Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm Not Cute by Jonathan Allen

I'm Not Cute! by Jonathan Allen
Copyright 2014 - Boxer Books
Children's picture book
Source: Unsolicited from Sterling Children's

I'm Not Cute! is about a baby owl who doesn't want to be thought of as a cute little thing as he thinks himself a grown-up owl. Hopefully, you'll be able to enlarge these images. Baby owl decides to go for a walk in the woods where, "Nobody will bother ME," but he comes across Rabbit, who says he's "so cute" and "so small" and gives him a hug.

Baby Owl insists that he's a "huge and scary hunting machine with great big soft and silent wings." But, Fox comes along, sees him doing what Fox thinks is a little dance and calls him "so cute and so fluffy". Baby Owl gets another hug. The same thing continues with Squirrel admiring his cuteness and his "big baby eyes."  Baby Owl throws a tantrum but along comes his mother, who listens to his complaints about being called cute and agrees with him. Clearly, he is a "huge, scary, sleek, sharp-eyed hunting machine."

Naturally, the reverse psychology leads to a small crisis in which Baby Owl decides he really is cute.

His mama sympathizes, tells him it's bedtime and reads till Baby Owl drifts off to sleep. She whispers that he's awfully cute for a huge, scary, sleek, sharp-eyed hunting machine. Baby Owl has one eye open but closes it with a smile on his face when she wishes him good night. 

My thoughts: Anyone who has had or worked with a toddler or preschooler going through that phase during which they can't accept the fact that they're not yet grown-ups but still want the comfort of being coddled by an adult will relate to this story and enjoy reading it to a little one. And, the little one being read to will probably get a kick out of a little owl sharing his or her feelings. 

Recommended - A good story that little ones can relate to with adorable illustrations. I love the fact that I'm Not Cute! shows both sides of the story. Sometimes a little one wants to be treated like an adult but at other times they just want to be loved, cuddled and babied.

©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, July 21, 2014

Monday Malarkey - A pretty stack, an excellent posting week, a Doctor with a Northern accent

It's Monday!  First things first . . . the mail.  I thought I'd gotten away with a really light mail week and then Huzzybuns fetched the mail on Saturday and I wanted to slink behind the wall when he came in with two thick parcels. Fortunately, I made up for getting a nice stack by sending two full bags of books out the door for donation and mailing out a few more. That's some colorful mail I got, last week, isn't it?   

Recent Arrivals (top to bottom):

  • No One Writes to the Colonel and other stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - via Paperback Swap (recommended by a friend in Sweden)
  • The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl - from Algonquin for review
  • Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth - from St. Martin's Press for review.  I actually squealed when I got this one. It's been on my wish list for ages.
  • California by Edan Lepucki - from a friend via a Canadian blogger with whom I'm not acquainted (this one's traveling and has one more stop after I read it)
  • Victus by Albert Sánchez Piñol - from Harper for review
  • The Bully of Order by Brian Hart - from Harper for review
  • The Floor of Heaven by Howard Blum - via Paperback Swap

Last week's posts:

Last week's reads:

  • The Paramedics by James O. Page
  • Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
  • Atlas: Poems by Katrina Vandenberg

Currently reading:

  • Sextant by David Barrie (non-fiction)
  • The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland


Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer - I decided to give up on Annihilation because every time I picked it up I fell asleep. And, it's due back to the library soon. I may try it another time but it definitely was not the right book for the moment. I also read just a few pages of Citadel by Kate Mosse before deciding I'll return to it later, as well. 


After we finished watching Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns (which had a very satisfying ending), we considered moving on to the next season of Whitechapel but noticed the word "gruesome" in the description, looked at each other and both shook our heads. Another day.

I wanted to restart Dr. Who from the beginning but Husband was not interested so we randomly flipped channels and then I began watching the Christopher Eccleston season when the spouse wasn't around. I've watched 5 episodes, so far, and I'm enjoying myself. I just squeeze in an episode or two whenever I'm on my own and not in the mood to read. So far, so good. I'm looking forward to Captain Jack's appearance and this time I've noticed at least 3 of the Torchwood team made an appearance in this first season of Dr. Who, not just Captain Jack but two of the women, as well. Interesting what you notice on repeat viewings.

That's all for now.  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, July 18, 2014

Fiona Friday - When you lose your paw-warmer

Isabel can't help herself. She just loves to cuddle up with her sister or, at the very least, stick a paw or two on her back. Fiona is okay with Izzy's affection on occasion but at the moment I snapped this photo she was on the verge of taking off.  Isabel was clearly dismayed at the loss of her paw-warmer.

©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, July 17, 2014

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Book 3 in the Nick and Tesla series
Copyright 2014
Quirk Books - Children's Science Adventure (middle reader)
Source: ARC from Quirk Books

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle is described on the cover as "A mystery with spy cameras, code wheels and other gadgets you can build yourself."  It's the third in the Nick and Tesla series and, so far, my favorite.

In Secret Agent Gadget Battle, Nick and Tesla receive a partial message from their mother, telling them they're in danger from a spy.  Tesla is relaxed and calm about the message, thinking of ways she can try to identify the spy while Nick's imagination runs wild, everyone around him suddenly appearing to be a threat. With a repairman, two house cleaners and an assistant to Uncle Newt in the house, there are plenty of potential spies to eliminate. When Tesla's pendant goes missing, the kids become serious about figuring out which of the invaders is the spy.

Using code wheels, spy cameras, Nick's own pendant (to tempt the spy-slash-thief) and fingerprint powder, Nick and Tesla work to figure out who is spying on them and eliminate the danger to their lives.

Highly recommended - While the writing in the Nick and Tesla series can be grammatically awkward at times, I love the books for the adventure, the humor and the hands-on science activities. Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle is my favorite in the series, so far, because it has an interesting cast of potential spies that kept me guessing and some of the dialogue had me chuckling. I particularly loved the interaction between Nick and Tesla at the beginning of the book, when Nick is so nervous that he suspects absolutely everyone. A very entertaining installment in an adventurous series.

©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.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Copyright 2014
Riverhead Books - Fiction
Source:  ARC sent by Publisher

It was snowing when I got off the bus at Flax Hill. Not quite regular snowfall, not exactly a blizzard. This is how it was. The snow came down heavily, settled for about a minute, then the wind moved it -more rolled it, really -- onto another target. One minute you were covered in snow, then it sped off sideways, as if a brisk, invisible giant had taken pity and brushed you down.

~ p. 13, Advance Reader Copy of Boy, Snow, Bird (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

As for Flax Hill itself, I was on shaky terms with it for the first few months. Neither of us was sure whether or not I genuinely intended to stick around. And so the town misbehaved a little, collapsing when I went to sleep and reassembling in the morning in a slapdash manner; I kept passing park benches and telephone booths and entrances to alleyways that I was absolutely certain hadn't been there the evening before. 

~p. 15, ARC

It was a windy morning, and the wind pushed me, and the road dragged me, and the tree branches flew forward and peeled back and broke away, and their scrawny trunks hugged each other.

~p. 59, ARC

Imagine having a mother who worries that you read too much. The question is, what is it that's supposed to happen to people who read too much?  How can you tell when someone's crossed that line?

~p. 90, ARC

I have a relationship to Boy, Snow, Bird similar to the heroine's feelings about Flax Hill at the beginning of the novel, a bit shaky.  As usual, I went into the reading without bothering to learn much beyond what I'd read and mostly forgotten at the time I accepted the book for review. I did know the title was a list of character names and I was aware of the basic storyline. I'm not entirely sure what I expected of the book but the description of young Snow, with her dark hair and lovely skin, and the book jacket comment describing Boy as an evil stepmother made it clear that Boy, Snow, Bird was in some way based on "Snow White".  I have a feeling I was anticipating something a little magical, a bit dreamy with elements of fantasy. That may explain my disappointment.

Warning!!  This review may contain spoilers.  Skip down to the recommendation line (highlighted in bold) if you are concerned.  

Boy is the name of the protagonist, an abused young lady whose father is a rat catcher in New York City. She knows nothing at all about her mother, only that her father is angry and dangerous. Although a young man named Charlie loves her, she escapes the city as soon as she's able and ends up in Flax Hill. There, Boy eventually falls in love and marries Arturo Whitman, the father of beautiful Snow, a girl with thick, beautiful hair and dark eyes who instantly charms everyone. When Boy gives birth to their daughter, Bird, the Whitman family's secret comes to light.  They're pale blacks living as whites. Bird is clearly a black child and Boy is blonde and fair.

Boy sends Snow away, I presume because she can't bear the contrast between the two children. That was never entirely clear to me. I also never quite understood why Boy rejected Charlie, a man who truly loved her and went out of his way to show her how much he cared, for Arturo, a man whose affection was lukewarm, at best. There was a moment I thought the author tried to explain it away but I just couldn't wrap my head around the concept. Did she feel like she didn't deserve Charlie? Was he too much a part of her early life?  I just don't know.

The book is written in three parts and the first portion, between descriptions of the rat catcher and the abuse of Boy, almost convinced me the book was not for me.  And, yet, now and then a strange, beautiful or just unusual sentence would jump out at me and the uniqueness of the author's style kept me going.

Unfortunately, I really feel like I would have been better off not finishing Boy, Snow, Bird. The second section's tenor was entirely different as the viewpoint changed from Boy's to Bird's. The beginning had made my skin crawl at times and unsettled me, yet there were sparkling moments. The second section was flat and lifeless.  The third is just bizarre, as a plot twist involving a transgendered character is tossed into the mix and then . . . the story ends.

In some ways, I felt like I "got" what the author of Boy, Snow, Bird was trying to accomplish. I understood the theme: The color of your skin changes the way people view you. But, I was disappointed that what began as uncomfortable yet oddly intriguing writing degenerated. And, I am completely clueless about the purpose of the transgendered character. Does it change how Boy felt about the character? I think so. But, because it was tossed in like an afterthought, even treated as if the change of gender were a mental illness as opposed to realistic feelings of gender identity, the ending just left me with question marks hanging over my head, tickling my skin. I felt like I had to brush them off my arms and step on them, then move immediately to another book to cleanse my mind. I also think the cover description of Boy as an "evil stepmother" is misleading. She doesn't mother Snow at all; she just sends her away.

Neither recommended nor not recommended - I gave Boy, Snow, Bird a 3-star rating but I've waffled over whether or not that was too high. My general feeling upon closing the book was, "What the hell was that?" I got something out of the story and yet I was confused and irritated by the ending. I think at the time I closed the book I felt like the beginning held too much promise to give the book less than an average rating. And, yet, since the ending was so immensely disappointing, I wonder if that may have been a mistake. Either way, I don't feel like I can give a recommendation or tell you to avoid it. There is something unusual about Helen Oyeyemi's writing. While I didn't love this particular story, I would not avoid her writing in the future. There are hints of possibility that are not to be ignored.

Cover thoughts:  I love the cover. The background color and juxtaposition of evil and good images (snake and rose - probably to represent Boy's treatment of Snow and Snow's innocent whimsy) make for a dazzling combination.

Because I'm gettin' old: I noticed one historical anachronism. Boy arrives at Flax Hill in 1953 and within a decade or two, one of the characters refers to a Mr. Chen as "Asian" rather than the word we used in my childhood, "Oriental". Seeing mistakes like that makes me panic about my own writing. It must be difficult to get everything right when writing historical fiction. 1953 wasn't even all that long ago, although -- just so you know -- it was before my lifetime, TYVM.

©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, July 16, 2014

Twofers: The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer and In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda

Twofers = Two for the price of one, aka two mini reviews. 

The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer
Copyright 2014
Harper (short stories)
Source: HarperCollins 

I'm jumping the gun a bit, here, as The Scatter Here is Too Great doesn't release till mid-August. But, I want to write about it while it's still fresh in my mind.  I took The Scatter Here, etc. with me to New Jersey because it's a book of short stories and I've found that when traveling short stories can be excellent for those stop-and-go moments when you can't sit still long enough to read an entire novel. As it turned out, I had tons of reading time on vacation. My granddog and I had a terrific time reading together.

The stories in The Scatter Here is Too Great are all set in Karachi, Pakistan and they're centered around a deadly bomb blast.  The author tells the same story from a number of completely different perspectives. And, in some ways they are interconnected -- the father of a character whose story you've read early in the book may appear later, telling his own version of the events, for example.

Unfortunately, I found that the biggest problem I had with The Scatter Here is Too Great was in trying to figure out how the characters were connected. I enjoyed the stories, found the setting fascinating, liked the way Karachi was -- yes, I've read the claim that saying so has become a cliché -- a character in and of itself. I did think the setting had a life of its own, so I don't mind sounding a bit cliché. Once I realized that I was trying too hard to figure out those connections, I enjoyed the reading a lot more. In the end, though, because I wasted so much time trying to figure things out instead of just immersing myself in the stories, the book ended up being an average read. 

Recommended but not a favorite - Solid writing, vivid setting but I think the book would have had more impact without any character crossover, which I found bogged down the reading for me. 

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
Copyright 2010
Doubleday (retelling of a true story)
Source: Sent by friend

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is the retelling of a child's escape (at the age of 10) from his dangerous home country. Even though the story doesn't take place anywhere near the North American continent, given the current immigration crisis along our American/Mexican border, I consider it relevant because of the similarities. A child in danger is taken from Afghanistan to Iran by his mother with the help of a a friend involved in human trafficking. At a mere 10 years of age, he must figure out how to survive and then keep moving from one country to another, seeking a better life until finally he reaches asylum in Italy.

The story of Enaiatollah Akbari is told by an Italian novelist who tried to write the book as it was told to him. Although he admits that the details cannot possibly be perfect because Enaiatollah was young and reconstructing memories will always contain imperfect elements, it doesn't matter. The story has a tremendous impact because it allows the reader to view the unforgiving life of a refugee child as he is abandoned by a mother who loves him too much to even say "goodbye" then moves from job to job and country to country, from Iran to Turkey to Greece then finally Italy. Occasionally beaten, stolen from and "repatriated" to a homeland where he faces almost certain death, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles gives you an idea what it's like to be a child refugee dealing with human traffickers and people who aren't interested in giving a child asylum. 

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles has been translated from Italian to English (translator: Howard Curtis) and I think the translation is done well. There was never a point that I felt like I didn't understand what a particular sentence meant. It's told simplistically but it's a harsh story and not all books are told with lyrical beauty. I disagree with a reviewer who believes the book should be labeled YA merely because of its simple language. One must remember that it was told by a man whose first language is not Italian, written down as close as possible to the way it was related and then translated. Simplistic or not, it's a story whose horrors make it a very adult read. There are humorous and touching moments in addition to hardship, which helps keep the book from being an exhausting downer.

Highly recommended - Especially relevant to Americans as our leaders are in the process of deporting refugees from South and Central America. An eye-opening story of what it's like to escape a life of terror, only to face hardship and deportation. I actually cried with relief when Enaia finally found sanctuary in Italy.

©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, July 15, 2014

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters or Today the World Ends and You're Going to Love It

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
Book 3 in the Last Policeman series
Copyright 2014 - Mystery/Apocolyptic
Source: Quirk Books
Today is release day (July 15, 2014)!

I didn't mark a single passage in World of Trouble because I was too busy barreling through the book, enjoying the reading and anxious to see how Ben Winters would end the Last Policeman series. The verdict: perfect ending. I honestly don't remember a single series I've ever felt was as completely satisfying as the Last Policeman series. And, World of Trouble is available today!!  For those of you who have been eagerly awaiting release day, I suggest a lot of coffee because you'll want to read World of Trouble in one sitting. Plus, coffee is mentioned frequently enough that you might end up with a craving.

In World of Trouble, only 14 days remain until the asteroid hits Earth. Hank Palace could have easily waited out the end with his friends in Massachusetts but he's determined to find his sister, Nico. So, instead, Hank traveled to Ohio, where he's been told the radicals Nico has been hanging out with have converged to wait for the man they believe will save them by shattering the asteroid.

In Ohio, Hank and a traveling companion find two bloody knives, spatters of blood, a body and a clue to where the radicals may have gone into hiding. To find the missing group, though, he must track down a local man who does concrete work.

With the clock ticking down, Hank tries to solve the crime and find his sister. Will he find Nico before it's too late? What will happen when Hank discovers the "body" has a pulse? Can he solve the attempted murder, uncover the mystery of what's become of Nico's friends and stay alive long enough to find out whether or not the world will truly end?  Well . . . you'll just have to find out. And, I promise you it's worth buying all three books if you haven't already begun reading this series.

Highly recommended - The Last Policeman series is absolutely hands-down, my all-time favorite series. I don't even like mysteries! But, I adore Hank Palace. I love his "just keep living life while you can" attitude. I love the moments of levity, the action, the author's wit. And, the ending is absolutely everything I hoped for and more.  Great series, perfect ending, terrific hero, well worth owning.

My reviews of the first two books in the series:

The Last Policeman
Countdown City

©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, July 14, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Getting back in the swing of blogging

Slowly coming down off the post-house-sale cloud, here, and I think I'm ready to jump right back into bookishness.  Wahoo!  Here are this week's arrivals:

Left to right, top then bottom:

  • Soviet Ghosts by Rebecca Litchfield - purchase. I saw a sampling of the photos in Soviet Ghosts online -- a book of photos which were taken in buildings left abandoned after the fall of the U.S.S.R. - and found that it set my mind whirling with story ideas, so I pre-ordered it and I'm happy that I did. It's a fascinating picture book and I'm looking forward to reading about the author's experience, as well.
  • 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino - from Crown via Shelf Awareness.  The cover is even prettier than it appears. Look how it puts every other book's cover to shame!
  • Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth - from a friend. I'm very excited about Flying Shoes because Lisa Howorth is co-owner of Square Books in Oxford, our favorite indie bookstore in the state. I would have bought a copy at some point but Shannon saved me a trip. Thanks, Shannon!
  • Whirlwind by Robert Liparulo - via Paperback Swap. I read the first book in the Dreamhouse Kings series eons ago and loved it enough to put all of the follow-up books on my PBS wish list. Unfortunately, it's taken so long to receive the books (and they didn't arrive in any particular order) that I'm not even sure which titles I own. Once we've emptied the remaining boxes of books we've not yet unpacked, hopefully I'll get that sorted and then perhaps I can reread the first book and move forward in the series.
  • The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith - sent by a friend. I hear there are ghosts. That's good enough for me. My thanks to Mandy for passing this one on!

Last week's posts:

After last week's Monday Malarkey, I spent a lot of time running back and forth from old house to new to old, hoping to catch the moment the tree fell (that tree's removal was a Big Fat Hairy Deal), clearing out cabinets we'd overlooked, sweeping floors (our cheap vacuum cleaner worked for a while and then suddenly began spitting out dirt and finally just upchucked big balls of dirt all over the floor -- it was pretty funny, except for the fact that it made such a mess I had to start all over), then closing on the sale of the house. After the closing, I was stunned at how exhausted I felt. It took days to recover.  But, I did manage two posts, last week -- not much but better than nothing:

Last week's reads:

  • Parsons Green by Fiona Bagley
  • Landing Gear by Kate Pullinger
  • The Half-Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno

Currently reading:

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer - Just started this one last night (a library check-out) after finishing The Half-Life of Molly Pierce.
  • The Paramedics by James O. Page - Haven't gotten far on this one but I'm enjoying it; the history of emergency medicine is fascinating.

Just ditched:

  • Straight Man by Richard Russo - A good book but not the right one for the moment. I realized that I should probably move on after my Fiona Friday post, when I said I can only stand to read about two chapters of Straight Man at a time. After I said that, it occurred to me that if I feel like I can only read a little chunk at a time, it's probably not the book for me at this moment, whether it's a terrific read or not. I do love the hero but I'll read it another time.

TV viewing:

Apart from the usual Emergency! reruns, which I watch while walking on the treadmill, last week was a brain-dead, random-flipping week till last night. Then, I inexplicably returned to normal and looked up BBC productions. We ended up watching two episodes of Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns

To be honest, it was Rupert Penry-Jones' face that made me hesitate long enough to read about the series. I'm not a big fan of mysteries but I like Penry-Jones and the husband nodded approval, so we gave it a go and ended up watching the first 2 out of 3 episodes. I think we were both surprised at how entertaining the show is. 

Penry-Jones plays Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler, who has been given his job mostly as a favor to his father. He's obsessive-compulsive and not particularly knowledgeable or qualified. The other detectives are sloppy but competent. Chandler forces them to clean up and tries to overlook their jeers when he puts his trust in a "Ripperologist" who believes the crimes they're attempting to solve are copycat crimes by someone imitating Jack the Ripper. As he becomes more immersed in the job and his competence rises, Chandler grows sloppier at the same time his underlings are spiffing up their wardrobes. 

Sometimes the images of murdered women can be gruesome, as you might imagine, but I think the creators of Whitechapel did a pretty good job of putting distance between the camera and the dead bodies and blurring things artistically enough to make the gruesome bits tolerable. Otherwise, I likely would not have made it through two episodes, in spite of the fact that Whitechapel is often quite humorous. I'm looking forward to watching the conclusion, tonight.

And, hopefully, this will be a normal posting week as the "Just Finished" category in my sidebar has grown pretty intimidating. 

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.