Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by Jill Esbaum, illus. by Dasha Tolstikova

There are a few things you should be warned about if you're thinking it would be fun to have a T. Rex crash your birthday party, says the narrator of If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party:

First of all, a T. Rex is as big as a school bus. 

A klutzy, CRASHY school bus. 

Second of all, 
he'll have this weird way
of looking at you.

Like he's wondering how you'd taste with a little mustard.

Thus begins If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party. The story continues in the same vein, imagining all the crazy things that might happen if a T. Rex showed up at a birthday party. How he'd accidentally pop the bouncy castle with his 10-inch nails. How easily his temper would flare. How terrible he'd be at hide and seek because of his size. All the trouble his little arms would cause.

But, in the end, you'd be perfectly happy if the T. Rex wanted to return, next year.

Highly recommended - I love everything about If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party: the humor ("T. Rex + toys = disaster"), the colorful illustrations on a clean, white background -- fresh, fun, and easy on the eyes -- the delightful storyline. Given the number of dinosaur books that are available, I'm astounded by how inventive the stories can be. If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party is 40 pages of bright, imaginative fun and a new favorite that I'm eagerly looking forward to reading to my granddaughter when I see her.

©2016 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, August 29, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Almost September! Who is feeling just a little bit woozy from the quick passage of time? Here's hoping that the rest of 2016 is a little calmer than what we've experienced, so far.

New arrivals:

  • Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth - from HarperCollins for review

Yes, just one book arrived, this week! Good. Needed to even out the influx after last week's arrivals. OK, having just finished that sentence, two more books arrived - both books that I ordered:

  • Easy Street by Ron Perlman - Who, surprisingly, follows me on Twitter. I suspect he followed me because I'm a book blogger, although his book was not yet at press when he did so and nobody offered his book to me (unless I missed an offer, somewhere - sometimes they do disappear into the spam file and I never see them; I don't check the spam file often enough). At any rate, the book sounded interesting from the beginning and has gotten very positive reviews so curiosity won out. 
  • A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines - My F2F group's November selection.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • 14 Seconds to Hell by Nick Carter - Nick Carter is the spy in 14 Seconds to Hell but if you try to look up the book, he's billed as the author. The copyright is held by the publisher so there's no telling who wrote the book. At any rate, it's a crazy 60s-era pulp fiction spy thriller. 
  • Kid Artists by Stabler and Horner - Mini bios about artists when they were young, already reviewed. 

Currently reading:

  • A Square Meal by Coe and Ziegelman - I made some significant progress on A Square Meal, last night, and have decided I need to get going on finishing this book so I can move on to a couple other non-fiction titles that have been waiting a bit too long. Still enjoying it. Learning to loathe President Hoover for refusing to distribute food to citizens who were literally starving to death. His talking points remind me a bit of Paul Ryan's. 
  • Wonder Women by Sam Maggs - A book about women who have made major contributions, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math fields but with a few others thrown in. Very modern and accessible, stylistically. I'm enjoying this book. I asked my husband if he knew the first computer program was written by a woman and he said, "Was her name Ada something?" "Yes," I replied. He told me there's a computer language named after her, "It's not a very good language, though." Many of the women in this book worked unpaid or were not credited for their discoveries. They were also treated rather badly, although if one was fortunate enough to have a male championing her skills, the situation typically improved.
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett - Patchett's new to me and I'm impressed. Commonwealth is the story of several generations of a combined family and how the divorce and remarriage that blended their families reverberated through the generations. I can't even figure out why it's so compelling; it just is. I think maybe it's because the storytelling is so honest, the characters true to life in a way that makes you visualize them as real people, not just characters. I'm a little under halfway through Commonwealth.
  • Intimations: Stories by Alexandra Kleeman - A book of quirky short stories. I read the first one and found it so baffling that I looked up an interview with the author about the story, "Fairy Tale", which was originally published in The Paris Review. I still don't get it. It was more eerily reminiscent of a nightmare than a fairy tale, to me (at least, it reminded me of some of my own nightmares). Elsewhere, someone described her stories as allegories. Truly, I may just be too dim to understand what she's trying to say. I'll keep going, though. 

Last week's posts:

In other news:

I'm not entirely prepared to declare my reading slump over for good but it sure appears to be done. I typically balance 3-5 books when I'm reading at my normal rate and right now 4 books have bookmarks in them. That's just about right. I'm feeling very upbeat about my reading, at the moment. How is your reading going? Read anything fabulous, lately?

©2016 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, August 27, 2016

Kid Artists by David Stabler, illus. by Doogie Horner

Kid Artists by David Stabler, illustrated by Doogie Horner [Quirk Books; recommended for ages 9-12] is subtitled "True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends". There are three sections:

  • Call of the Wild - describes artists who were inspired by nature,
  • It's a Hard-Knock Life - Tells about artists who overcame obstacles like poverty, discrimination, bullying, and frequent moves, and
  • Practice Makes Perfect - describes artists who had the great fortune of a mentor or family member who encouraged them.

There's some cross-over between the sections. For example, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol both received constant encouragement (so they're in the "Practice Makes Perfect" section) but also experienced the hardships of illness and bullying.

Each chapter provides a mini-bio of an artist that pays particular focus on the challenges and advantages the artists experienced as children. They're very basic bios and some of the artists were unknown to me. In those cases, I ended up going online to read more and view images of their works, which I love. I adore a book that stimulates enough interest to convince you that you must learn more and I can easily visualize how Kid Artists could be used in a classroom for just that purpose.

The stated age range for the book is 9-12 years old. I'd go beyond that in either direction. You could read a chapter per day to a younger crowd and coordinate with an art teacher or individually come up with inexpensive ways to mimic an artist's style. Or, for older students, the ideas could range from doing reports to more serious art projects. Homeschoolers and those who are looking for do-at-home projects could easily create an entire art unit around the book.

Recommended - Don't expect in-depth descriptions; the chapters are reasonably brief and leave out plenty of details of each author's life. It's purpose is to show that those whom we know to have succeeded in art had challenges to deal with just like the rest of us. I think it serves the purpose well and is a great resource. I love the idea that Kid Artists can be used as a jumping-off point for projects. I'm well past the intended age range because I'm a boring old grown-up, but love the idea of trying to imitate some of the artists' styles, just for fun. You're never too old to play.

©2016 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, August 26, 2016

Fiona Friday - Concerned face

This looks like the potential beginning to a fight, given Fiona's back-turned ears, but it was not. The photo right before I took this one was a pic of Fi grooming the top of Isabel's head. Izzy stretched briefly, sticking her paws into her sister's fur, and then curled right back up. And, Fiona went back to grooming her. It could have gone either way, but I guess Fi was in the mood to do a grooming and that was that. It was a pretty cute interaction.

©2016 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, August 25, 2016

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan is a contemporary/historical novel in which a modern-day adoptee in a closed adoption, Lee Parker, searches for clues to her ancestry while in 1889, Elizabeth Halberlin vacations with her wealthy family at a lake above Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Their two stories are mostly told via alternating chapters, although that pattern is broken a bit toward the end.

I was quickly swept into The Woman in the Photo. The parallel storytelling concept is one that I think has been overdone in recent years and I will sometimes take a break from that particular type of book, but I always return. I don't mind the shifts back and forth; I just find that I tend to prefer one storyline over the other and end up wishing the author had focused on my favorite. I did enjoy the historical storyline more than the present-day storyline, but I also thought the intertwining stories were both well told and wrapped up nicely, if predictably. The Woman in the Photo sucked me in so thoroughly that I didn't give much thought to its minor flaws while I was reading, so I'm just being picky upon reflection.

The historical time and place will ring a bell for those who familiar with the Johnstown Flood -- a devastating flood caused by the collapse of a dam. I read about the Johnstown Flood in Reader's Digest when I was young. Like the story of WWII that first captured my interest, I'm pretty sure it was a "Drama in Real Life", one of Reader's Digest's regular features. I've read a little bit more about the flood, since then, but not a lot. So, much of what I learned about the flood was new to me and I was completely unaware of its cause, the wealthy people who lived on the lake having dammed its spillway to prevent the fish they stocked from going downstream (not a spoiler, since Elizabeth mentions it at the beginning of the book). That and some other details about the flood made it an especially gripping and fascinating read.

Highly recommended - The connection between the historical and contemporary characters is obvious, the romances they both experience predictable, and there were a few minor plot points that I thought were just unnecessary and weird, but none of those things mattered at all to me while I was reading. I thought the prose was very good, I cared about the characters, and the choice of the Johnstown Flood as the historical setting made the story a unique one. I raced through The Woman in the Photo and enjoyed every minute. Five great books in a single week and a book festival combined to knock my reading slump on its knees, so I'll definitely remember The Woman in the Photo fondly for its role in breaking my slump, as well.

©2016 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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans - F2F Report

I read Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans as an ARC, last year, and was so enthusiastic about it (it's in my top 5 from the last 5-10 years) that I took it with me to my book group the month I read it. I knew they would not read and discuss it right away because we only select books available in paperback -- and preferably obtainable from the library -- but when it eventually became available, our group leader added it to the calendar and we discussed it last week.

The author and I are Twitter friends, so I asked her if she had any insight to offer and she kindly sent me the material that's included in the American paperback copy along with a Q/A, both of which were very insightful. I particularly wanted to know if there was anything she wanted to point out about the book and I'll get to that in a second.

Crooked Heart tells the story of a young evacuee from London during the Blitz, Noel, and the woman who takes him in. Here's a link to my review:

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans 

I read the Q/A aloud because we all had those blank looks you sometimes get when there aren't any prepared discussion questions and nobody's exactly sure where to begin. I occasionally stopped to say something or ask opinions about one of her answers and by the time I reached the end of the Q/A, discussion had been nicely stirred up.

In both of the documents, the author mentions wanting to write about the "underside" of the Blitz and this is what she mentioned to me when I asked if there was anything in particular that she wanted to note. The underside she's referring to are the people who cheated or stole during the Blitz, just as they normally would - and how she researched a sector of society often overlooked because they weren't the type to either be interviewed about how they lived or to write memoirs. This was done via local newspapers of the time, with particular focus on the Herts Advertiser and St. Albans Times, a now-defunct paper that contained "a patchwork of stories that reflected all aspects of wartime provincial life, where bomb news and black-out advice nudged shoulders with accounts of Masonic Social Nights and lists of people being prosecuted for defaulting on the rates".

We talked about hometown newspapers that contained similar snippets. Most everyone knew of a paper that had done the same. My hometown called its one-paragraph reports the "City Briefs" and they were immensely entertaining, from birth announcements to petty crimes, accidents, reports of loose animals and strange happenings around town, etc.

The author spoke about whether or not her characters were "morally shaky" and how one person labeled Crooked Heart a "children's book" because one of the characters was 10 (and then 11) years old. We talked about the morality of the characters but I neglected to mention something that really jumped out at me on the second reading. The first time, I thought of Vee -- who goes door-to-door asking for donations to various organizations, such as support for widows and orphans of pilots killed in the war -- as a horrid person who eventually softens. But, the second time I read the book I realized that Vee was just doing what she knew how to do to help her family survive; she worked incredibly hard to keep everyone fed and satisfied, in spite of the fact that nobody ever expressed gratitude. The fact that I paid attention to Vee's efforts, the second time through, made the book even more appealing -- and it was already a 5-star book.

One of our members mentioned that she found her way into reading adult books, during a time that YA did not exist, by reading any novel that contained a child. The author herself said she didn't mind if it was accepted as a read for children, as well, although that was not her intent. I don't recall what we said about that but I should mention that the book is free of anything that one might consider too offensive for children and it's certainly a book that I would have loved as a child, since my interest in WWII began around the age of 9 or 10.

We talked about the complexity of the book, the cleverness of Evans' plotting, and the vividness of the scenes. Everyone was particularly impressed with the scene in which Vee is hunting for a missing Noel and they're caught in a bombing raid, how the bombs grew closer and closer and the horror of knowing that they were in the path of those bombs was so visceral. It was very much a "you were there" type of scene and I think we were in agreement that it will stick in our minds for quite some time.

Mattie, Noel's godmother, who appears in the prologue and whose impact on Noel continues throughout the story, also was mentioned both because she was such a wonderful character and we were all happy to hear that the author is going backwards in time to tell Mattie's story in her next novel. Everyone loved Mattie.

Finally, one of our members asked for a summing up of everyone's opinion: thumbs up or down? It was unanimous: everyone gave it a thumbs up. Generally speaking, a book that everyone agrees on is one that doesn't generate the best discussion and there were times we lost the thread, but never for long. Crooked Heart contains such fascinating characters and scenes that there was plenty to discuss. I was relieved that everyone enjoyed the book, since I recommended it. It's always a great feeling when the majority (in this case, all) love a book you recommend and rather a horror when a title falls flat and/or is one that nobody really wants to talk about, so I went home happy.

Bottom line: Crooked Heart is a solid discussion book that everyone in my group loved. And, it's still one of my favorites. There's much to be enjoyed on a second reading and I imagine I'll reread it many times, in the future.

©2016 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, August 22, 2016

Monday Malarkey - A book festival, a pretty stack, and a marvelous reading week

Happy Monday! I hope your weekend was as amazing as mine. I went to our local book festival, this weekend, and got to meet my blog friend Brittanie for the first time. It's crazy that it's taken us this long to meet in person. We only live about 30 miles from each other and we've known each other for at least 8 years via blogging. So exciting to finally meet her! We sat together for "A Conversation with Kate DiCamillo". This is a terrible phone photo but here's Kate during the book signing, after she spoke:

After I took this photo (and a few others that are even worse), my phone camera gave me an error message so I was unable to take any other pics but I also got to sit in on the short story panel (which included author Rick Bass) and a bit of a conversation with Jacqueline Woodson. I had to duck out of the Jacqueline Woodson event early to meet my husband because he'd dropped me off at the festival and we were meeting at a pre-arranged time but all the sessions I attended were wonderful.

New arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs - from Quirk Books for review
  • Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends by David Stabler and Doogie Horner, and
  • Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania Del Rio and Will Staehle - both also from Quirk for review
  • How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life during the Second World War by Norman Longmate - purchased 
  • Searching for Fannie Quigley by Jane G. Haigh - purchased
  • Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammy Sauer and Vanessa Brantley-Newton and
  • If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by Jill Esbaum and Dasha Tolstikova - both from Sterling Children's Books for review
Not pictured:
  • Flora and Ulysses and Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo - purchased
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee - purchased (Kathi Appelt was also at the book festival but I did not get to see her)

So, clearly I wasn't kidding when I recently mentioned that I'd accepted a few books for review and that I was craving children's reads. I've discovered children's books are especially important as mental break books for me when I'm having a slumpy month or year -- and this has been a terrible reading year for me. Between these exciting arrivals and the book festival, I'm suddenly enjoying my reading, again. I sat down immediately to read the Sterling books when they arrived; and then read them a second time. I've also already read one of the Kate DiCamillo books I bought, Flora and Ulysses.

How We Lived Then is a book author Lissa Evans described as the book that first stimulated her interest in WWII (in the extra info at the back of the American edition of Crooked Heart). It's just the kind of book I've been hoping to find for years. I'm ridiculously thrilled to have it. Searching for Fannie Quigley is a book about a remarkable woman who lived alone in the Alaskan wilderness; it was on my PBS wishlist for years. I occasionally choose one of the titles I've desired to read the longest and can't acquire locally from that list and order it. Fannie Quigley was on my wishlist for about 8 years. Huh, that makes me appear either very cheap or extremely patient, doesn't it?

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans - I started to write about my F2F discussion on Thursday but last week was one of those weeks that I couldn't find myself coming or going, I was so busy. Hopefully, I'll get that finished, soon. It was a fun discussion.
  • Mary Had a Little Glam by T. Sauer and V. Brantley-Newton
  • If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by J. Esbaum and D. Tolstikova
  • The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan
  • Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Such a fun reading week.

Currently reading:

  • 14 Seconds to Hell by Nick Carter - Pulp fiction sent to me by my friend Bob, a few years back. I came across the titles he sent when I was looking for my copy of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, my F2F group's September read. 14 Seconds is billed as a spy novel (likened to James Bond) but it's really male fantasy. Agent Nick Carter is working with a female Russian agent to stop a Chinese scientist from detonating bombs around the globe. Within moments of meeting her, he addresses Alexi as "honey" and somehow turns her into a sex fiend, poor girl (and, yes, he refers to her as a "girl" agent). Since then, he's fallen into bed with her two more times in 3 chapters, also called her "sweetie" and "doll" and "patted her firm little fanny". Then he wonders to himself, might the Russians have sent a nymphomaniac to work with him? Ohmygosh. We've come a long way since the 1960s. 
  • A Square Meal by Coe and Ziegelman - Yep. Still reading it. I should finish it by late October, at this rate. 

Last week's posts:

Not a big posting week because I was so busy. Hopefully, I'll find more time to write, this week, although my calendar is looking pretty crammed. Eh, whatever. I'll post when I can. On the plus side, I'm excited about reading, again, for the first time in months. Hopefully, that will continue!

©2016 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.