Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Malarkey

How to make the words "Happy Monday" sound odd when paired with a book cover:

Recent arrivals:

  • The U. S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Survival Manual by Dick Couch

Weird arrival, eh? A friend recently posted about his purchase of potassium iodide tablets for radiation emergencies (he is understandably freaked out by Trump's posturing and Kim Jong Un's escalation of hostilities, in response) and one of his friends posted in reply that he'd bought potassium iodide tablets, as well, but also the above book, a straw that filters toxins from water, and a gas mask. Naturally, I zoned in on the book. Can't hurt to know what to do in the event of some sort of attack or a cloud of radiation heading your way, right? The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Survival Manual was my only arrival, last week, and it was a purchase. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Plague by Albert Camus

Only one book finished, last week, and that came as no surprise. I knew the two books I was reading would take me some time to get through. The Plague is focused on feelings and relationships and what becomes important to people when faced with the likelihood that they or their loved ones will die, so it wasn't often as gruesome as it could have been. Still, I occasionally had to take breaks from it. I also fell asleep without reading at all, twice (very unusual) and since I usually only read at night, I probably read a bit less than I do in a more normal week. 

Last week's posts:

Clearly, last week was a good blogging week. That's because I actually pre-posted reviews, for once. I don't normally do that because I don't have the patience to sit long enough to type a full week's worth of posts, but I had other things to accomplish, last week, so I knew I needed to write a bunch of posts at once or I wouldn't likely post at all. I'm still a month behind on reviews, but last week's posting certainly put a nice dent in the backlog.

Currently reading:

  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

I misplaced Mister Monkey, last year, but finally located my ARC about a month ago, and it looks like it's going to be a nice, light read -- which I needed, after reading The Plague. I'm still enjoying My Life on the Road but I think I'm only about halfway through with it. I also started a book of Maya Angelou's poetry (the complete works, I think) but the first section was kind of a downer, so I set it aside and haven't returned to it. I may not finish it during National Poetry Month (this month) but I plan to pick that back up, this week.

In other news:

I watched two movies based on books, this weekend.

 A Man Called Ove has made it to Amazon Prime. It's another Swedish movie with subtitles, so Husband was in and out of the room while it was on. He's not into subtitles, although the movie clearly interested him. I thought it was handled very well! Since I read the book so recently, I knew exactly what was missing from the movie. For one thing, the cat's role was smaller than I thought it should have been. Once Ove takes the cat into his care, it goes absolutely everywhere with him, in the book. Not so in the movie. Maybe they thought it would be too much trouble trying to get a cat to sit still in a car. At any rate, I thought the movie was every bit as touching as the book and I did exactly the same thing as I did with the book -- sat with tears streaming down my face for the last 10-15 minutes.

I happened across Ella Enchanted while flipping through the movies that have just been added to Prime. Like A Man Called Ove, I've read the book. Unlike A Man Called Ove, the movie is way different from the book. The spell cast on Ella hasn't changed but the movie is goofy, with a modern bent: a medieval shopping mall with an escalator, music by Electric Light Orchestra and Kenny Loggins, etc. It's fun, but very, very silly. On the plus side, since Ella Enchanted is probably the Gail Carson Levine book I like the least, there was no dismay over Hollywood damage to a favorite. I just enjoyed the silliness.

My future daughter-in-law arrived toward the end of the movie and she said, "It's cute, but nothing like the book." Nod, nod. We agreed that The Two Princesses of Bamarre is a better book and one we'd like to see made into a movie.

In other movie news, we've been watching our local listings for Their Finest to show up in a local theater and it's finally within driving distance, if you don't mind driving 3 1/2 hours to see a movie (it's in Memphis and New Orleans), but hasn't arrived locally (down to a 30-minute drive). So, we may take a jaunt to Memphis, soon. We both really want to see the movie. I was on the list to get an ARC of the book it's based on, by Lissa Evans, but that never showed up and it turns out I already have a copy of the British printing, which I'd forgotten I owned. So, I'm also hoping to read that, soon.

©2017 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 21, 2017

Fiona Friday - Her own yoga mat

What do you mean, "You're doing it wrong?"

©2017 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 20, 2017

The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb

The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb is a retelling of the original fairytale "The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen and, as such, is a bit dark. Kathleen lives with constant stabbing pain in her feet, like she's walking on glass. The pain is only soothed by immersing her feet in water and this same problem has been passed down for generations. No physical cause has been found and there's concern about her mental health, as Kathleen comes from a long line of women who have taken their lives after giving birth to a daughter.

Kathleen and her partner Harriet, aka "Harry", are studying to become opera singers. Kathleen's father is a composer. Her mother drowned herself by walking into the sea with rocks in her pockets when Kathleen was quite young.

When Kathleen and Harry spend a week vacationing in Florida, the sea begins to call out to Kathleen when she steps into it. Will she give in to the call of the sea and drown or try to stop the call by taking her life in some other way, like the women before her, or is there a way to break the spell? To find out Kathleen decides to travel to Ireland, the place of her birth.

My reading of The Mermaid's Daughter was one of those rare experiences in which I felt torn, partway through the book. It dragged for a time and I became weary of Kathleen's drama. She is, of course, in horrible pain so she has good reason to be a bit melodramatic. She's also an opera singer; drama is her life. At one point, I considered abandoning the book. But, I couldn't do it and I think that just goes to show you how compelling the book was, the fact that I continued even though I found the reading a bit slow. And, it was well worth sticking out. In the end, all the little strands of the story -- the opera, the father who is a composer, Ireland, the call of the mermaids -- come together brilliantly. I was a little stunned by how much I loved the book, after I'd considered giving up on it!

Highly recommended - Because the book is so dark and Kathleen's drama/Harry's patience can get on one's nerves, I can imagine even people not going through a slump might tire of The Mermaid's Daughter too soon. But, it is definitely worth sticking out. I loved how everything came together in the end with a touch of magic and the way, as you close the book, you realize, "Wow, all those things that I thought were filler . . . every bit counted." I was impressed.  I also liked the way Kathleen's homosexuality was just a part of the characterization. In fact, it helps her relate to another character who is crucial to the plot, in the end, a further example of how every little bit counted. There are a few sex scenes and you know I'm not a fan of those, but they were not overly graphic so I just skimmed a bit. Also, I adore that cover and the further I read, the more I realized even the cover is absolutely fitting to the story.

©2017 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 19, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline is about Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World. I've always loved the painting and thought of the subject as a young woman enjoying the land, feeling free in the Great Outdoors. It wasn't till I read about Christina, a couple years ago, that I realized the subject was a real person, not just a random model. And, it wasn't till I read the book that I noticed certain details.

Christina lived outside a small town on the coast of Maine and her world was truly limited almost entirely to the area around the house. Stricken by a crippling disease in her childhood, Christina's limbs became deformed. The disease was progressive, later causing her a great deal of pain and robbing her of her ability to walk. Eventually, she dragged herself wherever she wanted to go.

A Piece of the World takes you through Christina's life, describing her illness, her relationships with the other members of her family and how they all gradually either died or went off to live their own lives, the brother who sacrificed aspects of his own life to care for Christina, and her friendships with Andrew Wyeth and his wife. The painting itself isn't actually mentioned till nearly the end of the book, when it's painted. But, by then the reader knows the artist and his subject well enough to feel a depth of meaning in its details.

Recommended - While not as engrossing as Orphan Train, A Piece of the World is a fascinating read. I enjoyed learning about Christina, Andrew Wyeth, and the setting of the painting Christina's World. The tone is haunting and generally melancholy. Christina was not a happy person and her life was difficult, even excruciating. But, Christina Baker Kline's writing is lovely and I'm very glad I read A Piece of the World. I'd recommend saving it for when you're okay with a melancholy read if you're affected by the tone of a book.

Side note: My F2F group loved Orphan Train so much that they've been eagerly awaiting the author's latest work. I'm not sure whether or not I'd recommend it as a discussion book, so I asked our group leader if she'd like to borrow my copy to judge for herself and she replied with a very enthusiastic "yes". If we end up eventually discussing it, I'll post about the discussion (but that would be after it comes out in paperback).

Bonus: There's a copy of the painting in the back of the book. I kind of wish I'd flipped ahead and realized it was there as I was reading the description of it, but it's nice to have a copy of the painting! I've loved it for many years. Reading about Christina may have changed the way I see it a little bit, but it also made the painting even more special.

©2017 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 18, 2017

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This time I'm going to keep my review as short as possible (a relative term, that word "short") because A) It appears that everyone on the planet read this book before me, and B) I can't remember B. Oh, well. There was a reason but I forgot what it was.

At any rate, I bought A Man Called Ove and it arrived literally the day before someone recommended it as a selection for F2F discussion. I bought it partly because a friend told me Ove was a curmudgeon. Having had a bit of experience with curmudgeons, I'm aware that they can be misunderstood and, in the long run, more likeable than you might expect. Just because you're a little grumpy doesn't mean you don't have a heart. And, that was definitely the case with Ove, a widower who has decided to take his life so that he can join his wife in the Great Beyond (my wording).

We talked about quite a variety of topics at the F2F discussion. One of our members passed around a page listing all the ways the name Ove can be pronounced. It turns out there pretty much isn't a right or wrong way. Even within Sweden, the name is not pronounced the same by everybody. This came into play during the discussion as one member mentioned how the name is pronounced in the movie and some of us stuck with the movie pronunciation while the rest just decided to go with whatever way we'd pronounced it in our heads as we read.

We talked about how the book begins a bit slapstick but then takes a more serious turn. And, we talked about the neighbors, Ove's personality, specific scenes and what they revealed about the main character, how and why he might have been misunderstood and whether or not we liked him. The one thing we didn't talk about -- and I didn't realize this till the next day -- was the cat. And, I thought the cat was rather crucial, actually. Also, I liked the cat because it was a cat and I'm a cat person, but that's neither here nor there. What I loved most about A Man Called Ove was the fact that it's the kind of book in which a group of strangers form a kind of surrogate family, which just happens to be my favorite kind of book.

Highly recommended - Heartwarming, sometimes funny, simply a wonderful story. Everyone in my F2F group enjoyed A Man Called Ove. Some found it a little sad but most found it uplifting and enjoyed getting to know Ove, a crotchety old man with a big heart. I loved A Man Called Ove enough that I want to read everything Fredrik Backman has written. At the same time I'm a little nervous about reading his other work because I loved Ove so much. It's worth mentioning that we all thought the translation was brilliant and several of us agreed it's a book we'll revisit. If you're one of the rare people who haven't yet read A Man Called Ove, go forth and purchase. It's definitely worth owning.

©2017 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.

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

I don't particularly like writing negative reviews, so I'll keep this one as short as I can and be sure to tell you what I liked about it . . . which wasn't much, but you know. I try.

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein was recommended to me when I asked for feminist title suggestions on Twitter. I looked it up and found that the reviews were mostly positive and the blurb claimed it was funny. At the time, I was coming off two depressing books in a row, The Handmaid's Tale being one of them, so "funny" was definitely appealing. And, it did start out well. Klein described herself as someone who never quite grew out of the tomboy stage, coining the term "tom man" to describe a grown-up tomboy.

But, then the essays segued into what the author, a comedian, is apparently known for (I was unfamiliar with her): tales of her sex life. There is probably very little I like less than reading about someone's sex life and I have, in fact, skipped a lot of books that were described as humorous for just that reason (even though I enjoy humor). I don't even like fictional sex scenes unless, of course, what happens in the bedroom is relevant to the plot. I'm not a prude; it's just a personal preference. So, the fact that a good portion of You'll Grow Out of It is dedicated to stories about various boyfriends was a guarantee that I wasn't going to love the book. Had I known about Klein's style of comedy, I would have avoided it entirely.

Having said that, I thought the book had its moments. I enjoyed reading about Klein's search for her wedding dress. I think most married women can probably relate to that experience in some way. I also loved it that she compared that particular shopping experience to the feeling she gets when she tries to explain why she doesn't find Brad Pitt appealing - primarily because I don't find Brad Pitt appealing and nobody gets that. I also occasionally enjoyed her descriptive capacity. If she'd avoided using it on body parts, I would have appreciated it even more.

Neither recommended or not recommended - Not for me, but as I was reading You'll Grow Out of It, I thought of a couple friends who would probably enjoy it. If you dislike reading about someone else's sex life, avoid it. I also found the "not a girly girl and not attractive" theme somewhat disingenous. Klein had a lot of boyfriends, plenty of girlfriends to call or get drunk with when a relationship ended, and an affection for designer clothing. Those all sound pretty girly to me. Also, I looked her up. The wedding dress she said her friends turned their nose up at was gorgeous and so is she. Once you've seen what the author looks like, the whole concept of being not girly enough just seems ridiculous.

Again, I laughed a couple times and enjoyed her descriptive capacity to a certain extent. So, while this book is not for me, I would not tell people not to read it. I would say it depends entirely upon your taste in memoirs/essays. I would also definitely not classify this book as a feminist read at all because it doesn't deal with feminist issues, unless you consider "not looking girly enough" an issue. I do not. To me, feminism is about everyone, women included, having the same rights in work and in general daily living. While in some professions that may apply to such issues as dress code (forcing women to wear high heels, for example), that didn't appear to be the case.

©2017 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 17, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a terrific weekend. Mine was uneventful, but I did get in some nice reading time. Wahoo for that!

Recent arrivals:

  • The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress - from Random House Children's Books for review
  • BBC Dr. Who Coloring Book - from a blogging friend who knows me well!

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains by Jon Morris
  • The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day
  • Little Known Tales in Oklahoma by Alton Pryor

Good reading week. The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains is tremendous fun and I liked the uniqueness of the heroine in The Day I Died (she's a handwriting analyst). Little Known Tales of Oklahoma was terrible, but it's a very thin book so I opted to finish it and I did learn a few things. But, the overall effect was like reading a book composed of someone's research notes on recipe cards after they'd been dropped. Literally, some of the paragraphs needed to be swapped. Still, I had a fun reading week. Unfortunately, I tried to start this week's F2F discussion book and it didn't click. So, I'll be quiet during discussion if I make it to this week's meeting.

Last week's posts:

Currently reading: 

  • The Plague by Albert Camus - My classic selection for the month. I'm 1/3 of the way through and enjoying it but occasionally a bit grossed out. 
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem - I am loving this book so much that I've elevated Steinem to the category of "People I'd like to have dinner with if I could choose anyone in the world". 

In other news:  

I haven't yet read the book, but we had a lonely Easter (no family came - not even Kiddo, who is about a 3-hour drive away) so Huzzybuns and I decided to buy taco fixings and watch a movie while we ate the end result. We found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. I don't even own a copy of the book, but I've been curious about it for years. And, I didn't realize there was a movie! It's loads of fun, although Husband did wander off because he got tired of reading the subtitles.

I think I may have mentioned that last week I was shut down for a few days when I got a pop-up claiming my computer had been hijacked. It took three attempts to shut down my windows and then I just set the computer aside until Husband came home from travel and confirmed that the message was a fake. Fortunately, we had two separate back-ups, but it still gives you an uneasy feeling when a message like that appears. On the plus side, I had a really productive week. Not having access to a computer makes an amazing difference in how one's time is used. Last week's computerless days and a story from My Life on the Road have got me thinking about changing how I do things (not to impact the blog, I should add). I periodically take social media breaks but I'm thinking about taking a break but still using Facebook and Twitter to update blog posts - just not visiting FB and Twitter, otherwise, because I like the way my time opens up when I avoid social media. Anyway, still thinking about that. We shall see.

©2017 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 14, 2017

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson and a Fiona Friday pic

I realized what I most enjoyed about The Almost Sisters when I wrote the brief description of it for my March Reads in Review: its complexity. There's a lot going on in The Almost Sisters.

Leia is a successful illustrator of a graphic novel series who's been pushing men away for a long time. You don't find out till well into the story what caused her trauma, but she has good reason for her hesitation to commit. At a comic convention, she has a one-night stand with a man who was dressed as Batman and then promptly loses touch with him. But, it turns out her encounter has left her pregnant.

Leia steels herself to tell her sister about her pregnancy, only to find herself stepping into the middle of a marital meltdown. Similarly, she goes to her grandmother's house to help out and discovers that the timing is just not right. Her grandmother is suffering from a form of dementia and it's stressful enough just dealing with the everyday. When a secret that has been tucked away in her grandmother's attic comes to light, the situation is further complicated.

And, here is where I go off the rails and admit that I waited too long to review this book. So, I don't remember the characters or details as well as I'd like. But, I do remember that what's important about The Almost Sisters is the relationships. Grandmother, who is known as "Birchie", has a best friend who lives with her. Birchie is white, her best friend is black and they have been hiding that secret in the attic for decades. Leia is white, Batman is black, and since Leia is currently stuck in Alabama, she can't help but ponder the difficulties her unborn son will face as a child of mixed parentage. Not to mention not knowing how to find his father, even if she wanted to.

Again, so much happens in The Almost Sisters that it's hard to fit in everything that's probably worth sharing, so I'm just going to skip ahead to the bottom line.

Recommended - Bittersweet, uplifting, mysterious, and a little romantic. I liked the fact that there were so many strands to this story but what I really enjoyed most about The Almost Sisters was the relationships between Birchie and her bestie, Leia and Birchie, Leia and Batman, and the way Joshilyn Jackson tackled the complicated world of racism in the South. Jackson handled racial issues with grace and a depth of understanding and the result is seriously heartwarming. I got a bit teary at least once. I found The Almost Sisters a rather slow read, but one can't judge based on the speed of my reading, this year. It's just been another weird reading year. The book is a good one.

And, since it's Friday . . .

I don't know what the appeal is, but I have to be careful about setting down the iPad. Izzy thinks it's hers.

©2017 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 10, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Today, I have an unexpected 2 stacks of books because our recent trip to Oklahoma led to a bunch of purchases and their arrival was followed by the purchase of a small pile at a local college's annual Book Bazaar (which is oddly shrinking -- it used to be held in a gym and this time it was held in an alleyway between college buildings . . . weird).

Arrivals, top to bottom:

  • The Five Civilized Tribes by Grant Foreman
  • Daltons! The Raid on Coffeyville, Kansas by Robert Barr Smith
  • Oklahoma Place Names by George H. Shirk
  • Little Known Tales in Oklahoma History by Alton Pryor
  • Oklahoma: A History by W. David Baird and Danney Goble
  • Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams - from HarperCollins for review
  • The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson - from Quirk Books for review
  • Sammy's Broken Leg and the Amazing Cast that Fixed It by Judith Wolf Mandell - from the Cadence Group for review

So . . . the Oklahoma history books were all purchased, mostly secondhand. I took a photo of the bookshelves at the place I bought Daltons! and then looked up less expensive versions at home because I couldn't afford to buy so many books at $19.95 a pop, but at used-book prices, no problem. I chose the book about the Dalton Gang as my full-price purchase because I've always wondered a little about what happened to the Dalton Gang, having been to a graveyard in Kansas where at least one of the people who worked for the Daltons was buried. His grave said he was a "cow camp cook for the Dalton Gang". My mother used to drag me along to graveyards when she was studying geneology, in case you're interested.

Stack #2, top to bottom (all purchased at local book bazaar):

  • Germinal by Emile Zola - Finally! A bit late for the readalong, I'm afraid, but I'm happy to have a copy. 
  • The Doctor and the Devils by Dylan Thomas
  • O. Henry Memorial Prize Stories of 1943, ed. by Herschel Brickell
  • The History of the German Resistance, 1933 - 1945 by Peter Hoffmann - Not as intimidating as it looks, fully 1/3 of the book is dedicated to references/bibliography. 

Not pictured: 

  • Tequila Mockingbird by Leo Cullum (because it's in the "books finished this month" pile -- this is how we keep organized). 

As usual, I lingered over the literature and history tables. They were small, this time, and I have to wonder if the school opted to get rid of all the books they used to store and start from scratch because I would guess there were maybe 20% the quantity of books that they used to sell -- and they seem to have shut down the book bazaar for a couple years. I suspect they were tired of storing books between sales and decided they needed to narrow down the number they carried. At any rate, I still managed to find plenty and I'm always, always excited to find anything about WWII. And early-to-mid-20th Century short stories are perennial favorites.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Elly and the Smelly Sneaker by L. Gorin and L. Vamos
  • The Rain in Portugal by Billy Collins
  • Tequila Mockingbird by Leo Cullum
  • Sammy's Broken Leg and the Amazing Cast that Fixed It by Judith Wolf Mandell

Elly and the Smelly Sneaker is a book that turns the Cinderella story on its head and I absolutely loved it, so watch for a review of that one (it's a picture book). Of course, I had to read some poetry because it's National Poetry Month, so I've been hanging onto The Rain in Portugal for April reading since Christmas (it was a gift from Kiddo). Billy Collins is always worth the wait. Tequila Mockingbird is a book of animal cartoons from The New Yorker that I found at the book sale. Kiddo (hanging over my shoulder) and I read most of it while we waited for a restaurant table at one of the few places we consider worth the wait and I finished it up at home. Sammy's Broken Leg is also a picture book. So, all short books and that's fine. I think this last couple of weeks have provided me with a nice mental break. I'm reading better than I have been most of the year, at any rate. Fingers crossed it lasts. Sammy's Broken Leg arrived in terrible condition, unfortunately. I love to pass on most of the children's books I review but this one is such a mess that I'm not going to donate to the local school system, as I'd hoped, because they ask specifically for new or like-new books so that every child will get at least one at the end of the year. Battered books won't do. I'll find someone to give it to, though.

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • The Day I Died by Laurie Rader-Day - A mystery in which the woman trying to find a missing child and his mother is a handwriting analyst.
  • The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains by Jon Morris - A book about comic book villains who didn't stick. I can't even begin to tell you how fun this book is. The author has a sly sense of humor. 
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem - The chapters are long but the storytelling is excellent. I'm enjoying My Life on the Road much more than I anticipated. But, it may take me a while to get through. 

In other news:

I want to read everything and I want to read it all right now.  Does that ever happen to you? Sometimes I start one book, then another, then another, till I'm only reading bits and pieces of everything -- and it's always because I'm just feeling ravenous for books. Funny how those times contrast with the slumpy ones.

Happy Reading!

©2017 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 07, 2017

Fiona Friday - Happy in the window

©2017 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 05, 2017

March Reads in Review, 2017

March Reads:

18. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva - The only book I've managed to review (so far), The Last One is about a participant in a survival reality series who doesn't realize the series has ended after a deadly pandemic strikes. You can click through the link to read more, but since writing about this story I noticed that there's a real-life reality series that sounds almost exactly like the one described in the book. I saw it advertised while I was in Oklahoma. Boy, was I surprised.

19. The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson - Leia is in her late twenties, single, and a successful graphic novelist who has had bad luck with men. When a one-night stand with a man she knows only as Batman (at a comic convention) leaves her pregnant, Leia's excited but concerned, knowing her child will be mixed race. Add in a sister whose marriage is falling apart and a grandmother in the South who is suffering from dementia and Leia has more than her fair share of challenges to deal with. More on this one, later! A lot happens. I particularly liked the way Jackson dealt with racial issues.

20. You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein - The memoir of a comedian (with whom I was unfamiliar), recommended to me as a feminist read, so I guess I could count it as a challenge read. The essays were more focused on her sex life than any feminist notions, though, and at times I found the details revolting enough to skip the end of a chapter. That's extremely unusual for me; I'm not a page-skipper. I laughed a few times, but this book was definitely not for me.

21. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - This description may be a spoiler - skip if you're concerned, please!!! The story of a widower who has decided to kill himself so he can join his wife in Heaven and how, after a few comical mishaps and some friendly persuasion, his neighbors and a stray cat become his second family. A Man Called Ove was my F2F group's March selection and I think everyone loved it. Oddly, we never got around to discussing the cat.

22. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline - One of the books on my mental "most anticipated" list, the story of the subject of the painting "Christina's World" by Andrew Wyeth. While not quite as compelling as Orphan Train (it's hard not to compare), Kline's writing is lovely and I enjoyed getting to know Christina, her brother, the artist, and his wife.

23. The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb - Kathleen comes from a long line of women who took their own lives after giving birth to a single daughter and she has, herself, faced a lifetime of pain. She and her partner, Harriet (aka "Harry") deal with it as best they can. But, when Kathleen and Harry take a trip to Florida and voices call to Kathleen from the ocean, will she too succumb to the curse of her mermaid ancestors? Again, lots of story, here. I really enjoyed this unusual book and look forward to reviewing it in greater detail.

24. Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev - Little Hippo is smaller than everyone, it seems - everyone in his family and even most of the animals who live nearby. But, when he encounters a tiny beetle, he realizes he's not so little, after all. Fabulous illustrations but a weak storyline made this one just a so-so read, in my humble opinion. However, my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter did sit through the entire story.

25. Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep by Leslie Helakoski - Hoot is an owlet and Honk a gosling. When their eggs are switched, they end up with the wrong parents. Hoot lives with a diurnal family of geese and Honk with a nocturnal owl family. Fortunately, they're able to find their way back home when their inability to sleep with the rest of their accidental family members leads to a bit of wandering. A super cute, rhyming story.

26. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis - Aventurine is young enough that her dragon scales haven't hardened, forcing her to remain indoors. Tired of being cooped up in the family cave, she decides to go exploring. But, when a food mage tricks her into drinking enchanted chocolate, she is turned into a human. And, being human isn't as easy as it appears. A charming middle grade story.

There's no contest, this month. My absolute favorite book was A Man Called Ove. Before I even opened the book, I knew it was a story about a curmudgeon. I know some people find Ove perplexing or even annoying because of that, but there have been plenty of curmudgeons who shared my world and I find them every bit as amusing (and transparent) as Ove's wife and neighbor did. He's a great character and that particular type of novel - a story in which a group of strangers form an unexpected family unit - is my absolute favorite.

I also enjoyed The Last One, A Piece of the World, and The Mermaid's Daughter. The Almost Sister was very good but I did find it a bit slow. And, I liked The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart a lot, but occasionally disliked the style of writing, which suits MG readers better than it does an adult. Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep is adorable.

I liked but didn't love Big Little Hippo, which has a somewhat pointless storyline, in my humble opinion, but awesome illustrations. The storyline may not a problem for small children, but my granddaughter was sick when she sat through it, so we couldn't really gauge her interest level.

I really did not enjoy You'll Grow Out of It. There were moments that the author made me smile or even chuckle a bit, but they were few and far between. The most common reaction I had was "Eww!" Too much information about the author's messy sex life and a theme about not being particularly girly that came off as insincere. I will say, though, that as I was reading I was aware that I know people who would probably enjoy the book. I just wasn't the right audience.

That pile looks pretty good, in hindsight, although it sure seemed like a slumpy kind of month - possibly because I didn't get to all of the books I intended to read. I've folded some over into April. Wish me luck getting to everything!

©2017 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 03, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (top to bottom)

  • Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal - from HarperCollins for review
  • Shadow Man by Alan Drew - from Random House for review, via Shelf Awareness
  • The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck - from HarperCollins for review
  • Elly and the Smelly Sneaker by Leslie Gorin and Lesley Vamos - from Sterling Children's Books for review

The Women in the Castle has been on my mental "most anticipated" list since I heard about it in the fall, so I'm particularly excited about that title. I also bought a book about the Dalton Gang, while we were in Oklahoma (we went on a road trip, last week) but I don't know where I set it down, so I'll add that to next week's pile.

Books finished since last week's Malarkey:

  • Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev
  • Hook and Honk Just Can't Sleep by Leslie Helakoski
  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
  • Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway

All children's books, the first two picture books and the latter two Middle Grade. I figured a little extremely light reading might be a good idea after weeks, if not months, of being slumpish. Good decision. I feel better about my reading, after last week. Hope it lasts.

Last week's posts:

None! Well, apart from Monday Malarkey. We drove to Oklahoma on Wednesday and returned on Sunday, so I'm just getting back into the swing of things. It was nice stepping away from the internet for a week (except Twitter - I sort of am addicted to Twitter).

Currently reading:

  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
  • The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains by Jon Morris

I just started both of these books this morning and am enjoying them enough that I would have liked to spend the day in bed, reading. Probably should have. I had the "worn out from traveling" and "up all night due to massive thunderstorm" excuses.

In other news:

I have so far only managed to review one of my March reads, so I have a little catch-up to do, but I'm not worried. I seem to remember everything pretty well. I may go ahead and do my monthly round-up, first. We shall see.

I didn't manage to read either a feminist book or a classic in March, but I've already gotten a start on Gloria Steinem's book and I think I have my classic for April picked out. So, hopefully, I'll manage to read both of those, this month. It occurred to me that I might want to start staggering my personal challenge reads, since I get so many ARCs - feminist reading one month, classic the next. At any rate, I don't feel like my personal challenges are written in stone, so I'm happy if I get to them and I'm not going to fret if I don't.

I was unable to load photos, last night, but things are working fine, now, so here's your picture postcard of a great blue heron (courtesy of Husband; I was driving) from Oklahoma:

©2017 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 27, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Book stack with bonus cat! Just what you always wanted to see, right?

Recent arrivals (top to bottom):

  • Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter and 
  • Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman - both from HarperCollins for review (not my usual fare, but I decided it would be fun to throw in a couple I wouldn't normally read for a change of pace)
  • Follow Me Down by Shelby Foote and 
  • Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters by Margaret Dilloway - both purchased, the former for F2F discussion in May.
  • The Space Between Us by Anne Corlett - from Berkley for review, via Shelf Awareness
  • Big Little Hippo by Valeri Gorbachev and
  • Hoot and Honk Just Can't Sleep by Leslie Helakoski - both from Sterling Children's Books for review

Not pictured because it just landed on my porch:

  • The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day - from HarperCollins (Wm Morrow imprint) for review. I made the mistake of opening this one and reading the first couple of pages, so I figured I'd better go ahead and mention it, rather than saving it for next week's Malarkey. It sucked me in so thoroughly that I may add it to my current reads, tonight.

Books finished since last week's Twaddle:

  • The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb

Yep, just one. Again. Sigh. It went a little slowly and I wasn't thrilled with the secondary opera theme -- The Mermaid's Daughter is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" but with a twist,  a curse that has lasted through 7 or 8 generations) -- but it turned out to be crucial, in the end, and I loved the ending. So, even if the musical subplot seems to drag a bit, I recommend sticking this one out.

Last week's posts:

Since I didn't much feel like writing, last week's blogging ended up being better than I expected.

Currently reading:

  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is a middle grade book, so I ought to be farther than 50 pages but I fell asleep reading, last night. Go, me. Not a brilliant reading month happening, here. But, again, I'm enjoying my reading so I have to remind myself to stop obsessing about quantity. Also, you may have noticed that two children's books arrived. Well, that ought to bump up the numbers a bit. One can always use a children's book break. I adore picture books.

In other news:

If you look carefully, you can see what Isabel was doing in the background of the book stack photo, above. She was holding onto a toy mouse! I didn't realize that till I crawled over to snap a closer image and saw the little mousie wedged between her paws.

In case you missed the news: Scientists have discovered cats are nice (link to article). Yeah, some of us were well aware our cats like to socialize with their people, but it's nice to find out science is catching up.

OK, I'm off to read. The only other news is that it's thundering and raining, outside, so I probably ought to unplug the computer. Happy Monday!

©2017 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 24, 2017

Fiona Friday

She doesn't look very happy but Isabel was enjoying the fresh air coming through an open window before I damaged her calm.

©2017 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 22, 2017

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

My copy of The Last One doesn't look like the image above, but I ordered a copy from Book Depository (probably the British release) and was unable to find a decent image of it online.

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva has two parallel storylines. The heroine, Zoo, is a contestant in a reality survival series. In her first scene, she's looking for food in a convenience store that's mostly stripped bare. Inside the store, there's a dead body. She thinks it's a prop, not a real dead person. The reader knows, though, that the dead person is real. How did Zoo end up alone and unaware that a deadly illness has ravaged the country? Is anyone alive at all? To find out how events unfolded, the second storyline takes you back to the beginning of the reality series, where you meet the entire cast, the host, the experts, and other people involved in the production of the new survival series.

It's been a few weeks since I read the book but I believe the series begins with 12 contestants. Their tasks are simple, at first, and they work in teams. Each of the contestants is given a nickname of some sort (Zoo is not the heroine's real name) and during the chapters that are written from Zoo's point of view, she refers to them by their real names. Trying to figure out which real name goes with which series nickname is part of the fun; it's a bit like solving a puzzle.

At first, there are rewards for successfully finishing challenges, with the winner receiving the best prizes (generally survival tools, the best place to sleep, or food). Gradually, the number of contestants is narrowed down, teams change, tasks grow more difficult. When they finally reach the point at which they must go it alone, there is no set date for completion and the remaining contestants are told they'll know when it's over. This is part of the reason Zoo continues to believe she's being challenged when the show has long since ended. When she becomes uncertain about where she's supposed to go next, she decides to make home her goal.

Will Zoo make it home? Is she the only survivor of the pandemic that has wiped out people along her route home? What's become of her husband and the other contestants?

Highly recommended, especially to fans of novels about survival - There is one particularly horrifying scene that haunts me, but part of what you get out of The Last One is the sense of what can happen when a person doesn't truly understand what's going on and what kind of pain and regret you can be left with after you realize you've framed your behavior on a certain set of expectations when reality was completely different. I found that the horror gave the book more depth than it would have had if Zoo had not been faced with situations that challenged her morality, as well as her strength and determination.

Also, I really loved the uniqueness. I've never read a book that had a reality show as its setting. From what little I've read about the deceptiveness of reality television -- how far it really falls from "reality" -- I thought the author did a good job of portraying what probably really goes on behind the scenes. And, because you get to know all the contestants from the beginning, you root for them like you would if you were watching it unfold on TV. The difference is that you get to know the real people rather than the characters that are being created through careful editing. At any rate, it's a fun read. Fair warning: there are some gruesome scenes. Occasionally, I found myself skimming a little when the contestants had to gut and prepare their meals.

©2017 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 21, 2017

Tuesday Twaddle

I confess, I still don't feel much like blogging so I may take a week or two off, soon, but I got a single book in the mail, today, so at least I have something to share.

Recent arrivals:

  • The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis - purchased

I've been intrigued by the sound of this story since the author was talking about it, as she wrote, so I finally decided to give in and order a copy. What happened to the concept of the book-buying ban? I need to get on that, again.

Books finished since last week's Twaddle:

  • A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Lots of one-offs, this week. One book arrival; one book read. On the plus side, it was a good one, although not quite as compelling as Orphan Train. There was good reason I only only finished a single book, last week. I started out chugging along, reading The Widow's House by Carol Goodman but I had trouble figuring out the timeline and ground to a halt. Judging from the ratings and reviews at Goodreads, I must have just missed something; it has mostly positive reviews. I left a bookmark in the book at page 132 and haven't decided whether or not to return to the book, but generally speaking, once I abandon a book, I tend to not return unless I'm close enough to the beginning to consider starting over.

Last week's posts:

I'm including yesterdays Iris of Apology to make the week look better than it really was.

Currently reading:

  • The Mermaid's Daughter by Ann Claycomb

And, I didn't get back to the other book that I was uncertain about, last week. I've noticed something interesting about my reading habits. When I'm getting plenty of sleep and feeling good, I tend to balance about 4 books at a time and just bounce from one to another, enjoying the variety. But, when I fall into a slump - which does seem to happen when I'm having trouble sleeping - I can only read one book at a time. I prefer balancing several books at once, but I'll go with whatever works. Right now, it's clearly a one-book-at-a-time kind of month. Incidentally, I'm enjoying The Mermaid's Daughter, so far.

In other news:

Blah. Just blah. I don't know if it's still the time change that's killing me or I'm just a bad sleeper but I've been waking up several times a night and getting to bed too late, in the first place. Sometimes I can get back to sleep, sometimes I can't. Last night, I fell asleep and stayed asleep for maybe an hour, flopped around like a fish out of water, and finally gave up. I got up, ate some nachos, read a little, fell back to sleep, and woke up early with a migraine. Grrr. On the plus side, I've started doing daily yoga with Adriene on YouTube and I am definitely loving that. I'd forgotten how good yoga makes you feel. So, even if I'm sleeping badly, the yoga helps offset the lack of sleep a bit.

I'm not giving up on trying to blog, this week, but if I disappear for a couple weeks, don't worry. I'll be back. If I don't feel like blogging, I'll just skip it. After a decade, if there's one thing I've figured out about blogging, it's that there's no reason to pressure yourself. Life is too short for that nonsense.

©2017 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 20, 2017

No malarkey

I'm just not feeling the blogging vibe, today. So, here's an Iris of Apology (from my garden) and hopefully I'll be in the mood to write, tomorrow. Happy Monday!

©2017 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 17, 2017

Fiona Friday

If you're owned by felines and you ever get a piece of cardboard that naturally falls into a triangular hut with the help of a little packing tape, I highly recommend adding a couple flaps to make your cats a nice little hiding space. Isabel was hiding in the hut because the sound of my shoes hitting the floor frightened her. When Izzy calmed down and exited, Fiona took her place. We've had this little hut for 2 or 3 years and they still love it. And, it cost nothing! Well, unless you count the cost of the painting that it protected, but that was a good deal, too. :)

©2017 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 15, 2017

February Reads in Review, 2017


11. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - I had only a vague idea what I was getting into when I opened this dystopian modern classic. My expectations were exceeded. The idea of the subjugation of women by an unnamed religious sect is more realistic than most of us would like to admit, judging from discussion with friends. A terrifying, depressing novel that I'm glad I read.

12. March, Book Three by Lewis, Aydin, and Powell - The third in the graphic memoir series starts with the bombing of a church and ends with the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Johnson. I wish I'd had this series years ago - an excellent tool for educating young and old about what African Americans had to go through to receive basic rights.

13. Geekerella by Ashley Poston - Just thinking about this book brings a smile to my face. The story of a geeky 16-year-old who is determined to attend a sci-fi convention and win a cosplay contest in the hopes of escaping the drudgery of her everyday life, sweetened by a texting romance with the star of her favorite cult classic TV show. Charming and full of surprises.

14. Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang - When a young half-Chinese girl is abandoned by her mother, she is taken in as a bond servant by the family who buys the compound in which she lives and watched over by a magical fox. Because of her mixed heritage, even education won't likely save her from ending up a prostitute or worse. A well-told story about prejudice in early 20th Century China.

15. In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen - A bit of mystery and a touch of romance in a WWII setting with a daredevil pilot, a spy, and the woman they both love, a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. A large cast means it takes time to get to know everyone but it's worth hanging in there. I liked the characters, enjoyed the story, didn't feel like the plot was entirely cohesive but found the book a good read, anyway.

16. The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy - Eurydice's job is channeling the spirits of the deceased for their loved ones. But, when she becomes obsessed with a particular client, she knowingly endangers her own life. Atmospheric, unique, with a satisfying ending.

17. Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat - The story of the Bornstein family with focus on the author, Michael Bornstein, who survived Auschwitz as a very young child. Both heartbreaking and miraculous. This is the first time I've ever read a Holocaust book that describes a man who was in the Judenrat and it was eye-opening what he went through.

February was kind of a slumpy month for me, but it had its standouts. Favorites were Geekerella, Survivors Club, and The Handmaid's Tale, even though the latter two were both difficult reads, emotionally speaking. I lost track of how many times Survivors Club brought me to tears.

March, Book Three was a satisfying conclusion to the series and I highly recommend the trio, especially for teaching purposes.

Dragon Springs Road, In Farleigh Field, and The Possessions were all good in their own ways but I found it difficult to get through Dragon Springs Road and The Possessions. I'm not sure whether they were slow or they just didn't fit my mood. In Farleigh Field was a quicker read - not a perfect one and not a favorite but I enjoyed it.

©2017 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 14, 2017

Tuesday Twaddle

Malarkey didn't happen yesterday because of the time change, which used to not bother me but now totally slays me.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom)

  • Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley - from Algonquin Books for review via Shelf Awareness
  • The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan - from William Morrow for review
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu - My first purchase from a list of books recommended by Barack Obama. Haven't decided whether to do a personal Obama Reading Challenge or just read them as I buy them but The Three-Body Problem is the first in a series, just FYI. Someone tell me how to pronounce that author's name. 
  • A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline - from William Morrow for review. I requested this one way back in the fall and thought it had become lost in the mail. Maybe they ran out of ARCs? At any rate, it is on my mental short list of most anticipated 2017 releases, along with Alex George's Setting Free the Kites (now available in hardback!) and George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (ditto). 

Books finished since last week's Malarkey:

  • The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
  • You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - for this week's F2F group discussion

Finally, a good reading week! I finished A Man Called Ove, last night, and I think I had tears flowing for at least the last 20 pages. I'm pretty sure that's a record. I'm always telling people that I prefer a book that makes me laugh to one that makes me cry but I think I'd better amend that. There are happy tears and sad tears and I definitely love to be moved, especially if I'm moved to happy tears. A Man Called Ove merged the two kinds of tears and also made me laugh a few times, so it was just an all-around 5-star read. Now, I've got to find a way to view the movie. 

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • The Widow's House by Carol Goodman

and one other book, which I'm not far enough into to know if it will stick. Plus, that book of metaphors that I only seem to touch every two weeks or so.

In other news:

I was working on this post, this morning, and I became distracted by the internet. Thankfully, a magic spell broke me out of my internet bubble. Also, the azaleas are blooming:

©2017 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 11, 2017

Fiona Friday - Glowing

She was reading book reviews at Goodreads. Or, someone was.

©2017 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, March 09, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I considered not bothering to review The Handmaid's Tale because I think everyone I know has read it and what could I possibly have to say that hasn't already been said? But, I like to write down my thoughts, so I overruled myself.

The Handmaid's Tale is about Offred, a young woman who must dress in a long red dress that covers all but her hands and head. On her hands, she wears gloves when out in public; her head and face are covered with a white headdress with flaps on either side of her face so that she must turn her entire head to see anything not directly in front of her. She goes out to get food rations and meets up with another young lady dressed in red. Sometimes the person she meets is not the same one she walked with, before, and she knows that's a bad thing. When they walk past a wall that used to be part of a university, there are often bodies hanging and Offred looks to see if any of them happens to be her former husband.

Before she was Offred, she had another name, a husband, a child, and a job. What happened to her world and why is Offred nothing more than an object that belongs to the man of the house, now, subservient to the man's wife and doomed to labor or death if she doesn't conceive within a certain length of time? Where are Offred's husband and child? Who is in charge in this strange, dystopian world?

Not every question is answered but I personally think the way Margaret Atwood gradually reveals the story of Offred's past (if her real name was ever mentioned, I've forgotten it) was masterful. The Handmaid's Tale is both riveting and horrifying. I recall the ending as somewhat hopeful (although it's been over a month and I've forgotten quite a bit, already) but most of the way through the book, the sensation of Offred being utterly and completely trapped overwhelms the small rays of hope. Even when something important changes, there's always the lingering possibility that she could be put to death for that small change in her life.

Is this even remotely possible? That's the question that I think most people ask themselves, and they tend to shake it off as ridiculous. But, throughout the reading of The Handmaid's Tale, I kept returning to the thought of women in the Middle East, pre-Al Qaeda and Taliban. I don't want to post an image that might be copyrighted, so I'll just link to the one that really jumps out at me: Women in Kabul, 1970s and today. The fact that women used to be doctors and lawyers, dressed like women in the Western world, drove, and went to college and actually sometimes had rights before American women achieved them (Afghanistan allowed women to vote before the United States) seems to have been forgotten.

In The Handmaid's Tale, the oppressor is unnamed but there are hints that it's a religion dictating the treatment of women as vessels for reproduction or slaves and little else. I found myself wondering if Atwood based the book on what happened in the Middle East. Would women who lived in Kabul in the 70s have imagined what was about to happen to them? I don't think so. And, because of what has already happened in our world, I think I can safely say The Handmaid's Tale is more possible than we'd like to admit. Some of it seems a little far-fetched (the weird ceremonies, for example), but the oppression of women has happened and certainly could happen in other parts of the world.

Highly recommended - Mood-wise, The Handmaid's Tale is miserable. It's depressing and terrifying and sometimes gruesome. But, it's so beautifully done and so thought-provoking that I can see why people have been gushing about it for years. Unlike more recent dystopian reads, many of which are geared toward teen readers, there's no love triangle, no great hatching of a plan to fight back against the oppressor, and the small thread of hope is so slender that it's hard to believe it will amount to anything. I did eventually get to discuss The Handmaid's Tale with an online group, although only a few participated and I keep thinking I would love to someday reread The Handmaid's Tale with my big, noisy F2F group. I'm sure the discussion would be lively.

©2017 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 08, 2017

January Reads in Review, 2017

January Reads (with links to full reviews)

1. Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now by Maya Angelou - A book of essays written by the famous poet, including topics such as feminism, diversity, and the brevity of life. I always come away from reading anything by Angelou with deep admiration and a heightened appreciation for life. She was a force of nature.

2. Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh - After spending several years in England, a young white woman returns to her father's home in Kenya, where the Mau Mau - blacks rebelling against white colonists - are growing more brutal by the day. Rachel has two secrets, both of which endanger her life.

3. Yesternight by Cat Winters - A young psychologist who travels to Oregon schools interviewing children is faced with a unique problem: a young girl who claims to have been a woman who drowned in Kansas and went by the name Violet Sunday in a previous life.

4. Faithful by Alice Hoffman - After a tragic accident leaves her best friend in a coma, Shelby becomes seriously depressed and begins to take drugs. But, surprising change happens when her drug dealer, a boy from school, treats her with unexpected kindness.

5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - A very short gulp of a book about feminism, first presented as a TEDx talk. Particularly interesting for Adichie's descriptions of how women are treated in the United States vs. Nigeria, her two homes.

6. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - The story of two sisters who are faced with the horrors of occupation in France during WWII. One is married with a child and a husband who has been called up to fight while the other is single and headstrong. Both courageously fight the Nazis in their own way. This was a book group selection and the discussion was excellent.

7. The Wars of the Roosevelts by William J. Mann - A book about the Roosevelt family and their behind-the-scenes battles to both suppress the wilder elements of their family who might interfere with their political aspirations and to rise to power.

8. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking - Subtitled "Danish Secrets to Happy Living," this book is about how the Danish make their lives happy and cozy. Although a lot of the focus was on doing things during the long winters and our weather is the opposite, I still thought a lot of the suggestions were either applicable or could be altered a bit to fit our need to stay cozy and cool, rather than warm.

9. March, Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell - The first in a series of graphic biographies about John Lewis and his participation in the peaceful movement for Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Act, beginning with his love of learning and sense of adventure in childhood.

10. March, Book Two by Lewis, Aydin, and Powell - The second in the graphic trilogy. I don't recall where it began or ended, but the second book was probably focused on the organizations Lewis was involved in, how they trained people to protest peacefully, and the violence that occurred when they did sit-ins and marches. There was enough violence in this second installment that I felt like I needed to take a break before reading the third book.

I considered January an excellent reading month, even though the quantity of books read was not huge. Favorites were Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now, The Nightingale, The Wars of the Roosevelts, and The Little Book of Hygge. Quite a variety amongst those favorites!

I also really enjoyed the first two March books, We Should All Be Feminists, and Faithful. I had some problems with Yesternight, particularly the small final section at the end of the book, which I thought was totally unnecessary. But, I liked the book for its uniqueness and have kind of mentally erased that last section.

Leopard at the Door was interesting for the history lesson about the Mau Mau. I'd heard about the Mau Mau Rebellion, but it was not something I really knew a thing about. I found the book awfully slow and I can't say I understood or related to the heroine at all, though; her motivation for keeping one of her secrets made sense but the other one . . . no sense at all. So, it's my least favorite but not a book I feel I should have chucked at the wall.

All in all, a pretty terrific month. Two of the books that aren't shown in the picture were books I checked out from my local library and one was (gasp!) an e-book.

©2017 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 07, 2017

Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

First note: Survivors Club is written for middle readers. That makes it a quick read because of its length and the writing style, but it is a strenuous read because of the content.

Michael Bornstein, who wrote Survivors Club with the help of his daughter Debbie, is the little boy pictured on the cover, colorized and showing off the tattoo on his arm. As a survivor of Auschwitz, he never felt any need to share his story - better to move on with life than focus on the horrors of his past, he thought. Even when he was asked about the tattooed number on his arm, his answer was always a light-hearted brush-off and a change of subject.

Then, one day, Bornstein saw a photo of himself, the photo shown on the cover of his book, an outtake from a Soviet film, and he was shocked to find that it was being used as evidence that the Holocaust never occurred. Compelled to finally tell his story, he enlisted his daughter and they set to work researching the family's story. It's not always told from his viewpoint because Michael Bornstein was too young to remember much of what happened and conversations are fictionalized because the authors can only imagine what was said, but the two authors were able to piece together Bornstein's family's story and doing so helped him string his patchy memories together, as well.

After describing the reason he decided to share his story, the author returns to the beginning of his family's story, before Michael Bornstein was born, when the Polish town he lived in was being invaded. He tells about how his father buried valuables in the yard just before the Nazis arrived at their house to plunder it of valuables, how his mother kept her wedding ring under her tongue. He talks about the murders his parents witnessed and the slaughter of Jews on what became known as "Bloody Monday". And, that's just the beginning. The situation declined, over the years. First, they were allowed outside the fence-free ghetto, then they were confined within it, and gradually people were sent to concentration camps. While most of the town's residents eventually ended up being marched straight to the gas chambers, his father was one of the Judenrat (the council representing the Jewish community) and he was able to keep many of his family and friends safe for years. He even managed to help hundreds escape, although eventually his his luck ran out and he was no longer able to negotiate with the German he'd been persuading and sometimes bribing for years.

I've been reading WWII and Holocaust books all my life, but this is actually the first time I've read anything that describes the perspective of someone who worked in the Judenrat. They're often looked upon as traitors because they had to make the decisions about who was sent away. The difficulty of that job really hits home toward the end, when Bornstein's father had to make the decision to put his in-laws on the list of people who couldn't remain in his small town. By this point, only a limited number who were allowed to stay behind to perform physical labor. The rest were shipped away, most to be marched straight to their deaths after a torturous train ride.

Highly recommended - Excellent writing - clear, harrowing, and riveting. I lost count of the number of times I was moved to tears. Although some of the Bornstein family died during WWII, Michael Bornstein's father was able to save many of his family members, thanks to his position in the Judenrat, and the authors are well aware of their family's good fortune.

©2017 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.