Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

Ruby Sutton has only been working for The American, a weekly newspaper, for 6 months when she's offered a surprising chance that she can't possibly pass up: a job working for Picture Weekly in London. It's 1940 and the editor of Picture Weekly is interested in hiring an American reporter to add to his team. Ruby is the only reporter at The American with no family to leave behind. Her editor also is impressed with her writing skill.

Ruby is young and her turbulent past is not far behind her. She is thrilled to be in a new place with a fulfilling job and new friends, including a handsome and mysterious British officer, Captain Bennett, who frequently disappears to do secretive work for the government. London is dangerous and there are hardships she would have escaped, had she stayed home. But, Ruby quickly adapts. What will happen to Ruby and her friends as war drags on? Who will survive and who will become a casualty of war?

I've been struggling with how to share my thoughts about Goodnight from London because I don't want to be too negative about it but it did have some flaws - flaws, I should add, that I was willing to overlook because I simply enjoyed the sense of time and place enough that I desired to brush aside anything about the book that I disliked. Having said that, let's talk about the good and the bad.

What I liked about Goodnight from London:

Besides the descriptions of London, which I found very easy to visualize, I thought it was pretty clear that Jennifer Robson is an excellent researcher. She was meticulous about the WWII timeline and I even learned a few new things. For example, I'd never heard of the Durning Road Disaster in Liverpool - one of the places Ruby is sent to write about. And, I've been collecting books about WWII for eons but wasn't aware of Martha Gellhorn's writing. Really, that's quite a surprising oversight, when I think about it. I thought it was also pretty clear that she'd carefully studied which parts of London were bombed and when during the Blitz. So, the setting was very competently handled.

What I disliked about Goodnight from London:

In truth, there were only two things that really jumped out at me. One was that everything seemed far too easy for Ruby. I don't want to spoil anything so I'll try to keep it as generic as possible, but from the beginning of the book, when she's asked to take a job that anyone would jump at (who wouldn't want a plum writing position in London?) and she's chosen because she lacks a family and is just a naturally brilliant writer? Too much of a stretch. But, I understood this as set-up for the story, so I chose to just shrug it off and continue. And, then Ruby was picked up at the train station by a dashing man who clearly was instantly attracted to her.  This pattern continued. Some bad things happened but absolutely everything was far too easy for Ruby.

The second thing was a petty conversational quirk that almost all of the characters shared. Most readers probably won't even notice that; I have to work hard to get the editing portion of my brain to shut off, though, so it was slightly annoying.

Recommended - I still loved this book, flaws and all. It didn't matter that much of it was predictable, that everything seemed just a little too easy for Ruby, that almost everyone instantly loved her and she seemed far too perfect or even that the worst thing that happened to her was easily overcome because of her connections. I still enjoyed it immensely and absolutely loved the ending. Sometimes predictability can be a good thing and, in this case, the ending was very predictable but in a good way. Recommended to historical fiction fans, especially those who enjoy a WWII setting, and hopeless romantics.

©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, June 26, 2017

Monday Malarkey

This was one of those weeks that I looked at the final pile of arrivals, muttered "Holy Toledo!" and told myself I'm back on a book-buying ban "with certain exceptions" (if/when I run out of feminist lit and can't find anything wonderful at the library, for example).

Recent arrivals (also known as The Holy Toledo Stack):

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman - purchased
  • The Golden Age by Joan London - purchased
  • The Third Level by Jack Finney - purchased
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry - from Custom House (an imprint of HarperCollins) for review
  • The Great Rescue by Peter Hernon and
  • Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon - both from Harper for review
  • The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne - from Hogarth (an imprint of Crown Publishing) for review, via Shelf Awareness
  • The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas - from Flatiron Books for review, via Shelf Awareness

All of these books make me wish I had more hours in my day but The Third Level by Jack Finney is the most exciting of my purchases because he's a long-time favorite author. I've occasionally looked to see if there are any Jack Finney books I've missed, over the years, certain that I can't possibly have read them all. But, till recently, I've had no luck finding any that I overlooked. So, I'm not sure how I missed The Third Level but I can hardly bear sitting next to it without picking it up to start reading.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Bellwether by Connie Willis (reread for F2F discussion)
  • Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison

Posts since last Malarkey:

Last week was a deliberately light posting week. I figured that since I posted a virtual tsunami of book reviews the previous week, it would be a good idea to let frequent readers have some time to catch up if they so desired.

Currently reading:

  • Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson 

In other news:

I don't know exactly when I'm going to take my summer break from blogging, but I'm thinking probably mid-July? Maybe? I guess we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it. I'm not at all tired of blogging or in need of a break. But, I have other reasons for needing to step away - not only from the blog but from the internet - for a while. At any rate, a break is coming but not for at least a couple weeks.

©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, June 23, 2017

Fiona Friday - Sink kitty

Just hanging out. It's nice and cool in the sink.

©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, June 21, 2017

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

In winter, the days lost their shape early. The streets were blurry with shadows and traffic lights as Kulwinder walked home and thought about her day. 

~p. 37 of Advance Reader Copy, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Nikki is a modern, independent woman and the rebel of her family. The daughter of Sikh Indian immigrants, she is a university drop-out, formerly in law school, who lives above the pub where she tends bar. Her sister Mindi is Nikki's opposite; she just wants a traditional marriage. When Mindi asks Nikki to put her profile on the marriage board at the Punjabi community center in London's Southall, Nikki  discovers a job opening for a writing teacher.

Nikki gets the job but she's surprised to find that the class is entirely composed of widows who don't know how to write in English. And, one is completely illiterate. Nikki assumes the entire scope of the course will have to change; she'll be teaching her students to write, instead. But, the widows object. They really want to tell stories, even if it means dictating them. And, the stories they want to tell are very colorful. Nikki agrees to their wishes but does so knowing that if her boss finds out what they're doing, she'll lose her job.

While Nikki encourages her students to write what they love, she also gets to know them as individuals and learns about the secrets they keep. But, what she doesn't realize is that in seeking the answers to the mystery of what happened to her boss's daughter, she is putting her own life in danger.

Recommended - I added a family warning in my blog labels because of the short stories by the widows, interspersed throughout the book, for those who may have sneaky young readers with whom one should probably read and discuss if the book gets away from you. Having said that, there's a good deal about being empowered by creativity and the fact that women become invisible as they age - both important topics - so I wouldn't panic if a youngster gets hold of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. I'd just discuss the story and its positive lessons.

There's a lot more going on than the erotic stories written by the widows that are interspersed throughout the book. Nikki starts to date someone but there are complications. Mindi is looking for love and wants encouragement from her sister but Nikki is skeptical of arranged marriages. Nikki's mom has been widowed for a couple years and Nikki still wonders if quitting law school contributed to her father's sudden death. Nikki's mother's income is becoming tighter, so Nikki really needs to keep her job but she knows it's likely not to last. And, then there's the mystery of a young woman's death, a gang of young Sikh men who go around harassing women about abiding by rules, and the fact that Nikki's first job at the pub is already threatened by loss of revenue.

Sometimes the widows made me laugh. And, toward the end of the book, there's a scene so tense that I went from lying against two plushy pillows to sitting bolt upright, hanging on every word. An excellent story with a good blend of darkness and light.

©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, June 19, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • The River at Night by Erica Ferencik - purchased (I pre-ordered this one after reading about it, possibly in Entertainment Weekly)
  • Blackout by Marc Elsberg - purchased
  • Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi - Purchased for feminist reading after reading an article in which a prize-winning author mentioned the title.
  • The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen by Hendrik Groen - From Grand Central Publishing for review, via Shelf Awareness
  • World Pizza by Cece Meng and Ellen Shi - from Sterling Children's Books for review
  • Digital Wildlife Photography by John and Barbara Gerlach - purchased by husband
  • Wildlife Photography by Uwe Skrzypczak - purchased by husband

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • World Pizza by Cece Meng and Ellen Shi
  • Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
  • The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

And, I reread all but one of the books that I reviewed (The Explorers, which was a first-time read).

This was definitely a fun reading week.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • Bellwether by Connie Willis - A reread for F2F discussion. 
  • Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison - True stories of life as a safari guide in Botswana

I removed The Women in the Castle from my current reads temporarily because I had some other books that required priority, but I've only read a single chapter so it's not an abandonment so much as a setting aside.

In other news:

In case you missed my announcement, last week, it's probably pretty obvious from the sheer quantity of cute titles that last week I dedicated my posts to reviews of children's books. You know what that means? It means I granted myself permission to sit around reading and writing about children's books, all week. Bliss! I love children's books! It also means I'm totally out of children's books on my TBR stacks. There's good and bad to that, of course. I'm closing in on being "caught up" on reviews, which is a bit like catching up on laundry: it never lasts long. On the huge plus side, if there's ever a backlog, the reading must be going well. At any rate, it was a great reading and blogging week. Hope yours was, as well. Happy reading!

©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.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

This story begins, like most stories do, with a pig wearing a teeny hat. And I'm sure right now you're thinking to yourself, "I've read this story before." But please let me assure you that this isn't that pig in a teeny hat story you're reading but the other one. The one you haven't read. Yet. 

This is the opening to The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress. Sebastian is the hero and eventually we meet Evie, who becomes his partner in mystery-solving and adventure. I knew I was going to love the story as soon as I read that first page because I adore an author who writes with a sense of the absurd.

Sebastian is a 12-year-old with a devotion to routine, a photographic memory, a love of maps, and a propensity for science and math. His entire family is equally nerdy, so he gets a great deal of support in his pursuits. Evie is 11 years old, alone and sad, her parents dead, her only escape from the children's home in which she lives a weekly dinner with two very beige people called the Andersons who feed her beige food.

WARNING: The rest of this review contains spoilers. Skip down to the rating if you're concerned.

Then, things begin to change. Sebastian is forced to take a different route home from school and when he does, he happens across a door in an alley that says, "The Explorers Club". And, because of a pig in a teeny hat, he eventually ends up working behind that door and discovering a box full of photographs and newspaper clippings. Evie is out for her weekly dinner when two scary men show up at the Andersons' house looking for a key and Evie ends up having to escape from a fire with a mysterious letter sent by a man she thought was dead: her grandfather.

What happened to the people in the photos hidden inside the box Sebastian has found in The Explorers Club? Why does mentioning their names anger the club's members? How is the letter connected to the contents of the box? Will Sebastian and Evie be able to put all the clues together and duck all the bullets the two bad guys are shooting at them?

Highly recommended - Wow, what an adventure. I love the fact that the hero and heroine in this exciting middle grade book are very sharp kids, weird things happen, the book is action-packed to the point that sometimes you're practically hyperventilating at the end of an exciting scene, and the author has a wicked sense of humor. My only warning is that The Explorers: The Door in the Alley unfortunately ends on a cliffhanger. In fact, the author even makes a joke out of the cliffhanger - you have to love it that she's at least witty about it while she's ripping the proverbial rug out from under your feet. I call it a warning (maybe the correct word is "complaint") because I absolutely hate cliffhangers and often will refuse to buy a second book in a series if a first story isn't entirely wrapped up in some form. The rare exceptions are the books I love so much that I really must read on.

The Explorers may be one of those rare exceptions to my cliffhanger rule. It was so massively entertaining that it would have gotten 5 stars from me if it hadn't been a cliffhanger (I only took one star off -- and, in hindsight, that seems a bit harsh; I'll go back and change it to 4.5/5 at Goodreads). I love the characters. Sebastian is meticulous but kind and gracious. He means well and it's difficult for him to break rules, even when he's encouraged. Evie is sad, at first, but once given a challenge she puts her whole heart into solving the mystery, although she's definitely invested in it because it involves searching for a family member. And, she also really knows her mind. She's a nice, strong heroine.  The writing is excellent and often very, very funny, the pacing perfect -- she does give you a break, just as you're really gasping for air -- and The Explorers Club is an imaginative place that you can't help but wish existed. Also, there's a cat named David Copperfield. Who doesn't love a book with a cat? A perfect read for any adventure-loving kid and the first in a series.

©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.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Big stretch

It's almost like she's trying to imitate the shape of her scratching pad. But, no. She just likes a good stretch after a nap.

©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.

Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley

Sisters fart.
Brothers fart. 
Sometimes even mothers f--

Mothers do not fart. 

I would like to think you simply cannot go wrong with a book that has a unicorn farting a rainbow on its cover and I'm right, in this case, but I was definitely concerned that I'd find Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley an ackward or uncomfortable read and came *this* close to saying "No, thanks," to the offer to review. Wow, am I glad I changed my mind (it was the unicorn cover that got me, in the end).

Each spread has several panels in which various people, creatures, or groups are shown farting and types of farts are described (firey farts by dragons, farts that sound like horns).

Farting chicken.
Farting bunny. 
Uncles fart and think it's funny.

But, every now and then, someone tries to say mothers fart and a mother steps in to say that simply isn't so. Of course, in the end it turns out that mothers actually do fart and the mother is discovered farting behind a closed door.

Highly recommended - Hilarious. I saved Almost Everybody Farts for last because it's one of my new favorite children's books. With a subject that small children like to giggle about, amusing text with a great rhythm, and bright, playful illustrations, the book is a total winner and would be an especially fun book to read to a classroom full of wiggly preschoolers or kindergarteners; it has "crowd pleaser" written all over it. The text is minimal but invites a little bit of dramatic pause whenever the mother interrupts to say mothers don't fart and ends with a great laugh when Mom is found hiding to let one go.

©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.