Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron

The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron
Copyright 2016
NAL Accent - Contemporary Fiction
416 pp.

When Abby is suddenly widowed, she makes a shocking discovery: she was not her husband Scott's first wife. Curious, Abby seeks out first wife Fern and discovers that Scott had a son, Matty. Fern is a bus driver who struggles to get by, living in a small house with Matty, Scott's father and his father's girlfriend. Although Scott never had anything to do with Fern or his son, he did at least send regular support checks. Now, Fern will have to find extra work to get by.

Abby's parents both died long ago and although they left her well off, there is really nothing she desires more in life than a family. But, she has been unable to carry a child and now she no longer has a man in her life. Seeing young Matty makes her long to get to know him and his family. But, Fern is not interested in Abby's yearning for friendship or her offers to help out. With Fern's financial situation increasingly falling apart and Abby charming young Matty, will Fern give in and let Abby become a part of their world?

Here's the interesting thing about The Ones Who Matter Most, at least to me. I thought it was going to be terrible for at least the first 30 pages. Abby has a crunchy hippie friend who sets her to work getting rid of unwanted possessions a mere two days after Scott has died. I just couldn't fathom that. The first couple of weeks are so overwhelming, with people visiting and bringing casseroles, offering their sympathy, and all the decisions about burial and funeral service that it was hard to believe Abby would even have a moment alone with only one friend. That was my personal experience getting in the way of the storyline, of course. I also wasn't sure I was going to like Abby because I didn't know her motivation for what happens in the opening pages.

Fortunately, that hesitation didn't last long. Yes, the opening is flawed. But, Abby quickly becomes endearing. She's got boatloads of money but she has not had an easy life. She lost both parents early on, has been unable to carry a pregnancy, and now she's a young widow. When she offers to help Fern financially and starts spending time with Matty, she means well. She's really quite sweet.

Fern, on the other hand, is tough. She's got a huge heart but she's had to work hard to keep her odd little jumble of a family fed and she's constantly facing new challenges like broken appliances. It's only natural for her to put up a defensive wall; more than anything, she wants to protect her family.

Highly recommended - I absolutely adored the characterization, the challenges to the characters, and the way Abby slowly hacked down Fern's defenses. While the beginning of The Ones Who Matter Most was a bit rocky because it didn't feel like it had the ring of truth when it came to the aftermath of a sudden death, that rapidly changed and I felt the long, drawn-out process of softening Fern was believable. There was only one plot point I didn't adore (a suggestion by her hippie friend) beyond the beginning but it had a purpose and, in the end, I had to acknowledge it helped lead to the absolutely perfect, happy-tears ending. I just want to clutch this book to my chest, I love it so much.

©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, May 03, 2016

April Reads in Review, 2016

April Reads (links to full reviews, if applicable):

28. Father's Day by Simon Van Booy - Harvey has gathered together a number of gifts to celebrate Father's Day during her father's visit to her home in Paris. Leaping back and forth in time from when Jason was asked to take in little Harvey after the death of her parents and the present day in Paris, Father's Day reveals the story of their life together, Jason's violent past, and how love healed them both. Loved the slow growth of their relationship but Jason was an uncomfortable character with his violent tendencies.

29. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - A fictionalized account of Sylvia Plath's month in New York City, working for a magazine, partying, and becoming dangerously depressed, followed by the description of complete breakdown, suicide attempt, and hospitalization. I'm glad I read this classic but it is definitely a serious bummer.

30. The Summer of Me by Angela Benson - When her twin children go to California to spend the summer with their father and he unexpectedly cuts her child support in half, single mom Destiny has to figure out how to save enough money to not only pay the bills but buy a house so he won't fight for custody. Meanwhile, the local associate pastor, a widower, has caught her eye. Too many threads made the story a bit implausible and overwhelming but I appreciated The Summer of Me for helping me recover from The Bell Jar.

31. Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear - In the 12th installment of the Maisie Dobbs series, Maisie is recruited to fetch an important man who has been held in Dachau prison camp from Germany while posing as his daughter. But, she takes on a second task that is even more dangerous. I haven't read the rest of the series but found this book readable, if not a perfect standalone.

32. Euphoria by Lily King - Three anthropologists, one single and desperately lonely, two married to each other, cross paths when the married couple are forced to abandon the tribe they've been studying. When the lonely single falls for the married woman, what will happen? One of my favorites of the month, but the official synopsis I read is a bit misleading. It's the married man, Fen, who puts them in danger rather than the liaison of Bankson and Nell.

33. The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron - After childless Abby is suddenly widowed, she discovers her husband was married before . . . and had a son. When she finds them, Abby is shocked to discover that Fern is a bus driver who can barely afford to keep food on the table for herself, her ex's father and girlfriend, and young Matty. Abby's interest in the family is not welcome, but all she ever wanted was a family of her own. Can Abby convince Fern to be her friend? Another favorite. I could hardly bear to put this book down.

34. Aim True by Kathryn Budig - Kathryn Budig shares a little about herself, some yoga routines, recipes, and meditations in this book subtitled: "Love your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance!" Yet another favorite, I'm holding out on writing the review till I've tried a few of the recipes.

35. 1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke (e-book) - I've read a few poems by Rupert Brooke in volumes of war poetry and already had this volume of his poetry (I think it's available for free Kindle download). There were a few poems I enjoyed, but he tended to confuse me so I would not count Brooke a favorite.

Another 8-book month. I'm learning to live with them, although I confess it's still strange that some nights I don't actually feel like reading at all. I know others who have gone through a lengthy reading slump like this (worse, even) but it still throws me for a loop. I'm pretty happy with my month, though. I loved my F2F discussion book, Euphoria, and The Ones Who Matter Most is the kind of "creation of hodge-podge family" book that I adore. Aim True was a very pleasant surprise - exactly what I'd hoped it would be. Although some of the ingredients are uncommon, at least in our area, I'm hoping we'll be able to find them, now that we have a Whole Foods within an hour of our house.

1914 and Other Poems was so-so but I'm glad I read it and happy that I did manage to squeeze in one volume of poetry before the end of National Poetry Month. I'm also happy to have finally read The Bell Jar, even though I found it a total downer. I can see, now, why everyone said Sylvia Plath was such a talented writer. And, it's always a good month when there's a new Simon Van Booy book on the shelves! No, Father's Day wasn't my favorite of his books, but I always enjoy the familiar rhythm and depth of heart in his writing.

Journey to Munich was just okay, a book that didn't stand alone all that well. I've been told by a number of people that I should go back to the beginning of the Maisie Dobbs series and I will check to see if my library carries the books, soon. It definitely would have helped if I'd known all the people and places from previous books, as Maisie spent a lot of time refelecting on her past. And, The Summer of Me was another book that was just so-so.

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, May 02, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I had a good day. Hope your week started out well, too.

Recent Arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna - from HarperCollins for review
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - purchased for F2F discussion
  • The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen,
  • The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam,
  • The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver, and
  • Love Wins by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell are all from HarperCollins (Harper and William Morrow imprints) for review

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Aim True by Kathryn Budig - Finished the reading, loved it, and hope to whip up a few recipes before reviewing. 
  • 1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke - Can't say I'm a fan of Rupert, but I am happy that I managed to squeeze in at least one volume of poetry before National Poetry Month ended!
  • In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis - The YA follow-up to McGinnis's 2013 dystopian Not a Drop to Drink

Currently reading:

  • Tales of Accidental Genius by Simon Van Booy (reread) - Slowly, this time. 
  • Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit - a WWII book that takes place in Poland. So far, I'm completely besotted with the writing. At times, it reminds me of Simon Van Booy's writing - such lovely, rhythmic prose, with occasional humor in the midst of the darkness.
  • One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis - This one didn't grab me, at first, but I'm starting to enjoy it, now.

Recent Posts:

In Other News: 

I just realized I hadn't finished this post. Kind of spaced out, for an hour or so. Ever have one of those nights that you're just so wide awake that you might as well get up and do something till you get sleepy? Last night was like that. I was so bizarrely energized that I started 3 or 4 different posts (loading images, putting book titles in the subject line, etc., without getting to the review portion) and it wasn't till 4am that I finally felt sleepy. I think I need a very long nap or an early bedtime, tonight.

I'll probably write up my end-of-the-month post for April, tomorrow (weather- and Internet-dependent; we're still occasionally losing service for 2-4 hours at a stretch) but I can tell you that I'm pretty happy with April. The quantity is still below average but I managed to finish my F2F discussion book and read a decent number of ARCs.

I've decided to declare May "Anything Goes Month", meaning I will read whatever calls to me. Having said that, I do have A Tale for the Time Being to read for discussion and I'd like to read at least one book from my Weird Books stack. I haven't yet settled on a classic for May but I'll be thinking about that, tonight. I'm strongly considering a reread of The Count of Monte Cristo.

©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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Laundry Cat Strikes Again

This was a momentary pause. Isabel was actually attacking the laundry as if her life depended upon subduing all the dangerous shirts and undergarments.

©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, April 29, 2016

Euphoria by Lily King

I'm having difficulty getting started with a post about Euphoria, so I'm going to go with Ye Olde Reliable Self-Interview. Today, I will be interviewed by a little silver bell that I keep near my computer. It makes a lovely, resonant ting-a-ling noise when you pick it up.

Little Silver Bell: Hello, and welcome to my very first literary interview. Today, I'll be asking Bookfool about Euphoria by Lily King. Good day to you, Bookfool.

Bookfool: Hey. Fancy intro.

LSB: Indeed. I'm British, you know. Why did you choose to read Euphoria?

BF: It was chosen as the April selection for discussion in my Face-to-Face book group, The Southern Cultural Heritage Book Club.

LSB: In less than 50 words, tell us what Euphoria is about.

BF: Euphoria is about three anthropologists studying tribes in New Guinea. Andrew Bankson has been on his own and recently attempted suicide. Nell and Fen, a married couple, just abandoned one tribe (due to Nell's discomfort) and are looking for another tribe to study. Bankson helps Nell and Fen find a new tribe and falls for Nell.

LSB: Ah, the well-trodden love triangle. Have you read any other books about anthropologists that are written in a similar vein?

BF: No, in fact, apart from Carl Hoffman's Savage Harvest (non-fiction about headhunters) and a book about a plane that crashed on New Guinea during WWII, I haven't read much at all about the area and its people and I've missed many of the more popular titles like The Poisonwood Bible and State of Wonder, although reading Euphoria made me doubly anxious to get to them.

LSB: What did you like most about Euphoria?

BF:  Pretty much everything. I liked the interaction between Bankson and Nell and the tension that created between both of them and Fen. I liked the fact that the book was written with intelligence; it was a bit of a learning experience. Clearly Lily King did her research. I loved reading about how the anthropologists thought, what excited them, what they considered notable. I liked the descriptions of places and people and the unexpectedness of some of the scenes. And, I was grateful that, although the book is tragic, the author did a good job of forewarning without giving anything away. I liked the fact that it's not just tragic, as well; at least one character ends up living a happy, productive life.

LSB: Was there anything you disliked about Euphoria?

BF: Yes and no. I was left with a few questions and I don't like it when I'm not sure exactly what something meant or what happened. That can make for some interesting discussion, though, so it might have been a good thing that I had questions if I'd made it to the meeting, this month. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it.

LSB: I'm sorry to hear that. Will you recommend Euphoria to your friends?

BF: I already have. It was a 5-star read, for me, one I consider worth hanging onto for a future reread.

LSB: Any final thoughts?

BF: I like the little noise you make when I shake you. "Ting-a-ling-a-ling!" It's lovely.

LSB: I meant about the book. And, it should be noted that I am from the police constabulary. I make a manly ringing noise.

BF: Noted. So, last thoughts . . .  I read a little about Euphoria online and found that not only is it a book that has won a number of prizes and honors, but also "a feature film is underway" (from Lily King's website). I seldom watch movies made from favorite novels because I like to retain my own images from the reading but I think it's a worthy story so I'm happy about that. Thank you for interviewing me.

LSB: Ting-a-ling-a-ling

BF: No comment. Euphoria is going on the good shelves, where I keep my favorites. I loved it. And, I'm told the audio version is award-winning, for those who prefer audio.

©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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

We have Internet! So happy. Fingers and toes crossed that it will last.

First things first: Journey to Munich is #12 in the Maisie Dobbs series and I have not read any other Maisie Dobbs books. Sometimes it works to dive into a series in the middle or toward the end of a mystery series (I've done it many times) and sometimes it doesn't. Journey to Munich was a mixed experience in that way. If you're familiar with the series, you know about the heroine's past and the characters who have been prominent but died. I did not, of course. Maisie spends a lot of time reflecting on her past, which muddled things for me, but not enough to stop me from reading on. More on that in a minute.

In Journey to Munich, Maisie is asked to pose as the daughter of an industrialist who has been imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp. It's 1938, Hitler is on the brink of invading two nearby countries, and Leon Donat's real daughter is not well. Donat has important knowledge that the British government wants to get their hands on, so they've begun negotiating his release (for a price);  Maisie must present the necessary documents and bring Leon Donat home.

Meanwhile, a very important man finds out about Maisie's plans to go undercover and requests her help locating his daughter, the woman Maisie blames for a tragedy in her own life (it's a spoiler if you missed #11). Maisie refreshes her German, memorizes information about Leon and his family, practices shooting a gun, and then dons a wig and takes off for Munich. I confess, I was a bit surprised how long it took for Maisie to even arrive in Munich.

In Germany, Maisie is faced with a number of challenges. The woman she's searching for is not quite what she seems, there's an American tailing her wherever she goes, Donat's story is more complex than she realized, and one particular Nazi seems to suspect her motives.

There's good and bad to Journey to Munich from the perspective of this new Maisie reader. She does put on her detective hat, so to speak, now and then. But, Journey to Munich is more a spy novel than a mystery novel. In that regard, it is probably more my type of book than a typical Maisie book. In fact, I tried the series, early on, and couldn't get into it. But, at the time I was reading almost no mysteries and I doubt it was the author's fault. I think it was more a function of my past mystery burnout holding me back. I requested an ARC of Journey to Munich because I've been gradually reading more  from the Mystery/Thriller category, in recent months, and I thought it would be a good time to give the series a second go.

My biggest problem with the book involved what I considered some minor touches of implausibility. Maisie is easily followed everywhere by an American but while the Nazis seem suspicious of her and she places herself in danger numerous times, they're never quite as threatening as anticipated. However, I did think the author did an excellent job of providing a sense of place and ramping up tension. The only other problem I had with the book was the one mentioned above. The Maisie Dobbs series is definitely best read in order. Regular Maisie readers will understand her references to The Dower House and Maurice and why she doesn't want to deal with certain people or wants them back in her life. Again, I did not.

I had no problem with the main storyline at all but did find frequent references to the past frustrating. And, yet, I liked the book enough to think, "Hmm, maybe I should start this series from the beginning." If I do, I believe I'll stop at #10. I peeked at a few reviews by Maisie lovers to get their impression and it sounds like that's where they would have liked the series to end. And, yet, I should add that Journey to Munich ends on a very hopeful note, implying that better things are to come, including the return of characters and format from the past.

Recommended - While the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series doesn't stand all that well alone, it's still perfectly readable if you have not dipped into the series in the past. I asked a friend who has read all the Maisie books what he thought and he said he didn't even notice any implausibility. He just enjoyed the book. So, my discomfort about Nazi suspicion might be the eyes of a frequent WWII novel reader at work (although the story takes place on the cusp of war, before Great Britain has declared war on Germany) and I may be a touch more picky, not being familiar with the series. I enjoyed Journey to Munich, in spite of the problems I encountered by diving into a series whose characters and past are unfamiliar, and I definitely recommend it.

©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, April 25, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler - from HarperCollins for review
  • Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud - purchased
  • Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Various Authors - from HarperCollins for review
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu - purchased
  • All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, and
  • Feather Brained by Bob Tarte - both from the authors for review (Note: I do not accept books directly from authors unless I know them personally or am already familiar with or a fan of their work)

Books finished since last malarkey:

  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • The Ones Who Matter Most by Rachael Herron

This was a fabulous week. I absolutely loved both of the books I finished. Unfortunately, unless I decide to spend plenty of time hanging out at Starbucks, I may not be able to review them for a while. Our Internet service has gone kaput. More on that in a sec.

Currently reading: 

  • Aim True by Kathryn Budig - 2/3 of the way through this combination memoir, exercise (yoga) and cookbook; and, I'll try some of the recipes when I finish (I am reading all of them, first, and marking those that I'm most eager to try)
  • 1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke (finally, I have gotten around to the poetry for National Poetry Month!)
  • One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

Recent posts:

In Other News:

As mentioned above, I'm posting from my local Starbucks (I have a local Starbucks! This was not the case before we moved, a few years ago; it's still exciting!) because our Internet has gone down. It's coming on for an hour or so, sporadically, but I can never predict when that will happen. A new fiber network is coming to our neighborhood and installation is progressing very nicely but we're guessing that we still have another two months to wait before they do all of the final connections. So . . . I'm anticipating fewer posts -- a lot fewer posts. That's primarily because neither of us wants to call our current server to complain because they'll try to sell us an upgrade we don't want. We may actually go ahead and cancel the service, which will mean Starbucks-only posting for a minimum of 8 weeks. I'll keep you posted on that. I just can't say what's going to happen, at this point.

Since I moderate comments, it may take some time for a comment and reply to show up, as well. Apologies in advance for the anticipated delays.

©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.