Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 Months Worth of Reading - Because I've completely forgotten to do monthly recaps, this year

A little bird told me it's almost June. Shock! Where does the time go? I haven't done a single "looking back" monthly update, this year, so I've decided to just throw five months' worth at you. If I've reviewed a book or at least mentioned it, there is a link to my review, below.




31. Don't Let the Turkeys Get You Down - Sandra Boynton
35. Living Buddha, Living Christ - Thich Naht Hanh



62. The Lola Quartet - Emily St. John Mandel

Those I didn't review:

Don't Let the Turkeys Get You Down by Sandra Boynton is an older book that I read intending to buzz through it then donate. Not only is it hilarious but it also happens to contain a lot of cultural references that make your eyes boggle a bit. Oh, yes, remember when computers were HUGE and everyone had a phone with a cord that attached to the wall? I'm sure it'll be doubly fun, 10 years years from now. #getridofFAIL

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh is all about accepting each others' religions and living in peace. I loved it, but I wasn't sure what to say about the book and since it was a loaner borrowed from one of the ladies at the gym, I gave it back without pulling out any quotations.

Instead of reviewing The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel (which I liked but didn't love) the author will be dropping in to do a guest review, sometime in the near future.

I'm pretty sure I've reviewed everything else except I Always, Always Get My Way, which I mentioned briefly and took out of my sidebar but still intend to review. I've only got 2 or 3 children's books that I need to review. I may save them and have a Children's Day. We shall see. I'm completely unpredictable, let's face it.

I've read a lot of terrific books, this year, but May was not my best month because I finished quite a few that I probably should have given up on. My favorites were the two YA books, Pure and Glow, The London Eye Mystery, The Queen and Next to Love. Two Wars is excellent but the ending was a bit of a let-down as I wanted to know more about the after-effects of the deadly battle on the author. The Paper Garden and A Wedding in Haiti were both fascinating and I liked The Reconstructionist because it was so very different. The rest were so-so. The only book I finished that I really, really wish I hadn't read at all was Forgotten Country.

At the moment, I'm really enjoying my reading, though, so hopefully June will be a terrific reading month. I shall try to make it so.

©2012 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other thanBookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan and week-off chatter

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan is the first in a young adult series of books about two ships launched from a dying Earth to create a new settlement on another planet. The New Horizon was launched before the Empyrean and should be far ahead of the Empyrean. But, when the New Horizon draws near to the Empyrean, a fierce battle takes place and all the young females from the Empyrean are taken to the New Horizon. Many of the adults are killed but some pursue the New Horizon and the rest must risk their lives to restart the Empyrean's damaged engines.

Waverly and Kieran, at a mere 15 and 16 years old, were already considering marriage. Fertility is reduced in outer space and the sooner they have children, the better. Now separated, Waverly has been told the Empyrean was destroyed, Kieran, her mother and all but the "rescued" girls dead. But she suspects the captain of the New Horizon is not telling the truth. How will Waverly find the adults, if they're still living? What do the people of the New Horizon want from them? Will they be able to escape or is there even a ship to run home to?

While Waverly is unraveling the puzzle of her imprisonment on the New Horizon, Kieran must deal with the horrors of being left behind. With all the remaining adults risking their lives, the job of running the ship falls to the eldest of the boys. But, Seth (who also has a thing for Waverly) wants to be in charge and will do anything he can to sabotage Kieran. When Seth's games become dangerous, will Kieran survive?

Wow. What a fun book. While Ryan's writing is a bit rough around the edges, Glow is such an exciting, plot-heavy adventure that imperfection doesn't matter. The story is so massively entertaining that writing flaws fade into the background. I'm looking forward to reading the second book, Spark, which Tammy just reviewed.

Andi recently wrote about story versus writing and I think Glow is an excellent example of why I personally feel that the story tends to win. I love a book that's well-written, but if the story isn't there, beautiful writing is not enough.

Alyce didn't like Glow at all. Her review is excellent. I have to agree that there were some oddities to the casting (read her description of Seth - he and Kieran are definitely odd characters in their contrasts) but I enjoyed the adventurous aspect of the story so I tried to ignore those character flaws and just enjoy myself.

Tammy sent me her ARC of Glow. Many thanks, Tammy! My recent reading rut was threatening to drag me into a slump but Glow saved me. I highly recommend this book. The writing isn't brilliant, but the plotting is excellent. Definitely a grabber.

Week-off report:

I had a lot of busy-busy things that I had to do, last week, none of which were all that thrilling so I guess the excitement of the week involved moving furniture. In my continued quest to bring more light into our living area (which is dark thanks to the shade of our humongous old oak trees), I decided to move some bookshelves from the living/dining room to the office. Isabel and Fiona both had fun playing on the shelves before I refilled them.

Unfortunately, we managed to scratch the hardwood flooring in the office, in spite of using sliders, so we had a few delays. First, the run to the hardware store to get sliders to protect the flooring. Then, another run to get markers to repair the scratches. And, then we decided it wouldn't hurt to get a little carpet runner to protect the flooring from future damage.

After all that, I reorganized the books and set aside about 20 to donate. Most of what I keep on those particular shelves is nonfiction: reference books, gardening, photography, design, history, writing, etc. I was surprised to find that the biggest category is design. I have loads of books on interior and exterior design (including a book on historical fabrics and wallpaper, Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room, etc.), architecture, painting, stained glass. You wouldn't know it from looking at the interior of my house; apparently I'm a bit of a dreamer.

In the evenings, we indulged in a Superhero Movie Weekend. After seeing The Avengers in the theater, we were all in the mood to watch a few more superhero movies. We watched Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America. Of the three, Thor was the surprise favorite, Iron Man 2 the biggest disappointment. Captain America was fun but more in the classic comic book vein (which isn't really my thing) with a nasty villain and a sci-fi bent. We watched one movie each night. It was nice to relax together after working on the house, something we really don't do often, anymore.

Kiddo needed a "professional grade" photo to send to the university for his ID and that turned out to be a barrel of laughs, too. Out of about 30 photos I snapped, his eyes were only open in 2 or 3. He has such a quick blink reflex that I eventually had to quit using flash. It was honestly hilarious. We laughed so hard we all had tears streaming down our faces. My favorite photo is one I snapped as Kiddo was laughing and wiping an eye. So cute. I have been forbidden to share his photo on the blog or I would.

Only two books have arrived in the past two weeks. I'm reading one of them: Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson. The other book is A Genius for Deception by Nicholas Rankin, subtitled "How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars." I got it from Paperback Swap.

One wahoo for the day: Fiona just reached up and batted my indoor wind chimes. Isabel gives them a whack, occasionally, but this is the first time I've seen Fiona swipe at them. She was a little more tentative than Izzy. It's terribly cute to see a cat swat wind chimes, but it happens so fast that I still have not managed to photograph that moment.

Gotta go. Wishing you many wahoos!

©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.

More minis: The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin, Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung, Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin is a truly unusual novel and I think that is one of the things I enjoyed about it. Ellis Barstow and his brother Christopher used to run to the intersection near their house when they heard a crash, to gawk at the sight as young boys will do. Years later, Christopher died at that same intersection.

As a mechanical engineer, Ellis has taken a job in an automotive factory. He's adrift, not particularly happy with his job but unsure what to do. Then, he sees Christopher's former girlfriend. Always captivated by Heather, Ellis follows her home and then drives on. Eventually, he finds a way to run into her again. When he does, she tells him her husband is looking for help. John Boggs works as a "reconstructionist", using engineering to determine how an accident occurred and testifying at lawsuits as an expert witness.

Ellis finds the job oddly satisfying and he has a comfortable friendship with Boggs. But, he also begins an affair with Heather that eventually results in Boggs taking a suicidal, cross-country trip. Ellis follows him. Will Boggs survive his self-destructive road trip? What's more important to Ellis, friendship or love? What really happened when Christopher was killed?

I absolutely loved Boggs. The witty dialogue between Ellis and Boggs drew me into the book, the questions about what would happen kept me there. And, I also loved the use of physics and math to determine how an accident occurred. The reconstruction process is utterly fascinating, plus, I'm accustomed to the way engineers talk and think, so I found The Reconstructionist an oddly comforting read for one so disturbing. It's a sad story, but not without hope. Not what I would call a "thriller," as I've seen it described, but more of a psychological exploration of accidents and how they effect people. The author has worked as a reconstructionist and it shows. This book has the ring of truth. I would avoid reading it if you've suffered a traumatic car accident loss, but otherwise I recommend The Reconstructionist. Just don't expect fast pacing.

The Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung is a book I really should have abandoned, but for some reason I just kept on plugging away. I think it was one of those cases in which the writing was comfortably paced and I was hoping things would improve, but really . . . it's just a bummer.

Janie's sister has disappeared, their father has cancer and even when they manage to briefly track Hannah down, she doesn't respond to their calls or emails. As a youngster, Janie was told that every generation of her Korean-American family has lost a daughter and she must watch out for her sister. Now, her grandmother's prediction appears to be coming true.

When their father finds that the best chance of extending his life is a treatment only available in Korea, Janie and Hannah's parents pack up and move to their home country, leaving Janie in charge of finding Hannah.

Janie and Hannah have a terrible relationship. Bummer. Their dad is terminal. Double bummer. Nobody in the family is willing or able to really share details of life, either past or present. Triple bummer. The whole family is a communication train wreck and, of course, cancer books just make me insane. Nicely written but depressing and I just cannot bear a book in which people don't ever bother to answer each other's questions. My friend Paula enjoyed this book and shared her copy with me. I just didn't enjoy Forgotten Country at all. I'm not even certain who to recommend it to.

Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick has not yet been released, so I'm a little hesitant to review it but I want to go ahead and clear my sidebar. Don't worry, though: it's a June release. Not a long wait!

Robert Goolrick had a runaway hit with A Reliable Wife (<---my review, in self-interview form). I liked the writing but was not enamored of the storyline. However, since I liked Goolrick's writing and the story sounded intriguing, I've been looking forward to reading Heading Out to Wonderful.

Set in the years just after WWII, Heading Out to Wonderful tells the story of Charlie Beale, a butcher who decides to settle in a small town called Brownsburg, nestled in a beautiful Virginia valley. There, he falls in love with the wife of the town's richest man, a beautiful blonde from a poor rural family in the area outside Brownsburg. A movie buff, Sylvan has an unusual accent that she's picked up from years of listening to radio serials and a stunning wardrobe that the local seamstress has created for her.
You know the romance is doomed. But, what about Sam, the child who is caught in the middle of their affair? Will the odd entanglement ruin young Sam for life? What will happen when Charlie and Sylvan's affair is discovered? Will Sylvan save herself and throw Charlie to the proverbial wolves? Will the people of Brownsburg forgive them?

Ack. So many questions with horrible answers. I loved the writing, once again, but the story just made me want to kick the author in the shins, I'm sorry to say. Smooth, understated, gentle, beautiful writing is marred by weirdness and violence. I think a lot of people will love Heading Out to Wonderful. I hoped I would, but the involvement of Sam and the ending were terribly uncomfortable and jarring. I don't think Robert Goolrick is the author for me. One caveat: Heading Out to Wonderful isn't as graphic/erotic as A Reliable Wife. However, the descriptions of butchering can be pretty detailed and if you find the killing of animals for meat upsetting, definitely avoid reading this title.

©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.

Mini reviews - The Queen by Robert Lacey, Mia's Baker's Dozen by Coco Simon, Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

It's mini review time! I will write only mini reviews till I've caught up.

The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey is a book written by a biographer who has written a large number of books about royalty. At a mere 166 pages, the author gives readers a comfortably brief overview of Queen Elizabeth II's life and 60-year reign. The Queen contains excerpts from some of Lacey's other books, as well as some updated material, and was written especially for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.

I think I can pretty safely say I knew next to nothing about Queen Elizabeth and her family and I'm happy not to have read a book that went into greater depth of detail. While I found the queen herself admirable in many ways and particularly enjoyed reading that her marriage was a true love story, Prince Charles pretty much made me want to heave. I had no idea he was such a naughty boy. During the actual Princess Diana years (when they were occurring, that is), I must admit I was more captivated by her wardrobe than the drama of the royal family and the many affairs. There is a single line in the book that I consider offensive and unnecessary, but otherwise The Queen is very nicely written.

Recommended to those who want to learn about the last 80 years or so of the British Monarchy in brief but are not interested in tremendous detail. If you're looking for a more comprehensive biography, check the page lengths of Lacey's books. He's written quite a few and The Queen: A Life in Brief is the shortest. The Queen was the perfect blend for me and also contains a surprisingly nice variety of photographs for such a small book.

Mia's Baker's Dozen by Coco Simon is one of the books in the Cupcake Diaries series, for ages 8 and up, about a group of young girls who have a small business selling cupcakes. I won my copy in a Twitter drawing, which I entered because I like to regress, now and then.

Mia's parents speak Spanish and so does Mia, but she has never learned to read or write Spanish. When she's enrolled in an advanced Spanish class and has difficulty, Mia's embarrassed to admit that she needs help. She is also thrown out of kilter by the changes in her life, now that her parents have divorced and her mother is remarried.

Mia's Baker's Dozen is very simplistically written. It was fun reading about Mia's challenges and friendships and how she solves her problems. I'm pretty sure I would have gobbled a series like this happily, as a young girl, and definitely recommend this title to youngsters in the right age range. It's nice, clean fun. Reading the book made me want to go play in the kitchen.

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman tells the stories of three women, friends from a young age who are all left behind when their men go off to fight in WWII. The story is based on one small town's loss of a large number of its young men in a single battle. Two of the women are widowed; one is not, but the surviving husband returns with a permanent injury and post-traumatic stress.

Next to Love follows the three women from before WWII to the Sixties and is packed with the love, loss, temptation, danger, violence, prejudice and other challenges of life for women during the time period.

I really enjoyed Next to Love because the relationships and challenges seemed very realistic to me, but there were a couple things I disliked about the book. Chiefly, I disliked the first-person narrative and jumpiness. I liked the fact that the author chose to portray each of the women from her own viewpoint, but instead of going from one character to another and showing how each reacted at a particular time, for example, there would be three scenes from Babe's perspective that take place from September of 1944 to July of 1946 and then you jump back to September of 1944 to view Grace's perspective. And, then the same thing is done all over again with Millie. Jarring.

On the plus side, Next to Love has the ring of a book that has been exceptionally well researched. The sense of time and place throughout the book is both believable and occasionally even reminded me of things my parents mentioned. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy WWII novels and women's fiction.

More minis forthcoming.

©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.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wordless cat photos from my week off

©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.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Time off - which usually doesn't mean much

I have been having a terrible time convincing myself to sit down and blog, this week, and whenever that happens I consider jumping ship (but I've just ended up slowing the boat). Is that poster perfect, or what? Instead of jumping ship, I'm going to try to make every minute count by stepping away. Often, the moment I say I'm going to take time off, the pressure is lifted and I start writing up a storm. Weird, but true. We'll see what happens.

Before I do, though . . . an update and some miscellaneous jazz:

I am about 245 pages into The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin. It's an oddly captivating book that I think I'm going to have a bear of a time describing. The protagonist is a mechanical engineer. I've been around engineers for so long that I get the way they think, so I'm enjoying that particular point-of-view. I think it's partly the weird relationships and not knowing how they'll end up, partly the math and the descriptions of how the "reconstructionists" go about reconstructing accident scenes that I find compelling. At any rate, it's an interesting book and I will probably finish it tonight.

I'm also reading Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, a psychology/self-help book about turning yourself into an optimist (you probably figured that out from the title, right?) that is pretty fascinating. I considered skipping the introductory part and jumping right into the how-to, but decided not to and I'm glad I didn't. There's a self-test that was really quite interesting. I tested hubby, as well. I haven't added an image of the book to my sidebar because I have a tendency to stall on self-help books but . . . well, that was an interesting statement. The whole point of the book is not to tell yourself things like, "I tend to stall on self-help books," and learn, for example, to expect to finish. More on that, later.

Last but not least, I've started Play These Games by Heather Swain. Even though I misread the information about the book and expected something totally different, it's a book about making your own games for rainy days and such, which is something I can really get behind. As a kid, I used to do a lot of what is now referred to as "repurposing" -- making games, toys, desk shelves, etc. out of simple things like boxes, pipe cleaners, foil, paper . . . you name it. So, I'm hoping I'll find a few things to do, just for a change of pace. Besides how-to instructions, there are some terrific nerdy factoids thrown in. It's a really fun book.

The miscellaneous jazz:

I read Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption by Robert Fate (<---my review) in 2008. I can't believe it's been 3 1/2 years since I read it! I still remember several particularly vivid scenes. Anyway, Robert Fate's Baby Shark books are now available as e-books and Baby Shark is free for Kindle till the 22nd of May. I highly recommend grabbing a copy.

Kiddo will need to learn to cook a bit more (he's not afraid of the kitchen) because there's no room in the dorms at the university he'll be attending in the fall and that means he'll have to live in an apartment or rental house. So, we bought him a crock pot and I went hunting for crock pot recipes at a few favorite bloggers' websites. I failed miserably, but ended up looking for a recipe similar to a favorite restaurant pasta dish and found this:

Creamy Shrimp Artichoke Fettucine (there's no image available, so this link takes you directly to the print version)

Husband whipped it up in nothing flat and it was every bit as good as the restaurant recipe.

Feel free to share if you have any easy, delicious crock pot recipes. We have not used a crock pot in eons, so we have none.

The trouble with using available light when photographing cats (hand-held) is that they really like to move. But, I managed to snap a few nice images of Fi on a bright green background. I thought the green really brought out the color of her eyes:

Can you tell I've been in a super-close-up cat photography mood, lately?

Meanwhile, I started wondering what had become of Isabel when she disappeared for a nap, tonight. I like to know where my cats are hanging out because they have a tendency to end up in odd places like linen closets, but this is where I found her:

The cat carrier has been sitting out between vet visits for a couple of weeks and I just hadn't still haven't put it away, yet. Oddly, in spite of its association with a horrible place, both cats have been in and out of it the whole time it's been sitting in the living room. Dark, cocoon-like places are always favored retreats for cats but it still surprised me to find Isabel happily sleeping inside the carrier.

That's all for now! I'll be back when I return. I never know whether it'll be a day or two weeks, when I take time off, but I do tend to walk away from the computer as thoroughly as possible. So, don't freak out if it takes me a while to approve comments and/or reply to them. I will at least drop in daily and I often approve messages from my iPad but don't respond till I get to the computer (since my wonderful, hard-shell iPad case with full-size keyboard broke).

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 for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wahoo! Fursday Cat Joy Mashup

This will be an all-cat Wahoo! Fursday (Wednesday went by like this), kind of a mashup of Wahoo! Wednesday and Fiona Friday squashed into a Thursday post. Some weeks are like that.

Cat things that made us Wahoo!, this week:

1. Fiona survived her shots!!! Wahoo! Last year, she had a very bad reaction to her vaccinations, so this year she had to have two shots one week, two the next and stay at the vet's for half a day so they could watch her for trouble. The first time I went to pick her up, I was told she was, "mad as heck," but she was obviously thrilled to see me when I picked her up and chattered happily all the way home. This week, she was so anxious to go home that she got a little ahead of the guys who were trying to load her into her carrier and started to jump in before they were ready.

Here she's being silly in the old-towel cabinet (going to donate the contents of this, soon):

2. Isabel is a nut, Part 1: When I made the bed, I had to make the entire thing around Izzy. She had a rollicking good time chasing the sheets as I snapped them and diving under the covers. She even attempted to take a nap under the bedspread.

3. Isabel is a nut, Part 2: Izzy loves Daddy's new tree saw. In fact, she was a little possessive of it, when it came out of the box.

She's also quite fond of the square tunnel that came with the saw.

4. Let's just face it, my cats are full of awesome.

In other news:
  • A single book arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep: A final copy of Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick from Algonquin. Can't wait to dig into this one!
  • I just finished reading Next to Love by Ellen Feldman, a book that follows three friends who are left behind when their men go off to fight in WWII and the aftermath into the 50s and 60s.
  • Normally, I balance several books at once but lately I've been reading one at a time. I have no idea why.
  • Weirdest dream I've had, recently: I dreamed that I stabbed a piece of broccoli, held up the fork and said to my husband, "Is this a cruciferous vegetable?" He replied, "Yes, it is. It's the only green cruciferous vegetable." In the morning, I looked up cruciferous vegetables and found that broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are cruciferous. Weird the things your brain pulls out of the files to play with at night.
May your days be filled with wahoos!

©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, May 15, 2012

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
Copyright 2012
Harper - Historical Fiction
260 pp.

The Uninvited Guests tells the story of a single day in the life of the Torrington family in turn-of-the-20th Century England. It's eldest daughter Emerald's birthday. Her mother Charlotte's second husband has gone to town to try to find a way to save their beloved home, Sterne, leaving the family to wonder about the outcome. While preparations are being made for Emerald's dinner party, 9-year-old sister Imogen, aka "Smudge", prepares her own surprise.

Their plans are interrupted, however, by the sudden appearance of a number of bedraggled guests who claim to have been sent by the railroad after a disastrous crash has left them with nowhere else to go for food or rest. The family is unable to contact the train station because of a hinky phone connection and nobody is quite sure what to do with them, although the one thing Emerald hears clearly is that they're supposed to send their cart. Shortly after that, the Sutton family shows up (unfortunately, I don't remember a thing about them) and a neighbor drops by. Eventually, a final guest shows up and he is quite different from the rest. While the son of the family, Clovis, invites the final guest to the dinner party, the other displaced train passengers are ignored.

Why is this particular guest appealing to Clovis while the rest are so easily overlooked? What will become of the passengers? Will they be fed? Will stepfather and second husband Edward Swift find a way to keep the family from having to move to smaller digs?

First, let's ask Ann Patchett what she thinks (e.g., copy the cover quote):

"The Uninvited Guests is at once a shimmering comedy of manners and a disturbing commentary on class. It is so well written, so intricately plotted, that every page delivers some new astonishment. It is a brilliant novel." --Ann Patchett

What I liked about The Uninvited Guests:

While I would not necessarily use the word "brilliant", I agree with the part I underscored. I am very impressed with Sadie Jones' writing. She has a unique, lively turn of phrase so imaginative that I found myself frequently stopping to reread sentences. Style, that's what it is. Sadie Jones has style.

It was the last day of April. She felt the extraordinary softness of the season on her face and braced herself for a strict talking-to; it if must be audible, she ought to at least get some distance from the house.

The air was complicated with the smells of sharp new things emerging from damp soil. Small tatters of clouds dotted the watery sky. To her left was the door to the kitchen garden and stables. Ahead of her, reaching far and further, in the broadest geometrical sweep, was the country over which Sterne presided. It spread out beneath and beyond, reaching into straining, dazzling blue distance, where the fields became indistinct and hills dissolved into nothing.

~p. 3 of Advanced Reader's Edition of The Uninvited Guests (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Descriptions like that quotation above kept me reading, as did the hint of mystery and the crazy antics of Smudge, who has a great plan that involves a horse. I won't ruin that bit for future readers. It's very entertaining. There are some interesting surprises. Unfortunately, I pretty much had the big surprise ending figured out. But, I still did like the concept.

What I disliked about The Uninvited Guests:

The Uninvited Guests is a truly bizarre book. The characters, apart from Smudge, are surprisingly unlikable -- especially Charlotte, who refuses to take charge of her own household, melting away to her room upstairs and completely ignoring the unexpected invaders. Occasionally, the guests spring loose from the room into which they're shuffled or someone pops in to say, "We're working on --" Actually, I'm not sure what they said to the passengers but now and then they were appeased. They were, however, for the most part so thoroughly ignored that I kept wanting to pop into the book to help out. Surely someone could find them a bit of cheese and bread? A little water? Meanwhile, a storm rages. Well, at least you know they won't be sent to the garden.

It was a mystery whether or not anyone would ever take care of those poor stuck passengers in addition to the question of whether or not the family would get to keep the house. I think it might also be anybody's best guess whether or not a reader will care by the end. I found the characters so unlikable that by the time I closed the book, I realized that I actually didn't care whether or not they got to stay in their fabulous estate. It was awfully large for so few people, after all.


Recommended with slight hesitation. Fantastic writing and a very strange and unique storyline are marred by frightfully unlikable characters. I have mixed feelings about The Uninvited Guests. I can't say I didn't enjoy reading it, but I can't say I loved it, either. In general, I consider The Uninvited Guests an average read. However, since I'm completely besotted with the author's writing style, I'm very happy that I have another of her books, The Outcasts, on my stacks. I purchased it in England, last year, but haven't gotten around to reading it. Wahoo! Something to look forward to!

Note on the cover: The cover at top is the image on the ARC. I'm not sure what the final cover image looks like, although the image at left is the one that is most commonly posted online. I'm quite fond of the ARC cover and dislike the faceless look of the blue one at left, so I opted to put my favorite at the top. I do think the dress in the image at left works better, though.

©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, May 14, 2012

Monday Malarkey, including a writing workshop, reading update and fancy pants

First the fancy pants:

I saw a cat photo that was similar to this and thought it was so cute that I snapped a shot of Isabel's fancy pants. I hope she doesn't mind if I share with the world.

The writing workshop:

Simon Van Booy is teaching a writing workshop in the Berkshires of New Hampshire in June. For details, click on that first sentence (which leads to his website) or Download the PDF. I am, of course, a huge admirer of Simon, both as a writer and a person. If I could attend, I would. I had fun fiddling with that photo of Simon, taken at his reading in the Boston Public Library in 2011.

And, the reading update:

I have been fairly quiet because I haven't had the urge to write, since Kiddo returned home; and, last week I had Rebellious Reading Brain. None of my ARCs were appealing to me. So, I took a break from the ARC stack to read the following:

Pure by Julianna Baggott - I put Pure on my wish list a couple months before it was published, after reading about the bidding war over the manuscript and the early sale of movie rights to the book, then my friend Tammy sent me her copy. Thank you, Tammy! Pure was just what I needed -- a wildly original combination of post-apocalyptic and dystopian reading, the first in a trilogy. It's very dark, but I liked the fact that even the "Pures" in the dome are living in a dystopian world, although the "wretches" outside think life in the dome must be perfect.

Tammy and I had a really fun discussion about Pure. We both detected different themes. Tammy noticed a WWII influence (the Detonations, based on the aftermath of Hiroshima and the attempt to create a superior race) and I thought the author was making a statement about today's America (pre-Detonation, the red-flag-waving Pures were diluting women's rights, for example). I'm tempted to reread Pure and highlight the parts I thought related to our current society because I rushed through the book so quickly that I didn't mark a thing.

Two Wars by Nate Self - The memoir of an Army Ranger whose chinook was hit by an RPG during a mission to recover a man who fell out of a helicopter in Afghanistan, told in the usual fashion. First a prologue teaser scene as Self and the other Rangers are shot down, then all the way back to why the author joined the Army, his training at West Point, romance and marriage, early Army postings, the crash and firefight, then the aftermath.

Two Wars is a Tyndale book and therefore has a Christian bent, which I liked. The training part was a bit slow, I thought, but I was never tempted to put it down. I wanted to read about the crash and I'm used to the slow build-up in a war book. Huzzybuns is also reading this book and I enjoyed talking to him about it as I was reading. The only real let-down was the PTSD section. The author really didn't go into much detail about his post-traumatic stress experience. The crash and firefight are extremely gripping.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd - I think this one is a middle reader, although Amazon says it's for ages 8 and up and I can never remember exactly what a "middle reader" is. Salim is visiting his cousins in London and goes for a ride on the London Eye. When the ride ends and Salim doesn't get off, cousins Ted and Kat decide to investigate his disappearance.

I've had The London Eye Mystery on my wish list for a couple years and just finally got a copy on Saturday. I gobbled it down on Sunday before we left the house to see The Avengers and have loaned it to my son's girlfriend. What makes The London Eye Mystery really special is the fact that Ted is autistic and the way he functions makes it easier for him to see clues that the adults have overlooked. A very satisfying little mystery that's ingenious and very entertaining. Autism is never mentioned specifically, but Ted does comment that Einstein may have had the same condition.

I also read half of The Queen: A Life in Brief by Robert Lacey, last night, and will likely finish that up, today. The good news is that it's one from the ARC stacks. Hopefully, I've exited my ARC-resistant phase. The Queen is about Queen Elizabeth II and the author apparently apparently writes only about royals. It's distilled from two of his larger works about Queen Elizabeth, a small bite of a book written especially for her Diamond Jubilee year and it's a pretty breezy read.

In other news:

I still am finding that I don't feel much like sitting at the computer to write, so posting may be a little sporadic, although I hope not. I have several reviews to catch up on. I'm going to skip writing full reviews of Pure, The London Eye Mystery and Two Wars.

©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, May 11, 2012

Fiona Friday - Exciting development!

I still don't technically have a "lap cat" but look! Isabel slept on my lower legs, last night! So exciting! I'm determined to eventually turn at least one of my kitties into a lap cat. It's slow going, but I've awakened to find Izzy on or near my feet, several times, and Fiona curled up at my back. Kiddo, home from college for the summer, is a wee bit envious. Miss Sunshine spent a lot of time curled up with him and he still misses having a cat to snuggle with.

Izzy looks like a chubster in this photo but it's really just the angle. She's finally filling out a bit, but she's not as round as she looks.

©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, May 09, 2012

Wahoo! Wednesday - With emphasis on a new classics series and purple!! I love purple!!

It's Wahoo! Wednesday!!!

I knew you'd be excited. I just knew it. That thing, above, is one of my purple iris buds, close up (and a little enhanced). Isn't it amazing? Definitely a wahoo. I'll share another purple flower picture with you at the end of this post, but first . . . my other wahoos!

1. These covers! I've meant to mention this new classics series for a while because I am totally besotted with the covers and therefore feel like wahooing about them:

Of all the new classics covers that have come out in recent years, none have captured my eye the way these have. They're so appealing, I'm even planning to reread Wuthering Heights -- and I'm one of those people who think Wuthering Heights is terribly unromantic. But, that cover makes me want to give it a second chance. I've been advised to think of it as "gothic", instead of "romantic". I think I'll start with Jane Eyre, though, because it's the title I remember the least. All I really remember is something about a woman in an attic and . . . um. Is there a fire? Well, that's all I can summon from the memory files. And, that's probably wrong.

Also, Jane Eyre is purple (which totally fits today's Wahoo! theme)!! Except, I've been fiddling with my photo and turned the cover a little rosy. That was fun. :)

Anyway, this particular classics line is by Splinter, an imprint of Sterling Books. I found them thanks to a tweet by a Sterling rep and I love, love, loved reading about how the artist created them:

Interview with artist Sara Singh

They have the nice, thick and glossy paper covers with a flap -- like Persephone Books, only shinier -- and high-quality paper. I just want to hug 'em. Seriously, which one first? That is the question. We'll see which one calls to me loudest.

2. Kiddo is home from his sophomore year of college! Wahoo! I am really going to miss him in the fall, when he heads to the University of Mississippi (which is a whole lot farther away) but I am thrilled to have him home and just going to enjoy his presence!!

3. It's raining. I love the sound of rain. On the way home from our celebratory "school's out" dinner (30 miles from home), we got to see a really pretty light show as the storm was moving in from the west, the direction we were headed. Such pretty lightning! And, it wasn't ground lightning, so it was lovely but not scary.

4. This conversation:

Me: I told Chris I was in a deep blue funk, last week, and I was thinking . . . wouldn't Deep Blue Funk be a great band name?
Huz: It probably already is a band name.
Me: Could you look it up on your little wireless smart thingy? [I was driving, at the time of this conversation]
Huz, whipping out mobile device: Click, click, click. Pause. Click, click. There's a book. There's a movie. There's a cocktail. Yep, there's a band in Ash Grove, Missouri. I don't think they're very well known.
Me: Wow, I love the name "Ash Grove".
Huz: It does have a nice ring to it.

5. Did I tell you about my new indoor wind chimes? I've already got outdoor wind chimes and was searching for something colorful to hang over my desk. Not only did I find something beautiful made of recycled bottle glass, but I also have the joy of occasionally getting to see the chimes whacked by my cat. I cannot tell you how delightful that is. I never know when she's going to hit them and don't have a photo of her doing so, but here are the chimes:

I'll continue to try to capture that moment when the little white paw smacks the bottle. It's such a hoot.

That's all for today, except for that last flash of purple:

What are you wahooing about, this week?

©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, May 07, 2012

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones
Copyright 2012
Algonquin Books - Fiction
372 pp.

Let's just get the important bit out of the way, up front: All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones is one of the most important and surprisingly well-written books I've read in 2012. I gushed about it to my friends but I think the sound bite by Alice Walker says it best:

"One of the most absorbing, chilling, beautifully written, and important novels I've read in many years."

Yes. All that. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Gyong-ho (nicknamed Gi) is a mathematical genius who was starved and abused at a labor camp in North Korea. Il-sun is a beauty whose spirit has not yet been broken. When they meet in an orphanage, they become fast friends. Gi is a hard worker who lives in terror of the slightest infraction but she's protective of her rebellious friend, who often dawdles and underproduces at the clothing factory where they both work.

When Il-sun falls for a man she thinks can improve her status, the relationship leads to a horror neither girl can fathom as they're smuggled through the Demilitarized Zone and sold into sexual slavery in South Korea, along with a third girl named Cho.

As Gi, Il-sun and Cho are forced to engage in acts at least two of them could not even begin to imagine in their naivete, they also gradually become aware that the world outside North Korea is not at all what they believed it to be. Fragile in some ways, strong in others, the three young women must deal with the cruelty and anguish inflicted upon them, both mentally and physically.

There is a "graphic and mature theme" warning by the author and the book is a difficult read because the characters are so fully dimensional. First you get to know their daily lives in North Korea and to understand what the author calls "a living Orwellian nightmare". Then you follow them through the even deeper terror of human trafficking. I quickly found that I cared about the characters and hoped they would get through the trauma and horror of their experiences.

There are three things I have to say about the graphic and mature theme warning:

1. There is no superfluous sexual matter in All Woman and Springtime. What's there is horrifying and shocking but the author limited the graphic and sometimes violent scenes to what is necessary to understand the brutality of human trafficking.

2. The ending is uplifting. You will close the book with a smile on your face. I actually was moved to cry tears of joy -- something that almost never happens with books.

3. Take that warning seriously, though. It's definitely not a book for youngsters.

I highly recommend reading Brandon Jones' essay on how he came to write All Woman and Springtime. There are no spoilers; it's informative and answers a lot of the questions I found lingering in my mind after I closed the book. How did he research the book? Was there some compelling reason that Jones chose North Korea and/or human trafficking? Are the citizens really that indoctrinated to the respect of their "Dear Leader" in North Korea, in spite of the fact that most of them are starving? Is this really Brandon Jones' first book?!


An excellent read, highly recommended but definitely hard to stomach, at times. Believable characterization and dialogue, compelling storytelling, stunningly mature writing and an uplifting ending make All Woman and Springtime an all-around great read and the kind that needs and deserves to be passed around. I found it absolutely unbearable to put this book down; I had to know what was going to happen to Gi, Il-Sun and Cho.

Recently walked in:

The Queen by Robert Lacey - from HarperCollins
The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman - from Algonquin Books
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison - from Algonquin Books
Victricia Malicia by Clickard and Meyers - from Flashlight Press
The Tesseract by Alex Garland - from Paperback Swap
Mrs. Delaney: Her Life and Her Flowers by Ruth Hayden - purchased

In my defense, 3 out of 6 of those books were surprises.

Here. Have a flower.

©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, May 06, 2012

Mini reviews - The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister, M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker and A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez

I've fallen behind on reviews a bit, so it's time for a few minis!

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister is a book I began reading because I ended up unexpectedly eating out without a book handy. Fortunately, I had two donation bags in my car and found one title that was not a reject or already-read title but one smashed badly by the United States Postal Service and since replaced, though not yet read.

Absolutely everyone seemed to be reading and gushing about The School of Essential Ingredients a couple years ago. The story of a group of people who come together for a cooking class taught by a restaurateur named Lillian and how each of them is "transformed" by food and friendship, I must admit . . . it didn't do much for me. I'm not actually sure why I continued to read the book, except maybe that old urge to complete what I've started (which I've actually battled quite well, this year -- till April, anyway).

Each chapter tells a particular student's story, after the introduction to Lillian and her class, then each of their tales is fully wrapped up in the epilogue. The only story that fully satisfied me was Chloe's. It had a nice, punchy ending line that I can't repeat because it's a spoiler. Darn. Here's my favorite quote, though (a quotation within dialogue):

'Life is beautiful. Some people just remind you of that more than others.'

--p. 171 of The School of Essential Ingredients

I think part of what bothered me about the book was the fact that Lillian's teaching method made me think, "PANIC!" I could not imagine going into that fictional class and not feeling like a total fool. It didn't seem like Lillian taught so much as lectured and divvied up responsibilities for the group creation of certain dishes. Often, I thought, "If she gave me that task, I'd either stand around trying to find someone to tell me what exactly I was supposed to do or make a nuisance of myself asking for step-by-step directions. I am not an intuitive cook. I'm a follow-the-recipe-exactly cook.

Not a favorite, but I know a lot of avid cook/foodie friends loved The School of Essential Ingredients and I can see why; it's a gentle book of friendship, food and love. It just wasn't for me.

M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker is a book that I read because my copy was such a mess that I figured I ought to read a bit of it, decide whether or not it was worth keeping and donate it if possible. I ended up reading avidly into the wee hours.

Unlike the television series, which went on forever and ended up wrapping up the stories of the entire cast (As I recall; I don't remember the movie at all, although I've seen it), the only two characters who are followed from the beginning of their service at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital to their return to the United States are Hawkeye and Duke. But, their stories and that of Trapper John and the rest of the characters are extremely satisfying.

And, the book is really quite funny. It's also written in a way that makes the setting easy to visualize and you can see why it would have been considered cinematically viable. The characters are well-rounded, the dialogue witty, the plot points clever, if not brilliant, and the setting and action believable -- the latter undoubtedly because the author was a M*A*S*H surgeon, himself. M*A*S*H is really quite perfect and worth holding onto for a reread. Too bad my copy is such a disaster.

A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez is the only new release in this bunch. A surprise book sent to me by Algonquin Books, A Wedding in Haiti is a memoir divided into two sections. Alvarez first describes how she and her husband Bill came to know a Haitian named Piti (who was illegally working in the Dominican Republic) when Piti was a teenager. She once told him she'd attend his wedding when he married, never expecting him to take her up on her offer. But, in 2009, he called with the news that he was marrying soon.

Alvarez already had plans but she canceled them to fulfill her promise. The trip from the Dominican Republic turned out to be quite a little adventure that included taking a car-sick bride (Eseline) and baby back to the Dominican Republic after an unusual wedding and plenty of interesting lessons in culture and hospitality.

In the second portion, Alvarez describes their return to take Eseline back to Haiti because she was depressed and homesick. The Haitian earthquake had occurred just 6 months prior and Alvarez and her husband had learned a lot about poverty in Haiti, so they used their return trip as an opportunity to bring some necessities (primarily food) to the families and friends met on their first journey. They also decided to drive through Port-au-Prince to see the aftermath of the earthquake.

What I loved most about A Wedding in Haiti was reading about Alvarez's obvious affection for the people she met, in spite of language barriers, the Haitian generosity and hospitality and the history of the island and its two separate countries. I really knew very little about the history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, apart from the fact that there are no remaining indigenous people at all and Haiti is a deeply impoverished country. A Wedding in Haiti definitely whetted my appetite for more reading about Haiti and the Dominican Republic, both nonfiction and novels.

I found the writing a little bit flat, but was really smitten with Alvarez's compassion (and that of her husband), impressed with the humanity of Alvarez and her spouse if not totally blown away by the memoir. I've never read any of Julia Alvarez's fiction, but I'll have to amend that, soon.

I discovered you can view a gallery of the photos from A Wedding in Haiti at Julia Alvarez's website -- a nice feature because they're in color, larger than those in the book (so you can view the detail) and nicely labeled.

A quote worth thinking about, by a friend who had a similar reaction to Julia and Bill's (feeling compelled to do something to help after viewing the impoverished conditions) after visiting Brazil:

"It stops you in your tracks. Mind and body. When we see a thing, what then is the obligation?"

©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.