Friday, June 22, 2018

Fiona Friday

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg

It started out well. He was kind, solicitous, emotional, affectionate. He seemed to love her like nobody else ever had. There were things about him that concerned her, like the way he let a friend behave around her, but nothing to indicate he would ever do her harm. She was pregnant and he was happy about it. So, they married.

And, then the abuse began. It began with something that sounds harmless enough. He threw a shoebox at her. A shoebox, empty, doesn't weigh much and can't do much damage, right? But, abuse escalates. The longer they stayed married, the worse the abuse became -- until she had to wear long sleeves to cover the bruises on her arms and couldn't explain the bruising on her face and the cut lip.

Goodbye, Sweet Girl is a memoir that begins with the moment Kelly Sundberg realized she had to get out of her abusive marriage to save herself and her son. It starts with a harrowing scene in which she managed to escape their apartment inside a college dormitory where they worked as the resident parents. Only the people who worked in the dorm were present, but it was the first time she'd thought only of saving herself long enough to give away the fact that she was being abused.

Sundberg returns to the beginning of her story to tell about how they met, the times when his behavior may have been a warning that she missed, how they married after she discovered she was pregnant and he became abusive shortly after their marriage, the abuse slowly escalating, the injuries becoming worse.

Recommended - Goodbye, Sweet Girl is a rough read but an important one because the author does a terrific job of showing how abuse can start out seeming like nothing at all. Throwing a shoebox? It sounds perfectly harmless, right? But, there's a pattern to abuse. It becomes more dangerous, harder to run away, more likely to end in death. That's exactly what happened to the author; it slowly escalated until the dorm incident (which got them thrown out of their apartment). Even as she was in the process of divorce, her father was skeptical and her employer tried to fire her. Why is it that women are punished for being abused? Fortunately, she stood up for herself and managed to keep from being fired while her husband remained employed.

Goodbye, Sweet Girl is very well written, incidentally. It's been a long time since I've read a memoir about domestic abuse but I don't recall the writing itself ever really standing out. Kelly Sundberg is an excellent writer.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

May Reads in Review, 2018


54. Mad Boy by Nick Arvin - Against the backdrop of the War of 1812, young Henry Phipps resolves to fulfill his mother's last wish: burial by the sea, near her family home. A wild adventure, beautifully written, and one of my favorites of 2018, so far.

55. The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan - The follow-up to The Café by the Sea continues the story of residents on a small Scottish Isle. I haven't read the first book and The Endless Beach stands alone fine, but I recommend reading the two in order. Has the feel of a soap opera - I felt very involved in the lives of the characters.

56. Obscura by Joe Hart - A scientist who has lost her husband to a new disease and whose daughter has also acquired it agrees to go to a space station to research the symptoms of astronauts. The trip may be her last hope to save her daughter.  But, when people start dying, she's accused of murder. An action-packed, often violent, near-future sci-fi. I particularly enjoyed the ending.

57. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng - A family's house has burned and the fire chief says it was an arson. There were little fires everywhere, not a single source. The author takes you back to events leading up to the fire: the arrival of a photographer and her daughter who changed family dynamics of their landlord, the legal case over an adoption, and an unexpected pregnancy offer views of motherhood from a number of different angles. An absorbing read.

58. Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages - A middle grade book about a young girl who loves to play baseball and is an excellent pitcher but is rejected by Little League because it's for boys only. Determined to change the minds of those in charge, she researches women in baseball and discovers a rich history. Set in the 1950s. A terrific read and a great learning experience.

59. Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi - An Israeli citizen born and raised in the US describes his Jewish beliefs and why he believes a two-state solution is the best option for resolving the conflict. Lovely writing and fascinating reading but if you don't understand the Israel/Palestine history, I recommend reading up, first.

60. The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold - After he attends a party and then goes to hang out with the son of a scientist, after, Noah finds that almost everything in his life has changed. To figure out what happened, he examines the things that haven't been altered. A bit of a head trip. I liked how this story was resolved but had a little trouble getting through it.

61. The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) by Terri-Lynne DeFino - When a dying writer arrives at a retirement home in a converted mansion, he is inspired to write again by a woman whose face is damaged and she is, in turn, inspired by him. Two other authors join in, helping to write this final novel while the writer's muse slowly begins to develop the courage to show herself to the world, again. Not a favorite but I liked it.

May was a low-quantity reading month, obviously, but I liked or loved everything I read. Favorites were Mad Boy, Little Fires Everywhere, Out of Left Field, and Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, all for vastly different reasons. Out of Left Field was the most educational and Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor was the one book that led me on a new learning pursuit. I've been slumpish, so I haven't gotten anywhere at all on Israel/Palestine -- one of the books I bought to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, which were extensive -- but I know I'll return to it and I've already learned a great deal, so I'm grateful to Letters for the nudge to learn more about the world.

I really enjoyed Obscura and The Endless Beach, also, although I felt like I was missing a little something in not having read the first of Jenny Colgan's books set on the Scottish island of Mure, The Café by the Sea. Actually, The Endless Beach should probably be in the first paragraph because I was completely swept away by the storytelling. I've been a fan of Jenny Colgan since her Chick Lit days in the 90s and she hasn't disappointed me, yet.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik and The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) were both good reads that I liked but Strange Fascinations was all over the place (it was as psychedelic as its cover) and I had trouble keeping the various strands in my head. Eventually, it all came together and I liked it but I didn't love it. Bar Harbor was also a book that I liked but didn't love, primarily because there was a great deal of lust and sex, but very little in the way of real relationship development. It has a story within a story and, as is often the case, I found that I was enjoying one over the other. I don't regret reading either of those books, though. I'm quick to ditch a book I really dislike.

So, overall, it was a good month in spite of apparently leading into my summer slump. If I had to choose one book to recommend, it would be Mad Boy. It is a marvelous and very unusual read, both cleverly plotted and brilliantly written, in my humble opinion. Next in line would be Little Fires Everywhere. Those two alone made May a worthy month.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • As You Wish by Cary Elwes 
  • Blitzkrieg by Len Deighton

Both of these were purchases. I ordered As You Wish after seeing Cary Elwes on an old episode of Psych. He played an art thief and he was every bit the charming rogue with a twinkle in his eye as Westley in The Princess Bride. I've wanted to read the book since it came out and the Psych episode motivated me to purchase it. Blitzkrieg is a book I saw recommended on a WWII site and I love Len Deighton. In the 80s and 90s, I read tons of his spy novels and then stupidly gave them away. I'd love to reread them, someday. I've never read any nonfiction by Deighton so Blitzkrieg should be interesting.

Books finished since last week's Tuesday Twaddle:

  • Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour

Yep, just one book, again. I'm in a summer slump. I just haven't felt like reading. I had a terrible time getting into Nadya Skylung, in fact, even though it's an adventurous tale with a strong young heroine -- one of my favorite types of book. Fortunately, I enjoyed it; I just had trouble getting through it because I wasn't in a reading mood.

Currently reading:

  • As You Wish by Cary Elwes
  • Siracusa by Delia Ephron
  • High Season by Judy Blundell
  • Israel/Palestine by Alan Dowty

I was not really getting into anything at all (although I think I've read about 80 pages of Siracusa, this week's F2F discussion book) then As You Wish showed up. I sat down and opened it on Saturday and 65 pages later I came up for air. It's a fun read. I probably would have finished it last night, had I not found out that a friend died yesterday morning. Back to not feeling like reading.

Last week's posts:

In other news:

This is the friend who died, Enver Antonio Ávila, from Stockholm by way of Peru. He was a talented musician who taught music and math, spoke at least 5 languages (I'm pretty sure he was up to 7), wrote poetry and music, and took beautiful photographs. He was a health nut so it was more than a little surprising when he found out he had Stage 4 stomach cancer. We were internet friends only. He followed me on Twitter and then we became Facebook friends; I don't even remember when this happened, it's been so long ago. He was a voracious reader, particularly of poetry, and loved to travel. Tomas Tranströmer was his favorite poet. I don't know who took the photo; we never met in person so I snagged it from his Facebook page and hope the photographer won't mind. He will be missed.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fiona Friday - Somebody's watching

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

At the beginning of Little Fires Everywhere, the Richardson family watches as their house burns, everyone assuming the younger daughter, Izzy, is responsible. Then the author takes the story back in time to the arrival of Mia Warren, a photographer/artist who has lived a bit of a vagabond life with her daughter, seldom settling anywhere for longer than a matter of months. Mia has promised her daughter Pearl that they're finally going to stay in one place and they've moved into the Richardsons' rental. Is Mia running from something or is she simply moving for the sake of her art? What led Mia and Pearl to slide their key into the Richardsons' mailbox and head out of town just before the fire broke out?

I read Little Fires Everywhere for group discussion and I pretty much loved everything about it. It's one of those books in which the characters are so vividly described that you feel like they could step right out of the pages. And, while I have forgotten what I may have thought the theme to be, at the time I finished I felt like I had an understanding of what the author was trying to say when I closed the book.

Other than that, I had little to say about the book and was mostly silent during my book club's meeting. In fact, I was asked why I was so quiet, for once, and I said I liked the book a lot but I just didn't feel like I had anything to say about it -- other than the fact that I particularly loved reading about Mia's photography. One of our members noted that Little Fires Everwhere is mostly about the women: Mia, Mrs. Richardson, Pearl, and the two Richardson girls are the characters you follow most closely. There's a lot of food for thought.

Maybe I was just having an off night because I recall the dilemma about who should end up with a child, the adopted mother or the biological mother who gave her up during a time of stress, as the most interesting thing about the book. I felt torn because I could see both sides of the legal argument and how each of the mothers might feel. But, we didn't really talk about that for long, other than to acknowledge that the book seemed to be a story of motherhood in which the author described a number of different mothers, their desire to have a child, how they reacted when they became pregnant or didn't, what it's like to be a person who gives up a child or who chooses to abort one. Little Fires Everywhere definitely offers a number of perspectives on motherhood.

Highly recommended - When I finished the book, I looked up reviews by friends at Goodreads and found that at least one of my friends felt the opposite to how I felt -- she hated the photography details and didn't find the characterization went deep enough. Huh. I really thought the characterization was amazing, myself. At any rate, Little Fires Everywhere was a 5-star read for me and I haven't read Celest Ng's first book, so I'm looking forward to eventually reading it.

Note on the cover: I've posted the cover of the book I purchased, which was bought from Book Depository and is similar to American paperback covers.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

However differently we express it, . . . faith shares an essential worldview: that the unseen is ultimately more real than the material, that this world is not a random construct but an expression, however veiled, of a purposeful creation. That we are not primarily bodies but souls, rooted in oneness. For me, the only notion more ludicrous than the existence of a Divine being that created and sustains us is the notion that this miracle of life, of consciousness, is coincidence.  

~ p. 8

I requested an ARC of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi, in part because I was hoping that it would shed some light on the Israel/Palestine situation. The book is a set of letters addressed generically to the people living near him, any Palestinian who may care to read one Israeli's thoughts on their territorial dispute, his beliefs and those of his people, what he proposes the most workable solution may be and why. It is absolutely not a primer in the history of the area and it is naturally a bit biased toward the Jewish point-of-view, although Halevi does his best to stay open-minded. If you've been reading my blog, you'll know that I did some online research and purchased a couple other books when I realized I just didn't know enough to fully understand this book.

My online research was enough to get a basic understanding and the two books: Israel/Palestine by Alan Dowty (which is very deliberately unbiased) and Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martydom by Norman G. Finkelstein (which may possibly be biased toward the Palestinian side but I won't know till I read it) should fill in the gaps. The only thing I lack, at this point, is maps. I really could use a nice atlas -- online maps just don't cut it. Unfortunately, I haven't owned an atlas for quite a while, so I just had to make do with what I could find online when Halevi mentioned particular locations.

I found Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor thoughtful and carefully written. The author's story alone is quite interesting. Halevi is American by birth, but he's deeply religious and knew by the time he was about 13 years old that he would want to return to Israel (where he had recently traveled) permanently, someday. As a Jew, he would be granted citizenship. He eventually made that move and has been an Israeli citizen for over 30 years. From his home on a hill, he can see his Palestinian neighbors. Halevi believes in a two-state solution, but I think it's best if I share a few quotes from the book that I think do a good job of expressing his thoughts and/or personal beliefs.

The notion of a people chosen by God wasn't intended to bestow privilege but responsibility. Jewish history attests that this role carries more burden than glory. The classical way Jews understood their own history was as the story of a people failing to live in the intensity of God's presence. This is the story told by the Hebrew Bible -- a national epic astonishing in its relentless criticism of the people it is supposedly intended to celebrate. 

~ p. 60

Even as we seek a two-state solution, we will likely remain with a two-narrative problem. But that historical divide must not prevent a political compromise. I honor history--up to the point where it no longer inspires but imprisons. Accommodating both our narratives, learning to live with two contradictory stories, is the only way to deny the past a veto over the future. 

~ p. 88

We are trapped, you and I, in a seemingly hopeless cycle. Not a "cycle of violence" -- a lazy formulation that tells us nothing about why our conflict exists, let alone how to end it. Instead, we're trapped in what may be called a "cycle of denial." Your side denies my people's legitimacy, my right to self-determination, and my side prevents your people from achieving national sovereignty. The cycle of denial defines our shared existence, an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, rage, despair. 

That is the cycle we can only break together. 

~ pp. 115-116

"Justice, justice, shall you pursue," commands the Torah. The rabbis ask: Why the repetition of the word "justice"? My answer has been shaped by our conflict: Sometimes the pursuit of justice means fulfilling two claims to justice, even when they clash. 

~ p. 124

With the notable exception of Jordan, which granted Palestinian refugees citizenship, the Arab world has kept Palestinians as refugees, stateless and in camps, politicizing their misery as permanent evidence against Israel. 

Meanwhile, other humanitarian emergencies demand attention. There are, at last count, some sixty million refugees around the world, many of them from new crises in the Middle East. The special status for Palestinian refugees is unsustainable. And given the certain opposition of any Israeli government to right of return to Israel proper, the issue has become one of the main obstacles to your hopes for national sovereignty.

~ pp. 132-133

The biblical prophecy is that, in the end of days, the nations will gather in pilgrimage to the Mount, and God's House will be "a House of Prayer for all people." I don't know how that will happen. Nor is it my religious obligation as a Jew to plan that moment. There is a wise rabbinic parable about how the future Temple will appear: in a cloud of fire, descending from Heaven. The parable is a warning, especially to Jews today who once again conrol Jerusalem: Rebuilding the Temple is not in your hands. Leave the Mount to God. 

~ p. 141

Recommended especially to those who have a working understanding of the Israel/Palestine situation - I went into the reading of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor knowing essentially nothing about Israel/Palestine. I had a lot of questions. I didn't understand the history, why many of my Christian friends blindly side with Israel, or what the potential options for solving this unique land dispute might be. I'd just started reading the book when the new American embassy was opened in Jerusalem and violence broke out, leading to the deaths of a substantial number of Palestinians. Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor reflects the opinions of one person, but it's a book that anyone knowledgeable about the situation can learn from.

If you're as unknowledgeable as I was (things are improving), I highly recommend reading up on the Israel/Palestine situation before diving into Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. What you'll get from the book is a particularly pointed understanding of the Israeli side. The book is not meant to be neutral but he does his best to describe his beliefs with empathy. The whole idea is to share his side and to explain that he believes a solution is feasible. Read it with an open mind and heart. I think Christians can learn a great deal from this book, as well. The final quote, above, particularly resonated with me. I'm really glad I read this book because it has led me to dive into a new learning experience that I'm enjoying.

Note: I'm in the market for an atlas, now. Suggestions are welcome.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.