Thursday, December 30, 2010

Need by Carrie Jones or The Book That Yanked Me out of Vacation Mode

Need by Carrie Jones
Copyright 2009
Bloomsbury - Young Adult/Paranormal
306 pages

Need begins a paranormal young adult series that takes place in Maine, where Zara has moved after the death of her stepfather left her so paralyzed with grief that her mother thinks she needs a change of scenery. Later in the book, you find out there's more to the move from Charleston than just Zara's depression, but that's a spoiler I can't share with you.

In Maine, Zara quickly finds herself with one instant enemy, an energetic best friend and two handsome admirers. She also discovers that the man who seemed to be stalking her in Charleston was not a figment of her imagination, after all. He's still following her and wherever he goes, gold pixie dust is left behind.

Yep, this one has to do with pixies. It's amazing what a variety of paranormal books have become available in the past couple of years. This one contains pixies and their natural enemies -- the were, as in "werewolves" but not just wolves fall into the "were" category.

Need is enthralling, romantic (the guy she falls for is definitely every woman's dream -- maybe even a bit too perfect, at times) and at times very exciting. There were a few too many times I found myself mentally chanting at the heroine to go back inside, back inside, listen to the warnings everyone's giving you. But, other than that and the occasional grammatical error, the book is a good one and I'm definitely going to continue reading this series.

Which brings to mind the fact that I'm not normally a person who enjoys series books. I don't know what it is about paranormal YA books that I find so compelling -- maybe the fact that they're extremely escapist reads? But, I do find that I'm reading more series books since such a broad variety of paranormal young adult books have come on the market.

The cover is kind of bland, in my humble opinion, but it fits because of the gold pixie dust and the fact that a pixie kiss (which is something you really don't want to happen to you -- just do not kiss a pixie if you're ever tempted) figures into the storyline.

I checked this book out from the public library in my town. Their YA section is really improving, but there's a little irony . . . most of the YA books I check out seem to have been purchased with grant money from International Paper. How fascinating is that? By giving grant money for book purchases, they end up selling more paper.

In other news:

I'm really, really sick of housework and have a long way to go because Kiddo will be home, this semester (taking some of his core classes locally) and we've got to find a way to create a comfortable, quiet study area for him -- not easy in our crowded little house. Someone send me a house fairy? The good kind, of course -- the ones who magically make the messes go away and the tub scrub itself.

I have been pondering my 2011 reading and blogging goals, working on my list of all the books I read (with links -- that was really tiring) and gathering books for my personal challenge, which I'll tell you more about, later. There will be photographs. I know how you love photographs.

Both my husband and I have such small families that we get almost zippo gifts, so we just go out and buy ourselves one big gift, each year. I sent hubby out to buy little me a reader. At this point, I'm calling her Petunia and she only contains free books because my finger hasn't accidentally slipped and hit the "buy this book" button when the price has been over $0.00. <--- I love that price.

Hope you're all having a good time soaking up the post-holiday joy, preparing for the new year and reading, reading, reading all those presents you got. You got books, right? Technically, I didn't get any, however, Hubby kindly gave me a Borders gift card. I'll use it soon. I'm worried about Borders' financial health and mourning the closing of Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, a magical place I had hoped to return to on future visits to Nashville. I cried alligator tears when I saw pictures of the empty shelves. Call me a sap, but that place was awesome.

Off to knock a random family member off my reading spot.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Beneath the Thirteen Moons by Kathryne Kennedy

Beneath the Thirteen Moons by Kathryne Kennedy
Copyright 2010 (orig. published 2003)
Sourcebooks Casablanca
350 pages

Mahri Zin is a swamp rat, a woman who makes her living alone, smuggling the coveted zabba root that can kill or infuse those who eat it with amazing power. She's strong, but she doesn't have the power to heal. When an illness hits her village, she has no choice but to kidnap a healer to save the people she loves. Last time she asked politely . . . and failed.

Korl Com'nder is a prince of the Sea Forest, a man who has lived in comfort and who would never stoop to associate with a lowly swamp rat. But, when he's accidentally kidnapped for his healing ability, he finds himself transfixed by one very independent woman with a power she's not supposed to use.

Will Korl willingly heal Mahri's people? And can Mahri overcome her unwillingness to love again?

What I loved about Beneath the Thirteen Moons:

Beneath the Thirteen Moons is a romantic fantasy that's very original. I thought Kathryne Kennedy's particular skill was in creating not only a unique world but a world with spectacularly beautiful scenery. There were at least four occasions during which I was totally blown away by Kennedy's imaginative use of flora, fauna and geology. She certainly knows how to set a sparkling scene.

What I disliked about Beneath the Thirteen Moons:

The story was a bit too long and repetitive and I was hoping for a little more plot than romance, but that's not to say the plot wasn't engaging -- and I knew it was a romance going into the book, so I have no reason to complain. There is definitely plenty of action in Beneath the Thirteen Moons. It's just a little too heavily weighted on the romantic side for my personal taste. And, yet, I liked it enough to keep going.

The bottom line:

A fascinating fantasy world with a uniquely beautiful setting and an interesting storyline, heavy on the romance and definitely at least PG-13 for some graphic sex. Particularly recommended for romance fans who like an unusual, original storyline with plenty of action or fantasy fans who don't mind a whole lot of romantic thoughts. A little repetitious and overlong, in my humble opinion, but romance fans might not agree with me on that.

Cover thoughts:

The cover fits the story in that it's romantic (man with bare chest) and is a fantasy that takes place on a planet with 13 moons (moons, fantasy look) but there's one small problem. The hero is blond. Oh, well. Close enough.

Big Brother is watching:

My thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy! I can't think of anyone to send it to, off the top of my head, so the first American to beg for it wins. Any takers?

In other news:

I'm still on Christmas break but I neglected to get this book finished up and reviewed before taking off, so I'm just back temporarily to post the one review and I'll return in January! Happy Holidays!

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Voice of America by E. C. Osundu

Voice of America by E. C. Osundu
Copyright 2010
HarperCollins - Fiction/Short Stories
215 pages

I am sure you remember Obi's daughter. She went to Italy to work as a prostitute after you left for America. Just last year she came back with lots of goodies for her parents and has even married a boy from a responsible family. They had their wedding in the church and the priest said that though her sins were like scarlet she has been washed clean by the blood of Jesus (after she made a huge donation for the repair of the church roof). She has gone on to bear a son and now nobody remembers that she was once a prostitute in Italy.

--from "A Letter from Home" in the Advanced Reader's Copy of Voice of America, p. 46. Some changes may have been made to the final print version.

Voice of America is a book of short stories written by a man who was born in Nigeria but now lives and teaches in the United States and, as such, the stories come from both sides of the coin -- some set in Africa, some in the United States -- each one about Africans: their fears, hopes, trials and joys, and what it's like to be a refugee, an immigrant or just a survivor of everyday life on either side of the ocean.

What I liked about this book:

I liked peeking into this strange, unique world. Africa can be both a beautiful and harrowing place to live but to many of the characters in Voice of America (and possibly in the minds of many Africans), the U.S. is a mysterious place of hope that is often quite different from the reality. Being an American and knowing what it's like to live in the U.S. can make it difficult to even begin to imagine the misconceptions others may have about our lifestyle, for better or worse; and, the stories in Voice of America place readers firmly in the shoes of Africans, giving American readers a glimpse into how we're seen by others.

The tales in Voice of America are candid, sometimes graphically gritty, at times humorous and always surprising. I found that I never knew what was going to happen, so I read this book rabidly. Many of the stories are harsh, but there were a couple that I found deeply touching and one or two were even uplifting. It's just as fascinating reading about immigrants to the U.S. and how they bring their customs with them (or find that it's difficult trying to escape those customs, even after relocating to another country) as it is reading stories about refugees dreaming of a new life.

What I disliked about this book:

I think the gritty, graphic nature of Voice of America is necessary because you can't fully understand the setting without the honesty, but sometimes the blunt wording made me cringe a bit. Also, a glossary would have been helpful as the author peppers his stories with African words or phrases without translating. Otherwise, the only thing I dislike is the title, which is also the name of one of the stories and very fitting if you're familiar with the radio show, "Voice of America" but perhaps a bit confusing from a marketing standpoint. If I were attempting to sell the book, I'd suggest a change of title to reflect the content a bit better -- something that says, "This book is about Africans, both in their home country and in the U.S. and their dreams for a better life."

A side note:

My favorite story is probably "Miracle Baby," the story of an immigrant who is unable to get pregnant and travels to her home country to see a miracle-making prophet at her mother-in-law's request. What happens is both enchanting and heart-breaking. There is another story that's loosely connected to "Miracle Baby," and I loved the crossover between those two stories, as well.

The bottom line:

Sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, Voice of America provides readers a revealing look at life as an African, whether at home in Africa or living in the United States. I really enjoyed Voice of America and recommend it particularly to readers who like stepping into the shoes of people who live in a different culture or that of immigrants facing the challenges of living in a new environment. Short stories aren't for everyone, but I like them if they're done well and by "done well" I mean "tell a complete story that doesn't leave you feeling short-changed in either characterization or development" and I think E. C. Osondu does short stories well. There's a little repetition, thematically, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

This book is rates at least PG-13 for occasional language, sexuality and violent images.

Cover thoughts:

I like the cover -- the colors, the simplicity -- but find that the obvious African theme combined with the title makes for a confusing clash that I think is likely to keep people from picking it up to flip through and/or purchase. If someone at Harper were to contact me for suggestions I'd say, "Change the title so it makes more sense and grabs people but don't alter the artwork."

My thanks to HarperCollins for the Advanced Reader's Copy, which will go into the next roving book box sent around by my little online book group.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Books In/Books Out

I'm totally proud of myself for keeping track of all of the books that came into and left our house, this week! It's a little thing, but I'm not the most organized person on the planet, you see.

In/Out Report for December 13-20, 2010 . . . beginning with "in":

Taking Out Your Emotional Trash by Georgia Shaffer - for FirstWild tour
The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton - drawing win from Fly High, sent by author
More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton - tucked in by the author with my drawing win! Many thanks to Fly High and Rosy!
Myself When Young by Daphne DuMaurier - from a swap site

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima - from a swap site
Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble - from a swap site
Embrace the Struggle by Zig Ziglar - from my delightful blog friend, Brittanie! Thank you, Brittanie!

Wounded Spirits by April Gardner - from the author for FirstWild tour

On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin - from Berkeley for review

I is an Other by James Geary - from HarperCollins for review
She-Wolves by Helen Castor - from HarperCollins for review
Till I End My Song by Harold Bloom - from HarperCollins for review
The Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel, PhD - from HarperCollins ditto

Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady - from a swap site (so excited to finally receive one of the books in this series published by the Bloomsbury Group).

Total books in: +14 (eeks)
Books out: -35 (library donations and swaps)
Net: 21 out

Well . . . it's an improvement but I still have a lot of work to do. In other news, Princess Isabel got her spay job, last week and she's been acting like a delicate flower rudely plucked from the vine.

Awww. Today, she was totally back to normal for the first time in a week and guess what? She ripped her stitches. She's not in any pain and not bleeding so I guess she's just going to have a slightly funny-looking bump on her belly. I'll call and ask the vet if she has any problems, but first . . . I get to take husband in to have his knee scoped. I'm going to be kind of a busy Nurse Bookfool for a few days, unless he just goes to sleep. Wish me luck. Men are whiny.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

November Reads in Review, 2010

I decided to skip the usual rear-view mirror pic, this month. The above photo is from the drive to Kiddo's college campus. Obviously, I mucked with it, lightening the sky and the trees (because I don't yet have a fancy program that allows me to only highlight certain areas) and made the color crazy-bold with tons of saturation. It's a beautiful drive, but I like mucking with photos.

November was a pretty terrific reading month. I finished the Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong and read two of the books in the Wake series by Lisa McMann. I'll buy the third book when it's released in paperback. I read an old favorite historical fic, Desiree, and found a new author I love in that same genre, Susanna Kearsley. I was totally blown away by the skill and depth of Lauren Oliver's writing in Before I Fall and once again enthralled by the readings gathered by Simon Van Booy in Why We Need Love. And, I read a lot of Christmas books, both for children and adults.

November Reads in Review (with links to reviews):

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why We Need Love, ed. by Simon Van Booy

Why We Need Love, edited by Simon Van Booy
Copyright 2010
Harper Perennial - Philosophy
237 pages

Student: Why does one feel the necessity of love?

Krishnamurti: You mean, why do we have love? Why should there be love? Can we do without it? What would happen if you did not have this so-called love? If your parents began to think out why they love you, you might not be here. They might throw you out. They think they love you; therefore they want they want to protect you, they want to see you educated, they feel that they must give you every opportunity to be something. This feeling of protection, this feeling of wanting you to be educated, this feeling that you belong to them, is what they generally call love. Without it, what would happen? What would happen if your parents did not love you? You would be neglected, you would be something inconvenient, you would be pushed out, they would hate you. So fortunately, there is this feeling of love, perhaps clouded, perhaps besmirched and ugly, but there is still that feeling, fortunately for you and me; otherwise you and I would not have been educated, would not exist.

--from On Love and Loneliness by Jiddu Krishnamurti with students at Rajghat School, Dec. 19, 1952, as quoted in Why We Need Love, p. 222

Doesn't that look like great food for discussion? I may have to bring up this series in my face-to-face book group because I would absolutely love to have a chance to sit around and discuss the readings, quotes and artwork in all three books.

I've written lengthy reviews of the first two of Simon Van Booy's three-book philosophy series, here:

I saved Why We Need Love for last because I thought it would be my favorite and it wasn't, but that doesn't in any way diminish my opinion of the book and the enjoyment I got from the reading. It just wasn't my favorite, that's all.

Like the other books in Simon's philosophy series, Why We Need Love contains selected readings, including poetry, quotations and excerpts from both fiction and non-fiction works as well as works of art, with introductions by the editor. As in the other books, I thought the intros were surprisingly illuminating and the choices of reading material were, for the most part, exceptional.

One thing I really love about this series is that it gives readers who may not have a comprehensive background in literature a chance to dip their toes in the waters of many rivers, so to speak. The variety of readings are not only about love making hearts beat faster and people swoon; there are also readings that make you think about alternatives. In one case, lust is mistaken for love with hilarious and rather horrifying results.

The bottom line:

I loved all three of the books in Simon Van Booy's philosophy series and Why We Need Love was not my favorite but I still enjoyed it immensely. The conversation from which I drew a quote, above, was among my favorite readings but I even liked the passages from Ethan Frome! I know half of you vibrated in horror when I said that, but Simon has done an excellent job of selecting only the bits of literature and philosophy that are most relevant to each topic to create books worth thinking about, talking about and owning. I highly recommend this entire

Cover thoughts:

That cover almost looks rude, doesn't it? Maybe I've been reading Fail Blog too much and I'm sensitive to things that resemble things. I sense that it's warping me badly.

My thanks to Simon Van Booy and HarperPerennial for the review copies of the three books in this series!!

In other news:

Next up will be a list of my November reads in review, a review of E. C. Osondu's Voice of America, and a Books In/Books Out report for the week of December 13-20 (not necessarily in that order). I'm also about halfway through Beneath the Thirteen Moons and plan to review that before I shut down for the holidays. The volunteer firefighters' parade (Santa's way at the back, on the last fire truck-- and he didn't wave . . . weird) has already passed through our neighborhood, so I'm actually late taking off for the holidays. Actually, I'm just late all-around. You should see the blank space beneath our Christmas tree.

Two books have not made it into my sidebar:

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie - which I read for my book group. And, then I wasn't able to attend the meeting. Major bummer. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the reading, since I'm not a big fan of mysteries.
Let it Snow by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle - Three interconnected young adult Christmas romances written by three terrific authors. I'm on the final story so I guess the cover won't make it into my sidebar, but I'm enjoying the book. It's extremely fluffy reading, perfect for the holiday season.

Back for more fun, tomorrow! Happy Reading!!

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello

The Clouds Roll Away: A Raleigh Harmon Novel
by Sibella Giorello
Copyright 2010
Thomas Nelson - Suspense/Christian
322 pages

Whenever I thought I was right, I forgot to listen for the sibilant whisper. Hearing only my own counsel, my righteous insistence, I failed to hear the asp slithering through the grass. It was only later, in the messy aftermath, that I began to peel away the justifications and rationalizations, the false logic and shifting blame, until I was left with one small dark object, resting in the palm of my hand like an apple seed.
My hasty choice.

After several months working in the FBI's Seattle office (as punishment, possibly for insubordination but I never quite figured that out), Raleigh Harmon has barely settled into her home in Richmond, Virginia when a cross is burned on the lawn of a plantation owned by a celebrity rapper known as "RPM". Hate crimes are high-profile, high-priority cases and Raleigh, a forensic geologist, has a limited amount of time to solve the crime.

Raleigh's personal life is just as messy as her job. Her widowed mother, Nadine, suddenly wants to celebrate Christmas for the first time since her husband was murdered and she also seems determined to place Raleigh in the path of Raleigh's former boyfriend, DeMott. And Nadine's companion is suddenly angry and distant after he begins to work as a photographer for the targeted rapper.

As Raleigh digs deeper to solve the crime, she slowly uncovers a tangled web that leads in unexpected directions with interconnected crimes testing her skills and a boss and home life forcing her to rely heavily on her faith to guide her and provide clarity.

What I liked about The Clouds Roll Away:

I'm not much of a suspense/mystery reader, but this particular book sounded so fascinating that I signed up for a book tour. And, I have to say . . . wow. I was really impressed. Raleigh Harmon is a fascinating character and in The Clouds Roll Away, the author pretty much plunks her in the middle of a ring of fire with a cup of water (metaphorically speaking). The challenges she faces, both personally and professionally, are so overwhelming that you can't help but race through the book.

I was absolutely dying to know what would happen and surprised by how beautifully the author tied together seemingly diverse strands and then had her character solve the crime while dealing with a boss who obviously couldn't stand her, a mother who was either flipping out or suddenly improving (a conundrum that carried a startling ring of truth) and a shaken faith as her father's murder remained unsolved.

The Clouds Roll Away is the second in a series and it stands alone fine, but it's so well written that I want to read the first book, merely on the merits of the second -- although, I also wouldn't mind knowing what exactly Raleigh did to end up getting sent to Seattle. If that was described, it didn't stick with me. Raleigh is one tough cookie. I love the character.

What I disliked about The Clouds Roll Away:

Since The Clouds Roll Away is a Thomas Nelson publication, you have to expect some talk about God -- and, as a Christian, I like a "clean" (no sex, no bad language -- but this one does have some graphic description of crime scenes) read. I appreciated that about this book but I thought occasionally the segue into thoughts about faith was a little odd and didn't quite fit the tone.

Raleigh's thoughts about God and faith become less jarring the farther you get into the story, though, so I think it was really a case of not knowing the character and where she was coming from. Once I got to know Raleigh, her thoughts started to make a lot more sense and didn't seem to just come out of the blue. I did occasionally get tripped up by her writing style, which can be a little confusing at times, but there was never a point that I felt hopelessly lost.

A rather irrelevant side note:

There was one minor error that I thought was rather interesting. Raleigh refers to a record her mother is playing as an "RPM". I assume the author wasn't around in the days of vinyl because "RPM" stands for "revolutions per minute" and refers to the speed at which a vinyl album was played -- or would be, if you still had your old record player and you haven't gotten rid of your old vinyl. I think she meant an "LP" or long-playing album, as opposed to a single but that's just picky details. I can't believe I'm so old that the music I grew up with (some of which is still tucked in a cabinet) is now referred to as "antique". Eeks.

The bottom line:

Stunning writing, a complex and satisfying mystery and a kick-butt heroine make this book a page-turner. The book gets a family warning for graphic description of crime scenes but is otherwise clean -- no bad language, no sex, just lots of emotion and a rocking fine plot.

Cover thoughts:

The cover doesn't exactly scream, "Suspense! Mystery!" It looks placid, actually, and I think it's absolutely beautiful but it did surprise me that the crimes involved were so intense and even a bit on the gory side. And, yet, the book is as much about Raleigh returning to her hometown during a snowy Christmas and facing her own personal demons as it is about Raleigh Harmon solving a crime. After closing the book, I think the cover fits. It's got a pensive look, an image of the character that fits (before her haircut -- you have to read it to get the implications that come with the haircut) and the snowy Richmond setting. It's really perfect.

FTC notice:

I received a copy of The Clouds Roll Away for a book tour. My thanks to Thomas Nelson and LitFuse for the review copy.

Coming up:

I actually kept meticulous notes on the books that entered and left my house, this past week! I'll write about them in a separate post very soon; and, after I write my review of Why We Need Love, I'll also post a round-up of my November reads.

I've been holding off on the November list until I've managed to review everything I finished reading in November, so that I can provide links to all of my reviews. And, then I believe I have one or two more reviews and I'll take off a couple of weeks from blogging for Christmas break and ponder my reading and life resolutions for next year. Yes, I still do that -- Lord knows why. It's not like I'm good at keeping my resolutions, but I still plan to try. Are you making plans for 2011?

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Feeling Christmasy

Top to bottom:

Isabel and Fiona check out our artificial tree with a weighted base, purchased with the felines in mind.

Inflatable Santa in downtown Vicksburg (isn't that ironwork beautiful?).

A sleigh and deer owned by my mother in front of an antique flat iron from my father's collection, both on top of a shelf built by my grandfather. Kind of a special little corner.

Isabel shows her Christmas spirit.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell
Copyright 2010
Sourcebooks Landmark - Historical Fiction
Pride and Prejudice spin-off
384 pages

Darcy relaxed a bit. "The old Thompson place?" She answered with a nod. "You're one of Tom Bennet's daughters? I was told he had a herd of them." Almost immediately he recognized how his choice of words could be considered an insult, but it was too late.

--from Pemberley Ranch, p. 23 of the Advanced Reader's Copy. Some changes may have been made to the final published version.

After the Civil War, former Confederate officer Will Darcy returns to his family's ranch in outside Rosings, Texas. Pemberley Ranch is one of the largest land holdings in the area, as is the B & R Ranch owned by Will's cousin, Cate DeBourgh. Nearby, the Bennet family, formerly of Meryton, Ohio, has purchased farmland. Will has spent some time as a prisoner of war after the Confederate loss and the lovely Beth Bennet had an elder brother who served in the Union.

Will and Beth are naturally at odds with each other, not only because of the war but because Will Darcy is a man of means and Beth is one member of a large family struggling to make ends meet, as well as an energetic and willful young woman who often wears dungarees rather than a dress. But, Rosings is a small town and they can't help but cross paths, especially after Beth's sister Jane marries Will's best friend.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . okay, honestly, I just had to say that. You must forgive me. George Whitehead, carpetbagger and former Union bad boy, has also ended up in Rosings, where he has made fast friends with the Bennet family. But George has not mended his ways and is now working with Cate DeBourgh to buy up land, regardless of who ends up getting hurt in the process. Can Will and Beth set aside their differences and save the town before it's too late?

What I liked about Pemberley Ranch:

Pemberley Ranch is action-packed and a decent novel on its own merits. It does contain the basic framework taken from Pride & Prejudice, yet the book is unique enough to stand on its own. Pemberley Ranch is well plotted and the characters are not entirely lifted from the pages of Jane Austen's work but spun in slightly different directions, enough so that it's really a little difficult to reconcile the two works if you're trying to place all of the characters parallel in your mind. As I read the book it occurred to me that it's rather sad that the book probably wouldn't have had a decent shot at publication (because it's a western and they're simply not in vogue) if the characters' names and the locations had been changed to avoid the Austen references.

The book begins in Vicksburg (where I live) in 1863 and I thought the Civil War and post-siege scenes were done well. As far as I could tell, the historical references were meticulously researched. I had to get a little help from my husband to picture the location of the first scene, but then it quickly became apparent that the author knew what he was talking about.

What I disliked about Pemberley Ranch:

I think my dislikes should be taken with a grain of salt as I've just recently reached Austen Spin-off Burnout Point, but I found that Pemberley Ranch lacked the spark and wit I always long for in a book with characters based on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. There was also very little true tension between Will and Beth. Even George Whitehead -- the character who plays the "nefarious" character fashioned after Willoughby -- has no intimate relationship with Beth, the Lizzie of this book. He's simply a friend of the Bennet family; and, Whitehead's friendship with the family has a weak foundation. Will and Beth also quickly move past their prejudices against those who served on the opposite side during the Civil War.

The bottom line:

I liked Pemberley Ranch, but I didn't love it. I think, though, that I was expecting a closer parallel to Pride and Prejudice and it was the lack of witty repartee and tension between Will and Beth that made this book just an average read for me, in spite of excellent plotting, plenty of exciting action and decent setting. The book also contains one or two rather erotic scenes (one of which is a dream sequence) and some unexpectedly modern bad language. I was really stunned when I read the f-word, not just because it was unnecessary and didn't fit the general tone, but also because I'm pretty sure it wasn't the way people spoke in that time period, although I could be wrong. Right for the time period or not, a little bit of generic "cowboy cussing" would have sufficed -- galldernit, dagnabbit, etc. For those two reasons, the book gets a family warning for language and sexual references.

Speaking of warnings:

I'm pondering alterations to my reviews for the coming year to make things like family warnings and other things I keep forgetting (like the FTC line) more consistent from one review to another. If there's anything specific you'd like me to work on, feel free to let me know. I used to put "cover thoughts" in all my reviews and I keep forgetting to add that, for example. Do you like to hear my thoughts about covers? Would you like me to regularly post links to other reviews? Are you tired of cat pictures, yet?

Speaking of cover thoughts . . . I love the cover of Pemberley Ranch. I think it reflects the time period and location very nicely and the hot-pink frame makes it bold and eye-catching.

And, speaking of the FTC . . . I was provided a copy of Pemberley Ranch for review. My thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy, which I'll send on its merry way in the next ARC book box swap held by my little online book group.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fiona Friday - Reindeer Games

Just so you know . . .

This is NOT my happy face.

No adorable kitty cats were injured in the making of the above photograph. One was, however, mightily annoyed. She's very forgiving, in case you're interested.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Happy Birthday to Jane (a day early)!

I got an email from Sourcebooks about Jane Austen's birthday and, being a person who has no e-reader, I'm sharing the info about free e-books in honor of her birthday merely because I love you so. Also, I'm envious, but that's okay. You go right ahead and download your freebies and I'll just sit here looking all pretty in envy green.

Thursday, December 16th is Jane Austen’s 235th birthday!

Sourcebooks, the world’s leading publisher of Jane Austen fiction, is offering a unique deal to readers who want to celebrate Jane by reading special editions of all six of Austen’s beloved novels in a 21st century format.

Special e-book editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Mansfield Park will be available for free for one day only. These celebratory editions include the full novels, plus the legendary color illustrations of the Brock brothers, originally created to accompany the books in 1898.

In addition to the Jane Austen classics, readers can also enjoy these bestselling Austen-inspired novels. The following bestselling e-books will be free on December 16th in honor of her birthday:

Eliza’s Daughter by Joan Aiken
The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll
What Would Jane Austen Do? by Laurie Brown
The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins
The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview
Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan
Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy by Abigail Reynolds

Available wherever eBooks are sold.

UPDATE: There were some snafus with several bookselling websites. I've been informed that iBooks and Google books currently have the prices labeled correctly but Amazon, B & N and Sony were working on changing their prices, this morning. Thanks to the confusion, the birthday freebies have been extended for an extra day! Cool! Now, go forth and download.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, ed. by Simon Van Booy

Why Our Decisions Don't Matter
Ed. by Simon Van Booy
Copyright 2010
Harper Perennial - Philosophy
193 pages, incl. Permissions

Remember: The things within our power are naturally at our disposal, free from any restraint or hindrance; but those things outside our power are weak, dependent or determined by the whims and actions of others. Remember, too, that if you think you have free rein over things that are naturally beyond your control, or if you attempt to adopt the affairs of others as your own, your pursuits will be thwarted and you will become a frustrated, anxious, and fault-finding person.

--from The Art of Living by Epictetus, quoted in Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, p. 18

Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come--the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is't to leave betimes? Let be.

--from Hamlet by William Shakespeare, 5.2., 192-196, quoted in Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, p. 68

If we add the dream skepticism of A Midsummer Night's Dream to Hamlet's speculation about a dreaming death, then we reach the radical skeptical possibility of our being under the mistaken impression that we are living, perceiving beings. That is a highly vertiginous thought.

For Hamlet, our ignorance of the nature of death is what deters us from seeking it. It is our consciousness ("conscience") of our ignorance that prevents us opting for death as a way of the trials of life. This is a very grand form of despair--as if only a fool would not choose death if he could be assured that it was really the end of consciousness!

--from Shakespeare's Philosophy by Colin McGinn, quoted in Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, p. 78

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy." By "philosophy" here we are to understand the full range of human knowledge, including science. The import of the statement is thus that the universe contains more than we can understand, or even than we can imagine. This is an expression of what philosophers call realism--the idea that reality is not limited by the possibilities of human knowledge. Knowledge has its limits, an on the other side of it are things unknown. It is not, then, that reality is determined by what we can know, understand, experience, or conceive; reality, in its intrinsic nature, is quite independent of our epistemological capacities. This is, indeed, the reason that skepticism is a genuine threat: our epistemological faculties can only be inadequate to discovering the world if the world itself is not constituted by those faculties. Knowledge can have limits only because there is something out there that it cannot encompass--facts it cannot reach.

--from Shakespeare's Philosophy by Colin McGinn, quoted in Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, p. 81

3.031 It used to be said that God could create everything, except what was contrary to the laws of logic. The truth is, we could not say of an "unlogical" world how it would look.

3.032. To present in language anything which "contradicts logic" is as impossible as in geometry to present by its coordinates a figure which contradicts the laws of space; or to give the coordinates of a point which does not exist.

--from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, quoted in Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, p. 135

Why Our Decisions Don't Matter is one of three books in a philosophy series, each of which contains a selection of readings (including excerpts from fiction, non-fiction and poetry) as well as paintings relating to three different philosophical concepts. Why Our Decisions Don't Matter stunned and overwhelmed me so thoroughly that it has taken me at least a two months to get around to reviewing. I feel kind of awful about that. But, it's one of my most heavily Post-it filled books of the year and I find that the books that are in some way mind-bogglingly wonderful or surprising that are the most difficult to write about.

What is it about this particular book that I loved so much and that made it surprising to me? Here are a few thoughts:
  • The title makes the book sound negative. It's actually very positive in many ways, so the reading was quite pleasant.
  • The readings are great for pondering and would probably stir up some excellent discussion. I love books that make me think.
  • I finally get Hamlet. I really never thought he'd make sense to me.
  • The introductory notes (by Simon) are brief but excellent--actually, quite illuminating and not always the "same old thing", even in the case of well-known authors.
I happened to read the Hamlet bits on the same day I found the description and image of a globular cluster at Discover's blog.

The larger 4000 x 4000 pixel image of this globular cluster is amazing--you really must click on that link and then scroll around and look at the details of the image. You can see a number of distant galaxies when you look at the magnified view. After reading Colin McGinn's explanation of Hamlet's confused meanderings and their meaning then viewing this particular photo, my immediate thought was, "How do we convince ourselves we know anything at all?"

The universe appears a lot more vast in this photo than it does just looking up at the sky and you can't help but wonder how many other places there are living, breathing creatures and end up feeling quite small, insignificant and awestruck. For my part, I can't imagine how anyone can explain that big, beautiful universe away. The idea of it alone makes my head spin.

But, back to the book. Why Our Decisions Don't Matter is an excellent collection of readings gathered by Simon Van Booy for the sake of introducing readers to the philosophy of the everyday decisions we make and how, in the grand scheme of things, they may seem critical at the moment we make them but end up being generally meaningless . . . but in a good way. Meaning, we're all going to die so do what you must to live while you can.

The bottom line:

I love this series and Why Our Decisions Don't Matter is my personal favorite of the three philosophy books edited by Van Booy because what I got out of it was a kind of, "just go for it, now" feeling. I need to reread it, actually. It turned out to be the most thought-provoking of the trio, at least for me. There were a couple of rather dry, difficult readings, but I found most everything engaging, fascinating and well-chosen for the theme. I highly recommend this series and Why Our Decisions Don't Matter, in particular (if you must choose only one). I would love to have read this book with a group because I think the readings could make for some lively discussion.

My thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this series and to Simon for asking his publicist to ship them to me.

In other news:

We finally got a Christmas tree! I know, kind of late in the ballgame. We were worried that the cats would pull over a real tree and slop water everywhere so we pondered just skipping the tree completely and making a small mini-tree display on the mantle. But, in the end, neither of us wanted to do without the pretty lights. So, we bought a small, narrow, pre-lit indoor-outdoor tree with a bit of weight in the pot to prevent it tipping in the wind. There's not a lot of wind indoors, but there are definitely some felines who like to put their weight on the edge of the pot. The cats have also both done some munching on the tree (they really seem to like the texture), but otherwise haven't really caused too much trouble. I'm sure there will be some cat-with-tree photos forthcoming.

I didn't get around to my "mad cleaning" over the weekend so today was the day. I managed to scrounge up a dozen more books to donate --wahoo!-- and we've almost completely shifted College Kiddo's possessions away from the living areas so our house is returning to normal. Kiddo is home for Christmas break and had to completely move out of his dorm room because his dorm is being demolished to make room for a larger dormitory that will take two years to build. At this point, we have no idea where he'll be living, next semester (which dorm, that is -- he'll definitely be in a dorm).

I have not managed to finish reading a single book, yet, this week. Hopefully, I'll get one finished tomorrow. I've been up way too late, recently, so I'm going to have to limit tonight's reading time. Bummer. How is your reading, these days? Is Christmas season interferring with the fun?

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Copyright 2008
Walden Pond Press, a children's division of HarperCollins
Ages 9-12
311 pages

Liam is twelve but he looks thirty and that fact is a bit of a nuisance for him. "You should know better, big fellow like you," people are always saying. Why should he know better merely because he's big? he wonders. At any rate, he's caught between the world of the young and that of adults. And, when he's offered an opportunity to do something kids love but has to pretend to be an adult in order to do so, it's not so much of a stretch for Liam. He's used to pretending to be an adult with his young friend Florida. He's often pretended to be her father; Liam got in a good bit of trouble for that incident with the Porsche.

"Oh, dear." Dr. Drax sighed. "We girls are so complicated. Let's leave Dad to sort this out, shall we? I imagine Mr. Digby knows how to deal with his own daughter."
I don't know what made her imagine that. Florida was actually kicking me now and bawling,"You said we were going to a theme park!"
"We are. This is it."
"It's in the desert. Not even a normal desert. A Chinese desert. In China. You said it was down south."
"It is down south."
"I thought you meant London."
"But we were on a plane for hours. If you're on a plane for hours and hours, obviously you're going to go farther than London."
"I thought it was a slow plane."
A slow plane.

--from Cosmic, page 96

Pretending has gotten Liam in quite a bind, this time. Offered a chance on the "ultimate thrill ride", he has pretended to be the responsible adult in a group of children. The thrill ride? A trip to outer space. But, something went terribly wrong and now they're stuck in space with earth totally out of view.

I won't ruin the potential experience by sharing too much of what happens, but I will go ahead and tell you that this book was just about the most fun a kid can have. Even an old kid. Cosmic begins with Liam noting that he and his shipmates are lost in space and then you find that he's dictating his experience into his rather fancy cell phone. Then, it backtracks to how he ended up in space in the first place and most of the book details the adventure that led to the trip on the ultimate thrill ride and why he and the rest of the children were stuck in space.

There is so much to love about this book that I'm afraid I'm going to forget to mention half of it, but here are a few items of note:
  • Liam is "gifted and talented" and, as such, tends to spout some very informative material. Ha! What a sneaky way to teach kids, making them laugh their socks off while sneaking in bits of information!
  • The author makes some astute observations about children and adults in a way that may possibly cause you to spit out your drink. I would definitely set the book down before taking a drink.
  • Cosmic is hilarious. Did I already mention that?
  • The hero, Liam, is a really good egg, a terrific character.
  • The ending is upbeat and the entire book is delightful.
  • There are some touching parent/child moments and yet the author still manages to make you laugh through most of them. Also, you really want to reach in and give Liam's dad a nice pat on the back (and the rest of the dads the occasional head-slap).
  • The other characters are, for the most part, annoying -- in a funny way, of course. The contrast makes you love Liam even more.
  • There's a whole lot of "clever" in Cosmic. Like, the way the names of the characters fit their personalities (Mr. Martinet, for example) and the way Liam uses his head to solve various dilemmas.
  • The author is English, so the characters are English. Because I'm a total Anglophile, this is a big thumbs-up, for me. But, it's never so British as to be confusing. Another thumbs-up.
"And why is it so sandy?" She seemed to think the Gobi Desert was my fault.
"Because the area in which we are standing was once the seabed of a great ocean that was exposed by a fall in the water level. The rocks and the mountains that were on the seabed have been broken down into sand by the wind over the last thousand million years." . . .
. . . "Well, Mr. Digby, you've done this before. What do you suggest we do now?"
I said, "Wait for the wind to die down?"
"You'll be waiting a long time," said Florida. "It's been blowing for a thousand million years so far, apparently."

--from Cosmic, page 132

The bottom line:

Oh, how I loved this book. There is nothing I like better than a book that makes me laugh and if this book had been around when I was a youngster, I would have reread it a dozen times or more. Also, it's notable that both of my kids experienced the, "You should know better, big fellow like you," thing, as they both reached their full height around the same time as the protagonist. I had to reassure ticket-sellers at theaters and sellers of kids' meals that, yes, that giant critter was younger than he looked. In fact, when Kiddo was 4 years old, someone asked him what grade he was in and he proudly replied, "I'm in Miss Jackie's 4-year-old preschool class!" You should have seen the eyeballs pop.

Also, I love that cover. Don't you just love that cover? It's really eye-catching.

In other news:

Our little Isabel is wounded. Awwww. Apparently, she tried to stop her fall when she plummeted off the back of a chair, earlier today. She split open one of her little paw pads and bled and bled and bled all over the place. I've been instructed by Carol at the veterinary clinic to watch for infection or abcess because there's not a whole lot you can do about minor cat injuries. They lick off ointment and bite off bandages. We did lock the poor girl into the utility room with a super-fresh litterbox, some food and water and a couple of toys until she stopped bleeding, just for her safety (okay, yes, and because my husband was worried about the new carpet -- but really for her safety).

I have 10 pages to go before I finish reading Voice of America. And, we're under a tornado watch. Here I was, thinking we were beyond tornado weather because it's been so nice and cool! Serves me right for thinking. Sending warm thoughts to those of you who are experiencing the winter storm.

Bookfool in muggy weather with injured kitty

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.