Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Top Reads in 2019 - fiction


I may (or may not) do a separate post on nonfiction and children's favorites, later, but I decided I needed to go ahead and get this post done. In the end, I opted not to narrow down to 5 or 10 and instead just stack up every book I put in my favorites corner on the pile, but I can actually narrow down pretty easily, now that I've had time to stare at the stack and ponder. So, I've put an asterisk by each of my Top 5.

My 2019 Fiction Favorites:

1. The Round House by Louise Erdrich - The mystery of a brutal rape and the teenage boy determined to solve it shines a light on how poorly the law works for Native American women due to the clash between Reservation law and that of non-Native land.

2. Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau* - A WWII story of escape from a Nazi prison camp into the mountains and the brief romance of two of the escapees is one of the books that has most firmly stuck with me. I have got to find more by this author. You can click through to read my review but I called it "heartbreaking and achingly beautiful".

3. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen* - Time travel is one of my absolute favorite story elements and Mike Chen combined that element along with a dilemma about the family his time-traveling protagonist must leave behind to a stirring emotional level that's equally satisfying as a sci-fi.

4. In Another Time by Jillian Cantor* - Another book with a time travel element, this time a portal from Nazi Germany to the future. The author kept me guessing and the pages absolutely flew.

5. Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen* - When people asked me what my #1 read was in 2019, I always answered Harry's Trees. The story of a widow, a widower, and a little girl, there was just something magical and charming and transcendent about this book. It's a clutch-to-your-chest-and-sigh book. It's going on the good shelves.

6. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman - Another charming read, maybe a little over-the-top but in such a fun way. Nina is bookish, has a cat, and is extremely organized. But, then her father's death opens up a new world and turns her perfectly ordered life on its head. So fun.

7. Vox by Christina Dalcher* - The book I was most worried about because of mixed reviews, Vox turned out to be so gripping that I was shocked at my inability to put it down. Very thought-provoking and timely. I'd love it if my book group discussed this one.

8. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri - Another book ripe for discussion, this time the story of a man who lived in a peaceful place until war drove him and his family out of the country. From happy family to grieving refugees, they seek a better life.

9. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson - A stranger infiltrates a neighborhood book club, gets everyone drunk, and asks probing questions to set them up. But, she doesn't know what she's getting into, this time. I love Joshilyn Jackson's writing but I thought she reached a new level with this novel.

10. The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves  - One of those books that was so gripping I told my husband I'd see him when I finished. And, yet, it was a relationship book, not a thriller! Wild.

11. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright - I considered leaving this one out of the favorites stack because I went back and changed my rating and its flaws seemed to have been mentally amplified over time. Still, as I was reading it I was so rapt that I remember how much I enjoyed the story. And, it did end up in the favorites corner. So, I decided to leave it.

12. Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center - I had to reread my review to remember what the conflict was in this story, but I still remember the tension and one particularly heart-pounding scene. I have not yet read a second Katherine Center book. I need to amend that. Though the story didn't entirely stick with me, the feeling I got from the reading did.

13. How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper - This is a "house of cards hit by a puff of wind" type of book. What happens when you've lied about your life and then created an elaborate story around that inadvertent lie and you're about to be exposed? Funny, gross, moving. Loved it.

14. The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner - One of three books I read that take place at least partly at a Japanese internment camp, a wonderful story of friendship that touched me deeply. I just loved it.

15. Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein - Another story of friendship but one that sours during WWII when one girl finds out she's part Jewish and the other joins the Hitler Youth. Alternating with a story that takes place decades later, when the daughter of a German woman finds out her mother has died and digs into her letters to find out the truth about her past.

All of these books had one thing in common. They sucked me in and held me tight. While some stuck with me more than others, they all moved me or made me smile, took me to some magical place or made me think.


©2020 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, February 25, 2020

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins with thoughts and a link


Reading American Dirt and even getting it in the mail was such an interesting experience. It literally arrived in my mailbox right as the controversy was erupting, after a months-long wait (I pre-ordered it). After reading a lot of articles and some thoughts by individuals, I was pretty sure I wanted to put off reading the book. I would read it eventually, sure, with a healthy skepticism of its accuracy — I'd already paid for it, after all — but I figured there was no hurry. Then, I spoke to my friend Michelle (formerly blogger Kookie at A Fraternity of Dreamers). Michelle has Mexican ancestry and she knows her history, her Mexican food, her soccer players. I don't. We finished reading the book on the same day, so we were able to chat about it while it was still fresh in our minds.

WARNING: THIS DESCRIPTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!!

PLEASE SKIP TO THE SAFE LINE IF YOU PLAN TO READ AMERICAN DIRT AND DON'T WANT TO KNOW ANY DETAILS OR PLOT POINTS FROM THE STORY!!!!!

American Dirt is the story of Lydia Quixano Pérez, a bookstore owner in Acapulco who unknowingly has befriended a drug lord named Javier. Her husband is a journalist and she has one child, a son named Luca. The book opens with an incredibly tense scene in which Lydia and Luca are huddled in a shower enclosure while gunfire rattles outside. They're at a family cookout and as they hide they overhear the shootings of everyone present, the search for Lydia, the men walking through the house to make sure they've left no survivors. Lydia knows the deaths of nearly her entire family must be connected to the article her husband wrote exposing Javier. Lydia thought Javier would find the article flattering. He must not have. Now, she has no choice but to run.

Javier's friendship with Lydia started innocently enough. He loved books, wrote poetry, and was oddly magnetic. Lydia enjoyed Javier's company until she became aware of what he did for a living. She's seen and heard enough, by the time of the mass shooting, to know that Javier has tentacles throughout the country so even as she's running, Lydia is careful who she speaks to and what she says. But, as she and Luca ride buses, stay in overnight migrant centers, walk, and ride the dangerous train known as The Beast, they are dogged by a young man with a tattoo that Lydia recognizes. Is he pretending to be a migrant or has he really left the drug business?

-------------------------SAFE LINE! SAFE LINE! SAFE LINE!------------------------------

NO SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT. 

Recommended with dramatically mixed feelings. Instead of summarizing my thoughts, I've decided to summarize our discussion a bit, share Michelle's review, and directly quote a few of her thoughts. I highly recommend you read Michelle's review:

Michelle's review of American Dirt at Facebook

Michelle and I were jumping back and forth between the comment section below her review (which you can see) and another post at Facebook, so you can't see the entire conversation at Facebook. This is an analogy Michelle wrote about the book:

Imagine you are in a horrific car crash and barely escape with your life. Someone asks you to tell them what it was like and before you even open your mouth someone who SAW the crash describes it. They get it mostly right, but they can't describe the physical and emotional impact the accident had on you. American Dirt is a bystander to the Latin American immigrant experience.

~Michelle McIntyre 

That seems fair.

I came into the reading from an entirely different perspective, of course: ignorance of the Mexican culture. My extent of experience in Mexico amounts to a couple of walks across the border from Texas as a young child and then a teenager. I don't remember much.

Without knowing what the author got right or wrong (except from articles I'd already read; there are tons of them online if you've missed out), I viewed American Dirt on its merits as a piece of writing, like any other novel, and my general feeling was that it was marketed badly. Billed as a tale of immigration, American Dirt is really (in my opinion) a thriller. The author is equally guilty in the mischaracterization of the book. She talked about her desire to tell the story of a people viewed as  "faceless brown masses" (a quote even I find extremely offensive — maybe there are people who see immigrants that way but I certainly do not). But, then she added that she wanted to make her heroine "someone like me". This makes little sense as Lydia is not typical of the masses; she is a bookstore owner with plenty of money and her weird friendship with a cartel boss further sets her apart.

So, there's a little bit of a disconnect, there. I think if you leave out the attempt to market American Dirt as a a novel of immigration and look at it as a thriller, it works. Thrillers tend to lack depth and are meant to be fast-paced. The idea is to propel you through the pages and give you a vicarious thrill, not to deeply examine an important social issue, although a social issue (immigration; environmental crisis, etc.) can serve as the backdrop. So, I agree with Michelle's car crash example in that as a thriller the book skims over the emotional and physical impact of immigration and focuses, instead, on the escape.

I also thought Cummins' comment in the author's note about wishing someone slightly browner than her had written the book was a bit of garbage pandering to her audience. As someone who has been published, I think I can safely say that no author wishes someone else had written her book, period, regardless of the shade of their skin. I do, however, know that writing a thriller set in another country is nothing new and, yep, authors get details wrong when they don't know the location or the people intimately or don't do their research. The argument that someone shouldn't have written a particular book has been around for ages, not just in contemporary fiction but in historical, where there can be a huge difference between fiction written by historians and popular fiction.

Michelle said she enjoyed parts of the book and agreed that it wouldn't have been so controversial, had it been marketed as a thriller. But, there were times that elements struck her as lazy googling instead of real research:

The real shame of it is most of those details could have been avoided if she’d just done her research. I’m sure she Googled “famous Mexican soccer player” to get the name Hernandez, but if she’d just turned around and Googled his name she would have realized he’s never called that. That really bugged me. 

We also talked about the author's part in the controversy. This was my opinion:

Her author's note just added fuel to the fire. She painted herself as some sort of heroine trying to reveal hidden truth. Nah. You wrote a thriller. It was good but not brilliant. It's a fun read if that's what you're in the mood for. Thrillers sell; that's the real reason she got the big bucks and the knowledgable writers didn't. A little honesty about that would have probably prevented the controversy (although, controversy generally is a good thing for publishers because any publicity is golden -- people *are* buying the book out of curiosity -- so this won't necessarily lead to thoughtful action, IMHO). [...] She also has some writerly ticks, things she reused, especially toward the beginning. One was people pouring beverages that nobody bothered to drink, including Luca. And, she did some weird head-hopping. There was one page where she was in Lydia's head, then Luca's, then Soledad's. That is generally considered bad writing, although some authors can pull it off well. She did not.

Michelle agreed and noted that Cummins referred to her mother as Abuela, capitalized, which is like calling your own mother "Grandma". It's normal to say something like, "You're going to have a great time at Grandma's house!" to your child. That's not what was happening. In one case, a policeman referred to Lydia's mother as Abuela, as well, which is just bizarre. No policeman calls a victim's mother "Grandma". If you know Mexico, you'll apparently notice a lot of little mistakes like that in the book. Another one is Luca ordering extra sour cream on his tacos — something I probably would not have noticed if I hadn't read about it, although the fact that Luca's extra sour cream order comforted Lydia did. What? Why would someone ordering extra anything comfort you? That was weird.

The bottom line:

Mistakes were made. The marketing of this book implied that there was some deep, unique revelation or insight about the immigrant experience in American Dirt when, in fact, even the journey (which is, admittedly, pretty exciting reading) was not apparently accurate. Even I noticed that Cummins had a priest warn migrants about the dangers of The Beast and then . . . nothing happened. Everyone was nice to Lydia and Luca on The Beast. I've read two other books in which people rode that train and while she is the only author who bothered explaining why people ride on top (it's a freight train — there are apparently no passenger trains at all in Northern Mexico, thanks to American influence) in the other books I read, one person who rode The Beast was raped and the other robbed.

The use of barbed-wire-wrapped centerpieces at a party and the way the author painted her nails with the cover image were additionally incredibly offensive, so it wasn't the marketing alone that stirred people up. As a white American with European roots, I would never have spotted most of the inaccuracies or seen the book as racist and I respect the opinions of those who find the book upsetting. But, I do think the proper marketing could have prevented some of the anger and hurt. And, clearly, authors should be very careful what they say about their writing.

If you read American Dirt, read it as a thriller but bear in mind what those who know the country have to say. Better yet, take Michelle's advice:

I could go on forever talking about the flaws of American Dirt, but I’d rather talk about the books that tell the REAL Latin American stories. Read Luis Alberto Urrea, Octavio Paz, Jennifer Clement, Alfredo Vea Jr. and Sandra Cisneros. Read Juan Rulfo, Yuri Herrera, Carlos Fuentes, and Carmen Boullosa. Read Juan Pablo Villalobos, Daniel Saldana Paris, Sergio Pitol and Elena Garro. All of them tell the story of American Dirt a million times better than Jeanine Cummins.

©2020 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, February 24, 2020

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals (left to right):


  • A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn and
  • And They Called It Camelot by Stephanie Marie Thornton - both from Berkley for review/tour
  • The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary


The Flatshare was a pre-order so I'm still hanging in there with the book-buying ban. And, that purchase is kind of a funny story. I'm a fan of paperbacks so I deliberately chose the paperback version of The Flatshare when I ordered it but I didn't know I was pre-ordering until I realized the book hadn't arrived. I went back to check my receipt and shipping notifications . . . and discovered I'd not only pre-ordered a book without realizing it but I'd ordered a book that wasn't going to be released for over 6 months. But, I wanted it in paperback so I shrugged it off and waited.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis
  • Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston


Angela Davis is interesting and writes a bit above my intellectual level. She is one sharp cookie! I have one last book by Haymarket Books but I didn't manage to find it in time for Black History Month reading, so I guess it'll sit till 2021, unless I locate it and decide not to wait.


Currently reading:


  • The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin


I've also started a nonfiction read but I don't know if it will stick.


Posts since last Malarkey:


In other news:

We spent half of last week in going to and from Northern Arkansas and spending time with my family for my Aunt Mary's "Celebration of Life". It was so fun! I haven't seen any of my cousins from that side of the family for decades. Literally, decades. I did a terrible job of describing what my husband does and where he works, when the relatives asked. He overheard and gave me a lesson, which cracks me up. I know I used to know the history of where he works but I'd forgotten it. And, I never have paid much attention to what he does for a living, although I know his current job title.

After we returned home, we watched a couple episodes of Rush and then Sanditon, but that's it. We were hoping to catch up on Dr. Who. Maybe next week.


©2020 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, February 21, 2020

Fiona Friday - Comfy


©2020 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, February 19, 2020

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James


In 1982, Viv Delaney leaves home to get away from her anxiety-ridden mother and start a new life. Her intent is to go to New York City but she quickly runs out of money and ends up working in the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. It doesn't take long before Viv starts to notice strange things: a strong smell of smoke, the frequent appearance of a woman who is both angry and terrified, a little boy, doors that fling themselves open, and a couple of hotel guests who seem more than a little shady. When Viv hears about the strange deaths that have taken place in the area, seemingly unconnected and mostly unsolved murders of young women, she starts investigating. Are the deaths really unconnected or did the police miss something? Is there a serial killer in Fell? Who are the ghosts that haunt the Sun Down Motel and why? What are they trying to tell her? Will she discover the answers before it's too late?

In 2017, Viv's niece, Carly arrives at the Sun Down Motel full of questions. What happened to her aunt Vivian, who disappeared while working at the Sun Down Motel in 1982? Is she dead or alive? Why was the investigation into her disappearance given up so quickly? If she's alive, where did she go and why didn't she ever contact her sister, Carly's mother, who has since passed away?

Following in the footsteps of Viv, Carly sets out to find answers. She gets a job at the Sun Down Motel, finds a roommate, and begins asking questions. But, the ghosts of the past are still haunting the present. Will Carly be able to figure out what happened to her missing aunt? Is her disappearance connected to the murders of young women that took place in Fell around that time? With a little help from a man with a troubled past, Carly starts digging. But, the only person who wants to talk about Aunt Vivian is seriously creepy.

Highly recommended - Ohmygosh, what a fantastic mystery/suspense with wonderful characters, genuinely suspenseful writing, and plenty of scare-your-socks-off moments. At one point while I was reading The Sun Down Motel, I realized that I was so tense I was sitting on the bed bolt upright, taking quick, shallow breaths. Very few suspense books truly grab me and hold on the way The Sun Down Motel did. I particularly recommend The Sun Down Motel to anyone who loves paranormal elements as the ghosts (if a little heavy-handed in the number of appearances) are among the most believable I've read.

Weird side note: I guessed what happened to Viv about halfway through the book but it actually didn't matter. It was just a guess and I had to know the answers. The book held onto me fast and I madly flipped pages. In fact, The Sun Down Motel gripped me so thoroughly that I had to warn my husband I wasn't coming up for air till I finished. He shrugged and went off to do outdoor work. I have no idea what he did, I was so immersed. The Sun Down Motel is going into the favorites pile, for sure.

Many thanks to Berkley Books for letting me join in on this tour and providing the book.

©2020 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, February 18, 2020

Dragonshadow (Heartstone #2) by Elle Katharine White


Dragonshadow by Elle Katharine White is the second in the Heartstone series published by Harper Voyager. In the first, Heartstone, Aliza Bentaine goes on some dangerous adventures and falls in love with a dragon rider when a group of Riders are hired to protect her home, Merybourne Manor, from a gryphon invasion.

In Dragonshadow, now married to the dragon rider, Alastair Daired, Aliza is trying to get excited about her duties in the family castle. But, she's kind of bored and in need of a different kind of challenge. When Alastair gets an invitation from House Pendragon to help deal with an unknown but deadly creature, Aliza insists that she must accompany Alastair. But, their destination is far to the north, she's not so great with heights, and Aliza will have to ride on Alastair's dragon over the dangerous Old Wilds.

What will Aliza and Alastair find when they reach House Pendragon? Is someone following them? What's up with the mysterious silver box that keeps appearing wherever they go? Are the dead creatures they find on their long journey North in any way connected to the mysterious deaths at House Pendragon?

Highly recommended - I had a couple minor problems with Dragonshadow. One is that there were a few too many creatures. I had trouble keeping track of them and then a little difficulty understanding the answer to the mystery (it took a little thought; I did eventually puzzle it out). This particular fantasy has a slightly over-built set of monsters, in my humble opinion. Having said that, I truly enjoyed the complexity of the plot and Aliza is a character I enjoy for her adventurous spirit. Plus, So. Much. Happened. Heartstone is a fantasy version of Pride & Prejudice, so there's a lot more interaction, manners, dancing. In Dragonshadow, it's all about the mystery of who is killing people and creatures, the dangerous journey, and why people are acting shifty, once Aliza and Alastair arrive. I enjoyed Heartstone but I liked Dragonshadow even better and I'm really looking forward to the third book in the series, which I plan to read soon.

My thanks to Harper Voyager for the review copy of Dragonshadow.

©2020 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, February 17, 2020

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals (click to enlarge):


  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich - from HarperCollins for review
  • Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel - from Berkley for review/tour
  • Nerp! by Sarah Lynne Reul - from Sterling Children's Books for review


I'm still sticking to my book-buying ban but I had a close call when my bestie texted me about the library sale, last week, "Want to go?" I'd set my cellphone down on the kitchen counter and I always leave the ringer off, so I didn't see her text until 2 or 3 hours too late. I have mixed feelings about that, of course. If I acquire anything at all, a library sale seems like the best way to go. But, right now I'm in get-rid-of-it mode, making piles of books to donate and filling a box with books to swap. So, missing the book sale was probably for the best. Right? Right.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Crosstalk by Connie Willis
  • The World of Sanditon by Sara Sheridan


Crosstalk is about 500 pages and I liked it but I thought it was maybe 100 - 200 pages too long. It's a romantic comedy with a touch of sci-fi, closest in style to Bellwether if you're a Willis fan and unfamiliar with it.

I talked about The World of Sanditon a little within my review of Sanditon but neglected to mention it in the subject line (link below if you missed it and are interested). It's a fun and educational read that I enjoyed pairing with the book and mini series.



Currently reading:


  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis
  • Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston


I'm almost done with Freedom is a Constant Struggle but didn't quite manage to finish, last night. And, while I started to read Red, White, and Royal Blue about three days ago, I only read a handful of pages and then didn't manage to read anything at all for several nights, so I'm looking forward to digging into that, this week. I've entirely stopped reading my insomnia workbook. Maybe I should have known better. I have this weird problem with workbooks. Whenever I'm instructed to "keep a log of [this, that, the other thing]" I have this tendency to tell myself I don't want to wreck the book so I'll find a notebook to keep my log in. And, then I don't get around to finding a notebook. That's what's happened with the insomnia workbook. I learned a little from the introductory material and I'll try to get back to the workbook, soon, but I think for now I'll set it aside and maybe start one of my other books on insomnia.


Posts since last Malarkey:




In other news:

I watched an episode each of Sanditon and Chicago Fire and then looked to see what else Rodger Corser has done besides The Heart Guy (aka Doctor Doctor) and Glitch because he's become a favorite actor. I discovered Rush (a police ensemble show) is available on Amazon Prime, so I watched an episode of that.

The difference between an Australian police show and an American one seems to be the amount of talking during dangerous situations. The Australian officers in Rush try to talk people down from the emotional ledge rather than charging into every situation with guns blazing and shouting to put the weapon down or whatever, although there's no less tension. I was fascinated by that. That minor difference makes for a very different viewing experience and I'm looking forward to more.

©2020 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, February 14, 2020

Fiona Friday - NEW BOX!!!!



©2020 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, February 13, 2020

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Kate Riordan



The original Sanditon (not the one shown above) was an unfinished novel by Jane Austen. Only about 60 pages of text were written by Austen before she died and it has since been completed by at least one other author. This is a specific version that I'm reviewing, a tie-in with the mini-series starring the woman on the cover. The version of Sanditon completed by Kate Riordan is actually a novelization of that TV adaptation, which was originally aired on ITV and is currently showing on America's PBS.

Sanditon is the story of Charlotte Heywood, a country girl whose family gets to know Tom and Mary Parker when Tom is injured while passing through their rural village and the Heywoods help him out. Charlotte comes from a very large family with loads of small children. I actually missed this part of the first episode of Sanditon, the mini series, but it can't have lasted long. I think I came in about 10 minutes late, certainly not much more. When the Parkers invite Charlotte to come stay with them in Sanditon, a beach village that Parker is building into a resort he hopes will become a thriving tourist destination, Charlotte's excited to go someplace new.

Charlotte is a bit naïve and outspoken so while she is heartily welcomed by the family, she almost immediately falls afoul of Tom Parker's brother Sidney's opinion. Sidney is hard to pin down. He's clearly involved in the building of Sanditon but not as directly as Tom. His job, as the story opens, is to bring some of his friends down from London in the hopes that they'll fall in love with Sanditon, talk about it, encourage more people to come, and make it successful with a little introductory word-of-mouth. Charlotte is fascinated by architecture and always enjoys whatever time she can fit in with Young Stringer, the foreman at the worksite but she spars with Sidney Parker. Occasionally, something will happen to soften Sidney's opinion of Charlotte but then she'll say or do something to offend him again and they'll bristle in each other's company.

There is an older woman, Lady Denham, who has invested money in the business and she has an entire storyline of her own. She is wealthy and has taken in a distant relative named Clara as her ward. She also has a niece and nephew, Esther and Edward Denham, who live in Sanditon. All three are devious creatures who only care about her money and she knows it. She acquired her wealth by marriage and is rude to all, generous to no one, but gleefully willing to get involved in finding wealthy spouses, at least for the niece and nephew, who are only related to each other by marriage and have a weird, possibly incestuous (but not, since they're not technically related) relationship.

There is also a young Jamaican heiress, Georgiana, whose story is interwoven with Charlotte's as they become friends. Lady Denham wants nephew Edward to try to marry Giorgiana because she's so fabulously wealthy. But, Georgiana already has a boyfriend and he is the reason her guardian, Sidney Parker, has removed her from London to Sanditon.

So, you have a sort-of, potential love triangle with Charlotte, Sidney, and Young Stringer. Then there's a mystery about what will happen between the young Georgiana and the boyfriend that Sidney is so determined for her to avoid that he's practically got her locked up with a hired woman. And, there are the three greedy relatives of Lady Denham who are constantly saying nasty things to each other while trying to weasel their way into Lady Denham's affections. Esther has a potential suitor who is a Lord. But, she only has eyes for her brother. Will Charlotte find love with wealthy Sidney or decide Young Stringer could make her a happy home? What will happen to Georgiana when Charlotte gets involved in her romance and Georgiana disappears? When Lady Denham falls ill, will she finally choose to pass on her inheritance to one of her relatives?

Recommended - There are lots of very entertaining scenes and I love the way things keep happening in Sanditon, especially what Charlotte inadvertently does to help bring in tourists. But I didn't like the sheer number of nasty people in the story or the ending of Sanditon because it felt very un-Jane-like to me; and, there were times I wrinkled my nose during certain scenes. Would Jane have a character say/do this? Well, it's not Jane's after the first 60 pages or so and I had to remind myself of that. But, I do think Kate Riordan's writing is excellent. I got totally swept up in the story and enjoyed it enough to give it 4/5, in spite of an ending I disliked. I'm glad I read it. The story is very different from most of what we know of Jane.

While watching the mini series and reading people's opinions, I've found I'm seeing the same words used repeatedly: "too modern". The modernness (compared to Austen's other works) didn't bother me a bit. It is definitely not as much about manners and social interaction as it is about commerce and money — Tom finding enough money to pay his workers so the resort can be finished and turn a profit, Lady Denham's fierce way of dangling her own money but refusing to share with anyone, a young black heiress whose money is so important that most people don't even act like they're aware she's black at all (but those who do are rip-roaring racists). It's about a new type of lifestyle and whether or not it will work. Romance, flirtation, social interaction, manners . . . they're all there but in a different way than Jane fans are accustomed to. The men are enterprising and not all apparently wealthy in the traditional landowner style. Times are changing and they have the ability to pursue money instead of having to accept their lot. It's really quite fascinating and I wish Jane had lived long enough to flesh this one out. But, I enjoyed the novelization by Kate Riordan enough that I'll be looking to see what else she's written.

The World of Sanditon by Sara Sheridan is a bonus book that Grand Central sent along with Sanditon. Nobody told me I was obligated to review it but I really enjoyed it and want to talk about it! Subtitled, "The secrets, romance and history behind Jane Austen's final story," it is not strictly a "making of" book but does relate the history of the Regency time period in which Sanditon is set directly to the story, sometimes quoting the script, sometimes examining some item (like bathing machines) that is used in the book and series, often relating the setting as a whole and the background of what was happening to how it played out in the story.

There are 2-page spreads with brief interviews of the actors, photos from the production, and loads of other photos of paintings and items from the time period. There are even some interesting stories that offer a taste of how and why people behaved the way they did. I loved the story of Lady Grange, a woman who threatened the man who impregnated her at gunpoint when he refused to marry her and then apparently had a decent marriage for 25 years . . . till she found out about his mistress. Then, things got ugly. It's a cautionary tale (this one from the Georgian period) that helps explain Sidney Parker's worry about his ward and her tempting money, which would become the property of whomever she married.

Such a fun book. I took my time reading The World of Sanditon because I didn't want to get to far into it and forget what it was about before my tour but it's worth returning to as a reference book, not just useful as a companion. So I'm sure I would have actually had equal fun zipping through it and then revisiting.

My thanks to Grand Central Publishing and Laurel Ann of Austenprose for the copies of Sanditon and The World of Sanditon!


©2020 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, February 11, 2020

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen


A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen is a post-apocalyptic tale that takes place 6 years after a pandemic. In an opening prologue that gives you a glimpse of the panic as the pandemic breaks out, a British pop star called Mojo is in concert (in New York, I think) when everyone receives a phone warning that the disease has spread out of control and the concert ends abruptly.

In the current time, 6 years post-disaster, the world is very different. 70% of the world's population died during the epidemic and the survivors are just trying to get some semblance of a normal life, but everything has changed. There are people who abide by the rules and try to get housing in the cities and those who've gone off-grid. There are also plenty of outlaws and a lot of mental health issues caused by a post-traumatic stress related to the pandemic. The government is trying to get a grip on all this by following any further potential outbreaks of the disease closely. Housing is also strictly controlled and families are watched carefully for signs that parents are unable to take care of their children due to the post-apocalyptic syndrome that burdens so many.

Mojo is now Moira, a young woman working an everyday job. She's engaged and has hired Krista to do her wedding planning. Krista does anything she can to earn money and she's in desperate need of a cash infusion to prevent losing her current home. She's a character who doesn't like to think of her messy past and youthful trauma, but it affects her in many ways. It's hard to know whether to admire Krista or scrunch your nose at her in distaste.

Moira works with Rob, a widower with a daughter named Sunny who keeps to himself. Sunny has been acting out in school and the agency that watches out for family stress is threatening to take her away from Rob. He's aware that he has contributed to the problem but he's a good father. Rob needs people to testify on his behalf that he's a good and caring parent but he's been such a loner since the pandemic that he doesn't have any friends to help out.

I can't remember how Rob encounters Krista but he enlists her help (for pay). Meanwhile, Rob becomes friends with Moira. As the three lives intersect, fear is rising. There have been several rumored breakouts of the illness that caused the pandemic.

Will Rob be able to keep his daughter from being taken away and put in a place where he doesn't believe his child will be cared for properly? When Moira's father begins a very public search for her as Mojo and her face is splashed everywhere, will someone turn her in? Is Krista really willing to do anything for money or does she have a heart in there, somewhere? Will there be another pandemic? If so, what will happen to everyone? Will the population survive?

Recommended - I was so crazy about Mike Chen's first book, Here and Now and Then, that I pre-ordered A Beginning at the End. While I ended up giving it a 4/5 because the second half of A Beginning at the End becomes exciting, tense, and even a little heart-pounding, I struggled with the beginning of the book because the challenges were kind of . . . meh. And, I kept getting Krista and Moira confused. After I resolved my issue with keeping the two female characters distinct in my mind and once the pace picked up, I loved the book enough to raise it from an average rating to above average. It didn't sweep me up quite the way Here and Now and Then did, but it's worth sticking out the beginning — if you consider it slow, as I did — for the exciting latter part when it appears that the virus may be spinning out of control, again, and everything is going wrong. It's worth noting that I've already thought about rereading A Beginning at the End, so while I'm not giving it my highest recommendation, that latter half was thrilling enough to think about revisiting.

Also worth mentioning: Mike Chen's stories contain elements that I love (time travel; dystopia) but both of his books are, at their heart, stories about family being the most important thing in life. I love that. I will definitely watch for more by Mike Chen.


On a side note: What timing. I read A Beginning at the End in January, before the Coronavirus outbreak exploded. I wonder what Mike Chen thinks of what's happening. I keep finding myself reflecting back on the story. You get glimpses of what happened during the pandemic in A Beginning at the End, but it's told in flashbacks so there's a bit of distance. In fact, I did find myself thinking that I might have preferred a story about the pandemic to one about the aftermath. Then, I kind of got what I wanted in the second half when it becomes more tense, although there were plenty of surprises.

©2020 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, February 10, 2020

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals:


None, hence the photo of a cat. I chose one that I thought made Isabel look sad ('cause no books), but she is not and was not. She was being a cuddle bunny, hanging out near me while I slowly woke up. I hope Monday Malarkey's arrivals section doesn't become too boring but I'm currently in anti-buying mode and that may be here for good, this time. When you're faced with your mortality, you start to look at possessions in a different way. I do have at least a couple pre-orders coming, though, and while I'm accepting fewer books for review, they'll trickle in on occasion.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  • The Lion and the Lyceum by Alex Beene and Taylor Wiedemann
  • The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

I didn't end up sending on my copy of American Dirt because my friend got a copy and she's such a fast reader that we finished it around the same time. We had a great discussion. I'm hoping to post a summarized version of it with my review, along with some links to various articles about the book. The Lion and The Lyceum is a children's book that my younger son bought to send to his brother. It's an alphabet and story book centered on words and places familiar to Ole Miss grads. If you don't know Oxford, Mississippi, it's of no interest. I don't even plan on reviewing it because the potential audience is too limited. The Sun Down Motel is as great as everyone says and I'm looking forward to reviewing it, next week. 



Currently reading:


  • Crosstalk by Connie Willis
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis
  • The World of Sanditon by Sara Sheridan


I've read 3 of the 4 books I'm touring in February (one per week is my current upper limit) so I picked up Crosstalk to squeeze in one off my shelves. It's about a woman who gets surgery to help her connect with her boyfriend and instead becomes telepathic. It's a little bit sci-fi, a little romantic comedy, and the only other book I know of by Willis that comes close to it is Bellwether, which I loved. It's a fun book, so far. I'm about halfway through it. Freedom is a Constant Struggle is one I bought last year and didn't get around to reading during Black History Month, so I'm excited that I happened across my copy at the right time. It's a fascinating combination of interviews and speeches by Davis regarding the intersection of American racism and oppression in other countries. She's for the abolishment of prisons because the entire judicial system in the US is biased against people of color but I haven't grasped what exactly she recommends doing with violent offenders.

And, I'm still reading The World of Sanditon slowly but plan to finish that in the next couple of days because I'd like to write about it with my post about Sanditon, the unfinished Austen novel completed by Kate Riordan to accompany the mini series. If you briefly saw (or managed to read) the review, last Thursday, it's because I decided to go ahead and pre-set the date for posting, although I wasn't entirely finished with the post, and I messed up the date. Oopsy. It will be up this coming Thursday.


Posts since last Malarkey:






Apart from that Thursday screw-up, which left me without a post on Thursday, I thought it was a decent blogging week.


In other news:

I had some fantastic health news, last week. It's been like this: bad news with a good side, good news, bad news but good in a way, bad news, bad news, great news. Cancer is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, for sure. The great news is that something that looked bad turned out to be harmless, for now, although it will have to be watched closely. That means I get a reprieve from the constant doctor visits and tests, for at least a few weeks, and to celebrate we took a drive toward New Orleans, yesterday. There was a restaurant we planned to go to but we didn't make it because I still am an insomniac and it was a bit too far for a day trip. But, the place we decided to stop was great and we were both happy to get out and have a reason to celebrate on a spectacularly golden, sunny day. In fact, we decided to just call everything a celebration, this weekend, which meant celebratory reading while doing celebratory laundry, followed by a celebratory wienie roast over some slightly wet twigs burning in our little back porch fire pit. Sometimes, you just have to make your own joy in whatever way works best.

Addendum:

Totally forgot to mention that I'm still working on narrowing down my top reads from 2019 and it may still be a week or two but I will post them, eventually. I want children's books to be in the mix and I shelved those I kept (I donate quite a few of the children's books I review) instead of putting them in the favorites pile, so that's set me back a bit.

©2020 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, February 07, 2020

Fiona Friday - Catnipping

I didn't take any photos of the kitties, this week (shocked face) so I had to go back in the files to find something. This is from Christmas, just after the kitties opened their KitNipBox. The "winter hat" stuffed with catnip is a favorite of both kitties, probably because it's easy to pull out of the box with their teeth. Some of the other toys are quite thick.

©2020 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, February 05, 2020

What Red Was by Rosie Price


Trigger Warning: Rape

Time flatlined; she knew then what red was. She was on Zara's bed, she saw the ribbon in [his] collar. But this red was not a colour, a warning sign or provocation, the bull's rag; no, red was the filter through which she apprehended everything; it collapsed the time between her present and that moment that refused to remain in her past, so that her whole being, from the dilation of her pupils to the rhythm of her breath and the ice in her chest, recalibrated to respond to the sign of the world through it. And she saw then that if she had been so wrong about what a colour could be, then there was little about the world that she had understood correctly. 

~fr. p. 111 of Advance Reader Copy, What Red Was -- some changes may have been made to the final print version, which was released in August of 2019

What Red Was by Rosie Price is a story of a friendship, trauma, and family dynamics as well as the aftermath of the trauma. Kate and Max become lifelong friends. But, when Kate becomes the victim of a violent crime while visiting Max's family, the trauma invades every corner of her life and becomes a part of who she is. Will she ever feel whole again?

I loved the way What Red Was began. Kate is a person with an average background and a mother she wants to escape while Max is very wrapped up in family and he comes from a fabulously wealthy background but is very casual about it. They meet when Max is locked out of his room in what I presume is a co-ed dorm, Max knocking on the door to ask for help in nothing but a towel.

Kate has just moved to university and she's lonely; Max is vivacious and cheerful. She loans him some of her clothing to run across campus for a duplicate key and when he returns with her clothing, they talk. The friendship is comfortable but never romantic. Eventually, Kate finds out that Max has casually left out the information that his mother is a very famous filmmaker, but when Kate meets the family she finds they're relaxed and nonjudgmental; it's clear where he got his personality. If Max likes Kate, she's part of the family, too. Max's family does have a complication involving his grandmother, which is kind of a secondary storyline but important.

I'm not quite sure where I got What Red Was, but I think a publicist contacted me (as opposed to it being a book that I "won" via Shelf Awareness). It fell to the back burner when I was forced to take time off — and I was already behind, so I missed reading and reviewing by the August, 2019 release — but I'm glad I was able to finally get to it. My thanks to Hogarth and whoever sent the copy my way.

Recommended - While I didn't feel like What Red Was was wrapped up in a very satisfying way, I found the story so compelling that it was almost impossible to put down. I think the author did a particularly great job of showing how deep trauma runs, how difficult it can be to get help or even speak about what's happened, how the way people react (both to experiencing trauma and being told about it by someone who has experienced it and needs help) is not consistent in any way, and how family dynamics can be confusing, wonderful, or awful.

My biggest problem with the book (besides the ending) was the way Max became heavily involved in drugs and alcohol, mostly because he started hanging out with the wrong guy. But, at the same time it appeared that he was ignoring how Kate was falling apart, I had to wonder (and I think this was implied, if not overtly stated) whether Max was, in fact, so close to Kate that he picked up on her trauma and turned away because he couldn't face the obvious fact that someone he deeply cared for was in trouble. I have seen this happen so while I hated that part of the storyline, I also thought it rang true in its own way.



 ©2020 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, February 04, 2020

Almost Just Friends by Jill Shalvis (Wildstone #4)


It's been years since I've read a Jill Shalvis book. Anyone out there remember Harlequin Duets? They were paperback books that contained two romantic comedies and I loved them. I'm almost certain that's where I discovered Jill Shalvis's writing.

In Almost Just Friends, Piper raised her siblings, works in EMS, and is fixing up the Victorian lake house and nearby cabins they own in preparation for selling. Her plan is to split the proceeds, go back to school to become a physician's assistant, and help her sister pay for college and her brother get a nice place of his own.

Then, all of a sudden, things change. During a massive storm, Piper goes to check on her diabetic neighbor and meets his handsome son, Camden. Piper is a little stunned to find herself attracted to Cam. Then, both her brother and sister, Gavin and Winnie, return home to stay. But, everyone has a secret and nobody wants to let Piper know what's going on. So, while her younger siblings are trying to work out what's next for them and the handsome neighbor is keeping at least one of their secrets, Piper begins to realize that maybe she has some work to do on communicating with her family, especially when it turns out they don't want to sell out the property at all.

I had some issues with Almost Just Friends, the main one being Camden's job. I couldn't make heads or tails of his combination of jobs. He's in the Coast Guard but he also gets called away on active duty for something-or-other. Or, maybe he gets called out on Coast Guard missions that are dangerous? It just confused me. I would have been happier if Camden had just had a normal job in the Coast Guard instead of the two conflicting things. I kept puzzling over how on earth the things he did worked together and whether they even made sense. At some point, I decided to try not to think too hard about what Camden even did for a living.

What I liked best about the story was the relationship between Piper and Camden, which quickly became one of comfort friends with benefits. They genuinely felt comfortable together and I felt like their relationship worked. I also liked the way the siblings fought. Sometimes, it was a little uncomfortably familiar, but I thought their arguments felt pretty realistic, if ridiculous.

Recommended but not a favorite - I really enjoyed Almost Just Friends, don't get me wrong, but there were little niggling things about it that bothered me – Camden's job, the timing of Winnie's issues, the pointless secrets being kept. And, at some point, it felt like the author tried to turn Piper's trauma into something similar for Camden. In other words, I felt like the story was uneven. But, I liked the romance and wanted the couple to get together. So, while Almost Just Friends is not my favorite book by Jill Shalvis, I still enjoyed it enough that I'd read more by her.

I received my copy of Almost Just Friends from HarperCollins for review. Thank you! Almost Just Friends is the 4th book in the Wildstone series but I have not read any of the other books and it stood alone just fine. So, if you're interested in the storyline, don't worry about the fact that it's a series book.


©2020 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, February 03, 2020

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals (top to bottom):


  • Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle and 
  • Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston - both purchased with gift card
  • Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly - unsolicited with note from author
  • Promised by Leah Garriott - Sent by Shadow Mountain for Austenprose tour
  • The Oatmeal: Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman - Sent by Friend 
  • The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James - from Berkley for tour


OK, first things first. Strange Planet and Red, White and Royal Blue, the books purchased with a gift card, and the book from a friend, Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby, all came from Alyce of At Home With Books (no longer an active blog but still listed in my sidebar because I choose to maintain a thread of hope that one day she'll return). She sent me the book and gift card because she knew I needed an upper and then recommended Red, White, etc. because it made her laugh. Thanks, Alyce! I cannot even begin to tell you how much the two I've read have already cheered me.

I don't know anything at all about either the author of Rediscover Jesus or the publishing company. I'll give it a go and see if it works for me but I don't know if I'll read it in its entirety. Promised is one I almost passed up but then I kept coming back to the description and thought it sounded so fun that I gave in. And, The Sun Down Motel is everywhere! The buzz, the reviews, the gushy love it has gotten are the kind of things that tend to put me off but I loved the last book I read by St. James and I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably read that very soon. My tour date is the 19th of this month, so you won't get to read my thoughts till then.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • The Oatmeal: Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby by Matthew Inman 
  • Dragonshadow (Heartstone #2) by Elle Katharine White
  • Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle


I really have never paid attention to "The Oatmeal", so I wasn't sure what to expect but while Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby can be massively gross, there were plenty of cartoons that brought a smile to my face and a few that made me laugh out loud. Just what I needed. Strange Planet's artist is a fellow I've been following on just about every platform you can think of since I saw the cartoon with the little alien holding out a cat and saying, "The creature is vibrating," or something of that nature. I'd already happened across Pyle on Twitter and followed him, but for some reason (um . . . catlover, maybe?) that was the cartoon that made me a fan. I've been wanting to get his book for a while but had decided I'm done buying books. So, Strange Planet made it into my cart with ninja speed and efficiency when Alyce sent that card.

And, Dragonshadow was just as fun as the first Heartstone book, maybe better. In the first book, there are dances and other social interaction that mimic Pride and Prejudice, while Dragonshadow focuses on the adventure and mystery of what's killing people and other creatures and whether or not it's a bad idea for Aliza to tag along with her Rider husband on a job that involves flying over dangerous country on a dragon. I'm hoping to read the third book within the next two weeks.


Currently reading:


  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  • The World of Sanditon by Sara Sheridan


I know I said I wasn't going to make American Dirt a priority, but things changed. A friend whose father was Mexican is the person whose thoughts I'm most interested in and the library queue for the book is long. So, I offered her mine and decided to read it as soon as possible so I can send it on. I wasn't sure whether or not I'd review it but actually . . . I have things to say and I don't think my perspective is necessarily harmful so much as lacking in the ability to view it in the same way as an #ownvoices reviewer (someone who really knows the subject, the language, the place, the correct social structure/interaction, etc.). I can only review it from the perspective of an average reader. And, there are things to say.


Posts since last Malarkey:




Busy week for posting.


In other news:


We watched a couple episodes of 800 Words, a couple of All Creatures Great and Small but I don't recall watching any movies at all. I just haven't felt like watching TV much, lately. If I do, it's all comfort programming – mostly older movies I've seen before. Wait, I did watch one old romantic comedy!


I think it was from about the year 2000? It doesn't feel 20 years old and yet . . . at the same time, it does. For those who haven't seen it, Return to Me is about a young woman who receives a heart transplant from a car accident victim, then falls in love with the heart donor's widower. It made me sob a couple times, but mostly happy tears.

It's February and I haven't mentioned favorite books from 2019, although I sort of planned ahead for that. I just noticed one of my favorites is not in the favorites pile. In 2019, I set aside my favorite books after finishing them but didn't start doing so till at least a couple months had gone by, as I recall. It won't be complete and it might be a little weird and indecisive because . . .  well, you know how some books you adore end up not sticking with you and some you didn't do the opposite? I may have to go over that favorites list to decide if I really have 10 favorites or I'm just such a mess that I should skip it. Opinions are welcome. I mean, I know everyone else photographed their piles in December. I just can't talk myself into writing up an end-of-month/year list or photographing favorites till the month or year is absolutely over -- as in, I'll literally wait till midnight to see if I finish One Last Book. Should I bother trying to pick my Top 10 from 2019? Too late?


©2020 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, January 31, 2020

Fiona Friday - Up? Maybe?

Fiona's only 10 years old but she's been struggling to jump up onto the bed, lately, so I cleared off a set of wooden steps I've been using for nothing more than piling books and set them by the bed. Sometimes, she can't make up her mind whether to get up on the bed or not, but she's definitely enjoying her steps. If she decides not to go ahead and get on the bed, she'll climb on the top step and ponder . . . or stare at her sister.



©2020 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, January 30, 2020

Mini reviews - Under the Jaguar Sun by Italo Calvino, Virus on Orbis 1: The Softwire by P. J. Haarsma, and If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura

I'm going to keep writing mini reviews where appropriate, although I'm closing in on catching up on reviews, finally! It's only taken me nearly a month. That's what you get for taking time off, I guess.

Under the Jaguar Sun by Italo Calvino was my first finished book in 2020. A slim read, it contains three short stories, each based on one of the senses. It was meant to contain stories about all of the senses, plus a frame, but not completed before the author died. Under the Jaguar Sun is my first completed Calvino. Oddly, I was loving If on a Winter's Night a Traveler when I was in the midst of it, a couple years back (and I get what he means by a "frame" from that). I'm guessing I had some ARC commitments that got in the way, at the time.

The first of the stories is about the sense of taste and it's a story in which a couple travels around Mexico, trying new dishes, seeing new sights. At some point, the wife begins to wonder aloud what happened to the hearts of those who were sacrificed. The implication is that she knows and is both appalled and intrigued.

Calvino strikes me as a real writer's writer. Such deft use of language! Because there are only three stories about the senses, the book is far from complete. It's still well worth the read, though.

Recommended - Sometimes lovely, occasionally revolting, often humorous, always skillful. Under the Jaguar Sun made me want to read more Calvino.

I downloaded Virus on Orbis 1: The Softwire for free and then heard Nathan Fillion recommended the series and downloaded a couple more. That was ages ago and what finally got me to read an actual e-book (an e-book!!! — if you read my blog regularly, you know I have a problem with them) was a middle-of-the-night wake-up and not wanting to disturb the spouse or get out of bed to go to the reading chair. It was a cold morning.

JT has a special talent. He can talk to the computer on the ship that's taking children to Orbis 1, a settlement on rings near a black hole. The adults are gone, killed by a problem with the pods that were intended to keep them from aging while the ship traveled to its destination, and the computer has raised and trained the children. Only JT can speak to Mother (the computer) without using a keypad.

When the children arrive at Orbis 1, they're distributed amongst the creatures (much like in the Star Wars café, there's quite a variety of aliens) to be used as labor. JT and his sister end up together, but JT is quickly identified as a "softwire" who can talk to and even enter a computer using only his mind. With problems frequently plaguing the Orbis 1 computer system, JT is blamed. But, JT knows there's something inside the computer. And, he must solve the problem quickly because his life is in danger as long as he's being blamed.

Neither recommended or not recommended - I might have abandoned this book (a middle reader, I presume) if not for Fillion's recommendation and the fact that I really wanted to know how JT would solve the problem with the computer. There's just a bit too much world building, if that makes sense. It's so far out there that I felt a little exhausted by it. But, the final third to half of the book is full of pulse-pounding action and that was enough to make me think, "Hmm, I will definitely read on." I probably won't get around to the second in the series until another dark, cold night in which I don't want to turn the light on, but I will definitely read on.

If Cats Disappeared from the World was my choice for #JanuaryinJapan (or is it #JapaninJanuary?) and, of course, the word "cat" in the title gave it first priority. The Japanese do love their cats, as do I.

The plot of If Cats Disappeared from the World felt a little familiar to me. A Japanese man with a cat finds out he's dying. What will happen? But, in this case, when the protagonist finds out that he's dying, he makes a deal with the devil. Each day, he can choose to have something removed from the world. Once the item is taken away, he gets a single day more of life. But, is there a line in the sand? If so, what is the hero unwilling to let the world do without?

Recommended but not a favorite - I thought the storyline was a little simplistic and predictable, a little schmaltzy, but I enjoyed it anyway. I think I might have liked it a little bit better if the hero had been rounded out a little better and if he'd had to consider a variety of items to possibly remove and choose from them. Instead, as I recall, he chooses the first thing that disappears from the world but then the devil makes the choice, after that. And, each of those choices becomes more difficult as they have some meaning to the hero.

Of these three books, none were favorites but I'd have to choose Under the Jaguar Sun as the best written and the one book whose author I most want to read again.


©2020 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, January 29, 2020

Books Read in 2019

2019 Reads (click on links to read reviews; some may be just a few sentences within a post)

January

1. Ten Kisses to Scandal - Vivienne Lorret
2. Friday Black (short stories) - Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
3. Tomorrow is Waiting - Kiley Frank and Aaron Meshon
4. Vivian Maier: The Color Work - Colin Westerbeck, Vivian Maier (contributor)
5. Splinterlands - John Feffer
6. Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win by Clara Zetkin, ed. by M. Taber and J. Riddell
7. Soon: What Science, Philosophy, Religion, and History Teach Us about the Surprising Power of Procrastination - Andrew Santella
8. 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do - Amy Morin
9. The Gown - Jennifer Robson
10. Time is the Longest Distance - Janet Clare
11. Freefall - Jessica Barry
12. Howard's End - E. M. Forster
13. Kivalina: A Climate Change Story - Christine Shearer
14. Thunder Pug - Kim Norman and Keika Yamaguchi
15. A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks - Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon
16. Mirabel's Missing Valentines - Janet Lawler and Olivia Chin Mueller
17. Fire and Forget - Ed. by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher
18. Old Baggage - Lissa Evans
19. Alpine Ballad - Vasil Bykau, translated by Mikalai Khilo

February

20. Franny and Zooey - J. D. Salinger
21. The Book of Strange New Things - Michel Faber
22. Hedy Lamarr's Double Life - Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu
23. Late in the Day - Tessa Hadley
24. The Girls at 17 Swann Street - Yara Zgheib
25. The Feed - Nick Clark Windo
26. As Summers Die - Winston Groom
27. Devil's Daughter - Lisa Kleypas
28. The Threat - Andrew McCabe
29. Learning to See - Elise Hooper

March

30. Lady Derring Takes a Lover - Julie Anne Long
31. Beast Rider - Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontenot de Rhoads
32. Operation Frog Effect by Sarah Scheerger and Gina Perry
33. A Dangerous Collaboration - Deanna Raybourn
34. The Last Year of the War - Susan Meissner
35. The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project - Lenore Applehans
36. When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree - Jamie L. B. Deenihan
37. A Little Chicken - Tammi Sauer
38. Just Read - Lori Degman and Victoria Tentler-Krylov
39. Some Days - Karen Kaufman-Orloff and Ziyue Chen
40. Holy Squawkamole! - Susan Wood and Laura Gonzalez
41. The Binding - Bridget Collins
42. Growing Season - Maryann Cocca-Leffler
43. What Happened - Hillary Rodham Clinton
44. The Awakening - Kate Chopin

April

45. My Coney Island Baby - Billy O'Callaghan
46. The Girl He Used to Know - Tracey Garvis Graves
47. Flubby is Not a Good Pet - J. E. Morris
48. Flubby Will Not Play with That - J. E. Morris
49. Anything But a Duke - Christy Carlyle
50. Molly Mischief: My Perfect Pet - Adam Hargreaves
51. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat #1 - J. Marciano, E. Chenoweth, and R. Mommaerts
52. Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat #2: Enemies - J. Marciano, E. Chenoweth, and R. Mommaerts
53. Forbidden Area - Pat Frank
54. The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters - Balli Kaur Jaswal
55. No Flying in the House - Betty Brock
56. Far Flung - Cassandra Kircher
57. On Democracy - E. B. White

May

58. Summer of a Thousand Pies - Margaret Dilloway
59. The Free Speech Century - Bollinger and Stone
60. There's Only One You - Kathryn Heling, Deborah Hembrook, and Rosie Butcher
61. Koala is Not a Bear - Kristin L. Gray and Rachel McAlister
62. Slinky Malinki's Cat Tales - Lynley Dodd
63. Pinky Got Out! - Michael Portis and Lori Richmond
64. The Size of the Truth - Andrew Smith
65. Butterflies on the First Day of School - Annie Silvestro and Dream Chen
66. If You Had Your Birthday Party on the Moon - Joyce Lapin and Simona Ceccarelli
67. Wunderland - Jennifer Cody Epstein
68. Shred Girls #1: Lindsay's Joyride - Molly Hurford
69. Rules for Visiting - Jessica Francis Kane
70. Oi Frog! - Kes Gray and Jim Field
71. If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home - Tim O'Brien

June

72. Finding Orion - John David Anderson
73. Cat Poems - various authors
74. Things You Save in a Fire - Katherine Center
75. Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
76. Map of the Heart - Susan Wiggs
77. Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune - Roselle Lim
78. Say No to the Duke - Eloisa James
79. Bad Order - B. B. Ullman
80. How Not to Die Alone - Richard Roper
81. Extreme Ownership - Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

July

82. The Unspeakable Mind - Shaili Jain, M.D.
83. The Haunting of Henry Davis - Kathryn Siebel
84. Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami
85. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill - Abbi Waxman
86. The Confusion of Languages - Siobhan Fallon
87. The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris
88. Searching for Sylvie Lee - Jean Kwok
89. Never Have I Ever - Joshilyn Jackson
90. Layover - David Bell
91. Meet Me in Monaco - Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

August

92. Storm Blown - Nick Courage
93. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction - J. D. Salinger
94. Rosie Colored Glasses - Brianna Wolfson
95. The Mueller Report: The Washington Post edition
      Quotes: Part 1
      Part 2: Quotes and Commentary 
      Part 3: Mostly Quotes
      Part 4: Final Quotes, Commentary, and Wrap-Up 
96. Normal People - Sally Rooney
97. Harry's Trees - Jon Cohen
98. The Passengers - John Marrs
99. The Rogue to Ruin - Vivienne Lorret
100. In Pain - Travis Rieder
101. The Beekeeper of Aleppo - Christy Lefteri

September

102. Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus - Dusti Bowling
103. Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill
104. Invisible as Air - Zoe Fishman
105. The Rent Collector - Camron Wright
106. Collage and Construction - Harvey Weiss
107. After the Flood - Kassandra Montag
108. No Judgments - Meg Cabot
109. The Nanny - Gilly Macmillan
110. When the Marquess Was Mine - Caroline Linden
111. The House on Tradd Street - Karen White

October

112. Cilka's Journey - Heather Morris
113. The End of Something Wonderful - Stephanie Lucianovic and George Ermos
114. Moldilocks and the Three Scares - Lynne Marie and David Rodriguez Lorenzo
115. The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh - Supriya Kelkar and Alea Marley with Simran Jeet Singh
116. Summary of the Mueller Report - Thomas E. Patterson
****I Guess I'll Write It Down (journal) by Beth Evans
117. The Cats of Tanglewood Forest - Charles de Lint and Charles Vess
118. Earth to Charlie - Justin Olson
119. Where the Angels Lived - Margaret McMullan
120. 25 Days 'Til Christmas - Poppy Alexander
121. The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street - Karen White

November

122. Dead Voices - Katherine Arden
123. Vox - Christina Dalcher
124. Small Spaces - Katherine Arden
125. Creatures - Crissy Van Meter
126. The Lost Man - Jane Harper
127. The Same Sky - Amanda Eyre Ward
128. The Last Light Breaking - Nick Jans
129. Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers - Sara Ackerman
130. Here and Now and Then - Mike Chen
131. Angel in a Devil's Arms - Julie Anne Long
132. In Another Time - Jillian Cantor

December

133. Listen to the Wind - Susanne Dunlap
134. The Round House - Louise Erdrich
135. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford
136. Her Other Secret - Helenkay Dimon
137. Christmas Camp - Karen Schaler
138. The Spirit of Fire - Susanne Dunlap
139. They Were Sisters - Dorothy Whipple
140. Heartstone - Elle Katharine White




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