Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I've read quite a few books, this month, and I have liked or loved every single one of them. But, I have been plagued by migraines and it's hard to write when you're busy holding your head in both hands. Hopefully, reviews of these books will be coming soon.

A Good American is the most exciting of this batch because it's on the verge of release, has already been featured at Oprah.com and is the #1 Indie Next pick for February. I went out of my way to acquire a pre-release copy of A Good American and am happy to report that I agree with all the buzz. It's epic. The rest may end up in mini reviews. We'll see. Till I can see straight, I wish you happy reading.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fiona Friday - Cat, dog, cat

Still having to dig in the files. Hope I haven't already posted any of these.

Fi looking up at the human's wiggling fingers (sometimes you have to distract the cat from the fact that there's a camera in your hand):

Peyton in front of a roaring fake fire:

Izzy worn out after playing hard:

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes

Feeling pleasantly drowsy, Miss Ewing murmured, 'Miss Challoner thinks there's bound to be a revolution in Germany soon. She's always so well-informed. Pull the curtains right back when you've put the light out, Sparks. I like to hear the sea.'

It was a shock when, only a day or two later, things began to happen. One morning, before the old ladies had got their teeth in or their curled fronts adjusted or their stays laced for the day, the terrible noise started. The China tea slopped over in the trembling saucer as Miss Ewing listened, the windows in the Palm Court shivered as though gripped by an ague. At lunchtime nobody could eat, everyone was listening for the next heart-stopping rumble of gunfire. That night there were several muffled explosions that the headwaiter, not so attentive over the wine list as usual, thought might be depth charges out in the Channel.

--from "This Flower Safety" of Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, p. 38
I've let several books languish in my sidebar and Good Evening, Mrs. Craven is one of them. Hopefully, I'll be able to do it justice. Good Evening, Mrs. Craven is subtitled, "The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes". A collection of short stories, all take place in England during the WWII time period.

Panter-Downes wrote a column for The New Yorker called "Letters from London" for 50 years, but she only wrote a smattering of short stories. Pity. Panter-Downes' stories are witty and engaging. The stories in Good Evening, Mrs. Craven delve into the little mini-wars being fought on the home front, the tensions between people of different classes as they were forced to change their ways or mix social classes, the irrational fears of some and the over-confidence others had that things would blow over soon.

In one story, a servant bristles at her employer's sudden change from stiff upper class mistress of the home to happily chatting with the Canadian soldiers camped out on her property, dining casually in the kitchen and setting aside her fancier clothing. In another, a woman comes to the conclusion that she's had quite enough of those lower-class people invading her house and turns down a woman in desperate need of a place for herself and her child to live, just after another family has opted to leave her home. In "Mrs. Ramsey's War", a woman moves from one place to another, seeking safety but discovering that it's rather difficult to find a truly safe place to live when one's small island nation is threatened by an airborne and nautical enemy.

Panter-Downes' prose is delightful, but at the same time there's an economy of words that makes her stories really pack a punch. I absolutely loved this collection and never felt let-down. Each story feels complete to me; although, at the same time I do believe any of them would have been enjoyable if expanded to novel length.

Highly Recommended to lovers of short stories and those who are interested in WWII. Sharp writing, keenly observed and cleverly written. I do think Good Evening, Mrs. Craven was a bit of a learning experience, in some ways. It's always much more revealing to read work written at the time of an event, by its participants, as opposed to viewing history in hindsight.

Cover thoughts:

There's not much to those dove-gray Persephone covers, but there's something comforting about them and I do love the pretty interior papers.

I'm not sure where I got Good Evening, Mrs. Craven. It might be one of the books I purchased at Persephone Books in London or I might have ordered it. I should probably keep better track of such things. I have about 6 more Persephone titles to indulge in.

Current desktop background:

Ah, winter. I miss it. It's cool, now, but still not acting very wintery.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A DNF I feel really bad about - The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar

I absolutely love Thrity Umrigar's writing and there is nothing negative that I can say about The World We Found. I just want to make that clear, up front. Her writing is really quite stunning. I read The Space Between Us in 2005, pre-blogging, and some of the images from that book are still seared into my brain. I don't think I'll ever forget the ending and I've desired to read more of her writing, ever since.

So, why did I set The World We Found aside? Because nearly 4 years after watching my mother take her last breath, I still cannot bear to read about a character dying of cancer. If anyone could get me past that mental block, I think it would be Thrity Umrigar. But, apparently not even her skill and the knowledge that the book is about old friends gathering together one last time (I do love a book about a gathering of close female friends) was enough to keep me going. It was this bit that stopped me:
Armaiti nodded absently, remembering the small, dark bedroom in which her mother had died. After staying up half the night holding her mother's hand she had finally dosed [sic] off for a few minutes. When she awoke her mother's hand was cold and she was dead. Armaiti had sat holding that hand, taking in the bald head, the sunken eyes, the bony forearms whose papery skin was covered with bluish-black marks. She had not cried. Not then. Instead . . .
[--p. 17, Advanced Reader's Edition of The World We Found; changes may have been made to the final edition]
I stopped right there, unable to breathe, to read another word. It's not my experience, not exactly. But, the description of Armaiti's mother's body . . . oh, man. Too, too close. I couldn't go on. I don't want to live with Armaiti as she says goodbye to her friends, her family, and life. I don't want to be reminded of my loss. Coincidentally, I also lost an aunt to brain cancer, Armaiti's killer disease.

You can tell how mature and lovely Umrigar's writing is, just from the excerpt, though, can't you? I flipped back to the cover flap to see if I'd overlooked the word "cancer" when I requested The World We Found from HarperCollins. Nope, they used the words "gravely ill". That assuages my guilt a bit. I've offered my copy of The World We Found to a blogging buddy who happens to have it listed as a book she intends to read and am waiting for a response to see if she already owns a copy. Regardless, I'll find the book a home it deserves, where it can be read fully and appreciated.

Update: I have found a new (blogging buddy!) home for my copy of The World We Found! Very happy about that. Many thanks to all for the support. Your comments mean the world to me.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Pocket Therapist by Therese J. Borchard

I won my copy of The Pocket Therapist by Therese Borchard and immediately sat down with it because I was in a blue mood. That was about 2 years ago. Somehow, the book ended up getting shuffled around and stuffed into a cabinet, as books typically do, around here. I bury books. It resurfaced when I cleaned the cabinet into which it had been stuffed.

The Pocket Therapist is packed with 144 short essays -- or, at least, "Things to think about when you're down." I'm not exactly sure what to call them, but we'll stick with the word "essays". Each essay tells you a little bit about the author's personal experience with chronic depression, addiction and other psychological battles and also offers an idea to help keep you out of your own dark hole. #104 on p. 142, for example, is entitled "Rip the tags off." I'll just share part of it:
Here's a telltale sign of a noncommitter: a closet full of dresses and pants with the tags still on. Because by snipping off a sales tag, you are essentially taking a stand on life, making a decision to wear the dress in public; you lose the option of returning the dress. And, noncommitters adore possibilities and choices.

I try to rip off as many tags as I can today because I know, by experience, that having a cool wardrobe of never-worn skirts--of blowing off invitations to socialize with and meet fellow moms, neighbors, bloggers-- further propels me down the depression hole.
This is also an example of one essay that's completely useless to me. I don't have a problem with leaving tags on outfits. I have a problem with not having any idea where to find people to socialize with (in person, that is -- I have plenty of friends online and I've discovered those relationships do fine face-to-face when I do manage to meet up with the people I've gotten to know distantly).

#105 - "Love the Questions" begins with a comment about why the author prefers math to literature and goes on to say:
But life is like literature. Where the answer--if there is one--depends on what your teacher ate for dinner the night before or how late her husband returned from work.
She goes on to say that for instructions on dealing with the questions in life, she goes to this quote by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Oh. I like that. In general, though, the book is give and take. If you're having a mildly off day, one or two of the essays in The Pocket Therapist may help you to reevaluate your attitude and give you the boost you need to change your day into a good one. Sometimes, I did find the book helpful. It's a mistake to just blast your way through the essays on a really bad day. If it's not helping, I'd say it's best to do something you know usually helps or even just step outside and stand in the sun, rather than reading someone else's thoughts on how to get your mood to lift.

Recommended for the odd blue day, but not to be relied upon as a panacea. Read an essay or two when you're down; choose the ones that really work for you and mark them to return to. I don't think the entire book can possibly be right for everyone, but I personally found a smattering of essays that help me rethink my mood and make changes on a bad day. I'm a very moody chick, you know.

I keep forgetting to return to writing my cover thoughts! So . . .

Cover thoughts: I really like the bright, simple look of this cover. It's a grabber because of the colors but it's also clear from both the image and the title exactly what the book is about.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Photo Album by K. B. Dixon

It's taken me a long time to get around to reviewing The Photo Album, but fortunately K. B. Dixon's books are unforgettable. The Photo Album is the third of his books that I've read and I absolutely loved it. Each page is about a different photo and describes what the photo is about or what his purpose was in shooting each photo.

Here's the great thing about The Photo Album, though: There are no photos. Each "photo" is merely an empty rectangle. While the fictional narrator describes these imaginary photos, you're learning about his life, the personalities of the people in his neighborhood, and the various events happening over the span of time during which he took the photos (including the disappearance of a teenager and the search for him). Some descriptions leave more to the imagination than others. For example, Plate 24 (p. 25 of The Photo Album):
As a rule I try to keep my postproduction manipulations of the image to a minimum. I will crop, I will adjust both white balance and color, I will sharpen, I will occasionally do a little burning and dodging--that is about it. I have never been able to fully equate technical manipulations with imaginative ones. I would say about half my photos are virtually untouched--like this table of tangerines.
By the end of the description (and that quote is page 25 in its entirety), you know the imaginary photo is a "table of tangerines," but that is all you know. Are the tangerines spread across a table, still in a bag, placed in a bowl or bowls? Is the table bare wood or covered with a tablecloth? Is the photo a close-up or a wide view? That's all left entirely to your imagination.

In some "plates", the narrator doesn't tell you what you're looking at, at all. Instead, he may say he was trying to show you a scene in abstract and you're left to imagine what he's chosen to portray abstractly. In other photos, you are told about the personalities of the subjects in great detail or given another little glimpse into their characters, as they've been described beneath various other "plates" throughout the book. One character is a friend of the narrator but at the same time the narrator finds him maddening. He may have been my favorite.

There were times I found myself chuckling out loud. Here's one example, Plate 50 (page 53):
This is a portrait of Jeff Tinter and his chicly distressed and be-stickered suitcase. He is one of those fidgety itinerants who is always going places, meeting people, having experiences. He is the sort of person Amy envies and who I feel I am expected to envy, but who, in fact, I habitually suspect of having some sort of psychological disorder. A serial obsessor perpetually on the run from boredom, he thinks of himself as a romantic figure, a modern-day maverick. I was once stuck in an elevator with him for almost two hours. He told me a whole lot more than I needed to know about Alaska.
Highly recommended for literature fans, particularly when you desire to read something different and surprising. Unexpected, imaginative, quirky, smart and funny. At a mere 125 pages (some of which have only a single line of text), The Photo Album is a very quick nibble of a read but one you'll want to revisit. I didn't mark any quotes (the two above were pulled out at random) because I zipped through the book, simply enjoying where it took me, but Dixon has an excellent vocabulary and next time I read the book I'll keep track of the vocabulary words I have to look up. I always learn something when I read K. B. Dixon.

Just walked in:

Time Scene Investigators: The Influenza Bomb by McCusker & Larimore (from Paperback Swap).

Masses of people are dying from a mysterious flu. While the TSI team searches for a cure, a notorious eco-terrorist group, Return to Earth, uses an influenza bomb to poison the water. It's a race against time--with the outcome impacting the entire world.

I read McCusker & Larimore's first book, TSI: The Gabon Virus and enjoyed it. This one seems rather timely, given the recent halt of research on a particular strain of influenza virus because of concerns that it could be used by terrorists.

In other news:

I had to drop by the gym to exercise early yesterday, instead of going at my usual time, because I had an errand to run. So, I ended up having to share my personal trainer with another woman. As we were talking, she mentioned that she's employed at my husband's workplace and I asked her which division she works in. She told me and it happens to be my husband's division, so she asked me who my husband is. I told her and she said, "He's a good guy. But, don't tell him I said that. Tell him I said he's a bag of dirt." Then, she reminded me how adorable Kiddo was as a baby, with his red hair and chubby legs and "that hat you used to put on him."

I went home and told husband, who was home for lunch, who I'd run into and that she told me to tell him he's a bag of dirt. He grinned and said, "Yes. That's our relationship." Boy, I wish I could be a fly on the wall in my husband's office, sometimes.

About to finish:

Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne - An exceptional read about the downfall of the Comanche Indians and their last chief, Quanah Parker, the son of a chief and a captive white woman. It's taken me a long time to read this book because of the violence but it's worth the time. I may have to look for something sweet and light to recover from the reading.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I changed my template!

Because I'm pleased with myself, you get another cat picture (of Izzy watching leaves fly -- another "older" photo because I am still having difficulty loading new photographs).

I've been messing around with various blogger templates for days. All of them seemed to either squish things I didn't want squished or knock my sidebar items completely out of view. Finally, I realized there are some ways around the problems I was having, with this particular template (one of my favorites). And, voila!

There are still a lot of changes I want to make to the blog, but I was so sick of looking at my old template that I considered completely giving up blogging, just so I wouldn't have to look at it, anymore! Perhaps the new look will help. What do you think?

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fiona Friday - How to hit a high note


And, while I've got you . . . the latter part of this week has been headachy, hence the quiet. But, whilst fighting Picasa and a migraine, I've been very entertained.

Some things Isabel did, today:
  • Popped bubbles in a sink full of water
  • Played soccer with an earplug
  • Attacked the fringe on a woolen throw rug
  • Pounced Fiona
  • Tried to flush the toilet, repeatedly

Things Fiona did:
  1. Stress ate
  2. Got pounced
  3. Hid from Isabel

Things husband did:
  • Got stuck behind a flaming, car-carrying, 18-wheeler (He is still waiting for firefighters to clear the road at 12:20 AM)
I didn't make it to my Face-to-Face book group on Wednesday night because a migraine sent me to bed, but I am only 1/3 of the way into Empire of the Summer Moon, anyway. It's a great book; it's just heavy on people slaughtering each other. I get weary of the violence and set it aside, now and then. I'm not sure reading stories about WWII in Kurt Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect was necessarily the right choice for a break from Comanches and Texans killing each other but, as always, I'm thoroughly impressed with Vonnegut.

Just walked in:

  • Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas - from Sourcebooks, for review
  • Learned Optimism by Martin E. P. Seligman - purchased
  • A box of coffee that husband ordered online. Mmmm.

Just watched:

Logan's Run starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter - I was pleased to note that I recognized the source when Peter Ustinov quoted from T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

That's all for now!

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

When Bellezza wrote about Me Before You, I knew I absolutely had to read the book. I already was a fan of Jojo Moyes and the story touches on an issue that's very important to me: the right to die with dignity. But, I had no idea just how deeply moving the story would be. Like Bellezza, I have to write about it right now, while the feeling is still fresh, with 3 crumpled, damp tissues nearby and Isabel kitty still recovering from watching with wide-eyed concern as I sobbed.

Me Before You tells the story of two people whose lives have abruptly changed. As the book opens, we meet Will Traynor, a man who is a successful businessman and world traveler, a man who loves life and lives it to the fullest. He is dashing off to work in the pouring rain when tragedy strikes, leaving him unable to function on his own, a quadraplegic who can feel pain but has very limited movement in only one arm.

Fast-forward two years. Louisa Clark has just lost her job as a waitress at the Buttered Bun, a cozy cafe near the town's castle. 26 years old, living at home, dating the same man she's been with for 6 years, Lou has no interest in change and no idea what to do next; however, she has no choice but to work. Her father is likely to lose his job, her mother is tasked with caring for her grandfather, who had a stroke, and her sister's job pays very badly.

Lou applies for a job as carer for a paraplegic as a last ditch effort. It's a temporary job and she has no experience caring for a disabled man. But, Will's mother isn't looking for experience. Will has only promised his mother 6 more months before he plans to take his own life at Dignitas. Mrs. Traynor hopes that Lou's bright personality will help Will to realize that his life is still worth living.

It takes time for Will and Lou to warm up to each other, but her playful sense of humor and sparkling wit can't be overlooked by a man as sharp as Will Traynor. Slowly, she draws him out of his bitter shell and their relationship deepens. And, it's a two-way street. At the same time Lou is making Will's days pleasant, he is teaching her how to step outside her self-imposed boundaries, to live life to the fullest.

I won't tell you how the book ends, apart from saying that I was a bit astonished to find the story both heartbreaking and beautiful without being depressing. Me Before You is a love story, but it's so much more. It's about really living life every day, the question of whether or not anyone has a right to die with dignity at a time of his or her own choosing, the emotional and physical pain of quadriplegia and how a relationship that lacks the usual physical comforts can be much deeper and more intimate than the norm. Me Before You is a powerful story that brings up a lot of questions and would make an excellent discussion book (although, perhaps, one that could potentially lead to a bit of a shouting match between those with differing opinions).

Highly recommended to those who love a meaningful story of love, life and loss. Miserably, compulsively readable, with exceptional dialogue and character development and not a single wasted word in its 481 pages (in my humble opinion). Me Before You was just released this week by Penguin Books, although it appears that it's a UK release and not yet available in the US [Update: The author has confirmed that Me Before You has just been released in the UK but said she hopes a US release will be coming up "very soon"]. Bellezza very kindly sent me her copy when I mentioned how much I love Jojo Moyes' writing. Thank you, Bellezza!!

Be sure to check out Bellezza's review of Me Before You and Jojo Moyes' website. I've read two other books by Jojo Moyes: Foreign Fruit and The Ship of Brides. And, I have two others waiting on my shelves. Wahoo for that.

I suppose this means my "blogging break" has just gone out the window. Well, that's fine. If saying I'm going to step away leads to suddenly finding that I'm ready to write reviews, I'm okay with that.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Every now and then, a gal reads a book that sends her into a complete reviewing tizzy, certain there's no way to express just how much she loved it, much less describe its worth in a way that it deserves. Little Princes is one of those books and the main reason I opted to step away from the computer for a few days. It's that good.

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal is the full title. Okay. Deep breath.

At 29, Conor Grennan decided he needed a change of pace and decided to take a year off from work to travel the world. He began his journey with a 3-month volunteer job at an orphanage called Little Princes Children's Home in Nepal. Since the author had no friends who had children or little nieces and nephews, he was not the slightest bit experienced with children. He was clueless about what he was getting into.

As anyone who has been around children knows, they're both challenging and rewarding to care for. What's remarkable about Grennan is that he went into a job that involved a great deal of personal discomfort and, rather than portray himself as heroic for doing so, he's completely honest about how he felt. He was overwhelmed, hungry, cold and not certain he'd made the right choice. But, even more admirable is his transformation. From a man who knew nothing about children and was perplexed as to why they climbed on him like a tree, he emerged an advocate who cared deeply about the children with whom he'd spent three months of his life.

It didn't take long for Grennan to find out that the children he came to love had been trafficked -- taken from their parents for large sums of money with the promise that they would be safe, educated and cared for after being taken from the war-torn region of Humla to Kathmandu. Instead of being treated as promised, they were abused, enslaved or simply dumped to fend for themselves. But, it wasn't till he returned from the remainder of his year-long round-the-world trip that the author became aware of the full story -- that in spite of war, the children were not necessarily orphans.

I don't want to go into too much detail because the book is worth buying, reading and passing around. But, there was a particular man responsible for much of the child trafficking and once Grennan and another man from Little Princes discovered seven children in need of a rescue, things began to change. When he returned to the U.S. and found out the rescued children had disappeared, Grennan altered his plans completely. He went from being a temporary volunteer who loved a bunch of children enough to return for a visit (but who planned to resume his career) to a man with a mission.

Determined to find the missing children, for whom he felt responsible, Grennan founded a non-profit organization, raised funds and returned to Nepal to find the missing, make a home for them, and locate the parents he now knew still lived without any knowledge of what had become of their offspring.

I cannot say enough good things about Little Princes. The author's writing offers readers a rare combination of humility, charm, self-effacing humor and sincerity. His story is deeply moving and yet his writing style is absolutely lovely and light. You can't help but wish you knew him. In addition to being an adventure with the occasional dangerous hike or encounter with the wrong people and a story of the stunning difference one man can make, Little Princes is has a touch of romance as Grennan met a fellow volunteer and fell in love.

Geez, talk about a sap. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about this book! Little Princes is the best kind of memoir. I laughed; I cried. Highly recommended. Buying the book can even make you feel a little valiant because a portion of the proceeds will go to Conor Grennan's non-profit organization, Next Generation Nepal.

You can read more about the book and the organization at Conor Grennan's website.

Not much of a break, eh? Well, I'm not done taking time to just read, yet, but I had been hacking away at this particular review for days and finally decided how I wanted to go about wrapping it up. I figured I should do the writing while I had the inspiration.

I've finished two books, so far: A Good American by Alex George and The Pocket Therapist by Therese J. Borchard (which I happened across in a cabinet, partly read, and decided to finish off). I also cleaned a closet. Very happy about that.

I imagine I'm going to go to my book club without having completed Empire of the Summer Moon, but I'll do my best to get as much of that read as possible by Wednesday. I got a little bored with The Phantom of the Opera, last night, and added Me Before You by Jojo Moyes to the books I'm juggling. It's so good that I might set The Phantom aside for a few days.

Apropos of nothing: I just recently came across a file of husband's photos from a business trip to Germany in 2009 and there are quite a few photos that made me laugh. As much as I'd like to know what exactly is happening in this photo, I love it just because it looks like, "Dude, quit trying to spit on me."

Germany just flew to the top of my wish list of places to go.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fiona Friday - That is so not a cat

I'm unable to upload photos from my memory card, at the moment, so my grand-dog gets the spotlight for today. Don't you love the look of adoration on Peyton's face as my daughter-in-law put a Christmas ribbon around her neck and antlers on her head?

I am also going to take a few days off to read and step away from the computer. I'm currently halfway through A Good American by Alex George (an ARC; release date is coming up soon, in February) and about a third of the way into The Phantom of the Opera. I'm enjoying both. The other two books in my sidebar have suffered while I obsessively watched Season 1 of Downton Abbey. I need to read Empire of the Summer Moon by Wednesday of next week, though, so I'll pick it up again, soon.

Happy Reading!

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes

I've known about Hal Spacejock for a long time (Simon Haynes is one of my Nano friends) and tried to acquire a copy of the book; but, even mighty Amazon couldn't get me a paper copy of Hal Spacejock from Down Under when I first sought it out. I could have acquired a PDF download but I don't like sitting at the computer to read for any great length of time.

A few weeks ago, Hal Spacejock showed up as a free Kindle download -- this time in the pretty e-book form. And, now I have an iPad with a Kindle app, so I had that sucker loaded in nothing flat.

Hal Spacejock is a slap-stick outer space tale about a Firefly-like cargo spaceship called the Black Gull (not in the greatest shape; used for interplanetary transport). Hal Spacejock is the name of the pilot. Hal is out of work and out of money. Then, someone offers him a job he can't refuse. Described as a quick transport job, it is in fact a job that nobody else will take because the planet where he is supposed to pick up robot parts is currently a no-fly zone. The military is doing target practice and anyone who shows up will become a target.

Hal's new employer sends a robot by the name of Clunk to help with the piloting. Clunk is to be reconditioned upon their arrival because he's not in the greatest shape, either. As it turns out, Hal is a pretty bad pilot and Clunk has better manners than Hal, as well as piloting skills. And, there are many complications.

I'm not going to go into any great detail, but it takes a surprising amount of time for Hal to even get off the planet. Once that occurs, Hal and Clunk go through a string of adventures that make you think Hal is one of those Too Stupid to Live characters. Light-hearted and plot-heavy, Hal Spacejock is a book to read when you're in a mood for a fun read and willing to shut off your skepticism.

Normally, I don't read reviews before writing my own, but I did glance through the Amazon reviews and found that a lot of people found Hal unlikable. But, I think he warmed up as the book progressed. I knew Hal Spacejock is just the first in a series; it didn't bother me that he was more than a little rough around the edges. And, I liked Clunk so much that I paid slightly less attention to Hal and more to his friendly, mostly-competent, nearly-human robot and his spaceship's computer, which had vague hints of Douglas Adams.

Recommended for sci-fi lovers in the mood for a little crazy, action-packed fun. Be patient with Hal. It takes him some time to soften up but he improves toward the end. I'll be downloading the next book in the series, soon.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy by Marsha Altman

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy is the 4th book in Marsha Altman's Pride & Prejudice spin-off series and they absolutely must be read in order, but let me just put this out there: They're my favorites. If you like Austen spin-offs, you should definitely read them, in my humble opinion.

Onward. Gregoire Darcy is one of two unexpected brothers that Fitzwilliam Darcy manages to discover in Altman's wild and crazy series. I think he showed up in the second book, but there's been enough space between the reading of the titles that I'm not certain. At any rate, he's a monk and the book is not merely about Gregoire. It's a continuation of an epic family saga written by the one author I believe stays closest in characterization to Austen's originals (at least, in dialogue). And, yet, she is so wildly creative that -- at the same time -- Altman manages to make them all her own.

In The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy, Gregoire nearly dies and he is excommunicated. I think that's the right word. He's kicked out of the monk business, at any rate, but the reasons are quite fascinating. I can't go into details; that would be telling. In England, Gregoire must find his place. Will Gregoire ever be able to reconcile his austere days with his new life as a gentleman? What should he do next? And, might Gregoire possibly find love in this new life?

Meanwhile, there's all sorts of other adventure and madness happening. The only problem I have with The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy is the fact that the Darcys and Bingleys are so freaking prolific that it's hard to keep track of and distinguish between all the youngsters running around.

The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy is a marvelous, escapist read. There are a few characters who are almost clownish in their oddity and they are the reason the third book was my least favorite. Fortunately, those particular characters have a lesser role in the fourth installment and I absolutely loved it.

Recommended for readers of Jane Austen spin-offs and/or fans of epic family sagas who don't mind the fact that the author used someone else's characters as a starting point. Just be certain to read them in order.

The other books in the series (with links to my reviews):

Things I'm working on but for which you should not hold your breath waiting:

  • 2011 Reading Year in Review Post, which may include my reading goals if adding them doesn't make the post so long it won't fit on your screen.
  • Learning to speak Italian (I just did Lesson 1).
  • Highlighting the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list to see how many I've read (and, in another color, those I've attempted and given up on -- quite a few of those, near as I can tell).
  • The laundry. It never ends.
Other totally useless information:

I gave this eyeglass holder (which we refer to as "The Nose") to Kiddo as a stocking-stuffer for Christmas. He announced that he found it distasteful (actually, he may have used a lesser word) and I have therefore adopted The Nose. Quite frankly, I really love The Nose. I think he's quite handsome and it's very nice knowing where to find my glasses.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Black Madonna by Louisa Ermelino

"And a bathroom with colored tiles on the wall," one of the women said to another in a low voice, "pink and green, laid in a pattern, like a checkerboard."

How do you know?" someone asked.

"What do you mean by that? You think I'm lying? Tony the plumber told my husband."

The women argued about who knew what and who told whom, but they all agreed that whatever the color of the bathroom tiles, Magdalena had fallen in good. "If things had gone different," one of them said, "it could have been Teresa living in that house."

But Mary Ziganetti shook her head. "Teresa never had the luck. Some people, they got a horseshoe up their ass, but not Teresa."

( ~ p. 36 of The Black Madonna)

The Black Madonna by Louisa Ermelino is yet another book I just recently happened across as I cleaned house. In fact, I considered just donating it. I took a look at the cover and thought, "It's probably one of those old chick lit books I used to love." But, just in case, I read the cover and then sat down to read a few pages. Nope, not chick lit. And, I couldn't put it down.

The Black Madonna sucked me in like a tornado. I don't know how else to put it but to tell you that the story is authentic in a way that makes you feel as if you've been dropped into another world, one so completely believable that looking away from the book for a moment is jarring.

Almost the entire book takes place on Spring Street in New York's Little Italy and in a fictional Italian village; and, the focus is the women. First, you meet Teresa in 1948 and experience her heartbreak as her son Nicky takes a 3-story fall while playing Tarzan with his friend, Jumbo. The doctors say he will never walk again; but, Teresa refuses to believe her son won't recover. She'll do anything within her power to encourage a miracle.

The second section is about Magdalena, stepmother of young Salvatore, and it takes place in 1936. Salvatore is Nicky's closest friend; the two of them are like brothers. Since you've already been introduced to Magdalena and Teresa, the jump backwards in time not only gives you a full perspective of one woman's life and how she came to live on Spring Street but also fills in some gaps in the stories of her neighbors. Teresa's personality and her story become even more well-rounded while Magdalena is magically acquiring a husband in Italy.

The final story is about Antoinette. It's 1968. Jumbo, Nicky and Salvatore are now grown men with very different lives. Jumbo still fits his name and everyone assumes he'll never find a woman but Antoinette is fine with that. Jumbo has always been the most precious part of her life -- even if he does keep getting in trouble for gambling and once had to run for his life. The kind of woman whose world is almost entirely lived in the kitchen, where she cooks to show her love to her family, Antoinette is big and loving but just a bit possessive. Will Jumbo stand up to his mother and the potential in-laws who wrinkle their nose at him? Or, will Antoinette and the mother of Jumbo's true love win the day?

Just reading those little blurbs doesn't tell you much about the book. The real joy of reading The Black Madonna is in the immersion into the world of the characters. You get to know the women, how they feel about each other, what they say behind closed doors and out in the street, how they treat their children and which sun (love, money, food) their worlds revolve around. But, you also get to know pretty much everyone else in the neighborhood. You're in the apartment with the boys when they decide to smoke and drink while Mom's away. You're down on the sidewalk listening to the men and watching them unfold their chairs and sip their drinks while they watch the women gossip and the children play.

At the heart of all this is the "Black Madonna." According to the author, the Black Madonna is "a powerful image representing the rich dark earth and its crops, the instincts of the flesh, sexuality, fertility, female power, the dark uncertain side of life, and a reminder that life is not always what's obvious." [p. 259 of The Black Madonna]

Each of the women featured in the book have their own little shrines to the Black Madonna. They pray for their own little miracles or create their own magic, but the Black Madonna is at the center of everything. I found that central theme a little strange, but in spite of the fact that I really felt like the book is focused on the women, there's no escaping the fact that the women rely on their belief in this strange alter-ego of Christ's mother and give her credit when good things happen.

My copy of The Black Madonna was copyrighted in 2001 and published by Kensington Books (in arrangement with Simon & Schuster, Inc.). I looked up the author and found that she's only published 3 books. Ah, disappointment. I was hoping she'd written a dozen, by now. But, I'll eagerly gobble down the other two, when I can find copies of them.

Highly, highly recommended. The Black Madonna is not just any old read; it's an experience. It was really quite sad leaving the world when I finished the book. That old-fashioned sense of everyone in a neighborhood being a part of each other's world is something I really loved as a child and still miss.

Just walked in:

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley - from Paperback Swap
The Photo Album by K. B. Dixon - from author for review (I don't accept many books directly from authors, these days, but this will be my third by Dixon, so . . . he's grandfathered in, I suppose)
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan - library sale purchase
Love Lies Bleeding by Jess McConkey - library sale purchase
Swim to Me by Betsy Carter - library sale purchase

That's pretty much all the news. My weekend was shot, thanks to a killer migraine and the woozy after-effects of medicating it into submission. But, today was great. Bounce, bounce. Happy Monday!

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer is a memoir I've been hearing about for years. I came across my copy (acquired via Paperback Swap but promptly set aside) whilst deep cleaning and eagerly dived into the reading.

For those who aren't familiar with the store: Shakespeare & Co. is a Paris bookstore, famously known not only for its books but also for housing a rotating community of scruffy, soup-eating hopeful authors. Mercer stayed at the store while attempting to figure out what to do with his life.

After giving up his crime-reporting job due to a death threat, the author traveled to Paris but he ate through his savings rapidly. His memoir tells about fleeing his Canadian hometown in fear, his early days in Paris, time at Shakespeare & Co., and the literary magazine he and another resident eventually began to publish, Kilometer Zero.

Although Time Was Soft There is a memoir, it's not merely about the author's experience. Mercer also describes Shakespeare & Company's history and owner George Whitman's life. Whitman has since passed away (but he apparently lived to 98 -- maybe there's something to just living with the dirt, rather than trying to keep everything squeaky clean). The store lives on.

Although I was too busy to read much, Time Was Soft There went with me to Nashville during our Christmas holiday, along with several other books, and was the only book I bothered to continue reading when I had a spare moment. During those spare moments, I read a bit on the "rabidly" side.

I'm not quite sure what exactly I expected -- certainly not the mention of insect life, but perhaps the grubbiness of the store's residents -- however, in many ways the book was far better than anticipated. I loved the fact that Time Was Soft There is part memoir, part bio of the store's owner, part history. Memoirs run the gamut from humble to self-aggrandizing and Time Was Soft There strikes a nice balance.

Addendum: I'd completely forgotten that I read an excerpt from Time Was Soft There in Paris Was Ours (<---link to my review), which I read early in 2011. Thanks to editor Penelope Rowlands for the reminder. That particular excerpt was one of my favorites; no wonder I went into the reading with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Recommended to memoir-loving book fiends.

On a related note, we watched Midnight in Paris, two nights ago. The entire time we were watching, I kept hoping Shakespeare & Co. would show up. Sure enough, there was a brief image. Too brief, really, but I made a little noise of excitement when the bookstore finally made an appearance. Husband was baffled. What, pray tell, was so exciting about that extremely minimal view of the bookstore? he asked (my wording). "I just read about it," I said. "Oh." Shrug. There's really no accounting for crazy book people, I suppose.

In case you're interested, Kiddo and I loved the movie (about a writer who is transported to the Twenties, where he hangs out with the expat artistic crowd gathered in Paris), even though there's no escaping the usual feel of a Woody Allen movie. I thought Owen Wilson did a spectacular job of portraying a Woody Allen role without the usual stiffness and odd gestures that make Allen's movies come across looking so staged. I do like a few Woody Allen films, just not many. Midnight in Paris is loads of fun for the literary-adoration crowd. We laughed a lot, Kiddo and I. Husband left the room. He said it was way too "typical Woody Allen" for his taste.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Moment, ed. by Larry Smith

File The Moment under "Worst Covers Ever, Ever". Personal opinion. Now that we've gotten that out of the way . . .

I had trouble putting this book down and read it in a single afternoon -- which is, in fact, a bit unusual for me. The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous and Obscure is a book of short (not 6-word, but never more than a handful of pages), biographical stories about life-changing, ephiphany-type moments. Some of them are a little obscured by flowery language or even a little baffling. Meaning: "In what way did this change your life?" -- I didn't always "get it". However, most of these little autobiographical vignettes are clearly, even beautifully, written and meaningful, many to the point of tear-jerker depth.

A handful of the stories are written in graphic/illustration form. I loved most of the illustrated moments for the change of pace, although I do wish the final illustrated tale had been left out completely. It's entitled, "I Couldn't Get it Up". That pretty much tells you all you need to know. So much for leaving The Moment out where youngsters can pick it up to find inspiration. On the basis of the final story, then, the book gets a family warning. Disappointing, because I do think inspiring stories can be encouraging to youngsters.

Recommended with family warning due to a single illustrated story -- which, I suppose, one can simply remove. Apart from that one itty-bitty problem, I think kids as young as 10 could get something out of The Moment. Well-written, diverse stories -- some humorous, others inspiring, a few moved me to tears.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Fiona Friday - Isabel's turn

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Time for a Hug by Gershator, Green & Walker review and update

Time for a Hug by Phillis Gershator & Mim Green
Illustrated by David Walker
Copyright 2012
Sterling Children's Books
(Ages 3-5)
24 pages

Wake up! Wake up!
The day is new.
The clock says eight.
What shall we do?

Wash our faces,
comb our hair,
choose the clothes we like to wear.

Eat from a bowl,
drink from a mug--
What time is it?
Time for a hug!

The little bunny in Time for a Hug is one well-loved little guy. After the intro, above, he gets another hug at 9:00 and then 10:00. He and his mother bake a pie, make sock puppets, build with blocks, read and snuggle, then hug some more.

Time for a Hug is a lovely, upbeat book for preschoolers with cheerful illustrations. As a small child, many of my favorite books had catchy rhymes and happy themes; and, they were always the first I'd reach for to read to my own small children, particularly when I was tired. A happy book with a nice rhythm is always a pleasure to read. Time for a Hug is one of those books I can imagine a small child adoring and it's certainly a great book to snuggle up and read (plus, a good excuse for lots of hugging).

Highly recommended for parents and grandparents of small children. Many thanks to Sterling Books for the review copy. I usually try to pass on children's books to a new home after reviewing them but am sorely tempted to keep this one.

In other news:

I haven't said much, this week, because it's my last week with Kiddo around the house and he made it a busier week when he was involved in a fender-bender (hit from behind -- all involved were uninjured). Other than the accident, the start of the year has been a good one. I've finished two books:

  • The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy by Marsha Altman - The fourth installment in my all-time favorite Pride & Prejudice spin-off series, and
  • Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes - A crazy, slap-stick sci-fi by a Nano buddy of mine, which is currently free for Kindle download (I'll be buying the next in the series).

Time for a Hug will be counted as my third, short as it is, and I'm on the verge of finishing Little Princes by Conor Grennan - the memoir of a man who made it his mission to rescue trafficked children in Nepal and reunite them with their parents. So far, I've loved everything I've read in 2012.

I'm slowly but surely working on my reading, writing and blogging goals for 2012 but I'm not sure they're worth posting about. However, among them is a goal to clean up the look of my blog and I'm working on moving my blogroll to a separate page for starters. Recreating links is turning out to be a bigger chore than I'd anticipated, so it may take me a while.

I've also decided to rewrite my review policy. My first attempt was more like a novella than a review policy, so I took down the link and will attempt to create something very brief.

No new books have entered my house, this week. I did receive a few over the Christmas holiday. I've already read one and am about to finish another, which leaves three:

  • Vurt by Jeff Noon from Paperback Swap - I have no idea where I read about this book but it sounded unique and was readily available, so I ordered a copy.
  • A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware - from Sourcebooks, for review
  • The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel - from Unbridled Books, for review
Fiona Friday post is coming up, next. I decided to remove the cat photo from this entry and make it a separate post. Sorry, Christmas apparently ate my brain. I forgot Friday and cats go together!

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Quick aside - 2011 Self-Challenge Recap

I opted not to officially sign up for any challenges in 2011, instead setting aside a shelf and starting what I called my "One Shelf at a Time Self-Challenge." Anybody want to place bets on how well that went?

Let's just say there won't be a big party with streamers and champagne. Of the books pictured above (my self-challenge shelf), I only finished the following:

All three were wonderful books. I also dipped into and rejected a few:

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald - probably just not the right moment,
Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda -whose book of short stories, I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere is one of my all-time favorite short-story collections, and
Bad Girls of the Bible by Liz Curtis Higgs - did not like the way she fictionalized the Biblical account of Eve and couldn't talk myself into going on to the next character, not knowing whether or not I'd know the real story well enough to get anything out of the fictionalized retelling.

One book was taken off the challenge shelf by its owner (my eldest son), who said he couldn't wait any longer for me to read it because he had a friend who wanted to borrow it:

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

The rest just sat there, eventually forgotten as I became overwhelmed by review books. It wasn't till November that I realized I'd forgotten about the shelf entirely, probably somewhere around July because I do recall thinking, "I should do a 6-month recap" and not getting to it. By the time I remembered I had a challenge shelf it, was obviously too late to read all those books; however, I did read Garlic & Sapphires and attempted Hunting & Gathering because they were borrowed books and I didn't think I should keep them beyond the end of the year.

This is a good example of why I don't join in on challenges. I'm a challenge failure. But, apart from the books I've rejected, I still do want to read all the remaining books on that shelf. During 2011 I managed to read The Goose Girl, which was published prior to Enna Burning (both by Shannon Hale) and therefore needed to be read first, anyway. So, there Enna will sit until her time comes.

I have some Christmas cookies to work off. Must dash, for now. I may inundate you with more reviews, later.

©2012 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.