Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - Review and F2F report

I finished The Nightingale in tears, the night before last, on the eve of my book group's discussion. Remind me to put it on the tearjerker list for 2017. I was very moved. 

The Nightingale is the story of sisters Isabelle Rossignol and Vianne Mauriac. Isabelle was just 4 years old when their mother died, Vianne old enough that she was married just a few years later. Both were wounded by the rejection of their father, who suffered from PTSD and was never the same after the first World War. Unable to cope with the loss of his wife, he sent the two girls to live in their second home with a stranger in charge of their care.

The book begins as Vianne's husband, Antoine, is leaving to serve in WWII and Isabelle is on the verge of being kicked out of a finishing school. When she arrives in Paris, Isabelle is determined to stay with her father but then the city is occupied by Nazis and he sends her to live in the town of Carriveau with Vianne, thinking she'll be safer. What follows on her journey to Vianne's is a horror that Vianne simply cannot comprehend when Isabelle tries to explain. Isabelle has seen the cruelty of the Germans and will do anything she can to resist while Vianne is in denial. 

Isabelle leaves Vianne's house to do what she feels she must. Then, a Nazi is billeted with Vianne and her daughter. What will happen to Vianne and Isabelle? Will they survive the war? What has become of the Frenchmen who didn't return after the occupation began? Will any of Vianne's Jewish friends and their children survive?

The Nightingale is an amazing book. One of the things my friend and I discussed over dinner, before we went on to book group, was the fact that The Nightingale covers the entire war from the French perspective, from when the men leave home to fight to the liberation of the remaining captives from concentration camps. That alone is an amazing feat and a feature of the book that gives it more depth and perspective than many WWII books I've read. And, the scenes are incredibly vivid. When you read about one of the main characters, you have that "in their shoes" sensation. I always felt like I could feel the cold and the hunger and the pain. It was a visceral experience. In fact, that was one thing that was brought up in the F2F gathering: a couple people said they could not imagine the amount of self-restraint that it would require to slowly, slowly, slowly ration out what little food one had. A couple people said that the scenes about the lack of food made them hungry.

I don't want to say too much about the plot of the book, apart from the obvious. Isabelle is on the ground during the bombing of the refugees leaving Paris and that's crucial because it firms her resolve not to quietly give in to the enemy. It's clear that she will become a part of the Resistance but what she will do, of course, you won't know till you get there. I don't want to give that away. The level of risk to her increases as the war progresses and it is entirely by choice. She is absolutely heroic, almost mindlessly so. You can't help but admire her.

Vianne, on the other hand, is more naive about the threats to her family and plays it safe for a very long time. Eventually, she feels compelled to do her part and is equally heroic but in entirely different ways. This leads to another thing we talked about in book group: the fact that The Nightingale makes the horrors of living in an occupied country so clear. One of our group members said, "I would rather have been a man at the front line being shot at than a woman left behind."

Highly recommended - I don't feel like I have adequate words to describe the breadth and meaning of this book. It is as genuine as a WWII novel can be, describing with detail the unfolding horror that ordinary citizens lived through in Occupied France. It's a hard read, but exceptional.

Side note: While I have known I would read The Nightingale for a long time because it's a WWII novel, I honestly dismissed all the praise because I've always thought of the author as purely a romance writer (this is the first time I've read her but it will not be the last). Not that I don't think there are excellent romance writers because I know better, but I just don't read a great deal of romance. There are moments that you can see the romance writer peeking through, definitely. But, they're few and far between. The Nightingale is a gritty novel, in many ways, definitely not for the faint of heart. Kristin Hannah did not tippytoe around hardship. She made you feel it to your bones.

A note on the cover: I ordered my paperback copy from Book Depository, in case you're wondering about that cover. I presume it's the UK edition. I chose it because I prefer paperback.

©2017 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, January 18, 2017

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

After the death of her mother, Rachel was sent to England to live with her grandparents. Now 18, she has decided to return to her home in Kenya, in spite of her father's letter advising her not to come home. 

In Kenya, Rachel finds that a lot has changed. Her father has a new companion and she is not the kind, welcoming spirit that Rachel had in a mother. Bitter, intolerant, and nervous, Sarah has driven away old family friends and tries to keep an iron grip on her son, Harold. The only person who seems at all friendly is Nate Logan, and he has fallen out of Sarah's favor. 

Meanwhile, the country is in political upheaval. The Mau Mau, native Africans who are tired of the imperialists taking their land and their rights, have become violent and are killing the natives who won't join them. And, they've started killing white landowners, as well. Will they succeed at uniting Africans and driving the whites away? Or will they be stopped before they reach the farm where Rachel and her family live?

As Rachel tries to find a way to coexist with Sarah and find her place in her old home, she begins a secretive relationship that, in and of itself, is an act of betrayal. But, Sarah has another secret, one from the day her mother died. Will she share her secret before it's too late?

It sounds like there's an awful lot going on but the storyline is actually pretty straighforward. Rachel goes home, there's a new woman sleeping with her dad and they plan to marry, the woman is not kind to anyone, has distanced the family from the servants, and restricts her son. Rachel's dad is under her thumb and he just wants everyone to get along. Rachel is also restricted in her movements but she finds that sewing outfits for the families who live on a stretch of their land and teaching the children helps keep her occupied and happy. Because the family is even more isolated by Sarah's brusque personality than the distance between farms alone, Rachel befriends the people whose children she teaches and the man who used to tutor Rachel but now works as a mechanic.

There's a lot of uncomfortable interaction between unlikable characters, an affair, and a political undercurrent. What I enjoyed most about Leopard at the Door was learning a little about a particular time and place: 1952 in Kenya. I had heard of the Mau Mau before, but I have no idea where, and it was fascinating reading about what led to the rebellion of the African natives against the whites. It sounds like a common theme: imperialists take over, grab all the property, try to change how the natives live and treat them as inferiors, and then the natives rebel. What keeps the pages turning is the knowledge that eventually the rebellion is going to end up on the doorstep of the main characters. There's no way around it. And, the Mau Mau are brutal. Hard as it could be to read about, I enjoyed the learning experience.

However, there were some irritations. Rachel is one of those characters who eventually begins to feel like what romance writers call a heroine who is "too stupid to live." She has witnessed something in the past, but for some reason she's kept it to herself. She knows that a man who keeps returning to her father's farm is dangerous, for that reason - not just dangerous in general, but dangerous to her. I never could understand what possible reason she could have for remaining quiet about him. I would have said (spoiler - highlight if you dare), "That guy touched me in my private places and killed someone, Dad!" Her decision to stay mum didn't make a lot of sense to me. I also was frustrated by the lack of contractions in the book. "I do not believe you," she says. I dream that I am standing with my back against the garage wall [. . . ]. There are maybe a handful of contractions used in the entire book and that bogs it down. It's a very slow read. Generally, lack of contractions in speech and narrative are rookie errors unless they're used to show a particular accent. She's not a first-time writer, but I think the author could benefit from doing a single edit of future novels with an eye toward making contractions for the sake of flow.

Recommended but not a favorite - I don't regret reading Leopard at the Door and never considered abandoning it, but it was not a favorite because Rachel's actions don't make sense, much of the time. Why would you stay in a country where people are being slaughtered or burned inside their homes if you had an option? Why would she not share information that could keep her and her family safe? And, the rest of the characters are mostly unlikeable. Nate is the exception and he is only present at times, and briefly. I would have loved it if Nate were present more, just to balance out the characterization, which leaned negative. I also found much of the book predictable. However, the ending surprised me and I liked it. And, I loved the learning experience. I gave Leopard at the Door an average rating.

©2017 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, January 16, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Hello! How are you, today? Just thought I'd ask. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to my fellow Americans!

Recent arrivals (top to bottom): 

  • Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim - sent by eldest son
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - purchased for F2F discussion
  • Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang and 
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly - both from HarperCollins for review

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • Faithful by Alice Hoffman
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Currently reading:

  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman - I actually stopped myself from reading further, this week, after I decided the last two essays I read contained so much wisdom that I needed to go buy some highlighting pens and mark them up. I can't remember the last time I used a highlighter; that's why I had to go buy a couple. 
  • The Wars of the Roosevelts by William J. Mann - Still loving this book but it's one that I just pick up occasionally and usually I'll read about 25 pages. It is seriously going to take me ages to get through but I've got a fascination for the Roosevelt family and am really enjoying it, even though I'd like to go back in time and give Theodore a good pop in the nose for what he did to his brother.
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - F2F discussion is Wednesday and I'm pretty sure I'll be done with the book in time. Very relieved that it arrived with just enough time to spare; I waited a little late to order it from Book Depository.

Last week's posts:

Quite a busy blogging week. I was determined to get 2016 wrapped up and I'm happy that I succeeded.

In other news:

I may still eventually write about favorite reads from last year but I can't say, for sure. I've handwritten a list of everything I read so I can make classification marks (classics, favorites, translations, etc.) but I haven't worked on that, in a few days. I'm in no big hurry. I know most people post their favorites before the year even ends but I can't talk myself into doing that. What if I read a favorite book on the last day of the year?! So, we'll see how that goes.

An oddity of 2017, so far, seems to be my urge to read nonfiction. There are some fiction titles I'm eager to read but it's the nonfiction that's calling to me the loudest and it's all I can do to stop myself from adding yet another nonfiction title when I have two chunksters in progress. It'll be interesting to see if January has already set the tone for the entire year or that's a temporary thing, but I really am enjoying the nonfiction I've read and am currently reading, so far.

©2017 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, January 13, 2017

Fiona Friday - Break between exercise sessions

Really, this was more a case of the cat crazies, but I love it that when Isabel is acting nutty and pulling herself arround and around the scratching post on her cat tree. She'll stop if I speak to her and listen to me for a minute before going back to being a nut.

©2017 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, January 12, 2017

Books Read in 2016

Some links lead to a post with a single paragraph about a particular title (often within a summary or otherwise longer post) but most lead to complete reviews. 


1. Tales of Accidental Genius - Simon Van Booy
2. Moonlight Over Paris - Jennifer Robson
3. Don't Even Think About It - George Marshall
4. My Story That I Like Best, ed. by Ray Long
5. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
6. Front Lines - Michael Grant
7. Dispatches from Pluto - Richard Grant
8. From the Land of the Moon - Milena Agus


9. What Remains of Me - Alison Gaylin
10. Cakes and Ale - W. Somerset Maugham
11. Weirdo Simpatico - Katy Bourne
12. Orhan's Inheritance - Aline Ohanesian
13. Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson
14. What She Knew - Gilly Macmillan
15. Normal Norman - Tara Lazar and S. Britt
16. A Walk in the Sun - Harry Brown


17. In This Proud Land  - Stryker and Wood
18. Other Voices, Other Rooms - Truman Capote
19. Iris Grace - Arabella Carter-Johnson
20. The Heart - Maylis de Kerangal
21. Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel
22. Teeny Tiny Toady - Jill Esbaum and Keika Yamaguchi
23. Pines - Blake Crouch
24. Close Encounters of the Furred Kind - Tom Cox
25. Nimona - Noelle Stevenson
26. Lumberjanes #1 - Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen
27. Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert


28. Father's Day - Simon Van Booy
29. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
30. The Summer of Me - Angela Benson
31. Journey to Munich - Jacqueline Winspear
32. Euphoria - Lily King
33. The Ones Who Matter Most - Rachael Herron
34. Aim True - Kathryn Budig
35. 1914 and Other Poems - Rupert Brooke


36. In a Handful of Dust - Mindy McGinnis
37. Anna and the Swallow Man - Gavriel Savit
38. One Step Too Far - Tina Seskis
39. A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki
40. Feather Brained - Bob Tarte
41. Raising Ryland - Hillary Whittington
42. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
43. Signs Preceding the End of the World - Yuri Herrera
44. Tales of Accidental Genius - Simon Van Booy
45. Love Wins - D. Cenziper and J. Obergefell
46. The Nest - Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney


47. The Secrets of Flight - Maggie Leffler
48. Lonely Planet Australian Language and Culture
49. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu
50. My Brother Jack - George Johnston
51. Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: The Little Sister - Illus. by Michael Lark
52. Ah-Choo - L.W. Koehler, G. G. Adams, and K. Min
53. All of Us and Everything - Bridget Asher
54. Before the Fall - Noah Hawley
55. The Secret River - Kate Grenville


56. The Secret of Raven Point - Jennifer Vanderbes
57. The Getting of Wisdom - Henry Handel Richardson
58. In the Winter Dark - Tim Winton
59. The Fireman - Joe Hill
60. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


61. Safe from the Sea - Peter Geye
62. Goodbye, Mr. Chips - James Hilton
63. The Introvert's Guide to Drinking Alone - Tasha Brandstatter
64. Modern Girls - Jennifer Brown
65. Crooked Heart - Lissa Evans (link leads to F2F Report)
66. If a T-Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party - J. Esbaum and D. Tolstikova
67. Mary Had a Little Glam - T. Sauer and V. Brantley-Newton
68. The Woman in the Photo - Mary Hogan
69. Flora and Ulysses - Kate DiCamillo
70. 14 Seconds to Hell - Nick Carter
71. Kid Artists by D. Stabler and D. Horner
72. Hey, That's MY Monster! - A. Noll and H. McWilliam
73. A Square Meal - J. Ziegelman and A. Coe


74. Commonwealth - Ann Patchett
75. Maybe a Fox - K. Appelt and A. McGhee
76. Where Do Pants Go? - R. Van Slyke and C. Robinson
77. Even Superheroes Have Bad Days - S. Becker and E. Kaban
78. Leaping Lemmings - J. Briggs and N. Slater
79. The Bookshop on the Corner - Jenny Colgan
80. Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote
81. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil - George Saunders
82. Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye - Tania del Rio and Will Staehle
83. Wonder Women - Sam Maggs
84. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin
85. Girl in the Woods - Aspen Matis
86. Good Taste: Simple, Delicious Recipes for Family and Friends - Jane Green


87. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit - Juliana Gray
88. Landfall - Nevil Shute
89. Carrying Albert Home - Homer Hickam
90. Little Bee - Chris Cleave
91. Killfile - Christopher Farnsworth
92. Spring Torrents - Ivan Turgenev


93. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? - Paula Daly
94. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty
95. The Paris Review, Issue 218
96. News of the World - Paulette Jiles
97. Your Alien Returns - Tammy Sauer and Goro Fujita
98. Leveling the Playing Field: The Democratization of Technology - Rod Scher
99. Setting Free the Kites - Alex George
100. My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell


101. The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff
102. Sydney Bridge Upside Down - David Ballantyne
103. Born a Crime - Trevor Noah
104. Under the Influence - Joyce Maynard
105. The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior
106. Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara
107. Think Happy, Be Happy - Workman Publishing
108. Wild Pork and Watercress - Barry Crump
109. Rebirth - Kamal Ravikant
110. I Could Pee on This - Francesco Marcialiano

©2016 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

December Reads in Review, 2016


101. The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff
102. Sydney Bridge Upside Down - David Ballantyne
103. Born a Crime - Trevor Noah
104. Under the Influence - Joyce Maynard
105. The View from Flyover Country - Sarah Kendzior
106. Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara
107. Think Happy, Be Happy - Workman Publishing
108. Wild Pork and Watercress - Barry Crump
109. Rebirth - Kamal Ravikant
110. I Could Pee on This - Francesco Marcialiano

I'm not going to write a paragraph about each book, as I usually do, since I've already written about all of my December reads. Hop through the links to read about them.

Favorites were Born a Crime, The View from Flyover Country, Appointment in Samarra, Wild Pork and Watercress, Rebirth, and I Could Pee on This. Born a Crime is exceptional, more a book about how race impacted Trevor Noah's life in S. Africa than a general memoir. The View from Flyover Country is a little repetitious but fascinating. I learned a lot about why 20-somethings have it a lot harder than we ever did. Appointment in Samarra was my classic choice and I enjoyed it. I liked the writing style and it was especially cool that Sherlock kept referring to the fable upon which it's based in the first episode of the new season. Wild Pork and Watercress was fun because it was mostly survival and I love survival stories. Rebirth was much more interesting than I expected and had an impact that I didn't realize until I went back to review it and pulled out a few quotes. I Could Pee on This is a hoot.

I liked but didn't love The Orphan's Tale, Sydney Bridge Upside Down, and Under the Influence. The Orphan's Tale offered an interesting perspective on WWII that was new to me but I still disliked the circus setting; it occasionally bored me reading about the aerialists practicing. Sydney Bridge Upside Down was very good but when it turned sinister, I confess it was pretty upsetting. I liked it, though. It just wasn't a favorite. I'm more impressed with the writing than in love with the story. And, Under the Influence was just kind of meh till the end. The ending was good, though.

Think Happy, Be Happy is cute - a book of quotations that are upbeat with marvelous illustrations. It's a fun little thing, gimmicky but in a good way. I have a couple books that are similar in style but with different topics (one is a book of funny things spouses have said). I find books like Think Happy, Be Happy and the cat poetry the kind of smile-inducing books that are great for rereading when I'm in need of an upper.

Next up will be the full year's list of books read!

©2017 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, January 11, 2017

Everything I didn't review in 2016, Part 2

This will be the last post covering the books I neglected to write about in 2016. Fortunately, I kept up pretty well, in general.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote is a book that I had on my shelf for a while but had not gotten around to reading. It was my F2F book group's September selection and that gave me the nudge I needed. Since it's a classic, it was also my classic read for the month. I've attempted to watch the movie and found it bizarre and hard to follow, but I'm sure I would enjoy it, now. Holly Golightly is an interesting character, a woman who escaped her past and remade herself as a woman living off rich male companions. Her story is told from the viewpoint of a neighbor and friend. Now that I understand the character and her motivations, I think I would get the movie just fine. But, I haven't watched it, yet.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders is a book that I happened across when I decided I wanted to own a copy of Tenth of December, a book I read and loved, also by Saunders. Honestly, it's probably the cover that convinced me to buy it. I love that cover. And, the content is every bit as fun and wacky. The inhabitants of a place called Inner Horner come into dispute with their neighbors in Outer Horner when their home suddenly shrinks and they no longer fit on the tiny bit of land alloted to them. A tiny, hilarious book that I presume is an allegory (but, honestly, I just don't know), The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is bizarre, thought-provoking, strangely insightful, and also one of my favorite reads of the year. I'm glad I bought it; I plan to reread this one regularly.

Leveling the Playing Field: The Democratization of Technology by Rod Scher was not meant to end up in the end-of-year batch, review-wise. I think I must have not realized I hadn't reviewed it at the blog because I put up a review at Amazon when I was asked to do so. Mea culpa. By "the democratization of technology", the author means that most inventions go from being hard to acquire and expensive to cheap and widely available. He starts out with the invention of fire and then progresses to such things as books (how they became more widely available with the advent of the printing press), computers, 3D printers, The Internet of Things, and the GPS. I had particular favorites amongst the chapters; I can't say why, but the book is fascinating and very readable. A side benefit to this book is that the author described a few websites, one of which I zipped off to check out. I ended up finding a perfect Christmas gift at that website, so thank you, dear author, for that.

The View from Flyover Country: Essays by Sarah Kendzior is an e-book that I purchased after reading a ton of Kendzior's tweets. There's a bit of repetition within the essays but that was not a bad thing for me because it helped clarify some of what she had to say about things like the difficulties faced by a younger generation in which the norm is quickly becoming a requirement to work an unpaid internship in order to qualify for a job and why internships and other poorly paid introductory jobs mean some fields are dominated by people who are already economically advantaged. Although I can't recall the other topics, a good portion of the essays dealt with racial and economic inequality. A very good read and it's notable that she has a doctorate in authoritarian regimes, so her tweets about the incoming Presidential administration are terrifying but informative.

Think Happy Be Happy has no credited author but is a collection of inspirational quotes, sayings, and some miscellaneous fun things like playlists. I've got a flag marking one of those, the "Fearless Playlist" with songs like "Just Say Yes" by Snow Patrol. On the opposite page it says, "'I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.' -- Louisa May Alcott " So, it's basically a little book of, as it says, "Art, inspiration, joy," very upbeat and beautifully illustrated. One of my favorite pages says, "Hell yes!" with a little devil in a burning background. It was part of the reason I chose "Yes" for my word of the year. I haven't torn that page out, yet, although I'd like to. I'm not so hot at damaging books.

I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano is just as silly as you'd expect but it has photos of cats and it made me laugh so I'm glad I finally managed to acquire a copy. I think I may have mentioned this, already, but I stood in Target and read bits and pieces of I Could Pee on This when it was a fairly new release, maybe a year old. It made me smile, so I put it on my wish list and I just finally found it at a price I found tolerable when we were visiting Kiddo, a couple weeks ago. While the guys went into an office supply store to find something to organize papers, I sat in the car reading and laughing. I'll reread this one many times. It's worth owning a few small things that are guaranteed to make you smile.

That's it! I will post my end-of-month for December (it will be brief), publish the full list of books read, and then I'm done with 2016!!

©2017 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.

Everything I didn't review in 2016, Part 1

After writing that last post, I realized there was no recent read left that I thought needed even mini review treatment, although a couple of the books I neglected throughout the year really should have gotten reviews fresh from the reading. I'll mention those when I get to them.

Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall is a book not so much about climate change and the stats that prove it but how people think about it, what makes them prone to denial or understanding, and why certain circumstances make it more likely that they won't connect an event to climate change. An excellent, thought-provoking book that I thought about for so long I didn't get around to reviewing, this is probably one of two books I seriously regret not getting around to saying anything about. It's more psychology than climate science. While the author approaches both sides and does his best to stay neutral, he falls clearly on the side of the 97% of scientists who are convinced that climate change is going to kill us all (he's not shy about saying so) and describes climate scientists as a gloomy lot, because they anticipate their doom. This one deserves a reread. It's a 5-star book.

From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus is a Europa translation with a surprising ending, so twisty as to be baffling. I found another reader to discuss with and we were uncertain what actually happened in the end but it appeared that the narrator was unreliable and the ending cast the entire story into doubt. I'm glad I read From the Land of the Moon but it was definitely a head trip.

1914 and Other Poems by Rupert Brooke is one of the few books I don't remember all that well. I knew of Rupert Brooke as one of the war poets but as far as I can recall, the book was not composed entirely of war poetry. As with most poetry, some of it made sense and even resonated, some was either baffling or simply beyond my understanding, some I liked and some I did not. In the end, I'm guessing I didn't have much to say about it and that's why it ended up unreviewed, but I'm always happy to have read a volume of poetry because I love trying to engage with an art form that is powerful due to the careful and precise use of wording, whether I get it all or not.

The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes is a book I read while on vacation, a WWII story about a nurse, her patients, and a doctor for whom she has feelings she must keep to herself. When I read this book, I really enjoyed it but I was shocked how quickly I forgot what it was about. To this day, I can't remember the details. But, I have to wonder if that has to do more with travel fatigue than the content of the book. At any rate, I know I enjoyed it. I just don't remember much about it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows was, of course, the hot book about 5 years ago. Maybe longer, I don't know. At any rate, I put off reading it for ages and I don't know why. I finally got to it in 2016 and, like everyone else, I loved it. I found the story of the group of Guernsey island inhabitants who use a book club as cover for their activities charming, sometimes funny, but at the same time fiercely real. It's a rare book that can be funny, serious, and deeply moving. I opted not to review the book because everyone else already reviewed it but if there's anyone left out there who hasn't yet read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, quit putting it off.

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is a book I bought and had autographed - or maybe just bought autographed - at our local book festival. I got to hang out with blog friend Brittanie during the author's hilarious question/answer session and then came home and gobbled down Flora and Ulysses, that night. It's the story of a squirrel who is sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and when he does, he gains the ability to write poetry. But, he really wants to be a superhero. Funny, cerebral, and heartwarming (although not my favorite by the author). Kate DiCamillo is a gifted storyteller. I can't imagine not liking anything she has ever written or will write.

A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe is one of the best works of nonfiction I read in 2016 and I feel awful about not reviewing it. You should see my copy; it is chock full of colorful flags. I still think about it regularly. It's particularly relevant because a great deal of what was done during the Depression with the back-and-forth about social programs and whether or not people were becoming too dependent upon handouts and should only get seeds to grow their own food . . . similar things are being done, today, with the whole "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop depending on SNAP!" thing. I had no idea, actually, about the bread lines being as controversial as the distribution of food to families, nor did I ever contemplate the fact that it was always the men standing in food lines. Funny that I never noticed that. I also gained a new admiration for farm wives of that time period and learned a lot about how home economists led changes in the way we live and cook.

I need to find my copy and pull some quotes from this one. It's a crime that I didn't get to it, honestly, particularly given its application to the way we're still bickering about whether or not people living in poverty should be served by food programs. If you have any interest at all in the Great Depression, A Square Meal is a marvelous resource and a fascinating read.

Part 2 is coming up.

©2017 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.

Mini Reviews - The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff, Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara, Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump

Since I have so many reviews remaining from 2016 and another 2 to hit in 2017, I'm going to go ahead and revert to the mini review format, for now. If there are any books that I believe require more depth in reviewing, I'll save them for separate posts. I'll post my December reads, later today.

The Orphan's Tale is my first read by Pam Jenoff, in spite of the fact that she writes about WWII. I don't know what took me so long to get to her books. The story is about two women. Noa was kicked out by her family after falling pregnant at 16, the father of her child a Nazi soldier. Separated from her own child, she has saved a baby found in a freezing train carriage. Astrid was forced to divorce her Nazi husband and leave her home because of her Jewish heritage.

Astrid grew up in a German circus and her family has disappeared. When a neighboring circus takes her in she is grateful but haunted by the loss of her family and perpetually in danger. After Noa shows up with the baby and is also given refuge, Astrid reluctantly teaches her to work on the flying trapeze. When they travel across Germany and Noa falls for the son of a mayor who works closely with the Nazis while Astrid's boyfriend refuses to stop breaking the rules, the dangers sharpen. Will Noa and Astrid be able to keep each other and the baby safe?

There was a lot that I loved about The Orphan's Tale. I liked the fact that I learned about a new facet of life during WWII. I liked the fact that it focused on specific issues that were problematic for women. And, I thought the ending was both heartbreaking and beautiful. There were a couple problems I had with the book, though. The main one was stylistic. The author used the passive voice and it took me ages just to learn to stop mentally rewriting sentences. So many had dones and had beens. The Orphan's Tale needed a dedicated editor to shift its prose away from the passive voice. The other problem was minor: I really don't like circus settings. I thought I would be okay with a circus setting and I did enjoy learning about what it was like within that kind of setting during WWII, but it still was not a setting I enjoyed and I occasionally found myself bored with the details of training someone to be an aerialist.

Recommended but not a favorite - I'm glad I read The Orphan's Tale and I will happily read more by Pam Jenoff but there were some minor frustrations. Definitely a unique setting for WWII and solid storytelling. Crucially, the ending felt perfect in a way few endings do.

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara - My classic choice for December, I knew Appointment in Samarra was not going to be a happy tale. I'd read about it a bit and the fable about death finding a merchant in Samarra makes it clear that the ending will not be a pleasant one. But, the writing is superb and I was quickly swept into the story.

Julian English finds one of the members of his club particularly annoying and thoughtlessly tosses his drink in the man's face. The next day, his wife Caroline talks Julian into going to apologize to Harry Reilly, the victim, but Harry is unwilling to see him. It then begins to become clear just how much damage Julian has done to his standing. Slowly, Julian begins to unravel, in the process throwing away everything he's worked for and ruining his closest relationships. What will happen to Julian and Caroline?

Well, the fable makes it pretty obvious but it's still just a bit shocking, in the end.

Highly recommended - Sad as it is, Appointment in Samarra is impressively written and when I look back at 2016's classic choices, I have a feeling it will be one of my favorites.

I ordered a copy of Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump after watching the movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople and finding out that it was based on a book. I love watching a movie and comparing it to the book (better that way than reading the book first and being disappointed, actually) and they were definitely poles apart, although both are set in New Zealand - so, at least the book didn't suffer the fate of being Americanized.

Ricky Baker has been taken in by his Aunt Bella and Uncle Hec. At 12 years old, he's overweight and has spent much of his life being shuffled about. Aunt Bella is warm and loving, a great cook, and happy to step in as a surrogate mom. Uncle Hec is a curmudgeon and former inmate. When Aunt Bella dies suddenly, Hec is heartbroken and decides to head into the bush. But, Ricky will be sent back into foster care if Uncle Hec doesn't take him along. Reluctantly, Uncle Hec agrees to let Ricky come along.  They head into the bush to hide out till Ricky turns 16, when he'll be free of the social system.

That's the book version and they do, in fact, succeed in hiding out for about 2 years, sometimes while being pursued by authorities. Ricky and Uncle Hec make a single friend while on their adventures and Ricky becomes an expert hunter. Because the book is a survival story in which they hide out for literally years, it's quite different from the lighthearted comedy film. But, both are terrific in their own ways. The book is wonderful for being a survival story that ends mysteriously, the movie for its sense of humor. Both describe a building relationship with heart and they both have meaningful, yet extremely different, endings.

Highly recommended - I ordered my copy of Wild Pork and Watercress from Book Depository and it was shipped from Australia. Then, it became available on Amazon. Oh, well. It was worth the wait. I enjoy survival stories and it was fun mentally comparing the book with the movie, as I read. Wild Pork and Watercress has the feel of a YA because Ricky tells the story, although I'm not sure how it would be shelved in New Zealand.

©2017 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, January 10, 2017

Tuesday Twaddle

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou - purchased
  • The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins - Christmas gift I forgot to mention
  • The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson - from HarperCollins for review

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now by Maya Angelou
  • Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
  • Yesternight by Cat Winters

Currently reading:

  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • The Wars of the Roosevelts by William J. Mann
  • Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Last week's posts:

In other news:

Besides the three books I'm reading (two of which will take me forever to get through, although I'm enjoying them both), I started a classic choice but I'm not sure this one is going to click for me, so I've opted not to write it on my list, just yet. If it eventually takes, you'll know about it. I planned to start my second personal challenge - the first being a continuation of my monthly classics challenge - last night, but I also planned to finish my Monday Malarkey post and you can see what became of that. I fell asleep on the couch, instead. My second challenge is to read at least one feminist title per month and I'm not too strict about what I will consider "feminist". I have, for example, a copy of Hidden Figures coming. A book about women who were successful in their fields but without public acknowledgment works for me. First on the feminist reading list is We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, partly because it's a mere 65 pages long and we're getting close to the middle of the month.

The fact that it's already the 12th 10th of January (haven't replaced my desk calendar, so I looked at December) means I'm not going to worry about how long it takes me to finish up my last reviews from 2016. Clearly, trying to shove through them has not worked, so I'll write when it works for me. I'll post my 2016 list tomorrow, though. Might as well get the end of month and end of year lists out of the way, right?

©2017 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.