Monday, May 30, 2011

Mini Reviews - The Making of a Rogue, French Milk and Charleston Mysteries

I don't feel like writing elaborate reviews of the following three books, so I'm going with mini reviews. You'll be amazed at my brevity, if you're a frequent visitor.

The Making of a Rogue by Shana Galen was originally slated for release in April of 2011. Instead, it won't hit the shelves till February of 2012 and the title will be different, although, "ROGUE will still be in there," according to the author. When I found out about the delayed release, I was disappointed because I loved the first two books in this series and I was eager to read my ARC. I mentioned that to Shana and she said, "Go ahead and read it, Nancy." After a couple months of thinking I should wait, the book hollered at me and I gave in, this weekend.

The former Marquis de Valere thought he was the only survivor of an aristocratic family whose estate was burned during the French Revolution. After escaping with a faithful servant, he became a sailor and is now a privateer working for Spain under the assumed name Captain Cutlass. While Cutlass is in port, a young woman named Raeven -- who has been raised on ships helmed by her father, an Admiral in the British Royal Navy -- shows up bent on revenge over the fiance who was killed in a battle with Cutlass' ship. When he finds out she's a woman, he is totally turned on. And, she tries to harbor ill will but doesn't succeed. The two have many adventures on land and sea as they continue to cross paths and their attraction grows. With love comes danger when Raeven must stay onboard Cutlass' ship to fight with his sworn enemy while her father pursues the rogue whom he assumes has taken his daughter's innocence.

There's a lot of sex in this particular installment, but I was in the mood for adventure and romance, so I enjoyed The Making of a Rogue immensely, in spite of my distaste for graphic sex. Shana Galen's next book, Lord and Lady Spy, is due to be released in September of 2011 and I can't wait. I love the way she blends action, adventure and romance.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley is a graphic memoir, mostly illustrations with a smattering of photographs. Knisley spent over a month in Paris with her mother, when she was 22 years old, to celebrate her mother's 50th birthday, and the memoir is her account of her time in Paris in the form of a graphic novel.

Lucy headed to Paris sporting a new Nikon camera, her drawing materials and an unattractive attitude. Andi thought French Milk was "charming" and I read a brief review in which it was referred to as "honest". I found French Milk a little on the dull and annoying side, but I do believe the author manages to give her readers a decent sense of place. I would personally recommend Paris Was Ours over French Milk to those who are interested in reading about Paris, but French Milk is more of a quick-bite travelogue and Paris Was Ours is told from the perspective of a number of writers who have lived in Paris (sometimes in writings that may go over the head of a reader who knows little about France), so there's quite a difference.

The two things I loved about the book: the coat Lucy bought and the photographs speckled throughout. I like the illustrations, as well; the photographs are honestly not anything special. I just like the added dimension photographs give to a memoir. It's a personal preference. The thing I disliked most: references to her lover and some rather offensive illustrations of art (her favorite painting is, in my opinion, pretty disgusting), along with a bit of whining at the beginning of the book, although she does relax and enjoy herself more as time passes.

Charleston Mysteries: Ghostly Haunts in the Holy City by Cathy Pickens is part tour guide, part history. Divided into two sections, the first part is a walking tour of locations in the city that are said to be haunted and the stories behind the hauntings. Some are rather vague (as in, "This place may be haunted by Dude #1, but Dude #2 is another possibility"), some very specific. A small tour map marks the path and notes the locations of each haunted site.

The second book about Charleston, South Carolina, that I've finished since returning from Charleston, I found Charleston Mysteries very well-written and enlightening. Care and I did quite a bit of walking around the entire area in which the walking tour takes place and saw most of the places that are mentioned. In some cases, we didn't know the story behind a building or alley but were curious about certain signs or markings and I was thrilled to learn about the stories behind those mysterious markings. I'll definitely take this book with me on return trips.

The history portion of Charleston Mysteries is divided into topics such as "The King's Favor","Nature's Wrath: Storms Past and Present", "The Groaning Earth", and "Saving the Past". Charleston Mysteries is a very small book so nothing is treated with great depth but the ghost stories are satisfying and history chapters provide a nice overview of the city's fascinating past.

I've just finished reading Fire Season by Philip Connors, today, and I'm in the midst of moving books from one room to another, again, so I haven't settled on my next reads. I dropped two from my sidebar because I haven't touched them in over a week. I may continue to read both, but they'll stay out of the sidebar until I make significant progress.

What are you reading, today?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fiona Friday - A little this, a little that, both kitties & an Armchair BEA comment

First the kitties . . . Fiona hasn't been particularly cooperative about posing, this week, so this is pretty much all I've got of her . . . which really just goes to show that we need a lawn service which involves more than mowing alone. Our jungle is getting a bit intense when you can barely see out the window.

Isabel was really my star subject, this week. She crawled under my mother's cedar chest and reached out to play with Fiona (who disappeared the moment the camera came out). I'm not sure exactly how she managed to get under there, but she continued to play with Kiddo and moi after Fiona left.

Eventually, she ended up on top of the IKEA cabinets with a look of pure "Blah, I've had it. Nap time!"

The Armchair BEA question of the day that I've chosen is, "How do you keep your blog fresh?" I don't know that I do. Occasionally, I feel like my blog becomes "same old, same old" and I do try to liven it up. It's true that you never know what I'll write about. A family anecdote may sneak in or a picture of a ghost (previous post). If I'm having difficulty writing about a book, I go with the so-called "self-interview", which most people seem to enjoy as a change of pace. And, I do try not to keep all my reviews so formal as to make you think the author likely has a bad wheeze and a cane. Fiona Friday, fairly regular photographs, and book reviews are my constants. I could probably stand some tips on freshening up the blog.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chime by Franny Billingsley and a ghost story

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Copyright 2011
Dial Books - YA/Fantasy
358 pages

I was uncertain quite how to classify Chime; however, The Enchanted Inkpot (where you can read an excellent interview with author Franny Billingsley) describes it as a fantasy novel. When I read that, I thought, "Oh. Of course it is." I guess it's the word "witch" that made me think "paranormal", but fantastical world-building is definitely the essence of fantasy, isn't it? Chime takes place in a little village called Swampsea in 1920s (in Great Britain).

The sky was the color of porridge. The wind slapped at the ancient trees. It slapped at me too, but I slapped back and pushed ahead. I mustn't miss my opportunity. The Boggy Mun shows himself just as the evening mist rises, and he keeps strict business hours.

--p. 89 of Chime, Advance Reader Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Briony is a witch and she hates herself for the wicked things she has done. When she becomes angry, terrible things happen. It was Briony's jealousy that led to her sister's injury, an injury that has made her not quite right in the head. Briony has no choice but to stay in Swampsea to care for Rose, now that Stepmother has died. Stepmother, herself, was injured when Briony's anger called Mucky Face up from the swamp.

Eldric has come to stay at the parsonage with Briony, Rose and their father. A kind-hearted but impish young man of 22, Eldric is immediately attracted to Briony and the feeling is mutual. But another young man, Cecil, has a claim on Briony -- or, so he says -- and when the dark and beautiful Leanne arrives, she puts Eldric under her spell.

When the Boggy Mun sends the swamp cough to the village out of anger over the draining of the swamp and Rose comes down with the deadly cough, only Briony can save her sister. But, at what cost? If Briony confesses the reason she knows about the swamp cough, she'll be hanged as a witch. Will Briony confess to her crimes and hang to save Rose? Or, can she bargain with the Boggy Mun? Will Leanne win the heart of the only person who can make Briony smile? And, what really caused Stepmother's death?

What I loved about Chime:

There is so very much to love about Chime that I'm worried this review will be senselessly gushy to the point of superfluity. It's a distinct possibility. I like the brief description I wrote about Chime on Monday, so I'm going to repeat it for posterity:

Chime is dark and atmospheric, beautifully written, massively creative and surprising. I love the way the author turns everything on its head at the end but manages to drop enough hints that the ending is believable.

In general, I don't like books that are dreadfully dark, although an atmospheric book is a different matter entirely. I'm always searching for a thread of hope in my reading and a book that drips with atmosphere doesn't necessarily have to lack moments of levity. For example:

Eldric laughed at himself, and I found myself laughing too. It had been ages since I'd heard my own laugh. It was rusty, but serviceable.

--p. 19

By page 19, although you're barely into the book, the dark setting already is so deeply resonant as to make Eldric and his father a breath of fresh air, Briony's moment of laughter a surprise and a hint of what may come.

[Vocabulary note for Care: I'm using the following definition of resonate when I say "deeply resonant": to be understood or receive a sympathetic response -- you know, as opposed to the one related to sound waves reverberating off the wall. I just figured you'd want to know. ;)]

Chime is very dark, but cleverly inserted flashes of light kept me going. And, as it turns out . . . Briony doesn't know herself well at all.

I found the book practically flawless in tone, characterization, plot and pacing. The writing is evocative, the setting unique (at least, I haven't read anything similar) and immersive, the dialogue witty.

"If Petey were a color," I said, "he'd be puce."
"Yes, of course!" said Eldric. "What if he were an animal?"
"Historical personage?"
"Robespierre and the reign of terror," said Eldric. "Fancy that--I remember Robespierre. Some of the bloodier bits of my lessons must have stuck. Is Petey engaged in a reign of terror?"
"The word reign is a bit resplendent for Petey," I said.

--p. 109

What I disliked about Chime:

Oh, dear. I can't think of a thing, so let me backtrack a bit. I attempted to read Chime before I left for Charleston. I thought the first 12 (or so) pages were relentlessly negative -- Briony's inner monologue about her wickedness, Rose's complaining (followed by an interval of high-pitched screaming), Briony's reflections on death, disaster and her father's emotional distance. I considered not giving the book a second chance, but then I decided a dozen pages does not an acceptable attempt make.

Thank goodness for second chances. Chime is definitely going on my list of favorites for the year. In fact, I loved it so much I'm tempted to reread it immediately, but I'll just share another quote and force myself to find a spot on the good shelves.

Wolfgirl and lion-boy loped past tangles of blueberry bushes. The moon followed us into the Slough. We snickled through ferns and scrub and moon shavings and root tangles and logs frilled with overlapping mushrooms.

We leapt into snickleways, waded through velvet ooze. We dripped out the far side, trailing smells of sulfur and rotten eggs.

We laughed at the sulfur. We laughed at the rotten eggs. We laughed at the drifts of moon-peel. We laughed.

--p. 184

Cover thoughts:

I love the cover of the book for it's beauty and mystery, although it doesn't look very 1920s to me. I can't say quite why. Maybe because I think "long, dangly necklaces" rather than chokers when I think 1920s?

The bottom line:

If you like a masterfully written, highly creative, witty, dark fantasy with rays of light peering through its tangled branches, Chime is the book for you. I just can't praise it highly enough. Especially recommended to those who are looking for an atmospheric read. Definitely a perfect choice for the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge pile.

Speaking of atmosphere:

Want to see something really creepy? Wait, let me tell you the story, first. Whilst in Charleston, my two buddies and I took a "Ghost and Cemetery Tour," a tour of haunted places in Charleston. One of the places we stopped is an alley in which duels took place. Our guide told us that unlike what we typically see in the movies, duels took place in an alley to prevent injuries to innocent bystanders when bullets went astray. In this very alley, a doctor was killed by a rival after the doctor passed up the opportunity to fire at his opponent and shot his gun to the sky.

I took a series of photos of the alley, the night of our tour. Because it was very dark, I knew there would likely be a good bit of camera movement and my best shot at getting a single decent frame involved taking a number of photos and hoping one of them would turn out. In each of the photos, there is a blue light in the lower right-hand side of the photos. What's creepy? The light moved. It started out in front of the stones bordering the small garden on the right and then moved up and forward (and then back down), toward the innocent photographer. WooooOoooo. Creepy. Here's one of those photos:

Can you see the blue light? It's a bit difficult to spot in reduced size [Update: I just attempted to enlarge the photo by clicking on it and it worked, so give that a try if you can't spot the light!]. It's directly down from the bottom of the closest tree. Nothing grabbed or shoved me and I felt no chill. Trick of the light? You tell me.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Skinny by Diana Spechler

Skinny by Diana Spechler
Copyright 2011
HarperPerennial - Fiction
353 pages, including a conversation with the author
Diana Spechler's website

After the death of her father, Gray Lachmann begins binge-eating and gains 15 pounds. Distressed about the weight gain and surprised by unexpected news from the family's lawyer, Gray decides to leave New York City to work at a fat camp in the South.

From the author's website (having trouble figuring out how to describe this one):

"There, caught among the warring egos of her devious co-counselor Sheena, the self-aggrandizing camp director Lewis, his attractive assistant Bennett and a throng of combative teenage campers, she is confronted by a captivating mystery: her teenage half-sister Eden, whom Gray never knew existed. Now, while unraveling her father's lies, Gray must tackle her own self-deceptions and take control of her body and her life."

Up-front warning:

As I began to read Skinny, I realized something that has never really clicked for me. I absolutely cannot stand reading about people eating heavily. Lengthy descriptions of food, particularly food that's really bad for you, disturb me in a very visceral way (as in, "Yeeurgh. Queasy!"). In the future, I think I'm going to totally avoid books about eating disorders.

While I had a hint of this when I read The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen, there was a serious difference between the two books in that The Sugar Queen was less a book about a person with an eating disorder than a story of friendship with a surprising twist. Skinny is about people with serious weight problems, particularly one woman who is an emotional eater and a general disaster. She does develop a single friendship but it degenerates into a messy affair that pretty much destroys any possibility of an upbeat side coming to the fore.

What I liked about Skinny:

Obvious prejudice against the topic aside, there was very little that I liked about Skinny. I read the additional material in the back of the book, an author interview in which Diana Spechler explains what she was trying to accomplish, expectations after her very Jewish first book, Who by Fire, and a list of some of her favorite "not-entirely-likable protagonists".

Just so you know the significance of the list of unlikable protagonists, the author's intent was to write about a character who is not likable -- in this case, a fairly thin person who perceives herself as fat but who is in some way compelling. And, therein the problem lies. Spechler does have a smooth writing style; her writing is intelligent. So, the book is a very quick read. But, I didn't find Gray compelling.

What I disliked about Skinny:

Let's talk about Gray, the protagonist in Skinny, shall we? Gray is a mess. She's a stress eater and blames herself for her father's death. She's been in a lengthy relationship that she may have stayed in at least partly to be cruel to her father. Gray has removed everything she owns from the apartment she shares with her live-in boyfriend, but can't seem to decide whether or not she's going to return to him. And, she's unfaithful. There's a lot to dislike about Gray. And, of course, the author set out to craft her in that manner.

However, Gray is exactly like her name-- a very foggy, rather dull person. Her angst is unfortunately not all that interesting. I never did really care about Gray and I considered abandoning the book, many times. Why didn't I? Two reasons: First, I was having difficulty focusing and Skinny is very readable. Second, I briefly had a nagging feeling that I've been abandoning a few too many books. Actually, abandoning books that don't grab me seems to have worked very, very well during the first 4 months of the year and I think I need to return to that practice. But, back to Skinny . . .

There are many other things I disliked about the book. It lacked a thread of hope. I don't mind a book that is sad, tragic, depressing, dark, or focused on an unlikable character provided there is a thread of hope, some form of redemption/change, or the character is so utterly fascinating that you just can't put the book down. Kate Christensen's The Epicure's Lament is an excellent example of a book with a character who is dreadful but oddly appealing in some twisted way.

There were exactly three likable characters:

Spider - A girl with numerous deadly allergies and a fascination for random but interesting facts,
Bennett - The handsome and magnetic athletic director, and
The nurse (whose name I don't recall) - A woman who is untrained but competent and kind.

The rest of the cast was a hodge-podge of characters who were spiteful, obnoxious, cliquish, revolting, egotistical or almost devoid of personality. The camp itself is run by a man who has an overblown ego and no understanding of nutrition or weight loss. The counselors are untrained (except for Bennett) and, in fact, really quite dangerous.

I was actually a little disgusted that there were so many unlikable characters. Perhaps if the setting had been more realistic, rather than appearing to be deliberately disastrous, I would have felt a little more comfortable with the book. As the book progresses, most of the young characters attending the camp do evolve and gain confidence. But, there was just such a strong negative vibe -- poorly-run camp, horrid personalities, unqualified employees and cliques rather than genuine friendships. It was too much for me. Of the three most likable characters, one eventually is forced to leave the camp and another is diminished by succumbing to bad behavior.

The bottom line:

Skinny just wasn't for me and I don't feel comfortable recommending it. It's only been about two weeks since I finished the book, but I don't actually remember the ending. That's pretty unusual for me. Suffice it to say, the book was a major disappointment after the depth of craftsmanship the author exhibited in her first book, Who by Fire.

My thanks to TLC Books and HarperPerennial for the review copy.

I hate writing negative reviews because I know how much an author puts his or her heart and soul into the writing. If it didn't happen to be a tour book, I would not have written more than a paragraph about Skinny in my monthly summary to avoid a heavily negative review. Let us end this on a happy note, with flowers:

My next review will be very gushy and upbeat, with lots of quotations.

For those who are returning to look for BEA posts (that's Book Expo America, for those of you who may be related to me or not acquainted with the lingo of the book-obsessive part of the blogging world), I may or may not participate in further BEA posting activity. The nasty cold that's been throwing me for a loop kept me from posting or visiting other blogs yesterday (Tuesday), but I had such fun visiting new blogs on Monday that I hope to participate a bit more; I just can't say what I'll be up to. We shall see. Happy reading to all!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA Intro


I wasn't going to bother posting (thought I'd be lazy and read the Armchair BEA posts but not do one of my own) since I have a nasty cold. But, what the heck. Might as well introduce myself if I'm going to visit others.

I'm "arm-chairing" because BEA (Book Expo America, that is) simply didn't fit into my summer plans. Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to meet up with fellow blogger Care and author friend Cindi in Charleston, South Carolina, and we had a fabulous time. Later in the summer, I'll be traveling to two weddings, including that of my eldest son!

June 6 will be my 5-year blogging anniversary, so I've been around for a while. I've yet to make it to BEA, but maybe someday. We'll see.

A little about me. I am in floody Mississippi.

We've been in the news a good bit, lately (that's a Fox News camera) but I'm a good 5 miles from the Mississippi River, as the crow flies, so it has not caused us any trouble apart from the annoyance of reading inaccurate and/or overblown news articles. I am a BIG fan of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and grateful that their work has kept the flood from being a deadly disaster on the scale of the 1927 flood (in spite of breaking flood records).

My blog has always been a combination of personal and book blogging with book reviews, photos, anecdotes about family and my cats -- kind of a hodge-podge, although at times I just focus on books, for a while. I'm an extremely eclectic reader. It's actually easier to tell people what I don't read than what I do; and, even then . . . sometimes I do step outside my comfort zone, so I guess it's best to just say I avoid violence/gore, true crime and graphic sex. I read a pretty broad variety of fiction, history, classics, young adult novels and children's books. I frequently mention Simon Van Booy, a favorite author whom I've met, interviewed and been charmed by.

These two gals (Isabel and Fiona) get a lot of air time:

I tend to pepper my posts with photographs (some of which are obviously not so hot) and I'm kind of a free spirit. I don't necessarily follow along with the trends, so you'll seldom see things like "Mailbox Monday" or "Library Loot" updates on my blog, although I do take the occasional photo of recent arrivals. Still . . . you're more likely to see flowers, cats or the adorable children of total strangers, since my photos are generally added as decoration.

Plus, I love flowers, beautiful scenery, small children, cats, people walking dogs, looking into each others eyes with affection, reading (the lady in the background with the dogs is smiling -- I love friendly people):

My posts are a little more sporadic than normal, these days, and I'm attempting to keep them shorter because of the fact that I'm making some lifestyle changes that are cutting into blogging time. So, occasionally I'll disappear for a week or just not visit other blogs because I'm too busy. But, I always return. It's like an addiction. But, I prefer not to be cured.

The book I've most recently finished is Chime by Franny Billingsley. If you participate in the annual RIP Reading Challenge in the fall, I highly recommend you grab a copy of Chime. It's dark and atmospheric, beautifully written, massively creative and surprising. I love the way the author turns everything on its head at the end but manages to drop enough hints that the ending is believable. I'm working on a review of Chime, right now.

Happy Armchair BEA, everybody!!

Bookfool, aka Nancy

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fiona Friday - A Whole Wide World Out There (that nobody will let me explore)

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Charleston is Burning! by Daniel J. Crooks, Jr.

Charleston is Burning! Two Centuries of Fire and Flames
By Daniel J. Crooks, Jr.
Copyright 2009
The History Press
128 pages, incl. bibliography

The history of Charleston [South Carolina] in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was shaped by fire. Hundreds of infernos resculpted the face of the Holy City, carving out huge chunks of the town and scarring the landscape and its citizens as well. Each new generation learned from the last, keeping a leather bucket full of sand handy should the smell of smoke prompt an alarm.

What folks didn't learn so well was how to prevent the most common types of fires, usually associated with carelessness and neglect. Candles could not burn near drapes without the inevitable happening. Chimneys constantly caught fire . . .

--from the Introduction of Charleston is Burning!

Charleston, South Carolina has a history of frequent, devastating fires that I found so intriguing I wanted to read about it, so I purchased a copy of Charleston is Burning! while I was visiting the city. The book talks about early causes of fire and why the close-built, cheaply-timbered buildings easily flamed up and caused major conflagrations.

The author also describes the beginnings of fire regulation in Charleston -- or, at least, the attempts to educate citizens and convince them to follow some basic safety guidelines (apparently, not very successfully) -- as well as the changes in how fire was fought: first by general citizens forming a bucket brigade, then volunteers and slaves using hand pumps followed by steam engines, and eventually organized volunteer and (after 200 years of fires) paid fire departments.

There are lots of illustrations, photographs and excerpts from period newspapers and other documents along with a map of Charleston that is, unfortunately, marked in such tiny letters that I couldn't read most of them even with a pretty powerful magnifying glass. The illustrations and photos add a nice dimension to the book, allowing the reader to peer into history rather than just read about it blindly. I always love a book with plenty of photos.

While we were in Charleston, Cindi and I were headed toward the waterfront when we passed the main fire station. There are two older fire trucks on display at the station, as well as this beautiful old steam engine:

Thanks to Cindi for spotting the displayed relics! I really enjoyed Charleston is Burning! At times it could be a little dry and, of course, a bit repetitive. But, there were many different causes and effects of the various fires. Each fire described chose a different path and the excerpts from old documents really brought things to life. I was particularly fascinated and horrified by the way slaves were used to do a good portion of the hard labor involved in putting out fires and also frequently blamed for arson (often, apparently, to cover up carelessness on the part of others).

Here's an excerpt from the Mercury (a local newspaper) describing the June 26, 1826 fire, to give you an idea of how fascinating the accounts of the time were:

The devouring element, impelled by its violence, soon crossed over to the east side of King Street. It also extended down Boundary Street as far as the Orphan House, which noble institution was for a time in very imminent danger . . . imagination can scarcely conceive the fury and impetuosity with which the destructive element advanced . . . whether it arose by accident or design has not been ascertained. One man was severely mangled, we are informed, by the explosion of a house, and several others more or less injured

All possible praise is due to the zealous exertions of our citizens generally, and particularly to the labor and efforts and manly intrepidity of the different Fire and Axe Companies.

--from p. 43 of Charleston is Burning!

The bottom line:

A nice little book about the history of Charleston's fires, at times a bit dry but never for long. Particularly recommended to those who have been to Charleston or are interested in its history. Some of the descriptions about what burned and where will make little sense without either a map or some sense of context, but the history of the fire department and excerpts from historical documents are particularly fascinating. Since I just returned from Charleston, I knew the major streets and the lack of maps wasn't a problem, but I really would have liked to see some visuals that showed the burn areas a little more specifically than just aftermath photos (translation: I like maps). Charleston is Burning! is short at 128 pages, but includes 3 full pages worth of bibliography material. I do have two other books about Charleston, both fairly small, so I'm not done reading about Charleston, yet!

One last note:

I highly recommend printing out a map of Charleston to keep close at hand if you read Charleston is Burning!

Funny coincidence:

As I was writing this review, a volunteer fire truck pulled up in front of our house. We knew the house wasn't on fire and there was only one man in the truck, so Kiddo and I stood outside watching in fascination, eager to see what he was up to.

Aha! Probably related to the drop in water pressure we had, early today. Checking the fire hydrant and letting out some water. This was a pretty cool sight. Very entertaining. Kiddo wished aloud that he was younger so he could justify playing in the spray.

We just got that fire hydrant during the change of water pipes, last year. I have to say, it's awfully nice knowing there's a hydrant so near to your house.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

When a Dragon Moves In by Moore and McWilliam

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam
Copyright 2011
Flashlight Press/Ages 4-8
32 pages

If you build a perfect sandcastle,
a dragon will move in.
He'll settle in all cozy
and peep at you from inside . . .
. . . and you'll wonder how you ever got so lucky.

When a little boy spends a day at the beach and builds a beautiful sandcastle, a dragon moves in. The dragon toasts marshmallows, holds up the little boy's kites, scares bullies away. He roars (like the sound of the ocean), has sharp teeth (like broken shells) and eats a little too much of the family's food. As you read When a Dragon Moves In, you are clearly shown that the dragon is simply a figment of the little boy's imagination. His father lounges on the beach and chases away the bullies, mother reads her book and hears the sound of the ocean, not a roar.

What a beautiful, imaginative, perfect picture book for preschoolers! I love the way the illustrator's cheerful paintings make it plain that the dragon isn't real and it's okay for youngsters to pretend -- but careful what you try to slip past the rest of the family. Blaming your misdeeds on an imaginary friend only goes so far!

Highly recommended for little ones and new readers. My thanks to Flashlight Press for the review copy!

In other news:

Gosh. I'm having a little trouble getting back into the swing of things. Huzzybuns put down about 3/4 of the office floor while I was away and I've spent the last three days catching up on laundry, moving books from cabinets that need to be moved, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Oh, yes -- and editing Charleston photos. Too many! Did I tell you I took about 2,000 photos? Eeks.

Anyway, back to the flooring. I'm going to have to move the computer and the desk has developed a little paper entropy (piles, piles, where do they come from?) so first I have to tidy that. I think, since I have over a week till my tour and only one more book finished, I'll go ahead and write a little about Charleston is Burning! then just show up when I find the time. As I've said before, posting is going to have to be very sporadic, this summer, and blog-hopping is just a, "When I can get to it," thing. There's a lot of not-getting-to-it going on. Things should settle down in the fall. I hope.

Want to see a photo of three chicks on a Charleston adventure? Here you go:

Left to right: Bookfool, Care and Cindi. That's not a great shot of Care, so I'll share one I think is much better with you. In this shot, Care's wearing the dress I kept telling her she ought to buy! Doesn't she look cute?

Gotta go clean, clean, clean. Happy day!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Where's Fiona Friday?

I spent 5 wondrous nights away from my kitties, so Fiona Friday was cancelled by default (sleepy traveler, no new photos of cats). This is where I've been:

Charleston, South Carolina!!! I went on a Girls' Trip with Care of Care's Online Book Club and my old friend Cindi, author of No More Bobs. We had such fun! We were welcomed with open arms.

Charleston was warm and muggy. Just about anything and everything you can imagine was in bloom.

We visited churches and graveyards, walked down quiet alleys, soaked in the history and the beautiful sights.

I went on a schooner sail on my own. On a boat with a capacity of 49, there were only 5 of us. I made 2 new friends and took a ridiculous number of photos (most of them awful -- I neglected to change my camera settings . . . oops).

There are so many beautiful little details in Charleston: ironwork, door knockers, garden decorations.

Here's a self-portrait -- Bookfool on a carriage ride! It's probably pretty hard to see me, but I'm wearing pink.

I only finished one book the entire week. Argh. Hopefully, I'll be back to normal reading and posting, soon. The book I just finished, Skinny by Diana Spechler, is a tour book and the tour date is still a few weeks off. So, I may just have to find other ways to entertain you for a while. I hope to be back to visiting blogs, soon, too! Hope everyone had a fabulous reading week!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble

The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble
Copyright 2011
Thomas Nelson - Historical with a touch of Romance/Christian/Mystery
292 pages

I'm going to go with the ultra-casual review method because this book is kind of twisty. It's 1910 (but the author didn't bother to share that bit of info; I figured it out by looking up the return of Halley's Comet, which is mentioned several times, and early plane flight). Olivia Bennett is 25, her father is dead, the family is running out of money. Big sis Eleanor was set to get hitched to her father's business partner's son (got that?), Harrison Bennett. But, when Eleanor tragically dies under suspicious circumstances, the elder Bennett says, "Deal off. Unless you'll let your other daughter marry my boy. Because, you know, we've got the money and you've got the respectability."

Oh, those crazy early 20th-century fusspots. Olivia is naturally miffed but she's sure Eleanor was murdered. So, utilizing a convenient "family title", she calls herself Lady Devonworth, packs up her bags and heads from New York to Mercy Falls, California, even though there's a murderer in California and plenty of fat, wealthy men to marry nearby.

What do diamond mines, a ball to earn funds for a lightkeeper and an airplane have to do with Olivia? And, is someone trying to dim her lights for good or are the culprits after Harrison? Is Harrison good or bad? Where is God in all this mess?

What I liked about The Lightkeeper's Ball:

Stuff happens. The Lightkeeper's Ball is a busy, plot-heavy book, so it's full of action. It's the third book in a series but stands alone well. That's always good. I also love the cover, even though it is so wrong it makes me feel like "The Sucker Who Fell for the Red-Dress Cover." I finished it but was tempted to give up, several times. At some point I finally decided I was going to finish it and enjoy it, tough luck if I couldn't buy into the story.

What I disliked about The Lightkeeper's Ball:

Unfortunately, I have to confess that I never, ever managed to get to the point of suspension of disbelief. Not even close. I was actually quite stunned to find out the author is a Rita award-winning author and this is her 18th title. This author could seriously use a reality check. The book reads like a list of plot points with a lot of fluffy fun in between. There were way too many dramatic incidents that I just flat could not buy into. I'm tempted to write about them but I'm sure Colleen Coble has plenty of fans and I don't want to spoil the book for them. It simply did not work for me.

Cover thoughts:

Grrrr. That is not a ballgown from 1910 and it makes me feel very, very pissy. I was totally confused until I looked up the earliest 20th-century return of Halley's Comet and then google-image searched dresses and ball gowns in 1910. The ball is a masquerade, but it's not right for that, either, since the heroine dresses as Juliet. Total cover fail.

Let's end this on an upbeat note, with a pretty kitty pic. I just love kitty pics, don't you?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some wahoos

I think it's time for a few happy pics, don't you? Wahoo #1 is recent arrivals. I think this is about a month's worth:

Top to bottom:

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker - Surprise from Algonquin Books
Skinny by Diana Spechler - from HarperPerennial for review
Chime by Franny Billingsley - from Dial for review
Julia's Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child - from Paperback Swap
Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride Around the World on Two Wheels by Peter Zheutlin
A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott - from Paperback Swap
The Reconnection by Dr. Eric Pearl - from author's protegee for reading group
In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck - from Paperback Swap

Wahoo #2 - A fun pic of Isabel. Love the nice, direct gaze. I can only capture that lovely look if it's bright enough where I'm shooting to avoid flash and the blinding distance-UV light.

Wahoo #3 - At least, it's a wahoo for somebody. I just think it's a happy photo. Wish the water park had been around when my kids were young.

Happy Wednesday!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, May 09, 2011

April Reads in Review (2011)

Time to look back on another joyful reading month!! Plus, another thing to look back on . . .
May is going to totally suck after April; I'm certain of it. How can you possibly beat two Sarah Addison Allen books in one month?

While The Goose Girl probably would have to be my top book if I picked just one, I think it's really a 4-way tie between The Goose Girl, The Winter Ghosts, The Peach Keeper and The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Even that feels unfair. Astoundingly (given the past few wonderful months), I loved almost everything I read, again!!! One exception: True Courage by Steve Farrar. I liked it but didn't love it.

A Wonder Book [for Girls and Boys] by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Winter Ghosts were the two books that probably surprised me the most. I loved the graceful writing in both and, although The Winter Ghosts was slow-paced, in the end I found the story has continued to haunt me. Pun intended.

On Maggie's Watch was a bit surprising, too, fun and light but with an unexpected depth. Pictures of You -- while I didn't love the ending, I couldn't put the book down and that made it a winner. I could relate to the emotions and found it so gripping that Caroline Leavitt had some serious sleep-deprivation to account for, after I finished.

I read four children's books, this month. Loved them all: Grandma's Attic, More Stories from Grandma's Attic, Quiet Bunny's Many Colors and Kat, Incorrigible.

That leaves one book of poetry and a travel memoir. Both were enjoyable in different ways. I particularly appreciated the notes on each author and poem included in The Best American Poetry, 2009, because they helped me understand a little about poetry that had never clicked. Radio Shangri-La was fascinating chiefly for the armchair travel and learning experience. Incidentally, the author of Radio Shangri-La is trying to raise funds to build libraries in Bhutan.

Summary: Squeeee! Great month! Happy reader!!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

To all the moms and all of those born to one . . .

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Fiona Friday - You're going to shine that flash thing in my eyes, aren't you?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Copyright 2011
Bantam - Fiction
273 pages

What's it about?

Willa Jackson's family used to be wealthy but met with disaster when the logging industry failed. Now their former mansion, the Blue Ridge Madam, is being restored by none other than Paxton Osgood, the annoying socialite who used to drive Willa nuts. Willa stays on the touristy side of town running her sporting-goods store while Paxton puts on a false smile and plays the socialite. Everyone thinks Paxton has a charmed life. The truth is . . . Willa's jaded and Paxton's sad.

But circumstances will throw Willa and Paxton together. There's a whole mess of stuff I can't seem to stick into a coherent sentence, so here are some of the ingredients you'll find in The Peach Keeper: A long-buried secret, a nasty ghost that can only be put to rest when Willa and Paxton find some answers, a cherished long-lived friendship and an unlikely new one, a little haunting, a touch of magic, and a good dollop of romance.

That book description was longer than expected:

It is always very difficult to summarize a book by Sarah Addison Allen. There are so many strands to her books.

What did Bookfool think?

I am totally convinced there's no such thing as a bad book by Sarah Addison Allen. I absolutely love the blend of magic and Southern life, the gradual unfolding of mysteries from the days of Willa and Paxton's grandmothers' younger years, the slow-building romance. In this case, Willa and Paxton's friendship added a really sweet touch. I adore the way relationships are built slowly in this author's novels; they're believable and real. The relationship between Willa and Paxton's grandmothers is also quite touching in The Peach Keeper.

The bottom line:

If you like a magical Southern story with a touch of mystery, a dash of the paranormal, sweet, slow-building romance and a very lovely friendships, buy this book.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours and Bantam Books for the review copy.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
Copyright 2009
G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Historical Fiction/Paranormal
265 pages

In his right hand, Freddie carried directions scribbled on the back
of a napkin from Bibent, where he'd lunched on filet mignon and a blowsy Bordeaux. In his left-hand breast pocket, he carried a letter patterned with antiquity and dust. It was this--and the fact that, at last, he had the opportunity to return--that brought him back to Toulouse today. The mountains where he'd come across the document had some strong significance for him, and though he had never read the letter, it was precious to him.

p. 4 of The Winter Ghosts, ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

What's it about?

The Winter Ghosts is the story of Freddie, a grown man whose psyche has been wounded by parents who ignored him and the shock of devastating loss. During WWI, Freddie had a bit of a breakdown after his brother's death and he's still trying to come to terms with his loss a dozen years later. You could say he retains only a tentative grip on his sanity; at first, it seems as if he may fall apart at any moment.

The year is 1928. Seeking to resolve his feelings, Freddie travels to the Pyrenees, where he gets caught in a blizzard, has a wreck and hears the whispering of a ghost. Injured, he makes his way to a remote town in the mountains . . . and has an even more bizarre ghost experience. But, a young woman named Fabrissa leads Freddie to an important discovery that will help him recover and lead an entire village to healing and redemption.

What did Bookfool think?

Bookfool thinks you should be patient with this one. The Winter Ghosts is one of those books that I nearly abandoned because of a slow beginning and a sad wimp of a protagonist. At least, Freddie is hard to love, at first. As his background is revealed, Freddie's breakdown makes more sense. After his accident and hike into the mountains, things start to become more interesting. The pace picks up, more characters are introduced and -- although none of them are treated with much depth -- there is a sense of place that comes to the fore when he reaches the village.

Is The Winter Ghosts creepy?

I would use the words "haunting" and "atmospheric" but I didn't find this particular ghost tale creepy or frightening. The plot is even a little transparent, once you get to a certain point. Did I mind? No, by that point I actually liked the fact that I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen and why.

I don't know that everyone would find it so predictable. I used to be absolutely terrible at figuring out plots before I reached endings, but it's really a rare author who totally catches me off-guard, these days. Sometimes I like being surprised at every turn and other times (as in the reading of Taichi Yamada's Strangers), I enjoy a slow unfolding of events because I'm swept up by craftsmanship and the overall storyline. In those cases, a certain amount of predictability doesn't hinder my enjoyment. And, I did like Kate Mosse's writing style, once I became accustomed to her pacing.

The bottom line:

Definitely recommended to the patient reader who doesn't mind a slower pace for the sake of lovely writing. Nearly two weeks after I finished reading The Winter Ghosts, it still hasn't let go of me. An atmospheric book with a well-grounded historical basis for its ghostly elements. The Winter Ghosts is slow-paced, but picks up speed, midway. The book is weakened a bit by a rather unlikable protagonist and his "redemption" is a bit rushed so I wouldn't call it the perfect novel, and yet The Winter Ghosts has somehow has managed to become a recent favorite.

If you're looking for action-packed suspense, The Winter Ghosts is not the book for you. I liked learning the history from whence the ghost story came (further description in the author's notes makes it doubly touching) and I think I'll actually enjoy the book more if I ever reread it. There was just something about it that grabbed me and held on, even after I closed the pages. I can't quite put a finger on it.

In other news:

Gah, I do not feel good, today. I'm tempted to pretend there's not a treadmill sitting beside me, but a very big part of me says, "No, no, no. You're fat." Wish that part of me would just freaking shut the heck up. I want a 24-hour nap, darn it.

What did Bookfool do, today?

First, Bookfool was rudely awakened very early by a friendly but persistent kitty who was not entirely clear about her demands. I think she was just in the mood to walk over me repeatedly and say, "Hello." Since I was up (bah, humbug to morning), I ran some errands and then walked around downtown Vicksburg to take flood pics. We went to the dock on Sunday. Here's the dock wall, where you can see marks describing various past flooding events, as taken on Sunday:

Oh, so hard to see! The bottom mark says "1961 Gage 44.9." Below that is a sign referring to the Corps of Engineers, the folks who are responsible for tracking such things. The Corps sign is visible under normal circumstances. As of 3 hours ago, the water level was at 48 feet and rising at a steady pace (between the second and third marks up from the water line). See the top mark? That's the level the water would have reached during the Great Flood of 1927 if the levees had held (62.2 feet) -- but they didn't, so the next mark down (56.2) is the actual flood level. The river is expected to crest above the actual 1927 flood level. I've heard 57, 58 and somewhere in between. Either way, it's a horror.

Around our area, this is huge. An entire school has been closed, Civil War artifacts are being moved to high ground, Red Cross shelters have been opened. You can't get to the dock, now. This is what I saw, today:

Those fellows to the right are Americorps volunteers. They were waiting for some equipment; they didn't sit around for long. You can see there's a little water outside the dock exit. The dock does occasionally get swamped but during the 2008 flood, they had few enough timbers that you could actually walk fairly close to the entrance and exit and look over timbers to see the flood water. Here's a wider view. I didn't reduce the size of this one, so hopefully you'll be able to click on it to enlarge. If you ever come to Vicksburg, the flood wall is worth seeing. It's taken many years to decorate, but all of the panels are now painted with murals, each of which portray some event in Vicksburg's history.

To the left of the red train station building and caboose, an additional barricade is being built. That means that gorgeous old railroad station (which is being turned into a museum) is going to be swamped. I imagine it'll survive but cost a pretty penny to clean up. In the background, you can also get a glimpse of the trees that are already partly under water. You can usually see the sandy opposite shore. I think, actually, this isn't really even the Mississippi River but the Yazoo Diversion Canal. Oh, wow. I'm going to have to run to the overlook to snap some bridge pictures. I'd forgotten about that -- must get pics of the actual Mississippi. It's fascinating watching the river rise, but horrifying to realize how many people this flood has already hit and will impact in the coming weeks.

Anyway, enough for one day. Tomorrow, The Peach Keeper!! Saturday, the world! Or, maybe a nap. Nighty night!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.