Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Everything I Read in June, 2024


June:

65. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith - Finn calculates time's passage in miles. Every second, the Earth travels 20 miles in space. When a dead horse was thrown off a bridge and fell 100 sideways miles, landing on top of Finn and his mother, everything about his life changed. Now, Finn's a baseball player in high school with a best friend named Cade and his name in a book his father wrote. Finn has a lot of questions. How can he ever escape from the pages of his father's book, where he feels trapped? Who is this gorgeous creature named Julia who has shown up in his California neighborhood and what compelled her to escape her home? Is Finn really seeing ghosts? What will happen when Julia inevitably has to return to her home in Chicago? Andrew Smith writes for a teenage male audience brilliantly. If you don't like a lot of talk about sex and some teenage stupidity (heavy drinking, going places one shouldn't, etc.), his books might not be for you but I find them surprising and meaningful. I love Finn and the way he thinks.

66. Upgrade by Blake Crouch - Logan Ramsay's mother was a genius, but she made a big mistake that caused a famine worldwide and billions of people died. Years later, Logan works for a government agency that is tasked with stopping people from manipulating DNA, as his mother did. But, when he goes on a raid and things go wrong, he's infected with something that's causing changes to his own DNA. To prevent a second worldwide catastrophe, Logan will have to escape from his own agency and track down the one person who must be stopped to prevent further disaster. OK, hmm. I would say this was my least favorite Blake Crouch book but even so, I rated it 4 stars out of 5 and the reason I didn't love it as much as all the others (he's been a pretty consistent 5-star author for me) is that I found the science less interesting. DNA manipulation is just blah, in my humble opinion. Otherwise, it was fast-paced (for the most part) and I liked it. The ending was a bit sappy but I think it had a full circle feel so I didn't mind that it was a bit saccharine. 

67. Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo - The memoir of a Native American poet, Crazy Brave tells about author Joy Harjo's early years, from childhood to young woman. Beautifully written and harrowing, she tells about her father's abandonment of the family, how her mother struggled to keep her four children fed, and then the excitement when the entire family fell for her stepfather, who turned out to be not just abusive but so dangerous that when he threatened to kill them all if her mother attempted to leave, they believed him and instead tried their best to never get on his bad side. She also tells about her years in an Indian art school during the 60s and her eventual marriage. Because Harjo grew up in Oklahoma and considered attending Chilocco Indian School (which was right outside my hometown and now is in ruins), there were a lot of familiar locations described and I enjoyed the armchair travel back home, even though most of her early life was shockingly brutal. I also found that I loved her talk about "the knowing", which is her name for her 6th sense. My premonitions are very similar in character to hers so I really enjoyed reading about her internal warning system, how it sometimes worked and sometimes failed as mine has. I feel like I read with focus on the specifics of place, time, and premonitions and I'll probably return to this book with a pencil and flags because there's more to it than I absorbed.

68. Color of the Sea by John Hamamura - The story of a Japanese-American from 1930 to 1947. Isamu, also known as "Sam" Hamada, is 9 years old when his father comes to Japan to bring him back to Hawaii, leaving his mother, brother, and sister behind in their small Japanese village. In Hawaii, he becomes the student of an old Japanese man. The first third or so of the book is about his training and schooling, plus the work he does to send money home to Japan. Around 1/3 of the way in, Sam falls in love and the character of the story changes a bit. I wasn't sure I was going to like the book, at that point. But, then a lot of things happen that make the whole romance aspect much more complex. Eventually, Sam moves to California. There, he teaches and tries to get into Berkeley. You know, by this point, that war is coming and most everyone he knows will end up in a camp, eventually go to war, and possibly die. Much of the tale of the war years rang so accurate that I looked up the author's bio and discovered that Color of the Sea is apparently a fictionalized telling of his father's story and for the last 1/4 of the book I had tears streaming down my face. They just wouldn't stop. So much courage and death. A five-star read. I'm going to loan this one to my eldest but will probably then hang onto it for a reread. It's that good. 

69. Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto - Vera owns a tea shop that has seen better days. Now, she has a single customer who can only stay for 15 minutes to drink his tea, each day. Her son Tilly resists her advice for how to live his best life and find a future bride and her husband has passed away. So, when a dead body turns up in Vera's tea shop, you could be forgiven for thinking she's a little excited to have a new challenge to fill her days. The police are convinced that there was no murder. But, Vera knows better. Vera knows best about everything. She begins by finding suspects, the people who return to the scene of the crime. That's easy enough, since nobody ever comes to her tea shop, anymore. What Vera isn't expecting is to find a new family in the process. As much a story of found family and a character study as a cozy mystery, Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is an absolute delight. You can't help but love Vera, who is both intrusive and wise. This book makes me want to break my book-buying and library ban to read everything the author has written. Alas, I'm now also on a challenge not to buy anything at all but necessities and I have enough books to open a shop, so . . . not happening. Highly recommended. I'm glad I bought this one before my buying ban started.

70. The Way of the Househusband, Vol. 9 by Kousuke Oono - As usual, there are lots of chuckles in this 9th volume of one of my favorite manga series'. In one story, Tatsu is hanging out with a little girl who refuses to eat vegetables and she is a pro. She can even spot finely chopped veggies mixed into things. Can Tatsu convince her that smaller is better? In another story, two children are arguing about which kind of beetle would win in a match, then Tatsu and his friend decide to take up the challenge but the beetles have another idea. There's another story with an insect (the kind that survives nuclear bombs). I have nightmares about those monsters, so I knocked a point off for too much insect content but I laughed so much reading this book that it can't go below a 4/5. I think one of my favorite stories was the one in which Tatsu shows a local Yakuza gang who refuse to take off their suits how to keep cool during a heat wave. Hilarious. What a fun series. 

71. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green - Aza has serious anxiety issues. She has a callous on one finger that she's constantly breaking open and bandaging back up and a fear of C. Diff infections. Her best friend and her mother are perplexed by her anxieties and do the best they can but even Aza knows she's a wreck. When the wealthy father of Davis, a friend she met at "sad camp" (for children who've lost a parent) goes missing and there's a large reward, Aza and best friend Daisy decide to try to find him for the reward money. Meanwhile, Aza is reaquainted with Davis, who is filthy rich but now parentless and dealing with a little brother who can't cope with his father's abandonment. When friendship turns to sort-of dating, Aza's obsession with her microbiome leads to some very awkward situations and she begins to spiral out of control. I love John Green's writing and enjoyed this book but I admit that I had trouble wrapping my mind around the level of anxiety Aza experiences. Having said that, I recall reading that this is Green's most personal book and that he's experienced crippling anxiety so I was thinking about that as I read the book and I think that made it slightly more real to me, just knowing that what his character experiences is a fictionalized version of his own reality. 

72. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson - Sophia, her father, and her grandmother are spending the summer at their island home. Grandmother is 85 years old. She's tired and stiff, a little crotchety, and likes to take naps and read but also has occasional wild bursts of artistic creativity, like the time she and Sophia recreate Venice using rocks, pieces of marble, driftwood, and watercolors. Sophia is 6 years old. She's a bit precocious but also temperamental. She and her grandmother spend most of their time together and they sometimes get along, sometimes argue. They worry together when Sophia's father goes to town on the boat and the weather turns bad. Each of the interconnected stories tells about a small part of their summer. What a fascinating book. It's about nothing and everything, the beauty of the island and the way Finnish islanders live, age and youth, creative ways to spend time. It's very everyday and yet it makes your mouth drop a little if you've written. Why didn't I think to write like this of my childhood home? Ugh. I loved this book, for the most part, but there is a bit of unsettling cruelty to cats. 

73. Apartment 713 by Kevin Sylvester - No dates or ages are given in this time travel book (although there are plenty of hints that the past in this book is the 1920s, post-"Great War" and prior to the stock market crash). I have no idea how old the hero and heroine, Jake and Beth, are. I presumed the book was middle grade. Jake and his mother have fallen on hard times. His mother has lost her job and split with her partner so they've had to leave their nice house, sell most of their possessions, and move into a crumbling apartment building called the Regency. Jake is frustrated and bored till he meets Danny, the superintendent. Danny introduces Jake to some of the building's secrets and gives him odd jobs. Gradually, Jake is beginning to befriend the building's occupants and finds out the building is in danger, but then one day he steps into Apartment 713 and falls back in time. There, he meets Beth. While their friendship develops, they seek out clues in the hope of finding a way to prevent the building from being torn down in Jake's (present) time. I loved everything about this book: the relationships, the imaginative design of the Regency, the unfolding of clues, even the way Jake met famous people from Beth's time. I usually kind of dislike scenes in which people meet the famous from another time in time travel because it's so unrealistic but this time it felt like there was a higher purpose. It's only 231 pages but I honestly didn't want this book to end. 

74. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami - This is a hard book to summarize but the main character is Toru. Toru is a bit of a loner, a lover of music and books. From his high school days with two friends who happen to be dating each other, through his college years, Norwegian Wood describes a young man who is trying to figure out who he is while navigating school, work, and life with the people in his small circle. While I'm not massively in love with the story, the craftsmanship of Norwegian Wood is stunning. I had to keep stopping to read particularly beautiful sentences several times before I could move on. I think this is just the second full novel I've read by Murakami and so far I still prefer his short stories and nonfiction to his longer works but I'm so impressed with his writing that I'll keep challenging myself to read his longer fiction. 

75. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice (reread) - I suggested Moon of the Crusted Snow for our June read in my online book group because it was the book I most wanted to read (and I needed an excuse to buy it). Then, I read it to make sure it was discussion-worthy. Yep, it's a good one. I've already written about it but I have some further thoughts from the reread. It's always fascinating what you forget or notice on a second reading. In this case, there was a part I had totally forgotten -- something the main character, Evan, does in case things get worse in his little village. As a reminder, Moon of the Crusted Snow is post-apocalyptic and set in an indigenous community in Northern Ontario. I think the indigenous spin, with bits of native language and tradition makes this a particularly interesting read but I also think it's just a good post-apocalyptic story with a nice, creepy undertone and I'm hoping I'll manage to read the second book, eventually. 

76. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida - Clarissa's father Richard has died, her mother ran off years ago, and now she's discovered that Richard was not her biological father . . . and her fiancé knew. Upset by the news, she hastily decides to uncover her father's identity. She travels to Lapland, where her mother's first husband lives. But there are buried secrets that will change the course of her life. This was my latest stationary bike read. It worked well in small chunks but the main character is unlikable so I finally decided I wanted to finish up the book. The story is a good one, well-written and with a map and descriptions that will make you want to hop a plane. Also, the setting is certainly one I've never experienced. So, I enjoyed the novel in spite of its salty heroine. And, I really would like a vacation in Lapland. 

77. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Fitzgerald - I was flipping through postcards with book covers on them, looking for one to send to a friend, when I came across a cover of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. I've had a copy of that book since the 1990s, probably purchased in Publisher's Outlet, where I used to work. So, I figured it's about time to read it, thanks to the nudge from that postcard. How entertaining! Some of the poems meant little to me but what I got out of it was that Omar really liked wine, didn't believe in Heaven or Hell, and had a bit of an eye for beauty and a touch of wit. I particularly like the fact that most of the poetry in my copy is repeated in a second section (with a few more added) so that you get a second shot at understanding something you already read. Also, the Quality Paperback Club edition that I bought has some beautiful color plates. A book I will likely return to many times. 


©2024 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. 

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Everything I Read in May, 2024


May:

51. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann - If you read last month's post, you know I avoided this book for ages because the murders happened a bit too close to my hometown in Oklahoma. But, my local book group (which I no longer attend, although I'm still keeping in touch) was planning to discuss Flower Moon this month and friend Linda encouraged me to read and share my thoughts by email. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. It's still a miserable thing to read about, just knowing the horror the Osage Indians went through and the trauma they still live with, today. But, I thought the book was thorough, well-written, and it held my attention. I also appreciated all of the photographs. The "Birth of the FBI" side of the story was much more fascinating than I expected. I particularly admired the FBI agent in charge of the investigation into the murders. True crime is not generally my thing because I find it so upsetting, and often nightmare-inducing, but I would definitely recommend Killers of the Flower Moon

52. The Hopkins Manuscript by R. C. Sherriff - A new favorite Persephone title. Edgar Hopkins is an amateur astronomer and a country gentleman, retired school master, and avid chicken breeder in the 1940s. When his astronomy club announces that the moon is going to crash into the Earth, his story begins. Long after everyone in England has died of starvation, his manuscript is found in a Thermos flask, telling the story of how he found out about the coming cataclysm, the early years with those who survived, and then the reason everything went downhill. The story is both gripping in the lead-up to the cataclysm and has a lovely "found family" aspect. Just a rocking fine bit of storytelling. I didn't want to put it down. 

53. Otis and the Kittens by Loren Long - This children's picture book is one from a big box of Dolly's Imagination Library books that was donated to our local library sale. I grabbed just the one (we have a lot of children come to the library sales so I felt like they needed to be saved for the littles) because kittens . . . a favorite children's book subject, of course! Unfortunately, the story was really about Otis; it was not a kitten story at all. It told about Otis the Tractor, how he loved to play tug-of-war with his animal friends, and then his heroic trips into a barn that caught fire to save a litter of kittens, the last trip ending in the disaster of Otis falling through the floor. I found the story a little too frightening and not the message I would ever want to send to a small child about how to react to fire. From reading reviews, it appears Otis has an entire series. I'm not surprised. The illustrations are marvelous and a friendly tractor on a farm is always a fun subject but this particular book is not one I'd give to a child in my family. 

54. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow - I got this book from the library sale, as well, a cutesy book in which there's a single sentence on each page and sometimes just a word. "Frolic!" with an illustration of Tootle, for example (Tootle the Train frolicking amongst the buttercups). It's silly and I expected that. I was really in it to enjoy the illustrations from various Little Golden Books and the words were almost superfluous. I enjoyed looking at the illustrations because they bring back memories. But, honestly, I'd rather just sit on the floor with a pile of the old Golden books. The only one I know we still own is actually Tootle, though, so that's not happening. If you're a person who loves old illustrations, this book is fun to flip through. Otherwise, it really has no purpose; it's just a novelty book. 

55. Glitch by Laura Martin - A super fun middle grade time travel. Elliott and Regan are Glitchers, people who have the genetic ability to travel through time. On a secretive island, there's an academy to train them in traveling to the past without doing damage while capturing the bad guys, known as "Butterflies" who seek to change history. Unfortunately, Regan and Elliott can't stand each other. But, when they're put together to train as a team and then things go horribly wrong, will they be willing to break the law together to save everyone they know? I enjoyed this book, although I thought the animosity between the two kids went on for an annoyingly long time and then the segue to getting along was a bit abrupt. But, it's adventurous, thrilling, and even a bit educational as the main characters travel to the past and historical events are described, so it gets a big thumbs up. 

56. French Windows by Antoine Laurain - The latest from one of my most recent additions to my favorite authors is about a psychiatrist, a patient of his who will only speak through typewritten stories, and a dark secret. Nathalia is a photographer but she's been unable to do her job since she witnessed a murder. Dr. Faber can get no more out of her but she mentions that she writes, so he suggest that she write stories and then analyzes the stories for clues to what's going on. Each story is about someone living in Nathalia's apartment complex, in the building visible from her windows. From them, he draws clues. But, what is Nathalia trying to say? I've been working on slowly trying to read everything Antoine Laurain has written so it's especially exciting when an unexpected Antoine Laurain book shows up in the mail. His stories have two elements I love: an especially surprising ability to make the reader think, "Where is this headed?" and then pull all of the various strands together beautifully and with wit; and, a unique charm, often due to a romantic element. The charm is lacking in this story, but the pulling together of elements in a clever way is there, so I still enjoyed it. I received an ARC of French Windows from Meryl Zagarek Public Relations. Its release date is sometime in June. Thank you so much, Meryl! Here's a link to another of Antoine Laurain's books that I enjoyed: Red is My Heart

57. Clarice the Brave by Lisa McMann - Clarice and her brother Charles Sebastian were born on a ship at sea. There, they were taught to be cautious by their mother before her tragic demise. There are many dangers on the ship, including cats, the boots of humans, and some very mean chickens. When a band of mutineers take over the ship and toss the captain and his loyalists into a launch boat, Clarice ends up on the launch with one of the ship's cats, Special Lady, and Charles Sebastian must fend for himself on the ship. Before the launch pulls away, Clarice shouts to Charles Sebastian that she believes in him. He's been coddled all of his life and she worries about his ability to make it on his own. Determined to find each other, they must first find a way to survive. Clarice wisely finds a way to keep Special Lady (who ate her sister) from turning her into lunch while Charles Sebastian befriends a girl who has been thrown into a cage and chained for the error of overhearing the mutineers' plans. While each of the mice is forging special relationships, they must also survive their own harrowing adventures. Will they ever find each other? There were times I thought Clarice the Brave might be a little too frightening for middle graders and one time the events were so upsetting I refused to believe a particular death had occurred but I closed the book feeling immensely satisfied. What an adventure!

58. Sipsworth by Simon Van Booy - Yippee! A new book by Simon! Helen Cartwright has lost everyone she loved and returned to her hometown in England after 60 years in Australia. She spends her days simply, eating very little and drinking lots of tea, taking warm baths to soothe her aching body, watching TV and listening to the radio. She is waiting to die. When a neighbor puts an aquarium full of toys and garbage outside, Helen is drawn to an object that stirs a distant memory. But, bringing it home leads to a mouse entering her life and the mouse will change everything. Helen doesn't want a mouse in her house. The mouse, though, ends up bringing new friends into her life. Found family! My favorite trope. Sipsworth begins slowly as you get to know Helen and her routine while experiencing her pain and loneliness, but then the pace picks up as Helen reaches out for help. Another lovely, heartwarming story from Simon Van Booy, highly recommended. 

59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest - In my quest to read and part with older books I've been hanging onto for eons, I found this 1970s gem that was made into a movie and it became my latest stationary bike read. Cal and Beth, Buck and Conrad were a happy, active family until tragedy struck. Now, Buck is dead and Conrad has attempted to take his own life. Cal is the sensitive parent, the one who tries to understand what happened and guide Conrad back to normality. Beth seems distant, eager to escape from home and keep herself busy with tennis and golf. While Conrad drifts from his friends and goes through therapy, tension builds between Cal and Beth. Then, a second tragedy rocks Conrad but simultaneously helps him understand his own emotions. And, new love will help him regain his hope. The book is much like it sounds, a story of ordinary people dealing with loss in their own ways but ending with a ray of hope. I liked it, although it was an emotional rollercoaster. Now, I want to rewatch the movie. 

60. Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring - I found a copy of this play (which you may know from the movie starring Cary Grant) at a recent library sale and decided to read it when I was looking for something quick to read while we were going through a very busy week with a guest in the house. As it turned out, it's a fun, easy, slapstick read and I could practically see Cary Grant while I was reading, but it took me days because having a houseguest is not a typical thing for us and I was flattened by the end of each day. At any rate, I'd normally read it in an afternoon and it was an absolute delight in spite of being spread out over several days. Now, I need to re-watch the movie. 

61. Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier by Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith - A heavily-researched (the bibliography is huge) book about women who lived on the American Frontier, including non-whites, single women, women left on their own to cope when the men were away, and widows. A nice, all-encompassing look at what life was like for women and how many of the early female settlers of the West went on to be leaders in business, law, medicine, social structure (including the building of churches and libraries as well as organizations for women's suffrage, temperance, etc.). I think the most eye-opening thing about this book is the fact that it appears that life was somewhat more progressive amongst the Western settlers than American life is today, although there were certain religions that were adamant about a woman's place being in the home. The second and third generation women of the West pretty much ignored them, though. Lots of photos in this book and enough information to make me want to read more. 

62. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin - A reread for group discussion but the leader of this discussion never did set a discussion date, so . . . can't say what others think. I liked this book just as much the second time around with one exception: I got tired of the Navy SEAL jargon. Otherwise, the concepts still resonate with me. I'm all in favor of the idea that one should own his or her actions. My husband has participated in the Echelon Front leadership training and believes it's made a difference to his team at work. But, I have no use for business advice so I looked at the various concepts from more of a viewpoint of interacting with others. At any rate, it's a good book and I still highly recommend it after a second reading. 

63. Vertical Run by Joseph R. Garber - Another reread, a 90s thriller that I first read not long after publication. David Elliott served in the Special Forces in Vietnam. 25 years later, he's a successful businessman. So, why does everyone suddenly want to kill him? While a large number of people who clearly have the same training as Dave are hunting him down in the NY skyscraper in which he works, Dave uses the same skills to set traps and elude them while trying to unravel the mystery of why he's being pursued. The story is a bit dated and becomes more implausible the farther you get into it. Even the main character is baffled as to why they didn't just tell him the truth, when he finds out. No biggie. It's taut and exciting with an intelligent hero, if a bit high in body count. I enjoyed it every bit as much the second time around.

64. No Better Medicine by Kelly Meister-Yetter - What a lovely memoir. Kelly Meister-Yetter tells about her love of animals and how they and a new man in her life helped her heal from childhood abuse. Told as a series of vignettes, the author describes how she, known locally as "the Critter Lady", helped care for discarded pet ducks and her own little menagerie of cats while also visiting a local barn full of rescued animals, where she learned how to ride horses and eventually leased a horse who needed help dealing with his own fears. You can't help but admire Kelly's fierce love of animals and the time and dedication she has given to caring for them. I confess to tearing up a little, at times. I may not be acquainted with any ducks or horses but I can relate to the deep affection she has for animals and how they help one deal with chaotic emotion.  

May was a pretty good month! There was only one book I didn't really like: Otis and the Kittens, although Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book was just a gimmick, much as I liked the illustrations. Fortunately, both of those took no time at all to read. I had a lot of favorites: Glitch, The Hopkins Manuscript, Sipsworth, and Vertical Run are among them. No Better Medicine, Arsenic and Old Lace, Clarice the Brave . . . oh, goodness, just about everything was fantastic. Ordinary  People eventually became tiresome but that's often true of stationary bike reads. I end up taking them off the bike rack to finish. 

I included the cat picture because I'm relieved that Isabel has more energy than she's had, recently. I can't recall if I've mentioned that she has a degenerative neurological condition. She was looking scruffy, not grooming herself as well and acting a bit sluggish for a couple weeks. But, her steroid shot seems to have finally helped her perk up, even though it took about a week to take effect. At any rate, she's looking better, for now, and I have my fingers crossed that she'll keep on ticking. 


©2024 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, May 03, 2024

Everything I Read in April, 2024


April: 

42. Ruby Parker Hits the Small Time by Rowan Coleman - Ruby has always been dramatic, so her parents signed her up for drama lessons when she was very young. At her Saturday drama class, at the age of 6, she was discovered and since then she's been acting in a soap opera called Kensington Heights and attending an exclusive drama school. At the time she began acting in the series, her blonde ringlets and dimples made her appealing. Now 13, Ruby is going through an awkward stage. When she overhears talk about killing her character off and then her parents announce that they're separating and her father is moving out, effective immediately, Ruby's world is turned upside-down. Can Ruby convince her parents that they should stick together for her sake (if they really love her)? Will Ruby's character be killed off the show? How will she survive school if she loses her job? She's already a bit of an outcast. With the help of her friend Nydia (who makes hilariously bad suggestions), Ruby pursues her goals. Not the greatest middle grade book but I liked the fact that part of Ruby's dilemma was about already being successful at a young age, which kind of turned the "dreaming of being famous one day" trope on its head. 

43. I Will Not Die Alone by Dera White and Joe Bennett - A book of interconnected comics, I Will Not Die Alone starts out with some very silly images saying things like, "I will pursue my dreams, regardless" (not necessarily the exact wording) showing a mole with a telescope. Haha, good one. I wasn't sure of the point, at first, but then midway through the book, someone looks through the telescope and discovers that a comet is headed toward Earth. The pithy comments below each image continue as you view the animals realizing what's coming, grieving, and then just going on with life in spite of knowing it's going to end, soon. Honestly, I was totally lost until the comet. Then, I got it: whatever happens, you just have to get on with your life. I read some reviews and a lot of people were left flat but I found the storyline both poignant and hilarious. 

44. Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan - Published in 1990, Mean Spirit is a fictional account of the murders in Osage County in the 1920s that are better known through the book and movie Killers of the Flower Moon. I've avoided reading Flower Moon because my hometown was maybe 5 miles from Osage County, so I can't compare the two (I thought fiction would be easier to handle — yeah, no). Wow, what a difficult read. It's told from the viewpoint of the Native Americans and I appreciated that, although it was awful reading about the horror and fear as people were being murdered left and right. Mean Spirit also brought back some unsettling memories, for me. For ages, I have remembered going to a big white building, where my father had a friend working and we would play with that friend's children, for a year or two when I was very young. But, I didn't know what the building was until the teenagers in the book were sent off to Indian school and I thought, "Wait a minute. Indian school." I googled Indian school near [my hometown] and yep, that big white building was Chilocco Indian School. Knowing what we now know about Indian schools, I was teary off and on all evening when I figured that out. As of the book's publication, people who stole land in the 1920s were still receiving royalty checks from the oil found on that stolen land. That's insane and should be fixed, if it hasn't already (I doubt it has). A 5-star read, painful but important and beautifully rendered. 

45. The Road to Roswell by Connie Willis - Francie's friend is getting married in Roswell, New Mexico, and she's the maid of honor. Knowing friend Serena has a tendency to get engaged to very strange men, Francie thinks her job will likely be talking the bride out of marrying. But, when Serena sends Francie to her car to grab some sparkly lights, Francie is kidnapped by an alien. The alien wants her to drive somewhere but she isn't able to communicate with it. Along the way, more people are kidnapped until there is an RV with an ensemble of nutty people, all trying to figure out what the alien (whom they call "Indy") wants, his intended destination, and why he's in such a hurry. Like Project Hail Mary and the movie The Arrival, there's a linguistic aspect to this story as Francie attempts to figure out how to communicate with Indy, which is enjoyable. But, in general, the tone is funny, light, even goofy. A great book to read after you've read something heavy, when you need a mental break. 

46. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice - Evan and his wife Nicole, and their two children are going about their lives in their small Anishinaabe community when they lose power and then phone service. At first, everyone is certain that the power will return and the food shipment will eventually arrive. But as time drags on, nothing happens and it becomes important for the community to band together to share resources, conserve energy, and help out the elderly as it's going to be a long, harsh winter. This story is very everyday but with a tense undercurrent. I liked it particularly for both the Indigenous influence (the descriptions of tradition and the use of native language) and the survival aspect. The pacing is slow but the pages flew and I'm really looking forward to the next book in the series. 

47. We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett - This month's Zoom book group selection is a fantasy based on the real-life WWII female pilots known as the Night Witches. Two women are being punished, one for using magic to save herself and someone else when her town was being bombed, the other for pretending to be a male and joining the army. Their punishment is to become part of a group of women who will use their special talents to fly the oldest, slowest planes available. The better planes are to be saved for the men. A good portion of the book is dedicated to the personalities of the pilots and how they learn to work together while also learning how to fly, navigate, and drop bombs. Then, they are sent to bomb the enemy. One problem: anyone who is shot down but survives and finds their way home is considered a spy. But, staying behind enemy lines means certain death. Who will live and who will die? I generally dislike fantasy but the basis in a piece of WWII history that I was familiar with kept the pages turning, early on, and then it eventually became very tense and exciting. 

48. Spy X Family, Vol. 11 by Tatsuya Endo - Quite possibly the best of the series, Volume 11 of Spy X Family focuses on a single story about the children from Anya's school. Out for a field trip in several buses, two of the buses are highjacked and the kidnappers threaten to kill the children if they don't get what they've asked for. Anya's ability to read minds is helpful as she's able to hear what the kidnappers are planning. Meanwhile, her fake father is off on a mission but her fake mother's brother is determined to become involved in the rescue. It was interesting seeing very little of the two main adult characters but what made this such a great entry in the series was that it was just a good story, all around, and Anya's mind reading made for some light moments. 

49. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - I loved Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (and at least one short story I've read by Wilson in McSweeney's) so I bought several of Wilson's books before my book-buying ban started. The Family Fang continues to display his quirky style, bouncing back and forth between examples of the "art" the family makes, creating chaos and filming it, and the current chaos that's caused the grown children, Annie and Buster, to return home. Annie is now an actress and Buster is a writer. When Annie becomes tabloid fodder and Buster is seriously injured by a potato gun, they go home to recover but are no longer interested in their parents' form of art. But, then their parents disappear. Convinced that they must be creating art, again, rather than truly kidnapped as the police say, Annie and Buster attempt to draw their parents out. Are they dead or alive? I liked this book but about halfway through it I became rather weary of the story, so I took about a week off and then returned to it. In the end, I found it satisfying but The Family Fang is not a book I'll keep for a reread. 

50. The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald - In spite of my vow not to participate in any challenges, I have been quietly joining in on a Wichita library challenge for which friend Carrie sent a bookmark with blanks beside particular categories. Since I'm not buying books, I'm using only books already on my shelves for this challenge. In 1959, Florence Green, a middle-aged widow, has decided to open a bookshop in her small English village. A place called The Old House has been sitting empty for years, so she buys it and moves in. But, then she's invited to a party hosted by someone she doesn't really know, a posh woman who wants to turn The Old House into an arts center. Florence is already living in the house and setting up her store, so she ignores the rude implication that she should move out and lives, mostly comfortably, with a poltergeist occasionally creating a nuisance and help from a couple villagers. While The Bookshop is a novel, it's a short one at 124 pages so it has the feel of a snapshot in time like a short story. I quickly realized that I've read this book before but it was just as enjoyable the second time around. Lovely writing with some sly British humor. 

©2024 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 02, 2024

Everything I Read in March, 2024


March:

28. The Actual by Saul Bellow - POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS BRIEF REVIEW hidden from view — click on white area to view. My first stationary bike read of the month, The Actual is a novella narrated by a successful businessman who has spent most of his adult life overseas, never content. Years ago, he dated Amy but then they went their separate ways, she married, they had a weird threesome in a shower with her first husband, she divorced, married again, her second marriage ended, and her ex died. Throughout all these years, Harry has been in love with her. When Amy and Harry are unexpectedly thrown together, he reflects on what they've been through and how they've changed. Will Harry finally confess his feelings? I mean, who cares? What's with old white guys and their obsession with sex? Not the first famous author whose work I've started with from the wrong end. He could write (and the book was blessedly short or I wouldn't have finished) but the story was just meh. Also, this is the third book I've read this year that's involved dead bodies: in The Actual, an exhumation. Apart from any cracking murder mysteries, future books that revolve around death and cemeteries will be abandoned. 

29. The Bodyguard by Katherine Center - Hannah is an executive protection agent, a bodyguard who does assignments worldwide for wealthy individuals in need of security. She's small but tough. However, she's been emotionally flattened by a relationship that's just ended and her boss has her competing with her ex for a coveted job in London. While her boss decides, she's stuck in the Houston area. Jack Stapleton is a famous leading man who has become reclusive after the tragic death of his brother. Now, he's back in Texas to be near his sick mother and Hannah absolutely, utterly does not want to have to be involved in his security. So, of course they're thrown together. Because The Bodyguard is a romance, it's clear how the story is going to end. But, Katherine Center does a bang-up job of making it fun getting there. The slow growth of affection between Jack and Hannah is surprisingly believable, entertaining, and satisfying. A bit of a Notting Hill in Texas with family instead of a circle of friends as the ensemble. 

30. The Wild Robot Escapes (The Wild Robot series #2) by Peter Brown - I decided to go ahead and read the second in the Wild Robot series so I can go ahead and pass them on together. In The Wild Robot Escapes, Roz has been refurbished and sold to a farmer whose wife died in an accident that also injured his leg. Roz quickly becomes friends with the cows and the children and gets the farm equipment in working order. She plans to eventually escape to return to the island where her adopted son, a goose named Brightbill, still lives. But, she has a built-in tracker. You know from the title that she eventually escapes. And, her escape is a harrowing adventure. Some of the time, Brightbill is with her; at times they're separated. The RECO robots (short for reconnaissance?) are searching for her, throughout. Will Roz make it home? Some edge-of-your-seat moments in this one, for sure. I loved it as much as the first book. I feel like the ending of this book – while hinting at a third book, which does exist – had a satisfactory ending that would make a decent stopping point. But, I might see if my library has the third book, at some point. 

31. The Valley of Adventure (Adventure series #3) by Enid Blyton - Jack, Lucy Ann, Dinah, and Philip are going to go on a plane trip with their friend Bill and spend the night. They pack their bags and are given some snacks plus an admonishment by their mother not to get into anymore dangerous adventures, before they head for the airport. The children are excited. But, when they hear gunfire, they throw their luggage onto the plane and hide without locating their adult friend, who will fly the plane. When strangers climb aboard and fly them to a valley surrounded by mountains, the children are uncertain what to do. But, they do know to stay away from the men who flew the plane. One of them has a gun and they seem to be up to no good. The children have little food and no idea how to escape the valley. And, when they find out what the strangers are up to, they know they're in deep trouble. How will the children survive, much less escape? Well, they're very resourceful children, I'll tell you that much. Another great book by Blyton. I may never read her children's books again, once I finish this boxed set, but I'm glad I have finally gotten to find out what the fuss was all about (I'm looking at you, British friends). 

32. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata - Every year Natsuki's extended family gathers at her grandparents' house in the mountains for the Obon Festival, to celebrate their dead ancestors. But, then something happens to stop the gathering, unfortunately a spoiler. To be honest, most anything I say about this book will spoil it. So, I'm going to put part of it in white text, as I did above, and you can highlight it if you don't mind spoilers. Natsuki and her cousin Yuu hang out together each year because they understand each other. Both have been abused in some way. After they're separated, years pass and Natsuki ends up married to someone who has also been traumatized. Highlight from here, if you dare. They are completely warped. Natsuki has already shown that she can dissociate and turn violent. When Natsuki, her husband, and Yuu end up alone in the mountain home (hiding from society, called "hikikomori" in Japan) because they all desire to avoid becoming part of the Factory,  or normal, married people with jobs and babies, they become increasingly unhinged. Most of the book is disturbing but tolerable. The ending, however, is off the rails — violent, bloody, insane. OK, let's just say the word: cannabalism. I glanced over reviews and saw the word disturbing but if I'd seen the word cannabalism, the book would have gone straight into my donation box. Yeah, I didn't sleep the night I finished it. 

33. Clara Reads Proust by Stéphane Carlier - One of the best books I've read, this year, Clara Reads Proust tells the story of a young woman who is living with a handsome man she doesn't love. She works in a beauty salon called Cindy Coiffure and her days are average, unexciting, predictable. When a one-time customer leaves behind a copy of Swann's Way, Clara tucks it into a drawer. Months later, the customer has not returned and Clara begins reading the book. As she puzzles over it and then begins to understand, it transforms her life. I don't want to go into any further detail because Clara Reads Proust is so captivating that you'll want to read it for yourself. In the beginning, you're introduced to the owner of the salon and the other employees. You get to know Clara and follow her home. And, as her eyes are opened, you get to experience how an individual can find herself through reading, experiencing a joy that catches her totally off-guard. A book lover's delight, I immediately looked up the French author and found that Clara Reads Proust is the only one of his books that has been translated to English. Bummer. Many, many thanks to Meryl Zegarek Public Relations for the ARC!! I will be buying a finished copy of this book when my book-buying ban expires.

34. The Way of the Househusband, Vol. 8 by Kousuke Oono - I glanced over a couple reviews after starting this 8th volume in the manga series and I'm glad I did because it has an extra section that's a spin-off from the series (the Policure series Tatsu's wife is crazy about) and . . . meh. Not for me, although I liked the ending with Tatsu watching as a Policure toy is released. But, at least I knew it was coming, having read a couple reviews. I only allow myself one of this series per month and I think that's probably a good thing because the silliness of a former Yakuza gone househusband yet talking like he's going to murder someone any minute could easily wear off. But, it hasn't and I still enjoyed this volume. One of my favorites was when Tatsu, his wife, and his friend go to a Chinese place for hot pot. The owner says he's made the meal so spicy that he'll give it to them free if they can finish it in 30 minutes. The ending made me laugh out loud. Actually, several of the endings made me laugh out loud. 

35. Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh - Continuing to pretty much read Thich Nhat Hanh consistently because he helps keep me calm and centered, I read Fear in spite of not being a person who considers fear an issue. Despair, yes, so eventually I substituted that word in my mind because it was mentioned as one of the emotions that could be considered in the same light. Fear is very similar to other books I've read by Hanh in that it talks about many of the same principles: interbeing, non-birth and non-death, addressing your emotion and accepting it but not letting it rule you, etc. But, I think the one thing I found most helpful was an exercise that he recommends for daily practice. We've all done it at some point in a yoga or other class, lying on your back and gradually relaxing body parts. I had pulled something in my back and was lying on ice when I went through this exercise and, lo and behold, it helped! Another great read by Hanh. 

36. Spy School: The Graphic Novel by Stuart Gibbs and Anjan Sarkar - I will probably only end up with the one graphic novel (who can say?) from the Spy School series, but I thought it would be fun to revisit the first story in a different way and threw the graphic novel into my cart when I made a Book Outlet order, last year. It's been quite some time since I began reading the series and I'd forgotten some of what happened in the original book, so it felt new again. But, what I really loved was the clarity of the artwork. There are times I feel like graphic novels and mangas are too cluttered and it's difficult to follow what's happening. Not so in Spy School: The Graphic Novel. The illustrations are clear and the storyline easy to follow. I absolutely loved revisiting the story this way. 

37. One-Two by Igor Eliseev - The story of conjoined twins Faith and Hope in Russia during Perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union. Given up by their mother, they're sent to one home for cripples and then another. Determined not to die in a home for the disabled or insane and to try to find out if they can be surgically separated, the girls attempt to escape. And, that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot but a lot happens in One-Two and it's a page turner, although toward the end I was a little weary and ready to finish. That's partly because they went through so much difficulty and partly because I was eager to find out what would eventually happen to them. It was fascinating how their personalities developed but fair warning: their story is relentlessly sad. An excellent read but one that should be saved for when your coping mechanism is on the upswing if you're affected by a sad tone. 

38. Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra (Charlie Thorne #3) by Stuart Gibbs - The third in the Charlie Thorne series has Charlie crashing a party to get a look at an ancient artifact that will hopefully lead to a treasure hidden by Cleopatra. Having escaped from numerous pursuers, 13-year-old Charlie, whose IQ matches that of Einstein, is now in Egypt. But, after her party-crashing experience nets her yet another enemy, she is pursued as she chases down clues to the missing treasure that will take her to several countries. I don't even want to mention the countries because it's fun letting Charlie explain the history behind each of the clues that she unravels. All of the Charlie Thorne books are very educational but this is the first of the series that's made me want to read more about the historical character. Author Stuart Gibbs quoted Stacy Schiff at the beginning of several chapters and if I didn't happen to be on a book-buying ban I'd buy a copy of her book about Cleopatra. Unfortunately, it's not available on Hoopla. Ah, well. Someday. For now, I enjoyed what I learned in Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra and I'm looking forward to more in this adventurous series. 

39. Gaffer Samson's Luck by Jill Paton Walsh - My latest stationary bike book is about a boy named James who has moved from the Yorkshire Dales to the Fens, which he finds offensively flat and boring. There, he meets a scruffy girl who lives in a caravan, Angey, and an elderly neighbor named Samson but nicknamed Gaffer. James is an outcast at school, avoided by everyone except for Angey. His other friend is Gaffer, who is friendly. James enjoys helping his elderly neighbor carry his coal. When Gaffer Samson is injured and finds out that he's dying, he asks James to find his "luck", a trinket given to him by a "gypsy" (at the time of publication, this word was still commonly used) when he was a child. The luck is unfortunately under the tile of his childhood home, which has fallen to ruin. Even the chimney is no longer visible and Gaffer Samson's directions don't make sense given updates to buildings and roads. Will James be able to find the ruined house and Gaffer's luck before it's too late? And, will the village children ever accept James? A heartwarming middle grade book with lovely illustrations that was perfect for bike reading as it was always easy to remember exactly what was happening, even if I missed a few days of biking. 

40. The Obesity Code by Jason Fung, MD - A surprising choice for my online book group's discussion,  about 90% of The Obesity Code describes various studies on dieting, how different foods effect insulin levels, why lowering calories and other weight loss advice only work temporarily, and why controlling insulin is the key to weight loss. The final portion of the book tells you what to eat and when, in addition to why the author believes that intermittent fasting paired with eating the right foods is the answer to the weight loss dilemma. Fung is apparently an endocrinologist as he has done his work with diabetics. The group discussion was interesting. While most everyone was a little skeptical — one of our group mentioned that she tends to feel like diet books are meant to make the author money selling other items and there is, in fact, a cookbook — pretty much everyone was at least trying to extend their night-time fasts ("breakfast" meaning the meal that breaks your overnight fast) if unable to fast longer, drinking water with a little apple cider vinegar, and/or following other advice in the book. The science bits were both tedious and fascinating. It was particularly galling to find out that some studies have ignored their results and published the hypotheses as if they were proven when the opposite was true. Yikes. 

41. And Yet by Kate Baer - I've read all three of Kate Baer's poetry books, now. She is a poet who focuses on motherhood, misogyny, being a writer, and life in general. But, she is particularly zoned in on what it's like to be a woman and mother in a man's world. For that reason, I pretty much adore her poetry. You can't be a woman and not relate to something in each of her books. Having said that, there were fewer poems that resonated with me in this particular book. Still, And Yet is a volume I will likely reread for the poetry that did resonate. Because when she hits her target, she does so with accuracy. She's particularly adept at describing the demeaning and sexist things men say and do. 

©2024 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. 


Sunday, March 03, 2024

Everything I Read in February, 2024


February

17. The Way of the Househusband, Vol. 7 by Kousuke Oono - When I picked up my copy of the 7th book in the Way of the Househusband manga series, I noted the cat on the cover and hoped it meant there would be plenty of cat stories in this particular volume. And, there were! In the first story, a woman wears sunglasses because she doesn't want to be seen as she enters a cat cafe. Inside, Tatsu is working and shows her how to give a cat a meat tube treat then she lets her guard down. There are several other cat-centered stories and at the end of the book, the author's note tells you why. He had recently adopted a cat. This is by far my favorite in the series, although they are all wickedly funny. The cats made it blow to the top of the list. 

18. How to be Both by Ali Smith - There are two sections in this book and I found out after reading it that they're reversed in some books. Half of those printed had one section at the beginning and half the other. In my copy, the part at the beginning of the book is about a girl who is a bit precocious and has quite a clever rapport with her mother. Her mother becomes obsessed with a fresco in an Italian castle and books tickets to go see it. Then, the mother tragically dies and George (short for Georgia) is grieving.  In the second section, a very talented child (who also loses her mother) is the child of a bricklayer who builds walls. When her talent is discovered, the father agrees to help her get art training. But, in order to do so, she'll have to pretend to be a boy because it's the 15th century. There's a lot of word play and what I've read indicates that the use of "both" is quite ingenious. But, that went right over my head. I liked the book better when it was about a special rapport between a mother and child and then her grief and that of her family. The art bits . . . at some point Francesco views and follows George as a spirit so George is brought back and there is a bit of a conclusion to her story but it's from a distance and kind of vague. I liked George enough to want to finish her story out with her, so that was disappointing but I've found most of Smith's books are a bit of a head trip. 

19. The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett - The movie made from this book in the 1960s is one that I watched over and over again as a child but, like my recent discovery that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a book first, I had no idea there even was a book. So, I was excited when I found a copy in the book sale. It's only 127 pages long and illustrated, so The Lilies of the Field is a very quick read, which I appreciated after finishing How to be Both. Homer Smith has decided to see the West. He's from South Carolina but learned some skills in the Army and that's freed him up to travel and occasionally stop to earn enough money to keep going. When he sees some women working in a field, he pulls in. They are nuns who escaped from East Germany and they're trying to get a farm up and running with the ultimate goal of taking in city boys who need guidance. Mother Maria Marthe thinks Smith (whom she calls Schmidt) has been sent by God and she puts him to work, first on the roof of their house and then building a chapel. Smith doesn't even know why he's staying. She's not going to pay him. But, he likes the nuns, eats and works with them and occasionally brings them food, sings with them, and teaches them a bit of English. Just a lovely story. I need to see if I've got a copy of the movie. Must watch it, again!

20. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - I would probably not have read this book if not for friend Carrie sending it to me and when I did, I was quite surprised. I'm not sure what I expected. Maybe a coming-of-age story? And, once I got into it, I was a little confused. Why was it called Olive Kitteridge when the beginning of the book seemed to be about her husband, Henry? When the second chapter had an entirely different focus from the first, I finally looked at the cover blurb. Ooooh, it's a book of interconnected stories in which Olive is always present in some fashion but not really a book about Olive. From then on, I read the book like I do short stories, giving each separate story/chapter time to roll around in my head before I moved on to another set of characters and their challenges. Gradually, you get to know Olive as a complex character who has both good and bad characteristics. Some people are afraid of her or find her unlikable. But, Olive is just Olive and at times she can be an incredibly understanding and soothing soul. It didn't take long for me to appreciate both the writing and the character, once I understood the format of the book. A 5-star read and a Pulitzer Prize winner. I often dislike award-winning books but I loved Olive Kitteridge. Thank you, Carrie!

21. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa - I tried to read The Memory Police a year or two ago, but couldn't wrap my head around the concept of things disappearing but still existing in the world, so I set it aside. This time, I knew what was coming: a world in which it's the perception of objects that disappears but there are people who don't lose that perception and if they're discovered, they're taken away by the Memory Police. It's the kind of world building that requires you to simply let go of reality and accept that something weird is happening. When the heroine, an author, is asked to shelter her editor, who hasn't lost his memories, she and an elderly friend accept the challenge. But, while she is working on her novel and protecting her friend, things continue to disappear and life becomes more difficult. Meanwhile, there is a story within the story as the author/protagonist continues to write her novel, which has parallels to her own reality, with something crucial disappearing forever. I'm glad I gave this book a second chance. While I never was fully able to let go of disbelief, the dystopian island where memories disappear was an unusual and fascinating concept and I found Ogawa's writing quite lovely. 

22. Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto - Three novellas in which sleep plays an outsized role. In the title story, "Asleep", a young woman is having an affair with a married man whom she refers to simply as "my boyfriend" or by his formal name with "Mr.", never by his first name. His wife is in a coma and he didn't start dating the heroine until after his wife had been comatose for a while. She has quit her job and he's paying to keep her in an apartment and unemployed. But, she's constantly sleeping; her level of sleep mirrors the unconsciousness of his wife. In another story, a woman describes how the cousin who had become her brother's lover is sleepwalking after his death has sent her into a spiraling grief. This is my first book by Banana Yoshimoto and it's been sitting on my shelf for probably at least 2 decades. I didn't love it but at the same time I appreciated her unique word choices, to the point that I found myself rereading lines. I would definitely read more by this author. 

23. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh - I couldn't find my personal copy of The Loved One when I looked for it, hoping to join in on a group discussion. But, after the discussion had ended, I managed to locate a copy at the library sale. It's a large print and quite thin, so it was perfect for stationary bike reading. In The Loved One, a British poet named Dennis is unsuccessful at selling his poetry so he gets a job at the local pet mortuary and cemetery, The Happy Hunting Ground. When his roommate loses his job and then passes away, Dennis handles the funeral and burial details and meets Amy, a makeup artist who pretties up corpses. They fall in love, although she's uncertain that a poet is necessarily the right man to marry when Mr. Joyboy comes calling. Amy is Mr. Joyboy's protégé and he is helping her to work her way up in the funeral home. A wickedly funny and kind of stomach-turning satire with a love triangle. 

24. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin - A book about religion (Pentecostal), racism, sex, desire and sin, poverty, and how these things all fit together in the world of 1950s Black life. Having read The Fire Next Time, I presumed that Go Tell It on the Mountain was at least partially autobiographical and after reading the book I found out I was correct, but there were things I totally missed, like the fact that the characters all had Bible names. A very slow and somewhat difficult read but written with such detailed description of emotional and physical sensations that it's almost painful yet pretty damned impressive. What I read indicated that critics have difficulty determining whether it's an attempt at scathing rebuke of religion or the opposite. I lean toward rebuke. 

25. The Wild Robot by Peter Brown - When a hurricane sinks a ship and most of its cargo goes down with it, a few crates float to a nearby island. There, a single crate is left mostly intact with a robot inside. Roz is activated by a romp of otters (I looked it up; a group of otters on land is a "romp"). Roz explores the island and introduces herself to the animals but they think she's a monster until . . . well, that's probably a spoiler. I liked the way the book unfolded so I won't mess it up for anyone who reads this. However, I will tell you that I found The Wild Robot slow in the beginning, but once something happened to soften the hearts of the animals and allow Roz to make friends with them, the book became a pure delight and actually quite heartwarming. By far the sweetest robot story I've ever read but with some heart-pounding moments, as well. 

26. You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh - A reread. The first two books I read by Thich Nhat Hanh were excellent but I didn't read him again for a long time. Recently, I've been reading his books with some regularity and I think I've finished 6, now. What I've found is that reading his books regularly helps me to keep my eye on the ball, so to speak, to stay grateful for the present moment and learn to take joy from little things. "Mindfulness" is such a wonderful concept. There is a particular poem in this book that I've been reciting to myself when needed, since I first read it. It doesn't rhyme so I gave it a tune (admittedly a terrible one but it helps me recall the words) and when I need to calm down, deal with anger or hurt or frustration, it helps immediately. I can't recommend Thich Nhat Hanh enough. 

27. Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington - One of my Aussie Instagram friends mentioned this book amongst her Australian favorites before the end of the year and all of the others on her list that I'd read were books I enjoyed, so I grabbed a copy before the start of my book-buying ban without knowing a thing about it (I have never seen the movie, either). For those who don't know, Rabbit-Proof Fence is the true story of three half-caste Aboriginal/White girls who were taken to have their native language and knowledge replaced by the White immigrant's preferred methods and the English language. There's some history leading up to their forcible removal from Jigalong Station to the "school" North of Perth, then the journey they were taken on, followed by their observation that the place was more jail than school and their escape back home, which took 9 weeks and was done with such cleverness and skill that even professional trackers couldn't locate them. An amazing story but so depressing to find that natives in Australia experienced the exact same kind of forced removal to horrible so-called schools that Native Americans went through. 


©2024 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. 


Saturday, February 03, 2024

Everything I Read in January, 2024

January:

1. Owls and Other Fantasies by Mary Oliver - Last year, I deliberately began the year with a volume of Mary Oliver's poems and a book by Thich Nhat Hanh because I consider both writers "uppers". They always make my spirits soar. So, I returned to Oliver, this year. Owls and Other Fantasies is a mix of poetry and essays and her essays are every bit as poetic as her poems. I persist in saying that Mary Oliver was at her best when she wrote about nature and this is definitely a nature-focused book, so it became an instant favorite. Great way to start a new year!!

2. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R. A. Dick - The old black and white movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a childhood favorite of mine, so when I saw a friend's Instagram post saying she was rereading the book and then planning to watch the movie, I was excited. There was a book? I had no idea! I ordered both the book and movie and planned to do the same as friend Robin. The story is about a widow in England. Her husband left her fairly poor so she and the children have been living with her in-laws. But, Lucy Muir is tired of being told what to do and when to do it. She longs to be independent and live by the sea. After finding a reasonably-priced and furnished home, she moves in. It's haunted by the ghost of a seaman, Captain Gregg, but Lucy and Captain Gregg come to an understanding and there she stays. A story of determination and a uniquely lovely romance with an absolutely perfect ending. Bonus: husband loved the movie! 

3. The Unteachables by Gordon Korman - Mr. Kermit is marking time till he can take early retirement in June. Ever since he was blamed for a scandal early in his career, he's lost interest in teaching. Now, he's been put in charge of SCS-8, a group of middle school misfits known as "The Unteachables". All he cares about is getting through the school year. But, as he gets to know his students and spots injustice, he steps up to fight for his students. In response, they step up for him, learn to work together, become friends, and set out to right a decades-old wrong that's turned into a cruel power move on the part of the superintendent. Hilarious storytelling, wonderful characterization, and a surprisingly moving ending. I'm such a sap. I laughed, I cried. I loved this middle grade story. 

4. The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh - A guide for living, as the title says, The Art of Living is about living with mindfulness in every part of your life, whether it's walking, eating, breathing, brushing your teeth, or anything else you do. Mindfulness is a pretty easy concept, just about being aware of the fact that you're alive, taking the time to appreciate the sun beating down upon your shoulders or the taste of your food, etc. Some of the basic principles of Buddhism are a little harder to understand, but I particularly liked the way Hanh describes what he calls "interbeing," which is simply the fact that everything is interconnected. If our planet suffers, we suffer. If we take care of Earth, we thrive. That kind of thing. I need more of this. You don't have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the way the spiritual principles can enhance your life and make you more compassionate, relaxed, and connected. 

5. In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli - Simona and Carolina are young Italians girls, aged 8 and 5. When their father gets a job in the Italian Embassy in Tokyo, in 1940, he thinks they'll be safer in Japan than Italy as war rages in Europe. They miss their Nonna, but the girls go to a Japanese school where they quickly learn to adapt, although they'll always be considered foreigners. But, a year into their stay, Japan attacks the United States. As the war continues, food becomes scarce, attacks come closer to their home, and being foreigners becomes even more dangerous. When they're separated from their father, will the girls manage to survive and will they ever be reunited with their beloved Papá? For a middle grade book, this was quite long (nearly 400 pages) and very educational, as well as quite a rollercoaster ride. I don't want to spoil it for anyone but I will say that In a Flash is very gripping, at times, and I really enjoyed it. 

6. Cats in Hats by Jo Clark - I struggled to figure out how to define this book (in my head) after finishing but eventually decided "humor" works. Along with illustrations of cats in silly headgear are descriptions that are often quite funny. I love the illustrations. Every one of the cats looks slightly irritated, which is fitting from the perspective of a cat owner whose kitties are literally paralyzed with horror if I dress them up (I no longer try; it was too upsetting to them). I have particular favorites of the illustrations but my absolute favorite is the cat in a bunny hat. 

7. I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer - In this second volume of poetry by the wildly popular author of What Kind of Woman, Baer uses news articles, letters/emails, and other documents, many negative about her personally, and turns them into blackout poetry with her usual focus on feminism and being who you choose to be, unbent by the dictates of others. 

8. Before Your Memory Fades (Before the Coffee Gets Cold #3) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi - The third in the series of stories about a café from which people can time travel takes place in a different city but the strict rules for time traveling are the same. Nagare has traveled to his mother's café to keep it open while she's in the United States. There is a table with a ghost, just like the one in Tokyo. The change of location allows for descriptions of the changing seasons shown through the window, which looks down onto a bay. There are four interconnected stories in Before Your Memory Fades, each with someone who desires to see someone in the future or past. The stories are consistently heartwarming and I've loved every one of the books, so far. 

9. Siam by Lily Tuck - My latest stationary bike read, the story of a newlywed couple living in Thailand in the 1960s. James is in the military. His new wife Claire entertains herself by learning Thai history, taking lessons in the language, and obsessing over the disappearance of a wealthy silk merchant. I found Claire annoying, although I appreciated her curiosity about the country and language. James was wrapped up in himself and the servants were inscrutable. At times I enjoyed Siam for the author's descriptive power but eventually I grew tired of the characters and I found the ending very disappointing. TW: There's a very disturbing rape scene. 

10. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. - An epic sci-fi novel about a post-apocalyptic Earth told in three parts, beginning with 600 years after nuclear apocalypse has wiped out most of the population, left about a third with genetic mutation, and led to the eradication of knowledge. An abbey has been built from the rubble and the monks are the few who worked to save any scraps of knowledge they could find and hide. It's a dark age but some documents are found in a fallout shelter and the monks are continuing to study and copy old documents in the hope that understanding will return. In the second part, knowledge is growing, the population has rebounded, but nation states have formed and war is brewing. It's basically the beginning of the Industrial Age. In the third section, knowledge has caught up and surpassed the pre-apocalyptic science, new planets are being inhabited, and it's a new nuclear age but a rocket has been fired. Was it deliberate or accidental? Will negotiations prevent a second nuclear annihilation? Seriously, epic. Just so much to discuss. I fortunately have been able to read A Canticle for Leibowitz while my husband listened to the radio play, so I've had someone to talk to about it. I definitely recommend it for group reading or buddy reads.  

11. Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs - For a palate cleanser after reading about nuclear annihilation, I turned to one of my favorite middle grade authors. Once Upon a Tim is for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, heavily illustrated and with "IQ BOOSTER" notes in which Gibbs uses an above-level word and then defines it. The story is about a peasant named Tim who decides to become a knight, along with his best friend Belinda, when a princess is kidnapped by a skinx. The dashing prince is actually a coward, so he recruits the two children and the village idiot to help him rescue Princess Grace. But, in order to save her, they'll have to go through the Forest of Doom, over the River of Doom, across the Chasm of Doom, and into the lair of the skinx. Very adventurous and funny, as are all of Gibbs' books. He's a favorite for good reason. 

12. Juliàn is a Mermaid by Jessica Love - A frequently-banned picture book for ages 2-6, this title popped up when I was scrolling through the Hoopla offerings. Unfortunately, it was only available in audio format, so I didn't get to see the illustrations. Juliàn has a passion for mermaids and dresses up as one, using ferns for a headdress and a curtain for his tail. It's probably banned because he puts on lipstick (that's just a guess), but it's the story of a little boy who finds something he likes and plays dress-up. I flipped through some reviews and one says it has beautiful watercolor illustrations of New York. I'll check the children's section, next time I'm at my library. I loved the story so I'd like to see the illustrations.

13. Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh - Another new favorite from the Buddhist monk, Silence is not just about being quiet. It's also about calming the hamster wheel inside your head, how learning to shut off outside noise to meditate, sitting or walking quietly, turning off social media and TV, all can help you learn to be present and really appreciate life. I can think of a lot of friends who I'm sure would enjoy this title. My son has been very stressed and when I told him about how it helps you quiet your mind so you can relax, he said, "Oh, I need that!" Side note: I had a great deal of trouble silencing my Energizer Bunny brain when I started reading but I gradually improved at focusing on the book. So, it really does work for me. 

14. Shubeik Lubeik by Deena Mohamed - What a fascinating book! This graphic novel imagines a world in which wishes are a commodity, there are three classes of wishes (3rd class wishes often go wrong), and each class of wishes has very strict rules and regulations for their use. Shokry has inherited three 1st class wishes. He's been trying to sell them from his kiosk in Cairo for years, but has had no luck. Eventually, Aziza finds out about his wishes for sale and because they're expensive, she works for years saving the money to buy one. Things go horribly wrong when she goes to register her wish. Years later, Nour buys a wish and goes into therapy to learn how to use it properly to help with their depression. Finally, Shokry wants to give the last wish to a friend but she's adamantly opposed to taking it or having someone use it on her and she tells her story. Where the final wish eventually goes is a hoot. I bought this book for group discussion and the discussion was a good one, a surprising but excellent choice. 

15. The Labyrinth of Doom by Stuart Gibbs (Once Upon a Tim #2) - I decided to go ahead and read the only other book I have in the Once Upon a Tim series (there are two more out there, but I don't have copies of either) in case I decide to pass them on together, soon, which seems likely. Tim and Belinda, aka "Bull" are now being trained in knighthood as employees of Princess Grace. When one of the knights working as a sentry falls asleep on the job and Princess Grace makes the mistake of buying poisoned apples from a vendor who shouldn't have been allowed in, she is once again kidnapped and this time placed in a dangerous labyrinth. Tim and Bull must rescue her. Another exciting adventure. I confess that the endings of both books felt a little like a cop-out (too easy) but after all the danger and humor . . . eh, whatever. Definitely a series I'd like to continue. These are for the younger middle grade crowd with lots of illustrations. 

16. Faraway Places by Tom Spanbauer - Everything goes wrong during the summer of the Chinook on Jacob's family's Idaho farm in Faraway Places. Jacob is a lanky teenager (near as I can tell). His father has told him to stay out of the river and there are some forbidden places on the farm, as well. But, it's a hot summer, so Jake starts going to the river to cool off. While there, he witnesses a murder, and that's just the beginning. A bleak, brutal, but compelling story that's well written but unsettling and sometimes very disturbing or offensive. This was my most recent stationary bike read. I can't say I enjoyed it but there was definitely something magnetic about Spanbauer's writing that kept the pages turning. 


Not pictured in either photo is Juliàn is a Mermaid because it was a Hoopla audio. 

©2024 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, January 03, 2024

2024 Reading Goals


My goals are pretty simple for 2024 but I like to write them down so that I can look back, at the end of the year. So, here goes:

1. 2024 brings the return of the full-year book-buying ban. I have two exceptions, books for book group discussion and library sale finds. However, I can only bring home as much as I donate. So, if I take a single book to donate when I work in the library sale (I'm a volunteer!), I can only bring one home. If I'm miserable, mid-year, I will allow myself one Book Outlet purchase, but only one. And, I'm going to do my best to avoid even that.

2. Read from my own collection, particularly the floor piles. I have too many books, hence the buying ban. There's no longer any remaining shelf space (partly because I gave my son 3 bookshelves, last year — that's one way to force yourself to go through your books!) I do also plan to work on thinning the many remaining titles on my shelves.  

3. No floor piles by the end of the year. Good luck to me. 

4. Read what calls to me. The only exceptions will be books read for my book group and any unsolicited arrivals that appeal to me. I still occasionally get a book in the mail and I will always read those in a timely manner if they interest me. 

My numerical goal is set to 100 at Goodreads because that's usually an easily achievable number (I don't want my book goal to become something stressful) but I'd like to try to read more novels. I have a handful of remaining manga and graphic novels and I always have a nice stockpile of middle grade books, so I have books to turn to if I'm feeling bogged down and need something light. But, I felt like I read a bit too many very short books in 2023, so I want to stretch myself a bit. 

I usually choose one or two classic chunksters to try to read (last year, I read one of the two I chose). This year, nah. If I feel like reading a classic chunkster, I will. But, I'm not going to make any particular title a goal. 

The same is true of genres. I have some things I'm letting float around in my head that I'd like to focus on: more classics, some Japanese and Australian titles. But, I find that if I let books call to me rather than making a plan, I enjoy my reading more. Challenges, in particular, seem to bog me down, which sucks but it is what it is, so I'm just going to let my own needs dictate how I read. 

By the way, is that image above beautiful, or what? It was taken in Poland by someone called @freestocks and I found it at Unsplash, a great place to find free images. 


©2024 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.