Saturday, February 06, 2016

What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin

Quick! Someone interview me! 

Smelly Candle: I volunteer.

Bookfool: Thanks. I didn't know where to start.

SC: That's what I'm here for. That and wafting pleasant odors throughout your library. What is What Remains of Me about?

BF:  It's the story of convicted murderer Kelly Michelle Lund. Five years after her release from prison, where she spent 25 years serving time for the murder of a movie director, John McFadden, her father-in-law is killed and the evidence leads to Kelly. But, did Kelly shoot her father-in-law? Was she even guilty of John McFadden's death?

SC: So, why were you having trouble starting to write about What Remains of Me?

BF: It's got a lot of twists and turns. Kelly's story is told via two timelines as the book jumps back and forth between 1980, the year she killed McFadden (or, did she?) and 2010, when Sterling Marshall is found dead. There's enough complexity to the story to make it hard to describe.

SC: What happened in 1980 to lead to the murder?

BF: There's too much to go into in a review and I don't want to spoil anything but in 1980 Kelly is a vulnerable high school girl whose fraternal twin sister tragically died, two years before. Kelly still mourns her. Their mother is bitter and over-protective. Her father, a stuntman, was badly burned in a movie and he's still working but heavily addicted to painkillers. As the book opens, Kelly meets actor Sterling Marshall's daughter, Bellamy, and they become friends. Unfortunately, Bellamy is a rebel who gets Kelly into trouble as they experiment with drugs. Bellamy introduces Kelly to Vee (short for Vincent), son of John McFadden, and through these friendships Kelly begins to unravel what happened to her sister, Catherine, before her death.

SC: And, what happens in 2010?

BF: In 2010, Kelly is married to Bellamy's little brother, Shane, and living in the desert about two hours' drive from Hollywood. On the night of the murder, she goes for a long drive and returns home covered in blood. It seems fairly straightforward; there's plenty of evidence placing her at the scene. But, why would Kelly murder her father-in-law when she has spent five years living quietly, well away from the Hollywood scene? After all these years, will Kelly find out there's more to her sister's story than she imagined?

SC:  Sounds interesting. What did you think of the writing and characterization?

BF:  The writing is good but nothing that stands out. I would call it typical for the type of book -- written in a way that places you in the scene without noticing the writing. There's a certain skill in the ability of a writer to not stand out. The characters felt very real and three-dimensional to me. They each have their own secrets and problems, things that shape them but which they don't necessarily share with anyone. I liked the unreliability of just about everyone. There is a lot of implication, a lot of unknown that the author gradually shades in.

SC: What did you like the least about What Remains of Me?

BF: There were moments that I was pulled out of a scene because of an inaccuracy or something I thought was questionable. For example, in one scene that takes place in 1980, Bellamy (who is driving) "rolled the windows down" in a Volkswagen Rabbit. As I recall, windows were not electronic in 1980 (we actually owned a Volkswagen in 1980). So, unless Bellamy leaned over Kelly to crank the passenger-side window down, that moment could not have happened as described. However, I should add that I read an ARC that I got from the library and the book is a February 2016 release -- I have not seen the final print version. Some of the errors I found may have been edited out.

SC:  What did you like the most about What Remains of Me?

BF:  It kept me guessing all the way to the end. I love that. There were many times that the answers to the many questions posed in What Remains of Me seemed transparent. They were not.

SC: Recommended or not?

BF: Definitely recommended. What Remains of Me should satisfy psychological thriller readers and those who enjoy mysteries. The reader can't fully understand what Kelly is thinking because she keeps certain bits of her past locked in metaphorical drawers, which makes untangling her thoughts and motivations interesting. And the murder is not necessarily what it seems, so there's definitely a mystery aspect. Harlan Coben's cover blurb says, "Label me a big fan," and, hmm, yes, I do believe fans of Coben would like Gaylin's writing.

SC: Thank you for allowing me to interview you. I don't know if you've noticed this, but I'm a candle and you've never lit me. Not once. I have a purpose, you know, a purpose that has been unfulfilled.

BF: Yes, sorry. You smell perfectly lovely without being lit, though, you see. Thanks for jumping in to interview me when I was desperate.

SC: ----Goes back to corner of desk to sulk----

What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin is a February, 2016 release from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. It is 374 pages long if you include the author acknowledgments (I always read them . . . do you?) and my copy came from a cart of ARCs being given away in my former library.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Fiona Friday - Building the castle

This is definitely not going to be attractive enough to end up on Pinterest but my wing-it cat castle creation is going well. I've put on the first coat of paint.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize it was below 60° when I was painting. See the bubbles on the upper left? That's what happens when you paint at below the recommended temperature. The paint didn't adhere in some spots. I haven't decided whether or not I'll bother pulling the bubbled bits of paint off before the second coat (which will probably then lead to a third coating -- and there's enough surface area that one coat = one can). The cats don't seem to care about the fact that it's ugly.

I may, in fact, make it uglier by putting duct tape around the crenellations. The upper level is currently blocked off, but there is a hole they'll be able to climb through and both kitties enjoy chewing on cardboard. I don't want them to get a mouthful of pebble paint.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Change of pace - making corner bookmarks

I'm not sure who to thank for posting on Facebook but this morning I was flipping through my timeline and found an article entitled "Forget dog-earring and bookmarks that fall, make your own easy bookmark instead!" I clicked on it and read the instructions. It looked easy and fun and I just happen to have quite a bit of origami paper I haven't broken into, at least partly because it's so attractive. Look at how the Japanese pack origami paper!

And, that's not even the fanciest. I love the way they tuck a bookmark into some of the origami packages. The squares of paper shown above are pretty small, maybe 4" x 4", at most. I decided to go with that size because I didn't want to break into the larger and more elaborate package. Here's my first attempt at folding a corner bookmark:

I love it! Rob of Rob Around Books told me he cuts the corners off envelopes to make his own "cheap and plentiful" corner bookmarks. And, Marie of The Boston Bibliophile suggested reinforcing the long end of the bookmark (before folding) with a 1/4" strip of light cardboard or scrapbook paper. I love it that I have such clever friends!

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

January Reads in Review (2016) and How Those Goals are Shaping Up

Last year, I didn't manage to keep up with monthly roundups, so one of my goals for the year is to review each month's reading in brief, as I used to do, and update on how other goals are shaping up.

January reads:

1. Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy - I am always impressed with Simon's writing. It's melodic and confident, startling, humorous, gentle, and so deeply human. I'm also usually so blown away that I don't know what to say. So, I'll be rereading this collection of short stories (and one novella), soon. I have to read all of his books twice before I feel like I can say something coherent. If you've missed out on his writing, please don't waste another moment.

2. Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson - The story of a young woman who has survived a deadly illness, living as a pariah in 1920s English society, and the knowledge that she will probably remain single, forever. With fresh determination to live her life fully after her close call, she heads to France to stay with her aunt and take painting lessons. I had trouble buying into the romance so this was not a favorite but it's competently written.

3. Don't Even Think About It by George Marshall - One of those books that I admire so much I'm having trouble knowing where to begin. It's about a topic most people don't want to discuss (climate change) and goes into the reasoning behind denial and dismissal. Absolutely fascinating analysis gleaned from the author's many years of activism and discussions with both scientists and vocal deniers of climate change.

4. My Story That I Like Best, ed. by Ray Long - A marvelous anthology of short stories gathered by the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine during its literary years, in 1925. Tied with Tales of Accidental Genius for favorite of the month.

5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - This month's classic selection, Nabokov's disturbing and discussion-worthy tale, the story of a pedophile who is able to get his mitts on the step-daughter from his short-lived marriage and exploit her to his heart's content. Exhausting, brilliant, uncomfortable, and absolutely fascinating.

6. Front Lines by Michael Grant - Alternate WWII young adult history in which women go to war. With focus on four girls who join up, their training, and their first action on the front lines in Africa. First in a series, stands alone fine. After a slow start, I thought the author did an admirable job of picking up the pace and showing character growth.

7. Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant - Part memoir, part social commentary about life in Mississippi's Delta region. Contains some very interesting anecdotes but having lived in Mississippi for quite some time, I really did not enjoy reading about its problems and I thought the author's heavy drinking was tiresome. Loved the story about golfing with Morgan Freeman and the tale of his Delta wedding.

8. From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus (translation) - The story of a Sicilian woman who believes love runs away from her until she goes to a facility for treatment of kidney stones, where she meets a veteran of WWII and falls madly in love. The ending is a puzzler. I will likely reread this one to try to figure out just what the heck the author did to me.

Update on goals:

1. Teaching myself Latin - I started with Wheelock's Latin but when I reached the first exercise and could neither translate any of the sentences nor find a solution key, I bought a different book that is made specifically for homeschooling or self-study. So far, it's going well. I'm enjoying myself and feel like I'm making decent progress.

2. Returning to painting - Way back in the years between children, I used to paint with oils. I stopped when I became pregnant with my second child because I was concerned about using chemicals while expecting and, as it turned out, he was such a hellion that the paints stayed in the closet for 20 years. I haven't pulled out the oil paint because I don't remember a thing about it and I know I'd have to replace many items (plus, I only have a table-top easel and can easily visualize the cats sticking a paw on a canvas then licking toxic paints). Instead, I bought an inexpensive set of acrylics and have set up a painting spot in the breakfast nook. The texture is so different from oils! It's going to take some getting used to and I am terrible -- my first painting looked like something a 5-year-old would come up with but without the visible joy and inhibition of a child. It's a very meditative, relaxing hobby, though, and I'm going to keep it up.

3.  Writing - Started well, went splat. This happens to me a lot since the years when I suddenly found that my muse had been mercilessly stabbed and gone into a coma; it's not unexpected. However, I still cannot bear not writing and need this mode of expression. So, February 1 it was back to Square 1, challenging myself to write daily. Fingers crossed this month will be an improvement. I will always have the longing to write fiction; I just have to kick up the motivation to practice.

4. Reading classics (one per month) - So far, so good. I have quite an extensive collection of classics so this also feeds into the decision to work harder at reading the books I already own (in loose association with Andi's #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge, which is otherwise going well). I loved and hated Lolita and am thrilled to have finally read it after many years of walking past the book, sighing and thinking, "Someday."

How was your reading month?

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Monday Malarkey - Arrivals and posts and plans and such

Happy Monday! I had a good blogging week and a so-so reading week. How was yours?

Recent Arrivals:

  • Pied Piper by Nevil Shute (purchased)
  • From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus (received via Paperback Swap)
  • Come Away With Me by Karma Brown (purchased - not pictured)

I was reading a little about Nevil Shute when I went to look up some of his books on a whim and, I confess, I bought a new copy of Pied Piper solely because I love the cover. It's an old enough title that I would have gone for a used copy, otherwise. I bought Come Away With Me because of some gushy comments I read (and because it sounded good). And, From the Land of the Moon is probably the last book I'll ever receive from Paperback Swap. When they abruptly began charging a subscription fee, last year, I still had over a dozen credits I wasn't willing to give up so I paid to keep going. It took almost the entire year to use up my remaining credits. I think a lot of people must have abandoned PBS due to the fee because the books were offered much slower in 2015 than the year before. At any rate, I'm totally out of credits, now.

Finished this week:

Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant - This was my F2F group's choice for January and I think I've mentioned I missed the meeting. I decided to go ahead and finish, even though I found the reading uncomfortable. There are some interesting anecdotes about the challenges of living in a plantation home and I particularly loved reading about the author's Delta wedding, toward the end of the book, but much of the focus is social commentary on racial interaction, poor schools, crime, drugs, corruption -- all the seedy yucky things about life in Mississippi. To be honest, I found it pretty depressing and I don't feel much like writing about the book. So, this paragraph will serve as the entirety of my review.

I also finished From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, last night. It's a slim volume and since last week's reading dragged, I wanted a quick read to make me feel a little better about finishing up the month.

Last week's posts:

Currently reading: 

  • Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian - A contemporary/historical blend, the historical portion takes place before and during the Armenian Genocide and I've found myself so nervous about getting to the genocide portion that I set the book aside for a couple days. I will probably add another title to the mix, tonight, and return to Orhan's Inheritance later in the week.
  • How to Be Funny & Other Writings by Will Rogers - A series of writings both published and unpublished prior to this volume's printing in 1983 and annotated. I'm a long-time fan of Will Rogers but his comedy was based on current events and personalities, much like TV shows like The Daily Show, so the annotations are crucial to understanding what he's talking about. Unfortunately, the annotations are all at the back of the book so you have to keep a finger in the back and flip constantly. I'm getting used to it. 

Planning ahead:

In keeping with my goal to read at least one classic per month in 2016, my February choice is Cakes and Ale by Somerset Maugham. I'm kind of a Maugham fangirl, so I'm really looking forward to this one.

In other news:

I've learned a few things about cat stress, this week, thanks to the fact that the cats are still occasionally growling and hissing at each other. Most of the time they're fine and dandy and they got a clean bill of health, but something is eating Fiona. The vet told me a study was done that showed cats can be stressed by other felines in close proximity, even if they don't interact with them. They determined this by removing 20 stressed-out cats who were in the same apartment building but not living together to separate homes in the country (still indoors), where they became more relaxed and were cured of bladder infections without having to take antibiotics. Fascinating.

I also discovered that puzzle feeders can be a stress reducer. I don't have any puzzle toys but I may try to make one. I did know that giving cats the ability to climb helps. Mine, of course, have quite a nice cat tree but they haven't perched in it, lately; they've just climbed up and down and used the scratching bits. I've got a couple of boxes lying about so I'm going to also try to build them a little castle. If I don't cut a finger off and it looks decent I'll share a pic when I'm done. Pray for the safety of my digits, please.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Story That I Like Best, ed. by Ray Long

The cover of this book is pretty boring, so I took a photo of the title page:

My Story That I Like Best was published in 1925 (my copy is a 1927 reprint) and edited by Ray Long, who was the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine during the years that it was a literary magazine. Edna Ferber is the only author I'd heard of when I picked the book up and flipped through it at Off-Square Books in Oxford, MS, but just a random sampling (what I like to call the "flip test", where I flip through and read a few passages) was enough to tell me the quality of writing was excellent, so I bought it.

Before each story, there is a section with a photo of the author and a little about the story, the writing process, and why a particular story was chosen. The authors must have been asked to respond to a particular set of questions because all of the introductory writings contain the same attributes, but of course the responses are varied. Here's Edna Ferber's comment about how she came up with her story ideas:

And, here's what Meredith Nicholson had to say:

The stories:

"The Gay Old Dog" by Edna Ferber - A man reluctantly makes a death-bed promise to watch over his sisters, altering the rest of his life.

"The Escape of Mr. Trimm" by Irvin S. Cobb - A banker on his way to serve 12 years of hard labor for breaking, "one way or another, about all the laws that are presumed to govern national banks" finds himself unexpectedly freed by the derailment of the train he's on. Declared dead, he thinks he's got it made but there's one small problem: he can't remove the handcuffs from his wrists.

"Point" by Peter B. Kyne - When unhappy former dog trainer turned farmer comes across an unexpectedly talented point dog, he enters the dog in a competition and finds that he still has a knack for his true love.

"Kazan" by James Oliver Curwood - A quarter-strain wolf dog named Kazan, who has been taken from his home and his wild mate, Gray Wolf, by an evil man, yearns to return to his home territory and his blind mate.

"The Third Man" by Meredith Nicholson - A bank president invites ten of his "cronies" to dine with him at his club, intending to secure their help in identifying a murderer by luring him into doodling on a notepad.

"Money to Burns" by H. C. Witwer - Bellhop Jimmy Burns sneers at the wealthy hotel patrons who live the high life but give him a pittance for tips, talking of the big things he'd do if he were to have a share of their money. But, when a switchboard operator's rich boyfriend agrees to loan Jimmy $25,000 as an experiment to see how he'll handle it, things don't turn out quite the way Jimmy imagined.

Highly recommended - When I closed My Story That I Like Best, I thought, "I don't want to read anything modern, ever again." The quality of writing is stellar and I will undoubtedly return to this book. Although I had only heard of the one author, all 6 were quite famous in their time and one of them, James Oliver Curwood, was actually the highest-paid author in the world at the time of his death. You can still visit the castle he built. I think my favorites were "The Gay Old Dog" and "Kazan" by Curwood. Curwood's writing has been compared to that of Jack London and movies have been made from his work, even in recent decades. "Kazan" is absolutely the most moving, beautiful story of the lot and I'm going to look for the novel from which it's drawn.

My Story That I Like Best must have gone through several printings. It's readily available online and reasonably priced (for less than I paid, actually, even with added postage).

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fiona Friday - Sleepy little girl

Both kitties have been at the vet for a check-up (and both are refusing to "go" so the vet can check their urine, ugh) so I am currently without felines in the house. I hate it. I like having my buddies around. This photo was taken about a week ago. I haven't taken many kitty pics, lately.

Update: Kitties are home and all is well! So happy to have them back. :)

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.