Friday, March 27, 2020

Fiona Friday - Current mood

©2020 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 26, 2020

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

A little background on the purchase of Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, up front. I started out reading a different novel about a black woman and her son whose father was white for Black History Month and then a friend who'd just read it said, "Read this instead," about Such a Fun Age. She didn't say that to me, personally; it was just a general announcement that she'd read both and one story was more authentic than the other, in her opinion, which she made on Facebook.

I was already reading the one she thought was the lesser and enjoying it but not far into it at the time of my friend Amy's post. She said the difference between the two was night and day, that the one written by a white woman didn't have the ring of authenticity but Such a Fun Age, by a black woman, does. I thought it would be fun to compare the two as Amy had, so I bought a copy of Such a Fun Age. I'm not mentioning the title of the other one because it eventually became a DNF and I can't find it to quote from. I figure I shouldn't pick on the author for no good reason if I can't point out the specific problem I had with it.

At any rate, I bought a copy of Such a Fun Age because I trust Amy. Then, about 1/3 of the way into the other book, there was a sentence that I found offensive and inaccurate about the son having both black and white genetics and mostly looking black but he didn't have to worry about his blackness because he lived this cushy middle-class life. That may have been disproven in the story, but by that point I was frustrated with the characters. They felt more like caricatures than well-rounded humans to me and I just couldn't buy into the storyline at all. It was frustrating me.

Finally, after about 5 days of reading for a little bit and then setting the book aside out of inattention, I decided to give up on it for good (I was a little more than halfway into it) and a few days later I started on Such a Fun Age, mostly out of curiosity due to Amy's thoughts but also because I saw Kiley Reid on Trevor Noah's show and she was utterly fascinating. She said she likes cringe-y scenes and I wanted to see if her book made me cringe.

On to the story . . .

Emira Tucker is 25, black, and has a bachelor's degree but she's a babysitter working for the very white and upper class Chamberlain family. She is aware that she should probably do something different; she's about to fall off her parents' insurance when she turns 26 and she's got skills. But, she's just not sure what she wants to do or how to go about it. She adores her little charge, Briar, who is precocious and a little hyper-sensitive. As much as she knows she should probably move on, she loves Briar as if she were her own and the idea of leaving her is unbearable. There's another child, a baby, but Briar's mom usually keeps the baby with her and ignores Briar.

Alix Chamberlain is a go-getter who is used to having everything her way. She married well and lives in a fabulous house but she's been thrown off-kilter by the family's move from New York City to Philadelphia. She misses her friends and her packed schedule. As an "influencer" she has built a huge following and she knows she can keep it up from her new home. But, the move has made her sluggish and she's so unsure about what her change of location will do to her brand that she's still pretending to work from New York. She has a book deal but that's going nowhere, as well. And, then her world is upended when her babysitter is accused of kidnapping Briar.

The inciting incident in this book happens when a window is broken in the Chamberlain home because Alix's newscaster husband said something that's been construed as offensive (he claims he didn't mean it the way it's being taken). Alix calls Emira, who is dressed for a party, and asks her to take Briar away from the house until the police have left. It's while Emira's out with Briar at a grocery store that someone accuses her of kidnapping the child. There, she also meets a man named Kelley, whom she begins to date, eventually. But, there's something weird about both the way Alix and Kelley treat Emira, like she's some sort of token they should be proud of.

Highly recommended - I love how realistic Such a Fun Age feels. The characters ring true to me in a way that makes me feel both uncomfortable and, at the same time, nod along at how much I can relate to various aspects I'd rather not relate to. I understand, for example, what it's like to be an adult who feels like you're not doing adulthood right, that you ought to be doing something else, earning better money, finding your place in the world. That unsettled feeling that Emira has . . . I don't have that anymore, but I remember it well. My plans were rocked off their foundation when I was quite young and it took me a very long time to figure things out.

There were brief moments that I wanted the story to move a little faster and I never did buy that the object thrown into the Chamberlains' window would have broken the window unless there was already some damage to the glass, but Such a Fun Age tackles some subtle acts of racism in a powerful way and it's just a good story. And, yes, it did make me squirm a time or two.

I think it's worth mentioning that while I bought Such a Fun Age with Black History Month in mind, I'd heard a lot about it and probably would have bought it eventually, regardless of the time of year. I also thought it would be a great book for discussion and may mention it to my F2F group leader when I return to meetings (which, I presume will be suspended till the pandemic is under control).

©2020 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 23, 2020

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Until she was eighteen, Rose Gold Watts thought she was extremely sick. She was tiny and weak, needed a wheelchair, couldn't keep food down, and went with her mother from doctor to doctor seeking answers. Then, someone helped her figure out what was going on. Her mother was making her sick. Patty Watts was a good actor. She was persuasive, an inveterate and skilled liar. She preyed on the weaknesses of others, even doctors, slyly suggesting possible ailments and quickly disappearing when a doctor became suspicious.

Patty went to prison for 5 years for abusing her daughter. Now, she's been released. Rose Gold is the only person she can possibly stay with. Their relationship has improved, recently, and Rose Gold now has a baby. She's more mature now and willing to take her mother in, although she has a few strange habits that Patty doesn't understand.

Rose Gold has had a hard time adjusting to adulthood, having missed out on her childhood and interaction with others. In flashbacks, slowly moving forward through time to when Patty is released from prison, the reader finds out what's happened to Rose Gold during the time her mother's been imprisoned. And, in alternating chapters, the tension builds as Patty plots her revenge and observes her daughter's weak points.

Throughout Rose Gold, Patty slowly worms her way back into Rose Gold's affections. But, what is Rose Gold up to? Why does she lock her door, even when she leaves the house? Is Rose Gold what she appears to be?

Highly recommended - The only reason I didn't give Rose Gold 5 stars (I gave it 4) is because there are so many yucky people in the book. Occasionally I found myself wishing someone, somewhere would do something kind and good for Rose Gold and eventually that happens, but even the nicer characters have their bad side. That made it a slightly squirmy, uncomfortable read.  Both characters are unreliable in their own ways, though, and that unreliability really made the pages fly. Rose Gold is an "I just have to know what will happen" kind of book, so very compelling and gripping. Even though it's clear that Patty was making Rose Gold ill and deserved her jail sentence, her internal monologue is confusing enough to cast doubt. Squirmy or not, Rose Gold was wonderfully tense and the ending is incredibly satisfying. Read this one when you're ready for a fast-paced, creepy and suspenseful read.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy!

©2020 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 Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen - purchased
  • The Lost Puzzler by Eyal Kless - from HarperCollins for review
  • Regretting You by Colleen Hoover,  
  • Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker, and 
  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King - all purchased
  • Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert - sent by author
  • The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey - from Berkley Books for review
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett - purchased

Most of these were purchases, as you can see. I briefly threw aside my book-buying ban to buy a few books from an indie bookstore to do my small part to help them survive the pandemic (The Dutch House and Writers and Lovers; I also pre-ordered The Paris Hours by Alex George from the store).

Devil Darling Spy was a "quick, must buy this book I'm dying to read before I reinstate the ban" thing. Orphan Monster Spy (first in the series) was a favorite in 2018 so the follow up is one of my recent most-wished-for books. Lakeshire Park is a book I was going to receive from the publisher but when COVID-19 hit the Shadow Mountain press office and they had to isolate, I opted to go ahead and buy my own copy rather than read an e-galley because I really do hate e-books that much. I hope everyone at Shadow Mountain is doing well.

Unflappable is one of those rare books I accepted from an author. I still remember Flyaway (a book about working in wildlife rehab) well so I was thrilled when author Suzie Gilbert asked if I'd like to read her first novel. Regretting You was an impulse purchase that I threw in the cart when I saw that it was on sale. I have a lot of Instagram friends who are crazy about Colleen Hoover's writing and I've been eager to give her a try. After I bought the book, I discovered that I have an e-book by Hoover, but as often as I read e-books I'm glad I bought a paperback of a different title.

And, now I'm back on the book-buying ban so the "recent arrivals" category may eventually sputter away. The only book offers I've gotten recently have been e-galleys, which makes sense during a time of pandemic. It may just be time for me to focus on what's on the shelves.

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton
  • Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Just two finished, although I tried to participate in the Stay at Home 24 in 48 Challenge. It ended up being more of a Stay at Home 3 in 24 but that was enough for me. I managed to sneak off for a few hours to read Darling Rose Gold and that meant I was able to finish a book on Saturday. No effort went into readathoning at all on Sunday.

Currently reading:

  • Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

I want to focus on Nature's Best Hope for a bit because it's just been sitting on the bedside table for a couple of weeks so I didn't start a new fiction title last night. I do hope to add a fiction title tonight, though, and I'm leaning toward Flamebringer by Elle Katharine White, the third in the Heartstone series.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Not much TV watching apart from the news, again, but we did watch most of Earth Girls Are Easy, just for a silliness break. Eventually, I realized neither of us were paying attention to it and we turned it off, then later we checked PBS and Little Women was on. I watched 2 hours of Little Women but was dismayed to find that they were airing 3 episodes in a row. That was too much for me so I skipped the 3rd episode and went to soak in the tub. I'm not a big Jimmy Fallon fan but I've been enjoying streaming the home version of his late show and wow, his house is amazing. I want a house with a slide in it.

I've also been watching every funny musical anything rewritten with coronavirus lyrics and I enjoyed part of Keith Urban's concert from a warehouse with Nicole Kidman dancing around him. But, I seem to have almost no patience with TV or movies, at the moment. My attention span is totally shot.

I'm currently watching videos and reading lessons in a Coursera course (free online) about COVID-19 that's being taught by the Imperial College of London because I prefer hearing from actual scientists over politicians. I've totally given up watching the briefings from the White House because the president still is unwilling to let the experts do all the talking and much of what he says turns out to be inaccurate. Even knowing how bad he is at telling the truth, I was finding that I would believe something he said and then find corrections online. It's just not worth it to watch the daily stream of disinformation and the insults. It's also very frustrating when he cuts off reporters and starts a rambling attempt at distraction before they've finished their questions. However, I think Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings are worth listening to as he focuses on facts and action.

Since a lot of people are reading pandemic novels, I would like to recommend one that's relatively new and which I recently reviewed, A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen (link leads to my review). I'm considering rereading it to see it from a different perspective. It's set in a post-pandemic world with flashbacks to the pandemic and a new wave of the disease coming on. I'm finding Chen's imagination was accurate in some ways that I didn't expect it to be. For example, most everyone has a case of post-pandemic trauma, much like PTSD but specifically related to the horror of living through a pandemic. This is really not something I would have imagined but I know many of my friends are stressed, sleepless, having difficulty concentrating and anxiety attacks. Some are having nightmares. I had a strange dream about being really excited to find a giant loaf of wheat bread in the grocery store (about 2 times the size of a normal loaf) while in that same dream I was also terrified to find that too many people were in the store and they weren't keeping a safe distance, a couple nights ago. It's a dream that came straight from the reality that we only had 4 slices of bread left.

On the plus side, I've noticed that cooking together has become a common family activity amongst my friends and that those who have flour on hand are baking their own bread. We have a nice fresh loaf in our kitchen. I've found a place to get eggs and some fresh veggies without going to the grocery store (no new source for milk or butter but we're looking) via a weekly produce box at a local farm. We've planted lettuce, strawberries, herbs, and tomatoes. The squirrels usually eat everything edible that we plant but it's worth a try. And, the pandemic seems to be helping me finally stop drinking soda pop because I only have a handful of sodas left, which I'm rationing. There is much good coming of this horror.

Wishing everyone safety and health and praying for those who are working hard in healthcare, grocery stores, and other places where people are exposed to the public.

©2020 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 20, 2020

Fiona Friday - Window Izzy

It's almost like she's looking back, thinking of when life was normal, but life is about the same for our cats. They still rush to the door to beg for bits of grass when I return from the mailbox, still think I should put cereal in their bowls every time I go to the kitchen, still holler at me if I'm doing housework when they went me to sit with them while they nap. They don't notice that I open the mail then set it outside in the sunshine to air out, wipe down the doorknobs on both sides of the door, and then wash my hands. Life in the Time of COVID-19 is challenging but we'll get through this. Wishing health to all my readers.

©2020 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 19, 2020

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

I bought my copy of Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston on the advice of my friend Alyce using the last of the Amazon card she sent me (thanks, Alyce!) It's the story of an American president's son, Alex, and a British prince named Henry who fall in love. But, it's election season and the president's campaign could be thrown into disarray if their romance becomes public knowledge.

One thing I loved about Red, White and Royal Blue was that Alex doesn't actually realize he's bisexual. Is this plausible? I think so. Societal expectations can convince us we're something we're not. At any rate, Alex has dated women. One of his best friends is a former flame and the two of them will occasionally pretend to be an item just to toy with the press. He had one brief, gay interaction in the past that he thought nothing of. Now, it's become apparent to him that he is not just a fan of the prince but massively attracted to him.

Another thing I loved was the fact that the president is a divorced woman. Now, there we seriously sink into fantasy territory because America does not forgive women for having any flaws at all. Husband had an affair? It's the woman's fault. Stay with him? What's wrong with you, woman? Leave him? You made vows before God and you're breaking them. And, we know any flaw at all is enough to keep a woman from the presidency. The author admitted that she chose to create a fantasy world that fit her own political desires.

There were a few things I didn't like, as well. The first half of Red, White and Royal Blue bored me a bit, I confess. It was cute. I liked the plotting around the romance itself, but there were too many sex scenes for my taste and not enough relationship building, in my humble opinion. I liked both the main and side characters a lot, though, and the dialogue is wonderful. And, the second half is meatier, about facing one's truth, how a family scandal can rock an election, whether or not being in an LGBTQ relationship should even be a scandal, the importance of family, the meaning of love, finding your place in the world (even if it means plans change), and how crucial it is to have people in your life who believe in you. Lots to think about.

Recommended - There was obviously plenty to love about Red, White and Royal Blue and in the end I was really quite moved. There's an impressive complexity to the story that isn't always something you see in romance, since it has that political side, and so many interconnecting themes about love and family and life. Plus, I enjoyed the humor.

©2020 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, March 18, 2020

And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton

First, a clarification before I review this book: I said And They Called It Camelot is a fictional biography about John and Jackie Kennedy, a couple days ago. That's not entirely accurate. As you can see from the words on the cover, it says And They Called It Camelot is a novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Most of the book, however, does cover her years with JFK. There's a little bit before she started dating him and then it focuses on what it was like to date a Kennedy with the presidency in his sights, deal with things like his back injuries and her miscarriages, and become a very young First Lady with two small children. Jackie's story is told in four parts and the fourth part is the shortest, skipping ahead, little by little, to the final chapter in 1977.

So, what did I think of this story? I liked the learning experience. I knew JFK was known for having multiple affairs. I knew Jackie had at least one miscarriage while she was First Lady and I think I was aware she'd had a couple of others. I didn't know the details, though — how often JFK left his wife for months, hanging out in Europe with other women; how many miscarriages Jackie had and how far along she was. These things were much more severe than I realized. It was also interesting getting a glimpse into events like the election and why people thought it unlikely JFK would win; learning about what was important to Jackie as First Lady and how her past job keeping an upscale home informed the way she remodeled the White House; reading about her life after the loss of her husband to an assassin. I learned a lot! That's what I loved best about the book. It's also a very smooth read.

The only things I didn't like about the book were more about preference and personal viewpoint than anything else. I'm increasingly finding that I have a great deal of difficulty suspending disbelief when it comes to fictional biographies. I'll skid to a halt thinking, "Would he or she really have thought this way?" or wondering if the dialogue is anywhere near reality. I still can enjoy a book with those questions running through my head, but I'm leaning toward reading more biographies that include primary source documents within the text, in the future. I know not every biography is 100% accurate because there's always a little bit of the author's or historian's viewpoint involved and some things can only be guessed at, but I'm finding I prefer to actually see the words of the people I'm reading about. Also, this book made me kind of hate JFK. I've long known of his affairs but seeing it through Jackie's eyes was immensely painful.

Recommended to a specific audience - I enjoyed And They Called It Camelot especially for the learning experience and particularly recommend it to anyone who has a fascination for Jackie Kennedy Onassis and/or those who enjoy historical fiction or historical biographies. While I'm back on a buying ban, And They Called It Camelot piqued my interest enough that I'd probably hop online and order some books about the Kennedys and the Sixties (always a favorite time period to read about, anyway) if I wasn't avoiding purchases.

Fun side effect of reading this book: There are quite a few descriptions of Jackie's outfits, events they attended, people they knew, the interior of the White House, etc. I spent a lot of time looking up photographs of those things. It always adds a little dimension when photos of the subject matter are readily available.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy of And They Called It Camelot!

©2020 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 17, 2020

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

Racism, as it has evolved in the history of the United States, has always involved a measure of criminalization so that it is not difficult to understand how stereotypical assumptions about Black people being criminals persist to this day. Racial profiling is an example. The fact that driving while Black can be dangerous. Recently, one of the trending Twitter conversations had to do with "criming while White." A whole number of white people wrote in and described crimes they had committed for which they were never suspected, and one person pointed out that he and a Black friend were arrested by the police for stealing a candy bar. The cop gave the white person the candy bar, and the Black person was eventually sentenced to prison. 

~pp. 33-34

I chose Freedom is a Constant Struggle as my read for Black History Month and I'm obviously a bit late getting around to talking about it so it's not as fresh in my mind as I'd like it to be, but I remember enough to say a few words about it.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle is a set of speeches and interviews about the intersection of racism in the U.S. and oppression in other countries. The author is a well-known activist who travels the world speaking about oppression, the history of oppression and ways in which large corporations contribute to the problem, why oppression is profitable, and how prison is used to oppress certain populations, among other things. She offers alternatives and ideas for change.

I like these words on what keeps Angela Davis going:

[...] I don't think we have any alternative other than remaining optimistic. Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it's only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect. 

~p. 49

One of the things Davis talks about quite a bit in Freedom is a Constant Struggle is the private prison system and how profit-making leads to a higher level of incarceration. I remember the Obama administration had started working on closing down private prisons for exactly that reason but I've since read that the current administration is doing the opposite, allowing for more private prisons and expanding their reach by using the same corporation(s) who run prisons to take on housing of immigrants. The book was published in 2016, so it's a little outdated in that regard but you can fill in the blanks of what's happened with a little reading up on the Internet. It's still got a lot of valuable information.

The only thing that I kept puzzling over was the fact that Davis is for banishing imprisonment entirely. As in no prisons, whatsoever. I kept thinking, "So, what do you do with the hard-core criminals, those who committed violent crimes?" That was not addressed and it's something I would love to ask the author, if I were given the opportunity to talk to her.

Highly recommended - A very thought-provoking book, worth reading and discussing. I was familiar with the name Angela Davis but I didn't realize she was a Black Panther, although it's clear from the reading that she's been an activist for a very long time. I'd actually love to read more about her. She is highly educated and I often found myself thinking, "This is just a bit above my intellectual level" but it's not at any point unbearably dry; it's very readable but with moments that required extra concentration. The reading made me want to get to my book about the Black Panther Party, which I also bought for last year's Black History Month. I may go ahead and read that, this year, if I can fit it in. I would also love to reread Freedom is a Constant Struggle with a group, some time. It's ripe for discussion.

©2020 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.