Wednesday, December 21, 2011

May all your wishes come true, this holiday season

©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, December 20, 2011

Menagerie by Sharon Montrose , some bargains and a little about Lights Out Liverpool

I've probably seen Sharon Montrose's photographs, before, but if so I certainly didn't realize I had when Menagerie was offered to me for review. Where have I been? Sharon Montrose is a prize-winning animal photographer who already has 11 books under her belt and her photography is divine.

Menagerie is a book of Sharon Montrose's animal photography and it is an total eyeball feast, simply but beautifully designed. The photographs are framed in ways that make you think of how you could jazz up your own walls with a few zingy frames and tasteful photographs. It's a zen kind of book, relaxing to flip through, too small to call a "coffee table" book but definitely the type of book I'd leave out if I had a coffee table. Someday, I will get a coffee table like a normal American.

Bright and airy and almost (but not quite) devoid of text Menagerie's few words are painted in a way that compliments the photography. You can see some inside and out views in this post at Montrose's blog.

There are only two small problems with Menagerie. One is that it's small enough (Amazon says the dimensions are about 8.6" x 6.6") that some of the photos will require a little squinting or a magnifying glass for older eyes.

The other problem is that some rocking fine photos are badly-placed as 2-page spreads. One photo of a flamingo with intriguing wing movement is frustratingly placed on the center fold. And, since the flamingo is the only animal on that particular spread, you have to wonder if it was placed that way merely so purchasers would be unable to slice out a page and avoid paying for a print. However, neither of those problems would have stopped me from buying the book if I'd happened across it in a store . . . if we had a store that displayed design books like Menagerie (insert mournful cry for the loss of Borders).

Highly recommended for design buffs, animal lovers, and lovers of art or photography books. If you're a fan of Sharon Montrose, you might be a little disappointed by the size of the photos but Menagerie turned me into a fan. I am not disappointed. I love it.

In other news:

Sourcebooks has a squillion "first title" and stand-alone e-books on sale for $1.99. Included are some personal favorites by Elizabeth Chadwick, Jill Mansell and R. F. Delderfield. This is a whopping fine batch of books.

I'm not going to bother writing a separate post about Lights Out Liverpool by Maureen Lee. Lights Out Liverpool is a WWII novel set on a single street in the Bootle district of Liverpool, England. Totally engrossing, Lights Out Liverpool is one of those nice, chunky books that's really as much about relationships as it is about life during a major war.

Lights Out Liverpool is tremendously realistic and believable to the war experience and the ups and downs of lives. I didn't like the ending, but I loved the book enough to rewrite the ending in my head. Lights Out Liverpool is the first book I've read by Maureen Lee. Published in 1995, I got my copy from my very generous friend Paula and I know exactly who I'm going to pass it on to. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy novels set during WWII or realistic, character-driven stories with exceptional character development.

©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, December 18, 2011

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1, ed. by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Stocking Stuffer Alert!

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1 is just the perfect size for a stocking at 4" x 6". Now that you know that, I can tell you more . . .

First of all, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is the cutest book I've seen all year, not just the stories, but the combination of tiny stories with creative illustrations. I love it so much I have read it and reread it and flipped back to my favorite stories too many times to count, already (and I just got it under a week ago). Each story is only a line or two -- more micro than micro-fiction -- and they're written and illustrated by a variety of authors and artists.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer, Inception, Angels in the Outfield) founded and directs the group that created the book, hitRECord, a collaborative production company that's open to anyone. You can read about the project, enjoy their creations or join in at the hitRECord site if you are creatively inclined.

Here are two of my favorite stories from The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories (you should be able to click to enlarge):

To be honest, I have a lot of favorites. The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is only about 84 pages long, so you can read it in nothing flat, but it's the kind of book that is so fascinating you'll want to revisit it hundreds of times. And, it's only the first in a series. At least two more are forthcoming! I'm going to collect all three and I won't have to feel guilty, since they hardly take up any space at all. Not that you need to tell my husband.

Here's another story I love (no image available, unfortunately):

His hands were weak and shaking
from carrying far too many
books from the bookshop.

It was the best feeling.

~p. 68

Wait! One more!!!!

The element of surprise wasn't
allowed near the Periodic Table.

~p. 38

I wish you could see the illustration for that one.

Clever stories, great illustrations and wide variety in a small package make The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1 a winner. Highly recommended, especially for the lover of ingenious wording and/or inventive design.

The next book I review is also a bit of an eyeball feast. December has been such a fun reading month, I think perhaps I might explode.

©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, December 17, 2011

Our Christmas Tree!

I've got a few book reviews to post before I take my annual Christmas break, but first . . . I'm so excited to show off our Christmas tree because we chose to build a book tree, this year!

The tree photos in my Advent post were from 2010. I was hoping we'd have a little less trouble with the felines if we built a tree out of books, but let's face it . . . cats, trees, lights, gifts. They just don't mix. This one's blurry because I had to shoo Fiona to get her to stop trying to eat the bulb.

I didn't mind her untying ribbon, though, till she came away with a chunk of it in her mouth.

Here's a close-up of our tree-top. I haven't read the tree-top, yet. But, I've seen the musical and it's definitely on the agenda.

©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.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Ten Ways for Cat Owners to Get into the Christmas Spirit

Welcome to Bookfoolery and Babble! If you're new to my blog, the most important thing you must know is that I have two cats, Fiona (a tabby) and Isabel (white with tabby markings). I take a lot of photos of my cats and having young, active kitties has definitely had an impact on how we decorate for Christmas. So, my cats will take the starring role for my first Advent Tour post.

Top Ten Ways for Cat Owners to Get into the Christmas Spirit

#10 - Be sure to place shiny, tempting objects on a surface which will allow for a satisfying combination of "clatter-crash" noises when knocked over.

#9 - Dress your cat for the holidays. Ignore the, "I will kill you" look. Your cat is really just being coy. She adores a little time spent pretending she's a reindeer.

#8 - Remember that cats love to climb.

#7 - So you will want to put a few things out of their reach. This gives them the chance to contemplate complicated climbing plans.

#6 - There should always be plenty of dangly things left hanging specifically for the kitties.

#5 - Also remember that cats are extremely decorative. You will want to place at least one within the branches of your tree.

#4 - But, don't forget that everything is edible.

#3 - Seriously, everything.

#2 - Absolutely everything.

. . . and then some.


#1 - Have a happy holiday!

©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, December 14, 2011

Mrs. Claus Explains It All by Claus and Wenzel - Review and link to e-book promotion

Sourcebooks sent out some promotional material about this gorgeous picture e-book, this morning, and I asked to review it before passing on any links. Mrs. Claus Explains It All by Elspeth Claus is an enhanced e-book that gives children the option of choosing to have Mrs. Claus read to them. A little note on each page shows a child's question ("How old are you and Santa?", "What are Santa's workshops like?"), each of which is read by a child's voice, and Mrs. Claus' cheerfully replies. The answers are shown in text that's placed so that the illustrations are large and clear.

It's really the illustrations that make Mrs. Claus Explains it All enjoyable, in my humble opinion, although there is nothing better than a book that reads itself when you hit the road with small children. We used to carry loads of books on tape for the kids, when we traveled. I found the text a little flat and dull when just reading it without Mrs. Claus narrating, but the narration gives it a special spark and the illustrations are beautiful. I can easily imagine a small child paging through the e-book over and over, again. Of course, on an iPad you can zoom in to admire the details of the illustrations. I love beautiful artwork, so I found myself zooming in, quite a bit.

Definitely recommended, especially if you're looking for a holiday book with narration to help keep your child occupied while traveling or when the adults are busy fussing around in the kitchen during the holidays. There's a link to sample pages, below, so you can peek inside and listen to the voices to see if you like the book, before purchasing.

View sample pages from Mrs. Claus Explains It All, here.

Mrs. Claus Explains It All is available for only $4.99 now at:

Apple's iBookstore

NOOK Bookstore

Platforms: iPad, iPhone, iPodTouch, NOOK Tablet, NOOK Color, NOOK app for iPad

©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.

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie

I've had Matched on my wish list at Paperback Swap since its release but when I saw a copy at Sam's Wholesale Club for a reasonable price, I snatched it up. It seemed a likely candidate to help me break my reading slump and, as it turned out, Matched definitely helped me get back into my reading groove.

Cassia has always been very trusting and obedient. When the book opens, she's excited about her Matching banquet, where she'll see the name and face of the boy she'll eventually marry. She's particularly excited to find out she's matched to a good friend, Xander, but when she begins to read the data about him, another face briefly flashes onto her screen and then disappears. She knows that face, as well. Did the Society make a mistake when matching her? Why is the other boy, Ky, labelled in a way that makes it impossible for him to be matched?

When Cassia and Ky end up on a work team together and find that sparks are flying, Cassia becomes determined to find answers while fighting her urge to let go of her Xander, whom she knows to be an excellent match.

I was expecting a run-of-the-mill dystopian novel, to be honest, but I found smart, thought-provoking writing, likable characters and a dilemma easy to find yourself quickly invested in, along with a nicely fast-moving plot with moments of slow build.

In a Twitter chat, this week, author Jay Kristoff said, "I think the most important thing to remember when worldbuilding is that worlds are populated by PEOPLE. Character first. Always." That's where Ally Condie really shines. Her characters are believable and the world seems to be built around them not designed first and populated later. While there are times that you feel like, "Sigh, another dystopian. Same old struggle against the powers plotline," Matched is suitably unique and I'm quite anxious to read the next book in the series. There was a bit of a cliff-hanger ending but the book pretty much felt complete to me.

Recommended to lovers of Young Adult dystopian fiction. Light reading, quick-paced but with well-rounded characters and very good writing.

©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.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl is one of several memoirs by the former New York Times food critic and details her time working for the New York Times, including how she came to move to New York, her personal choices about reviewing, many of her experiences eating out in disguise, some recipes and a number of her columns for the New York Times (as well as the praise and/or backlash she received for her ratings).

Garlic & Sapphires is really quite fascinating. I don't think you have to be a foodie to appreciate reading about a woman whose job carried such surprisingly celebrity status that she had to continue to find new ways to disguise herself to make sure she received food and service in the way any other New Yorker might, for better or worse. It's particularly enjoyable to read about how she felt in disguise, how each new costume made her feel as if she was a completely different person.

Highly recommended to memoir lovers, foodies, and anyone who likes reading a book with recipes scattered throughout. My beloved daughter-in-law, who is a fabulous cook, loaned me her copy of Garlic and Sapphires. Thanks, Sarah!

©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.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Since it's Christmas season and that last post was the kind nobody wants to read when they're busy (but I don't feel apologetic -- I wanted to combine the 3 books and I'm glad I did so), my next set of reviews will be as brief as the last bunch was wordy. I was originally going to combine them but I think I'll just pop them out separately.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton - Divorced, middle-aged and ready for a change, Catherine moves to a house in France, sets up a tapestry business, makes new friends and finds herself drawn to one of her neighbors, Patrick Castagnol. But, when her sister Bryony arrives for an extended visit and prances off with Patrick, the French government makes becoming an official business owner difficult, and death marches into her life, Catherine wonders if going home to England might be her best option.

A slow, quiet, beautifully-written book with a touch of romance, some very poignant moments (I cried when she went to talk to her bees, if that means anything to others who've read The Tapestry of Love), plenty of humorous and touchingly realistic moments with Catherine's extended family and a perfectly wrapped-up, satisfying ending.

I stalled at page 200 because I tend to like a more plot-heavy book, but after setting The Tapestry of Love aside for a week, I returned to it and loved the second half.

Recommended for those in a mood to savor carefully-crafted writing, heavy on the senses and slow-paced.

My copy of The Tapestry of Love was a win from Maria at Fly High. My thanks to Maria and the author, Rosy Thornton, who sent me two of her books instead of only my prize win. I'm looking forward to the other title, More Than Love Letters.
©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, December 11, 2011

Themed Reading - Native Americans in The Wind is My Mother, Light on a Distant Hill & Edward Curtis: Coming to Light

I've recently read three books about Native Americans, their lifestyle, beliefs and a man known for his determination to photograph them before it was too late. It seems logical to put them together, but this is accordingly a very, very long post.

The Wind Is My Mother: The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman by Bear Heart is part memoir, part advice, part history -- an excellent book about one Native American's beliefs and how he believes they can be adapted to fit our lives in today's world. It was published in 1996 but the advice is certainly as relevant now as it was then. I bought The Wind Is My Mother during Borders' going-out-of-business sale and I wish I'd just bought everything they had on Native Americans. If I'd known I was going to become slightly obsessed with reading about North America's first people, I certainly would have.

I learned quite a bit from The Wind Is My Mother. For example, the author says, contrary to popular belief, Native Americans are all monotheistic, so the ceremonies white people thought of as pagan were all, in fact, designed to make requests or thank a single Creator, although they symbolically used creatures and objects which appeared to outsiders to be "gods" to whom they were praying. You can understand how the confusion occurred when you read about Native American ceremonies. Bear Heart also disputes the story that Columbus called the natives "Indians" because he thought he was in India. Here's what the author has to say about the naming of natives by Columbus:

I don't always feel comfortable in talking about Indians; even the word Indian itself is very misunderstood. When Columbus found the natives here, they were gentle people who accepted him, so Columbus wrote in his journal, "These are people of God." In his language, he wrote "In Dios." Later, the s was dropped and Indio eventually became Indian, which originated as "people of God." ~~from p. 160 of The Wind Is My Mother

Here's an interesting story that leads to some always-timely advice:

A witch doctor from South Africa told me how they catch monkeys there. They bore a hole in a pumpkin large enough to slip in a banana, then they reach through the hole with a spoon, clean out the inside and drop in the banana. When a monkey comes around, he smells the banana inside the pumpkin, sticks his little forearm in there, feels around, grabs hold of that banana, and then he's stuck. His brain will not tell him that to free his hand he's got to release that banana. He just holds on. ~~pp. 111-2

The advice:

There are many, many ways to let go of our bananas, so to speak. The way my people take care of something that we're not happy with is to honor it and say, "Thank you, you've taught me a lesson." If its anger, if it's hate, if it's a drinking problem: "Boy, you've been with me for a long time. Now I'm going to try something else. But I want to thank you for teaching me something about myself." Never try to just get rid of it. You can't, it's too strong, it's too embedded. Instead, honor it and say, "Thank you." ~~p. 113

I love that. My absolute favorite part of the book, though, is a tale about a time when the author went to Hawaii to fulfill his deceased son's wish that he could see it. His son had written about the beauty of Hawaii when he landed in there on the way to being stationed in the Philippines. You have to read the book to fully understand the story, but as a baby Bear Heart was dedicated to God by his mother, when he was near death. She kept her promise to raise him the way she prayed she would if God would save his life and these many years later, he went up to Pele Point, a place where, "According to Hawaiian legends, the winds of the universe have their beginning." Because his mother was of the Wind Clan, he wanted to go up there at midnight (he doesn't explain what the Wind Clan and midnight have to do with each other) but he was told he couldn't by park rangers.

He told them he needed to go and they said they'd drive him to the chain across the road and he could walk from there. He agreed, stepped over the chain and as he walked he sang his songs "to each of the Four Directions--East, South, West and North." I'll let him tell you the rest.

When I got through, I said, "My mother, when I was very small, dedicated me. At this time I rededicate myself anew to You--from my heart. I will be Your feet, Your hands, Your eyes, Your voice, just as she said. If there's any love that You have, a special love that You want for people, let it flow through me. Let me touch someone and make them a little happier, so that they can be well and walk with good purpose upon this land. Please use me." I dedicated my life again in that way.

When I came back down, the guards asked who was up there with me. I said, "No one." They said they heard lots of voices singing. They heard it, I didn't. ~~p. 146

Well, that sure gave me chills. I absolutely loved The Wind Is My Mother and found myself quoting it aloud quite a bit. I highly recommend it and plan to reread my copy, hopefully many times.

In the midst of reading The Wind Is My Mother, my face-to-face group voted on Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne for our January reading selection, so I'll be reading that very soon. And, then a book I've had on my wish list at Paperback Swap for at least 4 years became available.

Edward C. Curtis: Coming to Light by Anne Makepeace is a National Geographic book, so it's slightly large with pages about the size of letterhead, around 8" x 11" -- large enough that the details of the many photographs included don't require a lot of eyestrain (although I did occasionally use a magnifying glass to look closer at certain images).

Edward Curtis was, of course, the famously obsessed photographer who spent most of his adult years trying to photograph all of the North American Indian Tribes in costume before their customs, traditions and native costumes ceased to exist. It took him 30 years to create 20 extraordinarily expensive volumes of photographs and the process was as costly as it was time-consuming.

Coming to Light is also extremely informative. The author talks about specific tribal ceremonies and people that Edward Curtis photographed, as well as his personal life, his artistic vision and how his divorce led to the loss of a large number of glass negatives. The author went in pursuit of living Native Americans who were present when the photographs were taken or who had some knowledge of what was happening or who was photographed and her discoveries are also both amazing and entertaining. She also mentioned some of the controversy surrounding his photography and gave examples of what he did that made the accuracy of some of his images questionable.

I highly recommend Edward C. Curtis: Coming to Light especially to those who are interested in actually learning about Edward Curtis. Coming to Light is not really a typical coffee-table book as it only contains a selection of his photos (but a nice selection, in my humble opinion). I'm hoping to someday find a larger book that focuses on display of his photographs, but it was really a more accurate look at Curtis' life that I was hoping to find, after reading a fictional account that I found disappointing, and I thought the text was stellar. I learned much more about Native Americans from the book than expected.

Light On a Distant Hill by B. J. Scott is a novel my friend Paula read while I was in the midst of reading about Edward Curtis. It's fiction, but Paula highly recommended it and I looked it up as soon as I finished reading Coming to Light. There's some crossover between all three of these books, as it's only natural that certain characters are frequently mentioned. In Light on a Distant Hill, a young mail-order bride named Ellen leaves her home in Salina, Kansas and heads west to meet the man she intends to marry, a cavalry officer stationed at Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory.

On the way, Ellen is kidnapped by Shoshone Indians at a massacre in which she is one of only two survivors. She tries repeatedly to escape from the Shoshone but fails and finally accepts her plight. And, then she finds herself slowly becoming one of them as she learns their ways and falls in love.

Meanwhile, her fiance has refused to believe the accounts claiming Ellen died in the attack. But, he is unable to take enough time to track her down and resumes his job, hunting the people his beloved has come to think of as her own. After white soldiers attack the Shoshone, killing women and children and threatening Ellen's husband, she must run for her life. She ends up following Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, the man known for the famous quote "I will fight no more forever," made at the time of surrender, after his people had been chased 1500 miles by the militia.

The wonderful thing about this particular novel is that it is so incredibly sympathetic to Native Americans and the horror they experienced. The author acknowledges that the natives were human and not wholly innocent of their own crimes against whites, but places their experience in a context that makes you feel as if you were there, you understand and . . . honestly? . . . you're really pissed off, by the time you get to the surrender of Chief Joseph.

There are author's notes describing changes the author made. He did take a few liberties, but Light on a Distant Hill's setting is apparently very well-researched. Much of what Scott wrote was also described in Coming to Light and the three books together make a fascinating trio. Since I'd already read a little about Chief Joseph and the plight of the natives in general, the effect was very much like going from reading about the horror of the eradication of natives to experiencing it from their viewpoint. Light on a Distant Hill is told as a memory, when a young reporter goes to interview the elderly Ellen in the 1930s.

A side note: I would probably not normally have purchased Light on a Distant Hill because it is apparently a self-published book: the publisher is AuthorHouse. I only read self-published books by people I know or when they're recommended by readers I know and trust, these days. Obviously, Paula is a trusted friend because I did rush over to Amazon to buy the e-book, almost the moment I finished Coming to Light.

There's a bit of a romance aspect to Light on a Distant Hill and a couple brief, graphic love scenes (which I'm never fond of) but in spite of a bit of mush and sex, I have no complaints. I thought the writing, while not brilliant, was very good. However, it's both the sense of time and place and the author's ability to empathize with Native Americans without glorifying them that make the book shine. Definitely recommended, especially when paired with non-fiction about Native Americans.

I have to add that there are quotes throughout both Coming to Light and Light on a Distant Hill that will doubly horrify readers -- quotes by army officers and famous white Americans of the time, in which they speak of Indians as subhuman. Sound familiar? It struck me as particularly odd that the invading Europeans spoke of the natives as lesser life forms and set about eradicating them whilst stealing the people of another culture they considered lesser life forms, at the time (Africans). Throughout history, people have described opposing cultures in similar ways and enslaved or killed their chosen enemies but it struck me as odd that there were two cultures being destroyed at around the same time by the same people. And, isn't it horrifying how the same thing keeps happening, the world over? The author compared the eradication of Native Americans to the slaughter of Jews by Hitler. The more I read, the more I agree.

At any rate, the plight of the natives in the United States is a sad one but a tale that I think we all need to learn -- the truth, that is. From The Wind Is My Mother I learned why the natives responded with what most of us probably consider weakness when they made agreements with white men but the white men not only didn't keep up their end of the bargain but also eventually killed them off and shuffled the natives around on death marches to camps hundreds of miles across the country. It all has to do with the peace pipe. Bear Heart explained that when his people smoked the peace pipe, they were making a promise before their Creator. And, promises made in the presence of God could not be broken. So, they were not meek little lambs being led around but extremely devoted, spiritual people.

If you made it through all three reviews and the rant at the end, I must offer you a virtual hand-shake. Sorry this post is so long. The reading of the three books was quite an experience and I'm looking forward to learning more, sad as I know it will be. I'll post a photo of the other books I've purchased, some time soon. I think this post is quite long enough!

©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, December 09, 2011

Fiona Friday - I've got my eye on 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, December 07, 2011

Emory's Gift by W. Bruce Cameron

I'm going to jump right to the bottom line on this one, since we're getting close to Christmas. If you like a sweet, spiritually uplifting and clean story or have someone on your gift list for whom you're looking for a nice, clean, uplifting book, grab a copy of Emory's Gift.

Emory's Gift is narrated by 13-year-old Charlie Hall. Since Charlie's mother passed away, his grief-stricken father has become withdrawn and sullen, seldom speaking to his son, who desperately needs reassurance and support after their painful loss. On top of his uncomfortable home life and private grief, one of Charlie's former friends has taken to bullying him. But, when Charlie encounters a grizzly bear in the woods, an unusual friendship begins.

There's a lot more to Emory's Gift than just a boy befriending a bear (and a new human friendship that helps Charlie recover) but it's so magical that I'm afraid to say much more. Suffice it to say, Emory is no ordinary bear and some very interesting things happen. Bruce Cameron is a skilled and often surprising writer who has a knack for writing deeply touching stories.

I wish I could tell you more, but I'm afraid anything else I say will ruin the read so I'm just going to keep this review extremely short. I do think the denouement was a tiny bit of a let-down because I was hoping for something a little different, but upon reflection it obviously didn't dampen my feelings about Emory's Gift. As soon as I finished it, I recommended it on Facebook (very unusual -- I usually just link up to my blog reviews and don't say much about my reading, otherwise, on Facebook) and in my online book group. A very moving, emotional and somewhat spiritual read, highly recommended.

I'll save other news for later, since I've got a busy day ahead of me. Happy Reading!

©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, December 06, 2011

A few minis - Jamie Durie's Outdoor Room, Fairy Godsister, Flight to Heaven, Housekeeper & Professor

Some of these books have been sitting in my sidebar for so long that I feel like I ought to go to confession to ask forgiveness. Except, I'm not Catholic . . . but you know what I mean. The guilt is there, although only one is a review book.

Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room is one that I didn't actually finish 100%. I loved what I read, but the farther I got into The Outdoor Room, the more I realized I will never have an outdoor room in Mississippi. We have enough trouble with maintenance in the backyard. I can't even begin to imagine fighting poison ivy growing over the walls of a corner set aside for enjoying the outdoors. I would need a lot of help creating that kind of space and making it easy to maintain.

However, I read most of it and I like Durie's ideas for design. They can be carried into your house, as well. The starting point to creating a relaxing space, as described in The Outdoor Room, involves examining your own taste by collecting pictures from magazines, taking photos, etc. of textures, designs and colors that you like and then using the things you love to create the perfect space. I've done similar (collected photos and put them on a bulletin board) but hadn't thought to take pictures of things like, say, ocean or grass or rocks if those are things that appeal to you visually and then trying to figure out how to work the colors and textures you like into a room with other design features.

Durie also talks about things like light (because work spaces tend to be dark, making your outdoor space offset your long, dark days), different types of design, shapes, plants to use in your outdoor room, specific projects he's worked on and their inspiration, where certain designs work. There's a lot of text in this book and it's all worth reading. I need to go back and reread the entire book, now that I'm done having a private temper tantrum about how awful the outdoors is in Mississippi.

I highly recommend Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room to those who want new ideas for decorating, whether or not you plan to build an outdoor room, because I think it's great for inspiration inside and out, although it definitely fulfills its purpose in helping the reader to visualize his or her own outdoor room. One of my favorites is the exotic oasis in Seattle, which was inspired by Egyptian spaces but which looks very zen to me. Since we returned from Japan, my husband and I have been mulling ways to make our home reflect that sense of calm we got from the zen gardens and I think this book can help. Many thanks to Harper Design for the review copy of The Outdoor Room.

Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godmother by Liz Kessler is an e-book I got as a freebie. I read it when I couldn't get myself to focus on anything else and it did help pull me out of my slump, but I found it disappointing. Philippa has always believed in fairies. When her best friend moves away, she's heartbroken and cries on a flower. The flower responds and Philippa is convinced it's a fairy disguised as a flower. She plucks it, carries it to her treehouse and plans to return at midnight to see the fairy transform. But, then she changes her mind and disposes of the flower.

The next day, a sullen new girl shows up at school and Philippa tries to befriend her. After a rocky beginning, they eventually become fast friends and the new girl reveals that she's Philippa's fairy godmother (but that sounds strange, so they decide to call her a fairy godsister). I don't actually remember much beyond that. I just recall feeling disappointed. It's a cute book and it gets high ratings from its youthful intended audience -- middle readers, I think -- and their mothers. I recommend Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godsister to youngsters, in particular (Moms - it's a nice, clean read) and was happy that it broke my reading block temporarily, but it just didn't do much for me. Might have been the timing.

Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash, A Lone Survivor, A Journey to Heaven and Back (that's not really the subtitle, but it's hard to read the tiny print in that image and gives you the gist of the book) by Capt. Dale Black is the story of a man who was the only survivor of a plane crash in 1969, at the age of 19. It tells of his determination to recover and fly again, how he slowly regained his memory and went on to become a pilot for a major airline, and a heart-pounding edge-of-your-seat story about a second close call when he flew to Africa on a mission trip.

I absolutely could not put Flight to Heaven down, once I began to read it. Dale Black's story is stunning and he does a great job of making you feel like you were there. Although he does talk about eventually remembering that he'd gone to heaven, his description of heaven is a minor portion of the book (in fact, that was the part I enjoyed least and found myself skimming). Flight to Heaven focuses on his experiences, the emotions he felt and his determination to recover, as well as how he slowly regained missing memories. When you read about his injuries and how, after the plane crashed into a solid monument he fell 70 feet, you can't help but realize that it really is quite astounding that he survived at all.

The crash changed the author's life and made him determined to share his beliefs, so there's plenty about Christianity but he comes off as humble and a man of strong character rather than preachy. He admits to times he was too pushy about his beliefs and talks about how he learned from his mistakes. I'd recommend Flight to Heaven to anyone and everyone, if only because it's an excellent lesson in what positive thinking can do for an individual. Flight to Heaven was another e-book freebie. I didn't actually mean to read it but I hit the wrong image, read a sentence or two and couldn't stop, by the time I realized I was reading the wrong book. Highly recommended.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa is about the relationship between a single mother, the professor she cares for and her son. The professor is a brilliant mathematician who suffered a head injury 30 years before she met him. His memory only lasts for 8 hours, so he wears a suit covered in notes to remind him of important things.

During the time that the housekeeper works for the professor, she and her son get to know him and he teaches them some math principles, a good portion of which I didn't follow. Some of the math was fascinating, but I mostly liked the rest of the story -- the building of the relationship between the odd trio of unnamed people and the denouement, which is not entirely unexpected but is still satisfying. I might have used a tissue or two while reading this book. While I found the math portions of The Housekeeper and the Professor down were a little dull, I think the story is a good one and I recommend it. I got my copy of The Housekeeper and the Professor from Paperback Swap.

©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, December 05, 2011

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Thanks to Melissa at Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf for mentioning that she'd love to read a review of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I was having trouble deciding where to start on that nasty overloaded sidebar backlog of review books.

I bought a copy of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter because it was my face-to-face book group's November selection.

I'm not sure if anything in this review could be considered a spoiler (I have attempted not to give anything crucial away), but there are a couple things that would probably best be saved for the reading. So, if you're worried, skip my review.

The basic plot (without spoilers): Many years ago, Larry Ott and Silas "32" Jones were best friends for a brief time. But, because Larry was white and Silas black, the friendship had to be kept quiet. An incident ended their friendship not long after it began. During high school, Larry remained awkward, bookish and an outcast. Silas became a popular athlete.

At her request, Larry took a girl named Cindy out on a date and she was never heard from again. Accused of murder, already an outcast at school, Larry eventually joined the army but returned to care for his mother. He became known as "Scary Larry" while Silas moved on, went to school at Ole Miss and got a job in law enforcement. What really happened the night Larry took Cindy out on a date?

Now, the disappearance of another young woman has brought Larry back into focus as a suspected killer. And his old friend Silas is doing the investigating. Silas has been back in town for a while, but he hasn't even looked at Larry when he's happened to drive by the garage where Larry sits around waiting for business. When Silas finds Larry near death, he is reminded of their past friendship and decides he must solve both crimes. Did Larry kill another woman and then attempt suicide? Or is he the victim of a murderer, as well? Only Silas is motivated to find out the answers . . . because Silas knows something the rest of his buddies in law enforcement don't know about the night Cindy disappeared.

A quick note: I have one other Tom Franklin book on my shelf and SuziQ, who knows my tendency to nightmares, has told me she thinks I should avoid it. And, in general, I avoid mysteries (although I'll occasionally read one for a change of pace). So, I probably wouldn't have bothered with Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, if not for my F2F book club. More on that, later.

What did you like most about the book? Mind-blowing writing. I thought Tom Franklin's prose was amazing, the characterization sharp, the story gripping. Because I started reading Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter before we left for Japan and didn't pick it back up until at least 3 weeks later, I am doubly impressed. I only had to go back a page or two to remember what exactly was going on. Writing that sticks with you so completely for that long is very unusual.

What did you think of the main character? The book shifts back and forth between the viewpoints of Larry and Silas, so I consider both protagonists. Larry is full-grown when this new mystery occurs, still living alone and an outcast; he's never really had a chance to come into his own as an adult. But, in spite of the fact that he's a pariah, he's a good man. He has a heart; he's a man of honor. He's a sad, lonely man but I liked him.

Silas, on the other hand, is also an interesting and strong character but he has one very large flaw -- he hasn't told the truth about the night that Cindy disappeared. He knows something crucial. But, what does Silas know? Could it have saved Larry? Would Silas have put himself in danger by sharing that information, back when Cindy disappeared? Those questions and their answers help to reveal Silas' character so I won't tell you exactly how I felt about Silas in the end.

Thoughts about the plot? The plot has enough interwoven threads to be engaging and make your mind churn without ever becoming so intricate that it makes your head hurt. So, I'd say the plotting is just about perfect. It's a mystery but it's literary -- as much a book of deep character studies as a tale of investigation into crimes present and past.

I particularly loved the way Franklin flipped racial perspective on its head. Silas, the black man, is the guy everyone looks up to -- a good citizen, great athlete, very much respected. Larry, the white guy, is the fellow everyone's afraid of -- possible criminal (never proven), misunderstood, considered frightening. It was refreshing to read a Southern mystery with a respected, likable black character doing the crime solving.

The only thing I didn't like: Silas and Larry met when Silas moved down to Mississippi from Chicago. Silas' mother is from the area in Mississippi where they move. She says, "I have people" there, when he asks why they're going to Mississippi. But, Silas has the same exact accent as his mother, Larry and everyone else. I would have liked to see a slight distinction in the way Silas spoke -- some hint that he'd picked up a little of Chicago speech while he lived there. He does occasionally say something with a bit more formality, but it still never felt like he had any hint of the Midwest in his mode of speech to me.

The Southern dialect is pretty distinctive, fits the way I've heard some people speak around here and yet is written in a very readable manner. You may wonder why a character calls barbed wire "bobwire", at first, but then it becomes plain that the book is written in vernacular yet done so well you think the author doesn't know how to spell. Pretty impressive really.

In general: Excellent story, astounding writing, perfect plotting . . . gosh. I think Tom Franklin should go to the head of the class and bow. Definitely one of the best books I've read, this year. Highly recommended. Warning: It's pretty gritty. There's some bad language and a few really graphic descriptions from murder scenes (of the stomach-turning variety).

And, what about that group meeting? We had a really interesting discussion at my F2F meeting. Everyone was impressed with the writing and nobody complained about the dialect (most are from Mississippi, so they'd know better than I would how genuine it comes off). When we got to the question, "What did you think of Larry," though, a lot of our members thought he was really "pathetic" or "pitiful". I was the odd reader out. I actually liked Larry and thought he was somewhat stunted in his growth as a human because of not ever having much normal interaction with people as an adult. But, he was honorable. He was a reader and obviously intelligent, if socially inept. He could have stayed away from town, built a decent life for himself and left that whole world of rejection behind. But, he chose to take care of his mother, who was already showing signs of Alzheimer's when his father passed away, and remained an outcast simply because he cared enough to stick around.

"The Land had a way of covering the wrongs of people" is a quote that was mentioned in the discussion questions. What did the author mean by that? Again, I was the odd one out. I thought he was referring to the passage of time. Because the land grows and changes, evidence of lives and the crimes people commit disappears beneath layers of soil and vines, etc. People die and become part of the land. Civilizations are buried if you take that line of reasoning very far. When I said I thought that quote referred to the passage of time and tried to explain, though, I must have done a pretty crappy job. I got a lot of blank looks and everyone else ended up saying they didn't quite understand what he was trying to say. Well. Tom Franklin lives in Mississippi, so I suppose one of us needs to breeze by Ole Miss and ask him. *holds up hand to volunteer*

There was also a question about the title of the book and I'll just skip right over and tell you what my friend John Floyd said (author in my sidebar---->). John said Tom Franklin told him he originally planned to set the book in Alabama but he wanted to call the book Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter so he changed the setting to Mississippi. So, apparently there's no deep meaning to the title.

Back to that bit about the other book SuziQ suggested I avoid. Hell at the Breech is the title of the other Franklin book I own. It's around here, buried somewhere. I see it, now and then, and I keep thinking I need to get rid of it. As it turns out, Hell at the Breech was a book my group discussed several years ago (I've only been a member for about a year). And, they kind of hated it. They all agreed the writing was great, very vivid, but it was so very violent that some of them couldn't finish it, a couple had nightmares, several mentioned being unable to get some of those images out of their minds, to this day. Yeah. That one's going out the door, the next time I see it. But, I do plan to read more by Franklin. I'll just ask SuziQ for advice, before I do.

©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, December 02, 2011

Fiona Friday - Framed (starring Isabel)

©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.