Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie by Jacobs & Jewett

Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie by Laurie A. Jacobs, illustrated by Anne Jewett, tells the story of two little girls who enjoy an evening of babysitting with their nutty grandmother. When Grandma Tillie shows up, Sophie and Chloe know they're in for a treat, even though:

Grandma Tillie says she is too old to play games.
She says all she likes to do is sit and knit.

The moment their parents leave, though, Grandma Tillie disappears into the closet and reemerges with a giant pink wig, saying it's time for the "Tillie Vanilly Show".

Tillie Vanilly can recite the alphabet
backwards while balancing on one leg.
She can hang a spoon from her nose.
And she can juggle and tell jokes
at the same time.

She tells a few jokes and starts up a conga line that leads to the kitchen. Then, she trades her pink wig for a lampshade hat and becomes Chef Silly Tillie. After feeding Sophie and Chloe, she sends them to the bathroom to wash their hands and shows up wearing sparkly eyeglasses and a bathroom towel on her head, wrapped like a turban. Madame Frilly Tillie gives the girls their bath, including a bubble beard for one and a tower of bubbles on the head of the other.

But, at bedtime, the real Grandma Tillie returns to read a bedtime story. And, Sophie says:

But as I close my eyes,
I'm sure I hear my Silly
Frilly Grandma Tillie
dancing down the hall.

You can see more of the artist's work, including images from Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie at Anne Jewett's Art Blog. While I thought the cat looked a bit like a chipmunk and I can't say I was a fan of the giant pink wig, I loved the artwork and I like the creativity of the storyline. Some little girls may wish for a crazy grandmother after having Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie read to them. And, I'm sure little boys would enjoy the book, too, since it's directed at small enough children that a whole lot of pink and all girls won't make a difference to them.

Recommended - A creative, playful storyline with bold, happy illustrations make Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie a winner. Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie was just released by Flashlight Press.

Silly Isabel checks out a stuffed cockatoo, one of many treasures I found whilst "cleaning" the closet, this weekend:

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Monday Malarkey - Mini reviews of Fairy Tale Interrupted; Paris, My Sweet; The Return of the Soldier; Eloise; & Corrie ten Boom's Prison Letters

There is a stunning amount of blooming and budding happening in our area, so I did a little photography, this weekend. But, mostly I worked on cleaning. Or, at least that's what I call it. From the looks of things, I worked at making a very big mess. I dragged bins full of books out of a closet, you see. And, as I was going through them to do the regular purging chore, I kept getting sidetracked.

That always happens when I'm trying to purge. At any rate, I finished 5 books and I'm not going to write full reviews of them, so here's a brief run-down of each:

Fairy Tale Interrupted by RoseMarie Terenzio - A Memoir of Rose's time working for John F. Kennedy, Jr., beginning with her PR job and how she gradually got to know JFK, Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessett, then became his receptionist, personal assistant and friend while working at George magazine. As much a lovely tribute to the late Kennedy and his wife as a memoir about her work life and love life, Fairy Tale Interrupted is a quick, enjoyable read.

The only thing I disliked about Fairy Tale Interrupted was the litany of the perks that went with working for such a fabulously wealthy man and reading about the author's self-esteem issues. But, they're part of the story. They just interested me less than the famous couple and how Rose became close to them.

Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas - Another memoir, Paris, My Sweet is about the author's two years living in Paris, working in advertising for Louis Vuitton, biking the streets of Paris to seek out the best desserts.

Less a travel memoir and more a foodie journal, I didn't realize the emphasis on sweets would alternately make me feel queasy and droolish. The writing is light and fun, so I enjoyed it. I would have preferred to read more about her travels around Europe and less about all those desserts, though, even though her search for desserts was the whole point. Lesson learned. I think most foodie memoir lovers will enjoy this one and I do recommend it.

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West - The intro to Good Evening, Mrs. Craven compared Mollie Panter-Downes' writing with that of Rebecca West, her contemporary, so I'd been planning to read something by Rebecca West out of curiosity. Then, I happened to look at a pile of books and there was a Rebecca West, staring me in the face. At only 82 pages, The Return of the Soldier is a quick read but a powerful one. It is 1918. Chris has not written home from the front [WWI] for a fortnight and his cousin Jenny is worried but wife Kitty assumes he's fine because they haven't been contacted by the war office.

Then, an impoverished woman arrives at their fabulous estate with a telegram saying he's been injured and says she also received a letter written by Chris and sent from the hospital. He has suffered amnesia and his last memories are from 15 years ago. Margaret was the love of his life and it is she whom he has contacted. What happened to tear them apart? Why, upon his return, is he refusing to give in to the obvious changes in his life? If his memory returns, will he be sent back to the front? How far should the women go to ensure his safety? And, why did the war office not contact Kitty?

There is so much to this little book that I wish I had someone to chat with about The Return of the Soldier. It's fascinating.

Eloise by Kay Thompson - I found a copy of Eloise, the classic children's book about an active little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her nanny, while cleaning. I'd completely forgotten how oh my Lord fun it is and had a grand old time re-reading Eloise. My copy is not an original but one I purchased when I was working at a bookstore. I need an excuse to buy the rest of the books in the Eloise series.

Corrie ten Boom's Prison Letters - Letters and notes (smuggled out with the help of a German officer) written during the time of The Hiding Place's author's first imprisonment at Scheveningen prison for helping Jews as well as the time spent with sister Betsie at Vught concentration camp. I believe The Hiding Place is about her time in Ravensbruck, where she miraculously was spared death due to a clerical error.

The letters came from both directions -- those written by Corrie and Betsie and those from family to the two prisoners. I can't read anything at all by Corrie ten Boom without tears and this was no exception. Besides being cold, starving, often ill and finding out that their father had died after only 9 days in prison, the biggest frustration for Corrie and Betsie was that so many people were not interested in listening to their message of hope (they were devout Christians). Deeply moving. My copy is a former library paperback with a pocket inside and yellowed tape holding bits of it 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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fiona Friday - There are things out there and they MOVE!

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino

Nothing is a better barometer of failure than the success of other people.

~p. 226 of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, Advance Reading Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print edition . . . when it's released, which will be March 20, 2012)

From the publisher's description:

Calvin Moretti can't believe how much his life sucks.

To carry on with the synopsis, in my own words:

Cal is 24, a film-school dropout living with his parents. His dad has cancer, is depressed about his inability to work and convinced he's going to die; he is stocking up on survival gear and food for the coming apocalypse. Cal's mother is losing her mind over the bills, trying to figure out how to keep from defaulting on their mortgage. Cal's 17-year-old sister Elissa is pregnant, and his exercise-obsessed brother Chip has moved home, the only successful wage-earner in the family, a fact that he likes to mention whenever convenient. Cal works with an autistic preschooler, but only because his mother made him get a job. He wants out of this mess, away from his crazy family. When he gets a chance to hang out with friends, he takes recreational drugs and gets terrible advice from them; they're not exactly winners, either.

The opening line? "I work with retards." You will be all set to hate Cal from page 1. But, the thing is . . . Cal is so obnoxious that you practically feel like you've met him. You know a Cal. You probably know a family that has been through the kind of domino-chain crises that the Morettis are going through. And, as you get to know his wacky family, you realize that it's not the individuals that matter, not the immaturity and the bad decisions each family member makes and which add up to a big, messy house of dysfunction. What matters is that they are a team and beneath all the crazy is a whole lot of love.

What I disliked about The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac:

I wanted to thwack everyone in that nutty family, at least once (usually a lot more). James, Cal's dad, is heinously depressed and fatalistic, so you want to hit him upside the head to get him to just quit the moping. But, then on the other hand, he does have cancer and when the doctors ignore his whining, you want to give them a swift kick. Cal's mom can't keep up with the bills but their house is a three-story that's appreciated dramatically since they purchased it. You want to swat her for not being realistic. Later in the book, she brings home a dog to try to cheer up James and you have to wonder how anyone could even remotely entertain the notion of bringing in a pet when she can't even get around to paying the water bill. Elissa ignores her doctor's specific diet instructions, Cal takes drugs and keeps telling himself he's reached a turning point and will do the adult thing but never does. Chip is just obnoxiously fit and likes to brag that he's the only child who is helping with the household expenses (true, but he doesn't have to be such a nuisance about it). There's even a tragedy dumped on your head about 30 pages from the end of the book. But, but, but . . . .

What I loved about The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac:

None of that matters! Seriously, it's the whole picture in this book that is so great -- the fact that Chip sits at one end of the couch with his legs intertwined with his dad's, Cal knows he's a loser but he's at least thinking about trying to be mature, Elissa is a sweet and zen, and their mom may be stressed and a little too attached to the house but she cares deeply about everyone. There aren't any scenes with the family dragging in expensive take-out food; they make home-cooked meals and Grandma often comes over to help. They're in each other's business but they mean well. They're just so freaking real.

Also, the dialogue is tremendously entertaining, the writing surprisingly light-hearted, and Cal is bizarre and immature enough that it's fun to love hating him. He never does quite grow up. He'll drive you bananas. Here's what he says when his mom brings home a dog:

"She's definitely irritating enough to be part of this family."

One more passage!

I am lying on the floor listening to black metal. I listen to Tentacles of Whorror. I listen to Codex Necro. I listen to Filosofem. My mother has already come in three times and asked me to turn it down. I ignore her.

"This is the music of insanity," she says from the doorway.

"Then it should replace the cuckoo clock as our family anthem," I tell her.

~p. 299

See? Don't you love them, already?

Highly recommended but you have to look at the whole, not the parts. The little family in The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac is a jigsaw that appears to be missing some major pieces but when you put it all together, what you find is that the picture is a big old sloppy heart. And, it's in that underlying theme, "Love will carry us through," that you can't help loving the Morettis. I'm guessing plenty of people will be turned off quickly, but I loved this book. Also, I think it's worth noting that I was so entertained that the fact that a major character had cancer (my one can't-stand-to-read-about-it condition) never did stop me from reading on.

My copy of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac was a surprise from Algonquin Books. I'm so glad they sent me this particular surprise! It was a nice antidote to the commonplace. I can't wait to see what Kris D'Agostino comes up with, next.

Since the Moretti family adopted a dog, today you get a doggy pic:

That's Care's Oscar on the left and Esther in the background. Oscar had just gotten a brushing. Didn't he look spiffy?

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We're With Nobody by Huffman and Rejebian

We're With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of Politics is not my normal reading fare. In fact, I would not have given it as second thought, if not for the fact that it's my book club's March selection. So, I was really shocked to find myself enjoying the book.

We're With Nobody is about two men, authors Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian, and their job working in "opposition research", a job that involves digging through public records in search of any negative information that can be used against a political candidate. They do "oppo" to dig up dirt on opposing candidates or in the backgrounds of the candidates they represent (usually Democrats) to help them prepare for anything their opposition may dig up. And, they have some surprising stories to tell about working both sides.

The chapters in We're With Nobody alternate between the voices of the two authors and are written in a very down-to-earth style; I'm not a political person, but they actually managed to make politics intriguing (if every bit as horrifying as I suspected). Both Huffman and Rejebian are former journalists. I became doubly interested in the book when I realized they both once worked as reporters at the Clarion-Ledger, the newspaper in what I refer to as the "Big City" - Jackson, Mississippi. They talk about how their backgrounds prepared them well for their current job, what exactly they do, some politicians they've investigated (mostly without naming names) and experiences they've had in dealing with clerks who will go out of their way to keep the public from viewing public records. Wait till you hear what they had to say about trying to find information on George W. Bush's years as governor of Texas! You'll want to scrape that "W" off your back window, if you haven't already.

Because I live in Mississippi, I recognized a few of the candidates Huffman and Rejebian didn't name and, I confess, I was shocked and horrified to find that one particular fellow whose toughness I admired after Hurricane Katrina was not only a man who should not have been in a position of authority but likely should have been behind bars. His possible crimes were considered too sordid to publicize by the opposing candidate. I talked that over with my personal trainer and we both felt the same. "We need to know these things!" However, for the men doing the research and writing the book, exposing the nasty doings of the people they research is not their place. It's the decision of whomever they work for to expose their opposition's misdoings or keep the information under their proverbial hats. Disappointing for those of us who would really like to know the whole truth when we place our votes.

What I loved about We're With Nobody:

We're With Nobody is very readable and the only book that has ever piqued my interest in politics. I've abandoned a few because they bored me to tears. In general, I tend to be a bit of an ostrich, when it comes to politics. I am well aware that politicians tend to be people who crave power, often without the best of motives, that the system is deeply flawed and awash in favoritism and sometimes crime, that the people we see running for office are at best well-spoken actors with good intentions and at worst criminals. But, somehow Huffman and Rejebian convinced me that I need to pay attention, that we all need the information they spend their time working to provide. They even go so far as to explain how to deal with clerks if/when you need to peruse public records, yourself.

On asking for information without giving away who you are or why you need info:

To always get and never give may seem selfish to some, but offering information to gain information diminishes its value and weakens the interviewer. Questions are a companion; they are a friend. And the more ways you know to ask them, the more successful you will be.

~p. 16

On how unexciting opposition research can be:

All that's left, after a long day of doing research in such a place, is either to retire to your hotel room or drive across the eight-lane highway to the Chili's bar to watch whatever game is on TV. I do not really follow sports, though I'm easily mesmerized by movement on the screen, and in such situations I must concentrate on keeping up with the score and the names of the teams in case someone saunters up to the bar and asks a challenging question such as, "Who's winning?" It's embarrassing to appear to be watching a game on TV and not even know who's playing. Likewise, it's humiliating to spend three days doing intensive research in a small town and come up with nothing of value of interest. You know there has to be something there. There's almost always something there.

~p. 66

On how to get a clerk to cooperate and give you access to the public records you seek to peruse (part 3 of 10 suggestions):

Assume the best, starting out. Smile. Scientists have found that approximately 25 percent of the human population is comprised of assholes; 25 percent, idiots, 25 percent, idiotic assholes; and 25 percent, people who are smart or nice or both. The breakdown is easily observed on any interstate highway. At the outset, assume that clerks are part of the latter group until proven otherwise, and make clear that you are, too. Even if they reveal themselves to be idiotic assholes and you have to fall back on verbal pepper spray, do not make the mistake of assuming a kindred role as a petty nuisance. It will only make things harder, and the people behind you in line will hate you, too. This doesn't mean you can't be forceful.

~p. 81

And, a bit of interesting trivia:

The world "deadline" actually has a deadly origin dating back to the Civil War. In the official records of the Union and Confederate armies is an obscure inspection report from the Confederate captain Walter Bowie dated May 10, 1864. The report describes conditions at the infamous prisoner-of-war camp for Union soldiers at Andersonville, Georgia. In it, Bowie wrote, "On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a dead-line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot."

The word, of course, has evolved into simply meaning a time limit to complete some activity. And though crossing a deadline today generally won't result in being shot, it can sometimes feel like it.

~p. 138

What I disliked about We're With Nobody:

Occasionally, Huffman & Rejebian's stories were incomplete (as a lead-in to other stories, perhaps) or mildly confusing because they chose not to use names. Not using names meant the use of pronouns, instead. I think they'd have been better off at least giving each individual some sort of moniker, like Gubernatorial Candidate A and The Opposition -- anything to make their stories clearer without altering their choice to keep the subjects anonymous.

Highly recommended - It doesn't matter that the candidates are not named. The bottom line is that We're With Nobody contains information that every voting citizen needs to know. If you're a voter in the United States, you should read We're With Nobody, especially if you're someone who likes to bury your head in the sand, vote straight-ticket (occasionally, the best candidate for the job will be the one you'd oppose) or not vote at all. Although there were times I got the players mixed up because of the lack of names, I found the book easily digestible and extremely informative.

Change of topic:

The small handful of people who are following my private Japan travel blog have probably been perplexed at the lack of activity. Just an FYI for all 8 of you: I misplaced my travel diary. And, since the photos are out of order, the farther I get from the trip, the more things get messed up in my mind. It remains to be seen whether I'll get back to updating that blog, but in the meantime, here's a photo of one of the protected Nara deer -- which can be stunningly obnoxious, pushy animals -- begging for ice cream. If you look right above the jeans-clad woman's right shoulder, you'll see that she's holding a green-tea ice cream cone.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine

501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine is a slender book of essays by a fellow who drifted from job to job across the United States and into Mexico, occasionally sinking into addiction while spending his off-work hours writing up a storm and trying to find his place in the world. The title is a just a tiny bit misleading; it's not a book about seeking Christ, although he has his spiritual moments. "501 Minutes to Christ" is the title of one of the essays and it has to do with a sign the author saw someone holding.

It's been quite a while since I finished 501 Minutes to Christ. I was extremely impressed with Poe Ballantine's writing but I've forgotten enough that I think it would be best to share a few quotations and note why I marked them.

I estimated a mile to Royal Street when the clouds just let go. It was that famous green New Orleans rain, like someone turning a lake upside down on your head. I dashed across the street and took cover in the doorway of a shoe-repair shop. The rain came with a vengeance, dark Gulf rain with shots of silver in it. The gutters swelled. The street shone like a river stippled by sweeping drifts of falling water.

~p. 26, from "World of Trouble" in 501 Minutes to Christ -- My note: I marked this passage because I can relate. I call that kind of rain, "God kicked over the bucket rain" and I haven't experienced it anywhere else but the Deep South. We have the most soaking, drenching, deeply uncomfortable rain, down here. The author had found himself stranded in New Orleans with no money; and, his experience when he reached the upscale restaurant he'd been invited to by a fellow who had a soft spot for the homeless is at once horrifying, sadly entertaining and thought-provoking.

She drove a Chrysler Cordoba the color of a Martian dust storm.

~p. 44 from "My Pink Tombstone" - My note: This sentence stopped me in my tracks. It's such a great description of color! It was in Poe Ballantine's descriptive power that I felt myself dying for more. When I'm off my book-buying ban, I'll look up more by Ballantine.

I walked down the main stretch, which went about sixteen or seventeen blocks. Too spread out. Not a good place to live without a car. The usual fast-food-and-RadioShack facade, plastic armature concealing the real town in a psychological experiment to see how long it takes before people start killing each other. The only thing that set it apart from any other place in America was a ranching supply company called BAR-F, except instead of a hyphen there was a tiny diamond between the R and the F. How much thought had gone into this name I couldn't guess. Also, I finally saw the famous Hale-Bopp comet, streaking across the firmament dragging the souls of the tool worshipers behind it.

~p. 78, from "Conspiracy and Apocalypse at the McDonald's in Goodland, Kansas" - My note: If that doesn't make you want to read more Poe Ballantine, I can't think what will. I want to go back and read the essay to remind myself what it's all about.

I can't count the number of times I have officially assembled the equipment to take my life: a knife, a handgun, a plastic bag, a bottle of codeine and a fifth of vodka. My motivations are never quite clear: perception of failure, futility, a sense of irremediable isolation, MTV--nothing everyone else hasn't suffered through. Yet I tend to magnify my gloomy outlook into a drive-in picture of the end of the world. I can't seem to remember that despair is a temporary state, a dark storm along the highway; that if I can just stick it out, keep the wipers going and my foot on the gas, I will make it through to the other side.

~p. 87, from "Advice to William Somebody" - My note: This is followed by a very touching conversation and more chatter about times the author felt suicidal. That little bit of dialogue reminded me how much a tiny bit of kindness can impact an anonymous stranger. The entire book of essays made me feel grateful for my life in too many ways to list.

The television leaks its steady treacle of prurience, gross sentiment, concentrated doom, and pathetic idealism until we are vacant and numb, then promises relief and fulfillment through the consumption of three-day erection tablets. An impossibly high standard of living can only translate into an impossibly high level of stress. Factor in the tremendous triumphs of technology, which have given many of us not only a mistaken assumption that life should be easy and pain-free but also an illusion that we are now the captains of our fate--spiritless primate voyagers spinning through a cooling gaseous accident with nothing better to do than nibble on Pringles potato chips and read Self magazine until the nonsensical end--and it is no wonder that we are the most medicated people on earth.

pp. 90-91, "Advice to William Somebody" - My note: Yep.

I arrived at the discipline late, at the age of twenty-nine, in part because I needed material, but mostly because I boarded a train called the Romantic Debauchery in the mistaken assumption that it would somehow get me to my destination quicker than the ones marked Hard Work and Paying Attention. Hundreds of wrong trains and many lost years later, I have learned that, despite the jovial public legends, inebriation and lucid expression are at odds with each other. If I am to write with spiritual integrity, I cannot be a drunken butterfly.

p. 96 from "501 Minutes to Christ" - My note: I've heard similar from a writer friend who found that alcohol and writing did not mix. I just thought this was beautifully put. However, 29 seems young for getting a serious start on one's purpose, to me. I must be getting old.

Highly recommended, but be aware that the author made some very poor choices that took him to seedy places and in and out of addiction. There are some graphic descriptions of sex and drug use. I appreciated the fact that the author (although it took him quite a while) eventually did manage to clean up his life; it's gratifying to read about his success, toward the end.

Many thanks to Andi for the recommendation!!!

I haven't mentioned arrivals, lately. Here's everything I can find that has recently walked in my door:

A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez - surprise from Algonquin Books
The Receptionist by Janet Groth (memoir) - surprise from Algonquin Books
The New Republic by Lionel Shriver - from HarperCollins
The Auroras by David St. John - (poetry) from HarperCollins
Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream - from HarperCollins
Cruising Attitude by Heather Poole (memoir) - from HarperCollins
Fairy Tale Interrupted by Rosemarie Terenzio (memoir) - Twitter prize win from Gallery Books
The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene - from Paperback Swap

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dropped the ball - link to free chapter of Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry

I've had a slow reading month and have not yet gotten around to reading Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry, which I was supposed to review for a tour, today. Fabry's June Bug was one of my favorite books in 2009, so I leapt at the chance to review and still do plan to read this book.

You can read a free chapter of Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry, here (my free chapter blog).

Summary of Not in the Heart from Chris Fabry's website:

Truman Wiley used to report news stories from around the world, but now the most troubling headlines are his own. He’s out of work, out of touch with his family, out of his home. But nothing dogs him more than his son’s failing heart.

With mounting hospital bills and Truman’s penchant for gambling his savings, the situation seems hopeless . . . until his estranged wife throws him a lifeline—the chance to write the story of a death row inmate, a man convicted of murder who wants to donate his heart to Truman’s son.

As the execution clock ticks down, Truman uncovers disturbing evidence that points to a different killer. For his son to live, must an innocent man die? Truman’s investigation draws him down a path that will change his life, his family, and the destinies of two men forever.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Malarkey - reading, cats and . . . paper dolls?

I have very little to report as our weekend was a quiet one. We broke a 24-hour rain record. Yuck. I finished one book:

On the Beach is a classic, post-apocalyptic tale set in Melbourne, Australia in the 1960s. It's quite thought-provoking, the central question being, "What would you do if most of civilization were already wiped out by radiation and you only had a matter of months to live?"

The cats were a loads of fun, as always. We had to throw away some luggage, last year, because two of our suitcases had been beaten to death. The replacements arrived via UPS on Friday and I set the boxes side-by-side for a couple days to let the kitties play in them. They had a grand old time.

I started reading one of the books Algonquin sent me, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino and -- wouldn't you know -- one of the characters has cancer, my sole unreadable character situation. But, it's so different and funny that it didn't bother me till I got to about page 90. Now . . . not sure if I can go on, but I'm going to try. The hero is so immature and unlikable that he's oddly, darkly magnetic. I love the dialogue and definitely want to know what's going to happen to the whole messed-up Moretti family.

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor is the other book I'm reading and it's one that puts me to sleep if I'm not in the right mood (but I love it, at other times) so I guess I need to decide which title I should throw into the mix, next.

I have one more January read to review before the month can be wrapped up: 501 Minutes to Christ by Poe Ballantine. While I was deeply impressed with Mr. Ballantine's writing, I waited way too long to review so I'll likely limit my post about it to a very brief synopsis and several quotations.

We watched the Christmas Special-slash-finale of Downton Abbey, Season 2 and loved it. Have you seen these printable Downton Abbey paper dolls? They're a hoot.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I've been tagged!

It has been eons since I've been tagged in a meme, so I was very excited when Care tagged me. You can read the questions she was asked by Trisha in her post.
1 You must post the rules.
2 Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
3 Tag eleven people and link to them on your post.
4 Let them know you’ve tagged them!
I stole this from Care:
Questions Care wrote for me to answer:
1. Tell me about any letters you’ve written lately to a friend just for the heck of it? Zippo! Okay, I have written a couple notes that I tucked in with little gifts I sent to people, but I don't know if those really count. Do they?
2. Do you have a favorite beer? Rootbeer. Apart from hard cider, I really don't touch alcohol. I know, weird.
3. If you ever write a book (or if you have), which genre would it be/is it? I've finished 3. They were general fiction and they sucked. I'd like to write historical fiction but I am Seriously History Stupid. However, I'm strongly considering studying up on my favorite time period and giving it a whirl.
4. What is your favorite dish to cook? I tend to like things that come out of a box, but only because I hate my kitchen so . . . I'll say pumpkin bread, since I had fun cooking that in Care's house.
5. Didn’t Trisha ask some awesome questions? Why yes, she surely did. In fact, I wanted to answer a couple of them like, "What's your favorite piece of art?" but I'd have two answers (my favorite in my home and my favorite by a famous person).
6. How would you have answered Trisha's Question No.9, "What book would you absolutely hate to see get parodied?" I can't think of anything I'd hate to see parodied. If someone wants to play with a classic, they can have at it. That doesn't mean I'll read it, though.
7. Do you have a favorite number? 7, the Biblical number of completion. But, on the other hand, 7 bothers me because my dad died on the 7th day of the 7th month. To continue with a bit of circular thinking, I suppose I could say, "Obviously, God decided his life was complete." But, I would be ready to argue with myself as soon as that came out of my mouth.
8. Tell me a nonfiction book idea subject that you think I should write a book on because there isn’t one already? Uh . . . um . . . Tell you what. I'll get back to you on that.
9. Did you like my answers to No. 5 for book that should be H.S. curricula? I agree that The Book Thief would be an excellent choice, but The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a book I haven't managed to wade through, yet, so I can't say. I do think Murakami is awesome and at least some of the short stories in After the Quake would be worth teaching. A few of the stories would call out the book burners from their caves, if you know what I mean.
10. Red or white? Red dress, white walls.
11. Would you be embarrassed to receive a postcard with artwork by Dali? ya know – the erotic variety? I have some if you want one. I’m kinda embarrassed to send. Not if I didn't happen to know my postman so well, but I do . . . also, I'm in Mississippi. They might kick me out of the state for receiving erotic postal material.

And, now my 11 questions:
1. What's the best book you've read, so far, in 2012?
2. Name a memorable event that made you gasp or which was so shocking that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing.
3. Who is your favorite poet?
4. Have you read anything by Simon Van Booy? What did you think?
5. If someone offered you the money to go somewhere, but it had to be either Ireland, Italy or Australia, which would you choose?
6. Fairy Tales or Folk Tales?
7. Do you have pets? If so, what kind of animals and what are their names?
8. How many bloggers does it take to change a light bulb?
9. Are my reviews too long?
10. Mountain retreat or sun-drenched island?
11. What is the most interesting object in this photograph?
I think everyone I know has been tagged, already, but I want some people to answer my questions!!!! So, I'm just going to ask anyone who drops by to please answer the questions in the comment section -- or, feel free to tag yourself and continue on at your own blog! Isabel climbing down from a high window, above, will serve as my belated Fiona Friday pic. Yesterday was a long day and I was too tired to post. Happy weekend to all!

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Another mini-review! I feel like my recent posts have been too lengthy and some of those books have been lingering in my sidebar too long, so I'm going to attempt to work on brevity.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer was an impulse purchase based on a whole lot of blogger buzz -- fortunately, one I don't regret. Cinder is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella in which the heroine is restyled as a cyborg (part human, part mechanical due to serious injuries sustained early in her life) who works as a mechanic at a stall somewhere in a new-world China. In this futuristic world, Earth is fighting a devastating plague and there is a serious threat of war from a colony on the moon.

I whipped through Cinder and have to admit I was stunned by the excellence of Meyer's world-building, characterization, slow unraveling of clues (I did figure out one important facet of the plot, early on, but it didn't change how I felt about the book) and the way the author concluded the book in a satisfying manner, in spite of the fact that it is the first in a series.

Addendum: A commenter has reminded me that Cinder does have a cliffhanger ending. I think I may have forgotten that because I was forewarned by a friend who read it. Being prepared can help, but I do recall thinking enough of the story was wrapped up to satisfy me.

Highly recommended to lovers of Young Adult novels. The futuristic setting is believable but it did take me a while to adjust to the idea of Cinderella's story taking place in Asia of the future. I liked Cinder enough to save my copy for a reread and doubt I'll forget the book before the second in the series is released.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rose: My Life in Service by Rosina Harrison and The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes

I don't have much to say about either of these books, although I enjoyed them both and they go together in a way. One cross-references the other. Time for mini reviews!

Rose: My Life in Service by Rosina Harrison is subtitled "Recollections of Life in one of England's Grandest Households by the Personal Maid to Nancy, Lady Astor". Boy, that's a mouthful. And, they're not kidding about the "grandest household" bit. The world-traveling Astors had something on the order of 5 homes. I can't even remember; I lost track.

I had a battered and stained old copy of Rose's memoir on my shelf and have meant to get to it for at least a year. But, it was Downton Abbey that shoved me over the edge. Whether you're a Downton Abbey fan or merely curious about what it was like to be a maid during the 30 years beginning around the end of WWI, Rose is worth the time. The vast number of servants involved in the running of the Astor households is mind-boggling. Sometimes I had trouble visualizing everything the author described -- and it seemed even more grueling than the life that's portrayed in Downton, but I think that's partly because there are quite a few "sitting around the servants' table" scenes that are done for the sake of having the characters interact in the series.

After reading Rose, I noticed Lady Mary mentions having met Sir Richard at Cliveden, the Astor's main house and the one that's pictured on the cover of Rose: My Life in Service. That made the episode doubly fun. There are plenty of photographs in Rose, so if you read Rose and then follow it up with The World of Downton Abbey, as I did, you'll have some reference points that will add to the reading experience of the latter. The Astor's butler, for example, is pictured, described and quoted in Rose and talked about in The World of Downton Abbey.

One of my favorite quotes, about how Nancy Astor's finer qualities came out during WWII:

Now in battle her qualities were shown. Her courage was not the "back to the wall" stoic kind of British courage, but the flashing, tempestuous, rousing, roistering courage of the Virginian--exemplified by the way she would turn cartwheels in air-raid shelters to cause a diversion when things were at their worst. Not your sixty-one-year-old Nancy Astor, lady of Cliveden, hostess to the aristocracy and Member of Parliament, but Nannie, the wild-eyed girl who rode unbroken horses. And along with this went the softer, compassionate creature, the voice behind the sad Virginia songs, who would comfort a mother whose child had been killed, while her own heart was grieving for the mother yet hardening against the Whitehall officials who in their shortsightedness had not declared Plymouth an area for the evacuation of children. This was a woman I could idolize.

~p. 189, Rose: My Life in Service

Recommended to memoir lovers, Downton Abbey fans and anyone else curious about life "downstairs" at a monstrous estate in England. I found the WWII years particularly engrossing. My copy was published by The Viking Press in 1975. Apparently, it's a first edition. It's a wreck, unfortunately, but readable. I'm glad I grabbed it when I found it at our library sale.

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes was a total indulgence. I was buying the two seasons of Downton Abbey on DVD and figured it would be fun to continue reading about the time period along with ogling the beautiful photos of cast and setting to stretch out the fun.

The World of Downton Abbey is, in fact, much better than I anticipated. Author Jessica Fellowes blends historical background with descriptions of the show's characters and their costumes, the settings, war, quotes from the show's creator and actors, plus loads of photos.

The only thing I disliked about The World of Downton Abbey was the way the text is interrupted by both photo layouts and pages describing the historical background/context of the show. So, you'll be reading along and find that you have to turn a page or two to get to the continuation of text, which means holding your place and then going backward to read a couple pages of other information, then continuing on with the general text. There's a lot of jumping back and forth and place-holding to be done, in other words. But, I was surprised at how well-written the book is and how enjoyable. I didn't expect The World of Downton Abbey to be quite so informative as to historical context; I was expecting fluff and a lot of photos, I suppose. Trust the British to do a "secrets and history" televised-series companion right.

Highly recommended to Downton Abbey fans. Well-written, informative, packed with gorgeous photos and interesting quotations. Plenty of resources are mentioned for further reading. The book does not contain spoilers if you haven't yet finished the second series and won't get around to doing so for a while, apart from describing all of the characters (so if you've seen the first season and taped or purchased the second, you'll know who is going to show up in the second series).


There's a quote in The World of Downton Abbey that confirmed something I'd wondered about a scene in The Painted Veil (movie):

Actors were reminded not to say 'nee-ther' or 'ee-ther' but 'nye-ther' and 'eye-ther'. The former only came into use after the Second World War when the American soldiers came to Britain.

p. 292, The World of Downton Abbey

For those of you whose interest in The Painted Veil was piqued by my triple review of book, movie and radio serial, watch for a scene in which Naomi Watts says "ee-ther". I didn't know who was playing Kitty, but that particular scene had me convinced that the actress must be American and now I see that it's about time period, not origin, thanks to a commenter (thanks, Lexi!), so I guess that quotation was a hint. Fascinating.

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Storytime

Two painfully romantic stories! Okay, not really. We are so not romantic, around here. And, before I go on, I want to wish a lovely Singles Awareness Day to those of you who are not part of a couple.

Story #1:

When my husband walked in the door from work, I headed out to the entryway and said, "Happy Valentine's Day! That's all you get."
He said, "Oh. Just a minute," and dashed right back out the door.
A few minutes later, Huzzybuns returned and handed me a box. I said, "What is it?" and he replied, "Not sure."
I said, "Did it come from Italy?"
"No, Dallas." My husband goes to the grocery store, wherever he ends up. It's a very cute quirk of his.
I opened the package and it turned out the contents were chocolates filled with caramel. Not bad. I handed him one. That's seriously about as romantic as we get, around here. We share. It's better than some couples do, I suppose.

Story #2:

As we were driving home from picking up our romantic Valentine's pizza-in-a-box, my husband said, "Today is a special day for Larry and me."
Larry is a fellow who used to work for my husband and now heads a different division in the same company.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"About 4 years ago, Larry and I had meetings in some middle-of-nowhere town on Valentine's Day. We decided we wanted a steak dinner, so we went to a restaurant we'd heard was nice and walked in the door. Neither of us realized it was Valentine's Day. The maitre d' gave us kind of a funny look and said, 'May I help you?' like he wasn't sure he wanted to let us in. One of us said, 'Yeah, we'd like a bite to eat,' so he quietly picked up 2 menus and seated us. Every table had red roses in the center. And, there were couples. Traditional couples, only, filling the restaurant."
I asked if they stayed or looked for a different place. "Yeah, we stayed. We were hungry and the steak was great. And, now, every year Larry and I recall our special Valentine's Day."

Well, he had me in stitches. :)

Tiny Isabel gets a tiny bit "Photoshopped" (but I don't have Photoshop, so she really got "Picasa'd"):

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham - Book, movie and radio program

On the steamer that took them up the Western River Walter read incessantly, but at meal-times he endeavored to make some kind of conversation. He talked to her as though she were a stranger with whom he happened to be making the journey, of indifferent things, from politeness, Kitty imagined, or because so he could render more marked the gulf that separated them.

~p. 87 of The Painted Veil

This is going to be an extremely casual set of thoughts. I watched The Painted Veil, the movie starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, one night when Huzzybuns was out of either town or country or both, and then tore through my house looking for the book. It took me two days to locate the book, which I immediately read then followed up with a second viewing of the movie and then the BBC Radio 4 "Woman's Hour" radio production in 5 parts. The general storyline for book, movie and radio series:

Kitty has spent her youthful years toying with a procession of suitors without finding a single one of them appealing enough to marry. Now, her younger sister is marrying well and her mother asks, "How long do you expect your father to support you?" Kitty realizes she is not only considered a burden but also about to become a laughingstock because her younger sister will be titled and she will be "the cast-off elder spinster sister." She wants to go far, far away. Conveniently, Walter asks her to marry him and accompany him to China, where he works as a bacteriologist.

They move to Hong Kong (Shanghai in the movie) and two years pass. Kitty thinks Walter is boring and rude. He has a tendency not to reply to her because he's focused on his work and is not prone to chatter -- he's a very nerd-centric, science guy. She becomes captivated by Charlie, who is also married, and they have a steamy affair. In the book and BBC Radio 4 series (as I recall -- the radio series was only available online temporarily), they go to a room above a shop; in the movie the location of their trysts is unspecified but in all cases, they end up in Kitty's room on a day that Walter arrives home early. He turns the doorknob but the door is locked.

Walter doesn't pretend he knows nothing. He's already aware that Kitty finds him appalling, but now he's Majorly Pissed. Within a short time, he's decided to take a job working in a remote village where there has been an outbreak of cholera. He tells Kitty he'll leave her behind if Charlie will divorce his wife and marry Kitty immediately. Walter is not as stupid as Kitty thinks; he knows how Charlie will react. Off they go to Mei-tan-fu, where all but one of the Englishmen in town have died or fled. Will Walter succeed in killing them both, thus eliminating the wife he now hates and his own humiliated self?

This is how the movie begins:

Walter and Kitty are sitting in the rain, nowhere near each other, waiting for their ride (which involves chairs carried by coolies). You can tell they hate each other, Kitty is angry, Walter doesn't care what she thinks; he's off in his own little world. It's perfectly portrayed in a stunningly beautiful setting. Flashbacks are utilized to tell the story up to this point, whereas the story is told in linear form in book and, I think, also in the radio series.

The three versions -- original novel, film and radio program -- are fascinating in their distinctions, but it may be a bit of a spoiler to say exactly how they differ, apart from noting that Kitty gains strength and character and learns to respect her husband in the movie and in the book she remains a simpering, frail, pitiful character to the end. Oh, and there are a lot of things added to the movie, obviously for cinematic effect. Most of those were good choices, in my opinion.

Want to know more about the differences? Keep reading, but be aware that this may be spoiler territory.

In the book, Kitty learns to respect her husband but continues to declare that she can never possibly love Walter. Kitty is a typical wimpy bitch heroine written by a popular writer of the time period (1920's - copyrighted in 1925) and disappointing in her lack of growth.

The movie and radio series were obviously written with modern sensibilities in mind. Women of today will not put up with a character who can't be bothered to learn from her mistakes and buck up. From respect for her husband's hard work and the love and care he shows to others, as well as her own hard work, Kitty loses her hard edge and learns to love. She develops a backbone where needed, softens in other ways. And, the love that develops between Kitty and Walter makes the story both romantic and tragic. But, honestly, I don't want to ever give everything away.

----End spoiler----

So, which version of The Painted Veil did I like best? Honestly? I enjoyed all three versions for different reasons but especially liked them in combination. I liked the beautiful scenery of the movie, Maugham's gorgeous writing in the book, the way the radio program brought the sound and sensations of the book to life with actors in roles (as opposed to the typical single-narrator/actor audio recordings, which I tend to detest), horses hooves clattering, bells chiming. But, I really do not like the ending of the book.

I thought Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber hit it out of the ballpark. Their characterizations were spot on, at first, then fit the changes made to the script (which made the movie version romantic). The average viewer who rated The Painted Veil at Rotten Tomatoes tends to agree with me. The radio show was different in minor ways but, again, apart from updating the female role to fit modern demands, it wasn't that far off from the book. In fact, it was closer to the novel than the movie. My one complaint about the movie was that there were a couple senseless jabs at Catholicism. I'm not Catholic, but I was a bit appalled by them.

On the second viewing of the movie, I took notes. At one point, Mr. Waddington (the only other Englishman in the village) says of the nuns who run the local orphanage:

"They're not just here to run an orphanage. They're turning these children into little Catholics."

Hmm. Not in the book. In fact, the nuns have nothing but the interests of the children at heart in the novel. They are not all orphans but by paying their parents a modest fee, the nuns are able to take in children who would be otherwise neglected, starved, possibly abandoned. And, then there's a little speech by Mother Superior, who compares her love of Jesus to a marriage:

"Over the years, my feelings have changed. He disappointed me, ignored me."

No, she doesn't say anything of the sort in the novel. She is a deeply committed believer who cannot be persuaded to return to her extremely wealthy family in France. Having made her decision when young, she still feels she has made the right choice and that China is where she belongs, regardless of the risks.

Other than those annoying changes, I thought the movie was pretty well done. Some lines are recognizably pulled directly from the novel. In one case, Mr. Waddington of the movie version is given one of Mother Superior's lines -- or, maybe it's the other way around. The movie is faithful enough and the ending is an improvement. Look, Walter and Kitty actually touch each other, late in the movie!

I think I had trouble with the fact that Kitty found her husband so repulsive partly because I like skinny, nerdy, science dudes. Heck, I even married one (although we have both since expanded . . . he sort of married a skinny nerd, too -- just a different kind). Walter is really quite a bit like my husband, in many ways: focused, smart, driven, quiet. I mentally chewed out Kitty, a few times. Silly old cow, can't you see what a decent guy you've got?

Book, movie and radio program all recommended - I don't know what it is about this story that I love, but I found the idea fascinating, the characters interesting and well-developed and the portrayal very beautifully done in both movie and radio show. The acting is really marvelous in both. Movie-wise, Edward Norton always amazes me, to be honest. I didn't even know who was playing Kitty till the credits rolled, but I was impressed with Naomi Watts, too. I think The Painted Veil is the first movie in which I've seen her. Kitty is disappointing in the book, but I love Maugham's writing and I suppose I can forgive him for not letting Kitty grow a bit more. Yes, I do believe I will. Forgiven.

Cover thoughts:

The cover shown above is the design on my copy, which was published in 2004 by Vintage International (a division of Random House books). I like it. The mode of dress and hairstyle are right for the time period. I don't recall if there's any scene with a bird cage in the book, but there is in the movie. Actually, that part's kind of weird. They took Waddington's love life and gave Kitty a couple of "Gasp!" scenes. Oh, and Waddington -- I love the actor who played him and found that he fit the description in the book very nicely.

In other news:

There will be a cat photo, soon. My recent reviews have been way the heck too long, so I'll keep the next post brief. Sound good to you? Happy Valentine's Day!

©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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.