Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Short and sweet version with a different kind of kitty photo

Last week's arrivals:

  • My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer - surprise from Algonquin Books
  • The Confabulist by Steven Galloway - from Riverhead Books for review
  • All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld and
  • Love & Treasure by Ayelet Waldman - both from Alfred A. Knopf for review
  • Tooth & Claw by Jim Arnosky - surprise book from Sterling Children's Books

Last week's posts:

Books finished:

  • You Can Date Boys When You're Forty by Dave Barry
  • Countdown City by Ben H. Winters
  • The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant

Currently reading:

  • Femininity by Susan Brownmiller, a book published in 1984 and still relevant. 
  • Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo (Book 2 in the Itch series)

Just ditched:

My Son and the Afterlife: Conversations from the Other Side by Elisa Medhus, M.D.  - I entered the reading of this book with a healthy dose of skepticism (it begins with a foreward written by the deceased through his "spirit translator") and I closed it a few pages beyond the point that it actually made me angry when I thought the so-called spirit translator said something truly appalling specifically to make the mother happy. I wrote my thoughts at Goodreads but I don't want to share them, here.

This weekend:

It was beautiful outside but we spent all of Saturday doing the typical cleaning/purging. Yesterday, we went to the zoo and were thrilled to find out that our local zoo successfully passed accreditation requirements. They were on the verge of potentially having to shut down if they couldn't renew their accreditation but a recent fundraiser (for which we tried to get tickets -- we were too late; it had apparently sold out) was clearly successful. Very exciting. We watched the tigers alternately nap and have fistfights, were yawned at by a leopard and had a great time just standing around watching some kind of large bird dunk his head and shake himself off repeatedly.  It was a great afternoon. Hope your weekend was equally enjoyable!

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Playhouse fun

Early this week, both kitties were whining at me (bored, as if we don't practically have the contents of a pet store cat-toy aisle in our house) and we've spent the last couple of weekends emptying out boxes we didn't manage to unload while we were working on getting the old house ready for market. So, I grabbed a large box and cut an entrance, an exit, two circular windows and a diamond-shaped window for the kitties.

Isabel immediately dived inside and peered through the windows, while Fiona preferred to lounge on top and occasionally reach down to bat at Izzy. Today, though, they switched places -- Izzy on top, Fi inside. Seriously, it is never dull around here.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

In 1932, Lily Dane fell in love.  After a drive to see her best friend Budgie's boyfriend play football, Lily met Nick Greenwald.  The attraction was immediate and Budgie's response was a derogatory comment about Nick's Jewishness. Not that Budgie really cared what Lily did. Budgie was determined to marry a man of means and she believed she had found that man.

In 1938, Lily is reflecting back upon the glorious time when she was young and in love, courted by Nick. The market crash had destroyed many people and their businesses, others hunkered down and survived. But, life at the beach is the same as it's always been. In recent years Lily has cared for her little surprise sister, Kiki. She knows Budgie has married Nick but little about their marriage, only that tragedy tore Lily and Nick apart and they never managed to come together, again.

As the summer of 1938 winds on, the women at the club try to protect Lily by giving Nick and Budgie the cold shoulder.  Only little Kiki is captivated by Nick. They can often be found walking along the beach, building sand castles.  Through Kiki, Lily finds herself able to talk to Nick, at times, if only briefly.

What happened to end their relationship when Lily and Nick were on the verge of eloping? Why did Nick escape to Europe? What kind of person is Budgie?  Is she really a friend?  And, what will happen when an unexpected hurricane crashes to shore at Seaview Neck?  Will the summer people survive?

A Hundred Summers is my first read by  Beatriz Williams and it won't be my last.  I thought the pacing and the shifts back and forth in time were handled brilliantly. There was enough intrigue to keep hanging on, both to find out what happened between Lily and Nick and to discover if there was another man for Lily.  Or, was Budgie up to something?  Questions, questions.  I actually think A Hundred Summers would made a pretty terrific discussion book --- and/or definitely a great vacation read. The book is not so much scandalous as romantic and a little mysterious but scandal enters in here or there. The writing has an easy flow and I found the dialogue comfortably truthful.  There were moments I caught words I hadn't heard in a couple decades, which indicted to me that the author did her research.

Highly Recommended - A fairly light book that appears to be pretty solid in its descriptions from the time period, great for a beachy, vacationy read. It's a relaxing read that doesn't require too much brain power but it's still engaging and A Hundred Summers is not just a fluff piece. It's quite an enjoyable, well-researched historical story.  I loved the reading.  I felt swept away.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman

Asmat was otherworldly. Compelling. A strange and fecund universe utterly removed from the grip of the world.  The jungle was thick, but the rivers were highways, and they kept it from feeling cloying, oppressive. It was a drowned Eden, full of birds and fish and freshwater and a giant sky that was always in motion. We passed villages you could smell before you got to them, smoke and laughing children's voices and canoes drawn up on muddy banks.  Dugouts lined with standing men paddled by, smoke rising from the coal in the stern.

~p. 52 of Savage Harvest (Advance Reader's Copy - some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman is about the author's investigation into how and why the 23-year-old child of one of America's wealthiest and best known families disappeared in the Asmat region of New Guinea in 1961.

The first two chapters read like a novel describing what the author believes happened to Michael Rockefeller, as it occurred, on the day in 1961 when he disappeared. You'll know soon enough if you open the book so I don't consider it a spoiler to tell you that Hoffman believes the young Rockefeller was killed and eaten by cannibals. If you're weak of stomach, you may want to skim the description of his death.

After those first two chapters, the author fast-forwards to 2012 and begins describing his journey to the Asmat region and how and why he went about seeking answers to the 50-year-old mystery.

I'd been thinking a lot about my obsession with what I'd called the primitive, the thing that had driven me to Asmat and Michael's story in the first place. Part of it was simple romance--the romance of the jungle and open fires, of drumming and spears and bows and arrows and dogs' teeth necklaces. But it was also the hope of seeing something, understanding something in my own life, a yearning [. . . ]

~fr. p. 256 of Savage Harvest, ARC

The book describes not only his journey into Asmat to seek answers and the journeys of Rockefeller himself, but also the people and the culture he encountered, the history of the region and its people, early interaction by missionaries and Dutch authorities with the Asmat people when they were still warring and cannabilistic, how and why the known facts about Michael Rockefeller's disappearance were hidden from the Rockefeller family, and detailed descriptions of the violent acts that led up to Michael's death.

Savage Harvest is a fascinating book and I found Carl's theory plausible, his research stellar. I also enjoyed learning about Asmat, a place I'd never even heard of.  The ARC unfortunately lacked any maps, as they often do, but I asked Carl if there would be maps in the finished print copy and he replied, "Yes -- both endpapers. Important!"

The maps are definitely critical. I used Google Earth as much as humanly possible but the portion of New Guinea described is not well covered so I'm going to be watching for a finished copy of Savage Harvest, even though I've already finished the book.  I'd like to get a better grip on the locations I just read about.

Highly Recommended with a note that there are some disturbing scenes. Excellent research, strong writing, convincing theory . . . I thought Savage Harvest was an exceptional and utterly absorbing read. There are bloody portions (the way cannibals dismembered a body is described in detail and the violence between villages is well described) and some creeping critter descriptions that made my skin crawl but surprisingly, they didn't bother me all that much, even though I'm prone to nightmares. I was so completely engrossed that the pages kept flying. The author goes to great lengths to understand a culture that's hard to even fathom, one in which the taboo of eating each other was not just about murder and revenge but about long-held spiritual beliefs.

Seriously. Captivating. Also, the book has plenty of photos so readers get a glimpse of Michael Rockefeller during his trips to Asmat, the native people and the primitive art Rockefeller spent his time buying for the Primitive Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Just don't read this book while you're eating. There are moments you might choke on your salad a bit if you do.

Many thanks to Carl for contacting me about reviewing Savage Harvest and to William Morrow for providing a copy.  I enjoyed The Lunatic Express and jumped at the chance to read his latest release. I can't wait to see what he comes up with, next.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quickie reviews - The Martian by Andy Weir, The Riverman by Aaron Starmer, The Big Needle by Ken Follett

A few quickie reviews to help me catch up.  Of the following three books, only one is an ARC: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer. The other two books are from my personal library.

The Martian by Andy Weir is a recent release. I looked it up after I noticed a bit of buzz and saw that Andi was reading and enjoying it. That fabulous cover art was also undoubtedly part of the reason I was seduced into buying. Before Andi finished reading her copy of The Martian, mine had arrived so I was relieved to find out she gave it 4 stars.

When a dust storm cuts an expedition to Mars short after only 6 days and astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead, he is left alone on Mars with little chance of rescue before he runs out of food. The dust storm has left him without a working communication system to inform NASA that he's alive.

The Martian has been compared to all sorts of things -- McGyver combined with Robinson Crusoe,  Apollo 13 with a touch of The Castaway. It's a little of all those, I suppose. Although the science and engineering that go into the inventions and alterations Watney makes to stay alive can be difficult for a non-technical person to follow (Marg called it "hard-core" sci-fi), the story is never dull. Most of the book is told from Watney's perspective but now and then the book veers to Earth or to the ship carrying his crew mates away from Mars. 

While the book is not without its flaws, they're minor and I so completely enjoyed the ride that I gave The Martian 5 stars. Watney is a delightful, clever and likable character with terrific sense of humor; and, the pacing is excellent. Boy, was I glad I spent some of my Christmas gift card money on The Martian! I'll definitely revisit this story and highly recommend it.

Engineers and scientists will probably get a special kick out of The Martian.  Also of interest: Michele of A Reader's Respite and The Lit Asylum (Tumblr) says the audio is excellent if you're more of an audio person. I am not, but I'm planning to see if my library has a copy, just for fun. 

Side note:  The Martian's opening line is a new favorite: "I'm pretty much f***ed." So much said in so few words.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer says it's for ages 10-14 but I would be careful not to go too young because it seems like potential nightmare-inducing territory to me. Having said that, The Riverman -- about a girl named Fiona who has found her way to a magical place where she can create her own world by telling stories -- is fanciful and fun.  It's also incredibly realistic, at times.  

When Fiona shares her story with Alistair, it's with the hope that someone will know where she's gone if a dangerous creature known as "The Riverman" steals her soul and she goes missing in the real world. Alistair is convinced that the world Fiona describes doesn't really exist, that it's a story she's created as a defense mechanism to help her forget problems in her real life.  But, what if she's telling the truth and there is a Riverman who steals children's souls?  Is there anything that Alistair can do to save Fiona?

I found The Riverman fascinating, creative and surprisingly gripping, with believable characters, particularly in the Real World portions of the book. Alistair and Fiona are outcasts and dreamers but Alistair is also an 11-year-old with a rebellious streak. I found Alastair very realistic if slightly dense, at times. The ending of The Riverman unfortunately was a little too nebulous for my taste and left me feeling like I'd had the rug swept out from under me. However, I liked the book enough to only take off a point for its disappointing ending. Recommended, but I'd advise caution to those with particularly sensitive children on the lower end of the recommended age spectrum. I gave The Riverman 4 stars.

The Big Needle by Ken Follett was originally published in 1974 and made its way to a U.S. publisher in 1975.  His website says Ken Follett "burst into the book world in 1978 with Eye of the Needle", so The Big Needle predates his first truly successful book. I'm not surprised this early book was not the book that made Follett a household name.

There were hints of what was to come in his future mystery/thrillers but The Big Needle is clearly the work of a writer who had not yet fine-tuned his writing. The hero is a wealthy man whose daughter is near death from an overdose and he wants revenge. He investigates, attempting to work his way up to the top boss, the drug lord guilty of shipping heroin into England. During the investigation, he's pretty casual about killing anybody who gets in his way.

The Big Needle is very much a product of the times with drugs, sex (pretty kinky stuff, including wife-swapping and a threesome), rock 'n roll, and a hero who is fabulously wealthy and not afraid to use his money to get what he wants, for better or worse.  I loved reading about the hero's clothing more than anything.

A big negative: As in many books from the era, there is a rape in which there are no lasting emotional consequences. Grrr.  On the positive side: It was kind of cool to see the old usage of "an" with a word beginning with "h" (as in, "an hotel").  Nice reminder that not long ago students were taught that now-defunct English rule.

Overall, The Big Needle was interesting but not a particularly cohesive story so I gave it 2 stars and it will be going out the door.  Not recommended unless you're simply curious about Ken Follett's early writing. I've been a fan of Follett since I read The Eye of the Needle and The Key to Rebecca and found that I could clearly spot the elements that Follett continued to use, altered or dropped in the breakout novels that followed.  It was fun pondering the differences between The Big Needle and later works.  However, I probably would not have made it all the way through the book, had it not been a mere 175 pages long. His books have just kept growing in length, haven't they?

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Of spring and books and cats in windows

Spring has arrived in all its glory, in our area. The photo above is already outdated. The pear trees are done blooming, blossoms fallen like snow edging the sidewalks, their trees nearly in full leaf.  Redbuds and Japanese magnolias are blooming; the daffodils are done. And, yet, we managed to drop down to the 50s, yesterday, so I'm happy.  I do love a long winter ("long" meaning more than 2 weeks worth of fireplace weather).  

I was a little under the weather, last week, so I may resort to a few one-paragraph reviews to catch up. We'll see.  I never know what's going to interfere with my computer time, these days.

Arrivals since my last Monday Malarkey post (this feels a bit like confession):

For review from HarperCollins:

  • A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman
  • Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell
  • Up At Butternut Lake by Mary McNear
  • Bellagrand by Paullina Simons

For book tour:

  • The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell from Berkley
  • For Such a Time by Kate Breslin from Bethany House

Surprise books from Algonquin:

  • Acts of God by Ellen Gilchrist
  • A Dangerous Age by Ellen Gilchrist


  • The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (already read this and am very happy I spent the last of my Christmas gift card money on it)

From Splinter for review:

  • Itch Rocks by Simon Mayo (sequel to Itch, which I loved so much I looked for Itch Rocks while in the UK, last year . . . unsuccessfully, so I'm excited to finally have a copy)

Received via Paperback Swap:

  • Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
  • The Frozen Lake by Elizabeth Edmondson

Whew!  That's all.  As if that's not more than enough.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Books finished:

  • Children's Wartime Diaries: Secret Writings from the Holocaust and WWII, ed. by Laurel Holliday
  • The Riverman by Aaron Starmer
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman
  • A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
  • Mr. Owita's Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall

Currently reading:

  • Countdown City by Ben H. Winters - The second in the Last Policeman series; very excited to finally read this!
  • The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant - Short stories. So far, I am loving this book, which resonates with deep truths about being human.

In other news, the cats are really enjoying smelling the outdoor smells as it's been nice enough to throw open the windows.  Sorry this is such a lousy photo but I think the sniffy face is so cute:

Happy Monday!

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fiona Friday - Cuddle bunnies

Finally!  Fiona Friday on the right day!!  It's a miracle, I'm telling you.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena

I'm back!  Did you miss me?  No Malarkey, this week, due to Internet disaster followed immediately by minor illness.  Diving right in . . . 

Everyone must reach a certain point where they have too many memories.  So forgetting was just another sort of remembering.  If you couldn't forget anything, you couldn't remember anything, either. Forgetting was an ocean that enclosed islands of memory.  It had currents, eddies, and depths. Sandbanks would sometimes appear and join up the islands, sometimes the islands would disappear. The brain has tides.  In Bertha's case the incoming tide had come and swallowed the islands whole. Was her life lying somewhere on the ocean bed and Herr Lexow didn't want anyone snorkeling around down there?

~p. 88

Alcohol made me stupid. Blacking out, shutting down, unconsciousness--I know about all the terrible things that could happen when drinking. And I hated it when Rosmarie and Mira drank wine. When they became loud and laughed excessively, it was as if a huge television screen had appeared between us.  Through the glass I could watch my cousin and her friend as though I were watching a nature documentary about giant spiders with the sound turned off.  Without the sober commentary of the narrator these creatures were repulsive, alien and ugly.

~p. 91

The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena was on the bestseller list in Germany for two years but it took some time to reach the English-speaking world.  I got a copy from HarperCollins for review, primarily based on the fact that it contains some magical elements and was compared to books by Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen. The Taste of Apple Seeds is a book about love and loss, painful memories and facing up to both the past and the future, with a touch of magical realism.

Iris is the main character in the book and she's conflicted.  She's a librarian who has given up reading (I'll bet a lot of people hate that about the book; I just thought it was incredibly odd). When she inherits her grandmother's sprawling farm house, she's not sure she wants it at all.  The house reminds her of all the loss and grief her family has been through during the past three generations. But, as Iris spends time biking around the local village and remembering the past, she connects with the brother of her childhood best friend and learns some surprising new details about her family's history.

Things I disliked about The Taste of Apple Seeds:  I tend to dislike slow, quiet, internal books and that is exactly how I'd describe The Taste of Apple Seeds.  Because it's set in Germany, it also took me a little while to adjust to the location. I was actually quite envious of the way Iris was able to bike around everywhere and found it somewhat bizarre that she was constantly throwing off her clothing (as were other characters, mostly in romantic situations) to swim or doing unusual things like riding her bike in a ball gown.

Overall, The Taste of Apple Seeds is a melancholy book, although I was happy when I closed it, which means it ended on a high note.  There are some very strange scenes and a little bit of awkward dialogue but in general I thought the translation was very good.  Although I never felt fully connected to Iris and the book was a bit too slow of pace, I felt like I understood where the author was coming from with the intertwining themes of love and loss. 

Occasionally, a sentence would throw me:

The grass was starting to straggle, but it couldn't have been mown more than four or five weeks ago.

~p. 97

I didn't understand that sentence.  Is it saying that Iris wouldn't expect a yard to get straggly in four or five weeks?  The book takes place during a German summer so that baffled me.  Our yard would get straggly in a week, during the summer months. 

Memory -- the pain of bad memories, the horror of losing one's connections completely as Alzheimer's does its damage -- is a heavy theme in The Taste of Apple Seeds:

Her brain silted up like a riverbed. Then the riverbank began to crumble, until large chunks fell crashing into the water.  The river lost its form and current, its natural character. In the end it didn't flow anymore but just sloshed in all directions.

~p. 72

Things I loved about The Taste of Apple Seeds: I loved the way the family's tragic past and its secrets were slowly revealed.  I liked the fact that the story was primarily about women, memories, love and grief.  I adored the setting and I thought the touches of magical realism (an aunt who sparked and shocked people when she touched them, berries that turned white after a death, etc.) added a unique touch.  Occasionally, there were sentences or paragraphs that reminded me of my favorite author, the kind of sentences that stop you in your tracks, so lovely that you feel obligated to reread them several times. 

And, I absolutely loved the fact that Iris didn't bring enough clothing to the funeral so she went rooting around to find dresses to wear in the old collection of party dresses and gowns stored in the house.  There is something delicious about the idea of swishing around in an old farm house wearing a golden ball gown or a lacy party dress.  

Recommended - A melancholy story about a woman who reflects on the tragedies of loss in her family, including loss of memory itself, while considering her future.  

The Taste of Apple Seeds has been translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch.

I spoke to the translator of The Taste of Apple Seeds a bit, after I tweeted positive thoughts about the book and he responded.  He said he believes the book is largely misunderstood amongst English-speaking readers and from a glance at Goodreads, I can see that's certainly the case. You have to be willing to indulge the author a little, let her take you to dark places and view those little touches of magic as an exploration of grief rather than hope, I think.  I've experienced enough loss in my life that I found myself relating a bit, but I can understand why people might have trouble getting through The Taste of Apple Seeds; the overwhelming tone is one of gloom, even if it ends on an upbeat note.

I've watched the film trailer and unfortunately, since I don't speak German, I couldn't understand a word.  But, it's not available in the U.S. anyway, much less with subtitles, although the film does appear to be accurate to the story.  If I could, I would watch the movie in German for the visual experience alone.

For those of you in the cold territories who are longing for a glimpse of spring:

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown - book and CD

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown is a children's book with selections from songs that Margaret Wise Brown wrote before her death. Packed away for decades, they were just recently brought to light, a selection illustrated and put into book form, the lyrics scored and recorded. 

When I read Goodnight Songs, I have to admit I thought they might be a little awkward to read aloud to a child because they're not overly heavy on rhyme and rhythm. The illustrations are gorgeous but I think the book is best flipped through at leisure by a child with the songs playing in the background. The music itself is wonderful - very folksy and gentle.  I love it so much that I sometimes just play it as comforting background music.  I can particularly visualize the music playing in a preschool during free time or nap time.  It's less sing-along, more relaxation/playtime music, in my humble opinion.

Regardless, I love the book and highly recommend Goodnight Songs those with preschoolers and young elementary children, in particular. The music is beautiful, the illustrations gorgeous, the lyrics not-so-rhythmic but they're probably a lot more comfortable to read aloud once you've done so a few times. 

You can get a peek inside Goodnight Songs, here.

My thanks to Sterling Children's Books for the review copy of Goodnight Songs

Brief update because I've been offline:

Our home Internet connection went hinky 2 days ago so I'm actually preparing this post as I sit in a McDonald's, using their wireless and Kiddo's laptop.  I don't have a device that's connected to the Internet by any other means (my phone is one step up from the stupidest kind of phone you can get - no fancy features that allow me to get online; and, my ancient, 1st-gen. iPad doesn't have 3G or whatever people use, these days . . . basically, we're tech cheapskates) so until we get the problem resolved there won't be any posts.  We've got a technician coming this afternoon so hopefully they'll get us back up and running, soon. 

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Malarkey - Sunshine, books, cats, new bookshelves and bookmark fun

Ah, back to normal weather after last week's surprise dusting of snow.  It's been sunny and mild with gorgeous partly-cloudy skies for several days, now.  Loving it, even though I'm not a fan of the spring pollen.  It took me several days to recover from our weekend of finishing up the old house for the market; I was so sore from painting and scrubbing. So, I can't say the week started off being a productive one but it ended up that way, after I joined in on the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge, which the husband found exciting. Although he introduced chaos into the equation (he was completely unwilling to focus on a single room at a time), we got a lot of cleaning accomplished and some clothing bagged, books to trade or get rid of boxed.

This week's arrivals:

  • Straight Man by Richard Russo via Paperback Swap (on the recommendation of a friend from my hometown, with whom I've just recently reconnnected)
  • Child Witch Kinshasa by Mike Ormsby from the author
  • To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris from Little Brown via Shelf Awareness

Last week's posts:

Argh, that's all!  I meant to post a lot more but I was a wreck so I guess I should be happy I managed as much as I did.  I didn't even manage to post a Fiona Friday pic on the wrong day!  Here's your apology photo . . . 2 cats for the price of one:

Books finished:

  • Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown - I actually read Goodnight Songs the moment it walked in the door and listened to the CD the next day. I merely forgot to write it on my calendar so I'm claiming it as one of last week's reads for the sake of having a place to link up on my list of monthly reads.  Review forthcoming.
  • The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena - I can't wait to babble about this one, actually.
  • Logopolis by Christopher H. Bidmead - a very old Dr. Who book, not fan fiction but a novelization of the 4-part serial starring the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker. 

Currently reading:

It changes from one day to the next; I'm not very focused, lately.  But, this morning I woke up early (strange - usually, it works the other way around, after a time change) and read a number of entries from Children's Wartime Diaries: Secret Writings from the Holocaust and WWII, ed. by Laurel Holliday. Consequently, I spent the morning swimming in tears.  I've been reading from Children's Wartime Diaries for weeks because it's rough reading and I can only usually stand so much at once.  But, I'd like to finish one of the three non-fiction books I have going, so I'll continue on with the reading and, hopefully, finish it tonight. There's no entry in my sidebar because I couldn't find an image of the book online, so I'll photograph it if/when I review it.

In other news:

I spent an evening making goofy owl bookmarks, last week, (mostly using pre-made stickers) and some time laminating them on another day.  Fun!  And, I've been loading books in the library closet.  Did I tell you about the library closet shelves?  I don't recall.  I suggested that we should take advantage of the high ceilings in our closets and thought it would be a good idea to build in additional shelving that went to the ceiling. Husband disagreed with the concept of built-ins, partly because he would be the one who had to do the carpentry and partly because he didn't want to make a permanent alteration to the house. Instead, he came up with the alternative of purchasing some Billy bookshelves from IKEA, installing them and raising the top shelf.

The closest IKEA is a 6-hour drive but he just happened to know someone who was planning to make an IKEA run, so he sent along the money for shelving with his friend and put the shelves up in a single day.  I've been loading them, off and on, since.  And, as much as I dislike particle-board shelving, I must admit I'm very happy to have those extra shelves to help me get books off the floor and figure out which titles I need to part with.  I have a terrible tendency to build little towers of books here, there and everywhere.

Hmm, I guess that's all the news, bookish and otherwise.  Our F2F group leader thought all the recent suggestions I solicited sounded depressing, so I'm still looking for suggestions. If you can recommend an upbeat book worth discussing for our May meeting, please let me know!

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, March 07, 2014

A History of the World with Google Earth by Penny Worms, Ilust. by William Ings

I've mentioned A History of the World with Google Earth by Worms and Ings a couple times, as I read, because I was having such a blast playing with it.  I didn't actually realize there was so much I didn't understand about Google Earth, although there have been times one of the guys has leaned over me, click-click-clicked and expected me to somehow follow all that clicking. In other words, there were definitely some features I didn't know how to use.

A History of the World with Google Earth is meant for children but I would say it's great for a broader age range than just youngsters. As an adult who is finding the newer, sleeker programs sometimes incomprehensible (What was wrong with using icons with words attached to them? I miss that!) I appreciate being walked through how to use a program simply.  A History of the World with Google Earth does just that, telling you about the various icons and which to click to use specific features.  In a single day, I went from not knowing how on earth my husband managed to walk us through the streets of London -- to look for a shop where we stopped for pastries -- to knowing how to navigate from air or street view and jump into 360° photographs. 

Of course, since the book is directed at children, there are lots of fun activities to keep them busy as they take a jaunt around the world, collecting numbers to reveal a bonus surprise location, answering questions, solving puzzles. There are coordinates to lead you to each location in the book, descriptions of what you're looking at, the historical significance of each location and specific items to seek. There are hidden "geographical and historical misfits"(a bit like hunting for Waldo) and well-labeled illustrations help you visualize history in action.  The jaunt through Pompeii in the Roman Empire page spread was one of my favorites.  You should be able to click on this photo to enlarge it.

Here's a closer look at one of the spreads, which gives you a view of one of the historical misfits. Just below the info about Ancient Egypt, you can see a man with a camera standing on the wall:

When I mentioned how much I was enjoying the experience of traveling around the world using Google Earth by going to a few of the locations in A History of the World with Google Earth, each day, one of my friends said it sounded like a good book to go through as a fun summer project with her grandchild.  Absolutely!  It would be great for spring break or summer fun. Some children might need guidance and others will probably enjoy reading and navigating on their own -- it just depends on the individual's needs and skills.  I don't think there's anything wrong with an adult buying this book for his or her self, either. I've used children's books to help me get a start on understanding quite a few things, over the years, including children's history, craft books and even childrens' versions of Shakespeare's plays.  

Highly recommended - Loads of fun for kids and adults, a book that not only teaches how to use Google Earth and informs youngsters about history but also entertains with games, delightful illustrations and activities.  

Funny aside: When I received A History of the World with Google Earth in a box of unsolicited books from Sterling Kids, my initial thought was, "This one looks gimmicky." So, I thought it was pretty humorous to find out just how wrong I was when I sat down with the book and discovered that it was not just useful but loads of fun. Shows how easy it is to mess up when you judge a book by its cover.  What a delightful way to be proven wrong. 

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Two minis - Spy Smuggler by Jim Eldridge and Nick & Tesla's Robot Army Rampage by Pflugfelder and Hockensmith

Spy Smuggler: Paul Lelaud, France 1942-1944 by Jim Eldridge is the fictional tale of a French teenager living in occupied France.  During the invasion, Paul's father was killed fighting on the Maginot Line, so Paul and his mother have moved in with her brother, a baker.

Paul thinks Uncle Maurice is a coward. Instead of fighting the Germans, he keeps his head down and insists that it's important to get along with them to prevent getting killed. But Uncle Maurice is actually quietly involved in the Resistance.

Spy Smuggler is a well-drawn tale of life in an Occupied France during WWII. Among other things, Paul has Jewish friends who are deported. I thought the author did an exceptional job of placing the reader in the shoes of a young boy who is old enough to feel like he needs to get involved in the fight to get his country back, old enough to understand that terrible things are happening but just innocent enough not to have a full perspective and to need the gentle guidance of his uncle. When his Jewish friends are deported, the story becomes particularly gripping and realistic.

Spy Smuggler also describes the two resistance factions in France and their differing methods as Uncle Maurice and his little circle are placed in danger when the Maquis choose killing over more subtle methods, leading to Nazi retribution.

I've read 2 books from the My Story series and when I read the first I was irritated to find that what I thought was a real-life diary was, in fact, a fictional tale.  I just looked up the series and it appears that Scholastic has listened to complaints about the misleading covers that did not list an author name as the authors' names appear on the most recent releases from the series, at least in the UK. Here's a list of the My Story titles for boys.

Spy Smuggler also contains a timeline of events relevant to the story and a number of period photographs at the back of the book.  I love the extra information included in the My Story books.

Highly recommended for children or adults seeking to learn more about life during WWII.

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith is the second in Quirk Books' Nick and Tesla series of middle-grade science mysteries.  I reviewed Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab, recently.

Still living with their nutty absent-minded scientist uncle, Nick and Tesla are surprised to find that their favorite store -- a junky place with loads of fun gadgets and parts for their science experiments -- has been cleaned up; and, equally stunned when their uncle becomes interested in the new owner, a mechanical engineer specializing in robotics. When local businesses become victim to a series of burglaries, Nick and Tesla decide to investigate.

To figure out what's going on, Nick and Tesla must build new gadgets, including tiny robots meant to look like bugs.

The Nick and Tesla series is such fun it almost makes me wish I had children at home so that I'd have an excuse to build little robots.  In this case, I got an ARC that doesn't actually contain one of the templates but I'm sure I'll be able to figure it out if I try.

Highly recommended - Science, mystery, things to build.  What could be more fun? I think the Nick and Tesla books would be especially fun for homeschoolers or parents seeking to keep their children entertained (although you do need to help out with the building process) during breaks from school.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Shadows in the Sun by Gayathri Ramprasad

I'm going to go about this backwards and start with why I read Shadows in the Sun.
  • In the 1990s, I had a friend who told me about the time of her life when she had two small children and was suicidal.  She considered drowning the children and then killing herself because she thought the children would be better off dead than living without a mother.
  • Two of my friends have lost a child to suicide.
  • My mother suffered from depression most of her adult life. I inherited her tendency to depression.
  • About a year-and-a-half ago, one of my physical therapists took his own life.
And, then there's the reaction from those who don't understand, which only goes to show that there is still a serious lack of understanding about depression and a stigma attached to it.  Again, examples from my own life.
  • After my physical therapist killed himself, his business partner responded in anger.  "That's just stupid!" he said.  "He was depressed for years.  Why didn't he do something about it?"  
  • A depressed character came up in discussion at my book group and one of the women said, "Oh, most people just try to kill themselves to get back at other folks, to say 'I'll show them!'" 
  • When the subject of depression came up while I was talking to one of my friends, she gleefully told me she'd never been depressed because, "I won't let myself!" 
  • A few years ago, one of my friends simply disappeared for a few months. Every time I called to see if she was home yet, her husband would make some excuse. "She's taking a break," he said at first. Eventually, he told me she'd been hospitalized to treat a vitamin imbalance. Two years passed before I wormed the truth out of her -- that she'd attempted suicide and been put into the local mental facility for observation and treatment. Both my friend and her husband were still too embarrassed to talk about her experience in any detail. 
It's because of all of the people I know and love who have fought depression, lost someone they love or   made ignorant comments -- and because of my own experience -- that I occasionally read books about depression.

Back to the subject . . . the book:

Shadows in the Sun is a memoir about Gayathri Ramprasad's journey through depression and how she found the path to healing.  I added the lengthy asides above because in Shadows in the Sun, Gayathri addresses things like the stigma still attached to depression (and other mental illnesses), the misunderstanding of those who have never experienced mental illness and the lack of affordable, readily available treatment options. The idea, for example, that you can just will away depression is a really nice thought but mental illness simply doesn't work that way. Depression is caused by chemical activity in the brain. Sure, there can be a triggering incident that sends you spiraling into depression. But, you can also become depressed for no reason, whatsoever.  And, it's because the author went through so much that it has become her mission to raise awareness that mental illness is an illness, not a defect or something that can be wished away.

In the author's case, growing up in India contributed to her difficulty with diagnosis and treatment.  It's worse in India by far, but regardless of where you go there is still a stigma attached to depression. Gayathri rightly compares mental illness to other illnesses.  If you had a deadly virus, people wouldn't tell you to pray harder or pull up your bootstraps and get over yourself. But that's often true of mental illness.  The fact that it's not always easily treatable with medication or therapy alone makes it an especially tricky kind of illness, as well.

Gayathri's struggle to find the help she needs and her battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts comprise the bulk of the book and I loved reading her story -- the pages flew -- but one of the things I loved best about Shadows in the Sun was the unique cultural perspective. I learned a lot about India; there's even a glossary of Indian terms in the back of the book.  Because the traditions and religious beliefs were a part of why it took so long for the author to receive treatment, you actually come away from Shadows in the Sun with a new understanding about India and its people.  I really loved that.

In general, the story was very well-written. I found Shadows in the Sun incredibly gripping. Gayathri has a combination of conditions - depression and anxiety along with anxiety-induced panic attacks, which made her symptoms more dramatic than the perhaps more typical quietly-depressed individual who puts up a good front and suffers in silence.  Gayathri was often physically ill - vomiting, disinterested in eating, sometimes collapsing publicly. While she did eventually recover from a lengthy depression that caused her to lose a great deal of weight (recovery was hastened by marriage; the change of environment made a difference), she became severely depressed again after the birth of her first child. It was then that she finally began to get the help she needed.

I was unaware of how hospitalization for depression works and found the description of the author's experience eye-opening. When Gayathri went in to talk to a psychiatrist for admission to the hospital with severe depression and he asked her if she was suicidal, the response to her affirmative reply stunned me.  The doctor immediately stopped asking questions and had Gayathri led to a room to change into a gown. Then she was placed in isolation.  By that, I mean she was locked into a room alone in a flimsy robe with a camera watching her every move.

When I read that part, I was so shocked that I turned to my husband and said, "I can't believe they do such an uncivilized thing in our country!" I told him I thought it would make a whole lot more sense to take someone for an emergency therapy session -- one that involved putting him or her in a room with 20 people who are there just to hug them and share their own stories of hope.  Doesn't that make more sense than locking someone up all alone when he or she is in despair? The woman I mentioned -- the one who considered drowning her own children -- responded best to group therapy; that's a part of where I'm coming from, the idea that knowing you're not alone can be one of the biggest factors in recovery.  But, maybe I'm oversimplifying the dangers, too.

At any rate, you will get a full perspective of what it's like to live with depression, fight the negative thoughts and feel so desperate that you want to end it all, if you read Shadows in the Sun.  You will get a fascinating glimpse into the culture in India and see how treatment both there and in the rest of the world doesn't create a big enough net to catch and save the million people who died at their own hands, each year.  And, you will learn what finally turned Gayathri Ramprasad's life around.

My only complaint is that the part about her healing was too short.  I wanted the author to go a little deeper into the healing process and what she did to turn her life around. Although she does go into how she eventually discovered what worked for her, Shadows in the Sun is more a tale of one person's struggle than a how-to on recovery.

Highly recommended - You don't have to be depressed or have experienced depression or mental illness to read Shadows in the Sun.  It is an utterly fascinating, compelling, passionate memoir that also offers a great cultural perspective on life in India and what it's like to be an immigrant.

Link to the organization founded by Gayathri Ramprasad:

ASHA International

My thanks to Hazelden and TLC Tours for the review copy of Shadows in the Sun.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Monday Malarkey - What the heck is that white stuff? and all the usual malarkey

This past week was spent almost entirely either in bed (okay, one day of trying to sleep off a cold) or at our old house, where we were scrambling to get the house ready to go on the market. Yesterday we were painting and scrubbing in shorts with sweat trickling down our backs in 80° weather. Wow, was I surprised to wake up to snow on the deck, this morning!  Hopefully things will get back to normal, now.  We're taking off a week from old-house-fixit to let our sore muscles recover and then we'll go in and finish the last touches but the house is finally on the market.  Woot!

This week's arrivals . . . OK, somebody moved my stacks but I think I've gathered everything:

  • The Riverman by Aaron Starmer from FSG via Shelf Awareness
  • Haunted by Joy Preble via Paperback Swap
  • Delicious by Ruth Reichl from Random House for TLC Tour
  • Countdown City by Ben H. Winters from Quirk Books for review 
  • The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff from The Penguin Press via Shelf Awareness (just walked in, while I was in the midst of typing my plans for next week)

From Sterling Children's "Poetry for Young People" series:

  • African American Poetry edited by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount, Illustrated by Karen Barbour
  • Robert Frost edited by Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Henri Sorensen

Last week's posts:

Books finished:

  • Redshirts by John Scalzi (already reviewed)
  • The Big Needle by Ken Follett 
  • Shadows in the Sun by Gayathri Ramprasad
  • A History of the World with Google Earth by Penny Worms, illustr. by William Ings

I knew I mostly read children's books, this past week and couldn't figure out why I only had one on the list of books finished, then I realized it's because I read 3 of them in one day and spread them out over the previous week on my calendar for the sake of fitting everything into the available boxes. So . . . 

The rest of the books I finished:

  • How Does the Ear Hear? and other Questions about the senses by Melissa Stewart
  • How Does a Caterpillar Become a Butterfly? and other questions about butterflies by Melissa Stewart
  • What Was America's Deadliest War? and other questions about the Civil War by Martin W. Sandler

This week's plans:

I think I can plan, now, but don't quote me on that.  I've got a tour of Shadows in the Sun by Gayathri Ramprasad scheduled for tomorrow.  Since February was one of those months during which I had difficulty concentrating, most of the month was dedicated to the reading of children's books and after I review Shadows in the Sun I plan to begin focusing on (and continue with, as long as I can keep going) catching up on reviews of all those children's books, with only a stop for the usual Monday Malarkey, if necessary, next week.  Should be fun.  I love children's books!

Currently reading:

Well, hmm.  I started Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman, last week, and I'm enjoying it but I didn't get very far on either that or Priscilla by Nicholas Shakespeare, again.  That's partly because I was miserable with a cold and decided to go for light reading (Redshirts and children's books), partly because I was so busy scrubbing and painting and fixing-upping, last week.  And, then I needed to read Shadows in the Sun, but that was fascinating and went very quickly.  I just started reading The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena. Hoping this will be a normal week, meaning a week that I manage to finish 3 or 4 books meant for adults. Wish me luck.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Wrong Day, Again. Who's surprised? Fiona Friday Goes Caturday with Folded Izzy.

Tried to fold laundry. Got a folded cat, instead.

©2014 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.