Friday, August 29, 2014

Fiona Friday - Cat with gnome

I asked for help naming my gnome on Facebook and friends came up with some excellent names, then I completely forgot to make a decision. Since I'm posting a photo of Izzy with gnome, I'm still open to suggestions.  Also, Happy Labor Day weekend to the Americans!


©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech


Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech
Copyright 2014
William Morrow - Fiction/Magical realism
Source: Sent by publisher for TLC tour

Remember on Monday when I said I had plenty of time to finish Season of the Dragonflies because my tour wasn't scheduled till the 28th? No? Well, I did, and it turned out I was looking at the wrong week of the calendar. Fortunately, I finished the book last night. Whew! Close scrape.

Season of the Dragonflies begins with the tale of Serena Lenore, how she fell deeply in love and discovered a flower called Gardenia potentiae. From the blossom, Serena created a perfume that grants its users the power to fulfill their every dream. The Lenore family fortune has grown due to careful sale of the special potion at an extraordinary price; but, true love has escaped the grasp of the youngest Lenore daughters, Mya and Lucia. After one of the famous buyers of the special elixir threatens to expose the Lenore family's secret, Mya takes a chance that Great-Grandmother Serena's threat -- that a curse will fall on the family if the formula is altered -- is an empty one.

But, even before she mixes a new formula that she hopes will solve their problem, things begin to go wrong. The flowers are not releasing the powerful scent that normally fills the town of Quartz Hollow during harvest time. Perplexed, mother and company president Willow Lenore delays the harvest while she tries to figure out what's gone wrong.

Meanwhile, Mya and Lucia are facing off. Lucia left home many years ago but Mya has always stayed, certain of her future as the next company president. Mya and Willow have the family gift in different forms but Lucia has never shown any hint of the gift at all. Now divorced, Lucia has returned home and has, for the first time in her life, seen a vision. And, it's a bad one. 

While the Lenore women deal with the threat to their business, they're also faced with new possibilities. Mya is dating a younger man who loves her but she's unsure she can ever love and commit to anyone. Lucia finds that the spark between her and the man she once loved has not gone out. Even Willow may have a second chance at love.

What is causing the changes in the flower that are making Gardenia potentiae lose its scent? Can anything be done to save the flowers or will the Lenore family lose everything they've ever worked for and cared about? 

I loved the historical chapter and then absolutely hated the first few scenes of Season of the Dragonflies. There were two types of scenes I dislike, right off the bat. It was not a good start but I DNF'd the last book I read for TLC Tours so I decided I was just going to have to force my way through Season of the Dragonflies, no matter what. But, while it was slow going, at first, eventually the promise was revealed. By the time I was 1/3 of the way into the book, the pages were absolutely flying.

Sarah Creech's writing was compared to that of one of my favorite authors, Sarah Addison Allen, in the publicity material. That was why I decided to participate in the blog tour and I was not disappointed. Although there are plenty of scenes of a type I tend to dislike in Season of the Dragonflies, the magical realism is lovely and dreadful and enthralling. I like being surprised when I open a book, so I'm not going to share any of the details but the secret to saving the family crop is wound up in something completely unexpected and yet integral to the story. It's there from the beginning and I didn't like it, at first, but I absolutely loved the solution and the denouement.

Recommended - After the initial historical scene that set the background, Season of the Dragonflies got off to a rocky start for this reader but thank goodness I didn't go for the 50-page rule and set this book aside. The farther you read, the more beguiling the story becomes; and, even elements that I normally dislike in a story ceased to make me squirm as I realized their relevance. I absolutely loved the magical touches, the characterization, and the unexpected revelations that pulled everything together at the end. It will be fun seeing what Sarah Creech comes up with, next.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Paramédico by Benjamin Gilmour


Paramédico: Around the World by Ambulance by Benjamin Gilmour
Copyright 2012
The Friday Project (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Originally published 2011 in Australia by Pier 9 (an imprint of Murdoch Books Pty Ltd.)
Source: Purchased

Cynicism among paramedics in Australia is so entrenched that Pip James, a former lecturer at the ambulance education centre in Sydney, used to insist her students write themselves a letter immediately after employment. This letter would outline the students' motives for joining the job, the way they perceived the profession and a description of the paramedics they hoped to become. The letters were then sealed and only opened again once they had returned to the school after a year on the road. As expected, the students squirmed horribly when reading their earlier sentiments. But many also learnt how insidiously tainted they had become.

It's easier to avoid cynicism, however, when patients present with genuine and pressing needs, when the service is not abused. Ambulance workers in the West generally agree that the level of disgruntlement in their job is directly proportional to the number of time-wasters they attend. When customers call for a lift to the shops, for a drink of water, for a blanket when cold, it's no surprise. If customers reserved calling ambulances for serious injuries and acute illnesses only, frustration and cynicism among paramedics would probably decline accordingly. 

~p. 164

The purchase of Paramédico was one of those cases of "One book leads to another." First, I came across my old copy of The Paramedics and decided I wanted to read it, again, because I've been watching old reruns of the cult classic show Emergency!  Then, I happened across Rescue by Anita Shreve -- again, whilst unloading boxes of books and organizing my home library. I'm not even quite sure how I came across Paramédico, to be honest, but since I purchased it from an online bookstore I'm guessing that I just happened to be looking up something entirely different and thought, "Hmm, I wonder if there are any new titles about paramedics." It's an old obsession; I have quite a little collection of books about EMS and a handful of novels with paramedic heroes.

Paramédico is quite different from the other books I've read because it's not just about being a paramedic and what it's like; it's about the experiences of a paramedic who traveled around the world working with other paramedics, doctors, nurses and some lesser qualified medics while, at times, filming them. There's a film by the same name. I have yet to locate a DVD that will work in the U.S. but you can purchase Paramédico on demand at Vimeo, so I may give in and do that. I really would like to see the film.

The book is absolutely fascinating, as much (possibly more) from a cultural perspective as the stories of field medicine in action. After reading The Paramedics, I'd been wondering what emergency medical services are like in other countries and I could not have chosen a more fascinating peek into the differences in how ambulances are dispatched and staffed, what supplies are carried, what is expected of medics by patients in different countries. Expectation was something I had not thought about, actually, that in some places the expectation -- of pain relief or the lack of it, for example -- is completely different. Can you imagine an American accepting a vitamin shot or a valium injection for just about everything? Isn't it beyond fathoming that there's a country where the ambulances carry no drugs at all? Valium, vitamin shots, no medication, a ride on a floating ambulance that makes you queasy but lacks disposable vomit bags . . . those are options in other places.

One thing that seems to be a constant wherever you go is abuse of the system, something that baffles me because the last thing I can imagine anyone desiring is a ride in an ambulance or a visit to an emergency room, especially for no good reason. I'd have to be near death to end up in either (that's happened once -- I was in bad enough shape that I have almost no memory of it, which is fine by me).

Paramédico begins with an introduction and a chapter about the author's first posting in the Australian Outback. After you get to know the author's Australian background, he takes you on a journey around the world with stops in South Africa, England, the Philippines, Macedonia, Thailand, Pakistan, Iceland, Italy, the U.S. (Hawaii) and Mexico. His travels took place over quite a few years and it's been a few years since publication, so things may have changed in some of the countries he visited; Gilmour does make that perfectly clear. But, you still get a unique perspective on various cultures that likely have not altered much. I think that's what I loved most about the book. It had the feel of a travelogue but from a unique perspective, that of each country's emergency services.

The biggest problem most readers will probably have with Paramédico is that you need a strong stomach to read some of the medical scenes. I have no problem with that, possibly because of the stories my father used to tell about his time as a Navy Corpsman on a hospital ship. The reality is another thing entirely, I'm sure.

Highly recommended - A well-written peek into EMS in 11 different countries. Medical professionals of all kinds will appreciate the stories of situations and treatment but it's the cultural perspective that really makes Paramédico an excellent book; and, it's very well written. If you can read about messy medical situations without getting queasy, it's a book that I highly recommend.

One note: The author is not particularly complimentary to Americans. That didn't bother me. I think it's good to read about what people think of us in other countries and to get an outside viewpoint of where and how we (or the politicians who represent us) may be causing trouble for others.

Is this the last link in my latest round of chain-reading? Nope, I noticed a couple other books I'm pretty sure I haven't gotten around to reading during last week's work on the library (both novels with paramedic heroes, I think). So, I'll keep sliding in an EMS read, now and then. It will be hard to beat Paramédico. I hope Benjamin Gilmour will write more about his experiences, in the future.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar


The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar 
Copyright 2014
Harper - General fiction
Source: Sent by publisher

The Story Hour is about an unusual relationship between a psychologist named Maggie and her patient, Lakshmi. A young woman in a seemingly abusive and confining relationship, Indian immigrant Lakshmi attempts suicide in a moment of despair. Maggie is known for her ability to work with difficult patients and for her unorthodox methods. Only she can get Lakshmi to speak. After Lakshmi's release from the hospital, Maggie has the young woman follow up with appointments at her home office, free of charge. Lakshmi clearly needs a friend more than she needs therapy but Maggie believes she can maintain emotional distance.

In spite of Maggie's efforts to remain cool and distant, Lakshmi begins to think of Maggie as her friend while Maggie encourages Lakshmi's independence and doesn't correct Lakshmi for fear of setting her progress back. Meanwhile, as Lakshmi's relationship with her husband gradually improves, Maggie is in the midst of an affair, even though she knows better. She is aware that the affair would devastate her husband if he found out and that she couldn't have chosen a better man to marry. Yet she can't seem to stop seeing the other man. When Lakshmi reveals a dark secret that changes everything Maggie understands about her and Maggie pulls away from Lakshmi, disaster strikes for Maggie.  

I had no idea how difficult it would be to describe The Story Hour till I sat down to write. There are some complexities to the relationships, all around, but I don't want to give away too much. Suffice it to say, Lakshmi's life is not quite what it seems and Maggie's childhood figures into her inability to stop seeing the "other man".

The style of storytelling is also quite interesting. Umrigar has chosen to portray Maggie and Lakshmi in alternating chapters and it's easy to tell when you're in Lakshmi's point of view because her English is astoundingly bad. You get the impression that Lakshmi is uneducated, perhaps a bit simple, and that she was forced into marriage with a terrible man, but as Lakshmi reveals her past you find out she's actually quite clever. So, how and why did she end up in such a terrible marriage?

Maggie is equally perplexing. Although she's involved in an affair, her husband could not really be more perfect. He's supportive, loving, intelligent, successful. Why would a woman in such a happy marriage have an affair? Well, you'll have to read the book to understand. Maggie is much more difficult to relate to, although her story is more straightforward. Most psychologists (at least, the ones I know) are in the business because of their own challenges and their desire to help people in similar circumstances. The same is true of Maggie, but I think you could say the cracks in her past have been covered, not mended, and therein lies the secret to her weakness.

I found myself engrossed in The Story Hour from the beginning.  Lakshmi's poor English makes for strange reading, although she's easy enough to comprehend. My only complaint about the book would have to be the chapters that are narrated by a younger Lakshmi. Because the book is written in English, even when Lakshmi is young she's narrating in the English of her adulthood -- and yet, you know by the time you hear from young Lakshmi that she is, in fact, quite intelligent. So, there's a bit of a disconnect. Why is young Lakshmi narrating in broken English? Shouldn't it be an English translation of an intelligent young Indian's perspective? That's really a writing technicality. I think it I were the author, I would have ground to a halt at that point. The fact that she made a choice to keep Lakshmi's perspective clear by not altering her mode of speech (maybe to maintain flow) probably shows the maturity of Umrigar's writing. She writes with confidence and authority, even if you feel something is a tiny bit amiss.

Recommended - I loved this story, its nuances and the changes in the characters, for better or worse. Although Lakshmi's story eventually becomes clear before it's fully revealed, it's not predictable. I thought Umrigar did a bang-up job of slowly revealing both characters' histories and then turning everything on its head. While I didn't find the ending particularly satisfying, I enjoyed The Story Hour enough to feel like I could draw my own conclusions and close the book without feeling let down, so I definitely recommend it.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Malarkey

As a child, I used to stand on tippy-toes when I sang high notes. Isabel says it also works to look up.


I know the cat singing a high note (or, if you want to get technical, "yawning") is not book-related but I managed to clear a bookshelf specifically for ARCs, this weekend, and I don't want to drag last week's arrivals out here to photograph them. So, you get a cat photo. 


Recent arrivals:

From HarperCollins for review:

  • Insurrections of the Mind, ed. by Franklin Foer
  • The Way Inn by Will Wiles
  • Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris
  • G. I. Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi
  • The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach by Stephen McGarva

Others:

  • I Have a Bad Feeling About This by Jeff Strand - sent by friend
  • The Good Girl by Mary Kubica - sent by friend
  • The Yeti Files by Kevin Sherry - from Scholastic via Shelf Awareness


Last week's posts:


I seem to be alternating weeks when it comes to quantity -- good week for reviewing, bad week, productive, unproductive. Last week was a migraine-dominated week. Some weeks I just don't feel like writing. Hopefully, this week will be a productive one.


Last week's reads:

  • How Strong is an Ant? and Other Questions about Bugs and Insects by Mary Kay Carson
  • Why is the Sea Salty? and Other Questions about Oceans by Benjamin Richmond
  • Ghost Hunting by Hawes, Friedman and Wilson

Seriously, two children's books and a quick-read book about a TV show I've never seen. Told you it was a lousy week. The children's books were great. I was underwhelmed by Ghost Hunting, although I enjoyed it enough to finish.


Currently reading:

  • Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech
  • Second Form at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton
  • Spillover by David Quammen

I've had Spillover on the "currently reading" list for weeks but I didn't actually read a single page, last week. It's a great book; I will definitely finish it. I'm just not in any hurry, since it's from my personal library. Season of the Dragonflies is a book I'm reading for tour and I initially thought I was going to have to force my way through it because it began with two scenes that fall into territory I despise (stories about actors; graphic sex). However, I DNF'd my last TLC Tour book so I decided I was going to get through this one, no matter what. And, what do you know?  I started to like it about 1/3 of the way in.

Second Form at Malory Towers is a book I bought at a discount bookstore in the UK.  Having heard so many people gush about Enid Blyton being their favorite childhood author, I just grabbed one at random out of curiosity. Second Form at Malory Towers is the second in a series about 10 girls sharing a room at boarding school and it's interesting from a cultural perspective but I probably would have been better off choosing one of Blyton's adventure books -- or, possibly, paying attention to order. I do feel like I missed something by jumping to the second in the series. Maybe I can find one of her adventure books on a future visit to England.

Blog plans:

I'm hoping to review The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar, Paramédico by Benjamin Gilmour and a few children's books, this week. I'm going to skip reviewing Ghost Hunting because I don't feel like I have anything to say about it. Hopefully, this week will be an improvement over last week. So far, so good -- no migraine but it's so hot I've been looking at photos of Alaska to try to cool myself off. I may have to drag a portable fan to the desk. The air conditioner is just not enough, right now.

No TV or movies worth mentioning, this week.  We did watch the first episode of the new PBS mystery series, Breathless, starring Jack Davenport of the British Coupling. I'm not sure what I think of it, just yet.

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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, August 22, 2014

*Announcement* and a grumpy cat

First things first: a grumpy cat. Cheerful as this little fur being is, she gets really pissy when I pull out the camera. 


And, the announcement . . . 

I updated my review policy in May to reflect the fact that I had a backlog of advance reader copies and was not accepting books for review. Well, that fell flat.  I have continued to request ARCs, although I am trying very hard not to be tempted. So, I decided maybe it would be best if I posted a formal announcement and here 'tis:

I will not be accepting books for review until at least January of 2015.  

Hold me to that, please, folks. There will still be some books coming (plus, I'll always accept children's books and the odd unsolicited book will be wedged in if it holds my attention) but if you notice an uptick in ARCs received, I would appreciate a verbal slap. "Hmm, you seem to be getting an awful lot of books in the mail," or "Bookfool, you are being a book glutton," would do.  It's an integrity issue. I mean well and I love the serendipity of finding new author that I never would have discovered, had his or her book not been offered to me for review (Simon Van Booy is the perfect example), but I have an "eyes are bigger than her stomach" kind of issue with books. Maybe one of those serendipitous reads is sitting in the stacks, right now. There's only one way to find out.

That's all!  Wishing everyone a happy and healthy weekend!

BF

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland


The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland
Copyright 2014 
Algonquin Books - General fiction
Source: Received unsolicited from publisher

I'm going to have to go ultra-casual on this one because, much as I loved The Transcriptionist and found myself wanting to immediately reread it while I was still reading, I've forgotten a few things. So . . . the Extremely Casual Thing Known as a Self-Interview is today's method of reviewing.  I will be interviewed by Patience and Fortitude, the New York Public Library lions. They're relevant.

Patience: Roar!!!

Bookfool (BF):  Hello.

Fortitude: Just so you know, we can speak Human, as well. However, we usually only do so at night, when the books come to life.

BF: Good to know. So . . . interview?

Patience:  Right. Tell us about The Transcriptionist.

BF:  OK. Lena, the protagonist, is a transcriptionist -- a person who transcribes tapes in the old-fashioned sense (listening to cassettes or VHS tapes and typing transcripts of interviews or dictated material) at the Record, a fictional New York City newspaper. When Lena sees the obituary of a blind woman who was killed by lions at the zoo in an apparent suicide, she becomes obsessed with how and why she died because she recognizes the woman's face in the photograph accompanying the obit. Just days before, she sat by the woman and spoke to her on a bus.

Fortitude: I could eat you.

BF:  Thanks for that info.

Patience:  Ignore Fortitude. What did you particularly like about The Transcriptionist?

BF: The Transcriptionist is a quirky book. Lena is the last of a dying breed, so to speak. She's the only transcriptionist left at The Record and she very seldom has the chance to interact with people. Because she's an avid reader and alone much of the time, she has a problem with talking to the pigeons outside her window and occasionally getting caught, thinking and speaking in quotes, sometimes even letting her daydreaming enter her transcription.  I also love the way the author brings New York City to life. I did a lot of googling of various locations described in the book; I love it when an author makes the setting so vivid you want to hop a plane to see the locations described in real life.  In fact, I do think I need to reread the book and take notes for future visits to New York City.

Fortitude:  Were there parts that made you want to growl or swipe?

BF: Nothing really annoyed me in a big way, apart from the fact that it took forever to figure out when exactly the story took place. Eventually, I figured out the year was 2003 . . . and then I almost immediately forgot how I came to that conclusion. There's a character who doesn't realize he's calling Lena by the wrong name and when she eventually corrects him, his reaction is kind of squirrely but the characterization is great. There are quirky people and distracted people and people with huge egos. There's a bit of a real-life feel and yet at times the book feels almost like it leans toward fable, with a character living in the building (I won't give away where he's hiding) and the strange out-of-place feel of the transcription room.

Patience:  Recommendation?

BF:  Highly recommended. While sometimes the story is a bit uncomfortable, I really loved The Transcriptionist and highly recommend it, especially to readers who like a slightly off-beat but intelligent story. Also, fans of a New York setting and those who currently live in or have lived in New York City will probably love The Transcriptionist for the use of setting.

Fortitude:  Now I can eat you?

Patience: Down, boy.

BF:  *runs for the hills*

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.