Friday, July 13, 2018

Who Was George Washington Carver? by Jim Gigliotti and Who Was Genghis Khan? by Nico Medina

First an explanation of this tour: The WhoHQ Blog Tour is a review of the books in a children's biography series, now with a companion show called The Who Was? Show on Netflix. I'll describe the books, first, and then the episodes I viewed and how they portrayed the content of the books.

I've always thought of George Washington Carver as "The peanut butter guy," because he's often falsely described as the inventor of peanut butter. Who Was George Washington Carver? by Jim Gigliotti will open your eyes to the real story of George Washington Carver, and it's a doozy. Born a slave, taken in by his owners and educated, taught to care for plants and animals and do chores like laundry and sewing, even as a child he was known as a bit of a miracle worker with plants.

He had a burning desire to learn, a sharp mind, and a willingness to work hard to get the education he desired. A scientist, inventor, business owner, and educator, George Washington Carver was an amazing man who dedicated his inventions, his writings, and business ventures to improving the lives of people.

All this and more is in Who Was George Washington Carver? At 105 pages, the book is slim but Gigliotti packed a lot of information between its covers and with a stunning clarity. I was impressed by how much I learned from this little book. Gigliotti gives you a thorough overview of Carver's life and the illustrations add an extra dimension, with images of the places he lived and worked, maps, inventions, and people who were important to him.

Who Was Genghis Khan? by Nico Medina had the same effect on me that Who Was George Washington Carver? had - mind boggled at how much I learned in such a short time. I think I'd just thought of him as some legendary conqueror who went around slaughtering people for the spoils, and that was that. Instead, I learned that by invading other Mongolian tribes on the Steppe, he not only united a people but created a decent society out of one that was formerly a bunch of tribes who invaded each other whenever they needed something.

He introduced wealth sharing and a delay in hunting so that animals had time to grow, allowed freedom of religion, created a written language and a postal service . . . all sorts of things that we might consider modern or progressive were introduced by Genghis Khan.Who Was Genghis Khan? is a single page longer than the bio of George Washington Carver, so they really cram a lot of information between their covers. I didn't know, for example, that Genghis Khan never allowed anyone to paint his portrait or represent him in any other way. So, we have no idea what he looked like; we can only guess based on how other Mongolians looked.

Both highly recommended - I received both of these books for review and I only wish they'd sent me the entire series. The Who Was? series is a great way to introduce children to a variety of important historical characters.

Netflix has a show that serves as a companion to the Who Was? book series called The Who Was? Show and I watched the episode that describes George Washington Carver and Genghis Khan. I admit, I was a little stunned to find it so goofy. I wasn't entirely sure I found it all that educational, either. So, I watched another episode (Pablo Picasso and the Wright Brothers). This time, my husband sat down and watched with me. It was a lot more palatable the second time. Young actors dress up as the characters. They dance, they sing, they tell jokes, and they act out scenes from the lives of the famous characters. Sometimes, they'll show a brief cartoon or have a cartoon character interact with the humans. Point being, I was looking at it all wrong, at first. I was watching from the perspective of an adult who had read the books and was expecting all that information to be crammed into an episode. But, it's geared to kids, of course, and once you know what to expect, it's great.

Watching an episode that was about characters whose biographies I had not read really gave me a good perspective of how much information they managed to impart. Husband also reminded me that our kids watched something similar when they were young: Beekman's World, a science show that was goofy but informative. I didn't remember the fact that it had a huge rat character; I do recall the kids loved it, though, and that's what counts.

Bottom line - I recommend the series, but I'd suggest watching an episode before you read the book, if you plan to do both. Either way, they're both informative. But, the books go into a great deal more detail, of course.

Fiona Friday was moved to Thursday, this week, due to today's book tour: Fiona Fursday

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Fiona Fursday

Fiona Friday has been moved to today because I have a book tour, tomorrow. Here she is, in a lovable mood, getting neck rubbings.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

Caleb Stoltz is Amish. Although he once lived in the English world, he was called back when tragedy struck, his world rocked. Before his brother died, John asked for his two children to be raised Amish. More than anything, he wanted them to share his faith. Since then, Caleb has lived at home, raising his niece and nephew, Hannah and Jonah.

Reese Powell is a medical student whose parents are both physicians. For her entire life she's been groomed to become a pediatric surgeon so that she can add another dimension to her parents' medical practice. But, now that the Match to a residency program is upon her, Reese is having second thoughts about pediatric surgery, instead thinking she would enjoy the challenge of a medical specialty that draws on a wider variety of skills.

When Jonah is severely injured, Reese is on rotation in the Emergency Room at a Philadelphia hospital as the young boy arrives. His injury is severe and Reese is both drawn to Caleb and feels an unusual urge to help him because he appears so lost in her world. As Jonah begins his lengthy recovery and Caleb remains nearby, Reese gets to know him and falls for him. But, both are aware that their worlds clash and that being together may be impossible.

Between You and Me is an unusual read for me, since I don't often read romance and I've actively avoided books with Amish characters for quite some time. I read a few, maybe 10 years or so ago, and grew tired of them pretty quickly. This particular story isn't set entirely on Amish land, though. It's about the tension between the two worlds and two people who are both unsatisfied with their lives and yet feel compelled to continue on their chosen paths. Because it's clearly a romance, you can guess how it ends; it's the path to that ending that is interesting. How will the two characters work out their differences? Will both of them change their course? One of them? How will medical and legal complications, as well as a persistent family problem, effect the outcome?

Highly recommended to hopeless romantics - A sweet love story with likable characters, a number of dilemmas, and a heartwarming ending. I closed Between You and Me with happy tears in my eyes. While the prose isn't particularly brilliant, the characters are lovely, the dilemmas realistic. The "secret" noted on the cover is kind of dubious. I mean, I know what it is but I don't think it's as important to the plot as the fact that the two characters live in such different worlds and that secret may impact whether or not they will end up together. Just a lovely story.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Lost Family by Jenna Blum

The Lost Family is the story of Peter Rashkin, a man who survived Auschwitz but lost his entire family, with the exception of a cousin and his wife who were already living in America. After the war, Peter came to live in New York and he's been there for some time at the beginning of the story. The book begins in the 1960s. Peter's restaurant, Masha's, is well-established and known as a desirable place to dine. His restaurant is his life and while he has dated, Peter keeps women at arms length until he meets June Bouquet, a model who looks a lot like Twiggy and who is young enough that she doesn't show the usual interest in his past life.

When June becomes pregnant, they marry. But, Peter is wounded by his past and is unable or unwilling to be present with his wife and daughter, just as distant with them as he is with everyone else. Eventually, his inability to open up to his family causes tremendous pain to both his wife and daughter.

I like this paragraph from the cover blurb:

Jenna Blum artfully brings to the page a husband devastated by a grief he cannot name, a frustrated wife struggling to compete with a ghost she cannot banish, and a daughter sensitive to the pain of both her own family and another lost before she was born. Spanning three cinematic decades, The Lost Family is a charming, funny, and elegantly bittersweet study of the repercussions of loss and love. 

My thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about The Lost Family. Jenna Blum's writing is excellent -- so much so that even during the times I really wasn't enjoying the story, I found it compelling enough to keep going. That's pretty unusual. The theme of the book is clearly that the pain of such an agonizing loss can be impossible for some people to conquer and its effects reverberate through one's relationships. I won't give away what form the pain takes for June and for their daughter, Elsbeth, but I'm going to hint at how June's frustrations manifest by telling you my least favorite thing about the book and that is the sheer quantity of sex scenes. As anyone who regularly reads my blog will know, I'm okay with graphic sex if it forwards the plot. I didn't feel like the detail was necessary, in this case, so The Lost Family is not a favorite because of the amount of time spent delving into June's sex life, in my humble opinion.

So, it's odd that I never once even thought about abandoning the book, even when the storyline didn't interest me. I think it was all down to two things: I understood what the author was trying to say, even when I didn't enjoy how the story unfolded, and Jenna Blum's writing simply flowed beautifully. I just never felt like there was a time I wasn't compelled to find out what was going to happen. Plus, I liked Peter. Distant as he was, I cared about him. June, not so much. I began to dislike her near the beginning of the second section, which takes place in the 1970s, and by the third section I loathed her.

Recommended but not a favorite - If you're interested in reading a story about the kind of lasting pain caused by tragedy (told across three decades) and you don't mind a lot of fairly graphic sex scenes, this may be the story for you. For me . . . not so much. I liked how The Lost Family ended and I really liked Jenna Blum's writing but I was disappointed, in general. Having fallen in love with her writing, though, I can't wait to read her other books. I've had Those Who Save Us sitting on one of my WWII shelves since a couple years after it came out and I have a copy of The Stormchasers, as well. My distaste for June's behavior and the description of how June shows her pain is what I disliked about The Lost Family. I liked the rest, so I gave it an above-average rating.

Note: I completely forgot to mention that I thought the time and places were incredibly well-described. Sometimes I express myself better in fewer words when I talk to friends or post on FB. Here's what I said when posting a link at Facebook:

Loved the writing, often disliked where the storyline went, but understood the purpose and *high five* to meaning. I neglected to mention the perfection of the settings, which made the reading feel a bit like time travel.

A stand-out passage: I marked p. 122 of The Lost Family (Advance Reader Copy) because there's a rant by Peter that I found particularly fascinating, about how Hitler lied and blamed the Jews for all of Germany's problems, economic woes in particular. Substitute "Trump" for Hitler and "immigrants" for Jews and it's kind of startling . . . it sounds way too close to what's happening right now.  It's no coincidence that Jenna Blum has been sounding the alarm about the parallels between Germany in the 1930s and what's happened since this new administration began in the U.S., for the past couple of years. She interviewed many Holocaust survivors, researched fascism, and studied WWII. She's worth listening to and I'm certain there was a purpose to that particular rant, as well as the theme of the story.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Monday Malarkey

Happy Monday! I've got two stacks of arrivals, this week, thanks to our trip to Tulsa just before the 4th of July. I took a bag of books for swapping and came home with a small stack. But, first the regular arrivals.

Recent arrivals, clockwise from top left: 

  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman - from Random House Children's Books for book tour
  • There There by Tommy Orange - purchased
  • Who Was Genghis Khan? by Nico Medina and Andrew Thomson and
  • Who Was George Washington Carver? by Jim Gigliotti and Stephen Marchesi, both from Penguin Workshop for tour

The latter two books are companions to a Netflix series. There, There (or There There -- I'm unsure about punctuation or lack thereof) is one of the books I ordered from Book Depository, a few weeks ago. One more should be arriving soon.

Books acquired at Gardner's Used Books and Music in Tulsa with credit (and some cash), top to bottom:

  • The End of the Battle by Evelyn Waugh
  • Officers and Gentleman by Evelyn Waugh
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien
  • Saraband by Eliot Bliss
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster
  • Assault in Norway by Thomas Gallagher

Not pictured:

  • Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees: A Narrative of Captivity by Sarah F. Wakefield 

I've had a copy of Evelyn Waugh's Men at Arms for eons. Haven't read it, but now that I've got the full set I can read all three back-to-back if I choose, when I get to them, provided this series works for me. I loved Brideshead Revisited and a couple other Waugh books, but there's been at least one that I've attempted 2 or 3 times and never managed to get through.

I'm pretty sure I've never read Elizabeth Gaskell and I haven't seen the North and South mini-series, which is suprising given my love for British television. The next three books are Virago classics and of those three, the one I would have happily kept reading on the day I sat in a chair and paged through the books to see if they interested me, Saraband most thoroughly sucked me in. I just reread the first page and I'm tempted to find a soft spot with a lamp and hide.

Assault in Norway is a WWII tale about "sabotaging the Nazi nuclear program" (that's the subtitle, actually). I always glance at the WWII section in history to see if there's anything interesting and I believe that one caught my eye because of Foyle's War. I'm not positive, but I think Norway is where Paul Milner (Foyle's second in command) was injured and I'm pretty sure I haven't yet read anything about Norway's part in WWII.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

I only finished a single book primarily because I was sleeping well, last week (once I returned home). Since I read at bedtime, if I fall asleep easily it usually means less reading and that was the case -- which means I need to head to bed earlier so I can read more, of course. Between You and Me is a very sweet romance between an "English" doctor and an Amish man. I haven't read a story set in the Amish community for some time, so I'd forgotten that people who live outside the Amish world in America are referred to as English. 

Currently reading:

  • Israel/Palestine by Alan Dowty
  • What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro
  • Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees by Sarah F. Wakefield
  • Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris 

The first two have bookmarks in them but I've made no progress on them for a week or more. Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees is the non-fiction title that has my attention, right now. However, I'm really in a fiction mood and tempted to pick up another fiction title to alternate with Bring Me Back and Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees.

Last week's posts:

No reviews at all because I was out-of-town part of the week, but hopefully this will be a good week for reviewing. We shall see. There's not much catch-up to be done.

In other news:

We had a delightful surprise, this week. Husband and I had thought we were done with Foyle's War because the 8th season was followed by a number of specials about the series. But, then he paged down and discovered another season entirely. We have one final episode and then we'll definitely be finished.

The Cold War Years episodes are very different from the WWII episodes and often the stories don't feel quite as complete to me, but I'd have been happy if Foyle's War went on forever. It's such a fascinating series and I love the main characters.

As to what we'll watch after that last episode of Foyle's War is over (probably tonight), problem solved! I saw a commercial for Our Girl on BritBox and was intrigued. Husband was not, but I decided to turn on the pilot "for a few minutes" to see if I'd like it, figuring it would be something I'd watch on my own. Molly Dawes is a medic in the series and the pilot shows her chaotic, messy life and how she comes to get tested and go through preliminary and basic training. She's just arrived in Afghanistan at the end of the pilot.

I wasn't sure I was going to like the show, at first, and my delightful spouse was absolutely not interested. But, I never did turn it off, obviously. And, midway through the pilot, Husband put down his phone. It's a compelling story and I liked the growth of Molly during the pilot. When it was over, I asked if he wanted to continue the series or if I should watch it on my own and he said, "We can watch it together." Yippee! There are only two seasons, so I'll have to keep scouting what to watch after that, but I'm excited.

For those who kindly recommended Broadchurch . . . that turned out to be a no go. Husband has watched the first episode and he declared it too violent for his taste. I might someday watch it on my own, but it won't be one we view together.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Fiona Friday - No videos allowed, Mom

This was one of those days that I couldn't get away with watching video clips. See how there are two images of Seth Meyers? That's because Izzy had already succeeded in hitting the back button and my iPad was flipping to the main Guardian page. Oh, well. It was worth a try. Kitty likes playing with the iPad.

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

June Reads in Review, 2018

June reads (with links to reviews, where applicable):

62. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes - The story of a mad but genteel Spaniard who believes himself to be a knight errant and goes off in search of adventure with his faithful squire, Sancho Panza. Probably the longest classic I've ever read and I'm happy to have finally succeeded at completing the book after 4 attempts. A delightful read but sometimes a bit of a slog because of its wordiness -- particular parts didn't appeal to me, although I loved it overall.

63. Hollywood Beach Beauties by David Wills - A coffee-table style book of bathing beauties (particularly Hollywood stars) from the 1930s to the 1970s, with emphasis on changing fashion. While I wasn't thrilled with the text, I learned a good bit about how bathing suit fashion changed over the decades. I also was fascinated by the changing image of beauty. Early bathing suit models -- starlets from Hollywood -- were often quite short and would be considered fat by today's modeling standards.

64. Goodbye, Sweet Girl by Kelly Sundberg - The memoir of a domestic violence victim who eventually escaped her dangerous marriage. Excellent writing and I thought her story did a great job of showing how violence escalates.

65. Nadya Skylung and the Cloudship Rescue by Jeff Seymour - A middle grade fantasy/adventure story in which it's safer to sail the clouds than to cross the sea or land on the world below. Nadya is a Skylung, a gilled humanoid who tends the plants that fill the cloudship's balloon. When pirates attack and take the adults into captivity, the children who work the cloudship must figure out how to release the craft from a tow line and rescue the adults. Very fun and appears to be the first in a series.

66. As You Wish by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden - A memoir of Cary Elwes' experience behind the scenes in the filming of The Princess Bride, in which he played Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts. I loved learning not only about the actor's experience but how the script was shelved for many years, how the casting was done and why it finally became a film, and other little tidbits contributed by the director and other actors. A fun read.

67. Siracusa by Delia Ephron - The story of two couples on vacation in Italy, told from four alternating viewpoints. Nobody is particularly nice and something awful happens -- that's about the gist of the storyline. I read this one for F2F discussion but missed due to stormy weather. Although I didn't find the story all that compelling, I enjoyed looking up the sites they visited and opted to finish the book (which I hadn't yet completed by discussion day) after missing the meeting, so I didn't dislike it enough to abandon it.

68. Abridged Classics by John Atkinson - Another coffee-table style book (although small) of literary cartoons to tickle your funny bone in few words. The more accurate they are to the plot, the funnier.

69. Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans - A middle reader about two sisters, one of whom can't or won't pronounce the letter "r", hence "Wed Wabbit," little Minnie's name for the stuffed maroon rabbit she carries everywhere. When tragedy strikes and big sister Fidge and her cousin Graham are transported into the world of Minnie's favorite book, where Wed Wabbit is the evil bad guy who has taken over the castle and everyone speaks in rhyme, she must figure out how to fight off the bad guys and return to her own world. Yet another brilliant, funny book by Lissa Evans.

I had a single DNF in June: The High Season by Judy Blundell. I put it in the "try again later" file because it wasn't awful; it just wasn't the right book for the moment. Having said that, it has an element of "rich people in the Hamptons in summer" and I've discovered that I'm not really into that particular type of story. Plus, I'd rather read about cold places when it's hot out, not beachy stories. Give me Sweden during a blizzard. Reading about heat while in the midst of it is not an escape for this girl.

The month started off badly. I was falling into a summer slump and I needed to wrap up a chunkster. The week I devoted to finishing up Don Quixote was worth it, but I read fewer books because of both that and the slump. However, I turned to As You Wish when nothing else was grabbing me and Westley/Cary Elwes saved the day. I was charmed and saved from Slumpville, simultaneously. Those two books were among my three favorites; the other was Wed Wabbit. I just adore Lissa Evans' writing.

Nadya Skylung was also loads of fun. And, I liked everything else I read, although the rest were not stand-outs. If I had to pick a least favorite, it would be Siracusa. And, yet, I was interested enough to finish it, so I'm convinced that at least part of the problem with that particular read was timing.

How was your reading month?

©2018 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.