Friday, September 17, 2021

Fiona Friday - Paws to appreciate

©2021 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, September 15, 2021

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

I had mixed feelings about South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. So mixed, in fact, that I couldn't talk myself into rating it at Goodreads. 

South of the Border, West of the Sun is told in first person from the viewpoint of Hajime, an only child who feels out of place until he meets Shimamoto, who is also an only child. They remain playmates and friends for years, till his family moves away and they lose touch. Over the years, Hajime meets (and sleeps with) many women but Shimamoto has a special place in his heart and he even follows a woman who looks like her and has her same limp, at one point. He marries, has two children and his jazz bar becomes a success. He's mostly content. 

Then, Shimamoto reappears in his life, having seen an article about his jazz bar. Hajime is every bit as drawn to her as he was when they were young. She is different, more beautiful, no longer limping, and mysterious. There are questions she won't answer, things he doesn't know about her. Will Hajime stay faithful to his wife? Or, will he leave her for Shimamoto? 

Meh - I still don't feel like I can rate this book. I found it compelling enough to finish and I think that's mostly down to Murakami's writing. He does know how to suck you in. But, Hajime is kind of a yucky person. He's selfish when it comes to women, taking what he wants from them but giving little in return. You can't really root for him. And, Shimamoto's mysteriousness made her feel more like a vague outline of a character than one with color and depth. She was so incomplete that I closed the book unsure whether she was real or a figment of the main character's imagination. 

After a week I've decided I'm definitely not going to rate the book and I have a feeling I'll forget about it pretty quickly. The one thing I really loved about the book was the use of motifs. But, here I must confess that I didn't know the word "motif" as it relates to literature. I'm probably the last to find out about this but OK. Here's what google told me after I read about the book and the word "motif" came up.

What is a motif in literature? 

Motif is a literary technique that consists of a repeated element that has symbolic significance to a literary work. Sometimes a motif is a recurring image. Other times it's a repeated word, phrase, or topic expressed in language. 

In South of the Border, West of the Sun, there are a large number of words or motifs that are repeated: rain, the color blue, and looking out at a graveyard are a few I recall. I don't always know what various images stand for in literature (so I often end up looking them up — I looked up crows as a metaphor when they appeared in a particular scene, for example). 

This may be simplistic on my part but I'd rather an author show or tell me what he's on about. And, yet, I thought the use of motifs was effective. So, while I didn't love the book, primarily because of Hajime's selfishness, I don't regret having read it. And, good grief, you could spend loads of time reading everyone's analysis of this book.

Some bits of information I found helpful:

The ‘South of the Border’ of the title refers to the popular 1939 song recorded for a film of the same name. As children Hajime and Shimamoto used to listen to a Nat King Cole recording of it (although in reality, Cole never recorded the song). Not knowing it refers to a trip to Mexico, Shimamoto used to wonder about what magical place lay south of the border. “Something beautiful, big and soft”. The ‘West of the Sun’ refers to a form of hysteria Shimamoto says afflicts people living in Siberia, possibly similar to Piblokto, where for no reason they abandon their life in difficult conditions and wander westward, usually dying of exposure.

--from We Need to Talk About Books

And, from Google:

"South of the Border", meaning a life of convention, possibility, and ultimately, disappointment, and "West of the Sun", meaning taking a step beyond reason, and in doing so risking everything [...]

Clearly, I'm going to need to read more Murakami. I've mostly read his short stories and nonfiction. I'll try to tackle one of his longer novels when I can fit it in. 

©2021 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, September 14, 2021

Ungifted by Gordon Korman (Ungifted #1)

Ungifted by Gordon Korman is the story of a middle school troublemaker who goes a bit too far. When Donovan causes an accident that will cost the school district a great deal of money in repairs and then is accidentally sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (a school for the gifted), he decides the school is an excellent place to hide from the superintendent, who knows what Donovan looks like. 

When it turns out that Donovan's averageness is a bonus to the robotics team and the school in general, everyone wants him to stay. But they know he doesn't belong; he's definitely not gifted. Will Donovan be able to remain at the school long enough to help the Academy's robotics team win the annual robotics competition?

Shifting between a number of different viewpoints, the reader gets to see what it's like to be an average guy who likes pranks and ends up in a school for the gifted, how a couple of his teachers view him, and life as a very gifted person through the eyes of some of his classmates. 

Highly recommended - I love Gordon Korman's books and Ungifted is a new favorite. I've read the follow-up book, Supergifted, out of order (I got it as an ARC, a few years ago). It stood alone fine but I've wanted to read Ungifted since then and I was not disappointed. Korman is a gifted writer. I love his blend of smart, wacky, and humorous storytelling. 

Click here to read my review of Supergifted

©2021 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, September 13, 2021

Monday Malarkey


Recent arrivals:

  • Not a darn thing. So, I've decorated the top of this post with a purple and green thing I painted-slash-collaged. I figured you get to see plenty of cats. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Long and Living Shadow by Daoma Winston
  • Ungifted by Gordon Korman
  • The Matchmaker's Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
  • So Much Life Left Over by Louis de Bernières

Apart from The Long and Living Shadow, which was a stinker, this was a pretty good 2 weeks. 

Currently reading:

  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts 
  • Golden State by Ben H. Winters

I just finished So Much Life Left Over and picked up Golden State because it was beside the bed, just to see if it was any good. Wow, it's a grabber and it's 12:30 AM but I can tell you I would love to stay up reading more. 

Posts since last Malarkey:

In other news:

We arrived on PBS about 15 or 20 minutes into the first episode of Guilt, last week, and were both utterly transfixed, although I skipped the second episode to take a bath and made the husband tell me what happened. Admittedly, I couldn't always understand the characters because of their accents (it takes place in Edinburgh) and I didn't bother putting up subtitles so there were subtleties that I probably missed but I thought it was loads of fun the way new and unexpected deceptions continued to unfold. 

It says "Season 1" on this image so I'm guessing that means there's more to come? At any rate, we're really enjoying this "darkly delicious tale of a botched hit and run." I think it's a great blend of suspense with dark humor. 

At some point, this week, I watched News of the World by myself because I figured my husband wouldn't be particularly interested in it. It's based on a book I've read not once but 2 or 3 times, so I've been curious about the movie for quite some time. 

I recognized some changes (I recall the captain being offered a gold coin for the job of taking Johanna to her relatives, for example, and there's no money involved in his journey in the movie) but there were times I couldn't recall whether or not the screenplay had deviated from the novel. 

I thought it was a decent, if not brilliant, adaptation and I enjoyed it but I definitely like the book better. 

Otherwise, I avoided the TV. Since I cleaned out the breakfast nook last weekend, and now I have to drag out supplies to do any artwork, I also haven't done much painting. In fact, the one thing I painted was a failure and went out with the trash, although I'm working on a collage (not the one above, which may or may not be finished). But, the cleaning job paid off when we were able to invite younger son and daughter-in-law over for Sunday dinner and we had this nice table with flip-up leaves (the table that used to be my art table) handy. My intent was to clean the dining room on Saturday but I was diverted by other tasks, and it was nice to actually use the breakfast nook for eating! I don't think that's every happened before in our 9 years at this house. We've always eaten in the dining room or on the patio, sometimes on the couch. 

Speaking of the patio, it was briefly cool enough for outdoor time so we sat outside for a bit on Saturday, yay! Unfortunately, the heat and humidity are back and eating outside was not an option, today (Sunday). The hint of a coming autumn was uplifting, short-lived though it was. I'm always happy to say goodbye to summer and hello to fall. 

©2021 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, September 10, 2021

Fiona Friday

Zzzz with bonus blep. 

©2021 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

The Matchmaker's Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen

First things first. Does that cover rock, or what? I love it. 

The Matchmaker's Lonely Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen is a historical romantic mystery. Since Amelie's parents died, she has lived and then worked with her Aunt Sally as a matchmaker and columnist for The Marriage Gazette. She would love to find romance, herself, but for now she's satisfied with living in a building owned by Aunt Sally (near her beloved cousins, Eva and Charlotte) and being an independent woman. 

Michael Baker is a detective working for Scotland Yard. His partner and brother-in-law has recently been killed in the line of duty, leaving his sister widowed with a baby. Michael is convinced that he could never marry and risk leaving a widow, as well. 

Amelie and Michael first meet when the detective begins investigating a man by the name of Radcliffe, whom he suspects of murdering his wife. Amelie is watching Radcliffe and a dinner guest she set up with him from outside a restaurant, just to make sure they're getting along okay. She is surprised to find that the anonymous man for whom she arranged this meeting is a man from her book club whom she knows to be a recent widower. When Michael spots her and brings her in for questioning, she offers to bring the detective to her book club and introduce him as a family friend to aid his investigation. And, then she gets a little too involved in the investigation, becoming the love interest of Radcliffe for the sake of trying to get information out of him. 

Is Radcliffe the gentleman solicitor that he appears to be or a murderer? Has Michael put Amelie in terrible danger? What will happen when Amelie and Michael find that they are attracted to each other? 

Highly recommended - What an immensely entertaining read. Although there's a murder mystery wrapped up in this historical romance, the tone is light-hearted. Amelie is naive and Michael just a little bit jaded but she's such a charming innocent that he can't help but find himself drawn to her. 

There were a couple things that irritated me (the time period is never specifically mentioned) or felt off (anachronisms to the time or place), but they were not enough to knock this book down from the 5 stars I felt it deserved. I mentally placed the story around 1890 and then eventually the Arts and Crafts movement is mentioned and I thought, "Aha! At the very least, I'm close." I've only recently read up on the Arts and Crafts movement after finding out a stained glass window I bought from a salvage store hails from that time period. If you follow me on either Facebook or Instagram, you'll see a corner of the stained glass in the background of the image I posted of this book and that's why. 

Nancy Campbell Allen is new to me but I'll be keeping an eye out for more of her books. My thanks to Shadow Mountain for the review copy!

©2021 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, September 08, 2021

Mini Reviews - Once Upon a Goat by Richards and Barclay, Pastoralia by G. Saunders, The Long and Living Shadow by D. Winston

I don't feel like any of these require a lengthy review, so here we go again with the mini reviews.  Pardon my mostly-absent week. I spent the entire Labor Day weekend cleaning out my breakfast nook, which I'd turned into a very messy art studio. It had gone well beyond acceptably disordered, so I've moved everything out and now we're just pondering how to bring everything back but make the room orderly. We want to find a storage solution for all the paint, brushes, etc. that is attractive but it may take some time to find. At any rate, I needed a day to recover after spending the weekend hauling canvases, bottles, brushes, and boxes of paint to another room. 


Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards and Eric Barclay is an adorable picture book in which a king and queen long for a family. When they ask their fairy godmother for a child, the king makes the mistake of saying, "Any kid will do." 

And, a kid is exactly what they get, a baby goat. At first they're horrified and even decide to cast the kid out of the castle after he causes too much chaos and eats the royal roses. But, then it begins to rain heavily and they feel bad about sending the poor little guy out on such a rough night. After bringing him back inside, he slowly becomes part of the family. And, then their fairy godmother returns and sees her mistake. 

Out in the countryside, the fairy godmother peeks around a tree and, sure enough, there's the baby the king and queen asked for — living with a mother and father goat. She intends to switch them but the king and queen have become so attached to their kid that they come up with an alternative solution. Hint: it means the castle is never tidy. 

Recommended - While the storyline in Once Upon a Goat is predictable to an adult, it's super cute and I can imagine it tickling small children. I love the illustrations, love the kindness of the king and queen and their willingness to tolerate a messy castle because they adore their little goat, much like parents who put up with the messes that come with having small children. 

Pastoralia by George Saunders is a book of short stories with one novella. As in many of his collections, there's a "theme park going downhill" story, the novella of the title name, "Pastoralia", and it was my favorite. A man and woman are living in cave, each with his and her own Separate Area into which they retreat at night. They're not related, not attracted to each other. They're supposed to just grunt all day, skin and cook their daily goat, pretend to eat bugs and paint wall art. With fewer visitors coming, they fear they'll lose their jobs soon and occasionally their daily goat doesn't show up in their slot so they must eat crackers, instead. 

Meh - Saunders' theme park stories are wildly creative and absurd. I tend to love them, even the ones that get a bit . . . violent (his earlier work, especially). But, the rest of the stories in Pastoralia didn't thrill me. In fact, I had to flip through the book to remind myself what the others are about and found that I was reading much farther than I should do in order to nudge my memory. 

At any rate, I love George Saunders casual, humorous, satirical writing. But, apart from "Pastoralia", this one just didn't do it for me and it's now my least favorite Saunders book, much as I love him. Second to Pastoralia would be Lincoln in the Bardo [unpopular opinion], which was too scattered for my taste, although someone at Square Books in Oxford, MS told me that Saunders had the audience do voices from Lincoln in the Bardo when he came for a reading and signing. They say his visit was a total hoot. And, my "least favorite" is still worth keeping for the novella. I am getting close to having read all of his books, now.

I like the pulp-fictiony cave woman cover shown above, although the woman who lives in the cave with the narrator is described as fifty-something and not particularly attractive, at least to the man who plays her Partner in Cave. My copy has a deer on the cover. I'm not sure of the point of that and I'm not reviewing for anyone since this is from my home library, so I've opted to put up the cover I like. 

The Long and Living Shadow by Daoma Winston almost doesn't deserve a review. It was seriously awful. But, I finished the book for a couple reasons. 

1. The Return by Daoma Winston, a book that once belonged to my mother, is one of my all-time most reread books. I've read it periodically since . . . maybe my early teens? It's a romantic suspense that takes place in a mansion on a cliff, very gothic and moody and truly suspenseful. I've been considering another reread. I recognized similar elements in The Long and Living Shadow and felt like I needed to keep reading to figure out why a book that was similar in so many ways was such a dud by comparison with another title by the same author. More on that in a minute. 

2. It was short. Mercifully short at something like 157 pages, thank goodness. It truly was a terrible work of writing.

Not recommended - Pass this one up if you see it at a library or garage sale. Dreadful, repetitive, and predictable. The spooky house really wasn't and the greedy relatives were transparent. Possibly the worst thing (the element that most likely made it pale by comparison with my old favorite) was ineffective repetition. Everyone was pudgy but the heroine, who was delicate. The title was repeated a gazillion times, and so was mention of whether or not the widowed heroine was "grown up" at 23. On the plus side, she developed confidence as the book progressed and the book has a bang-up ending. But, that wasn't enough to redeem it. 

This is another one for which I've switched out the cover image. I think my copy must be a reprint as it was published in 1971 and my copy looks very 80s, with the heroine dressed in a feathered gown. In reality, she was a hat-and-gloves-with-suit type of gal, very conservative. The cover above doesn't entirely fit, either, but it does hint of the gothic feel, while the cover image on mine looks like it came straight out of a music video. 

©2021 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.