Friday, October 19, 2018

Fiona Friday - Invisible ladder



©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Sadness of Beautiful Things by Simon Van Booy


[...] Every heart had belonged to someone, somewhere. 

Lenny had seen films about it, but there were those who were actually present, those whose cries tore the air, whose bones are in earth, turning every thousand years. Those whose lives we still touch through the sadness of beautiful things. 

p. 142

A young family's house burns and they have no insurance, but an anonymous neighbor mysteriously offers to replace it. A man becomes almost paralyzed with depression but when he's reminded of a special memento, he realizes he must fulfill a childhood dream. When a boxer is mugged, it becomes a surprising opportunity to help turn the mugger's life around. In The Sadness of Beautiful Things, the contrast between tragedy and beauty is illuminated in simple, gorgeous prose.

I always take longer than I want to to review Simon Van Booy's new books because I have to read them two or three times, before I can write about them. The first time I just soak up the beauty of his words. The second time, I let myself mark favorite passages. If there's a third time, it's usually just because I can't bear to put the book on the shelf, yet, and want to experience the stories one last time. And, then, of course I return to his books when I need to immerse myself in something wondrous. Once again, the pattern held and I read the new book twice.

The Sadness of Beautiful Things is a collection of short stories (one of which may come close to being novella length, although I can't say for sure) that are written in his typical prose: few words, but with impact and a unique rhythm that is quickly recognizable if you've read any of his previous books. From the title, you can tell that each of the stories delves into real life, the highs and lows, how things can be both beautiful and horrible at the same time, like snow falling on an accident site. Most of the stories in The Sadness of Beautiful Things are based on true stories that were told to the author.

Highly recommended - As usual, I have some particular favorites, but I always fall in love with Simon Van Booy's short stories and The Sadness of Beautiful Things is yet another wonderful volume that I'll place on the good shelves and return to many times.


©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt


The Delasalle family has lived through 4 years of Nazi occupation in Normandy. When the day of liberation comes, tragedy strikes. Told through the eyes of a number of different family members, News of Our Loved Ones describes what happens to the Delasalle family in June of 1944.

I don't want to give away any of the details of this story because I liked the way it unfolded, although it could be confusing, at times, and the sheer quantity of viewpoints makes it feel very disjointed. In spite of that, everything comes together in the end in a satisfying way. So, instead, I'll talk about the stylistic choices.

News of Our Loved Ones feels more like an interconnecting set of related stories than a novel, at least to me. I noticed that parts of the story have been previously published, so my gut feeling that it was written as separate parts and then cobbled together may be somewhat supported by the fact that bits of it have been published separately. I tend to dislike this particular type of novel, but because it's a WWII story, there was no way I was going to give up on it without finishing. In spite of it being doled out the way it was, the prose is magnetic and the author has a way of making you feel like you're looking through a window at times, at other times planted in a character's shoes. Regardless, it was enough to glue me to the pages. I had to know what happened to each of the characters.

From 1944, the story jumps ahead decades and one of the family members, Geneviève, is now an American who brings her children back to France in the summers. This is from the cover description:

Geneviève's youngest daughter, Polly, becomes obsessed with the stories she hears about the war, believing they are the key to understanding her mother and the conflicting cultures shaping her life. 

Moving back and forth in time and told from varying points of view, News of Our Loved Ones explores the way family histories are shared and illuminates the power of storytelling to understand the past and who we are. 

Recommended - The writing is what wins the day in News of Our Loved Ones. It's incredibly vivid, enough so that I gasped at least once and felt caught up in the emotions of the characters. However, I didn't love the disjointed sensation and the feeling that the author was holding out on me, telling the story in such slow drips that I couldn't read fast enough. I wanted to fully understand the characters and what had happened to each of them, but had the book not been a WWII story, I probably would have given up on it in spite of the exceptional prose. If multiple viewpoints tend to make you want to pull your hair out, you might want to skip this one. But, it's a moving story that tells about the Allied invasion from an unusual angle, everything makes sense in the end, and it is stunningly told. So, if you aren't bothered by a fragmented sensation that makes you feel like there are a few too many pieces of the puzzle left out for maybe a bit too long, News of Our Loved Ones is really a marvelous piece of literature.

©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday Twaddle

I was in Illinois for my nephew's wedding, this past weekend, and too tired for Malarkey. So, Tuesday Twaddle it is.



Recent arrivals:


  • The Gown by Jennifer Robson - from William Morrow for review
  • The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib - from St. Martin's Press for review


Books finished since last week's Malarkey:


  • The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
  • The Sadness of Beautiful Things by Simon Van Booy (reread)


The Last Ballad was so good it was hard to put down. Beautiful storytelling. This was my second reading of The Sadness of Beautiful Things. Also, beautiful writing, of course, but I prefer to read short story collections slowly and let each story roll around in my head for a bit before moving on to the next. I hope to get Beautiful Things reviewed as quickly as possible. I loved it so much that I wish I had time for a third reading (always true of Simon's books). 


Currently reading:


  • News of the World by Paulette Giles


I've just started rereading News of the World for F2F group discussion -- a bit last-minute, but fortunately the book is short. I also read the intro to 1968 by Richard Vinen but I think I'm going to set that aside and read a book about D-Day, instead. I'll decide tonight. 1968 offers a unique perspective on the time period -- more of a world view rather than a strictly American look at the happenings during and around the year 1968. I'm just not sure it's what I'm in the mood to read, but if I set it aside it will only be temporary.


Posts since last Malarkey:



Yes, just one post. I was too bent on getting ready for my weekend trip to give much thought to the blog, last week. 



In other news:

I love weddings. We arrived in Bloomington, Illinois to snow -- just flurries -- and that alone was a thrill for us. I think that's the earliest snowfall I've ever experienced. Prior to this snow (on the 12th), our earliest snow experience was on Halloween, when we lived in Michigan. The greeter at the airport gate said, "Welcome to snow!" I think she was just as surprised as we were. The wedding was held outdoors, in the evening, and it was probably in the 40s outside. Amazingly, the bride wore a sleeveless dress without a jacket. Blankets were available for guests. It was a truly unique and beautiful wedding.

We went to a farm with apples, pumpkins, some farm animals, a play area, a ride and a slide for the kiddies. It would have been a great place to take the grandchild if she'd been with us.


We also went to LaSalle, where we took a boat ride on a canal. The boat is pulled by a mule. Well, that was quite an experience! We enjoyed it immensely. I loved the historical information we learned from the crew and I had no idea that a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey. How'd I survive half a century without knowing that? This is my favorite photo, from inside the boat before the mule was hooked up and took us for a gentle ride.


Yes, they really are stubborn.

©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Fiona Friday


©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett, illus. by Mike Lowery



First things first: Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover is a hoot. I read a lot of children's books that claim to be funny but this one really had me smiling all the way through. I thought that was worth mentioning, in case you skip everything else. Awkward title, though.

Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover is fiction, of course, but the author humorously calls it a memoir of his time as a spy.

At the opening of the book, Mac reflects on a time when Her Royal Highness, the Queen of England called Mac. She chose him because he had A's in every class (although his handwriting needed work). She needed a spy to find her missing crown jewels. Actually, just one piece of the crown jewels: the Coronation Spoon. Sure, Mac was American and a kid, but he was definitely the right guy for the job.

In 1989, after receiving the phone call, Mac flies to England, where he's given instructions and learns about the spoon. He is given a secret identity kit and the queen loans him one of her corgis to help out. Mac follows the trail from London to France to Moscow and then goes home without his pants.* It's an interesting story.

Highly recommended - I think what I loved most about Mac B., Kid Spy: Mac Undercover was the fact that it was educational. Any time the author shares some interesting fact he says, "You can look that up." I looked up a few things. Some I already knew because I'm not in middle school. I knew nothing at all about the Coronation Spoon. That was quite interesting. I lived through 1989, so I know a little bit about the reason Mac went home without his pants. Anyone who lived through the 80s knows all about that (it's a spoiler, sorry). The worst thing about the book is the title, but I loved the book so much that I found myself wishing the publisher had sent me the next book in the series. A great book for the adventurous, humor-loving middle grade reader in your world. Also great for class or library.

*"pants" is the American version that refers to trousers - in this case, a pair of jeans


©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals:


  • Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak - from Berkley Books for tour
  • The Sadness of Beautiful Things by Simon Van Booy - purchased
  • Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang - from Sterling Children's Books for review


Funny, last week all the covers were shades of blue; this week they've all got red in them. It's like they're arriving thematically. I've already read The Sadness of Beautiful Things, of course, and am dying to give it a second go. I'll likely reread the first story, tonight. I've also read Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts. The last title, Seven Days of Us, is an October tour book but it's a Christmas story so I get a jump on the Christmas season. I love Christmas books and I'm really looking forward to reading that. 



Books finished since last week's Malarkey:


  • A Brown Man in Russia by Vijay Menon
  • The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
  • Sam Wu is No Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang
  • News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail Dewitt



As always, a good week throws me behind in the reviewing. It's funny how that goes. If I'm having a bad reading week, I'm probably catching up nicely on reviews. If I'm having a good reading week, I'm happy because I'm having a good reading week, even if that means the reviewing suffers. So, it's a glass half full situation. Something is always going right.


Currently reading:


I read a little bit of Crux: A Cross Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero, this morning. But, I'm not yet sure if it's going to stick, so I'm going to say I'm between reads. I haven't officially settled on anything at all.


Posts since last Malarkey:



Worth noting: the author of Sons and Soldiers dropped by to mention that Sons and Soldiers is being made into a limited TV series. I guess that's another way of saying "mini series"? At any rate, I'm excited about that because it's excellent and one of my favorite books of the year.


In other news:



We've temporarily got access to the Hallmark Channel, so I've been bingeing on sappy romances, including one that starred Meghan Markle (first time I've actually seen her act), The Dater's Handbook. I liked them all. They make my husband's eyes roll, and yet he doesn't leave the room, so there must be some appeal in the predictability of these movies, even for my "Ugh, I can't stand romance," husband.




We also tuned in to see the new Doctor Who, yesterday, and both enjoyed Jodie Whittaker in the starring role.


©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Fiona Friday - Ready for fall



©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher


The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher begins in 1938 as Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy is on the verge of her debut in London, where her father is ambassador. The Kennedys have already made a splash and are well-known, but Kick's debut goes swimmingly. Kick loves London and is quickly embraced by a wide circle of upper-class friends, both American and British. But, there's one particular Marquess who has caught her eye.

Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire, is tall, handsome, and reserved. But, he's also a Protestant and the Kennedy family is Irish Catholic. Both her mother, Rose, and his father are against the pairing. Kick and Billy are aware of everyone's reservations, but Kick is determined to create her own path. And, she is drawn to Billy from their first meeting.

Against a backdrop of impending war, Billy and Kick attend parties and Kick does charitable work, enjoying the company of their mutual friends and each other while ignoring the concerns of friends and family. But, war is inevitable as Hitler's army spreads across Europe. After Germany and Russia sign a non-aggression agreement and Hitler invades Poland, Billy joins the army and Kick is forced to go home to America. Will their love survive being separated by an ocean? What will energetic Kick do to fill her time, back home? When Kick decides to return to England, will she succeed? If she and Billy marry, how will they handle the religious problem?

I read up a little on Kick Kennedy before reading The Kennedy Debutante, so I knew the general outline of her life and enjoyed having the rest filled in.

Recommended - The writing in The Kennedy Debutante leans light, as in easy reading, but it appears to be very thoroughly researched if a bit heavy-handed, on occasion (emphasis on sister Rosemary's erratic behavior, for example, was pushed a bit hard without really leaving me with a feel for what exactly her problem was, whether it was mental illness, Attention Deficit Disorder, or simply a personality the family couldn't handle). What I liked most about The Kennedy Debutante was the glimpse into life as a Kennedy and the time period in which it's set, both of which I thought were handled nicely and stuck what I know about both the war and the family. The story doesn't go all the way to the end of her life, but I also thought the author chose a good place to stop. I'd particularly recommend The Kennedy Debutante to fans of historical fiction, people who are interested in the Kennedy family, and those who enjoy a tragic romance.


©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson


The subtitle of Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson is: The Untold Story of the Jews Who Escaped the Nazis and Returned with the U.S. Army to Fight Hitler. The book begins by telling the stories of a handful of those escaped Jews, all of whom were boys and all of whom left their entire families behind (although one father and his second wife were later able to escape).

Sons and Soldiers is thorough and well researched and therefore a slow read, but for good reason. Each of the stories of the boys who escaped is told beginning around the time Hitler came into power. You really get to know the boys, their families, and the atmosphere in which they grew up -- how they were a part of their villages or cities but slowly, as the Nazi fervor grew and the laws restricted their schooling, their jobs, their finances, their freedom of movement, and everything else about their lives, things became more and more dangerous. One of the boys was imprisoned in a concentration camp, early on, and then escaped to England, only to end up being declared an enemy when Britain entered the war and put into another camp. Another ended up in an orphanage after his father lost his wife and his livelihood.

Gradually, each of these boys were sent to the United States -- some saved by organizations, all with some form of help by way of sponsorship in the U.S., often after reaching another European nation, first.

Finally, they all ended up in the service, eventually trained in the same program, in which their skill in German and sometimes other languages singled them out for training in interrogation. They were known as "Ritchie Boys" and Sons and Soldiers tells about their training, how each of them entered the country, and how they contributed crucial intel during the Invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and other battles.

Highly Recommended - Sons and Soldiers is an exceptionally in-depth but immensely readable book. I loved the way the subject was handled, introducing the reader to each of the boys before following their lives in the United States and then their training, return to Europe, and the work they performed interrogating captured Germans. Because they needed to get information out of the captured Germans as quickly as possible, they were stationed near the front lines, where they were subject to tremendous danger. At least one of the young men parachuted into enemy territory after only a single lesson. All were determined to do their part to free Europe from Hitler and many hoped to find family.

Sons and Soldiers is told factually, and yet it's a tremendously moving, emotional read because you get to know the soldiers so well, first as boys and then as young men. You know who they left behind and, often, when they last heard from family members. You're there with them when they're captured by the Germans or hit by shrapnel, when their friends are blown up or executed, and when they walk into the concentration camps at the end of the war and discover the horror their relatives likely suffered. Stephan, Gunther, Martin, Manfred . . . each of them will take a place in your heart. I really appreciated the fact that the author wrapped up their stories with a final section on the remainder of their lives (some still living) to the time of publication.

Note: Even the endpapers of this book have meaning. Inside the front cover of the hardback are photos of each of the boys with their families. Inside the back cover: photos of them as young men, after the war (their are additional photographs scattered throughout the book). Those who were able to find family members are shown with them.


©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals (top to bottom):


  • The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated by Philip Gabriel) - From Berkley for review
  • Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak - from Knopf for review
  • Transcription by Kate Atkinson - purchased


This is a super exciting stack. I've been eagerly awaiting Transcription since I heard about it (it was a pre-order), had fingers crossed that I'd get a copy of Bridge of Clay when I requested an ARC, and am always excited about anything with cats in the title. Japanese Lit can be weird, unsettling, or thought-provoking, but sometimes it can be just flat beautiful. I'm hoping for the latter, but I don't mind an unsettling read, especially in the fall. The Travelling Cat Chronicles and Transcription have particularly beautiful covers:



Books finished since last week's Malarkey:


  • The Sadness of Beautiful Things (Stories) by Simon Van Booy
  • Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis
  • Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson


Two of those were among my favorites of the month. It was so refreshing to sink into Simon's gorgeous, melodic prose. I love his short stories. Sons and Soldiers took me forever to get through but it was also a 5-star read, although a difficult one because it told stories of love and loss so vividly. You really get to know the young German men who escaped their home country without their families and then returned as American soldiers.


Currently reading:


  • The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
  • A Brown Man in Russia by Vijay Menon


I am almost done with A Brown Man in Russia, which I didn't touch till last night because I was focusing on the other books. I'll finish that, tonight. The Kennedy Debutante is a fictionalized telling of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy's time as a debutante in London. I'm not sure how far it goes in time. I really didn't know a thing about Kick, so I read up a little and discovered that she died quite young. It's nice, light reading after the heaviness of Sons and Soldiers, which starts with the horror of living as a Jew in 1930s Germany and ends with each man's discovery of what happened to his family.


Posts since last Malarkey:

When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer (book review)
Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis (book review)
Never Too Young by Aileen Weintraub (book review)
Fiona Friday - Squirrel! (cat photo)


In other news:

We're on Season 7 of Doc Martin, I believe. Martin and Louisa have finally married. I keep thinking, "This is as far as we got, when we watched Doc Martin in the past. No, this is as far as we got." I'm just going to have to give up and admit I have no idea where we left off (the more recent seasons have only been viewed sporadically, so it makes sense that I don't know what we've viewed). At any rate, I'm glad they've finally gotten hitched.

I spent all of Thursday riveted to the TV and the rest of the time my focus has been on making it to the gym. In fact, I drove to the gym during a break in the Kavanaugh hearing and only missed a few minutes on the return home. The rest of the week was not a TV/movie week. And, the rock I'm painting, right now, is supposed to look like a kiwi slice on a purple background. I even dreamed about finding one of the local rock decorator's creations, last week. We have a local who decorates her rocks with moss, glitter, and little figurines, rather than painting them. They are so cool! I haven't gone looking for rocks, yet, but I'm hoping someday I'll find one of Savannah's rocks.



©2018 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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.