Friday, July 29, 2011

Fiona Friday - Sister Love, pt 2 and some other jazz

Since it's Friday, this post must begin with a little continuation of a recent Fiona Friday. This is what happened after the photo I posted last week:

Awww. Adorables! And, here's something else that warms my little heart . . . a gerbera daisy bloom!

I'm thrilled about this little daisy because, till now, I have never succeeded at keeping a gerbera daisy alive long enough for it to bloom, again, after planting. Several buds came close and keeled over just before opening; this lovely pink girl was the first to survive. Another bud is still green but on the verge of blooming. So exciting!

And, here's a crappy but fairly colorful shot of last night's happenings. It took a little scheming because our local newspaper now charges for their web version (and, believe me, it's so not worth the cost) but I managed to at least view the opening page long enough to find out why we lost power for 6 hours, last night. A tree fell. Well, that's not particularly exciting, really, nor is sitting around in an airless house in the dark. But, the pretty flashing lights of the constable's car, Entergy cherry-pickers, etc. were fun to look at:

Next time this happens, I'll take a tripod. I just shot out the car window.

While we were cast into stuffy darkness, I spent my time well. I finished reading When She Woke by flashlight. I actually ran one of my Maglite batteries down to nearly nothing and then switched out with husband, who thinks darkness is just another opportunity to sleep.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

June Reads in Review

Remember when I returned from England and I said I was hoping to write about my June reads within a few days? Well, that moment of insanity passed quickly. I was so terribly far behind (about 12 or 13 reviews' worth) that it took me a while to get to the point that I could post links to all my reviews.

Now, July is almost over and still I'm a smidgen behind, partly because I haven't been feeling tip-top (hence my absence, for the past few days). But, at least I'm done with June.

Your rear-view mirror view was taken from our rental Peugot as we traveled to Exmoor in England via a lovely, twisty scenic toll road. It was raining, as you can see, but the rain came and went. It was a very pleasant day trip. On to June's reads (with links to my reviews).

June Reads:

I liked everything I read in June, but there were some stand-outs and some that were just so-so reads. My top reads were You Know When the Men Are Gone, My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus with The Art of Racing in the Rain a close fourth . . . and only because I've managed to forget some details from that one -- I loved it when I read it, but for some reason it just didn't stick in my mind as expected. All four of those are books I highly recommend. Oops, forgot one. Regeneration was another that I found gripping, horrifying and fascinating. All five books are highly recommended.

Other books I thought were excellent but which weren't necessarily books I'd gush about are After the Quake (well, maybe a little gushing; I was pretty impressed), Proust's Overcoat, and The Soldier's Wife.

My so-so reads were Lost in Shangri-La, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Dog Tales and Casper the Commuting Cat. So-so meaning I liked them but didn't fall in love with any of those 4 books. In the case of both the pet books, there were entertaining moments and times I thought bad pet behavior was allowed because of cuteness. I get that. There are things I let my cats get away with that I probably shouldn't. But, I thought Casper's owner had an attitude about the indoor/outdoor cat concept that was disturbing and I remember thinking I just don't get the cuteness of bad dog behavior when I was reading Dog Tales. Either way, I liked all those books but they were not among my favorites.

There weren't any books that I strongly disliked, although I made it pretty clear what I disliked in my reviews. So far, nobody has succeeded at shutting me up and apparently y'all like it that I speak my mind.

I've finished several books but not felt up to reviewing, in the past week. I can't say when I'll get over that. Sometimes, when I don't feel like writing, I just walk away for a few days. Usually, I post a picture or two. I am in a mood, so just be happy I've been quiet.

I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth, yesterday. It's a dystopian YA that I bought at the salvage store and started reading in the car. I stopped reading everything else till I finished it. That was one gripping read. I really enjoyed it.

Right now, I'm re-reading Simon Van Booy's Everything Beautiful Began After, this time with Post-its handy. Today, an ARC of When She Woke by Hilary Jordan just arrived in the mail from Algonquin and I am finding it unputdownable. Yes, unputdownable is a real word. I feel kind of awful about the fact that I'm unable to talk myself into waiting to read When She Woke, now that I've noticed the October release date on the spine. Eeks and oh, well. I haven't touched The Beekeeper's Lament in a week, but I'll get back to it.

I unexpectedly ended up back in physical therapy, yesterday. Great, just what I need -- having to drive 60 miles, twice a week, in addition to my intense exercise class and everything else that's going on in my life (so many Big Decisions are being dangled, right now). But, apparently, I need work on my neck. I was starting to get daily migraines, again, and last time I went for regular PT it did help reduce the frequency. It's just all so bloody time-consuming!!! I miss finding the time to write and visit other bloggers. On the plus side, my neck does feel better, today, and I've lost 3% of my body fat during the time I've been working out in my exercise class, The Next Level. I'm still a cow, but I'm a slightly more muscular bovine creature. So, maybe there's hope.

But, I still feel like this . . .

And, I don't look nearly as cute as Fiona when I'm lying around.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gone by Michael Grant

Gone by Michael Grant
Copyright 2008
Harper Teen - YA/Sci-Fi
558 pages

In a split second, everyone aged 15 and over disappears from Perdido Beach, a small town in California. Everyone. Teachers, parents, older siblings -- all gone. Along with their disappearance go the phones, internet and television. The electricity remains. But, where should the youngsters go and how will they survive? As it becomes plain that there's a barricade blocking them from the world outside, food begins to dwindle, dangerous mutated creatures appear and bullies arrive from the private school up the hill.

In addition to all these strange occurrences, some of the remaining youngsters have developed powers--and they're growing stronger. But, the bullies know about these unusual new powers and they're determined not to let anyone overcome their stranglehold on the town. What will become of the young survivors in Perdido Beach? What is the FAYZ and how might it be related to the local nuclear power plant? And, what is that strange, dome-like barricade over their town?


There are a few things I consider spoilers in Gone, so my review may be a tiny bit vague. What I really loved about Gone the most was that it's pure escapist reading and I was in need of a mental break, so a little escapist sci-fi was perfect for the moment.

Sam, the protagonist, is a natural-born hero. Some of his peers and a lot of the younger children look up to him because he's known to have saved a bus full of students when the driver had a heart attack. But, on a daily basis, he's really rather timid and unsure of himself. He doesn't desire to be their leader and he's worried about the dangerous power he developed in the months leading up to the disappearance of the adults. As the situation degenerates, though, Sam finds that he really needs to step up to the plate.

Astrid, who is nicknamed "Astrid the Genius" because of her intelligence, becomes Sam's closest companion and greatest encouragement. But, she has problems of her own. Her young brother is autistic and it takes a lot of energy to deal with his needs.

Caine is the leader of the bullies from the private school. He has a power complex and is determined to take over the town. But, what is his goal and who is he willing to sacrifice to get what he wants?

The bottom line:

An exciting, adventurous, scary novel that combines a Stephen King-like world of fresh horror with the animalistic infighting of Lord of the Flies, definitely recommended but not for the faint of heart.

Technically, I am the faint of heart. There were times I was unsure I really wanted to continue reading. Having experienced the horror of post-Katrina Mississippi and the fighting over limited resources (which really wasn't necessary, especially early on, but still occurred because people naturally panic in times of crisis), I know how real that type of behavior can be. It's disturbing! But, I kept going because the story is a good one. The author kept flinging out new surprises and I never really quite knew how Sam was going to react. I have the second book in this series, Hunger, and I've been restraining myself from reading it because I tend to like series books better if I stretch them out. But, I might give in, soon.

I particularly thought the character development was excellent. Sam and Astrid are likable, as are most of the people who end up working with them to protect the innocent from the dangerous bullies. Caine and his sociopathic sidekick are easy to hate. It's classic good-versus-evil, and yet there is more to the story than just the interaction between the good and bad groups. There are monsters and strange powers to deal with. The plot is pretty amazing.

I'm pretty sure I've just talked myself into reading Hunger a bit sooner.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lost in Shangri-La by Michael Zuckoff

Lost in Shangri-La by Michael Zuckoff: The Epic True Story of a Plane Crash into the Stone Age
Copyright 2011
Harper - Nonfiction/History/WWII
370 pages, incl. notes, sources and bibliography


Near the end of WWII, a group of nurses and soldiers stationed on what was then known as Dutch New Guinea left for a sightseeing flight over the interior of the island. Dubbed "Shangri-La," the island's interior was inhabited by natives whose daily lives involved almost continuous battles between their tribes. Because of the rugged terrain around them, the natives were extremely isolated and unacquainted with people of other skin colors or traditions. They were also superstitious and sometimes cannibalistic.

A series of small mistakes on the flight into the dangerous interior led to a horrendous crash of the plane, the Gremlin Special, into the side of a mountain. In spite of the tremendous wreckage and resulting fire, 3 of the plane's 24 crew and passengers managed to escape. But, they emerged injured and lost high on a mountain in a land where people still lived Stone-Age lifestyles and Japanese soldiers hid in the hills.

What happened to the survivors? Given the terrain and the fact that the enemy watched from the hillsides, how would rescuers find them and bring the injured survivors to safety? Would the rescuers even survive their perilous journey into the island's interior?

What I disliked about Lost in Shangri-La:

Lost in Shangri-La wasn't quite what I expected, but that may be my own fault. When I see "WWII" and "plane crash" or "survival" together, I'm interested. I was expecting to read about soldiers who crashed into the jungle, not a sight-seeing plane. It's possible that I merely skimmed the promotional material. The real-life characters were not quite what I expected, in other words, but that didn't really matter.

I did, however, dislike what the author had to say about the one surviving female. She was beautiful and she knew it. One of her fellow survivors was a man she had turned down when he asked her out on a date. She had to be tough and adventurous to have even ended up in a place like Dutch New Guinea, but I thought the emphasis on her beauty went a little overboard.

What I liked about Lost in Shangri-La:

Irritation about the focus on the beautiful Margaret Hastings aside, I think the book was marvelously, thoroughly researched and fascinating. The author delves into culture -- the differences between the natives of the island's interior and the people who have explored or crashed inside their isolated home, the beliefs and traditions of the natives. He also describes the details of the crash and how the survivors managed to stay alive, the variety of plans floated to rescue them and the eventual decision and outcome.

The bottom line:

While I would not say Lost in Shangri-La is the most exciting survival book I've ever read, nor a favorite, I enjoyed the reading and would say it's above average as far as the research and detail. I thought the author focused a little too much on the negative characteristics of many of the people involved in all aspects -- flight, survival, rescue. But, I found myself truly admiring the fortitude of the survivors. It's not the heart-pounding kind of rescue/survival story I like best, so Lost in Shangri-La is not a personal favorite, but I think it's well-written.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 22, 2011

God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren and Fiona Friday pic

God Gave Us You by Lisa Tawn Bergren
Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant
Copyright 2011
Waterbrook Press - Children's Board Book/Christian
22 pages

The God Gave Us children's series has been around since 2000 and there are 6 different titles. God Gave Us You is the first to be made in the form of a board book and the content is just what it sounds like. A little polar bear asks his mother where he came from. She tells her little one that she and the little bear's father were lonely and wanted a baby . . . and God gave them one.

This is one very human polar bear family, so you're basically reading about a human pregnancy and birth but with bears as the parents and child. They create a nursery, go to the doctor, wait and wait, then rush to the hospital to deliver and bring their baby polar bear home. Little ones won't know the difference, but the very-human polar bear pregnancy did surprise me a bit!

The story is sweet and repetitive, but in a good way. One note, though -- God Gave Us You is geared to traditional, 2-parent families. Single parents and even adoptive families will have to adapt the words a bit. "God gave us you" is repeated on nearly every page, so it's also definitely a book for those who believe in God.

I would not call this book a personal favorite because of its bias toward traditional, 2-parent families, but there was a time I wouldn't have noticed that and I occasionally altered the words in books to suit me, when my children were small -- at least till they were older and I started to get caught.

You can see a sneak peek inside God Gave Us You, here. My thanks to Waterbrook Press and FirstWild for the review copy, which will be passed on to a family with a little one.

And, now for Fiona Friday!

I love this picture! Look at that look of genuine admiration in Isabel's eyes. She really looks up to her big sister! Just after I snapped this shot, Fiona began to groom Isabel and Izzy just lolled around looking blissful. They are so, so cute together.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus by Sonya Sones

The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus
By Sonya Sones
Copyright 2011
Harper - Fiction in Verse
420 pages


Which of
us hasn't passed
a vengeful hour thinking
of ways to spend the insurance

p. 77 of The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Without reaching the point of reviewing, I've managed to talk at least three friends into reading The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus, a sometimes-sad, often-funny, warm and witty book about being a middle-aged woman that is written entirely in verse.

Holly is about to turn 50. Her daughter is applying for distant colleges (none of them within even 1,000 miles of home), her husband may be having an affair, her mother is going through a health crisis and Holly has to deal with the doctor's annoying way of using humor to avoid honesty. Holly's reproductive years are officially behind her and the horrors of menopause are in full swing.


While waiting in line at the grocery store,
I glance at the cover of Glamour and see:
"Happy and Sexy at 20, 30, and 40!"

Wait just a hotter-than-thou minute!
I think to myself.
What about all of us happy, sexy fifty-year-olds?

I gnash my teeth
and flip the magazine over on the rack
so that the cover's facing in.

A second later,
when it's my turn to pay,
the buff young guy working the register

does something as unexpected
as a flying pig:
he winks at me.

Did you see that, Glamour?
He winked at me!
Who's happy and sexy now, huh? Huh?

I press my money into the hunky cashier's hand
with a seductive smile
and a flirty flutter of my lashes.

He gives me the once over,
then flashes me a sly grin and offers me something
that no man's ever offered me before:


pp. 115-6

You cannot help but love Holly. When her concerns start to really burden her, she becomes a bit of a Debbie Downer and you're afraid that nothing's going to improve, but then suddenly she takes charge, gets a grip, finds out the truth about this and that and you'll have laughed and cried yourself through one of the most genuine, touching, funny, poignant reads.

I'm going to skip the usual like/dislike parts because the only problem with the book is actually something you'll end up liking. Things just keep getting worse, incriminating evidence building up against a secretive husband, mother going downhill fast, teenager no longer the little girl Holly wants her to be. Holly is miserable and because you care about her, you're miserable with her. And, then, slowly she realizes her world is a good one.

The bottom line:

Highly recommended. A roller coaster emotional ride that's so fresh and unique and funny that you'll probably shove it into the hands of your friends, like I did -- especially if you're nearing 50 and can relate. I laughed, I cried, I passed my copy around. When my friend Lisa handed the book back to me, she said, "I loved this book! And, I'm only 45!" The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is great fun. I think anyone can enjoy and appreciate it, except perhaps teenagers or maybe a few young, upwardly mobile folks who refuse to think so far ahead, but those who like to read anything will likely still love it because it's a good story. The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus is definitely a new favorite of mine, a 5/5. Be patient when Holly gets really whiny. I promise the ending is worth the journey. There is some graphic sex talk, so I'll add a family warning. I don't think it's likely any kid will pick the book up and keep reading it, though, to be honest.

Gushy thanks to HarperCollins for the Advance Review Copy!

It's not Friday, but it seems like it's been too long since the girls made an appearance, so here's a shot of one of my little companions. When I sit at the computer, Isabel tucks herself under or around the monitor, sometimes watching action outside the window, sometimes dozing, often batting at pens, my watch, barrettes and anything else I leave lying about on the desk. Fiona usually stays on the floor (the treadmill mat is her favorite hangout), but she's also nearby unless she has something crucial to attend to.

Sometimes I'll just reach under the monitor and rub Isabel's cute little nose or forehead. She's very tolerant of me.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy

The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Copyright 2011
Voice - Historical Fiction/WWII
403 pages

The Soldier's Wife is yet another story that's been sitting in my review backlog pile for a while, but I remember it well. Vivienne de la Mare lives on the isle of Guernsey. Her husband is a soldier and she is not happily married. At home, she cares for her ailing mother-in-law and her two daughters.

Vivienne's eldest daughter wants to evacuate when it becomes obvious that the island will be invaded, but Vivienne is worried about the safety of the small boat leaving the island and opts to stay. When the island is occupied, it is shocking but she does her best to take care of her family. She is frightened when Nazi soldiers move into the house next door and tries to avoid them. But, she keeps encountering a soldier named Gunther and eventually they begin a passionate affair.

As food grows scarce, Vivienne finds that her relationship with a German can be helpful to her family. But, when she views the horrible treatment of imprisoned islanders, she takes a dangerous risk. How far is Vivienne willing to go to help a stranger? Are her choices worth the risks to her family? Is Vivienne in love with Gunther or simply a very selfish woman?

What I liked about The Soldier's Wife:

Although I tend to dislike "women's fiction" and I think The Soldier's Wife falls into that category, I liked getting into Vivienne's head when it came to the care of her family, pondering survival with her and thinking about what I might do in her place. How far would I go? What would I be willing to risk?

What I disliked about The Soldier's Wife:

Vivienne is not a character I liked or could relate to, although I warmed up to her a little when she began to risk her own life to help someone in desperate need.

I love other booklovers:

Jill of Rhapsody in Books was looking for someone to chat with about The Soldier's Wife during the time that I was eyeing it and her search for someone to chat with was actually the push I needed to read the book. I won't repeat our conversation but it was really illuminating hearing her thoughts and our little chat helped both of us to get a better grip on how we felt about the book. One thing that really jumped out at us was the lack of communication between Vivienne and Gunther. They were lovers and (trying to avoid a spoiler, here) at one point he did something very crucial that probably saved both her life and that of her family. And, yet she still didn't trust him.

The vagueness of their interaction bothered me. I mentioned to Jill that I've often felt like that's a feature of women's fiction that seems common and frequently irritates me -- characters who are unable to communicate or who hold things back when there's not a genuine reason for them to be distrustful. And, as WWII books go? Not a favorite. I tend to like grittier books with a broader perspective like Under an English Heaven by Robert Radcliffe or those that make me really feel the sense of deprivation, like The Madonnas of Leningrad.

And, yet, when I finished the book, I thought The Soldier's Wife was worth about a 4/5 rating. It's very good; I did think the book portrayed a decent sense of place and the dilemmas were realistic. I like a book that makes me question myself. What would I do in Vivienne's shoes? Well, I wouldn't sleep with the Nazi next door, no matter how much I disliked my absentee husband. But, how far would I go to help my fellow islanders? If I did find myself entangled with the enemy and the enemy became my most trusted friend, how much would I be willing to reveal about myself?

The bottom line:

While not an all-time favorite WWII novel and not one I'll save for a reread, I enjoyed The Soldier's Wife particularly for the way it made me set myself in the heroine's shoes and ponder how I would react in her situation. I did not like the heroine. I think she could have used a good slap in the face. But, I did like the dilemmas and the setting. In general, I think the book was very good and I recommend it but the scope of the book is more limited than I'd hoped. And, yet, the limited scope was also necessary. Vivienne and her family were isolated in many ways and the focus was on taking care of her family.

How about those Channel Islands?

I've wanted to visit the Channel Islands for at least a decade. I don't recall which WWII book introduced me to the islands, but I knew of their existence and the strategic importance of their location long before the Potato Peel book brought them to the attention of so many readers. Incidentally, I really need to get to that Potato Peel book (can't remember the full title and I'm too tired to look it up at the moment). Bellezza sent me a copy and I've been saving it. I think it's about time to quit saving it and pull it off the shelf.

My copy of The Soldier's Wife was sent to me by my friend Paula, who sent me a whopper of a pile, not long ago. Thanks, again, PJ!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein has gotten so many positive reviews that I must admit I was a little nervous about reading it. I'm pretty sure I won my copy from a drawing at Stephanie's blog, though, which means the buzz was enough to catch my interest in spite of the fact that I tend to shy from books that get a lot of hype. I don't enter drawings very often.

My book group chose The Art of Racing in the Rain for their June selection and I gobbled it down, then missed the meeting. I heard the discussion was great. Le sigh. At any rate, you've probably heard all about the book, right? Enzo, a dog, is the narrator and he tells all about his life from his adoption until his death. Enzo is a fabulous narrator. Instead of treating Enzo like a dimwit, the author made him intelligent, intuitive, wise . . . often more aware of what was going on in his family's life than even they seemed to know.

What I remember most vividly about this book (and, again, it's been at least a month since I read it) is that the situation for Enzo's owner kept growing worse and worse. The author did an excellent job of ramping up the tension and placing his protagonist in a corner until you truly wondered if there was any way out. I love that. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a very lovely, philosophical, hopeful book. Although it didn't stick with me for quite as long as I expected, I remember Enzo's name without digging for the book and I think that says something.

Also, I did write down one of Enzo's frequently-repeated quotes, which I loved: "That which you manifest is before you." It took me a while to get that what he was saying is that you create your own future through today's actions.

The bottom line:

Definitely recommended and you don't have to be a dog person to love The Art of Racing in the Rain. Creative, surprising and poignant with a solid storyline, great narrator and terrific writing.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Jumble Pie - Mostly a reading update

It's kind of a lazy Sunday, here. I made the mistake of reading a few pages of One Second After, a post-apocalyptic novel by William R. Forstchen, when it arrived in the mail from PBS, yesterday. Couldn't put it down. I just finished reading it, early this afternoon. The apocalypse, as it were, is a result of EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) caused by the detonation of nuclear bombs high in the atmosphere above the U.S. EMP causes electronics to short out unless they're "hardened" in advance, so the entire United States loses electricity, cell and land-line phone service, cars and planes cease to function and crash or roll to a stop, medical equipment and even back-up generators fail, etc.

I thought the idea was great but the execution was disappointing. One Second After simply was not a well-written book. Many of the adult characters peppered their dialogue with swear words -- and they all used them in the same manner. So, they didn't necessarily sound distinctive. There were also some major grammatical errors which, at first, I thought were an attempt at portraying a particular dialect. But, those errors were consistent across characters. Specifically, the author had his characters saying "would of" rather than "would have" or "would've". Boy, was that irritating.

Still, One Second After was interesting for the perspective and I always enjoy reading post-apocalyptic books because they're thought-provoking. Everyone who writes about a world after an apocalypse chooses a different focus and Forstchen examined things I might not have considered, such as how quickly many of our pharmaceutically-dependent population would die or go nuts, now that so many people are kept artificially healthy -- both physically and mentally -- with medication. I thought that was rather fascinating. And, the whole EMP concept? It's apparently feasible and certainly terrifying. It makes you want to read up on survival skills, how to successfully live an old-fashioned, pre-technology lifestyle and forage for food, etc.

Not a great book, not awful. I was surprised to find that the author has published 40 books; One Second After certainly could have used a lot more tightening. I'm not going to write a formal review -- this is it, kids.

Otherwise, I haven't made much progress on any of the books in my sidebar. I'm about 2/3 of the way through Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain and enjoying it immensely. It's one of those books that you read in short bites so it may take me another week or so to finish, but I feel like I've learned a lot of interesting little tidbits. I got a kick out of the fact that baked beans were originally brought to Great Britain by Fortnum & Mason as an exotic (and overpriced) American import. Americans will probably laugh at the idea of anything by Heinz being billed as "exotic".

I started The Help and was totally in love by page
3, but haven't progressed past the first chapter in spite of that. Hopefully, I'll get back to that, soon. It's one of those books that I've avoided because of the hype, so I was really pleased when I started reading and found out it is, in fact, a very special kind of storytelling and not just another book set in the Deep South. I'm really not a big fan of Southern Lit, simply because I don't consider reading about the area in which I live escapist enough and I am definitely into escapism. But, I know already that I'm going to love The Help because of the writing and the genuine Southerness.

The Beekeeper's Lament is another book I'm reading rather slowly and finding fascinating. I knew we had a big die-off of European honeybees, a while back (the book says there was a big die-off in 2005, but there were previous bee plagues of unknown origin and I thought the big die-off was earlier; I do remember a year without
bees). I thought they were rebounding, so it really shocked me to find out that there are no longer any naturally-existing European honeybees in the continental United States. All the remaining bees are kept by beekeepers.

Really? That is kind of horrifying. At this point, our food supply is largely reliant upon beekeepers who truck their bees from farm to farm in order to help farmers with pollination. But, they still have large, mysterious die-offs that occur on a regular basis with no explanation. Imagine what would happen if we no longer had bees around at all. Scary.

Agonizing Love just arrived a few days ago and it's another one of those
books that I made the mistake of immediately opening. It's a book about romance comics, a type of comic books that were only popular for a handful of years. There's not all that much text but the author makes it clear that the book is more a celebration of romance comics and a sampling of them than a definitive text. In other words, you get a fun peek into a really dramatic style of old-fashioned graphic storytelling along with a little description by the author. Agonizing Love is a bit of a hoot. I'll tell you more about it when I finish.

Other books besides Agonizing Love and One Second After that have arrived, recently:

In the Heat of the Bite by Lydia Dare - from my friend, Melissa
Pillow Talk by Freya North - from Sourcebooks for a book chat
Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room - from HarperCollins for review

That's all I can think of to chat about, so here's another London photo. On one brilliant, sunny day when my feet were weary, I sat on the little stretch of grass in front of the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, eating a cheese & onion sandwich and watching the crowd while husband dashed off to fetch theatre tickets to Les Miserables. I was a little envious of the juicy strawberries those fellows in front of me thought to buy. Tired bodies love fruit.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fiona Friday - Going Retro

On the run-up to eldest son's wedding, we've been gathering and scanning some old photographs and I noticed Huzzybuns scanned a shot of little Eldest with the cat I refer to as my "childhood cat", Queenie. Queenie lived around 19 years. I was 6 years old when my parents brought her home and had a 2-year-old when she died, which explains why I think of her as the cat of my youth, although we did have a couple other cats that didn't last as long. Wasn't she a beautiful girl?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dog Tales by Susy Flory

Dog Tales by Susy Flory is subtitled "Inspirational Stories of Humor, Adventure and Devotion." While I've never been a dog owner and am none too fond of the fact that dogs are allowed to run loose where we live, I tend to like dogs on an individual basis -- when I know them well, that is. I'm just telling you that because I know my regular readers are well aware of my love of cats.

In Dog Tales, Susy Flory has chosen a variety of touching, humorous and otherwise interesting stories about dogs. Unfortunately, I don't remember many. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the book. I did. But, it wasn't memorable enough to stick with me for a month. What I mostly recall is impressions. Some of the stories are heartwarming, some sad, some truly amazing.

One story I remember well is the story of a Chow chow (eventually named Ohio). Ohio was filthy with long, matted fur and he spent his days lying in the middle of the street. A huge bear of a dog, he lay around looking depressed; he didn't respond to friendly strangers. A woman named Mary, who lived in his neighborhood, walked past the dog almost daily for a couple of years before deciding she needed to do something about him. After a bit of prayer, she summoned the courage to talk to the dog's owner. The owner hated the dog for reasons I won't go into and claimed he was a danger to her children. That was her excuse for neglect.

Mary asked if she could have the dog and his owner was happy to get rid of him. Mary and her friend took Ohio to Mary's house, where they clipped his filthy coat. What happened after the dog's fur was trimmed is beyond cool. He got up and danced around her yard! I would love to see such a thing. That particular story had a very happy ending as the dog's personality changed dramatically and he lived a long and happy life.

The stories in Dog Tales are a mixed batch. I liked some better than others. There's a Christian bent to this book, but it's not about Christianity. It's just that the author happens to be a Christian and mentions it when people prayed for their dogs or talked about God when they told their stories. I think this book is probably mostly likely to be enjoyed by dog owners, but I enjoyed reading it. I particularly loved the tale of a dog who saved a little boy from the Indonesian tsunami and a seeing-eye dog that led his owner out of one of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Heroic dog stories are always favorites.

The only thing I disliked about the book was the fact that many owners found what I personally consider bad behavior charming. Some of those dogs sounded to me like they needed to spend time at obedience school. But, I can relate to sometimes letting your pet get away with something he or she shouldn't, merely because a pet's so cute you don't want to stop them. Taking the time to snap Isabel's photo when she was lying in a place that's strictly forbidden (on the piano) is a prime example.

Recommended for pet lovers, particularly those who love dogs. My thanks to the author and Harvest House for the review copy.

And, speaking of dogs . . . my grand-dog is here for a visit! She very kindly brought my son with her. Here's the grand-dog, Peyton:

Don't you love those ears? Peyton has had to be boarded because she's an indoor dog and she doesn't like cats, but she's a very friendly, lovable dog and we had fun with her before she went to be boarded with our local vet.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

I read several of the books in my sidebar before leaving for the UK. They're among the hardest to remember because it's been at least 3-4 weeks since I read them, so I'm going to try to bang out as many as possible and keep my reviews short and sweet. Writing mini reviews will also hopefully help me to catch up a little so that I can get back to visiting other bloggers, at least occasionally.

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady By Elizabeth Stuckey-French is one quirky book. Elderly Marylou Ahearn has moved to Florida to seek revenge on the doctor she blames for her daughter's death. Back in the 1950s, she was given a radioactive cocktail without her knowledge as part of an experiment. She was pregnant at the time.

Now calling herself Nancy Archer, she eventually worms her way into the home of Dr. Wilson Spriggs' family and occasionally manages to make attempts on his life, even though the doctor has Alzheimer's and can't keep a thought in his head. When she peppers him with questions about why he did such an evil thing, he is unable to answer.

Will this potential elderly murderess have a change of heart and stop trying to destroy the doctor and his family? Or, will she succeed? What really happened when she drank the radioactive cocktail and what was the doctor's part in the experiment? Did he have regrets?

All those questions are answered. I found The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady a bit slow and the ending a little strange but I enjoyed it, for the most part. I just felt like the pacing made it a little tiresome. While it's not a favorite, I did like the writer's unique style and the quirkiness of her characters. It was entertaining in spite of the pace and even a bit heartwarming, in the end. Recommended, but not a favorite.

My thanks to Random House for the Advance Review Copy.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Face to Face with God by Jim Maxim

Face to Face with God by Jim Maxim
Copyright 2011
Whitaker House - Nonfiction/Memoir/Religion - Christian
222 pages

Jim Maxim was already hitting bottom by 18. Addicted to alcohol, a frequent user of drugs, he chose to return to a party after friends drove him home. They knew he was too drunk to safely drive himself, but Jim thought he was fine.

He never made it to the party. Instead, a devastating car accident left him with a broken jaw, wired shut, and a face torn from the jagged glass of his windshield. While on the operating table, he saw two demons and then . . . the face of Jesus. When he awakened, Jim knew his life had to change. Face to Face with God is his story.

Face to Face with God is a two-part memoir. The first portion is about the author's early addiction, the accident that changed his life and his early years as a Christian. The second part is all about witnessing and contains numerous stories of the author's experiences, plus plenty of talk about God's love and forgiveness and how to receive it.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book, in particular, because I like reading stories about major changes/disasters and how they led to a dramatic change in a person's life. The latter half was interesting but, at times, tiresome. If you're already a Christian, you'll enjoy the stories but might feel a little irritated that the author feels you should be willing to talk as openly about Christ as he is. He admits he has the gift of evangelism, that he's naturally comfortable talking to strangers about God (although he's made plenty of mistakes and been told to lay off, especially in the early years). So, it seemed a little odd that he didn't acknowledge the fact that some people are just not able to minister in the same way. This is actually something I've talked to Christian friends about at length, but it still made me uncomfortable.

The bottom line:

A nicely-written book about the accident that changed a man's life and how he has used his own experience to bring others to Christianity. Recommended, but be aware that the second half is a little heavy-handed and some may consider it preachy; others may find it's just a little tiresome, although the stories are enjoyable.

Things to think about:

It's fascinating to me that the author believes he saw Jesus while unconscious. I think I would be tempted to write such an experience off as either a vision or dream. In the same vein, though, I have a friend whose life changed dramatically when she looked up at a digital clock while drug-addled, in the middle of the night, and saw the face of Jesus. Regardless of whether or not you believe there was really a visitation by Christ of some sort, I do think it's fascinating to read or hear about how such an experience can completely change a person's life. Face to Face with God is worth reading for the before and after, alone. It's really quite amazing how dramatically a person can change.

Your photo of the day:

A church seems apropos to this particular post. Here, the steeple of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London at dusk. I'm guessing that gray thing is a lightning rod? I've never noticed it, before.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

You Know When the Men Are Gone
By Siobhan Fallon
Copyright 2011
Amy Einhorn Books - Short Stories
225 pages

It's been quite a while since I read You Know When the Men Are Gone, but it's still pretty vividly etched in my mind. I cried a lot, for one thing, and not a lot of books require quite so many tissues.

You Know When the Men Are Gone is a series of interconnected short stories about life in the military -- for the soldiers, for the families left behind at Fort Hood, for those who must deal with pain and loss. Affairs, divorce, life-changing injury, illness, death, loneliness, dealing with children during a husband's lengthy absences . . . the author really covers every angle.

The title story begins with the tale of a Meg, an army wife who has no children, no pets, no real friends, only the Family Readiness Group and a couple nosy neighbors to keep her company. Then, a new and exotic neighbor with a big, noisy dog and two quiet children moves in and Meg becomes obsessed with Natalya. The walls are thin and listening in becomes her entertainment. Where is Natalya going late at night, after singing her children to sleep? Who is the man Meg keeps hearing through the walls? Is it worth the long stretches of loneliness and worry to stay married to a soldier?

I wasn't sure where the author was taking me, at first, but the ending to this first story left me a little teary and very satisfied, so I continued on. And, each story fed a little into the next. In the fourth story, "Inside the Break," you hear the words everyone has been afraid may come:

"Alpha Company got hit," she said calmly. "Sergeant Schaeffer died."

Later, you will read about one of the men in Alpha Company who was severely injured. And, the final story, "Gold Star," introduces you to Sgt. Schaeffer's widow.

Checking her watch again, [Josie] finally pulled into the empty Gold Star Family designated spot in front. She waited a moment, peering at herself in the mirror, composing her face into what she imagined an ordinary face looked like, tugging her mouth into a smile but then giving up. She knew the spouses walking by with their loaded carts were hesitating, trying not to stare into Josie's window, trading lifted eyebrows with the other women passing. As she got out and locked her car, a white-haired veteran paused by his truck in the Purple Heart Recipient space a few feet away. He was wearing a black baseball cap with VIETNAM embroidered in block letters across the front. He stepped across the yellow line between them, his ropey-veined hand outstretched.

"I'm grateful for your sacrifice," he said. "Our country can never thank you enough."

He made it sound as if she had willingly offered Eddie up; Josie shuddered but gave the man her hand. This is why she avoided the Gold Star spot: "Gold Star," with its imagery of schoolchildren receiving A's and stickers for a job well done, was the military euphemism for losing a soldier in combat. Family members received a few special privileges like this lousy parking space, but that meant the pity rising from the asphalt singed hotter than any Texas sun. Josie blinked to keep her eyes dry and the vet took a step back, seeing he had inflicted pain. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

pp. 209-210 from "Gold Star," in You Know When the Men Are Gone, ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

I don't know about you, but that's enough to make me fog up. And, the story becomes even more stirring and poignant. I was sobbing when I closed the book. It's a rough read but those of us who aren't married to or close to someone in the military really need to read this kind of book to be reminded what people are going through to protect the lives we love.

It just so happens that I finished reading You Know When the Men Are Gone on the anniversary of the WWII invasion of Normandy, also known as "D-Day". I happened across that tidbit when I was looking for photos to illustrate my review and discovered that there was a dearth of news stories in our national news. Where were the tributes to "D-Day"? I couldn't find them. I was upset enough to write a ranting post that I opted not to publish because it was ventilation and not worth inflicting on anyone. But, the timing was interesting.

There wasn't anything I particularly disliked about You Know When the Men Are Gone, so let's go straight to the ending thoughts.

The bottom line:

A highly recommended book of short stories, written in a plain-spoken style with surprising emotional impact. The author is, in fact, a military wife and it shows. The stories are authentic, powerful, packed with emotion.

Cover thoughts:

I had no idea what this book was about, based on the cover. I just knew it had gotten a lot of very positive buzz and added it to my wish list on that basis. Once you know it's stories about soldiers and their families, the cover makes sense -- the gold star, the American flag. It's maybe a little too understated, but I like the look.

And, your illustration of the day:

Wrong war, but I figured I might as well use this post to stick in a photo from the Churchill Museum in London:

Those dummies look almost real, don't they? Well, of course, they look pretty plastic in person but my husband and I were very impressed with the museum and how the "war rooms" have been restored to look as they did during WWII. If you're ever in London, I highly recommend visiting the Churchill Museum. It's kind of expensive, but worth the cost. I bought my book about Churchill at the museum and I'm thinking I may have to sneak that one in, soon. It seems to be calling to me.

My friend Paula passed along her ARC after she finished it. Thanks, PJ!!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Shadow of a Quarter Moon by Eileen Clymer Schwab - DNF

Shadow of a Quarter Moon by Eileen Clymer Schwab
Copyright 2011
New American Library (Penguin) - Historical Fiction

Set in 1839 in North Carolina, Shadow of a Quarter Moon tells the story of Jacy Lane, the daughter of a plantation owner who has lived a fairly easy life until her bitter mother chooses to marry her off to a man whose family is well-positioned. Garrison is lewd and coarse. When her father hears of the liberties Garrison has been taking, he ends the courtship. But, then he is tragically killed and Jacy's mother, Claudia, insists that Garrison is the only man with enough position and knowledge to keep their plantation running.

When Jacy finds out she is 1/4 black, her entire world changes. Suddenly, her mother is threatening to turn her out with the slaves if she doesn't do exactly as she's told. Jacy's world is shattered. But, then she finds out her biological mother and brother are still living on the property. Just as she's getting to know them, Claudia decides to sell Jacy's family, forcing Jacy to make a decision that will lead her on a dangerous journey toward freedom.

Why I did not finish Shadow of a Quarter Moon:

I usually go by the 50-page rule - if a book hasn't grabbed me by page 50, I will not continue. In this case, I got to page 70 before deciding to stop reading. Shadow of a Quarter Moon simply wasn't grabbing me. I found the conversations stilted, the characters flat (for the most part), Claudia and Garrison unbearable. If Jacy had shown a little more personality, early on, I might have continued. The storyline still sounds good to me, but I flipped ahead to see how long it was going to take for Jacy to get up the gumption to leave and it wasn't coming soon enough for me.

Another problem I had is related to the fact that I've lived in the South for over 25 years, now. I've gotten to the point that I can easily spot writing by a non-Southerner. The author lives in Pennsylvania and there's no mention that she's ever lived in the South, so apparently I was correct. If you haven't lived in the South, I have a feeling you'll enjoy this book a lot more than I did. I found myself wanting to scratch through bits of dialogue with a red pen because they just weren't right. But, I wouldn't have caught them 15 years ago, possibly even more recently.

One last problem: Occasionally the author inserted information that should have been mentioned with more subtlety in conversation. In other words, backstory worked its way into dialogue.

I still think this story has potential but I'm not the right reader. I'd recommend it to people who like reading about the Deep South before the Civil War, particularly those who are not picky about accuracy in dialogue. I can't say whether or not Jacy improves as a character, but I think the cover blurb (which I did not copy - the synopsis above is my own) indicates that she develops a little more strength of character as the story progresses.

My thanks to NAL for the review copy.

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You
By Louisa Young
Copyright 2011
HarperCollins - Historical Fiction/WWI
336 pages

London, April 1916

Riley Purefoy was walking across Kensington Gardens in the sun, coming up from Victoria station, going home. He hadn't been in London for two years. It seemed very peculiar to him. There were no shells going off. No one was shooting. No gas-gong. No sergeants shouting. Firm clean ground underfoot. No corpses, no wounds, no huddled smoking men, no sweet stink of blood, no star shells waving beautifully through the sky. It was quiet. There were women. He was clean and dry in the flea-free uniform he had had pressed and steamed at the hotel in Dover. God, how shamelessly he appreciated the advantages of being an officer. It was worth all the little sneers in the mess, the sideways glances from aetiolated toff twats, the dumb attempts at mockery from chinless boys whose pubescent moustaches and public-school slang did not, it turned out, make them natural leaders of men. He fully intended to buy himself some decent-quality puttees, now that he was allowed such freedoms, and to have done for ever with the annoying little thin ones.

--p. 92 of My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, Advance Reader Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

I love several sentences in the opening pages of this book, so I'm going to mix them in with my own synopsis. Anything in quotes is writing by someone at HarperCollins. "The lives of two very different couples are irrevocably intertwined and forever changed in this stunning World War I epic of love and war."

Well stated. Riley Purefoy is from Paddington, a working-class part of London. Nadine Waveney is the daughter of a well-known orchestral conductor, a wealthy family into whose home he's allowed for visits as a friend of young Nadine after an accident in the park. But, as budding artists Riley and Nadine grow up, their class differences become a barrier to their growing affection, just as WWI is breaking out.

After a drunken evening leads to an incident that confuses and angers Riley, he impulsively signs up to serve in the army till the war's end. A year of service seems far too long. Little does he know how long WWI will rage and how it will change his life. The HarperCollins description: "In a fit of fury and boyish pride, Riley enlists in the army and finds himself involved in the transformative nightmare of the twentieth century." What a great way to describe the first World War.

Peter Locke is older, married to a beautiful woman, living a peaceful life. He could easily avoid the service but he doesn't feel right doing so. Because of his class, he is made an officer. Julia worries that she may have done something to drive him away and finds that she's not up to working in a munitions factory or nursing the injured. All she's good at is being pretty and keeping house. When Peter's cousin Rose joins the nursing corps, Julia is left at home with her fears while Peter is facing the kind of horror she can never even begin to understand.

As Riley and Peter fight for their lives, the reader is given a realistically harsh view of life as a soldier during WWI. When Riley suffers a disastrous, deforming injury and Peter finds himself sinking into the bottle to cope with loss, both must find a way to summon inner resources.

"Moving among Ypres, London, and Paris, this emotionally rich and evocative novel is both a powerful exploration of the lasting effects of war on those who fight--and those who don't--and a poignant testament to the power of enduring love."

What I loved about My Dear I Wanted to Tell You:

There is so much to love about My Dear I Wanted to Tell You: The depth of description, the language, the characterization, the meaning and depth of the story, the themes of undying love and how terribly unimportant looks are if one is still living and breathing. Riley and Peter are both really likable, wonderful characters in very different ways. Riley is unexpectedly heroic, witty and intelligent. Peter has a huge heart and a love of classical music and writing. He doesn't act posh or superior but he's gratified when he meets someone who can relate to the things he truly loves. Rose and Nadine are both strong and determined, truly amazing women and fantastic examples of how so many women courageously stepped forward and willingly faced the horrors of war. Julia is one of only a few characters you really want to smack. The dialogue is perfect, in my humble opinion.

Here's one of my favorite little passages, Riley's response when Nadine asks him the meaning of the archduke's assassination:

'A Serbian shot the Austrian archduke so the Austrians want to bash the Serbians but the Russians have to protect the Serbians so the Germans have to bash France so they won't help the Russians against the Austrians and once they've bashed France we're next so we have to stop them in Belgium,' said Riley, who read Sir Alfred's paper in the evening.
'Oh,' she said. 'What does that mean?'
'There's going to be a war, apparently.'
'Oh,' she said.
Well, it would be over by the time they were old enough to go to Amsterdam, where he would put his hand on her waist again, and she would laugh and sing but not run away downstairs.

pp. 20-21, ARC of My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

What I disliked about My Dear I Wanted to Tell You:

I thought the ending was a little rushed, especially given the detail in the rest of the book. When I closed the book, I recall thinking something to the effect that I was willing to overlook the rushed ending because I was so completely immersed in the story and loved it so much. I felt especially invested in Riley's life.

The bottom line:

Apart from the rushed ending, I absolutely loved My Dear I Wanted to Tell You. It's well-written, realistic, sometimes charming, often gritty. It can be gruesome in the way only a book about WWI can be, with its gas injuries and rot and horrors. The characters can be thoughtful at one time, clueless and harsh at another. In the end, it offers the one thing I find most important in a book about a time of tragedy: a light at the end of the tunnel. I always felt there were plenty of indications that there was hope, even when it appeared that Riley's situation was beyond horrifying. And it is, in the end, an uplifting story of undying love and hope. Highly recommended, but be aware that the ending is not fully wrapped up. Peter's story particularly feels incomplete.

Seems like a good time for a photo of sheep, doesn't it?

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.