Friday, April 09, 2021

Fiona Friday

I feel judged. 

©2021 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, April 07, 2021

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig is a fictionalized account of real-life events in which a group of Smith College graduates traveled to France during WWI to help the citizens who had been bombed out of their homes and were starving, lacking medical care, and often living in cellars of damaged buildings or barns. 

Kate Moran, a former scholarship girl from Brooklyn, is working a job she doesn't really like when her wealthy best friend from college, Emmeline Van Alden asks her to join the Smith College Relief Unit after another member dropped out. They will be going to France to help displaced and starving citizens, mostly women and children. Kate agrees for the change of pace but after being stung by the words of Emmie's cousin, many years back, she isn't sure she is interested in resuming her friendship with Emmie. 

Along with 15 other Smith grads, Kate and Emmie travel across the Atlantic Ocean and arrive in Paris to find that the proprietor of the place they planned to stay doesn't have enough rooms and some of their supplies have either gone missing or are stuck with nobody available to fetch them. Only a few of the women can drive and there are many complications but eventually they make it to a bombed-out village and set up to help the citizens get back on their feet. They are not far from the front line, relatively speaking, but they're able to set up their own lodgings and a store and provide for the villagers' medical needs and slowly branch out to aid those in the surrounding area. But, will the war stay far enough away from them or will the Germans break through and endanger the women and everything they've accomplished? 

Recommended - Excellent WWI fiction based on real events. Because the author stuck closely to the real-life events, much of Band of Sisters is about the friendships and backbiting, the difficulties acquiring supplies and dealing with automobile disasters, the dangers that single women face driving around the countryside, the touches of romance, and how the women overcome obstacles big and small. It's slow of pace in the first half to three-quarters but I was actually quite gripped by the everyday challenges the women faced and imagining how I would handle them if I'd been among them, wondering whether I would stick it out or run wailing back to the US in defeat. In the latter part of the book, it becomes fairly nail-biting and I particularly loved that bit. 

I really appreciated the fact (made clear in the author's note) that she fictionalized the characters but chose to use actual events within her work of fiction rather than making things up. As a result of that choice, there's an everyday feel to most of the book but I prefer accuracy of events, even if that means a book is a bit less action-packed. Even before I read the author's note, the Smithies' challenges seemed very realistic to me. Read Band of Sisters when you're in the mood to dip your toes into a unique view of WWI history and don't mind a quieter, slower-paced read (at least till near the end). 

I received a review copy of Band of Sisters from HarperCollins (many thanks!) in exchange for an honest review and have posed my copy on a news periodical from 1919. It's not in great shape and the pages have to be turned carefully or they'll crumble. The photos are amazing, though. I chose the spread above because the Smith women encountered ruins everywhere they went, although the photo above was taken in Belgium. Here's another photo that shows a Red Cross relief worker from Great Britain. The Red Cross is mentioned but as I recall the women worked with either the American or French Red Cross. You should be able to click on both images to enlarge them. 

©2021 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, April 06, 2021

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, and Fiona Wood

In Take Three Girls by Crowley, Howell, and Wood, Ady, Kate, and Clem all attend the same boarding school, St. Hilda's in Melbourne, Australia. But, they each have their own circles of friendship and unique struggles. 

Ady's parents fight constantly. Her father is an alcoholic and drug addict whose addiction has meant that he can no longer find a job. They are struggling to stay afloat. Ady's house is in a pretty posh neighborhood and Kate and Clem are not in her circle of friends. In fact, sometimes Ady's friends go out of their way to snub the others. Ady has a boyfriend who is handsome but she's not even sure she has all that much interest in him. She may even be dating him just because everyone else thinks he's hot. What will happen with Ady's parents? Should she keep dating Rupert or tell him the truth and let him go?

Kate is from the country and her parents are working hard on the farm to pay for her schooling. They expect her to get a scholarship for the remaining two years and eventually go to medical school. But, since Kate saw a celloist perform in a unique way, she has become obsessed with combining her computer and musical skills and her new goal is to win a scholarship to a cello workshop in Iceland. She is cheered on by her platonic friend back home, Ben. But, a boy named Oliver keeps annoying her and trying to tell her how to improve. Meanwhile, she is starting to cut classes and miss tutoring sessions to go to a club where she can hear the music she loves. Should Kate go with her heart and choose the musical path or go for the scholarship to save her parents the hardship?

Clem is a swimmer but she broke her wrist and during her time off from swimming she gained weight. She also has become besotted with Stu, the slightly older (19 to her 16) guy she ran into when she broke her wrist. Now her wrist has healed but she is humiliated by the tightness of her new uniform and has begun skipping swim practice. Clem's fraternal twin sister, Iris, is Kate's roommate. Clem and Iris are not getting along at all since their parents moved to Singapore and Clem chose not to room with Iris. When Stu drops hints that he wants to sleep with Clem, will she go along with it? What if she's decided swimming competitively is no longer for her? What's next? Will she and Iris ever work things out?

All three girls are sophomores who are thrown together for wellness classes after a website called PSST, in which girls are singled out for various attributes in gossipy, embarrassing, misogynistic, and very graphically nasty lists causes the school to come up with wellness class as a plan to help them deal with the gossip mill and its painful effects. And, at some point all become targets of PSST. When Ady, Kate, and Clem are grouped together as a friendship trio by thumb size (seriously) they are expected to spend time together to expand their horizons and break free from their usual social circles. None is interested, at first. But, as they let their guards down and begin hanging out with each other, they find an unexpected bond. 

Recommended - The wellness bits are a little bit odd and I had so much trouble keeping the three girls straight, at first, that I restarted Take Three Girls and took notes, which I never had to refer back to, once written. But, once they did the thumb matching and started hanging out together, it was clear that a connection was going to develop and I absolutely loved seeing their friendship grow. That was one of my favorite things about Take Three Girls. I also loved the realness of it: the things they worried about (boys, school, sex), the temptation to sneak away through the "portal" — a door in the dormitory that wouldn't close all the way — and the way they were learning about their own needs and desires and hopes for the future. It all felt very familiar in a distant way and I think teenage girls will especially relate. There's also a great deal of emphasis on misogyny and how that effects women of all ages, which any female at all can relate to. 

I talked about this book with my youngest son and he noted that the concept of the wellness class sounded like just the kind of lame reaction school administrators would have to a genuine bullying problem. I won't spill how the real problem is solved but they do end up getting something out of the wellness classes. It just isn't the solution to the bullying site. That's taken care of in a way that's very satisfying. 

My thanks to Sterling Teen for the review copy of Take Three Girls!

©2021 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, April 05, 2021

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • The Last Night in London by Karen White - from Berkley Books for review
  • Night Came with Many Stars - from David R. Godine for review

I already have an ARC of The Last Night in London, so I was surprised to get a finished copy. I'm really looking forward to it because the historical part takes place in a building in London that my friend's father lived in for many years and which I stayed in for 3 weeks. As to Night Came with Many Stars . . . anyone who has hung around this blog for any length of time at all will know how thrilled I am to get my hands on any book by Simon Van Booy! I usually read Simon's books 2 or 3 times before reviewing and since it's almost impossible keeping my mitts off of it, that will probably happen, again. It's a June release. Can. Not. Wait. But, there are a couple books ahead of it in line. Argh. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Reader's Digest War Stories
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

I am just going to have to give in to the fact that this is not my year for reading. However, at least there were extenuating circumstances, this past couple of weeks. For one thing, I am trying to fit in reading, writing, painting, and exercise with the usual chores and finding it hard to squeeze everything in. For another, I had one very sleepless night before our second vaccination doses. The vaccination took up most of one day, an appointment took another, and I didn't read much for a couple days because I couldn't see straight from fatigue after my all-nighter. Oh, well. I had a good month in March, overall, so I'm very happy about that. 

As to the books — I loved Before the Coffee Gets Cold and Reader's Digest War Stories but had mixed feelings about Mosquitoland. I'll try to review them ASAP, of course. I'm a bit behind on reviewing, at the moment. 

Currently reading:

  • Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, and Fiona Wood (YA)
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume 1 (1909-1939), ed. by Litz and MacGowan

I plan to review Take Three Girls by tomorrow but it may be later in the day. If so, I'll leave it at the top of the blog for an extra day, since it's a review book. I finally picked up Milkman, after 6-8 weeks of slowly forgetting that it's got a bookmark in it. I'm enjoying it but I still find it a little exhausting so it will probably take me a long time to read it and I'll wedge in other books. I had no problem at all picking up where I left off, though; it's a very memorable read. And, it's National Poetry Month so I started reading The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume 1. It's a thick one! So far, some of his poetry seems a little poncy to me, some goes right over my head with a whoosh, and some I love. It'll be interesting to see if he grows on me. I know some of his more familiar poetry but have not read much of Williams. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

So . . . not a big two weeks for blogging, either. Hopefully, the reading pace and blogging will improve over the next week or two but I still have a lot on my plate. 

In other news:

Hope those who celebrate had a Happy Easter! Ours was nothing exciting because our local family didn't come over and our distant family is far, far away. We mostly spent the day cleaning but watched The Narnia Chronicles: Prince Caspian, each time we felt like taking a break or stopped to eat. Our living room looks so much better. It was getting all cluttery and messy and frustrating. So, while I wish we could occasionally see our grandkids on a holiday, at least we got plenty accomplished. 

We're now just over a week away from being considered "fully vaccinated" (1 week left of the 2-week interval after the second Covid vaccine dose) and really excited about feeling comfortable getting out, soon. We still plan to wear our masks because of the variants but hope enough people will take the vaccine for us to reach herd immunity within the coming months. I am so grateful for the quick development of the vaccine. 

We're still watching The Mallorca Files and I'm watching Chuck but honestly, we've just been too busy to watch TV, otherwise, and we manage about an episode per week of Mallorca. That's partly because we want to stretch out the fun, though. It's not often we find something to watch together. I also watched Atlantic Crossing and World on Fire on PBS, yesterday. I was surprised that they started World on Fire from the beginning but then I realized that's often the case when there's a big gap between seasons of a PBS show; they'll play the previous season and then move on to the next. I decided it was worth a repeat, so I did watch it again. Atlantic Crossing scared the peawaddin' out of me. I don't know how people survived WWII without dropping dead from fear alone. 

Happy reading!

©2021 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, April 03, 2021

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day

I know, Fiona. I loved it, too. 

©2021 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, March 31, 2021

Retrograde by Peter Cawdron

OK, first things first. After I read Retrograde, at some point I read a couple reviews and found that some readers had been under the impression that it would be like The Martian because it's also set on Mars and there's a disaster at its core. Just forget that, right now. Retrograde is an entirely different story and it deserves not to be compared to The Martian merely because of the words "Mars" and "disaster". 

As the story opens, astronaut and micropaleobiologist Liz (an American) is hanging out in the Chinese living pod where the residents are having a great time playing games and drinking a little too heavily. Then, something happens and the woman in charge of the Chinese scientists in the Endeavor mission angrily sends representatives from other countries back to their own pods. There are 5 groupings of individuals from around the world on this semi-autonomous station (they grow their own food, produce their own oxygen, etc., but require occasional delivery of supplies from Earth). The narrator later explains why they're divided in the way they are but they've worked harmoniously together till now, apart from a few individual tensions.

What happened to cause the sudden animosity? Nuclear war on Earth. Communication with Earth has become difficult anyway because they're in retrograde, but what little they're able to discern is that many large cities have been obliterated. It doesn't actually seem to make any sense at all. If one country was the aggressor against another, why so many large targets in so many different countries? What happened? And, what should the astronauts on Mars do?

There's an immediate split into factions based on region but Liz thinks that regardless of what's happening on Earth, they need to stick together and figure out how to survive. It appears that their supply ship has sailed right past them, for one thing. When things start going wrong on the space station and people begin to die, they must rush to figure out what's happening and why and stop further damage. 

Highly recommended for sci-fi fans who don't mind a slow start -  The first half of Retrograde is more about getting to know the people and their relationships, understanding how the station works and what it looks like, and the initial question: Should we band together to deal with this challenge or split into factions? 

What happens in the latter half, when you start to understand what's happening on the station itself (not just Earth) is a plot that I found wildly implausible, although some real-life scientists are concerned about the possibility. However, I didn't care about whether or not it was implausible or felt that way (I mean . . . it takes place at a space station on Mars, which is still pretty implausible in and of itself). I was in it for this one unique story experience and in the latter half it becomes more like a thriller and a race against time to stay safe and eliminate the danger. I really loved that latter half. And, to be honest, while I had a lot of questions and kept thinking, "Are they sure there was a nuclear war or is this a test to see how they would react to such a disaster?" all my questions were eventually answered so I found the story very satisfying. 

I think I got the recommendation for Retrograde from Instagram, but I'm not 100% certain. At any rate, I enjoyed it immensely and will be looking to see what else Peter Cawdron has written. 

©2021 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, March 29, 2021

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa is the story of a cook named Sentaro, an older women named Tokue, and a teenage school girl named Wakana. Sentaro works in a confectionary shop selling dorayaki, a Japanese pancake filled with red bean paste. Sentaro spent a couple years in jail and was offered the job by a man who is now deceased, who paid off Sentaro's debt. Sentaro has been slowly paying him back. The new owner is the previous owner's wife. 

Sentaro has been using pre-made bean paste in the dorayaki he sells when elderly Tokue comes in asking him for a job. Tokue has strangely twisted hands and he's not even sure if she could do a job if he hired her, although he could use the help. But, then she brings him some of her bean paste to taste and he's sold. If she will make the bean paste, sales will go up and he'll be able to pay off his debt to the new owner much faster. 

Tokue is a hard worker and she makes friends with the young schoolgirls who come into the shop very easily. But, then something happens to cause people to stop coming to the store. If he doesn't turn things around, the owner is going to either sell the store or change it to something else entirely. 

Convinced that there is something magical about Tokue's ability to make excellent bean paste, Sentaro has an idea. He will go talk to Tokue at her home. Wakana goes along and while there, they learn the sad history of the people who were forced out of their family homes, never to return to their families. Tokue was one of them. Can Tokue's wisdom help Sentaro? 

Highly recommended - I've got to watch the movie, which appears to be called "Sweet Bean" without the word "paste". I just peeked online, a bit ago. Sweet Bean Paste is a sweet story with a wonderful theme: your worth is not about what you do for a living. Just being alive means you have value. So lovely. 

©2021 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.