have some very bad experiences as a teen. I'm going to share the part of the interview I feel is most relevant:

" . . . The Marbury Lens is ultimately about how one tragic event can have rippling consequences over the timeline of an innocent's life. The Marbury Lens is about how Jack tries, arguably with varying degrees of success, to deal with that issue despite his obvious flaws and predilection toward blaming himself." The next book in the series (so far, there are two books but the author mentioned on Twitter that he hopes to someday write a third) explores how Jack's trauma effects those around him. As dark as it is, there was a point at which I felt the same unbearable pull to return to the book that Jack feels about returning to Marbury and I do want to read on.

What I disliked about The Marbury Lens:

While it's probably realistic in many regards, I found the heavy drinking to help the two main characters forget their problems distressing. And, it was pretty shocking to me that at a mere 16 years of age Jack was so heavily pressured to prove his heterosexuality. He was relentlessly teased and not without effect. All the way through the book, Jack keeps thinking, "F*** you, Jack," to himself, not only because he's traumatized but probably because the constant abuse and the feeling of being rejected (starting with rejection by his own mother) has damaged him to the point that you wonder if he can keep from taking his own life. Although he doesn't ever mention suicide as a possibility, Jack's self-loathing is worrying. However, when he's in Marbury, Jack's survival instinct is his dominant feature. So, you know he has the capacity to dig deep and find a way to emerge from trauma.

I've recently taken to reading negative reviews in order to find out what people hate about a book, either to compare my own feelings with that of others or just out of curiosity. And, yes, the heavy drinking, sex, the constant use of vulgarity, the graphic violence and gore were all mentioned in the 1-star reviews of The Marbury Lens (the book still gets high ratings, in spite of its detractors). There have been times I have flatly rejected finishing books for less, so I can understand the readers' sentiments. But . . .

What I liked about The Marbury Lens:

There are some fascinating aspects to The Marbury Lens and they kept me turning the pages. For example, although the book is incredibly gory, I wanted to know what Marbury was -- whether real or imagined. Jack isn't the only person who can travel to Marbury but is it possible that he's imagining everything -- both the real world and the gory parallel world to which he repeatedly travels? I also just happen to love survival, so I did my best to overlook the horrifying parts and focus on the survival aspect. I really enjoyed finding out how Jack and his friends dealt with challenges.

One of my favorite parts involved a train full of mummified bodies in the middle of a desert. How did the train get there? How did its passengers die? Those questions aren't answered (although the author hints at an explanation in Passenger, the second book) but the train, in spite of its horrors, contains an unexpected treasure trove that will help the boys in their fight for survival. And, occasionally there is a glimpse of that train, or its parallel, in the real-world portions of The Marbury Lens. In other words, I was intrigued enough to keep turning the pages.

Recommended with a family warning - Although The Marbury Lens is a Young Adult book, it's one I'd advise reading along with your kids if they are at all interested in it as young adults. There's plenty to discuss. Many of the scenes in the book serve as warnings of the dangers of heavy drinking, trusting strangers, not being honest with the adults in your world (although, fortunately for Jack, he trusts Conner enough to reveal most everything and it's only when he's not fully open that their friendship falters).

As a parent, those are some of the things I would talk about with a teenager, along with how to find the confidence to say "no" to things that make you feel uncomfortable. The teen years are rough and I'm all for opening dialogue to let your kids know you've got their backs. But, The Marbury Lens is definitely a dark read, maybe too dark for some. If you have a particularly sensitive, nightmare-prone child, I'd advise steering him or her away from The Marbury Lens. The book did feed into my dream life, although oddly not in a bad way. Had it produced too many nightmares, I probably wouldn't be interested in reading Passenger. But, it definitely has the potential to trigger nightmares. There are also oversized bugs that eat the dead. Eww.

Side note:  There's a ghost named Seth in The Marbury Lens and while I had trouble understanding how a ghost could do the things this one did (luring the monstrous "devils", helping people heal), I really liked that particular character. He has a backstory all his own, which is slowly revealed, and his presence adds an interesting dimension to the overall story. And, in the end, you have to realize that there's a fantasy aspect to The Marbury Lens that cannot be reasoned out. Best just to let go and see where the author takes you.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fiona Friday - Best use of packing materials, ever

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Copyright 2015 - Release Date: May 28
Knopf - Fiction
179 pp.

Addie Moore and Louis Waters have a few things in common. They're elderly, their spouses have died, and they're both lonely. But, Addie has an idea. Would Louis be willing to come to her house to sleep with her? She's not interested in sex, just companionship. Nights are the hardest time to be alone.

Louis is taken aback at Addie's proposal but he's open to the concept. On the first night, he shows up at Addie's back door with his pajamas and toothbrush in a paper sack. Addie fearlessly tells him she's too old to worry about what anyone thinks of his presence.

So begins Our Souls at Night. It's an interesting concept -- two elderly people who spend their nights together to stave off loneliness. What will happen? Will the neighbors be shocked or understanding? Will Addie and Louis get along and become friends or find each other annoying? What will their children think? How will they handle the arrival of Addie's grandson?

Our Souls at Night is a quiet, surprising novel. I've never read Kent Haruf's writing but I've been curious about it for quite some time. I like the Colorado/Nebraska plains in which his books are set and I've heard his stories are gentle and thought-provoking, yet I went into the reading totally blind. I had no idea where he was going to take me and the book surprised me all the way through. As Addie and Louis get to know each other they encounter some very believable obstacles, share their fond memories, regrets, fears and the simple joys of everyday life.

Highly recommended - A tender, surprising, plain-spoken story about unexpected friendship, family, loneliness and small-town life that is lovely and bittersweet. I'll definitely read more of Kent Haruf's writing. The only things I really didn't like about the book were the fact that it was a little too painfully close to reality at some points and the lack of punctuation in dialogue, a style I dislike because it often makes it difficult to tell who's talking.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Black Run by Antonio Manzini

Black Run by Antonio Manzini
Released in the U.S. in April, 2015 (formerly published in Italy)
Published by Harper
Mystery/Crime Novel

Black Run is the first in a series of mysteries by an Italian author, featuring the crime-fighting skills of Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone, a detective who has been banished from Rome and now works on a small police force in the Italian Alps.

In the small town of Aosta, a man has been run over by a snow cat preparing the ski trails for the next day. The body is so badly damaged that it's a challenge to even locate all the pieces but the coroner and Schiavone quickly find enough evidence to prove that the victim was murdered. With very little to go on and a pushy magistrate and police chief who want answers quickly, Schiavone puts his skills to work.

There are some interesting details to the mystery and I absolutely loved the setting but I found the writing a little stiff and Schiavone unredeemably nasty. In some ways, he reminded me of British author Oliver Harris' shady detective hero, Nick Belsey, but I thought Belsey (in Deep Shelter, particularly) showed glimmers of hope for redemption and some semblance of morality, whereas Schiavone is just vile. His reason for having been banished from Rome is revealed but there's no real explanation of his uncomfortable marriage, at least near as I could tell. There are hints that his wife knows everything he's done and has some compelling reason to stay with him but without any real pretense at a relationship remaining. But, her appearances are minor enough to reveal little.

The mystery itself was fairly satisfying, although I sometimes had trouble understanding how the deputy police chief came to his conclusions and I absolutely did not like the way the author dragged out the dramatic arrest toward the end of the novel.

Neither recommended or not recommended - It's notable that I'm certain I got Black Run by mistake. I'm not a big fan of mysteries and choose them carefully; it's rare for a mystery description to really grab me. I got two in the same envelope, neither of which I recalled requesting. So, I think my requests must have been mixed up with someone else's.

However, I do read the occasional mystery-slash-crime novel and I was in the mood for a change of pace. I liked Black Run for the fact that it was so very different. The setting was unique, vivid, evocative. I liked reading about the cold when I'd been outside painting in the heat. It was refreshing. Also, during the time I was reading Black Run, I had vivid dreams of mountains and bickering Italians, which was surprisingly fun in spite of the fact that they were nightmares. I disliked the detective enough that I doubt I'd read another book in the series but I don't regret the time spent reading Black Run so I gave it an average rating. I would particularly recommend the book to mystery readers who don't mind a particularly dark and slimy protagonist.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.