Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George - DNF Report

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George is the second in the Nero series (I have not asked the publicist if the series will continue beyond two books) that began with The Confessions of Young Nero. I received a copy of The Splendor Before the Dark for review from Berkley Books and was hoping that I wouldn't find it problematic that I haven't read the first book. Unfortunately, I did have a little trouble with feeling like I needed a bit more backstory. I stopped just under 20% of the way into the book.

The Splendor Before the Dark begins with Nero awakening in his seaside home. Soon, his relaxing time is interrupted by an urgent message: Rome is on fire. Nero hastily dresses and heads to Rome, leaving his wife behind, in safety. When he arrives, Nero finds that the fire has been raging for days and shows no signs of being brought under control. The exciting and fast-paced descriptions of the Great Fire of Rome go on for nearly 50 pages and I found that I absolutely flew through them. It was only after the fire had been put out, Nero was working to house, feed, and clothe his citizens and drawing up a plan to rebuild that I began to realize that I needed to have read that first book because it was then that a diverse range of characters began to enter the picture. The author does a pretty good job of filling you in; I just felt like I needed more. I think the fact that I was exhausted from travel also entered into my decision to abandon the book. I wasn't getting anywhere at all. I'd often read a few pages and find that I was rereading paragraphs over and over, set it aside for a bit, and then come back to find myself struggling again.

I've wanted to read a Margaret George book for a long time and I'm glad I dipped my toes into the water, so to speak. While I was finding Nero a little too reasoned and calm for my taste, having read about his insanity all my life, I thought George's writing was excellent. I'll probably read up a little on Nero to see if I've misjudged him before returning to this series. I had no other real issues with it; I just needed to go back to the first book to get to know the characters and time period better. In fact, I learned a good bit. I had no idea, for example, that Ancient Rome had firefighters and found myself spending some time reading up on Roman firefighting.

I have The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George on my historical fiction shelves and I'll probably read that before acquiring or checking out the first Nero book from my library because it's a stand-alone. Without having finished The Splendor Before the Dark, I don't feel like I can recommend and I certainly wouldn't advise against reading it.  But, I can tell you that what I read was clearly well researched and absolutely engrossing. I just felt like I needed to back up and read the first novel before moving on. I was besotted enough with George's writing to feel like I should put The Memoirs of Cleopatra on next year's list of challenge books. The Splendor Before the Dark is a nice, thick book -- the kind that's great for reading on a cold winter's day in front of a fire. I just recommend reading The Confessions of Nero, first.

©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, November 13, 2018

Tuesday Twaddle

As often happens when I take a break (but not always -- I would have taken a break anyway, this past couple of weeks, because I was running out of books to write about), I was away on vacation part of  the time I've been away from blogging. I'm still recovering, having slept very badly since we returned. Plus, I think the shock of going from the 80s to the 30s (seriously, it's 37° out there, folks!) has given me a very mild cold.

Recent arrivals (left to right, top to bottom):

  • Cupidity by Patricia Wood - gift from the author
  • Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner - purchased
  • The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker - purchased
  • The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih - purchased
  • A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle - Unsolicited from Avon Books
  • The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig - purchased

There are some marvelous covers in this batch so I chose to show them off but they'd also make an oddly short stack because most of those purchases are thin books. The Mezzanine and The Wedding of Zein are for next year's challenge to find Perfect Little Books (link leads to a post about some Perfect Little Books I've read in the past). I got recommendations from friends on Facebook and placed an order (at least one more is coming, maybe 2) to get me started in January, since 2019 will be here in no time. I'm open to more suggestions. I want to find books that are around or under 200 pages, paced well, have strongly-written characters and plots with fantastic writing.

Cupidity by Patricia Wood was handed to me by the author when I asked her if that book, her second published book, was only available electronically. I started reading Cupidity while I was away but then it began to rain and I never did find the time to open it back up. Pat is the author of one of my all-time favorite books since I started my blog, Lottery. I've been to Hawaii and missed Pat by *this much* twice. This time, we were staying near her, again, and I managed to get in touch. She kindly invited us to hang out with her and her husband, introduced me to the Peach-Pear flavor of La Croix sparkling water (I will be haunting the stores till I find some) and we talked and talked. I also was excited to meet her gorgeous kitty, whose name I'm not sure I can spell. He's a sweetheart. I've just abandoned a book so I may go ahead and sneak in a reading of Cupidity. I'd only read 3 pages of Cupidity when the rain began but I was already appreciating Pat's sense of humor.

Lolly Willowes was recommended as a perfect fall read by another favorite author, Lissa Evans. I ordered it from Book Depository because I liked what I assume is its British cover -- the American one did nothing for me, but this one has a cat on it. Well, who could pass up a great cat cover?

And, The Truth Pixie is by Matt Haig, yet another favorite. I've only loved 2 out of 4 of the children's books I've read by Haig, but he manages to insert surprising bits of wisdom into all of his books, so I felt compelled to give this new children's book a go.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Monstrous Devices by Damien Love
  • Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
  • The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig

Currently reading:

  • D-Day: The WWII Invasion That Changed History by Deborah Hopkinson
  • The Third Level by Jack Finney (short stories)

I was reading a third book -- the one I mentioned that I would need to return to review on the 15th, before leaving: The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George -- but it ended up being a DNF. I'll still write about it on the tour date because I think it's worth mentioning why it didn't work for me but probably will for plenty of other people. Also, it's a tour book so I kind of have to say something, don't I?

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

I'm not generally a fan of beachy locations (I'm a mountain girl) but, wow, that was one relaxing vacation. It was a work trip for Huzzybuns, so I was free to sit on the lanai and read, visit with my author friend, shop, walk in the sand, etc. I loved the freedom to just spend the day doing whatever I felt like. I finished Marilla of Green Gables on a day that I just felt like reading. Part of my reading time was spent by the pool and part on the lanai and I did some sink laundry when I needed to take breaks. The seafood in Hawaii is amazing, too, so I had fun eating out.

I've just watched two more Hallmark Channel movies and I'm finding it surprising how much they reuse the same actors. I found myself comparing how convincing they were in their opposing roles, today, as 3 out of 4 of the love interests were repeat actors. I liked all 3 better in their first roles, which may mean it's just hard for me to switch gears. I found myself thinking, "He's a wealthy man with warm memories he's revisiting, not a small-town innkeeper!" Having said that, I liked 2 of the actors in their new roles, once I managed to turn off thoughts of their old parts.

Christmas in Homestead is about an actress and a mayor/innkeeper who fall for each other, similar to a Notting Hill type of storyline but without the quirky ensemble cast. Jessica is filming a Christmas story in Homestead, Iowa. She's recently broken up with her actor boyfriend and is planning to go to Fiji with a friend of hers for Christmas, since her presence at home is such a disruption (paparazzi follows her around). Her former boyfriend just happens to be playing her love interest in the movie she's filming.

Matt is the mayor of Homestead, a widower with a 10-year-old daughter who is a fan of Jessica's fantasy/action films. The two stars and the director are staying at the inn Matt and his sister inherited when their parents retired. He's never seen Jessica's films and isn't star-struck at all, but as they get to know each other, an attraction grows between them. Can they make the actor/small-town-guy relationship work? Or will her former boyfriend convince her to return to him? There's almost a secondary romance but not quite. It's more of a male/female friendship but it's cute.

The actor who plays Matt was also William Darcy in Christmas at Pemberley, which I loved, but I think I'd like him in any role. Jessica played an artist in The Art of Us. She's gorgeous enough to play an actress who must convince us she's a star who is followed around by photographers, but I liked the storyline of the other movie a bit better, although pieces of it made little question marks float over my head.

A Royal Christmas came on because I didn't switch off the Hallmark Channel fast enough and who am I to fight fate? I decided to go ahead and watch it.

Emily is a seamstress who has been dating Leo for a year. Leo is planning on spending Christmas with her family, but then he's called home and is forced to confess that he's the prince of a small nation near the South of France. He invites Emily to go with him.

Jane Seymour plays Queen Isadora, a prim and proper monarch who expects her son to marry a duchess named Natasha, who both has the proper background and has known him from childhood. The queen is dismayed at the casual manners of the American girl Leopold has brought home with him. Emily knows nothing about dinner etiquette, is a lowly commoner, and she likes to hang out with the downstairs help. Can she dissuade Leo from his plans to propose and get him back together with Natasha?

A Royal Christmas is predictable in every way, which is fine. I didn't care and I had to reach for the tissues, in the end. I thought Lacey Chabert was much more convincing in her other role (one of those innkeeper/busy businesswoman pairings) in which I saw her, but the prince was a bit Prince William-like in his features and I found him very believable. Jane Seymour was fun as the bitter queen. I am so loving this new channel. It's like comfort food . . . incredibly relaxing to watch gentle romance movies.

©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, November 02, 2018

Fiona Friday and a brief break

It's cold outside and there's nothing like a nice, warm lap kitty when the temperature drops!

I'm going to take a brief break from the Internet. I haven't decided how long I'll be away but I currently have a book tour on the 15th (which might change), so I'll plan to be back by then. I may come back after a week. It just depends on how much time I need to feel restored. Sometimes, I try to stay away and fail, of course. At any rate, I'll definitely be back by the 15th of November. I'm almost caught up on reviews, so this is a good time to take a break. Happy Autumn!

©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, November 01, 2018

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Before I get into the synopsis of The Last Ballad, I have to tell you the coolest thing about reading this book. I read Wiley Cash's last book, This Dark Road to Mercy, and was impressed. So I drove up to Oxford, Mississippi to see Wiley speak at Square Books when he came through on his book tour. At the time, Wiley had recently read about the events that The Last Ballad is based upon and was already beginning to plot his next novel. He talked about the historical background a bit and said he was excited about his next project. It's been several years so it was a thrill to finally get to read the book that was, at that time, still mostly an idea in his head. Incidentally, if you ever get a chance to see Wiley speak, you must. He's an excellent speaker.

The Last Ballad is the story of the early labor movement, with focus on a woman who was murdered in the 1920s. Ella May Wiggins is a single mother with four young children. Her husband, John, has run off, leaving her to support them on her job at the local mill, where she earns nine dollars a week. Most of the time, the children are left at home alone during her night shift but, as the book opens, Ella May is being called in to talk to the boss because she missed a shift to take care of a sick child. She has already lost one child to illness and her unwillingness to risk the life of another has threatened her job.

Shortly after she's chastised for missing work, Ella May hears about the fancy New Yorkers who have come to town to help create a labor union. Ella May's children wear tattered clothing and the entire family is skinny and starving, most of the time. She's encouraged by the idea of a union improving their lives and goes to a meeting to see what it's all about. And, then another. In spite of the violent attempts to stop the union, Ella May is undeterred. She writes her own lyrics about the hardship of a mill worker and is persuaded to sing at a gathering. From then on, she's well-known and it's only through finagling a job working for the union organizers that she's able to continue getting an income.
But, being involved is dangerous work.

Highly recommended - Gorgeous prose, a story that really gets into the depths to which employers will go to increase the bottom line at the expense of their employees and makes you practically feel the hunger of Ella May and her family. Sad, moving, and meaningful. Just a fantastic story that will leave you in awe of the main character's courage and tenacity. There were times I felt a tiny bit bored and wondered if The Last Ballad couldn't have been edited down a bit, yet the writing is so beautiful that it would be awful to remove a word from it. I'm so impressed with Wiley Cash's writing.

I still have Wiley's first book, unread. Now I'm doubly looking forward to it.

©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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Two Graphic Novels: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka and To Kill a Mockingbird by Fred Fordham

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a graphic memoir about the author and illustrator's life. The book begins by telling about Krosoczka's mother and her family, how his mother became pregnant and was rejected by the father of her child and how baby Jarrett ended up spending most of his time living with his grandparents while his mother flitted in and out of his life, writing to him but seldom showing up.

Krosoczka's life was interesting for the colorful language of his grandparents, his mother's method of encouraging his art from afar, and how he handled the challenges of not knowing who his father was and what his mother was up to. Eventually, he learned the truth: his mother was an addict who came and went from home to the street to jail or halfway houses. Because she occasionally wrote to him and showed up when she was able, Krosoczka knew his mother loved him but he always missed having her in his life when she was away.

Highly recommended - I don't feel like I'm doing an adequate job of describing Hey, Kiddo, so I'll just skip to the bottom line. This is a highly readable graphic novel that gives you a distinct sense of what it's like to grow up not really knowing either parent and how erratic the life of an addict is. It also tells about the author's artistic journey, how his talented mother and his caring grandparents encouraged his art, and what he learned from art instructors that influenced him, as well as his stylistic choices. It's a touching, deeply meaningful story about coming through an unusual and sometimes difficult childhood and the destructiveness of addiction to the addict and everyone around her. I found this was one of the clearest graphic novels I've ever read. Usually, authors rely a little too heavily on the artwork to do the explaining but there's plenty of text and I didn't find the art confusing as I often do.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, illustrated and adapted by Fred Fordham is a graphic adaptation of the classic novel by Harper Lee. You can tell what you're getting into by the prominence of Harper Lee's name on the cover and the words "illustrated and adapted". Sure enough, Fred Fordham -- the illustrator who adapted the novel -- almost exclusively used words directly pulled from the novel. He only altered them when necessary for clarity (I couldn't tell when that occurred: I just know it because the author said so).

I've only read To Kill a Mockingbird once, but it's one of those books that sticks with you because it's so brilliant and meaningful. Still, there were times I didn't understand what was going on in a particular frame or set of frames. But, in general, when I couldn't figure out what was happening it was quickly clarified, so a handful of frames that perplexed me was never enough to cause a problem. Also, the farther you get into this particular graphic novel, the better it becomes.

Highly recommended - An excellent adaptation of a classic novel into graphic novel form. The characters are clearly identifiable and there were only a few instances in which I couldn't tell exactly what was happening but the confusion didn't last long. I particularly appreciated the use of Harper Lee's actual wording. I didn't know it was hers till the author's note but I presumed so because of the language, which is pretty distinctive and a little old-fashioned.

Additional notes:

Hey, Kiddo has a particular colored palatte that was a deliberate choice and a little unusual -- not full color but limited to about 4 colors. The finished copy of To Kill a Mockingbird appears to be full color. I have an ARC that's black and white but I looked online and found a video at Amazon of the author and he talks about using watercolor washes and shows himself coloring in some of the images. It looks beautiful and I think maybe the final, colored version will make some of those frames that I had trouble with make sense. In at least one case, there was a series of frames that were so dark that they were almost entirely black. Colored, I would imagine the characters stand out better, even though the reason they were dark was because they took place at night. At any rate, the graphic novelization of To Kill a Mockingbird would probably make a super gift for those who claim it as their favorite book. In my case, it made sense of at least one scene that I had trouble understanding when I read the book, years ago, so it's also great for anyone who loves the language but may have been slightly baffled by a scene or two.

©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, October 30, 2018

Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

In Monstrous Devices by Damien Love, when Alex's grandfather sends him a robot, Alex is not surprised. He's been collecting robots for years. But, this one is different -- older, unique, even a bit creepy. And, it has a secret.

Alex's grandfather shows up in England shortly after Alex receives both the robot and an unexpected visit from two dangerous little robots that attack Alex. He'll have to miss a bit of the school term but it's almost over and Grandfather's in a hurry. So Alex quickly goes along with his Grandfather's scheme and they take the Chunnel train to Paris. There, they hope to stop a very bad man and his entourage, who use deadly robots to get what they want. As they travel, Grandad tells Alex stories, things that are are connected to the robot's secret, and bits of history that relate in some way. He tells him about the first robot ever made, in Prague, and the story of a missing robot, one of a set of three.

From England to Paris to Prague, Alex and his grandfather chase down clues, run and dodge dangerous flying robots, a man who can jump long distances, and two beefy bald men, as well as a little girl who has control of a large number of fliers (flying robots) with sharp edges and hooks. All are after the robot Grandad sent to Alex because only that robot can help them acquire something dangerous in the name of power.

Highly recommended - Monstrous Devices is an adventurous, riveting middle reader with so much action that I occasionally yearned for the slower chapters that served to allow this reader to catch her breath. It's exciting. Alex is bullied at the beginning of the book but by the afterword, he has come into his own. I enjoyed Alex's character arc and the lighthearted grandfather who always does something and then tells Alex, "You should never do this. Very unhealthy. Could get you killed." Grandfather made me smile. A nice blend of action, adventure, and humor.

Below the title it says, "Beware of things that go click in the night," in case you can't read the tiny print.

©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, October 29, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Polar Bear Island by Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos - from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • Monstrous Devices by Damien Love - from Penguin Random House for review
  • The Huntress by Kate Quinn - from HarperCollins for review

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: A Graphic Novel by Harper Lee and Fred Fordham
  • Polar Bear Island by Lindsay Bonilla and Cinta Villalobos

I also read a single short story: "Twentieth Century Ghosts" by Joe Hill. Since I don't feel like I have the time to slot in a spooky or atmospheric book for fall, I decided to just read this old favorite ghost story from Joe Hill's first book. It's creepy without being terrifying, which is just about perfect for me.

Currently reading:

  • Monstrous Devices by Damien Love
  • D-Day: The WWII Invasion that Changed History by Deborah Hopkinson
  • Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy
  • The Third Level by Jack Finney

My review of Monstrous Devices is due tomorrow and I'm only 90 pages in but so far it's a terrific adventure (middle grade). I'll have to read hard to finish it today, though. I can't remember what compelled me to pluck The Third Level off the shelves, but it's one of only two Jack Finney books (short stories, in this case) I know of that I haven't gotten around to reading. Jack Finney is one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read two short stories and they were both amazing. In the title story, "The Third Level", the narrator gets lost in Grand Central Station and discovers an unexpected underground level that has led him into the 19th century, where he tries to buy a train ticket to Galesburg, Illinois. But, his modern money is considered suspicious, so he's unable to buy the ticket and wanders through the station till he returns to the present time. 

I hardly touched D-Day and only read the prologue and first chapter of Marilla of Green Gables, but both are great, so far, and I only set them aside because two of the books I've recently read were time sensitive (one a tour book, one just recently published). After Monstrous Devices, I think I only have one book tour coming up and that's not till the 15th of November, so I should be able to enjoy finishing the books I've started. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

I finished all of Doc Martin, last week, and wasn't sure what to move on to, next, then the shooting in Pittsburgh happened and I realized that after a week of truly horrifying news (bombs in the mail, African Americans deliberately targeted and then Jews), I needed to find something escapist. So, I talked my husband into subscribing to the Hallmark Channel and this weekend I watched two Hallmark movies:

Mail Order Bride starring Daphne Zuniga and Cameron Bancroft is about a woman who steals $10,000 and then takes the place of her friend, who has been writing to a rancher and planned to marry him but passed away.

Diana has been forced to work for a con man since she picked his pocket while still young. Seeing an opportunity to get away, she steals from a man who has just won a large sum of money and takes her friend's place as a mail order bride. But, it's hard to stop her thieving ways and she isn't sure the ranching life is right for her. Will she move on to San Francisco or stay with Beau?

Christmas at Pemberley Manor is new for the fall season and I saw people live-tweeting about it on Saturday. It sounded fun.

Elizabeth Bennett works behind the scenes as an event planner. She's very organized, always keeping her events in separate colored binders. When she's asked by an old friend, George, to plan the Christmas Festival in the town where he is now mayor, she does the planning herself instead of staying behind the scenes. But, then disaster strikes. Now, the festival can't be held where she'd originally planned.

William Darcy has inherited his aunt and uncle's mansion, Pemberley Manor, but the board of directors for his company is planning to sell the home and tear it down to build condos. The house has sat empty for years and he's decided to return for a few days to the place he most enjoyed holidays, before saying goodbye to the house forever.

When the local town festival's planned location falls through, Elizabeth finds a way to convince Mr. Darcy to let her hold the festival on the grounds of Pemberley Manor. But, then Elizabeth's boss, Caroline Bingley, finds out Elizabeth has a connection to William Darcy, whom she's been trying to persuade to become one of her clients for years. When Caroline takes over the planning, Elizabeth no longer has an excuse to spend so much time with William. Will the spark between them die?

I loved both movies because they're pure escapism and that was exactly what I needed. The Hallmark Channel is definitely my panacea for a sad news week.

©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.