Friday, February 15, 2019

Fiona Friday

Both kitties helped me KonMari the sock drawers, last weekend. Here's Isabel doing her part:

©2019 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, February 14, 2019

January Reads in Review, 2019

January Reads (click on title to read full review):

1. Ten Kisses to Scandal by Vivienne Lorret - When the youngest in a family of matchmakers tries to do some surreptitious matchmaking of her own, she ends up making a deal with an infamous rake. He will teach her lessons about natural attraction but for each lesson she must give him one kiss. What will happen as the kisses become more passionate?

2. Friday Black (short stories) by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah - A fabulous collection of short stories with focus on racism, consumerism, and poverty.

3. Tomorrow is Waiting by Kiley Frank and Aaron Meshon - A children's book about the many things to look forward to in life.

4. Vivian Maier: The Color Work by Colin Westerbeck, Vivian Maier (contributor) - A coffee-table sized monograph of Vivian Maier's color photographs, with excellent text explaining their value.

5. Splinterlands by John Feffer - In a dystopian future where climate change and the splintering of nations has led to a violent, shattered world, a man goes in search of his family as a virtual avatar.

6. Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win by Clara Zetkin, ed. by M. Taber and J. Riddell - A guide to how to fight fascism, written in 1923 and taken up by the Communist party but then abandoned. The author's predictions of what would happen if people of varying beliefs didn't band together and create force in numbers unfortunately came to be.

7. Soon: What Science, Philosophy, Religion, and History Teach Us about the Surprising Power of Procrastination by Andrew Santella - A look into the history of procrastination and a theory about how sometimes procrastination may not be all that bad.

8. 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do by Amy Morin - A self-help book in which the author analyzes what mentally strong women don't do and helps you figure out how to make the mentally strong choice.

9. The Gown by Jennifer Robson - Two embroiderers work on Princess Elizabeth's bridal gown in post-WWII London while in a present-day storyline, the granddaughter of one of the embroiderers is left a box with embroidered flowers and a mystery.

10. Time is the Longest Distance by Janet Clare - When a middle-aged woman is told her deceased father was not her biological father, she travels to Australia to meet the man her mother had an affair with and get to know her other family. She ends up traveling across a dangerous desert track with them.

11. Freefall by Jessica Barry - After a plane crash, a wounded survivor grabs what she can from the wreckage and runs for her life. Who is pursuing her and why? Her mother doesn't believe she's dead and tries to find out what's going on. Will the crash survivor get to her mother in time to protect her from what she uncovers?

12. Howard's End by E. M. Forster - A classic tale of two sisters who meet a couple while traveling and accidentally steal an umbrella. The two accidents of fate will steer the coming years of their lives and everything that happens revolves around Howard's End, a house in the country.

13. Kivalina: A Climate Change Story by Christine Shearer - The true story of a village in Alaska that is quickly eroding and being swamped by the sea, its inhabitants unable to find the funds to leave, along with a history of corporate deceipt and how it wins out over science to the detriment of our safety and health.

14. Thunder Pug by Kim Norman and Keika Yamaguchi - A children's picture book about a pug and a pig who discover that everything's better when done with a friend.

15. A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon - A children's biography of the African American poet that tells how she began writing poetry young and grew to be a prize-winning poet thanks to talent, dedication, and very supportive parents.

16. Mirabel's Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler and Olivia Chin Mueller - Mirabel is nervous about Valentine's Day but she creates some beautiful valentines to give away and then drops them. In the process, she discovers how easy it is to make someone's day and finds her courage. Another children's picture book.

17. Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War by Ed. by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher - An anthology of stories about what it's like to be a soldier or a soldier's wife during a war or at home after deployment.

18. Old Baggage by Lissa Evans - The prequel to Crooked Heart tells the story of Mattie, a headstrong former suffragette who finds a new mission in educating young ladies and teaching them life skills.

19. Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau, translated by Mikalai Khilo - The story of a Belarusian soldier and a young Italian political prisoner who escape a Nazi concentration camp in Austria, climb into the mountains, and fall in love.

Oh, my gosh, what a month! I'm so thrilled to finally have finished all the reviews. In addition to being a great month for quantity, it was a fantastic month for quality. There was not a single book that I really disliked and I don't recall abandoning any books, either.

Absolute favorites in January were Friday Black, Tomorrow is Waiting, Vivian Maier: The Color Work, Fighting Fascism, The Gown, Kivalina, Mirabel's Missing Valentines, Fire and Forget, Old Baggage, and Alpine Ballad. That's a lot of favorites.

I also enjoyed 10 Kisses to Scandal, and . . . oh, shoot, everything else. If I had to pick on anything at all in the books that weren't my favorites, it would all be minor. Splinterlands was a little dry but worth hanging in there for the ending. Soon is entertaining but just that (not really helpful). Time is the Longest Distance has a lot of unlikable characters but fantastic use of the senses. The pages flew in Freefall but it was kind of odd how a festering wound suddenly stopped being a problem . . . you see what I mean. Nothing was awful or ruined any book for me. It was just a terrific month.

©2019 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, February 13, 2019

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

She could hear the jangle of the fair in the distance; the music was still playing, dangerously sentimental, and she took a deep breath and began to sing 'The Marseillaise', matching her footsteps to the rhythm of the lines. A spooning couple turned to stare; she nodded at them, pleasantly. People always stared. If one didn't creep around, if one said what one thought, if one shouted for joy or roared with anger, if one tried to get things done, then seemingly there was no choice but to be noticeable. She couldn't remember a time when her path hadn't been lined with startled faces; they were her reassurance that progress was being made. 

~p. 21

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans, the prequel to Crooked Heart (now one of my all-time favorite WWII novels) tells the story of Mattie. When Mattie meets up with one of her suffragette friends in 1928 and finds out she's running a camp for young fascists, Mattie decides to start a group for teenage girls to educate them and teach them important life skills. But, one of the girls is unreachable and Mattie's determination to light a spark in her life may end up burning the whole project down.

I loved Mattie in Crooked Heart and was sad when it turned out she was only shown briefly. She is a marvelous, witty, smart, headstrong character. So, I was naturally excited when I heard that she was getting a book of her own. Then, I bought the book and didn't get to it in 2018. Silly me.

Old Baggage was every bit as wonderful as I'd hoped. I'd anticipated meeting Mattie during her suffragette years but she is obviously well past that in 1928. In addition to her new cause to educate and enlighten young ladies, Mattie does slide shows and lectures. At least once, that makes for a very entertaining scene. Mattie is single and shares a house with a friend who came temporarily and then stayed on when they realized how comfortably they lived together as housemates. Her housemate is called "The Flea" (a shortening of her name, which I think is Florie Lee, but don't quote me on that) and her house is "The Mousehole", which also has significance.

The ending of Old Baggage goes right up to Mattie's introduction to Noel of Crooked Heart, which is a very satisfying way for Evans to have ended the book. Read one, move on to the other. Ahhh. Remind me never to put off reading another Lissa Evans book, please.

Highly recommended - Brilliant writing and an utterly perfect prequel. Lissa Evans blows me away. Mattie is a wonderful character. I'd still like to read a story set during her days in the Women's Suffrage Movement, but there's certainly plenty of storytelling about that time through her lectures and dialogue. My book group loved Crooked Heart so I'll drag my copy of Old Baggage along to book group to suggest it for future discussion.

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau

Alpine Ballad by Vasil Bykau is a WWII novel like none I've ever read, before, a story of escape and survival. Near the end of WWII, an Italian girl and a Belarusian soldier escape from a Nazi concentration camp in Austria and run into the surrounding mountains with Germans in pursuit. Both a survival story and a romance, the short novel takes place over a 3-day period.

Ivan has lost his shoes and Giulia is wearing clogs. While his feet become unsurprisingly battered, Giulia's clogs slow her down. Ivan considers abandoning her. His new companion is bizarrely, even dangerously cheerful and he doesn't want her to hold him back or give them away. But, he slowly becomes attached to her as they try to find their way to safety and learn to communicate in a hodge-podge of languages cobbled together. Eventually, they fall in love. But, the Nazis are closing in.

Through flashbacks, we get to know how Ivan has been imprisoned by the Nazis several times and came to be captured, each time. Through dialogue, we learn Giulia's story. And, in a letter entitled "In lieu of an Epilogue," the reader finds out what happened after the war, a finale that will warm you down to your toes.

Highly recommended - Heartbreaking and achingly beautiful, Alpine Ballad is so gripping that I occasionally realized I was holding my breath. It's also an excellent translation. I didn't have any trouble following the story, as I sometimes do with translations, and there are footnotes defining the occasional mixture of non-translated words that are used to show how Ivan and Giulia communicate using a blend of languages. I absolutely loved this book and am going to seek out more of Bykau's writing.

©2019 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.

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, ed. by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War is an anthology of short stories about life at war and after, mostly set in Iraq and Afghanistan or back in the U.S., written by veterans and at least one military wife.

I didn't take notes on the stories in this one, unfortunately, so I'll just flip through the book and tell you a little about a few I remember enjoying.

"Tips for a Smooth Transition" by Siobhan Fallon - Excerpts from a guide on how to deal with a returning soldier are inserted within the story of Evie, whose husband is returning from Afghanistan. Thoughtful and sometimes chilling, "Tips for a Smooth Transition" sets you firmly in the shoes of a military wife whose spouse may have returned a different person. When he starts tossing and turning in his sleep, she jumps up and puts her hand on the doorknob in case he might have trouble distinguishing a nightmare from reality and become violent.

"Play the Game" by Colby Buzzell - An infantry soldier decides not to "re-up" but then he's at loose ends. He has no idea what kind of job to get and finds himself a room in a cheap hotel. He can't sleep and might be having hallucinations. When his car goes missing and he files a report with the police, he's convinced it was stolen. But, then he happens across his car and a memory returns to him. A story that makes you understand how isolating it can be for someone to leave the military and how difficult to figure out that next step in life. At one point, the protagonist gets a phone call and you're also left wondering if he's got some sort of medical issue that's the underlying reason he's self-medicating with alcohol.

"When Engaging Targets, Remember" by Gavin Ford Kovite - An infantryman in charge of a machine gun to protect a convoy traveling from Baghdad airport to a Forward Operating Base goes over the rules of engagement. When a car begins to rapidly approach the convoy, he must follow the rules to shout a verbal warning, display his weapon, shoot a warning shot, then a disabling shot, and finally shoot to eliminate the target, if necessary. But, how do you decide whether or not the vehicle is a genuine threat? What if the people in the car simply need to get by? This is the decision the protagonist is faced with.

"Roll Call" by David Abrams - After the memorial service for one of their friends, a group of soldiers stands around on the Forward Operating Base, remembering the many people they know who have fallen. The sheer quantity of people listed and the horrible ways some of them died (they don't go into detail about every death) will make your toes curl.

Two of the authors are people I've read before (links to reviews of their books):

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
Brave Deeds by David Abrams

Interestingly, both of those books happen to be books that I've thought about a lot, since reading them. I passed on my copy of You Know When the Men Are Gone and then almost immediately regretted it. I ended up getting an electronic copy, but I may just eventually buy a new copy of the book since I'm terrible about reading e-books. Brave Deeds has stuck with me in the same way. I can remember some of the scenes that moved me the most and the incredibly moving ending of Brave Deeds. Both had a powerful impact on me.

Highly recommended - A difficult read that gives the reader a variety of perspectives of military service and its challenges, especially the transition from war zone to civilian life. I had particular favorites but Fire and Forget is an unusual collection in that I didn't actively dislike any of the stories. A couple of them are actually humorous, which gives it a nice balance because most hit you pretty hard with a good dose of painful reality. As I flipped through Fire and Forget, just now, I found myself getting sucked into every single story and wanting to read it all over again. A solid collection of stories that I will definitely save for rereading.

©2019 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, February 11, 2019

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals (left to right):

  • A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum - from Hatchette for review via Shelf Awareness
  • My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan and 
  • The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal - both from HarperCollins for review
  • The Black Panthers Speak, ed. by Philip S. Foner,
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela V. Davis, and
  • The Speech by Gary Younge, all purchased from Haymarket Books for Black History Month
  • Devil's Daughter by Lisa Kleypas - from Avon Books for review

What a fun stack. I remembered, after I ordered the three Haymarket Books, that I have Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, but it's about the size of a brick so I could not possibly have read it in a single month. I think I'll put it on my challenge list for 2020. Yes, I'm already coming up with plans for next year's challenges. I've only got one remaining title from my first Haymarket Books order (a Holocaust diary) and all three I've read were terrific so I'm really looking forward to this batch.

As to the rest, The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters is by the author who wrote Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, which I loved, so I'm excited about that. My Coney Island Baby is by the friend of a friend. I have not met him, but my friend has gushed about Billy O'Callaghan, so I was excited to see that one of his books had come up for review. And, A Bend in the Stars takes place during the run-up to the first World War. Until a few years ago, I really had not read much at all about WWI but I've increasingly become intrigued by stories set during WWI. I briefly felt like I had an understanding of how that war began, after one of the books I read, but I guess I'll have to reread it because I really can't remember a thing about the series of events that led to war (besides the assassination).

Devil's Daughter was unsolicited but I love reading a romance, now and then, to shake up the reading so I'm looking forward to it. Avon has mostly gone to electronic review copies and I'm a failure at reading e-books, so I can't request them all that often and enjoy it when one shows up unexpectedly.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Hedy Lamarr's Double Life by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu
  • Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley
  • The Girls at 7 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Of those, the Hedy Lamarr bio (a children's book) is my favorite because I love bios of women in STEM but The Girls at 7 Swann Street is also excellent. Late in the Day was disappointing. I'll tell you why when I review it.

Currently reading:

  • The Free Speech Century by Stone and Bollinger
  • The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

I said I wouldn't mention The Free Speech Century again till I finished it, but since I'm only reading two books at the moment . . . well, whatever. I'm still reading it, obviously. I tried to add a third book but it didn't stick, so I may try another addition, tonight. I want to get started on a book for Black History Month, so I will try to devote more time to finishing The Free Speech Century, as well.

The Feed is an apocalyptic novel about a near future in which people have a chip implanted in their brains that allows them to access something akin to the Internet without any kind of keyboard or screen. Then, something happens -- no idea what, exactly, as of p. 53 -- that thrusts the world back back into a dark age. No power, no infrastructure or government, animals going wild, people trying to figure out how to grow food to survive. Those who have the chip in their brains are at a disadvantage because they didn't learn how to think the way the older people did and can zone out unexpectedly. I'd like this book better if the author would drop a hint or two about what caused the Feed to go down and the world to shatter. I don't like not knowing anything at all about the reason. I suppose that will be revealed in time, but I'm feeling impatient. Maybe I'll just try to read faster.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Not a bad reviewing week, although I went sput . . . sput . . . sput around Thursday. Just couldn't get myself to sit at the computer. So, what normally would have been my Friday post was moved to Saturday. I'm getting close to finishing up January reviews! Woot!

In other news:

I feel bad admitting this but I'm getting a little bored with Victoria. I won't stop watching it, though. Even though it's starting to feel like the same mini plots are regurgitated (and the death of a character I like broke my heart, last week), I can't bear the thought of missing it. I do need to figure out what the heck Feodora is up to. She's clearly shifty but what's her purpose? Obviously, the broad-shouldered footman is the new downstairs love story hero, but I just don't get Feo.

I know there was something else bookish that I wanted to mention but . . . no idea. If I remember it later, I'll come back and update. Happy Monday!

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Mirabel's Missing Valentines by Janet Lawler and Olivia Chin Mueller and a Fiona Friday pic

Mirabel was very shy,
She'd always been that way. 
She trembled at the thought of 
giving valentines away. 

Mirabel is nervous about exchanging valentines with her classmates, but in spite of her nerves she puts her heart and soul into creating beautiful cards with a heart on each one. The next day, she goes to school. As she's walking, she is totally unaware that her bag is open and the valentines are dropping out of her bag, one by one.

As each valentine falls, an adult working or walking nearby finds them and each person feels uplifted by the sentiment. But, then Mirabel realizes her bag has gotten lighter and when she discovers that the valentines she worked on so hard are gone, she lets out a squeal.

Hearing Mirabel's distress, the people who've found her cards realize that they weren't dropped deliberately for them and they return the cards to Mirabel. She's happy to find that -- even though they didn't get to keep them -- her cards have brightened up the day for a number of people. And, she's made a few friends in the process.

The gratitude of her new friends gives Mirabel courage and she is no longer nervous about the valentine exchange. At the end of the day, she heads home but doesn't realize that the adults who picked up her cards are quietly each slipping a card into her bag. When she gets home, she has a treasure trove of cards.

Highly recommended - Mirabel's Missing Valentines is a sweet, uplifting book about how little things like a pretty card can make a person's day brighter. It's also about summoning the courage and creativity to do something, in spite of nerves, and how it can turn out just fine in the end. One of three books sent to me together by Sterling Children's Books, Mirabel's Missing Valentines was my favorite of the bunch because it's lighthearted and sweet. It's a seasonal book but unlike some that I've reviewed over the years, I don't feel like this one needs to be reserved for the season. It isn't just about  one particular day; it's about friendship and brightening someone else's day, gathering up the strength to do something you're afraid of and going for it -- both themes that work year-round.

My thanks to Sterling Children's Books for the copy of Mirabel's Missing Valentines!

And, a belated Fiona Friday pic because I just couldn't get myself to sit down at the computer, yesterday. This is Isabel looking up at me as I walked in the front door. Every time I go outside, the cats come running to see if I've brought them any grass to munch on. Unfortunately, it's not growing (although the weeds are doing terrific) so I have to hold up my hands to show them there's no grass in them every time I walk in the door. Hopefully, they'll be satisfied soon.

©2019 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, February 07, 2019

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon

Gwen's South Side view is an urban suite. 
Pointed church steeples pierce the clouds. 
Poolroom chaps skip school and smoke. 
Four and five families live in one house. 

Men walk and run. 
Women sing and shout. 
63rd Street is a brown face muse. 
Gwen types her poems in a crowded corner.

~ from A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks by Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon is a children's biography of African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Written in a poetic style, it tells about Brooks' childhood and her early writings, how her parents supported her unconditionally, and how she wrote so beautifully even at a very young age that she was accused of plagiarism by an elementary school teacher. To prove her daughter wasn't a plagiarist, Brooks' mother had her write a poem on the spot to show her natural ability. A smattering of her poems, from juvenilia to a poem written as an adult, are included.

I like this description on the book flap:

Alice Faye Duncan has created her own song to celebrate Gwendolyn's life and work, illuminating the hope and promise of the blank page, the tireless struggle of revision, and the sweet reward of success. 

That success included, among other things, a Pulitzer Prize.

Highly recommended - A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a wonderful story about an inspiring woman. The two things that really jump out at you are the fact that she was determined (a natural talent, as well) and clearly her success was at least partly due to her parents' support. You really get a feel for the dedication required to be a successful poet. Because Gwendolyn was African American, A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks would make an excellent selection for Black History Month. The age range is 5 and up. Like a lot of Sterling Children's Books for the very young, there is a page that goes into further detail for a slightly older crowd, so it can grow with a child. A timeline of Brooks' life is included.

There is a limited color scheme to the illustrations -- not my favorite, since I like a children's book to fairly shout at me in rainbow colors -- but it just seems to fit, somehow, so I didn't deduct even a fraction of a point at Goodreads for that. An unusual book, stylistically, that really works for the subject matter, as well.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children's Books for review. My copy will be passed on to a local teacher, since I think it will be a great addition to any elementary school library.

©2019 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.