Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Weekly Reading Update, including a brief review of Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan

For reasons made obvious in my last post (we were out-of-town most of last week for Eldest's wedding), I didn't manage to accomplish much in the way of reading. I did, however finish the two Grandma's Attic books that I briefly reviewed. I hauled all of the Grandma's Attic books, including the two I reviewed last year, to Nashville and passed them on to my multi-talented, cake-decorating sister-in-law, who has two little girls.

I also finished reading Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan. Apart from the fact that there was a lot of jumping back and forth in time (which is typical, I suppose, since the book is a memoir), which made the reading occasionally confusing due to tense issues, I really enjoyed Maman's Homesick Pie.

Donia Bijan spent her first 16 years of life in Iran, then her family eventually moved to the U.S., where Bijan attended college. After college, she moved to Paris to train as a chef at the famous Cordon Bleu Cooking School. Bijan moved back and forth between the U.S. and France to work at various establishments and hone her skills, then she opened her own restaurant. Maman's Homesick Pie blends memories of her childhood and home life with talk of college, cooking school and the many places she worked to develop her skills as a chef.

Donia Bijan's story is partly about her love of food, how it developed and how she came to blend the recipes and flavors from the three countries in which she's resided to create her own recipes and menus. But, it's also a loving tribute to her mother, who died in a pedestrian/car accident. Her mother was an excellent cook who loved preparing food and passed on her joy to her daughter. She was also a fascinating woman who was involved in politics and nursing, a woman with a strength and spirit you can't help but admire.

Maman's Homesick Pie is one of the best cross-cultural and "inside the world of the chef" memoirs I've read in a while. Although Bijan's family lost their home and possessions during a regime change in Iran, her mother was determined to bloom where she was planted and that rubbed off on the author. There's no whining about their tremendous losses. Instead, Bijan focuses on the scents and flavors that gave her joy and how she became a chef because it was truly the only profession she could imagine for herself.

If you love a foodie memoir with plenty of recipes and a chatty writing style, you'll love Maman's Homesick Pie. I heartily recommend it. There are some unusual ingredients that I doubt we'll be able to obtain in some of the Persian recipes but the author did mention alternative ingredients that can be substituted, in many cases.

I'm jumping the gun, here. The release date is October 11, but I couldn't convince myself to set down Maman's Homesick Pie, once I started reading. My thanks to Algonquin Books for the sending me this unexpected ARC in the mail.

I'm focusing on Lord and Lady Spy, at the moment. And, I'm enjoying a daily dip into Haiku Mind. Otherwise, I really am not doing much reading; the other books in my sidebar took a nice drive to Nashville and back for no apparent reason. Hopefully, I'll get my groove back, soon. Since I bought a few books that were on my Paperback Swap wish list in Nashville, I have room to add a few titles. What wonderful books would you recommend that I add to my wish list?

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Excitement and new books!

We had more than a little excitement, this weekend, as we were in Nashville for our son's wedding! Wahoo! We have a daughter-in-law! I can't even begin to tell you how happy we are that our little family has grown. We love our new daughter-in-law and her family. Here's a photo of the happy couple cutting the groom's cake (a TARDIS -- from Dr. Who -- which his aunt Karen slaved over to fabulous effect):

While we were in Nashville, we made a visit to Borders and snatched up a few bargain books. I keep telling my husband I'm so heartbroken about the closing that I feel compelled to take a piece of Borders with me. He says I've got enough pieces, now, thank you very much.

Top to bottom:

Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson
How to Write a Sentence - Stanley Fish
The London Train - Tessa Hadley
Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie
The Bucolic Plague - Josh Kilmer-Purcell
The Borrower - Rebecca Makkai
How to Eat a Small Country - Amy Finley
The Last Letter from your Lover - Jojo Moyes

I'll still do my weekly update, tomorrow -- just wanted to share my joy with you! Hope everyone is having a fabulous Monday!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fiona Friday - Test kitties

I've been having some problems with my Sony D-SLR, for a while, so after a great deal of consideration I decided to switch brands. The kitties both posed very nicely for my first test shots with the new camera! Even Fiona!

Izzy is almost always up for posing. I love her direct gaze.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic and Treasure from Grandma's Attic

I'm going to keep this review very brief, but you can see a sneak peek (first chapters) of both Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic and Treasures from Grandma's Attic, here. Still More and Treasures, etc. are the third and fourth books in the Grandma's Attic series, books that read a lot like Little House on the Prairie, about mischief that the author's grandmother got into when she was a young girl, around 100 years ago. They're funny, clean and ultimately each story contains a positive message.

I read the first two books in this series, a few months ago, and didn't hesitate to snatch up copies to review, when they were offered up. Great for reading to children old enough to sit still for a short (chapter) story or for readers entering chapter-book territory, I can't recommend the series enough. They have a Christian bent; some books talk about God and prayer more than others, and they do so more in a teaching way (learning a lesson about being obedient, for example) than a preaching way. Excellent books, highly recommended!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Weekly Reading Update including a brief review of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow

Oops, looks like kitty is looking the wrong way. The books are to the left, Izzy!

Welcome to my first weekly reading update! I just realized I have a dual book tour due on the 24th, so I'm going to try to crash through those two small books and pre-post my reviews (if I fail--and this is one of my busy weeks, so that's very possible--you'll just see the sneak peek and I'll review, later); but, in the meantime, here's what I'm reading and what I've recently finished.

Only one book completed, recently:

I just finished reading The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow over the weekend. I'd originally hoped to finish the book in time for Algonquin's Book Group discussion, last week, but wacky weather made last week a migraine rollercoaster and I was happy to finally finish a book, period.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is about a bi-racial girl, daughter of a black American soldier and a Danish mother, who survives a plunge from the roof that kills her mother and two siblings. She is then thrust into a situation that causes her to rethink her identity as she moves in with her black grandmother and aunt and is labeled "black". Prior to moving to the U.S., she didn't think about or question her skin color. She was simply a person, not a black or a white or a mixed-race individual.

The story is based on both the author's experience (also the daughter of a black American soldier and Danish mother) and a true story the author read in a newspaper about a family that jumped from a roof. Only the daughter survived and the author combined that story with her personal experience to create this fictional tale.

While I had a little trouble getting into the story, at first, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a book that will stick with me for a long time. It seems very timely as there are probably a lot more bi-racial youngsters, now that legalized segregation is long gone and, hopefully, people are becoming more enlightened about the meaninglessness of skin color. I only really have one bi-racial friend and I know she struggled with her identity, but she's never mentioned specific incidents. I think The Girl Who Fell from the Sky really helps you to get that "in her shoes" sensation, to understand how difficult it must be to experience prejudice and random classification (being told you're black, even though you're also half-white, in this case). Highly recommended.

What I'm reading, now:

Jamie Durie's The Outdoor Room - This is a coffee-table-sized book about a television designer's techniques for creating the right outdoor room for a particular homeowner's personality and style. I've never seen the show, but I am loving this book, so far. Unlike a lot of similar design books, this The Outdoor Room is quite heavy on the text as the author goes into great detail about his design process and how you can use his way of planning to design an outdoor room that fits your personal style and needs.

Durie talks about collecting pictures that grab your eye -- of random objects, colors, textures, things that appeal to you -- looking around at what you've already done, design-wise, within your home, and creating your own little design board that will help you figure out what's important to you and how to use what you love to create a room that will work for you. I'm not very far into this book but I'm really enjoying it.

Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan is a book of 108 Haiku verses by various authors (many of whom the author met at some point, although the vast majority seem to be deceased). The number 108 has to do with the 108 difficulties a Buddhist has to overcome to become "awakened." #13, for example, is a haiku that fits the concept of "interdependence":

a heavy cart
rumbles by--
peonies tremble

by Buson Yoka

Donegan elaborates about the meaning behind each of the Haikus she's chosen, often including what the author was specifically talking about in a particular Haiku (why, for example, an author noticed the way a certain flower looked when it was in flames -- a haiku that had to do with the bombing of Tokyo during WWII), followed by a brief author bio. This is a very cool little book that I bought on sale at Borders on Sunday. The poetry section was still surprisingly intact, so I had a lot of options and I'm really glad I happened across this particular book.

Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan is one of those foodie memoirs that are so popular, now, and I can already predict that it will be a hit because the author has a comfortable, chatty writing style that will make you smile. Plus, the recipes look great. Donia Bijan is a chef whose parents were originally from Iran but moved to San Francisco in 1980, hence the subtitle, "A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen." Right now, I'm reading about Bijan's mother's years as a nursing student in England and I have to tell you . . . the story about how she showed up in London knowing only two words of English is a hoot. You will love it.

Maman's Homesick Pie is not due to be released till October, but it's one of those books that I like to say I "accidentally" started reading. That just means I picked it up to read a little, out of curiosity, and found that I couldn't put the book down. I am absolutely in love with this book, so far, and I know my future daughter-in-law will love it, too. And, probably my husband will want to play around with some of the recipes. If you like recipe-packed memoirs, go ahead and jot this title down. It's a good one.

Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen is a romantic historical adventure in which two married spies lose their jobs and then have to compete against each other for a single slot with the spy organization that has let them go -- whoever solves a murder wins the job. Hardly seeing each other at home worked well while they were both spies. Neither knew the other worked for the Barbican group and after the tragic loss of a child it was easier staying apart, busy and challenged, than dealing with their loss. Now, they not only see each other in a new light but also have no choice but to deal with their tattered marriage. So far, so good! I love Shana Galen's books because they're heavier on adventure than romance, which suits my taste.

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson is a book about baking, but it's not just about baking. It's about reclaiming the part of you that desires to putter around in the kitchen and create something wonderful. Since I've been avoiding the kitchen for a couple decades (I'm a survivalist cook) but have been yearning to get back out there just for the fun of it, I figured baking would be a good place to start and a recipe book will hopefully stock me up with a few new recipes so my poor Bible Study group can have something other than pineapple or apple-cinnamon cake when it's my turn to do dessert. I'm pretty sure Nikki turned me on to Nigella. Thanks Nikki! I am absolutely crazy about Nigella's delightful, casual writing style. I might actually pull the cover image out of my sidebar, just because that cupcake picture makes me crave cupcakes, though.

Unnamed Manuscript by A Friend is just what it sounds like. One of my writer friends asked me if I'd be willing to read his memoir and make suggestions. On the day I began reading, I got so totally caught up in his story that I lost track of time and barely made it to exercise class. And, then I set it aside for a week, but I'm hoping I'll have some time to focus and finish the manuscript in the next week or two, since I'm going to weekly updates (and Fiona Friday -- and anything I'm committed to reviewing . . . obviously, I tend to burden myself a bit). Anyway, so far it's fabulous. My friend is already multi-published; he's not a new writer and he's not asking me to edit. He just wants my opinion.

And, in the mail . . . three books arrived, today:

The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman from Berkley for review
The Call by Yannick Murphy from HarperPerennial for review and
Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards from Paperback Swap

What's new in your reading life?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fiona Friday - No, that's not a jealous look

"I am totally secure in my cuteness. I would never look at Isabel with jealousy or malice in my eyes." -- Fiona

"Don't listen to her. Next thing you know, she'll be biting my tail. We know how these things work. " -- Isabel

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Are you getting tired of my heavy posting, yet? Sorry about that. I'm really happy to be nearly caught up on reviewing. One more review to go after this one!

Inside Out is a dystopian young adult novel about a young woman who lives in what amounts to a gigantic metal cube. There are four levels in the cube, two of which are reserved for the lower class people or "scrubs," the two upper levels for the higher class folks who are simply known as Uppers.

The lower levels are painfully overcrowded with scrubs. Trella is a scrub whose job is to clean pipes. Because she's skinny and solitary, the job is perfect for Trella. She often escapes to the pipes to sleep or just spend some time alone, away from the masses. Thanks to her exploration and knowledge of the pipes, vents, elevator shafts and spaces between, Trella is known as the Queen of the Pipes.

Introverted and firmly convinced that she doesn't like people, Trella does have one very close friend by the name of Cogon. When Cog talks her into hearing a "prophet" speak about his belief in a door to the outside world, Trella isn't interested.

****Warning: I'm trying to keep this review as general as possible but it may contain some spoilers. If you plan to read Inside Out anytime soon, you might want to skip the next paragraph.

You have been warned. ****

But, when the Pop Cops (Population Control officers) find and arrest the prophet, Trella begins to question her skepticism. Why would the Pop Cops grab the prophet if he didn't have something to hide? With only seconds to save the prophet and Cog already rushing to the rescue, Trella makes a decision that will thrust both of them into a dangerous search for the truth.

****The safe version begins here. Skip this sentence if you've read the potentially spoilery paragraph****

But, then something happens to change her mind and Trella makes a decision that will thrust both of them into a dangerous search for the truth.

Is there a hidden door to Outside? What is beyond the walls of Inside? And, why is the exit being hidden from the scrubs, if it exists?

Did you skip the spoilery paragraph? Well, good for you (either way). It's good to know your mind.

First things first. I loved the immersive experience of Inside Out. Trella's world is grubby and terrifying, but surprisingly believable. I can't tell you what Trella and her growing army of information seekers discover without ruining the story for anyone who hasn't read it, but like most dystopian young adult books, the world of Inside is horribly messed up, change is inevitable, and it will take some potentially deadly, surreptitious, clever and violent action to bring about that change.

Although Trella has no interest in leadership, she has a compelling reason to seek answers (which I'm not going to share, sigh). Trella initially risks her life for The Compelling Reason but eventually her priorities expand to bettering the lives of the people she lives with and overthrowing the powerful people in charge. In the process, Trella must face her feelings, her prejudices and the unknown truths of her world head-on.

Inside Out is a remarkably uncomfortable book -- frightening enough that I'm a little surprised I didn't end up having nightmares. There's this thing called the Chomper, you see. If you really screw up, you're fed to the Chomper and recycled. Everything, in fact, is constantly cleaned and eventually recycled. There are some pretty strong hints about what's outside, but I was still surprised when the answer to the crucial question was revealed.

One thing's for sure. Inside Out will make you appreciate what's outside your door and the freedom to step outside any time you so desire. This is not outside my door, but I'm sure you get my drift.

There is a sequel to Inside Out called Outside In and I am anxious to read it, but Inside Out was a Borders close-out purchase and they didn't have a copy of Outside In, unfortunately. I've added Outside In to my wish list and it may end up being my first real e-book purchase (all the e-books I've downloaded, so far, have been bargain priced or free).

A terrifying dystopian world, a young, stolid heroine who must fight her instincts and a fascinating, marvelously twisty plot make Inside Out a winner. Highly recommended. There is a good deal of violence but none of it is superfluous, in my humble opinion. The dystopian world of Inside is so desperately awful that it's a case of the proverbial peasants forced to rebel in order to instigate change.

Inside Out is the first book I've read by Maria V. Snyder but it will definitely not be the last. Fortunately for me, Kiddo is a fan and already owns both the Glass and Study series' by Snyder.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Avebury Avenues by Esther Smith

Avebury Avenues is one of those little tourist books you see at practically every little museum, church, and historical site in Great Britain. I usually don't buy them, but when we were in the England and dropped by Avebury Stone Circle for the third time, I realized I wanted to know more than I'd absorbed from the various signs posted on site, along with my visit to the museum in 1998 (which I'd actually completely forgotten about till we walked past the museum).

Avebury Stone Circle is just what it sounds like -- an ancient stone circle, not as well known as Stonehenge but actually grander in scale. Many of the stones were destroyed by farmers and villagers or simply buried in place. The book goes into the history of the stone circle and its surrounding earthworks, the recording of where the stones were located before the height of destruction began and the restoration of much of the circle, which was halted by war. In addition to the circle's history, the book contains a nice little walking tour that I hope to use on future visits.

Silbury Hill, the tallest ancient man-made hill in Europe, is also discussed. You can see the hill's location relative to the earthworks of the stone circle in the cover image, at the top of the photo in the middle. I tried to walk to Silbury Hill, once, and discovered that it's a lot bigger and much farther away from the circle than it appears (so I snapped the photo below as we drove past, on our most recent trip).

Avebury is one of my favorite stops in England, although I liked it better before the path was altered and the parking fee leapt from "cheap" to "good grief". The first time I stopped at Avebury, I did so on the advice of a British friend. I arrived by bus in spitting rain and battering wind, walked up the earthworks accompanied by sheep and was told the heavy weather was, "the remnants of your American hurricane." I did not lay claim to that particular hurricane as it was an East Coaster, not a creature from the Gulf region, but I had a good laugh with those friendly Britons whilst trying to keep my balance as I snapped a million photos (yes, I've always done that).

The sheep are ever-present. That fellow you see in my header is, in fact, an Avebury resident who posed nicely. While the site is much more crowded, these days, it's large enough that occasionally you can catch an image unmarred by tourists.

I learned quite a bit from Avebury Avenues. For example, the stones come in two different shapes ("male" and "female" -- the female stones being diamond-shaped), green grass around the stones is relatively new as the chalk ground used to lack any growth, many of the stones were broken up by fire and used along with other stones in the building of structures in the village (they can be identified by their rusty color), and during the destructive years a man was killed by a falling stone. Because of the weight of the stone, the unfortunate victim was left in place and his possessions were well-enough preserved to identify him as a traveling barber when his skeleton was discovered.

Definitely worth the money, Avebury Avenues is a surprisingly satisfying little book. If you're ever in Wiltshire and decide to drop by Avebury Stone Circle, I recommend that you make a beeline to the store and grab a copy so that you can have it with you as you walk around the ancient site. Don't miss stopping at St. James Church in Avebury, which dates as far back as Saxon times, although it has been repeatedly updated. The beautiful arched Norman doorway is worth a bit of ogling.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Pillow Talk by Freya North

Reminder: I'm having a quiet week and trying to catch up on reviews. Weekly reading updates will begin next Tuesday.

I got a copy of Pillow Talk by Freya North from the British Babes Book Brigade (on Facebook) for discussion. I have since found out I must attend an event I can't get out of on the night of the chat, but . . . well, actually I'll try to sneak out if I can, anyway. Book chats are important, you know.

Freya North is a British writer and Pillow Talk is reminiscent of Jill Mansell's writing style, with a lovable and somewhat feisty heroine. Petra Flint is a jeweler, living and working in London. She is also a sleepwalker who has survived a broken home and is severely lacking in emotional support from her family. Her yearning to be loved has led her into a very bad relationship.

Arlo Savidge, once a budding musician, has been through a heartbreak of his own. After tragedy struck, he left his career behind and became a music teacher at an exclusive boys' school in Yorkshire.

Petra and Arlo spent many happy hours together as friends in their teenage days but they haven't laid eyes on each other in seventeen years. Neither has forgotten the other. At the time, they both had deeper feelings for each other than either ever admitted but the timing simply wasn't right, especially for Petra.

Naturally, Petra and Arlo bump into each other and take their old relationship to a new level, but there's a lot of, "Oops, almost got together but maybe I'm being irrational and should just dash on home," before one hunts the other down and gets the ball rolling, so to speak. It actually takes Petra 100 of the 441 pages just to figure out she doesn't belong with her annoying banker boyfriend, even though he clearly is a narcissistic [bad word].

But, once Arlo and Petra finally do manage to get their love affair going, the story really takes off. Arlo and Petra are really terrific characters and it's almost unbearable each time they dive into one of those, "Maybe this isn't going to work," phases. Freya North likes to call her books "feisty romps" because she can't stand the term "chick lit". And, I think "feisty romp" is an apt description. At its heart, Pillow Talk is romance and the characters have a great deal of heart, but there is definitely a bit of "feisty" in there.

Surprisingly, the writing is really not fluffy. In fact, I've got a bucketload of Post-its marking various vocabulary words I need to look up. Freya North's writing is sharp. I do think the so-called black moment is a bit of a stretch -- and it's a spoiler, so I can't share it with you -- but aside from the fact that the initial rejection of her banker boyfriend takes a bit too long, I found Pillow Talk a tremendously fun read, not only because the hero and heroine are terrific characters but because the secondary characters are every bit as wonderful as the protagonists. Those who are awful are believably awful; the rest are the kind of people you'd really like to have in your own little circle of friends.

One word of caution: There is some very, very bad language in this book (and a whole lot of sex). If not for the fact that I have another Freya North book on my shelf -- a freebie that came with a magazine I bought in the UK -- and the fact that the story itself was so very enjoyable, I would actually probably not have considered ever reading another book by this author because of the offensive wording. It's mostly in the first half of the book and tapers off a bit, but I just don't think any of those nasty words were necessary and they definitely put me off.

The bottom line: Pillow Talk is a solidly-written, well-plotted romance that could have used a wee bit of chopping, up front, and contains enough offensive language to merit a family warning. Recommended for romance fans who don't mind explicit language and moderately graphic sex scenes.

Call me a sap, but I still believe there is such a thing as "happily ever after," (which requires a great deal of effort on both sides, but still . . . ) so I really do enjoy the occasional romance.

The two lovebirds above were posing for what I assume to be engagement photos in front of the pineapple fountain in Charleston. I just happened to be standing nearby and managed to snap a few lucky shots.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Review #3 for today. Weekly updates will begin next Tuesday.

I bought 13 Little Blue Envelopes as an e-book when Amazon was having a big summer sale, not long ago, because I liked Maureen Johnson's quirky entry in the 3-author Christmas book Let It Snow.

As you probably know if you're a regular reader of my blog, I have a terrible time getting myself to read e-books. I prefer real books that I can hold in my hand. I also adore Post-its and most definitely do not have any affection for the tedious highlighting feature of the Kindle app on my iPad, Petunia.

At any rate, I felt like reading something very light and 13 Little Blue Envelopes fit the bill. Ginny Blackstone has received a parcel containing 13 letters from her deceased aunt, Peg. In the first letter, Peg instructs her to pack a single backpack with everything she needs (not including a cell phone or any other techie equipment) and head to England, where she is to knock on a particular door and ask a man what he sold to the queen. From there, she must follow the oddly cryptic directions to each clue, only opening the next envelope after she's completed whatever tasks are required. The letters lead her on a bit of a wild-goose chase across Europe, finally ending with the theft of her bag, including the last envelope. But, she figures out the goal without that final letter.

In general, I found 13 Little Blue Envelopes a little too fluffy, vague and not entirely meaningful. However, I really liked the characters, the dialogue and Maureen Johnson's quirky turn of phrase, so I enjoyed the reading.

I was about a quarter of the way into 13 Little Blue Envelopes when I took a jaunt to Borders and sought out a copy of the follow-up book, The Last Little Blue Envelope. If you read the author's notes, you'll find that she didn't intend to write a series but apparently was deluged with requests for a continuation of Ginny's story, which is not surprising because 13 Little Blue Envelopes doesn't feel entirely complete.

In The Last Little Blue Envelope, Ginny returns to England after she's contacted by a fellow named Oliver. Oliver purchased her stolen backpack in Greece and found the missing letters. But, he's heard about what happened at the end of the first book (which I think is a bit of a spoiler) and knows what Ginny is supposed to look for, now that her first tasks have been completed. Let's just say there's money involved and he wants a cut, okay? I don't want to give away too much.

After returning to England, Ginny is forced into an agreement and goes off on yet another mission that involves dashing to various countries on the European continent along with a side trip to Ireland.

Much as I love Maureen Johnson's writing quirks, I have to admit that neither of these books did much for me. I thought they read like an excuse to take a European holiday for research. The settings were great, the dialogue tremendously fun, the turn of phrase unique. But, the goals in both seemed totally implausible and Ginny spent so little time in each place she visited that I felt a little short-changed. Midway through The Last Little Blue Envelope, I began to really hate Aunt Peg's ridiculously cryptic letters. I'm a straightforward person. Hints and puzzles rather than directness just irritate me.

Having said all that, I will say that I think both books are great for when you're seeking something extremely light and fluffy. There simply isn't a lot of depth to either, in my humble opinion, although there is the obvious subtext about living life to the fullest and understanding art for its own sake because Peg was dying as she wrote the letters. The Last Little Blue Envelope appears to have been left deliberately open-ended, probably with the idea of writing yet another sequel in mind. If there is a third book, I probably won't read it.

Recommended for a fluff break but not among my favorite YA reads. Don't expect anything too deep.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Post #2 for today. I'm in catch-up mode. Next week I'll go to weekly posts.

I'm not sure I have much to add to the many reviews that are already out there, when it comes to The Help. But, here's something I wrote as I was reading it:

I'm loving The Help. It's the first Southern book I've read in a long time that is genuine. Stockett has the language down pat and it's really pretty fun to read about things that happened in our area, places I know and names I've heard for years but don't know much about, like the story of Medgar Evers.

I avoided reading The Help for a very long time. A conversation on Twitter was the tipping point. I've had a copy on my shelf for quite a while, but I was hesitant to read the book for several reasons:

1. The Help has been hyped to death, therefore . . .
2. Everyone on the planet seems to have read and reviewed the book, already. I tend to like reading books I haven't heard much about and find myself happier talking about lesser-known titles and authors.
3. I don't consider reading about life in the South "escapist" because I live in the Deep South . . . and I am definitely an escapist reader.

So, what -- if anything -- might I have to add as a person who actually lives fairly close to the book's setting? Like I said, not much. What I can tell you is that there are still plenty of Hilly Holbrooks living in Mississippi. I could probably get lynched for saying that, but I particularly mean there is a cliquishness in small-town Mississippi that you can't miss if you're "not from here". While I'm not like Celia in the sense of having been raised in a lower class than those in Hilly Holbrook's little Junior League circle, I related best to Celia because I understand what it's like to be an outsider in Mississippi.

Setting aside, the writing in The Help is excellent and I love the story. I cannot tell a lie. I fell in love with it the moment I hit that first comment about Aibileen having a fight with the many pleats she had to iron. I don't normally like reading books that are written in vernacular because I tend to have trouble shifting gears and am firmly of the belief that accent makes itself known through the words that are spoken in dialogue, but in this particular case it just worked for me. I'm accustomed to the mode of speech in The Help and it didn't jar me in the usual manner.

There wasn't anything in particular that I disliked about The Help, although Amy and I had an interesting discussion about the fact that the storyline is, in effect, about a white woman rescuing blacks and the truth of the matter is that it was people like Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking eloquently and Rosa Parks making a stand that truly led to change. Obviously, there were white people in the Civil Rights movement and some of them died for their beliefs, but change would not have taken place without the determination and courage of those who were living with their rights withheld.

Excellent writing, a terrific storyline worth talking about and a realistic look at life in the Sixties in Mississippi make The Help a book worth reading and talking about.

But, you already knew that, didn't you? Did you know we grow everything bigger in Mississippi, even our stuffed mice?

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

In a mood to review, again. Weekly updates will begin next Tuesday.

I know I'm jumping the gun, here, reviewing When She Woke by Hillary Jordan well before its October release date, but when a review copy showed up in my mailbox I was so excited that I lost any tentative grip I had on self-control and immediately began reading.

When She Woke is a retelling of The Scarlet Letter that takes place in an undated but obviously not-too-distant future. Hannah Payne has been raised with a strong religious background, working as a wedding-dress seamstress, still living at home as an adult. After embarking on an affair and becoming pregnant, she has committed a crime.

Criminals known as Chromes are injected with a virus that changes their skin color, the differing color depending upon the crime involved. In a time period when a plague has rendered a large portion of the population infertile, abortion is murder.

The man with whom Hannah has had an affair is married and very well-known. Refusing to reveal the father of her unborn child seals her fate. Caught and tried as the murderer of her unborn child, Hannah awakens in a cell where her every move is observed by guards and broadcast to the public. Her skin is bright red to reflect her crime. After weeks of nothingness in a barren room, she is released to a world where she is not only taunted but endangered. Where can she go and how will she survive?

There's so much to this story that I think I'll just keep my thoughts fairly general. When She Woke has a central character who has been stigmatized, questions herself and -- as the blurb says -- embarks on a "path of self-discovery that forces [Hannah] to question the values she has held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith." Obviously, When She Woke is a very timely novel.

Hannah's true challenge begins as she is given a choice of living visibly in a world where she is in constant danger or moving into a home where the rules are so strict and petty that she's always in peril of being cast out and continually experiences punishing reminders of why she is a pariah.

I guess my biggest problem with When She Woke was that I never fully understood why Hannah felt abortion was an absolute necessity, given the fact that her family seemed more likely to accept a child than to harbor a known criminal. And, her intense and continued love of the man who impregnated her was, I thought, a bit irrational and hard to buy into. Not that love is necessarily a rational thing. Hormones have always led to tricky situations, haven't they?

Having mentioned what I consider some of the negatives, I do think When She Woke is a thought-provoking and surprisingly gripping book that will likely be a hit in book groups. There is a great deal worth discussing and the author does an excellent job of imagining the dangers of a world in which there is visible evidence of one's crime. The idea of people being visibly punished in such a way also seems stunningly plausible in a country where religion and politics are becoming increasingly blended, if not confused.

The ending is a little too neat and tidy, but the vast majority of When She Woke is excellent as Hannah's challenges become even more oppressive and life-threatening, the farther you get into the book. I love reading about characters who are so thoroughly backed into a corner that it's difficult to imagine a way out. When She Woke is chiefly about being yourself, not conforming to what society says you must do and be. I love the theme; I just didn't totally buy into the romance with the fellow who fathered the child she aborted.

Highly recommended, particularly as a book group selection. When She Woke is scheduled for release on October 4, 2011. Many thanks to Algonquin Books for sending me the advance review copy, which I'll be passing on to another blogger.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Still on a roll. This is the third review I've written, today. Sorry about that. I have to go with it when I feel like writing, these days.

Divergent by Veronica Roth is a book I just happened across at our salvage store in Jackson. I don't go there often and it's a rare day that I happen to find book stock in the store. In this case, there were a whopping two tables (each about the size of a card table) full of books and only two of the titles were even remotely interesting. My husband tried to talk me out of buying Divergent, a dystopian young adult novel that was just released in May.

I'm so glad he failed to convince me I should put the book back. In Divergent, society has been divided into five factions: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity and Erudite. Each faction focuses on a particular type of lifestyle. The Candor faction is all about honesty, for example, and those in the Abnegation faction work to be totally selfless. Because of their selflessness, the leaders of this strange world all come from Abnegation. But, not all the factions are happy about that and war is brewing.

Beatrice has grown up in Abnegation but the time is coming for her to be tested and to choose the faction with which she'll spend the rest of her life. If she chooses to leave Abnegation, there's no going back. She won't see her family, ever again. In Beatrice's case, it's a matter of either staying with the family she loves or being true to her nature.

I don't know if it's a spoiler to say which faction she chooses, but I'm going to put a spoiler warning up, just in case.

****WARNING!!!! The following may be a spoiler. I don't think it will kill you, but skip this part if you're worried.****

Having warned you, I'm not going to tell you which faction Beatrice chooses, but I will tell you that she changes her name to Tris and has to go through some very dramatic changes because she does switch factions. What follows is a trial period that is not only difficult but potentially deadly.

****END SPOILER WARNING!!!! You can come out from under the dresser, now. Or, wherever you were hiding.****

Here's the plain-talk version: There's this teenager who loves her family and has to make a big decision. She chooses the difficult path and is challenged both mentally and physically, meets a totally cool guy named "Four" -- who is just mysterious enough and flawed enough that you can't help but love him in an illogical manner. And, she finds that she has an inner strength that is beyond her wildest imagination.

Divergent is packed with surprising plot twists. It's stunningly violent and massively creative. I really enjoyed the world Veronica Roth created for its uniqueness but it was the fact that I honestly never knew what was going to happen next that kept me riveted. I didn't realize it's the first in a series. Wahoo! I'm going to continue to follow this series.

Highly recommended but be aware that Divergent can be pretty shockingly violent at times. There's a lot of death and fighting and nastiness. But, it's tremendously fun reading. Beatrice is an awesome, butt-kicking heroine and Four is a terrific hero. I can't remember whether or not Divergent contains any bad language.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Note (which I will repeat as long as I'm on a roll): I am currently in the mood to write and am attempting a little catch-up reviewing. I'm planning to go to weekly reading updates on Tuesday, August 23.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami was on my wish list for at least 2 years and it seemed like I was finally getting close to acquiring a copy from Paperback Swap, but when I found a copy at Borders I snatched it up so fast you'd think I was trying to save it from death by bus or dog-chewing or something.

Nah, I just really, really wanted to read it. And, I whipped through it pretty much as soon as I carried it through the door.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is writings about Murakami's many years as a runner (which he wrote within the span of a single year), his experiences and feelings about running and how his running connects to his writing. Although I haven't been able to run in recent years, I guess you never lose that feeling of being a runner at heart. I found myself nodding a lot, thinking how cool it was to read similar thoughts to my own.

Do I think non-runners would enjoy What I Talk About, etc.? Well . . . to be honest, not unless you're truly curious about his thoughts on writing -- and even then, he doesn't talk about the process he personally goes through in any detail, although he does mention the elements he thinks writers need in order to be successful and how he organizes his time. Still, even if you're a writer, you might find yourself shaking your head if you really hate running because that's mostly what the book is about -- and running seems to be a love/hate activity. Near as I can tell, you're either on one side of the spectrum or the other. I'm on the "love" end.

Although I've never been as obsessed as Murakami (he has run many marathons, a number of triathlons and even an ultra-marathon), I get his thoughts, for the most part, and I don't think anyone can help but be impressed by his total commitment to whatever he does. Dedicated fans of Murakami may enjoy the book for the peek into his life, but I specifically recommend What I Talk About When I Talk About Running to runners, past and present.

Update: Former blogger Kookie is not a runner and she had this to say about What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:

"I hate running, but I loved this book. I think his experiences in his sport of choice carry over nicely to other sports. Plus, he has such a pleasant, conversational style. I really enjoy his work a lot."

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kookie!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain by Stephen Halliday

Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain
By Stephen Halliday
Copyright 2011
David & Charles - Nonfiction/History
142 pages

Just a note before I start writing this review. Kiddo starts school, today, and is back to living in the dorm . . . so it's kind of quiet. I figured while there's a lull and I feel like writing, I'll go ahead and try to whip out a review. Thanks so much to all who left feedback on the idea of weekly posting. More on that in a bit.

I bought Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I love books like this, with tidbits of history, and it's become a recent habit to purchase one or two books about the areas I visit, while there, then extend the joy of my travels by reading them after I get home.

I chose Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain over some other books that interested me because I happened to flip open to a passage that answered a question I've had for some time. I had no idea what the word "navvy" meant. I could have looked it up online, but it's one of those words I've seen while reading and I just didn't bother to take the time to hop up to research when I saw it. Nor did I apparently think it was worth a Post-it.

The British canal system has added two expressions to the language. Navvies, or navigators, were the armies of labouring men, often Irish, who dug out and constructed the canals in the 18th and 19th centuries and went on to build the railways. 'Legging it' referred to the process by which canal boats were manoeuvred through tunnels, where horses could not tow them. Men known as 'leggers' would lie on planks set across the boat and 'walk' or 'leg' the boat along by pushing against the walls (or roof) of the tunnel with their feet.

p. 37

I expected Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain to be more of a quick-bite book of factoids without any real depth and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was far more informative than anticipated. I'm particularly fond of the various descriptions of items that can still be viewed in Great Britain, such as the oldest medieval carving (there's a good bit of "oldest" this-and-that). Since we love Great Britain and will undoubtedly return in the future, I'm going to eventually reread Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain and take notes on places to visit. I also found the food and drink section fascinating, particularly the info about bread and the humorous fact that foods reserved for the poor were far more nutritious than the more refined, heavily sugared and expensive foods that only the wealthy could afford.

I also got some great ideas for places to visit in Yorkshire from Freya North's Pillow Talk, which I hope to review, soon.

Amazing & Extraordinary Facts: Great Britain is divided into the following sections:

  • The Making of Britain
  • Extraordinary Places
  • Kings, Queens and Princes
  • British Food and Drink
  • British Government: Politics, Money and the Law
  • Extraordinary Britons

There's a series of these small books of facts and I'd love to read more, particularly those on Kings and Queens, London Underground Facts and the English Countryside.

On weekly posting:

I've decided I'm going to shoot for doing weekly updates on Tuesday or Wednesday, when I'm not able to post individual reviews. There may be occasional spurts of activity when I have time and/or happen to be in the mood to write. Right now, though, I'm going to take a quick pre-exercise-class nap. Happy Monday to all!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fiona Friday - Little Buddies

Isabel and Fiona are both what we call "buddy cats" or "puppy cats," the type of felines who follow their human from room to room (I'm the chosen human -- Isabel, in particular, seems to be terrified of the guys' big feet). When I'm on the computer, Izzy is right here, tucked under the monitor or behind it.

Fiona, meanwhile, claims the floor. She sometimes will head off to the kitchen to lounge in her favorite chair, but usually she's right behind me when I'm at the desk or sprawled nearby when I fold laundry on the den carpet. When I'm reading, she chooses to curl up on her cardboard scratching pad, climb to the top of the IKEAs or gaze out the bedroom window.

It's a little difficult to get a picture of Fiona, these days. Can you tell she's not a big fan of the camera?

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Arrivals and a possible blog change

I finally managed to gather together as many recent arrivals as I could locate. This is, I think, at least a month's worth of mailbox arrivals, purchases and swaps.

Top to bottom:

  • Lonely Planet Kyoto City Guide - from Borders (husband's purchase, but it was sitting on the pile so you get to see it)
  • Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder - YA purchased at Borders
  • Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford - Borders purchase
  • The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murikami - Another from Borders
  • Heist Society by Ally Carter - If only we'd supported Borders so well, a few months back
  • Flirting with Faith by Joan Dale - from Paperback Swap
  • The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn - from HarperCollins for review
  • The Lantern by Deborah Lawson - from HarperCollins for review
  • Shadows of Childhood by Elizabeth Gille - from Paperback Swap
  • Lives by Lucas Hunt - purchase via Amazon Marketplace (Lucas is a poet recommended by Simon Van Booy -- and apparently they're very close friends)
  • A Public Space - a literary periodical with kind of a hodgepodge of literary entries; from Borders
  • The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister by Lodding and Beaky - surprise from Flashlight Press
And, another pile . . .

Top to bottom:

  • Utterly Charming by Kristine Grayson - from Sourcebooks for review
  • Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen - from Sourcebooks for review (the one from Sourcebooks that excites me the most -- love Shana Galen's books!)
  • To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell - from Sourcebooks for review (my favorite British romantic romp author)
  • Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard - a Facebook contest win from The British Babes Book Brigade
  • Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen - from Paperback Swap
  • Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh - from Paperback Swap
  • Six Modern Plagues by Mark Jerome Walters - from Paperback Swap
  • The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate - surprise from Algonquin Books
  • Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan - surprise from Algonquin Books
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murikami - Borders purchase
  • Into the Forest by Jean Hegland - from Paperback Swap (recommended by a blogger, but I can't remember which one -- eeks!)

Not pictured:

Columbia Poetry Review #24 - another periodical from Borders

Is that enough? I think so. But, I've probably missed a book or two. I'm working on starting to purge from a bookshelf that hasn't been touched in a while, today, so hopefully I can offset the influx. Also, thanks be to God Almighty for Paperback Swap, through which I've passed on a lot of books I've finished, recently. Anybody want a book? Just drop by Mississippi. I have plenty to spare.

In other news (the blogging change bit):

Since my life will continue to be hectic, if not ridiculous, until at least mid-September, I am considering going to weekly posts -- you know, just a review of what I've read and/or what's in progress? The only other post easy enough to keep up with regularly is Fiona Friday (all they have to do is say "cheese" or, you know, look cute). I realize several finished books have been awaiting review for quite a while and they may sadly all end up shortchanged in such a post. But, I just don't have the time to sit at the computer, right now.

I actually have finished reading two books!!! They're not even in my sidebar. I guess I'll load images when I have a spare moment. Both were Borders purchases shown in the piles above: InsideOut by Maria V. Snyder (my first by this author, although my son is a fan of Snyder) and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murikami. I'm on the verge of completing Pillow Talk by Freya North. So, at least my reading slump seems to be over, for the moment. I wouldn't bank on that continuing, given what's going on in my life.

Many thanks for the supportive comments some of you have left. :)

What do you think about just asking me questions about the books I've recently read? As long as there are no spoilers involved, that might be an easy way to chat a little about finished books.

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Fiona Friday - Is this turning into a cat blog?

In case you're wondering, my reading slump is ongoing and, no, I don't mean for Bookfoolery to turn into a cat blog. But, since I can't get myself to write a review or even crack open a book for long, you get cat photos. At least some of you really, really like cats! This one loves her ear-rubbings:

And, it's true that I find both my felines almost unbearably cute. So, I guess you're stuck with photos of them, when all else fails.

To save myself from going stark raving mad, I'll return when I've finished reading a book and am ready to get back to writing. Till then, happy wishes to all!

©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 bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.