Friday, December 02, 2016

November Reads in Review, 2016

I don't want to stop forward momentum, here, so there will be a cat photo at the end of this post to fulfill your Friday cat requirements but I want to go ahead and get a book post finished (and, hopefully, I'll get a couple book reviews written over the weekend). Links to the few reviews I've written are provided, where applicable.


93. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly - When 13-year-old Lucinda disappears, the mother of her best friend feels responsible. The child was supposed to have been spending the night at her house, after all. Lucinda is not the first child to disappear; a rapist is on the loose. Will Lucinda be found in time to save her or is it too late? The pages flew and the suspense was excellent, although I did unravel a couple plot points before they were revealed. The author occasionally wrote from the POV of the rapist and those bits were extremely disturbing.

94. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty - My classic choice of the month, the story of a woman dealing with the death of her beloved father, a selfish and emotional second wife, and the conflicting emotions that come with grief. I particularly thought the scenes that took place with neighbors and friends were a bang-on viewpoint of life in the Deep South.

95. The Paris Review, Issue 218 - The only thing I read, this month, that deserved less than 4 stars. I bought this issue of The Paris Review for the change of pace and I enjoyed some of it, particularly the short story by Ann Beattie and some of the poetry. But, at least one poem was utterly baffling and both of the interviews were, frankly, dull as paste. I ended up skipping most of the second interview. Notably, this issue got terrible reviews at Goodreads. So, it wasn't just me.

96. News of the World by Paulette Jiles - Captain Kidd makes his living reading newspaper articles aloud to audiences in post-Civil War Texas. Young Johanna lived with Kiowa Indians after her family was killed and no longer understands the ways of white people. When Kidd is offered a fifty dollar gold piece to deliver Johanna to her relatives in San Antonio, he's in for more adventures than he anticipated. Absolutely marvelous storytelling.

97. Your Alien Returns by Tammy Sauer and Goro Fujita - The follow-up to Your Alien, this children's picture book brings the alien back to Earth, where he invites his human friend for a visit to his own planet. The rest of the book is a rollicking adventure on another planet. Loads more fun with the cutest alien, ever.

98. Leveling the Playing Field: The Democratization of Technology by Rod Scher - Starting with the invention of fire, the author describes various inventions and how they have gone from being expensive or otherwise difficult to acquire to common and affordable (or democratized). Much more fascinating than expected, very readable, and the author has a terrific sense of humor.

99. Setting Free the Kites by Alex George - The story of a friendship between two middle school boys in Maine and the experiences that bond them, for better or worse. Utterly captivating.

100. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - The first in a trilogy of books about young Gerry Durrell's family and their time living in Corfu. I bought the trilogy because I was enjoying the PBS series, The Durrells in Corfu, not realizing that My Family and Other Animals was considered a classic. A friend said it was required reading during his schooling in Derby, England. Definitely the kind of book that should be required - exceptionally well-written, humorous, an entertaining learning experience. If American kids read more books like this and fewer of the depressing variety, I'm certain our schools would spawn more readers.

Only 8 books read but I considered November a fantastic reading month because the quality of the books I read was high. Favorites were News of the World, Your Alien Returns, Setting Free the Kites, and My Family and Other Animals. I liked all of the rest of my reading. The only exception was The Paris Review, which did contain some good reading material (and I enjoyed the paintings) but overall was subpar.

Incidentally, the bookmark barely visible in My Family and Other Animals shows where that first book in the trilogy ends and the next book begins.

And, now, for something completely feline:

Cuddle Season has opened! Fiona and Isabel have been snuggling for a couple weeks, now. Always my favorite time of year.

©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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Setting Free the Kites by Alex George

I am way jumping the gun, here, because I could not stop myself from reading Setting Free the Kites by Alex George almost as soon as it walked in the door. It was by far my most anticipated read of 2017 (you can tell me what to look forward to, now -- I may need help) and I was frankly shocked when I was offered an ARC. And, darned if I didn't absolutely fall in love with the book. I will probably reread it closer to the release date, which is currently February 21, 2017, but I don't want to wait till then to review. You should definitely pre-order a copy. Trust me, it's one you don't want to miss.

Setting Free the Kites tells the story of a friendship between two middle school boys named Robert and Nathan. Robert has been tormented by an oversized bully for an entire school year and the first day of the new school year appears to be an omen of another bad year to come, until the new boy steps in. Nathan is fearless and relentlessly upbeat, a bit of a daredevil and full of life. Robert and Nathan become friends, then tragedy strikes, bringing them even closer. Meanwhile, at home Robert faces an entirely different challenge. While Nathan's days are difficult yet carefree and filled with acts of daring, Robert's family ignores him and approaches every holiday with the fear that it will be their last with Robert's brother Liam, who has a degenerative disease. Robert's friendship with Nathan is both an escape and a time of laughter and fun like he's never known, before.

I don't want to go into too much more detail because it's best to let the story unfold, but Setting Free the Kites is a book that I could hardly bear to put down. I found myself immediately drawn in by the characters and their stories, the friendship between Robert and Nathan, the way music featured in their lives, the family situations, even the setting in Coastal Maine. But, I think what I loved the most was the subject of grief. Tragedy runs through these two young lives and what I thought the author did best in this particular book was in describing grief as a very personal experience, his portrayal of how the same loss is handled in completely different ways by different people. That was so very true to my own experience; and, since writers often get grief all wrong, I appreciated the realistically varying reactions. But, don't worry, it's not all heartbreak, by any means. That was just one of my favorite aspects of Setting Free the Kites and it is, in the end, a beautiful, uplifting story of life and hope and sometimes surprisingly offbeat and funny.

I neglected to mark any quotes to share, although I can assure you the writing is just gorgeous. That will be something to watch for if I do reread it in January. And, in case you're wondering about that beautiful cover, there is an amusement park that features in the book, hence the ferris wheel bokeh. I'm in love with that cover.

Highly recommended - An absolutely engrossing tale of family, friendship, youth, love, and loss. Could. Not. Put. Down. It reminded me, now and then, of Ann Patchett's Commonwealth in that sometimes ordinary, everyday events came off as so much more interesting than you might expect.

And, now, I've read two 5-star books in a row! I'm almost terrified to open the next book, for fear it cannot possibly live up to Setting Free the Kites or My Family and Other Animals (yesterday's review). Wish me luck. I haven't chosen my next reads.

My review of Alex George's previous release: A Good American

©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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

I'm going to do my catch-up posts backwards, last book read first, because I think it would be best to write about what's freshest in my mind, rather than adding to the backlog of books that I can't recall much about. I finished reading My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, this morning. The cover shown is my favorite available cover. The one I have is in a bound book called The Corfu Trilogy but I'm not reading all three books at once, so I'll write about them individually, as I finish each of the books.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell tells about Durrell's family, their move from England to Corfu, and many enchanting tales about their adventures, mishaps, and the exploration of the island by young Gerald, who was then somewhere between 8 and 10 years old. I bought The Corfu Trilogy because I've been enjoying The Durrells in Corfu on PBS and wanted to read more about the family. I was already familiar with Durrell, although I've never read him, because I bought a copy of one of his other books, The Overloaded Ark, many years ago. My husband read it and told me it was a terrific book but I kept putting off reading it and it's still on the good shelves (probably 20 years post-purchase). I considered reading that, instead, but decided that the whole point was that I wanted to read about the family's time in Corfu. I can read The Overloaded Ark, later.

Good decision. I cannot even begin to describe how entertaining Gerald's writing is. Huzzybuns told me The Overloaded Ark was funny and I've never forgotten that, but you really have to read My Family and Other Animals to understand how someone can not only do a fabulous job of describing the various characters in his life with humor and affection but also make hunting for and examining animals that are often pretty revolting sound intriguing. Durrell had a singular talent for description, dialogue, and retelling of events in a way that entertains. My Family and Other Animals will definitely go down as a favorite 2016 read and a classic worth holding onto.

My Family and Other Animals was first published in 1955 and The Durrells in Corfu is actually the second television adaptation. I only know this because, as I closed the book, I decided to look up the DVD to see if it was reasonably priced. The reviews were shockingly polarized and I was curious about that, so I read quite a few of them to find out why. It seems the original series stuck very close to the book itself, while The Durrells in Corfu is more of a series that's based upon the books. I knew this, of course, as I read stories like that of the scorpion (which bites Leslie in the TV series but not in the book) and the murderer who befriends young Gerry (but without Mrs. Durrell feeling obligated to look into his background).

There's also plenty of conflict in the book but I agree that the Durrells often come off as more snappy and rude in the series than in the book. Mrs. Durrell, in particular, is an incredibly relaxed individual, easily persuaded to do her children's bidding. In the book, they live in not one but three different villas because one of the children periodically encourages her to move; but, she comes off as a worrier and her character is the unexpected focus of the stories in the series. So, the reviewers are right that the new series is quite different from the book, but that didn't bother me because I was already enjoying the TV series and in the book I could see the roots of the characters, if not the exact replication of them. I hope that makes sense.

Highly recommended - One of the most entertaining nonfiction reads I've ever found, the kind of book that you want to shove into all of your friends' hands. It is such fun. I would dive directly into the next book in the trilogy, if not for the fact that I have some nonfiction ARCs that I need to get to. It will be interesting to see how long I can keep from opening the second book, though. The writing is that good.

©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.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I hope those of you who are in the U.S. (or from the U.S.) had a terrific Thanksgiving holiday!

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Think Happy, Be Happy - A surprise book with no designated author but it's by Workman Publishing and just arrived because I have the coolest friends. Thanks, Carrie!
  • The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell - Purchased 
  • The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff - from Mira for review 

Fiona decided to charm me by showing up while I was photographing my stack of books and curling up around them. She is still sleeping in that chair, as I type. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Setting Free the Kites by Alex George - A story of friendship, youthful exhuberance, and how each of us deals with grief in very different ways. Exceptional storytelling. You should definitely pre-order this one and then stand in line to get Alex to sign it if he tours nearby. I'm hoping to reread Setting Free the Kites a little closer to the release date, in January. 

Currently reading:

  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - the first book in The Corfu Trilogy, which I ordered after being completely delighted by the PBS series The Durrells in Corfu. I'm close to finishing and this story is every bit as charming as the TV series, although it's quite different. They've taken some liberties, of course, in creating storylines for the series. But, much of what they've done is based upon actual events and the characters are spot on. 

Usually, I have at least one fiction read going while I'm reading a non-fic, but I'm enjoying My Family and Other Animals enough that I decided I'll just go ahead and blaze through it, then whatever non-fic I read next will be accompanied by a fiction read or two. I don't plan to read all three of the books in The Corfu Trilogy back-to-back but I'll also try not to space them too far apart.

No posts were made after last week's Malarkey, apart from this one:

  • Blogger update that has baffled me - If you have any advice or suggestions, please let me know. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with this information about cookies. 

In other news:

We had the usual understated holiday, as we don't have much family and we're all pretty far from each other, but we enjoyed our time together and the food was terrific. We spent some time shopping, but not at Black Friday sales. Instead, we just did a little grocery and necessity shopping. Husband and father-in-law bought a cheap drone for reasons I won't go into but it was pretty hilarious watching them try to figure out how to control it. I missed the part at the beginning, when mom-in-law says she had to get a big stick to knock it out of a tree.

How was your week?

©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.

Blogger update that has baffled me

Blogger has recently posted a message about cookies to the dashboard; and, since I've been unable to locate a notice of the required type on my blog (perhaps because I've changed my template?), I'm posting the info, here, with the addendum that I don't know what they mean by, "In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent." I don't have the ability to create a pop-up item asking people for consent to use cookies, so I'll do my best to make certain that this is prominently displayed. I've clicked through the "Learn more", found it unhelpful, and sent a note to Blogger explaining that it did not sufficiently explain what I need to do. Because I'm finding this entire thing confusing and am concerned about my inability to either figure out the message or responsibilities, I've posted the message from Blogger, which may explain more to my readers (below, in yellow box). If anyone is able to explain what this is all about and/or what I should do, please let me know. In the meantime, my plan is to place a link to this post in my sidebar. And, you should know Blogger is using cookies. If you're not up for that, the best option is apparently staying away. Don't do that, though. You know I love ya.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Malarkey

I've been kind of a terrible blogger, lately, I know. I'm hoping that next week will be an improvement but today's Malarkey is going to be it for this week. We have very small family holidays but I like to be present rather than leaving the room to play on my laptop, so I'll be shutting down for Thanksgiving, this week, and return to blogging next Monday. And, then hopefully I'll have the fortitude to hit the reviews hard. I don't have all that many to write but I do have a backlog.

Recent arrivals:

  • The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt - from Berkley for review
  • Setting Free the Kites by Alex George - from Putnam for review
  • The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly (not pictured because the mailman arrived late) - purchased

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Leveling the Playing Field: The Democratization of Technology by Rod Scher - There were a couple days I didn't read at all because I was so busy, this week, but I enjoyed reading Leveling the Playing Field when I found the time to read and finished it yesterday. 

Currently reading:

  • Setting Free the Kites by Alex George - I could not keep my mitts off this one, I was so excited. And, so far, it's amazing. I love Alex's writing.

Possibly set aside:

  • I Can't Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan - I haven't decided whether to go back to page 1 and reread the 50 pages I've read (I didn't touch this one, during the past week) or just set this one aside for a while. I really was struggling with it, a bit, but I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's just the timing.

Posts since last Malarkey:

No reviews because last week was so crammed. I didn't manage to even open my F2F book, let alone make it to the meeting (and we're welcome to come, even if we haven't read the book).

In other news:

Huh. I thought of some other news to write, earlier, but I've gone blank. Oh, well. Better luck next week. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! See you next week!

©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.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fiona Friday - A hammock of sorts

At least, it looks a bit like a hammock-type space. Sleeping kitties seem to have become a theme. Well, this one sleeps a lot, so . . . there you go. I thought this position was pretty funny. Later on, the same night, Fiona climbed onto the other couch cushion and curled up, so I had to keep shifting myself to keep from squashing paws. I love it that my kitties want to be near me, even if one of them wouldn't climb on a lap to save her life (that would be Isabel).

©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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

October Reads in Review, 2016

I'm a bit late getting around to my October summary as I expected to write the last three remaining reviews before posting about the entire month. Since I still haven't gotten around to them and all three of the titles I haven't reviewed were from my personal shelves, I think a paragraph each will suffice. Links are provided (via title) for the three reviews I did get around to writing: A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, Carrying Albert Home, and Killfile.


87. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray - When the man who has inherited a Duchy goes missing, the personal secretary to the former Duke of Olympia goes in search of him, with help from the dashing Lord Silverton. Ghosts, mythology, archeology, seasickness, and even a little paranormal aspect made A Most Extraordinary Pursuit engaging and adventurous but a little over-the-top. The ending was not particularly satisfying. First in a series.

88. Landfall by Nevil Shute - During WWII, a pilot is sent on a reconnaissance mission and bombs what he believes to be a German submarine. Upon his return to base, though, he finds that a British sub has gone missing and articles of British naval clothing have been recovered from the precise location of the sub that he bombed. Is he guilty of friendly fire or did Jerry correctly spot and destroy a German craft? Plenty of tension is interspersed with a sweet romance and a few scenes that drag a bit. Overall, I absolutely loved Landfall.

89. Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam - Not so much a tall tale as a series of tall tales based on a family legend, Hickam tells about a road trip his parents made to return a pet alligator named Albert to his Florida home. I thought the book was a bit too long and certain incidents, while humorous, pushed my ability to suspend disbelief a bit too far. So, I found Carrying Albert Home only an average read.

90. Little Bee by Chris Cleave - The gut-wrenching tale of an affair, a broken marriage, a suicide, and a young woman's escape from danger in Africa, only to end up living in a detention center for two years and then . . . well, that's a spoiler. Little Bee was an F2F discussion book and the conversation was excellent; it's definitely great for discussion. But, I found the book too heartbreaking to love.

91. Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth - A former military man and telepath sells his services to the wealthy. But, when he's asked to retrieve information and wipe it from an entrepreneur's brain, things go horribly wrong. He and sidekick Kelsey find themselves being pursued by a man who can track their every move. A thriller that's nicely balanced, cinematically written (easy to visualize on-screen), with a touch of romance.

92. Spring Torrents by Ivan Turgenev - My classic choice of the month, the bittersweet story of a young Russian man who falls in love while on a European tour. But, when he's caught under the spell of a siren-like married woman, will he escape from her in time to return to his beloved? Well, you can guess from the use of the word "bittersweet". I liked Spring Torrents but it's probably not a book I'll reread.

Favorites of the month were Landfall and Killfile. I also enjoyed (but didn't fall in love with) Spring Torrents and A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Little Bee and Carrying Albert Home were my least favorites, although it seems a bit harsh to pair Carrying Albert Home - a book crammed with humor and adventure, if a bit overlong and hard to buy into - with Little Bee, a book so depressing I had to force myself to finish.

Not a great month, either for quantity or quality, but my two favorites were both excellent and the only book I kind of wish I could have avoided is Little Bee, which turned out to be one of those rare books I can't wait to get rid of.

©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.