Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Everything I Read in March, 2024


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


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


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. 

Books Read in 2023

 [All links for each month lead to the same summary post with brief reviews]













©2023 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.

Everything I Read in December, 2023


144. The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen - I bought a copy of The Little Reindeer after reading the review of a friend who has a knack for choosing children's books with wonderful illustrations. The Little Reindeer is the story of a little girl (who is herself dressed like a reindeer). When she looks out the window and sees that it's snowed, she decides to go investigate. In the forest, she finds a collar and then the reindeer who lost it. She helps the reindeer, putting the collar back on him, and then he flies her home. It's a basic story but the illustrations are lovely, as expected. I especially liked little touches like the cut-outs that allow the reader a peek at the following page and the bits of pretty foil highlights, here and there. While not exactly a Christmas book, it has a Christmasy feel to it and I may add it to my annual Christmas book rotation. 

145. The Way of the Househusband, Vol. 6 by Kousuke Oono - Aaargh, I only have one book left in this series! Volume 6 has Tatsu and his wife helping a friend with her finances with some helpful hints on how to save money. They also do some dog-sitting (the cat is not thrilled), and Tatsu is shown trying to remember a key phrase that will help him get a bonus item for his wife, among other stories. As usual, I found myself smiling a lot while I read the book. This is such a fun manga series. I'm going back on a full book-buying ban in January so I might do the sneaky thing and buy a few before the end of the year. Update: I did the sneaky thing. There may have been other last-minute panic buying. 

146. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg - Believe it or not, I have never read this book or seen the movie till this year. But, I was in the mood for some new Christmas reads, so I bought a copy. If you haven't read The Polar Express, the tale is about a young boy who is watching for Santa Claus when a train comes along. He throws on his robe and slippers and goes on the train to the North Pole with other children in their pajamas. There, he meets Santa and is given the first gift, a bell. But, there's a hole in his pocket so he loses it. The next morning, it's in a box under the tree. But, only the children can hear it when it rings. I liked it! I can't believe it took me so long to get to this one. 

147. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess - An old favorite, I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas aloud to the cat (Fiona). She wasn't particularly interested so she came and went while I continued to read aloud. Sometimes, I miss the fun of reading aloud to small children and I just read aloud for the joy of it. It didn't matter if only the trees were listening. I still love the Grinch. I have never seen the live action movie because I love the cartoon too much and can't bear the thought of seeing a completely different version. I get stupidly weepy when the Whos down in Whoville begin to sing and the Grinch's heart grows 3 sizes. 

148. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore - I can't find the copy of The Night Before Christmas that my aunt and uncle sent to us when my sister and I were young so, again, I bought a new copy. The wonderful thing about children's books is that if you ever find the original, kids' books are always in demand so it's easy to find them new homes. My new copy has lovely illustrations, the best I've found since I misplaced the childhood copy, but nothing beats the original, which was brilliantly illustrated -- by far the prettiest I've ever seen. Hopefully, I'll locate it someday. Still love this beautiful poem. 

149. Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs - In this latest installment of the Spy School middle grade series, author Stuart Gibbs pokes fun at the ridiculous conspiracy theories of QAnon. Bad guy Murray creates conspiracies including that hero Ben is a lizard person and then offers a reward to whoever assassinates him. With a price on his head and everyday people who read X's conspiracy website able to recognize Ben, danger is all around him. Will Ben and his friends be able to escape the assassins and find Murray to put a stop to the lies before it's too late? I can't say it enough; I love this series. Action, adventure, thrills, and even a little romance make it loads of fun. 

X. Scout Stories #3: New York Issue by Nick Carr - I followed Scouting New York for years (before Carr relocated and changed his screen name to "Scout Stories") and now location scout Nick Carr is gradually releasing some of his stories in zines. This third issue is by far my favorite of the three, stories about his favorite places in New York City and histories of those locations or details spotted, complete with photographs. He has updated many of the stories to include what's happened since he originally wrote about the locations or objects. I remembered several from his early posts and was happy to see updates. The rest were new to me and equally fascinating. 

150. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh - Gilbert Pinfold is a moderately successful author. He has a lovely wife and a large family living in a farm house. They've had a spot of bother with a man who used their fields but otherwise life is pretty decent. But, Gilbert has had trouble sleeping. To combat this difficulty, he drinks alcohol and a couple of potions. His doctor prescribes him some gray pills. He looks awful. His wife decides that he needs to go on a journey for the sake of his health. But, once he's onboard ship, he believes the wartime communication system has been tangled up as he's overhearing voices from various parts of the ship. I found this one pretty weird, to be honest. But, I like Waugh's writing so I was never tempted to give up. Also, I selected Ordeal for my Zoom book group so I kind of had to finish. Update: A video of an interview with Evelyn Waugh clarified a lot about the book and made it so much more interesting and revealing. 

151. Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous - My most recent stationary bike read is a translation (probably from the Italian) about the residents of an apartment block who have differing opinions about each other, theories about who is peeing in the elevator, and thoughts about whether or not Amadeo is an immigrant and responsible for the murder of one of the residents. The story goes from one voice to another with Amadeo's the one that reappears throughout. Amadeo's real name is an Arab name and he's from Algeria. But, he speaks Italian so fluently that everyone just assumes he's Italian. He is also the kindest of men. So, when one of the residents turns up dead and Amadeo disappears, the residents are certain he did nothing wrong. But, who is Amadeo, really, and what has become of him? A fun read. 

152. The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg - In this middle grade classic, a teacher returns to her classroom 10 years after a car accident has left her paralyzed. She has chosen the four students who will compete in the local academic quiz competition and everyone wants to know how she selected them. They aren't, after all, necessarily the students you'd have expected her to choose based on their academic success. Slowly, the author reveals details about each of the students, how they met, how they became not just a team but the best of friends, and how she knew that The Souls, as they call themselves, were the right people for the competition. This was my "emergency book for when the cat wants to make biscuits and I'm stuck" and it was so good that I second the little golden Newbery award stuck to its cover. 

153. The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers - A very short children's book about a little girl who thinks she sees snowflakes and then realizes they're snow children. Her mother is away and the children invite her to go along to a castle, where she eats and plays with the princess and the snow babies until she's worn out and then is driven home by polar bears. It's super short but such a sweet little book that's become part of my Christmas book rotation. I doubt I'll read it every year but I liked it even better this year than last because I was less focused on the fact that a child wandered off while left home alone, which sounds like horror from a Mom perspective. Beautiful illustrations and, as I said on Goodreads last year, there's a "timeless sense of transport to a magical other world". I agree with myself. 

154. Ollie's Ski Trip by Elsa Beskow - Another tiny book, this time 30 pages long, the story of a child who gets a set of skis and then waits impatiently for snow. When it finally arrives, he skis into the forest and meets Jack Frost. Mrs. Thaw is rudely chided for trying to melt things too early and Jack Frost takes Ollie to meet King Winter in his palace. There, he gets to make snow forts and go sledding during break time for the children who are making Christmas gifts. There's something very warm and nostalgic about this story. It's lovely.

155. A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas - Since I first read this book, I've felt obligated to reread it every Christmas season (even if I manage to read nothing else Christmasy). It's funny and a word lover's delight, the story of what it was like to be a small boy in Wales, waiting for cats at whom to throw snowballs (they never show up), calling for the fire brigade when a neighbor has a kitchen fire, opening fabulous gifts and watching as the aunts buzz around, one of them drinking a little more than she should, while the uncles all smoke and fall asleep in their chairs. You can hear Dylan Thomas reading this poem online via YouTube if you don't own a copy. Mine is getting fairly beat up but I love the black-and-white illustrations that are every bit as comical as the prose. 

156. Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies - I've only seen the movie a single time and didn't really remember it at all but I thought it would be fun to read this Christmas classic about Santa on the verge of being kicked out of his nursing home and bringing Christmas cheer before being taken to court to determine if he's a lunatic who needs to be institutionalized or, in fact, the real Kris Kringle. Honestly, I can see why I forgot the movie. I found the story average. I liked it and might reread it in the future but it will never be a favorite. 

157. Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry - A lifelong favorite, I bought a new copy of Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree in 2022 because I haven't seen my childhood copy in ages (it's probably packed away in the attic). It's made it onto the yearly rotation. I love this wonderful rhyming story about a wealthy man whose tree is too tall so the top, chopped off to make it fit, goes through many more choppings of its top until the final, tiny bit ends up in a mouse hole in Mr. Willowby's home. 

158. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote - I read Capote's Thanksgiving collection of three stories about childhood memories after Thanksgiving but I missed the illustrations in my older copy of just A Christmas Memory, so I opted to read it a second time. I reread A Christmas Memory annually; it's another favorite. 

159. 2023 Short Story Advent Calendar by Various Authors - This will be my last Short Story Advent Calendar because it's a bit pricey and I don't feel like I'll be able to indulge when my husband retires but it was a good selection to go out on. There were a lot of contemporary stories and a few by well-known authors like Chekov and Cather. Surprisingly, there was one story I recently read in this year's selection. As always, I took note of favorites so that I can look up the authors' other work, although I won't be buying in 2024. 

160. What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez - The narrator, a writer, has a friend who is dying of cancer and an ex who is convinced that there's no way back from the impending climate change apocalypse. A neighbor of the narrator has a son who would like someone to look in on his mother but it quickly becomes unbearable as the elderly woman has become an angry, round-the-clock, right-wing news viewer. And, when the narrator's dying friend asks an uncomfortable favor of her, it sends her into a bit of a tailspin. But, what can you do when someone is going through the worst time in their life and asks for help? I bought this book because I was curious to read something by the author. This story bounced around a lot and was a bit triggering for me, although it was provocative, with some interesting and very discussable topics, like whether or not one should bring a child into a potentially disastrous world and the pros and cons of euthanasia. I found it compelling enough to finish but it was just an average read. 

161. The Complete Illustrated Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - I found my gorgeous leather copy at the library sale and may have emitted a little squeal because I've been looking for a complete edition (or set) for literal decades. I spread the reading of this book out over the entire year, just dipping in for a story or two, now and then. My conclusion is that there's good reason Sherlock Holmes is an enduring classic. I enjoyed every minute of the reading. I had read random Sherlock stories in no particular order, in the past, but I found it much more satisfying to read the entire works. 

Here are the flatlays (so many children's books that it required two separate photos)!

So, that ends 2023! I had two more books that I expected to finish and then I decided to ditch one, a series book so I'm getting rid of every one of the books in that series, which I bought (oh, well), and I chose to take my time with the other and let the reading continue into the new year. Ending with Sherlock is not a bad thing. It was a wonderful set of stories and I'm happy to have finally found and read a complete edition. 

Happy New Year! My complete list of books read will be posted shortly. 

©2023 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.