Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mini Review and F2F Report: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I'm going to keep the description fairly brief and dive right into talking about my book group's discussion of Brooklyn because it was a surprising discussion.

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman with a talent for numbers. Eilis is skilled at bookkeeping and is offered a job in a small shop as a clerk. Her boss, Miss Kelly, has a system by which she keeps the best customers happy. She's strict and not a particularly nice person, but Eilis is happy to be employed. Then, a priest returns to her small village from America for a visit. He knows someone who could give Eilis a much better job with the opportunity for growth and offers to help her move to New York City. Eilis's brothers live in Liverpool and by encouraging Eilis to move to the U.S., her big sister Rose is basically sacrificing any chance she might have to marry and move away, herself. Eilis takes the opportunity to leave and gradually finds her way in life and love as a new American. But, will she be happy if she marries? And, when tragedy strikes, forcing Eilis to go home, will she ever return?

I made the mistake of assuming there wouldn't be much to talk about in F2F group because Brooklyn is such a quiet, understated book that focuses on interpersonal relationships and the everyday events through which Eilis transitions from Irish woman to immigrant worker and then becomes, without even realizing it, an American. Those small changes, though, turned out to be eminently worthy of discussion.

Among other things, we discussed:

  • How well the author, a male, got into the head of his female main character.
  • Whether or not Rose was "sacrificing herself" by staying behind to live with and care for their mother while Eilis moved to America.
  • Comparison of the jobs Eilis held in Ireland and the U.S. and how culture impacted the way the employees interacted with customers.
  • Whether or not Eilis, her mother, and her brothers were culturally conditioned to say little in their letters to each other.
  • The relationship between Eilis and Rose.
  • The relationship between Eilis and her mother.
  • Why men left Ireland to get work in England.
  • How to pronounce those tricky Irish names (there were at least 4 or 5 different ways people thought Eilis might be pronounced). 
  • Eilis's immaturity and whether or not she matured throughout the book.
  • Eilis's passivity and whether she would have gone to America at all if she hadn't been encouraged by others.
This one's a potential spoiler, so I'll turn it white and you can highlight it if you're not worried about spoilers:
  • Why Eilis went back to America, in the end, and whether or not she would have gone if there hadn't been a connection between someone in Ireland and Eilis's landlord in New York.
  • What exactly was going on between Eilis and that fellow in Ireland.
  • The cultural differences between Irish and Italian families. 
  • The cover of the book shown above - whether or not it reminded anyone of what shops used to look like in small-town America (it did; I didn't mention my hometown but there were small stores that looked very much like the cover photo when I was young and those who grew up in Vicksburg said they remembered shops that appeared similar).

Wow, look at all that! There was so much to talk about. There was also a death that we discussed but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.

Some of us were aware that a movie version of Brooklyn has been made but none of us had viewed it, so there was no basis for comparison. We all did agree that we liked the book, though, and several people said they were going to look up the movie.

Recommended - I enjoyed the book, low-key as it was, and definitely recommend it. We didn't have a show of hands but there were really no negatives brought up so I think I can safely say everyone in my book group enjoyed Brooklyn and the discussion was a lively one. While I do recommend it for book group discussion, I'd advise printing out some topics to discuss. We were fine once we got going but there was a bit of twitchy shuffling before someone spoke up and got the conversation started.

©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, September 26, 2016

Monday Malarkey - A two-week malarkey-fest

This is two weeks' worth of Malarkey, for a couple reasons. There wasn't much to write about, last week, because there were no arrivals and I only read two books. Plus, something was going on that kept me from the computer. I don't even recall what, now. Fortunately, while my spouse was away on business in South Africa I ordered a few books to give myself something to look forward to and they all showed up last week, along with a single review book.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

Purchases --

  • Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden - One that I decided to knock off my wish list. 
  • Fair Stood the Wind for France by H. E. Bates - This is the book I ordered while I was reading The Bookshop on the Corner -- Jenny Colgan gets the blame.
  • The Last One by Alexandra Oliva - Because friend and former blogger Kookie read it and we agreed that the survival aspect made it sound like my kind of read.
  • Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters - A book that's been on my wish list since I heard about it, also read and recommended by Kookie.

And, the review book --

  • Good Taste: Simple, Delicious Recipes for Family and Friends by Jane Green 

Books finished since last malarkey:

  • Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle
  • Wonder Women by Sam Maggs
  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (already discussed by F2F group)
  • Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis

Currently reading:

  • Good Taste by Jane Green - I always try to read through all the recipes in a new cookbook before choosing some to try. There's only one problem with this book, so far: I want to try them all. It's going to be difficult to choose where to start, but I'm sure the chief cook will help. Good Taste is doubly fun because Jane Green is a novelist and she's added anecdotes about her own cooking life and her family throughout the book. I love a cookbook that's entertaining. 
  • A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray - The personal secretary to a deceased duke, Miss Truelove, and a friend of the family, Lord Silverton, go in search of the missing young man who has inherited the Duke's title and holdings. Set in Edwardian days, young Lord Silverton acts a bit self-indulgent like a Bertie Wooster but appearances can be deceiving. Loving this, also.
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (my second inter-library loan!) - Not quite grabbing me the way I hoped, but I find Jenny Lawson's essays entertaining if a bit heavy on the expletives. 

Posts since last malarkey:

In other news:

We tried this recipe, this weekend, and gave it the thumbs up: Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken. Friend and fellow blogger Serena added onions and mushrooms and they sounded like good additions, so we did the same and agreed -- it needed the mushrooms and I can't imagine the recipe without them. We had very little onion on-hand but added what was available and the flavor was amazing.

Poldark is back!!!  And, Ross was shirtless within the first 20 minutes. Well, I'm happy.

(This image is credited to the BBC but I borrowed it from an article at Digital Spy)

Also, just about every time I turned around, last week, the kitties were flopped next to each other, which you know I love. You can't see it but Isabel's front paws were tucked under Fiona's shoulder. I caught Fiona swatting Isabel on the nose, a couple times, last week. Isabel is the love bug when it comes to the sisterly relationship and Fiona occasionally cracks, but most of the time she's serene.

How was your week?

©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, September 23, 2016

Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis and a Fiona Friday pic

Yes, it's true that I posed Girl in the Woods in the middle of a nandina in my yard (and then came inside scratching).

I just finished Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis, last night, and immediately thought, "I've got to write about this, right now," because I'm at the point that I've read so many books in such a short time span that I'm beginning to have trouble keeping them all straight. So, I may work my way backwards for a bit.

Girl in the Woods is the memoir of a young lady who was raped on her second night of college and how she eventually walked the entire 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. In her words:

I was on a grand walk hoping to discover my best path forward, my strength, my place in a frightening world. 

~p. 92

I mentioned the rape up front because it's the central issue and when she mentioned she'd been raped to people, early on, she was blown off or told it was her fault -- a common theme amongst friends who've been raped and certainly in news stories. So, let's just acknowledge it here and now: the author was the victim of a crime, a violation, and she did nothing to deserve it, despite what the world told her. Her family did a lot of hiking and Aspen had hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail before college, so it was only natural that the trail was the place to which she retreated to do her pondering.

A little background, though, is important. Aspen had an unusual (maybe "weird" is a better word) upbringing in that her mother didn't want to let Aspen, then known as Debby, grow up. To that end, she coddled her all the way through high school. Aspen was so over-protected that she didn't know how to dress herself or brush her own hair. That's hard to fathom but I know some people find it difficult to believe that one can go off to college not knowing how to do laundry and there were plenty of us who learned by turning white clothing other colors because we hadn't learned to sort.

In other words, it's important to work at not being judgmental when you read Aspen's story because her experience and her lack of ability to cope was not her fault. And, more importantly, it was not her fault that she was raped.

The vast majority of the book focuses on the hike up the Pacific Crest Trail, her sexual experiences and friendships, the dangers she faced and the trail magic and trail angels that saved her from herself. There's a nice photo section in the middle of the book with pictures of Aspen, her childhood paintings, scenery on the trail, gallon bottles of water that saved her when she walked one stretch completely unprepared, and the man she met toward the end of the trail (whom she married). I think the most important thing that you get out of the book is that when a person is traumatized, sometimes it's important for her to find her own way through the pain. Her family considered her selfish and she was often reckless but she got out of the experience what she needed.

Even more important is the distinction between rape and consent, which is clearly show through her experiences. She did a lot of testing - getting close to men and then saying no to prove to herself that she really was not responsible for a rapist's refusal to stop when she told him to, that it was possible for her to have control over her own body.

You do have to wade through a lot of verbiage to get to the point, though. Much as I appreciated the importance of Aspen's memoir, I found it a bit overwrought and tiresome. And, yet, I wanted to know the answers. What would walking over 2,600 miles do for her? Would she emerge unscathed or injure herself in the process (it's a dangerous walk, in many ways)? Would she find strength in the accomplishment alone or need to keep testing men and constantly trying to convince herself that she was beautiful, talented, in control?

Iffy on recommendation - As important as I believe personal accounts like Aspen's are, I must be honest and tell you that I found the author's wordiness and constant fretting about whether or not she was pretty enough, talented enough, etc., wearying. It's a bit self-indulgent, in other words, always a danger with memoirs, although I know some people don't mind that as much as I do. I personally think a full 100 pages could have been cut from the book. Having said that, I think the importance of the book lies in how clearly is shows the distinction between a violent crime and the way sex ought to be. And, you also have to admire the author for daring to take on such a huge challenge when she had been so fiercely protected for so long. That can't have been easy, even if hiking was something she'd always found comfortable.

On to Fiona Friday, a picture of Fiona gazing out into the wilds of our backyard:

©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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Have I ever told you about my chick lit obsession? Back in the 1990s, when I was writing feverishly and belonged to a romance writers' group (because it was the only writing group that was active, although I didn't fancy myself "into" romance), I began reading romance to try to understand what my friends in the group were all about. That led me to chick lit and the discovery that I only like British chick lit, not American and definitely not Irish. At that time, Jenny Colgan was one of my absolute favorite authors. And, then I started to move away from romance when I stopped writing and left the group. I've occasionally seen Jenny Colgan's name amongst the offerings from publishers but didn't think the stories sounded right for me . . . till The Bookshop on the Corner.

I'm sure just about everyone reading this review looked at that cover and thought, "Oooooh." How could you not love it? A window crammed with shelves of beautiful books, the word "bookshop" in the title, and an author I happen to already know I enjoy were all it took for me to say, "Yes, please," to reviewing The Bookshop on the Corner.

Nina Redmond is about to lose her job as a librarian. Thanks to budget cuts, the library in Birmingham is closing and everyone is being encouraged to apply at a media center, whatever that is. Nina can't let the books be sacrificed, so she piles them into her car and begins taking loads of them home. But, her roommate, Surinder, is not happy. There are books piled everywhere in their shared flat. Then, Nina gets a brilliant idea. She'll create a rolling bookshop and sell them! That way the books will find a new home and Nina will have an income.

Unfortunately, the only van big enough to fit the task is in Scotland. After buying the van, Nina discovers Scotland is a perfect place to sell her books and she moves into an updated barn on a farm, near a grumpy landlord in the midst of a divorce. After nearly being stricken by disaster on a train track, Nina falls for a train conductor who loves poetry. Meanwhile, she's working hard at learning how to fit in with the locals. Will Nina's business survive and thrive or will she be forced to return to Birmingham? Is the train conductor the love of her life or just a diversion? And, what about those Scots?

Highly recommended - I think The Bookshop on the Corner is as much a love song to Jenny Colgan's second, adopted home in Scotland as it is a romance and a story about books. Frankly, I loved everything about it. Light-hearted writing, great characters, a sweet romance, tons of book chatter, and a dip into Scottish culture make The Bookshop on the Corner a charming, escapist read, especially great for reading on a plane or beach, or any other time you're looking for something especially light to read.

Warning: You may find yourself looking up and possibly even buying titles mentioned by Nina in the process of selling her wares. I came out of the book with only a single title on its way to me (still waiting for it to arrive) but I would have likely ordered more if there'd been a bit more detail provided. At least one book was mentioned repeatedly but without mentioning the author. Argh, frustration! I really want to look up that particular book, even though Nina keeps saying it's "rare". At any rate, there's a bit of danger to reading a book about books. I just thought you ought to know.

©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, September 19, 2016

Hey, That's MY Monster! by Amanda Noll and Howard McWilliam

Ethan has his very own monster under the bed. Gabe is the perfect monster for Ethan -- scary enough to keep him in bed at night but not to keep him from sleeping. But, then Gabe leaves Ethan a note:

So long, kid. 
Gotta go. 
Someone needs me
more than you do.

The "someone" is Ethan's little sister, Emma. Emma is a happy little girl and not easily frightened. She likes to climb out of her toddler bed, roam the house, and play noisy games at night.

I knew a monster would keep her 
in bed so she could fall asleep.
But not MY monster!
I had to get Gabe back.

Now, Gabe is under Emma's bed and Ethan says he'll get Emma to sleep. Anything to get Gabe back. Gabe is skeptical but says he'll give Ethan three chances. "If she's not asleep, I'll be back!" And, then Gabe disappears. To summon a monster, you must knock on the floor. Ethan encourages Emma to knock, but the monsters just make her giggle. She's not afraid at all! She laughs at a disgusting mucus monster and tells it to wipe. A second monster has a long tail and claws. Emma just decorates the monster's tail with bracelets. The third monster has tentacles. Emma high-fives one of the tentacles and hops over others like she's playing jump rope.

Oh, no! What is Ethan going to do? He's about to lose Gabe, forever!

Fortunately, it all works out and Ethan gets his monster back. And, I can't imagine any child not enjoying the journey. I reviewed I Need My Monster way back in 2012 and it was one of my favorite picture books, that year, because I was so in love with the storyline and the illustrations. Hey, That's MY Monster! is every bit as fun and the illustrations absolutely pop: the colors, the details in the background, even the digustingness of a slimy monster with too many drippy noses are all marvelous.

Highly recommended - So stinking cute! I'm a fan of monsters and aliens and Hey, That's MY Monster! does not disappoint. Great illustrations, a fun storyline, and a great batch of monsters all trying and failing to get little Emma to bed (it's the hiccuping sister of Gabe who finally manages to frighten little Emma under the covers) make this monster book a winner. I highly recommend buying the first book, I Need My Monster, along with Hey, That's MY Monster! for gift-giving or just for fun fall reading. With Halloween coming up, you have a perfect excuse to read about monsters to the little ones in your world.

Side note: This is my second post, today. There will be no Monday Malarkey, today. Malarkey will return, next week!

©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.

Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illus by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Mary had a little glam
that grew into a LOT
And everywhere that Mary went,
she wasn't hard to spot!

Mary likes to dress up. She isn't afraid of being unconventional (toward the beginning of the book, her mother discovers she's used a shower curtain as a sash) and she loves to accessorize: note the lamb-shaped purse that hints at the original rhyme off which the book is based. When Mary arrives at Mother Goose Elementary, she finds a dowdy bunch of classmates who are stunned by her fashion choices. But, Mary is a positive influence on her classmates.

So Mary offered fashion tips:
"More pink! More beads! More shine!
A hat for him and trim for her.
Go boa. It's divine."

Pretty soon, Mary's fashion sense has rubbed off on everyone -- the students, the principal, even the class pet. But, then Mary is faced with playground equipment. How will she be able to play with all of her accessories weighing her down? Mary handles recess with every bit as much style as she does the rest of the school day, in reverse. She strips off her accessories and runs to the equipment to play. No big deal.

Recommended - I didn't love the illustrations, at first, because they're a tiny bit busy, but then I started paying attention. It took me about 4 read-throughs before I realized Mary is a person of color. How did I miss that? I love it! There are not enough books with a main character of color for children. The other kids are also a nicely diverse bunch. As to the story itself, you can't help but love Mary's adaptability. She has a mind of her own but when faced with an obstacle, she just tosses off the things that are bogging her down and moves on. Go, Mary! I also liked all the little hints that Mary Had a Little Glam is based on "Mary Had a Little Lamb" - the sheep purse, the name of the school, the way the children are dressed a bit like they came straight out of Mother Goose days. Nicely thought out.

Also notable: Tammi Sauer has become one of my favorite authors of children's picture books, in recent years. Some other titles I've reviewed by Sauer:

Chicken Dance
Bawk and Roll
Your Alien

Side note: There will be no Monday Malarkey, today, due to a backlog of review books. I'll repeat this message if I manage to write more reviews. In the meantime, I'm happy to report that I've had a few good nights of sleep and I'm feeling human, again. Wahoo! Monday Malarkey will return, next week. I didn't receive any books, this week, so it would have been boring, anyway.

©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, September 17, 2016

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Please leave kitty alone

Sorry, Isabel. Didn't mean to disturb.

©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, September 15, 2016

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

My reading has slowed down significantly, this week, thanks to the insomnia I mentioned earlier in the week, so I was very pleased when I started reading Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye and realized that I'd opened a book that was impossible to put down, even given how difficult it has been to focus.

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye is about a little boy who faces a number of challenges and must solve a mystery to save his family's hotel. Warren is the 13th in a long line of Warrens and the eventual heir to his family's hotel since his father, Warren the 12th, died. However, he won't officially inherit the hotel till he turns 18 and Warren is still young, so it has been run by his uncle Rupert for about 6 years. Rupert is incredibly lazy and he's been letting the hotel deteriorate, unwilling to put out the effort of upkeep. It's gotten so bad that they no longer have guests. In the past 4 months, things have become even worse since Rupert married Annaconda.

Auntie Annaconda is a witch who has heard the story of the All-Seeing Eye. Nobody knows what the All-Seeing Eye is (and most don't believe it even exists) but Annaconda assumes it must be something valuable or powerful and she has been slowly tearing up floors and bedding, ripping into walls, and generally creating havoc in the hotel as she searches for clues. Warren is a hard-working boy; he does his best to maintain the hotel and repair the damage done by Auntie Annaconda. The chef and Warren's elderly teacher are his only friends.

Suddenly, a mysterious guest appears at the hotel and then Annaconda's two sisters show up. That's when things begin to get crazy. Will Warren figure out the mystery of the All-Seeing Eye before Annaconda and her sisters completely destroy the hotel? Who is the strange creature in the boiler room and who can be trusted? And, what is the meaning of the strange poem about the All-Seeing Eye?

Where the author and artist take this story is a total delight. And, you must see inside the book to appreciate it. The illustrations are absolutely marvelous:

Highly recommended - You know those rare books that keep you guessing all the way through? Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye is exactly that: surprising, delightful, upbeat, with a terrific young hero. Good, clean, mysterious fun.

I received a copy of Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye from Quirk Books in return for an unbiased review and I'm all full of gushy love. I cannot imagine a child not enjoying it. It's tense but not so scary as to induce nightmares, creative, and seriously . . . those illustrations. I wish I could hold the book up and show the entire thing to you. It would make a whopping fine gift for a youngster (or, just gift yourself - it's got witches; that seems like a decent excuse to buy a copy for the R.I.P. Challenge, if you're participating). The publicity info says it's for ages 8-12. I think you could safely read it to a younger child, no problem.

More good news: In the back of the book, it says Warren and the staff of the Warren Hotel will be returning. Sign me up! I cannot wait to read more. Last night was the best night's insomnia I've had in a long time.

©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.