Wednesday, February 21, 2018

January Reads in Review

January Reads (links to reviews may lead to combined review posts):

1. Saving Tarboo Creek by Scott Freeman and Susan Leopold Freeman (illustrated) - A wonderful memoir about a family who purchased an abused plot of land and then set out to restore both the land and the creek that ran through it, making it healthy and supporting wildlife that had disappeared (including salmon).

2. Forty Autumns by Nina Willner - The story of a family divided by the Iron Curtain. One child of this large family escaped to the West. The rest remained in East Germany. Nina Willner is the child of the one who escaped and eventually ended up in America. A terrific family memoir with some tense scenes that took place when the author was a U.S. Army Intelligence officer working in Berlin during the Cold War.

3. The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam - Just as she's preparing to leave Harvard to dig up the bones of a walking whale, Zubaida meets Elijah and they spend her final three days in Cambridge together. Told in past tense, the story is about Zubaida's tragic choice not to follow her heart and her search for her birth mother.

4. Braving the Wilderness by BrenĂ© Brown - I had a little trouble understanding what this book (nonfiction) was about, but I think it was about being true to yourself and the importance of reaching out to others. Don't quote me on that, though.

5. The Dry by Jane Harper - Aaron Falk returns to his tiny hometown in Australia for the funeral of his friend's family. Everyone assumes Jake killed his family and himself (except for his infant daughter) because of the drought that's causing so many local landowners to lose their livelihoods. But, Jake's parents think he was murdered. The first in the Aaron Falk mystery series.

6. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (e-book) - A very short book of poetry that talks about love, abuse, and other subjects. Trigger warning for those who've been assaulted. Illustrated by the author.

7. If This Isn't Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut - A collection of a half dozen speeches by Vonnegut, mostly graduation speeches.

8. A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole - Celeste is a basket-weaving mouse who is looking for a home. From her little hole in the wall, she moves to the bedroom of an the nature artist Audubon's apprentice, then to a dollhouse in the attic of the same home.

9. Another Quest for Celeste by Henry Cole - After she goes outside to forage for food, Celeste falls asleep in the wrong place and ends up on a cart and then a steamboat. When the steamboat sinks, she makes it to land and lives in the forest, for a time, then becomes friends with a young Abe Lincoln.

10. Bagel in Love by Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik - Bagel wants to join in on a dance competition but he can't find a partner until he meets the lovely Cupcake.

11. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - Charlie is profoundly retarded but hardworking and determined. When he's chosen for an experimental surgery, he goes from having a low IQ to way above average intelligence. But, the experiment is doomed to fail. Written as a series of journal entries that show Charlie's progression.

12. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen - Richard has been married, before. Now, his former wife is shattered and only wants to warn his future bride of the dangers in store for her. Will she be able to warn her in time?

13. The Radium Girls by Kate Moore - The true account of the women who painted watch dials, airplane controls, and other items with luminous paint made from toxic radium and how the small industry fought to keep the reason for the painters' deadly health issues secret.

14. Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night by Dee Leone and Bali Engel - A gentle nighttime poem to relax little ones, filled with nature references.

15. A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert - The story of a family who goes to buy a new couch. The couch flies off the roof of their car and is found by a llama, who makes it his own. But, the family needs the new couch, so they replace it with their old one and everyone is happy.

16. Artemis by Andy Weir - Jazz is a smuggler living in the moon colony Artemis. When she's offered a huge sum of money to sabotage some machinery, she agrees. But, she's in for more than she bargained for and the entire moon colony may end up paying.

17. Force of Nature by Jane Harper - The second in the Aaron Falk series, this time the story of a woman who disappears while on a company outing with four other women. Will she be found dead or alive? Was her help investigating her employer's dangerous connections responsible for her disappearance or did she simply become lost?

OK, deep breath. This was a fantastic month for quantity, although there were a few books I didn't like or even quite "get".

Absolute favorites were Saving Tarboo Creek, Forty Autumns, The Dry, Force of Nature, Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night, A Couch for Llama, and Flowers for Algernon. All were terrific reads.

I liked Artemis, the Celeste books (especially Another Quest for Celeste), and The Radium Girls, although the latter was tough to read because it's about the willingness of people to let other people die for the sake of the corporate bottom line and the Celeste books contained a surprising number of violent scenes. I liked the writing in The Bones of Grace but found the story lacking. And, while I enjoyed Artemis, it is the typical disappointing sophomore effort and I briefly considered abandoning it. I'm glad I stuck it out for the exciting scenes in the end.

I was often lost while reading Braving the Wildnerness, although it had its moments. Similarly, If This Isn't Nice, What Is? had its moments of wisdom but was repetitive enough that it's not worth keeping. In the future I'll stick with Vonnegut's fiction. Milk and Honey and Bagel in Love were my least favorites but I loved the illustrations in Bagel in Love and simply didn't love the storyline, while I thought Milk and Honey was pretty much the worst thing I've read in ages (and I only finished it because it was short).

On to February!

©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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday Twaddle

Recent arrivals:

Nothing arrived via the mail, but we went to Oklahoma for a long weekend (hence the Tuesday Twaddle -- we were in transit, yesterday) and I did some swapping at Gardner's Books in Tulsa. I opted to stay in the classics section and look for Virago Classics, in particular, and this is what I ended getting with the credit (and about $7.50 -- they charge a minimum on top of credit, just to ensure that they continue making money, according to the clerk).

  • The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
  • Seducers in Ecuador and The Heir by Vita Sackville-West
  • Plagued by the Nightingale by Kay Boyle
  • The Happy Foreigner by Enid Bagnold
  • Cindie by Jean Devanny
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois

The final choice was for Black History Month but I probably won't get to it, this year. After a fabulous reading month in January, I've nearly skidded to a halt. Hopefully, I'll at least get in one book for Black History Month, though. Fingers crossed.

Books finished since last week's Malarkey:

  • Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

I also DNF'd Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente and will write a DNF post about that book, in the near future.

Currently reading:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Servantes Saavedra
  • The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees

Book group is this week, so I need to focus on finishing up The Statue and the Fury. I'm a little behind on my Don Quixote reading and everyone else is, as well, so we reevaluated our goals and I added a catch-up week to the reading schedule. Still enjoying it immensely. And, since I've just removed one book from my current reads, I'll start at least one more (probably two), in the next couple of days.

Last week's posts:

Not a big week for reading or posting, but I'm happy to say that I managed to finish reviewing everything I read in January, finally. And, since I haven't read that much in February, I'm not too far behind. Yippee!

In other news:

Since I managed to acquire a few books, this week, I didn't have to put postcards at the top of my blog instead of a book stack. But the two I recently received from Kelly and Carrie are so cool that you get to see them, anyway.

Note: I just updated this post because I completely forgot to add my links to last week's posts, the first time. Long weekend.

©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, February 16, 2018

Fiona Friday

This was one of those sweet moments that devolved into a spat with Fiona nipping Isabel and Isabel slapping Fi on the nose. Oh, well. At least they get along well most of the time.

©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, February 15, 2018

Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night by Dee Leone and Bali Engel

Moths with powdery wings so soft
gently stir the air aloft.
Their flitter-flutter lullabies
barely whisper, "Close your eyes."

So begins Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night, a gently rhyming book about the sounds of nature at night.

Willow branches bend with ease,
slowly dancing in the breeze.
Back and forth their long arms sweep, 
shushing, shushing all to sleep. 

The title occasionally appears in the verses but I wanted to show you, in particular, the softness of the words in this book because they are truly special. Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night is the perfect, calming bedtime read. You can read it in a hushed voice and it's incredibly soothing. I can easily visualize the sound of a parent's voice calming a fussy child as the book is read. It really is a lovely, relaxing rhyme.

Highly recommended - Gentle nighttime images and soothing rhymes make Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night a book that will undoubtedly rock a few fussy little ones to sleep. I read it to my cats, of course, since my grandchild is over 1,000 miles away. Izzy and Fi have never loved being read to but they blinked happily, a good sign that the book is relaxing even to fussy furballs. Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night is another new favorite. I closed it wishing I had a child to read it to.

©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.

A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert

The Lago family's couch was very well-loved
It was the perfect spot for snuggling and reading,
card playing, fort building, and hiding and seeking!

Unfortunately, the couch had lived out its useful life and it was time to buy a new couch, so the family went shopping. They looked for a couch that was just right, found the perfect one, and strapped it to the roof of their car. On the way home, though, the couch went flying.

It's a little difficult to see the words in this image unless you enlarge (if you can, do), but it says:

Llama found a couch. 

Photo credit: Leah Gilbert

I love the expression on the llama's face. Llama sniffed the couch, said hello to it (it didn't reply), tried to share his lunch with it and took a bite out of it. Meanwhile, the family discovered their couch was missing while Llama ignored it and then bounced on it, discovered he loved it, and made himself comfortable.

The finale to this wonderful book: The family finds the couch and takes it back but they bring their old couch back for the llama. And, everyone's happy.

Highly recommended - Adorable! The story is a simple one: lost and found, old replaced with new, both people and an animal wanting the same thing, and a compromise reached in the end. But, it's the illustrations that make A Couch for Llama a new favorite, at least for me. I adore the llama and the field of wheat. This may be a personal thing; I'm from Oklahoma and a field of wheat is home. But, I enjoyed the story, too, so it's not just the crazy llama and the wheat that make this book a winner. Any book that I close with a smile on my face is going to become a favorite and A Couch for Llama definitely makes me grin.

©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, February 14, 2018

Bagel in Love by Natasha Wing and Helen Dardik

Bagel wanted to join a dance contest but had trouble finding a partner.

Poppy told him his dance steps were half-baked. 

He asked Pretzel, who was at the spa getting a salt rub. She told him his moves didn't cut the mustard. 

Matzo flat out told him no. 

Continuing with loads more puns, Bagel kept looking for a partner, unwilling to give up. The dance contest was already beginning at the Cherry Jubilee and Bagel had decided to try again, next year. But, the music had him tapping his foot. Someone tapped back. Cupcake admitted to not being a very good dancer, but they gave it a whirl and liked each other's style. They were barely in time for the dance contest, where they won the grand prize trophy. But, winning was "just icing on the cake."

Well, huh. There are two ways to look at this story. One way is to look at it as a fun book of puns in which a bagel's determination pays off. The other is to find the rejection up front frustrating and the abrupt ending a little weird. I fell halfway in between. The first time I read the book, I thought, "Wait. What?" The ending was a little too abrupt and maybe even a little too perfect, after all that rejection. But, I did love the puns. The second time, I still didn't love the abrupt ending but this time I was all about the puns and the determination. And, I suppose one could get used to the ending.

Iffy on recommendation - Bagel in Love is an average read, in my humble opinion, but if you happen to be a big fan of puns . . . this is your book. It's chock full of them. And, I did appreciate Bagel's can-do attitude. He didn't let a little rejection (well, a lot of rejection) get him down. The illustrations are bright and bold; and, for fans of shiny things, there's a nice touch of glitter on the slipcover. I received a copy of Bagel in Love for review from Sterling Children's Books and it came with a page of 6 Valentine's cards and a bookmark. I don't know if those are included with a purchase or if they were publicity material, but they're super cute.

Happy Valentine's Day!

©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, February 12, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

Nothing, nada, zero, zippo, zilch. So, you get a kitty pic. After all those books that I posted last week, I'm thinking it's good that I had a no-arrival week, but it was kind of miserable in its way. I'm so used to at least one book showing up on my doorstep that I strongly considered making a panic purchase, just so something would arrive. I talked myself out of it. Whew!

The kitty pic, by the way, is a shot of one of my favorite Fiona quirks. When I pet her head, she likes to turn her face and stick her little nose in the palm of my hand. It is so trusting of her. I just love that. I finally got a shot of her doing it, this weekend, and I was so excited. Sometimes it's hard to capture those cute, quirky little things they do.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

This was a pretty terrific reading week. Al Frank, Giant of the Senate was miles better than I expected it to be, The Hate U Give is an online discussion book and I finished it ahead of schedule so I'm enjoying just sitting back and reading the comments by other readers and learning a bit from them, and Being Mortal is one of those rare, meaningful books about life and death that falls into the "Everyone Should Read This" category.

Currently reading:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees
  • Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down by Anne Valente
  • Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

An interesting variety, eh? Week One, 204 pages of Don Quixote down, roughly 800 pages and 4 weeks to go. It's an easy read but I think spreading it out over 5 weeks is going to work well. It's a bit repetitive and, as Bryan of Still an unfinished person has mentioned, it's going to be "a long haul". So, having buddies to read with also keeps me going.

In other news:

I found Lost in Austen on Britbox, yesterday, and I told my husband that I just wanted to watch a few minutes to see what it was like. He nodded. An hour or two later, we agreed that it's loads of fun and we're glad we watched the whole episode. Huzzybuns said, "I knew you'd watch it all." Yeah, I kind of knew it, too, but I thought I should at least try to only watch a little bit.

I'm still watching Doctor Who, also. I guess that will go on for a long, long time, since I started at the beginning of Dr. #1's episodes, although a lot of the early episodes are either missing or unavailable. Still, I'm a little less than halfway through the first Dr.'s years. So exciting to be able to see them, bad as they often are. The series of episodes that I watched this week took place in a space ship and down on the planet of the Sensorites. It had a few hilarious moments in which the cheap sets gave themselves away and the hairstyles of the women changed just a touch. "Ah," you may say to yourself, while watching the two episodes,"so, this is where they broke for the day, came back, and everyone's hair was styled." Hahaha. I love it for the quirks, for sure.

I got two postcards in the mail and meant to snap their picture but didn't get around to it, so if there aren't any arrivals next week, maybe I'll manage to get a picture of them to show off. Thanks for the postcards, Kelly and Carrie!

©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, February 09, 2018

Fiona Friday - Sleepy beans

©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.

More minis - Flowers for Algernon by D. Keyes, The Radium Girls by K. Moore, and Artemis by A. Weir

In my continuing quest to catch up with myself, I've sorted out three books that I purchased and decided to give them mini review treatment. I liked all three for dramatically different reasons.

I opted not to write a post about my 2018 reading goals but one of my goals is a continuation of my "one classic per month" goal for a third year. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was my January choice.

Charlie Gordon has an extremely low IQ but a surprising amount of determination, so he's been chosen to be the first human in an experimental treatment. Only tried previously on mice (and not always with good results), the experimental surgery made a mouse called Algernon extremely smart. The book is told in journal form from Charlie's perspective as he goes through the surgery, quickly gains intelligence, falls in love, and then things fall apart.

I've seen a movie version of Flowers for Algernon, long ago, but this is my first time reading the book. All I could remember of the movie was that it was both moving and sad. And, as it turned out, the sadness toward the beginning almost overwhelmed me. Charlie has always been a happy man, in spite of his limitations. He has a job and people who watch out for him. But, after his surgery, he starts to become aware that people have been teasing him for years. Maybe they weren't his friends, after all.

At this point, my friend Kelly told me that it's one of her favorite classics. I was planning to finish the book, regardless, but I'm glad she gave me hope to help me push through the hardest part. Regardless of how it tugged at my emotions, I was really blown away by the writing. I knew the book was going to end sadly, all along. But, the way it was handled was perfect.

Flowers for Algernon is brilliant and heartbreaking and beautiful and awful and maybe even a little hopeful. And, definitely kind of deep, the way it makes you think about how we treat each other and how crucial friendship and love are to having a meaningful life. Highly recommended and a new favorite. I gave Flowers for Algernon 5 stars. I looked up Daniel Keyes and found that he wrote quite a few books, so I'm hoping to eventually find and read more of his work.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore is even sadder than Flowers for Algernon because it's a true story. Subtitled "The Dark Story of America's Shining Women" -- the shining part is literal; they got radium all over their clothing and hair and faces, so they glowed in the dark. The Radium Girls is the story of women who painted watch dials and other instruments. Because they used paint brushes and the work was delicate, they used their lips to bring the brushes to a fine point each time they dipped into the paint. This meant they were actually ingesting little bits of radium all day, every day, at work. Because the paint had to be mixed from a powder, it also got all over their hair, clothing, and bodies.

At the time The Radium Girls took place, in the early 20th Century, radium was considered healthful. People drank radium concoctions and handled it without gloves, completely unaware of the damage it was doing to them. But, it didn't take long before the women at the first radium dial-painting establishment began to have serious health issues.

There were several companies involved in the painting of clock dials, over the time span covered. All went to great lengths to hide what they knew about the connection between the health problems their formerly-healthy and vibrant young female painters were experiencing (and then their deaths) and the paint they were using. And, the health problems were appalling. The vast majority of the early employees began losing teeth, getting infections in their jaws that would not heal, and even losing pieces of jawbone. Some had legs that shortened, giving them a dramatic limp, some developed back problems. All were in horrendous pain. When they died, their deaths were generally attributed to something entirely different from the actual cause. It took years and years, scores of deaths, miscarriages, and dismemberments, and a number of lawsuits before the surviving women successfully proved their case.

Highly recommended - While the descriptions of the health problems these young women experienced (and their equally horrific deaths) were heart-rending to read, The Radium Girls serves as an excellent reminder of why we have the "burdensome regulations" the current presidential administration is trying to do away with. When given the opportunity to do what's right, corporations do not regulate themselves but will fiercely fight to defend the bottom line, even to the extreme of letting people die to keep a company from losing money. It was particularly horrifying to find that even doctors were involved in the subterfuge. A heartbreaking read but an important one. It's notable that the author deliberately researched the individuals and described them in depth because she wanted to make it clear that they were living, breathing human beings. Getting to know them made it even harder reading about their deterioration, their hideous pain, and their deaths. I admire the author for that choice.

Artemis is the story of Jazz, a woman who lives on the moon colony Artemis. Her father is a welder and she's a smuggler. When she's offered a huge amount of money to sabotage four large machines, she agrees because she's perpetually broke -- her living quarters are so small they're known as a "coffin", a place to sleep and store her things with a low ceiling and a shared bathroom.

Basic storyline: Things go wrong, blah-blah, murder, danger, science stuff I didn't understand, everyone is going to die (literally, everyone on the entire moon colony). Will Jazz save the day?

Artemis is very entertaining (ignore the "blah-blah") but I didn't follow the science in Artemis as well as that of The Martian and I thought Jazz sounded more like a guy than a gal. In fact, I didn't realize Jazz was short for Jasmine for the first chapter or so, so I was picturing a male protagonist till I found out that was wrong. Jazz sounds a lot like Mark of The Martian -- lots of expletives. But, Artemis is a fun story and after a little initial boredom when the author was setting the scene, I really began to enjoy the book. At some point, it became can't-put-down exciting and I may have had a little reading hangover after the night I finished it.

Highly recommended - While Artemis didn't grab me from page one as The Martian did, I still found the idea of a moon colony captivating and hung in there. In the end, I liked Artemis enough that I wish I had my own copy to save for a reread. I read a borrowed copy. I just hope Andy Weir manages to vary his characterization a bit, next time out. There's only so much one can stand of protagonists who constantly swear. I did appreciate the fact that he tried to make his whip-smart, rebel character female but he should probably stick with males.

©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.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Vanessa used to be married to Richard. Nellie is getting ready to become his bride. And, someone has to warn the new bride before it's too late. But, wait . . . who is whom in this twisted thriller? You won't know for sure till the end.

And, since that's what makes The Wife Between Us a thriller (the rush to find out what's really going on and whether or not the future wife can be warned in time) I can pretty much tell you nothing about this book without giving everything away. So, instead I'll just tell you that what you think is happening at the beginning of the book is totally misleading. In Part Two, the perspective shifts and you realize that the narrators in Part One were unreliable. Who is the wife-to-be and what happened to the wife before her to make her such a nervous wreck? Will Richard's former wife succeed at her mission to warn the bride-to-be? Or will some other twist throw everything in Part Two into question.

Yeah, it's twisty, all right. Unfortunately, I thought The Wife Between Us was just a little too similar to another book I read recently. And, I didn't like the way the author played head games with me. Still, I found the authors propelled me along nicely. Apart from a slightly dull beginning and a jarring shift at the beginning of Part Two when I was so confused that I almost abandoned the book (I took a brief break from it, came back, and it made sense after I'd had time to let the story roll around in my head), I found that the pages flew.

Recommended but not a favorite - In general, I'd say The Wife Between Us was an average to slighty above-average read. I had trouble getting into the book, at first, and part of that was because it was immediately apparent to me that Richard was a controlling jerk. I couldn't understand why Nellie was even interested in him, much less why two women would have fallen for him during his charming moments but not run after seeing his dark side. But, the main problem was that I disliked the shift from Part One to Part Two and never fully managed to get those wives straight in my head after picturing them a certain way and then having it all mixed up, as if images of the wives had been turned to confetti, tossed into the air, and then settled into different pictures when reformed on the ground. If you like that kind of confusion, this is definitely the book for you. Unreliable narrators, twists and turns, a surprise ending, and a quick pace (at least, after the first section) will make you race to the end to find the answers.

©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.