Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Blast from the Past: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

Early in my blogging years, there was a wonderful e-zine by the name of Estella's Revenge. I occasionally wrote reviews or articles for Estella's Revenge (now known as The Estella Collective and, I believe, archived but not active) At the time, I didn't cross-post them to Bookfoolery, instead posting a link to the e-zine when it published. I've decided to occasionally move some of those old reviews to Bookfoolery so that I'll have them on my own site for future reference.

One of the books I reviewed for Estella was The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, which I just purchased. I gave away the ARC long, long ago and bought it to reread because it's an Australian title that was discussed in the Australian Lit course I recently took via Coursera. Although I doubt I'll review it a second time when I reread it, I'm looking forward to reading it with notes that will hopefully allow me to read from a fresh perspective.


My review of The Broken Shore, originally published April 1, 2007:

The Broken Shore
Written by Peter Temple
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

"Did it cross your mind," Leon said, leaning on the counter, "that our lives are just like stories kids tell you? They get the and-the-and-then right, and then they run out of steam and just stop."
"You've got kids?" It had not occurred to Cashin.
"Two," said Leon.
Cashin felt a sense of unfairness. "Maybe you shouldn't think about your life that way. Maybe you shouldn't think about life at all. Just make the coffee."

Detective Joe Cashin isn't the man he used to be. Since his brush with death, Joe lives with chronic pain and paralyzing guilt. Sent away from the big-city homicide unit to a post in his quiet little hometown on the South Australian coast, Joe walks his dogs and considers rebuilding the ruin of his ancestral home.

When he's called to the scene of a crime, though, Joe's old instincts take over. Wealthy and prominent citizen Charles Burgoyne has been badly beaten in his own home and may not survive. A missing watch that two Aboriginal boys try to sell in a pawn shop in the city convinces police that they've found their suspects; and, the locals are happy to accept that the boys are to blame. Joe is not so easily convinced. When the investigation is botched, it appears the crime may never be solved. Given time off to let the controversy settle down, Cashin becomes even more suspicious and investigates on his own.

The Broken Shore is a pleasingly complex, if gritty, crime novel that appears to thematically state, "Things are not always what they seem." The story unfolds slowly, layer by layer. While it isn't, in the end, completely mysterious - Temple does pretty much throw the answers in your lap - that doesn't matter. What matters is the way he tackles issues like racial prejudice, life as an itinerant worker, guilt, corruption, compassion, and politics.

For the uninitiated North American, there's a glossary of Australian terms in the back. Australian English is a little mind-blowing if you're not accustomed to it. The glossary is immensely helpful; it doesn't cover every strange word, but there are enough definitions to keep the book from pitching into utter incomprehensibility.

Also of note is choppy prose; I don't read a lot of crime novels but that seems to be fairly common, not wasting words. Sentences can be as brief as, "Bobby waited." Often, the clipped dialogue of several characters comes in such a tumble of phrases that reading occasionally feels much like translating code. Yet, it somehow works. Real people don't always speak in sentences; often, in fact, having their own private language.

Joe Cashin is a likeable character: witty, tenacious, haunted by past experiences, hopeful but often overwhelmed by guilt or pain, kind and nonjudgmental. He's worth spending time with. His language and that of those he works with or interviews is at least "R-rated". There was one frequently used term I consider "X-rated" and I found myself repeatedly wondering, "Is this not as bad a word in Australia?" For those who like harsh realism and crusty language, it's an excellent story; others should bear in mind that the language is definitely rough.

The Broken Shore is Peter Temple's eighth crime novel. His books have won numerous awards in Australia. U.S. release date is scheduled for June, 2007.


Some updated notes:

The British copy of The Broken Shore that I just purchased does not contain a glossary. However, thanks to "Australian Literature: A Rough Guide", I now know there is a convenient online dictionary: the Australian National Dictionary.

Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past!

©2015 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, April 27, 2015

Monday Malarkey

It's actually nice and cool outside, so I have to make this quick. As soon as husband gets home, I'm going to coat myself in mosquito repellant and dash out to work on painting the deck. 66 degrees! I can handle that.

Recent arrivals, all purchases:

  • Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
  • The Broken Shore by Peter Temple 
  • Romeo and Juliet, Annotated by William Shakespeare
  • Winger by Andrew Smith
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

And, two that just walked in the door this minute:

Sleepy Kitty and Sleepy Puppy - both board books without a credited author, sent for review by Sterling Kids. I just read both books and they are so freaking adorable. I'll share those as soon as I can.

Last week's posts:

Last week's reads:

  1. House of Light (poetry) by Mary Oliver
  2. The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
  3. The Great Depression and WWII 1929-1949 by George E. Stanley
  4. On the Bus with Rosa Parks (poetry) by Rita Dove
  5. Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman
  6. For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

Currently reading:

The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen

In other news:

I read 48 pages of The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and decided to return it to the library. It wasn't grabbing me and there are too many other books calling my name. However, I liked what I read so I may return to it some other time.

We bought an umbrella for our outdoor table, even though it sits on a covered patio, specifically so we could get a moquito net that's made to fit over the top of the umbrella. The resulting bug-free zone is being referred to by Huzzybuns as "The Cabana".  We tested it during supper and found it worked wonders. Just the day before, I'd sat outside watching the birds for a short time and came inside with 4 mosquito bites. So exciting that we'll be able to enjoy the outdoors a little bit longer, now that we'll be protected from bites. The only downfall is that I won't be able to take photos of birds while inside -- I'll still have to use insect repellant or take my chances if I'm out specifically to snap bird pics. But, on the plus side it appears the wildlife can't see us as well with that little bit of sheer cloth in the way so we got to see a pretty wide range of bird life while eating our supper.

What are you reading, this week?

©2015 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, April 25, 2015

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day - Isabel with flower

I was posing books with this flower when Isabel came to check things out and I let her bat the flower around. I'm always impressed by how graceful she looks when she's playing, like a dancer.

©2015 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, April 24, 2015

Three for National Poetry Month - On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove, House of Light by Mary Oliver and Where Robot Mice, etc. by Ray Bradbury

My subject line is out of order specifically because I didn't want Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns by Ray Bradbury to get priority placement. It's that bad. At Goodreads, I described it as "hackneyed, uninspiring, egotistical,  often clearly envious of others." It's not unusual for a poet to use another poet for inspiration but there's often an unsettling undertone of envy or current of braggadocio when he refers to literature.

Having said that, there were a few random poems that I got something out of, if only conceptually. The poem about a man reflecting on the childhood games he played with his friends while looking at the landscape in which their young imaginations soared is one anyone reflecting on a lost childhood can appreciate in spirit. But it turned a little angry in the end when he noted that there were no children outdoors because they were all watching TV (and he even got in a little dig on Walter Cronkite -- funny, from our perspective, as most people now look back fondly on the days when there was a newscaster they could trust). What would he think of children now, with their iPhones, video games, home computers and TVs?

Another poem I liked was about a drunken uncle that the family was happy to bury but who then came back to haunt them till the author, a young boy, shouted at the ghost to go away. Humorous, yet definitely one of those poems that came off as egotistical. If he's in the poem, you can bet his part is inflated. 

There were some similar themes to Bradbury's prose work. Lots of mentions of dandelions, dandelion wine, science, the future. Honestly, he should have stuck with prose and just hidden this collection away. It's amazing that anyone was willing to publish it, even given Bradbury's name power. Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns was published in 1970 and went through several printings, though. Mental shrug, verbal reject. Not recommended.

On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove is more typical of a volume of poetry, at least to this reader, in that I found poems I loved, poems that perplexed me, poems that made me think. It's a nice mix. 

One of my favorite poems is "Homework." I can't duplicate the way the poem is laid out on the page perfectly but here's an excerpt:

"The Negro and his song
are inseparable.
If his music is primitive
and if it has much that
is sensuous, this is simply
a part of giving
pleasure, a quality
appealing strongly
to the Negro's 
entire being. Indeed,
his love of rhythms
and melody, his
childish faith
in dreams . . . "

he'll take Science, most
Exacting Art.
In school when the teacher
makes him lead
the class in song,
he'll cough straight through.
columns of figures, the thing
dissected to the bone.
the clear and incurious drip
of fluid from pipet
to reassuring beaker.

~from "Homework", pp. 20-21 of On the Bus with Rosa Parks

Such a nice way to show how humans have a tendency to diminish each other, to narrow our viewpoint of each other by categories like race or sex or income. Some other favorites are "Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967," which any booklover will appreciate and "Dawn Revisited," about the glory of rising in the morning, which ends:

To hell with wisdom. They're all wrong:
I'll never be through with my life.

I also love "Ghost Walk," about a haunted castle. And, of course, the title poem. 

Recommended - a lovely little collection about life in general, some of the poetry more specifically about being African American. There are several poems like "Homework" that would be especially fitting for Black History Month. I'll be looking for more poetry by Rita Dove, a Pulitzer-winning, highly feted former Poet Laureate of the United States.

I snatched up House of Light, in spite of the fact that I'd just ordered a volume of Mary Oliver's poetry, for the usual reason: to get a taste of her writing without a huge time investment. I figured I can then go back and spend more time really immersing myself in her poetry, later.

I've been pondering Mary Oliver for a while. Her poetry has been highly recommended whenever I've asked for recommendations, but I honestly knew nothing at all about her. Best to just dive in with poets, I've found. And, what I discovered is that she is a nature lover, like myself. It took some time to adjust to her poetry, which is often a little startling and graphic; but, in the end I found myself absolutely loving the sensation of drowning in the beauty. Just before I picked up House of Light, I read a line from "The Summer Day" quoted in Find the Good by Heather Lende:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?

What a wonderful line to think about, frame, put to work in your everyday world. And, "Summer Day" is in House of Light, so I was thrilled to see it in context. Another favorite excerpt is in "The Ponds," as Oliver observes that life is imperfect, physically and otherwise:

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing 
to be dazzled--
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing--
that the light is everything--that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

~ from "The Ponds", pp. 58-59 of House of Light 

Isn't that beautiful? I'm so glad I bought a nice-sized volume of Mary Oliver's poetry. I'm going to enjoy it, I'm sure.

Recommended - Sometimes harsh, sometimes beautiful, with special focus on nature. I think Les of Prairie Horizons was the first to recommend Mary Oliver to me, although I'm not entirely certain. Thanks, Les!

©2015 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, April 22, 2015

Find the Good by Heather Lende

The capacity for love in a human heart is not limited by its size. Rather than divide the heart's chambers into smaller rooms as the family grows, love multiplies them

~ p. 37

I believe gratitude comes from a place in your soul that knows the story could have ended differently, and often does, and I also know that gratitude is at the heart of finding the good in this world.

~ p. 62

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende appeared on my doorstep on Friday and since I loved the other two books Lende wrote, I sat down to read it the moment I opened the package. Don't you love that lovely lemon cover?

Find the Good follows the same pattern as Lende's other books, this time with a focus on seeking out the good things in life. Heather Lende has been an obituary writer in small-town Haines, Alaska for many years and most of her stories revolve around the people she writes about -- discovering the good things in their lives worth mentioning when she writes their obituaries and applying what she's learned about how they lived to her own life. She's so hyper-involved in her community that I always feel a little adrift when I close one of her books. I don't live in a place where "Outsiders" (as we're known) are particularly welcome. But, at the same time I feel inspired to keep trying to find my place.

The only two negatives about the book are the fact that it's so short (which is also a plus if you're just looking for a quick read about looking for the positive in life) and the fact that it's so heavily focused on people who died. I always end up wondering how it's possible that there's anyone left at all in Haines when I close one of Lende's books. But, as I said, I love her writing. She zones in on love, family, spirituality, living your days in the best way possible. She reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott.

Recommended - I laughed, I cried, I will read anything Heather Lende writes.

Other books by Lende (links to past blog posts):

If You Lived Here I'd Know Your Name 
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs (page down for one-paragraph review)

Many thanks to Algonquin Books for sending me a copy of this little gem!

©2015 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, April 21, 2015

Belated Malarkey

I haven't done a Monday Malarkey post for so long (nearly 2 months) that I almost forgot the concept entirely. But, yesterday I was at least thinking about it. I just didn't feel like sitting down to write a post. There will be a few skipped books because I've been using my local library more and don't always think to pose the books I check out, but here's Friday's library haul:

Top to bottom:

  • Where Robot Mice and Robot Men Run Round in Robot Towns by Ray Bradbury
  • House of Light by Mary Oliver
  • Nine Horses by Billy Collins
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove
  • There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do by Michael Ondaatje
  • Aimless Love by Billy Collins
  • Orphan Trains by Stephen O'Connor

All but Orphan Trains are poetry books that I found while checking out the Eudora Welty Library, which is one of the 11 libraries in the county we moved to, a couple years ago. I love the library as it's large enough to happily wander around making serendipitous finds but I specifically wanted poetry to read before National Poetry Month ends and had to get help finding that. The poetry is tucked away in a dark little corner. I've read the top two titles. The Bradbury was horrendous, the Oliver lovely. I'm now reading On the Bus with Rosa Parks and enjoying it, so far.

Not pictured is a library book I got from my local branch and just finished, last night: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey. I also checked out Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni locally.

Recent arrivals:

Top to bottom:

  • Find the Good by Heather Lende - from Algonquin Books for review, unsolicited. I love Heather Lende's books, so I sat down and read this one immediately.
  • The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith - purchased
  • Notes by K. B. Dixon - from the author for review
  • New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 by Mary Oliver - purchased
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - sent by friend
Not pictured:

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi and 
Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings, both purchased at Off-Square Books when we went up to Oxford, MS to visit youngest son, this weekend.

Posts since last malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (library check-out, also not pictured above)
  • On the Bus with Rosa Parks by Rita Dove 
  • For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke (hacking away at this slowly via a free Australian lit site -- husband often runs off with my iPad and winds down the battery before I can get to it in the evening)

In other news:

It turns out Huzzybuns knows someone who has goats and makes his own cheese, but the spouse is not willing to ask if we can borrow a goat (out of fear of the homeowner's association). So, I'm trying to slowly get a grip on the poison ivy. At the moment, I'm just clipping it back, which is a bigger job than you might imagine. There's even some growing up through the middle of our camelias and twisting its way through the gigantic shrubs below our deck. When I went after the poison ivy in the camelias, a red wasp gave me 3 warning buzzes and I got the hint. I'll skip that area, for now. After I get it clipped back, I'm going to try to suffocate it out by covering it with cardboard and mulch. Wish me luck. It's probably an all-week job.

What's up in your world?

©2015 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, April 17, 2015

Fiona Friday - If it fits . . . and even if it doesn't quite

©2015 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.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

April reads, so far - Falls Like Lightning, The Here and Now, Phenomenal Woman, The Boy on the Wooden Box, The Rescue

Clearly, this has not been a week that I've felt like writing book reviews, so I just decided I'm going to have to just chatter about the books that I've read in April -- none of which feel like they require a detailed review -- then I'll go back to those I want to write about with a little more depth later, whenever the mood strikes me I guess.

I've only read one ARC in April and I already wrote about that: A Reunion of Ghosts. Otherwise, everything I've read has just happened to be what called to me at the moment -- plus one book I read specifically for the purposes of studying structure.

First up was Falls Like Lightning by Shawn Grady. He's a Christian writer but there's very little talk about Christianity; it's more a part of the characterization than a part of the storyline, so there's never any "preachy" aspect to his books, at least in my humble opinion. Falls Like Lightning is the story of a smoke jumper, Silas, and a pilot who flies the jumpers, Elle. At its heart, Falls Like Lightning is a romance but I love Shawn Grady's books primarily for the action. He's a firefighter and paramedic who writes about what he knows best.

Elle is a single parent with a child who has seizures. She's got a limited income and has to balance work and medical appointments; she hasn't got the money to cover a caregiver. Elle and Silas had a relationship in the past but it didn't last. Now, they're stationed together and the attraction is still there. Meanwhile, a few unscrupulous smoke jumpers have discovered a gold stash and are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way -- including Elle and Silas. I love the blend of action, mystery and romance in Grady's books and loved the way he wrapped everything up, but Falls Like Lighting was my least favorite of his books. I still gave it 4 stars and I hope he's got another title coming up, soon, since I've read them all.

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares is a young adult book about a girl from a dystopian future. 1,000 people who survived the "blood plague" 90 years in the future (in a world devastated by climate change) have traveled back in time and integrated with the "time natives" in New York. They're not supposed to interact beyond working and attending school together and those who don't strictly follow the rules are taken away or put to death. Naturally, our heroine falls in love. She also encounters a homeless man who tells her she must stop an event from occurring, something that set the stage for the dystopian future from which they came. He doesn't bother to tell her the specifics of what needs to be done.

There are a lot of inconsistencies in The Here and Now that I couldn't make sense of. You learn early on that the blood plague is Dengue Fever, but it's apparently sexually transmitted at some point and then mutates and is spread by a vector (mosquitoes). Since Dengue has been around for a long time and is already mosquito-borne, I couldn't make sense of that. The story probably would have worked better if Brashares had created some unknown disease. AIDS has been eradicated in the future world but they can't get a grip on Dengue? Weird. But, I like time travel and found the story interesting. I just had trouble shutting off my internal editor. I also disliked the fact that the heroine is described as extremely intelligent but the boy she falls for continually has to rescue her. Still, it was a pretty fun read. And, I love the cover.

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou is a book I checked out from my library because it's National Poetry Month. I have a thick volume of her poetry (maybe the complete works -- I'll have to look) but I just wanted to dip my toes in the water, so to speak. It's a tiny book with only four poems, all of which are about women who keep their chins up and plow on while dealing with adversity. It's absolutely wonderful.

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson is marketed as a children's book but I think that's probably only because it's short. It's the memoir of a man who, as a young boy, was one of the Jews saved by Oskar Schindler. I can't recall who it was that posted an article saying there are far too many stories of the Holocaust for children and not enough other stories of Judaism. Honestly, I agree. As a child, I recall reading a book about a Jewish family that had nothing to do with the Holocaust (although I read a lot of Holocaust books as a youngster); it was simply a typical story of adventure with Judaism as the backdrop: kids being kids, but since they were Jewish, you gleaned an understanding of their everyday lives, the Jewish Sabbath, their eating habits, some of their holidays. It was a lovely, uplifting, sometimes funny story and I wish I remembered the title but I was probably in the 3rd or 4th grade when I read it.

Back to The Boy on the Wooden Box, though. Leon Leyson was the youngest child in a Polish family who simply did not foresee the horror that awaited them. The people in his village had encountered Germans during WWI and found them cordial, so they didn't fear the Nazis and stayed in Poland, hoping the Nazi thing would blow over. Leon's father moved away from their village when a better-paying job became available and for years the family only saw him occasionally. Eventually, they joined him in the city but, soon after, things deteriorated and then the country was invaded by Nazis. It was only because of their work permits that most of the family survived, toward the end saved from certain death by Schindler more than once. Eventually, they emigrated to the U.S. and I was surprised when a single act of kindness after years of abuse caused me to sob pitifully. After all the bad, it was a woman explaining American coins as they traveled on a train across the country that did me in. Horrifying, beautiful, shocking, uplifting -- so many ways to describe this true story.

And, the book I finished last night . . . ohmygosh, I thought I'd never say this . . . was a book by Nicholas Sparks, The Rescue. The first book I ever literally threw at a wall was a Sparks book, Message in a Bottle. I won't go into why that ticked me off in detail, although "man in love who is described as expert sailor going out during small-craft warning" is the bottom line. A second book by Sparks annoyed me for different reasons and I wrote him off completely. So, why did I bother trying him, again? Well, last year my friend Simon mentioned Sparks as an author who writes good stories during the writing workshop I attended and I was shocked but it made me think. He does know how to tell a story. I just personally found his writing manipulative.

But, it occurred to me that structure is where Sparks excels. Simon was right. His writing may be sappy and trite but he knows what he's doing. So, I read The Rescue specifically for the purpose of examining structure. I still found his writing really annoying. The Rescue is about a contractor and volunteer firefighter who comes across a woman who has just had an accident and whose son has gone missing from the wrecked car. He's haunted by his father's death; she's dedicated to spending her non-working hours working with her development-delayed son. They fall in love but he can't commit. What I really dislike is the way Sparks describes his characters. They are too damned perfect. Taylor, the hero, is a manly man who hunts, is super athletic, can do pretty much any repair job, fights fires and throws himself into the path of danger, etc. But, he also cooks, plays with a developmentally delayed child as if the child is his own, holds back sexually to avoid pressuring the woman till she's ready, gives her massages and babysits when needed, blah, blah. I will never love his writing but he took the story from A to Z in Full Sap Mode and still managed to touch me. I do feel like I learned a lot by writing about each scene (or summarizing chapters). But, I'll never go around telling people they must read a Nicholas Sparks book. Not that he needs my help.

So, that's April, so far. Last month, when I was deeply into the Australian Literature course I took via Coursera (still going, but winding down), I began reading For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke and I've returned to that, now. I stalled when I decided I needed to get going on an ARC and chose A Reunion of Ghosts -- which took me a week to slog through -- but I'm having no trouble picking up where I left off. I also just began reading The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, which came highly recommended by a friend who also loves dystopian reads. It's overdue at the library but we have a noisy storm working its way closer so I'm going to have to shut down and go read. I'm not going out in bad weather. I'd rather pay a fine.

In other news, I need to borrow a goat. It's only April but we've had such a wet spring that our poison ivy level is closer to what's normal in July or August. I just read that goats like poison ivy. Seriously, I need to borrow a goat.

Otherwise, same old, same old around here. What's up in your world?

©2015 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, April 08, 2015

The arrivals you've longed to see on Mondays

Well, maybe you longed to see photos of arrivals, maybe you didn't, but here is most of what has shown up in the past 5 weeks:

Shadows of Paradise by Isabel Wolff and
Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy & Becky Hepinstall - sent by a friend
A Tender Struggle by Krista Bremer - unsolicited from Algonquin
The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman  - from William Morrow
Wait for Me by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire and
Something Missing by Matthew Dicks - via Paperback Swap
Black Run by Antonio Manzini and
Finding Samuel Lowe by Paula Williams Madison - from HarperCollins
My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh - purchased
Bug Detective by Maggi Li - unsolicited from Sterling Children's Books

The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate - via Paperback Swap (so in love with this cover)
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig,
FDR's Fireside Chats, ed. by Suhite and Levy, and
The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey - purchased
The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen - unsolicited from Algonquin

Not pictured:

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson - via Paperback Swap
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan - purchased
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott - purchased
Orhan's Inheritance by Ohanesian - unsolicited from Algonquin
Code Talker by Chester Nez - via Paperback Swap
When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi - from William Morrow

Okay, there may be more than I realized, especially if you include these library sale purchases:

The book about The Waste Land was an especially serendipitous find as I started reading The Waste Land, last month, and basically had to put my head back together with duct tape. Or, it felt that way. I need help understanding it. Also, the two outside books, both on poetry, are fitting because it's National Poetry Month. Wahoo! So far, I haven't read anything but random poems online. I'll need to remedy that.

I know I missed at least one book, but I've already reviewed it so . . . close enough.

©2015 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, April 07, 2015

Mixed feelings about these: A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C. Mitchell and Homemakers by Brit Morin

I had mixed feelings about both of these books, so I've decided to pair them up for mini treatment in spite of the fact that one is a novel and one nonfiction.

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell is a novel about three sisters who believe their family has been cursed. Their great-grandfather invented a toxin that may have been used to kill millions of people. Since then, every generation has been plagued by suicide or tragedy.

Lady, the eldest, has never been happy and has attempted suicide at least twice. Middle sister Vee has had a recurrence of cancer and is no longer willing to fight it. Delph is painfully shy. None of them have children. They've decided to write their story then commit suicide together.

I was reading A Reunion of Ghosts when I went to get my hair colored, last week, and I realized just how awful it sounded when I described it to my well-read beautician. She scowled; I defended it. The writing is, in fact, very witty and light-hearted. But, the characters are not happy people and you can't help but cling to the wish that the three women will discover some unexpected joy that will stop them from deliberately meeting their maker.

Spoiler . . . only highlight this part if you don't fear having the ending ruined:

They don't.  In fact, it appeared that at least one character was on the verge of changing her mind; certainly, she went through a brief time of self-discovery. But, the ending was not at all what I'd hoped for.

Iffy on recommendation - The writing is excellent - clever, detailed, with an interesting historical perspective (although the idea is based in part on reality, the story is heavily fictionalized and the sisters are entirely fictional). Unfortunately, in the end I was immensely disappointed by the denouement and how it occurred -- and I'm pretty sure I didn't want to know about Albert Einstein's personal failings. The final chapter is sweet, touching, a bit clarifying. But, it wasn't enough to redeem the book for this reader.


I'm clearly not amongst the target audience for Homemakers: A Domestic Handbook for the Digital Generation, but I like books with clever ideas for things to make and do, so I requested a copy from William Morrow when it became available for review. The author is around my eldest son's age and Homemakers is directed at that generation: youngsters who missed out on the joy (gag) of Home Ec, were not even taught to boil an egg, sew or craft by their mothers, and are absolutely tied to their smart phones. It's about new ways to improve your home life, often using current technology, but also about ideas that are still in the works . . . or will be . . . or at least someone is thinking about them.

I own a pay-by-the-minute phone, which makes a good portion of the book completely useless to me; and, I did grow up in the generation of Home Ec, although I confess it was more burden than learning experience. My mother taught me about sewing and cooking; Home Ec just gave me a chance to try to bribe whichever guy happened to be my current crush into adoring me (during the cooking portions). If you grew up in my generation, have been sewing, cooking and crafting for eons and aren't particularly interested in the latest apps to make your life easier, the most you can possibly get out of this book is a craft idea or two, maybe a recipe or a new way to organize. Probably not. I'm really trying to be kind. For my part, I liked a few simple craft ideas like using milk cartons, concrete and paint to make a couple cute bookend planters and this idea for an inexpensive jewelry board:

I also marked the URL for a website from which one can order 3-D printed creations but haven't looked into that, yet. Otherwise, the book was pretty to look at, not particularly useful as a guide to domestic bliss. A few problems I had with this book:

1. Much of what the author mentioned being able to do craft-wise via local businesses is likely not even a whiff of an idea where we live. She's in a large city; I'm living in a mostly-rural state that tends to run about a decade behind the trends.
2. The instructions for various crafts often left me with questions. It felt like there were a lot of missing steps. Even when there were illustrations of the steps, I sometimes couldn't figure out exactly what she'd done to get from one step to another.
3. Overuse of the new, dumb-downed word for everything (formerly known as creative ideas, clever tips, brilliant suggestions): hacks. Gah. I hate that word with a purple passion. Only a true hack could have come up with its new use.
4. The author repeatedly pitched her company. If you have the book in hand, I'm guessing it's not necessary for the author remind you she owns a web-based business after she's mentioned it once.
5. No resources. The best of the crafting/idea books I've read over the years have been those that not only provide readable instructions but also include sources, online and otherwise, for obtaining the items used in the book, particularly those that are harder to find. This is especially necessary for those of us who live in the Boonies.

There are also [long] hair and makeup tips, decorating ideas (kind of lame), tips on how to buy glassware (I do not need 8 different types of glasses taking up cabinet space, no), how to pack -- basically, suggestions for things to do in every room of the house, including the closet. There are a million pictures of the author (she's cute but, good grief, it's tiring to see the same person model everything) and lots of pages with merely a grid, space masquerading as room to take notes.

Recommended only to a specific audience - Clearly, in spite of the fact that I found a few crafts that I might maybe want to someday try possibly, this was not the book for me. However, I absolutely love the theme colors and her airy style. They're "in" and they'll go out quickly but I do like the look. Homemakers is relaxing to page through. It's probably of greatest interest and applicability to the 20- to 30-something crowd, as the cover indicates, and I would recommend the book specifically to that crowd. Older and already crafty? Check it out from the library if you're interested.

©2015 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, April 04, 2015

A few words only - The Glass Menagerie by Williams, Still Alice by Genova, Pure Drivel by Martin

I don't have all that much to say about these three, so . . . minis it is.

My F2F book group read about Tennessee Williams in The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing in February, and that prompted us to choose from amongst the works by the alcoholic authors described in Laing's book.

I'd never read The Glass Menagerie. My husband was shocked. "Everyone reads it in school," he said. I've heard that a lot, over the years. I took journalism during junior high and high school and it served as a replacement for a number of English classes toward English graduation credits - both literature and grammar classes. So, yes, I missed a lot of the books "everyone read" in school.

The Glass Menagerie is our April discussion book so the meeting hasn't happened, yet, but I enjoyed the writing and appreciated the fact that I already knew it had a tragic ending. I'm not so hot with tragic endings so I focused on the characters and the writing, both of which I found enthralling. I also absolutely loved the essay included in the edition at left, "The Catastrophe of Fame". I have Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on my classics shelves. I'll be reading more by Williams. I'd say I recommend it but you've probably already read The Glass Menagerie, right?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a book I received as an Advance Reader Copy, pre-release, but didn't read because my mother had just died and I was afraid it would be a downer. So, I swapped my ARC for one a friend wanted to get rid of and we were both happy.

Fast forward 7 years. You all know it's been made into a movie. I still had no interest in either reading the book or viewing the movie but when Still Alice was chosen as our March F2F discussion book I gave it some thought and then eventually got in line on the hold list at my local library. Unfortunately, there is only a single copy of Still Alice in the entire 11-library county system where we now live. So, when the timing got down to the wire and it was clear I wasn't going to get my hands on the library copy in time, I went out and bought a copy.

I was surprised. While Still Alice is horrifying and definitely a bit sad, it wasn't the depressing read I expected. In fact, I was quite impressed by Genova's writing, particularly the way she treated the heroine's illness and the family's experience with respect. I also found the way Alice's children responded uplifting, although her husband was a disappointment -- perhaps realistic, though. As it turned out, I didn't make it to this month's F2F meeting, but I'm glad I read the book, although I think it was wise not to read it when I was in serious need of sweetness and light. When I had my name added to the hold line the librarian said, "Maybe we'll get lucky and someone will donate a second copy, soon!" I had fun granting her wish.

Pure Drivel by Steve Martin has been on my shelves for ages. I'm guessing I bought it in the 90s. I came across my copy while shelving books in our home library and decided I might as well read it. It's slim and I doubted it would be one I'd want to keep.

Well, I was right about not wanting to keep it. I was not impressed with Pure Drivel, a book of humorous essays - or, at least, they're supposed to be. I like Steve Martin but I didn't find this particular book of essays all that entertaining. Only one made me actually chuckle throughout. Two others were entertaining and clever. But, in general, it wasn't a great book. I was surprised that most of the essays had been published in a respected magazine, but names do sell copy so I suppose I shouldn't have been.

Not a book I'd recommend, but I don't regret reading it because now I don't have to feel guilty about sending it out the door. Always look on the bright side, right?

©2015 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, April 03, 2015

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

I had to Google my own blog to find out when I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (link leads to my review). 2007! I remember finding the ARC on a cart at my former library, where they occasionally give away advance reader copies rather than throwing them away as many libraries do. I loved the cover, the characters, the relationships, the crazy enchanted apple tree. I was excited to find a new author whose storytelling swept me away and couldn't wait to find out what she'd come up with, next. I've loved every book I've read by Sarah, but Garden Spells has always held a special place in my heart. So, I was excited when I heard the news that she was writing a book that continued the story of the Waverley family.

In First Frost, Claire and Sydney are older, happily married; they both have daughters. The Waverleys are always uneasy as they wait for the first frost of the season, when their crazy apple tree will bloom. Claire has stopped catering as her candy business has grown. She doesn't want to sell her recipes but she's finding it difficult keeping up with the orders and is clearly not as happy as she was during her catering years. Sydney is worried about Bay's potential relationship with a boy from the wrong family. Bay is headstrong like the rest of the women in the family, trying to find her way without being outwardly rebellious. Evanelle's health is failing. There's a stranger whose appearance in town is unsettling and then threatening. And, Claire and Sydney puzzle over whether or not every Waverley woman has a gift.

I love Sarah Addison Allen's writing, in general, but there is definitely something extra special about the Waverleys, their unique gifts and that hilarious apple tree. I kept my copy of Garden Spells and I'm glad I bought a copy of First Frost. I know I'll want to revisit both, in the future.

I have a copy of the British version of First Frost because I prefer paperback. In the past, I've kept a list of books that I want to buy in paperback for trips to the UK, but I've recently taken to buying from Book Depository if a paperback is not yet available in the U.S. (and I'm feeling impatient). I like both of the covers - the frosty apple on the American cover and the heavily floral British version. But, a part of me does wish one or the other had matched the artwork to that of Garden Spells.

Highly recommended - Familiar characters with Allen's trademark magical touch and lovely storytelling make First Frost another keeper.

©2015 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.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Mademoiselle Chanel by C. W. Gortner

Timing is a fascinating thing. I finished reading Mademoiselle Chanel, C. W. Gortner's fictional biography of designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel just as I was beginning a Coursera course on Australian literature. Shortly after I finished writing a brief review at Goodreads, the subject of historical fiction and whether or not it's crucial for an author to maintain accuracy in historical detail came up in class. Does the word "fiction" grant the author room to play or is an author who peoples his books with real historical characters and settings obligated to stick as close to the truth as possible? It's a question that's been debated for a long time but one I neglected to consider when I was writing my thoughts about Mademoiselle Chanel.

My takeaway from that discussion was the realization that I'd fallen into the typical expectation trap as I read Mademoiselle Chanel. During the reading, I looked up photos of Coco Chanel and her various friends and lovers. One photo that especially stood out was an image of Chanel looking practically giddy upon meeting Hitler. Was Chanel portrayed too kindly in Mademoiselle Chanel, not as a collaborator but as a fierce businesswoman and deceived lover? After a bit of thought, I decided that's one of the wonderful things about the "fiction" in historical fiction. You can read what historians believe to be the facts elsewhere, but Gortner was able to jump into Chanel's head and imagine what she might have been thinking. That's really pretty cool, isn't it?

****Update: Many thanks to Christopher Gortner for dropping by to let me know that the image I mentioned was not, in fact, Coco Chanel but Wallis Simpson meeting Hitler. I pulled up the image again and the resemblance to Chanel from that particular angle is uncanny but it's labeled "The Duke and Duchess of Westminster" (which is incorrect - they were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor). I didn't even notice the former king standing there or bother to click on the image to see the identification. My mistake!**** 

At any rate, I truly enjoyed the reading. I've never paid a great deal of attention to fashion but like most people I was familiar with Coco Chanel and her minimalist style. I knew almost nothing about her life, though, and requested an advance reader copy of Mademoiselle Chanel purely on the basis of Gortner's past writing. I still feel the same about his writing; it's immersive, vivid, sensitive to the subtleties of time and place. I found Chanel a fascinating individual, especially considering the challenges she faced as a woman coming from an impoverished background. Well done, Mr. Gortner.

Highly recommended - A well-written, captivating account of a truly unique, creative and sensual woman's rags to riches life.

©2015 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.