Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Three mini reviews: In a Handful of Dust by M. McGinnis, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by M. Spark, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Y. Herrera

I bought all three of these books and don't have a lot to say about them, so I figured they're good candidates for mini reviews. [Note after writing the so-called "mini reviews": Apparently, I had more to say than I realized. Apologies for the length of this post.]

In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis continues the story of Lynn and Lucy from Not a Drop to Drink (link leads to my review). I never did find out what exactly it meant when I heard the first book was marketed as a "cross-over" novel, but In a Handful of Dust, like its predecessor, is not for the faint of heart. If you haven't read Not a Drop to Drink, this brief review may act as a spoiler, so be wary.

Ten years have passed since tragedy struck and Lynn had to make a crucial decision about whether to join up with neighbors to defend her stream or fend for herself. A community of sorts has been built up but now disease has struck the area and is rapidly killing off everyone Lynn and Lucy know and love. In an effort to save her surrogate daughter, Lynn decides that she and Lucy should walk from Ohio to California, where she's heard desalination plants allow for abundant drinking water.

Walking for that great a distance in a dystopian world obviously poses its challenges. And, some of the things they encounter are truly gruesome. But, that didn't bother me so much as two plot points. Both are spoilers but I can tell you that one of them had to do with the ending. It felt almost perfect and then I thought it was ruined by a decision by Lynn that made little to no sense. Beyond that, I can't say without ruining it but the ending disappointed me enough that I don't intend to hold on to the book for a reread. Not a Drop to Drink, on the other hand, was a 5-star read that I intend to revisit at some point. I'm glad I read In a Handful of Dust and I recommend it. I just didn't fall in love with it.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark has been sitting on my classics shelf for many years. I saw the movie starring Maggie Smith when I was quite young -- maybe 8 or 10 years old -- and it left such a strong impression that I've wanted to read it since I found out the movie was based on a novel. I'm presuming my copy of the book is one of many books that I bought from a salvage store when they got the remaining stock from a bookstore fire. That salvage stock was discounted so dramatically that it made a huge impact on the size of my home library. I've probably been hacking away at the books I purchased for at least 15 years.

At any rate, I chose The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie after ditching my first classic selection, earlier this month. Miss Brodie is an unorthodox teacher in a private girls' school. Rather than sticking to the prescribed curriculum, Miss Brodie tries to prepare her students for life by teaching a broad range of subject matter through storytelling and experience. A certain number of her students are known as the "Brodie set", the girls that she has chosen to invite to her home, to play golf with her, and to attend other weekend activities and whom she favors for reasons I never really could quite discern.

The book is told in retrospect by Sandie, one of the Brodie set who in later life became a nun. Miss Brodie's teaching method is often challenged and a number of people want to find a reason to fire her, but she's able to continue teaching for many years . . . until she's betrayed by one of her set, the girls she kept close and so completely trusted. As Sandie tells the story, the mystery of who betrayed her and why unfolds.

As young as I was when I saw the movie, I remembered the movie because of the betrayal. It so thoroughly shocked me that I've never forgotten it. The book was somewhat less shocking, maybe because of the expectation. I enjoyed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie but it's definitely not my favorite by Muriel Spark. That would be A Far Cry from Kensington, a book I've read more than once. I read Spark's memoir, Curriculum Vitae, back in the 90s and from that I learned that she had a teacher who taught like Miss Brodie, so it was particularly fun revisiting her teaching method

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrara, translated by Lisa Dillman, is a book that came highly recommended by a friend who reads a very wide variety of international material (unlike me . . . I tend to stick a little too closely to the Anglo world). It had been sitting on my wish list for probably a year when I read an article that compelled me to go ahead and buy a copy.

Makina's brother crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. when he heard that there was a parcel of land that belonged to his family. He never returned. Now, Makina's mother has decided the time has come for him to return, so she sends Makina to ask favors of three dangerous men who will help Makina cross the border and find her brother.

Makina is her tiny town's telephone operator. She speaks three languages (or, perhaps, two languages and a second dialect that is almost a third language) but she's discreet and never divulges the information in the conversations she overhears. She's a strong woman and knows she's important to the town because of the trust she's earned. She plans to return to Mexico.

But, when Makina arrives in the U.S., nothing quite meets her expectations. Her brother is elusive, the land the family allegedly owned clearly does not exist, and the crossing was much more dangerous than she anticipated. When she finally locates her brother and hears his story, she makes a startling decision.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a pretty amazing book. Stylistically, it's very understated and minimalist but there's an immediacy to the writing that leaves you feeling like you were there. I gave it 4 stars because of one particular word that the translator used repeatedly, but upon reflection I think it's really a 5-star book and the translator's interference was its only problem. The word is "versed" -- a word that she used generally to replace other action words like "walked" or "exited" or other words involving movement from one place to another. I didn't like it but after realizing it was kind of a made-up word, I started playing a game, of sorts, trying to mentally pick out the best word that could have been chosen in its place.

My favorite paragraph:

Makina had no idea what so-called respectable people were referring to when they talked about Family. She'd known families that were truncated, extended, bitter, friendly, guileful, doleful, hospitable, ambitious, but never had she known a Happy Family of the sort people talked about, the sort so many swore to defend; all of them were more than just one thing, or they were all the same thing but in completely different ways: none were only fun-loving or solely stingy, and the stories that made any two laugh had nothing in common. 

~p. 79

Author Daniel Alarc√≥n  (whose book War by Candlelight I read and loved in 2005) says Signs Preceding the End of the World is a "haunting and moving allegory about violence and the culture built to support and celebrate that violence." That kind of comment makes me want to go back to school to take the literature courses I missed out on. I would never have caught that, although violence is clearly a prominent theme. I'm definitely going to want to reread this one.

©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, May 24, 2016

Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child With No Strings Attached
By Hillary Whittington
Copyright 2015
William Morrow - Memoir
253 pp.

Raising Ryland is the story of one family's experience transitioning a very young child from female to male. I first became aware of Ryland's story when a video telling about how he transitioned went viral, a year or two ago:

Ryland's story at YouTube

It was the video of Ryland's transition along with a scathing opinion article attacking those who identify as transgender that convinced me I needed to read up on what exactly a transgender person is. I had no understanding whatsoever about what goes on in the mind of someone who is transgender but my viewpoint as a Christian has always been, "It's not my place to judge. I must love everyone equally." With that in mind, I began reading articles by and about the transgendered. When Raising Ryland came up for review, I jumped on it.

Because Ryland was so young when he declared that he was a boy, his transition is probably pretty controversial and I admit that I have mixed feelings. However, there were only two things about the Whittington's parenting that I questioned. One was the fact that they freaked out so early in Ryland's life. They grew Ryland's hair long, put her in cutesy dresses and bows, and then were embarrassed when their little girl refused to wear a bathing suit with a top, asked for clothing from the boys' department when shopping and hid in the closet, dressing in dad's clothing. I have a granddaughter whose parents tend to only put her in dresses for holidays. She wears a lot of pink but she's often dressed in jeans or leggings with a simple knit shirt. And, sometimes she doesn't want to wear a shirt at all. From my own experience, I can tell you that toddlers can be pretty stubborn about clothing and toys; that alone is not unusual. So, I thought they became concerned a little too quickly. However, they had already dealt with the fact that Ryland was born deaf, so perhaps they were more sensitive than they might have been, otherwise.

The only other concern I had is that Hillary Whittington says Ryland won't be changing his mind, although he has softened up about playing with more feminine toys, now that he's been allowed to transition. As open as they've been about allowing Ryland to transition, I would have expected them to be equally understanding if he changes his mind, some time in the future. Having said that, I suspect that if Ryland does change his mind, they'll be okay with it, even though the author is emphatic about him being transgender and that he won't change his mind. The future is yet to come.

Otherwise, nothing jumped out at me. When the author became concerned about her child's determination to be thought of as a boy, she researched transgender children and talked to experts. This was not a decision that was taken lightly and if you watch the video or read the book you'll find that Ryland's parents were motivated by the frightening statistic that 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide. More than anything, they wanted to raise children who are comfortable in their own skin and happy to be alive.

The bottom line is, we embarked on this path with Ryland specifically as a response to stories about the risks of suicide and self-harm, and because we refused to see that happen to our child.

p. 246

Recommended, particularly to those who are curious about why a child would transition to the opposite sex so young or what it means to be transgender. Memoirs can be humbly written, narcissistic, or somewhere in between. I felt like Raising Ryland leaned toward the self-congratulatory end of the spectrum but had no problem ignoring that. It's notable that the family lives in California, a state where anyone can use the bathroom of his or her choice (a California friend expressing her frustration at recent so-called "bathroom bills" told me of the lack of controversy in her state and said, "We pee happy!"). The Whittington family also has a strong support group with a particularly understanding family. I doubt transitioning a child so young would go quite as well in other states and for those who are lacking such an amazing support network. The writing itself was average, easy to read, nothing special.

What this book was missing:

A list of resources. I would have particularly liked to see a list of other books for further reading, particularly those mentioned in the book. I didn't think to flip to the end of the book to see if there was a reference section or I might have marked the few resources that were mentioned, as I'd definitely like to read more.

Just after I closed Raising Ryland, I found this wonderful article written by a Baptist preacher, which I found particularly helpful explaining the science of being transgender:

Seven Things I'm Learning About Transgender Persons

I also read the opposite viewpoint, an article written by a woman who was a tomboy as a child but eventually grew out of it:

I am Ryland -- The Story of a Male-Identifying Little Girl Who Didn't Transition

There are some distinct differences between the experiences of the former-tomboy who wrote the latter article and that of Ryland. Had I not read the book, I might have been swayed by that particular woman's opinion. Instead, I felt like some of what she said at the end of the article went further to prove that Ryland probably is genuinely transgender, rather than just a tomboy, as she implies. But, you really do need to read about what it means to be transgender to be aware of the differences, which are subtle but significant.

At any rate, I felt like I learned a bit from Raising Ryland but I need to read more to fully understand what it means to be transgender. Raising Ryland was definitely a good start on the road to understanding.

©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, May 23, 2016

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, 
  • I Can't Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan, and 
  • The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor - all purchased
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman - from HarperCollins for review
The covers of three of them are so pretty, it just occurred to me that I probably should have snapped a photo showing the covers, so here's a crappy phone photo I just took. While it's better than nothing, the cover of Signs Preceding the End of the World is black, not a grainy grey, and quite striking.

Books finished since last Tuesday's twaddle:

  • Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington - working on the review and finding it a bit difficult to express how I feel about this book. 
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark - The classic I settled on after deciding to ditch my first selection because it turned out to be a series of short stories.
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera - A one-sitting read, translated from Spanish.

Currently reading:

I plan to focus on Simon Van Booy's short stories in Tales of Accidental Genius, for the next few days. I've also started to read Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones and I like the writing but I'm not sure it's going to stick. I don't feel eager to pick it up at night, so it might not be the right time. If so, I'll switch to another novel, soon. I also need to start a new nonfiction because I like to balance one nonfic with a couple fiction reads but I haven't settled on one, yet. So, kind of a wishy-washy start to the reading week.

Last week's posts (only one after Tuesday Twaddle):

In other news:

Just two days after I posted a photo of our tomatoes, squirrels stripped the tomato plants of fruit, so Huzzybuns is pondering the possibility of building a small greenhouse. Bummer. We had a lot of tomatoes growing and they took every single one, even the tiny ones.

There's not much other news. We had a quiet weekend and the only real excitement was going shopping with a friend for canvases while they were on sale 67% off. They didn't have a couple of the sizes I was looking for, unfortunately, so I may have to go back to see if they've restocked, later in the week, but in the meantime I've got plenty of variety to work from. I've been painting mostly on small canvases because I only have a tabletop easel, so finding an easel that will hold larger canvases is next on the agenda. If you paint and can recommend a particular brand or type of easel, I'm open to advice. I want something sturdy that will adjust to hold either a large or small canvas.

What's up in your world?

©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, May 20, 2016

Random chatter and Fiona Friday

Just out of curiosity, is there anyone out there who remembers when I used to regularly post bird and flower photos? I haven't done that in a while. I was inspired to grab my camera by the red-headed woodpecker who has begun to regularly perch on our lamppost. I've only been able to snap him from the front door, so far, but isn't he pretty?

So . . . explanation about this post . . . I'm having the kind of week when you open the blog, load a book image, and then just sit staring at the monitor thinking, "Uhhh," and nothing comes. I could have taken off and just pre-posted my Fiona Friday cat pic but I really never write about my everyday life, anymore, so I thought I'd write a little about that and just tuck in a few pictures. Maybe writing about nothing much will loosen me up a bit and help break the problem I'm having with writing reviews.

We have mums growing. I'm loving the fiery burst of color:

We also have tomatoes, thanks to the spouse's optimism. After the first couple of years of planting things in pots on our deck and watching the squirrels strip even the flowers to the stems, I confess I gave up trying to grow anything at all in the backyard. We'll see if the squirrels run off with our tomatoes the moment they ripen.

Yesterday, my best buddy and I went to a monthly event sponsored by our town. We ate lunch in front of a local artist's studio while he painted and talked about . . . well, everything. He basically told us his life story with focus on how he became a successful artist, why he's a plein air painter and only paints from life (never photographs). His name is Wyatt Waters. Here he is, sketching:

Below, he stopped to talk a bit, possibly tired of sitting and talking. My friend and I had to cut out early and he's a meticulous craftsman, so what you see on the paper is the last we saw of the painting he was working on, before we left:

He painted the street in front of him -- a building and cars. I would have happily watched him all day (but only if there was some shade available; the sun was brutal) if I could have. I was fascinated by his careful attention to detail. I have a tendency to get so excited when I paint that globs go flying.

Speaking of painting, I don't remember whether or not I mentioned that I've just recently started painting. I painted in oils before my second pregnancy but quit when I found out I was expecting because I didn't want to expose the Kiddo to nasty chemicals. This time, I'm painting with acrylics because there's less fuss. I have no training, apart from a handful of workshops taken back in my oil painting days, but I'm having an awful lot of fun. Unlike Wyatt, I'm most comfortable painting from a photograph. I'm mostly dipping into my own files and I guess this guy (from a picture taken on my deck) is one of my favorites, so far, although an abstract that Kiddo named and has asked to have for his apartment wall (!!!!) is my runner-up:

Anyway, hopefully, this post will have purged my mind a little and I'll get back to writing reviews, next week. One of my favorite cat photos of the week gets to be today's Fiona Friday. This is a phone shot of Fiona. She was thinking about jumping up onto the couch but right after I snapped this, she got distracted, batted at something (neither of us know what) and accidentally knocked over an empty soda can, which hit the floor with such a resounding clatter that it scared her right out of the room. Crazy cat.

Happy Weekend to All!

©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, May 17, 2016

Tuesday Twaddle - A Visual Guide

Today's Twaddle (in lieu of malarkey, which was not possible yesterday, due to a Blogger snafu) will be mostly visual because there's so little to talk about. Actually, there's not all that much to photograph, either, but we won't go there.

Above is the photo I repeatedly attempted to load, yesterday, while I was reading it: Feather Brained by Bob Tarte. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've already seen it. I suppose that means I should take a different photo for the review, right? We'll see if I can be bothered. I did finish the book, last night, and I loved the ending.

I only got one book in the mail, last week, and it's one I purchased on a whim. I need to work on that whim business. I keep having attacks of whimsical purchasing.

In this case, The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek popped up when I was looking for something entirely unrelated, book-wise, at Amazon. It absolutely does not look like a book that would appeal to me, a WWI satire over 700 pages long, but for some reason I clicked on the image and read about it. And, within 2 days it was on my doorstep. I've flipped through it and I do like the light-hearted writing style. The real question is, "Will Bookfool be able to stick out a 700+ page book?" The usual answer is "no" but there have been exceptions.

I only finished one other book (besides Feather Brained), last week:

I loved A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki in an, "I want to hug this book" way. The picture makes me snicker. I don't know what possessed me to pose it with Japanese items but after I did, I thought, "That looks stupid; I should make an origami crane or something" (which is probably equally ridiculous), looked up paper cranes in two old origami books I own, failed to find any instructions, and gave up. So, that's the photo I'm currently stuck with. At any rate, the book is terrific and I particularly loved it for the reminder of our visit to Japan in 2011. But, I also adored Ruth Ozeki's writing and will be seeking out her first book.

I stopped everything to focus on A Tale for the Time Being (although that's a little misleading -- you'll see when I tell you why I read so little) read one story from Simon Van Booy's Tales of Accidental Genius, and then dived into Feather Brained, this week. I also settled on my classic of the month, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.  Unfortunately, I didn't realize Winesburg, Ohio is a set of interconnected short stories until I got to the second story, so I've temporarily set that aside and I'm considering either shifting to another book or just waiting to read it till after I finish Accidental Genius because I don't really want to read two books of short stories at the same time. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I picked up an entirely different book, this morning, for the change of pace:

Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington is nonfiction, the story of a very young girl who declared that she was a boy and has transitioned to boy (without, as far as I know, surgical intervention -- I'm not far enough to know that, yet). I know next to nothing about transgender people -- the psychology, the science, the way trans people feel. What little I've read has been frankly confusing. So, I figure one way to understand where the trans community is coming from is to read their stories. Call them sinners or mental cases or chemically whacked, if that's how you feel, but that's not my bag. What matters to me is understanding and respecting my fellow humans. Raising Ryland just happened to be offered to me by HarperCollins (before the so-called "bathroom bill" in North Carolina), so it's a start.

A brief diversion for links to last week's posts:

Just two posts, thanks to a raging migraine that lasted most of the week.

I also checked out a book from the library. There were two very cool things about that experience. One, there were many, many gorgeous black-eyed susans in bloom in the library gardens:

And, the librarian's fingernail polish accurately matched the book cover of my hold, The Nest:

I wish it had occurred to me to snap a picture of her hand on the book. It was cool, though, trust me. We both got a good laugh.

©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, May 16, 2016

Just reading, today

And, for some reason, I'm unable to upload an image. So, you get a couple of sentences in lieu of any kind of meaningful post. I'm almost finished with Feather Brained by Bob Tarte and enjoying it (although I confess I've been reading slowly because I feel obligated to look up many of the birds he mentions when he talks about birding excursions). More on that when Blogger problems have resolved.

©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.

Review Policy - Updated 5/16/16

I currently have a backlog of review books and am not accepting requests for review. Please ignore the conditions below, which I'm leaving in place in this post for convenience when writing future updates.

1. No e-books, PDFs or self-published books will be accepted, ever. I tried electronic books and discovered that I need and desire a solid book in hand, the ability to mark passages with Post-its, the feel of placing a bookmark inside a book and the satisfaction of closing a book when done. The only exception to this rule is self-published, bound books by friends or relatives. If you don't already know me, sorry.

2. I do not review books that require a post on a specific date, aka "book tours" or any other scheduled reviews, nor will I post specified content. My blog, my content.

3.  Any books accepted for review are subject to being ditched if they don't work for me. If I choose to DNF (Did Not Finish) a book, I reserve the right to say nothing at all about the book.

4. This is a new condition: If I accept a book for review, a "review" may consist of something as minimal as a single paragraph. You can say quite a bit in less than 50 words; I've discovered that during the times I've written "month in review" posts. But, don't ask me to review a book at all if you're not willing to accept very brief thoughts.

5.  I reserve the right to change this policy at any time.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

May 16, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

Fiona Friday - Pretty in Red

I lucked out and got a decent photo of Fiona, last week. Love the look of her dark fur against the red. I'll have to remember how good she looks against red if I ever get her a collar. The kitties don't wear collars because they're indoors-only but I've been thinking I might need to get them collars just in case they ever accidentally end up outdoors.

©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.