Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Paris Hours by Alex George


Jean-Paul loved his wife most when she was singing. It was the ravishing vigor with which she performed that laid siege to his heart. Music coursed through her, a joyous river. It illuminated her from within, filling her with the light of a thousand suns. When there was a tune on her lips, his wife was always the most beautiful person in the room. 

~p. 98 of The Paris Hours

In The Paris Hours by Alex George an Armenian genocide survivor, a struggling artist, Marcel Proust's maid, and a journalist all converge in the same location on a night in 1927. Who are they and how did they all end up in the same place? What will be revealed when an important notebook is sold, its secrets bound to cause damage?

Oh, my. There is so much to say about The Paris Hours. First and foremost, I think it would make an excellent discussion book and I've already told the host of my book club that we need to discuss it, some time. We read A Good American back when it came out in paperback and that discussion was quite a lively one, so she is definitely interested (but I have to wait for it to come out in paperback because that's one of the group rules). It's the kind of book you want to reread once you've been through it a first time, so I'm already looking forward to that eventuality.

But, back to the story. The main storyline takes place within a single day in 1927. But, as each character's story unfolds, the reader is taken back in time to fill in the gaps. How did an Armenian survive the genocide and end up working as a puppeteer in Paris? What is in the notebook that belongs to Marcel Proust's former maid and how did she end up with it? What will happen to the artist when his time to pay a debt to a notorious loan shark runs out? And, how does the journalist help tie these people together?

Because so many American artists, writers, and musicians lived the ex-pat life in Paris during the 1920s, there are appearances by Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, and the owner of Shakespeare and Company, Sylvia Beach, among others. But, they're background characters who give color to the time period in Paris rather than main characters. I think that may be part of the reason I felt like they were more believable than a lot of real-life historical characters fictionalized in novels, but it also is undoubtedly down to the skill of the author.

The only thing I disliked about this book? I found the ending a bit abrupt. But, only briefly. After I'd let it roll around in my head for a time, I realized that if the author had taken that final scene one step further it would have entered entirely different territory as what's about to happen in the end is both an ending and a beginning, if that makes sense. Well, just read it and you'll see.

Highly recommended - Exquisite writing in a beautifully drawn tale that brings four seemingly disparate lives together for an evening of drama and tragedy followed by hope. Personal opinion: The Paris Hours is a five-star read. I chose the quote above at random because I didn't mark anything while I was reading (too engrossed to look for the flags) and it was just serendipity that it happened to be a quote about music. There is always music in Alex George's books and he has a particular talent for describing it, probably because he's a musician and music lover, himself. I couldn't help but smile when I randomly opened the book to that paragraph.


©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, May 26, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes


In The Prisoner's Wife, Izabela is a Czechoslovakian farm girl and Bill is a British prisoner of war. It's 1944 as the story opens. Bill is one of a half dozen prisoners brought to help with work on the farm where Izzy lives and works with her mother and younger brother and it's love at first sight when Bill and Izabela's eyes meet. Izzy finds ways to get closer to Bill and starts learning English so she can communicate with him better. And, then they secretly marry, deciding to run away with the hope that they can meet up with the partisans and join the resistance against the Nazis.

Thinking the Russians are coming soon and Izzy will be safer dressed as a boy, Bill cuts her hair and she dresses in her older brother's clothing. But, when they're caught and sent to a prison camp for soldiers, every moment is fraught with danger. How will Izzy keep her secret from the Nazis? If she's caught, she will undoubtedly be thought a spy and shot.

Based loosely on a true story, in The Prisoner's Wife, Maggie Brookes has created a harrowing tale of love, danger, and the horrors of war, a story in which a woman's identity is kept secret with the help of courageous men willing to risk their own lives to keep her alive.

Highly recommended - I don't use the word "harrowing" lightly. I found The Prisoner's Wife a difficult and exhausting read because the vast majority of it is about the couple's time in a prison camp, a work camp, and then taking a "long walk" to keep the prisoners from joining up with the Russians when they close in on the prison camp. It was gripping but nerve-wracking enough that I had to occasionally take breaks, walk away and do something like step outside to feel the breeze or paint or just goof online, and then I'd return to the book. I don't know why I found this particular story so much harder to read than other WWII stories. I've been reading them all my life, after all. Maybe it was because I cared about the couple and so desperately wanted them to survive. At any rate, after the long march I felt frostbitten and hungry and sad for the lives lost, in awe of the danger people are willing to face to help each other and a little sad at the interplay of good and evil, a thing that never changes. A moving tale that I'll be thinking about for a long time.

One side note: The story is told using alternating viewpoints. One chapter will be told in 3rd person (Bill's viewpoint but not his voice) and the next in 1st (from Izzy's viewpoint). I did find that a little bit jarring but it was never what I would call problematic. The shifts just interrupted the flow a bit. I presume the purpose was to tell both sides of the love story, male and female, and in that way I do believe it was effective.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy!


©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, May 25, 2020

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals:


  • Wow, No Thank You (essays) by Samantha Irby
  • The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin


Both were purchased after I read several reviews of each. I was tempted to buy Wow, No Thank You based on the cover alone. I love that cover (my favorite color is apple green) and I would happily frame it. But, I didn't buy it on impulse. Instead, I read the reviews, added it to my wish list, then finally decided to buy it because everyone was describing the content as humorous and, boy, don't we all need a laugh, right about now? The City We Became . . . similar. The cover caught my eye and every time a review has turned up, I've read it and thought, "That sounds good." It took several reviews to convince me to buy a copy, though. And, I likely won't get to it, right away, although I'm already reading Wow, No Thank You.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • The Paris Hours by Alex George
  • Psi-Man: Mind-Force Warrior (Psi-Man #1) by David Peters, aka Peter David


Quite a contrast between these two, a gorgeous piece of literary historical-fiction writing and a cheesy1990s series book with a psychic who has telekinetic powers, respectively. I plan to review both, this week, so I'll say no more.


Currently reading:


  • Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
  • The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes


Whoever wrote about Wow, No Thank You was right. I've gotten a lot of smiles and a few actual chuckles from her writing, so far. I always mean to keep something with short chapters like a book of essays, short stories, or poetry going, but that idea often manages to gang aft agley. I'm enjoying having something to dip into just a little every night. The Prisoner's Wife is WWII historical fiction based on a true story and while I found the romance has moved a little quickly for my taste, I am rapt. It's one of the best WWII novels I've read in a while.


Last week's posts:



Only the one post and not a single review, last week, thanks to the fact that I was having an arthritis attack. I still am, but it's improved. I can at least type, now. I had a pinkie finger that screamed if I typed so I avoided writing, as much as possible. Hopefully, it will continue to improve, this week. 


In other news:

We started the second season of Life on Mars, last week. Husband looked ahead to see how many seasons there are (just the two) and how it ends and he said, "It's weird. Not sure I understand it." So, at this point, we're watching it to finish watching it without high hopes for how the series ends. 

This was not a big TV-watching week, otherwise. I watched a single episode of Upload but Huzzybuns thinks it's incredibly stupid and drifts away if I turn it on. Well . . . it is stupid, but it's a good kind of stupid, the kind of mindless entertainment you turn on when you don't want to have to think. 

And, we watched A Streetcar Named Desire, the latest free streaming production from the National Theatre. When I watched the preview video, I was certain I wouldn't be able to make it through the entire play because of Gillian Anderson's horrendous Southern accent (she plays a Mississippian . . . and calls New Orleans "New OrLEENs", which is how I pronounced it before I moved here. Nope, it's N'awlins). But, I confess I was sucked in by the drama and energy of the story. It's so very, very raw, tragic, appalling and utterly fascinating because it's so real. In fact, I sobbed at the ending. Poor Blanche. She really was a hot mess.

This was also the second week of my Coursera course on Postwar Modern Expressionism (taught by a conservator and art historian from MoMA) and the first week we had a hands-on assignment. It's fairly time-intensive, with plenty of reading, instructional videos, and, of course, the painting — which was done in about 6 stages. I am absolutely loving it.

And, finally, this was the first week I've actually gone anywhere besides the farm for the weekly produce box, gas station, drive-through pharmacy, or drive-through restaurants in about 3 months, maybe longer. I needed to stock up on the fizzy flavored water I drink as a substitute for Coke, so I made a Target run. Since I haven't been to the grocery store (Huz's job) or any other store in so long, this was the first time I got a glimpse of the empty paper aisles. Oh. Still? I really had no idea it's remained difficult acquiring paper towels and toilet paper. I bought a 27-pack of toilet paper about a week before the Panic Hoarding Event and we're still doing fine, but I'm a little concerned about our paper towel situation. We may have to work on using rags and towels for clean-up, instead. In truth, we probably use too many paper products and should do that, anyway.

It was good to get out of the house but I'm back in lockdown for at least a month or two, now, apart from my usual low- or no-contact errands. I miss normal life but now that I'm used to lockdown life, I'm really enjoying the burst of creative energy, the chores we're accomplishing that we normally don't get around to because we run here or there on weekends, and watching the pandemic garden grow so beautifully. A friend of mine said there's "a richness" to life during COVID-19 and I must agree. You can look at it from a glass half-full or half-empty viewpoint. I'm finding mine is half full.

©2020Nancy 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, May 22, 2020

Fiona Friday - Contemplative



©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, May 18, 2020

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals:


There were no arrivals, so I decided to take a photo of a section of one shelf in my home library (you should be able to click to enlarge). This is from what I call my "international" shelf because the books are all by authors who are not American. I have read only a handful of these but I've been eyeing a couple that I'd like to read very soon.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This was an opposite week, for me. I've been sleeping terribly, waking up several times a night during most of the pandemic. This week, I kept falling asleep in the evening and then feeling sluggish during my normal reading time. So, there were several days that I didn't read a word. But, I enjoyed Premeditated Myrtle and I am loving The Paris Hours. Whenever I pick up The Paris Hours, I am immediately engrossed and the only reason I didn't end up reading it in one or two evenings was the fact that I wasn't as awake as I usually am during my normal reading time. Weird, but everything is weird, right now, so I just try to roll with it. 



Currently reading:


  • The Paris Hours by Alex George


Almost done but I'm pre-posting this Monday Malarkey and, as of Sunday evening, I am fighting a migraine so it's unlikely I'll finish tonight.


Last week's posts:




In other news:

We finished the first season of Life on Mars and streamed most of Cats during its 48-hour free streaming on YouTube; but, we didn't get to Cats till the last minute and it was so late at night that we didn't make it through the entire thing. I was hoping to get to the song "Memory" but not knowing how far that is into the play, when Husband said he'd had enough I opted to shut it off even though I would have loved to keep going. Our house only has throw rugs and is very open and echoey, so I didn't want to keep him awake. Cats was every bit as strange as I expected it to be but I thought it was a fun sort of strange. I think it helped that I've read Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot, the book it's based upon.

We spent the weekend cleaning the closet of our guest room, which used to be Kiddo's room and mostly has his stuff in it. If I'd known what a huge job that was going to end up being, I have to wonder if I'd have selected it as our weekend task. But, it worked out well. We managed to empty at least two boxes completely and reorganized the contents of the closet so that it's much, much tidier and the things I need to be able to get to (seasonal decorations, in particular) are now within my reach. In the process of going through all that stuff, we were reminded that Kiddo has at least 6 boxes full of books and a 6-foot wooden shelf with even more in our house. Until he has space to store his books or goes through them and discards some of them, we're not going to be able to clear that closet as much as we'd like to. But, we made terrific progress.

We also found not one but two boxes of VHS tapes. What? I thought I'd gotten rid of all of our VHS tapes, apart from a few of the classic Disney movies in the nice plastic cases. Huz got the VCR working so we watched one of them: Strange Brew. And, then the VCR ate it. Not sure if that means we should give up on the 80s movie festival we planned or try to watch each of them once and then toss them after we finish but I really like the idea of bingeing on 80s movies for a while, even if they all end up in the trash once we're done.


©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, May 15, 2020

Fiona Friday - Reading with Izzy


©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, May 14, 2020

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce


In Premeditated Myrtle, Myrtle Hardcastle is a precocious 12-year-old. Her governess, Miss Judson, uses the Socratic method to teach her. Myrtle is a fan of a pulp mystery series about a young (male) detective and reads medical and law books as well as encyclopedias for entertainment. All of which is to say that it isn't surprising she fancies herself a young detective.

One morning, Myrtle is looking through her telescope (which is supposed to be for learning about the stars, but Myrtle is also a little rebellious) and notes that her elderly neighbor and the gardener have not held to their morning routine. Concerned, Myrtle calls the police and they find the elderly neighbor dead in her bathtub. The death is ruled a heart attack but Myrtle is unconvinced and decides to investigate.

Was the elderly neighbor killed by the gardener for her prized lilies? Or was she knocked off by the first cousin, twice removed, with the American accent for her inheritance? What about the nephew in the tragically loud coat? Who had the motive, means, and opportunity to kill Myrtle's neighbor? If she was killed, why did her death appear to be from natural causes? And, what has happened to the old lady's garden plot where she grew her lilies?

Recommended for middle grade and up - There's a lot to this story and at over 350 pages it's a long one for a middle reader but it has loads of wonderful twists and turns. I loved all of the main characters — Myrtle, her governess, her father, the cook. There's also a secondary character thrown in toward the end, Mr. Blakeney. He is a delight. Myrtle is smart beyond her years and knows it but she's also pretty self-aware. She knows when she's not behaving like a proper Victorian girl and she's also well aware that being a young and female, smart or not, means most people are not going to give her the time of day, much less listen to her ideas about a possible murder.

The only things I didn't like about Premeditated Myrtle were the fact that Myrtle almost never bothered even attempting to tell the adults what she'd discovered on the assumption that they wouldn't listen, anyway, and the fact that nobody sounded English but the gardener with the Yorkshire accent (and I can't say if his accent is accurate). I tend to dislike it when characters keep too much to themselves. It's a personal preference, but I favor actual conflict caused by telling the truth and not being believed to lies and secrets. But, there were a couple scenes in which she did try to let people in on a clue or two and they ignored her, just as she suspected they would. I'm sure 12-year-olds will relate to Myrtle's frustrations with the adults, especially on the occasions that she attempted to get them to listen and failed.

My thanks to Alqonquin Young Readers for the review copy! My copy of Premeditated Myrtle says it's a May, 2020 release but I screwed up again and didn't check to see if the release date has been shoved back due to the pandemic. Sure enough, it's now got an October release date, so if you're interested it will have to be pre-ordered. I've opted to go ahead and review while it's fresh in my mind.


©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, May 11, 2020

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals (left to right):


  • The Paris Hours by Alex George, and
  • The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol II  1939-1962 - both purchased
  • Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce,
  • How to Get Away with Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce, and
  • Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen, all from Algonquin Books for review
  • Exit Strategy by Martha Wells, and 
  • Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells - both purchased


OK, clearly I went hog wild buying Martha Wells' Murderbot Diaries series (I now own all of the novellas and I still want to get my mitts on the full-length novel) but I have no regrets. As to the other purchases . . . I feel like I've been waiting forever for Alex George's latest, The Paris Diaries. So excited to finally have a copy! And, the poetry was an impulse purchase influenced by an Instagram post.

The three children's books were a surprise. It took a while to jog my memory but I signed up to review them and I guess the pandemic may have slowed the shipping so I forgot? Or, maybe it hasn't been as long as I think and I'm just forgetful. At any rate, I'm super excited to have finally received some children's books to read because, a) It's been ages, and b) I absolutely love reading children's books. So, I immediately started reading the May release, Premeditated Myrtle (which I am enjoying immensely).


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I think I mentioned that Orphan Monster Spy is a reread to refresh my memory before moving on to the new book in the series, Devil Darling Spy. I have a few books I have to wedge in before moving on to Devil Darling Spy, but Orphan Monster Spy proved to be one of those books that was even better on the second reading, so I'm really looking forward to moving on to the next book. 

All Systems Red turned out to be every bit as good as I expected of a book recommended by my former blogger friend Alyce, who is one of the people I call my "reading twins". I like almost everything she recommends, our taste is so similar. I keep telling myself I'm going to save the rest of the series and just read one whenever I feel a little slumpish. We'll see if that works out. I am sorely tempted to dive in and spend a day binge reading Murderbots. 



Currently reading:


  • The Paris Hours by Alex George
  • Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce


Again, I didn't touch Hamlet. I may have to go back to the beginning but I'm not taking it off my current reads at Goodreads because I'm determined to get to it. I do have some other books I need to read first, though, so Hamlet may continue getting shoved aside for a while. I'm loving both of my current reads.


Last week's posts:




In other news:

I was so excited about Frankenstein (streamed via National Theatre at Home) because of the actors that I forgot how much I hated the book, a DNF from about 25 years ago. When we finished the first version, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Frankenstein and Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature, Huz turned to me and said, "What part did you like best?" I couldn't answer. I didn't like it. But, eventually, I told him the actors were the only thing I liked about it. And, then I realized that I liked the train, which we presume was symbolic of progress. At any rate, all National Theatre productions are impressive so it was just the yuckiness of the story that I disliked, not the production itself.

We haven't yet watched Antony and Cleopatra, but I'm sure we'll start on that tonight. We watched a couple more episodes of Life on Mars but I can't think of anything else that we watched. The weather has been a little too perfect to sit in front of a TV so we spent a lot of time on our porch, this week.

Every day I get up and peer out the window to see if the squirrels have managed to steal our tomatoes, yet. The tomato plant (we only have one, this year) is caged so it can't grow as large as our tomato plants usually do, but we have 4 tomatoes on it and if we manage to harvest any, it will be a first at this house. The squirrels have broken through all our previous barricades. So far, so good. One of the tomatoes is already quite large so we're hoping it will start to turn red, soon.

Trips to the gardening center at our hardware store for plants, way early in the morning, has become one of Husband's escapes on the weekend. He says people keep their distance and most wear masks in the morning. And, there aren't many people there when it opens, anyway. So, our yard is getting spruced up, we have loads of gorgeous things on the patio, and we are definitely in the Pandemic Gardening crowd. It's amazing how much joy you can get just walking around, checking on the plants to see how much they've grown, giving them a drink, and then sitting on the porch admiring them. The photo above shows my books next to a pot of lavender. When I reached over to pick up the books, I stuck my face in the lavender and, ohmygosh, it smells heavenly.

Incidentally, as a side note, COVID-19 has reached my extended family (in another state). The numbers appear to be dropping, now, and fewer people are being hospitalized but I hope all of you are still sticking close to home as much as possible, wearing masks, washing hands, etc. The threat is not over. Hopefully, though, we'll get a summer reprieve. I doubt the family member in question reads my blog, but I'm sending healing wishes and prayers and hoping that it's a mild case of this vicious disease.

©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, May 08, 2020

Fiona Friday

If an infinite number of monkeys could conceivably type Shakespeare's works, surely a determined Fiona kitty could write the Great American Novel.


©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, May 06, 2020

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman


Just a quick note: I received an ARC of The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany and it has an April, 2020 release date printed on the cover (the reason I just read it in late April). I noticed the release date listed at Goodreads is November of 2020. So, I looked at Amazon and, sure enough, the release date is now November. I presume this is pandemic-related. It would be crazy to wait till November to review it, though, and it can be pre-ordered if you're interested so . . . I'm going to go ahead and review. 

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman is about a family curse. Hundreds of years ago, a young lady in the Fontana family saw her sister kissing her beloved and cursed all second-born sisters in her family to never find love. Since then, not a single second-born female has married and some have met tragic ends when they found love.

Now, Emilia has been offered a chance to break the curse. Emilia leads a quiet life, working as the baker in her family's New York deli with her father, sister, and grandmother (nonna). She wears glasses and plain clothing, pulls her hair back in a ponytail, and doesn't even bother trying to find men to date since a tragedy in her college years convinced her the curse is real.

When her great aunt Poppy invites her on a trip to Italy, Emilia is tempted but her nonna is adamant that Aunt Poppy is evil and Emilia is to have nothing to do with her. Poppy says she is going to meet the love of her life on the steps of Ravello Cathedral on her 80th birthday and the curse will be broken. After hearing Poppy's claim that the second-daughter curse will be lifted, Emilia decides to go. Her cousin Lucy, another second daughter, accompanies them. Lucy is Emilia's opposite, the kind of girl who is trying way too hard to find love and failing. But, she's willing to go for the sake of having the curse lifted, as well. It will be fun. Poppy is spirited and upbeat, unlike her dour nonna.

Did Aunt Poppy really fall in love over 50 years ago? What happened and why didn't Poppy and her lifelong love marry? Will Poppy's true love show up at the cathedral or is Aunt Poppy hanging onto false hope? Is it really possible to break the curse or did Poppy just want company on her last trip to Italy? Will Emilia and Lucy ever find love or is the curse real? And, will the two women learn that their belief in the curse has kept them from being their true selves?

So many questions.

Highly recommended - Oh, my goodness, I loved this book. I closed it feeling like I'd spent a week or two in Italy and if not for the pandemic, I'd be ready to hop on a plane. The story goes back and forth between Poppy's tale of how she met the love of her life and they were separated to present day New York and Italy and there are lots of surprises. I loved it that I would think "this is going to happen" and then, nope, plot twist. I love a good road trip type of book (not really road trip but journey, I guess) and found that I couldn't wait to sink into The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, each night, while I was reading it. I put it in the "great beach reading material" category because it is such a fun, escapist read, knowing the beach or other vacations may not be an option for any of us, this year. It's great for when you want to travel mentally, whether you can do so physically or not.

My thanks to Berkley Books for the review copy. I absolutely loved this story!


©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, May 05, 2020

More Top Reads in 2019 - Fiction titles I missed, Short Stories, and Nonfiction

As promised, another post about some top reads in 2019. I started writing this post about 3 weeks ago and here we are, over 1/3 of the way into 2020, but maybe it's still interesting?

First, two fiction titles I overlooked because they weren't in the favorites pile — one because I'd posed it and left it on the dining room table, the other left sitting in a neglected pile.


It is seriously difficult to believe I didn't manage to walk these two to the favorites pile but it's mostly because they were read toward the end of the year.

Listen to the Wind (The Orphans of Tolosa, Book 1) by Susanne Dunlap is about two orphans living in the 14th century and how they vow to meet up, when separated, and spend years learning new skills. Neither forgets their vow to meet, but will they ever manage to see each other again? This book was one of those books for which 5 stars didn't feel like enough. I can't say enough good things about it. I'm stunned that it isn't being talked about everywhere. Buy it if you love historical fiction. Buy it if you like adventure. It's amazing.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is her third mystery and, in my opinion, her best. And, I loved the first two. Harper is one hell of a craftsman. She builds up ideas and then crushes them. You're always guessing, all the way to the end.


Short story collections/anthologies

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is a book I bought and read at the first of the year because I heard it was excellent from a trusted source. I don't even remember who recommended it, now, but wow . . . no kidding. I still remember some of the stories over a year later. How often does that happen? Not very. 

Fire and Forget by various authors is an anthology of stories about life at war and after that I bought because fellow blogger and author David Abrams has a story in it and so does Siobhan Fallon, whose collection, You Know When the Men Are Gone was a favorite. And, yes, I do remember some stories from this anthology, as well. Clearly, a great short story is one that sticks to your ribs. 


Nonfiction 

Far Flung by Cassandra Kircher is a book of essays "set in a variety of locations, most of which deal with how nature had an impact on the author's life and her acceptance and understanding of herself and her family" (quoting myself, here).  It's been a year since I read Far Flung (I can't believe it's May, already) but I remember how much I enjoyed reading it.

In Pain by Travis Reider is a memoir about the author's experience with dependence on opioids after a terrible accident, the difference between dependence and addiction, and what we get wrong about pain management in the United States. I wish every medical professional and legislator who writes laws about managing the prescription of opioids would read this book.

The Unspeakable Mind by Shaili Jain, M.D. is about how or why trauma occurs, how people may react, what the treatment options are, and how well they've been shown to work (or not), and what's new in PTSD treatment. I had some issues with the book but it was so informative that it still ended up on my favorites pile.

The Last Light Breaking by Nick Jans is a series of essays by a man who moved to a small village in Alaska and his life with Inupiat Eskimos, his adventures, his interactions, the jobs he's held. I think the most moving of the essays was one in which he described a lengthy journey he was advised not to take, the breathtaking beauty of what he saw when he arrived, and the horror of flying over the area after it was developed (ruined, really). I need to read more by Nick Jans. His writing is spectacular.

The Free Speech Century by Stone and Bollinger - A very informative book of writings about freedom of speech in the United States. Not the easiest thing to read if you have no legal background  but another book that does a great job of describing something very specific: what free speech really means, its limitations, what we're doing right and wrong with free speech and how other countries get it right. People being interviewed when they're annoyed, thinking their free speech is being violated, will really get on your nerves when you've learned exactly how and why they're wrong but it's good to be informed.

The Threat by Andrew G. McCabe - I'm sure a lot of people have turned up their nose at this book thinking it's more political than it is but what it's about is the FBI, how they protect Americans, and various lessons they've learned, told through the eyes of one man who gave up a career as a private lawyer to join the FBI as a career civil servant. He does devote one chapter to being fired by the president but that's all. It's really a fascinating and very reassuring 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, May 04, 2020

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals:


  • The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner - from St. Martin's Press for review/tour
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells and 
  • Artificial Condition by Martha Wells - both purchased


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
  • The Malady of Death by Marguerite Duras
  • Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan

I was in the mood for short reads, this weekend and started with The Malady of Death, which is a mere 60 pages long. I like Duras (although I also find her writing a bit disturbing) and the book was skinny so it appealed to me both for her style and the brevity. I plucked a couple other thin books off the shelf and read Talkative Man, next. Then, I started on the first in the Murderbots series by Martha Wells, All Systems Red. Same reason. I'll get back to normal reading, soon. I have no idea what's possessed me to suddenly roam around plucking short novels off the shelves but I have almost no obligations, this month, so I'm going to take advantage and read what calls to me. 



Currently reading:


  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen 


I started to read the second in the Orphan Monster Spy series, Devil Darling Spy, and realized I didn't recall a scene it referred back to, late last week. So, I opted to set aside the second book and reread the first as a refresher. Plus, Orphan Monster Spy is an excellent read so I'm happy to have an excuse to read it again. Hamlet fell by the wayside. I'll get back to him. No hurry. The Murderbots books were purchased after a friend mentioned them. I think Kiddo will enjoy them, too, so I may go ahead and buy the entire series. He won't enjoy the fact that they're short, as I do, but I know he'll enjoy the storytelling.


Last week's posts:




In other news:

Husband discovered an interesting show on BritBox, this week, and we've been enjoying it immensely. Life on Mars is about a detective who is hit by a car and thrown back to the 1970s. Is he really in the 70s, though, or is he in a coma or going crazy?

It's old enough (2006) that I didn't recognize John Simm without his gray hair, although he looked familiar to me. Dr. Who fans will know Simm as The Master (not the most recent one, but the one before).

We haven't yet watched the latest National Theatre production, Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, but we plan to watch it tonight. I barely managed to fit The Twelfth Night in on the last morning it was available through the National Theatre at Home program, but I'm glad I was able to squeeze it in. It was exceptional, as all of their productions have been.

I think the seasons have all ended on my favorite regular programs, so that's all we watched except for World on Fire, which is excellent although I also find it depressing and painfully vivid.

In pandemic news, it sure looks like most everyone has gone back to work in our neighborhood. My computer sits in front of a window that faces the street, so I get to see everyone walking or biking. For several weeks, the foot and pedal traffic was constant. Now, not so much and I'm seeing more auto traffic. We had a bizarre jump in COVID-19 cases, last week, just 3 days after our "shelter in place" order was lifted and became a "safer at home" order — which just means many businesses opened but not all of them and the governor still recommends staying at home unless it's absolutely necessary to leave. But, then the numbers dropped for the next two days so maybe the heat is helping. Fingers crossed.

For me, the pandemic still means staying at home except for a weekly jaunt to the local farm to pick up our produce box. The stores are open but I've been watching local chatter and seeing a lot of complaints that people are not wearing masks. Husband is the cook so he's been doing the grocery shopping and he goes very early. It's a weird, confining life that feels a lot to me like that feeling you get when your car is in the shop and you can't go anywhere at all (where we live, you have to hop in the car to go anywhere — nothing is within walking distance). It's more of a mental challenge than anything, a feeling of being trapped. And, I do miss meals out with my bestie and the kids. C'est la vie. Someday this will end.

How is pandemic life going for you?


©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, May 01, 2020

Fiona Friday - Just the girls

I love it when they're not bashing each other.


©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, April 30, 2020

Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy


[...] maintaining our lawns in their prestigious, weed-free states has become quite a toxic undertaking (Wargo et al. 2003). All this matters: 40 percent of the chemicals used by the lawn-care industry are banned in other countries because they are carcinogens. Scientists are not guessing about this: Seventy-five studies have documented the connection between lawn pesticides and lymphoma, for example. These same studies show that pets and children are most at risk of contracting cancer, because they spend a lot of time rolling around in the grass. 

~from p. 48 of Advance Reader Copy, Nature's Best Hope

Nature's Best Hope is a book about home ecology. Subtitled, "A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard," it is about how each individual can contribute to a healthy wildlife population (including insects and birds), which in turn keeps humans from dying off.

Author Douglas W. Tallamy starts out by giving a little historical perspective and talking about things that have helped protect portions of our world. Unfortunately, some of those federal initiatives have been damaged during the Trump administration, like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The current administration has also used waivers to get around laws that protect endangered animals. So, there is already a tiny bit about this book that's dated but my fingers are crossed that these protections will eventually be restored.

At any rate, the book isn't about what the government can do but how any individual can make changes to his or her yard (or add plants to a balcony, if that's what's available to you) to help restore the insects and animals that have been dying off at a shocking rate. See also my review of The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, which is mentioned in Nature's Best Hope. Both authors talk about the dramatic loss of life on the planet, why it's happening, and how it will eventually impact us, but Nature's Best Hope particularly focuses on the insect and bird life that can easily brought back with a little help by planting native plants (not exotics from other countries, even if they're commonly available and ubiquitous in your area) and even plants that we consider weeds, like milkweed for butterflies and goldenrod (which the author says is not the sneeze-inducing plant you think it is; that would be ragweed), planting oak, willow, or other trees that are attractive to insects, and keeping the grass portion of your lawn smaller. He even talks about how to deal with a Homeowner's Association (HOA) to convince them that your type of yard plantings are not only acceptable but desirable.

I have two problems with this book but I think it's worth reading, so let me tell you what I didn't like. About halfway into the book, I realized that what I really needed was not a detailed description of why chunks of land don't maintain as much wildlife as large areas that are uninterrupted by roads and cities. I've read that, before. I didn't need to read about how many bees there are in the world and how huge their contribution. I've read a Timber Press book about that specifically. I've read about the dramatic loss of insects and birds, so I don't need a reminder. What I really wanted from this book was a practical guide to choosing native plants for my area. And, in fact, the author said that would just be too much and blew off the concept by listing a website where you can look it up yourself and saying if you can't figure it out you can hire someone. No, that's not what I need and while I found the book educational, I doubt it's what others need for the author's idea to come to fruition. It might be a huge labor, but a book with suggested plantings, how and where to plant them (whether they like wet or dry feet/sunlight or shade, etc.), and suggested arrangements to make them attractive is what I believe people really need. A practical guide, in other words, rather than a text about nature and why you should plant in a particular fashion.

The other problem I have is that the author is a professor and the book reads like it was written by a person who is so accustomed to using the terminology of his field that it didn't occur to him that a wider audience would get lost in the weeds, so to speak (pun intended). In other words, I'm about to repeat something I've been saying for at least a decade: If your book has terminology that isn't readily understandable from the context, write a glossary. So many books could easily be made less frustrating and more readable with the simple addition of a glossary. I know the Internet makes looking things up simpler than it used to be but that's no excuse. Books should be understood without having to constantly look things up.

Having said that, I love reading about and learning about nature and I enjoyed Nature's Best Hope.

Recommended - While I think it would require some additional research to get any real benefit from the ideas in Nature's Best Hope and it's slightly dry, I enjoyed the learning experience. Do I think it's practically applicable with help from local nurseries or landscapers? Possibly. I haven't found the people at the local nurseries all that helpful, even when I'm just looking for a particular plant that I've bought from them in the past, so I have a feeling it would be difficult to get much information from them about how to plant native plants. Would they even consider ordering or planting flowering plants that most people consider weeds? I can't say. I will say that I did not leave this book thinking, "I know exactly what to do." I left it knowing what's the right thing to do, but not quite how to go about it, in other words. I think if Tallamy wrote a companion book with suggested plants for each state, diagrams to show how to plant them together, and color illustrations or photographs of how they look, that would be practical and useful. Nature's Best Hope is otherwise informative reading but probably not enough to compel any but the most determined or moneyed to alter their landscapes, much less start a movement as I believe the author intended.

And, for a laugh: I think this suggestion will go down like a lead brick in a time of pandemic and toilet paper shortages, but it made me chuckle for that reason:


I should note that the author mentions most bees do not sting so attracting them isn't likely to get you stung or killed. It's a good idea. Just funny timing.

I received a copy of Nature's Best Hope for review from Timber Press. Many thanks!

©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, April 29, 2020

Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker


Amelia and her sister are in danger of losing everything. Since their mother passed away, they've been living with their stepfather, Lord Gray. Lord Gray hates them. His estate is entailed to a cousin who has also expressed disinterest in the two young ladies, and Lord Gray has promised not to leave them a penny.

When an invitation arrives, Amelia realizes they may have just received their ticket out of poverty or servitude. Lord Ronald took a fancy to Clara during their season in London. Nobody else has expressed interest or called at their home in Brighton. Now, Lord Ronald has invited the sisters to stay at his estate for a fortnight.

On the way to Lord Ronald's home, Amelia must stop to make an urgent purchase but the item she requires is snatched up by a cheerful but determined man named Peter Wood. When they arrive and begin to settle in at Lord Ronald's estate, Amelia is horrified to find Mr. Wood is among the guests. And his sister, Georgiana, is Clara's competition.

Amelia can't stand Mr. Wood, but she's determined to keep him from aiding Georgiana in her pursuit of Lord Ronald. Can Amelia bear to spend time with a man she detests in order to separate him from his sister and Lord Ronald? What can be done to ensure Clara receives a wedding proposal rather than Georgiana? When Amelia finds herself softening toward Peter, what will happen when Clara says she could not bear to have a connection to Georgiana, regardless of how it occurred?

Highly recommended - A charming and delightful read. I found myself smiling a lot while I was reading Lakeshire Park. I'm not a big fan of the enemies-to-friends romance trope, much as I love Pride and Prejudice, but there was just something special about Lakeshire Park and the slow alteration of feelings between Peter and Amelia. I think the words I'm searching for are "believable" and "well-paced"? Plus, I adored the two main characters, thought the interactions between Peter and Amelia were surprising and different and their dialogue genuinely clever, and loved the slow build to their growing affection. And, I had fun hating on Lord Gray and wondering what would happen with the love triangle on the side. All in all, one of the best Regency romances I've read. I will be looking forward to more by Megan Walker.

My thanks to Shadow Mountain for the review copy!


©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, April 27, 2020

Monday Malarkey




Recent arrivals:


  • What You Wish For by Katherine Center - from St. Martin's Press for review
  • The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag,
  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare,
  • Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and
  • The Mercy Seat by Rilla Askew - all from my friend Sandie (Thank you!!!)
  • The Yale Annotated version of Hamlet - purchased 

Ha! After moaning about getting no books at all, last week, and theorizing that I may have to start becoming creative with the photo at the top of my Monday Malarkey posts, I broke my book-buying ban for Hamlet (I love the Yale annotated Shakespeare plays — I think this is my 4th) and then bought a couple more books that won't arrive for a while (maybe this week, probably next). And, my pre-ordered copy of Alex George's latest, The Paris Hours, will be coming soon. I was not expecting such a big box from Sandie. It was like Christmas!!! So fun. 



Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker
  • Nature's Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy


It's funny, I loved Lakeshire Park but I struggled to get myself to read much, this week, so I took advantage of Dewey's Readathon as an excuse to spend time reading on the weekend and finished it up pretty quickly on Saturday. Then, I moved on to Nature's Best Hope and kept falling asleep. I took 2 or 3 mini naps before deciding to start Hamlet and then realized I was still sleepy and gave up for the day. But, I was just overtired from a rough night and had no trouble finishing up Nature's Best Hope on Sunday. Hamlet is going to take me a while. It gets tiresome looking back and forth between text and footnotes and there are so many that I'll go back and forth about 12 times on one page, then reread the text and any notes that didn't sink in before moving on. Yep, it's going to take a while.


Currently reading:


  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare


I'll add another book or two to the mix, today (probably one fiction, one nonfiction title), but I haven't picked anything out, yet, although I have ideas.


Last week's posts:



I decided not to review Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead till after reading Hamlet because they're related (Rosencrantz, etc., is the reason I purchased Hamlet), which left me nothing to review after Horrorstör. Hopefully, this will be a better reviewing week, now that I've finished a couple books. 



In other news:

We absolutely loved Treasure Island, the latest free production from the National Theatre. The current production available for streaming is The Twelfth Night, which we'll probably watch tonight. Next week's is Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. I have a feeling we'll watch Frankenstein the first evening it's available. I've always wanted to see Benedict Cumberbatch on stage but any time he's been in a play in London the tickets have sold out within hours so this is about as close as we'll probably ever come to seeing him on stage. I can't wait.

The free Andrew Lloyd Webber production of the week was Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. We passed up going to see that in London, even though Ramin Karimloo (an actor we really like) was playing the Phantom, because we heard it was awful. Husband watched it but I declined. He said, "It was not good." I was reading nearby while he was watching Love Never Dies so I occasionally had him unplug his earphones and I'd watch a few minutes, shake my head, and he'd plug them back in. I haven't heard what's up next. I don't think we watched anything else. It was so pleasant outside, most of the week, that we spent a lot of time outdoors in the evening. Once the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes descend, we'll be stuck indoors. Gotta enjoy the nice weather while we can.


©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, April 24, 2020

Fiona Friday - Skeptics



©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, April 21, 2020

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix


This book is so much fun.

Horrorstör takes place in an IKEA-alike store called Orsk (Need help? Just Orsk.) The main character is Amy. Amy transferred to the store from another closer to home to try to improve her life and get away from her mother's trailer park. But, she's having trouble keeping up with her rent and hasn't managed to get ahead at work so she's put in for a transfer.

Meanwhile, strange things are happening at the store during the hours it's closed and each morning damage is being found. When Amy's boss decides that he needs a few people to stay overnight and patrol the store to find the perpetrator of the damage, she balks until he offers her extra pay. He also enlists the help of a second employee that everyone loves. And, then, the three of them discover two other employees have stowed away, so to speak, to do some ghost hunting at Orsk after finding out that it sits on the location of a former prison.

So, there are 5 characters: the failure, the uptight boss who really is insecure, the sweet and innocent spinster, the overenthusiastic ghost hunter, and the guy who just wants to get the girl and find fame and fortune (or the "user", I guess).

The first half of the book, approximately, is mostly set-up and it's a delight. Grady Hendrix has a wonderful, light touch so there's a lot of humor and you get to know the characters well before he ramps up the horror aspect of the book. Then, the suspense and terror gradually build as the ghosts come out, bent on tormenting the employees and breaking their wills.

Highly recommended - I'm not a horror fan and I found this book more gruesome and yucky than scary so it was very tolerable for me. I looked at the ratings of friends at Goodreads and they were mostly 3- and 4-star ratings so that may not be true for normal horror readers. I gave it 5 because I found the story so hard to put down and I loved the touches of humor, loved the way Amy grows in the story, and thought the ending was solid. I just noticed people are talking about a newer book by Grady Hendrix, a couple days ago. You can bet I will be looking into that one, as well.


©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, April 20, 2020

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals:


  • None, nada, zero, zippo, zilch. 


Bummer. But, not unexpected as I'm still on a book-buying ban and I don't think there are any review titles that will be mailed to me till May or June. I'm going to be mostly reading off my shelves in the near future. The yellow rosebud is in one of our pots. I just thought it would look awful not to have a photo at the top of the blog post.

Maybe I'll photograph and post finished books in future Malarkey posts or do something themed like you see on Instagram, each week, when I don't get any book mail.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey
  • Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix 
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard


Horrorstör was (gasp!) an ebook that I purchased on the recommendation of my friend Ryan when it went on sale. I'd already wanted to read it since before it was published (at the time, I was disappointed that Quirk Books didn't ask me if I'd like to review it).  I was already on a book-buying ban when Ryan mentioned the fact that Horrorstör was on sale and thought the fact that I couldn't buy a paper copy without breaking my ban was as good an excuse as any to buy the ebook. I don't ever mention ebooks when I buy them for the same reason I seldom read them: I forget they exist. Weird, but true.


Currently reading:


  • Lakeshire Park by Megan Walker

I'm really enjoying this one, so far. 



Last week's posts:




When I did the four mini reviews that totally caught me up and then I finished The Big Finish and I was caught up, again! Now, I only have two personal reads to review. I love being caught up or close to it. What a nice feeling.


In other news:

We watched the 25th anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall with much of the world on Friday evening. What a fabulous production. We've got a copy of the 25th anniversary of Les Mis on DVD, also at the Royal Albert, and it lacked the sets; people just stood at microphones singing. So, neither of us were expecting the full production including sets. It was perfect! I loved it so much I was hoping to find it on DVD but it appears to only be available in a European format, not the American format that works on our DVD player. We plan to watch the weekly free streaming from the National Theatre, Treasure Island, tomorrow. Storms are rolling in so I doubt we'll get to watch it today. It's Sunday and I'm rushing to get this post written so I can pre-post it. It's suddenly turned pitch dark outside. Looks like I'm going to have to unplug.

And, we watched the usual: NCIS, Chicago Fire, and World on Fire on PBS. I also watched Chicago Med because the storyline with one of the doctors getting held hostage sounded entertaining. I only tune into Chicago Med on rare occasions when the previews pique my interest. I was right; it was a good episode.

I'm pleased that I finally had what felt like a normal reading week for me. Maybe I'm finally adjusting to isolation. I mean . . . I'm kind of a hermit so I'm missing my few normal interactions but it's more the sensation of feeling trapped at home and not being able to just dash out for that one ingredient or paint color or other supply on a whim that is so uncomfortable. And, I miss the gym. But, it's becoming more tolerable over time. I still can't sleep well and all of my dreams have been about magically being bestowed with groceries we've run out of. Pretty funny. Hope you're all doing well and staying healthy!

©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, April 17, 2020

Fiona Friday - Of course they're not spoiled





©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, April 16, 2020

The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey


In The Big Finish, 88-year-old Duffy Sinclair lives in Centennial, an assisted living facility. Centennial is one of only two such homes in his area and the better of them by far. His roommate, Carl, is a man Duffy looks up to. Carl's a good person while Duffy has a history. But, when Carl's secret granddaughter, Josie, shows up and asks to stay at the nursing home with them, Duffy is flabbergasted. There were supposedly no secrets between him and Carl.

And, now Duffy's life has suddenly become much more complicated than making it to the right room for meal time or activities and catching the bus for an outing to Walmart. Now, he has to worry about the fact that a young lady wants to stay with them, breaking the rules. Duffy is determined not to be a rule-breaker because he doesn't want to end up at the other nursing home, a place where they care less about you and people go to die. One resident has already been kicked out of Centennial for a slight infraction and the new owner is remodeling her room, hoping to make more money from a future tenant.

When Duffy finds out Josie has a secret of her own, he offers to help. Duffy faced the same life-long challenge till a little over a decade ago and he knows the struggle. But, having Josie around is causing more trouble than even Duffy imagined. Will Duffy end up at the dreaded other home, Simmons, where people go to die? Will he be able to help Josie? And, will anyone be able to help her find her path?

Recommended - There is so much more to The Big Finish than I expected. Josie shows up with a black eye and no shoes so you know something is off. But, the more Duffy discovers about Josie, the more he becomes determined to help her and, maybe, in the process redeem himself. I don't want to give too much away because I liked slowly discovering what Josie's problem was and what was up with her, so I'm going to leave this review a bit on the vague side but I found The Big Finish immensely entertaining.

Duffy is a wise-cracking old curmudgeon but he has a bigger heart than he wants to admit. The friendships between Duffy and Carl, the residents and Josie, Anderson and Nora (both caregivers) and everyone are all wonderful. And, the ending is stirring and uplifting. A very entertaining, rollicking read about living life while you can. I did think the book started out a bit slowly but it's worth it to put up with the slower bits at the beginning. Eventually, as you get to know the characters and their dilemmas, it becomes more fun and there's even a little excitement at the end and a comedy of errors feel to what happens to Duffy throughout.

Many thanks to Berkley for the review copy!


©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, April 15, 2020

Mini reviews - The Suicide Run by Wm. Styron, The Song of the Tree by C. Bickford-Smith, and two rereads

These are all books from my personal shelves that I don't feel require a lengthy review. Two I've read and reviewed in the past, so I'll just talk about the rereading.

The Suicide Run is my second read by William Styron. The first was so vividly written that I had to look the book up to make sure I was actually reading fiction. It was a book of three short stories and, yes, they were fiction. I don't recall the title, it's been so long.

The same was true of The Suicide Run. There's just something about Styron's writing that feels real and immediate. The stories in The Suicide Run (my favorite of which felt to be novella length, although I can't say if it qualified as such) are about military life or preparing to go back into the military, and they are based on Styron's experiences in wartime but not autobiographical.

Much as in Tim O'Brien's writing, the focus of the stories is on incompetence, mistakes, desire, thoughts of home. The difference, in my opinion, is that while both write in a way that makes you feel present, O'Brien is more of a craftsman. Styron used so many obscure words that I kept thinking, "He had to have sat with a thesaurus on his lap." There just wasn't any reason for a lot of his word choices, other than to sound fancy. So, I liked The Suicide Run for the realistic feel of the writing but it was not a favorite.

The Song of the Tree by Coralie Bickford-Smith is a book I bought on the basis of an Instagram post. It sounded lovely, and it is. It's the story of a bird who loves the tree he lives in and when it comes time to migrate, the bird doesn't want to leave for fear of the tree becoming lonely. But, then, in few words over beautiful page spreads, the bird finds that there are many other creatures hanging out in or near the tree and it will never be lonely.

Satisfied, the bird flies away. The Song of the Tree has been described as a "picture book for grown-ups" and I think that's an apt description. It could be read to a child (or by a child) but it just feels like it's meant for adults in some indefinable way. Still, I would probably pass it on to my granddaughters if this particular copy, which I purchased secondhand by mail, didn't happen to have a rather strong odor. It is one smelly book. I suspect it may have been a library book that had its cover removed and was resold. I'm sensitive to smell and it just feels dirty with that unpleasant scent, so I'll probably just donate my copy of The Song of the Tree when the library reopens. Maybe someone else will be able to tolerate it.

I've read The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy enough times, over the years (I originally read the Turtle Point Press ARC in 2007) that I've lost count but it's been a few years since the last reading. It felt like coming home.

My two favorite stories remain the same. "Where They Hide is a Mystery" and "Little Birds" mean the most to me. Those who have dropped by my blog for many years will know that I met up with Simon Van Booy in 2007 and interviewed him. Later, I went with Carrie of Care's Books and Pie to see him speak in Boston. I've bought almost every book he's published since we met. His writing is a marvel and I appreciated The Secret Lives of People in Love as much on this reading as I have the many readings of the past, possibly more because it was the blankie I needed.

I chose to read The Secret Lives of People in Love when the pandemic isolation started to get to me. I needed a comfort read and it absolutely fit my aching need. I may pull Love Begins in Winter off the shelves and read that, soon. There's sadness and hardship in Simon's stories but always a ray of light, as well.

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins is another reread that I pulled off the shelf, both for comfort and because it's National Poetry Month. Have to squeeze in at least a little poetry in April!

I love Billy Collins' poetry but I have to confess that I felt a little impatient with this book and I don't know why. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for Collins, after all. Or, maybe I needed something new. He apparently has a new book coming out soon, Whale Day. I was disappointed to find that it's not available till September and only in hardback or Kindle. Had it already been available and in paperback, I would have happily broken my current book-buying ban to get a copy. It's probably for the best that it's not.

I should mention that Sailing Alone Around the Room has always been my favorite of the Billy Collins books I own (I think I have 4 of them). It contains selections from a number of his other books, so I guess it's along the lines of a "greatest hits" type of book. I like how straightforward his poetry is. There's no scowling at his lines and wondering what on earth he's getting at. He's also very witty. Simon once asked me if I've ever met Billy Collins and I said no. He said, "He's very serious." I guess you should expect that of a poet. They're probably a little pained by the sharpness of their observations.

At any rate, it might not have been the best time for this particular volume of poetry but I remain a Collins fan and it wasn't a misery to reread. I just sometimes felt like, "I see what you're doing, here." I was too moody for it, maybe, thinking I saw through the poet in some mysterious way (which makes me giggle to think of). I still feel like I need to read more poetry so we'll see what I can come up with from the personal shelves, this month.


©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, April 13, 2020

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals:


  • The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe (from St. Martin's Press for review)

I think I signed up for this book via Shelf Awareness and I'm looking forward to it. Note that the author blurb on the cover is by Jenny Lawson. I tried to read one of her books and thought it was depressing, not funny, although I loved her hilarious blog posts and she has amazing Twitter game. Maybe one of her other books would work for me. The one I disliked had the raccoon on the cover.



Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • The Love Story of Missy Carmichael by Beth Morrey
  • The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy
  • Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

The latter two are rereads, which I pulled off the shelf to read when the isolation finally got to me this week and I needed some comfort reading. I've done pretty well with this pandemic thing, for the most part, but this was the week I cracked. I think if I had the option I'd completely do without ARC reading while we're stuck at home and just read to my mood but I have about 5 or 6 books scheduled for review in the next 2 1/2 months so I'll just shovel in some reads off my shelf when I can. So far, this is starting to be a much better month than March for quantity. Of course, that's partly because the two old favorites I read this weekend are slim. 



Currently reading:


  • The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey

Funny that after finishing a book about a lonely elderly woman finding friends and recalling the love of her life, the next book on my agenda is about . . . elderly men. Ha. It's completely different, though, and I'm enjoying it in a very different way. 



Last week's posts:




In other news: 

So, mentally not my best week but it improved after I spent a day or two with a pile of pillows and some old favorite books (and one day doing fierce cleaning, which is always cheering). TV-wise, we've been avoiding news and only occasionally turn it on for a short time, then turn it off in horror. I am glad Boris Johnson survived. I'm sad that we've topped 20,000 dead in the U.S.

We watched the National Theatre's production of Jane Eyre (free streaming; a fascinating modern take on the classic), a little of Jesus Christ, Superstar (I am officially impressed with John Legend and was happy to see an old favorite, Norm Lewis), and Andrea Bocelli's concert at the Duomo in Milan (breathtaking). In everyday TV, we watched an episode of Chicago Fire. And, when I say "we" I am surprised to be able to say that with honesty. Huzzybuns is not big on my favorite TV shows, apart from NCIS, so I was surprised when he sat through an entire episode of Chicago Fire. Usually, he doesn't last the full hour if he sits down with me at all. I watched the second episode of World on Fire on PBS alone (no interest at all from the spouse; he sat on the porch). I'm finding it painfully realistic. People tell me they have more trouble reading about war than watching it in movies and on TV. I'm the opposite. While reading, I can distance myself enough to tolerate reading about suffering in a way I can't when it's portrayed on screen. But, I think the fact that it's so hard to watch also means it's well done.

Easter was quiet. I hope everyone tolerated Easter or Passover without visitors. I miss having weekly (and now holiday) dinners with Kiddo and daughter-in-law but at least I got to shout at them from the porch to the driveway when they came to pick up a farm box, this week. We do talk on the phone, too, of course.

The best news of all is that we have a lot of very pretty things growing on our deck. We were only able to do one run to our favorite nursery and then pick up a tomato, some lettuce, and herbs in one go from Home Depot before it was time to stay at home, a month ago. Fortunately, that run to the nursery was a productive one and almost everything is growing brilliantly. And, we managed to keep the autumn mums going. Well, here, I'll just show you a little.






©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.