Wednesday, April 16, 2014

50 Children by Steven Pressman, The Accidental Caregiver by Gregor Collins and Children's Wartime Diaries, ed. by Laurel Holliday

I've decided to combine 50 Children and The Accidental Caregiver with Children's Wartime Diaries in one post because they have WWII as an element in common. 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Rescue Mission into the Heart of Nazi Germany by Steven Pressman is about the rescue of 50 Jewish children from Vienna, Austria after the Anschluss (the peaceful by harrowing occupation of Austria by Nazis).  The Accidental Caregiver is a memoir about an actor who became one of several caregivers to an elderly Jewish woman who escaped Vienna, also after the Anschluss.  So, they have escape from the Nazis in common. The third book is mostly about children who were not so fortunate. Although they have the war in common, they're entirely different books.  I just thought it was very cool when I realized Maria Altmann, the elderly woman, was also a Viennese Jew, after reading 50 Children and then it occurred to me that this would be a perfect time to mention Children's Wartime Diaries. I love it when there's an unexpected tie between reads.

50 Children (an ARC received from HarperCollins) is one of the best-written and most surprisingly gripping books set during WWII that I've read in a while. 

Gil and Eleanor Kraus were living a fairly quiet life in Philadelphia, Gil as a lawyer involved in charitable organizations, his wife a socialite who adored their two children. When Gil was approached by the head of a Philadelphia Jewish organization with the request to head up an effort to rescue 50 children from Nazi Germany, he said "yes" without even giving it any thought. Eleanor was heavily involved as she had to persuade a number of people to divulge deeply personal information necessary for the affidavits needed to prove that there were people able and willing to care for the children when they arrived in the U.S.  

After the Anschluss, it became clear that children in Austria were at even greater risk so the origin changed but not the mission. 

Gil, being a lawyer, realized that the only way the rescue could possibly occur during a time when immigration was strictly limited would be to stick to the letter of the law. Consequently, there's a great deal about the red tape, the detailed paperwork and the people Eleanor and Gil Kraus had to deal with. So, I was a bit surprised that I never found 50 Children dull.  Instead, I really found it quite gripping and beautiful but a little sad -- sad because not every child who applied for a spot could be taken, sad because the heads of other Jewish organizations who had failed to do similar were envious enough to speak out against them, sad because you can't read about those left behind without knowing the fate of the majority. 

But, how beautiful the stories of the children themselves, told toward the end of the book, about how much fun they had during their summer together at a camp building and how lovely the reflections of the rescued children, now grown, still living.  And, how amazing that 3 Jewish adults (they were accompanied by a pediatrician, who actually fell in love in Berlin . . . that's a great story, as well) were willing to risk their own lives, going into Nazi-occupied nations to interview children and parents, dealing with paperwork and interviews to obtain visas, and then accompanying the children from Vienna to Berlin and onward to the U.S.

There is a photograph at the head of each chapter and my favorite is a photo of Gil Kraus reading to 4 of the children, with the following quote:

While the number 50 is but a small drop among the hundreds of thousands of lives yet to be saved, still in all each life is worth a world unto itself.  ~ Gil Kraus

Highly recommended - I get a little soppy just thinking about this book. It is a heroic tale, brilliantly researched and told in compelling narrative that makes the story feel quite tense, even though you clearly go into the reading knowing the outcome. 

The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann by Gregor Collins is not merely about an escape from Austria, although Maria Altmann's escape story is told. Rather, it's about how Gregor, an actor, became one of Maria Altmann's caregivers, his time working with her, and his journey abroad after her death. 

When I was updating my progress reading The Accidental Caregiver -- a rare e-book purchase whose reading took me a few days because my iPad is crashing frequently -- I glanced across a few of the reviews at Goodreads and found that some people considered the author egotistical. I didn't feel that way at all, although there are moments that Maria humorously whips her head to the side to indicate that she wants to see Gregor's handsome profile.  Even when those moments happen, they're about Maria rather than the author.  At least, that's how I saw it.  

Maria Altmann was in her 90s when Gregor Collins became one of her caregivers.  She was quite a feisty, vigorous woman but during the 3 years Gregor worked for her she went into a sharp decline and passed away. The author had dated a number of shallow women who confused him; he wasn't even sure what he was looking for in a woman.  But he fell in love immediately with Maria's fearless, happy-go-lucky, sometimes raunchy and definitely life-affirming ways.  Sometimes Maria could be a bit shocking but it's the fact that Gregor and Maria both felt an immediate rapport that makes the book such a joy.  

Highly Recommended - I loved The Accidental Caregiver enough that I deliberately dragged out the reading a bit (aided by regular iPad crashes) and found both author and subject charming in their own ways. There are some misused words but I loved the light writing style and, no, I didn't feel like the author was uncomfortably self-centered. I gave it a 4.5/5 at Goodreads -- not much taken off for minor editing problems. The Accidental Caregiver is, after all, a memoir so it's not just about Maria Altmann but about the author's feelings about her as the author cared for her and then (briefly) his couch-surfing journey around Europe.  Loved it and wish I had the chance to know Maria. The book is currently being made into a film, which I hope will be widely released so I'll have the opportunity to see it.

Children's Wartime Diaries: Secret Writings from the Holocaust and WWII, ed. by Laurel Holliday, is a book I've meant to mention and which ties in to the other two books pretty well.  It's a set of diaries (some complete, others partial) written by children during the Holocaust.  I have the full versions of some of them on my shelves. 

I read Children's Wartime Diaries a couple months ago.  The surprising thing about the writings in Children's Wartime Diaries is that most of them (with only a couple exceptions) are every bit as well-written as Anne Frank's diary.  Some are even more jaw-dropping. Such skilled writing from children so young!  Many of the children died, their writings retrieved later by a friend or relative, so it's a heartbreaking read and the cruelty they experienced is . . . well, it leaves me speechless just to think about what some of them endured. Two diaries written by British youngsters lend a little levity to the book (those two are both on my shelves in complete form) although they do eventually begin to feel the full impact of war on their own home turf. 

Again, highly recommended - Surprisingly mature writing in most cases but definitely a rough read because of the horrors experienced by the children who wrote the entries in this book. I cried a lot while reading Children's Wartime Diaries but at the same time I was mesmerized by some of the writing. There were only a couple excerpts that were simplistic enough to feel as if they matched the age of the writers. If you were captivated by Anne Frank's diary, you really must try to find a copy of Children's Wartime Diaries.  I bought my copy secondhand and I'm pretty sure it's no longer in print, but there were plenty available. Prepare to have your heart broken if you do chase down a copy.

©2014 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, April 14, 2014

Monday Malarkey - A collage of my week, the usual jazz and weekend movies

It took forever to find a way to save this collage of last week's events in a way that I could access it easily.  Please do me the favor of staring at it appreciatively for a fraction of a second.

Thank you.  That was long enough. Well done, you.  Last week was a week of contrasts.  Floody rains, sunshine, more rain.  We went to a double-header baseball game, the first game having been rained out.  Although you see empty seats behind the batter in the collage, above, there were actually other people in the stadium, just not so many right behind home plate from the angle I was shooting.  

The cats were hilarious, as always. Fiona and Izzy have nearly torn open the roof of their playhouse but it hasn't caved in, yet. Perhaps they desire a skylight?  At any rate, when one of them lies on top of the box, the roof is sagging. Fiona also occasionally worked on the "If it fits, I sits" concept, squeezing herself into a fairly small box and looking perfectly content.

I thought last week was going to be completely devoid of book arrivals when nothing had shown up by Saturday but Huzzybuns went to the old house to mow the yard and discovered a parcel sitting by the garage door.  Oops, need to update that publicist.  We're getting close to our 2-year anniversary in the new house (and praying we'll get rid of the old one by the time we reach the 2-year benchmark).

Last week's arrivals:

  • A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke - unsolicted from Touchstone 

Last week's posts:

Books finished:

  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  • Femininity by Susan Brownmiller
  • How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon
  • Ode to Childhood: Poetry to Celebrate the Child, ed. by Lucy Gray

Currently reading:

  • The Accidental Caregiver by Gregor Collins (memoir) - The memoir of an actor who became one of several caregivers to an elderly Jewish woman who escaped from Austria after the Anschluss. This is such a charming memoir; I am loving every minute of the reading and I confess I may be dragging it out a bit.
  • The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell (for F2F discussion) 
  • Inside Poetry Out: An Introduction to Poetry by John O. Hayden - for National Poetry Month (from my personal collection). This book has already been helpful.  I began reading Ode to Childhood when it arrived and found some of the poems a little difficult to understand but on the second attempt, even though I've only read 26 pages of Inside Poetry Out, I found that I looked at the poems in a completely different light and was able to understand most of them, even when archaic words were used.  Wahoo for that.  
  • Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (short stories) - I've only read 2 stories, so far.  I didn't like the first one at all but the second story had that resonant quality I often find myself seeking. It's not necessary to relate to characters to enjoy a short story but it certainly helps.
  • In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen - I've just barely begun reading this one.  Note that I only have added two of the books I'm reading to my sidebar.  That's because I've been feeling pretty scattered, lately, and when I feel that way I tend to abandon books so I don't like to add them to the sidebar knowing they may come right back down.  We'll see what happens, this week.

Weekend movies:

Notting Hill is one of the few romantic comedies my husband can stomach (possibly at least in part because it's set in London, our favorite city), so we keep it in the "family favorites" drawer of our entertainment center.  It's been a few years since we've watched it and it still holds up beautifully. The only things I noticed that have changed are phones (everyone used a landline), the fact that newspapers were more prevalent . . . and Hugh Bonneville's hair.  Actually, Hugh Bonneville was every bit as adorably awkward as Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, wasn't he?

It's hard to imagine an ensemble movie like Notting Hill working as well, today. Where do you go that people are actually sitting around doing nothing but chatting with each other at restaurants? Nowhere!  Every group has at least one person staring at some sort of electronic device. I've seen entire tables at which everyone is completely silent because they're all thumbing their iPhones. It's lovely to recall that not all that long ago people gave each other their full attention.

When people ask me what my all-time favorite movie is, I always tell them The Dish.  Most of the people I've mentioned it to, over the years, have been baffled because it's an Australian film. I'm not even sure how we found it in the first place, but The Dish is a comedy based on the true story of the Australian satellite dish that received and broadcast the signal sent during the Apollo 11 moonwalk so that people all over the world could watch man walking on the moon for the first time. The Parkes satellite dish was in the middle of a sheep paddock, hence the sheep watching the moonwalk on the cover at left.

Besides lovely comic timing and a pretty terrific cast (Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton), The Dish has a fantastic music soundtrack.  So does Notting Hill, for that matter, but I have a particular fondness for Sixties music.

I wanted to watch The Princess Bride, next, since we were watching some of our favorite comedies, but we didn't manage to locate our copy so next up was Romancing the Stone

Ohmygosh, I had no idea Romancing the Stone is 30 years old!  But, there are landlines and a pay phone in the movie, and Joan Wilder types her romances on a typewriter, not a computer.  That tells you something, doesn't it?  And, I guess the hair is a dead giveaway.  

Anyway, I was a little distracted and didn't pay as much attention to Romancing the Stone as the other movies we watched but, again, it's a movie that's held up beautifully. In all three cases, I found myself spitting out lines before the actors said them or reciting along with them.  

Grogan: So, you can die two ways, angel: quick like the tongue of a snake, or slower than the molasses in January.
Joan Wilder: [voiceover] But it was October.
Grogan: I'll kill you, goddammit, if it's the Fourth of July! 

Bwah-ha!  How can you not love that kind of writing?  Fun.  Now, I need to dig a little harder to find The Princess Bride.  

Hope you all had a fabulous week!  Rain is moving in, again, as I type and I can hear the neighbor's outdoor cat howling.  I hope they bring him in before the sky opens up.  Happy Monday!

©2014 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, April 11, 2014

The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant and Fiona Friday

The whole round world will funnel into nothingness, and you will see the truth in his eyes: that life, that living, is more than what's come before.  That all you have is this moment, this sun and this sand, these seagulls overhead and white clouds and blue sky, and don't look away or he'll disappear. The world is here only as long as you look for it, only as long as you keep your eyes open.  Keep your eyes on him and he'll never leave you, will stay if you can just keep from blinking.

And your eyes will ache, they'll burn from holding them open for so long, and when you blink, like that, he'll be gone.

~p. 156,  "How to Help Your Husband Die"

First things first: The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant is one of the best short story collections I've read in a long time - one worth buying to read over and over, again - and I'm a big short story fan so I don't say that lightly. I wanted to mention how excellent it is up front, just in case my review is too boring to get through.  

The Heaven of Animals begins with a slightly quirky story about fathers and sons called "Lizard Man", in which two men go to the home of Cam's deceased father. Cam refused to see his father for years and he just wants to check out his dad's house, maybe take something as a memento. But, the two men discover a sickly alligator caged on the property and Cam decides he'd rather help the animal than steal the TV. His friend wraps his snout with electrical tape and as they take the alligator somewhere to let him loose, a storm breaks out.  

There's so much depth to "Lizard Man".  It's not just about compassion for an animal; it's about fathers and sons, how they hurt each other, why it's important to keep a connection.  Cam's friend is putting his life back together after time in prison for throwing his gay son through a window, while Cam had a rocky relationship with his now-deceased father. Through their conversation about the relationships and the storm that terrifies Cam's young son, left home alone, Cam's buddy comes to a realization about himself and his own estranged son.  It's deeply touching.

It wasn't till I was writing this review that I realized the storm may well be a metaphor for stormy relationships and the damage they can do. 

The rest of the collection is equally touching, shattering, meaningful and incredibly resonant. There's an emotional truth to David Poissant's stories that is so stunning it makes you wonder how on earth such a young-looking author can possibly understand emotion so well. There's a lot of pain in his stories but there's also hope and beauty (although some of them certainly leave you feeling gut-punched).  

From the publicity material sent by Simon and Schuster:

In each of the stories in this remarkable debut collection, David James Poissant delivers a moving portrayal of a relationship in turmoil. His strikingly true-to-life characters have reached a precipice, chased there by troubles of their own making. Some stand frightened, some ready to fight. Some seek atonement, others the atonement that is owed them. But, brought to the brink, each must make a choice: Leap, or look away? Lee Martin writes that Poissant forces us “to face the people we are when we’re alone in the dark,” and, from the two men racing to save the life of a sick alligator in “Lizard Man” to the girl helping her boyfriend face his greatest fears in “The End of Aaron,” from a son grieving his father in “100% Cotton” as he stalks death on an Atlanta street corner to a brother’s surprise at the surreal, improbable beauty of a late night encounter with a wolf, Poissant’s invented worlds shine with honesty and dark complexity, but also with a profound compassion. These stories are hell-bent on hope. As bestselling author Kevin Wilson puts it, “Poissant is a writer who knows us with such clarity that we wonder how he found his way so easily into our hearts and souls.”

Highly, highly recommended - Stellar writing; the characters are so true to life that you can't help but care about them. 

I received a copy of The Heaven of Animals from Simon & Schuster in return for an honest review. I'm so grateful I got the opportunity to review this book. If you're a short story fan, this is one for the good shelves. 

It's Fiona Friday!  Have a comfy cat on a scratcher:

©2014 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, April 09, 2014

Mini time! Countdown City by Ben H. Winters and You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry

Someday I'll catch up on reading and reviews and then my life will be complete, right?  RIGHT?  Okay, I know better but I can dream.  In the meantime . . . some mini reviews.

You've already seen the kit I've prepared for the upcoming fictional apocalypse in the Last Policeman series (and maybe my review of The Last Policeman). On to the second installment.

As Countdown City opens, a mere 77 days remain before an asteroid will collide with Earth. Hank Palace no longer has a paying job as a detective but his former babysitter begs him to locate her husband, who has gone missing -- or "bucket list" as they say in the pre-apocalyptic lingo. Hank has a lingering affection for his old babysitter so he agrees, in spite of the fact that it's no longer possible to do things that were once common like buy gas, use a phone, find coffee.

Hank is tenacious and smart, though, and the missing man is so beloved that he's certain there must be more to the story.

Ben Winters is such a sharp writer.

I squeeze up and down along the edges of my arm and feel nothing and meanwhile my breath is ragged and uneven. At a certain point I will cross a threshold where it won't matter either way; "loss of limb and/or death," that double-conjunction pivot point will resolve decisively on "and."  

~p. 220 of Countdown City

Seriously, how can you not adore his writing? I love the way he can toss out a line of dialogue like, "Love is a bourgeois construct," and in those few words inform you about a character with surprising depth. I love Hank and his wonderful, upbeat attitude. I love the fact that Winters' world building is believable -- the human choices, the way the infrastructure is crumbling.

About 1/2 - 2/3 of the way in, Countdown City becomes seriously edge-of-your-seat exciting. As in the first installment, the story is wrapped up in a satisfying manner -- no cliffhangers, just the knowledge that the end of the world is still coming and, ohmygosh, you have got to get that next book which, by the way is gorgeous ---->

Recommended and, so far, I think the Last Policeman series is worth owning for the sake of revisiting that snappy dialogue. I cannot wait to read the last book.

Dave Barry's latest release, You Can Date Boys When You're Forty is, unfortunately, pretty disappointing, and I don't say that lightly.  I've been a fan of Barry since I was a kid. My father has been gone for almost 24 years but I'll always think of Dave Barry as one of the authors we bonded over, reading passages aloud to each other, laughing, trading his books and giving them as gifts. You Can Date Boys When You're Forty made me laugh out loud a couple times but it also occasionally made me cringe (the section on grammar . . . just, no . . . horrifying, not funny).

I did like the silliness of the essay "Manliness":

Here's what my homeowner tool collection consists of: duct tape, a smallish hammer and 283,000 tiny random pieces of hardware for hanging pictures.  Hanging pictures is my only real manual skill. If we have a global nuclear war and civilization is wiped out and I happen to be one of the small band of surviving humans, I will not be a big help.

First Survivor: I'll forage for edible roots.
Second Survivor: I'll look for water.
Third Survivor: I'll build a shelter from fallen trees.
Me: And I'll hang the pictures!
First Survivor: We'll eat him first.

~p. 32 of You Can Date Boys When You're Forty, ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print copy)

My favorite essay is "Seeking WiFi in the Holy Land," about his family's journey to Israel. His current wife and daughter (if I recall right, he's on his second marriage) are Jewish and their vacation sounded pretty adventurous. The essay is both funny and touching. When Barry left the Yad Vashem museum with tears in his eyes I choked up a bit, myself.

Iffy on recommendation - I liked some of the essays but a few of them were just flat awful so I gave You Can Date Boys When You're Forty an average rating of 3/5. I'd recommend checking it out from the library if you're a fan.

©2014 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.

Is That My Cat? by Jonathan Allen

Is That My Cat? by Jonathan Allen is about a cat who has suddenly become lazy and fat.  

Is that my cat?
It can't be.
My cat is a slim,
sleek pussycat.

Is that my cat?
It can't be. 
My cat is a little cat
who leaps in and out 
of the cat flap.

Is that my cat? 
What happened to the
light little cat I could 
pick up with one hand?

Is that my cat?
It can't be.
My cat is a fussy 
eater who never
finishes her food.

And so forth.  The cat has gotten round and heavy, is eating more, sleeping a lot, not so great at hunting as she used to be, can't climb a tree very well, etc.  Then the narrator (a little boy) hears her purring in the closet and . . . 

and she has kittens.

Is That My Cat? is a book that I feel a little squirmy about.  My husband says it's silly to feel that way, since the book is directed at very small children. But, basically, you have an unspayed kitty running around outdoors and getting pregnant. Most people don't keep the kittens their cats give birth to and a lot of animals are put to death due to the sheer quantity of unwanted domesticated animals, so I feel strongly about spaying/neutering -- knowing myself, I'd probably preach about that while reading the book, even to a really small child. 

However, I'm sure that's absolutely not the point (hence my husband telling me to quit fussing over the spaying issue and look at the book for what it is). The point clearly is to show little ones that when a cat has kittens, the mama cat changes and that is definitely something the book does well. The final pages:

Are they my cats?

Recommended - Great for showing small children where kittens come from and how a mother cat changes before giving birth. The illustrations are wonderful - big, bold, colorful with happy faces on both the young boy and the kitties:

I received a copy of Is That My Cat? from Sterling Children's Books, unsolicited. Many thanks! I adore children's books and am tempted to cut out the kittens and laminate them to make bookmarks (don't worry, I won't . . . but they're totally adorable and just the right size).

©2014 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, April 07, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Asteroid preparation, new books, weekend movies

Happy Monday!  We had an interesting weekend - so stormy (as in deluge with a lot of crackBOOM noises) from late Saturday night till late Sunday that we opted to stay safe at home doing exciting things like laundry and sleeping, although fortunately we did manage to sneak in a local baseball game before the inclement weather arrived.

I'd hoped to curl up and do some reading on Sunday but every time I tried, I fell asleep. Some days are like that.  We also watched a couple movies. More on that in a minute.  From the new arrivals, which included copies of The Last Policeman and Countdown City, I made my own little asteroid preparation kit, which includes duct tape, a flashlight, a bottle of water, a respirator and a towel, in addition to the two books:

I am now officially prepared for a fictional apocalypse!  Note that with one bottle of water I'm not likely to last long but I'm sure the books would keep me alive for a while and, although this is an entirely different fictional probability, I do have a towel in case of the potential for hitchhiking on passing spaceships. I've read both of the Last Policeman books, already, and they're pretty exciting, by the way -- hopefully, I'll get Countdown City reviewed, this week.  Thanks to Eric at Quirk Books for the laugh.

Last week's arrivals:

  • How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon - from Sterling Children's Books for review 
  • The Last Policeman and Countdown City by Ben H. Winters - from Quirk Books because they have a great sense of humor at Quirk

Last week's posts:

Books finished:

  • Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo
  • 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple's Extraordinary Mission into the Heart of Germany by Steven Pressman
  • Tooth & Claw: The Wild World of Big Predators by Jim Arnosky

Currently reading:

  • Femininity by Susan Brownmiller - I just read one section, occasionally, then set this book aside for a day or two.  Although parts of it are outdated, I think it's still worth reading if you're a feminist or interested in how men view women and how we see ourselves (and how this has changed throughout history and across continents).
  • The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor - It took me a while to warm up to the author's voice but now I'm enjoying it.
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga - A Booker Prize winner that has sat on my shelf for years. I accidentally started this book on Saturday. By "accidentally" I mean that I had no plans to read it; I just happened to be cleaning in the guest room (where it was shelved) and when I looked at it I thought about the fact that during our trip to Costa Rica I saw a man reading The White Tiger at poolside and asked him what he thought. He said it was excellent. It took me a while to acquire the book and there it has sat, ever since. I pulled the book down thinking I'd just "peek inside".  79 pages later, I stopped to go to the baseball game. I might never have come up for air, otherwise.

Weekend movies:

We've recently unpacked some boxes of DVDs so we're digging through the DVDs whenever we feel like watching a movie.

Sneakers - A delightful caper with an all-star cast: Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, the late River Phoenix, Dan Ackroyd, Ben Kingsley, David Strathairn, Mary McDonnell.  Seriously, this film (released in 1992) could not have a better cast. It has held up beautifully. In spite of the fact that the idea of an unbreakable code is pretty much laughable, now, and a code-breaking master machine kind of silly, the story is still a good one and much less cheesy and overblown than more recent caper movies, in my humble opinion.  In other words, I still love it.

Ice Station Zebra is the 1968 movie based on the book Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean - which I read and reviewed, last year.  We were a little stunned when we started up the movie and got a still shot of a submarine with the word "Overture".  I turned to my husband and said, "Are we being seated in the theater?" He shrugged. I assume that was the purpose of the overture, which was a lengthy one.

Ice Station Zebra is another movie with a pretty terrific cast: Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine and Rock Hudson are the stars. I'm not familiar with Jim Brown but it appears he's an early "sports hero turned actor".  I'm not so impressed with him but I love the fact that the movie is understated. Even when exciting things are happening, there's no shouting of goofy commands that you know you wouldn't hear in real life. Instead, everyone seems quite professional. It seems a lot closer to reality than anything we'd see today, but that's just a guess.

One thing that really stands out is the fact that all the main characters smoke . . . on a submarine.  That had to get nasty. We got to the point at which the submarine (after being sabotaged and nearly sinking) successfully punched through the ice and a team was readying to hike 3 miles across the ice to get to the damaged station. And, then the word "Intermission" popped up.  It's a long movie and it was getting late, so we opted to stop the show and watch the rest, later.  So far, I'm really enjoying it, though, and so is the top of my husband's head (he played on his tablet the entire time).

That's pretty much my week in a nutshell. How was yours?

©2014 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, April 04, 2014

Fiona Friday - In which Fiona catches a fluffy toy

©2014 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.

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall is subtitled "How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart." What I never expected when I opened the book was to read about a woman who disliked color in her yard. That struck me as bizarre, at first, but her reasoning is really quite fascinating.

Mr. Owita was a real person who has been given a fictional name for the sake of privacy. Not just a gardener but a man with professional knowledge, he was working at a local garden center and in the author's neighborhood when he came to her attention. Carol Wall asked her neighbor if she could possibly get Mr. Owita to work on her yard, as well. She admits that neither she or her husband had any skill or interest in maintaining their yard.

Mr. Owita had a past life in Kenya and a secret that didn't come out until the end of the book, although there are a lot of nervous glances and almost-confessions. I dislike such obvious devices but I was captivated by the charm of Mr. Owita and the openness of Carol Wall.  They became fast friends and, as she went through second and third rounds of cancer, she found Mr. Owita's attitude so upbeat, his willingness to listen so unusual, that she was able to speak freely with him about her fears while he was helping her to overcome one of them -- the fear of colorful flowers.

Because Mr. Owita's secret and the reason for Wall's fear of color are gradually revealed, I'm not going to give them away. I'll just say that I really enjoyed reading Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening, even though I often thought the dialogue (which she tried to recall with accuracy) felt contrived. So, the book wasn't the best-written memoir I've read but I loved learning about Mr. Owita, where he came from and how he ended up working in a garden shop and grocery store, his struggle to bring his daughter to the United States and the growing friendship between Wall and Owita and his family.  It's a lovely story and I got tears in my eyes more than once.

Recommended -  Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening is about friendship and beauty, about life and death and enjoying every moment. It's about how a kind, upbeat man who had every reason to be dismayed at the outcome of his life helped a woman deal with her fears and even overcome at least one of them.  It's beautiful. Although I tend to avoid anything and everything with the word "cancer" in it since my mother's death, I enjoyed Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening. I did, however, feel like the book had a slightly disingenuous tone.  Much as I liked the story, it also seemed awkward and forced, too heavy on devices like the "secret" that isn't revealed till the end. Because of that, I gave the book a 3.5/5 rating and I recommend it but it's not a favorite.

©2014 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, April 02, 2014

Quarterly Reading Report - January to March, 2014

I'm pretty sure I forgot to post a month or two's worth of reading so I'm going for the quarterly report. January was really a terrific month in which almost all of the authors were new to me (the exceptions are Sarah Addison Allen and Julie Klassen). Although it wasn't typical for quantity, January being the month I typically bury myself in books to the detriment of all else, the quality was terrific. 

February was dominated by children's books but the grown-up reads I finished were all enjoyable. Favorites were The Rosie Project (an upper) and On Such a Full Sea (bleak but fascinating dystopian) in adult books; Spy Smuggler and Who's in the Tree in children's (will review the latter, soon). 

March ended on a high note with the second installment in Ben Winters' "Last Policeman" series, followed immediately by David James Poissant's stellar short story collection, The Heaven of Animals. There was actually only one book that I found disappointing in March and I haven't reviewed it, yet, so I'll wait to talk about the good and the bad in that one, later.  Links lead to my reviews, if applicable. 


19. Who's in the Tree? - Craig Shuttlewood
23. The Making of a Marchioness (or Emily Fox Seton), parts 1 and 2 - Frances Hodgson Burnett


36. Logopolis by Christopher H. Bidmead
37. Children's Wartime Diaries: Secret Writings from the Holocaust and WWII, ed. by Laurel Holliday)
43. You Can Date Boys When You're 40 - Dave Barry
44. Countdown City - Ben H. Winters
45. The Heaven of Animals - David James Poissant

©2014 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.