Monday, March 25, 2019

Week off to read

Back next Monday in time for the usual malarkey.

©2019 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, March 22, 2019

Fiona Friday

She was lying right in front of me on the bed. Not a lap cat, my Isabel, but she is always nearby and the sweetest little companion.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner is about two girls who meet in an internment camp during WWII. Elise Sontag's father is a German immigrant who has been in the country for nearly 20 years. Neither he or his wife thought there was any urgent need to become American citizens. Elise and her brother were born in America and have never learned any German. 5 random things lead to Mr. Sontag being accused of siding with Germany in the war and he's arrested. Without his income, things slowly go downhill for Elise's family and eventually Mr. Sontag asks to be transferred to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas to be reunited with his family.

Mariko's parents are Japanese immigrants and, like Elise, Mariko is as American as apple pie. But, she's from California, where all of the Japanese Americans have been rounded up. First taken to Tanforan, an internment camp at a race track where horse stalls served as their homes, the Inoue family eventually ends up in Crystal City.

Elise and Mariko meet at Crystal City's American school and their friendship is immediate and deep. They have much more in common than differences. But, their friendship eventually ends when, for different reasons, both of the families end up being repatriated to their home countries and then Mariko's family cuts off communication when she's forced to marry in Japan.

As the book opens, decades later, we find that Elise has Alzheimer's and knows it will eventually kill her. Elise's friendship with Mariko was one of the most important of her life and she has always been sad that they weren't able to keep in touch. She decides to look for Mariko and is helped by a young housekeeper who teaches her how to use Google. On impulse, Elise buys a ticket to San Francisco to meet Mariko's daughter and writes a reminder note on her arm, knowing that she may need help remembering where she's headed.

The story then returns to the story of Elise and her family, how her German father was arrested, the family's struggles, and how Elise and Mariko met. While the storyline does go back and forth between the historical and modern parts of the storyline, the bouncing back and forth is minimal. Most of the focus is on the historical storyline and the denouement takes place during Elise's journey to find Mariko.

Highly recommended - Wonderful characters, well-described historical settings, and a truly meaningful, beautiful story of friendship made this a 5-star read. The Last Year of the War has rocketed to the top of my favorites list for 2019. It's beautifully told, believable, and accurate to what I've read about the internment camps. In fact, there was even a little crossover with Learning to See by Elise Hooper, a book I just reviewed about 10 days ago, because Dorothea Lange (the subject of Learning to See) photographed and was horrified by the conditions at Tanforan, the camp at which people were originally housed in smelly horse stalls.

Elise (the character, not the author of the other book) is the narrator. She's an only child whose friends abandon her when her father is arrested and there is nothing more important to Elise than having someone to connect with. Her anguish is visceral during the times when she's friendless and the depth of meaning of friendship to her is immense. I couldn't count the number of times I teared up; so many heartbreaking moments for Elise. I loved both the historical and contemporary parts of The Last Year of the War equally -- which is extremely unusual. I expected a predictable storyline with the typical balance of historical and contemporary storylines. But, The Last Year of the War is far from trite and predictable; it's surprising in many ways.

I received a copy of The Last Year of the War from Berkley Books for review and every time I think of it I want to clutch the book to my chest, I love it so much. Many thanks to Berkley/Penguin Random House for the review copy.

©2019 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, March 20, 2019

The Threat by Andrew McCabe

That day, North Korea was on the president's mind. North Korea had recently conducted a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, potentially capable of sriking the U.S. -- Kim Jong-un had called the test a Fourth of July "gift" to "the arrogant Americans." But the president did not believe it had happened. The president thought it was a hoax. He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles. He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so.

~p. 136

I'm not actually sure what possessed me to order a copy of The Threat by Andrew G. McCabe. I've ordered a few political books, in the past year or two, but I'm not all that hot about getting to them. However, The Threat turns out not to really be a book about politics but a memoir, although McCabe certainly describes the Trump administration from his viewpoint and experience, including his direct interactions with the president and staff. It is, however, about Andrew McCabe's time in the FBI -- how he made the decision to go from a high-paying job as a lawyer to a much lower-paying job as an FBI agent, for starters. It describes his training and various cases that he was involved in during his FBI years. Yes, he does mention Trump and the dangers he believes this president is causing. But, it wasn't the defensive work of writing that I anticipated.

There were two things that really jumped out at me. One was that Andrew McCabe's early years were spent working on investigating the mafia, including the Russian mafia. I think I'd read that somewhere, but it didn't sink in till I read it a second time and in the words of McCabe, himself, and then it was a bit of an "A-ha!" moment. If, as many people have said, Trump is truly involved with Russian money laundering (I've been reading about that for years, long before he ran for president -- his connections with Russia are nothing new), it makes sense that he'd want to keep McCabe out of the top FBI job, doesn't it?

The other thing that jumped out at me was his description of his work after 9/11. On the day of the terrorist attacks, McCabe was posted in New York City but he was away from the office when the first tower was hit. His response was to drive into Manhattan, lights flashing, turn in his FBI vehicle, and get to work. Eventually, the people in the Manhattan office had to be moved because the dust from the Twin Towers was causing problems with ventilation. Truly, anyone who drove into the horror for the sake of American security is a hero to me, whether an emergency responder or a desk jockey.

I think perhaps the most important tidbit of information is one that most everyone has probably heard, by now, but which is described in better detail by McCabe than I've seen elsewhere and that is the president's complete inability to even listen to and process the daily security briefings. I'm recalling this without any reference (I didn't mark his descriptions of the briefings and don't even remember if he was present or he described this secondhand) but what he said was that on one particular occasion, not only did the president not absorb what he was being told but he only let the people briefing him talk for a minute or two and then spent the rest of the time talking, himself, about things that were totally irrelevant to security. The problem with that is, of course, that the president needs to have a complete understanding of the threats to our nation and be able to make quick decisions in the event of an emergency. McCabe has no confidence at all in his ability to respond to a national emergency with the knowledge and understanding needed.

Highly recommended - Personal opinion: every American needs to read The Threat. It's very well written and compelling information about how the FBI works, some of the cases they've solved (those McCabe worked on, specifically), security issues we face as a nation, and why our current president is endangering us. McCabe doesn't spend a lot of time defending himself from the president's accusations but the final chapter is a little emphatic. And, when relevant, he describes how the current administration treats members of various agencies and the reasons he considers the administrations actions a danger. McCabe also describes how right-wing "news" stories that are completely fabricated are being accepted by main-stream news as facts, constantly putting agencies in a defensive posture. It's a book that will unnerve you -- not just because of the dangers Trump poses but because of close calls with terror that McCabe describes. But, in general, it really is just a typical memoir and a very good one.

©2019 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, March 19, 2019

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and M. E. Fontanot de Rhoads

Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads is the story of a boy's journey from Mexico to the United States. I jumped at the chance to review it when I saw the advertisement on Shelf Awareness. I've read a few tales of people escaping hardship by immigrating but most have been about immigration to Europe, not the United States, so I was excited to read a story that happens closer to home (fictional).

Manuel's brother Toño rode the train (illegally, as in climbing on top of the train and alternately walking and riding) to the United States from their home in Oaxaca, Mexico, a few years ago. They know he survived the journey because he occasionally calls home. Manuel misses Toño, his family lives an impoverished farming life, and he is curious about life in El Norte. So he decides to also make the journey. He will begin the dangerous trip by running to jump onto the train locally known as "The Beast". Even climbing aboard is dangerous, not to mention riding on top of train cars without handholds. People have been known to fall off or miss while jumping aboard and lose limbs or die. But, Manuel is determined.

My initial thought, as I began reading, was that Manuel's journey would be an event that took a few weeks or a few months, at most, even though the cover description says he's "robbed, arrested, beaten, and left for dead." But, it actually takes him about two years because he has to keep stopping to recover. Along the way, terrible things happen but there are good people who care for him, help him recover, feed, and clothe him, as well. It's an emotional journey and I often got choked up, especially when reading about the kindness of strangers.

Highly recommended - The storytelling style is unique and I had to adjust to it, but once I became accustomed to Johnston's voice, I found the story compelling and eye-opening. It took a while, though. When I was about 1/3 of the way into the book and realized that Toño was an illegal immigrant and that Manuel planned to enter the U.S. illegally, as well, I thought, "Well, this isn't going to be a book that's helpful." I figured it was the wrong viewpoint and people who are prone to thinking of Mexican immigrants in a negative light would just shake their heads and say, "See! Just as I suspected." But, besides illuminating the good and evil in people one might encounter in real life, Beast Rider actually places you in the midst of the incredibly terrifying and life-threatening process that is illegal immigration from Mexico and shows you just how much people are willing to go through to seek out a better life.

Quite a few Spanish words or phrases are used and there is a 6-page glossary to refer to. Beast Rider is for ages 12 and up.

This next part may be considered a spoiler, so I'll type it in white and you can highlight it to read if you're not worried about potential spoilers. I won't give away the ending, but I will say I thought it felt right and it was what I hoped for.

Manuel eventually does make it into the United States, but because he's illegal he can't get a decent job and neither can his brother; they just scrape by. They live better than they did in Oaxaca, from the standpoint of living space. But, without legal documentation, there's really no way to move up in the world and they live in fear of being caught and sent back. As you're reading about Manuel's daily life in Los Angeles, it becomes clear that his family may have been poor but they were happy and they had a loving support system. In other words, while their life was one of hardship in Oaxaca, it was really a better life. As such, you could definitely look at the book as one that supports legal immigration. I'd like to see something similar that digs into what it's like being surrounded by gangs, threatened and extorted, having loved ones killed, like many of the current immigrants coming from Honduras -- one in which going back is likely a death sentence. But, as a way to learn about why the journey is so dangerous (and, thus, so many large groups have been forming to fend off that danger), Beast Rider is definitely illuminating. 

I received an Advance Reader's Copy of Beast Rider for review from Abrams Books. Many thanks!

©2019 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, March 18, 2019

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets and
  • Layover by David Bell - both from Berkley/Penguin Random House for review 
  • The Unspeakable Mind by Shaili Jain, M. D.,
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins,
  • The Binding by Bridget Collins, and 
  • On Democracy by E. B. White  - all from HarperCollins for review

Getting in the Easter spirit, here. That's my mantel bunny, who comes out annually. So . . . great mix, again. The Binding says it's literary fiction but it sounded like something my future daughter-in-law would like and maybe a little different from my normal fare (due to the magical elements) so I got it partly for the change of pace, partly to share. As expected, future DIL said she is interested and wants to borrow it when I finish. On Democracy and The Unspeakable Mind are both nonfiction, the former by the E. B. White of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little fame. It is a series of writings by the late author during a similar time of political change, with fascism on the rise. I've got a book of E. B. White's essays, so there may end up being some crossover (I haven't looked) but I'm hungry for wise words, right now, and very excited about On Democracy. The Unspeakable Mind is about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, something I've read about indirectly (in novels, where people are experiencing PTSD or being treated for it) but never really spent any time studying, so I'm looking forward to learning more about it.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is historical fiction about a slave who murdered her owners. Layover is a psychological thriller and The Last Woman in the Forest is a mystery thriller. Hmm, sounds like I'm going to need something light after this batch! Fortunately, I have some children's books winging their way to me, soon.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
  • The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Both were excellent reads. The Last Year of the War took me about 4 or 5 days to finish but a part of me didn't want it to end. I loved that story. One of the reasons it took me so long was that it occasionally made me tear up, so I'd have to set it aside and walk away for a while.

Currently reading:

  • The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Applehans 

I plan to add at least one more title, tonight. We'll see how that goes. I've been excited about Lenore's latest for ages, so it's one I pre-ordered. And, since Lenore is one of us (at least she used to be a book blogger), her book gets priority.

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

I don't remember whether it was Saturday night or the night before that we found ourselves sitting on the sofa, worn out from the day's chores, but I was in charge of the remote and had never seen the 2005 version of Yours, Mine, and Ours. So, I clicked on it when I happened across it on some movie channel (I don't recall which one -- not sure I even knew at the time). I've seen the 1969 version with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball and maybe a random scene or two of this one, but I'd never seen the entire movie and neither had Huzzybuns. I don't think he enjoyed it quite as much as I did but he didn't disappear into another room, so he must have enjoyed it at least a little. Now, I want to see the older movie, again. It's been a very long time since I saw the original.

The 2005 version has a terrible rating at IMdB and Rotten Tomatoes, so I have to wonder if I'd have disliked it if I was unfamiliar with the original, which I remember loving (so I had positive expectations). I thought Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo had excellent on-screen chemistry.

TV viewing was limited to NCIS and Chicago Fire (because I enjoyed it so much, last week), although Kiddo, who was home for Spring Break, turned on Eureka and we enjoyed watching a little of that. I'd never even heard of the show. Not a big TV person, obviously.

The rest of the week was spent alternately doing chores and peering out the window because our deck was ripped out on Monday and Tuesday and then some men showed up to do a bit of measuring and cleaning on Thursday, and they ripped out trees, moved dirt, and dug a trench in our yard on Friday. All this is the beginning of the work to replace our deck with a two-level patio. The trench serves as the outline of the upper level, which will have slightly different dimensions than our deck did. It's pretty exciting to trudge out to that mess (we have to go around the house; you can't get off the covered patio, at this point, or you'd sink into a pile of dirt and end up stuck behind a trench) to visualize what's coming.

That's my week in a very large nutshell. How was yours?

©2019 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, March 15, 2019

Fiona Friday

I'm willing to bet you squinted to try to read the book titles.

©2019 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.