Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Not-so-Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis


"She was in an all-out sprint down that hill to see if you were hurt."
"I guess," Oliver said. "But so were you. Friends don't just sit there while their friends maybe impale themselves."

~p. 153

Oliver is practically an expert on the Civil War. He knows all about the battles, the heroes, the generals -- he even does Civil War reenactments and is planning to participate in the anniversary of the Gettysburg battle. He's been waiting ages for his history teacher to get around to the Civil War and he can't wait to do a Civil War project. But, then he's assigned to do a documentary on Private Raymond Stone, an everyday soldier who was killed by disease before he even got to fight in a single battle. What's the point of that? Even worse, he has to work with a partner. Ella is messy and flunking everything. The last thing he needs is someone to get in his way, much less a slacker like Ella.

But, as Oliver and Ella get to work on their project, he discovers there's more to Ella and Private Stone than he could possibly have imagined. Ella is smart and fun to work with. And, they've discovered a mystery that involves the young soldier and his enlistment. The more they dig, the more intriguing Private Stone's story turns out to be. And, the longer they work together, the more Oliver finds to like about Ella. With the help of a third friend, Kevin, the trio works to dig up the true story of Private Raymond Stone and create a film that will knock the socks off their teacher while, at the same time, Oliver is beginning to find Ella distracting in a very good way.

Highly recommended - I loved everything about The Not-so-Boring Letters of Private Nobody. It's smart, funny, educational, and a little romantic. Since the story is told from Oliver's point of view, the romance is told from a male perspective (refreshing and rare). I also loved the fact that the teacher's objective is to show his class that war is not just about the well-known names and dates; it's also about the lives of everyday people whose contribution may be small but still meaningful. But, the best thing about the book was that besides being a tremendously entertaining book, there's a realistic aspect to it. I kept finding myself thinking, "This feels like life in a real classroom," during the classroom scenes. And, wishing I had a teacher like Oliver and Ella's. Sure enough, the author is an 8th grade social studies teacher. No wonder it felt so real. And, boy, does he have a terrific sense of humor. I will definitely be looking for more books by Matthew Landis.


©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Reckless Rescue (The Explorers #2) by Adrienne Kress


Change of pace! I've just finished The Explorers: The Reckless Rescue at 12:39 AM, my time (I know . . . good grief) so I'm opting to use a format I used waaaaay back in 2007. Yes, really, I've been blogging for-freaking-ever. The idea is to make it easy reviewing because I'm beat. Either way, I'm going to tell you about the book, so whatever works, right?

What led you to pick up this book?

I read the first book in the series The Explorers: The Door in the Alley in June of 2017 and loved it. Adventure! Humor! Danger! It's crazy fun, enough so that I was not even put off by the cliffhanger ending. And, I hate cliffhanger endings. So, when a thoughtful publicist offered to let me review the second in the series, I jumped at the chance. Here's a link to my review of the first book:

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress


Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. 

Sebastian has been kidnapped by three dangerous men because he holds the key to an important map in his photographic memory. Evie has promised to rescue him. When Sebastian ends up running from his kidnappers after landing in Korea, Evie travels with Catherine (one of the Filipendulous Five explorers) to Australia to find someone who can help them locate a man who has part of the map whose key Sebastian has memorized. But, wherever they go, danger follows.


What did you like most about the book?

Adrienne Kress has a knack for combining silly humor with fast-paced scenes -- lots of running, climbing, jumping, dodging, racing around corners, etc. I love it all. I also loved the way the author used a K-Pop band -- something I'm sure young readers will appreciate -- to add a little unusual flavor to Sebastian's story.


What did you think of the main character?

There are really two main characters: Sebastian and Evie. The book alternates between their two stories and I like them both. Sebastian is a rule-follower and in this story he must break rules, now and then, to save his hide. Evie is every bit as smart as Sebastian but her brain works a little different and they tend to complement each other. I appreciate a smart heroine.


Share some quotes from the book.

Oops, I didn't mark any quotes. But, the chapter headings are every bit as fun as the story, itself (and so are the footnotes), so here's a chapter heading:

Chapter 38: In which everything comes to a head. Or whatever body part you feel like, really. 

See? Silly. I love silliness. The storyline is really so fast-paced that I didn't take the time to mark anything. Talk about silly.


Share a favorite scene from the book:

I love the action scenes -- all of them -- and there are quite a few. At the beginning, for example, there's a bit of turbulence on the plane (which is why Sebastian ends up in Korea . . . not the final destination) and when they land, Sebastian does something daring and runs for his life. The author does a fantastic job of writing just enough description that you understand exactly what is happening but it's minimal, at the same time. So, the pages just fly. And, that probably was one of my favorite scenes.


Highly recommended - At the end of my review of the first book in The Explorers series, I reiterated my hatred for cliffhangers. Oh, how I loathe them. Did I tell you I'm not a fan of cliffhangers? I like a book to stand on its own. These don't, sorry, and I do dislike that. But, this series is so fiercely, hilariously entertaining that I'm not entirely peeved that there are clearly two more to come and The Reckless Rescue ended, again, on a cliffhanger. In fact, this cliffhanger made me literally laugh out loud. Best cliffhanger ending ever. I hope I'm still on somebody's list of reviewers when #3 comes out. I did have trouble understanding what was going on, at first. It took a while for my memory to warm up. But, the author just throws you into the active volcano of her imagination and you can't help but get blown right into the action, so . . . who cares what happened in the first one? OK, yeah, at some point you need to figure it out. But, while you're remembering, you'll be having an awful lot of fun, I promise.


©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday Malarkey



Recent arrivals:


  • Regrets Only by Erin Duffy - from HarperCollins for review
  • The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold - from Penguin for book tour

I love the pop-art psychedelic look of that Noah Hypnotik cover, don't you? So eye-catching.


Books finished since last Malarkey:


  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • Isosceles' Day by Kevin Meehan
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  • Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle


Currently reading:


  • Don Quixote by Cervantes
  • The Explorers: The Reckless Rescue by Adrienne Kress


I committed to doing a review of The Explorers: The Reckless Rescue tomorrow and I've barely begun to read it, so wish me luck and quick reading. As to Don Quixote . . . I'm not even going to set goals, for now, I'm doing so badly. I'm considering taking a week off of everything else (reading other books, blogging) to finish it up, soon. We shall see. I'm ready to be done with it.


Last week's posts:




In other news:

I just accidentally discovered the show Psych. I know I'm behind the times but I was trying to look up one thing and happened across Psych, instead, so I played the first episode of Season 1 and I'm totally hooked. For a few years, my niece used to make excited posts every time Psych came on or was about to come on and I just ignored them. I had no idea what the show was about and we tend to have pretty different taste in TV. I might pay a bit more pay attention to her posts, in the future. Wow, what a fun series! I'm also enjoying the third Doctor in Dr. Who. We actually met Jon Pertwee many, many years ago when he came to the Big City to speak (and brought the car, Bessie).

Fiona loves TV time because it's her lap time, so I'm sure she'll appreciate the fact that I've found something new to watch.




©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fiona Friday - Biscuit making in progress


Cooking is very serious business. 






































©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders



Having never loved or been loved in that previous place, they were frozen here in a youthful state of perpetual emotional vacuity; interested only in freedom, profligacy, and high-jinks, railing against any limitation or commitment whatsoever. 

~from. p. 118, description of three young male ghosts

Well, what of it. 
No one who has ever done anything worth doing has gone uncriticized. As regards the matter at hand (as regards him), I am, at least, above any--
Thus thought Mr. Lincoln.
But then his (our) eyes shut, in a slow remembering sorrow-wince. 

~p. 236

Lincoln in the Bardo is a tale of life and death, ghosts and letting go. Willie Lincoln has just died and his father has taken him out of what the ghosts in the bardo call his "sick box" (his coffin). In his grief, President Lincoln attempts to will his son back to life. Now, Willie's trapped between life and whatever comes next. I had to look up the word "bardo" and found that it's a Buddhist term for the place between death and the next life. I'm not sure that's how Saunders uses the term. It feels more like a place to avoid heaven or hell, one in which it requires some effort to stay or into which one is thrown when someone refuses to let go (as in Willie's case).

I've heard people describe Lincoln in the Bardo as "weird, really weird" and that's true. It's certainly offbeat and unusual. But, Saunders is pretty much the King of Weird, in my opinion. His imagination is boundless, his use of the English language masterful, his storytelling strong, his use of metaphor mind-boggling (I'm thinking mostly of his other work when referring to metaphor), and his characterization beyond reproach. So, while the story may be an odd one, I always got the sense that Saunders knew exactly where he was taking the reader and why -- and he did it with flair.

Those last few pages definitely make it clear what the author was trying to say in his unique way: Life is grand, enjoy it while you can.

Highly recommended - I gave Lincoln in the Bardo 4 out of 5 stars because it was not a book that grabbed me and held on, but I can't take off more than a point. The writing is so skillful that it's hard to criticize anything about Lincoln in the Bardo beyond saying that it's weird and jumpy. If only for the fact that Saunders set his story in a place that required the creation of dozens of different voices, you have to admire the craftsmanship involved.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

March 2018 Reads in Review



March reads (click on title to read full review, with one exception):

26. The Brontë Sisters by Catherine Reef - A biography of the Brontë family for younger readers (YA, I think) that is comprehensive enough for adults to enjoy and will make the reader eager to read or reread the Brontës. Includes some wonderful photographs to help fill out their story.

27. Black Fortunes by Shomari Wills - The intertwined biographies of the first six black millionaires in the United States. I've struggled with reviewing this book because it faded from memory quickly (also, I didn't get to it soon enough), but I do recall both enjoying it and wishing the stories had been told as separate bios rather than jumping around from one millionaire's story to another.

28. Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell - A wildfire, a mystery (Who set the fire?), guilt, depression, and a relationship that seems outwardly strong but may be dysfunctional are at the heart of this gripping but immensely disturbing YA. I couldn't put it down.

29. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James - Two murderers have left bodies on the same property, near Idlewild Hall: one in 1994 and one in 2014. Are the murders connected? And, does a girl who went missing in 1950 have anything to do with the murders? A wonderful suspense.

30. Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen - A YA set in WWII about a Jewish girl with Aryan features but no papers who is on the run after her mother is killed. After finding a friend who is also in danger, she goes undercover in a Nazi girls' boarding school, charged with befriending a scientist's daughter to find important information about a terrifying new bomb. Another fantastic book.

31. The Saboteur by Paul Nix - The true story of a French aristocrat who joined the Resistance and heroically risked his life on a number of important missions. He also was captured several times. The action scenes are movie-worthy.

32. The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso - The story of two elderly women who hate each other. One is black, one white. Both experienced painful rejection but neither can see what they have in common. When disaster strikes, the women are thrown together. Will they ever learn to get along? A reread and even more wonderful the second time. F2F discussion of this book was amazing.

33. Supergifted by Gordon Korman - A gifted boy, challenging himself by joining a cheerleading squad in the normal school he attends (after being kicked out of the academy for gifted children) pretends to be the hero who stopped a disaster from potentially killing a family when he realizes his friend needs to keep his heroics a secret. But, when his fame gets out of hand and his friendship with the real hero is threatened, what will happen? A smart, funny book for middle readers.

34. Good Behavior by Blake Crouch - Three novellas about Letty Dobesh, a meth addict and thief who wants to break free from her addictions but is constantly tempted and ends up in several very dangerous situations. Loved the tense pacing in these stories.

35. Bus! Stop! by James Yang - A children's picture book about an unnamed boy who misses his bus and then finds that all of the buses that show up at his stop are very, very odd. Low on words, high on fun, each bus that passes is crazier than the last. Absolutely delightful.

36. Up in the Leaves by Shira Boss and Jamey Christoph - The true story (picture book) of a boy who lived in New York City and hated the crowds, so he escaped to Central Park and built tree houses to hide out in. Each year, they were taken down in the fall and each spring he built a newer, more elaborate treehouse, till he was offered a job working in the park, trimming trees. A wonderful story!

37. Gloria's Voice by Aura Lewis - The true story of Gloria Steinem's life for very young feminists, this picture book uses age-appropriate wording for the very young but also includes a more detailed bio and page-by-page descriptions of what's happening in each spread, so that it also offers further information for older children, a really great way to make a book grow with a child.

March was such a fantastic month it's hard to believe. I can't even pick favorites. I pretty much loved everything. Even Black Fortunes, which I found difficult to read because of the way the various bios were intertwined rather than separated, was fascinating and well worth reading. The Saboteur was the other book I found rather slow, because the exciting action scenes were buffered by a great deal of background. But, I'm glad I read them. Everything else was so fantastic there's hardly any purpose to saying much more about them.

At any rate, it was a terrific month for quality. In case you're wondering, the stamp at the top of the book pile is there because Bus! Stop! is a long book but the shortest in height. So, I put Bus! Stop! at the top because of its size but then needed something to weigh it down so it wouldn't topple off the pile.


©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

February 2018 Reads in Review



February:

18. Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi - A very unique YA about an Iranian American, Saaket (also called Scott), who has not found his passion and goes on a road trip to find the professor he thinks can help him find the "grit" he needs to stick with something long enough to determine what exactly it is he wants to do with his life. I liked the uniqueness and how the author pulled the strands of the storyline together, although I found the storytelling sometimes a bit uneven.

19. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken - More than a funny book by a satirist, Al Franken tells the story of how he became a Democrat and then a senator and all about learning how to work for the people without embarrassing himself or his family. An amazing book, both entertaining and educational.

20. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (e-book) - The story of a black girl who witnesses the senseless shooting of a friend by a police officer and must make the decision whether to stay quiet about the injustice or become an activist in memory of her friend. Deeply moving and especially great for discussion. I had trouble with the vernacular and that made the book slightly lesser for me, but discussing it helped me to understand it in ways that I couldn't through the fog of language frustration and expanded its meaning for me.

21. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande - One of the best nonfiction works I've ever read, the story of the author's slowly growing understanding of how we need to change our way of looking at end-of-life decision-making. His own father's decline and his life as a doctor both informed the author's perception of how we should treat the elderly and the dying -- with focus on quality of life and making sure family understands and supports the individual's wishes for fulfilling what's most important during their final years. Everyone should read this -- truly, everyone.

22. Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth - A brutal fictional tale about two boys who experience tragedy and make the mistake, in their grief, of joining up with a group of men who claim to be in search of revenge for the sake of the teenagers but really have their own cruel ends in mind. Set in Australia, I found the setting vivid in both good and bad ways (some scenes were almost unbearable). I particularly enjoyed the ending, which is immensely satisfying after many pages of hideous violence.

23. I Am the Boss of this Chair by Carolyn Crimi and Marisa Morea - An adorable picture book about a cat whose territory is invaded by the newly adopted kitten in his home. When he can no longer stand watching the kitten take over his toys, his door, and his chair, he chases the kitten around the house, unexpectedly discovering that it's fun having a companion around to play with and cuddle.

24. The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees - The host of Oxford, Mississippi's Thacker Mountain Radio Show and a local journalist, Dees describes a single year in Oxford, when the residents were fighting over the downing of trees, whether or not to put up a statue in honor of its most famous resident, William Faulkner, and where to put it. Especially fun for locals and fans of Faulkner.

25. Our Native Bees by Paige Embry - An excellent nonfiction book about one woman's quest to learn all about the bees that are native to North America. Packed with gorgeous photos of bees and written with humor, the author talks about what she's learned from interviewing and hanging out with various experts, including how to identify the many different species of bees, the challenges to their existence, which bees are the best pollinators, how they're studied, how farms in need of pollinators purchase their services, and what ordinary people can do to encourage bee populations.


February is invariably my slumpiest month because I start the year with kind of a bwwwoooom noise behind my reading glasses and then at the end of the month I'm a little bit fizzled out. And, yet, it was not a bad month, quantity aside.

I particularly loved Our Native Bees, I Am the Boss of this Chair, Being Mortal, and Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. I Am the Boss of this Chair was just pure fun -- a cat book! A story that mimics my own experience with the cats in my home! I loved it. The rest of the books were learning experiences and I hope to reread Being Mortal and the Al Franken book, some time. The bee book would go on a coffee table if I had one (but I don't, so onto the good shelves it goes).

I had some issues with Down and Across. Toward the beginning of the book I was uncertain I'd finish it, but the farther I got into it the more I enjoyed it and I ended up really appreciating it for its uniqueness. It also ended well. The Statue and the Fury is fun but, again, it's not a very cohesive piece of writing. So, it wasn't a favorite but I enjoyed it very much and I know my kids will love it because they both have lived in Oxford and can appreciate the unique personalities of the local crowd.

Only Killers and Thieves and The Hate U Give were both rough reads. Violence and grief permeate both, but Only Killers is just relentlessly vicious, whereas The Hate U Give is more emotional. Only Killers is, however, a fictionalization of real-life historical events. So it's not violent for no reason; its purpose is to show a horror of the past, just as The Hate U Give is a fictionalization of the reality of "death by cop" similar to the many that have taken place in recent years. Both will gut you a bit, but both end on triumphant notes so I felt like they were well worth the horrifying scenes, although I confess there was one point in Only Killers that I just had to skim, it got so brutal.

All in all, a slow reading month but a good one, in my humble opinion. You can click through to my full reviews via the link in the title of each.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.