Friday, May 26, 2017

Fiona Friday

Kind of a strange picture because the focus is on Isabel's tail, rather than her face. But, I like it, even though she was clearly a bit irritated with me for disturbing her nap.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Plague by Albert Camus

When leaving his surgery on the morning of April 16, Dr. Bernard Rieux felt something soft under his foot. It was a dead rat lying in the middle of the landing. On the spur of the moment he kicked it to one side and, without giving it a further thought, continued on his way downstairs. Only when he was stepping out into the street did it occur to him that a dead rat had no business to be on his landing  [...]

~p. 7

In Oran, a city on the coast of Algeria, the citizens are only mildly alarmed by the appearance of dying rats, at the beginning of The Plague. First, a trickle of rats emerging from their hidden homes is taken by Monsieur Michel, the concierge of Dr. Bernard Rieux's building, as a sign that an unhappy tenant or a hooligan is leaving them for him to clean up after. But, then the rats begin to appear throughout the town. They stagger and then die, the number of dead rats growing until they're piled in heaps and the city struggles to keep up with their disposal. Then, Michel falls ill and dies in agony and gradually, the disease spreads.

Dr. Rieux is among the first to suspect that Bubonic Plague is the culprit. But, even he has his doubts and both the city officials and the other doctors in town are hesitant to declare an emergency for fear of panicking the citizens. As the crisis grows, eventually the city officials concede to the facts and begin to organize, separating the sick from the healthy, taking over schools and apartment buildings when the hospital overflows, and finally closing the town's gates to keep the disease from spreading beyond the town's walls. While news from outside the town walls becomes difficult to come by, local reporting focuses on the number of casualties, the shortages of food and other necessities, and the need for volunteers to help with the disposal of bodies. Slowly, the disease peaks and tapers off, leaving the survivors shaken but ready to return to normal. But, their world will never be quite the same.

During the time I was reading The Plague, I didn't give a lot of thought to the theory that the story is considered by many to be an allegory for the invasion by Nazis in WWII (there's another possibility about its meaning that I don't recall). The story is so focused on the logistics of the city's efforts to combat the plague, the doctor's efforts and exhaustion, and the longing for loved ones from whom many are separated that I found it a little difficult to step back and look at the big picture until after I finished the book. Instead, I observed it from the micro view of the individual characters and how the plague impacted their lives: a doctor exhausting himself, a journalist from elsewhere who desperately wants to escape Oran and return to his wife, a man with a small life but lots of optimism who has decided to write a book but can't get beyond the first paragraph, a tenant who attempts suicide and ends up unexpectedly thriving during the plague. The characters are pretty fascinating.

And then, well after closing the book, I got it. First, a few rats appear from obscurity and nobody is particularly alarmed. [Nazis appear but everyone thinks they'll fade away.] Then, the rats' presence explodes and they become problematic, but still the officials hesitate to acknowledge the danger. The rats' disease invades the city. [The city is invaded by Nazis.] The plague hits and people begin to die. [War.] Time passes and the plague continues to kill at a relentless pace; people are exterminated by the disease. [Hitler's extermination of Jews.] A small band of stalwarts continue the fight. Some are killed off. [Perhaps the Resistance?] Eventually, the plague ends and people celebrate, but things are not the same as they were before the plague. Many have lost loved ones and friends.

That may not be the best analysis but I can see how one might view The Plague as an allegory, now, whereas I was caught up in the emotion and the logistics while I was reading the book.

Recommended - A brilliantly written but ponderous story in which you can practically feel the painfully slow passage of time as a plague stretches out for months on end, locking citizens away from the rest of the world and separating many from their loved ones. Is it an allegory for WWII? I don't know. I'm not sure what the consensus is, either, as I only briefly skimmed information about the book. But, I can see now why people view it as such. The Plague was my classic choice for the month of April and won't be my last by Camus. I'm pretty sure I have a copy of The Stranger around here, somewhere. I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

For posterity: There was an interesting philosophy in few words that I want to write down for the sake of my own memory (so I can take the flags out of the book): "Big fish eat little fish." Interesting way of expressing "liberal ideas, as his pet dictum on economic questions". I won't comment on how I feel about it; I just liked the expression.

Last thought: The book could be a bit gruesome, at times, but Camus kept the more graphic scenes to a minimum, so it's not too bad if you're faint of heart and prefer not to read about the gory details of a ghastly disease.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

This is going to be one of those reviews that I quickly bury because I really don't like writing overly negative reviews and this one is going to lean negative (but I'll mention the positive and try to keep it as balanced as possible, no worries).

Same Beach, Next Year is about two couples who become lasting friends. Adam and Eve were lovers, way back in high school, but both are happily married when they and their spouses vacation in the same condominium complex in South Carolina. Adam's wife Elyse notices the looks that pass between the former lovers while Eve's husband Carl is too busy flirting with Elyse to pay much attention. The two couples become fast friends after Carl, a doctor, puts his doctoring skills to use when one of Adam and Elyse's twins is injured. For twenty years they vacation together while weathering the trials that come of parenting and living near their extended families.

Then, one day Adam and Eve are at their respective condominiums alone. Adam sees a light in Eve's place and goes to check it out, staying to talk late into the night when he finds that all is well. Elyse and Carl find the two asleep on Eve and Carl's sofa in the morning and both Elyse and Carl go ballistic, believing the two must have slept together. Their marriages crumbling, Carl leaves Eve and Elyse takes a long-desired trip to Greece to visit the family she hasn't seen since her childhood. When tragedy strikes, will Elyse and Carl find it in their hearts to forgive?

Okay, let's start with the positive: Same Beach, Next Year has good bones. Unfortunately, that's about all I can say I liked about the book, the fact that "stuff happens". It's got some interesting plot points. The problems with Same Beach, Next Year are, in my humble opinion, manifold. One is the lack of distinction between the two viewpoints: Adam's and Elyse's. When you're in Elyse's head, she is thinking about her life - the meals she cooks, the children and her husband and how perfect their life is, descriptions of various home interiors, her thoughts about the people around her. And, guess what? Adam is all about Elyse - what a perfect cook and hostess she is, how lucky he is to have her, blah, blah. He doesn't think like a man; he sounds exactly like a mirror image of Elyse.

My second problem with the book is that there are a lot of throw-away lines. For example, at some point Elyse thinks it would be nice to try for a little girl. But, then nothing happens. There is never a discussion between Adam and Elyse about having a third child and the line fits absolutely nowhere in the plot. She never becomes pregnant, never thinks about a third child again. And, this:

I had prepared an early supper of spaghetti with tomato sauce and lots of grated Asiago cheese instead of Parmesan. ~ p. 52

WHAT? I don't know how long I stared at that sentence, just wondering what the author was trying to say. Parmesan is what you're supposed to eat on spaghetti? Is she trying to tell me how to eat my pasta? What is the purpose of "instead of Parmesan"? Incidentally, "Maybe a girl would come to us?" is on the next page. I probably should have put the book down, at that point. But, I used to really enjoy Frank's books and continued, thinking it would undoubtedly improve. Nope. The throw-away lines continue. Late in the book, Elyse muses about social media ("a colossal waste of time") and one of the women says, "Wow," when another mentions that an elderly character gets all of her clothing from consignment shops. Just "wow", whatever that means. Are we supposed to frown upon her for not buying new items? Are they saying they're impressed at how well she chooses her clothing? I don't know.

Neither recommended or not recommended - The ratings at Goodreads are high and I confess I was never Dorothea Benton Frank's best audience, even though I enjoyed some of her earlier titles. I'm not a big fan of Southern fic; I simply liked them for the change of pace. If you like Frank's books, especially her recent work, you may enjoy Same Beach, Next Year. It's a "beachy" read, very brain light. I was disappointed with the last Frank book I read but thought she deserved one last chance. I will not read another book by this author, but I do think the book is well plotted and interesting things happen. It's just a very awkward read with a lot of meandering detail, the romance between couples is not very convincing, the heroine's world is too perfect, and I never really did like any of the main characters. It was not for me.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley - from Sterling Children's Books for review - I've already read this and it is a hoot. 
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and 
  • Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell - both purchased and both not pictured because they just arrived (admittedly bought on impulse, although both are books that were on my mental wish list)

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
  • Almost Everybody Farts by Marty Kelley

I must have felt mentally foggy after finishing No Man's Land because everything I read, last week, including the book I'm about to finish, was extraordinarily on the light side. I'm glad I made that choice, though, because I loved what I read and feel energized, ready to dig into something deeper, now.

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank - I am not a DBF fan and I'm pretty sure I once said I'd never read her, again, but I liked the sound of this particular book, storywise. I've been determined to do my best to enjoy it but it really has reminded me that the author is simply not for me. I'll try not to be too harsh in my review. The bones of the book are good. There's a nice story; it's the writing style and the superfluous description that I dislike. 

In other news:

It stormed over the weekend and it's supposed to rain all week. Apart from knocking over our planters and breaking a tree on the border of our property in two (technically, I think it's on the neighbor's property), the storms were noisy but not overly damaging - no tornadic activity, in other words, although the wind was clearly intense. We enjoyed the ambience. We watched Bridge of Spies after happening across it while channel-flipping and I have to say I think it will go on the mental list of my favorite movies. We were watching it on a movie channel during a free weekend, so there were no commercials and I had a terrible time tearing myself away to go fill a water cup. How was your weekend?

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 19, 2017

We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman and a Fiona Friday pic

I've been failing at blogging and a lot of other things, this week, due to the overwhelmingness of life, so I'm going to review my most recent read because it's an easy one to talk about.

We're All Damaged is contemporary fiction about a man whose wife divorced him after she became involved with a paramedic. Andy was devastated and escaped to New York City after making a fool of himself at his former brother-in-law and best friend Neal's wedding. It's been nearly a year since he left, but now Andy's grandfather is close to death and his mother has called him home. Back in Omaha, Andy spends time with his grandfather and meets a mysterious, tattooed woman who claims she can help him recover from his divorce. He blindly trusts her advice while dealing with the fallout from his self-destruction at the wedding and trying to protect his right-wing, radio-host mother from the Glitter Mafia (although he's pretty much on their side), a group of gay men who are dedicated to giving her a hard time.

Once again, I had to peek at the reviews to see what exactly it was that the people who disliked this book had to say. Meh, nothing major. It's basically lad lit, the male verson of chick lit, and I think most of those who read the book thought it was in some way lesser to their favorite contemporary male authors. That didn't bother me because I wasn't comparing anyone to anything. The reason I ended up reading We're All Damaged, in fact, was the fact that I'd just finished reading No Man's Land, a book in which a young man faced the hardship of life in poverty and then on the front lines of WWI. I was specifically looking for something a little low on depth, something light-hearted and fun.

We're All Damaged was perfect for the moment. I didn't see anything on my shelves that appealed to me so it was a Kindle download (from a recent Kindle First promotion) that grabbed me, for once. You know how often I read e-books, right? Almost never. I set down my iPad and forget about them. A book has to really grab me and suck me in to get finished if it's in electronic form. And, the thing is, We're All Damaged made me laugh out loud that first night when I opened it. That was enough for me. I was definitely going to finish that e-book.

There are really only two negative things worth mentioning about We're All Damaged and one is not an original thought, but I'll save that for last. I was not thrilled with the heavy use of pop culture references. I tend not to be up on my pop culture and, yes, a lot of those references were unfamiliar to me. You need to know what the author is referring to in order to fully understand the meaning behind the use of  chosen references and I opted to just read between the lines -- I think I got out of it what he desired, but in a more oblique fashion and that was mostly because I didn't feel like looking anything up (my fault - feeling lazy). The second thing is only a realization thanks to one of the reviews I read. Yes, the mysterious, tattooed girl, Daisy, fits the "manic pixie girl" concept. She appears for no apparent reason, magically helps Andy understand and work through his problems, and . . . well, I won't tell you what happens but she definitely plays a magic poof role. Having said that, I don't care. I enjoyed the book and that's what counts. It was a 5-star read for me because it was perfect for the moment, I liked the storyline, loved the characters, and it made me happy while I was reading.

A favorite feature (of course): There's a stray cat that Andy occasionally cares for and feeds in the New York City scenes. Thumbs up for the =^..^= scenes, particularly the final one.

Highly recommended -  Save We're All Damaged for when you've read something heavy and your head is about to explode if you don't get a light-reading break. You may or may not fall in love with Matt Norman's sense of humor but the story is nice and light, a little slapstick, with a tiny touch of romance and a satisfying dash of redemption. Personally, I love the author's sense of humor. I pretty much smiled all the way through the book.

Sweet Fi Closeup for Fiona Friday:

I've paired Fiona Friday with a review because I had such an incredibly busy week that I couldn't fathom not sneaking in a review while I have the time to write. Happy Weekend to all!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien

The Jack Johnson shells tore towards them with a roar like an express train, throwing up clouds of heavy black smoke as they exploded. Most of them fell short, crashing into no man's land, but the concussion from one that burst inside the wire threw Adam back against the rear wall of the trench and half buried him under a cascade of exploding sand bags. 

Spitting out the earth and sand, he got to his feet and saw that everyone in the section had curled themselves up into foetal balls except for Rawdon, who as always seemed impervious to shelling. The belief in fate that Rawdon had subscribed to [...] had become even stronger since they arrived in France. "If it's got my name and address on it, it's goin' to find me anyway, so there's no point in cowerin' in the corner, screamin' for Mama," he had told Adam on more than one occasion, referring to the reactions of some of the other soldiers in the section. 

~p. 297 of No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien (minor spoiler removed)

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien is a book I accepted for review because of its description, but I confess the author's name added to the appeal. Yes, he is related to J.R.R. Tolkien. More on that in a minute. I did have to adjust my expectations about No Man's Land a bit because I thought it was strictly a WWI book and the protagonist doesn't go off to war until you're at least 40% into the book, but that was not a bad thing. Adam is the protagonist. Born in London, Adam lives a life of poverty that becomes increasingly desperate when the laborers at his father's workplace go on strike.

After tragedy strikes, his father moves the family to Yorkshire to work at a coal mine. Adam is an excellent student and is bullied, first for his father getting a job that the other miners believe should have been given to a local, and then for continuing to go to school rather than working in the mine. He also falls for the parson's beautiful daughter Miriam, but he has competition and the other fellow has money. When war breaks out, Adam ends up fighting on the front lines of the Somme with friends from Yorkshire. While the bonds of friendship tighten between Adam and his buddies he finds it increasingly difficult to connect with the girl he loves. Will Adam end up with the love of his life or will Miriam's mother convince her to marry for money rather than love? Who will live and who will die in France?

The book jacket says No Man's Land is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's experience and I took that to mean it was a tribute to Tolkien rather than a biographical novel. I presume I was probably correct because of the way the book ends, but it's worth mentioning because I noticed that at least one reviewer at Goodreads, whose review I read because I was baffled by the single-star rating, was hoping for a glimpse into the Lord of the Rings novelist's choice to write fantasy and there is nothing at all that even hints at inspiration for a fantasy novelist. Because I was not expecting a biographical novel, I was not disappointed.

Sometimes, I found the book a little predictable and for that reason I took off a half point (I gave it a 4.5/5 at Goodreads). The predictability was only a factor of certain situations, though, as opposed to the plot being wholly predictable. And, a lot happens in No Man's Land so there were plenty of surprises. In general, the book is plotty enough for fans of plot-driven books but also descriptive enough and with enough depth of characterization to satisfy those who prefer character-driven novels.

Adam is a nice, strong character but he has a bit less personality than some of the other characters, so he was actually not my favorite. I adored Seaton, the eldest of the coal mine owner's sons, and came to love several of the friends who ended up together on the front lines. I've noticed sometimes an author will do a slightly better job of giving personality to the secondary characters, to the detriment of the hero or heroine, and I did think Adam suffered by comparison with some of the more vibrant personalities. But he's a good egg, he grows and changes throughout the novel, and he's very courageous. I liked him and desperately wanted him to survive the war.

Highly recommended - At close to 600 pages, No Man's Land is an immersive read, great for those who like a book you can sink your teeth into and with an ending I found satisfying. I liked the scope of the book - beyond the war itself and back to the protagonist's youth as an impoverished child of a laborer, then as a youngster living in a coal-mining town. One of the reasons it took me a long time to read the book (at least 2 weeks) was all the things I opted to look up. I looked up how coal miners looked in early 20th-Century UK, the German attack on Yorkshire during WWI (I'd never heard about that, before!), fashion in the 1920s, and Eaton Square in London's Belgravia, among other things. I like a book that makes me go running to the internet to look up additional information.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Recent arrivals:

  • Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang and Nate Pederson - from Workman Publishing via Shelf Awareness for review - This book looks so ridiculously fun that I really want to read it right now but it has a release date of October so I'll wait. 
  • Afterlife by Marcus Sakey - from Thomas and Mercer for review
  • Torchwood: World Without End by Barrowman, Barrowman, Fuso, Qualano, Lesko, and Edwards - Pre-ordered so long ago I'd forgotten about it (a year or two)

Books finished since last Malarkey: 

  • No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien - At nearly 600 pages, this one took me quite a while, even when I decided to focus on it. I did have a couple of those nights when I was too tired to read, but on Sunday nobody was around and I only had about 100 pages left, so I immersed myself in it and only got up, now and then, to do chores or eat. That was fun! I usually only read at bedtime so it feels really decadent to spend an afternoon reading. 

Last week's posts:

Currently reading:

  • We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

In other news:

I turned on the TV and randomly flipped while I ate my supper last night, and ended up watching most of The Help. Nope, I've never seen the movie, before. I loved the book but really didn't think the movie would be for me. Boy, was I wrong. I couldn't tear myself away from it. I'd forgotten that parts of it were filmed in areas that I know, so I excitedly asked the husband if he knew they'd filmed at Brent's Drugs, a restaurant that looks like a time capsule, inside and out. He said, "That's the reason we went there in the first place - I heard about it when they were filming." Oh. Well, it was cool to see it on screen. I had my fender bender in the parking lot right in front of Brent's, last year. Bit of trivia for you.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fiona Friday

This may be a weird choice (and, oops, Friday is almost over!) but it's my favorite kitty pic of the week because it was so precious. This is Izzy lying on my left foot. My knee was cramping and I had to hold the phone past the knee to snap this but if you're owned by cats you know what an honor it is to be snuggled by a kitty, especially one with anxiety issues. Isabel is pretty much terrified of everyone but me and even I get limited cuddles (usually when she drapes herself over my shoulder while lying on the couch cushion). I loved this moment.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

A little info about why I've posted two covers for my review of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart:

1. The cover at left is the UK cover and the one I have. The book has already been released in the UK and I opted to order a copy from Book Depository, partly because I liked the UK cover better and partly because I wanted to go ahead and read it, rather than waiting for the American release. Having read the book, I can tell you that both illustrations fit the text. I do prefer a the lighter, more cheerful coloring of the UK cover, so I'm happy with my purchase.

2. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has not yet been released in the US but the release is coming, soon, so it's undoubtedly available for pre-order, although I haven't looked. The cover at right is the US version. Because I'm in the US, I thought it would be appropriate to include both covers - the UK version I've purchased and read and the US version that is soon to be released. UPDATE: The US release date is May 30!

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is the story of Aventurine, a young dragon whose scales have not yet hardened. Until a dragon's scales have hardened, it is not safe in the outside world and the hardening of scales takes many years. So, Aventurine is pretty much stuck in a cave perpetually and she's bored. Her siblings have discovered their passions and are perfectly happy in the cave, but Aventurine wants to see the world and is frustrated by her inability to leave.

When she gets the chance Aventurine escapes from the cave. She doesn't plan to stay outside long or get herself into trouble, but she encounters a food mage who gives her some enchanted chocolate and poof! she is transformed from dragon to human. Not only has she been tricked by a wily mage, she is also unable to return home. Dragons fear humans and know them to be a danger, although an angry dragon can clearly harm a human, as well. When one of her family members flies nearby, Aventurine gets a good sense of what it's like facing an angry dragon when he aims at her with his flaming breath. He will never believe she's really a part of his family.

With no other choice left to her, Aventurine goes into the nearest village in search of her new passion, chocolate, clothed in an outfit that looks like her former dragon scales. She's helped by a young thief, but can Aventurine trust her new friend? When she decides that she wants to become an apprentice to a chocolatier, will she be able to overcome rejection? Will any of the chocolatiers ever accept her? And, when dragons begin to swoop over the village, can Aventurine stop the villagers from killing her family? How will she ever convince her family that she's a human, now?

Recommended - What a creative story. Aventurine is a strong, fearless heroine who becomes a fish out of water when she's turned human. But, after discovering her passion, she goes for it. She is going to become a chocolatier and she is going to find a way to save the village and her family. You know it when each of these things are coming, but it's still a delight to find out how she'll accomplish everything she needs and desires to do. Although there were some portions that I thought dragged a bit, I enjoyed the friends Aventurine made along the way, her courage and determination, and the ending. The one thing that I thought was not obvious: Would Aventurine remain a human or find a way to transform back into a dragon? Would she be a dragon chocolatier? I'm not going to give that away but I will tell you I found the ending satisfying.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.