Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thinking Aloud: Comparing book covers and the stories they tell

During the past year, I'd convinced myself that American book covers were finally on the upswing. There have definitely been some new releases whose covers I loved so much I was influenced to either buy a copy or accept a book for review. A few I love:

Why do covers grab us? In the case of those above, they may all be eye-catching but I think it's the fact that they inform the reader of the contents in some way that makes a cover outstanding. The Martian, for example, is simple, bold and eye-catching but it also tells us that it's about an astronaut who is alone in a dangerous place. All the Birds Singing combines the idyllic beauty of farmland and sheep with a frightening wolf image, which lets you know that the setting may be beautiful but there's something sinister happening. Delicious! combines foodie appeal (a gorgeous shop window) with either a touch of history or some sort of local interest (the bicycle) -- in fact, it turned out to be both. World of Trouble clearly shows a dying world about to be annihilated by something from space, yet the hero is strolling foreword, fearlessly facing his end. Lock In highlights the fact that a percentage of humanity is set apart from the rest. Goodnight June clearly references the children's book Goodnight Moon.

So, when I say I think American covers pale in comparison to their British counterparts, I am not saying they're all bad. I do think there has been some improvement. But, this past week I was in London and there it was, again, that reminder that sometimes the cover doesn't reflect the contents. Oliver Harris's Deep Shelter is a perfect example. Look at the difference!

The American cover of Deep Shelter, at left, has the typical bold look of a thriller. But, what's happening? Are those steps at the top? A lonely man walking through a corridor? They both fit and yet . . . they really don't say anything at all. The British cover at right, though, shows that the book takes place in London with the building known as "the Gherkin" at its center. And, it tells you that something is happening below ground as you're looking up from stairs in an old metal structure to the surface. It's not perfect; the British cover isn't entirely reflective of the contents as there's no wide gap showing the London skyline in the shelters involved, from what I gathered. And, yet, the point is that the cover on the right is not only eye-catching and intriguing; it tells a story before you've even opened the first page.

The same is true of Harris's first book, The Hollow Man:

At left, the generic American thriller cover; at right, the British cover. The British cover again reflects its London setting. We see a man with a gun, running down an alley. He's alone. What's going on? The fact that the British cover says, "A twisting spiral of lies and corruption and a beguiling bastard of a hero," adds to the storytelling of the cover on the right. You have an idea what you're looking at when you see the British cover and read the blurb. The American cover says nothing at all.

The Oliver Harris books jumped out at me because I was in search of The Hollow Man, last week. As on every other occasion when I've visited London, I found that it's a lot more difficult to control my impulse to buy books in London than it is back home. The fact that there are so many wonderful little bookshops in London probably doesn't help matters. This, for example, is the charming little store where I bought The Hollow Man: West End Lane Books in Hampstead:

Just after we walked out of the store, my husband (who doesn't read much because of his dyslexia and  tends to find bookstores annoying because we own so many books) said, "Why don't we have wonderful little stores like this?"

Fortunately, those small independent bookstores do seem to be making a comeback in the U.S.

Another comparison:

What on earth is an artist's rendering of a nose supposed to mean? I have no idea. The cover of Matt Haig's The Humans at left is the American version. It's an interesting image but it tells me nothing, whereas the British cover actually says, "It's hardest to belong when you're closest to home." Clearly, it's about being a human. But, it also has that outer-space element, the shooting star (indicative of an alien arriving on earth), the dog -- a universal symbol of friendship and acceptance. And, there is a dog in the book, so bonus points for that. The colors are also fabulous. I would walk right past the American version but the British version is one I'd frame and hang on my wall.

What do you think about book covers? Does it matter to you whether or not they give you a decent hint what's inside? Do you prefer bright color to simple, graphic design?

Just curious.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fiona Friday - It's official . . .

Cuddle season has opened.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Belches, Burps and Farts - Oh, My! by Artie Bennett

On these pages, we'll explore
Some body sounds we can't ignore!
No, not the sneeze, the wheeze, the sigh.
BUT . . . Belches
And . . . 
Oh My!

~ from Belches, Burps, and Farts - Oh, My!

I've read two other books by Artie Bennett and just happened to be wondering what he was up to (because I came across one of them while shelving books) when he wrote to ask me to review Belches, Burps, and Farts -- Oh, My! What a fun coincidence! Bennett has a way of making embarrassing topics educational and entertaining and he's done it, again.

Belches, Burps, and Farts - Oh, My! turns smelly body functions into a rollicking, rhyming lesson about why humans and most animals (not all!) produce and expel gas. Did you know jellyfish and anemones don't produce gas? Some foods are worse for causing gas than others? Did you know that if  gas from cows could be harnessed, their farts could produce a significant amount of energy? Do you know the origin of the word "fart"? All that and more is explained in Belches, Burps, and Farts -- Oh, My!

I particularly love Belches, Burps, and Farts -- Oh, My! for its educational side. The illustrations are vibrant but a little busy for me. However, they do keep your eyes moving. I can imagine even very small children flopped on the floor, enjoying the illustrations. Hopefully, you can click on these images to enlarge them:

In addition to the rhyming text, there is a nice list of facts for teachers or parents to share with youngsters, at the back of the book.

Recommended - Artie Bennett never fails to entertain and educate, often on unique topics (some that we don't give a lot of thought) and he's done it, again. While I'm not a huge fan of the illustrations, I love the text and learned a few things, myself.

Other books by Artie Bennett:

The Butt Book

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris (Nick Belsey #2)

Belsize Park had continental pretensions and only a few weeks of sunshine a year to exercise them.

~ p. 14 of Advance Reader Copy, Deep Shelter (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Belsey descended five steps, then ten, then committed to reaching the bottom. He followed the torch beam, timing his descent. The blood-like smell of rusting iron and damp stone grew thicker. He felt he was being swallowed -- that it was no longer curiosity driving him but some form of peristalsis. The shelter nourished itself on over-curious detectives.

~ p. 16 of ARC

I can have this moment, Belsey thought. He felt he'd overcome several insurmountable laws, of time as well as morality. He inhaled the peace, dragging it deep into his lungs. This was what corrupted: peace and quiet. It was what secrets fed off, growing inside you.

~ p. 130 of ARC

I'm going to skip Monday Malarkey for the next couple of weeks in the interest of keeping up-to-date as I read (which doesn't guarantee that I will; nevertheless, I will endeavor to do so). I haven't gotten any books in the mail, anyway, and my reading is still leaning slumpish.

Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris salvaged my last reading week by keeping me engrossed and busy googling various bits of information for days. The second in the Nick Belsey mystery series, Deep Shelter follows detective Belsey into underground London. Nick is just about done with his shift when a BMW shoots past him at high speed. He takes chase but loses the suspect at a dead end where an oddly-shaped building piques his curiosity. When he finds out it's the entrance to a bomb shelter from WWII and discovers contraband hidden far beneath the surface, Nick brings a date to the shelter to impress her. But she wanders off and disappears, kidnapped in a labyrinth of underground tunnels.

Because he has a background as a troublemaker and there is a clear trail that leads to Belsey as the prime suspect in her disappearance, he knows he must find Jemma on his own or face certain arrest.

From the cover:

Determined to discover who else is down in those forgotten tunnels, and how far this secret network of underground passages extends, [Belsey] plunges headfirst into the investigation -- and into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a ruthless enemy who would rather let an innocent woman die than reveal old Cold War secrets hidden deep beneath the city's streets. 

My thoughts:

Holy Toledo, what an entertaining and complex read. I adore London (it's my favorite big city) so I absolutely loved the sensation of being dragged around the city by Nick Belsey, both on and below ground. The WWII and Cold War historical connections in the book and various buildings mentioned by Belsey kept me busy googling. In fact, there was so much about Deep Shelter that I felt obligated to investigate further that it probably took me twice as long to read as a typical mystery.

If you're a regular Bookfoolery reader, you already know I burned out on mysteries long ago and seldom read them. There has to be something special about them to lure me into continuing on. In this case, there is only one other Nick Belsey book and you can consider me hooked. I will be looking for a copy, soon, and anxiously awaiting future releases by Oliver Harris.

A few very minor criticisms:

I did think Deep Shelter was a bit long; but, to play devil's advocate with myself, I can't think of a single scene that I'd have removed. I also thought it would have been nice to have a cast of characters and a glossary of terms at the end of the book. There's a fairly large cast and, at least from an American perspective, a few abbreviations that it would have been nice to have defined for convenience, although it helps if you're aware that "Ministry of" often can be substituted for "Department of" in British English. The U.K. audience will have likely had no trouble with terminology. Again, I made liberal use of Google. So my few criticisms are mild ones.

Highly recommended - Wonderful setting and atmosphere, unique historical background, and a character with unusual flaws combined with solid writing make Deep Shelter an excellent read. Nick Belsey's not a bad man; he's just quick to bend to temptation when it presents itself. So, he's a slightly dirty cop but in a palatable way. I'm quite fond of him and looking forward to reading the first book in the Nick Belsey series, The Hollow Man, as soon as possible.

My copy of Deep Shelter was provided by Bourbon Street Books in return for an unbiased review. Deep Shelter was released in the U.S. in September of 2014 and in Great Britain earlier this year. Many thanks to Oliver Harris for a refreshing, slump-breaking read.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Fiona Friday - Taking comfort seriously

This is how Isabel "watched" Ghostbusters.  Fiona was on the other side of the couch. I sat on the floor. It's very possible that I have extremely spoiled kitty cats.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly - book and movie

"Frank, she's got chest pain."
"She's got everything," I said. "Ma'am, what does the pain feel like?"
"I don't know."
"Is it like a pressure?" Larry said. "Is it like an elephant sitting on your chest?"
"Yes," she groaned.
"Is it a fluttering pain," I said, "like a bird flying in your chest?"
"Or a burning pain, like eating lit matches?"
"Yessss," she cried.
"She's got the yeses," I said. "Not much you can do for that."

~p. 59

At night the walls went up and the gates came down and the fear chased everyone inside, except for those who spread it, those it caught, and those, like me, brought in to witness.

~p. 134

Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connelly is a backlist book, published by Vintage in 1998. I've had it on my shelf for so long I don't remember where or when I acquired it; but, my recent paramedic reading binge had me thinking I should give it a go. And, wow, am I glad I did. As in any book that describes emergency medicine, there are a few graphic scenes that may turn a stomach or two, but Bringing Out the Dead is just . . . it's deep, man.

Frank Pierce's first three years as a paramedic were oddly magical, but now he's burned out. He's been a paramedic working in New York's Hell's Kitchen for a private ambulance service long enough that the ghosts of those he couldn't save follow him everywhere. A young asthmatic teenager named Rose is particularly tormenting Frank, who was unable to intubate her before it was too late. He calls her, "The girl I helped kill". And, a man who should have died but whose heart Frank restarted because he had no choice but to keep doing CPR until the doctor gave approval to stop haunts him. Burke's body is shutting down; he will never return to consciousness and Frank knows it, the doctors know it. But, the family doesn't understand, so every time the man's heart stops the doctors and nurses must resuscitate a man who is never really coming back.

Frank's wife has left him, his boss keeps promising to fire him but won't because the service is short-handed, and Frank is oddly mesmerized by Burke's daughter, Mary, although he knows the good news she desires will never come. What will happen to Frank?

I read a few reviews when I finished reading Bringing Out the Dead and I have to agree with the people who said it's less a book with a definitive plot than a "slice of life". The reader accompanies Frank, feels his pain, watches him treat his patients and sees his ghosts, observes as he drinks himself into oblivion and then, when Frank takes a risk for a patient whom most might think undeserving of life, observes the moment when Frank thinks he is going to die on the job and . . . well, has an epiphany, I guess you could say.

I love the fact that as the book progresses you realize that Frank's not just losing his mind and addicted to alcohol for the sake of killing the pain, he's also addicted to his job.

What I loved most about Bringing Out the Dead:

The dark humor, the theme about learning to live with your ghosts, the peek into the emotional aspect of a job that is stressful, worked mostly by people who are both adrenaline seekers and deeply caring individuals. That second quote, above, is so profound. Sometimes all they really can do is bear witness.

Highly recommended - This book absolutely would not let go of me. I finished it and went straight into a whopper of a slump. Beautifully written, deeply affecting, sometimes graphic and more than a little scary, Bringing Out the Dead is about burnout, addiction and learning to live with the things that haunt you (equally applicable to paramedics and the rest of us, thematically). You will come out of the reading feeling a little nervous about whether or not the people charged with keeping you alive are okay because pretty much all of the characters in Bringing Out the Dead are a little crazy. But, it will also make you think about life and death and where the medical establishment should draw the line when it comes to resuscitation.

Of course, I had to see the movie version of Bringing Out the Dead. I like Nicolas Cage; he's one of those actors who does crazy and depressed, hysterical and suicidal equally well. He was, in fact, excellent as Frank Pierce and I liked the movie. Since I'd read the book not long before I watched the movie, I recognized lines that were taken directly from the pages of Connelly's book and knew when things were altered.

I was disappointed with the ending of the movie. In the book, the final scene is metaphorical. It explains -- through something that can't possibly really happen -- that Frank has decided that in order to go on he must live with his ghosts rather than fight them. It's a stunning scene and it's not in the movie. The ending of the movie is okay; it's just not as meaningful. Still, I liked the movie and I'm glad I watched it. But, it's the book I'll return to. Even as I was reading Bringing Out the Dead, I was thinking about how much I'd like to reread it in the future.

Interesting side note: Joe Connelly had only one other book published. Bringing Out the Dead was a bestseller; Connelly's second book was a flop. In fact, I can't find any information about Connelly at all, beyond a Wikipedia entry that tells absolutely nothing about what's become of the author since the publication of his second book. I hope he's alive and happy and writing poetry on a beach, somewhere.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday Malarkey

I must confess I'm still in Internet Avoidance Mode and will probably take more time off, next week, but I have a couple things I want to post before I go back under. Might as well do the weekly malarkey, right?

Last week's posts:

Reads since my last Monday Malarkey (not all are shown in sidebar):

  • Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
  • Doreen by Barbara Noble
  • Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro
  • The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry
  • Indian Boyhood by Charles A. Eastman

Recent arrivals (not all pictured but many of them are in the collage, above):

From HarperCollins:

  • The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Wildalone by Krassi Kourikova
  • Mademoiselle Chanel by C. W. Gortner


  • Looking Backward: 2000 - 1887 by Edward Bellamy
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • Indian Country by Peter Matthiessen
  • The Brute and Other Farces by Anton Chekov
  • Frank on the Lower Mississippi by Harry Castlemon (mostly for the cute cover)
  • Indian Boyhood by Charles A. Eastman

Currently Reading:

Deep Shelter by Oliver Harris - A British police officer chases a suspect but loses him near an unusual, circular structure. He finds out it's a WWII shelter and someone is using it to hide contraband. For kicks, he takes his date down into the shelter but she disappears; and, since he's known as a troublemaker (he's kind of a dirty cop), he knows he'll be implicated in her disappearance if he doesn't find her. This is not my typical reading material but it's the second in a series and I'm enjoying it so much that I've already got plans to seek out the first book.


We've only seen 2 movies, recently, and I'm going to skip loading the covers to save a bit of time. First was X-Men: Days of Future Past. I'm not a big fan of the X-Men movies and neither is Huzzybuns, but we both enjoyed Days of Future Past.  The other was a blast from the past: Ghostbusters.  Hard to believe it's 30 years old and Harold Ramis is no longer among the living.

I can't type, anymore. I keep looking at Deep Shelter and thinking, "I want to get back to reading that right now." So, I'm going to. Happy Reading!

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.