Monday, July 27, 2015

Monday Malarkey - No more predictions

This week I've come to the conclusion that I should never, ever attempt to predict what may or may not arrive in my mailbox and/or announce what I intend to read since -- let's face it -- I am wholly unpredictable, even to myself. I say that both because I accepted a couple books after months of ignoring review offers and thanks to the fact that I read absolutely nothing I said I intended to read, last week. Best laid plans and all that.

Recent arrivals (as shown above):

  • Color of the Sea by John Hamamura - purchased secondhand 
  • Partials by Dan Wells - via Paperback Swap
  • The Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres - from Knopf for review
  • The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon - from Random House for review

And another:

A friend who has recently joined in on the adult coloring craze sent me this wonderful Cool Cats coloring book! How awesome is that? I can't wait to play with it.

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Books finished since last week:

  • On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt
  • The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall

Husband recommended that I read On Bullshit when I complained that I simply can't understand how people can fall for the false information that is being spun as reality by certain politicians and it did, in fact, soothe me a bit. At the very least, it explains how a politician can appear to believe the baloney he proclaims to be truth. But, while you're reading the book, you have to question whether the text is an experiment in bullshit, itself. It's a fascinating read.

The Flying Circus is a book that I bought on the recommendation of an author I follow on Facebook. She described the book as "adventurous" and I enjoyed it but found it a little too light on dialogue and heavy on narrative. It has a dominant romantic element that was, I thought, a little tedious 'though ultimately satisfying, and I found several plot points predictable. But, The Flying Circus definitely does have plenty of surprising twists.

Currently reading:

Nothing. But, I'm sure that will change. I'm just not going to make any assumptions about whether I'll resume reading one of the books with a bookmark in it or try something new.

In other news:

I worked on tidying some of the many possessions our youngest son has brought home to store during the time he's taking a course in Memphis while Kiddo and Huzzybuns did the final bit of packing and scrubbing of his college apartment, this weekend. So, not an overly exciting weekend but we all got a lot accomplished. It feels a little strange not to have a child living in Oxford, anymore.

I've been more than a little obsessed with Poldark and The Crimson Field, two BBC productions set back-to-back on PBS, Sunday evenings. I haven't missed a single episode of either and didn't realize last night's episode of The Crimson Field was the finale till it ended without a preview of "next week's episode". Darn. I'm sad to see that end. I'm in the mood to binge-watch a series but haven't settled on anything, yet. Sounds like I have no idea what I'm going to do this week, doesn't it? Maybe it's time to de-gloss that chair I bought last week and start painting.

Happy Monday!

©2015 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, July 26, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Copyright 2014
Scribner - Historical Fiction/WWII
531 pp.

Once, when she was eight or nine, her father took her to the Pantheon in Paris to describe Foucault's pendulum. Its bob, he said, was a golden sphere shaped like a child's top. It swung from a wire that was sixty -seven meters long; because its trajectory changed over time, he explained, it proved beyond all doubt that the earth rotated. But what Marie-Laure remembered, standing at the rail as it whistled past, was her father saying that Foucault's pendulum would never stop. It would keep swinging, she understood, after she and her father left the Pantheon, after she had fallen asleep that night. After she had forgotten about it, and lived her entire life, and died.

Now it is as if she can hear the pendulum in the air in front of her: that huge golden bob, as wide across as a barrel, swinging on and on, never stopping. Grooving and regrooving its inhuman truth into the floor.

~fr. p. 207 of All the Light We Cannot See

In All the Light We Cannot See, Marie-Laure is a young French girl who has lost her vision. Her father is the master of locks at Paris's Museum of Natural History and a fine craftsman. To help Marie-Laure gain a little independence, he has created a painstakingly detailed model of their Paris neighborhood so that she can familiarize herself with the area's features from the safety of their home.

Werner and his sister live in an orphanage in a German mining town. When he discovers a broken radio and is able to fix it, his eyes are opened to the wonders of science and engineering. He quickly teaches himself about wiring, currents, radio tubes . . . everything he needs to know in order to build and repair radios. The last thing he wants is to end up crushed in a mine like his father.

As Hitler comes to power and war breaks out, Werner ends up in a barbaric school where he is educated and desensitized to cruelty while Marie-Laure and her father are forced to escape to her uncle's home in a walled seaside village after the Germans invade Paris. Both experience the horror and deprivation of war but Werner is only peripherally aware of how hardened he is becoming while Marie-Laure becomes stronger and braver when war challenges her household to endanger their lives for the sake of others.

Eventually, Marie-Laure and Werner cross paths but there's a long and winding set of paths before they finally, briefly intertwine. I admit to being surprised that the encounter between Marie-Laure and Werner was so minimal but it worked because the storytelling is so intricately and beautifully crafted that I actually found myself deliberately dragging out the reading of All the Light We Cannot See for the sake of simply enjoying Doerr's writing.

I was, I confess, disapointed with the ending. At over 500 pages, I felt invested in the story and there were certain answers I desired to know but which were not revealed. After giving it some thought, I realized that the slow, fragmented feeling of the ending chapters does lend it a realistic air. Anyone who has read much about WWII knows that often the answers never came. Did someone live or die? What happened to valued possessions? But, in the end, the stunning writing convinced me that an imperfect ending was not enough to make it less than a 5-star read.

Highly recommended - The highest compliments I feel like I can give to a writer are love of and belief in the characters he created and having felt a "you were there" sensation. Both were true of All the Light We Cannot See. I particularly loved the idea of those elaborately detailed neighborhood models Marie-Laure's father built to help her learn her way around. I found myself thinking, "I would love to see and touch those models." I also adored Marie-Laure's entire family, rooted for Werner, whose humanity was buried yet still evident through the occasional thought he had about how disappointed his sister would be, and sometimes found myself rereading sentences for their rhythm and beauty. A truly spectacular work of writing.

©2015 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, July 24, 2015

Fiona Friday

Fiona was happy and relaxed but, as usual, not thrilled that the camera was pointing her direction.

©2015 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, July 23, 2015

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Copyright 2014
Thomas Dunne Books/YA
413 pp.

Davidek began reading the paper every day, knowing there had to be an update, some follow-up, some explanation about what happened. But there was nothing, not even a week later. "I think I saw something about it on CNN," Bill Davidek said at dinner. "'Playground fight at local school,' right?" The old man scratched his beard with a self-satisfied smile.

"Come on, Dad! That guy jumped off the roof! He almost killed himself!" Davidek said, his cheeks stuffed with food. "He chopped off a dude's fingers!"

Davidek's mother clanged her fork and knife flat on the table. "For God's sake, we're eating fish sticks," she said.

~from pp. 27-27 of Brutal Youth

Brutal Youth is the story of Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, Lorelei Paskal, and a sizable cast of students attending a private Catholic school in Pennsylvania. An explosive prologue introduces the reader to the characters on Visitor's Day at St. Michael the Archangel High School, a day potential students are allowed to attend classes so they can get a feel for the school and its routine. Instead of a typical school day, though, Visitor's Day goes horribly wrong when a bullied student reaches his limit, becoming both violent and suicidal.

Davidek really doesn't want to attend St. Michael's, especially after such a harrowing Visitor's Day. He has plenty of friends at the public high school. But, in spite of his protests he ends up at a student at the school and decides the best approach is to keep his head down and do what he's told. Stein, on the other hand, is an angry guy and not about to let anyone push him around. Lorelei is hoping for a fresh start after a misunderstanding at her old school left her friendless.

A love triangle, sanctioned bullying, a mixed bag of teachers both kind and cruel, and a priest who privately wants the school to close are among the elements in Brutal Youth, a novel worth talking about for the way it exposes the dark side of school life.

I think what I loved most about Brutal Youth was the dark humor (as evidenced in the excerpt, above) but I also cared about the characters. And, I think just about everyone can relate to the kind of behavior in the book -- either the bullying by fellow students, the surprisingly bad behavior of adults or the parental failures that make trouble at school doubly hard to handle. Breznican's writing is almost painfully astute.

I've read Brutal Youth twice, now.  The first time I read it, I checked out a library book and chatted with the author on Twitter while I was reading. Doing so gave me some really interesting insight -- some of it after the fact. On the first reading, I felt like the bullying was relentless and desired a happy ending or at least a light at the end of the tunnel. The second time, I was sent a copy by the author's publicist for a Q & A (which will come some time in the future) and had time to stop, mark passages, ponder the characters and their motivations a little more deeply, and really appreciate what the author was trying to accomplish. It helped that we'd discussed his goal. This is what the book looked like after the second reading:

I came out of the second reading with such an appreciation for Breznican's craftsmanship that I bumped up my Goodreads rating from 4 stars to 5.

And, I managed to talk my book group into reading Brutal Youth. I'm excited. There's so much to discuss.

Highly recommended - A sharply drawn story of friendship, bullying, and the failure of adults to act responsibly or serve as decent role models, both as parents and teachers. Exceptional characterization, dark humor, and an understanding of interaction at the high school level are the particular hallmarks of Breznican's writing. I can't wait to see what he comes up with, next. Warning: There are some particularly uncomfortable scenes of violence and humiliation. Brutal Youth is truly brutal; the title is fitting. But, it's a book that makes you think about what true friendship really involves and examine the concept of bullying. I'd go so far as to say it's an important book, one that should be read and discussed by students and adults alike.

©2015 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, July 20, 2015

Monday Malarkey

I don't have any good book stack photos, this week, so you get cat:

I'm amazed that Isabel found it tolerable lying in the sun. It's been so hot I can barely endure sitting near the window with the blinds drawn. Izzy was beneath my desk, incidentally, lying on an old foam exercise step.

This is my only arrival for the week:

In This Proud Land by Roy Emerson Stryker and Nancy Wood is a book of photos taken during the Great Depression. Apart from some introductory material and captions, there's very little text. I doubt I'll bother reviewing so here's a peek inside:

I altered the color a little so it looks fresh and new but this particular book is older and a little yellowed. I purchased it secondhand.

Oops, another used book just arrived in the mail so I have no photograph of it: Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans. I bought it because I loved Crooked Heart so much I wanted to read more by Evans. Their Finest Hour and a Half was longlisted for the Orange Prize, which comes as no surprise to me as Lissa Evans' writing is stellar. Like Crooked Heart, it is a WWII novel.

Posts since last week's malarkey:

Not a big week for blogging.

Books finished last week:

  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 

My reading has clearly been pitiful, quantity-wise, although I've enjoyed what I've read, recently. I blame the heat and a little eyestrain. I've found that I'm having trouble focusing (in both attention and vision) when I sit down to read. As long as the heat persists and until I can make it to the eye doctor to get some reading glasses that work, I'm guessing my reading will continue to be slower than normal.

Currently reading:

Nothing. But, I'm planning to return to Dear Mrs. Roosevelt, the book of children's letters written during the Depression, now that I've finished All the Light We Cannot See. And, I may dip back into Pamela. I've also decided this is probably a good time to read some short stories, since it's taking me forever to get through anything (this being the second week in a row that I've only read one book), so I'm going to give Neil Gaiman's Trigger Warning a go.

In other news:

You've probably spotted the change to my header. I gave it a lot of thought and decided I wanted a sleek, minimalist, bookish look so I took some old books off the shelf and staged them in a way that I thought would fit my goal. I'm happy with the results. Although my subheading spills over the books a bit because I enlarged my font when I changed the template, after removing the word "family" I think it looks better. I took "family" out of the subheading because I really don't tell family stories or post family photos, anymore, at the guys' request.

My blog plan for the week includes writing reviews of Brutal Youth and All the Light We Cannot See and coming up with a list of interview questions for my Q/A with Anthony Breznican. If anyone has questions they'd like me to ask Anthony about Brutal Youth, please let me know. I'll be happy to add them to my list.

The only other news I have is about a side project I'm looking forward to starting. A local storekeeper who paints old furniture, frames and other decorative items has closed her shop and will instead have a small corner in a local antique store. So, she had a closeout sale, last week, and I bought a chair to paint:

I've been having a great time gathering design ideas. Even though I haven't even de-glossed the chair to prepare to paint it, yet, Huzzybuns has seen the images of my favorite painting ideas and is already calling it, "Your hippie chair." I can't wait to get started. I have always desired to paint a chair, just for the fun of it.

That's all for now! Have you read anything brilliant, lately?

©2015 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, July 17, 2015

Fiona Friday - No photos, please

Izzy has never been camera shy but recently she has decided she's disinterested in having her picture taken and has chosen to either look away or leave the room when I point the camera in her direction. Hopefully, it's just a phase. Fingers crossed.

©2015 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, July 14, 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Copyright 2015
Harper - Historical Fiction/WWII
282 pp.

'I knew,' said Mrs. Williams, surrounded (for the first time in her life) by interested listeners. 'I heard the whistle as it dropped and I said to Idris, "It's got our name on it!" and he said, "Well let's hope it's spelled wrong," and I said, "Shall we get under the stairs?" and he said, "Too late for that, girl!" and then he threw himself on top of me.'

First time for everything, thought Vee. The bomb had landed on the shed and Mr. and Mrs. Williams had survived uninjured, though a chicken had been blown straight through the kitchen window. 

--from p. 165 of Advance Reader Copy, Crooked Heart (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

This is going to be one of those times I feel inadequate to review. I've been thinking about what I can possibly say about Crooked Heart since the moment I closed it. That was, what? . . . 3 weeks ago? Whatever weekend the #FlashReadathon was held, that was the weekend I finished.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans is about a young boy named Noel who is evacuated from central London during the Blitz of WWII. Vee, the woman who takes Noel in, is the single mother of a young man named Donald, who is unable to serve in the armed forces because he has a heart condition. Vee is operating a con game, Vee's mother spends most of her time writing letters (a few of which, addressed to Winston Churchill, are included in the book) while Donald is keeping busy with a moneymaking scheme of his own.

When Noel comes to live with Vee, he makes a surprising offer to help her with the con game she has ineptly begun, making door-to-door collections for various benevolent funds and then keeping the money. Noel has spent most of his life with his godmother, an elderly lady who was intelligent and wise. Noel learned a great deal from her and he is one sharp cookie. Although Vee seems like a terrible human when they meet, when their scheme begins to pay off she starts to soften and show a surprisingly generous side. Eventually Noel also begins to heal from the loss of the godmother who challenged him intellectually and whom he misses profoundly.

When I finished reading, I discussed the book with suspense author Paula Daly on Twitter and I think it's worth noting my immediate reaction because sometimes when you're not thinking about reviewing it's easier to describe a book in few words.

Highly recommended - Crooked Heart is by far the most pitch-perfect book I've read in 2015, an absolute gem. There's so much wit and humor. As I was reading, it occurred to me that Lissa Evans' writing reminded me of someone else's but I couldn't put a finger on whose. I think it may be Mollie Panter-Downes that I'm thinking of (in Good Evening, Mrs. Craven) or perhaps D. E. Stevenson in the Miss Buncle books (Miss Buncle's Book; Miss Buncle Married). Point being, she has a peculiarly British and very smart style that I adore.

It wasn't till I was midway through Crooked Heart and looking to see what else Lissa Evans has written that I realized I have actually read her, before. A few years ago, I read Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms. That was back in the days when I used a numerical rating system and I gave it a 5/5. The same would be true for Crooked Heart if I hadn't ditched the numerical ratings.

©2015 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.